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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

EDITORIAL 05.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

Month january 05, edition 000721, 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. MONSTER TURNS ON MASTER
  2. A COCK-AND-BULL STORY
  3. DELHI'S BEST BET IN DHAKA - ASHOK K MEHTA
  4. POLITICAL INSTABILITY RETURNS TO PAKISTAN - B RAMAN
  5. LEFT IS HAPLESS AND HELPLESS - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  6. ISRAEL FOCUSES ON CLEAN ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES - ARON HELLER

MAIL TODAY

  1. CHECK THE MORAL COMPASS OF OUR LEGISLATORS
  2. A FAILING STATE
  3. CIVIL RIGHTS IN PERIL
  4. RESOLUTE LEADERSHIP NEEDED FOR PEACE TALKS - BY M K BHADRAKUMAR
  5. FAMILY CARTEL SEEMS TO RULE KOLLYWOOD - M C RAJAN

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. TURN THE PAGE
  2. ON THE BRINK
  3. REFORM IN THE COUNTRYSIDE - N V KRISHNAKUMAR
  4. 'RAJIV GANDHI HAD A VISION FOR INDIA, MUSLIMS WERE A PART OF IT'
  5. WHY ARE YOUR GOALS IMPORTANT FOR INDIA? 
  6. SEDITION SCAM - JUG SURAIYA 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. ACTION NEVER TAKEN REPORT
  2. TECH IT OR LEAVE IT
  3. ONE-DAY UPON A TIME - GULU EZEKIEL
  4. WELL WITHIN ITS JURISDICTION - PDT ACHARY

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. SCHEMING TOO MUCH
  2. SMALL IS SUCCESSFUL
  3. THE DEMANDS OF DEVELOPMENT - MANISHA PRIYAM 
  4. THE CRISES OF MONEY - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA 
  5. REFORM'S REVERSE GEARS
  6. SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE 
  7. UNHAPPY IN THEIR OWN WAYS
  8. CHONGQING MODEL - C. RAJA MOHAN 
  9. GUARDING THE STRONG

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. OUR VERY OWN IVY LEAGUE
  2. THE CEA DISTORTS PRICE SIGNALS - BIBEK DEBROY
  3. MORE URBAN THAN YOU THINK - YOGINDER K ALAGH
  4. EAVESDROPPER
  5. FACEBOOK'S FLUSH

THE HINDU

  1. MAKING PEACE IN ASSAM
  2. THE OUTSOURCING OF WAR
  3. INDIA-RUSSIA TIES IN THE NEOLIBERAL ERA - M.K. BHADRAKUMAR
  4. EXPOSING THE REAL TUNISIA - SOUMAYA GHANNOUSHi
  5. AUSTRALIA FLOODS LIKELY TO LAST WEEKS - ALISON ROURKE
  6. SAUDI ARABIA TO HOST WORLD'S LARGEST GOLD FACTORY
  7. 'I WOULD DEFINE POLITICS AS THE COMPOSITION OF A COMMON WORLD'

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. LET PROBE AGENCIES DO BOFORS JOB
  2. FORESTS AND FREEDOM - VANDANA SHIVA
  3. MODELS OF DEMOCRACY - P.C. ALEXANDER

DNA

  1. INDIA HAS IDEAS, BUT FEW TURN INTO PRODUCTS
  2. SCHWARZENEGGER, THE GREEN ACTION HERO
  3. BOFORS, A REMINDER FOR AN INDEPENDENT CBI
  4. EXPERIENCES ARE OPPORTUNITIES - RAMESH MENON
  5. IMAGINE A WORLD WITH EASY VISAS ON ARRIVAL… - VENKATESAN VEMBU
  6. EGYPT RISES ONCE AGAIN TO STAKE ITS CLAIM AS THE TOP ARAB STATE - SUSHMA RAMACHANDRAN

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. IRONY OF IT IS THATTHEY KNOW IT ALL
  2. DECLINE IN PAK INFILTRATIONS TO KASHMIR - BY B K CHUM
  3. ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION - BY PROF. R D GUPTA
  4. CONGRESS PLENARY - BY SUNIL GATADE

THE TRIBUNE

  1. DOCTORS' SHORTAGE
  2. DANGEROUS POWER POLITICS
  3. KODACHROME, RIP
  4. POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM IN HARYANA - BY D.R. CHAUDHRY
  5. A TEXT-Y NEW YEAR - BY RAJI P. SHRIVASTAVA
  6. NORTH MUST MEET EAST - PARBINA RASHID
  7. OVERCOMING THE DIVIDE
  8. KNOWING NORTHEAST

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. THE BEST FILMS OF 2010

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. THE COST OF BAD BILLS
  2. PM AND PARLIAMENT
  3. A MORE RESTRICTED COMMODITY MARKET – ABHEEK BARUA
  4. LESSONS FOR MICRO-FINANCE FROM 2010 - SUBIR ROY
  5. HOT-BUTTON ANSWERS - M J ANTONY
  6. HANDS ACROSS THE WATERS, PPP STYLE - DEVESH KAPUR & NIRVIKAR SINGH

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. THE BOFORS GHOST
  2. REGULATING BROADBAND
  3. CEYLON IS COLONIAL
  4. STOCKS COULD TOUCH NEW HIGHS - SUNIL KEWALRAMANI
  5. IRANIAN IMPORT CURB IN OUR INTEREST? - P SUGAVANAM 
  6. ARE LOBBYISTS GOOD FOR THE NATION? - G V RAMAKRISHNA 
  7. MIRACLE OF THE LEAVES - VITHALC NADKARNI 

BUSINESS LINE

  1. BOTTOMLESS PIT
  2. NDIA NEEDS A BETTER DEBT MARKET - B.R. DIWAKAR
  3. LABOUR HAS THE BARGAINING CHIPS
  4. NANOTECHNOLOGY COMES OF AGE - BHASKAR BALAKRISHNAN
  5. MAYBE, IT'S TIME FOR THE PM TO BOW OUT - B.S. RAGHAVAN
  6. ODIS: A GREAT CATCH -  A.J. VINAYAK

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. LET PROBE AGENCIES DO BOFORS JOB
  2. FORESTS AND FREEDOM - BY VANDANA SHIVA
  3. MODELS OF DEMOCRACY - BY P.C. ALEXANDER
  4. LOVE AND ITS SPLENDOURS - BY SADHGURU
  5. STRUGGLING FOR A PLACE IN THE SUN - BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

THE STATESMAN

  1. RIDING A WAVE
  2. BLITZKRIEG IN EGYPT
  3. MEATY ROLE
  4. MILORD'S DICTUM~II - BY AHOK KAPUR
  5. BOFORS SHOOTS THE SYSTEM - RAJINDER PURI 
  6. AUSTRALIA IS KEEPING ITS HEAD ABOVE WATER
  7. THE GRAND SPITTOON - NILEEN PUTATUNDA

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. ANOTHER WAY
  2. LEAVE ALONE
  3. LESSONS IN POLITICS - K.P. NAYAR
  4. MYTHS AND LEGENDS - STEPHEN HUGH-JONES

DECCAN HERALD

  1. MCI NEEDS SUPPORT
  2. CHALLENGING ROLE
  3. CORRUPTION UNLIMITED - BY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  4. GENE SMITH, SAVIOUR OF TIBETAN LITERATURE - BY MARGALIT FOX, THE NEW YORK TIMES
  5. OUR OWN ABU JANI - BY S V L NARAYAN

OHERALDO

  1. GOA'S NEW GOLD RUSH?
  2. WHAT AILS GOA?
  3. SHADES OF TRANSPARENCY - BY ANIL MOYO

CENTRAL CHRONICLE

  1. HAS THE PM JUMPED HIS GUN?
  2. AN ALL ENCOMPASSING VENTURE IN HOCKEY
  3. THOSE WERE THE DAYS IN LUCKNOW
  4. EMERGENCY REVISITED
  5. AGRI MECHANISATION
  6. WHAT'S THERE TO CELEBRATE ?

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. A CALL FOR DIPLOMATIC LABOR RELATIONS
  2. TALKING TO HAMAS? - BY JONATHAN D. HALEVI  
  3. THE ISRAEL RORSCHACH TEST: REAL DEMOCRACY OR BOGEYMAN? - BY GIL TROY  
  4. YALLA PEACE: THE KATSAV VERDICT AND ARAB GLOATING - BY RAY HANANIA  
  5. TERRA INCOGNITA: BASHIR GEMAYEL'S LONG PREDICTION - BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN  
  6. LEVERAGING CHINA'S LACK OF KNOWLEDGE ABOUT ISRAEL - BY LAURA KAM  

HAARETZ

  1. A FAIR COMPROMISE
  2. IT'S BARAK'S FAULT  - BY AVIRAMA GOLAN
  3. GAMBLING ON DAMASCUS - BY ALUF BENN
  4. TODAY AN ORCHESTRA, TOMORROW A STATE - BY NOAM BEN ZEEV
  5. THE RACE FOR GAS AND RACE - BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. POMP, AND LITTLE CIRCUMSTANCE
  2. A BRAVE MAN KILLED
  3. THERE HE GOES AGAIN
  4. A NEW, SAFER LIFE
  5. FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS - BY WILLIAM D. COHAN

USA TODAY

  1. 5 QUESTIONS FOR 112TH CONGRESS
  2. THIS ISN'T GRANDPA'S RETIREMENT
  3. BY LAURA VANDERKAM
  4. PELOSI: DEMOCRATS READY TO WORK WITH GOP

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. A MAYOR NEEDS A MANDATE
  2. ROTC GROWTH NOW A POSSIBILITY
  3. OUR NEW COUNTY MAYOR IS ... ?
  4. STOCK MARKET UP; WHAT NEXT?
  5. PAYING MORE THAN THEIR 'FAIR SHARE'
  6. BYE BYE, BLACKBIRDS
  7. GOV. MOONBEAM' AGAIN!

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - GIVE DIPLOMATIC MYSTICISM A CHANCE
  2. TURKISH FIGHTER JETS, TURKISH ASTRONAUTS… TURKISH AVATARS COMING SOON? - BURAK BEKDİL
  3. WHY SAID NURSI MATTERS - MUSTAFA AKYOL
  4. WHERE DID OUR FOREIGN POLICY GO IN 2010? - SEDAT ERGİN
  5. HAVE MERCY, 10 YEARS OF IMPRISONMENT IS TOO MUCH - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  6. AFRICAN UNION: THE LIMITS OF THE POSSIBLE - GWYNNE DYER
  7. AIRLINES CAN'T STOP SNOW, SO SHUT UP AND ADAPT - DOUG SWEET
  8. 'WISE COUNTRY' - YUSUF KANLI

THE NEWS

  1. THE MURDER OF SALMAAN TASEER
  2. TURBULENT TIMES
  3. THE FOG
  4. THE QUESTION OF ANTECEDENTS - S KHALID HUSAIN
  5. AS TIME RUNS OUT - ABID HASAN
  6. REVOLUTIONARY PROSPECTS - DR A Q KHAN
  7. THE ROAD TO SALVATION - YUSUF H SHIRAZI
  8. ANY WAY OUT OF THE AFGHAN QUAGMIRE?

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. DEMOCRACY NEEDS GILANI
  2. PEOPLE-CENTRIC PROCEEDINGS IN NA
  3. SOOTHING BALOCHISTAN
  4. FROM CRISIS TO CRISIS - SHAKEEL AHMED
  5. US HAS ALWAYS TREATED PAKISTAN UNFAIRLY - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. COLONIALISM IS THE REAL ENEMY - MOEZ MOBEEN
  7. DAYS OF YORE - YAHYA AHMAD
  8. HOW TO STAY FRIENDS WITH CHINA - ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. THE ECONOMICS OF EMPATHY
  2. MORE TAX WILL NOT PROTECT RETAILERS FROM CYBERSPACE
  3. DEFENDING ALL RELIGIOUS RIGHTS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. A COUNTRY'S PRACTICE: INCOMPLETE
  2. OLDIES CAN BE GOLDIES
  3. CABLES SHOW ANTI-WHALING POLICY IS ALL AT SEA
  4. THE SPIRIT OF GIVING IS IN OUR BLOOD

THE GUARDIAN

  1. HUNGARY: ONE-PARTY RULE
  2. VAT AT 20%: A VERY DELIBERATE CHOICE
  3. IN PRAISE OF … TWELFTH NIGHT

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. 'PREDICTABLE' VERDICT IN MOSCOW
  2. CHINA TARGETING U.S. DETERRENCE - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
  3. LOST RELIGIOUS LIBERTY WORLDWIDE - BY DOUG BANDOW
  4. EU'S INSTABILITY MECHANISM - BY HANS-WERNER SINN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. A FRAGILE COALITION
  2. WINNER TAKES ALL OR PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION? - ENDY M. BAYUNI

CHINA DAILY

  1. TWO SIDES OF NUCLEAR FUEL
  2. UN COUNCIL REFORM
  3. SMES FACE NEW CHALLENGES
  4. PEOPLE'S LIVELIHOOD A BIG ISSUE

DAILY MIRROR

  1. MORE JEERS THAN CHEERS IN SPORTS
  2. MAHINDA OUTPLAYS MOON
  3. CRICKET CROSS CULTURE
  4. SCIENCE DIPLOMACY MUST BE MORE AMBITIOUS
  5. POLICY IMPERATIVES FOR GROWTH

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. IVORY COAST: WAR OF ATTRITION
  2. HOW AFGHANISTAN BECAME A WAR FOR NATO - BY GARETH PORTER
  3. U.S. JUSTICE ON TRIAL - BY YVONNE RIDLEY
  4. ALEXANDRIA ATTACK IS PLAIN TERRORISM - BY LINDA S. HEARD

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MONSTER TURNS ON MASTER

JIHADIS SCORE A HIT WITH SALMAN TASEER'S MURDER


The assassination of Punjab's Governor Salman Taseer on Tuesday has come as a grim reminder of how Pakistan continues to sink deeper into the quagmire of violent Islamism with the so-called civilian Government clearly at a loss as to how to prevent the country from imploding. With each passing day, the news out of Pakistan gets increasingly worse: The PPP Government in Islamabad, tottering on the brink of collapse, is desperately trying to retain power; the Army bosses in Rawalpindi, led by Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, are busy conspiring with the Taliban and Al Qaeda against the US; suicide bombers are having a field day, blowing themselves up in crowded markets and food aid centres; jihadis of all shades are running free and wild without any fear of being restrained, leave alone punished; ISI-sponsored terrorist groups, including the Laskhar-e-Tayyeba, and criminals like Hafiz Mohammed Saeed are not only flourishing but fattening themselves on state largesse; and, murder and mayhem have become a feature of daily life in a country over whose affairs nobody seems to be in either command or control. Flush with US aid dollars and armed to the teeth with American weapons, the men in khaki who pretend to be the real rulers of Pakistan are in reality pathetic caricatures of tin soldiers whose bluff and bluster impresses only their orderlies, although some would doubt even that. Just how bad the situation is can be gauged from the fact that Salman Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard who is member of Pakistan's elite commando force.


What makes Salman Taseer's assassination particularly abominable is the fact that he has been killed for supporting the scrapping of Pakistan's odious blasphemy law, a legacy of Gen Zia-ul-Haq's era of Islamisation. Strange as it may seem, Gen Zia was a protege of the Americans who was liberally funded by the US to wage jihad against the USSR. The wages of that sin are now being reaped by Americans and Pakistanis; others are suffering on account of US folly and Pakistani fanaticism. The monster bred and raised by Pakistan has now begun to turn on its master: It's an indisputable fact that more Pakistanis than anybody else have been killed by blood-thirsty Pakistanis driven by a macabre ideology steeped in hatred towards all, including their own co-religionists and fellow citizens. By no means does this mitigate the hideous crime of jihadbut it does serve to highlight, though not for the first time, that Pakistan remains the epicentre of violent Islamism that manifests itself in terrorism. Salman Taseer's killer, like all assassins, has sought to justify his misdeed — he has done so by claiming to act in the name of Islam. So do all jihadis who loot and plunder, rape and wound, kill and maim, in Pakistan and beyond its border. Ironically, despite its own falling to Islamists' bullets, the PPP has been vociferous in defending both jihad and jihadis, best exemplified by its Government's refusal to punish the guilty men of 26/11. The PPP regime still claims that there is no "actionable evidence" to pin the blame of that massacre on Pakistanis. Along with others in Pakistan, it is welcome to persist with that fiction as evidence of Pakistani terrorists killing Pakistanis keeps on mounting, underscoring the ostrich-like attitude of that country's elite. Salman Taseer was no friend of India, but he was a loyal Pakistani. Like his colleagues in the PPP Government, he refused to read the writing on the wall. And paid for it.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

A COCK-AND-BULL STORY

CBI'S TAKE LETS PRIME SUSPECT GO FREE!


Rattled by the public outrage over its decision to close investigations in the Aarushi murder case, the Central Bureau of Investigation is now trying to demonstrate that it had indeed done meritorious work in identifying the victim's father, Dr Rajesh Talwar, as the suspect but had no evidence to chargesheet him. Worse, it has admitted that Dr Talwar could have influenced the probe by destroying crucial evidence or doctoring them. But the CBI cannot hope to redeem its image by these disclosures, because they raise more questions on its lack of efficiency. If the investigating agency did indeed believe that Dr Talwar had fiddled with crucial evidence, what prevented it from booking him under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with "disappearance of evidence of offence" or "giving false information to screen the offender"? Punishment for tampering with evidence is harsh, leading to even life imprisonment if the crime is one of murder and could entail a death penalty, as in the Aarushi case. The CBI acknowledges that the golf club that was allegedly used in the murder belonged to Dr Talwar, that it had been thoroughly cleaned unlike the other clubs in the set. Incidentally, the club was untraceable for nearly a year, with Dr Talwar having no satisfactory explanation for its disappearance. If the CBI felt something odd in that, in view of the fact that the murder was an insider job — which the probe agency itself admitted — and if the domestic staff were no longer suspects, all circumstantial evidence would led to Dr Talwar, as it claims. 


Why then did the investigators not use all this material to charge the father for tampering with evidence? It had been reported that Dr Talwar had obstructed to the opening of the door of the terrace by claiming he could not locate the keys. This, even after traces of blood stains leading up to the stairs of the terrace were found. After the doors were opened and the body of a domestic staff, Hemraj, was found, killed in much the same manner as Aarushi had been, Dr Talwar 'failed' to identify the body as that of Hemraj, although he fully recognised him. There are more instances the CBI has cited to buttress its suspicion. The probe agency said Aarushi's body was wrapped in a white sheet when it was first discovered although the Talwars said they had informed the police soon after discovering the body. If the CBI really believes that Dr Talwar had obstructed the course of justice, he ought to have been hauled up soon after. But the probe agency did nothing of the sort. Nor did it, from all accounts, grill the 'prime suspect' on the haste he and other people in the house showed in cleaning Aarushi's room with soap and water. Merely reproducing instances in the closure report of Dr Talwar's suspicious conduct serves no real purpose. 

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

DELHI'S BEST BET IN DHAKA

INDIA SHOULD MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO IMPROVE RELATIONS WITH BANGLADESH WHILE THE SHEIKH HASINA SUN SHINES. THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW

ASHOK K MEHTA


We are a country because of you" was the sentiment expressed by several freedom fighters at Dhaka on the eve of their Victory Day celebrations to war veterans from India who joined them on Vijay Diwas last month. This was only the second time Indian war heroes, as the Bangladeshis call them, were jointly commemorating the 40th anniversary of Victory Day even as plans for constructing an Indian Martyrs Memorial in Dhaka are being finalised. God sent is this opportunity to redress the omissions of the past.


One theme that apparently reverberated across the country was the call for wartime trials and the appointment of an international tribunal. The Government has identified 30 prominent people who collaborated with the Pakistani Army in the genocide of 1971. Between two million and three million people were killed and nearly one lakh women raped as part of the Pakistani crackdown following the popular revolt of March 1971. Not surprisingly, many youth in Pakistan are oblivious to their Army's brutality that led to the division of the country. And Pakistanis talk glibly of human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir. 


On December 15, 2010 the BNP's Standing Committee member Saluddin Qadir Chowdhury, former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Gholam Azam and chairman of a faction of Islamic Oikya Jote, a partner of Begum Khaleda Zia's BNP-led four-party alliance Mufti Izharul Islam were arrested to mark Sheikh Hasina's Awami League Government's determination to start the trials. It is not clear whether the masterminds of the genocide in Pakistan will be brought to book. 


Amid the euphoria of Vijay Diwas, political divisions were palpable, accentuated after Begum Zia's ouster from Army House after 30 years in Dhaka Cantonment. While she supports the freedom fighters, she is congenitally opposed to the India-leaning Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Her mentors are China, Pakistan and, some say, even the US, and certainly the Army which is more at ease with the BNP than the ruling Awami League. During BNP rule, no Victory Day parade was held or India remembered. Last month she boycotted not just the parade but also the President's reception but she did lay a wreath at the Martyrs' Memorial after the President and Prime Minister had left the site. 


She is also opposed to war crime trials and her party has announced protest campaigns starting this month. She registered her disapproval of Victory Day celebrations by visiting China where she was accorded the honour of a state visit. Sheikh Hasina was quick to state that Khaleda Zia wants to protect war criminals. 


Although Sheikh Hasina enjoys an overwhelming parliamentary majority and the Opposition BNP and JeI are electorally dwarfed, it is certainly not the beginning of their end. Sheikh Hasina, in two years of her rule, has made no spectacular gains, so the field is wide open and nobody can be written off.


The military which has ruled directly and indirectly for more than half the time after independence has played a crucial role in shaping the country's destiny. Last year, Sheikh Hasina weathered a Bangladesh Rifles revolt which witnessed barbarism replicating the 1971 genocide. The BDR, with 7,000 to 8,000 of its personnel under trial, has undergone sweeping reform and has been re-designated Bangladesh Border Guards.


The Army-led Victory Day parade demonstrated the professional élan of the three services and auxiliary forces. They provide the glue in keeping the country united and combating internal insecurities. For the first time the three Service Chiefs are of the post-1971 era, devoid of any linkage with Pakistan. 


The grand success of intelligence agencies and the 2004 raised Rapid Action Battalion in drying out terrorism is commendable. Bangladesh has not seen a terror attack since 2005 and terrorist groups like HuJI and JMB are leaderless and lying low. There were fears that the present Government might disband the RAB simply because it was raised during Begum Khaleda Zia's time. 


The Sheikh Hasina Government's impressive cooperation with India in the security sector is the high note in India-Bangladesh relations. Today there is not a single Indian insurgent group leader enjoying sanctuary in Bangladesh and the Government's determination in counter-terrorism cooperation is vital to India's internal security. 

Defence cooperation is negligible except for some training exchanges. The first ever joint exercise of commando platoons was done this year at Jorhat and another is planned next year at company level. The first Army to Army dialogue was held last year and another is underway this month. But it is at a low level.


The proposal for similar interactions for Navy and Air Force were rejected by the Ministry of Defence where a babu reportedly wrote on the file: "These exchanges have not taken place in the past so why now?" As for defence equipment, India is nowhere on the scene with China firmly established. Military diplomacy is handicapped due to a mismatch between the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. 


Suspicion abounds about the Bangladesh Army — India is quietly portrayed as the 'Enemy'. The Directorate-General Forces Intelligence is known to have links with the ISI and Pakistan is tunneling its way back not without help from local sympathisers.


Bangladesh has no real enemy except within. That is why it can afford to contribute liberally — and it does provide the largest number of 10,000 troops — to UN peace keeping operations which makes the Army a prized profession. China maintains very strong linkages providing bulk of the hardware. 


The time for creative diplomacy is now to make hay while the Hasina sun shines. The opportunity must not be lost with high level visits of the Prime Minister and the President. India's economic success story should create opportunities for Bangladesh. But most of all, what is lacking is people-to-people contact which is virtually zero. But does India have a plan for infusing confidence through trade, investment and other initiatives?


The war veterans can merely rekindle the spirit of cooperation of the past. Unfortunately the hard-fought gains of the 1971 victory were wasted not just against Pakistan, but also for failing to evolve a strategic partnership with the new-born Bangladesh — a strategic asset that has turned-into a political and security liability. In 2004, the Minister for External Affairs admitted that of all its neighbours, including Pakistan, India's relations with Bangladesh were the worst. The opportunity for a reset has arrived. But let New Delhi not get stuck in the horrendously slow and chaotic Dhaka traffic. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

POLITICAL INSTABILITY RETURNS TO PAKISTAN

B RAMAN


The MQM's decision to leave the PPP-led federal coalition has left the Government in Islamabad tottering on the brink of collapse. The gathering political storm is unlikely to benefit any of the political players in that country. On the other hand, the Army stands to gain with Gen Kayani itching to grab power and become Pakistan's new military ruler


Pashtuns, petrol and Gen Pervez Musharraf are behind the decision of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, headed by UK-based Altaf Hussain, announced on January 2 to leave the Federal coalition headed by the Pakistan People's Party at Islamabad, thereby reducing it to a minority in the Federal Parliament. Interestingly, the MQM has not yet left the provincial coalition in Sindh with the PPP. It apparently wants to continue to have a share of the power in Sindh, while renouncing power in the Federal Government as a populist measure to respond to the anger of the Mohajirs in Karachi over the failure of the Governments in Sindh as well as in Islamabad to protect them against attacks by the Deobandi extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and pro-Taliban Pashtuns.


The Mohajirs, who constitute the largest single ethnic group in Karachi, are the refugees from Uttar Pradesh, the erstwhile undivided Bombay State and Bihar in India, who migrated to Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur in Sindh, when Pakistan was formed in 1947. Pakistan was largely the creation of the Muslim elite from these areas of India, who belonged to the tolerant Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam. In the initial years after the formation of Pakistan, when Karachi was the capital, the Mohajir elite of the Pakistan Muslim League dominated political power in Pakistan.


After the Army under Ayub Khan seized power in the late 1950s, the Mohajirs found themselves increasingly marginalised by a combination of the Punjabis and Pashtuns, who belonged to the extremist Deobandi sect. After the capital was shifted from Karachi to Islamabad, the Mohajirs practically lost all political power and were reduced to insignificance in the federal bureaucracy.


Zia-ul-Haq, who seized power in 1977 after overthrowing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, made overtures to the Mohajirs in order to use them to counter the Pakistan People's Party led by Benazir Bhutto and the Sindhi nationalists, who had started a movement for the independence of Sindh. Thus was born the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, which was subsequently re-named as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in order to erase the impression that it was an ethnic political grouping of the Mohajirs only. After changing its name, it has been trying to project itself as a pan-Pakistan party representing all ethnic groups of Pakistan. Despite its change of name, it remains a largely Mohajir party with very little following outside Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur.


Since it owed its birth to Zia-ul-Haq, it remained loyal to the Army so long as Zia-ul-Haq was in power. After the death of Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 and the coming into power of the PPP-led Government headed by Benazir Bhutto, attempts were made by Benazir Bhutto to wipe out the MQM as a political force in Karachi — initially with the help of the police and the Intelligence Bureau and subsequently with the help of the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence too. The MQM under Altaf Hussain fiercely resisted the attempts of the Federal Government under Benazir Bhutto and then Mr Nawaz Sharif to wipe it out in Karachi. The years between 1989 and 1994 saw a virtual civil war situation prevailing in Karachi.


The Federal Government failed in its efforts to crush the MQM. Ultimately overtures were made to Altaf Hussain, who had fled to London, in order to bring the MQM into the political mainstream. Violence subsided, but the basic suspicions between the Mohajirs and the Sindhis of the PPP and between the Mohajirs and the Punjabis of the Pakistan Muslim League remained.


Meanwhile, a new complicating factor entered the picture in Karachi — the influx of a large number of Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns into Karachi in the 1980s. This influx has continued since then resulting in Karachi becoming the largest Pashtun city in Pakistan. The Mohajirs still constitute the largest ethnic group in Karachi, but are facing increasing demographic challenges from the Pashtuns. A triangular struggle for political power — involving the Sindhis, the sons of the soil, who have been reduced to a minority in Karachi, the Pashtuns and the Mohajirs — has become the defining characteristic of Karachi. The Sindhis support the PPP and the Sindhi nationalist parties, the Mohajirs back the MQM and the Pashtuns were behind the Awami National Party, which heads the ruling coalition in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and is part of the ruling coalition in Islamabad.


The situation has been further complicated by the influx of pro-Taliban Pashtuns from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas into Karachi since the Army started its operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in 2008 and the US stepped up its drone strikes in the FATA in the beginning of 2009. The fresh influx of the Pashtuns with pro-Taliban sympathies has created fears in the minds of the MQM leaders not only of the likely Talibanisation of Karachi with the Deobandi-Wahabi combine overwhelming the Barelvis, but also regarding a conspiracy encouraged by the Sindhis of the PPP to reduce the Mohajirs to a minority in Karachi with the help of the Pashtuns. Karachi is still a Mohajir city, but there are fears in the minds of the Mohajirs that there is a conspiracy to make it a Pashtun-Sindhi city.


Since the PPP-led Government headed by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani came to office in Islamabad in 2008, there has been mounting violence in Karachi due to ethnic clashes between the Mohajirs and the Pashtuns and sectarian clashes between the Barelvis and Deobandis and Sunnis and Shias.


According to the Daily Times of Lahore, January 1, 2010, at least 705 people, including 488 political and religious leaders and activists, fell prey to targeted killings in Karachi. In addition, 74 others died in explosions all over Karachi during the year. As against 779 people who died due to ethnic and sectarian violence in Karachi during 2010, only 427 people died due to the acts of suicide terrorism by the Pakistani Taliban in the entire non-Pashtun belt of Pakistan and 797 in the Pashtun belt. This would give an indication of the seriousness of the situation in Karachi, which is considered the economic capital of Pakistan. The situation in Karachi has been as serious as that in the Pashtun belt and much more serious than that in the non-Pashtun belt.


Whereas the international community was concerned over the Taliban violence in the Pashtun and non-Pashtun belts and exercised pressure on the Pakistan Government to act against the Taliban, it showed a disturbing lack of concern over the equally serious situation in Karachi, which the MQM has been attributing to the influx of Talibanised Pashtuns into Karachi.


The MQM has been complaining that the Karachi Police and Mr Rehman Malik, a confidant of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is the Interior Minister in charge of the Police, are not doing anything against the mounting violence in Karachi and has been demanding that the responsibility for the restoration of law and order in Karachi should be handed over to the Army.


It is the anger of the MQM over the perceived inaction of the PPP-led Government against violence in Karachi which led to the initial split between the MQM and the PPP. TheDaily Times wrote in a commentary on January 3: "Add in the ANP factor that is buoyant on the back of an understanding wink and nod of the PPP's rather permissive approach to their expansionist design in Karachi — remember Karachi is the biggest Pashtun city of Pakistan — and the MQM's ire will be better understood. After all, the MQM has been making an unending noise of Karachi's Talibanisation, implicitly echoing fears of a growing campaign to curtail if not neutralise the MQM's political influence in Karachi. It is an interesting mix. The MQM wrested control of Karachi from the erstwhile religious denomination of the largely middle-class Jamaat-e-Islami, that is now only a shadow of its past self in Karachi, but the same control is now under serious threat by another strain of the religious denomination built around the Pashtun-Salafi nexus. Those who might gain politically from such facilitation will be the secular-minded ANP with some advantage to the predominantly politico-religious parties. In all this, the PPP stands to benefit indirectly on a strategic scale. If the MQM can be balanced sufficiently in Karachi, or at least embroiled in a debilitating power struggle at its base, it is likely to cede space to the PPP in the rest of Sindh, especially the larger cities of Hyderabad and Sukkur."


Even though the MQM's anger over the Government's failure to act against the anti-Mohajir Pashtun violence is the main reason for its disenchantment with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, it did not want to make it appear that ethnic reasons were responsible for quitting the coalition. It tried to give moral and economic pretexts for its decision to quit. It initially asked its two Ministers in the Federal Cabinet to quit in protest against the Government's failure to control widespread corruption. It has now decided to leave the coalition itself at the Centre in protest against the increase in petrol prices introduced by the Federal Government.

After announcing its decision to leave the federal coalition, the MQM has made overtures to the pro-Musharraf political parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) headed by Shujjat Hussain. If the MQM remains firm on its decision to leave the coalition and sit with the Opposition, there could be political instability in Pakistan resulting in a fresh jockeying for power of which the Army and pro-Musharraf political forces could be the beneficiary.


Pakistan's governing coalition held 181 seats — including the MQM's 25 — in the 342-member Parliament. The MQM's departure leaves the PPP well below the 172 seats needed to retain its majority.


If the PPP agrees to cancel the increase in petrol prices and revamp the Police in Karachi, it may still be able to win back the MQM. But will it do so? The fact that the MQM has not yet left the coalition in Sindh shows that it may still be amenable for a face-saving compromise.


The Army under Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is likely to maintain a watching brief for the present without intervening. However, if it suspects that Mr Nawaz Sharif could be a beneficiary of the split between the PPP and the MQM, it might try to bring the MQM, the pro-Musharraf forces and other opportunistic elements together in order to keep Mr Nawaz Sharif out. 


The British and the US intelligence keep in close touch with the MQM. Altaf Hussain is obliged to the British for giving him political asylum in the UK despite his being an absconding suspect in an alleged murder case of Karachi. Any increased political instability in Karachi and any increase in the presence of pro-Taliban Pashtuns could affect the movement of logistic supplies for the Nato forces in Afghanistan from the Karachi port. The US and the UK are, therefore, likely to exercise pressure on Altaf Hussain and Mr Zardari to patch up their differences. 


The writer, a former senior officer of R&AW, is a strategic affairs commentator. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

LEFT IS HAPLESS AND HELPLESS

THE UNRAVELLING OF THE CPI(M) AND THE CONSOLIDATION OF THE OPPOSITION IN WEST BENGAL INDICATE THE INEVITABLE TRANSFER OF POWER

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


This is the year of regime change in West Bengal, if all goes as expected. This is the year when the uninterrupted power exercised by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front for 34 years will end. This is the year when 'change' will sweep through West Bengal and new beginnings will be made. This is the year when the Trinamool Congress will take charge of West Bengal's future.


For the Trinamool Congress, 2011 is the moment for its tryst with destiny. Ever since the Congress led by Ms Mamata Banerjee launched its frenzied assault on the Writers' Buildings in 1993 through a call to its supporters to 'occupy' the secretariat symbolising the superior claim of the masses against the inferior claims of an elected Government in, the CPI(M) has been under notice to quit. That it was able to retain its hold on power for 18 years despite the determined Opposition first by the undivided Congress and later by the Trinamool Congress is a puzzle.


Sheer luck contributed a great deal to keeping the CPI(M) led Left Front in office. If the Opposition had united earlier and built up its credibility faster instead of taking 18 years to sort out its internal wranglings, the possibility of a regime change would have occurred earlier. The fact of the matter is and it has always been that way that the Opposition united or disunited have been evenly poised in terms of the votes in any State Assembly election, except for the 2006 contest, when the CPI(M) led Left Front pulled off a spectacular triumph by polling over 50 per cent of the votes. The fact of the matter is that the CPI(M) led Left Front, post 1978 when the first panchayat elections were held, has always succeeded in collecting around 55 per cent of the votes in the rural areas. 


The fact of the matter is that since 2006, the CPI(M) led Left Front has done badly in the elections. The consolidation of the Opposition space by the Trinamool Congress, which included the Congress surrendering of its leadership role to Ms Banerjee, has altered the way the chips fell in the panchayat, Lok Sabha and municipal polls since 2008. The Opposition's mobilisation of support by deploying Ms Banerjee's charisma and building on her brand as the unrivalled leader has certainly worked. Between the consolidation of the Opposition and the unravelling of the CPI(M), West Bengal's politics is in a state of transition.


The competition is knife edged. The tension is most evident in the Trinamool Congress's sustained campaign to destroy the credibility of the CPI(M) and its constant appeals to the Congress at the Centre for intervention. The need to apply external pressure to significantly tilt the balance in its favour is revealed in its repeated demands that Article 356 be invoked terminating the CPI(M)'s control. 


The need to neutralise the CPI(M)'s strength based on its formidable network of organised support through a mind-boggling diversity frontal associations is clearly understood by the Trinamool Congress. Despite the fervent declarations of support from a cross section of intellectuals, including artists, film makers, film actors, musicians and performers, corporate honchos and the masses, the organisation required to convert these clusters into votes is missing from the Trinamool Congress's armoury of weapons. Apart from film actors who have a fan following of some numbers, the rest have limited appeal. 


As the Trinamool Congress knows full well, its organised mobilisations via associations of State Government employees, school management committees, parents/guardian committees, students unions are rife with dissension. The CPI(M), despite its crumbling organisational discipline, is still better managed. Therefore, when it comes to getting the votes out on polling day, the advantage of the Trinamool Congress in generating enthusiasm is not backed up by an organisation that can actually deliver the voter to the polling booth.


To make up for its weakness as an organisation, it is imperative for Ms Banerjee to constantly create issues that magnify the nature of the evil that the CPI(M)'s empire had established. Even though it is seriously politically incorrect to dub the CPI(M) as harbouring 'Harmad Vahinis' (an obsolete colloquial term for Portuguese pirate), the Trinamool Congress has to reinvent rage to appeal to drum up a sentimental appeal, where reason, rationality, sense and sensibility can be abandoned in a welter of feelings. 


Like club football with diehard fans, politics in West Bengal has turned into a league championship contest. The 'us' versus 'them' emotions on which football loyalties are built is at work. The hysteria that converts a stadium into a separate universe is at work in West Bengal. Therefore there are no Maoists in West Bengal, the Chief Minister himself is a Maoist leader and the killings are the handiwork of the Harmads are ideas that find acceptance among a wide cross section of people. The insularity of the political leadership has transformed the State into a tightly cordoned off arena, allowing the Bengali to revel in the feeling that the local is the universal. Bengali is Best, shame on the rest! 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ISRAEL FOCUSES ON CLEAN ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES

AFTER A SUCCESSFUL RUN OF HIGH-TECH INNOVATION, ISRAEL IS SEEKING TO BECOME A WORLD LEADER IN ALTERNATIVE ENERGY, SAYS ARON HELLER

AP

After a successful run of high-tech and computer-related innovation, Israel is focusing its ambitions on the next big thing — preparing the world for life without coal and oil. Israel is driving to become a world leader in alternative energy, with the Government throwing its support behind cutting-edge technologies. The number of private entrepreneurs entering the so-called 'clean-tech' sector has swelled dramatically. Already, a number of firms are moving to roll out new ideas. Perhaps the country's best known clean-tech company — Project Better Place — aims next year to activate a network of charging stations for electric cars across Israel, which would be one of the most extensive such grids in the world.


Others are still in early stages. On a 10-meter (yard) stretch of a north Israel highway, the firm Innowattech tested out its system of tile-like generators, which are installed under roads and convert the weight and motion of passing vehicles into electricity. It is now looking to expand, claiming that a kilometer-long (0.6-mile) lane of its generators could power more than 200 households. Alex Klein, an analyst at Emerging Energy Research, a Cambridge, Mass, research firm, said Israel — a country of fewer than eight million people — has in a way benefited from its small size, forcing it to develop products for export.


"Given that it has a small market locally, its role will continue to be innovating new next-generation technology. Pound for pound it is a pretty key incubator of technologies," he said. Israel already has a formidable track record. Bolstered in large part by veterans of shadowy high-tech military units, the country helped develop such innovations as instant messaging, Internet telephony and wireless computer chips.


The Government is now pushing for that entrepreneurial drive to be directed into environmentally clean technologies, not only as an economic opportunity but as a necessity for an arid, resource-poor nation. Israel, which now depends almost entirely for its energy on imported coal and natural gas, has set a goal to have 10 per cent of its electricity generated by alternative means by 2020. In November, the Government approved a plan to spend $600 million over the next decade to reach that goal, with much of the money poured into encouraging green construction and development of new technologies.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented the plan as a security necessity. "I view this as a national goal of the highest importance because the addiction to oil has led to the Western world being dependent on the oil-producing countries and harms the standing and security of the state of Israel," he said.


Israel's green innovation dates back decades. The country is the birthplace of drip irrigation, a technology that promotes agriculture in arid areas. Israel recycles about three quarters of its waste water for agriculture, and for decades the roofs of its homes have been fitted with solar panels that provide hot water. Eugene Kandel, a US-educated economist who spearheads the Government's efforts, said the clean-tech drive has the same motivation as the earlier breakthroughs.


Israel is starting to increase its solar energy sector. Last week, it dedicated its largest on-grid solar project _ an $8.5 million collection of 40 solar panel systems that will supply 2 megawatts, enough to power about 500 homes, said Isaac Isman, vice president of business development at IC Green Projects. 

 

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MAIL TODAY

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

CHECK THE MORAL COMPASS OF OUR LEGISLATORS

 

THE shocking murder of the Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Purnia in Bihar — Raj Kishore Kesri— by a woman whom he is accused of raping has yet again highlighted the dark side of politics in the state.

 

Such a dramatic case of taking law into one's own hands after allegedly being denied justice may seem straight out of a Bollywood movie, but the sheer rage that drove the woman — Rupam Pathak — to take such an extreme measure is understandable, though, of course, not justifiable.

 

While it is difficult to ascertain the exact nature of relations between the two, there must have been at least a grain of provocation that compelled Ms Pathak to take an action that would bring physical harm and an almost inevitable legal punishment.

 

While no amount of provocation can justify an act of such brutality and criminal charges must be framed against her, it is important that the case be inquired into in its entirety.

 

The investigation must look into all aspects of the case — Kesri's murder, the relationship between the slain MLA and the accused, and also why the case of sexual harassment filed by the latter was not acted upon by the police.

 

Deputy chief minister Sushil Modi's statement that a probe will be set up to inquire into the " mental condition of the woman involved in the attack" is not sufficient and it amounts to circumscribing the ambit of the investigation.

 

While it would be unfair to consider the murder as an indicator of the law and order situation in Bihar, it does send the message that the personal lives of legislators need to be beyond question for the comprehensive cleanup of the polity that chief minister Nitish Kumar has promised.

 

A FAILING STATE

 

WITH the Muttahida Qaumi Movement ( MQM) pulling out of the Pakistan People Party ( PPP) led government in Islamabad and the assassination of Salman Taseer reportedly because of his views against Pakistan's infamous anti- blasphemy law, the already crisis- ridden country seems to be headed for worse times.

 

Pakistan may not be a failed state, but its multiple crises suggest that it is certainly a failing one. In Islamabad, the PPP government led by President Asif Ali Zardari will go into minority thus necessitating a possible mid- term election. The only nationally- viable option to Mr Zardari seems to be Nawaz Sharif, a former Prime Minister himself, who was unseated in a bloodless coup by Pervez Musharraf.

 

If elected, Mr Sharif — who distrusts the Army even more than Mr Zardari — could make the political theatre in Pakistan even more turbulent. Unlike Mr Zardari, Mr Sharif has a base among the dominant Punjabi elite of the country and has always had close links with the Islamists.

 

Mr Taseer was a well- known businessman and proprietor of the liberal Daily Times . He was the man chosen by Mr Zardari to keep the Sharifs in check. His assassination is as much a setback to the secularist PPP as to the elements in Pakistan who are seeking to counter the spread of Islamism.

 

CIVIL RIGHTS IN PERIL

IT is a sad testimony to the situation regarding civil rights in the country when Binayak Sen's wife Ilina says that she fears for the safety and security of her family, to the point where she may even seek political asylum in another country.

 

Dr Sen may — through what many observers say is a kangaroo trial — be guilty of sedition. But why should his relatives fear for their safety? At no point in time do we have a record of Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru's relatives fearing for their safety in the years these great leaders were serving time in colonial jails. Ms Sen's fears are an outcome of the climate of oppression that has been created by police forces, using the Maoist movement as a pretext.

 

On Monday, the police arrested Sudhir Dhawle, a journalist and charged him with making war on the state — the same charge that Dr Sen has faced. Mr Dhawle is also accused of being a sympathiser of the Communist Party of India ( Maoist).

 

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            MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

RESOLUTE LEADERSHIP NEEDED FOR PEACE TALKS

BY M K BHADRAKUMAR

 

THE TRIUMPHALIST narrative in our media yearenders regarding India's foreign-policy gains makes it extremely difficult to make a counterpoint.

 

The captains of the P-5 countries did visit Delhi last year, but the truth is also these are hard times the world over and statesmen stoop to conquer all available foreign markets for their countries' exports. We can have a sense of proportions. 2010 was a difficult year for India's external relations in key areas.

 

The "fragile" relationship with China deteriorated; neighbourhood policies lacked foresight and dynamism; isolation over the Afghan problem became acute while our capacity to influence Kabul waned and strategic understanding with Iran and Russia dissipated. Most important was the dangerous state of drift in ties with Pakistan.

 

Pakistan poses the most serious foreign policy challenge for India in the near term. The United States-led war in Afghanistan complicates the regional security environment. 2011 will be a defining moment as the timeline for US troops' drawdown in July draws closer.

 

Ties

 

For a variety of reasons that are difficult to dispute, Pakistan remains rooted to its belief that Afghan insurgents constitute a strategic asset. Pakistan is pressing for the US to commence formal talks with Taliban and is seeking greater clarity from Washington about the " end state" in South Asia.

 

Beyond the history of the troubled India- Pakistan wars, beyond the " core issue" of the Kashmir problem or the matrix of bilateral differences involving a range of issues, a new vector has appeared on the horizon, namely, India's manifest surge to be the preeminent power in the Indian Ocean region. Pakistan fears that US encourages India's " hegemonistic" aspirations for reasons of its own Asia- Pacific strategy. The USIndia nuclear deal accentuated these fears alongside the rapidly expanding US- India military- to- military ties and increased American arms sales to India. Thus, the number one question troubling Pakistan is the " end state" in South Asia.

 

As India's quest for the United Nations Security Council membership advances, Pakistani worries will grow. We may question the legitimacy of these Pakistani fears and dismissively call them atavistic, but that doesn't help mitigate the fears as such. Nor is India's overall approach towards Pakistan helping matters.

 

Today Delhi largely deals with Pakistan through the prism of the India- US strategic partnership whereas the bilateral route is either neglected or is largely in disuse. Indeed, 26/ 11 left behind a mountain of bitterness and anger in our hearts. But linking the commencement of dialogue with progress on 26/ 11 is questionable.

 

Even in the most difficult periods, India sought to keep lines of communication open to Pakistan. Besides, the limits of handling our Pakistan problem through US' good offices should be crystal- clear. If there is any lingering doubt, check out WikiLeaks.

 

The US is barely coping with its own agenda, which is so very vital to its national interests. Paradoxically, US wields considerable influence over the Pakistani political elites, both civilian and military, but finds itself incapable of nudging them to go along a path they don't want to traverse.

 

The Pakistani military refuses to budge on what it considers to be the country's " legitimate interests" vis- à- vis Afghanistan and India. It draws a red line and hunkers down. It openly resists — for credible reasons — US pressure to undertake military operations in North Waziristan.

 

Now, we may well berate the Pakistani military's adversarial " mindset", et al, but can we deny the backdrop? In fact, India's policy in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001 may have only reinforced the Pakistani military's " mindset". Historically speaking, never had India's Afghan policy assumed such an overt tone of oneupmanship.

 

Arguably, our Afghan policy may have even hastened the Pakistani decision to painstakingly resurrect the Taliban by 2006 as a fighting force that would safeguard Pakistan's core interests in the Hindu Kush. A perception grew in Pakistan that India was working with the Tajik- dominated Afghan intelligence and Baluchi nationalists based in Kabul to destabilise Pakistan.

 

Looking back, Delhi did some exceedingly foolish things, which added to the Pakistani paranoia — such as South Block's disastrous move in late 2005 to take a political/ diplomatic stance supportive of the nationalist- separatists in Baluchistan.

 

Afghanistan

 

To what extent this vicious cycle of action and reaction precipitated the catastrophic slide to 26/ 11 remains an open question.

 

Alas, the Indian strategic community lacks any real grasp of Afghan affairs. Our strategic discourses through the 2007- 2009 period are replete with bizarre ideas, often cavalierly voiced, regarding an Indian military deployment in the Hindu Kush.

 

Some of our best nationalistic minds even debated the ideal locations for the Indian deployment.

 

Protagonists in the strategic community whose credentials are known to the Pakistani intelligence ( ISI) visited Kabul to assess the potentials for Indian deployment. Now, nothing happens in Kabul bazaar that the ISI doesn't get to know about and we can guess what sort of impressions accrued in their mind regarding India's game plan.

 

To what extent these foolish " strategic" peregrinations had official encouragement remains unclear, but a lot of damage was indeed done. Simply put, we failed to comprehend what an explosive powder- keg Afghanistan was becoming. The idiocy of the Indian behaviour becomes unforgivable if we factor in that Pakistan is and will always be central to the search for a durable settlement in Afghanistan and there is nothing Delhi can do about it. Worse still, Hamid Karzai and US know it, too.

 

Unfortunately, through this dark corridor of time, the socalled back channel also became dead. We link its sudden death to the growing political instability in Pakistan by end- 2006. But, pray, when was it through these past six decades that Pakistan was not " unstable"? Is India a " stable" country? So, if we are to wait for " stability" to conclusively descend on the subcontinent before we talk with Pakistan, talks may never take place — backchannel or front channel. In other words, India- Pakistan talks need to be put on an " uninterruptible" mode, as Mani Shankar Aiyar ad nauseum says.

 

Why is this so very critical? By end- 2006 when backchannel tapered off, we had already garnered a lot of goodies — ceasefire along the LOC, rollback of cross- border infiltration, clampdown on Kashmiri militant groups in POK and the golden opportunity to hold credible state assembly elections in J& K leading to the restoration of representative rule after a decade of bloody anarchy.

 

Mechanism

 

But what did Pakistan get in return? Zilch. To what extent the bitterness accruing within the Pakistani establishment that it had been had by the wily Indians had anything to do with the horrendous 26/ 11 attack we may never get to know.

 

In short, there are " doables" in the basket of India- Pakistan relationship that need to be put into the pipeline so that the normalisation process gains real traction and Pakistan, including the military, becomes a stakeholder in the process. The backchannel could not achieve this as recent history shows. The backchannel can only buy time.

 

It is " bureaucracy plus". An altogether different mechanism needs to be evolved suffused with political content, which is necessary to steamroll hardliners on both sides. Audacious politicians led upfront the Turkey- Greece normalisation and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland — and bureaucrats followed.

 

The writer is a former diplomat

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MAIL TODAY

SIMPLY SOUTH

FAMILY CARTEL SEEMS TO RULE KOLLYWOOD

M C RAJAN

 

FILM AND politics are the Siamese twins of Tamil Nadu! And it is no exaggeration. For, the political history of this Dravidian land has been a witness to this strange phenomenon.

 

Nobody would have ever thought, though, an extended family could have a monopolistic sway over the entire celluloid industry. It is difficult for people outside the state to even imagine the vicelike grip this family has over the tinsel world. From production to distribution and from marketing to managing theatres, the young scions of the Karunanidhi clan have come to dictate every aspect of film making. So much so that even major production houses have almost stopped making movies.

 

No wonder, this has left everyone in Kollywood fuming but not even a few dare speak out. Ever since the Maran brothers and the grandsons of the DMK patriarch entered the scene in a big way, the rules of the game have been altered, threatening many a producer. No one is in doubt that the reign of these wonder kids is not possible without political clout and state patronage.

 

Hence, all that they could do is to be passive spectators of this spectacle.

 

Well, it was Kalanithi Maran's ' Sun Pictures' which bankrolled the Rajnikant starrer Enthiran , reportedly the country's costliest movie till date.

 

But the way the film was distributed had come in for much criticism. From arm- twisting other producers to not release their films to hiring almost all the good cinema halls and deploying the state police in large numbers for anti- piracy searches, it had all the makings of a state- sponsored blockbuster.

 

Kalanithi Maran has only a few years of engagement in film making! Others from the clan who have stepped into the arena as producers are Udhayanidhi Stalin, son of Deputy Chief Minister and the DMK's heir apparent M K Stalin and Durai Dayanidhi, son of Union Minister M K Alagiri.

 

Not to be left behind, another son of the patriarch, M K Thamizharasu is promoting his son as a hero.

 

From superstar Rajnikant to the versatile Kamal Hassan, every selling hero is said to be on their payroll. And, it goes without saying that any big budget movie cannot but come out under the banner of any one of the family- owned production houses — ' Sun Pictures' of Kalanithi Maran, ' Red Giant Movies' of Udayanidhi and ' Cloud Nine Movies' of Durai Dayanidhi. Moreover, the once powerful Tamil Film Producers Council is now run by a DMK clique that does the family's bidding.

 

To top it all, the octogenarian, Karunanidhi who had been writing scripts only when he was in the opposition, has now taken to it as a full time venture, ignoring the fact that all his films continue to be miserable flops at the box office. But why certain producers continue to finance his films is another story! Well, only recently the patriarch declared his assets, which is according to him, is no more than ` 6.2 crores in cash besides his residence.

 

How then could his family members have found the resources for bank- rolling so many films? To this the wily script writer has a readymade answer: " Through hard work and intelligence". But the reality on the ground seems to suggest otherwise.

 

Every other income- tax search operation against a film industry personality is attributed to the hidden hand of the Karunanidhi family.

 

Even those with political ambitions are getting marginalised in the film industry. Like the popular hero Vijay. The family hegemony has spawned widespread resentment in the film industry and how this resentment plays out in the coming assembly polls would be something quite interesting to watch.

 

RAJA STILL A HERO IN HIS HOMETOWN

FOR many, he may be the villain of the 2G spectrum scandal.

Yet, Andimuthu Raja continues to be a hero in his home town, Perambalur.

 

More so for the Dalits who view him as one who stands up to the domination of the OBC Vanniyar community.

 

The rousing reception accorded to him on New Year's eve was enough proof of his popularity. " Wronged Justice" was how a poster put by the local DMK hailed him. This was his first visit to his native soil after his exit from the Union Cabinet.

 

Not only DMK men, even ordinary people came in large numbers. At each village, women performed the ' arati' and he was honoured with shawls and garlands. " If not for him Perambalur would have remained backward.

 

He has brought it on the national map," says Thamizhagan, an advocate cum activist who has long been associated with Raja.

 

However, the opposition was dismissive. For CPI( M) district secretary Manivel said it was a show put up by those who had benefited from Raja's munificence.

 

HEIR TOLD TO KEEP MUM

TOO much of paternal care suffocates. But, the old man of Gopalapuram is wary of giving a free hand to his daughter, Kanimozhi, more so after the 2G spectrum scam. Apprehensive of any indiscretion that might cause further embarrassment to the DMK, Chief Minister M Karunanidhi has advised her to avoid the media. And the Rajya Sabha MP too never expected that she would have to abandon an interview to a Tamil magazine midway through after a reported phone call from her daddy. That was immediately after the CBI's raid on her associate and controversial priest Jegath Gasper Raj.

The patriarch is wary of his ' literary heir' getting embroiled into any sort controversy.

And he is said to have given certain dos and don'ts. Kani has been asked to shorten her stay in the city and be on the move so as to avoid the prying media. However, Kani is determined to hold the' Chennai Sangamam' as per schedule along with Fr Raj. She has made it clear that the CBI raid on Tamil Maiyyam ( Tamil Centre) of which she too is a director, would have no impact on conducting the ' Sangamam'.

 

' CAPTAIN' VIJAYKANT'S POWER GAMES

WELL his party has emerged as the bride in demand ahead of the polls and he still plays the guessing game with both the Congress and the AIADMK. Thus far the DMDK of actor- politico Vijaykant has been ploughing a lonely furrow in the elections.

But this time around even his die hard supporters are expecting that ' captain' as he is called by admirers, would enter into an alliance so that they too can get closer to the portals of power.

 

In an attempt to keep up the morale of the party and to enhance his bargaining power, Vijaykant has called for a jamboree on January 9 at Salem. Well it was here that he had solemnised 66 marriages even before taking the political plunge.

 

With the dominant Dravidian parties, DMK and AIADMK, as well as the Congress holding massive rallies to show their strength, the DMDK, with more than 11 per cent vote share, can't be expected to sit idle with elections round the corner. And taking a cue from DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi and his mentor C N Annadurai, captain too has started penning ' letters' to his party workers. If the late Anna and Karunanidhi used to address the cadres as ' udanpirappe' ( siblings), captain has chosen ' Thamizh Nenjangale' ( Tamil hearts).

 

Yet, it remains to be seen whether captain who has positioned himself as a foce to reckon with, will play his cards right.

 

mc.rajan@ mailtoday.in

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

TURN THE PAGE

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call at the 98th Indian Science Congress to have universities that are free from the shackles of bureaucracy and more open to fostering creativity emphasises the dearth in quality research and innovation at Indian institutions. India produces an average of four lakh engineering graduates and three lakh computer science graduates every year, but only 20,000 master's degree holders and fewer than 1,000 PhDs in the corresponding stream. According to a 2007-08 survey by the University Grants Commission across 47 universities, vacancy levels in research were as high as 51%. 


The statistics are indeed glaring and an unfortunate comment on the strength of Indian research. While some of the best minds working on cutting-edge research across the world are Indian, it's a pity we can incentivise so few of them to work at Indian institutions. The poor domestic research output is attributable to a lack of quality research facilities and a conducive environment for innovation. Contrary to the prime minister's well-intentioned suggestion, there is little incentive to think out of the box. The blame for this lies squarely with the archaic policies of the government that has, barring a few honourable exceptions, treated institutes of higher education as factories for producing graduates and scientific research labs as sinecures. 


India is having greater success establishing itself as a global research and development (R&D) hub. Global companies whose businesses depend on cutting-edge R&D have already set up establishments in India, and more are coming. Nor are some Indian companies lagging behind in spending on R&D, for example in theautomotive and pharmaceutical fields. Nevertheless, the scale of Indian ambition in fostering innovation hardly matches China's. The 21st century belongs to those who can harness the power of a knowledge economy. It is this realisation that is behind China's recent push to create an innovation-based economy and increase the number of patents filed annually. 


If India is to keep pace, it must overhaul its approach to higher academics and research. Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal's plan to set up 'navratna' universities in India is a step in the right direction. However, setting up such universities can be expensive, when school education is also a priority. Such universities, therefore, should be conceived as seeding larger research clusters, perhaps even research townships where public and private sector entities can establish their R&D facilities, while private sector universities can also enjoy the same financial and academic autonomy that will be offered to the navratna universities. It's only when a vibrant public sector competes with a vibrant private sector that we can transform from a country of degree holders to one of innovators.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

ON THE BRINK

 

Yet again, a crisis looms over Pakistan's unstable polity. With the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) withdrawing from the ruling alliance, thePakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has now fallen below a simple majority in parliament, leaving Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani heading a lame-duck government. This comes at a time when floods have left the country's economy and people's sustenance in tatters in several regions, and extremist forces pose an existential threat. Some, such as former allies Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), have already started calling for Gilani's resignation. If the government were indeed to fall, it could have severe consequences for Pakistan. In the absence of the economic and security conditions needed for holding free and fair elections, any electoral process would run the risk of being subverted. Equally dangerous would be the risk of the military coming to the forefront again under the guise of lending stability. 


Luckily the main opposition parties - the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid - seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation. So far at least, they have ruled out backing any move to bring down the government, citing concern for the country's stability and democratic structures. It is a laudable stand to take, particularly at a time when conspiracy theories are proliferating given the MQM's refusal to explain why exactly it withdrew its support. But merely letting the PPP remain in power is not enough when the country is in such dire need of a strong, effective government. The PPP and PML-N were allies once before. It would be in both their interests now - as well as in the interest of Pakistan - if the two parties could find common ground again. 

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

REFORM IN THE COUNTRYSIDE

N V KRISHNAKUMAR

 

Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will soon begin confabulations with industry leaders and sectoral experts on the formulation of Budget 2011-12. Like Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram in the past, will he deliver an historic budget? Singh as finance minister in 1992 launched the Indian economy's liberalisation by encouraging foreign investment and slashing import duties, which was to put an end to the 'Hindu' rate of economic growth. Chidambaram as finance minister in 1997 announced substantial reduction in income and corporate taxes, leading to buoyant tax collection in future years. Mukherjee in 2011 can present a path-breaking budget by focussing on the rural economy and agriculture sector, which can set India on a permanent high growth trajectory of over 10% in the foreseeable future. 


While the reforms and budgets of the last two decades have produced a vibrant urban economy, their impact on the rural economy has been minimal. Past budgets have seen farmers being pampered with sops and subsidies that have created an extreme dependence on the government among people living in rural areas. Except for the mode of production linked to the farmer, government is the biggest provider of services and buyer of goods produced in the rural economy. 


Schools, hospitals and most other essential services in rural India are mostly government-run and, with the introduction of the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee scheme five years ago, the government has become the employer of the first resort. The farmer also gets from the government free electricity and subsidised credit and fertilisers for production of crops. Most commodities thus produced are procured by the government through the minimum support price (MSP) mechanism. 


The rural economy needs an impetus to get out of this rut. The upcoming budget provides Mukherjee an opportunity to lay out a vision for transitioning the rural economy and agriculture sector into the market economy. 


To be fair to the finance minister, addressing rural India's necessities requires large sums of money while introducing major agriculture reforms requires considerable courage and determination. Mukherjee might face substantial resistance from members of Parliament who are beholden to special interests in the current system. Industry associations will make their usual set of demands: continuation of stimulus and labour reforms. Stock market participants will want him to focus on insurance and pension reforms, and pave the way for multi-product retailing. 


The agriculture sector - of paramount importance to poverty alleviation, food security and overall economic welfare - is in urgent need of long-term investments and reforms. It employs more than 225 million people whose livelihoods could be threatened without investments and reforms in the coming years. The finance minister should seize the moment and deliver a budget exclusively focussing on the rural economy.


Agriculture remains the most repressed sector in the economy, facing frequent government interventions and with a distorted market structure. It faces several other challenges including low crop yields per hectare, low incomes for farmers and unpredictable weather conditions. With population growth expected to add another 300 million people in the next three decades, a food crisis looms large unless there is a sizable increase in the production of rice, wheat, sugar, pulses, edible oil and other essential commodities. A substantial budget allocation should be made to improve agricultural productivity by addressing farming's research needs to facilitate introduction of modern technology that makes agriculture less susceptible to the weather's vagaries, and by altering market structures which requires cooperation from state governments. 


Apart from the focus on increasing agricultural productivity, transformation of the rural economy requires policy changes to attract private investments in the education and health sectors, a direct cash transfer scheme to the needy along with price decontrol of agricultural commodities. The budget needs to accommodate some measures that will attract investments from non-governmental sources to create infrastructure for direct marketing of produce and supply of quality raw materials as well as support contract farming while protecting the interests of small and marginal farmers. 


Amendments should be made to education and health programmes to give more freedom and incentives to private service providers and NGOs that can deliver quality education and health at the lowest cost in rural areas. Along with a cash transfer scheme, a policy proposal to implement decontrol of prices of the 20-odd commodities still under the MSP regime needs to be addressed. Decontrol of commodity prices, which should be done over a period of time, will eliminate the need for the government to procure and distribute commodities. With issuing of UID numbers well underway, a cash transfer scheme can be successfully implemented that will mitigate any adverse effects of price decontrol. 


There have been just two path-breaking budgets in the last two decades. By making the rural economy and agriculture sector the centrepiece of Budget 2011-12, the finance minister has an historic opportunity to present a third one at the start of this decade. The right set of reforms and incentives can lay the foundation for agriculture's consistent growth at over 4% and an overall economic growth of over 10% that will ensure long-term prosperity for all Indians. 


The writer is secretary, policy affairs, Karnataka, Janata Dal (Secular). Views expressed are personal.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'RAJIV GANDHI HAD A VISION FOR INDIA, MUSLIMS WERE A PART OF IT'

WHY ARE YOUR GOALS IMPORTANT FOR INDIA? 


We aim to provide imams with economic dignity to help make them able community leaders. If the leader of a community has no dignity then what is the state of the community? And if the Islamic community lacks dignity then what becomes of India? A strong Muslim community makes India stronger. Our national leaders recognised this. Rajiv Gandhi had a vision for India, Muslims were a part of it. This is why we organised ourselves, much like a trade union, to seek better conditions for imams, to improve their salaries so that their standing in society improved and ultimately so that they could once again become community leaders. That is a full time job, and an imam cannot be expected to do any other work in between. 


Our aim was recognised by the Supreme Court nearly two decades ago. It is to free the imam from pecuniary burdens so that he can refocus on what is important, to be a force for good at the centre of the community. But this is impossible so long as the imam's status and facilities are devalued. We think part of the solution is to raise imams' salaries. When we started in 1976 imams were paid Rs 11. Things are not much better today and an imam is frequently paid less than a day labourer. However, this is not all we stand for. 


What else do you stand for? 

Our organisation is not limited to any particular sect of Muslims. We are not divided by sectarian concerns and instead represent every major sect. This means we reflect concerns of the clergy from throughout the country and also that we affect every part of the country. Another key tenet of ours is educational reform. One day at an airport a maulvi asked me to fill in his immigration form. This hurt me and i wondered how can people become so disconnected from mainstream society? There is also a great danger in this. There are 7,00,000 madrassas in this country producing people well trained in religious matters but with no other skills. Even if each madrassa produces one person per year, not all will be able to get jobs in the clergy. This is why there has to be some parallel educational system for those religiously inclined, to give them the skills needed to find other professions. Otherwise they lack the means to earn a living, become disaffected. The Christian community shows a way to reform. They set up schools in this country not only to educate themselves but the people and to this day are viewed as providers of quality education. 


How will the community react if your expectations are not realised? 

We are a part of India and have faith in Indian institutions. They have to further engage us to ensure that different, alien traditions do not take hold here. As Indian Muslims we approached the highest court in the land to settle the issue. The court understood us, sympathised with our cause and ruled in our favour. This is why we have confidence in India. Unfortunately, there has been no implementation. If we don't get justice from the state then there will be a feeling that we are only thought of at election times, that we don't really matter. At the heart of this will be a great disenchantment with the institutions of the state. 

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SEDITION SCAM

JUG SURAIYA 

 

You've got to hand it to the Indian state. Cocking a snook at critics who have long accused it of being a soft target for terror attacks and insurrectionary militias, the Indian state has shown just how tough it can be when it wants to. It has struck a mighty blow for democracy and in one stroke symbolically put paid to the so-called Naxal menace which reportedly has affected over 160 of the country's 600 districts and has been described by the prime minister as the biggest single threat to national security, more so even than Pakistan-inspired terrorism. And how has the Indian state achieved this? By arresting and giving a life sentence for sedition to a frail, ailing, 61-year-old doctor-cum-social worker who has dedicated his life to the welfare of tribal communities and other marginalised people too small and insignificant to be noticed by the Indian state from the remote and lofty perch that it occupies. 


Despite appeals made not only by 22 Nobel laureates, including Amartya Sen, but also by numerous human rights organisations around the world that the detainee, Binayak Sen, be released, the Indian state has stood its ground with admirable firmness. Sen had been found guilty by a court of law for his 'linkages' with Maoists, whose avowed agenda is the violent overthrow of the Indian state. As such, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, Sen is guilty of sedition, a crime which carries a life sentence. That the case against Sen is based on a highly questionable police report which, among other anomalies, contained a 'typographical error' regarding the exact locations where the alleged 'linkages' took place has not deterred the course of justice. Nor does it matter a whit that there is no evidence whatsoever that the accused has himself ever committed or instigated acts of violence. He has been found guilty by association; of being a Maoist sympathiser if not an actual Maoist. That is enough for the Indian state which, tired of being called a softie, wants to show the world, but most of all wants to show itself, just how tough it really is. Throw the guy in jail. And while you're at it, throw away the key. 


Binayak Sen is not the only one on whom the Indian state recently demonstrated its toughness. Arundhati Roy and Hurriyat leader S A S Geelani both have had charges of sedition slapped on them for espousing the cause of Kashmiri azadi. The Indian state - which appears to have a 100% tolerance for scams and swindles of various kinds - has zero tolerance for sedition. As interpreted by the state, sedition seems to mean not just any attempt to overthrow it but to in any way show sympathy with those who question or rebel against the legitimacy of its actions. 


That Sen's imprisonment has in no way helped to quell Maoism (indeed the home minister recently admitted that Naxals still had "the capacity to strike at will, giving them the upper hand over security forces") does not matter. Nor does it appear to matter that, even as the home minister was making his statement about the undiminished Maoist threat, the finance minister said that the spread of Naxalism in backward areas was a "reflection of our failure in meeting the expectations of the local people". Is the minister's admission of 'failure' itself liable to the charge of sedition in that it undermines the authority of the state? 


Sen's imprisonment will not in any way help in tackling the Naxal 'menace'. The sedition charges against Roy and Geelani will not in any way aid in tackling the 62-year-old Kashmir problem. But perhaps the real purpose of such measures is not to solve these deeply entrenched problems - born out of the chronic weakness of the state's policies - but only to show the selective toughness of the state. Perhaps the reality of weakness is not important; the perception of toughness is. 


If this is indeed so, 'sedition' is the biggest scam of all, perpetrated by the state. 

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

ACTION NEVER TAKEN REPORT

 

It's not been a week into the New Year and we can hear an old sound that we expected to have receded into the background: the raucous sucking sound of a giant straw emptying coffers. Corruption - corruption in full public view, at any rate - seems to have made as emphatic a comeback as long sideburns and flared trousers.

 

But while every righteous voice, whether in public or private space, decries the preponderance of grubby hands, the core reason why such matters are likely to slide like water off the proverbial duck's back is frightfully simple: the lack of any deterrence. You don't seem to pay for being corrupt in India, especially if you're in high places. We certainly don't see any signs of anyone doing anything to rid us of our cynicism.

 

It's not as if we, as a nation, celebrate or look away from thievery. Trawl the internet and follow those nodding heads on television and op-ed pages, and you'll find very serious people being very seriously upset about rampant corruption.

 

But if we chuckled at Nitin Gadkari's theological defence of BJP chief minister in Karnataka BS Yeddyurappa, who's accused of bending rules to dole out public largesse to members of his family, the BJP president's distinction of the 'immoral' and the 'illegal' has become standard operating procedure all around.

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is as clean as a whistle. But a scarecrow is as good as its ability to scare pilfering crows. The UPA's litany of grubby hands in its midst - whether pertaining to keepers of extremely dodgy ledgers during the run-up to the Commonwealth Games or creators of a massive vacuum in the exchequer's kitty during the allocation of the 2G spectrum - all point to authorities making their case that 'illegalities' are mere 'immoralities' and therefore not worthy of punishment yet, the 'yet' being an invitation to public forgetfulness.

 

The lack of internal accountability - not confined to governments, as seen by the latest case of frauds perpetrated by Citibank employees - points to a dangerous malaise. It is one thing to defend one's own from charges of impropriety; it's quite another to go out of one's way to not take any action and cover an accused 'fellowman' with an impenetrable protective cloak.

 

In such a situation, not only is there little or no disincentive to be honest in this country, but it can be seen as an open invitation to steal. The law can - and does - take its own time to prove a man innocent or guilty. But surely morality has its role to play in making the corrupt less wanted in organisations that effortlessly make moral claims?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

TECH IT OR LEAVE IT

 

The truly futuristic-sounding 2011 - as opposed to the APJ Abdul Kalam-sounding 2020 - is finally upon us. Okay, so we still don't have anti-gravity cars, lunar colonies and mindless sex with robots.

 

But surely, in the age of Facebook, Twitter and the reversible belt, we can expect something truly technogoggling to set us apart from those archaic lot who roamed the Earth in the first decade of this century, loudly cheering the wonders of iPod, chatrooms and Lady Gaga couture? What are we told we'll get by the early months of 2011? A universal mobile charger. Yes, you read that right: a bloody universal mobile charger.

 

It turns out that sometime last year, the European Commission (EC) decided on a common mobile charger for all mobile telephones. We were told that no longer would we have to scrounge for a caste-based charger - a BlackBerry owner hunting down a fellow BlackBerry owner while looking to charge his depleted phone, or a Nokia handset person helping out a fellow Nokiaite when the cell bars are blinking. Very soon, we will all be using a micro-USB socket for all our new phones.

 

If you are devastatingly underwhelmed by that announcement - coming especially as it does from a place that, only months ago, was talking about finding the 'God particle' by smashing sub-atomic particles in subterranean Geneva - you are not alone. It is not the kind of invention that historian of ideas, Thomas Kuhn, would have counted as 'paradigm-shifting'.

 

The fact that your local electrical appliance shop has been providing multi-formatted sockets adds to the disappointment. So while the EC thinks it's unleashing a consumer breakthrough, we suggest that you keep reading this space for a really 'we are in the future' device to appear. Something perhaps like a newspaper editorial that can play with your mind, giving you the illusion of helping you to form your own opinions.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

ONE-DAY UPON A TIME

GULU EZEKIEL

 

Forty years to the day, on January 5, 1971, from the birth of one-day internationals (ODI) when England played Australia in Melbourne, obituaries are being prepared for the 50-overs game that revitalised world cricket in the 1970s and helped keep it financially afloat. The format has evolved over the years with constant innovations being introduced to try to keep it fresh.

 

Twenty years ago, it was traditional five-day Test cricket that was being written off, a victim of the surge in popularity of ODIs. The first three World Cups in England (1975, 1979 and 1983) were of 60-over duration. 

 

But today, to the delight of cricket connoisseurs around the world, Test cricket (which was born in 1877) is going through a revival while the new kid on the block, Twenty20 looks likely to sound the death-knell of the 50-over ODIs.

 

Of course, with the next ODI World Cup round the corner in the subcontinent, a vintage tournament could give the 50-over game a shot in the arm. But at the end of the day, the international cricket calendar is too packed to balance all three formats, particularly with the glitzy Indian Premier League (IPL) and its offshoot, the Champions League increasingly grabbing time and attention.

 

The International Cricket Council (ICC) insists all is hale and hearty, and 12 months is enough to pack in international cricket on an almost daily basis. The players though might just walk away, content with the lasting fame Test cricket brings them and the fortune from the IPL and other franchise-based Twenty20 domestic leagues which are mushrooming all over the globe.

 

With the Indian market widely recognised as the commercial engine that drives world cricket, it is the link between 1983 and 2007 that accounts for the rapid growth in first ODIs and then Twenty20s. Any Indian cricket fan will instantly recall the significance of those two years.

 

India under Kapil Dev stunned the cricket world when they lifted the 1983 Prudential World Cup, beating the mighty West Indies at Lord's. That legendary game had been the 223rd in ODI history since 1971. But just three had been staged on Indian soil till then as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) saw ODIs as a threat to Test cricket which was their big money.

  
The number of ODIs staged over the next 12 years (till 1995) now surged to 779, a nearly four-fold increase (the total currently stands at 3,078) with the Indian team leading the way. The BCCI had woken up to the format's financial potential.

 

With Pakistan winning the World Cup in 1992 and Sri Lanka in 1996, the Asian triumvirate was complete and the craze showed no signs of abating.

 

With India's very own Jagmohan Dalmiya at the head of the ICC, it was only the limited number of days in the year that could seemingly curtail the authorities from packing in more and more ODIs at different corners of the globe.

 

Sheikh Abdul Rahman Bukhatir and his trusted lieutenant, the former Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal were behind the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) launched in the early 80s in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, which would become the first venue to stage 100 ODIs. This time, unlike with Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket (WSC), the ICC sensibly decided to hitch its wagon to the CBFS. 

 

Bukhatir cashed in on the craze for India-Pakistan encounters among the vast number of spectators drawn from the expat population of those two nations settled in the Gulf. The bubble burst in 2001 when the Indian government stepped in to impose a ban on the national team playing there, with the spectre of the underworld and match fixing casting its shadow on the tournaments.

 
The man who really gave ODIs a complete makeover though was Australian TV magnate Kerry Packer whose breakaway WSC ran from 1977 to 1979 and shook up the traditionalists like nothing before with its introduction of the white ball, coloured clothing and flood-lit cricket, all of which today have become part and parcel of limited overs cricket.

 

So to 2007 and the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa was won most unexpectedly by MS Dhoni-led India. Unexpected not only because India had played just one Twenty20 international prior to the tournament and was the last major nation to do so, but also because the BCCI had to be dragged kicking and screaming into competing at all in the World Cup, fearful that Twenty20s would eat into the ODI financial pie. Cricket history sure has an uncanny knack of repeating itself.

 

That triumph would spawn the mega-bucks of the IPL which briefly threatened to gobble up world cricket before the BCCI stepped in and sacked 'IPL tsar' Lalit Modi for his alleged excesses.

 

Limited overs cricket brought a new dynamism to all formats of cricket with its positive strokeplay and enhanced standards of fielding. Bowlers though were increasingly reduced to cannon fodder and that trend has sadly been accentuated by the Twenty20 format.

 

Whether 50/50 cricket will survive to see its golden jubilee is highly doubtful. But its legacy will live on as long as cricket is played and loved by millions.

 

(Gulu Ezekiel is the author of Great One-Day Internationals The views expressed by the author are personal.)

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WELL WITHIN ITS JURISDICTION

PDT ACHARY

 

The demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) by the Opposition and the government not relenting to it has made both Houses of Parliament totally non-functional during the whole of the winter session. If the deadlock is not resolved, chances are that the Budget session of Parliament will also go the way of the winter session.

 

Some form of resolution seemed to be in sight when the prime minister offered to appear before the public accounts committee (PAC) for questioning. This move has been opposed by the Opposition as well as some members of the government itself, most notably senior Cabinet minister Pranab Mukherjee.

 

So can the prime minister appear before the PAC? Direction 99 states that a minister shall not be called either to give evidence or for consultation. According to this direction, the PM cannot appear before the PAC whether it is a voluntary offer or on a summons from the committee. This direction was issued by Speaker GV Mavlankar in 1957.

 

However, Lok Sabha records show that the minister for steel and heavy industries C Subramaniam had appeared before the PAC on August 1, 1966, and had given evidence. It only shows that if circumstances warrant, a different procedure can be adopted. The only criterion should be that such appearance is necessary to facilitate the work of the committee and not hamper its work.

 

One reason why ministers are not allowed to appear before the committee is that their appearance will divide

the committee on party lines, which is deleterious to the interest of parliamentary committees. This may not be the case in all situations. The offer from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appear before the PAC is a development of great significance. There are no precedents for it. The PM's evidence will most certainly facilitate the investigation being done by the committee.

 

Now that the chairperson of the PAC has received the PM's letter offering to appear before the committee, he has to proceed in the matter in accordance with the relevant rule. Proviso to Rule 270 says that if any question arises whether the evidence of a person is relevant for the purposes of the committee, the question shall be referred to the speaker whose decision shall be final. The speaker has to consider only one question, namely, whether the evidence of the person concerned, in this case Prime Minister Singh, is relevant. If it is relevant, the speaker may allow the evidence of that person.

 

Seemingly, there is a contradiction between this rule and Direction 99 in as much as the latter bars the committee from calling a minister. But rules and directions have been framed to regulate the working of the House and its systems. And the speaker has been vested with enough powers to issue directions from time to time to facilitate the working of the system. What is required is to creatively apply the rules and directions to new situations.

 

Efforts can be made now to find the middle path that is somewhere between the maximalist positions both sides have taken in the JPC vs PAC imbroglio. The PAC on its own can, in the normal course of its remit, undertake a comprehensive investigation. Nevertheless, keeping in view the dimensions of the scam, an appropriate resolution can be brought in the House directing the PAC to investigate all aspects of the scam. The resolution can specify all the areas to be investigated. The House has the power to direct any of its committees to undertake any task that is not specifically assigned to it under the rules because the House is supreme in the matter of its procedure.

 

When the untenability of the continued disruption of sessions of Parliament is realised by all, this can be the basis for a discussion to find an amicable solution to the problem.

 

(PDT Achary is former secretary general, Lok Sabha. 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

India Express

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SCHEMING TOO MUCH

 

Rural Development Minister C.P. Joshi has, throughout the tenure of UPA 2, narrowly focused on doing what he thinks is the most important component of his job. Unfortunately, his opinion about what his ministerial portfolio requires is not that he carefully evaluate and improve the delivery of services of the various mammoth Centrally sponsored schemes; he seems to think, instead, that he is the Congress's marketing manager-in-chief, responsible for ensuring the schemes are properly branded with the Congress election symbol. Heaven forfend that some of the credit for implementing the schemes go to the state governments that bear a share of the responsibility, and whose institutional capabilities — as Joshi himself has admitted to Parliament — determine the schemes' success.

 

This tendency was on display again in a pronouncement from the rural development ministry that only members of Parliament — and not state ministers or members of the legislative assembly — would be allowed to inaugurate roads that are built under the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana. That's a Centrally funded scheme, and so MPs will be able to give the roads a "quality assurance" test, according to a letter that Joshi sent out to states and to MPs. In actual fact, of course, the problem is that the Centre feels that if it's spending the money, it should get the credit. That's an argument that's petty, doesn't hold up logically — and has had a giant hole blown in it electorally by the Nitish Kumar-led NDA in Bihar, which won after reminding its electorate that the money wasn't the Centre's, it was the taxpayers'.

 

The larger problem, of which Joshi's attitude is just one symptom, is the Congress's anxiety about "ownership" of Centrally funded schemes. While it's true that many of those were started on the UPA's watch, the rural roads scheme, for example, was an NDA initiative. If the Centre genuinely cared about the "inclusive" welfare state that it claims to be setting up, it would attempt to depoliticise its implementation. Especially since, in terms of pure realpolitik, there is absolutely no evidence that voters care whose idea a government programme was, originally. Instead, they endorse quality governance. And a key component of that, for them, is how effectively Centrally funded schemes are implemented. It's time Joshi and his party woke up to their real responsibilities as the party in power at the Centre and internalised an essence of federalism that voters have long been alert to.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SMALL IS SUCCESSFUL

 

Award season breeds recaps, and the nominations by Screen (an Express Group publication) show it's been a good year for Hindi cinema, one in which it placed ever more mirrors to change. There was, after all, someone called Natha — a frail, bearded man with hollow eyes and holding a goat in a corner of Peepli gaon — who became the unlikely hero of Bollywood 2010. Small became significant — in more ways than one. Bollywood of Maneesh Sharma (Band Baaja Baaraat) and Vikramaditya Motwane (Udaan) left designer Mumbai, the sequinned city that lived only in the imagination of the few, and sought out the charm and, equally, the charmlessness of middle India, the bylanes of Janakpuri and the steel plants of Jamshedpur.

 

Just scroll down the list of nominations for directing: there are three newcomers on a list of six — Anusha Rizvi, Motwane and Sharma. None of the six directors, the other three being Prakash Jha, Dibakar Banerjee and Milan Luthria, features a big Khan on their star cast. Instead, you find, alongside Natha, a Delhi University chap called Bittoo Singh and a 17-year-old called Rohan. Bollywood did not just celebrate this new; they made money out of it as well, out of Peepli [Live] and Love Sex Aur Dhokha. Films that would have been once quietly confined to the niche of art-house cinema — celebrated yet seldom viewed — were this time unapologetically mainstreamed. The year marked a huge departure even for the champion of chiffon-in-Switzerland. In Band Baaja Baaraat, Yash Raj Films turned a corner and found itself in a Delhi market. Unlike its previous excursion to middle India in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, this time it found both crowds and cash.

 

Popular culture, by its very definition, captures the Zeitgeist. And Hindi cinema has always done it in its own way — with colour, excess, and noise. It has also adapted and incorporated new techniques, and over the years it's blurred the false divide between mainstream and meaningful cinema. Last year, it found satire in 24x7 media, and used new media, the digital format, to take a raw, gritty look at rural and urban change in a more pixellated way. 2010 was the year the small held its own on the big screen.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE DEMANDS OF DEVELOPMENT

MANISHA PRIYAM 

 

 The very last days of 2010 witnessed the deepening of democratic spirit in some of the poorest areas of India. The recently concluded panchayat elections in Jharkhand were in every way as notable as the assembly elections in neighbouring Bihar. Held after 32 years, they marked the first step of the development-democracy twinning arrangements that now seem to be the order of the day in what were once considered the "laggard" states of North India.

 

In an age in which most Centrally sponsored schemes were being pegged to the third tier, this institution was absent in Jharkhand. There were many hurdles, mostly institutional, that prevented the state from setting up panchayats, though central was the struggle between Sadaans (non-tribals) and tribals, fought ultimately as a court battle on the issue of reservation of seats and posts for Scheduled Tribes.

 

With a Supreme Court judgment and a new BJP-led coalition in place, holding the elections was now a mandate — in both the popular and the legal senses. The first steps seemed tentative, and were marked with scepticism; a weak state was holding elections for 60,000 posts under the threat of Naxalism. Yet, both the outcome and the electoral process are being seen today with rare optimism across the political spectrum. For Congress minister and Ranchi MP Subodh Kant Sahay, without panchayats to anchor the rural development schemes, Centrally sponsored schemes were merely "white-collar expenditure" in the state, unable to reach the people. The Jharkhand government's secretary for panchayats, S.K. Satpathy confirmed this when he said that, in the absence of panchayats, it were the officers who were acting as sarpanch. Local intellectuals, meanwhile, confirmed a thriving political economy of loot.

 

Yet the campaign process was an optimistic one. Women came out in large numbers during both the campaigns and voting. In many places they were noted as challenging the male-dominated electoral process: in Kudada village of Jamshedpur, women threatened the Zila Parishad candidate that in case he did not fulfil his election promises, they would start a "thappar maro" campaign. For a state whose name was nationally a synonym for political immorality of the lowest order, this small voice against bribery seemed like a sure but certain step.

 

The threat of Naxalism did challenge and even undermine the voting process in many ways. In Laungava block of Chatra district, the locally dominant group of Naxals put their flags on every panchayat and issued a diktat barring commoners from filing nominations. Such was the fear that not only did people abstain from nominations, they feared even filing a complaint. As a result, Naxal proxies were declared elected unopposed. In Pratapur block of the same district, the sound system and vehicles used for campaigning by many candidates were seized by Maoists. Yashwant Sinha told this writer this was a paradox inherent in "an administrative definition" of peaceful elections — where, if you capture the electoral process peacefully with no overt violence on-site, the administrative responsibility of conducting elections is minimally fulfilled. By the yardstick of violence in Jharkhand, though, he considers these elections to be an important first step.

 

In many places, people braved the threat of Maoists and turned out in large numbers even when police protection was missing in many places. In a state where voter turnout hardly breaches the 50 per cent mark, poll percentages were higher than 65 per cent in most districts. Former CM Babulal Marandi, known for taking an anti-Naxal stand, said that such great local enthusiasm meant Naxals couldn't oppose elections. His brother Nunu Marandi escaped a brutal attack in Chatro during campaigning. Babulal argues for party-based elections in future, so that the hold of money power can be reduced.

 

Two important stories, from victors and vanquished, bear many similarities to Bihar. First was the challenge to the image of the "Diggaj Neta". A large number of relatives of big leaders lost elections across political parties. This included the wife of Hemlal Murmu, a serving minister in the current government, and relatives of prominent leaders — Bhuvaneshwar Mehta, Teklal Mahto, Stephen Marandi. What seemed to be emerging was a new leadership, especially among the Mahtos.

 

Meanwhile, there are inspiring stories from winners too. Consider that of Sabita Devi, a reja or daily-wage labourer from Badla panchayat in Lohardaga. Her daily wages funded some pamphlets; there was no money for a poster or banner. Indeed, she campaigned in the early hours of the day, and then reached the town by 9 am to find herself new work every day. The truly significant aspect of the electoral outcome is that the elections provided very ordinary and poor people, traditionally at the margins, with a real chance of moving towards the centre.

 

The writer, currently a research scholar at LSE, teaches political science at Delhi University express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE CRISES OF MONEY

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA 

 

 The current sense of moral crises, across a range of institutions, has led to a justifiable clamour for institutional reform and political accountability. There is no dearth of proposed solutions: everything from the creation of independent investigative agencies with more powers to political reform is on the table. But there is a little bit of wishful thinking in many of these proposals. Eisenhower once said that sometimes you can solve a big problem only by making it bigger; to tackle specific challenges you need to embed them in larger institutional changes. There is therefore something to the thought that we need to think of change more systematically.

 

But here are three paradoxes of institutional reform. First, in an era where even the smallest of reforms has become hostage to political division, rancour and monumental shortsightedness, how do we expect the very same political forces to join hands and bring about larger and more consequential changes? In an era when routine functioning has become difficult, we are expecting political miracles.

 

Second, institutional measures are not a sufficient condition for reform. The tragedy of our times is that the "independent" institutions, whose formal powers were unchallenged, like the Supreme Court, have begun to lose moral authority, unable to dispose of the smallest of internal issues with any degree of confidence. The big mystery of our time is not corruption; it is the breakdown of institutional proprieties at so many sites. And this crisis will only deepen. Just looking at the quality of recruitment in so many institutions, it would be hard not to conclude that this crisis may deepen. Why do we not even for a moment think that new institutions will not reproduce the pathologies of the current ones? We need to think of not just formal quick fixes, but how norms come to be embedded in institutions.

 

Third, there is a great clamour for what might be called punitive solutions. If only we could punish someone, corruption would disappear. Punishment is one important aspect of accountability. Absence of punishment can encourage impunity. But it is not the whole story. For one thing, it is not clear that societies that rely on purely punitive measures against corruption (including execution) have got rid of it. But there is another deeper truth. The need to resort to pervasive punishment, rather than creating new norms, can also be a signal of social failure, where nothing holds society together other than punishment.

 

The current sense of institutional disorientation is pervasive, and infects a vast range of institutions: politics, judiciary, civil service, media, academia, corporates, armed forces, the professions. It is almost as if an entire ruling class, and those who have recently joined its ranks, have lost their sense of purpose, a sense of what their institutions are supposed to be about, a sense of their identity and mission. The more pervasive danger we face in these institutions is not corruption, it is a sense of anomie, where fewer and fewer members of these professions can give an account of what they are supposed to be about, in a way that can legitimise them with the public.

 

The crisis of our institutions has to be located in broader cultural changes than have denuded them of meaning. Elements of these larger changes deserve attention. Indian literature has produced vivid pictures of oppression, humiliation and inequality; it is yet to produce a great portrait of the psychological dependencies that the new role of money can engender. Many of our corrupt politicians seem to be political versions of the Great Gatsby. To paraphrase Freud, money is not about money. It is always important, but in times of social change it signals three different things. First, it is the means and sign of social mobility. Access to state offices is still an important path to social mobility. Second, the power of money is intimately tied to a form of democratisation. No one can now be assured of their social standing based on rank; all claims to authority are uncertain, and access to material power becomes, in the end, the sole fixed point and source of uncontestable value. In the professions in particular, when old closed guilds break down, money has the allure of being an "objective" criterion by which to measure worth. It is strangely democratic, in that it does not depend on any authority or closed peer group for validation. But it is strangely corrosive, for the meaning of professional accomplishment gets transmuted. Third, a consequence of democratisation is not just that it opens paths to mobility; it makes those already privileged fear losing what they have. In a way "middle-class" anxieties have been enhanced rather than diminished by expanding opportunities. The desire of those who want to move up the ladder and the fears of those who might fall down are producing a strange alchemy. Despite our selves and our better instincts, money comes to be legitimised in ways that are unreasonable. What we are seeing on display is not just greed; it is a society struggling to find a measure of worth. How many of us have not been vulnerable to this struggle? No wonder every single institution seems unhinged.

 

Societies are not held together only by laws, formal institutions or punitive measures. They depend upon a complex set of social understandings about the norms and objectives of different institutions and social roles. How are these social understandings produced? We take it for granted that we know the answer to this question. But the blunt truth is that in societies in transition the answer to this question is very elusive. There is a lot of hope vested in the fact that we believe the next generation will not be tainted by the complicities of the current one. But this is more hope than accomplished fact. The next generation is truly extraordinary in its talent and aspiration. But equally, it also has a great sense of entitlement, which may take a pathological form. It can be invested entirely in personal advancement; and the quest for security can itself produce, as Montesquieu taught us, new forms of timidity. It is perhaps not an accident that, with one or two exceptions, you see no young politicians respond to this sense of crisis. Where is the generational equivalent of the Young Turks that the last set of corruption crises generated? While we pursue our institutional solutions with assiduity, we should be under no illusion that the equally important task of moral education and cultivation of an institutional sensibility will be a long haul. Let us hope our good luck with growth buys us the time to settle into new moral bearings.

 

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

REFORM'S REVERSE GEARS

SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE 

 

 Quite a nice time of the year, actually, for our largest business house, the Government of India, to talk shop. The occasion is right. It can take the attention off the 2G scam, the incipient ghosts of Bofors, the Commonwealth Games, et al.

 

Talking shop also creates big benefits, like cooling inflation expectations. But for Manmohan Singh's team, talking business gives the impression that it is fishing for more trouble.

 

In just about a year, the government has managed to reverse gear on several policies, actions that sound suspiciously like undoing some reforms. It is difficult to say which was the first one, but the standard tale of India standing strong on its reform credentials is turning out to be a weak one.

 

The culpability lies mainly at the Centre. The states have digested the connection between reforms and votes and are generally standing fast. But we ended 2010 with the absurd spectacle of the aviation minister practically setting daily price charts for airline tickets, just as the RBI sets the exchange rates for currencies in the forex market. We were instead supposed to have created a space where policy-setting was a ministry's domain, and the regulator that of administering the policy — including prices in this case.

 

The list where "standing firmly behind reforms" has become a bad joke is expanding. Seven years after we wrote an electricity act that promised open access to consumers, regulators have almost conceded monopoly control on city grids to single-source distribution companies. Open access was supposed to be the biggest benefit flowing from reform of the power sector — but it has been consigned to the pages of a glorious report.

 

Companies have interpreted this to mean they should only focus on building generation companies, leaving the hugely indebted state-run electricity boards to figure out distribution in our rapidly expanding urban areas. In Delhi, for instance, why should single companies hold a monopoly on distribution rights for a particular region for so many years? If that makes sense, then there is nothing wrong with an airport operator exercising monopoly operation over a city, either.

 

In the interval the government has accepted a Supreme Court judgment that says the pricing and distribution rights for all natural resources is the states' prerogative. This has made the ninth round of the bids for the New Exploration Licensing Policy a virtual non-starter. We are back to the drawing board, figuring out the pricing of mineral resources, even as China expands its gas pipeline to Myanmar.

 

The other shooting-our-foot example is the rumpus about the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Bill. The clause that tries to get local inhabitants share the benefits of the area's development is proving intractable. The reason is obvious: there are no get-rich-quick fixes in any provisions of company law, in India or abroad. But the government is keen to show results in double-quick time, and to hell with procedures. It has therefore run into a brick wall in trying to implement the 26 per cent profit-sharing clause. It appears it can only be implemented by invoking the gods — read the mine's local district magistrate.

 

The other areas where reforms are turning back is the management of highway construction. The government produced a model concession agreement — a standard contract for road projects — then dumped it; and is now working out another one, of the same sort, to replace it. That the pace of construction has fallen off is not surprising. The reforms were supposed to have put in place the models for the award of contracts and freed the bureaucracy to police contract execution.

 

Similarly, old devils are emerging from the Bhavans to meddle in the market in price controls for food. Controls are being re-imposed: more vegetables are joining the list on the Essential Commodities Act. The Act makes the government look good when prices flare, but does nothing to correct the demand and supply mismatch.

 

All this even though we know it's a mistake. Writing about the problem, Kaushik Basu, the chief economic advisor to the government, says in the current Economic Survey that "asking the government to produce all the essential goods, create all the necessary jobs and keep a curb on the prices of all goods is to, at best, court failure, and, in greater likelihood, lead to a large cumbersome bureaucracy and widespread corruption."

 

It cannot be the case that no reforms could be changed over time. That would merely create another set of orthodoxies. As an economy of the size of India develops, new learning opportunities will emerge — but not if, for instance, the way the Jalan committee ruckus has played out becomes standard. The NSE was created to short-circuit the cabal of brokers next door at the BSE and give Indians access to stock markets at uniform, cheap and transparent costs. This was in 1994. Sixteen years later the committee has proposed converting the NSE into a monopoly. What a turnaround!

 

Some time ago, Montek Singh Ahluwalia had said that Indian reforms take time to play out, but do not back-

track. But the reversing of gears across too many sectors gives the impression of a government more comfortable playing around with economic actors than one that flourishes in a rule-based environment.

 

There are two elements to a Budget speech in India. One is the list of expenditure and taxes the finance minister rolls out every year. The other is the policy changes he announces. As the virtual one-man agenda-setter for this government, it may be that Pranab Mukherjee could use the occasion to lay down some clear rules of the game for the Cabinet to follow up on.

 

The writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express' subhomoy.bhattacharjee@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

UNHAPPY IN THEIR OWN WAYS

 

A couple of months ago one of Russia's elder statesmen set out on a paradoxical mission: to rehabilitate one of the most beloved figures in Russian history, Tolstoy.

 

This would have seemed unnecessary in 2010, a century after the author's death. But last year Russians wrestled over Tolstoy much as they did when he was alive. Intellectuals accused the Russian Orthodox Church of blacklisting a national hero. The church accused Tolstoy of helping speed the rise of the Bolsheviks. The melodrama of his last days, when he fled his family estate to take up the life of an ascetic, was revived in all its pulpy detail, like some kind of early-stage reality television. And in a country that rarely passes up a public celebration, the anniversary of his death, on November 20, 1910, was not commemorated by noisy galas or government-financed cinematic blockbusters.

 

With this in mind Sergei V. Stepashin, a former prime minister here, sat down to write to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has become an arbiter of politics and culture. In painstakingly diplomatic language, acknowledging "the particular sensitivity" of "this delicate theme," Mr Stepashin asked forgiveness on behalf of Tolstoy, who was excommunicated 110 years ago.

 

The impulse had swelled up during a lonely visit to an unmarked mound of earth where Tolstoy is buried.

 

"You look at the house where he lived and worked, where he created his works, and then you come to a place where there is nothing but this small hill," said Mr Stepashin, who has close ties to the church. "It was puzzling, on a human and a moral plane. And then I decided to write this letter."

 

Ambivalence towards Tolstoy is new in Russia. The Soviets planted him at the top of their literary pantheon, largely because of the radical philosophy he preached amid the early rumblings of the October Revolution. The publication of War and Peace and Anna Karenina made Tolstoy so famous that one contemporary described him as Russia's second czar. He used that position to rail against the church, as well as the police, the army, meat eating, private property and all forms of violence. Lenin loved Tolstoy's "pent-up hatred." He anointed him "the mirror of the Russian Revolution," ignoring his pacifism and belief in God. As the 50th anniversary of his death approached, the Central Committee of the Communist Party began preparing two years in advance, so a monument would be ready for unveiling.

 

For the centennial, in a Russia wary of utopian thought, there was nothing of the kind. By contrast, Chekhov received lavish official tributes in 2010 for his 150th birthday, including a birthplace visit from President Dmitri A. Medvedev.

 

Though a star-studded Tolstoy biopic, The Last Station, opened in Moscow just ahead of the anniversary, it was filmed in Germany, acted by Britons and directed by an American. The Russian filmmaker Andrei S. Konchalovsky, a producer of the film, said he petitioned "every ministry" in the Russian government for support. In the end, he said, he was forced to invest his own money.

 

"I represent Russia," he said, with a wry smile, while promoting the film.

 

None of this came as a surprise to Vladimir I. Tolstoy, Tolstoy's great-great-grandson, who oversees the museum at Yasnaya Polyana, the author's estate.

 

Mr Tolstoy, 48, has the slender, avid look of a professional intellectual, but his last name has called on him to wade into politics. He worked on one of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin's presidential campaigns and does favours for area officials when they need "the authority or prestige of Tolstoy," as he put it.

 

Ten years ago he asked the church to revisit the 1901 ruling that excommunicated his great-great-grandfather. He received no answer. Though his efforts have not ended Mr Tolstoy said he was not hopeful.

 

Aside from a reception held by the minister of culture, the anniversary transpired with "a conscious ignoring of Tolstoy," he said.

 

It was a relief when Mr Stepashin joined the effort. The men met about 15 years ago, when Mr Stepashin, then director of the Federal Security Service, presented Mr Tolstoy with sheaves of family letters pulled out of Soviet intelligence files.

 

"I understood that there would not likely be a decision to return him to the church," said Mr Stepashin, now president of the Russian Book Union. "But as for the attitude to him as a person, as a person who did a lot for Russian culture and for the Russian language, I just counted on that, on a change of attitude towards him."

 

The church's letter of response, published in a state-run newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, suggested not. It acknowledged Tolstoy's "unforgettable, beautiful works," and said Russian Orthodox readers were allowed to say solitary prayers for him on the anniversary of his death.

 

But its tone was mournful, calling Tolstoy the most "tragic personality" in the history of Russian literature. It said that Tolstoy "purposely used his great talent to destroy Russia's traditional spiritual and social order" and that it was "no accident that the leader of the Bolsheviks extremely valued the aim of Leo Tolstoy's activity." So there could be no candles burned for Tolstoy inside Orthodox churches and no commemorations read, according to the letter, signed by the cultural council secretary to Patriarch Kirill I, the church's leader.

 

Mr Stepashin said he expected this response and was glad the letter included some praise. But intellectuals did not hide their astonishment.

 

"It's as if in the 20th century the church did not survive persecution that made Tolstoy's criticisms look like childish prattle," wrote the literary critic Pavel V. Basinsky, whose new book examines Tolstoy's final days. "It's as if we have found ourselves in the situation that we were in at the beginning of the last century."

 

And, as in the last century, much of the discussion surrounding the Tolstoy centennial was akin to gossip.

 

At the time of Tolstoy's death, Russian pundits cast his decision as a spiritual triumph, but the new works retell it as a family tragedy, said William Nickell, author of The Death of Tolstoy. "It is as if he is lumped now with communism," Mr Nickell said. "Good idea in principle, but a disaster in practice."

 

-ELLEN BARRY and SOPHIA KISHKOVSKY

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

CHONGQING MODEL

C. RAJA MOHAN 

 

 Vice President Xi Jinping's recent visit to Chongqing in the Sichuan province might be an important indicator of Chinese politics in the New Year. After his induction into the powerful Central Military Commission last October, Xi is widely tipped to succeed Hu Jintao as the powerful General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party next year and take over as the nation's president soon after. The visit to Chongqing, which is emerging as China's fourth largest metropolis, saw the until-now cautious Xi unveil some of his political ideas.

 

Located at the upper reaches of the Yangtze river, about 1500 km from China's Pacific coastline, Chongqing has become a major manufacturing centre and a logistics hub for southwest China. With a hinterland rich in resources, it is seen by some as the to China's export-oriented growth, which has come under stress amidst the global recession.

 

Chongqing's exports constituted less than 10 per cent of the local GDP last year. (In China as a whole, exports account for nearly 35 per cent of GDP.) When China's growth slowed significantly to 9 per cent last year, Chongqing's GDP grew by nearly 15 per cent. In 1998, Chongqing had a GDP of just $21 billion; by 2009 it had quadrupled to $86 billion.

 

As one of China's four directly administered municipalities, with a population of nearly 32 million, Chongqing has also become the incubator of a new kind of politics that Xi extolled in his tour. In his two-day visit in early December, he was endorsing a very different agenda: restoring the virtues of socialism, returning to the Maoist roots of Communist China, and cracking down hard against on corruption and organised crime.

 

In the last couple of years, Bo Xilai, a member of the CCP's politburo and party secretary in the Chongqing municipality, has drawn widespread attention through his unabashed embrace of Maoist slogans. He ordered officials to spend some time listening to ordinary people, and relearn the communist virtues of rectitude. He regularly texts Mao's sayings to local students.

 

Bo erected Mao's statues and promoted the singing of revolutionary songs. He launched a major scheme to provide housing for the poor. It is Bo's determined effort against criminal mafias and their political allies in the party-state, however, that has got him the greatest notice. Bo's arrests of nearly 5,000 gangsters and corrupt party cadres in Chongqing won much praise — as well as causing concern about human rights.

 

During his trip to Chongqing, Xi praised Bo's policies. Reporting on Xi's tour, the CCP's official organ, the People's Daily praised the "Chongqing model" of upholding the strict socialist path and underlined the importance of applying it to rest of China.

 

Redder than red Xi's support for Bo's policies in Chongqing has triggered speculation about a potential new alliance in the top rungs of the CCP in the run-up to a comprehensive reorganisation of the CCP leadership when the CCP Congress meets next year. Analysts of Chinese domestic politics point out that neither President Hu nor premier Wen Jiabao has publicly celebrated the "Chongqing model".

 

As children of top revolutionary leaders, both Xi and Bo are communist "princelings". Their fathers— Xi Zhongxun and Bo Yib — are part of the 'eight immortals' of the CCP that were ousted from power and mistreated during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. They returned to centrestage when Deng Xiaoping cleansed the CCP of extremism after Mao's death in 1976. And their sons have risen meteorically in the party since then.

 

That Xi and Bo have chosen to paint themselves in colours that are redder than red despite being direct victims of the Maoist period, is an important pointer to the emerging complexity of China's domestic politics.

 

Cynics might argue that the populism of Xi and Bo is about positioning for the possible comprehensive reorganisation of Chinese political hierarchy at the 18th Congress of the CCP in

 

September 2012. It remains to be seen if they can outflank Hu, who would want to leave his own imprimatur on the party lineup after he formally retires as general secretary.

 

Himalayan Studies

 

Much like Guangzhou/Shenzen were to southern China in the 1980s, and Shanghai was to east China in the 1990s, Chongqing is likely to become the engine of economic growth in southwest China in the coming decade.

 

As the closest Chinese megapolis to the subcontinent, Chongqing is becoming central to Beijing's plans to promote greater cooperation between southwest China and South Asia. China has just launched an Institute of Himalayan Studies at Chongqing. Nepal's deputy prime minister, Sujata Koirala, was among the special invitees at its inauguration last week.

 

raja.mohan@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

GUARDING THE STRONG

 

The lead editorial in CPI (ML) weekly ML Update, talks about the recent gangrape of a teenaged Dalit girl in Punjab's Mansa district — in which a police havaldar and some local influential people are accused. It focuses on the issue of atrocities against women and the oppressed communities. In the same area, years ago, Dalit activist, Bant Singh had his limbs chopped off for urging his daughter to pursue a rape case. "What is happening in Punjab is also not very different from what is being seen in rest of India — where scamsters, rioters and rapists roam free while activists like Binayak Sen are jailed. Just recently in Uttar Pradesh, a 17-year-old OBC girl who accused a ruling BSP MLA of rape was jailed on charges of 'theft'," it says. "The recent instances in Punjab and UP are a reminder of the sorry state of affairs in India when it comes to justice in cases of violence against women in general and women from oppressed communities in particular... And if this is the state of affairs in rape cases where politically powerful people are not implicated, what of the cases where police and army forces are implicated in rape and violence against women," it adds.

 

Capital loss

 

The CPI's New Age identifies the challenges for the working class in the new year. While it points out that India escaped the severity of the economic recession due to the presence of a very strong public sector, the country is impacted by the economic crisis of capitalism.

 

"Inflation, growing unemployment and increase in quantum and spread of corruption are all by-products of the economic neo-liberalism, the policies of so-called globalisation, privatisation and liberalism, the policies shamelessly championed by both the Congress-led UPA-II and BJP-led NDA," it says. "All the features of the world economic crisis are vesting us too. With pursuance of economic neo-liberalism, we cannot escape from the fallouts of world wide economic crisis," it claims. On foreign policy, it talks about the pro-US drift, the latest being the near-shutdown of the payment route for Iran oil imports. Pointing that struggles against price rise, corruption and unemployment have to be linked with the fundamental struggle for change of the socio-economic system, it says "all these evils are inevitable outcome of the capitalist order."

 

Exclusive growth

 

An article in the CPI(M)'s People's Democracy talks about India's growth trajectory in the past decade and focuses on those who are left out in the growth story. The article, by C. P. Chandrasekhar, says: "As has been repeatedly noted but inadequately stressed, the fact is that India is a country still plagued by hunger with the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. Deprivation in other forms such as lack of access to clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health facilities and school education still afflict a large proportion of the population... Clearly then, the benefits of high growth for the best part of a decade must be accruing to a small minority, resulting in increased inequality... Since it is the richer sections that have incomes that are substantially in excess of their consumption needs which can be saved, this sharp rise in the savings rate points to an increase in incomes among the richer classes," it says.

 

It also argues that there has been a shift in the source of savings in the economy from the household to the corporate sector. "The share of corporate sector in gross domestic savings rose from 20.4 per cent in 2004-05 to 24 per cent in 2007-08, while that of the household sector fell from 72.3 to 62.2 per cent. Another is a turnaround in the tax-to-GDP ratio: the aggregate tax to GDP ratio of the centre and the states rose from 13.8 to 19.1 per cent between 2001-02 and 2008-09, with the contribution of corporate taxes rising." At the same time, it notes that the "high growth trajectory" has not resulted in high employment growth.

 

Compiled by Manoj C.G.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

OUR VERY OWN IVY LEAGUE

 

Education minister Kapil Sibal's proposal to work on setting up India's very own Ivy League universities is more than welcome, given not just the low numbers of graduates in the country, but in terms of making graduates more employable, of getting more PhD scholars, of getting better research papers, more patents, of getting more Indian universities among the top 500 globally (just two Indian universities figure in the list versus 154 from the US and 34 from China). The problem with what Sibal said, for now, is more in the imagery he drew. "We are working on the concept of Navratna universities, or an Indian Ivy League," he said. Anyone who has seen how Navratna PSUs function—the concept of Navratnas comes from PSUs—will shudder at the fate that awaits universities. Top navratna PSUs like ONGC and Indian Oil have been so burdened with meeting the government's subsidy obligations, they hardly have enough money to invest. It's difficult to reconcile this image of hand-to-mouth subsistence with that of Ivy League universities with generous endowments and complete freedom to operate.

 

To give a sense of what we're battling against, the same education ministry that is talking of Indian Ivies that are free to run their lives has no problem with shackling India's private sector schools. Under the Right to Education Act, all private schools have to reserve a fourth of their seats for the poor or socially disadvantaged (SC/ST/OBC), and this is to be monitored by the government. It's hard to see how the ministry hopes to free the Navratna universities from such obligations—to go back to the Navratna PSUs, they have to hire socially disadvantaged groups. Indeed, while talking of foreign universities, the minister is on record saying they will also have to fulfil the same quotas that local universities have to. All top personnel of Navratna PSUs, like the directors and heads of government-funded universities, are selected by the government—will the Navratna PSUs be allowed a different dispensation? Till there's some clarity on these issues, it's good to keep in mind that the only ivy that the Navratnas conjure up is poison ivy.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

OUR VERY OWN IVY LEAGUE

 

Education minister Kapil Sibal's proposal to work on setting up India's very own Ivy League universities is more than welcome, given not just the low numbers of graduates in the country, but in terms of making graduates more employable, of getting more PhD scholars, of getting better research papers, more patents, of getting more Indian universities among the top 500 globally (just two Indian universities figure in the list versus 154 from the US and 34 from China). The problem with what Sibal said, for now, is more in the imagery he drew. "We are working on the concept of Navratna universities, or an Indian Ivy League," he said. Anyone who has seen how Navratna PSUs function—the concept of Navratnas comes from PSUs—will shudder at the fate that awaits universities. Top navratna PSUs like ONGC and Indian Oil have been so burdened with meeting the government's subsidy obligations, they hardly have enough money to invest. It's difficult to reconcile this image of hand-to-mouth subsistence with that of Ivy League universities with generous endowments and complete freedom to operate.

 

To give a sense of what we're battling against, the same education ministry that is talking of Indian Ivies that are free to run their lives has no problem with shackling India's private sector schools. Under the Right to Education Act, all private schools have to reserve a fourth of their seats for the poor or socially disadvantaged (SC/ST/OBC), and this is to be monitored by the government. It's hard to see how the ministry hopes to free the Navratna universities from such obligations—to go back to the Navratna PSUs, they have to hire socially disadvantaged groups. Indeed, while talking of foreign universities, the minister is on record saying they will also have to fulfil the same quotas that local universities have to. All top personnel of Navratna PSUs, like the directors and heads of government-funded universities, are selected by the government—will the Navratna PSUs be allowed a different dispensation? Till there's some clarity on these issues, it's good to keep in mind that the only ivy that the Navratnas conjure up is poison ivy.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE CEA DISTORTS PRICE SIGNALS

BIBEK DEBROY

 

Inflation is clearly an issue, more than the government had expected initially. Government spokespersons had earlier talked about inflation of 6% by December 2010, later pushed back to March 2011. Much of this was based on higher bases a year ago. Because of a higher base, today's numbers look respectable. Unfortunately, base effects are wearing off and little will remain beyond January 2011. Not only is there food inflation. That's spilling over into fuel and manufacturing, too. Inflation measurement is contingent on indicator used and there are differences between WPI, CPI (there are effectively two of these) and GDP deflator. The CEA (chief economic advisor) is the government's chief policy advisor on economic matters and his words should not be taken lightly. In an interview to this newspaper, CEA Kaushik Basu has said that by March 2011, headline inflation will be 6.5%, half a percentage point more than what was earlier expected. The expression 'headline inflation' hasn't been defined, but presumably refers to WPI. That suggests an annualised GDP deflator inflation of around 6%, about one percentage more than what was hoped. Given the past gaps between CPI and WPI, and depending on which of the two CPIs are used, an annualised CPI-based inflation of around 8% is suggested. The government is powerless to reduce these numbers further. The CEA has acknowledged that monetary policy is relatively ineffective.

 

Agriculture reforms won't happen. This doesn't mean supply rigidities alone, but also an inability to reduce intermediation. Beyond trying to talk down inflation, has the government done anything to reduce food inflation? Ad hoc knee-jerk reactions in trade policy don't matter in the medium term and by the CEA's own admission, monetary policy is relatively ineffective for all varieties of inflation. However, it is unrealistic to expect that the CEA will publicly acknowledge government failure. Hence, we have a new proposition, arguing this inflation is natural and preordained, just as growth theorists talk about natural rates of growth. Here is the CEA in his own words: "When a country grows very rapidly, there is inevitably a tendency for domestic prices to catch up with international prices ... We know from purchasing power parity calculations that Indian prices are about a third to a fourth of the prices in industrialised nations ... there will inevitably be a bit of catch-up on prices. This could mean an additional 1.5% to 2% inflation per annum, which we will have to get used to as a concomitant of rapid growth." Prices globalise and equalise if one liberalises, but only for tradeables. It is because there are non-tradeables, typically services, that notions of PPP developed. And services cost less in developing countries. That's the reason PPP conversions increase income in developing countries and reduce them in developed countries, in relative terms.

 

Do WPI and CPI include services? The answer is 'no' for WPI and 'almost-no' for CPI. That's the reason there was talk of constructing a producer price index (PPI) that would include services and replace WPI. If one restricts the discourse to goods, typically global prices of manufactured goods are lower than in India and global prices of agricultural products are higher than in India. On an average, that is.

 

Consequently, liberalisation should lead to reduced prices of manufactured products in India and higher prices of agricultural products. When markets have not been distorted by government intervention, that has already happened. Had the CEA only said that this means Indian consumers will have to pay more for agricultural products, no one would have objected. However, this argument has more to do with liberalisation and less to do with the speed of growth. Moreover, since the two sets of prices move in opposite directions, it is not a priori obvious what happens in the aggregate. But this isn't the argument the CEA is after. Otherwise, he wouldn't have brought in PPP. We can accept the one-third to one-fourth range, possibly closer to one-third, since that's the rough gap between PPP exchange rates and official exchange rates. If one reads between the lines, the CEA is arguing that service sector prices will increase during a period of rapid growth.

 

However, since the inflation discourse is usually in terms of WPI, and WPI doesn't include services, one can't use that argument to explain why the government is unable to reduce prices as determined by WPI. The natural rate of inflation proposition is a red herring. Inflation, as measured, is a goods problem. No service is rendered by bringing in services. That apart, is there any merit in the argument that service prices will increase during a period of rapid growth? Surely, the answer depends on what kind of services, and presumably we have in mind the labour variety. Stated differently, labour costs will increase. Indian labour markets are segmented. In a macro sense, there is excess supply of labour. But in a micro sense, in certain niches and geographical areas, there is excess demand. India's demographic dividend will not peter away till beyond 2030. Consequently, it is not obvious how one confidently arrives at an incremental inflation number of between 1.5% and 2%, particularly because a long-term increase in wages is one thing, an immediate annual increase of 1.5% to 2% is another. For instance, rather than rapid growth, it is MGNREGA that has increased wages all round, rendering farms unprofitable, because their input costs have increased. Thus, the CEA's proposition is the one around which a neat algebraic and theoretical model can be built. But in explaining what has happened, or in determining policy responses, it lacks conviction.

 

The author is a noted economist

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

 MORE URBAN THAN YOU THINK

YOGINDER K ALAGH

 

The recent McKinsey report is correct in emphasising the role of urbanisation and that it is being neglected. It correctly says that the action will also be in small and medium towns at present dimly recognised. However, it underestimates magnitudes, relying largely on official projections that are already out of date.

 

A big artefact that is not wholly correct is that urbanisation in India is not growing fast. Urbanisation is proceeding much faster than earlier estimates, which worked with the low urbanisation growth rates of the Census 1991-2001 period. For example, for Gujarat, PH Thakkar and I worked out that a number of habitations, which met the Census 2001 criteria of urbanisation, were still classified as 'villages'. According to the population Census 2001, Census towns are non-statutory towns and are actually rural areas but satisfy the following criteria: minimum population of 5,000, population density of at least 400 persons per sq km and 75% of the male working population engaged in non-agricultural activity. The McKinsey report uses official projections with these definitions into 2030. But this leads to biases. For example, from 1991 to 2001, as per the 2001 Census, there were 122 big villages in Gujarat, each of them satisfied the three Census criteria of non-statutory towns having a total population of 11.21 lakh but were still classified as villages. If this is taken as a correction factor, then the difference between the rural and urban growth rate (4.6%), which is used for the projections, will be almost double of that actually used (2.4%).

 

Paul Krugman explains urbanisation as the outcome of both centrifugal and centripetal forces. While the urban growth rate in the 1980s went down from 3.8% to 3.12% in India, that of Class-I towns went up from 6.39% to 8.39%. In a Futures study for the UN, Kirit Parikh and I postulated that these trends will continue. In other words, the fast growth of Class-I towns since the 1980s—the period when the Indian economy grew at a rapid rate—will continue. There is no reason to believe that the elasticity of urban settlements with a minimum size (1,00,000-plus) with respect to per capita income will decline. Krugman denotes this elasticity as 'b'. In fact, it will determine the growth of such towns in the future, while the population share of smaller towns will shrink.

 

Assuming a growth of 6.6% annual in per capita income, the rate of growth of Class-I cities will be 4% for the period 1991-2020, since 'b' is 0.6. The share of urban population will be 42% in 2020 as compared to the official figure of 32%. Urban population growth in this model varies positively with the growth in per capita income and negatively with the share variable. The late P Visaria, who was an urban pessimist, noted that migration to big cities is 'hampered' by workers living in smaller communities who commute for work. With the growth of per capita income being around 4% annually and 'b' as estimated in the 1980s, urban population in 2020 can be projected to be around 530 million, and 593 million by 2025. But the McKinsey report puts it at 590 million in 2030.

 

Policy should not be concentrated only on rural non-farm output and employment. In fact, in a dynamic economy like India, the distinction between the village and small urban settlements can be very counter-productive and lead to all kinds of protectionist distortions. A more productive mindset would be to orient policy to concentric circles of prosperity around diversifying agricultural bases and growth centres. The numerical framework suggested above shows that such possibilities are very real and substantial in India.

 

Transportation, land use, marketing infrastructure and technology dispersal policies can all be oriented towards the fulfilment of this objective, which will be more sustainable. Slum populations are 25% to 40% lower in smaller Class-I towns as compared to million-plus cities.

 

More recently, UN studies have established, through international comparisons, that India is urbanised more than what it says and its non-farm employment growth is globally comparable. The FAO note that according to popular statistics India is less urbanised but they point out that: "On the other hand, what constitutes rural is in fact somewhat subjective and what is considered urban or rural varies considerably among countries." The Brazilian definition, partly based on administrative divisions, shows a rural population of 19%. The OECD uses a simple measure of population density of over 150 people per sq km, which, for Brazil, would give a figure of 25%. If we apply this to India, where only a small proportion people live in areas below this density, it would give a rural population of only 9%—quite a contrast to the view of India being 70% rural. Although, as we have seen, Brazil is much more urbanised; 20% of the population lives in areas with fewer than 50 inhabitants per sq km; in India less than 1% do.

 

To conclude, therefore, we project that the rural population share will go down to 58% in 2020 and 55% in 2025. This compares with the official projection of 68% in 2020 and 64% in 2025. The rural workforce will also be at least 60 million lower than the number of 404 million talked of now. Rahul Gandhi's idea of connecting to millions of people on the move from rural areas is correct.

 

The author is a former Union minister

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

 

What's new year about it?

 

BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain has been wishing everyone a "Happy Calendar Year" over the last few days. Why? Because, he says, the Indian new year is not based on the Roman calender but is linked to cropping cycles, usually starting from Baisakhi.

 

English helps

 

Why was Jaswant Singh asked to look after relations with the BJP's allies when Janata Dal (United) President Sharad Yadav is already doing this job, BJP leader Arun Jaitley was asked. Had Yadav fallen out of favour? Jaitley had a simpler answer: Koi angrezi bolne wala bhi chahiye (we need someone who speaks English as well).

 

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

FACEBOOK'S FLUSH

 

And Google better watch out. Magnet Zuckerberg is pulling in both cash and consumers

 

In the US, Facebook has overtaken Google as the most-visited site. In the UK, too, social networks are overtaking search engines in terms of Internet visits. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was also voted the Time Person of the Year 2010. The magazine noted that in less than seven years, Zuckerberg had "wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the US." If all of this was not enough to give Google nightmares, the fact that Facebook just got a $50 billion valuation (which is 25 times its current revenues and almost twice Google's worth after its first day as a public company) by Goldman Sachs and a $500 million investment piles up the case for Facebook overtaking Google as the most successful Internet company spun out of Silicon Valley. Note that Larry Page and Sergey Brin, at the time of their 2004 IPO, set up two classes of shares in an effort to retain control against Wall Street volatility. They have reason to envy Facebook's ability to tap into big monies without getting tied down by the IPO process—disclosures of profits, revenues, employment et al.

 

As IPO bragging rights go through a noticeable downturn in the US start-up sector, Facebook is not alone in deriving strength from a secondary market for shares of private companies. For example, Twitter is doing the same. It held off Facebook's $500 million offer in 2008 and is now valued at $3.7 billion. There is some talk of new Internet bubbles, but it's not going to keep Goldman's millionaire clients from plumping for some Facebook stock—even though it's going to be illiquid for two years.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MAKING PEACE IN ASSAM

 

There is little doubt that the release of Arabinda Rajkhowa, the leader of the United Liberation Front of Asom, is a move by the Centre to prepare the ground for talks with a group that has been responsible for much of the ruthless violence in the State in pursuit of its secessionist demand. Provided both sides act with responsibility, it could be the best chance yet for peace in Assam. The importance of the moment cannot be overstated considering it was several years in the making, principally through the steady weakening of ULFA at the hands of a range of actors. If the 2003 crackdown by Bhutan on the safe havens that militants from the north-east had found on its territory was the first big blow to the group, the decision of Bangladesh in 2009 to arrest and hand over to India Mr. Rajkhowa, who goes by the designation of "chairman" of ULFA, was another massive setback. And so were the arrests of other top leaders of the group. Also crucial was the waning popular support for the group on account of its violent and extortionist ways. A turning point in this was its 2004 Independence Day attack on a school in which many children were killed. While the demand for fixing accountability for all the lives lost is an issue that will have to be tackled at some point, the immediate yearning for peace has seen Assam's civil society in the forefront of efforts to bring both sides to the negotiating table. It is now for ULFA and the government not to squander this opportunity. Mr. Rajkhowa's statements after his December 31 release on bail — that he is prepared for unconditional talks with the government — indicate a softening of the group's precondition that peace negotiations must include discussions on the issue of Assam's independence.

 

The ULFA leader has made clear, however, that decisions regarding talks with the government will need to be endorsed by the group's 'general council'. For this reason, he has asked for the release of the leaders who still remain in jail, in particular Anup Chetia, who is being held in Bangladesh. It is to be hoped that talks, whenever they take place, will marignalise the self-styled "commander-in-chief" Paresh Barua who is still on the run along with a section of cadres, or tempt him into the process. Meanwhile, with the State Assembly elections due in April, the Tarun Gogoi government must resist the temptation of turning the peace project into a Congress election campaign vehicle. Already, some shades of political opinion in the State have questioned the timing of Mr. Rajkhowa's release. It has to be realised that politicising the talks for electoral gains can only jeopardise the process and the prospects for peace in Assam.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE OUTSOURCING OF WAR

 

José Luis Gómez del Prado, Chairman of the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, has provided a damning indictment of private military and security companies (PMSCs), the use of which has expanded hugely over the past two decades. In the early 1990s, the DynCorp company was contracted by the United States to air-spray Colombian cocaine plantations, train the national army, and dismantle drug rings. By the middle of 2010, however, the U.S. Department of Defense had nearly 210,000 mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan, or about 20 per cent more personnel than the regular military. The worldwide U.S. total is about 240,000, with two-thirds of them coming from host countries and third countries. The main companies are American and British; many of their board members have come through the revolving door between high military ranks and the private war business. The industry, minuscule before 2001, now has a value of about $200 billion a year.

 

Some PMSCs are so notorious that they have changed their names (Blackwater, for instance, now calls itself Xe). In Iraq, they have intensified political instability and public hatred of the occupying forces. Blackwater/Xe may also have been involved in using white phosphorus as a chemical weapon in Fallujah. In Colombia, Washington gave DynCorp immunity from prosecution over long-term diseases, including cancers, caused by its spraying. In Croatia, MPRI company staff cannot be tried for ethnic cleansing (with which many Croatian officers have been charged). In Iraq, the mercenaries have immunity from criminal prosecution. Victims have to make civil claims at their own expense in U.S. or British courts — as do PMSCs' own staff, many of whom are victims of poor training and equipment, and brutal employment practices. As for the work, PMSCs have carried out rendition flights, tortured captives, and engaged in open combat, frequently causing terrible civilian casualties. Washington has circumvented a U.N. arms embargo by contracting MPRI to equip and train the Croatian army. In effect, many PMSCs are agents of foreign policy. The 1989 U.N. International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, which covers individuals and not companies, is not adequate to deal with the current situation. It is extremely disturbing that PMSCs are taking over the military functions of the state, in apparent freedom from domestic or international accountability. The sooner they are brought within the ambit of international criminal law, the better.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

INDIA-RUSSIA TIES IN THE NEOLIBERAL ERA

DMITRY MEDVEDEV'S VISIT CAN BE CONSIDERED "HISTORIC" — THE TRUE COMMENCEMENT, ARGUABLY, OF THE POST-COLD WAR ERA OF RUSSIAN-INDIAN "STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP."

M.K. BHADRAKUMAR

 

If last month's official visit by President Dmitry Medvedev to India came anywhere near being marred, it was from a most unexpected quarter — onions. Indians can't make curries without onions but now 80 per cent of them can't afford this vegetable. They were contemplating how to substitute onions with finely chopped leaks when Mr. Medvedev arrived.

 

Yet, the visit became a page-turner and the youthful President calmed the eye on our tired, jaded political landscape. The visit was "bound to be successful, in theory," as an experienced Russian scholar coyly predicted. Not only the annual summit was meticulously choreographed but there is also a growing "bipartisan" interest in India in the relationship. The right-wing lobbies weaned on old-fashioned "anti-communism" that mocked at Soviet-Indian friendship, the Left which nostalgically (and simplistically) views Russia as the inheritor of Soviet legacies and the government with a pronounced "pro-American" tilt — all agree that India should have a privileged bond with Russia. No mean thing in our highly fragmented polity.

 

Only the common people and intellectuals — who used to constitute the vanguard of Soviet-Indian friendship — are missing from the spectacle. Ironically, 2010 was also the 55th anniversary of the historic visit by Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin to India but no one remembered. To be sure, the distinctive mark of summit 2010 in Delhi is that the "market forces" have penetrated the veins and arteries and even the capillaries of the two countries' relationship. Such things are probably part and parcel of our current neo-liberal era. But is that a good thing to happen? A reverse osmosis is happening in the Sino-Indian partnership. For China, public diplomacy in India has assumed great significance. Anyway, both Russia and India seem content with the way things turned out and are settling for a durable "strategic partnership" based on "convergence of interests," uncluttered by ideals or ideology. There is, of course, no question of infidelity in such a partnership and no scope for adulterous acts — not even flirtatious intimacies. An extraordinary calmness has come to prevail, which is truly rare in relationships.

 

Mr. Medvedev's visit can be considered "historic" — the true commencement, arguably, of the post-Cold War era of Russian-Indian "strategic partnership." The ties have been salvaged from the seemingly hopeless shipwreck of the 1990s and retrieved from the long night of India's "unipolar predicament" (leading to the signing of the U.S.-India nuclear deal in 2008) and, lately, fresh content has begun to be injected into it so that the partnership could acquire the raison d'etre. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the success of this enterprise when he said Russia had become a "special and privileged" partner with which India would pursue a relationship independent of its ties with other countries. By "other countries," he probably meant the U.S. and China. Shorn of diplomatese, New Delhi would nonchalantly accelerate its strategic ties with Washington which, as India understands, is bent on "containing" China, while Sino-Russian ties are deepening and expanding and the two countries increasingly coordinate their stance on regional and international issues, as the latest instance over North Korea amply testifies. New Delhi expects Moscow not to get flustered by the cut and thrust of U.S.-India ties, which by far outstrip Russia's reset with the U.S. and are of a qualitatively different character.

 

India would give primacy to bilateral issues in the partnership with Russia. Wherever there is convergence on regional and international issues, that is fine. And if there is any divergence, that's only natural and the two countries learn to live with it. The joint statement issued after Mr. Medvedev's visit reflects this new thinking. It underscores that India and Russia can still have a "strong convergence of their views on regional and international issues of importance to the security of both countries." But then, that's blasé. Russia's joint statement with China following the summit in Beijing in late September 2010 pledged the two countries to promote a "new security concept" on the basis of mutual trust, mutual benefits, equality and cooperation.

 

The Sino-Russian statement promised mutual support for each other's core interests. The Russian-Indian statement remains silent on the Indian stance on , say, Russian interests in the Caucasus or the Russian stance on India's differences with Pakistan. With regard to the Afghan problem, while there is similarity in the Indian and Russian assessments, the two sides offer nothing in terms of a joint initiative. India faces regional isolation while Russia has an active regional policy with regard to the Afghan problem that even provides for cooperation with Pakistan. India appears to have serious reservations about the U.S.' AfPak strategy and yet seems adamant on working principally with the U.S. The joint statement is silent on what sort of Afghanistan the two countries seek. Shouldn't it be a "neutral" Afghanistan free of long-term foreign military presence? The two countries must be seized of the looming prospect of a long-term NATO military presence in the region as a crucial vector of the alliance's determination to become a global security organisation that can intervene in "hot spots."

 

In political terms, the balance sheet of the summit favoured India. The Indian sherpas negotiated hard and the Russians were generous — support for India's bid for permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council, inclusion in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other technology control regimes, SCO and APEC. The Indian commentators may have over-interpreted the joint statement's portions on terrorism as constituting Russian criticism of Pakistan, but India can derive satisfaction that Russia joined it in calling upon Pakistan "to expeditiously bring all the perpetrators, authors and accomplices of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks to justice." In return, New Delhi expressed solidarity with Moscow's "efforts to eliminate terrorism from Russian soil."

 

However, the leitmotif of Mr. Medvedev's visit was the substantive engagement of the two countries at the bilateral level. Much hope is placed on the recovery of bilateral trade from the stagnation that persisted till 2-3 years ago. The target of $20 billion by 2015 seems reachable, spearheaded by military-technical cooperation and nuclear commerce. India is taking a focussed approach to the relationship. Put simply, Russia is willing to offer India high technology that the West is not yet ready to give. As a Delhi newspaper commented thoughtfully, "Russian technology may not be as good as that of some countries of the West, but at least it is available."

 

During his November visit, President Barack Obama promised to lift the remaining American restrictions on the flow of "dual-use" technology to India. No sooner did Mr. Medvedev leave than senior U.S. officials began calling their Indian counterparts to say they would like to follow up on Mr. Obama's assurances. The U.S. has great motivation to catch up with the Russian approach of going beyond a buyer-seller relationship and to enter into defence-industrial cooperation so as to optimally tap into India's whopping defence-modernisation budget of $80 billion through 2022. However, it is unlikely that the U.S. will be able to match Russia in such areas as the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, access to GLONASS, space-launch vehicle engines or nuclear-propelled submarines.

 

All the same, the business part of Russian-Indian partnership is already characterised by hard negotiations. The two sides failed to sign agreements on Russia constructing two more nuclear power plants in India. Russia has sought a clarification on India's nuclear liability law.

 

There were no big energy deals, either. Russia is entering the Chinese market, while India teams up with the U.S.-sponsored TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project despite its "anti-Russia" orientation.

 

The romance of friendship had a soothing effect on the rough edges of Soviet-Indian relationship, which is absent today. The danger of today's dealings accruing over the fullness of time as a transactional relationship exists. There is no point ignoring the camel in the Russian-Indian tent — China. The Russian foreign policy is balancing between China and India, whereas India seems to take its rivalry with China very seriously and boastfully and is yet to comprehend that its role as a counter-weight to China is gradually diminishing. Russia understands that China's domestic problems are gigantic and it will have to devote most of its efforts to cope with them. Also, Russia has direct stakes in the Asia-Pacific region — unification of Korea, for example, is in Russia's strategic interests. But China's rise colours India's Asia-Pacific sights.

 

However, the fundamental dichotomy lies elsewhere. The heart of the matter is that India figures in Russia's geopolitical schemes as part and parcel of RIC (Russia-India-China), BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) and SCO for the obvious reason that Moscow regards these emerging entities as the ultimate driving force for revitalising the world economy on a long-term basis. While this point seems to register well with Brazil and China, India is hesitant to take a strategic decision.

 

(The writer is a former diplomat.)

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

EXPOSING THE REAL TUNISIA

A RECENT WAVE OF UNREST BELIES THE MYTH OF A TUNISIAN MIRACLE, AND OFFERS A STARK WARNING.

SOUMAYA GHANNOUSHi

 

It seems that the waters of the stagnant Arab swamp may be stirring at last. Tunisia, that small north African country on the Arab world's western shores, has for the past two weeks been the scene of a social uprising rare in this tightly controlled part of the world. This outburst of popular anger was ignited by an unemployed 26-year-old university graduate setting himself ablaze outside a police station in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid. Soon afterwards another young man electrocuted himself, shouting "No unemployment, no misery!" and more attempted suicides have been reported since. A wave of riots and protests has ensued, sweeping through towns and villages all over the country — even in the capital, Tunis.

 

Reality

 

As in many Arab nations, political despotism and socio-economic failure is acute in Tunisia. And this unrest points to the reality hidden behind the facade of tourist brochures and lavish resorts exhibited to the outside world. This is the world of ordinary Tunisians, of a rapidly depleted middle class crushed under the weight of rampant privatisation and a decreasing public sector, of soaring prices, debt, unemployment, social marginalisation and young men boarding "death boats" in the hope of escape to the other side of the Mediterranean. It is a world of the systematic impoverishment of the masses in inner cities and villages by the nouveaux riches, by a wealthy minority linked to the President and his family through a tight web of corruption and theft.

 

This is the "Tunisian miracle" trumpeted by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime and echoed by its backers in the European Union, particularly France, Italy and Spain. For its sake, Tunisians were told to keep quiet and relinquish all hope of political freedom and democracy. While acknowledging the regime's flagrant human rights violations, the European Union (EU) is considering upgrading relations with Tunisia and granting it "advanced-partner status".

 

The myth of socio-economic success is not the only fabrication. The official discourse is borrowed from the latest liberal dictionary, replete with such phrases as civil society, individual freedom and human rights. But these ring hollow in Ben Ali's police state. He seized power from his predecessor in a coup d'etat 23 years ago, and has not budged from his throne since, thanks to a string of falsified elections — in which his share of the votes has ranged from 97 per cent to 99 per cent — and a 1,50,000—strong police force, the same size as Britain's, with a population a sixth as large.

 

The general's eradication campaign began with a crackdown on an-Nahda, the main opposition party of liberal democratic Islamist tendencies, in 1990, in the name of combating the "fundamentalist threat". It then moved on to devour all political dissidents, including nationalists, leftists, liberals and student activists.

 

Next came civil society's turn. Between annexation and dissolution, no association remained autonomous or active, including trade unions, human rights organisations, and cultural, social and even sports associations. Tunisian jails became the sole gathering point for activists.

 

Attacks on the media

 

Journalists have fared no better. No other Arab country has imprisoned more journalists since 2000. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has declared the regime to be one of the world's 10 worst enemies of the press. Tellingly, the only images of the current protests have been captured on mobile-phone cameras and released on the web, as no foreign reporters are allowed into the country. Only North Korea can compete with Tunisia in this regard.

 

Ben Ali may have brought the stability desired by his foreign backers, but it was the stability of the dead, of graves and cemeteries.

 

Amid the wreckage of political life, Tunisia's general grapples with two phenomena of his own making. The first is the rise of violent anarchist groups associated with Al-Qaeda, which have emerged in the vacuum generated by his eradication policy. The second is rage at corruption, unemployment and government repression, which has erupted in the past few weeks.

 

Events in Tunisia are symptomatic of what lies ahead. Arab rulers have striven to kill politics in all its forms. But as they do away with organised mainstream parties and associations, they will find themselves, like Ben Ali, face to face with a younger generation mobilised by feelings of frustration and humiliation, and yearning for revenge. And when all vessels of movement and expression are shut off, explosions and eruptions become the only possibility left. ( Soumaya Ghannoushi is a researcher in the history of ideas at the School of Oriental and African Studies.) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

 

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THE HINDU

AUSTRALIA FLOODS LIKELY TO LAST WEEKS

MILITARY HELICOPTERS SUPPLY FOOD AND MEDICINE TO THE CITY OF ROCKHAMPTON AFTER FLOODS HIT QUEENSLAND, KILLING THREE PEOPLE.

ALISON ROURKE

 

The last road into the Australian city of Rockhampton was cut off by water on January 2 as Queensland's premier, Anna Bligh, warned that the floods which have overwhelmed the state may not recede for weeks.

 

"It looks like Rockhampton's in the middle of an inland sea. The amount of water coming down these river systems is nothing short of astonishing," said Bligh on a visit to the city. "Given the scale and size of this disaster, and the prospect that we will see water sitting potentially for a couple of weeks, we will have major issues to deal with throughout January." Rockhampton, which has 75,000 people, will be supplied by military helicopters and by barge. Fourteen tonnes of food and medical supplies were taken in on January 2 by road before the highway was cut off.

 

Area, size of France, Germany

 

The flooding has hit an area the size of France and Germany, affecting 2,00,000 people in more than 20 towns and cities.

 

Police in Rockhampton have ordered residents to leave their homes as electricity is switched off in low-lying areas.

 

Up to 40 per cent of the town is expected to be affected when the river peaks. Seventy people have registered at the evacuation centre in the city, though there is space for many more.

 

A 60-year-old man was reported to have drowned on January 2 after his car was washed off a road, bringing the number who have died to three since the flooding began on Christmas Day. Two other men travelling in the same car, aged 19 and 40, survived the accident. Ten have died since the start of the wet season in Queensland a month ago.

 

The acting assistant police commissioner, Alistair Dawson, asked people not to drive through floodwaters. "I really want to urge people to be cautious around water," he said. "As soon as we can open roads, we will." While some areas are braced for the full force of the flood, others have begun the clean-up. Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, has announced grants of up to A$25,000 (£16,000) for small businesses affected by the crisis.

 

"The extent of flooding being experienced by Queensland is unprecedented, and requires a national and united response to provide as much support to communities as we can," she said.

 

Gillard paid tribute to the way people were coping with the crisis, and said the government would do all it could to help them recover. "We know there are far too many families who have had to leave not only their homes, but also their businesses. This targeted financial assistance will help them minimise their economic losses as they embark on the very difficult recovery period that lies ahead, and help businesses start trading as soon as possible," she said.

 

Gillard acknowledged that the clean-up bill would be in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

Coal industry affected

Queensland's massive coal industry has been devastated by the flooding. "We have three-quarters of our coal fields unable to operate and unable to supply markets," Bligh told ABC Television. "There is likely to be a significant long-term effect from that — and not only nationally."— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

 

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THE HINDU

SAUDI ARABIA TO HOST WORLD'S LARGEST GOLD FACTORY

 

Saudi Arabia, the top oil exporter, is planning to host the world's largest gold factory by the end of 2011, Arab News reported on January 4. It will become a reality by the end of this year," the CEO of Taiba for Gold and Jewels company, told the daily.

 

The factory, located in city of Jeddah, will usher in between 500 to 800 jobs, he said, adding that the 22,000-sq.m plant is already under construction. The project is the brainchild of the company which has 25 years experience in gold sales. The kingdom has led the Middle East in gold and jewellery consumption and sales. Saudi Arabia, the top Arab holder of gold reserves, is now the 16th largest gold holder.

 

In June 2010, the World Gold Council, a non-profit body that tracks gold holdings across the globe, said Saudi Arabia, the world's fourth largest holder of foreign exchange reserves, has doubled its gold reserves to 323 tonnes.— Xinhua

 

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THE HINDU

'I WOULD DEFINE POLITICS AS THE COMPOSITION OF A COMMON WORLD'

INTERVIEW WITH BRUNO LATOUR, THINKER AND SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGIST.

 

Bruno Latour is one of France's most innovative, provocative and stimulating thinkers and social anthropologists. Given French Cartesian orthodoxy, it is not surprising that he is more appreciated in the Anglo-Saxon world, where his books such as "We Have Never Been Modern" (1993) are better known than in his native France. Jon Thompson, the publisher and chief editor of Polity Press, London, described him as France's most original and interesting thinker and in 2007, Bruno Latour was listed as the 10th most-cited intellectual in the humanities and social sciences by The Times Higher Education Guide.

 

Mr. Latour's seminal work has been in the field of Science and Technology Studies. With his "Actor Network Theory" he has advanced the notion that the objects of scientific study are socially constructed within the laboratory. Thus scientific activity is viewed as a system of beliefs, oral traditions and culturally specific practices, reconstructed, not as a procedure or as a set of principles but as a culture. Mr. Latour will be in India this week conducting workshops in New Delhi. In this exclusive interview with The Hindu's Vaiju Naravane in Paris, he discusses the new challenges facing humanity and of India's role in the climate debate.

 

I wish to start this interview with a discussion of one of your most famous books — "We Have Never Been Modern". Could you explain what you meant by that? What made you write this book and where do you go now?

 

The Great Narrative of the Western definition of the world was based on a certain idea of Science and Technology and once we began, 30 or 40 years ago to study the practices of the making of science and technology, we realised that this definition could not sustain the old idea of western rationality taking, in a way the place of archaic attachment to the past.

 

The Great Narrative was based on the idea of Science which was largely mythical. Science has always been linked to the other cultures of the Western World, although it has always described itself as apart — separated from politics, values, religion and so on. But when you begin to work on a history of Science — Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, Einstein, Kantor or whoever, you find on the contrary, that things have never been severed, that there has always been a continuous re-connection with the rest of cultures and especially with the rest of politics.

 

So until the end of the 20th century the western Great Narrative was caught in a contradiction between its practice which was constant attachment between Science and Culture and its official description of itself as being rational, objective, separate, as being universal in that it operated everywhere in the same way. Now what is interesting from the Indian perspective is that the whole discourse about modernising or not modernising, about progressing or not progressing, between being archaic or not, was based on the baseline shibboleth provided by this idea of modernisation. Now if you change this baseline and if modernisation is not what has been going on in the so-called West, the "we" of We Have Never Been Modern, then it opens up many new conversations between the former modernising and the former modernised. And of course this fits very well with the large body of literature, mainly from India on post-colonial studies.

 

I would like to refer to a recent essay of yours in which you say and I quote: "… the meteorologists don't agree with the chemists; they are talking about cyclical fluctuations unrelated to human activity. … The horizons, the stakes, the time frames, the actors — none of these is commensurable and yet, there they are, caught up in the same story…" So what is going on in this debate over climate change and what happens to the role of governments?

 

On governments the question becomes complicated because we are now talking about the politics of Nature and that's a rather new quandary. Nature was not supposed to be part of anything — it was supposed to be out there. Not in the ancient tradition where there was no separation to begin with between Nature and society but now, when we have returned to a most interesting position, where Nature is back in politics. However, Nature is not able to unify the discussion so far because people are entering into controversies about Nature. And these controversies cannot be quashed by saying — you are not a scientist or you are not the government or from the West or whatever, and this is a very new arena for politics as well as for scientists and citizens. And that is the new area I am trying to map, so to speak. But no one has answers for that. No one has ever had to bring the climate into parliament! We are struggling collectively and India again is very important here because of its new role in Cancun and the climate debate.

 

In New Delhi you are holding talks with ecologists, engineers who develop digital technologies with social science applications and those engaged in both the climate change and globalisation debate from the emerging countries' point of view. Where do you think the meeting ground lies?

 

The responses have to be issue-specific, of course. But the first thing is to have a meeting ground which is defined neither by the need of Nature, as if Nature was able to exist universally and outside politics, nor by defining it only by market forces, although market forces have to be defined and organised as well. So it's more of a negative common ground, I would say. Do we agree that the problem cannot be solved by other than composing a common world? The composition of a common world would be the definition of politics.

 

You are one of France's most original, stimulating and provocative thinkers and yet, you are much better known and better appreciated outside France. Do you think this has to do with France's rigid Cartesian mindset and orthodoxy?

 

In France there is a specific reason. Science and Modernisation have been so entangled from the time of the French Revolution that it is difficult in here to reopen this question of universality, science, colonial expansion and so on without entering into many, many delicate and "hot" issues about identities. So the French identity has largely been based on a certain idea of Science and expansion and all these questions are now being debated and put into jeopardy. Everything here hinges on a certain idea of science and it's an idea of science that I am tackling and they don't like that too much! Of course there is the same discourse in India where attacking Science and Technology is considered reactionary and so forth. So the idea that there is no other alternative, that is, if you do not talk about Science and Technology in a "progress" mode, you are a reactionary is the same everywhere. In India, France or America, the same temptation is there. That is now changing because of the ecology crisis.

 

You have been working on the idea of eco-theology. Could you talk about that?

 

Given that we have to look for alternatives to the politics of Nature, I was interested in seeing if there is in the old tradition of Christian theology – I don't know enough about Indian tradition — about respect for Creation. Not about Nature but respect for Creation. And it happens that in the Orthodox Christian tradition of Central and Eastern Europe there is a large body of theological work around the question of Creation. My interest is that there is a disconnect between the science and the size of the threat that people mention about Nature, the planet and the climate and the emotion that this triggers. So we are supposed to be extremely frightened people, but despite that we appear to sleep pretty well. So either the threat is not that strong, or we have not built the kind of emotion we have built for war, for religious conflict and all sorts of other issues which make us very emotive.

 

Or that our fright is so great that it has numbed us …

 

That's also a very clear possibility and that's not a very good attitude either, nonetheless. That's why I'm interested in seeing and checking if there is in religious tradition where you fathom this question about emotion about Creation. And again, India is a very interesting place for that.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

LET PROBE AGENCIES DO BOFORS JOB

 

If there is one area where we have progressed by leaps and bounds, besides economic growth, then corruption takes the grandstand. The latest revelation, by the income-tax appellate tribunal, has held that kickbacks were paid to the late Win Chadha (`52 crore) and Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi (`9 crore) in the Howitzer guns deal worth `1,437 crore. The government at that time insisted that no commissions or kickbacks were paid when the Swedish media revealed that kickbacks were paid. The tribunal was giving its judgment in the case of Win Chadha's son, who challenged the income-tax department's demand for tax on the commissions received. Chadha's son maintained that the commissions were not liable to be taxed.


The total commission paid comes to around `65 crore. Seen against this amount, in 2010 the 2G spectrum allocation scam was of the order of `1.75 lakh crore. Even if it's a notional amount, it cannot be too far from the real sum and represents a quantum jump of about 3,000 per cent. In hindsight, the Bofors scam and the huge cover-up by the agencies concerned seems negligible in today's context. But reading between the lines it tells a much bigger story, and yet the same old story, of the ruling party or parties using the Central Bureau of Investigation and the income-tax department for furthering their own agendas, as tools against their foes and for their friends. The root of the malaise is the absence of the concept of public accountability.


Legally speaking, the Bofors investigation, which is sought to be closed officially because of lack of evidence (a familiar ring), should be re-opened in the light of the evidence in the 93-page judgment of theincome-tax appellate tribunal. The Central Bureau of Investigation, as a former Central Bureau of Investigation chief has been saying on TV channels, has all the material necessary to punish the guilty but they were not allowed to go ahead. It can start the prosecution process against Mr Quattrocchi; this will show whether the government has the political will to proceed against him. It must be said, to the credit of the income-tax department, that it did chase the money trail of kickbacks given to both Chadha and Mr Quattrocchi. This is admirable considering that big brother was watching. It is necessary for the country to know who these persons are who prevented the law enforcing agencies from proceeding against the guilty and punishing them. These individuals can be proceeded against under Section 212 of the Indian Penal Code for harbouring offenders. Life, they say, has no rewind button, but had the Central Bureau of Investigation and the income-tax department been allowed to do their jobs in the Bofors scam after tracking the guilty and their misdemeanours, maybe we would not have had the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games scam of some `3,000 crore or the 2G spectrum allocation scam of `1.75 lakh crore. While the Congress' cup of woes has overflowed into the new year, the start of the second decade of the 21st century, it is not them alone that are to be blamed. As a Congress spokesperson said, in the 25 years that have passed since the 1986 Bofors scam the non-Congress parties were in power for nine years. What was their role and what did they do when they were in power? One hopes for answers to this very serious question, one that indicates that there must be something very wrong with a system whose elite law enforcing agencies can be manipulated by vested interests. It happens again and again.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

FORESTS AND FREEDOM

VANDANA SHIVA

 

2011 is the year of the forest. It is also Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary.

 

Forests were central to Tagore's works and institution building as they have been for India's creative expressions through the centuries.


As Tagore wrote in The Religion of the Forests, the ideal of perfection preached by the forest dwellers of ancient India runs through the heart of our classical literature and still dominates our mind. The forests are sources of water as the women of Chipko showed in the 1970s. They are the storehouse of biodiversity.
The biodiversity of the forest teaches us lessons of democracy, of leaving space for others while drawing sustenance from the common web of life. (In his essay Tapovan, Tagore writes: "Indian civilisation has been distinctive in locating its source of regeneration, material and intellectual, in the forest, not the city. India's best ideas have come where man was in communion with trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds. The peace of the forest has helped the intellectual evolution of man. The culture of the forest has fuelled culture of Indian society. The culture that has arisen from the forest has been influenced by the diverse processes of renewal of life, which are always at play in the forest, varying from species to species, from season to season, in sight and sound and smell. The unifying principle of life in diversity, of democratic pluralism, thus became the principle of Indian civilisation."


It is this "unity in diversity" that is the basis of both ecological sustainability and democracy. Diversity without unity becomes the source of conflict and contest. Uniformity without diversity becomes the ground for external control. This is true of both nature and culture.


In Tagore's writings, the forest was not just the source of knowledge and freedom it was the source of beauty and joy, of art and aesthetics, of harmony and perfection. It symbolised the universe. In The Religion of the Forest, the poet says our attitude of mind "guides our attempts to establish relations with the universe either by conquest or by union, either through the cultivation of power or through that of sympathy".


The forest teaches us union and compassion.


For Tagore, our relationship with the forest and nature is a relationship that allows us to experience our humanity. Humans and nature are not separate we are one.


"In our dreams, nature stands in her own right, proving that she has her great function, to impart the peace of the eternal to human emotions".


It is this permanence, this peace, this joy of living not by conquest and domination, but by co-existence and cooperation that is at the heart of a forest culture. The forest also teaches us "enoughness" as equity, enjoying the gifts of nature without exploitation and accumulation. In Religion of the Forest, Tagore quotes from the ancient texts, written in the forest: "Ishavasyam idam sarvam yat kinch jagatyam jagatYena tyak tena bhunjithaMa gradha kasyasvit dhanam"


(Know all that moves in this moving world as enveloped by god, and find enjoyment through renunciation not through greed of possession)

No species in a forest appropriates the share of other species to nutrients, water, and the sun's energy. Every species sustains itself in mutual cooperation with others. This is Earth Democracy.


The end of consumerism and accumulation is the beginning of the joy of living. That is why the tribals of contemporary India from Kalinganagar to Niyamgiri and Bastar are resisting leaving their forest homes and abandoning their forest culture. The conflict between greed and compassion, conquest and cooperation, violence and harmony that Tagore wrote about continues today. And it is the forest which can show us the way beyond this conflict by reconnecting to nature and finding sources for own freedom. For the powerful it means freedom from greed. For the excluded it means freedom from want, from hunger and thirst, from dispossession and disposability.


Diversity is at the heart of the living systems of Gaia, including her forests. Tagore defined monocultures as the "exaggeration of sameness" and he wrote: "Life finds its truth and beauty not in exaggeration of sameness, but in harmony."


Harmony in diversity is the nature of the forest, whereas monotonous sameness is the nature of industrialism based on a mechanical worldview. This is what Tagore saw as the difference between the West and India.


"The civilisation of the West has in it the spirit of the machine which must move; and to that blind movement human lives are offered as fuel, keeping up the stream power" (The Spirit of Freedom).


Globalisation has spread the civilisation based on power and greed and the spirit of the machine worldwide. And the global spread of the "passion of profit-making and the drunkenness of power" is spreading fear of freedoms.


A civilisation based on power and greed is a civilisation based on fear and violence.


"The people who have sacrificed their souls to the passion of profit making and the drunkenness of power are constantly pursued by phantoms of panic and suspicion, and therefore they are ruthless. They are morally incapable of allowing freedom to others" (The Spirit of Freedom).


Greed and accumulation must lead to slavery.


Today the rule of money and greed dominates our society, economy and politics. The culture of conquest is invading into our tribal lands and forests through mining of iron-ore, bauxite and coal.


Every forest area has become a war zone. Every tribal is defined as a "Maoist" by a militarised corporate state appropriating the land and natural resources of the tribals. And every defender of the rights of the forest and forest dwellers is being treated as a criminal. This is the context of Dr Binayak Sen's life sentence.


If India is to survive ecologically and politically, if India has to stay democratic, if Indian citizen is to be guaranteed, we need to give up the road of conquest and destruction and take the road of union and conservation, we need to cultivate peace and compassion instead of power and violence.


We need to turn, once again, to the forest as our perennial teachers of peace and freedom, of diversity and democracy.

 

Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of Navdanya Trust

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

MODELS OF DEMOCRACY

P.C. ALEXANDER

 

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century the issue that dominated the political debate of the late 1940s — the system of government best suited for India — is being raised again in certain intellectual circles.


The main problem before the framers of the Constitution was how to devise a Constitution best suited for both stability and accountability and also one which would help lift the vast masses of people stuck in ignorance, illiteracy, ill-health and poverty as a result of a century-and-a-half of colonial exploitation.


B.R. Ambedkar had explained to the members of the Constituent Assembly that they had two options before them: one, the presidential form of democracy as prevalent in the US, and the other the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy as prevalent in Britain.


The Constituent Assembly came to the conclusion that the Westminster model was the best suited for effectively tackling the problem of underdevelopment and at the same time providing for accountability and gave us the present Constitution, which in spite of a 100 amendments retains its basic features without any change. Let us examine how far the objectives of the founding fathers of our republic have been fulfilled under this Constitution.


While assessing the progress made in poverty eradication we have to acknowledge the fact that the lot of the poor today is much better than what it was at the time we achieved Independence. But what should cause serious concern is the fact that a large number of people still live in abject poverty in India, though the country has emerged as one of the top economic powers of the world.


What has gone wrong is not in production of wealth, but in distribution and in ensuring that all those who create wealth pay the taxes due to the government. Quite a good part of the wealth created has flown to tax havens in foreign countries and successive governments at the Centre have failed to plug such leakages.
According to a Swiss bank report of 2006, India topped the list of depositors of wealth in banks in Switzerland to the extent of $1,456 billion compared with Russia's $470 billion, UK's $390 billion, Ukraine's $100 billion and China's $96 billion. Deposits of Indians are thus more than the deposits of all the other countries, and this shows the extent of wealth owned by Indians, but which has escaped taxation. Many Indians have earned the distinction of being billionaires, but unfortunately India has not produced a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett, who have made big money in a honest way and are spending the bulk of their wealth on deserving charities in countries all over the world, including India.


We have to admit with shame that hunger is still a major problem in our country and a large number of people in different parts of the country — both urban and rural — die of malnutrition and hunger. We should also feel ashamed and guilty when we read about the reports of suicide in several rural pockets of the country because of inability to pay back the loans they have raised at high rates of interest from money-lenders.


According to the Global Hunger Index published by the Washington-based International Food Policy and Research Institute, India ranks 66 among 88 countries with 23.7 points on a 100 point scale. (Zero is the best score, indicating no hunger while 100 is the worst.) India's Constitution and the laws made under it have never stood in the way of coming to the help of such people, but poor enforcement by the government has resulted in continued misery for such people.


On the criterion of education, fairly good progress has been made after Independence but the situation remains dismal because of the inadequacies of these institutions in both quantity and quality.


The condition of public health facilities, particularly in rural areas, is as bad as that of educational facilities in these areas. The villages in India have their inherent problems in tackling the problem of delivery of educational and health services.


The size of the population in 2,86,469 villages is less than 500 each and in 1,45,180 villages it is between 500 and 1,000 each out of a total number of 6,22,621 villages in India. There are serious problems in setting up proper health and educational institutions in such very small villages and the government has so far failed to devise suitable techniques to solve them.


Instead, the government follows the traditional practice of establishing health clinics and primary schools in a few villages and appointing teachers or doctors for such places. These facilities remain on paper and are in no position to provide the services expected of them.


Now let us turn to the quality of the institutions of democracy in India.


Whenever we speak of India's achievements after Independence we pat ourselves on the back by claiming that we are one of the successful democracies in the world. No doubt, compared with most other such newly-independent countries in Asia and Africa, we can legitimately claim that democracy has been stable, but, based on the criterion of quality of the institutions of democracy, India is still classified as one among the 50 "flawed democracies" of the world.


According to the democracy index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 30 countries are full democracies, 50 "flawed democracies", 36 hybrid regimes and 51 authoritarian regimes out of a total 167 countries. At the rate at which we are abusing the forum of legislature for staging protests and demonstrations and neglecting its primary duties, we may even slip below our present rank in the list of "flawed democracies".
From the above assessment of the progress in development programmes undertaken by India in the last six decades it is clear that the Constitution, which has been adopted by India, has in no way prevented it from improving on its performance. On the other hand, the manner in which the programmes have been implemented, the intolerable long delays, and, above all, the corruption associated with implementation of programmes, have been responsible for the shortfalls in performance.


Today there are many countries in both the developed and developing worlds that have Constitutions combining some of the features of the Westminster model and some of the presidential system, but one doubts whether this type of combination will suit the conditions in India.


I can do nothing better than quote Dr Larry Diamond, a reputed authority in the world on democracy and at present professor of political science and sociology at Stanford University, when he said after his recent visit to India, in the course of a question and answer session, that if India wants to improve its democracy, it must create stronger institutions that allow for horizontal accountability. Also, I strongly endorse his suggestion that India needs a "counter corruption commission", like the Election Commission, which should be fully autonomous in its authority to check efficiency and punish corruption.

 

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra

 

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DNA

INDIA HAS IDEAS, BUT FEW TURN INTO PRODUCTS

 

Prime minister Manmohan Singh, inaugurating the 98th Indian Science Congress in Chennai on Monday, made the critical observation that scientific research is not being translated into a marketable product. He cited the example of CV Raman's spectrum studies that won him the Nobel prize for physics in 1921, and which came to be known as the Raman Effect. Singh pointed out that most of the applications of the Raman Effect were being done outside India, and that even the instruments utilising the Raman Effect were being imported. Singh raised the question as to why the translation of research into products is so weak in India, and urged greater marketability of our discoveries.

 

Singh's concerns are well taken. But one cannot discount the role of basic science, which does not work with the market in mind. When a British politician asked Michael Faraday of what use was the electromagnetic induction that he had discovered, he replied that he didn't know but was sure that one day the politicians would tax it! Similarly, no scientist can foresee what purpose his research and discovery will actually serve. There is another concern: CV Raman could discover the eponymous effect because then Indian universities were comparable with the best in terms of research. That is simply not the case today, with some exceptions. We need to make sure that our basic sciences are on a par with the best in the world so that we keep churning out path-breaking research and knowledge.

 

Yet, there is no doubt that the PM has raised a pertinent point. India has traditionally been weak on applications; this may have something to do with our culture that places a premium on Brahminic rote learning rather than application, seen as the Shudra's (and, therefore, undesirable) job. Our education system too stresses rote learning. Thus, historically, India has produced great ideas, but few world-altering products.

 

The good news is that slowly but surely, this is changing. Thanks to the growth of engineering and applied science courses, Indians are coming up with products, though too few as yet to make an impact. No doubt much remains to be done in this sphere, and it will take a concerted effort from society and government to change a culture that has been imbibed over centuries. Singh's statement can be the first step.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

SCHWARZENEGGER, THE GREEN ACTION HERO

 

Hollywood action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped down as governor of California on Monday, though not exactly in the manner of Terminator 2, where he played the eponymous role, dissolving his metal body in the seething fires. Schwarzenegger the governator lives on, unlike the terminator. People in the state have not been too kind in their assessment of his political role. The figures tell all: 22% approval at the end of the show. The actor, who had his box-office hits and flops, has taken it in his stride.

 

It is not his political fortunes that are a matter of interest, but his politics. He is the odd Republican who is worried about climate change and the consequent global warming. That is something Californians have liked in him. What he failed at was the true Republican belief in cutting back on deficit financing in the state. He came in with the right intention but it did not turn out that way. He discovered that government cannot shy away from spending when there is a need to do so.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

BOFORS, A REMINDER FOR AN INDEPENDENT CBI

 

The resurfacing of the Bofors payoffs scandal of a quarter century ago lacks the sting it did in the late 1980s when it tarnished the image of the Rajiv Gandhi government with its brute majority in Lok Sabha and finally inflicted electoral defeat in the 1989 parliamentary elections. But in 2011 it is the proverbial dead horse. The Congress had paid the political price for the Bofors deal and is still finding it difficult to shrug off the disrepute that it brought.

 

The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) decision that Win Chadha and Ottavio Quattrochi, two of the accused among many, should pay tax on the amount that they got from Bofors opens up the issue of payments once again. The tribunal is looking at the amount that Bofors paid in the narrow sense of taxable amount. It is not questioning the legality or otherwise of the payment into the accounts of Quattrochi and Chadha.

 

This has left the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in an embarrassing position because it has filed for a closure of the case against the fugitive Quattrochi. The investigation agency was arguing that there was not enough evidence. The tax tribunal has shown that Bofors has paid the money. It shows the CBI in poor light.

 

This does not leave any one in doubt that the CBI has been tardy in persuading the first major scam in the country, and through no fault of the investigation agency itself. Whatever the protestations of the Congress leaders, there was political pressure on the CBI in the matter. It was also clear that this was no open-and-shut case and that there were too many legal complications that had to be unravelled. The money trail was labyrinthine, passing through many countries and various accounts. It is quite commendable that the tax sleuths have been able to establish the link between Bofors and Chadha and Quattrochi. There was also the issue of extradition of Quattrochi. Both Malaysia and Argentina declined to extradite Quattrochi. It needed greater legal expertise to crack the case. The CBI needs greater expertise in these matters than it commands now. It has not tried hard enough, and we know why.

 

The Bofors lesson is clear. The CBI cannot uncover the truth unless it is freed from its political tutelage. India needs an independent prosecutor to deal with cases of corruption involving those in places of power.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

EXPERIENCES ARE OPPORTUNITIES

RAMESH MENON

 

Last week someone asked me to list out my bad experiences. It was an interesting task, but when I scanned the various experiences in the last five and a half decades, I could not find one that could be labelled as 'bad'. In my lexicon, there is nothing called a bad experience. The reason is simple. How can any experience be bad, if it is a learning experience? I have only benefited from all my experiences. It has made me better.

 

It all depends on how you view it. If you see it with anger and bitterness, it will only make you simmer uncomfortably whenever you revisit it. But if you see it as an opportunity where you learnt a lesson, you actually end up valuing it.

 

Sometimes, it is the anger against those who created that experience that gnaws at you. But, it is because you allow it to happen. It is important to have the magnanimity to forgive people.

 

Actually, every experience is an opportunity. Few of us convert it to an enriching possibility; others wallow in it.

Life gives us experiences as it wants us to clinch those opportunities. Try making a chart of the experiences you have had without classifying it. Then see what it did to you. If it is anger that you see, then rerun it thinking of what it can teach you. It is amazing how you will then see your life history differently.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

IMAGINE A WORLD WITH EASY VISAS ON ARRIVAL…

VENKATESAN VEMBU

 

The ex-Beatle and irremediable peacenik John Lennon, who was murdered 30 years ago last month, wanted us to imagine a world without countries (or religions or possessions). There's evidently a big market around the world for syrupy sentimentalism of that sort, which accounts for why Imagine became something of a 'global anthem'. Heck, there's even an ice-cream flavour, complete with chocolate peace symbols, called Imagine Whirled Peace.

 

But nearly 40 years later after Lennon's song was released, his maudlin musings are in a bit of a bear market — as anyone who has contemplated overseas travel or dealt with surly immigration officials knows. The idea of the nation-state has become stronger than ever, and is reinforced forcefully every time we pass through the shadowlines of border controls that separate countries — or submit ourselves to retinal scanning and finger-printing procedures as part of the visa application ritual.

 

The news, therefore, that the Indian government has extended the visa-on-arrival facility to visitors from four southeast Asian countries — Cambodia, Laos, Philippines and Vietnam — from January 1 goes against the trend of countries fortifying their border controls, the better to keep out whimsical visitors. The move is particularly welcome because for a country that has ancient civilisational links with southeast Asia, India enjoys tenuous people-to-people relations with the region. Closer tourism ties, which are the desired outcome of the relaxation of visa controls of the sorts that have been introduced, should remedy that historical failing somewhat.

 

In an earlier era, Indians applying for visas to countries in the developed West would queue up on the roads outside embassies or consulates overnight to get their foot in at the door and beat the daily visa quota. These days, thanks to outsourced arrangements for visa processing, one subjects oneself to far less of that kind of ritual self-abuse. Even so, it's hard for us to understand the ease of mobility that comes with holding certain passports. Hong Kong passport holders, for instance, are so unused to applying ahead for visas — since their passport qualifies them for visa-free entry or visa-on-arrival to most countries — that there are several instances of travellers to India who have turned up at the airline check-in counter only to be turned away because they didn't have an Indian visa and didn't know they needed one!

 

Hong Kong, in fact, is one of the few places in the developed world today where Indian passport holders get 14 days' visa-free entry: that's induced many more Indians to travel to Hong Kong, and has accounted for an 80% increase in Indian traffic to the local Disneyland — where, as a concession to Indian tastes, the restaurants now even serve curry buffets…

 

In such a context, India's gradual easing of visa provisions for visitors, particularly from Pacific countries, is a measure of its increased confidence and of mature commercial diplomacy at work. Apart from bringing in tourism revenue, it has the potential to deepen India's social engagement with countries in the southeast Asian region that are looking to hedge themselves against the rise of China, particularly after a year in which China "stomped around the world a big stick".

 

So, although a Lennon-esque world without countries or border controls may still be unrealisable, there's still the hope that a world where visas-on-arrival make for greater ease of travel is still within our grasp. Imagine that!

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DNA

EGYPT RISES ONCE AGAIN TO STAKE ITS CLAIM AS THE TOP ARAB STATE

SUSHMA RAMACHANDRAN

 

The streets of Cairo are bustling, the bazaars are crowded, and tourists are thronging the Pyramids of Giza.

 

It looks as if Egypt is witnessing a resurgence, and the growth rate shows it, after dipping from 7.4% of GDP to 4% during the global recession, it is now expected to rise to 6% in the current fiscal ending June 2011.

 

But all is not yet well in the country that was once the leader of the Arab world. Inflation is high at 10% with food inflation at around 17% and there are pockets of poverty. It was in this backdrop that the last round of parliamentary elections was held at the end of November 2010 while the run-offs took place on December 4.

 

The end result was as expected with the monolithic National Democratic Party emerging with an overwhelming majority in Egypt's parliament. Predictably, there were protests from opposition parties, citing rigging and irregularities, but these have been taken lightly by the government headed by 82-year-old president, Hosni Mubarak, who may yet to go in for another term when presidential elections are due this year.

 

According to Dr Gamal Soltan of the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, the media buzz over irregularities in the elections is intriguing as there have been similar issues in previous rounds of parliamentary elections. The fact is that the elections decimated the opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which had captured 20% of seats in the last round of elections in 2005. The entire process saw little enthusiasm from the general public, though Cairo streets witnessed jubilant scenes of festivity by successful candidates at the end.

 

But high food prices are more of a concern for the general public. Inflation at around 9% to 10%, much like in India, is a worry. The recent spurt in meat prices, a basic consumption item, can be compared to the latest phenomenon of high onion prices in this country. To offset such high prices, bread is being supplied at subsidised rates for the general public.

 

Despite inflation, however, experts now expect Egypt to come out of the recession by the middle of this year, though the official projections of a growth rate at 7% of GDP are rated as somewhat optimistic. Even so, it is clear that one of Egypt's biggest industries — tourism — is rebounding. Officials say that over 12 million tourists visited the country during 2010 (the final figure is still to come out), as against only 10 million during the recessionary slump last year. Hordes of visitors from all countries are visible, not just at Giza, but also at Luxor and Aswan, the Valley of Kings, and Abu Simbel. Incidentally, Egypt has been rated as the world's top tourist destination, notwithstanding terror threats and attacks.

 

No wonder then that it has a sophisticated tourist guide system, a profession that has attracted many from lesser-paying government jobs, and giving tourists viewing 3000-year-old monuments a highly rewarding experience. The flight of talent to tourism may not cheer Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, but it certainly helps in educating the ordinary tourist.

 

Even more cheering is a recent poll by 12 economists that predicted steady growth due to higher private investment over the next two years. Though it does not expect economic growth to reach the officially projected figure of 7%, Egypt is expected to grow faster than all the other Arab states barring Qatar. This is largely due to additional private investment, recovery of revenues from the Suez Canal, and burgeoning tourism. The expected growth in 2010 was 5.5%, according to a private survey, rising to 6% in 2011, a little lower than the Egyptian finance ministry's projection of 6% in 2010 and 7% this year.

 

As for ties with India, they may not be at the highs of the Nasser-Nehru friendship era, but retain a traditional warmth and closeness, bolstered by a growing economic relationship. Egypt is fast becoming a business process outsourcing centre for Africa and Indian firms are helping create jobs in this sector.

 

Senior officials at the foreign ministry say there was initial hesitation at the entry of Indian information technology (IT) firms but the reserve vanished when it was found that they were creating business process outsourcing (BPO) jobs rather than taking them away. The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Ltd and Gail, both Indian government-owned gas companies, have also found their way into Egypt and are taking part in the growing oil and petrochemical business.

 

For the average Indian, however, visiting Egypt is like coming home. Cairo, with its din and desert dust, is much like present day New Delhi. And Bollywood, along with Amitabh Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor, reigns supreme among the young and old alike. Indians are thus welcome, but beware — once you have drunk the waters of the Nile, you may end up going there over and over again.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

IRONY OF IT IS THATTHEY KNOW IT ALL

 

What has been often pointed out by a few dispassionate observers of the Kashmir scene has been finally echoed by Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, one of the most articulate secessionist leaders, as well. First at a seminar in Srinagar and then in an interview he has admitted that the militants and not security agencies are responsible for the killing of some top separatist leaders including Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone. Prof Bhat was chairman of the united Hurriyat Conference and is now with its moderate faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. He has said something which the members of his ilk have known but have refrained from saying openly. What has held them back? Is it fear, politics or compulsion to be seen in the company of assassins because of their own ideological views? At least one of Prof Bhat's close relatives has been killed by the militants. Whatever the reason for his so-called disclosure now it must be said that he has been candid in calling a spade a spade. According to him, "the human conscience must shiver and as far as I am concerned I know that the people like Maulana Farooq, like Lone fell to the bullets of our own people…My own brother was also killed by my own boys and this is a stark reality. When I recognise the stark reality, I am afraid I may also suffer. But let me suffer. Let me not seal my mouth and pull out my ears. Whether you speak out the truth or not but I am determined to do it. I have done it and I stand by it." He is not inclined to give the uniformed men a clean chit but this, he makes it abundantly clear, is not the issue before him. To quote him, "the security forces on the soil of Kashmir are not angels. They are also involved in the killing of people. But my problem are my own people who kill my own people and this is what is aching each thinking Kashmiri. Whether or not he speaks out is a different story."

 

A question will nevertheless be asked. When did this realisation dawn on Prof Bhat? Who is not aware that local young persons under the banner of the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) had taken on each other with ferocity in the streets of the Summer Capital in the 1990s that had not been seen before? Many of them perished with the HM taking over the armed militancy from the JKLF which declared unilateral ceasefire. Who does not know that a few top separatist leaders were gunned down in an intense factional war in the Hurriyat as it got divided down the line? Was it ever a secret? It is also only too well known that Mr Sajjad Lone, the younger son of Abdul Ghani Lone, refused to have any truck with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The reason was he had seen the Mirwaiz associating himself with the killer of his charismatic father. The grim reality is that suspicion, distrust and backstabbing have always been part of our politics especially in the Valley. It is because some of us have chosen to be part of wider intrigues. The atmosphere has only worsened after Pakistan managed to introduce the gun with the support of the believers in the two-nation theory based on religion. The hostile neighbour initially thrust it into the hands of naïve and dreamy local young men only to eventually use them as fodder for its wicked end. The weapon gave an exaggerated notion of superiority and soon came in handy to raise individual ambitions and settle mutual scores. The outcome is there for all to see. The leadership itself in the Kashmir region is divided and sub-divided. Known leaders have their limited areas of influence clearly defined. One does not want to berate Prof Bhat for his belated insight. But one would certainly like to say something. Only if the likes of him had behaved in time the situation would have been significantly different. For them to shed tears at this juncture is not without irony. He has remarked: "Killing is horrible. No human being even with a modicum of ethics in him can justify the killing of anybody, particularly the innocent when they fall to bullet."

 

Which side of the fence was he when the bodies of guiltless persons lay unattended in the streets of Kashmir for hours together in the late 1980s for fear of reprisal by the militants? It is only too well known that they were siding with the destructive gun culture at that time. Well, as we have said earlier, it may still not be too late if his idea is to make amends. A sincere effort is required to be made to regain the spirit of peace and harmony in our social order in the Valley. The State police chief is not wrong when he has tongue firmly in his cheek pointing out that the slain Mirwaiz Farooq and his killer both are buried in the "martyrs' graveyard" at the Eidgah ground in Srinagar. How can it be explained? Undeniably the official apparatus itself has a challenge on hand to regain a clean image and credibility. That is a separate issue. To its good fortune, Prof Bhat is not the only one being wiser. The people at large, who are the final arbiters, have clearly seen through the games that are being played in their name. They are well aware of certain definite rags-to-riches stories that have inexplicably emerged while they were in the midst of turbulence. They are also conscious that those who shut the doors of schools on their children had taken care to send their own sons and daughters for going ahead with studies in peaceful areas outside. How can be there two different yardsticks? If they are not being vocal and speaking up loud enough it is because for too long they have suffered at the hands of the gun. One who can feel their pulse will say with confidence that they are waiting for a leader to take them out of the mess not of their making. Who will be that messiah?

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

DECLINE IN PAK INFILTRATIONS TO KASHMIR

BY B K CHUM

 

Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing diametrically opposite trends. On the one hand, the state's security environment has vastly improved. On the other, conflicting developments are not only creating confusion in state's politics but are also posing a threat to the stability of the Omar Abdullah-led coalition Government.
A number of factors are responsible for the improved security environment, the most important being the decline in infiltrations. Their Pakistani sponsors used to push armed groups into the state during summers to maintain the tempo of terrorist violence during the winters when the snow-covered passes made crossings virtually impossible. But two factors have contributed to the fall in infiltrations and the consequent lesser violence particularly during 2010. One was the Indian Security forces foiling most of the attempts to cross the Line of Control. The other was the growing terrorist activities within Pakistan which diverted the Pakistani rulers attention to deal with the aggravating security and political situation in their country. 


It may not be too presumptuous to assume that the growing terrorist violence in Pakistan will destabilize Pakistan which, in extreme conditions, may even result in its disintegration. Torn by the sharpening differences between its coalition partners the survival of the Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP) government is in danger. Maulana Fazlur Rehman's Jamiat-e-Ulema-e Islam (JUI-F)'s ministers have already quit the ministry and the party which has nearly half a dozen National Assembly members has withdrawn its support from the government. After withdrawing its two ministers from the ministry earlier, the main coalition partner Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) which has 25 members in the National Assembly has also now said that it would sit on the opposition benches and would support only those decisions of the government it considered were in the interest of the people. The Gilani-led PPP government had the support of 185 members including 25 of MQM in the 342-member Assembly, just 13 more than the required 172. 


Paradoxically, it is the Pakistan and the US governments who are responsible for the Taliban-spearheaded terrorist violence not only in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan as they had created Taliban to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the late eighties. But the Taliban have now become Frankenstein and are spreading their activities worldwide.


Bloated ambitions of politicians often create situations contrary to what they profess to be working for. Jammu and Kashmir is an example. In sharp contrast to the political and security uncertainties Pakistan is facing and the improved security environment in Jammu and Kashmir, unsavoury political developments in Jammu and Kashmir are not only creating confusion but are also posing a threat to the Omar-led coalition government's stability. These developments include: widening of gulf between the National Conference and Congress; growing criticism of the government against discrimination of Jammu and Ladakh regions; government's poor performance, particularly in its tactless handling of the situation created by the stone-throwers which is leading to the trust deficit between the government and the people; and, the contradictory voices in Congress and BJP camps on the issue of bifurcation or trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir.


The BJP at a meeting of national office-bearers held in Jammu on December 23 also echoed the charge of discrimination against Jammu and Ladakh regions. This charge has often led to the demand for bifurcation or trifurcation of the state. The RSS had once supported the trifurcation demand. It was also raised recently by the state Health Minister Sham Lal Sharma (Congress) by charging the government with discriminating against Jammu and Ladakh. But the BJP's Jammu meeting rejected the demand of division of the state and demanded an equitable distribution of resources between the three regions. Our shortsighted politicians who demand division of Jammu and Kashmir forget that this would strengthen the terrorists cause in the Valley although they profess to favour "Azadi" for the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. 


Political parties often adopt hypocritical stand on important issues. At their Jammu conclave the BJP leaders laid particular stress on revoking the Article 370 "to strengthen the political and constitutional relationship between the Centre and the State". But the party did not itself take any step to revoke 370 when the Atal Bihar Vajpayee-led NDA was in power for six years 1998-2004. 


Despite such conflicting political developments, New Delhi's flip-flop attitude to deal with the state's internal problems also contributed to the prevailing confusion. It has failed to effectively resolve the recurring differences between the coalition partners. It has not even checked the conflicting voices being raised by some state Congress leaders on certain issues. It has been sending delegations to the state for the past over a couple of years to recommend measures for solving the Kashmir problem. But no solution has so far emerged from their recommendations. It is yet to be seen how New Delhi deals with the recommendations of the latest Dileep Padgaonkar-headed three-member interlocutors team. 


Now when Pakistan is facing serious political and security-related situation which threaten even the country's survival, it is time for New Delhi and the state's mainstream parties to strive for finding a solution to the state's multi-dimensional problems. Introspection is the need of the time. (IPA)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION

BY PROF. R D GUPTA

 

Science and Technology'' have made tremendous progress in various sectors viz; industrial sector, hydrothermal; medical and agricultural sectors etc. In ''Agricultural Sector'', use of high yielding varieties of various crops responding to high doses of fertilizers and pesticides, and requiring large quantities of water, has brought about a ''Green Revolution'' in India during 1968. Owing to this ''Green Revolution'', India's food grain production became from a mere 50 million tonnes (mt) in 1950 AD to nearly 200 mt in 2000 AD. But in this ''Green Revolution'' another change has taken place. This change relates to deterioration of an environment both physical (Land /soil, water and air) and biological (animals and plants belonging both to lower and higher categories).


It has been pointed that ''Green Revolution'' has now reached a plateau and is sustained with diminishing returns and falling dividends. India's rice production has become threatened with diversified biotic and abiotic constraints severely. Intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh has given rise to environmental degradation. The reckless use of pesticides in Punjab and Haryana has given rise to brown hopper-a very common pest of paddy which was hitherto not present and was noticed only after ''Green Revolution''. In ''Green Revolution'' intensive cropping was followed, which mainly involved cultivation of rice and wheat crops. This cropping system generally removes nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O)- to the extent of 500-700 Kg 


ha-1 year-1. The amount of N, P2O5 and K2O removed by these crops have exceeded to the applied doses of nutrients which as a result caused the deterioration of soil health and its macro and micro-organisms.


Due to continuous use of high analysis fertilizer during ''Green Revolution'', especially nitrogenous chemical fertilizer, produced wide spread deficiency of Zinc (Zn) in soils of many states of India. And this constituted one of the major constraints in losing growth momentum brought about by ''Green Revolution'' in agricultural production, especially rice and wheat. Apart from deficiency of Zn, deficiency of sulphur(s) has also been noticed in soils of several parts of India including Jammu and Kashmir. As per the study conducted by Jalali et al. (2001), the soils of irrigated areas of Jammu district, where rice and wheat cropping pattern is practised are low in organic matter, so more deficiency of Zn is found in these soils. The soils of Jammu district are also deficient in Sulphur.


During the ''Green Revolution'' era, the soil-water system has also been degraded considerably besides the soil fertility. In many parts of Punjab, Haryana, Western UP and other states, uncontrolled use of irrigation water has led to salinity. It has also caused salinization in about 8 million ha of lana and side by side water logging in many parts. Chemicals present in fertilizers also percolate into water make it contaminated with No3 and heavy metals like Cd, Cr, Ni, Pb etc. Drinking of NO3 contaminated water has become a potent source of blue baby disease in large number of babies. 


Excessive withdrawal of ground water to meet the requirement of water for rice and wheat has resulted in lowering of the water table in most of the states including Punjab, Haryana, UP and Jammu and Kashmir. In the central districts of Punjab, the water table is receding at the rate of 30-45 cm year.-1 About half of the blocks in Punjab find it difficult to sustain the increased number of tubewells. Similar is the situation in case of Haryana and Western UP. A long term analysis of ground water levels by the Central Ground Water Board from 1983-2002 indicated decline in ground water levels by more than 4 m in 306 districts of 20 Indian States (Anonymous, 2004). In Jammu and Kashmir state, Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts where rice and wheat cropping sequences are being followed since long, are the worst affected in depleting of water table.


The excessive use of pesticides during ''Green Revolution'' became a serious concern because of their health hazards to human beings, animals, plants as well as wildlife. The adverse effect of pesticides involves the contamination of soils. Some of agrochemicals leave behind residues in the food, thereby, providing ill effects when their concentration exceed the safe limits beyond tolerance. These days various food stuffs are found to contain high levels of pesticide residu of DDT, BHC and others. As reported by Gupta (2006) an average Indian's body has the highest DDT level in the world varying from 3.1 ppm to 12.8 ppm.


There are a number of heavy metals which enter the human body systems through soil, air and water pollutants. Most of the metallic pollutants are also present in pesticides like DDT, BHC and atrazine, and organic wastes.

 

The soil is the primary recipient and from the soil, the metallic pollutants make their entry into the living beings easily. Of the various metallic pollutants, cadmium (cd) and arsenic (As) are extremely toxic, mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), nickle (Ni) and fluorine (F) are moderately poisonous, boron (B), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn) and Zinc (Zn), are relatively lower in toxicity.


Disproportionate use of chemical fertilizers also creates heavy metal pollution in soils such as Cd, Pb, Ni etc. Accumulation of these metals in soils over a period of time get toxic and finally get accumulated in human beings through various agricultural products grown on such soils which cause a number of complicacies in human and animal bodies.


Use of nitrogenous fertilizers alone i.e, without using phosphatic and potassic fertilizers, create acid rains through ammonia volatilization and depletion of ozone layer due to denitrification. Acid rains render the soils acidic which have an adverse effect on plant growth. Oxides of nitrogen viz; No, N2O, NO2 adversely affect the Ozone layer which protects us from the ultra violet (UV) rays.


It is point to mention that presence of parthenium weed or congress grass, which is very allergic both to animals and plants, has come with the seeds of high yielding wheat varieties during ''Green Revolution''. It is a great threat not only in Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir state but in many parts of other states of the country.
Control measures: Make balanced use of fertilizers by maintaining the ratio of 4:2:1 in respect of nitrogenous, phosphatic and potassic fetilizers. Apply organic manures like FYM, compost/vermicompost and green manuring. Advocate the farmers to follow integrated nutrient management practice which involves to use both organic manures and inorganic fertilizers to minimise the loss occurred through pest attacks on crops, plant resistant varieties must be preferred to grow. Prefer to use botanical pesticides as well as biological control measures. Integrated pest management (IPM) approach is required to be followed.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

CONGRESS PLENARY

BY SUNIL GATADE

 

The message that has gone out from the just concluded Plenary session for the Congress held at Burari on the outskirts of Delhi was that the battle ahead is clearly uphill.


The session which also marked 125 years of the Grand Old Party had taken place at a time when party chief Sonia Gandhi is facing the toughest challenge of her political career.


It was held in the backdrop of the Opposition successfully able to execute the longest shutdown of Parliament to send home the signal that the crisis ridden Congress was full of scams and has much to hide.


It was organized at a time when corruption has become a major issue with the opposition going to town projecting the 2G spectrum allocation scam involving a presumed loss of Rs.1.76 lakh crore being the biggest scandal in Independent India.


And there is a growing perception that the UPA-II has failed to take off despite more than a year in power. It looked as if Manmohan Singh Government has lost steam. The talk of mid-term elections has begun, rightly or wrongly.


Some political observers are saying that the tone and tenor of Gandhi's closing address to the delegates seemed like one that is normally delivered when general elections are round the corner.


There seemed a note of urgency in her voice when she told the Pradesh Congress delegates to go back to their states and hold one public meeting in every Assembly constituency to apprise the people of UPA's achievements.


She also sought to energise the Congress cadres by saying she had greater regard for Congressmen who worked for the party selflessly, without seeking any reward in the form of office or power. She even added that those Congressmen holding office needed to learn from such ordinary party workers.


By all means, it was an efforts by Gandhi to raise the morale of Congressmen that might have got dented by the sheer drift that has enveloped the UPA Government in recent months. With several critical state elections due early next year, and the Opposition suddenly coming alive over the issue of corruption, the Congress is thinking very hard as to how it can wrest the initiative from the Opposition in the months ahead.


An interesting highlight was the silence of Gandhi as also Rahul Gandhi, who is being projected by the party as its future leader and potential Prime Minister, on the issue of alliances in these assembly polls to five states.


This is despite the fact that Congress had virtually rode piggyback to Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in the Lok Sabha elections to telling effect. Now there have been mixed signals on the issue of alliance for the Assembly polls amid heated exchanges between Trinamool, the second biggest UPA constituent, and local Congress leaders. The political resolution adopted at the Plenary also skirted the ticklish issue.


Congress is currently part of the DMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu. Besides West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, Assembly polls are also due in Assam, Kerala and Puducherry next year.


"This is a time for constructive action, including in those states where we are in coalition", the Congress President had said in her opening remarks in the Plenary which also had strategies for the Assembly polls as one of its aims.


Gandhi only acknowledged the shock the party received in the just concluded Assembly elections in Bihar where the party went alone.


Sending a tough message to ally Congress, Trinamool Congress has said it was prepared to go it alone in the

coming assembly elections in West Bengal if the alliance does not materialise.


"We are for alliance (with Congress). But we are not for the Siliguri model alliance (in which Congress formed the board in the municipal corporation with CPM support). If there is alliance, we will welcome it. If not, we are prepared for election if it is held tomorrow."


The comments came a day after Congress leader from West Bengal Deepa Dasmunshi, during party plenary in New Delhi, said the tie-up with Trinamool Congress should not be at the expense of the party.


Last word has not been said on the issue of alliance with DMK in Tamil Nadu with a section of the state Congress saying that continuing the alliance was a sheer way to electoral disaster. DMK, which has been facing crisis following the 2G scam, is the third largest constituent of UPA.


A redeeming feature at the plenary was that the Congress and the UPA appears to have managed some damage control on the issue of 2G spectrum scam that has bogged down the leadership completely.


Manmohan Singh finally spoke up at the plenary and agreed to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament to give any clarification on the 2G spectrum allocation policy. The Prime Minister had maintained his characteristic silence on the A Raja issue for such a long time that people had begin wondering where he was hiding the truth.


However, the fact is that the Prime Minister has not been able to entirely take the wind out of opposition sails on the issue. Now the argument of the opposition is that the Prime Minister ought to have no reservations about appearing before a JPC either.


Its refrain is that the scale and dimensions of the spectrum scam give rise to questions that are well beyond the remit of a PAC whose job, normally, is confined to examining audit reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General, and that a comprehensive enquiry by a JPC was a political imperative.


The Congress is trying to counter the growing popular resentment over corruption with its new strategy of pitching "Ayodhya as a source of BJP's fascist politics" and the RSS as a fountainhead of Hindu terror. But political observers feel that such type of formulations could be politically dangerous and help revive the BJP which has not been able to get its act together for want of an effective leadership.


Senior leaders Digvijay Singh and P Chidambaram as also many young leaders utilized the Plenary to be in the good books of future leader Rahul Gandhi amid projections that he was ready to take over the mantle at his chosen time. Rahul's taking over would mean a generational change in Congress politics.


All in all, the Congress and the UPA are passing through challenging times with "Radiagate" exposing the nexus between lobbyist, power brokers, politicians and the media. Corruption and unabated food inflation are potent and worrisome for the UPA. Observers say when the overall mood turns negative then food inflation can add fuel to fire. Besides, the link between high onion prices and its political impact is too well known.!
The UPA appears to have squandered a lot of its goodwill within less than two years of coming back to power.
How it gets its act together in the coming directions including that on corruption will determine which way the winds will blow politically. The challenge is daunting for the grand old party. (PTI)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DOCTORS' SHORTAGE

A GREATER PRIVATE SECTOR ROLE CAN HELP

 

MEDICAL education in India needs urgent reforms and a blueprint has been presented by an experts panel of the Medical Council of India. A shorter MBBS course makes sense. A bigger problem, however, is of shortage of medical teachers and doctors in the country. Before the MCI the Planning Commission too had noted that India was short of six lakh doctors, 10 lakh nurses and two lakh dental surgeons. Not only is the doctor-to-population ratio poor in India compared to the developed world, poor salaries, stagnation and an unfulfilling work culture drive away talented medical graduates abroad. Some 60,000 doctors of Indian origin work in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia alone.

 

Private hospitals and firms too poach on talent in government medical colleges and hospitals, offering better incentives. The renewed emphasis on the teaching of ethics and professionalism is unlikely to change the ground reality. Since engineering graduates make a better start with attractive pay packages, youngsters are increasingly turning away from a medical career. Apart from staff shortage healthcare facilities are unevenly distributed in the country as doctors prefer cities to villages. To cope with the situation states like Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Maharashtra have started mobile health services, which provide affordable medicare and counter quacks in villages. Given the rising cost of treatment, community health insurance on a token payment from villagers is also being tried.

 

The government too has taken some initiatives to meet the medical staff crunch. It has recognised graduate medical degrees from the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The 11th Plan has proposed six AIIMS-like institutions and upgradation of 13 existing medical institutes. Barriers to private medical education like operating, staffing and land norms are being relaxed. The Planning Commission favours corporate sector participation in medical education, limiting the government role to a few high quality institutions for research. If for-profit firms can set up hospitals, why not medical colleges? This can boost medical tourism.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DANGEROUS POWER POLITICS

PAKISTAN FACES FRESH THREAT OF INSTABILITY

 

WITH the MQM, which has 25 members in the Pakistan National Assembly, dissociating from the PPP-led ruling coalition in Islamabad, the Yousuf Raza Gilani government has lost the majority it had in the House. The MQM's withdrawal came after another ally of the PPP, the eight-member Jamiatul Ulema Islam (F) parted company with the government, alleging that Mr Gilani had sabotaged the "policy of reconciliation" adopted by the PPP chief and Pakistan President, Mr Asif Ali Zardari. The MQM's charge-sheet against the government says that it has failed to deliver on all fronts and, therefore, there is no reason why the Sindh-based party should remain a part of the coalition. The truth, however, is that the party of Mohajirs had made up its mind to call it quits after the Sindh Home Minister, a PPP leader, accused the MQM leadership of being involved in incidents of violence in Karachi and other parts of Sindh.

 

Despite having the support of only 163 members, including 127 belonging to the PPP, in the 342-member Lower House of parliament, the Gilani ministry, it seems, may be able to survive for the time being. The PML (Qaid), close to the Pakistan Army, is willing to support the government, though on certain conditions, and the PML (Nawaz) does not find it worthwhile to rock the "boat of democracy" at this stage when Pakistan is passing through a severe economic and security crisis. But the question is: why did the Sindh minister think of creating a situation which precipitated the MQM's withdrawal from the coalition? The minister is close to President Zardari, who has not been pulling along well with Prime Minister Gilani.

 

Interestingly, there is now talk of finding a compromise candidate for the prime ministership to save the government as well as Pakistan, which cannot afford mid-term elections under the prevailing circumstances. If this really comes about, one person who would be very happy would be Mr Zardari, who had allowed Mr Gilani to become Prime Minister after the February 2008 elections on a temporary basis. However, Mr Gilani emerged smarter and made his position unassailable by establishing a close relationship with the all-powerful army. It is a dangerous power game being played in a country that needs stability more than anything else.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

KODACHROME, RIP

END OF AN ERA IN PHOTOGRAPHY

 

IT recorded images like nothing else could, and as the year ended, so did an era in photography. Kodachrome slide film was introduced to the world 75 years ago and it became a successful commercial film, widely used for making movie and shooting still photographs. It was a difficult film to make and process, but Kodachrome transparencies had a richness of colour that gave tremendous vibrancy to the pictures, one that various top professional photographers called incomparable.

 

Many of the iconic images of the past seven decades were shot on Kodachrome, be it the shot of Sir Edmund Hillary's ascent of Mount Everest (1953), the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy (1963), or the beautiful and haunting portrait of Sharbat Gula, an Afghan girl at Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar, (1984), used on the cover of National Geographic magazine Unlike other slide films, Kodachrome had to be processed in one of the 25 special laboratories around the world, using special chemicals and processes. Kodak had closed down its lab and stopped producing films some time ago, but it had a contract with Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas, USA till 2010, and thus it became the last place on earth where one could process a Kodachrome film.

 

The use of slide film had declined since the 1980s and other film companies too, had ceased production and given in to the march of digital reality. The digital cameras allow for taking pictures in a wide variety of light conditions, and these images can be directly transferred to computers for colour correction and image manipulation, if needed. Most of the digital pictures are not printed at all, and even if one makes prints, one does not use the traditional chemical methods that earlier photography was associated with, but use computer printers and papers. Kodachrome, the special way it handled light and gave us iconic images, contributed significantly to the photographic heritage of the world. The world has changed, and in this digital era, while we have many advantages, we still await something that would be comparable

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM IN HARYANA

NEED FOR A REFORM MOVEMENT

BY D.R. CHAUDHRY

 

HARYANA has the dubious distinction of incubating the "Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram" syndrome in Indian polity and spreading this contagion to different parts of the country. When defections were rife in Haryana just after its inception in 1966 as a separate state, the then Governor, while recommending dissolution of the Assembly to the Centre, observed that Haryana legislators changed their parties as they changed their clothes (one legislator changed parties thrice in a single day). The phenomenon has not undergone a qualitative change even after more than half a century.

 

Haryana politicians, leaving aside exceptional cases, pursue the politics of "soot-kasoot" (convenience). Bereft of any commitment to an ideology and the good of the people at large, they put self before everything else. Just after the last Haryana Assembly elections, a bunch of Haryana Janhit Congress legislators were in such a desperate hurry to climb on the band-wagon of the ruling party that they forgot to take the elementary precaution of forming a new party and merging it with the ruling one as required under anti-defection law to escape disqualification. A case was filed before the Speaker of the Haryana Assembly for their disqualification. The strategy of the Speaker to bail them out by prolonging the case endlessly has been thwarted by a judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, directing him to decide the case within four months, thus making the danger of disqualification looming large over the heads of the defectors.

 

The roots of political opportunism in Haryana can be traced to two important episodes in its history — the 1857 rebellion and the ascendance of the Unionist Party in the Haryana region. The whole of Haryana region was involved in the 1857 conflagration. The peasantry groaning under the oppressive land revenue system was the main agent. Tehsil — a repository of land revenue record — was the most coveted place of attack. A number of British officers along with their native assistants were the target of the mob fury.

 

The colonialists used barbaric methods to quell the rebellion everywhere in the country where people had risen against the foreign rule. The rigour of this barbarity was more severe in the Haryana region primarily because of two reasons. First, there was large-scale participation of the people in the uprising. Secondly, the region was in close proximity to Delhi, necessitating a strategy of suppression to minimise the possibility of disaffection against the colonial rule in future in this region.

 

Methods of suppression included offending the religious sensibility by cremating the Muslim rebels and burying the their Hindu companions; mowing rebels under a road-roller; hanging rebels from trees for days on end as a standing reminder to villagers of the possible punishment in the event of their turning against the regime; nailing a rebel to a tree; disfiguring the face of an injured rebel and roasting him on slow fire; sealing a Hindu rebel in a cow's skin and a Muslim rebel in a pig's skin, leaving him to die of suffocation; cutting of ears and noses of women suspected of helping rebels and so on.

 

Haryana had no viable statehood in medieval times. There is no history in Haryana of organised resistance against the foreign invaders who passed through the region creating mayhem on the way, and the adventurers who pillaged it at will. Unlike Punjab with the martyrdom of some Sikh gurus, Haryana had no trace of such heroism before 1857. There was no reservoir of moral grit to fall back upon in distress.

 

The reign of terror let loose on the simple peasant society of Haryana was, thus, highly demoralising. When a child indulged in naughty pranks, his or her mother would often say, "saabo aaya" (sahib is coming) to instil fear in the little one. Besides burning a large number of villages, a heavy fine was imposed on many, thus shattering the peasant economy.

 

The Haryana region was detached from Delhi division and appended to Punjab division. Certain territories of Haryana were given to princely rulers of Punjab as a reward for helping the colonialists. This dismembering of Haryana had a further debilitating effect on the morale of Haryanvis. A saying became popular in Haryana: "Sarkar ki agarhi aur ghorhe ki pachharhi men nahin aana chahie" (one should avoid confrontation with the rulers and standing behind a horse).

 

The people of Haryana drew a lesson that a conflict with the government was futile and the best course was to cooperate with it and derive all possible benefits. This paved the ground for the emergence of the Unionist Party under the leadership of Chhotu Ram.

 

There are two extreme views about Chhotu Ram — as a saviour of the peasantry and as an agent of the British imperialism. The truth, however, lies in between the two. Chhotu Ram, with razor-sharp intelligence and deep compassion to provide relief to the peasantry groaning under the debt of the usurious lending class, was a towering personality eclipsing others in the political field. He used his crucial position in the ruling dispensation to enact laws to help the peasants in distress. He was hailed as a saviour of the peasantry in the composite Punjab, transcending caste and community barriers.

 

Characterisation of Chhotu Ram as an agent of the British regime is misplaced. Undoubtedly, he did not participate in the freedom struggle. So is the case with Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule and Ramasamy Naicker, but they were as patriotic as anybody else. However, since Chhotu Ram was an important functionary of the Unionist Party which was in collaboration with the British regime, this undoubtedly played a crucial role in shaping political ethos and culture in Haryana.

 

Participation of the Haryana people in the freedom struggle was not as much as it could have been on account of the hegemony of the Unionist Party, thus depriving its people of the idealism which would have been theirs if they had greatly participated in the struggle. When Bhagat Singh and his companions became martyrs for the country's emancipation, the educated youth of Haryana were hankering after government jobs. This bred the culture of jobbery in the state.

 

There is need in Haryana to transcend the negative legacy of the 1857 uprising and the Unionist Party, and to honour and cherish the positive accomplishment of both. The task is not easy. Haryana, in fact, needs a powerful reform movement, a prolonged battle of ideas to usher its people in the realm of modern sensibility in the era of globalisation when the dynamics of oppression has undergone a qualitative change. This is a long haul. However, there are no short-cuts in history.

 

The writer, a retired academic from Delhi University, is a specialist on Haryana affairs.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

A TEXT-Y NEW YEAR

BY RAJI P. SHRIVASTAVA

 

I AM sure New Year's Eve in Chandigarh had the usual ingredients for most of us. Shaking a leg at the discos if you were "jung" or "jung-at-heart". Tucked up cosy in bed if you were middle-aged in mind, body or spirit, or just plain lazy !

 

But the prize for persistence and enthusiasm must go to the texting revellers of our SMS crazy nation. With cellphone companies imposing hefty charges on festival messages, one expected a certain restraint. On the contrary, anyone who had a place in your life, or thought he had, was right there in your inbox !

 

From the simple "Happy New Year" to the mathematically precise, "Wish you 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes and 31536000 seconds of happiness ", the SMSes flowed in abundance. My "quilty, blankety" New Year's Eve was spent reciprocating sincere sentiments from well wishers and, I suspect, a few strangers. If you are like me and think it is churlish not to respond to a greeting, you do end up doing a lot of 'response texting' on such days in the year.

 

I did my bit, of course, and texted my friends, colleagues and loved ones. I sent appropriate return messages like, "Thank you so much for your greetings, please accept my good wishes !" Cringing inwardly at the grammatically mutilated messages that found their way to me in large numbers, I sent a 'correct' response that read, "May God shower His blessings on you in the year to come." I got an immediate response from one young well-wisher, "Are you upset with me, Ji ?" Puzzled, I asked, "Not at all, why do you ask?" The response : "Because your SMS was very formal Ji !" My befuddled brain finally made the connection : correct spelling equals formal conduct equals cold behaviour. I realized I had to use 'd' for 'the' and 'dis' for 'this' if my messages were to be rated 'warm' !

 

Then there were some from unfamiliar numbers. I took the bull by the horns and texted one anonymous greeter, "Thanks, happy new year, but do tell me your name !" The response, "Surinder". Cryptic, precise but pointless ! I know at least half a dozen Surinders. I dialled the number determinedly. "Hi, which Surinder are you ? " A grumpy male voice retorted, "Wrong number !" and rudely hung up.

 

I noted with interest that while I received a spate of SMSes from old school chums, colleagues past and present and even the grocery store owner, the laundry guy and the fruit vendor, I got absolutely none from my only sibling miles away in another city.

 

A bit upset, for I had sent her a greeting a few hours ago, I texted, "All OK ? Not greeting your loved ones this evening?" Her terse reply, "I would if I could. I am busy deleting 174 messages that have clogged my inbox. " I was reminded of Thomas Friedman's iconic book "The World Is Flat". I thumbed, "Smile ! Everyone wants to get into your inbox, it's a flattening world !" Not mollifed, my irritated sister shot back, "Just wait till I flatten the world !"

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

NORTH MUST MEET EAST

MEN AND WOMEN FROM THE NORTHEAST HAVE SPREAD TO VARIOUS CITIES IN THE NORTH FOR BOTH EDUCATION AND WORK. THE COMMUNITY, HOWEVER, FEELS VULNERABLE AND SPECIAL EFFORTS NEED TO BE MADE TO MAKE PEOPLE FROM THE NORTHEAST, ESPECIALLY WOMEN, SAFE AND COMFORTABLE IN THEIR NEW ENVIRONMENT.

PARBINA RASHID

 

YEARS ago when I left Assam to join Women's College at Aligarh Muslim University, what shocked me more than the proverbial 'cultural shock' was the reaction I got from the dining-hall staff when I told them where I was from. "Oh, you have come from a far-away country"

I could not complain, especially as their 'far-away' notion helped me get an extra piece of chicken or a second scoop of ice-cream on my plate. But what I did not enjoy was the extra vigilance the warden put on the Assamese girls, a step, which we figured out, stemmed from our cultural differences.

 

On hindsight, I appreciate the men's ignorance as much as I value the warden's strict set of rules reserved for us. After all, girls from the Northeast have proved to be an easy target once they land in the North.

 

Let us rewind to year 2010.

 

November 24: A young girl from the Northeast, who was working at a call centre in Gurgaon was kidnapped from the Dhaula Kuan area in New Delhi and gangraped.

 

November 19: An attempt was made to kidnap a 17 year-old-girl from Manipur. She was working in a beauty parlour.

 

October 24: Two men walked into the hostel room of a Manipuri girl on IIT Campus on the pretext of collecting donation. They assaulted her sexually and when she raised an alarm, they ran away with jewellery worth Rs 30,000.

 

This is only a tip of the iceberg. The Northeast Support Centre and Helpline has handled and reported 34 cases of harassment since its birth on October 21, 2007 out of which 41 per cent cases were of sexual abuse, 18 per cent beatings by local people, 12 per cent rape cases, 9 per cent murder, 6 per cent landlord harassment, 3 per cent vulgar remarks, 3 per cent eve teasing, 3 per cent police harassment, 3 per cent harassment by employees and 3 per cent anti-Northeastern statement by the media within Delhi and NCR.

 

So what's making the Northeast community prone to such violations? Their physical appearance and what the Northerners consider peculiar accent is, for sure, one.

 

Though for argument's sake one can say that a rapist would not be bothered with the race of his victims, the fact that knowing these girls belong to a far-away region and generally without much of a support system in the metros, is encouraging enough to target them.

 

Another very important reason is that in contrast to the seventies and eighties when they used to come out only for higher studies or government jobs, there is a new trend of young boys and girls, who have not even completed their school education, coming out in search of jobs in sectors like beauty industry or call centres. They have to live as paying guests and in private hostels in far-flung areas where they are lonely and without a proper support system.

 

Unfortunately, the lack of support system in this case also includes the police and society. The Northeastern community living in various cities in the North is reluctant to approach the police fearing apathy. And there are reasons enough to make them feel that way. Like in the Gurgaon mall molestation case of a 20-year-old Naga girl, the Gurgaon police took 60 hours to register an FIR.

 

"Usually, when a boy or a girl from the Northeast approaches the police, they tend to ignore our plea or even if they register a case, it's after much persuasion," says Finicy Moiranglhem, who is working with the Northeast Support Centre and Helpline. "The general perception of people here is that we are a free society and if we invite trouble, that's because we deserve it," she adds.

 

Here is an interesting tale a girl from the Northeast shares, "When I broke the finger of a man in a crowded bus as he was trying to grope and threatened to snatch his eyes out next time he tried that, I was left with a comfortable space in that crowded bus by the public inside with a clear message that there is one insane, uncivilized, wild Northeast girl among well-mannered ladies and gentlemen."

 

A lot is being done and a lot needed to be done to bring the North and the East closer. The recent rape case has been the trigger to come out with some pent-up feelings. And its repercussion has reached as far as Guwahati. "We are giving a memorandum and sending representations to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has assured us to provide full security to the community living in there," says Elvin Barua, general secretary of the All-North Guwahati Student's Union.

 

Agatha Sangma, Minister of State for Rural Development from Meghalaya, feels the mechanisms to avoid such incidents are in place. "We have had some similar incidents last year after which we, as a group of MPs from the Northeast and a group of student leaders, met the Prime Minister and urged him to take action. The police department has been directed to be more vigilant and helpful towards the students who come to lodge complaints. A separate phone line has been established at all police stations solely for the Northeast students. But what is important is that these arrangements should stay effective throughout, not only when something bad happens," says Sangma.

 

With the Centre taking requisite steps, now it's up to the community to do their bit to make it a safe place for themselves, and the key to that lies in the process of assimilation. As Sanjoy Hazarika, renowned writer, activist and founder of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, points out, "Instead of living in ghettos, which is a common practice among the Northeastern people living outside, they should mingle more with the local people and make them their support base. That's the only way to live in harmony and peace."

 

And, perhaps, that's the only way to dissipate those prejudices which have been haunting us for a long time!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

OVERCOMING THE DIVIDE

 

WITH states like Meghalaya following the matriarchal system, the general presumption that women enjoy a far better status in the Northeast than their counterparts in the rest of the country is not without basis. So what should women who enjoy greater visibility and mobility in Northeast do when they shift base to states where things are different?

 

The cultural divide between the North and East is really wide. In our part of the country, women are equal to men and in fact more than equal in some cases. You can gauge it from the fact that in Assam even the city buses keep 50 per cent seats reserved for women. Yes, coming from a secure and liberal yet cocooned existence to assimilate into North Indian culture, does pose a challenge. The trick for survival would be to master the right amount of confidence and the right body language to ward off unwanted attention. And of course, to choose a right set of friends who can provide a good support system.

 

Malabika Sen

Online teacher, New Delhi

Having come from a liberal environment, first in Assam and then a decade in Mumbai, getting used to North Indian culture, which is strongly male-dominated, took me a while. But then as they say "When in Rome, do as…"

The cultural adjustment for me means dressing up according to the place and time, travelling with an escort at night and so forth. Having said that, I want to assure that I am not against dressing up in modern ways. But then it is important to understand whatever adjustments need to be made, have to come from us. We should not expect a radical change in the attitude of the people of our adopted place, which is deep-rooted in their culture.

 

Reema Saikia

Yoga instructor, New Delhi

Discrimination against Northeastern people in the North is apparent from various incidents. It is due to the lack of understanding and respect for each other's culture. One way of bridging the gap is to open up to the North Indians, which can be achieved through cultural festivals and tourism. Bring North Indians to Northeast and educate them about us. There has to be a forum with prominent personalities from both the regions taking the lead.

 

Raja Sharma Rymbai

Mediaperson, Shillong

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

KNOWING NORTHEAST

 

INDIA'S Northeast, a region of mystic splendours and rich cultural heritage, spreads over an area of 2,62,179 sq. km and consists of eight states. The region orginally had the seven states—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and were known as the "Seven Sisters of India". Later, Sikkim also became a part of it.

 

Women in the Northeast have occupied a unique position and differences exist between different states.

 

 While at the all-India level the number of females per thousand males is 933 according to the 2001 census, in some states of the Northeast like Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya the figures are heartening. Manipur leads with a sex ratio of 978, closely followed by Meghalaya with 975 and Tripura with 950. Sikkim cuts a sorry figure with 875.

 

 The female literacy rate in India is 54.28 per cent. Most states of the Northeast, except Arunachal Pradesh, have a female literacy rate above the national average. Mizoram's female literacy rate of 86.13 per cent is even higher than the combined national average as well as the national male literacy rate of 75.96 per cent.

 

 Northeast also boasts of matriarchal system in one of its states. All the tribes of Meghalaya follow the matriarchal law of inheritance. The tribal law lays down that custody to property and succession of family position runs through the female line. The lineage consists in passing the inheritance from the mother to the youngest daughter. In Arunachal Pradesh, women could not inherit property. However, they fought over the issue and managed to secure the right.

 

 In India, which has a dismal record on maternal mortality rates, 254 women die per 1,00,000 live births. The Northeastern state of Assam has the highest maternal mortality rate of 480. Insurgency that results in limited access to healthcare is attributed as one of the reasons for this.

 

 Domestic violence is common in Manipur. Cases of dowry deaths are not widely prevalent in the Northeast. Similarly, female foeticide is unheard of.

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE BEST FILMS OF 2010

SEVERAL ROMANTICS, A MATH TEACHER AND A BOY FROM SAHARANPUR

 

It's been another mixed bag for Bollywood, and as critics, we can't help but be optimistic. Last year had three standout films — Kaminey, Dev D, Rocket Singh — and this year has four; it's been a year of debutants, from actors to directors; and several small films have made a mark. 

 

 Having said that, several established directors and actors have suffered a loss of face; the 'official remake' has replaced the 'blatant ripoff', to little actual effect; and the year's biggest film could well have had a one-line script: "Give him a moustache". 

 

 The four films singled out here are, then, the reason we do what we do. There are other films that have impressed this year, but not in their entirety — somewhere they have fatally fallen short. 

 

 The films below deliver on their promise; something our cinema isn't used to yet, but should well be. It is a heartening quartet — three by debut directors, one featuring a completely unseen cast, and one giving us a leading man we need to keep an eye on — and if you haven't seen them yet, you're doing 2010 a disservice. 

1. Love Sex Aur Dhokha: With other experienced directors falling by the wayside in 2010, it was a relief to see Dibakar not just in proper form but more grounded than ever as he steered an impressive ensemble of rookies and non-actors to gritty greatness. 

 

His latest, lowest-budget masterpiece used its subject of voyeurism to define its format: digital, handheld, stationary, shaky. The three stories it told were gripping, eventually melancholy and frighteningly lifelike — and the way it told them was truly exciting. 2. Band Baaja Baaraat: We seem to have, in recent times, reduced the romantic-comedy genre into halfbaked claptrap: boy meets girl, instant dislike, gradual change of heart shown via various montages, melodramatic last act, happy ending. 

 

 It is in this context that Maneesh Sharma's film stands out, a bonafide romance with heart, smarts and sincerity, all set to an insanely catchy rhythm. It's the best romantic-comedy in years, far surpassing even established successes like Jab We Met, simply because it believes in its characters. 


3. Ishqiya: The sexiest film of the year by miles, Abhishek Chaubey's tale of looting, lust and love (in that order, pretty much) is a seriously wild cinematic ride. Fun from the very onset, the film sees two romantic crooks take on a wonderfully wicked femme fatale. 

 

 The climax is tragically muddier than it should be, but this is a film about smaller, more delicate nuances, a film about style and craft — just look at the sublime utilisation of that marvellous soundtrack — and, above all, cinematic cheek. 

 

4. Do Dooni Chaar: One of the most delightful movie experiences in a while — and the 'family film' we have all been waiting for, even without knowing it — gave an old pair of romantics new heart. Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, ever-urban lovers of the 70s, reunited as a pair of low-rent Dilliwalahs with holes in their pockets, and excelled. 


    Director Habib Faisal kept the film's flavour so authentic you could taste the butter chicken, and if not for the first 20 minutes failing to entirely engage, would have been a complete triumph. Yet there is much to applaud, not least the perplexed teenage girl calling the autowallah a psycho.

 

RAJA SEN

 

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BUSINESS STANDDARD

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COLUMN

THE COST OF BAD BILLS

GOVERNMENT NEEDS MORE COMPETENCE IN LAW-MAKING

 

When the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, defended some of his actions on the grounds that he was "only implementing the laws of the land", his critics may well have wanted to quote a character of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist who thought "the law is an ass" because of its wrong presuppositions. Any minister or official of the government would be entirely right to defend her actions on the grounds that such actions amounted to no more than an implementation of existing laws. That is why it is important to draft laws carefully and precisely. Normally a Bill brought before Parliament or a state legislature goes through several stages of drafting and vetting that ensure that the final draft would stand the test of time and implementation. A draft Bill originates in a particular department or ministry and then is vetted by the law ministry and the law officers of the government. It is only after their approval is given that the draft Bill is sent to the Union Cabinet for its approval and final placement in Parliament. This cumbersome process is meant to ensure that Bills presented to Parliament are not deficient in any manner.

 

However, the experience of the past few years suggests that at every stage in the preparation of a Bill, the quality of manpower engaged in the exercise is rapidly declining. Not only are bad Bills getting drafted, but they seem to secure the imprimatur of the law ministry all too easily, with very little professional vetting. They then manage to sail through a Cabinet meeting, with few ministers actually reading the Bills placed before them, and finally get voted in Parliament with hardly any clause-by-clause discussion. The lackadaisical manner in which laws are increasingly drafted and passed may be creating more problems than solving them. That is why few informed persons are any longer willing to accept the kind of defence that Mr Ramesh puts up for his actions when he says his ministry is merely implementing existing laws. It is in their implementation that many laws often get exposed for the inadequacies of their drafting. Indeed, as has recently been shown, badly drafted laws can sometimes not even be implemented because few are willing to act under their ambiguous protection. Consider the case of the nuclear liability Bill. The minister concerned and officials involved in drafting and re-drafting that Bill pretended that in its final shape the Bill had met all the objectives it was meant to. However, after several months of self-congratulation, on the one hand, and below-the-radar marketing of the Bill, on the other, there seem to be no takers because no one likes the badly drafted Bill. Those responsible have deeply embarrassed the government which has so far been unable to find a customer among any of the nuclear powers, who are unwilling to take the word of the law at its face value, and are seeking a variety of clarifications.

 An increasing number of Indian laws are marred by such ambiguity because of the incompetence of the law-making machinery. Given this context, few would feel comfortable with the ministerial assurance that what a good government would do is to blindly implement the law. If laws don't make sense in implementation, they must be changed, not blindly implemented. Rather than proclaim a "rational" offender as a "law-breaker", it is better for the "irrational" lawmaker to make amends.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PM AND PARLIAMENT

OPPOSITION MUST END BLACKMAIL, USE WEAPONS AT HAND

 

Opinions may differ on whether the offer made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appear before the Parliament's public accounts committee (PAC) was warranted or not, and whether it was constitutionally correct to make such an offer. On his part, the prime minister was right to show his willingness to be cross-examined. Equally right is Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee when he says that there is no need for the prime minister to seek the approval of a sub-committee of Parliament when, in fact, he enjoys the confidence of the elected majority of Parliament. Perhaps, the prime minister's offer was in the nature of a peace offering to the Opposition. If so, it failed to elicit the desired response. Earlier, Mr Mukherjee's offer of a special session of Parliament to discuss the 2G telecom issue was also rejected by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Despite several other such initiatives from the treasury benches, the parliamentary deadlock created by the adamant demand of the BJP and the Left Front for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) has the potential of creating a constitutional crisis. Both sides have come to stake their egos and are unwilling to budge. The fact, however, remains that it is the Opposition, especially the BJP, that is being churlish. No opposition party can dictate to the government of the day the actions the latter ought to take.

 

In the meanwhile, even as Parliament remains deadlocked, several agencies of the government are going about doing their work in identifying the wrongdoing and the wrongdoers in telecom. Investigating agencies and the courts are seized of the matter and so also the PAC. If appropriate action is taken by all concerned, what will a JPC do? Having made their demand for a JPC, the BJP and the Left must be willing to come to terms with the fact that their demand does not find the support of a majority on the floor of the lower house. If, indeed, they do believe that their view has majority support, it is incumbent upon the Opposition to prove this claim by expressing a vote of no-confidence in the government. If the government of the United Progressive Alliance loses the confidence of a majority in Parliament, the government would have to go. If, on the other hand, the government continues to enjoy the support of a majority, it must be allowed to function. The Opposition cannot and should not hold both Parliament and government to ransom. The BJP's politics of blackmail and political disruption must end. It neither shows the BJP nor the institutions of parliamentary democracy in good light. Why have a Parliament if the minority Opposition wants the majority ruling alliance to do its bidding?

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

 

A MORE RESTRICTED COMMODITY MARKET

ABHEEK BARUA

 

Collective effort and coordinated regulation needed to delink commodity prices from the cycle of liquidity

 

Since this is time of the year for resolutions, I thought I'd take the opportunity to review some of the promises that governments and policymakers made last year. I seem to remember that we were promised that 2010 would be the year of action that would build on the post-crisis soul-searching of 2009. However, while the list of resolutions for 2010 was indeed impressive, the scorecard of execution is dismal to say the least. Take the G20 meetings that were meant to get the grandees of the developed and developing world together to set aside their national differences and agendas, and create a blueprint for coordinated action both in economic policy and regulation. Alas, none of this happened. G20 meetings last year degenerated into a sort of a grand junket for stressed out global leaders where the tepidness of dialogue couched in layers of political correctness could only be matched by the tameness of post-dialogue press conferences. Other policy efforts, such as those by the US and the UK to cap bank bonuses, were either too timid or, as in the case of the European banks' stress tests, simply bizarre. Irish banks, one needs to remember, that are now guzzling bailout funds to stay afloat had all passed the test.

 

I see one critical area where the collective might of governments across the world needs to exert itself urgently. I refer here to the problem of "financialisation" of commodity markets. It's an ugly word but it does capture the essence of what drives commodity markets these days that, in turn, has become the bane of macroeconomic policymaking across the world. I must add here that it is hardly a new problem but it's one that global policymakers have done precious little about in the past. The G20 incidentally plans to take up the issues of financialisation and commodity inflation when it meets next in France in 2011. But given the G20's track record, it's unlikely to come up with earth-shaking initiatives.

 

But earth-shaking regulatory change is what we need if we are to tackle this problem effectively. Here's why. Commodities are essentially industrial inputs and their prices should follow the demand for these products and the supply of these commodities. "Financialisation" describes the phenomenon in which these commodities are traded in the same way as financial assets like stocks and bonds. Much of this trading happens in the derivatives market — like futures and options — in which market players use loans (leverage) to bet on future prices. The result is that instead of following diktats of underlying demand and supply, prices of commodities are often driven by completely extraneous factors such as money supply and liquidity. How else can you explain a situation where the price of a barrel of oil shoots up close to $100 a barrel when growth in large tracts of the developed world is barely limping along?

 

How does it affect macro policymaking? Let's just quickly build a scenario for the global economy as in the next couple of years and see how "commodities-as-assets" could impinge. First, the syndrome of two-track growth in which developing economies experience much higher growth rates than the developed economies is likely to persist for a while. The Fed and the European Central Bank will continue to follow easy monetary policy both to prevent growth from collapsing and to lubricate their financial system that still remains creaky. Easy liquidity will chase commodities. Their prices will continue to move up without any substantive changes in the underlying demand and supply balance and present the threat of rising inflation. Central banks in the emerging world will be forced to tighten money supply, hike rates and dampen growth in the process. The end result could be global recession redux. Evidence shows that the US and Europe are unlikely to respond positively to the monetary massage and growth is likely to remain weak. Emerging economies that were seeing considerable traction in their growth rates will begin to wilt as rising interest rates begin to bite. By the end of 2011 or the middle of 2012 we could see economic slowdown across the world yet again.

 

Governments have two options. The first is to accept liquidity-fuelled commodity inflation as fait accompli, let central banks lean on inflation and accept the inevitability of a slowdown. The second is to tackle the problem at its very nub and try and delink commodity prices from the cycle of liquidity. This will mean curbs on "speculative" trading in commodities. This effectively means that pure financial investors will have restricted access to the commodities market. The goal would be to ensure that these markets are limited to "genuine" users of commodities — producers, extractors and manufacturers — essentially to hedge price risks.

 

How do they do this? For one, it has to involve collective effort and coordinated regulation. It would be somewhat ironic if, say, the US were to limit access to the Chicago futures and options exchange only to have, say, London or Dubai grab this opportunity to ramp up their markets by offering freer access to speculative trades. If forums like the G20 manage to get consensus on this, then we can get to the next stage of limiting access to commodity trading. This can perhaps be done in two ways. There could be direct curbs on participation in these markets. (The US futures trading commission has tried to restrict the number of oil futures that individual investors can hold). Alternatively, banks can be asked to limit funding for speculative commodity trades (remember most of the speculative positions are financed through cheap loans). The ultimate objective could be to move the bulk of commodity transactions to specialised, well-regulated OTC markets that are limited to actual commodity users.

 

All this is easier said that done. Commodity markets' volumes run into hundreds of billions of dollars and it would be unrealistic to try and extinguish them overnight. However, the fact that regulators have done very little in the past to control "financialisation" does not mean the status quo should continue. Some decisive and coordinated regulation this year might not mean the end of commodities as assets but it will be the first step in bringing sanity back. The whiff of tough regulation ahead will shave off some of the froth in their prices that might go back to following the basic demand-supply principles of Economics 101.

 

The author is Chief Economist, HDFC Bank. The views expressed are personal

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

LESSONS FOR MICRO-FINANCE FROM 2010

SUBIR ROY

 

The year 2010 was a tumultuous one for micro-finance institutions (MFIs) in India. It began with the highly successful SKS Microfinance public issue, which prompted other prominent MFIs to announce similar plans. It ended with the tumult in Andhra Pradesh which was marked by the state's legislation to regulate the sector, severely impairing its ability to survive. MFI recoveries are down and they, in turn, have fallen behind in their repayment to banks. What are the lessons?

 

First, all the trouble is in Andhra Pradesh. MFIs are working smoothly in other states. Those with a broader reach and more dispersed operations across states are less affected. The basic flaw with the MFI phenomenon is its excessive concentration in one state (Andhra) and more broadly in the south. If large for-profit MFIs were to go by the fundamental principles of management, they would have started to de-risk their business long ago by spreading it more widely. So everything apart, their managements have performed poorly on this score.

 

 Second, it is all about large for-profit MFIs. They are the ones who matter, accounting for a lion's share of MFI operations. There are innumerable self-help groups all over the country, many of them linked to banks, which are outside the pale of the controversy. Micro-finance began with such groups and will continue with them, as long as we have the poor with us. The issue is whether for-profit MFIs, a late entrant that revolutionised micro-finance and held out the promise of rapid expansion by streamlining procedures through modern financial institution practices, will survive.

 

With hindsight, two realities are clear. Market mechanisms, induction of risk capital and servicing of such capital can go counter to the basic goal of attacking poverty as the marketplace has its own frailties. Besides, it should be clear to all that micro-finance on its own cannot remove poverty. It can at best make a dent in income poverty. A setback, be it a flood or drought or illness, can and does take a family back to destitution. For a for-profit sector to anchor its whole business model on a 98 per cent plus rate of recovery is to provoke serious scepticism. If to this you add group guarantee and peer pressure on a defaulter, you know why suicides can happen. MFIs rightly say that not a single suicide has been investigated and linked to coercive recovery, but in the public mind the case against them rests on grounds of plausibility.

 

All this does not mean that the for-profit model should be abolished. It alone has brought a sea change in efficiency which has given micro-finance both scale and viability. So, it is good to be driven by the profit motive but only up to a point. Investors in micro-finance should be happy with a lower than the market-determined rate of return.

 

Third, there is urgent need for effective regulation. Two entities have failed to deliver this. One is the Micro-finance Institutions Network, representing the for-profit MFIs, which has been in existence for nearly a year but is yet to bring out norms by which all can know what is the effective rate of interest charged by an MFI. This inability to promote transparency must damage the reputation of the whole tribe.

 

The apex institution which has failed to enforce effective regulation is the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which is mandated to regulate for-profit MFIs that are registered as non-banking financial intermediaries and come under its supervision. These are the big boys who matter and the poor are suffering because of the absence of effective regulation. The wrong things that happened in Andhra did so under the RBI's watch. Worse is the role of the banks. They were happy to lend to MFIs, buy loan portfolios from them to meet their priority sector lending targets and when the trouble began, wanted to stop lending. Neither is the role of Nabard becoming. It wants to be both a regulator and promoter of micro-finance.

 

Fourth, the issue of excessively high rates of interest charged by for-profit MFIs is a red herring. A short-term income-generating loan, say to a vegetable seller, can be nominally high but not so to her because of the resulting income. What is important is return on assets. By this measure, MFIs outperform banks. So they, in the aggregate, are making good money but again it is really the large MFIs which are doing so. It is RBI that has to monitor them individually and there aren't that many of them to track. The top ten account for a large share of the market.

 

Fifth, the regulation that we now have in Andhra is badly put together and flawed. It asks for a degree of grass roots-level registration of micro-finance operations that is impractical and hugely cumbersome. The Andhra reaction came about for two reasons. The state functionaries got hopping mad as the field agents of for-profit MFIs began poaching on the client base of the state-sponsored micro-finance initiative which pre-dates the advent of the former. The troubled politics of the state after the death of Rajasekhara Reddy led to micro-finance-related suicides being widely publicised, forcing the government to be seen to act.

 

So, large for-profit MFIs and their regulators will put controversy behind them provided they make the following new year resolutions: stop picking on low-hanging fruits in Andhra, come clean on the effective rate of interest, stop taking group guarantees and ensure hands on regulation that keeps an eye on MFI earnings so that the poor get a share of them via declining interest rates.

 

subirkroy@gmail.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

HOT-BUTTON ANSWERS

THE MONTHS AHEAD WILL SEE THE SUPREME COURT TACKLING SOME OF THE TRICKIEST LEGAL QUESTIONS OF RECENT TIMES.

M J ANTONY

 

If the last year was marked by the Supreme Court raising grim questions on corruption, food security and future of environmental litigation, the court is expected to provide some answers to those momentous concerns this year. Therefore, the coming months could be exciting for observers of the courts.

 

A number of hot-button issues are standing in long and impatient rows before the court. Next month, the first report of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the 2G scam investigation will be delivered to the Supreme Court. The Niira Radia tapes are already in its possession. Another pivotal issue is the controversial appointment of Chief Vigilance Commissioner P J Thomas. Then there are social issues like distribution of surplus food at cheap rates and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The Supreme Court is a petitioner in a case involving the right to information regarding the appointment of judges. Ratan Tata has raised the alarm over the violation of right to privacy in another petition. The Ayodhya judgment of the Allahabad High Court has to be unscrambled from the ruins of history and religion.

 

 What is of considerable interest to the corporate field in this age of international mergers and acquisitions is the Vodafone's appeal in its income tax case. The hearing in this $ 2.5 billion tax dispute is scheduled to start next month. While the conflict involves clusters of companies, the main contention of Vodafone, which is slapped with the whopping demand for capital gains tax under Indian law, is that the transactions took place outside the country between two non-resident entities and, therefore, the Indian taxmen have no jurisdiction in the matter.

 

The tax authorities and the Bombay High Court maintain that the very purpose of entering into the agreement between the foreign firms was to acquire the controlling interest that one foreign company held in the Indian company by the other foreign company. "This being the dominant purpose of the transaction, the transaction would certainly be subject to municipal law of India, including the Indian Income Tax Act," says the high court judgment, against which the company has moved the Supreme Court.

 

Another issue with international ramifications is the "curative petition" filed by the central government in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak case. The central government had already agreed to the $470 million settlement and the Supreme Court had approved the compromise in 1989. The companies involved have since taken new avatars. Union Carbide, whose plant leaked the toxic gas killing thousands of people, divested itself of its Indian subsidiary's stock in the 1990s, which was acquired by Dow Chemical in 2001. However, the government now says that the earlier settlement was a gross miscarriage of justice and wants the court's order to get $1.1 billion more as compensation. It contends that the earlier settlement figure was arrived at on the basis of assumptions unrelated to the realities. Both the government and the court have to justify their U-turn and if they get a decree, the problem of executing it on an unwilling foreign corporation would be keenly watched. The disaster occurred 26 years ago and a Supreme Court judge has remarked that it would take equal time to decide the new issues.

 

Mining companies and those who have eco-sensitive projects in several parts of the country are anxiously watching the course of the hearings in the "forest matters". The chief justice has shown his dissatisfaction over environmental litigation stalling mammoth ventures. The Lafarge case is a litmus test. The nail-biting wait should be over within a few months. The court's review of the environment judgments will set the tone for policy-makers and entrepreneurs drawing up schemes in the forest, coastal and other sensitive regions.

 

The Supreme Court has some 50 cases that have been referred to larger benches since the smaller ones could not agree on the interpretation of law. Some years ago, one bench wanted a larger bench to clarify the definition of industry in the Industrial Disputes Act. But the question is still hanging in balance and the sectors concerned have learned to live with the confusion. There is another nitpicking over the meaning of "shop" in the Employees State Insurance Act.

 

Perhaps the oldest question referred to a Constitution bench relates to the right to property after the 25the amendment to the Constitution. Several benches have differed on the state of law and, therefore, the issue was referred to a nine-judge bench. That was 14 years ago. Judicial memory has failed and the issue is in limbo. The petitions challenging land acquisitions and setting up of special economic zones also seem to have fallen off the judicial radar. For the judiciary, time acts as a great healer. But for millions who are affected by the inaction of the courts in these vital matters, these are simmering wounds.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

HANDS ACROSS THE WATERS, PPP STYLE

DEVESH KAPUR & NIRVIKAR SINGH

 

Given the government's lacklustre efforts to engage the Indian diaspora, building community centres abroad with a bottom-up approach could be a useful solution.

 

As India prepares for another Pravaasi Bhartiya Diwas, the multiple channels through which the diaspora can be engaged need a fresh look. Current travails with long delays in receiving overseas Indian cards (OICs) or visas due to the two-month gap policy are a reminder that policies to engage the diaspora posited by one branch of the government can be easily undermined by another part of the government that has its own concerns and priorities.

 

 One way to deepen relations with the diaspora is to establish the Indian community or cultures. This has long been seen as an important component of a country's public diplomacy, although this is not a necessary part of the efforts to engage the diaspora. Examples include the American effort with the United States Information Agency, the UK with the British Council, France with Alliance Française, Germany with the Goethe Institutes and Spain's Cervantes Institutes.

 

The most recent – and ambitious – push in this direction are China's efforts to establish Confucius Institutes for training in Chinese language and culture. According to a recent report in the China Daily, 322 Confucius Institutes and 369 Confucius Classrooms have been established in 96 countries; and 303 institutes and 265 classrooms are already operating. As many as 360,000 students were registered in these programmes in 2010 (130,000 more than last year). An average Confucius Institute receives $500,000 and a Confucius Classroom gets $60,000. They expect to dispatch 2,000 teachers and 3,000 volunteers from China and train 10,000 Chinese teachers and 10,000 local teachers next year. The effort is overseen by Hanbanan, (an arm of the Chinese Ministry of Education) which aims to establish 1,000 Confucius Institutes by 2020.

 

Despite their rapid international growth and popularity, these institutes have attracted considerable controversy. They are obviously seen by the Chinese government as an instrument of its "soft power" to win the world's heart and mind, but critics view them as propaganda vehicles for the Communist Party of China and for even more nefarious purposes (one reason the Indian government has rejected them till now).

 

Can India be more creative about its public diplomacy efforts and move away from the top-down, state-driven efforts to a grass-roots level, bottom-up approach? First, this would be less of a drain on the public exchequer. Second, since the key stakeholder is the local community, it will be more integrated and raise fewer suspicions. And third, at least for now, the Indian government simply lacks the wherewithal to mount a large state-run and directed effort that is effective and does not degenerate into something worse.

 

An excellent model that could be supported, hence replicated and scaled up, is the India Community Centre (ICC) in Silicon Valley, near San Francisco. The ICC was conceived as a place where every generation of the Indian diaspora could find comfort in various facets of their culture, preserve and practise unique traditions and celebrate festivals and social milestones in a welcoming environment. It was also designed to be a centre where people from other cultures could explore and experience Indian traditions and values. The ICC founders also decided that promoting fraternity in the spirit of the Indian Constitution would be even more important in a distant land. So uniting the diverse community is also one of the ICC's goals. And finally, incorporating community service was considered vital to living up to traditional Indian values.

 

The ICC emphasises inclusiveness, outreach and community partnerships, serving as anchor and foundation for

the local Indian diaspora. It provides classes, celebrations and community services. It runs on the dedication and donations of a volunteer staff and governing body, and is run transparently and efficiently, serving thousands in the local community.

 

If India is to retain links with the second generation of the diaspora, the community – and the government of India – must think of creative ways to engage them. An organisation like the ICC offers the best mechanism for that engagement, both because of its inclusive nature and the range of activities it is engaged in.

 

There are, of course, practical concerns. How would one know if the effort is worthy enough of taxpayers support? How should embassies and consulates consider the merits of different applications and the volume of support? Who would decide, and on what grounds, which Indian community centre is worth supporting?

 

It should be possible to address these concerns by laying out objective criteria that cannot be gamed easily. The

Indian government should initially consider supporting only those centres:

 

  where the local Indian-origin population exceeds a certain number (for example, at least 50,000 or perhaps even 100,000);

  that are strictly non-sectarian and non-political and have no connection with any religious or spiritual organisation; 

 

 

  where the local community raises the major part of the operating budget (the floor could be as high as 80 per cent) and is responsible for all revenues at the margin; 

 

  that have a proven track record of, say, at least five years and growing, 

 

  that have well-established governance structures and reputed trustees and directors; 

 

  that are strongly endorsed by the Indian Consulate with jurisdiction, which feels the partnership will be

 

ighly beneficial.

By leveraging these grass-roots efforts in an incentive-compatible and resource-efficient manner, the Indian government can create a unique global public-private partnership that engages with its exceptional diaspora, a group that has provided a positive example and is a source of support for its homeland. This model would provide a vehicle to sustain and strengthen an identity that ultimately has to be defined by collective engagement around that identity, and not just by the position of a card or other legal status. This approach would also provide better bridges to the host countries of the diaspora, rather than the old model of purely government-sponsored institutes, which carry the whiff of an imperial past or similar future pretensions. As India moves firmly on to the world stage, partnering with its diaspora with such a focused effort is likely to have an exceptionally high rate of return.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE BOFORS GHOST

SHOULD PAY INCOME TAX?


THE Income Tax Appellate Tribunal's order that the government is indeed entitled to collect tax on commission received by Win Chaddha and Ottavio Quattrochi is sufficient ground for the government to start another round of investigations in the Bofors scandal, says the Opposition. Really? To begin with, there is no new evidence or finding that the tribunal has come up with. The appellate tribunal hears appeals against orders that have already been passed. So, in upholding an assessment order against Win Chaddha, the tribunal is reiterating existing findings, not generating new ones. Further, it is illogical to say that a tax claim is proof of criminality. If someone loots a bank and the loot is discovered and established as loot, it is returned to its owner, not taxed. To levy a tax on someone is to grant that the income that is taxed actually belongs to the assessee. Now, the Bofors commission was an illegal payment, diversion of funds that belonged to the government of India (the presumption in banning commissions was that the avoided commission would stay with the government, as the price to be paid would not have the usual mark-up of the commission element). Any amount that is incontrovertibly a commission paid on the Bofors deal should be attached as property that rightfully belongs to the government, not taxed as income. The Bofors prosecution went stone dead under the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government presumably for want of credible evidence, not want of political will. In the absence of any fresh evidence, it makes no sense to restart an investigation that only wastes resources. 


    Rajiv Gandhi was acquitted in 2003 by the Delhi high court in the Bofors case. But this does not mean that the ghost of Bofors will not haunt the Congress. It will, and it should, as should the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and other such political crimes. But it is imperative to distinguish between Bofors as a metaphor of political corruption and Bofors as an investigation that stands a chance of leading anywhere. Let the metaphor live on, but not at the expense of the nation's scarce resources, monetary as well as administrative. Nor can today's politics be sought to be held hostage by a tired old ghost from a distant past.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

REGULATING BROADBAND

LESSONS FROM THE US


 AS INDIA prepares for a rapid increase in broadband penetration, riding on soon-to-be-launched mobile services, it is useful to take note of the US Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) December order to ensure network neutrality. The aim is to preserve the internet as an open network that offers consumers choice, freedom of expression, user control, competition and freedom to innovate. And, ensure that all users continue to have equal access to any website without the service provider blocking or degrading disfavoured content or application or privileging content whose providers pay for prioritising content. The order basically says that service providers will transparently disclose all commercial terms, network management principles and practices, will not block any lawful site or place unreasonable restrictions. The regulation has been criticised for its implicit recognition of reasonable restriction, on the ground that this will lead to restrictions and litigation. The FCC is of the view that this openness cannot be taken for granted. And, that is true. Many broadband providers in recent years have taken actions that threaten the net's openness and consumer choice. Actions include blocking or degrading of disfavoured content and applications without disclosing the practice to consumers. Such actions are not limited to the US either. Service providers in India degrade user connections where they are found to download a huge amount of content. Their explanation is that if such a measure is not taken, the quality of the service provided by the broadband provider would deteriorate for all subscribers. These arguments are laughable, given the mediocre speeds that are passed off as broadband in India and the download levels that would be required when high-definition video becomes the default standard. 

 

 The consumer is best served by competition, for which the government must make more spectrum available, both licensed and unlicensed and also publicly fund trunk fibre optic connections to all district and subdivisional headquarters. The failure of broadband wireless access licensees to commence operations must be penalised by allowing fresh competition.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CEYLON IS COLONIAL

BUT NOT FOR TEA!


 THE power of generic brand equity can be perceived in the fact that Ceylon tea is likely to be exempted from the Sri Lankan government's New Year resolution to eschew use of the old colonial name. While Ceylon was officially renamed Sri Lanka in 1972, many institutions have continued to use the old name. As per the latest New Year resolution, the people will now be served by the Bank of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Electricity Board. One can only hope that service under the new name is satisfactory. Any disruption in the supply of electricity could see endusers abusing the entity under its new name! 

 

 However, Sri Lankan tea could continue to be known as Ceylon tea. The country's main export has for generations been promoted as Ceylon tea. Leading brands make it a point to mention in their promotional literature that the Chinese emperor Shen Nung talked up the health benefits of tea in 2737 BC but that it was Ceylon tea which made the beverage a global favourite in the 19th and 20th centuries — AD, not BC, we hasten to add! Such literature narrates how Scotsman James Taylor started the story of Ceylon tea in 1867 by planting 20 acres in the Loolecondera Estate and by perfecting the art of fine plucking — two leaves and a bud. The image of Ceylon tea in the global market was, it is claimed, undermined 40 years ago by MNCs which blended it with cheaper origins to maximise profits. The happy ending is that some producers launched a movement and saved Ceylon tea's image by offering it as a single origin with a distinct taste and character, since "the alchemy of land, sun and rain presents the ideal climatic conditions for the cultivation of tea". Ergo, Ceylon is colonial when associated with the bank and the electricity board, but anti-colonial when used as a geographical appellation for tea!

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

STOCKS COULD TOUCH NEW HIGHS

SELF-FINANCED, HEIGHTENED MERGER AND ACQUISITION ACTIVITY IN 2011 COULD BOOST STOCK VALUATIONS WORLDWIDE, WITH STOCK MULTIPLES EXPANDING AS EQUITY RISK PREMIUMS FALL, SAYS SUNIL KEWALRAMANI


DESPITE its annus horribilis, the eurozone is expanding: Estonia has joined the eurozone on January 1, 2011 as its 17th member. What the euro needs is more Germanys. What it gets is more Irelands: small, peripheral European economies vulnerable to euro-induced bubbles. 

 

Meanwhile, PIIGS are on diet. Ancient Greece famously had wars that went longer than planned — Peloponnesian wars, Trojan wars and so on. Greece in 2010 had its debt crisis and bailout. 

 

Our collective wisdom on oil prices has been shaped by supply shocks of 1970s and the smaller one in early 1990s that helped precipitate recessions. The fact that WTI crude just topped $92 and Brent $94 a barrel, near their post-Lehman highs, is disconcerting. 

 

The IMF's World Economic Outlook sees deceleration in global growth based on a crude basket price of $78.75. According to econometric models, we should shave two-tenths of a point off that, ceteris paribus. More than 70% of India's oil is imported and that does not help things either. 

 

 Crude is as much a barometer of economic activity as impediment to it, since prices are driven by incremental demand in countries like China and India. By 2030, the US Energy Administration says they will consume two-thirds more than OECD countries. Generating less output per barrel of oil than developed countries, their appetite should be more sensitive, yet appears more resilient. 

 

 Oil prices can keep rising in dollar terms, redirecting barrels from western energy gluttons to rising Asian giants, signifying realignment of centre of gravity rather than a drag on world economy. 

 

 In 2010, the FTSE Bric 50 index of leading companies from Brazil, Russia, India and China returned just 3% in 2010 in dollar terms. This was in spite of strong gains in Russia (up 49%) and India (up 14.8%). The collective Bric performance was outstripped by dollar returns of 11.6% for the US, 9.6% for Japan, 5.1% for Germany and 3.5% for the UK. 

 

This once again proves the folly of relying exclusively on growth over relative valuations. FIIs, concerned with corporate governance in some emerging markets, may in 2011 consider tapping into wealth being created abroad via big US stocks like Yum (market cap: $24 billion), 3M ($62 billion) and Cummins ($19 billion). 

 

 Yum Brands is the quintessential American fast-food company, operating chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. It's also a great emerging markets play. The Chinese love KFC: breakfast with the Colonel is a huge hit in Beijing. Pretax profits from China exceeded those of the US by 18% in 2010. 

 

 US bond yields have long been in a downtrend. On December 7, 2010, the 10-year borrowing costs in the US rose 14% in a matter of hours. Since bottoming on October 7, 10-year yields have risen 37%. Similar trends were at work in German Bunds, whose yields were at one point up 45% from their September low, and in the UK, gilt yields have behaved identically. In Japan, yields are up 55% since September. 

 

 Stocks, however, have kept rising with bond yields. The two are not mutually exclusive, but such symmetry is rare. Rising bond yields can coincide with return of animal spirits after nasty shock or expectation of tighter monetary policy as economy recovers. 

 

 QE1 had an instant impact because credit markets were clearly dysfunctional. It seems Fed has exhausted its ability to force down long-term yields. Bond prices may rally anyway, for a less benign reason — Treasury yields have not topped 3.5% when core inflation was so low and unemployment so high in over 50 years. 

 

 THE International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), if implemented by April 1, 2011, could affect market cap of Indian companies holding large treasury stock as such stock can now be held only for expansion, and not to pay dividends. IFRS could also impact companies that have acquired assets pre-Lehman and need to reflect them 'at fair market value' or after accounting for 'impairment of assets'. 

 

Under the Indian generally accepted accounting principles, Indian realty companies recognise revenue in proportion to construction cost before title transfer. IFRS will necessitate reclassification of assets and liabilities. 

 

 China needs to price credit correctly to avoid hard landing in 2011. After six hikes in 2010, reserve requirement ratio (18.5%) is fast approaching theoretical cap of 25% (banking regulator's loanto-deposit requirement is 75%). While planned credit growth of 15% in 2011 may lead to deceleration of prices, a much steeper decline from 32% in 2009 to 19% in 2010 failed to do the trick. 

 

 Stocks look attractive relative to other asset classes in 2011, with strong global earnings growth. Almost 30% of US companies have net cash. The US corporate free-cash-flow yields are in line with investment-grade corporatebond yields, compared with a 20-year average of 5.5% below, suggesting selffinanced, heightened M&A activity in 2011 that could boost stock valuations. 

 

 Over $30 billion of drugs are expected to go off-patent in 2011, creating opportunities for Indian generic drugmakers. Pfizer's cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor ($12 billion in annual revenues) expires in November 2011. Ranbaxy (after resolving USFDA issues for its Paonta Sahib facility), with its first-filer advantage, is entitled to six-month market exclusivity. 

 

 Earnings growth will slow as the cycle matures. Yet, stock multiples could expand as equity risk premiums fall. In the US, S&P 500, at around 1,250, trades at 13 times 2011 earnings, below the long-term average. A move to 15 times by end-2011 could take the index to 1,400. Similarly, Stoxx 600, around 280, is trading at 11.3 times, again below average, but could reach 320 by end-2011 at multiple of 12. 

 

 Emerging markets currently trade at trailing 16.6 P/E, versus 17.3 for developed markets. The forward P/E of emerging markets is little above longterm average, but is "not stretched". 

 The first half of 2011 could be better than the second. Nifty and Sensex could touch new highs in run-up to the Budget 2011. 

(The author is CEO, Global Money Investor)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FAC E - O F F

IRANIAN IMPORT CURB IN OUR INTEREST?

P SUGAVANAM 


Former Director (Finance), IOC No, it will not hurt bilateral trade 

 

 THE Asian Clearing Union (ACU) mechanism provides for member countries — India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar — to make multilateral payments arrangement that periodically offsets the debits and credits accumulated by each member against the other members in the process of trade and other transactions. Multilateral clearing or payment arrangements facilitate the use of national currencies, and thus serve to relax the foreign exchange constraints of the members. The member countries could pool their dollar/ euro payments against each other in the clearing house and net payments effected in their local currencies. 

 

 With the current level of foreign exchange reserves and India's willingness to open the capital account convertibility also in full in future, it is but natural that all mechanisms that control free flow of foreign currency into/out of India need to be dispensed with. 

 

 The current view of the RBI is to move away from the ACU and ask importers and exporters to Iran to settle their payments through the normal purchase of foreign currency, either dollar or euro is in right perspective. Iran has already started trading in oil in euro, thus avoiding the dollar trade. Central banks of both Iran and India have already started a dialogue on the mode of settlement other than the ACU. The new arrangement should in no way affect the current import/export of both the countries which are governed by the Exim policies. 
    As a good international citizen, India has a long record of faithfully implementing sanctions imposed by the Security Council. The issue at hand is not about imports of oil from Iran, which are not prohibited by the current UN sanctions. But the range of measures adopted by the international community against the banking and finance sectors of Iran has complicated the system of payment. It is unfair to construe that the action of RBI is under any pressure from the US, though the action may be due to the fresh mandate of the sanction on Iran by the US/UN.

 

S C TRIPATHI 

Former Secretary Ministry of Petroleum Yes, it will impact our development plans 

 

THE RBI's move to ban oil companies from using the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) to process the current account transactions for oil & gas imports will impact India's development plans. However, almost all other oil & gas exporting countries are using the US dollar for their transactions and are out of the ACU. 

 

The fact is that there are no UN sanctions on transactions of oil & gas from Iran and if there were to be one, it would fail as European countries and China are unlikely to comply. India maintains that it has civilisational links with Iran, but is seen to be buckling down under US pressure. 

 

 We have already given up on Iran gas pipeline with or without Pakistan and are looking at a more unsafe, less feasible and more difficult Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) pipeline. It would hurt national interests further if we were to lose Iran as a stable and continuing source of supply of oil and become entirely dependent on Arab world. At present, we import nearly 75% of our crude requirement and of this, nearly a quarter comes from Saudi Arabia, 10% each from the UAE and Kuwait. Imports from Iraq are likely to reach the level of Kuwait in some time. For various reasons, we have consciously pursued diversification of sources of supply, moving to Nigeria and Venezuela. But to lose Iran that accounts for 12-14% of imports would be a big blow to our efforts. 

 We lost to China the chance of bringing gas from Myanmar. Losing oil & gas supplies from Iran will hit our interests hard. The seat on UNSC is still distant and elusive, but energy insecurity is real and immediate. We cannot grow without energy. Our per capita energy consumption is around one-fourth of the world average and denying ourselves access to Iran hydrocarbons is imprudent. 

 

 What we need is to put together an arrangement that takes care or 'circumvents' the financial sanctions. Our PSU and private sector companies should work ingeniously to develop such arrangement even if it has to be outside the ACU or with the help of third country financial systems.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GU EST COLU M N

ARE LOBBYISTS GOOD FOR THE NATION?

G V RAMAKRISHNA 


 LOBBYISTS first came to be recognised as a legitimate part of legislative activity in the US a few decades ago. Legislation in the US is generally more complex and the process of legislation is convoluted than in other countries, with committees and subcommittees, cliques and party groups. The legislators are not more educated than in other less developed countries. Hence, the need was felt for various groups, with their own business interests, to present their views to the legislators. Lobbyists would collect data, analyse the implications of particular laws for various groups, promote articles and research papers and suggest the line of action that would promote their interests. Similarly, the position of opposing groups gets developed and presented to the legislators. Gradually, this healthy activity spread to socialising by parties, holidays and expensive gifts to important members of the various committees. Cash gifts and election funding also came along as a normal activity of lobbyists. 

 

Registration of lobbyists has been a more recent step to regulate the activities of the lobbyists to reduce corruption in the legislative process. 

 

 In India, the system of lobbyists is not a recognised activity and has acquired an odour of bribery of legislators, officials and the media. 

 

The main problem is that the activity of lobbyists is carried out clandestinely. The interests of different companies or groups are rarely based on research or discussion among disinterested groups. 


 That there is need for legislators and the public to be presented with wellresearched papers on the subject of legislation cannot be denied. The whole question is, how open is this lobbying? If there is one view in favour of one course, there is always another point of view that needs to be equally well-researched and presented to the legislation. Of course, there will be political and ideological differences, but these are aired before the public for them also to express their views. The views of the media are not usually impartial. The lobbyists, by means fair and dubious, acquire the support of different media, which then proceed to influence the public. If this exercise is done by both sides of the debate, then the public has the advantage. But the clout and reach of different media is not uniform. The real criticism about the lobbyists can be summarised as follows: They are mostly individuals. They work behind the scenes. They do not reveal the companies or groups of companies they represent. They do not present any researched papers except through the media without owning their positions openly. The object of lobbying may be policy changes or individual cases. They try to change policy through the ministers or through their advisers. 

 

How they use their persuasive powers by fair or fowl means to get a favourable decision in regard a policy change or a particular case is also important for the public to know. 

 

 On important matters, like the present debate on economic development versus environment involving Niyamgiri tribal area or the Jaitapur nuclear power project, there are important issues that have to be debated to enable the government to take a decision. 

 

 In a sense, the lobbyists should act as advocates that present different views and interpretation to enable the court to take an informed decision. Just as the courts welcome the assistance of the counsel, the government should welcome lobbyists subject to certain rules of the game. 

 If these characteristics are understood, then it should not be difficult to devise systems to deal with them to introduce greater transparency and minimise corruption. 

 

 Rules for lobbyists should be formulated for both individuals and companies to be registered with the ministry of company affairs with sufficient details of the companies or groups of companies they represent. 

 

 The representations they make should be to the minister or the secretaries and it should be in writing and made available on the website of the lobbyist. 

 

The contacts with the minister or secretary should not be in private but in the offices. 

 

Lobbyists should represent not individual companies but industry groups where large industry associations have divided interests and cannot take separate views to represent groups. 

 All this may look good on paper. The real test of transparency will be in the conduct and behaviour of all those in positions of power or influence. Any good law, however well-intentioned it may be, is capable of misuse. That should not deter government from trying to improve the present system which breeds corruption and other malpractices. 

 

(The author is a former chairman of Sebi)

 

 

In India, the system of lobbyists is not a recognised activity and has acquired an odour of bribery of legislators, officials and the media 

 

How they use their persuasive powers to get a favourable decision is important for the public to know 


The real test of transparency will be in the conduct and behaviour of all those in positions of power or influence

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

MIRACLE OF THE LEAVES

VITHALC NADKARNI 


 NEW Year's gift is a pair of ruby red new leaves on the sapling. It was planted three months ago to commemorate a passing and the first new leaves signal acceptance, both by the planet and the plantlet. 

 

 To the casual observer it is just another small thing in a garden of green delights. But the scribe will tell you a different story: The plant, which was procured from faraway hills, belongs to a species renowned for regreening ravaged slopes of the Western Ghats. Locals know it as Anjani, which also happens to be the name of the divine damsel who gave birth to Hanuman. 

 

 Because the plant is iron-hard like Hanuman, tribal lore also calls it lokhandi zhad or tree of iron. But as the Bard of Avon says, what's in a name? In Malaysia the same Iron Tree goes by the name of Delek Air and is prized for its bright blue flowers which look almost unreal when they do sprout in globular bunches from the trunk to the tip of the tree. 

 

 As for its metallic content, Indian tribal healers were on to something; botanists claim to have discovered high concentrations of aluminium, if not iron, in Anjani's glossy green leaves. Does that in some way correlate to the glowing, 'electric' hue of Anjani flowers? 

 

 This, too, may not seem to be as strange as it sounds considering the herbal lore from the Valmiki Ramayana: In the battle of Lanka, Ravana's son Meghnad deploys a magical serpent astra to mortally wound and bind the heroic Lakshmana and the only remedy for him is the fabled Mritasanjivini (reviver of the dead) plant, along with the therapeutic trio of herbs known as Vishalyakarani, Suvarnakarani, and Sandhani from the Himalayas. 


    The first herb helps to pull out shrapnel, the second restores healthy complexion, and the last one joins and heals. "These flaming plants glow with unparalleled brightness in the 10 directions," says Jambuvan, the violet-hued bear-chief, who directs Hanuman to return with the remedies. Was he talking about bioluminescence, a trait amply displayed by the humble algae that glow in our seas? James Cameron's Avatar employs this characteristic with spectacular effect in the flora of Pandora. 

 

 But you don't need to go that far. Cherish the miracle of photosynthesis. This sustains the cosmic cycle of life in every leaf, and which the Upanishads rightly venerate as the primeval avatar of formless Brahman. 

 

 Plant a sapling to rekindle that ancient marvel.'

 

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BUSINESS LINE

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

BOTTOMLESS PIT

AIR INDIA, A HUGE LOSS-MAKER, IS DROWNING IN ITS INEFFICIENCY. IDEALLY, IT SHOULD BE SOLD OFF, JUST AS OTHER PSUS ARE.

 

In the 1990s, when Ajit jokes came into their own, there was one in which Ajit orders that the hero be placed in liquid oxygen. Asked why, he says the liquid will not let him live and the oxygen will not let him die. The story of Air India is somewhat similar. It is a huge loss-maker, forever demanding taxpayers' money. In the next few months it could get as much as Rs 4,200 crore, the equivalent of oxygen; but it is also drowning in its inefficiency. The new Air India management led by Captain Gustav Baldauf is working hard on a plan to improve efficiency and productivity. This includes a proposal to lease more aircraft, so that Air India can operate more flights and earn more revenue. The idea of leasing is being considered as the aircraft can be sent back in case the market dips. Besides, aircraft acquisition is a time-consuming and cumbersome process which involves getting various clearances from the Government, while a decision to lease can be taken at the airline board level. The airline wants a 50:50 mix of leased and purchased aircraft in its fleet. Currently, the airline has a fleet of 166 aircraft, of which it operates 135, of which 119 aircraft are owned by Air India.

 

All this sounds fine in the current boom in traffic because during April-November 2010, revenue was up 22.6 per cent at Rs 7,250 crore, compared to Rs 5,911 crore in the year ago period. During this period, the airline carried 13.3 per cent more passengers — 9.05 million, as compared to 7.99 million in the year ago period. One must, however, bear in mind that on a flat wicket, even Harbhajan Singh, a bowler, scored two back-to-back centuries. And despite the improved performance, the fact remains that almost half the routes it operates on do not make money. If 2011 is to be a game-changing year for Air India, the management must reduce this drag on the bottom line. On its part, the Government is likely to provide another Rs 3,000 crore to the state-owned airline in Budget 2011. The latest infusions will take the total funds provided by the state to Rs 5,000 crore. Besides, the Reserve Bank of India is likely to clear the debt restructuring plan by the end of January in the hope that the long-term debt will come down from Rs 40,000 crore to Rs 25,000 crore. Should this happen, the enhanced equity base of Rs 5000 crore and debt falling to Rs 25,000 crore will see the airline debt-equity ratio decline to 1:5 — an accepted level in the global airline business. The Cabinet, meanwhile, has given its nod to the management to rationalise the wage structure. Wages constitute about 30 per cent of the airline cost, and it is the second highest cost head for Air India. Just how this will be done is as unclear as the runway on a foggy day in Delhi.

 

Eventually, Air India should be sold off, just as other PSUs are being sold. The tax payers must get just rewards for putting their money now in what appears to be a bottomless pit.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

NDIA NEEDS A BETTER DEBT MARKET

B.R. DIWAKAR

 

FINANCE MATTERS

Securitisation, a tool to develop the debt market, is a concept shrouded in mistrust, thanks to the global financial crisis. However, it can play a key role in scaling up financial services delivery, provided certain norms are in place.

 

 
It is important that the due diligence information collected by the lender is shared with the credit rating agency.

 

A well-functioning capital market is an important prerequisite not only for financial inclusion, but also for economic development and growth.

 

In a developed economy, banks and capital markets often complement each other, allowing movement of surplus funds to find their most productive use, and, in the process, freeing up capital and improving liquidity that allows banks to finance a larger number of players than was hitherto possible.

 

Critical to such a movement is the existence of an efficient secondary market where previously issued financial instruments can be traded.

 

SECONDARY MARKETS

 

An example of a thriving secondary market in India is the secondary market for equities.

 

With 22 stock exchanges across the country and the use of advanced technology, India is comparable to the world's most advanced secondary markets for equity.

 

The growth in the equity markets in India can be traced to the enactment of the SEBI Act, 1992, that was made possible largely due to changes in policy made in conjunction with economic and financial reforms.

 

However, India still does not have a well-developed secondary market for debt instruments. Liquidity in such markets continues to remain a challenge and very few risk classes have any semblance of liquidity.

 

In the absence of such markets, banks and other financial institutions need to hold all such assets on their books until maturity and maintain the requisite levels of equity on their books.

 

This translates into a higher cost of funds, which is inevitably passed on to borrowers.

 

An efficient secondary market would increase liquidity for lenders and allow them to pass the lower costs to borrowers.

 

In 2005, housing loan penetration rates, measured as outstanding housing loans to GDP, was only about 3 per cent in India, compared to 51 per cent in the US, 54 per cent in the UK, and 10-12 per cent in other Asian countries. But in 2009, for every 1 per cent increase in GDP, there was a 3 per cent increase in housing loans in India.

 

A large part of this was facilitated by the growth of secondary markets for home loan assets during this period. According to data from the National Housing Board (NHB), since 2000, 13 Housing Finance Corporations (HFCs) and one bank have securitised (creation of debt securities that are backed by a stream of cash-flows) housing loans aggregating Rs 862 crore through the NHB-SPV Trust.

 

ROLE OF SECURITISATION

 

One of the mechanisms of accessing the secondary debt market is fairly simple. A client borrows money from a lender, say a bank, which constitutes a primary market transaction. The bank needs liquidity to lend money to other borrowers.

 

Therefore, the bank sells to an investor the asset that was created, along with the risks associated with it, while retaining some risk on its books. In financial markets, such a transaction is called 'originate to distribute' (OTD) and a popular form of this model is securitisation.

 

In the wake of the global financial crisis, both these terms have been shrouded in mistrust. However, the model itself is sound and can play a key role in scaling financial services delivery, provided certain basic tenets are adhered to.

 

In India, the OTD model of securitisation can play a pivotal role in enhancing availability of capital for banks, particularly in a situation where capital adequacy norms are fairly high.

 

CREDITWORTHINESS

 

One of the basic tenets of the OTD model is to make sure that the lender who first originates the loan ensures that it has been provided to a creditworthy borrower.

 

Since the assets are created by the lender with the intention of transferring the asset and associated risk to another institution, there is a fear that the underlying principles of credit sanction may not be given sufficient attention.

 

A sound principle of securitisation would ensure that this tenet, of following strictly the norms of credit sanction, is adhered to by asking the originator of the asset to continue to service the loan for a sufficient period of time before it is transferred and to retain the first part of the total losses on such a portfolio, through a mechanism called the First Loss Default Guarantee (FLDG).

 

Put simply, this would ensure that the originator of the asset, who now has its skin in the game by guaranteeing the first part of the loss, will ensure the quality of the underlying asset.

 

This is particularly important for asset classes that have a relatively longer tenure of repayment, such as auto loans or home loans, as it ensures that the credit appraisal is done well.

 

FOR MORE TRANSPARENCY

 

To ensure high quality in the transfer of assets between the originator and the financial institution purchasing the assets, an independent credit rating of the portfolio is critical.

 

It is important that the due diligence information collected by the lender is shared with the credit agency, which verifies the information through its own credit rating process and makes the rationale known to all investors.

 

This, in turn, increases transparency in the transaction.

 

As secondary markets develop in India, there will emerge new asset classes that help in furthering financial inclusion.

 

A case in point is the securitisation of microfinance loan portfolios.

 

(The author is with IFMR Capital. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

LABOUR HAS THE BARGAINING CHIPS

THIS OLD MODEL OF THE UNORGANISED SECTOR BEING A TRAINING SCHOOL TO PROVIDE SKILLED LABOUR NO LONGER LOOKS FEASIBLE… YOU MAY BUY BULLDOZERS AND CRANES, BUT GETTING PEOPLE WHO CAN OPERATE THEM IS BECOMING VERY DIFFICULT.

 

Dr Pronab Sen is perhaps the best economist that the Government today has. Not for nothing is he leading the team drafting the strategy for the 12 {+t} {+h} Five Year Plan. In this interview to Business Line, the Principal Adviser to the Planning Commission talks about recent labour market trends and wage pressures that could have implications for growth.

 

What is happening to labour? Previously, only farmers were complaining of shortages. Today, everybody is.

 

Earlier, there was a balanced synergy between the organised and unorganised sectors. The latter would take in

unskilled workers and give them on-the-job training. They would then, over time, move to the organised sector. From 2004, there was a sudden step-up in growth rates, especially in manufacturing and infrastructure.

 

Since this growth was mainly in the organised sector, its labour requirements way exceeded the unorganised sector's ability to provide. So you got a mismatch.

 

This old model of the unorganised sector being a training school to provide skilled labour no longer looks feasible. Infrastructure companies are today stretched. It is not just about engineers. You may buy bulldozers and cranes, but getting people who can operate them is becoming very difficult. The turnover rates among skilled construction workers are higher than even in software.

 

You really need institutions now to produce skilled labour force — not just for organised industry. However high the growth rates are in the organised sector, 40 per cent of GDP is still from the unorganised sector. If growth has to be inclusive, you cannot ignore the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

 

There is a latent entrepreneurship among them, which is being held up, not the least by their heavy dependence on unskilled hands. They are condemned to exist at very low productivity levels because every time somebody gets to a certain skill level, they move.

 

You feel the organised sector has grown too fast and sucked up all the skilled labour?

 

It was always doing so, except that there used to be a balance in outflow. Now, the sucking-in has become so much faster that the MSMEs are working with low-skilled labour all the time.

 

Is that why the complaints of labour shortages are largely coming from Tirupur, Sivakasi, Surat or Panipat?

 

The entrepreneurs there are basically referring to skilled workers. But these were places where labour was also being overexploited. It could not have gone on. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has given a platform for labour to assert its demands even without going through the trade union militancy route. So, routine violations of minimum wages that took place are starting to get redressed.

 

But NREGA has not worked in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh…

It is not a question of whether it has worked or not. The issue is: In a bargaining situation, does labour have a credible threat? Can it say: If you do not offer me this, it is not that I will starve? NREGA has created an opportunity cost to exploitation. NREGA, more than being an actuality, is held out as a threat: Labour is saying that unless you pay us sufficiently, we will not come. It is not only the MSMEs, but also agriculture that is bearing the brunt. The squeeze in access to cheap labour is forcing even farmers to focus on productivity. That may be a little disruptive in the short run, but over the long term it is probably good.

What you are beginning to see today in agricultural regions like Punjab is the sort of productivity increases that took place in Indian industry from the early 2000s. The 1991 liberalisation opened up possibilities for industry to expand scope of operations. But it was only the pricing pressures from the late 1990s, compounded by the Reserve Bank's monetary crackdown, which actually forced firms to look at productivity very seriously. There was a huge shakeout, as efficiency levels went up dramatically over a very short period of time across industries. Something similar is probably going to happen in agriculture.

 

A related issue. In the early 2000s, food prices ruled soft despite stagnant output and even export of some 30 million tonnes (mt) of grain. In the last 5-6 years, production is up for most crops and yet there is so much inflation.

 

It is part of the same story. During the Tenth Plan (2002-07), we were fairly correct in assessing that the first two years will have a growth of 5.5-6 per cent and thereafter accelerate to 8 per cent. Based on these, we estimated the consumption of food products, while anticipating a shift away from cereals towards non-cereals.

 

The demand growth in cereals was seen to fall from about 2.2 per cent to 2 per cent, marginally above the population increase. Further, we projected the demand for non-cereals — including horticulture, dairy and animal products — to rise by 4.5 per cent. It turned out that cereal demand grew by only 1.8 per cent. But demand for non-cereals grew by 7 per cent, way beyond our expectations.

 

Clearly, this had to do with higher incomes from accelerated growth, resulting in a dramatic shift in the food basket.

 

Retail prices of many foodstuffs have doubled or trebled. But that has still not deterred consumption. Is there something that our statistics are not capturing?

 

If we talk of an average 8.5 per cent growth, it means an annual per capita income rise of 6.5 per cent. At these rates, not only consumption, but even shifts in consumption baskets can be fairly dramatic.

 

It happened in China, where they have managed by importing some 20 mt of food. But China's growth is concentrated in the coastal regions, making it easier to handle the logistics of imported goods. We can get things into the ports and feed Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai. But there is no infrastructure to take it where the real demand is. And with NREGA boosting rural demand, there is a drop in market arrivals, as the villages themselves consume more.

 

In the past, food inflation was episodic and traceable to an exogenous, usually climatic, factor. The present sustained inflation seems structural and endogenous. Also, there is something new. Previously, whenever there was crop damage — due to droughts, floods or untimely rains — it got first reflected in the mandi prices, with retail prices following with a lag. In recent times, retail prices have led, going up earlier and faster than wholesale prices.

 

This is significant because we treat retail as being possibly the closest to perfect competition. So we would expect retail prices to be essentially cost-based, with the costs originating from the mandis, where primary trade takes place: Higher prices there would work its way up the distribution chain. This time it is starting at the retail level itself.

 

Does that reflect higher household incomes?

 

Well, the kind of demand-supply gaps we are talking about may justify 8-10 per cent food inflation, but certainly not 15-20 per cent.

 

People seem to have the money to pay. Unlike the time when high onion prices brought down the BJP government, nobody seems to be protesting really. Have our incomes gone up so much that we can absorb all this? I don't know.

 

Will this food inflation kill growth?

 

The two are linked. If growth gets killed, food inflation will come down. My concern is what it does to international competitiveness. Wage pressure this year has been very high. Granted, a part of it is because there were no wage increases in 2009; wages were even cut. Now, labour has returned to say: Compensate us for not only what you did not give last year, but also higher consumer price inflation.

 

Companies are, for now, absorbing all this wage pressure. But what will happen if food inflation and this kind of sustained wage pressure remain? Earlier, labour had no bargaining chip and whenever you had high inflation, it invariably led to reduced consumption by labour. But now labour is, in some ways, passing it on to the employers.

 

Worse, the rupee has divorced itself from what is happening in the country, being driven more by capital flows. Previously, exchanges rates had some link with inflation differences.

 

Today, you have a 10 percentage point difference between global inflation and our inflation; yet the rupee is appreciating when it should be depreciating by 10 per cent. The impact on competitiveness depends on how much slack in productivity levels you still have, which can be tapped to absorb this cost inflation. In large parts of the economy, we have it. But there is a limit even there.

 

What you are saying is that in the organised sector, our productivity is near world levels. The challenge is to raise it in the MSMEs and agriculture.

 

Yes. Achieving 8-8.5 per cent growth is doable. Reaching the next level of 9 per cent-plus depends quite a lot on exports. Earlier, we assumed this could happen, even with a relatively depressed economy, through productivity increases. But with this kind of price and wage behaviour — and a completely disengaged exchange rate — even if we get the productivity increases, most of these might be absorbed in meeting the higher costs.

 

Would profits, then, be depressed?

 

That anyway has to happen. In an economy with savings rate of 34 per cent and another 4-4.5 per cent of external capital, margins cannot remain high. The marginal returns on capital are bound to fall.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

NANOTECHNOLOGY COMES OF AGE

BHASKAR BALAKRISHNAN

 

India could use its skilled manpower to graduate to the higher end of the value-added chain in nanotechnology.

 

Nanotechnology, the application of science to materials of the size of 1-100 nanometres (one billionth of a metre) in at least one dimension, has come of age. Twenty five years ago, fullerenes, made of carbon atoms arranged in the shape of a football, were discovered, and the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to its discoverers. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery of graphene, a form of carbon in a sheet one atom thick.

 

These are two examples of nanomaterials – nanometre sized in three dimensions, and one dimension respectively -- with remarkable properties. Also remarkable is that these novel forms of carbon took so long to be discovered, while graphite and diamond, conventional forms of carbon were known for long.

 

Between these two Nobel prizes is a long period of steady and rapid development of nanotechnology and nanomaterials. Strange things happen in the nano world. Nanomaterials have very large surfaces and can become very reactive chemically. The nano size results in quantum effects becoming important. This is a no man's land in between the atomic and nuclear world where quantum physics reigns and the normal macroscopic world of ordinary materials where classical physics prevails.

 

VARIED APPLICATIONS

 

Nanomaterials can be prepared in a vast variety of ways. One can play around with the composition, physical structure, solid-liquid-gas phases, etc. and come up with a wide variety of materials.

 

Graphene sheets rolled up can form carbon nanotubes, which can be of different types depending on how the sheet is rolled up with different properties. Nanomaterials have interesting properties which can be exploited for practical applications. The wide variety of nanomaterials and the possibility of tailoring them to meet specific needs make this field particularly interesting.

 

Practical applications of nanotechnology have been coming out of R&D labs at a steady pace. A low-cost water purifier recently marketed in India is one example. It uses a water purifier made of natural elements such as rice husk ash impregnated with nano-silver particles, produces clean and safe water without using electric power or running wateroften not available in rural areas.

 

The cartridge is packed with a purification medium which has the capability to kill bacteria and disease-causing organisms. A graphene transistor that could revolutionise electronics has been recently developed in a laboratory.

 

There are already about 1,000 commercial products using nanotechnology. The largest group is health and wellness products accounting for 60 per cent, over 50 per cent coming from the US. The most common material mentioned in the product descriptions is now silver (25 per cent) followed by carbon (8 per cent), zinc, silicon, titanium and gold.

 

FUND ALLOCATION

 

Given the importance of this field, several governments have been funded development programmes. The US launched a National Nanotechnology Initiative (2001), and till 2011 about $14 billion has been provided. The EU spent €1.3 billion during 2001-2006 and plans to spend €3.5 billion in the next five years . One report estimated global nanotech funding at $18.2 billion in 2008, including $8.4 billion from government sources, and $8.6 billion from corporates, and $1.2 billion from venture capital.

 

India's Department of Science and Technology launched the Nano Science and Technology Initiative (NSTI) in 2001 with an allocation of $15 million over five years. This was followed by a nanoscience and technology mission in 2007 with a funding of Rs 1,000 crore for five years. However, nanotechnology R&D is still largely in government laboratories, with the private sector involvement small. A growing number of foreign companies have established nanotechnology subsidiaries or joint ventures to exploit lower manpower costs in India for their manufacturing operations using foreign developed technology.

 

NEED FOR REGULATION

 

Some concerns over the risks of nanotechnology products have been expressed. For example, studies have shown that airborne nanoparticles can have toxic effects. However, enough information is not yet available. Regulatory bodies in the US and the EU have concluded that nanoparticles form the potential for an entirely new risk and that it is necessary to carry out an extensive analysis in this regard.

 

Regulations worldwide do not specifically cover materials in their nanoscale form; therefore nanomaterials remain effectively unregulated if they have already been approved in bulk form. Even on the approach to regulation, there are differing views – whether to adapt existing systems for nanotech products, or to have a separate regulatory system .

 

Recently, it was announced that India would establish a "national level regulatory framework for nanotechnology". However, so far, nothing concrete has been spelt out. An appropriate regulatory system would be important to guide the development of the industry in India and to enable it to participate in the international trade in nanoproducts and services. It would be important to take a balanced and reasoned approach to nanotechnology regulation, and not succumb to unscientific activism.

 

There is no international regulation of nanoproducts or the underlying nanotechnology, or any internationally agreed protocols for toxicity testing of nanoparticles, and no standardised protocols for evaluating the environmental impacts of nanoparticles. Since products that are produced using nanotechnologies will in future enter international trade, it will be necessary to develop guidelines on nanotechnology standards.

 

Given the right mix of policies and a well-constructed support programme, India could use its skilled manpower in research in the field of nanotechnology. Indian companies should aim to graduate out of the "call centre" end of nanotechnology to the higher end of the value-added chain. It is time for a major broad-based initiative in this field involving all Ministries

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

MAYBE, IT'S TIME FOR THE PM TO BOW OUT

B.S. RAGHAVAN

 

On November 27, in my article, "Manmohan Singh poses a dilemma", I had written: "It should cause no surprise if "the question, "What to do with Dr Manmohan Singh?" has for some time been the burning topic of cogitation among Ms Sonia Gandhi, her family members and close circle of friends and advisers.

 

"Coming to have an inkling of it, at one remove, the top echelons of the Congress Party too and those among them who are members of the Cabinet must be racking their brains on the best way of easing out Dr Singh….

 

"Here is a situation where it is not a case of there being no alternative, but one in which the political establishment of the Congress finds itself unable to make up its mind over whether to continue with the incumbent or bring about his exit, keeping up appearances all round."

 

I had also said that, according to knowledgeable quarters, all the encomiums showered on him by Ms Sonia Gandhi were just for the record.

 

Events since then have only made his position shakier. His stock, judged by the derision and sarcasm heaped on him in the English and vernacular media, has never been lower.

 

One winces in pain at the unbecoming sight of a good, and honest person of high professional calibre being hauled over the coals, having his authority undermined by his own colleagues and swallowing slights and insults which must have been extremely hurting to his gentle and sensitive nature, made all the more so because of his stoic, withdrawing disposition.

 

Dr Manmohan Singh will, of course, be remembered for ushering in the era of economic reforms in India which, thanks to his bold initiative with the strong political backing provided by Prime Minister, P.V.Narasimha Rao, is well on it way to becoming the third largest economy in the foreseeable future.

 

But I think, in his case, the Peter Principle had come into play at the level of Finance Minister.

 

He was simply unequal to the witches' brew of politics as it is played in India, which could be bewildering and nerve-racking, even in the context of single party majority, but could be a thousand times more so at the lonely perch of Prime Ministership, with his having to contend with the utterly no-hold-barred coalition politics that has become India's lot.

 

That, and his own personal awkwardness in reaching out to people, largely explain Dr Singh's lack-lustre tenure so far.

 

Other than the nuclear deal, and to a certain degree, reorienting relations with Pakistan, it is difficult to point to any area of governance to which Dr Singh's academic and administrative credentials could be said to have made a difference.

 

Most of the time, he seemed to mutely and helplessly standing by with no control over happenings.

 

Climax

A factor which worked to Dr Singh's discomfiture was that he found himself pulled into the vortex of politics over political veterans and warhorses, many of whom had been his bosses in his career.

 

They accepted his imposition by Ms Sonia Gandhi as the alternative was a horrific implosion within the Congress. There continued to be reports, from time to time, though, of Ministers taking him for granted, not attending meetings called by him, deciding issues without reference to him or ignoring his advice, and generally showing him the minimum required deference.

 

The climax, without doubt, is the No.2 in the Cabinet, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, bluntly censuring him about his agreeing to appear before the Public Accounts Committee on the 2G scandal 'without consulting any of us'.

 

This has been followed by the resounding snub administered by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi.

 

Are these unprecedented manifestations of an egregious challenge to Dr Singh's authority on cue or coincidental?

 

Are they broad hints to Dr Singh that his time is up?

 

Whatever they may be, the best advice he can give himself is to quit gracefully and honourably, and save whatever he can of his residual reputation.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

ODIS: A GREAT CATCH

A.J. VINAYAK

 

Do you remember Kapil Dev saying ' Palmolive da jawab nahi' or Sunil Gavaskar modelling for Dinesh Suiting on Doordarshan (DD) years ago? Do you recall the days when you watched an India-Pakistan match on your black and white television set tuning to DD with an antenna atop your house? Both cricket and advertising have come a long way since then.

 

The credit for this should go to the invention of One Day International (ODI) cricket, which completes four-decades of its existence on January 5. ODI cricket has been the most significant change agent in the commercial exploitation of the game. The first ODI was played between Australia and England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground this day, 1971. The match was meant to be the third Ashes Test that year but rain forced the organisers to hold a limited overs match for the benefit of spectators.

 

The Indian sub-continent made the ODI grade, beginning in 1973 with India and Pakistan, followed by Sri Lanka (1975) and Bangladesh (1986). In the early years of the format, that witnessed two World Cup tournaments in 1975 and 1979, the Indian sub-continent was dependent on radio commentaries for coverage. The ankhon dekha hal had a greater share in the format's growth than the visual media.

 

OVER THE YEARS

 

In the second decade, two major factors — India's World Cup win in 1983 and the onset of ODIs at Sharjah stadium — took the cricketing experience to a different level, making it commercially attractive. Rajiv Gandhi expanded the DD network with low-power transmitters in every nook and corner of the country helping cricket fans move from radio commentaries to television. The Cricketers Benefit Fund Series in Sharjah in the 80s by Sheikh Abdul Rehman Bukhatir helped the game transition to a commercial success. Sharjah cricket had everything in it: neutral venue, fans and supporters from the home countries, and the glamour quotient in the form of Bollywood stars in attendance.

 

The birth of satellite channels in the 90s expanded the coverage area of cricket. With more content in the form of satellite and DD channels on offer, TV viewing in colour was gaining momentum. That was the time when the 1992 World Cup was played in colour uniforms. With rich visual appeal, advertisers also started moving more and more towards ODI format.

 

Television coverage of cricket continued to rule the roost in the age of the Internet. Glamour played a major role along with the game. Mandira Bedi, known for her role in the tele-serial Shanti, became synonymous with cricket in the 2003 World Cup. With satellite channels gaining telecast rights of ODIs, more interest and money were invested in delivering cricket as an entertainment package. The Internet boom also opened the doors for various cricket portals, giving ball-by-ball description of the game. To tap the potential of the game, the television industry went a step ahead and launched cricket-only niche channels.

 

ADVertisement

 

One day internationals have now transformed into a business proposition for advertisers.. The cricketer in an ODI match these days is a mobile advertisement platform with logos all over his apparel and cricket gear generating crores of rupees as revenue for him. Aided by the latest in television and visual technology, most parts of the cricket ground are now used as billboards. Even the screen to display the "third umpire's" decision is not spared. And just when the average cricket connoisseur was wringing his hands in despair came the innovation of Twenty20 cricket, competing for the title of "instant cricket" with the ODIs. With videostreaming over the Internet via YouTube gaining ground and the advent of 3G mobile technology, we can only wonder what other innovations are in store for the gentleman's game.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LET PROBE AGENCIES DO BOFORS JOB

 

If there is one area where we have progressed by leaps and bounds, besides economic growth, then corruption takes the grandstand. The latest revelation, by the income-tax appellate tribunal, has held that kickbacks were paid to the late Win Chadha (Rs 52 crore) and Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi (Rs 9 crore) in the Howitzer guns deal worth Rs 1,437 crore. The government at that time insisted that no commissions or kickbacks were paid when the Swedish media revealed that kickbacks were paid. The tribunal was giving its judgement in the case of Win Chadha's son, who challenged the income-tax department's demand for tax on the commissions received. Chadha's son maintained that the commissions were not liable to be taxed. The total commission paid comes to around Rs 65 crore. Seen against this amount, in 2010 the 2G spectrum allocation scam was of the order of Rs 1.75 lakh crore. Even if it's a notional amount, it cannot be too far from the real sum and represents a quantum jump of about 3,000 per cent. In hindsight, the Bofors scam and the huge cover-up by the agencies concerned seems negligible in today's context. But reading between the lines it tells a much bigger story, and yet the same old story, of the ruling party or parties using the Central Bureau of Investigation and the income-tax department for furthering their own agendas, as tools against their foes and for their friends. The root of the malaise is the absence of the concept of public accountability. Legally speaking, the Bofors investigation, which is sought to be closed officially because of lack of evidence (a familiar ring), should be re-opened in the light of the evidence in the 93-page judgement of the income-tax appellate tribunal. The CBI, as a former CBI chief has been saying on TV channels, has all the material necessary to punish the guilty but they were not allowed to go ahead. It can start the prosecution process against Mr Quattrocchi; this will show whether the government has the political will to proceed against him. It must be said, to the credit of the income-tax department, that it did chase the money trail of kickbacks given to both Chadha and Mr Quattrocchi. This is admirable considering that big brother was watching. It is necessary for the country to know who these persons are who prevented the law enforcing agencies from proceeding against the guilty and punishing them. These individuals can be proceeded against under Section 212 of the Indian Penal Code for harbouring offenders. Life, they say, has no rewind button, but had the CBI and the income-tax department been allowed to do their jobs in the Bofors scam after tracking the guilty and their misdemeanours, maybe we would not have had the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games scam of some Rs 3,000 crore or the 2G spectrum allocation scam of Rs 1.75 lakh crore. While the Congress' cup of woes has overflowed into the new year, the start of the second decade of the 21st century, it is not them alone that are to be blamed.

 

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

FORESTS AND FREEDOM

BY VANDANA SHIVA

 

2011 is the year of the forest. It is also Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary. Forests were central to Tagore's works and institution building as they have been for India's creative expressions through the centuries.

 

As Tagore wrote in The Religion of the Forests, the ideal of perfection preached by the forest dwellers of ancient India runs through the heart of our classical literature and still dominates our mind. The forests are sources of water as the women of Chipko showed in the 1970s. They are the storehouse of biodiversity.

 

The biodiversity of the forest teaches us lessons of democracy, of leaving space for others while drawing sustenance from the common web of life. (In his essay Tapovan, Tagore writes: "Indian civilisation has been distinctive in locating its source of regeneration, material and intellectual, in the forest, not the city. India's best ideas have come where man was in communion with trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds. The peace of the forest has helped the intellectual evolution of man. The culture of the forest has fuelled culture of Indian society. The culture that has arisen from the forest has been influenced by the diverse processes of renewal of life, which are always at play in the forest, varying from species to species, from season to season, in sight and sound and smell. The unifying principle of life in diversity, of democratic pluralism, thus became the principle of Indian civilisation."

 

It is this "unity in diversity" that is the basis of both ecological sustainability and democracy. Diversity without unity becomes the source of conflict and contest. Uniformity without diversity becomes the ground for external control. This is true of both nature and culture.

 

In Tagore's writings, the forest was not just the source of knowledge and freedom it was the source of beauty and joy, of art and aesthetics, of harmony and perfection. It symbolised the universe. In The Religion of the Forest, the poet says our attitude of mind "guides our attempts to establish relations with the universe either by conquest or by union, either through the cultivation of power or through that of sympathy".

 

The forest teaches us union and compassion. For Tagore, our relationship with the forest and nature is a relationship that allows us to experience our humanity. Humans and nature are not separate we are one.

 

"In our dreams, nature stands in her own right, proving that she has her great function, to impart the peace of the eternal to human emotions".

 

It is this permanence, this peace, this joy of living not by conquest and domination, but by co-existence and cooperation that is at the heart of a forest culture. The forest also teaches us "enoughness" as equity, enjoying the gifts of nature without exploitation and accumulation. In Religion of the Forest, Tagore quotes from the ancient texts, written in the forest: "Ishavasyam idam sarvam yat kinch jagatyam jagat

 

Yena tyak tena bhunjitha

Ma gradha kasyasvit dhanam"


(Know all that moves in this moving world as enveloped by god, and find enjoyment through renunciation not through greed of possession)
No species in a forest appropriates the share of other species to nutrients, water, and the sun's energy. Every species sustains itself in mutual cooperation with others. This is Earth Democracy.

 

The end of consumerism and accumulation is the beginning of the joy of living. That is why the tribals of contemporary India from Kalinganagar to Niyamgiri and Bastar are resisting leaving their forest homes and abandoning their forest culture. The conflict between greed and compassion, conquest and cooperation, violence and harmony that Tagore wrote about continues today. And it is the forest which can show us the way beyond this conflict by reconnecting to nature and finding sources for own freedom. For the powerful it means freedom from greed. For the excluded it means freedom from want, from hunger and thirst, from dispossession and disposability.

 

Diversity is at the heart of the living systems of Gaia, including her forests. Tagore defined monocultures as the "exaggeration of sameness" and he wrote: "Life finds its truth and beauty not in exaggeration of sameness, but in harmony."

 

Harmony in diversity is the nature of the forest, whereas monotonous sameness is the nature of industrialism based on a mechanical worldview. This is what Tagore saw as the difference between the West and India.

 

"The civilisation of the West has in it the spirit of the machine which must move; and to that blind movement human lives are offered as fuel, keeping up the stream power" (The Spirit of Freedom).

 

Globalisation has spread the civilisation based on power and greed and the spirit of the machine worldwide. And the global spread of the "passion of profit-making and the drunkenness of power" is spreading fear of freedoms.

 

A civilisation based on power and greed is a civilisation based on fear and violence.


"The people who have sacrificed their souls to the passion of profit making and the drunkenness of power are constantly pursued by phantoms of panic and suspicion, and therefore they are ruthless. They are morally incapable of allowing freedom to others" (The Spirit of Freedom).

 

Greed and accumulation must lead to slavery.


Today the rule of money and greed dominates our society, economy and politics. The culture of conquest is invading into our tribal lands and forests through mining of iron-ore, bauxite and coal.

 

Every forest area has become a war zone. Every tribal is defined as a "Maoist" by a militarised corporate state appropriating the land and natural resources of the tribals. And every defender of the rights of the forest and forest dwellers is being treated as a criminal. This is the context of Dr Binayak Sen's life sentence.

 

If India is to survive ecologically and politically, if India has to stay democratic, if Indian citizen is to be guaranteed, we need to give up the road of conquest and destruction and take the road of union and conservation, we need to cultivate peace and compassion instead of power and violence.

 

We need to turn, once again, to the forest as our perennial teachers of peace and freedom, of diversity and democracy.

 

* Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of Navdanya Trust

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MODELS OF DEMOCRACY

BY P.C. ALEXANDER

 

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century the issue that dominated the political debate of the late 1940s — the system of government best suited for India — is being raised again in certain intellectual circles.

 

The main problem before the framers of the Constitution was how to devise a Constitution best suited for both stability and accountability and also one which would help lift the vast masses of people stuck in ignorance, illiteracy, ill-health and poverty as a result of a century-and-a-half of colonial exploitation.

 

B.R. Ambedkar had explained to the members of the Constituent Assembly that they had two options before them: One, the presidential form of democracy as prevalent in the US, and the other the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy as prevalent in Britain.

 

The Constituent Assembly came to the conclusion that the Westminster model was the best suited for effectively tackling the problem of underdevelopment and at the same time providing for accountability and gave us the present Constitution, which in spite of a 100 amendments retains its basic features without any change. Let us examine how far the objectives of the founding fathers of our republic have been fulfilled under this Constitution.

 

While assessing the progress made in poverty eradication we have to acknowledge the fact that the lot of the poor today is much better than what it was at the time we achieved Independence. But what should cause serious concern is the fact that a large number of people still live in abject poverty in India, though the country has emerged as one of the top economic powers of the world.

 

What has gone wrong is not in production of wealth, but in distribution and in ensuring that all those who create wealth pay the taxes due to the government. Quite a good part of the wealth created has flown to tax havens in foreign countries and successive governments at the Centre have failed to plug such leakages.

 

According to a Swiss bank report of 2006, India topped the list of depositors of wealth in banks in Switzerland to the extent of $1,456 billion compared with Russia's $470 billion, UK's $390 billion, Ukraine's $100 billion and China's $96 billion. Deposits of Indians are thus more than the deposits of all the other countries, and this shows the extent of wealth owned by Indians, but which has escaped taxation. Many Indians have earned the distinction of being billionaires, but unfortunately India has not produced a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett, who have made big money in a honest way and are spending the bulk of their wealth on deserving charities in countries all over the world, including India.

 

We have to admit with shame that hunger is still a major problem in our country and a large number of people in different parts of the country — both urban and rural — die of malnutrition and hunger.

 

According to the Global Hunger Index published by the Washington-based International Food Policy and Research Institute, India ranks 66 among 88 countries with 23.7 points on a 100 point scale. (Zero is the best score, indicating no hunger while 100 is the worst.) India's Constitution and the laws made under it have never stood in the way of coming to the help of such people, but poor enforcement by the government has resulted in continued misery for such people.

 

On the criterion of education, fairly good progress has been made after Independence but the situation remains dismal because of the inadequacies of these institutions in both quantity and quality.

 

The condition of public health facilities, particularly in rural areas, is as bad as that of educational facilities in these areas.

 

The size of the population in 2,86,469 villages is less than 500 each and in 1,45,180 villages it is between 500 and 1,000 each out of a total number of 6,22,621 villages in India. There are serious problems in setting up proper health and educational institutions in such very small villages and the government has so far failed to devise suitable techniques to solve them. Instead, the government follows the traditional practice of establishing health clinics and primary schools in a few villages and appointing teachers or doctors for such places.

 

Now let us turn to the quality of the institutions of democracy in India. Whenever we speak of India's achievements we pat ourselves on the back by claiming that we are one of the successful democracies. No doubt, compared with most other such newly-independent countries in Asia and Africa, we can legitimately claim that democracy has been stable, but, based on the criterion of quality of the institutions of democracy, India is still classified as one among the 50 "flawed democracies" of the world. According to the democracy index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 30 countries are full democracies, 50 "flawed democracies", 36 hybrid regimes and 51 authoritarian regimes out of a total 167 countries. At the rate at which we are abusing the forum of legislature for staging protests and neglecting its primary duties, we may even slip below our present rank in the list of "flawed democracies".

 

From the above assessment of the progress in programmes undertaken in the last six decades it is clear that the Constitution, which has been adopted by India, has in no way prevented it from improving on its performance. On the other hand, the manner in which the programmes have been implemented, the intolerable long delays, and, above all, the corruption associated with implementation of programmes, have been responsible for the shortfalls in performance.

 

Today there are many countries that have Constitutions combining some of the features of the Westminster model and some of the presidential system, but one doubts whether this type of combination will suit India.

 

I can do nothing better than quote Dr Larry Diamond, a reputed authority in the world on democracy and at present professor of political science and sociology at Stanford University, when he said after his recent visit to India, in the course of a question and answer session, that if India wants to improve its democracy, it must create stronger institutions that allow for horizontal accountability. Also, I strongly endorse his suggestion that India needs a "counter corruption commission", like the Election Commission, which should be fully autonomous in its authority to check efficiency and punish corruption.

 

* P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

LOVE AND ITS SPLENDOURS

BY SADHGURU

 

In every human being, there is an aspiration to become more loving and concerned about other human beings. But people are trying to work towards it from the wrong end. People are trying to be loving and trying to be good. If we look at ourselves, we are naturally very loving, generous and wonderful human beings when we are happy and joyful; this is true for everyone. On the other hand, when we are in a state of unhappiness, frustration or any other sense of unpleasantness within ourselves, we may be nasty.

 

So there is no point trying to be loving or pleasant to somebody else — trying to produce good human beings has never really worked. When people are joyful, they are all wonderful human beings.

 

So my whole work is to make human beings truly blissful. Spirituality does not mean going away from life, spirituality means becoming alive in the fullest possible way — we are alive to the core, not just on the surface. If we look at how alive and joyful we were when we were five years of age and how alive and joyful we are today, has the level gone up or down? For most people, it has gone down.

 

Unfortunately, most of the time belief systems are passing off as spirituality. The moment we believe "this is it", we bring a certain rigidity into the very life process that we are; this is not spirituality. The spiritual process is always a quest, a seeking; that is why when we say, "I'm on a the spiritual path", we say, "I'm a seeker". When we say, "I'm religious", we say "I'm a believer". There is a significant difference because believing means we have assumed something which we do not know; seeking means we have realised that we do not know and this brings an enormous amount of flexibility. Whenever we say, "I do not know", we are flexible. Whenever we think, "I know," we become rigid. This rigidity is not just in attitude, it percolates into every aspect of our life. This rigidity is also the cause of an enormous amount of suffering in the world. How human beings are, that is how the society will be.

 

— Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at www.ishafoundation.org [1]

 

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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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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

RIDING A WAVE

YET ONLY HALF A SUCCESS STORY

 

THERE are no milestones at sea so the allusion would be inappropriate, yet the first concrete step in the establishment of a National Institute for Research & Development in Defence Shipbuilding (Nirdesh) must be recorded in golden letters in the log book of indigenous warship construction. There would be no need for carping over AK Antony laying the foundation stone for the centre in his home state, successive governments in Kerala (where the political pendulum swings appreciably) have fully backed the Indian Navy. And the institute was probably on the drawing board before he took charge of the nation's security efforts. The allusion to a drawing board, however, is rather appropriate for the Nirdesh story is really one of riding a wave of success that began in the mid-1970s. For even as the Leander-frigate project progressed (under licence from a reputed British company) the "architecture cell" at Naval Headquarters had set about tapping and enhancing indigenous capabilities in warship design and construction. Those skills were more than evident with the last of the Leanders packing a more powerful punch than the initial 'Nilgiri'. The next in line was the 'Godavari', and since then a series of warships, in varying sizes, developed for various roles, have emerged from domestic construction facilities. The "launch" of Nirdesh could elevate the process to a much higher plane. Simultaneously, it iterates the importance of self-reliance in the defence sector, something which tends to have been forgotten now that funds are not a throttling constraint. Actually it was that constraint that led the Navy into getting more actively involved in production than the other defence services. Roping in private industry as well.


It would, however, be akin to fooling ourselves if it is not recognised that the warship development story is only half-told. For the actual building process has yet to attain levels comparable with South Korea, Japan or China. The time and cost overruns have proved so troublesome that India had to place orders on Russian yards. Hence even as Nirdesh sets sail on an ambitious dream, very stern measures will be required to inject matching efficiency into the four shipyards under the defence ministry. A system of "series production" must also become the norm, it will facilitate economies of scale and avoid the pitfalls resulting from frequent design-modifications. Overall the indigenous warship effort has been commendable, it is imperative to move "full steam ahead".

 

BLITZKRIEG IN EGYPT

AN INDEX OF RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

Catastrophe struck Egypt as 2011 unfolded. Well may the Coptic Christians cavil that the government has failed to protect them in the wake of the bombing by suspected Islamic militants that claimed 21 lives in Alexandria on New Year's day. There has been considerable speculation since Saturday over the identity of the perpetrators, and the needle of suspicion points to the Baghdad-based Al Qaida.  Equally is it possible that Islamic hardliners in the port city of Alexandria were behind the butchery. No group has as yet claimed responsibility for the carnage half an hour into the church service. Yet speculation over whether the terrorists are home-grown or "foreign agents" ~ as President Hosni Mubarak described them ~ has served to make confusion worse confounded. Clearly, terrorists have targeted a particular religious denomination and Pope Benedict XVI's condemnation of the blitz as a "vile gesture that offends God and all humanity" has spurred the Egyptian President to assure the world that the attackers will be tracked down. Mr Mubarak's rather sentimental address will scarcely be comforting to the Coptics ~ a sect of Egypt's Christian community. "This act of terrorism shook the country's conscience, shocked our feelings and hurt the hearts of Muslim and Coptic Egyptians."  This is the standard reaction of governments in the face of terrorism fuelled by religious fundamentalism. Like perhaps in India where the discourse over Hindu or Islamist terror tends to overshadow the threat perception.


Indubitable is the reality that Egypt "is the target and that blind terrorism does not differentiate between a Copt and a Muslim," as President Mubarak has warned.  He will nonetheless have to contend with the general perception that his government has failed to protect the country's largest religious minority. Clearly, Al Qaida's warning as recently as November that Christians in Egypt would be targeted was not heeded. No less sensitive is the demand that the detained wives of two priests ~ who were trying to convert to Islam ~ be freed. As it turned out, the security cover provided to churches was not enough.  Sectarian tension rages beneath the seemingly normal tenor of life in Egypt. It is the deadliest bombing that has targeted the Christian community for more than a decade ~ a measure of the religious intolerance in the country. A Coptic Christian woman's cry ~ "God created life, who are men to take it?" ~ just about sums up the mood of the community.

 

MEATY ROLE

BILL CLINTON AND PETA

When Bill Clinton goes vegan, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) finds it sexy. Not only did the animal rights group name Mr. Clinton its Person of the Year, it also nominated him for Peta's Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity of 2011. The results will be out in the summer and we are not waiting with bated breath. Peta admits that Mr. Clinton is its choice because "he uses his influence to promote the benefits of following a vegan diet". Mr. Clinton, of course, woke up to the benefits of a meatless, no-diary diet after he received two stents to keep his arteries unclogged shortly after a quadruple bypass surgery. And the former fast-food junkie acknowledges that the switch changed his entire metabolism. Peta knows that Mr. Clinton still loves the occasional fish but that's all right. The former US President has his new diet and the animal rights crusader its celebrity. And such mutually-benefiting accommodation is what separates a fad from a foible.
All cults need poster-persons. And nearly all cults, like self-important ideologues, want strict adherents. But Peta has never been your run-of-the-mill advocate. Detractors feel its over-the-top demonstrators have more fun baring, than they do daring complacent governments and institutions. Fellow crusaders dismiss its approach towards upholding animal rights as not radical enough. In fact, the group's founder, Ingrid Newkirk, believes that Peta has a duty to act as "Press sluts"! With such sensibilities, Peta has not exactly grown to become as much of a serious movement as it aspired to be. And, then it discovers Mr Clinton. The former President brings the best of both worlds with him ~ the gravitas of a retired world leader and the quirkiness of… well, we all know what. Just what Peta ordered!

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

MILORD'S DICTUM~II

THE DANGER OF SEPARATE PAY COMMISSIONS

BY AHOK KAPUR

 

THE armed forces are a specialized directorate under the Defence ministry. The supervisory ministry is manned by senior civil servants who assist the Defence minister in ensuring civilian control over the forces. The civilians also ensure the accountability of the directorates to Parliament through the minister. Unfortunately, the working of the defence ministry is somewhat skewed because of the constant chant of "bureaucratic control" by a handful of retired and disgruntled military men, resulting in an "integration" of the directorate and the department. A minister without a proper ministry!


This chant of "bureaucratic control" is sometimes picked up by sections of the  media ever sniffing for such "stories". It presents a totally warped picture of the ground reality, where the armed forces have leap-frogged over their civilian counterparts by wide margins. An emasculated defence ministry is unable to firmly resist persistent pressure from the shouting brigade, fighting for more and more. The ministry has not even tabulated a list of  perquisites enjoyed by the forces. 


The time has come to monetize the value of the numerous perquisites enjoyed by the forces so that an accurate comparison can be made of the total package enjoyed by various services and groups. O. Glenn Stahl, a leading international management thinker, has highlighted the weakness of ineffective governments in making superficial comparisons of horizontal pay-scales alone and not the total package. It only works to the advantage of organized and vocal groups like the armed forces, the teachers etc.


In such a scenario, sections of superior civil services that are most qualified and shoulder the highest responsibility as key policy advisers to the government are left behind. They have no redressal forum to approach nor can they descend to the level of street fighters. They are not unionized and, consequently, have virtually no bargaining power. Their case has gone by default before successive pay commissions since independence.


A leading management philosopher has cautioned that people will stand relative poverty but they will not stand injustice. Over time, it erodes morale and breeds cynicism. It is a de-motivating factor in terms of performance. A fallout of such a skewed compensation structure is the continued erosion of civilian control over the armed forces, a   postulate of the rule of law, now a basic feature of the Constitution. A public manifestation of such a state of affairs is the increasing involvement of the highest echelons of the military in shocking public scams.
Such scandals erode the loyalty and the commitment of the junior officers and the ground troops who do the fighting ~ the footsoldiers, quite literally. History teaches us that very often a crucial factor in battle is not so much the latest weapons or the strength of numbers as the inspiring leadership and strength of character of great military commanders ~ Montgomery, Mountbatten, Rommel, Dayan and, closer home, Manekshaw.
If the chief is a thief, then there is no hope for the organization. That management maxim is most applicable to the military. A civilian organization may survive such a chief. It seldom has any repercussions beyond. In contrast, the ramifications of a poorly-led military can affect society at large and, indeed the entire nation in times of emergency.


Reverting to the PIL filed by a handful of disgruntled soldiers to force the government to set up a separate pay commission, the timing alone merits outright rejection. A pay commission has just announced its award after months of deliberations. Arguably, the best package has been awarded to the forces. The case of senior civilians has gone by default, as before.

Media reports indicate that the composition of the commission is also being talked about. Reportedly, one of the names is that of a steadfast champion of the inverted "principle" of firm military control of the civilians. Soon after the last commission announced its award, the officer virtually camped in the studios of the electronic media to demand that the delicate civil-military equation be further reworked in favour of the armed forces.
The main demand was that a Lt. Col. in the army be equated with a director in the government. This would have equated a Col. with a joint secretary, and a brigadier with an additional secretary. A major-general would have had to be equated with the secretary. It is not known if this line of reasoning was extended further to demand that a Lieutenant-General be equated with the defence minister, and the President with the Army Chief.
There is another grave danger of separate pay commissions for various groups of government employees. It distorts the inter-group equations and hampers the smooth functioning of the State. The teachers were the first to break free from government control. The commission was headed by a teacher, a self-serving, cosy arrangement.


The second such group was the subordinate judiciary. The commission was again headed by one of its own members. As happens in such cases, the bottomline adopted is the package enjoyed by the higher civil services and to better it for their own brethren. In the event, they succeeded very well. Completely overlooked was the fact that their members clear a state-level examination. Secondly, a former Union law minister's statement in Parliament was mocked in the face ~ that most of them fail in the incomparably tougher all-India civil services examination.


There is another grave peril in conceding a special pay commission for armed forces. The paramilitary forces of the Union, multiplying faster than the armed forces could be just waiting in the wings. This risk should never be overlooked. There are enough indicators. Recent mutinies in Latin America and nearer home in Bangladesh have been carried out by the paramilitary units demanding parity with the country's armed forces.
It is fervently to be hoped that the Supreme Court will appreciate that to show any indulgence to just a handful of members of the shouting brigade would be tantamount to playing with fire.(Concluded)

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

BOFORS SHOOTS THE SYSTEM

MORE THAN TWO DECADES AFTER THE BOFORS SCAM WAS EXPOSED, AN I-T TRIBUNAL HAS AFFIRMED THAT BRIBES WERE PAID DURING THE RAJIV GANDHI REGIME. 

THE FACT THAT ONE BRANCH OF THE GOVERNMENT HAS EXONERATED THE BOFORS DEAL WHILE ANOTHER HAS NAILED IT, INDICATES THAT OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM HAS FAILED, WRITES 

RAJINDER PURI 

 

After 23 years the Bofors scam returns with a bang. The Income-Tax Appellate Tribunal has affirmed that bribes were paid in the Bofors deal to Win Chaddha and Ottavio Quattrocchi and therefore tax was due from them. The Tribunal reached its conclusion on the basis of the CBI's own investigation documents and from foreign sources including the Swedish government's audit department. The Tribunal findings were released one day before the CBI sought the closure of the Bofors case in court. The timing was deadly. New lethal ammunition has been provided in the ongoing war of words between political parties. But for the moment let us ignore the inside story of political infighting and intra-party collusion under way. 


Something much bigger than the fortunes of a government or the prospects of the Opposition is affected by these findings. This event has shot India's political system. One branch of the government exonerates the Bofors deal. Another branch of the government nails it. The fact that during the last 23 years while the deal was being probed different parties governed the nation is irrelevant. It is not one party but one political class that is on trial. It is not just governance but the political system that has failed. Let us understand why. 
On 14 June, 1987, President Zail Singh was petitioned for permission to prosecute Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi under Sections 120 (B), 161 and 165 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 5 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act , "all these sections read with section 109 of Indian Penal Code". The government's FIR registered in the Bofors case on 22 January, 1990 cited precisely these same sections. The petition was based on India's Ambassador to Sweden, Mr Bhupat Ozha's communication to the government confirming that "while payments had indeed been made in connection with the Bofors deal, they were not made for the 'winning of the contract' ". Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi held the defence portfolio. After he received the Ambassador's communication he misled Parliament to deny that payments had been made. It was this information that sustained the petition presented to President Zail Singh. The President was ill advised and ill served by aides who were more loyal to the PM than to him. He had little understanding of his Constitutional rights and obligations. He rejected the petition. Years after retirement he confessed to this scribe that he had erred by rejecting it. 


The CBI probe was adequate. But prosecution was thwarted by the government's interference. Thereby nobody was convicted. Quattrocchi was allowed to escape from the country before he could be questioned. He could not be extradited. He was allowed to withdraw moneys from his frozen bank accounts in London. On the government's advice he was taken off Interpol's wanted list. And the government sought closure of the Bofors case. Now it transpires that a wing of the government has categorically stated that Quattrocchi was guilty and bribes were exchanged in the deal. This rubbishes the quality of governance administered to the nation for the past two decades. How did this bizarre episode occur? It became possible because our system has failed. It needs reform. 


The tsunami of corruption that is drowning the nation has compelled a desperate government to seek reform. New ordinances are being drafted and new laws being contemplated. The courts might be made to deliver time-bound justice. Though the measures contemplated are overdue such haphazard tinkering with the prevalent system will not suffice. The system needs basic and sweeping reform. One takes the liberty of recalling what appeared in these columns on 18 February, 2010: "However, the prevailing system by which clearance from the government is required before the CBI may launch investigation or prosecution is grotesque.... For impartial and effective investigation the CBI cannot function under the very government that may be under investigation. Neither can it function under the Supreme Court as the Jain Hawala case experience painfully revealed. What then is the solution? The solution is obvious. The CBI should be converted into a Constitutional body that is accountable to the President. That however would open the door to the exercise of powers explicitly conferred on the President by our written Constitution. These powers are never invoked. If that were done the President's role would become more executive notwithstanding Article 74 of the Constitution which provides for a '... council of ministers to aid and advise the President who shall, in exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice'. 


As Wikipedia in its commentary points out: "However, the Article 74(2) bars all courts completely from assuming even an existence of such an advice. Therefore from the courts' point of view, the real executive power lies with the President. As far as President's decision and action are concerned no one can challenge such decision or action on the ground that it is not in accordance with the advice tendered by the Ministers or that it is based on no advice. Thus the President…could exercise authority over the CBI without violating separation of power." 


There is among our thinking class great resistance to a basic reappraisal, based upon reinterpretation, of our Constitution. If that were done, our system could change without disturbing the basic structure of our Constitution. Without the President exercising the Constitutional role conferred upon the office, India will never get adequate governance. Today India is reeling from body blows inflicted by a corrupt elite exploiting inadequate governance resulting from a flawed political system created by a misinterpreted written Constitution. If India does not seek early and basic reform, democracy could perish. 


The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist 

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

AUSTRALIA IS KEEPING ITS HEAD ABOVE WATER

 

If an area the size of France and Germany disappeared under water in most parts of the world, the consequences would be shattering. A special session of the United Nations might well be held as aid agencies scrambled to draw up emergency strategies. 


This being Australia, it's a different story. The government in Canberra has neither sought, nor been offered, international help, and is managing the disaster in Queensland solo. Given the scale of the destruction and the number of people who have fled their homes, the death toll is astonishingly low. So far, only two or three deaths from drowning have been reported. It is deeply regrettable that anyone should have drowned in these floods. But when it is recalled that about 22 towns around Rockhampton have been significantly affected or inundated by floodwater, what is striking is the stoicism with which the people of Queensland are going about their business. 


Some will draw comparisons with the events of five years ago in New Orleans, after the levees broke. The floods in Louisiana led to scenes of chaos, while the outcry over the US government's failure to better manage the disaster shook George Bush's Presidency. Thousands of former residents of the city have never returned. 
The difference in reactions in the two countries at least partly reflects their different mentalities. Americans once were a nation of pioneers, ready to rough it in their log cabins and brave the elements. But it would seem fair to say that most Americans these days pride themselves on their ability to micromanage their domestic environments ~ from intruder alarms to garden sprinklers and air-conditioning. 


Among Australians there is still a residual recognition that they live in a fairly inhospitable corner of the world as far as humans are concerned, and that Mother Nature will always have the last word. As the world's climate becomes more unstable and as natural disasters such as floods and typhoons become more common, perhaps we could all learn something from the gritty determination of Australians to get on with it. 


the independent

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

THE GRAND SPITTOON

NILEEN PUTATUNDA


A few weeks ago, Mr Rajinder Puri wrote in these columns on how judges should serve as role models. This was written in the wake of the devastating strictures passed by the Supreme Court upon Allahabad High Court judges, and that eight former Chief Justices of India face charges of corruption in an ongoing court case. I will not be presumptuous in guessing that Mr Puri would wholeheartedly join me and many more in congratulating the Supreme Court Bench of Mr Justice GS Singhvi and Mr Justice AK Ganguly for ordering a ban on the sale of tobacco, gutka and pan masala in plastic pouches from March 2011. They gave this interim direction on 7 December, 2010 during the hearing of a batch of petitions filed by manufacturers of tobacco products challenging a Rajasthan High Court order upholding such a ban in the state. Even as manufacturers claimed that as a result of the ban, the whole industry would come to a standstill, the Bench said "let it come", and asked gutka manufacturers to shift to non-plastic packaging after March 2011. "Let gutka become costlier. The public would benefit," Mr Justice Ganguly observed. The High Court was acting on a petition filed by the Indian Asthma Care Society to restrain gutka manufacturers from using plastic packaging material.
The Bench also directed the Centre to finalise and enforce within eight weeks the Plastic Management and Disposal Rules 2009. Solicitor-General Mr Gopal Subramaniam submitted that a fresh study on the ill-effects of plastic packaging for gutka would be conducted. In response, Mr Justice Ganguly said: "The youth of today is imperilled by the government's lack of concern for public health. In some states, where economic prosperity has taken place, young people have been compromised. That is the reality. It is a social problem. Those who govern have to be alive to this problem. It is their duty to see that youth get all conditions for fulfilment. Where is the protest in the student community? Where is the idealism? Even in Bengal, where student movements have been vibrant, there is silence. At least, I don't see any manifestation of it (idealism)."


Mr Justice Ganguly held the state governments responsible for proliferation of shops selling these products in the vicinity of schools and colleges and corrupting the rich Indian culture, particularly among the youth. All this is contributing to the uprooting of our national culture. The society is getting its ministers and judges from such a pool of youngsters." How right he is! Also, gutka packets mention on their covers in small lettering that the product is "Not For Minors". But is this being followed? Are police arresting gutka sellers who sell to minors? According to health reports, more than five million children under the age of 15 years across India suffer from different forms of mouth cancer, which are mainly attributed to the unregulated consumption of gutka ~ in states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, more than 16 per cent mouth cancer patients are children. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India records about 800,000 tobacco deaths every year or 2,200 deaths a day. 


So, will this landmark judgment catapult the grand spittoon that is our land into the hallowed precincts of the United Nations Security Council where the representatives of our current members are careful not to spit wherever and whenever they can? 


I have seen that even the breathtakingly beautiful Himalayas in Uttarakhand are not safe from the menace of the gutka/pan masala plastic pouches, let alone our City of Joy. The occupiers of the back seats of luxury cars seem to be as much fond of popping in the poison and chucking the plastic pouch anywhere but a dustbin as an auto/bus driver, or the little boy at the para tea-stall. Their fondness for ejecting the diabolical fluid onto the country's streets is equally democratic. Owners of many homes and buildings cover the outer walls of the structures with tiles which have images of gods and goddesses painted on them in the hope that it will keep away compulsive spitters of gutka residue. 

Incidentally, each judge on the United States Supreme Court has a spittoon next to his or her seat in the courtroom and the last time the spittoon was used for its customary purpose was in the early 20th century.


I'll need another article for that other grand Indian menace ~ men relieving themselves in public. And one more on pedestrians jaywalking with cellphone pressed to the ear even as vehicular traffic disintegrates all around. Till then, adios.


The writer is a social worker and poet

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

FOLLOWING FORM

ANOTHER WAY

 

The government has been at the receiving end for some time now. The campaign of noisy outrage waged against it by the Bharatiya Janata Party does not have much substance. But the telecommunications scandal has besmirched the image of the government; even those who are not impressed by the tactics or the credentials of the BJP would not support the government, for the way its erstwhile minister went about handing out spectrum was indefensible. It is ironic that a government headed by an unimpeachable prime minister reeks so of corruption. He may believe that his unimpeachability is sufficient defence, but this argument has clearly not carried much conviction.

 

It is understood that the government is thinking of bringing in an anti-corruption law; it would apparently be aimed at speeding up trials for corruption, especially those of politicians. Justice proceeds at a leisurely pace in this country; fast-track courts have not been noticeably out of line in this respect. Three things are necessary for speedy justice: a police with a sense of priority, a system of chambers which enables lawyers to share their case load, and a judicial cadre who are prepared to discipline the legal profession. It is unrealistic to expect a movement towards any of these three. In its absence, the anointment of a few courts as fast-track cannot make any difference.

 

A government whose ministers are corrupt is incapable of working honestly, and a system in which politicians have to be rich to advance is biased against honesty. So the question is whether India's political system is not designed to generate corruption? The first-past-the-post system of election is essentially a gamble. As parties have declined and party dominance has passed into history, the riskiness of standing for election has increased. Today, an average legislator is elected with a quarter of votes or less; it is questionable how far he represents the electors. Curiously, this question has arisen in the home of the first-past-the-post system.While Europe experimented with proportional, presidential and other systems of election, Britain has stuck to its traditional system. But for the first time there, the issue has been opened up. Free Democrats, being a minor party, has been interested in electoral reform; now that it is in government with the Conservatives, its voice is being heard. The change being considered is not radical. The change lets the voter rank candidates serially; in the event that no candidate wins an absolute majority, the second and lower preference votes are counted until someone gets an absolute majority. India's computerized voting system could easily accommodate it; it is a minor reform which could lead to a major improvement in the quality of India's rulers.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

LEAVE ALONE

 

It seems to be the conventional wisdom that making a university a Central one will solve its problems and raise its quality. This bypasses a critical anomaly in India's higher education system. Education is on the concurrent list and is an aspect of the federal character of the Indian Constitution. Yet there is a difference between the remuneration of teachers in Central universities and in state universities. In the case of West Bengal, the discrepancy in salaries is not something that can be ignored. This can only be interpreted as discrimination against the state-run universities. The recent proposal to make Jadavpur University a Central university will only introduce a difference between the faculty members of JU and their peers, say in the University of Calcutta. One consequence of this difference in salaries is that teachers in state universities have a natural propensity to be attracted by the higher remuneration on offer in Central universities. The state universities thus tend to lose out in the search for talent.

 

It is difficult to understand the logic of Central universities. Even if the logic, however fragile, were to be accepted, there is no reason for the difference in remuneration pointed out in the previous paragraph. University and college teachers across the country, no matter where their funds come from, state or Centre, should have the same remuneration. Moreover, the government should begin the process of reducing its control over institutions of higher learning. This will also reduce and eventually remove the tendency to politicize the education process by regulating the syllabus and the appointment of faculty. The principle of autonomy has been honoured only in the breach in the case of universities in India. The idea of increasing Central universities goes against the principle of autonomy and also aggravates the contradictions that already exist.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

LESSONS IN POLITICS

THERE WAS NO PROBLEM K. KARUNAKARAN COULD NOT SOLVE

DIPLOMACY - K.P. NAYAR

 

One of my earliest lessons in diplomacy was when K. Karunakaran visited the Gulf emirate of Sharjah as Kerala's chief minister some three decades ago. The only time Arab sheikhdoms allowed the right to assembly at public meetings of the kind that are routinely organized in India by political parties was when leaders from Kerala visited the Gulf and were lionized by expatriate Malayalis there.

 

Karunakaran addressed a gathering of several thousand Keralites in Sharjah, which was then one of the more liberal emirates. It was ruled by a sheikh, who was once a Bath Socialist with a keen interest in education, a PhD from the University of Exeter, guided by a professor from the then University of Bombay. Maybe the Congress veteran who proudly wore the badge of a participant in the Quit India Movement was upset at the lack of political freedom in the Gulf and by stories of exploitation in the police states in the region which angered the trade unionist in him. Maybe the chief minister who had politics in his veins could not bear the thought that so many of his Malayali compatriots had to live away from home in a society that frowned upon politics the way it is practised back home. Whatever the reason, he said something during that visit which sent shockwaves across the United Arab Emirates and beyond.

 

Karunakaran told Keralites at the Sharjah meeting that if free elections were allowed in the UAE, he would have been president of that country — which was true enough. At that time, UAE citizens constituted only 25 per cent of its population: if the unalloyed watnis, the sons of the soil, were counted, their number would be even smaller. Malayalis were the largest ethnic group in the UAE and, in Karunakaran's flight of fancy, they would be the equivalent of the Congress party in any coalition of the kind he put together in his home state four decades ago — a coalition that has endured and is expected to be swept into power in Thiruvananthapuram once again in the assembly elections later this year.

 

But "democracy" and "free elections" are words which send a chill down the spines of the ruling sheikhs in the Gulf, ever more so as the 1980s dawned. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had just led a popular revolution in their midst, proving once more that unrepresentative and oppressive regimes could be overthrown. Khomeini then sent Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali — Iran's "hanging judge" — to the lower Gulf states to preach from Shia mosques there.

 

Khalkhali's sermons urging Arabs, both Shias and Sunnis, to rise up against their "un-Islamic" kings, sultans and emirs, combined with Karunakaran's claim to rule the Gulf as the leader of the biggest population segment there, had twin consequences. After one visit by Khalkhali, Dubai clamped down on alcohol being served anywhere except in bars and restaurants attached to five star hotels while Sharjah imposed complete prohibition. At the same time, police across the UAE were told to break up any meeting of the kind which may tempt political leaders from abroad to speak the lexicon that Karunakaran used.

 

The chief minister was most upset when he heard about the ban. But as I was to learn later during many years of close association with the "leader" (as Karunakaran was addressed both by his followers and adversaries in Kerala), there was no problem for which he had no ready solutions. He quietly persuaded Prem Nazir, Kerala's "evergreen" film hero, to go to the UAE.

 

Nazir's sojourn through the emirates was the nearest that I have seen to a popular upsurge during a decade that I spent in the Gulf. People scrambled over cars, clambered on tree tops and roofs, and workers abandoned shops and labour shacks to catch a glimpse of the popular star who held multiple Guinness records, many of them unbroken long after his death. Nannies in rich Arab households who had introduced Nazir through video cassettes to a whole generation of local children in their charge, persuaded their employers to give them a holiday so that they could go and see their celluloid hero in person. Congregations requested their imams to receive Nazir — whose real name was Abdul Khader — before Friday prayers in their neighbourhood mosques.

 

The ban on organized public assembly was effectively broken, partly because public enthusiasm for Nazir was like an avalanche and partly because the authorities saw no threat in letting a film star run amok. By the time Syed Mohammedali Shihab Thangal, president of the Kerala unit of the Indian Union Muslim League and a kingmaker in state politics, visited Dubai and addressed another huge public meeting, Karunakaran was ready to offer some diplomatic advice to Thangal on what not to say during visits to the Gulf.

 

When Karunakaran was at the helm, the chief minister's suite of rooms on the ground floor of Kerala House on New Delhi's Jantar Mantar Road was an open house for Malayali journalists in the capital and others who wrote for Malayalam publications. Almost every tribute to Karunakaran in the last fortnight has dwelt on his role — along with that of the late Siddhartha Shankar Ray — in making P.V. Narasimha Rao prime minister.

 

Less known, however, is how Rao came to fear Karunakaran because he had a way out of every difficulty while Rao thrived on problems by letting them fester. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Karunakaran irritated Rao by telling the Congress working committee that Hindu communalism was not a political force in Kerala because he had laid personal claim to it with his temple visits, thereby benefiting the Congress. In more recent years, Karunakaran claimed that Kerala had no Naxalite problem because of his style and policies.

 

When Rao conspired to remove him as chief minister in 1994, Karunakaran still had a majority of state legislators with him. Vayalar Ravi, then the Kerala state Congress president, refused to go along with Rao's attempt to destabilize the chief minister. But G.K. Moopanar, Rao's emissary, decided to meet legislators individually and he did not allow a secret vote on change. Ravi recalls taking the letter of resignation for Karunakaran to sign, anticipating resistance. The chief minister was about to board a train at the capital's railway station. He signed the letter without any hesitation and gave it back to Ravi, who was on Karunakaran's side in the state Congress.

 

It was in the chief minister's suite that I witnessed the unwritten story of how Karunakaran played an important part in the July 1993 efforts to save Rao's government from a no-confidence motion by weaning away parliamentarians from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and a faction of the Janata Dal. Kerala House was a staging post for all that was done because it was only a stone's throw from the residence of the former Union home minister, Buta Singh, who took the members of parliament from the JMM to Rao's Race Course Road residence, where the deal to save the government was sealed. I never ceased to be amazed by the fact that in the entire fallout of that conspiracy, both legal and political, Karunakaran's name was not once mentioned as a player.

 

There is a lesson in it for the A. Rajas and the Suresh Kalmadis, even for the Sukh Rams in Rao's own government. If you do something questionable, do it in such a way that your fingerprints are not on the deed. Not that there are none in the present government who have successfully followed that dictum, but the finger of suspicion often points to them while no one has ever linked Karunakaran even remotely to the JMM and Janata Dal defections.

 

A complete lack of hypocrisy, rare among politicians, has been a remarkable quality in this political Colossus. Born in a year when World War I was still raging, Karunakaran liked to reminisce with journalists. Talking about rigging in an era when booth-capturing and ballot-stuffing was rampant in many states, Karunakaran was unbelievably candid. "If I did not rig, Nayanar would have rigged," he told some of us gathered in Kerala House in a reference to E.K. Nayanar, the late Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader in Kerala. "Isn't it better that I do the rigging instead of the Marxists?" His logic was unassailable.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

MYTHS AND LEGENDS

STEPHEN HUGH-JONES

 

I've never thought treason a laughing matter, let alone when my own country was the one betrayed. Yet I had to smile at a recent newspaper story about Kim Philby, the British spy who notoriously defected to his real employer, the Soviet Union, in 1963.

 

Russia's spy service, I read, had just put up a memorial to him in its headquarters. And at its unveiling, the spy agency had called him — in a fair English translation, I'm assured —"a legendary anti-fascist".

 

Anti-fascist? One might as well call Winston Churchill an anti-imperialist. Did he not dislike the unadmitted American empire, detest the post-1945 Russian one, and despise the French one? He just happened to be devoted to his own choice of empire, the British one.

 

Thus it was with Philby. Anti-fascist, forsooth! He may genuinely have deplored Hitler and Mussolini. But from his Cambridge days to his deathbed, he remained devoutly loyal to his chosen version of the same thing. Hitler killed his millions of prisoners with starvation, disease, beatings, shootings and gas; Stalin did so with starvation, disease, beatings, shootings and cold. For once, I'll accept today's broad misuse of the word fascism and apply it to its alleged opposite; Stalinism and fascism must feel much the same, whichever of the pair is killing you.

 

So be it that Philby was a constant womanizer, not least among his friends' wives, and frequently drunk; many men are. So be it that he and his ever-so-clever Cambridge set imagined they knew what was good for the people better than the people knew for themselves; most boot-lickers of tyranny do. So be it, even, that he betrayed not just his women, his friends and his colleagues but also his country. What's not forgivable is his addiction to a vile system long after the whole world knew how vile it was.

 

That's why I smiled at legendary anti-fascist. For legendary is one of those two-edged words. The legend may be true, as in Bradman's legendary batting. It may be false, as in the legendary city of Atlantis. It may be in-between. I've no idea whether the original Russian word was equally double-edged; the English version was enough for me. Too bad that the Moscow spooks could not go the whole hog and say mythical. A nice simple word: a myth is a myth.

 

These are two of countless words whose meanings overlap. Some are so close as often to be thought identical. For example, reproof and (slightly stronger) rebuke; defiance (usually of the stronger party by the weaker) andchallenge (when they may be equals). Betrayal, treachery and treason each have their own nuances. Often the distinction is substantial: a falsehood may be unintended, a lie cannot be; a rebuttal is factually true, a denial may be true or false. Yet even these words are often used one for the other. Fascism andNazism are another pair of non-identical twins; Stalinism widens the cradle, but not to bursting point.

 

The precise use of the right word in such cases is one mark of seriously good English. Many good writers fail that test at times, and certainly I often do, but it's worth trying. Witness a legend about Émile Littré, originator of the great French dictionary that bears his name. Happily, the tale works in English as in French. Madame Littré comes home unexpectedly and finds her husband making love with the housemaid. Émile, she cries, I am surprised! Non, Madame, he answers, you are astonished, it is we who are surprised.

 

THEWORDCAGE@YAHOO.CO.UK

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MCI NEEDS SUPPORT

''WHAT MCI HAS PROPOSED IS A VIABLE SOLUTION.''

 

That the country's immoral political class and bureaucracy are the worst enemies of any kind of reforms have once again been demonstrated by the 'directive' issued by the Union health ministry to the Medical Council of India (MCI) to withhold its ambitious plan to conduct an all-India national eligibility-cum-entrance-test (NEET) for regulating admissions to all medical colleges.


After the government disbanded the Ketan Desai-led corrupt management of MCI and appointed a new board of governors consisting of eminent people, there were high hopes that the scandal-ridden medical education would be put back on the rails. Encouraged by human resources development minister Kapil Sibal's strong backing for an NEET, the new MCI went ahead and issued two notifications for regulating admissions to undergraduate and post graduate medical courses.


The MCI set clear-cut parameters saying that the marks obtained in NEET and in class XII shall be the criteria for selection for MBBS and a single NEET for post graduate courses. It also specified the concession in marks in respect of SC/ST/OBC candidates and those with physical disabilities. The notifications said 50 per cent of the seats shall be filled by the state governments and the rest by the medical colleges concerned on the basis of merit list.


Considering the utter chaos, lack of transparency and unbridled corruption that characterise the existing admission norms in medical colleges across the country, it seemed a viable and practical solution. Even the supreme court cleared the way for the proposed CET and said it would step in only if some problems arose in future. That being the case, there is no justification for the health ministry poking its nose and asking the MCI to withdraw notifications on the specious grounds that prior approval of the ministry had not been obtained.


The ministry claims that it wants to discuss the 'pros and cons of implementation of the CET' with the state governments before the MCI could go ahead with its plan. This is nothing but an obstructionist attitude, possibly in collaboration with some powerful vested interests and state governments which have profited from the existing opaque system. Some of the bureaucrats and politicians loathe to let go the powers they enjoy and would do everything to scuttle the reforms. The prime minister should intervene immediately and support the MCI's move to user in the much-needed reforms in the medical admissions.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

CHALLENGING ROLE

''INDIA SHOULD TAKE ITS SEAT AS A PRINCI-PLED POWER.''

 

India has begun its two year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.


It walks into the UNSC with considerable responsibility on its shoulders; it has been voted in by a record 187 member countries and it will have to live up to the confidence they reposed in it. India has served on the UNSC before but its current performance could determine whether or not it becomes a permanent member when this elite body expands. It will be closely watched by the other UNSC members — particularly the permanent ones — and also members of the General Assembly.


The US will watch to see if India votes with it especially on issues related to Iran and Myanmar and use this to decide whether or not to endorse its permanent membership. China too will keenly observe whether India behaves like the US' junior partner in the UNSC. If it does, it could cost India crucial Chinese backing. But India would need to impress the rest of the world too as it needs endorsement of the General Assembly to realise its ambitions. Thus, India must avoid the temptation to hitch its fortunes to the US alone as this will stand in the way of its optimal performance in the UNSC.


India will do well to not allow its dreams of permanent membership of the UNSC to dominate its current stint. Rather it should work to further the UN's goals of global peace and security. It has allies in the UNSC with whom it must work to build consensus on divisive issues. It has Brazil and South Africa — countries with which it has considerable experience working with as part of the IBSA grouping — to work with for a year.


Experts have suggested that these three could become the nucleus of a larger coalition on salient issues. India must lose no time in getting this 'nucleus' up and running.


Increasingly in recent years India has embraced the interests of the rich countries as its own, abandoning in the process the values that once determined its foreign policy.

 

Its stint in the UNSC provides it an opportunity to reclaim its old stature as a principled power. It should steer the world body towards functioning in a manner that will enhance global peace, justice and security.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

CORRUPTION UNLIMITED

BY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY


The ordinary folk desperately need protection from an increasingly rapacious system, but can India ever be cleansed of corrupt practices?

 

A Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited office I visited was plastered with anti-corruption posters. Corruption is 'anti-national' they screamed in red, green and blue; corruption 'undermines the rule of law, strangles economic growth and hurts the poor most severely.'


I had gone because my broadband had stopped working and because the complaints line telephone just rang away without anyone picking it up. There, I found a BSNL official in the complaints room playing Solitaire on his computer. It was also corruption when a Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Kalyan Singh, appointed 93 ministers (16 of them with criminal antecedents) to pay and prevent defectors.


Such abuses are taken for granted. We only hear of cases involving vast sums of money, stellar politicians or billionaire magnates. Dereliction of duty or waste of the taxpayer's earnings excite no comment. That's probably why when Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi expressed their anguish at corruption and affirmed their resolve to root it out, they did not cite the warning by India's first president, Rajendra Prasad, that corruption would "verily prove a nail in the coffin of the Congress".


They did not need to because all political parties are alive and kicking though their coffins bristle with the same nail! Dr Singh's promise of yet another mechanism to punish venal public servants might upstage and discomfit the opposition whose attacks on him are truly 'despicable,' as Sonia Gandhi puts it, but tactical gains will not cleanse public life.


The problem is not with major swindles of which we have had many from Krishna Menon's Rs 80-lakh jeep purchase to the Rs 1,76,379 crore loss to the exchequer on account of the 2G spectrum scam. All these scandals involved tycoons who factor bribes into the cost of the goods and services and recoup the expenditure from the public if they have to gratify a politician or bureaucrat.


That's why they ignored Inder Kumar Gujral's plea when, sitting in Manmohan Singh's chair, he said he hung his head in shame at the extent of corruption and asked businessmen both publicly and in private to inform a special cell in his office of every demand for a bribe. Even Ratan Tata didn't bother to disclose then what he did recently about the rock on which his proposed Tata-SIA airline foundered.


But ordinary folk desperately need protection from an increasingly rapacious system. As Central Vigilance Commissioner, the late Subimal Dutt, a respected member of the Indian Civil Service, lamented that bureaucrats in an increasingly lengthening list of government departments refused to perform even their legitimate duties unless they received what was euphemistically called 'speed money.' It had become 'a way of life.'

Consumer movement


I mentioned this to Rajiv Gandhi when he was prime minister and the reply was immediate and idealistic. The solution, he said, lay in a strong consumer movement. Quite so. But Ralph Nader would not have gained iconic status in the US if every branch of the administration had not responded positively to the public lectures and campaigns against corporate greed and official indifference mounted by his enthusiastic young followers, known as 'Nader's Raiders'. Laws were changed, courts alerted, and exposure of faulty car designing led to the discontinuation of Chevrolet Corvairs.


Several Indian states boast moderately successful consumer movements but, by and large, ordinary citizens still have no redress against BSNL's exploitative lethargy or the income tax department's reluctance to disgorge refunds. In an earlier stint as finance minister, P Chidambaram dismissed corruption as the 'by-product of controls', saying, "If we remove controls, the corrupt are easily identified, isolated and punished." But the greater liquidity accompanying abolition of controls has only encouraged even greater corruption, financial, political and moral.


Two prescriptions might provide partial relief. First, the Santhanam Committee's recommendation that the CVC should be empowered to initiate inquiries and investigate the conduct of leading political personalities, which all previous governments understandably rejected.


Second, a far stronger corrective machinery — meaning an honest police force and an impartial judiciary — to bring the guilty quickly to book so that Indians are no longer reduced to begging and bribing for every single service.

We did not need Wikileaks to tell us that the "police and security forces are overworked and hampered by bad police practices, including widespread use of torture in interrogations, rampant corruption, poor training, and a general inability to conduct solid forensic investigations". No wonder the Americans scathingly accuse the police here of cutting corners to avoid a "lagging justice system, which has approximately 13 judges per million people". Surprisingly, the leaked cables made no mention of ramshackle courtrooms, dilatory, underpaid court officials, cunningly exploitative lawyers and venal judges.


Reform the police and the judiciary to give a strong consumer movement a chance. Perhaps we might then think of a clean administration that serves the 'aam admi' instead of preying on him. But, then, to return to my favourite quotation from Juvenal because it is so apt to modern Indian conditions, "Quis custodiet ipsos/ Custodes?" (Who is to guard the guards themselves?)


It's an unhappy thought for the New Year: Can India ever be cleansed?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

GENE SMITH, SAVIOUR OF TIBETAN LITERATURE

BY MARGALIT FOX, THE NEW YORK TIMES


Smith was reno-wned for his seemingly limitless knowledge of Tibetan literature.

 

E Gene Smith, a Utah native who through persistence, ardour and benevolent guile amassed the largest collection of Tibetan books outside Tibet, saving them from isolation and destruction and making them accessible to scholars and Tibetan exiles around the world, died recently at his home in Manhattan. He was 74.

He founded the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre with a small group of friends in 1999. Now at 17 West 17th Street in Manhattan, the Centre houses nearly 25,000 books dating from the 12th century. Besides containing many of the seminal texts of Tibetan Buddhism, the collection comprises secular works on a range of topics.

Smith became so enamoured of Tibetan culture that he converted to Buddhism. He was renowned for his seemingly limitless knowledge of Tibetan literature and his equally limitless fervour for saving it.

The centre has begun to digitise its collection, making the texts accessible to anyone with internet access. Almost 14,000 volumes — more than 7 million pages — are available on its website, tbrc.org, which receives more than 3,000 visitors daily.


An authority


Though Smith had neither an academic affiliation nor a doctorate, wherever in the world he happened to be living — in New Delhi, where he acquired Tibetan literature for the Library of Congress; Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he started the resource centre in his house, sleeping amid towers of Tibetan books; or New York — his home became a magnet for students, scholars, religious leaders and exiles who sought his expertise on Tibet's rich but little-known literary canon.


"The value of Tibetan literature is two things," David Germano, University of Virginia, said. "First of all, it's one of the four great languages in which the Buddhist canon was preserved." (The others are Chinese, Sanskrit and Pali)


"In addition to the scriptural canon," he said, "there were histories, stories, autobiography, poetry, ritual writing, narrative, epics — pretty much any kind of literary output you could imagine. So the second value of the Tibetan canon is it's one of the greatest in the world."


The canon was imperiled after China invaded and occupied Tibet in the 1950s. Though fleeing refugees managed to smuggle some books out, the Chinese destroyed a great many others.


Ellis Gene Smith was born on Aug 10, 1936, in Ogden, Utah, to a Mormon family that traced its lineage to Hyrum Smith, the elder brother of Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith.


After attending a series of colleges, Smith settled in at the University of Washington, where he studied Mongolian and Turkish, earning a bachelor's degree in Far Eastern studies in 1959.


Around that time, as he began work on a doctorate at the university, he started studying Tibetan with a visiting lama, Deshung Rinpoche, and was entranced. Further study was hindered, however, by the lack of available texts.

"We had no Tibetan books," Smith said in 2002. "Deshung said: 'Go and find them. Find the important books and get them published'."


After advanced study in Sanskrit and Pali at Leiden University, the Netherlands, Smith went to India in 1965, spending several years studying with exiled Tibetan lamas. He joined the Library of Congress field office in New Delhi in 1968, eventually becoming field director there.


Smith acquired as many books as he could for the library, seeking out Tibetan refugees in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Most of the books he collected were either hand-lettered manuscripts or had been printed in the traditional manner, using carved wood blocks. 


Often, a book he obtained was the only known copy in the world. In India, Smith began printing new copies of thousands of Tibetan books. He was aided, serendipitously, by a US programme, Public Law 480, which let developing countries buy American agricultural commodities in local currency. The United States would take that currency and invest it in local humanitarian projects.


As Smith noted, nothing in the law expressly forbade using the money to republish great works of literature. And so, book by book, he brought much of the Tibetan canon to light.


In later years, after the Library of Congress sent Smith to Indonesia and then to Egypt, he continued collecting and publishing Tibetan texts through intermediaries. He retired in 1996 and three years later founded the Centre, where he served as executive director until last year.


Smith is survived by three sisters, Rosanne Smith, Carma Wood and LaVaun Ficklin. He was the author of several published catalogs of Tibetan literature and a volume of essays, 'Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau'.


'Digital Dharma', a documentary film about Smith and his work, is currently in production. Interviewers often asked Smith what propelled his quest. His answer was simple, and Buddhist to the core:


"Karma, I guess."

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

OUR OWN ABU JANI

BY S V L NARAYAN


When he got a salwar ka-meez to stitch, Shamanna was at his creative best.

 

At times most of us need some alteration to be done to our clothes. Whether it is to reduce the length, increase the waistline or even change a defective zip. On Lodhi Road in New Delhi you have a whole row of alteration specialists going under exotic names like 9th Wonder, 12th Wonder and even Wonder Ka Wonder. However, tailors in Bangalore are a snobbish lot. They feel it is below their dignity to accept such menial jobs like alteration.

In our apartment complex we have a tailor named Shamanna who thrives on doing alteration work. He has been provided a place in the basement along with the 'ironwallah'. No one knows what exactly he used to do in the past. But from the time he arrived here it has been like manna from heaven for the residents.

I bought a lot of ready-mades in a sale in the US. However, as my physique is nowhere near that of an average American these clothes were lying unused for a long time. 


Thanks to Shamanna I have been able to resurrect them. He has in turn reduced the length of trousers, narrowed the bottom, removed or added bottom folds. He has even converted my Nordstrom gabardine trousers to stylish golfing shorts. For shirts he has shortened the half sleeves, altered the full sleeves cuff, or even reduced full sleeves to half sleeves. However, there are times his judgement goes haywire.


A couple of Hilfiger shirts had to be shortened. He took the measurement and returned the altered ones in an hour's time. Unfortunately, he forgot that American shirts generally have a curved cut on the sides. So the front length was okay but he had gone ahead and cut the sides, too in a curve. When I wore those shirts they looked like something the modern Indian girl wears on top of her jeans!


My wife gives blouses to be altered or a fall to be stitched on a sari. In a weak moment she also gave him a brand new material to stitch a salwar kameez. Shamanna was at his creative best. One leg of the salwar had vertical stripes and the other one had horizontal ones.


He claimed there was not enough cloth to match both the legs. If that had been designed by Manish Malhotra or Abu Jani my wife would have worn them and showed off.


Unfortunately, Shamanna has a weakness for a tipple. He completes quickly any work given to him on a Friday morning and collects his money immediately. The after effect of a hangover generally delays his arrival to work on Saturday mornings. Recently there was a move to throw him out. Most residents, including yours truly, stood by him and persuaded the residents' association to keep him back. After all, he's a wonder tailor not easy to come by.

 

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O HERALD

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

GOA'S NEW GOLD RUSH?


It's an astounding claim; that India could soon figure among the top gold-producing countries in the world. Microbiology lecturer Nandkumar Kamat says that there is almost 6,000 metric tonnes of secondary gold worth a staggering Rs120,000 crore lying just 60 metres below the ground in Goa. Claims Mr Kamat, it is biologically refined gold, almost 98 per cent pure, and spread over 40 crore sq metres of land. 


But the fact is, as Mr Kamat himself admitted during the press conference he called to announce his 'discovery', that the origin of secondary gold grains is controversial and still being debated in the scientific community. It is relatively recent research that suggests microbes can form gold deposits, transporting and precipitating gold to form grains and nuggets in alluvial deposits. In fact, this was the subject of doctoral research by Frank Reith at the Australian National University, Canberra, published as recently as 2004. Quaintly, Mr Reith is the very same 'authority' that Mr Kamat relies upon to authenticate his find. 


It is very difficult to verify or deny Mr Kamat's claim. He says that some of the bacterial forms of gold he has seen include folded lattices, starfish assemblages and layered crowns. This can only be confirmed or denied by a proper peer review process, for which he will first have to write a scientific paper. Even after this, actual confirmation (or otherwise) of the presence of the noble metal in quantities that can be commercially exploited will only come with regular physical prospecting. 


But even if the presence of gold is confirmed, it is certainly not correct to say that these deposits have the potential to change the fortunes of the country or even the state over the foreseeable future. While the quantum of gold estimated by Mr Kamat is within the bounds of commercial viability (1.5g to 2g per tonne) for open cast mining, which is theoretically possible at the depth of 60 metres that he postulates, gold mining would visit a catastrophic environmental disaster on Goa. 


Today, most people in the state are concerned about iron ore mining, in which around six tonnes of reject mud is generated for every tonne of ore extracted. This itself is drying up village wells, making rich paddy fields infertile and silting up our streams and rivers. 


What happens if and when gold mining is started, where over 10 tonnes of waste mud will be generated for every 'tola' of gold extracted? What happens when the gold extraction process, which uses either toxic mercury, or even more toxic and deadly cyanide, is used on a large scale in Goa? That is when there will be destruction of the environment on an unprecedented scale. 


Mr Kamat may have been in a hurry to go the media because he wanted to get the credit he feels is due to him for his 'discovery' of gold deposits in Goa. He may throw open challenges to the scientific community – local, national and global – and even win them. But he cannot fail to be aware of the gargantuan destructive potential that the possibility of gold mining in Goa holds.

 

Info impasse

Governor Dr S S Sidhu has sought constitutional immunity in the summons issued to him by the State Information Commission for not submitting a reply under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Governor says he has this privilege under Article 361 of the Constitution.

 
Why all this? The information asked for is merely about progress into a complaint made to the Governor against the Advocate General. Why not provide the information instead of unnecessarily provoking constitutional standoffs?

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

WHAT AILS GOA?

THERE IS LITTLE UNANIMITY ABOUT THE SOURCE OF GOA'S WOES, SAYS FREDERICK NORONHA

 

A spectre of pessimism is overtaking Goa these days. Actually, it has been hovering around for long, but is now reaching wider numbers and finding more takers more easily.
Every second expat, who comes down, quickly shifts to lamenting about the state of affairs in our State these days. They see dirt and garbage, they see corruption, and they see a loss of the old world charm that Goa supposedly once exuded.


Locals are buying into this perspective too. Those who protested in the past were told that they were wrong. That the issues they raised didn't matter. Or, in some cases, that they were even termed anti-national. Today, their concerns do draw more ready support (it helps, of course, if electoral advantage could be squeezed out of this).


That we have our share of problems, there is no denial. But what exactly is going wrong, and in what measure? There is little unanimity about the source of Goa's woes. On the one hand, we all get flattered when a magazine, say the India Today, votes Goa as one of the best states of India. Or rates it as one of the best places in India, to live in, a state with good health, investment and macro economy indices. Some while later, when the same magazine identifies ours as the cocaine coast of India, we all go into a chest-beating regret. Today, there are very differing perspectives on what is going wrong in Goa. But, like the set of Gauls in Asterix comics, we have become a people who believe that the skies are about to fall on our heads. We can see almost nothing positive in our lives, even though as a society, we probably have many a reason to be optimistic. We resemble a set of people who are doing innovative work, despite the system being quite unhelpful.


To complicate matters, we don't have a critical element inbuilt in our system. Given long years of dictatorship and censorship in the 20th century, it is very easy to manipulate public opinion here and lead it towards any convenient direction.


Of course, our politicians too are part of the problem — but they are not the only ones responsible. They have gone ahead in doing very much what they want, without taking legitimate concerns into account. Beyond them are the interests they serve, and the permanent government they pander to.


For the lure of money or kickbacks, they can become the first politicians in India to license gambling and casinos, to approve controversial projects, to convert green villages into dusty industrial zones and unsustainable concrete jungles, to pretend that mining which is devastating Goa, is no problem whatsoever. Or, to deny people living here, the infrastructure they need to travel, to study, for recreation, for sustainable livelihoods and more. Yet, one cannot help seeing the confusion in terms of understanding what is wrong with Goa, as such.


Looking at post-1961 Goa alone, the sixties were tumultuous times, spent in sorting out our own contradictions, the jostling for power and land, and attempts to find our own renegotiated place, in a post-colonial society. In the 1970s and 1980s, a discourse was slowly being built around the loss of the pristine Goa environment, a debate which would later be used for political purposes, to cash in on such feelings and sway support away, from or to particular parties.


The early 1980s also saw the rise of anti-migrant sentiment that erupted into riots in Vasco around 1982-83. The 1990s saw a new twist to local politics. Of late too, we are seeing campaigning playing a role closer to party politics — issues are sometimes manipulated or highlighted to give an advantage to one party, or a panel fighting some regional election.


So while some blame the 'outsider' for all of Goa's woes, others give a community-based twist, and blame people of another religion or caste grouping.


Land alienation, and the speculation in this scarce commodity in Goa, is emerging as an issue more recently, as figures and names surface in assembly questions and the media. Our political and administrative class' ability to take controversial decisions with total unconcern about long-term interests — nearly a dozen-and-half SEZs, and what not — also contributes to the confusion. Smaller campaign groups have raised issues that matter to large sections. These may not be wrapped in the fear and panic that can be used to sensationally package other issues. But they are important, nonetheless. Women's concerns, equitable access to land, social justice or caste concerns have to be dealt with. (Whether temple entry, or inequality, within Catholicism). There are also trade union concerns, and the challenges of earning a fair salary or wage, in Goa itself. One resurgent theme in Goa, is an attempt to criticise the present by suggesting that the past was ideal.


At a recent meeting, Desmond DeSouza, a redemptorist priest, cut through this "the past was better" logic that one often hears about Goa now. Their family lived in Bombay and "we used to hate to come to Goa", he pointed out. "There were two customs posts to cross, at Castle Rock and Collem. The old carreira took one from Collem right home. Saligao (their village) of course, had no electricity." He said a rupee coin pressed into the palm of the customs cleared everything, something he noticed even in his childhood days.


He returned to Goa as a young priest in 1969. "It was still very difficult, because things were very traditional, in society, and in the church. Everybody wanted to poke their nose and tell you how to run your life, in a certain way, because that was how it was done in the past." But after his 1969-71 stint, he returned in 1975, only to see Goa with new eyes." I saw it as a challenge then. There were youth movements taking place, and protests. We really began to hope that people's power would change things in Goa," he said. "I am still hopeful."


He added: "The problem with people's power is that it comes up only in fits and starts, when the people are fighting some issue, or have their backs to the wall." DeSouza argued the challenges faced here is something many other countries had gone through "till a time comes when (it is no longer acceptable and) things start working out and change for the better takes place."


John Brockman in his book 'What Are You Optimistic About?' points out that the nightly news and conventional wisdom tell us that "things are bad and getting worse." 


Yet, despite the dire predictions, Brockman asked 150 scientific thinkers for their opinions, and they came up with carefully considered optimistic visions of tomorrow.


It's time we did the same exercise for Goa. Suddenly, in the New Year, there is a lot of speculation about the possibility of gold being buried underneath the soil in Goa. If you ask me, the real gold is the untapped potential of our people, waiting to be built, shaped and effectively utilised in a way that benefits society, as a whole.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

SHADES OF TRANSPARENCY

BY ANIL MOYO

 

No sooner a new government is formed in our tiny state, its head always comes out with a statement, which by now people have already learnt by heart, that 'the newly formed government will be highly transparent, nobody will be above law and the guilty will be punished severely, irrespective of status'. 


Although people know for sure that there is going to be a great difference between promise and practice and the outcome will exactly be the reverse; most of the time they keep mum and prefer to play a passive role as silent spectators. 


A little bit of transparency shown initially by the politicians to please the voters gradually transforms into translucency and, eventually, most matters are rendered completely opaque to the 'aam admi'. This polluted political environment makes them prone to contract a virus, and they suffer from a common occupational disease called 'Spendicitis', where they try to behave as both 'Conservative' and 'Liberal' at the same time – 'Conservative' with their own money and 'Liberal' with ours. 


Our great national heroes of yore like Sawarkar, Tilak and Gandhiji always remained transparent in their actions. This helped them to instil a sense of mutual trust and confidence among their fellowmen, which ultimately turned into a great driving force to fight against the mighty British empire. 
On the other hand, dictators like Mussolini and Hitler never showed transparency. This made them disgruntled, resentful and arrogant. Their hearts were always filled with pride, jealousy and vanity, leading the latter to unlash inhuman cruelty on innocent Jews. 


Though transparency is paramount in any government, one cannot expect diplomats to practice transparency; that would reveal the secrets of your nation to others. It is said that when two diplomats shake hands, one does not know whether it is to start a war or seal the peace. 


Once in an attempt to remain transparent after having mishandled a costly dinner set, a young smart maid working with a diplomat declared to her mistress: "Ma'am, your 36-piece dinner set now has 40 pieces." 
In another incident in a factory, a machine had come to a grinding halt and a repairman was called in. After examining the machine, he tapped it with a hammer at one particular point and, to everybody's great surprise, it stared working. When he submitted a bill of Rs500, the plant manager found it exorbitant. He asked him to be transparent by giving the bill item-wise. The repair man's fresh bill read: 


1. Tapping with hammer: Rs1 

  1. Knowing where to tap: Rs499 

  2. Our saints and scriptures have imbibed in our minds the importance of transparency in life. They say that nobility, selflessness and transparency in our actions open the door to divinity, by virtue of which we can come closer to God, more than anything else. But is it possible for us to remain transparent in the day-to-day chores of our life? 

  3. Whenever we are in a prayer house, who comes between us and God is a priest. In the court, between us and Judge comes a lawyer. And, during sickness, who comes between us and health is the doctor. This leaves no scope to be transparent. 

  4. There is one place, of course, where we can visualise transparency – the barber's shop. Here one sees one's own multiple images at different angles through mirrors. But mirrors too have their limitations. Convex and concave types of mirrors distort our images beyond recognition. It reminds me of a few lines from a verse. The poet says: "When I look into a mirror I see a fool, but I see a wise man when I look into a pool."

  5. So gentlemen, there is nothing that is completely transparent in life, except one. That is the wag of a dog's tail. That is the reason, whenever I think more and more about our politicians, the more and more I start loving my pet dog 'Bhoobo'. This is not simply because of his loyalty; 'Bhoboo' only wags his tail, and not his tongue.



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CHENTRAL CHRONICAL

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

HAS THE PM JUMPED HIS GUN?

 

Hardly did PM Dr Manmohan Singh volunteered to appear before the PAC, if they so will, opinion stands divided in both the ruling as well as the opposition camps. Chairman of the PAC Dr MM Joshi who, till the other day, was sticking  to his view  that the PAC has sufficient powers to inquire into the 2G spectrum scandal, suddenly changed plates and said the PAC can only check the CAG report and that he supports the demand for a JPC.


Hardly a day or two later, Pranab Mukherjee states that PM should not face PAC, as he is accountable only to Parliament sounds logic. This murky game of hide and seek by both the ruling combine led by the Congress as well as the opposition led by the BJP is doing nothing but only delaying the process in finding the ultimate truth of the scandal. Immediately after PAC Chairman Dr. MM Joshi supported the demand for a JPC, another BJP leader and a former Minister for Commerce and Disinvestment Arun Shourie reported that JPC can hardly do anything as all previous JPCs couldn't do justice to scandals like security scam, Bofors that rocked the nation. He has further said that what the government is doing right now by invigorating the investigation can yield better results in booking the culprits and finding out the truth. It is better for the nation, in the light of opinions emerging this way, that the Speaker Ms Meira Kumar may continue with her attempt to bring both the warring groups to a compromise to break the logjam early, so that the Budget session can go smoothly in the larger interest of the nation.


RK Kutty, Bhopal      

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

 AN ALL ENCOMPASSING VENTURE IN HOCKEY

 

The news from the hockey front in India is that there is a concerted effort to inject the game with some much needed competition along with considerable amount of money for incentive.  Called the World Series Hockey, a ten-week, city based league the extravaganza has been billed to cover the period November 2011-  February

2012 .The world was taken into confidence  on  the proposed theme  in Mumbai recently.


Promoted by Nimbus Sport the World Series is expected to attract all the major India internationals along with a number of foreign players. According to sources in Pakistan a number of star players from that country are eager to play in the competition. Pakistan players, some 24 of them who played in the Premier Hockey League held in India between 2005 to 2008 have pleasant memories of the championship.


The competition will be the biggest ever of its type in the world and should attract the best available talent not only from within India but also from outside. The money earned could go a long way in promoting the game and the infrastructure in the country. The only problem is the ongoing court cases to determine who the rightful administrator of Indian hockey is actually --- Hockey India recognized by the IOA, the International Hockey Federation or the Indian Hockey Federation., which controlled the game in India before it was derecognized. There are bound to be legal hurdles but for the sake of the game one hopes that the players would not take sides and they would not be held back by the respective administrators.


The dates announced for the mega event may also cause problems. The Champions Trophy is scheduled to be held in India in November and     an Indian team would be made ready for the Pre-Olympics qualifying rounds to be held in February 2012. These are technical problems and should be sorted out well in time.  The World Series dates can be accommodated to suit the players involved in the Champions trophy and the pre-Olympics qualifying rounds.


At this early stage when the mega series t is still an idea it is up to the two contesting units, Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation to join hands in ensuring the success of the World Series League. It would be unfortunate if players suffer because of their loyalties. The most important thing is that the World Series is not only a means of promoting the game but also a way to make some much needed money for the players. 
It would be even better if Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation settle their differences, withdraw the court notices and make one combined unit and run the show together. Nimbus Sport should have no objection since their main plank is to promote the game. And it does not matter which organization runs it 
Ramu Sharma        

 

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

THOSE WERE THE DAYS IN LUCKNOW

 

Oft in the noisy nights, when smog hides the starry lights, the wafting smells of childhood make my world look bright. Those were the days when innocence had not lost its naivety to the allure of the mobile phone, or the ready access to internet porn sites, or the dizzying effect of television reality shows. 


Although I started my schooling in Dehradun, my childhood was spent in Lucknow. My father was transferred from the city of the retired people to the city of etiquette and culture when I must have been 6 or 7 years old. I still have clear images of making snowballs in Mussourie and sitting in 'baba baskets' - a wicker chair for transporting kids, carried by men on their heads. Apart from the snow of the queen of the hills, the other vivid memory is of a devastating fire breaking out in the then famous 'ghantaghar' area of the city, the angry flames of which were visible from our house quite far away. So it is the ice and fire of those years which fused into me as I grew up in Lucknow - the seat of Awadhi culture. 


When I reflect back, the Lucknow of the late 60s and 70s seems to belong to another era altogether. There were fewer brawls, more etiquette, and still more respect for others; the winters were colder, and the hearts were warmer . There was a poetic tinge even in ordinary conversations. Lucknow has always been famous for its 'shireen zubaan'-the sweetness of tongue. Even the common vendors had a style of their own. 'laila ki ungaliya hai, majnu ki pasliyaan, lelo ji lelo lucknow ki kakdiya hain' (this variety of cucumber is long like the fingers of the beloved and thin like the ribs of the lover). Or else ' mera chana bana hai nirala, jisko khate afsar aala, jo hain karte bada ghotala, chana jor garam babu main laya mazedar chana jor garam'. 


Hand puppeteers, doing rounds of colonies, with their gulabo sitabo duos-one representing the legally wedded wife and the other representing the mistress-- were a constant source of entertainment We could hear for ever with rapt attention the couplets recited in synchronisation with the hand movements of the wooden puppets-- 'Khoob ladengi gulabo khoob ladengi --kannauj ka gatta, mahobe ke paan, saiyya piyare lagaaye dukaan'; 'ek ser ki saat pakaayi, saat ser ki ek, ek sitabo khaay gayi aur main pachhtaau nek,' and so on and so forth... This tribe, which was once an integral part of the city culture, seems to have vanished forever. 


So have also the 'bandarwalas' and the 'bhaluwalas', thanks to Maneka Gandhi. SPCA notwithstanding, we loved to see the monkeys (always in pairs of a male and a female) and the bear perform and dance at the behest of the 'dugdugi' of their master, little aware of animal rights. It gave us delightful moments when the monkey bride refused to go to her husband's home till he brought gifts for her. 


Every religious ceremony had many stories or 'kathas', which were narrated by the eldest female member of the family. Each story had the same basic plot in which good conquered over evil, after lots of trials and tribulations, and invariably ended on an optimistic note -'jaise unake din bahure, vaise sabke din bahurein' (as his/her life changed for the better, may others change too. Amen). 


I belonged to a middle class family living in a modest 3 roomed house. I vividly remember five charpoys spread in the courtyard under the canopy of stars, with one revolving pedestal fan shared by them in the blistering months of May and June. But the nights never felt as hot as they do now with so many cooling devises at our command. I remember waking up in the middle of many nights, staring dumbfounded at the Milky Way, which seemed so near at hand. The 'khus' curtains, dripping with water, not only cooled the sweltering days but also doubled up as room fresheners.

Shobha Shukla

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

 

EMERGENCY REVISITED

 

The Apex Court has admitted that a verdict in the year 1976 of its constitutional bench, that during the period of emergency in the country, the basic rights related to life and freedom remain suspended and that it had given directives to the High Court not to accept any petitions concerning fundamental rights. In this context, in the year 1977, during the period of Janata Party rule, the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai had sought reply from the Attorney General Milan Chakravarty as to under which rule the rights of the people to live vanish. Taking a serious view of the matter, Desai had removed Chakravarty from his post.


In the year 1976, the judges had delivered verdict as per the conditions prevailing then and it would not be right to see the same verdict in the present scenario.  


In 1977, after the defeat of Indira Gandhi and the Congress party, there were a horde of writers, literature on the subject. There was a backlash then. 


During the period of emergency rule, Sanjay Gandhi had come in the news. Today, senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, on the occasion of 125th jayanti of the Congress party, in his book finds Sanjay Gandhi guilty for excesses committed against the people. The imposition of emergency too was not right.
In 1977, under the leadership of Jaiprakash Narayan, the Congress party was made to bite the dust in elections in the whole of North and Central India. However, in the year 1980, the Janata Party government lost mandate of the people and the people once against brought Indira Gandhi and the Congress party back  in power. Sanjay Gandhi too was elected for the Lok Sabha for the first time.


An analysis during the period finds that in the year 1975 the youth were told not to succumb to the directives of the Central Govt which amounted to treason.  However, there was no serious law and order problem during those days. Meanwhile, in Gujarat, the MLAs were forced to write their resignation letters by the JP supporters against which rules had to be framed later. JP was purposely indulging in undemocratic activities which had force the implementation of tough measures like emergency. JP got all the benefits of emergency and the Congress suffered a rout in the elections.

 

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

AGRI MECHANISATION

 

With a view to develop agriculture, the State government has implemented `Agriculture power scheme'. Under this plan, backward villages where there is least agriculture activity would be selected. The State government wants to turn the agriculture profession into a profitable one. Even though 70% of India lives in villages with agriculture as the main occupation, yet our farmers continue to live a miserable life. One of the reasons for this dilemma is that our agriculture zone is very less. 


In America farming is done on large tracts of land. Agriculture operations are fully mechanised. Similarly, the Japanese farmers too are prosperous. Even though the farm lands there are small. 


In India, experiments in the field of agriculture are still going on. No set direction has been framed as yet. In India the farmlands are very small due to family members shares of the land. This is one of the reasons why farmers cannot make sufficient money. Tractors and harvesters cannot be used in many fields. 


The day our farmer is freed from support price and loans at concessional rates, India would be taken as a nation freed from poverty. India is facing the problem of drought and excess rains for long. Big dams have been constructed to control floods however in place of flood control the rivers come into spate when the gates of these dams are opened.

 

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CENTRAL CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

WHAT'S THERE TO CELEBRATE ?

 

How does one begin an epitaph of the year gone by? Uncork the champagne and roll out the drums? By welcoming 2011 on the wings of new hopes, dreams and promises? Not at all. Clearly, 2010 will go down in history as annus horribilis. 


The year India morphed into the Republic of Scams. Exposing the ugly face of the subversion of our democracy. From IPL-gate, Adarsh housing scandal, PJ Thomas CVC bungle down the Rs 70,000 crore CWG swindle to Radia-tapes topped by the mother of all swindles Rs 1.76 lakh crore 2G spectrum scam. What to speak of Parliament's paralysis, 'communalising' terror, skyrocketing prices, rising disparities et al.


Who could have imagined at the beginning of 2010 that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be fighting a political battle to save his famous personal honesty, integrity and credibility? Wherein he had to evoke Caesar's wife being above suspicion. True, none doubt his truthfulness but can he deny that he heads the most corrupt Government since Independence? As the aam aadmi's chief guardian did he do everything to stop the flagrant and crude diversion of public funds into our polity's private pockets? Did he stop Raja? Was he unaware that

the 2G scam would result in monumental financial loss to the exchequer?


One may cynically argue, when was Indian politics about political integrity, any way? What is the use of having a Prime Minister with impeccable credentials if he has to carry for political compulsions tainted baggage in his Cabinet? Such is the appalling state of our rajniti that we have hit rock bottom politically, administratively and socially. Making India reel in disgust and anguish. 


Underscored by the 'adjournment' of Parliament's winter session over the Opposition's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to unravel the 2G spectrum scam. The longest shutdown for the first time in independent India. Overall, there was full or partial shutdown of Parliament for as many as 38 of the total 83 days, costing the exchequer around Rs 240 crore. Ironically, the very year when MPs rewarded themselves with a manifold increase in salaries and allowances.


Overall, the Congress-led UPA II is directionless and has failed on all fronts. The main Opposition Party, BJP is boxed in by grandiose pretensions of being a 'party with a difference' but is in fact a party with differences with votaries of the Sangh Parivar pulling in different directions. The Left parties are divided over economic policies and most of the regional parties are faced with simmering discontent. All hurting for satta.


Nothing highlights this more than the tu-tu-mein-mein between political rivals over terror. No, I am not talking of the in-decision over hanging Parliament attacker Afzal Guru on the facetious plea that his file for Presidential clemency is pending. Or that it is costing the Indian tax payer large sums as Mumbai 26/11 attacker Kasab awaits justice. Since when do Pakistani terrorists qualify for clemency under the Indian Constitution?  The US did not squirm when they had to hang Iraq's President Saddam as in American perceptions he had waged war against it. 


Worse, our polity has stooped to a level of communalizing terror. Whereby, in the name of secularism, political parties tended to blatantly exploit religious sensitivities. Obviously, to woo the minorities and deflect attention from scandals plaguing the party, scandalously the Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh suggested that Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare had called him a few hours before he was killed in  26/11 to discuss the threat to his life from Hindu extremists linked to the Malegaon bomb blast. No matter that he was playing into the hands of Pakistan and its hand maiden Laskkar e Toiyba. 

As a result, instead of national security issues transcending politics and uniting parties to set effective institutional capacity to fight the ever-more sophisticated terror networks, we first blame the outside forces and then training guns at ourselves. It has once again become a Hindu vs Muslim debate: Whose terrorists are better, mine or yours?


This is not all. The aam aadmi plank of the party appeared to be coming unstuck, bringing onion tears to the Congress leadership, as price rise continued to give a tough time to the common man. Will ending the financial year with GDP growth of 7.2-7.5% and achieving 8% in 2010-11 alleviate the misery of the aam aadmi, crippled by the onslaught of rising prices and sky-rocketing inflation? 


Look at the irony. The country has frittered over Rs 35,000 crore on the 14-day razzmatazz CWG, lost over Rs 60,000 cr in the 2G spectrum scam, and spent $2.1 billion on Delhi's new airport terminal, written-off over $107 billion of the super-rich and boasts of over 50 billionaires in the Forbes list. Yet, has no funds for the sick, diseased and hungry. Notwithstanding that India ranks 66 among 88 in the Global Hunger Index and 134 in the UN Human Development Index below tiny Bhutan and Laos. 


Forget Brand India, see Asli Bharat which is in the grip of the Bolangir-Kalahandi syndrome – hunger, poverty and suicides. According to the Global Hunger Index 2010 recently released, India is placed at the 66th spot out of 88 countries surveyed. Of which 12 States fall in the 'alarming' categories. With 87% of the population living below the poverty line, the struggle to eke out a living is an onerous task. Shockingly, nearly one million Indians die every year due to inadequate healthcare facilities


Importantly, who will put an end to the miseries of 762.9 million people earning less than Rs 20 a day who satiate their starving bellies by longing looking at the neon signs of sumptuous pizzas and burgers? Or for that matter, the 74 million 'Nowhere Children" who are neither enrolled in schools nor accounted in the labour force or the 44 million children aged between 5-14 years engaged in economic activities and domestic and non-remunerative work? What to speak of the much-touted National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which is mired in corruption wherein the benefits are not accruing to the end user.


Needless to say the economic policies of UPA II, far from being able to address the central problems of inflation, agrarian crisis (agriculture production has dropped) and rising unemployment are adding new ones for the Indian economy. Disillusionment and discontent among the aam aadmi is spiraling. Borne out by rising farmers' suicides, despite doles by the Prime Minister, chakka jams and bandhs. 


True, we get the leaders we deserve. But at the same time are the netas worthy of us? The time has come to bell the political cat of convenience. And bring probity and morality into our national life. 
As India enters the next decade our netagan must see the writing on the wall. Time to stop getting their shorts in knots over excessive trivia, get their act together, take responsibility, amend their ways and address real serious issues of governance. The  aam aadmi wants change. He has blown the conch against the fraud repeatedly wrought on him: Enough is enough. Tough times call for tough action. But the moot point: Are the leaders capable of tough action? Do they have the will to assert: Yes, we can!


Poonam I Kaushish, INFA

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THE JERUSALEM POST

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

A CALL FOR DIPLOMATIC LABOR RELATIONS

 

The country's vital interests should plainly be placed before our diplomats' personal demands, however valid.

To get the government's attention, one cannot behave diplomatically. That appears to be the lesson learned by 800 Foreign Ministry employees whose year-long pleas for a wage increase have largely been ignored. Since last February various labor sanctions – from showing up to work in jeans and sandals, to refusing to coordinate Prime MinisterBinyamin Netanyahu's trips this summer to Greece and the US – have had little impact.


Now a "no more mister nice guy" approach has resulted in the unfortunate cancellation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Israel, originally slated for two weeks from now. A visit later this month by German Chancellor Angela Merkel may also be in jeopardy.


Medvedev's would have been the first visit by a Russian president since Vladimir Putin's trip here in 2005. Via the local Russian-language media, apparently monitored closely by Moscow, diplomats made it clear that they would not participate in preparations for the visit.


Although there were no security concerns, Russia did not want a repeat of the kind of indignity suffered in July by Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov. After a visit to Yad Vashem, Mladenov, a true friend of Israel, was left stranded by his Foreign Ministry driver. Similarly, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport this summer to find that neither a Russian flag nor a red carpet had been prepared.


It would be an exaggeration to say that the canceled Medvedev visit, which will be rescheduled, endangers our relations with Russia. Nevertheless, a number of important issues directly affecting Israeli interests were on the agenda.

Moscow laudably scrapped its sale of S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran, but its involvement in the Islamic Republic's Bushehr nuclear reactor remains a source of concern. Moscow also seems to be moving closer to Syria: Last year, Russia's navy chief announced that his country's naval supply and maintenance site near Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartus would be modernized to accommodate heavy warships after 2012. Russia also will provide Syria with its P-800 Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missile which, it is feared, could fall into the hands of Hizbullah and be used against the Israeli navy.


GIVEN THE importance of face-to-face discussions on such critical issues, the Foreign Ministry workers' demands for higher wages seem relatively marginal, and hardly justify the torpedoing of Medvedev's visit. The country's vital interests should plainly be placed before our diplomats' personal demands, however valid.

But the government is also to blame for the parlous state of affairs. It ignored the workers' pleas, prompting usually well-mannered diplomats to resort to extreme measures.


When necessary, the decision-makers evidently reasoned, the Foreign Ministry can be bypassed. After our diplomats in Greece refused to help coordinate Netanyahu's trip there in August, the Mossad stepped in. The IDF's procurement delegation in Washington did the same during his visit there in late summer to begin direct talks with the Palestinian Authority. A similar arrangement will ensure that Netanyahu's trip Thursday to Cairo to meet with President Hosni Mubarak goes reasonably smoothly.


Faced with that kind of indifference, and lacking the coercive leverage of airport workers, longshoremen and their like, the diplomats felt they had little choice but to act evermore undiplomatically by a government that has consistently reacted to labor crises instead of preempting them.


But why must the government be bullied into decisions? The diplomats' claims do not seem unfounded.

According to the workers' committee, 12% of the 800 Foreign Ministry workers are living beneath the poverty line; 25% receive welfare supplements to boost their low salaries. For the first five years of service a Foreign Ministry employee, who must have at least a bachelor's degree, earns a gross monthly salary of just NIS 5,000.


Those who serve abroad earn about half of what the average western diplomat receives and, incidentally, 40% less than their Iranian counterparts. Salaries have not been adjusted for two decades, resulting in a 45% lag behind comparable public sector employees. The Treasury's offer of a 8% to 10% wage hike seems more than ungenerous.

Instead of procrastinating, as it also did with the state prosecutors and has done with other public-sector strikes, the government should have been proactive. It should have sought to avoid this debilitating, embarrassing labor action by willingly entering into productive negotiations.


Now, with important foreign visitors being forced to bypass Israel, the imperative to end the strike is overwhelming. The workers should never have been forced to behave so undiplomatically. It goes against their training.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

TALKING TO HAMAS?

BY JONATHAN D. HALEVI  

 

Despite the increased calls for dialogue with the terror organization, there is no evidence of a new pragmatism among its leadership, only greater indications of a much harder line.

 

Over the last few years, there has been a steady drumbeat of calls from leading figures in the international community for Israel to open dialogue with Hamas. Despite Hamas's call for Israel's elimination, its representatives have obtained platforms in some of the most prestigious Western media. Thus, Ahmed Yousef, a senior political advisor to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, appeared on the oped pages of both TheWashington Post and The New York Times in 2007, where he presented the most minimal goals of "the end of occupation" and "freedom to be a nation."


In an article on PalestineChronicle.com on December 25, Yousef, who serves as deputy minister of foreign affairs, repeated the moderate message that "Gaza will always extend a hand of friendship to the international community, and will always welcome any dialogue that will help achieve stability, security and growth in the region."

In recent years, leading British parliamentarians have called for dialogue with Hamas on the basis of the UK's experience with the IRA. Two former US national security advisers, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, have backed talking to Hamas as well. Time magazine columnist Joe Klein echoed the call for talks with Hamas, stating, "There will be no peace without Hamas as part of the process."


It should be recalled that Hamas is defined as an international terrorist organization by both the US government and the European Union, and has a long history of targeting Israeli civilians with suicide bombing attacks and rocket fire.


The important question that has not been systematically addressed is whether Hamas is demonstrating any signs of moderation. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of a new pragmatism among its leadership, but only greater indications of a much harder line, which is expressed by its adoption of expressions of genocidal intent in its war against Israel and the Jewish people.


IN FACT, recently there was a new opportunity to investigate current trends in Hamas ideology. Last month, Hamas marked the 23rd anniversary of its establishment with an official booklet entitled The Path of Glory, which includes statements by Hamas military leaders alongside statistical data on terror actions.

Muhammad Deif, head of Hamas's military wing, wrote: "The Kassam Brigades... are better prepared to continue on our exclusive path to which there is no alternative, and that is the path of jihad and the fight against the enemies of the Muslim nation and mankind... We say to our enemies: You are going on the path to extinction, (zawal), and Palestine will remain ours including Jerusalem, Al-Aksa, its towns and villages from the sea to the river, from its north to its south. You have no right to even an inch of it."


Ahmed al-Jaabari, the acting supreme commander of the Kassam Brigades, wrote: "Our eyes will always remain focused toward Al-Kuds and Al-Aksa and [their gaze] will not be confined to the borders of Gaza. Our plan of struggle shall extend as always, sooner or later, to our entire plundered country. The Kassam Brigades have never excluded and will not exclude from their considerations any possible option to activate resistance, liberate prisoners and subdue the criminal, thieving enemy, and as long as the Zionists occupy our lands, only death or exile await them."


The message that emerges from these two senior commanders leaves no doubt regarding Hamas's intent for the future of the State of Israel and the fate of the Jews who live there. Israel must inexorably be exterminated as a political entity and the "Zionists" must be confronted with the option of either death, in the framework of the jihad campaign Hamas is waging to liberate Islamic Palestine, or leaving Palestine in advance of such a future. In practice, Deif and Jaabari have in mind genocide to be perpetrated upon the Jews. By defining Zionists/Jews as the "enemies of the Muslim nation and mankind," they are laying the groundwork to legitimize the Jews' physical extermination.


THIS IS not the first time that senior Hamas leaders have preached genocide. Dr. Yunis al-Astal, a Hamas MP, noted on March 3, 2008, relying on citations from the Koran, that the Jews will be chastised by Allah with the punishment of burning in hell, due to their impudence toward him, their corruption, the murder of the prophets and the shedding of the blood of Muslims. According to Astal, some of the religious sages believe that the tortures of burning will take place in this world prior to the next world. In other words, Muslims are commanded to burn the Jews alive until the total extermination of the entire Jewish people.


He explains: "We are sure and certain that the burning and holocaust will be the fate of the Jews, and one of its portents was the act of personal sacrifice on Allah's behalf in the military seminary" (a shooting attack at the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva high school in Jerusalem on March 6, 2008, in which eight students were murdered).

In an interview with the newspaper Al-Hayat on November 11, Khalil al-Haya, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, was asked whether Hamas was acting to establish an Islamic emirate in Gaza. He responded: "We view Gaza as part of historic Palestinian territory...We retain our Islamic, Arab and Palestinian faith that Palestine will be returned to its inhabitants and Zionist existence will conclude. The meaning of a Palestinian state is that there will be one unified Islamic Palestinian state, and not an Islamic emirate, from the sea to the river, that will unite the Palestinians.The Jews will have no right there, save for those who lived on Palestinian land prior to World War I." (Meaning that only Jews older than 96 will be permitted to live in Islamic Palestine).


Sheikh Suleiman al-Fara, the director of the religious trusts in Khan Yunis and a senior Hamas leader, prophesied the extermination of the State of Israel in a sermon at the Katiba al-Khadra Mosque on March 23, referring to the "expulsion of the Jews and the destruction of state."

 

Not only have military and religious leaders adopted these genocidal themes, the political echelon has as well. Hamas political leaderMahmoud al-Zahar gave a strongly anti-Semitic speech on November 5, which Hamas broadcast on its Al-Aksa Television channel. He explained that historically the Jews had been "sucking the blood" of the French and the British. He then tells the Jews that "the expulsion will come, Allah willing, from Palestine, from the entire territory of Palestine."


He closed by saying that the Jews "have no place among us... and no future among the nations." Where are the Jews to go? Zahar predicts: "You are about to disappear, and we are about to emerge victorious."

The writer is a senior researcher on the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a cofounder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and a former adviser to the Policy Planning Division of the Foreign Ministry. This article first appeared on the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

THE ISRAEL RORSCHACH TEST: REAL DEMOCRACY OR BOGEYMAN?

BY GIL TROY  

 

Center Field: Too many treat Israel as a monster nation, wherein each misstep proves its illegitimacy.

 

From Israel's perspective, 2010 ended as it began, with much of the world spending far too much time obsessing about it, failing the Israel Rorschach test. Despite being a democracy, Israel, like all other collective human endeavors called countries, is imperfect. Some view its missteps in that context, understanding that liberal democracies are better than dictatorships not only because they give their citizens freedoms and dignity but because those freedoms sharpen their government's and society's self-correcting mechanisms. Too many others treat Israel as the international bogeyman, a monster nation, wherein each misstep proves its illegitimacy.

THE YEAR began with Israel still smarting from the Goldstone Report's censure of its war of selfdefense against Hamas rockets in Gaza. In many ways, it was nothing new. Only one nation is regularly censured by the UN's so-called Human Rights Council. And only one country has its right to selfdefense so scrutinized and constricted by the international community.


We did not need this year's revelations of the massive casualties that resulted from American firepower in Iraq to know that modern armies cause much damage. To be frank, given Gaza's density and volatility, it is a tribute to IDF discipline that thousands more people did not die.


Nevertheless, intelligent defenders of the real Israel were honest enough to admit that the IDF, like all armies, inevitably erred occasionally, and should learn from its mistakes. There is a reason why William Tecumseh Sherman said "war is hell" – even a century before our age of hi-tech weaponry that kills en masse, and immoral enemies who hide behind mosques and hospitals, behind the skirts of old ladies and the uniforms of schoolgirls.

But the Goldstone Report treated Israel as bogeyman, ignoring the context, minimizing the years of rocket fire it endured and the harshness of Hamas's Islamist, anti-Semitic exterminationist ideology. In fact, critics could argue that Israel failed to fulfill its basic obligation to defend its own citizens by waiting so long before attacking.

Once again, its enemies forgot that in a democracy criticism in context is often absorbed and taken seriously, but extreme, unreasonable criticism overrides a democracy's self-corrective mechanism, triggering an equally essential self-protective response.


THE YEAR ended with the stench of former president Moshe Katsav's rape and sexual harassment conviction, again proving that Israel is a real democracy – with real problems balanced by an admirable ability to confront and correct them. These episodes frequently have their ambiguities and politics does intrude. A recently released tape suggests the relationship between Katsav and his accuser "A" was more layered.


And yes, voices on the far Left again proved their hypocrisy by delighting in his conviction but laughing off the sex crimes of WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange – the documentarian Michael Moore dismissed those accusations as "a bunch of hooey," prompting Katha Pollitt of the leftist periodical The Nation to complain that "when it comes to rape, the left still doesn't get it."


Yet, the fact that Katsav was found unanimously guilty by a three-person court headed by an Arab, Judge George Kara, proved that Israel is a pluralistic democracy with rule of law, and the "boys-will-be-boys" locker room ethos of yesteryear will not pass muster today.


Nevertheless, this Christmas season brought the usual condemnations – including some egregious extremes. In uncovering too many leftists' blind spot regarding the serious charges against Assange, Pollitt discovered that the accusation that the Assange case's "Miss A" is a CIA "honey trap," came from one Israel Shamir, who also peddles anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist canards willynilly. Shamir claims Jews control the media and the banks, charging that "Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews; the world is."


Pollitt laments: "We have now produced on the Left an echo chamber like that on the far right, where the scurrilous charges of marginal fanatics are disseminated through electronic media and end up, cleansed of their original associations, as respectable opinion."


IN QUEBEC, a different manifestation of anti-Israel absurdity played, courtesy of the increasingly marginal, ridiculous BDS movement – they call it boycott, divestment, sanctions, we call it blacklist, demonization and slander. Anti-Israel activists targeted one family-owned shoe store, Le Marcheur on Montreal's fashionable St. Denis Street, for selling Israeli-made Beautifeel shoes. A member of Quebec's National Assembly, Amir Khadir, joined the protests. Uncowed, the simple store owner Yves Archambault stood up to Khadir, one of Quebec's most popular politicians, and won.


The Quebec media mocked Khadir as le fanatique, unfairly picking on a family-owned business in his own district, whose interests he is supposed to represent. Most Quebec opinion-makers dismissed Khadir's tired claim to be protesting "apartheid" as poppycock. Jewish and non-Jewish Quebecois responded with their own, informal "buycott," swarming the store, buying many more shoes, Israeli and otherwise, from the Archambault family thanks to the protesters.

 

A Rorschach test exposes the viewer more than the object. The real Israel is not a fragile state. It is a robust democracy living in a tough neighborhood, thriving on the historical stage, sometimes acting nobly, sometimes brutishly, but impressively capable of self-criticism and self-correction. Democrats can recognize their own countries' strengths and weaknesses in its reflection.


The phantom Israel is conjured up by extreme critics in an overwrought state who make wild accusations and are so blinded by hatred they ride roughshod over innocents, principles, their own obligations, their own self-interest. And they jump from criticizing particular actions to making gross generalizations about a group. We call that bigotry. And when directed against Jews, we call that anti-Semitism.


The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. giltroy@gmail.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

YALLA PEACE: THE KATSAV VERDICT AND ARAB GLOATING

BY RAY HANANIA  


In the Arab world the oppression and rape of women is not always considered an offense but a male right.

Many in the Arab and Muslim world are gloating at the news of the conviction of former president Moshe Katsav on charges of rape and sexual harassment. To them, it is proof of Israel's corruption and helps them maintain their campaign for Palestinian justice and point fingers at the country without being in the crosshairs of world opinion themselves. Clean and clear blame. Proof that Israel is bad.


The Katsav headlines, they claim, show how corrupt Israel is and how uncorrupt the Arab world is. That's far from true, of course.


The Arab world has always used Israel as a distraction for the public from its regimes' own corruption. When Saddam Hussein launched unprovoked wars or persecuted minorities and became the target of Western anger and military assault, he wrapped himself tight in the Palestinian cause. Many Arab tyrants have used Palestinian suffering similarly.


The truth is that the Katsav conviction actually shines a bright spotlight on the corruption in the Arab world, corruption that, unlike in Israel, goes unpunished in most Arab countries.


How great would it be if a court in an Arab country, or even in a Muslim country where laws are held in such alleged high esteem, were to announce the conviction of an Arab tyrant or dictator the way Israel's prosecutors have taken on Katsav? 


KATSAV WAS convicted for sex crimes, while sadly in the Arab world the oppression and rape of women is not always considered a crime, but a male right. And when women protest, they are punished and sometimes killed. There are laws to protect male abuse of women, laws dubbed "honor crimes."


The truth is the Katsav prosecution is yet another example of how Israel, despite its occupation and unfair treatment of the Palestinians, is a much more legally just nation than any other in the region.

For all the claims by those in the Arab world that the Palestinians deserve justice, there is very little real justice in their own countries.

That's not to say that there are no crimes in Israel or that the country is right in its obstinate refusal to recognize Palestine as a state without extracting ridiculously unfair and unjust concessions. But there are lessons from Israel that many in the Arab world could learn. And this is one of them.


THE REAL tragedy of the Arab-Israeli conflict is that issues of justice become political. Real crimes in our own backyard as Arabs are hidden or brushed aside as if they do not exist.


We have lost the sense of true justice, the principle that a crime is a crime regardless of how it might impact a political environment or a political conflict.

 

I wonder how many presidents or kings in Arab countries would face such accusations. My guess is the prosecutors or witnesses in such cases would be silenced. The media would not be permitted to publish such heresy. Newspapers reporting it would be shut down. Anyone in the Arab public caught repeating the charges would be jailed or worse. Instead of shining a light on the criminals in power, those crying for justice would be punished.

And that's a tragedy for civil rights in the Arab and Muslim world. Because until they can prosecute a corruption case of such similar magnitude, they cannot claim to be better than Israel.


That kind of justice is the justice that all Arabs and Muslims should strive to achieve – prosecuting anybody who violates the rule of law, regardless of who they are.


The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

TERRA INCOGNITA: BASHIR GEMAYEL'S LONG PREDICTION

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN  

 

We blame extremists, but the truth is that the murder of minorities in the Mideast is integral to the fabric of the region.

 

In 1980 Bashir Gemayel, the leader of Lebanon's Maronite Christian militia, the Lebanese Forces, provided an explanation for his militancy: "With all due respect to the people concerned, we refuse to be put on a par with the Copts of Egypt, or the Christians of certain Arab countries."


Today Gemayel is remembered by many Christian Lebanese, especially those who live abroad, as a patriot and romantic icon of his people. Others recall his name only because his assassination in 1982, after having been elected president of Lebanon, provoked the Sabra and Shatilla massacres.


The Gemayels are an important Lebanese political family. Bashir's father Sheikh Pierre Gemayel was the founder of the Phalange party, and his brother Amin served as president of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988. Amin's son, also Pierre, was assassinated in 2006. Amin was in the news again on January 3, when he reacted angrily to the murder of Christians on New Year's Eve in Alexandria, Egypt: "Massacres are taking place for no reason and without any justification against Christians. It is only because they are Christians."


He was referring not only the attacks in Egypt that left 21 dead, but also recent attacks in Iraq. In October, 2010 Islamic terrorists burst into the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. A subsequent rescue operation left 53 Christians dead. The Christian community suffered more attacks just after Christmas when bombs were detonated in a Baghdad Christian neighborhood. Three days later a Christian woman was shot in her sleep during another attack.


In Egypt the Copts have become increasingly enraged by the terror directed at them. The New Year's massacre outside the al-Qiddissin church has resulted in days of rioting. Egyptian Copts know that it is Islamists who are to blame. One declared, "A lot of us think that this is a plan to make Christians go away from Egypt. The planner is al-Qaida."


They also blame the government for a lack of security. The riots come after tensions flared in November in Cairo's Giza district over the building of a church. Egypt throws up numerous obstacles to the construction of new churches and when a recent construction project was banned by the government, riots resulted.

In other places, attacks on Christians were reported over the holidays. In Nigeria, a number of bombs were set off, one near a church in the city of Jos. It was reported by the Times of India that "the state police commissioner Abdulrahman Akano blamed the bombing and clashes on the political elite and maintained that they were not religious or ethnic in nature."


This story, of attacks on Christians, particularly on their holidays, and excuses about their nature is typical throughout the Middle East and Africa. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has claimed the bombing was made by "foreign hands."


What is interesting is that little has changed over time. When Bat Ye'or penned Islam and Dhimmitude in 2002, she included a quote from Fehmi Hilal, who described "a peaceful war of extermination, which aims to kill one member after another of the body of Christians, so that the suffering be not severe and the cries not heard."

Even in 2002 it was the same story of Muslims and Christians uniting after the attacks to confront the mysterious nebulous extremism. We see the same calls today for uniting in the face of extremism in Nigeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt.


ONE PLACE that there is less uniting and more marked extermination is in southern Sudan, set to go to the polls on Sunday to vote on secession. South Sudan, which is dominated by Christians and pagans, fought two civil wars to obtain the right to leave Sudan, whose central government has generally been controlled by Muslim Arabs since independence in 1956. Millions died in these savage conflicts but with the poll on January 9 this hitherto minority group may obtain the independence that Gemayel once desired for his Maronites in Lebanon.

It is an autonomy that other Christian groups in the region have suffered heinously for desiring.


Armenians demanded rights from Ottoman Turkey and in 1915 that resulted in a genocide and the their complete ethnic-cleansing from Turkey. The same thing befell the Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Turkey between 1915 and 1932 and the Greeks of Turkey in 1920. Greek Cypriots were cleansed from northern Cyprus in 1974. Recent revelations have brought to light the terrible crimes inflicted on the Serbian Orthodox community in Croatia's Krajina and in Kosovo at the hands Croatian Catholic and Kosovar Muslim militias.

In our own backyard, attacks on Christians are less common but equally heinous. In Gaza it has become unbearable. One recent article inHaaretz relates the story of one Christian: "When his wife and daughter go out on the street, they are subject to stares and sometimes even verbal abuse; Muslim men yell at them to cover their hair."


In 2008 a bomb was set off outside the Rosary Sisters school and last year Rami Ayad, a Christian, was kidnapped and murdered.


We tend to take the attacks in stride. A murder here, a bombing there, soon forgotten. We blame extremists because we don't want to label whole countries intolerant. But all that obscures the reality. The murder of minorities, carried out by the extremists, is integral to the fabric of the region.


It is the region's tragedy.


The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

LEVERAGING CHINA'S LACK OF KNOWLEDGE ABOUT ISRAEL

BY LAURA KAM  

 

Because its interests in the region are relatively new, and this country is still largely a blank slate to most Chinese, there is a real opportunity to make an impact on how it views us and the wider Mideast.

 

Israel and China are largely comprised of two ancient peoples confronting the challenges of a world changing at a dizzying pace, especially in finance.


While Israel's diplomatic energies are mostly directed westward, particularly toward the US, its economic initiatives are increasingly moving eastward, especially to China – as they should. By the end of 2010, bilateral trade between the two countries would have more than doubled, to $10 billion, in just three years.


The importance of China to this country's growth and security cannot be overstated.


China has the world's second-largest and fastest-growing economy, and the largest population. It is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Its government has an active interest in the Middle East, primarily because of its massive reliance on oil from Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, but also because of its growing markets. At the same time, it is drawn to Israel's innovative industries – particularly in green technology – and pioneering hi-tech sector.


Yet the Chinese people have demonstrated relatively little interest in or knowledge about Israel the country. Fortunately, they do not have a history of anti-Semitism, and have long welcomed Jews fleeing persecution, such as in the 1800s and after World War II. The Chinese greatly admire Jews, and in a stereotypical, albeit positive, way, link accomplished Jewish personalities such as Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger to the Jewish people as a whole.


Newsweek's December 29 issue featured an article describing the "affection for Jewishness" in China leading to the publication of "books purporting to reveal the business secrets of the Talmud."


During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, President Shimon Peres was one of only eight world leaders selected to speak with President Hu Jintao.

 

Business relationships with China are expanding, fostered by a series of trade agreements starting in 1995. Since promising to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 2005-2020, China has been exploring green technology ventures, and Israel's innovations in the field have become attractive to Chinese companies, which have been investing in and collaborating with start-up companies.


As a result, bilateral trade exceeded $4 billion in 2007 and was expected to grow to $10 billion by the end of 2010.

China has even greater business interests in Iran, however, particularly in its energy sector. Bilateral trade was worth $21 billion in 2009 – a whopping increase from $10 billion in 2005.

 

ISRAEL SUPPORTERS must seriously address these dual, at times contradictory, components of China's Middle East activities to advance Israel's security and well-being.

These various factors led The Israel Project to conduct its first focus groups of educated opinion elites in Shanghai in June 2010, led by pollster Dr. Stanley Greenberg.


Initial findings indicate an awareness of and admiration for Israel's strengths in technology, finance and military. Israel supporters should leverage these attitudes by pointing out the benefits of a strengthened relationship, focusing on security, technology and information-sharing. We should also employ various modes of communication with its leaders.


While the eastward shift of the global economic balance of power – China's economy could overtake the US by as early as 2020 – makes continued expansion of economic relations essential, it is Beijing's political power that is the most critical factor affecting our security needs.


As a permanent Security Council member, China can veto resolutions. Yet it has to act responsibly. Thus, while China ultimately voted in favor of the fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran (its third-largest source of petroleum), it only supported relatively weak measures to keep Iranian oil flowing. It did not want to risk tougher sanctions that might force Iran to shut down its oil exports. However, China may not have given serious enough consideration to the strong possibility that the risk of energy disruption would actually increase without strong sanctions, as military conflicts in the region become more likely.


Many dichotomies and inherent contradictions are at play. All affect Israel.


Because China's interests in the Middle East are relatively recent, and Israel is still largely a blank slate to most Chinese, we have a real opportunity to make a significant impact on its decision-making and views concerning us and the wider Middle East. A deeper understanding of Israel and the context of its actions will lead to policies that will make us more secure and enhance prospects for closer bilateral relations.


This opportunity will not last long. The pro-Israel community must enhance our approaches to and ties with China now.


The writer is executive director for global affairs for The Israel Project, a nonprofit, educational organization that gets press, leaders and the public facts about Israel and the Middle East.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

A FAIR COMPROMISE

 

We are now waiting for the government to act quickly on the Sheshinski Committee's recommendations, and for expedited Knesset legislation.

 

After long months of arguments and battles, the Sheshinski Committee yesterday released its final report regarding gas royalties. Throughout these months, the gas exploration companies opposed any change in royalties that are to be paid to the state for gas that has already been discovered. They claimed that at play here is a long-standing contract with the state that needs to be honored, particularly in view of the fact that they took great risks at a time when nobody was willing to deal with such risks.

 

Opposing this view, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz argued that the royalty rates for the finding of gas and oil should be raised, even with regard to pre-existing contracts, because "royalty levels in Israel are significantly lower than those of other countries," and because the state is entitled to change its taxation policy, even retroactively.

 

This is indeed a complex issue that involves the honoring of agreements, encouragement of foreign investments, business security and fair distribution of natural resources between entrepreneurs and citizens. Thus, the Sheshinski Committee's undertaking was not simple.

 

The committee's interim conclusions, released about two months ago, stipulated that the state's share of royalties should double, to 60%-70%, and no significant discounts will be given to drilling projects where gas has already been found, such as Tamar.

 

The gas companies responded by presenting data to reinforce their argument that the committee's recommendations were excessive, particularly with regard to existing drilling projects. The committee considered these claims and reached a just compromise: It reduced the state's share to 52%-62% and provided some sweeteners to Tamar, both in the name of legal-economic justice and to ensure that gas will start to flow in 2013.

 

The result is a positive one. Under the new arrangement, Israeli citizens will receive a significant share of gas revenues, as is accepted around the world, but the entrepreneurs can also make respectable profits, ones that make it worth their while to continue to drill. Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer has summarized the situation aptly: "These are recommendations that strike a balance between the state's needs and the risks and costs incurred by entrepreneurs."

 

We are now waiting for the government to act quickly on the Sheshinski Committee's recommendations, and for expedited Knesset legislation, in order for this argument to end, for uncertainty to be lifted, and for investments and discoveries to continue in this sphere.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

IT'S BARAK'S FAULT

BARAK'S ENTHUSIASTIC COLLABORATION ONLY HELPS THE GOVERNMENT INTENSIFY ITS DESTRUCTIVE DOINGS, WHICH ARE CREATING A PERHAPS IRREVERSIBLE REALITY.

BY AVIRAMA GOLAN

 

It took the Americans some time, but in the end they realized that Ehud Barak is fooling them. They could have asked us. The moment it became clear that the weakened Labor Party could serve as a springboard, he took the leap with his circle of sanctimonious followers and joined the government; and we knew that no force on heaven or earth would move him from his portfolio.

 

What the U.S. government has learned is important, but more significant is the catastrophe Barak has brought to Israel. The moment he relinquished any idea of creating a left-wing opposition and joined an extremist right-wing government, he provided no-fault protection to Avigdor Lieberman's incitement, Eli Yishai's racism, and Benjamin Netanyahu's and the inner cabinet's intransigent opposition to peacemaking.

 

Last week, he outdid himself. "A dangerous wave of racist incitement," he said (belatedly ) as a response to the rabbis' letter, as though he were a sociologist looking at the subject from a detached viewpoint. Yet the world view of Shmuel Eliyahu, Yitzhak Shapira (who is currently distributing in the IDF inciting flyers calling on soldiers to show no mercy to their enemies ), and others is nothing new. The new twist is the backing given to the incitement and extremism of such figures by the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government.

 

What, exactly, distinguished the rabbis' letter and the government's utterances? The most conspicuous figures are Lieberman and Yishai, but Netanyahu, in an inciting speech against foreign refugees and workers, kept pace with these two; so, too, has Yaakov Neeman, who condones the way the Orthodox establishment is dragging citizens (particularly female ones ) to an unprecedented nadir, and is also making a huge effort to destroy the legal system. Other ministers are doing the same, each in his or her own sphere.

 

Barak cannot claim that he is unaware of this decline. He excused his joining the government by arguing that he would make it more moderate, but his enthusiastic collaboration only helps it intensify its destructive doings, which are creating a perhaps irreversible reality.

 

That a leader will arise here with the ability to change things is unlikely. The prospects of this happening dwindle as a result of the general ideological malaise, and the Knesset's moral decline. This reality has a well-known name, but the term engenders semantic discussions that skirt the substantive point. How can you make such a comparison - people shout the moment someone dares to depict happenings here as being fascistic; hatred of Arabs and immigrants derives from existential fear, and we are unlike the Germans, the Italians, the South Africans, the Iranians and the Greek junta.

 

So the comparison is unnecessary - reality suffices. Since the reality is hard to digest, circles that are considered liberal keep searching for pills to sweeten it. There is, for instance, the belief that Lieberman is the root of the evil, and that if he were to vanish, so too would the problem. That is an unfounded theory. Lieberman might be the first to accumulate power with the help of slogans that were once taboo, but he would not have succeeded in doing so were circumstances not ripe.

 

Right-wing governments have continually weakened Israel's social fabric and civil structure. The collapse of the public system, which was especially manifest during the Second Lebanon War and the Carmel fire but also finds expression every day in education, health and welfare (all spheres that are flourishing in the settlements and eroding within the Green Line ) has created a chaotic vacuum that is readily manipulated.

 

Meanwhile, politicians cultivate the impasse in peace talks, along with the undisturbed perpetuation of the occupation, and dangerous rumors of impending economic prosperity. Good times are to come! Look at how much natural gas there is in the sea! Who needs peace? Who cares about what the world thinks?

These developments, including the replacement of the last surviving vestiges of social solidarity by isolationist racism, may not be identical to other historical phenomena, but it is made of the "right stuff." Recently a fine translation of an article by American political scientist Lawrence Britt describing the 14 defining characteristics of fascist regimes surfaced on the Internet. Readers are invited to view Israel's reality in their light.

 

This is the process, and no single person leads it. Even were Lieberman to be sent to exile in Siberia, replacements would arise from all parties, and sound the same grating, ominous voice. Under such a reality, the imperative of finding an alternative is a matter of life or death. The keys to such an alternative are in Ehud Barak's hands; the problem is that Barak, an impostor who claimed to be Yitzhak Rabin's heir, has tricked everyone. In a well thought-out fashion he has helped the ugliest wave in the country's history turn into a tidal wave, and threaten its existence.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

GAMBLING ON DAMASCUS

THE DEFENSE ESTABLISHMENT FAVORS REVIVING THE SYRIAN TRACK AS THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY OF BREAKING OUT OF ISOLATION AND EASING ISRAEL'S STRATEGIC DIFFICULTIES.

BY ALUF BENN

 

Negotiations with the Palestinians are stuck, international pressure on Israel is growing and Labor is threatening to leave the government - who can save us in our time of need? As always, our friend in Damascus.

 

Signs of life on the Syrian track intensify every time the Israeli prime minister is in trouble. Peace with Syria has yet to come, but diplomats and journalists have something to occupy them, and Ehud Barak who, 11 years ago this week was deterred at the moment of truth from a deal with the Syrians, can continue justifying his place in the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

The Channel 10 report about Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein's trip to Damascus ignited speculation. Is this a rerun of the mediation runs between Jerusalem and Damascus conducted by Ron Lauder, Netanyahu's confidant, during the prime minister's previous term? Or is this merely a "humanitarian mission" in the words of Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations? Should we hurry and make a farewell visit to the Golan, or can we wait until the spring?

 

The package is no less important than what it contains. Hoenlein is not the head of Peace Now, or J Street, but a man of the right wing, and one of the leaders of the Jewish establishment in the United States.

 

If Bashar Assad found time for him, it means that he wants to pass a message to the Jewish community in the U.S., to the U.S. administration and to Israel, albeit in his own way. It is hard to imagine that Hoenlein would have gone to Damascus without an okay from the Prime Minister's Bureau in Jerusalem.

 

Herein lies the proof that Netanyahu is no Golda Meir: she blocked the Jewish leader Nahum Goldman from traveling to Cairo, and Netanyahu is sending Hoenlein to Damascus.

 

During the week in which he met with Hoenlein, Assad hosted in his palace the Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, who murdered the Haran family in Nahariya, and who was released from Israeli prison about two years ago. Kuntar gave the Syrian President his memoir, and the two praised the "resistance as a means for restoring the rights of Arabs."

 

This is how Bashar is: everyone's friend, of Hoenlein, of Kuntar, or Netanyahu and Nasrallah. All they have to do is show up.

 

Assad appears as the most successful diplomat in the Middle East. His patience and caution have paid off: everyone, from East and West, from Europe and Turkey, from Iran and China, are now wooing Syria. When the future of other regimes in the region is uncertain, ahead of the American withdrawal from Iraq, and leadership changes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Assad is marketing his country as an island of stability, a secular dictatorship with a young leader.

 

Before the publication of the findings of the investigation into the Harriri assassination, he leveraged in his favor concerns that Lebanon may disintegrate.

 

In return for his promise that calm will reign, he collected in advance an official visit to Paris and a new U.S. ambassador in Damascus. The secularism and Western outlook was bolstered with the opening of a new casino in his capital. It will be a future attraction for Israelis, along with the markets and the hummus.

 

The Lonely Planet 2011 travel guide, which praised the joys of Tel Aviv, also recommends a visit to Syria. In the section on little known facts, it is mentioned that the first Syrian astronaut was sent to space in 1987, a lot before Israel's Ilan Ramon. It also mentions that Asma Assad, the President's wife, has a Facebook page, even though the social network is banned in Syria.

 

I checked it out: Asma has over 80,000 fans, and her message of secularization is clear in the photographs of her bare arms and short skirts, and with her meetings with T-shirt clad female students. I signed up as a fan.

 

Two weeks ago, Asma Assad told Paris Match magazine, "Peace is the only solution, but we have no partner for peace." Her statement summarizes the campaign that Damascus is currently running in an effort to show that the road to Washington does not necessarily pass through Jerusalem.

 

In Assad's view, Israel is currently being ruled by Netanyahu the peace refusenick, and he can be bypassed. Meanwhile the maneuver is quite successful: Syria is being gradually extricated from its isolation and Israel is tied up in the corner.

 

The defense establishment favors reviving the Syrian track as the most effective way of breaking out of isolation and easing Israel's strategic difficulties. Netanyahu insists on not conceding the Golan Heights from the start, which is what the Syrians are demanding. Will he reevaluate his position - to keep Barak in his government and weaken the Palestinians - by going to play at Assad's roulette wheel?

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

TODAY AN ORCHESTRA, TOMORROW A STATE

BY APPEARING IN ISRAEL, THE PALESTINE NATIONAL ORCHESTRA DECLARED THAT BOUNDARIES HAD BEEN ERASED.

BY NOAM BEN ZEEV

 

On the night of May 7, 2004, silence reigned in the small, old auditorium of the Friends School in El Bireh. Daniel Barenboim, one of the greatest conductors of his generation, was about to raise his baton before the newly minted Palestine Youth Orchestra. Before the first chord was struck there was a sense of historic import - and the memory of a similar defining moment came to mind.

 

Seven decades earlier, in 1936, people in Tel Aviv - another remote town in the midst of national self-identification, and aspiring to independence - fixed their gaze on the greatest conductor of the day, Arturo Toscanini, as he raised his baton over an orchestra on its maiden performance: the Palestine Orchestra, now called the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

 

Than, as now, in Tel Aviv and El Bireh, there was a significance beyond the musical: Both concerts were a declaration of musical-artistic-cultural independence. A pre-independence independence.

 

Under the slogan "Today an orchestra, tomorrow a state," to emphasize the link between a people's music and independence, the adult orchestra is now giving a concert. Last weekend, six years after the youth orchestra struck its pioneering chord, the Palestine National Orchestra gave its debut concert, showing excellent skills at the Ramallah Cultural Palace's new, well-appointed concert hall.

 

From the long way that Palestinian music has come in the past six years (with the establishment of conservatories, ensembles, festivals and more ), and from the meteoric musical development both in the occupied territories and within Israel, one can infer the presence of deep political and social processes, reflected by the music.

 

It was the same in 19th-century Europe, when there was a strong link between the music and the swirling currents of nationalism. Nations fighting to cast off the yoke of imperialism fought equally hard to define their music so as not to conform with the German Romantic-Classical mainstream conventions. In a piece on the PNO's program by contemporary Palestinian composer Salvador Arnita, once the organist of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one finds echoes of the works of the Czech composer Dvorak, the Finnish Sibelius, the Spanish composer Albeniz - and even pre-state Israel's Alexander Uriah Boscovich and Eden Partosh.

 

In the sounds it created the orchestra embodied the motto "Today an orchestra, tomorrow a state," as did its soloists and 40-plus members, some of whose names appeared in the program: First chair violin Nabih Boulos and second chair Jenna Barghouti; Nasseem Al Atrash on cello and Mohammmed Nijem playing first clarinet; Iyad Hafez, Khissab Khaled and Samir Qassis on bassoon, French horn and trumpet, respectively; and the soloist Mariam Tamari, who sang Mozart with virtuosity and lucid musicality.

 

And as if to emphasize the longing for nationhood, the Palestine National Orchestra performed in Haifa, too. The managers and ushers of the Krieger center cannot recall an event like the one that took place there on Sunday, with a real, mature symphony orchestra of Palestinian musicians who came from the territories and from the diaspora, even Syria. By appearing in Israel, they declared that boundaries had been erased. Now, as in the past, music is ahead of its time. All you need to do to hear its prophecy is to listen.

HAARETZ

OPINION

THE RACE FOR GAS AND RACE

THE DISCOVERY OF A STORE OF NATURAL GAS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA IS LIKELY TO HAVE SIGNIFICANT IMPLICATIONS FOR ISRAEL.

BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY

 

It is very possible that Israel is on its way to becoming Saudi Arabia or Iran.

 

The discovery of a store of natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea is likely to have significant implications for Israel. Two days before the discovery was reported, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - that hidden righteous one of the radical right - had already given a sign indicating the new concept. In an interview with Channel 10, Netanyahu wondered aloud why he was being bothered by such trivial matters as the chances for peace, when Israel under his leadership was becoming an economic superpower. Following reportage of the major discovery, people on the right now feel they can go even further.

 

Even before the gas was found, the prime minister was perceived as having cunningly clipped the wings of U.S. President Barack Obama, transforming him from a winged horse that could leap from Mecca to Jerusalem into a Democratic mule limping on his thigh. Now, with God's gift of gas to his obstinate people, it is possible to move in the opposite direction: from Jerusalem to Saudi Arabia.

 

And the "gentiles"? They wouldn't dare fly in the face of the racist superpower with its incipient natural gas.

 

Israel seems to have two options to choose from: One is to be like Saudi Arabia, which has a religious and racist domestic regime that subsidizes messianists and government corruption and which maintains a foreign policy perceived as pragmatic; the second possibility, to resemble Iran, is more likely, as domestically it's regime is similar to Saudi Arabia's, while it maintains a more aggressive and adversarial foreign policy.

 

That either of these possibilities is on its way is underscored by the impending "balance of terror" - of the messianist-racist-nuclear variety - between Jerusalem and Tehran. Terror from abroad can easily penetrate a society. This is how J. Edgar Hoover initially used the American-Soviet balance of terror to instill cunning aggressiveness outwardly, accompanied by a domestic witch hunt that sought out "traitors" and "foreigners" (with the help of emissaries like Senator Joseph McCarthy ).

 

But history is not a determinist process. Salvation that rises from the depths is not necessarily the best alternative, but the severity of our circumstances helps focus the mind like nothing else. It provides the individual and the society with an opportunity to fundamentally change habits that have become entrenched within them and seem impossible to transform. In the case of the current chasm over which we are poised, we have a three-dimensional opportunity.

 

First, like the heart cathaterization that is a smoker's last warning, the recent letter issued by the wives of rabbis who are subsidized by the Netanyahu government illustrates how growing extremism can generate fundamental change. The fact that the subsidized Jewish establishment dares to use the same rhetoric as Der Sturmer - about "the daughters of kings" of the superior race, who are seduced by impostors from the inferior race - clarifies the depth of the chasm in Israel.

 

We cannot make do with dismissing the inciters from their posts, putting them on trial and halting subsidies to the messianist hothouse that's taken control of the country's religious education and, through it, threatens to take over all of Israel. A more basic repair is needed. The wives of the rabbis draw their strength from the laws of the state, which do not permit the "interracial" marriage of Jews and non-Jews inside Israel. This can serve as an opportunity to change marriage laws in order to educate society about the importance of freedom of marriage for all, regardless of their religion, race or gender.

 

Second, although Israel might be able to survive in the image of Saudi Arabia or Iran, this is not a certainty. The concern felt by most Israelis - that the balance of terror between two messianist powers cannot persist - can be used as a useful political tool in the hands of worthy leaders. Such a leadership would make clear that the unequivocal choice is between a country that is inherently democratic and a dictatorship based on race that is run by a criminal and corrupt leadership that threatens life in Israel.

 

Third, and most important of all, even if we assume that Israel can survive along a Saudi or Iranian model, most voters do not want such a life. If they rise up now and join forces with a worthy leadership, they can write a different ending to the recurring story about those who came from the terrors of race and gas to the golden shores of the Mediterranean.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

POMP, AND LITTLE CIRCUMSTANCE

 

A theatrical production of unusual pomposity will open on Wednesday when Republicans assume control of the House for the 112th Congress. A rule will be passed requiring that every bill cite its basis in the Constitution. A bill will be introduced to repeal the health care law. On Thursday, the Constitution will be read aloud in the House chamber. And in one particularly self-important flourish, the new speaker, John Boehner, arranged to have his office staff "sworn in" on Tuesday by the chief justice of the United States.

 

Those who had hoped to see a glimpse of the much-advertised Republican plan to revive the economy and put Americans back to work will have to wait at least until party leaders finish their Beltway insider ritual of self-glorification. Then, they may find time for governing.

 

The empty gestures are officially intended to set a new tone in Washington, to demonstrate — presumably to the Republicans' Tea Party supporters — that things are about to be done very differently. But it is far from clear what message is being sent by, for instance, reading aloud the nation's foundational document. Is this group of Republicans really trying to suggest that they care more deeply about the Constitution than anyone else and will follow it more closely?

 

In any case, it is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that they alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation. Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person.

 

There is a similar air of vacuous fundamentalism in requiring that every bill cite the Constitutional power given to Congress to enact it. The new House leadership says this is necessary because the health care law and other measures that Republicans do not like have veered from the Constitution. But it is the judiciary that ultimately decides when a law is unconstitutional, not the transitory occupant of the speaker's chair.

 

All of this, though, is simply eyewash — the equivalent of a flag-draped background to a speech — compared with the actual legislation the Republicans plan to pass. And though much of that has no possibility of being enacted, it does suggest the depth of the struggle to come. The bill tauntingly titled the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act" has nothing to do with increasing employment and will never reach the Senate floor, but shows that the leadership is willing to threaten the hard-fought access to health care for millions of the uninsured, just to make a political point.

 

On budgetary issues, the House Republicans' new rules bypass the chamber and even their own Budget Committee to give all power to set spending levels to the committee's new chairman, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. It is hard to imagine how long such an aggrandizement of power will last in a contentious body like the House. The plans by Mr. Ryan and his colleagues to simply cut all spending back to 2008 levels also have no chance of being enacted.

 

The one good thing about these meaningless rules and bills is that they finally seem to be prodding House Democrats into standing up for their own programs as they enter the minority. Democrats have begun to remind Americans of what is at stake in repealing health care: popular provisions like the elimination of lifetime coverage limits, insurance under parents' policies up to age 26, and coverage for pre-existing conditions.

 

The Republicans' antics are a ghastly waste of time at a moment when the nation is expecting real leadership from Congress, and suggest that the new House leadership is still unable to make tough choices. Voters, no less than drama critics, prefer substance to overblown theatrics.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A BRAVE MAN KILLED

 

Some twisted person has created a Facebook page in support of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the bodyguard accused of assassinating Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province. Mr. Taseer was a brave man who had called for the repeal of Pakistan's outrageous anti-blasphemy law.

 

Whoever killed Mr. Taseer must be condemned and repudiated, not extolled. Otherwise, Pakistan will certainly continue on a downward spiral in which intolerance and self-destruction triumph.

 

The governor's death is a tragedy not just for Pakistan but for all who understand that just and stable societies need honest debate and full respect for minorities. Pakistan cannot afford to lose any fair-minded leaders, especially at a time when it is struggling with a virulent insurgency, an unraveling economy and an unraveling central government.

 

Mr. Taseer — a longtime ally of President Asif Ali Zardari and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007 — was Pakistan's most prominent defender of the rights of women and minorities. He had pressed hard for repeal of the blasphemy law, which imposes a mandatory death sentence on anyone convicted of insulting Islam.

 

The law is popular with the Muslim majority but is routinely manipulated to settle personal rivalries and persecute minorities. And Mr. Taseer had been particularly outspoken, calling for leniency for a Christian mother of four who was sentenced to death under the law, in a case that stemmed from a dispute in her village.

 

Pakistani officials, who have the bodyguard in custody, say he killed Mr. Taseer because of the governor's opposition to the blasphemy law. But there are far too many unanswered questions: Did the suspect act alone? Why did the Punjab police assign a religious conservative to protect Mr. Taseer? News reports first said nine bullets were fired into Mr. Taseer, and hospital officials later said he was hit 24 times. Yet other members of the security detail did not shoot to stop Mr. Qadri, who surrendered with his hands up.

 

Pakistani authorities need to investigate thoroughly and share their full findings with the Pakistani people.

 

The United States and the international community must make clear their outrage over this killing. So must every Pakistani. The country's political leaders and the Pakistani media also need to consider whether the way they have shaped the debate on the blasphemy law — some have argued that mentioning reform is blasphemy punishable by death — is further fueling conflict.

 

Ultimately, only Pakistanis can save their nation, and they must answer the more profound questions: Do they want a country in which Muslims and non-Muslims can peacefully co-exist? Or one in which religious zealots, espousing the most intolerant interpretation of Islam, kill anyone brave enough to defend the defenseless? That would be the true blasphemy.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THERE HE GOES AGAIN

 

Justice Antonin Scalia has a knack for drawing unflattering light to himself and the Supreme Court. Recall, for example, when he refused to recuse himself from a case involving the energy task force run by Dick Cheney, his friend and duck-hunting companion, when Mr. Cheney was vice president.

 

Justice Scalia is now getting attention for his outlandish view, expressed in an interview in the magazine California Lawyer, that the promise of equal protection in the Constitution's 14th Amendment does not extend to protecting women against sex discrimination. Legislatures may outlaw sex discrimination, Justice Scalia suggested, but if they decided to enact laws sanctioning such unfair treatment, it would not be unconstitutional.

 

This is not the first time Justice Scalia has espoused this notion, and it generally tracks his jurisprudence in the area. Still, for a sitting member of the nation's highest court to be pressing such an antiquated view of women's rights is jarring, to say the least.

 

No less dismaying is his notion that women, gays and other emerging minorities should be left at the mercy of the prevailing political majority when it comes to ensuring fair treatment. It is an "originalist" approach wholly antithetical to the framers' understanding that vital questions of people's rights should not be left solely to the political process. It also disrespects the wording of the Equal Protection Clause, which is intentionally broad, and its purpose of ensuring a fairer society.

 

Fortunately, Justice Scalia's views on women are not the law of the land.

 

In a slew of rulings since 1971, often with conservative justices in the majority, the Supreme Court has consistently rejected Justice Scalia's constricted view of what the Constitution requires. It would be nice if he underscored that fact the next time he spoke out on the subject.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A NEW, SAFER LIFE

 

Manaf Hashim did not know who was threatening to kill him in the note left on the front door of his Baghdad home or in a message left on his cellphone two days later. He suspected he was being targeted because his fiancée, Farah, was Sunni, and he was Shia. He knew only that it was best to heed such warnings.

 

This was the fall of 2006, and Mr. Hashim, then 23 and a third-year physics student at Baghdad University, had to think fast. He fled to Jordan, then applied for a visa to the United States through a program for Iraqi refugees. In September 2009, he arrived in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "I felt happy," he said. "I felt a safe feeling."

 

Among the first people Mr. Hashim met were caseworkers from Catholic Charities, one of seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. They helped him enroll in English classes, apply for a driver's license, and find a full-time job as a cashier. When he briefly fell behind on rent, a caseworker drew $450 from the fund to cover the shortfall.

 

When he is not working the graveyard shift or caring for a disabled brother who lives with him, Mr. Hashim is often writing to Farah, whom he hopes to bring here and marry.

 

"I want to give her a new life, too," he said.

 

All donations made to The Times's Neediest Cases Fund go to one of seven charities: the Children's Aid Society; Brooklyn Community Services; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York; Catholic Charities, Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens; the Community Service Society of New York; the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies; and UJA-Federation of New York.

 

To help, please send a check to: The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, 4 Chase Metrotech Center, 7th Floor East, Lockbox 5193, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11245. You may also call (800) 381-0075 and use a credit card, or you may donate at: www.nycharities.org/neediest.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

BY WILLIAM D. COHAN

 

Can Goldman Sachs, the profit-seeking missile of high finance, really make money by investing $450 million in Facebook, at a vertigo-inducing price that values the social-networking company at $50 billion?

 

On first blush, the answer would appear to be no. After all, in May 2009, the company was valued at $10 billion. Last August, Facebook was valued at $27 billion and now it's $50 billion — for a company with a reported $2 billion in revenue and negligible profits. If General Electric, with 2010 revenue of around $150 billion, traded at a similar multiple of revenue, it would be worth $3.75 trillion instead of $200 billion. Facebook is now considered to be worth more than Time Warner, DuPont and Goldman's rival Morgan Stanley.

 

Just last week, Facebook's shares were said to be trading on a private-market exchange at a valuation of $42.4 billion. Thanks to Goldman's imprimatur, Facebook's value increased 20 percent virtually overnight. Can Goldman really expect to squeeze more water from this stone?

 

Sadly, yes.

 

To understand why, we have to go to the heart of the many problems in the way the Wall Street cartel does business, despite the promised reforms of the Dodd-Frank law. With Goldman's investment in Facebook, we have a front-row seat to the process by which Wall Street creates and inflates financial bubbles.

 

This bout of hysteria involves not only Facebook but other Internet companies including Twitter, the gaming site Zynga, the social buying site Groupon and LinkedIn, another social networking site. The valuation of these companies has soared in the past two years, leading some to worry that the American people bailed out Wall Street so that we could relive the Internet Bubble of 1999.

 

Despite the high price of its investment, Goldman sees in Facebook a business bonanza, a nearly perfect nugget of investment-banking opportunities. First, Goldman's cost of capital is close to zero — as a bank holding company, it can borrow from the Federal Reserve at negligible interest rates — so any capital gain it makes on its venture in Facebook will be sheer profit. Second, Goldman has almost certainly locked up the role of lead manager of the inevitable Facebook initial public offering.

 

Fees for underwriting public offerings are generally about 7 percent of the value of the stock sold. Facebook could easily sell $2 billion of stock or more, generating fees to Goldman and the other underwriters of at least $140 million. The other benefit for Goldman in leading the public offering — aside from major bragging rights — is that it can use its marketing, sales and distribution muscle to make sure the value of Facebook at the time of the offering exceeds the $50 billion valuation at which Goldman invested.

 

Goldman has also won from Facebook the right to offer an additional $1.5 billion of the company's stock to its private-wealth clients. According to The Times, Goldman will be creating a "special purpose vehicle" to sell the stock to its wealthy clients and then will charge them a 4 percent initial fee plus 5 percent of any profits. While on paper it seems that these high rollers would be foolish to invest in Facebook at such a lofty valuation, they will still most certainly feel increased loyalty to Goldman for making such an exclusive opportunity available to them. On top of it all, there is the increased likelihood that Goldman will get to manage a good portion of the $12 billion fortune belonging to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, for yet more fees.

 

If Goldman does take all these roles at once — investor, salesman, money manager, I.P.O. underwriter — it would certainly raise the ugly specter of conflicts of interest. But probably not to Goldman executives, who have always prided themselves on being able to "manage" through such situations. (In fairness, there's likely no investment-banking firm on the planet that would not eagerly take Goldman's place in this scheme, if offered the chance.)

 

Even though Facebook is reported to have little need for Goldman's money, having Goldman validate

Facebook's exponential increase in value gives Mr. Zuckerberg the ultimate Silicon Valley street cred, far more than he got from having Hollywood make a movie about him or from becoming the youngest billionaire on the planet.

 

With all these winners, who will the losers be? The average investor, of course, who will get left holding the bag when, someday, Wall Street realizes the firm's financial performance doesn't live up to its hyped valuation.

 

This column appeared in print on January 5, 2011.

 

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US TODAY

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

USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

5 QUESTIONS FOR 112TH CONGRESS

 

The 112th Congress begins today with Republicans reclaiming power in the House of Representatives and Democrats retaining control of the Senate. It also comes at a time of historically low congressional ratings— 13% approval in a Gallup Poll last month. Here are five questions to test the new Congress' performance:

 

1) If not ObamaCare, what?

 

As one of their first orders of business,Republican leaders plan a House vote next week to repeal the health reform law passed by Democrats last year. Beyond making good on campaign promises to try to kill "ObamaCare," it's hard to see the point. Repeal is a virtual lock to pass the newly conservative House, but it will just as certainly stall in the Senate or face a veto by President Obama. Republicans talk about their "repeal and replace" campaign, but so far they've been long on "repeal" and way too short on "replace."

 

During the long health reform debate, House Republicans, led by incoming Speaker John Boehner, offered an inadequate alternative that would have extended insurance to only 3 million more Americans, a tenth of the 30 million the new law would cover. Senate Republicans never offered a comprehensive plan of their own.

 

That's not to say the Republicans are devoid of ideas or that ObamaCare is a miracle cure. The law does little to restrain runaway medical costs —the central dilemma in health care —and the GOP has rightly pushed malpractice reform, which would help rein in excessive jury awards and the defensive medicine they engender. Democrats rejected this modest but common-sense step.

 

Also worth considering are bipartisan fixes, such as the proposal by Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to move up the date when states can get exemptions from parts of the law if they can achieve equal, affordable coverage in another way.

 

What's important to remember, though, is that whatever flaws the new law has, repeal would return the nation to an unacceptable status quo: Too many Americans can't get or can't afford medical coverage, and too many who do get it find it taken away when they get seriously ill or lose their jobs.

 

This is the reality Obama and the Democrats sought, imperfectly, to change. Rather than refighting old battles or trying to defund pieces of ObamaCare (the GOP fallback position to repeal), the better path is to improve the law that's in place and tackle the cost problem, which left unaddressed will drive family insurance premiums to $25,000 a year within a decade.

 

2) Where to cut spending?

 

House Republicans have vowed to slice $100 billion from the 2012 budget, with more promised in future years. Federal spending surely needs to be reined in, and the Republican goal of returning government spending to 2008 levels ought to be manageable in a belt-tightening era despite hand-wringing from the other side of the aisle.

 

The problem with the GOP plan is that it would be limited to a narrow sliver of government spending — the 17% of the budget that goes to domestic departments and agencies. Benefit programs such as Medicare and Social Security — which are by far the biggest contributors to runaway spending — would be unaffected. The same would go for the defense budget.

 

That raises the prospect that the cuts could be severe, draconian even, in some areas such as higher education, transportation and law enforcement, while barely quantifying as token gestures in the broader context of $3.8 trillion in overall spending.

 

Clearly, the GOP has helped put spending and the deficit back on the agenda. That is good. And perhaps this plan should be seen as a start. Going after the low-hanging fruit could even lead to a more sustained assault on the tree of government spending. Just as plausibly, however, this plan could be viewed as a bundle of partisan jabs at Democrats masquerading as something bigger.

 

For the 112th Congress to be seen as a success, the former scenario will have to be the one that plays out. Politics may necessitate some partisan maneuvering at the outset. But the ultimate destination will have to be an attack on the major drivers of federal spending, along the lines of the proposals made by two bipartisan deficit commissions late last year.

 

3) What about taxes?

 

Speaking of the deficit commissions, they and non-partisan budget groups agree: It's politically impractical to

get federal budget deficits and the national debt under control solely by cutting spending.

 

The major deficit-cutting deals that helped balance the budget from 1998 to 2001 combined deep spending cuts with a smaller dose of revenue increases. The deficit panels propose the same approach.

 

Encouragingly, the proposal by Obama's deficit panel got the votes of three conservative Republican senators: Mike Crapo of Idaho, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and the retiring Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. All backed sharp spending cuts and a tax overhaul that would raise revenue and simplify the tax system by slashing deductions and lowering overall rates.

 

That's encouraging because GOP views on taxes have grown so rock-hard that they threaten needed action on the deficit. GOP gospel is that tax cuts have no effect on the deficit because they pay for themselves in increased economic activity — an idea that has been repeatedly discredited by mainstream economists and budget reality. Even President Reagan recognized the fallacy when he approved one of the largest tax increases in history in 1982 to help claw back some of the excessive 1981 tax cuts.

 

Now the House's new leaders plan to enshrine the dangerous notion that tax cuts don't count by changing budget rules to make it unnecessary to offset tax cuts. The "pay as you go" rule imposed by the first President Bush in 1990 was a key to curbing entitlement spending and tax cuts. Today's House Republicans would apply the rule only to spending.

 

Tax receipts, adjusted for inflation, are at their lowest level since 1949, far too little to pay for Medicare and other government benefits that Americans are loath to give up. Instead, the government borrows to make up the difference, sending the national debt out of control. This is unsustainable. Denying that tax cuts have anything to do with it only makes the problem worse. Overhauling and simplifying the tax system, by contrast, offers a way to change the dialogue. The parties should race to see which can get there first.

 

4) Will Congress change?

 

On Capitol Hill, the House is generally seen as the more temperamental and partisan of the two chambers, while the Senate is supposed to be where cooler heads prevail. But the two chambers seem to be reversing roles, at least to a degree.

 

In the House, Boehner has made clear that Republicans need legislative results, not just campaign slogans. He has agreed to retain the Office of Congressional Ethics, which many of his colleagues were gunning for, and to share some of the power that speakers generally hold close.

 

In the Senate, meanwhile, minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., touts defeating Obama in 2012 as his top goal and pursues an agenda of strict obstructionism. The formerly deliberative body too often resembles a school cafeteria rife with food fights.

 

Ironically, the very tool that has made the Senate less partisan in the past — the filibuster — has been used to make it more so recently. Senate rules allow a minority of 41 senators to block anything they don't like, which can force a meeting of the minds between the majority and the minority.

 

In the last two years of the Bush administration and the first two of the Obama administration, the number of filibusters has skyrocketed. The good faith that is necessary to make filibusters — and the Senate as a whole — function has broken down.

 

Now the Senate is considering sensible rules changes that would preserve the filibuster while making it somewhat more of a chore. One such idea would require filibustering senators to remain on the floor, as used to be the case. Another would limit the ability of a single senator to delay a vote.

 

The filibuster remains an important tool to protect minority rights in certain weighty situations, but limiting its use is a sensible first step away from gridlock.

 

5) Room for cooperation?

 

Not long ago, it seemed like gridlock was inevitable. Obama, with large congressional majorities, saw no reason to work with the Republicans. And Republicans, with a keen interest in reinvigorating a dispirited base, saw little reason to work with him.

 

But then several things happened. Europe's debt crisis sent a clear message that a crisis will soon come here if progress is not made on government borrowing. And a lame-duck session of Congress wildly exceeded expectations, as both parties gave ground for the common good on taxes, arms control, gays in the military, and food safety.

 

Now, despite the inevitable saber rattling at the outset of the 112th Congress, bipartisan progress seems possible. In addition to budgetary matters, where compromise will be necessary for progress, other issues stand out as options for cross-party cooperation.

 

One is education. The No Child Left Behind accountability law was enacted with support from Sen. Edward Kennedy on the left and Boehner on the right. Building on what works with No Child, while fixing what doesn't, is a prime opportunity.

 

Trade is another promising area. Obama recently completed a free trade agreement with South Korea. To get it through Congress, he will have to rely on Republican votes, much as President Clinton did with his trade deal with Mexico and Canada. After Korea, commerce agreements with Colombia and Panama could be the basis for cooperation.

 

Bipartisanship inevitably raises the hackles of true believers in each party. But divided government need not always produce gridlock. Incessant partisan warfare has left Congress with its 13% approval rating. That's a pretty good indication that the nation, and lawmakers, would benefit from a new approach.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

THIS ISN'T GRANDPA'S RETIREMENT

BY LAURA VANDERKAM

 

Judith Van Ginkel is 71 years old and works 50-60 hours a week. And yet, "I'm the luckiest person I know," she says.

 

Here's why: Well beyond what many people consider retirement age, Van Ginkel (whose career has mostly been in medical administration) runs Every Child Succeeds, a home visitation program overseen byCincinnati Children's Hospital. Over the past decade, the dozens of social workers on her team have checked in on 17,000 at-risk pregnant women and their children, ensuring that these growing families get proper medical care and support. As a result, the infant mortality rate among participant families is well below the national average, despite their poverty rates — an outcome that Van Ginkel finds more exciting than playing golf. And so, "I'm going to continue doing this as long as I can do it well," she tells me.

 

A growing number of older Americans are having similar thoughts. After decades of decline, the labor force participation rate among people older than 65 rose from a low of 10.7% in 1987 to more than 17% now. Nearly a third of those ages 65-69 are working or looking for work, up from less than 20% in the 1980s, and surveys of Baby Boomers find that many don't intend to retire immediately either.

 

Certainly, not all older workers feel as lucky as Van Ginkel about their situations (nor do some younger workers eyeing these jobs). But while the economic crisis has trapped some people in the workforce, the trend began during good times and in general is a positive development — a recognition that people both need and want to be part of the workforce longer in an era of longer lives, and that seniors with incomes feel more secure and spend more in a way that generally boosts the economy. Though some older workers encounter barriers in the labor market, there is plenty that we, as a society, can do to encourage our most expert workers to continue sharing their gifts with the world in a way that is rewarding for them.

 

'A desire to stay engaged'

 

The notion of a decades-long retirement is relatively recent. When President Franklin Roosevelt introduced Social Security in the 1930s, life expectancy (at birth) was 58 for men and 62 for women. These low numbers, though, reflected widespread infant mortality that, in an era without adequate antibiotics or vaccines, even a group such as Every Child Succeeds couldn't have done much about. But still, people who made it to adulthood tended to die earlier, too.

 

These days, more of us make it to 65, and people who turn 65 can quite reasonably expect to live to age 85 or more. One factor contributing to the rise of senior labor force participation is that even with Social Security and significant personal savings, 20 years to 30 years is a long time to go with no new income. And most people don't have significant personal savings (or don't now, given recent stock market losses).

 

But that's not all that's going on. The notion that work is something you want to stop doing is getting a makeover as well. Baby boomers in particular have "a desire to stay engaged and active in the workforce, and in many cases to try their hands at second careers and new work adventures," reports Mark Miller, who runs the websiteRetirement Revised. Some do this through volunteering, but there are plenty of enjoyable jobs in for-profit enterprises, too.

 

Of course, just because people need or want to work (or both) doesn't mean that staying in the labor force is easy. Surveys of job-seeking seniors have found rampant age discrimination among hiring managers.

But there are ways to help. Andrew Biggs, a former principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration, has floated an intriguing idea of reducing the Social Security tax rate on workers older than 62. "Under current law, older workers receive very little additional benefit if they decide to remain in the workforce and pay additional taxes to Social Security," says Biggs, who's now at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Reducing the tax rate would make the system more fair to them. A lower Social Security tax rate would give older workers a little more money in their pockets and would make older workers cheaper to employers. That could counter the age discrimination such workers are facing.

 

'Encore careers'

 

More broadly, though, in an era of longer lives, we all need to spend more time pondering what we'd like to do with our years. For her work, Van Ginkel recently won a $100,000 Purpose Prize from Civic Ventures, an organization that encourages older Americans to pursue "encore careers" — work that is meaningful, flexible, serves the greater good and, in many cases, their finances as well.Veteran business people can advise new entrepreneurs. Former health care administrators can help people with chronic illnesses choose the best care, and former educators can design curricula and coach rookie teachers. The true sweet spot is when we ask, "What do I love to do so much I'd do it for free?", and then figure out a way to get paid for it.

 

That's what Van Ginkel has done. "I never get up and feel, oh, I have to go to work today," she says. "I get up wanting to do this."

 

Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

PELOSI: DEMOCRATS READY TO WORK WITH GOP

 

As America approaches the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration as president, we remember his inspiring message to members of Congress: "The Constitution makes us ... all trustees for the American people, custodians of the American heritage."

 

As trustees for the American people, Congress must honor our legal obligation to do what is right for our families and workers. As custodians of our heritage, we must uphold the American values of freedom, equality and opportunity for all.

 

For the past four years, it has been my honor to serve as speaker of the House, to follow in this tradition, and to work with my colleagues on behalf of the economic and national security of every American. Today, I will turn the gavel over to the new speaker, John Boehner, with my full commitment to join him in solving problems for America's families. When Republicans put forth solutions that reflect our priorities and address our nation's challenges, they will find in Democrats a willing partner.

 

Jobs top priority

 

As we pivot into a new Congress, our No. 1 priority will continue to be putting people to work. And we will measure each proposal by a simple test: Will it create jobs? Will it strengthen our middle class? Will it reduce the deficit?

 

The Democratic Congress and President Obama acted to lay a strong foundation for our nation's prosperity. We took action to create and save millions of jobs, and cut taxes for every worker. Our historic health insurance reform enacted a Patient's Bill of Rights, and Wall Street reform brought the greatest consumer protections in history.

 

We made the largest commitment to making college more affordable, and established landmark investments in the health and education of our veterans. These initiatives were all paid for; in the case of health reform and student loans, these actions will save taxpayers $1.3 trillion.

 

Health care reform and Wall Street reform increased leverage for America's working families. Any efforts to repeal or defund them will be met with stiff resistance. For the sake of all Americans, these protections must remain in place.

 

Make America No. 1

 

In the new Congress, Democrats are prepared to join congressional Republicans in focusing on job creation and strengthening our future. At this time of continued economic challenge, one place to start would be our "Make It In America" strategy — a series of steps to bolster America's manufacturers and our competitiveness so that we continue to lead the world economy. By creating jobs in our manufacturing and clean energy sectors, and making critical investments in our infrastructure, we can keep America No. 1. And with our plan, we can do so in a fiscally responsible way.

 

Now is the time for Republicans to join us in offering bold ideas to continue our recovery and to keep our promises to generations to come. Together, we must act to meet the challenges of the moment and of our country's future: creating a strong and growing workforce, ensuring a thriving middle class, and acting as responsible stewards of the public purse.

 

As we congratulate Speaker Boehner and our Republican colleagues, we stand ready to solve problems and to find common ground on behalf of all Americans. And as we take the oath of office today to support and defend the Constitution, we must be ever mindful that it "makes us ... all trustees for the American people, custodians of the American heritage."

 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the first female speaker of the House, will serve as minority leader in the 112th Congress.

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CHATTANAOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

A MAYOR NEEDS A MANDATE

 

County commissioners obviously aren't concerned about selecting an interim county mayor by a flawed process that essentially flouts the public's interest. But they at least should care about the result. If they choose today to continue along the divided path they've been on, they are likely to end up giving county taxpayers an interim mayor who would take office on a split vote, who would have no mandate, and who would likely preside over a government of timidity. That's the last thing the county needs.

 

The County Commission's two top candidates — County Commissioner Jim Coppinger and Mike Carter, a special assistant to outgoing County Mayor Claude Ramsey for most of the past year — are essentially already committed to timid, cautious government. Both promised at an independent public forum Monday night, for example, that they would not raise county property taxes to shore up the county budget. Indeed, they said they would cut public services before they would raise taxes.

 

That's become a standard refrain for politicians nowadays, of course. But for them to make that kneejerk pledge as a matter of course before they know (or admit knowing) what the next two years will bring is telling. It suggests that they are willing to go into office in a very dicey economic period with the most vital option for sustaining crucial public services off the table, regardless of whatever needs may occur. And it suggests that they would handle other tough issues in a similarly timid and defensive fashion.

 

The county's recent fiscal history and current state and local budget issues offer some pertinent perspective on

the tough fiscal circumstance. County government has raised taxes just twice since 1999, each time for just a modest 26 cents. The proceeds of all of the first tax increase (in 2005) and most of the second (in 2007) went to the school portion of the tax base, leaving county services and personnel existing on an increasingly lean base.

 

With the expiration this year of the wrongly maligned federal stimulus funds, state government will face an effective loss in revenue of around $1 billion, leaving it in the tightest pinch in many years. The timing makes it worse: November's elections installed a newly monolithic and cut-happy crowd of tea-party-beholden Republican legislators whose promised spending cuts will fall most harshly on county governments.

 

As a result of our successful job recruitment programs, moreover, the county will be in an even tighter fiscal vise than before because demands on county government will increase dramatically in the near term — but without much new revenue in the county's non-school tax proceeds. The reason is simple: To get our new business and job growth, the county, city and state have handed out a free pass — 10-year-to-20 year tax abatements — on the county's non-school property tax rate as part of the incentive packages used to lure these new business to Chattanooga and Hamilton County.

 

The result is more growth that requires expensive upfront investments in promised infrastructure — roads, sewers, classrooms, employee training, police and fire service -- for new businesses like Volkswagen, its onsite suppliers and Amazon.com. Yet these businesses don't have to pay property taxes for these expensive new services for 10 to 20 years.

 

This illustrates the maxim that new growth and new jobs cost money — upfront money — that current taxpayers have to pay before they get to see the reward in new business tax revenue sometime down the road. Much of what's been promised will be financed through long-term municipal bonds, but the new bond debt has to be serviced, even as the budget for ongoing services expands. The offset of new consumer spending by new job-holders, and the tax revenue they cycle into the local economy, will slowly produce some tax fruits of growth, but that won't occur soon enough to meet the upfront costs of new infrastructure commitments.

 

Coppinger and Carter surely know this. So their pledge for no new taxes suggests, at the least, a deficiency of candor about the budget dilemma in a post-Great Recession era when reduced consumer spending and the corresponding fall-off in sales and taxes on devalued property have left governments — state, local and federal — reeling all over the country and in Washington.

 

With the County Commission evenly split on their choice for a new interim county mayor — the three previous votes have ended in the same 4-4 stalemate — the candidates are virtually forced to take timid, no-risk positions. If either of them goes into office on a narrow vote and without public consensus, as now seems likely, the winner will have no mandate, little leverage, and no incentive to take the bold, visionary positions that are necessary to guide the county's potential growth.

 

That's mainly the fault of the County Commission for the way its members have chosen to handle the mayoral selection process. But it's a problem they need to quickly address.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

ROTC GROWTH NOW A POSSIBILITY

 

Legally at least, gays and lesbians soon will be allowed to serve openly in the United States military. That's the beneficial result of the repeal of don't ask, don't tell rules under which gays and lesbians were forced to keep their sexual orientation private or to face discharge. There's another benefit as well. The repeal of the edict should promote stronger relationships between college and university campuses and the military.

 

That could lead to reinstatement of Reserve Officers Training Corps programs on many campuses where they have been unwelcome. That would be beneficial to both the military and to the institutions of higher learning.

 

For decades, many schools purposefully distanced themselves from the military and the ROTC. The estrangement began with the protests of the Vietnam War era. More recently, many schools said the don't ask, don't tell policy was so discriminatory that its practitioners had no place on campus. Repeal of the law changes that equation.

 

There is, in fact, little reason to continue the ban. For years before Vietnam and the don't ask, don't tell policy, ROTC programs supplied a reliable stream of junior officers to the armed services. The campus bans did not end that practice, but they did slow it, making it more difficult for the military to maintain a strong officer cadre.

 

That should change now. Officials at some of the most high-profile schools where ROTC has been banned had long pledged to open their campuses to ROTC if the don't ask, don't tell rule was eliminated. There are numerous signs that those pledges will be honored.

 

Once the legislation ending the don't ask rule, don't tell rule was signed, both Harvard and Yale, perhaps the most visible of the schools with ROTC bans, promptly announced they would lift the restrictions. Other schools say they will follow suit. There is no guarantee, of course, that reinstatement of the programs will prompt a growth in enrollment. ROTC remains, after all, a voluntary program.

 

Still, ROTC expansion is beneficial. It should help ease the disconnect between those who make policy that leads to war -- presumably the academic elite and the financially secure — and the men and women who do the fighting — generally those with limited financial resources and without easy access to higher education. A broader military presence on campuses also could reinforce the notion that wearing a uniform is a choice to admire rather than to condemn..

 

Americans are not required to serve in the military, but they should not be isolated from the positive role men and women in the armed services play in national life. A wider ROTC presence — likely after the repeal of don't ask, don't tell — should broaden acceptance of the military and expand the opportunity to serve.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

OUR NEW COUNTY MAYOR IS ... ?

 

Today is the day when eight members of the Hamilton County Commission are expected to vote on choosing a county mayor to succeed Mayor Claude Ramsey, who will be leaving office Jan. 11 to serve as chief of staff in the administration of newly elected Gov. Bill Haslam.

 

But will a majority of the commissioners be able to agree on a new county mayor?

 

Ramsey has been an excellent leader. Fortunately, both candidates to succeed him — Mike Carter, currently special assistant to Ramsey, and Jim Coppinger, a member of the County Commission — are good candidates to serve as county mayor.

 

The problem in choosing the new mayor is that four of the commission candidates favor Carter and four favor Coppinger. The ninth commissioner is Coppinger, who cannot vote and therefore cannot break the tie.

 

So who or what will change to result in a majority decision one way or the other?

 

While Hamilton Countians are likely to "win" with whoever becomes the new county mayor, we regret that one of the good candidates will be disappointed.

 

We are grateful, though, that we have a good county mayor now, and will have a good new county mayor, however the final choice turns out.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

STOCK MARKET UP; WHAT NEXT?

 

Americans like to start a new year with optimism. And if the stock market is a true indicator, many business investors began 2011 with some optimism. The stock market had big gains on the first business day of the year.

 

Investors call that the "January barometer." We hope they're right, that the upturn is lasting, and that things financial will go right throughout the rest of the year.

 

But it won't be easy. Our federal government is taxing too much, spending too much and running huge deficits. Unemployment is far too high. These are reasons for some pessimism, even as we hope for signs of optimism as well.

 

But 2011 will be what we make it, and surely will be interesting, economically speaking.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

PAYING MORE THAN THEIR 'FAIR SHARE'

 

Amid some calls to punish the rich (along with some in the middle class whom politicians like to label "the rich"), a scholar at Stanford University's Hoover Institution pointed out some facts that may trouble those who are eager to accuse the wealthy of not paying their "fair share."

 

Deroy Murdock noted that according to 2008 IRS data:

 

• The top 1 percent of taxpayers earn 20 percent of our country's adjusted gross income, but they pay 38 percent of all federal income taxes.

 

• The top 5 percent earn 34.7 percent of adjusted gross income but pay 58.7 percent of the taxes.

 

• And the top 10 percent earn 45.8 percent of adjusted gross income but pay 69.9 percent of the taxes.

 

• Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent of taxpayers earn 12.8 percent of adjusted gross income but pay only 2.7 percent of all federal income taxes.

 

Well, OK, critics would argue, but the rich still don't do much to help others with voluntary donations to charity, do they?

 

Wrong again. As Murdock notes:

 

• A Bank of America-Merrill Lynch study found that 98.2 percent of respondents earning above $200,000 in 2009 made financial contributions to charity. In contrast, 64.6 percent of the general population donated to charity.

 

• Nearly 79 percent of wealthy Americans served as volunteers with charitable groups that year, compared with only 26.8 percent of the population as a whole.

 

• The time donated by the wealthy to charitable groups in 2009 averaged 307 hours, roughly equal to 38 eight-hour shifts.

 

"High net worth households play an important role in the philanthropic landscape," the study found.

 

"They give between 65 and 70 percent of all individual giving and between 49 and 53 percent of giving from all sources, which includes giving from corporations, foundations, and both living and deceased individuals."

 

And that does not begin to account for the economic good done by "the rich" — many just small-business owners — through job creation that pays millions of salaries!

 

Considering these facts, is it possible that some who condemn the rich are motivated by envy and irrational hostility — not by real concern for the poor?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

BYE BYE, BLACKBIRDS

 

There's a popular standard, about 85 years old, titled "Bye Bye Blackbird." But those words have a modern, sad significance because of the mysterious deaths of more than 4,000 red-winged blackbirds in Arkansas shortly before midnight on New Year's Eve.

 

The birds are beautiful, their black sheen being highlighted by red wings, each decorated with a strip of brilliant yellow. Red-winged blackbirds are numerous throughout the South, particularly in rural farmland areas.

 

But something disastrous happened to many of them a few days ago.

 

Thousands of blackbirds literally dropped from the sky, dead, in a 1.5-square-mile area of Arkansas.

 

What was the cause? It could have been related to celebratory fireworks. Or, some suggest, the birds were struck by a violent thunderstorm that disoriented them and fatally thrust them to the ground. Or was there a sudden fatal chill as they roosted? Others say there may have been some strange disease that caused the avian deaths.

 

Cleanup crews carefully used rubber gloves and other protective gear to clear the carnage and take specimens

for tests to try to determine the cause of the deaths of so many red-winged blackbirds — but not other birds.

Though this mystery was a sad occurrence, fortunately there are still several million red-winged blackbirds surviving, brightening skies over a large area of our country.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

GOV. MOONBEAM' AGAIN!

 

California is, well, a most unusual state.

 

It is known for such diverse things as the mid-19th century Gold Rush, Hollywood, and Gov. and President Ronald Reagan.

 

But some critics have said unflatteringly that if the United States were "tilted" to the West, everything loose would roll to California.

 

When Jerry Brown was governor of California three decades ago, he sometimes was ridiculed as "Gov. Moonbeam" for his odd leadership and range of interests. But Californians either liked him or have forgotten since he left the governorship 28 years ago, because he is California's governor again, having been re-elected to a new term and then inaugurated on Monday.

 

Brown will have his hands full. California is called "the Golden State." But its finances are not "golden" today.

 

Succeeding former bodybuilder and movie star Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brown finds California's nearly 39 million people facing huge budget deficits, with the economy down and taxes high.

 

The new California governor certainly has a full plate of challenges.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - GIVE DIPLOMATIC MYSTICISM A CHANCE

 

To be candid, there is much that is appealing in the presence of a foreign minister who is also a mystic of sorts. We have tried in vain to find a good translation for a word he uses frequently when speaking of Turkey's eastern ties and traditions: "kadim." The dictionary offers us "ancient." But that doesn't suffice. "Something ancient that endures into the present day," was another stab one of us took. This sense one finds in the Turkish phrase, "kadim dostum," a term of affection for one's oldest and dearest friends. "Ancient wisdom" was another loose translation we summoned. Until a better translation is suggested, we think this will do. 

For it comports with Professor-turned-Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's central theme in his Monday pep talk to his hundreds of envoys summoned from all corners of the world. "Turkey needs to be a 'wise country,'" he repeatedly underscored. 

 

Cynics can scoff at Davutoğlu's naivete, as some surely will. Skeptics can doubt that his "wise policy" doctrine will trump the 19th century concept of "realpolitik" that has been handed down to today's diplomacy. Many listening to him surely did. 

 

But we think for the architect of foreign policy for the rising power in the world's most dangerous region, this is a restrained, moderate and intelligent vision that should not be dismissed. We hope it offers some comfort for the writer of the WikiLeaked cable describing Davutoğlu as Turkey's "most dangerous man." 

 

It is neither cynical nor skeptical to accept the fact that comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors has eluded U.S. and European diplomats for half a century. It is neither naive nor unrealistic to note that the U.S.-Iranian standoff has been frozen in place for more than three decades.

 

Yes, Davutoğlu's mystic political philosophy may be mysterious, even dangerous to many. But "Peace at Home, Peace Abroad," has been the doctrinal foundation of Turkey's foreign policy since the beginnings of the Republic. And we hardly see a divergence from that in Davutoğlu's corollary of "zero problems with neighbors."

 

Physicist Albert Einstein was certainly no mystic. It was he who said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." 

 

We agree with Davutoğlu's words to his diplomatic corps, challenging the argument of Samuel Huntington's now-famous "Clash of Civilizations" that Turkey is a "torn country." We are hopeful that Davutoğlu is correct, that Turkey can be a "wise country, reuniting a torn world." 

 

We are hopeful that this thoughtful vision can be shaped into coherent policy and strategy in the coming weeks as Davutoğlu meets in Ankara, and later in Erzurum, for his annual retreat with his colleagues. We wish all of them success and courage.

 

It is time for different approaches. It may well be time for a diplomat who is also a bit of a mystic.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TURKISH FIGHTER JETS, TURKISH ASTRONAUTS… TURKISH AVATARS COMING SOON?

BURAK BEKDİL

 

It is practically impossible to predict whether any future wave of WikiLeaks cables will reveal Turkish pressure on Hollywood to produce a film portraying the antics of a Turk Superman who does not eat pork or drink alcohol and is disguised as a journalist writing for a government-friendly newspaper. It is similarly impossible to predict whether cables will reveal a Turkish request for match-fixing at the 2010 World Basketball Championship's final game, a threat to bomb Israel with future "made-in-Turkey" fighter jets, or an invitation to a U.S. ambassador in Turkey to convert to Islam. But surely, the cables are fun!

 

The latest leaks have unveiled that the king of Saudi Arabia wanted the United States president to outfit his personal jet with the same high-tech devices as Air Force One – in return for choosing Boeing's passenger jets over those of Airbus. The Bangladeshi prime minister reportedly pressed the State Department to re-establish landing rights at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York – also in exchange for choosing Boeing over Airbus.

 

And President Abdullah Gül, according to the cables, wanted the Obama administration to let a Turkish astronaut sit on a NASA space flight – not too difficult to guess…for Boeing planes! After Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım conveyed the request in January 2010, then U.S. ambassador to Ankara James Jeffrey called the effort to link the Boeing deal to political requests an "unwelcome, but unsurprising degree of political influence in this transaction."

 

About a month after Ambassador Jeffrey cabled to Washington that "we probably cannot put a Turkish astronaut in orbit," Turkish Airlines, or THY, placed an order for 20 Boeing planes – the Airbus chaps must have learned their lesson: in the next competition, they should propose a team of Turkish astronauts in orbit, not just one!

 

But I suspect President Gül could have withdrawn his request after Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu revealed to him that Turkey's influence in world politics had reached heights unseen in history and that Muslim Turkish engineers would soon be able to launch their own spaceship and "we won't need the Americans even for that." Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül's announcement last month that "Turkey has decided to design, develop and produce its own, indigenous, made-in-Turkey fighter jet" must have been the first steps toward the soon-to-be-launched indigenous, made-in-Turkey spaceship.

 

But why did President Gül, who has no executive authority and must be constitutionally apolitical, press the U.S. for a grand Turkish success – the astronaut! – that would appeal to the voters – probably ahead of elections this year? Because he has no executive authority? Because he is apolitical?

 

It is understandable that European and U.S. governments often tend to ignore the trade agreement they signed three decades ago to remove international politics from trade deals. They often do so to curb unemployment in their economies, since foreign contracts for local companies mean new jobs. But a proposed employment opportunity for one astronaut would have hardly reduced Turkey's unemployment rate.

 

One tricky thing here is the fact that THY, doubtlessly one of Turkey's most successful enterprises, is a public company listed on the stock exchange – with the government owning fewer than half the shares in the airline. Legally speaking, the THY's board is obliged to make all managerial decisions, including new fleet acquisitions, based on the company's – and therefore its shareholders' – financial interests, not in view of producing government propaganda through eccentric ideas like putting a Turkish astronaut into orbit. 

 

But that should be the concern of THY's shareholders. All the same, the "prospective/investigative" question we journalists should ask here concerns neither the national carrier nor President Gül's politicking. If, in the words of Ambassador Jeffrey, "that" was "the degree of political influence" in a commercial transaction involving a Turkish company listed on the bourse, what other degrees of political influence must other decisions be resonating behind closed doors, especially those involving government-to-government contracts and, more specifically, defense deals whose terms and conditions are often "secret"?

 

In fact, what in the world of defense business could be viewed as a kind of Boeing-Airbus rivalry concerns Turkey – and imminently! In two tenders worth several billions of dollars, U.S. and European rivals are thriving to beat each other and the Turks will choose the victors this year. What will the very important Turks request in these classified deals? Is the sky the limit? A mega-sized mosque in Rome? Frozen diplomatic ties with Israel? The first Turkish nuclear bomb? It's too hard and boring to guess.

 

Instead, I have made a list of 10 Turks whom I would send into the orbit – hoping they would never come back – if the Americans (or Europeans) agreed to a future Turkish request. I appreciate that you understand I cannot reveal my list because of the serious possibility of prosecution. But go ahead and make your own list – it will be fun!

 

(Readers are welcome to put this columnist's name on their lists – no prosecution will follow)

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHY SAID NURSI MATTERS

MUSTAFA AKYOL

 

A controversial film is coming to Turkish movie theaters this weekend: "Hür Adam," or The Free Man. It is a biographical drama of Said Nursi (1878-1960), a significant character whose life captures some of the most interesting themes of Turkish Islam – and its resistance to Turkey's self-styled, authoritarian secularism.

 

For many secular Turks, Said Nursi is simply a bête noir: someone who represents the religious worldview that they want to eradicate from public life. He is a defiant opponent of some of the Kemalist reforms, such as the banning of the Arabic script. To make the matters worse, he is a Kurd. He was even called "Said-i Kurdi" in the Ottoman era – during which the Kurdish identity was neither a shame nor a crime as it would become later in Republican Turkey.

 

An Islamic hero

 

From a less hostile point of view though, Nursi's life seems more inspiring. He is an Islamic hero who preached faith and morality with dedication while renouncing political radicalism, let alone political violence.

 

Nursi's 82-year-long drama began in the village of Nurs, whence his family name comes, in the Bitlis province of today's southeastern Turkey. He studied Islam in the madrasahs of his region. His teachers were so impressed by his sharp intellect that they called him Bediüzzaman, or, "Wonder of the Age" – a term which soon became his nickname.

 

Madrasahs of Nursi's time had become extremely conservative and dogmatic institutions, at which only "Islamic sciences" were given, not modern ones such as physics, chemistry, or biology. The solution, Nursi thought, was to open new madrasahs with a modern curriculum, with students excelling in both faith and reason.

 

In November 1907, the young Said went all the way to Istanbul to personally talk to Sultan Abdülhamid II in order to present his plan and get his blessing. That ambitious dream failed, but the next two years Nursi spent at the capital of the empire added a lot to his thinking and reputation.

 

That was the time when the Second Constitutional period, or Hürriyet (Liberty) as it was then called, had begun, and the Ottoman Parliament reconvened after three decades of suspension. Nursi quickly became a famous Islamic supporter of the Liberty cause. He made public speeches in Istanbul, and sent dozens of telegraphs to the Kurdish elders in the east, all defending constitutionalism, representative democracy, and freedom of thought.

 

When the Ottoman Empire entered World War I, Nursi took up arms to protect the eastern border from the Russian army. Soon, he became a prisoner of war, and after more than two years in custody, he made his way home – to find his beloved Ottoman state defeated and occupied by the Allies.

 

Therefore, Nursi did not hesitate to support the national struggle headed by General Mustafa Kemal, who would later assume the name Atatürk. Yet, while his support for the War of Liberation remained, he became growingly suspicious about Mustafa Kemal's secularist agenda – which he would later describe as an "abominable current of atheism."

 

The film "Hür Adam" includes a scene in which Nursi and Kemal discuss these matters in the latter's office in Ankara in 1922. The former emphasizes the role of faith in the War of Liberation, while the latter dismisses these matters as trivia.

 

Just last week, a few Kemalist lawyers considered this scene as an "insult to Atatürk," which is a serious crime in Turkey, and called on the prosecutors to ban the movie even before its release. That is probably a futile effort, but it shows how Nursi's predictions on Atatürk – that he wanted to become a deified autocrat – were not too far-fetched.

 

Once the Kemalist regime was consolidated in 1925, the years of persecution began for Nursi, who spent the next 25 years in one of exile, house arrest or prison. He opposed some of the state-imposed "reforms," and personally defied some of them, for example by refusing to take his turban off in violation of the "Hat Law."

 

The Epistles of Nur

 

More importantly, Nursi began to write his famous "epistles," which were apologetic works to defend faith in God and other tenets of Islam. These hand-written papers were banned by the regime, so Nursi's nascent group of followers had to copy them by handwriting as well. The number of the epistles grew, making more a dozen volumes in three decades. The number of his followers (the "Nurcus") grew, too, reaching millions in the same period.

 

Most notably, Nursi kept his mission as a solely intellectual and spiritual one, never aspiring to any political radicalism. In his opposition to Kemalism, he saw democracy as the political method, crystallized by his support for the Democrat Party of Adnan Menderes, who came to power in 1950 in the Republic's first free and fair elections, and eased some of the pressures on religion.

 

No wonder the military junta that executed Menderes in 1961 took on Nursi as well – by tearing his grave into pieces and moving his remains to an unknown location.

 

Since then, Nursi's followers, including an inspiring preacher from Erzurum named Fethullah Gülen, have advocated a faith enriched by science and reason, and a mission that values democracy and moderation. They have cultivated, one could say, the best of Turkish Islam.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHERE DID OUR FOREIGN POLICY GO IN 2010?

SEDAT ERGİN

 

If we try to make an overall assessment about Turkish foreign policy in 2010, we should evaluate different attempts made in different directions. In this sense, our foreign policy doesn't differ much from a complex picture of Turkey's internal dynamics.

 

We see various orientations in the picture as follows:

 

A gap in relations with the West

 

The most crucial foreign policy act of Turkey in 2010 was that Turkey did not vote in favor of a decision calling for possible sanctions against Iran in the United Nations Security Council. Turkey sided with Iran, not with the West, on a subject that the international community had reached a general consensus. This is a foreign policy choice that could affect the perception of decision-makers and opinion leaders in the United States, in particular about the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and Turkey.

 

Again, another negativity experienced in 2010 is that accession talks between Turkey and the European Union have practically stalled, though it's not been said out loud. Only one new negotiation chapter was opened in 2010. So far, 13 of a total of 35 chapters have opened and only one is closed. Croatia, which started EU membership talks at the same time as Turkey in 2005, has opened 33 of 35 chapters and closed 28. This comparison will give you an idea about the pace of Turkey's entry talks. And Croatia expects full accession in 2013 at the latest.

 

The reason why negotiations have almost come to a halt stems from blockages of Germany, France and southern Cyprus. We see, however, Ankara comes to term with the situation and doesn't make this a problem. It is doubted that Turkey's unsound membership process today can be maintained as is.

 

Where is Davutoğlu running off to?

 

An overall evaluation, including developments with trans-Atlantic and European camps, reveals that Turkish foreign policy suffers a serious gap on the Western front. Due to rooted interests, the U.S. and the EU countries remain close to Turkey. However, this is insufficient to eliminate ambiguities in the subject.

 

Another highlight of 2010 was the Mavi Marmara incident that caused a rift between Israel and Turkey. Without a doubt, Turkey justly reacted against the Israeli violence and demanded a few things. However, way before this incident, Turkey and Israel had started to lose their appetite for bilateral relations due to the Davos move of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. That limited Turkey's act as a mediator in the region and caused some trouble with the West.

 

If we push similar negativities aside, it can be seen that Turkey has followed an extremely pro-active and energetic foreign policy line and has tried to maximize national interests in the region. The architect of this policy is Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. We see that he follows a strategy to increase Turkey's influence in world politics as a regional playmaker.

 

Attuning foreign policy

 

If the opportunities arising because of Turkey's unparalleled geo-political situation, the notion of political stability, impressive growth figures and economic dynamism are all added up, we see that the international community is seriously interested in Turkey.

 

The problem is that reservations and question marks about Turkey are equally important compared to the attention and importance given to Turkey.

 

The paradox at this point leaves us alone with a crucial issue. The main objective for Turkey's foreign policy should be that it does not lose its sense of direction although various energetic moves are made in every direction. Having multiple dimensions might enrich Turkey's interests, but they should not be at the cost of relations with the West. A Turkey weakening ties with the West is likely to stumble in other directions, too.

 

In this perspective, it is beneficial for Turkey to attune its foreign policy acts toward the West, just like musical instruments need tuning from time to time.

 

* Sedat Ergin is a columnist of daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Tuesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

HAVE MERCY, 10 YEARS OF IMPRISONMENT IS TOO MUCH

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

 

No! That is really too much.

You may play with the patience of a society and you may also think that the same society may accept everything you say but you may not presume that this society is stupid and ready to be beaten up at any occasion.

 

This approach I may have expected from the administration but not from the Supreme Court of Appeals.

 

Administrations after a while believe that those who elected them in their position would accept everything.

 

So what happened with the Supreme Court of Appeals?

 

Do you understand why it approved this strangeness while it was supposed to prevent it?

 

I am talking about a period of 10 years of imprisonment.

 

Within the frame of the Criminal Procedure Code, or CMK, when committing a crime in respect to "making public state secrets, breaking state security and constitutional order" the imprisonment period – without a conviction – is limited to 10 years.

 

Unbelievable.

 

Can you imagine being imprisoned as a result of an unsigned letter, a denouncement or simply suspicion? Without even being told of your offense and just for the sake of the investigation's safety you can be detained for up to 10 years.

 

Ten years later they are entitled to open the door of your cell and say, "Sorry we kept you for too long but we found out that you are innocent, you may go home."

 

There may be no home or job left to return to. But nobody cares.

 

If you were to file a complaint in court, seeking your rights, rest assured that the judges who perceive themselves to be the protector of the state will rule to put some money in your pocket to silence you.

 

This is cruelty.

 

This is injustice.

 

Put yourselves in the place of journalists Tuncay Özkan and Mustafa Balbay and you'll see what it means.

 

Then they turn around and say the state is compassionate.

 

Gosh, that is what happens when people who don't know what compassion means lead the state.

 

And as long as we don't speak up, thinking, "As long as I'm not hurt, what the heck," we'll be beat up many more times.

 

That just serves us right.

 

Getting mad at Pakistan and the Saudis, being afraid of the US

 

If you make politics…

 

If you are a student or a teacher in politics at the university…

 

If you are writing about politics…

 

If you are a diplomat or want to become one…

 

If you are curious about how the U.S. is lead, about relations between the White House and the CIA as well as other intelligence services, how decisions are made and how the media influences decisions…

 

Then you should definitely read this book.

 

Steve Coll's book "Ghost Wars," published by Penguin Books, is not a story based on fictional conspiracy theories.

 

This book talks about the "invisible war" which started with the Soviet Union occupying Afghanistan in 1979 and the United States creating the Taliban all by itself, giving start to a religious war; in the name of jihad, together with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the United States fought until it forced the Soviet Union to retreat.

 

It also talks about how on Sept. 11, 2001, the same Taliban monster hit the United States and the same CIA started fighting the Taliban and Bin Laden.

 

To see with which methods the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence organizations work or how the White House makes decisions, differences in application scares people.

 

"Instability" in making a decision, missing out on opportunities and disregarding everybody except themselves especially in cross border operations is dreadful.

 

If I was to summarize:

 

The main reason for Afghanistan being in this position today is the United States and England. Their sole purpose was to chase the Russians. They misused Pakistan's madrasah students and intelligent service, and the Saudi's money. In order to chase the Russians they spread the jihad idea. They encouraged Bin Laden. And when the Russians couldn't resist anymore they left leaving behind a shattered country. Pakistan took this country, which the Americans left behind, under control by feeding the Taliban and tolerating Bin Laden. When on Sept. 11, 2001 the United States was hit and woke up from its sleep it went back to overthrow the Taliban but could not take control entirely. Afghanistan is still shattered today and crimes are still committed for the sake of Islam; it is because of armed Muslim commandos supported by Pakistan's madrasahs and Saudi Arabia's money. The trio of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United States has consciously created Islamic death squads and is still using them.

 

I was very much impressed by this book.

 

The reason is that I have innumerous times been to Afghanistan and Pakistan to follow this war closely. During this period I did not know the truth. We thought the United States was fighting a reasonable war.

 

We didn't know how the CIA bought Afghan clan leaders or the Pakistani secret service.

 

But rest assured I pitied Afghanistan very much.

 

I was angry with Pakistan for giving us trouble with fundamentalists and selling its soul.

 

And I was scared of the United States.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

AFRICAN UNION: THE LIMITS OF THE POSSIBLE

GWYNNE DYER

 

"It's not a bluff," said an adviser to 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 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, or ECOWAS, the United States and the European Union, but getting him out will not be easy.

 

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 demobilized 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 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 Alassane Ouattara as the democratic façade 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 and west: Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea.

 

About 4 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 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 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 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 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 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.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

AIRLINES CAN'T STOP SNOW, SO SHUT UP AND ADAPT

DOUG SWEET

 

As a very frequent traveler, I get tired of hearing the once-a-year airline passenger complaining about the hassle of flying, and how it's all the fault of airlines. With air travel, a little common sense goes a long way.

 

 My daughter and son-in-law were among those stranded in snowed-in New York City this week. They were to return to their home in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday. They finally arrived on Wednesday.

 

Rather than subject themselves to the mass campout at LaGuardia Airport, they made plans to stay with my son-in-law's aunt in Brooklyn when they realized the storm was coming. My daughter sought and got telephone and e-mail updates from Delta Air Lines about her flight status and cancellations. She booked these flights herself – without any platinum or gold memberships in this or that – so she was the average traveler, just a bit smarter.

 

A year ago, I was among the delayed travelers when another big snowstorm hit New York City, a week before Christmas. Our party of eight – which included my wife, her sister, our daughter and four of our friends – was scheduled to return home on Dec. 19. At first, Delta rescheduled us for one day later, Dec. 20. When we were rescheduled a second time, for Dec. 25 at 4 p.m., we decided it was time for Plan B.

 

I called Hertz and reserved two cars, and we made the 800 mile drive home. It was kind of fun.

 

This week, while traveling, I met a woman who told me she had gone to LaGuardia on Sunday and only then had found out that her flight was canceled. She camped at the airport for two days. The blizzard forecast was all over the news, so what did she expect?

 

I wonder whether the third-party Internet options for booking air travel these days make it harder for people to manage their flight plans and make changes when necessary. For my money and peace of mind, booking through the airline is best. Most airlines at least claim to guarantee lowest fares when booking directly.

 

Also, trying to stick with one airline, rather than shopping around for an itinerary that uses two or more airlines, gives even the infrequent traveler a little expertise. Go ahead and register for the frequent-flyer program so they know who you are. That's why my daughter was getting phone calls and e-mail messages about cancellations well ahead of her intended departure.

 

Online booking has contributed to the low fares everyone is enjoying. Each carrier knows what the other charges and will reduce a ticket price by $1 if that moves it to the top of the list. Fifteen years ago, when I was traveling to New York City airports every other month, the fare was $900, no matter when I made the reservation or which airport I used. Recently I've paid $200 to $400 for the same flight, on the same airline.

 

Reduced fares, of course, have also meant reduced services, and that seems to include the capacity of airlines to deal with these rare problems. And the travel experience itself now resembles that of buses. But the planes are packed and the airlines are finally making some money.

 

Next time you're in an airport, look at all of the families traveling. I travel by air more than 25 times each year – that's more than 100 individual flights, counting connections – and my travel continued throughout the recession. The airports and planes were still full. I would get back home each week and tell my wife there was no recession in the sky.

 

So I don't have a lot of pity for the so-called hassled passenger.

 

During Thanksgiving the travel disaster du jour was supposed to be the security delays caused by fussing over full-body scanning. It never happened. I traveled the week before Thanksgiving, and again on the following Tuesday, with no problems, with on-time flights and with no lost luggage.

 

I was delayed for five hours once at Los Angeles International Airport during one of the many security scares over suspected bombs. I reminded myself that the hassle I was experiencing was nothing compared with what people in the World Trade Center towers faced on Sept. 11, deciding whether to be burned to death or to jump to their deaths.

 

The Sept. 11 attacks ramped up all this security, and personally, I appreciate it. I don't recall any more hijacked jets being crashed into office buildings since then.

 

*Doug Sweet is an engineer and consultant who specializes in production processes at paper mills. This article was published by Bloomberg on Dec.31.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

'WISE COUNTRY'

YUSUF KANLI

 

Some 180 Turkish ambassadors were "called back" by Ankara for a five day brainstorming and socializing event being held by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

 

This is the third time Turkey has had such an "ambassadors' annual conference." Last year, after Ankara discussions, participants traveled with top brass to Mardin in southeastern Turkey. This year, after an opening session of talks in Ankara, the ambassadors' conference moved on to a winter sports resort in Palandöken, Erzurum.

 

Next year, again after an opening session in Ankara, the conference is planned to continue at an Edirne hotel.

 

It is of course great to see the Turkish Foreign Ministry moving on institutionalizing or making such annual conferences of ambassadors a tradition very much like those "big" countries who play an eminent role in global politics.

 

Naturally, for launching such a program and making it tradition, praise must go to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. As well as offering a golden opportunity to "synchronize" ambassadors representing Turkey abroad with the policies, views and perceptions of the political authority back in Ankara, that is help in the "indoctrination" of the ambassadors, these conferences probably also allow for a golden brainstorming opportunity and a flow of expertise from the technocrats to the political authority regarding the many foreign policy objectives of the country, as well as global developments.

 

Furthermore, such conferences also provide an opportunity for a multi-dimensional concentration on certain problems, be it the Cyprus problem – two years ago the then Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat was the guest of honor at the conference – or Turkish-Greek relations this year. What will be the outcome of discussions between Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his host Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Palandöken meetings? The outcome of those talks will of course be important, but more important than the results achieved or decisions made will be the very fact that a Greek prime minister will be the guest of honor at the Palandöken section of the ambassadors' conference.

 

Greece might still have problems hosting a Turkish prime minister in Athens or Thessaloniki, or such a visit might create some domestic political squabbles for the Greek government, but on this side of the Aegean seeing our long-time sirtaki dance partner Papandreou can only be a pleasurable development. It is not only us who remember the late İsmail Cem each time we see Papandreou and the efforts of the two to improve Turkish-Greek relations. Turkish hospitability is famous.

 

But, the very fact the prime minister of a country with which this country has had such deep problems, coming to the brink of war in 1996, can become the guest of honor at a conference of Turkish ambassadors itself testifies to a great transformation both in Turkish-Greek relations – a magical development as none of the outstanding issues could be resolved so far – and the overall climate of Turkish foreign relations.

 

But has Turkey indeed transformed enough to become the "wise country" Davutoğlu was boasting about at the opening session of the conference? Or am I suffering from an "inferiority complex" because I asked such a question?

 

Obviously Turkey is a big country. Turkey should of course have an opinion on regional and global issues. Turkey trying to play the role of mediator in various conflicts or disagreements between various factions or countries in this geography could only be a great contribution to peace and order.

 

Turkey becoming a country whose opinion is sought in developing global strategies and indeed Turkey being consulted like a "wise country" could only please every individual in this country, irrespective of whether they support or detest the political aspirations and the worldview of the current people in government.

 

But, Turkey cannot achieve such objectives and definitely cannot become a "wise country" just by having annual conferences, tripling or even further increasing the Foreign Ministry's budget or even tripling the current number of diplomats. Turkey cannot achieve such goals by just hosting more social events at its embassies abroad.

 

Davutoğlu was wise enough in his speech to base his "zero problems with neighbors" slogan on Atatürk's "Peace at home, peace abroad" directive. He could indeed mention the "region-centered foreign policy" efforts of many post-1980 republican governments. But before moving on to "visionary foreign policy" and becoming a "wise country" capable of telling others how to resolve problems, perhaps we should resolve some of our own important foreign policy problems such as Cyprus, Armenia relations, and of course outstanding Turkey-Greece problems.

 

But perhaps I should put aside such reflections from the perspective of my "inferiority complex" and start developing allusions with the "superiority complex" of some of those who are currently prominent figures in Turkey.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE MURDER OF SALMAAN TASEER

 

The governor of Punjab died as he had lived: controversially. In the hours after his death, police officials continued to insist that the possible motives needed to be assessed. But most people had already reached what was the only obvious conclusion – the remarks Salmaan Taseer had made a few weeks ago on the blasphemy laws and on the need to amend them were enough for someone to kill him. While Taseer may have angered or annoyed people, while his sometimes bombastic manner may have been irritable, there can be no doubt that he was a courageous man, willing to speak out on issues that few choose to address due to the growing fear forced on us by religious extremists.


It appears, at least at these initial stages, that the member of the Punjab Elite Force who shot him formed a part of a growing army of extremism. His act seemed to be a carefully planned one, with fire initially opened on the governor's vehicle and the victim then shot in the chest as he, perhaps unwisely, stepped out. The shooting is evidence that it is not necessary for extremists to be in the garb of the Taliban, with their beards and turbans. They exist everywhere and come in all forms. And even those in the police may form a part of their ranks. The incident means several things. On many issues we have for years, indeed decades, been reluctant to speak our thoughts. Some taboos have only now begun to lift. The killing of the governor by a member of his own security team could mean that even fewer will speak out on such issues. Those who have already done so – Sherry Rehman comes to mind – run a risk of falling victim to bullets. The situation is awful. Taseer's death highlights just how grim it is, and how difficult it will be to change our country for the better. The challenges are already immense. They grow greater by the day. We have already lost our right to express opinion freely. Extremism holds us in a vice. Will we ever be able to break free? That is the question we must ask before more bodies fall on our roads, staining them with blood that will perhaps never be fully washed away.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TURBULENT TIMES

 

For now, uncertainty continues. Developing political events unfold by the minute and as yet it is hard to predict quite where we will find ourselves over the coming week, or the one after that. But it would be a mistake to assume that everything that is happening has implications only within the amphitheatre of politics. There is a great deal more involved than that, for events on the national stage are inevitably tied to many other facets of life – and have an impact on all of them.


Perhaps the one of most concern is the economy. At present, there are growing apprehensions about the extent of the malaise which eats into it. Recently, the financial team told the prime minister, in no uncertain terms, that fiscal tampering alone could not save the situation. There will be many opinions as to quite what needs to be done and how to go about this. But what there can be no uncertainty about is that Pakistan needs more investment, which can come only if there is some sense of calm. No multinational, indeed not even Pakistanis based overseas, will be willing to bring money into a country where there is so much sense of constant tremors – of the earth shaking beneath the feet at periodic intervals. In other words, political stability, which can arrive only if there is good governance, is essential to economic growth. In turn, economic improvement is vital if jobs are to be generated and incomes brought into households where families, quite literally, starve. There are other aspects to the ongoing turmoil. Once more, the attention of political leaders has turned away from the issues of people and towards the questions of forging alliances or determining strategy at various levels as far as their role in the National Assembly goes. People who watch the goings-on lose faith even more in the willingness of political parties to work in their interest or devote attention to their concerns. As ministers scramble to save their government, it also means even less time than before will be given to the task of dealing with the affairs of state. The result can only be a growing sense of despair among people. We must hope that matters settle down without too much loss of time, and that the outcome – whatever it is to be – also means an improvement in the working of the departments, ministries and other offices which for many months seem to have been floundering.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE FOG

 

Few can have failed to notice the conjunction between the meteorological and political conditions in the last three days – both present us with a dense opaque mist that makes navigation difficult, and both offer the opportunity for some spectacular crashes. We are a nation of travellers as evidenced by the release of a new poll by Gallup Pakistan: Thirty-six per cent of us travelled to another city in the recent past and of those 67 per cent used the bus to get wherever they wanted to go. A mere one per cent used a plane and 16 per cent a train. Any of the millions who go from city to city every day by whatever means will have found their journey made more difficult than usual by the seasonal fog that hits us every year at this time. It is hardly unexpected, yet the reaction tends to be the same as when monsoon rains strike – and roughly along the lines of 'Oh my goodness where did that come from?' We then continue to drive as if the air was as clear as a bell and consequently die in significant numbers every year.


This year is no different. Road, rail and air links to all our major and many minor cities have been interrupted by fog. Trains are running anything up to ten hours late, planes four to five hours and motorways are closed by the police to prevent drivers with kamikaze tendencies from killing others less reckless than themselves. Reports of deaths and injuries have come in from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan. Rawalpindi and Islamabad residents grope around in the gloom and try not to run over one another. The situation is said by the meteorologists to show no sign of improvement for at least five more days. When the fog clears we may get an indication as to whether the politicians have managed to avoid steering the ship of state into the iceberg. The general populace are advised to have their lifebelts to hand, just in case they have not.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

THE QUESTION OF ANTECEDENTS

S KHALID HUSAIN


There is no knowing where the ongoing political tumult is leading Pakistan. The MQM and Maulana Fazlur Rahman can probably put it to the president that just as agreements are not Hadiths, coalitions are not made in heaven. 

In any event, we, the voters, must be prepared for the worst. In spite of the hurdles of fake degrees and the overruling of the Higher Education Commission in the matter, the invalidation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance and the out-of-court defiance mounted against the court order, the emasculation of the National Accountability Bureau and all the rest, the voters could still be led to the polls like sheep. 


Here is a brief summing up, starting with the oldest of at least four choices before the voters in the event that polls are held.


The Jamaat-e-Islami was founded in 1941 by Maulana Abul Aala Maudoodi with the objective of making Indian Muslims more heedful of Islam. Largely because the Jamaat looked upon the Ummah as a single corpus, it was opposed to the concept of nations within Islam, and therefore opposed the creation of Pakistan as a nation-state for the Muslims of British India. The Jamaat-e-Islami labelled the Muslim League's conception of Pakistan as "Napakistan." 


Maudoodi moved to "Napakistan" in 1947, where the Jamaat-e-Islami more and more became an opportunistic player to gain political power and less and less the vanguard of an Islamic revolution. It supported the takeover of Ayub Khan, as it did Yayah Khan's takeover, in the belief that the party would fare better in undemocratic setups. But it was disillusioned by Ayub and got caught on the wrong foot with Yahya during the army action in East Pakistan. The Jamaat then tried to cosy up to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but after the way he treated its Ameer, Mian Tufail Mohammed, the Jamaat locked arms with Ziaul Haq and became the dictator's civil arm. But it began to strain a bit too hard on the leash, and Zia created the MQM in 1984 to tame it. The Jamaat remained in the boondocks after that, surfacing again during the Musharraf regime as the largest party of a religious coalition, the MMA, installed by Musharraf in the former NWFP. A Jamaat-led coalition's major initiative to stop public buses in Peshawar at prayer time for the passengers to offer prayers did not work out.

The PPP, the PML-N and the Awami National Party are family-based political organisation in which succession is hereditary. It is remarkable, therefore, that a non-Bhutto son-in-law has succeeded his wife, albeit as co-chairman, Sadly, but providentially for the PPP son-in-law, the direct heirs to the Bhutto legacy met unnatural ends, as did his wife, and the Bhuttos' inter-family relations soured at the right time for the nieces and members of the extended Bhutto family, like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's "talented cousin" Mumtaz Bhutto to be purged from the succession order.


The PPP under Bhutto is best known for nationalising everything that moved, not long after it took over what remained of Pakistan following the 1971 debacle in East Pakistan. The party got caught in the web of the debacle, from which it has not quite been able to extricate itself, through its founder's "Idhar hum udhar tum" remark, the tearing by him of the Polish resolution in the Security Council that may have saved Pakistan and the army from total humiliation, and other such indiscretions. 


The PPP's nationalisation of banks, industries and all the rest opened the floodgates of corruption, and made incompetence a general attribute in Pakistan. The nationalisation of education spelled the death knell for whatever academic activity there was in the country. The country has yet to overcome the disastrous consequences of the party's reckless actions in the past on the economic and education fronts. But the party has learnt no lessons from its past.


The PPP shop, presently open and in business, strives to retain its clientele through calls of "Jeeay Bhutto" by the co-chairman, through "democracy is the best revenge" chants, through inundating the "market" with everything named "Benazir" – funds, districts, airports and parks – to milk the name for its magic charm. The PPP is facing hard time living with the ignominy of its forty years old "roti, kapra aur makan" pledge, which is nowhere near fulfilment. The people, since the pledge, have voted the PPP into power four times, but the party in all its time in power has done little except regurgitating the myth. There has to be, sooner or later, an end to the garden path down which the people have been led, this was clearly messaged by the people at the Naudero meeting to mark the third anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's death, and is being increasingly messaged through smoke signals visible all over Sindh.


The PPP, the PML-N and the MQM are all products of dictatorships. It seems strange that with such common heritage, the parties should be badmouthing each other, and as nastily as the last two. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was brought into public life by the civilian dictator Iskander Mirza, to whom he wrote that "when the history of Pakistan is written your name will be ahead of that of even Jinnah." He was nurtured by Ayub in his martial law, and whose adoptive "son" he was considered, just as Nawaz Sharif was of Ziaul Haq's product. The PML-N is the outcome of the Islami Jamoohri Ittehad, or IJI, a group of nine parties cobbled together by Gen Hamid Gul to block Benazir's election in 1988. The MQM was brought into being by Zia in 1984, to tame the Jamaat-e-Islami in Karachi, when Zia felt that the Jamaat was growing too big for its pants, or too big for whatever it is Jamaatis wear. 


The PML-N and the MQM fell out during Nawaz Sharif's second term as prime minister when he could not get the MQM to support his Shariah bill in parliament, which frustrated his dream to be Amirul Momineen, a dream he is said to continue to cherish. It is widely believed that when Zia asked the head of the Sharif family, Mian Mohammad Sharif, to nominate one of his sons to join his administration in Punjab, "Abbaji" short-changed Zia by nominating Nawaz, who was a bit of a burden in business, spending his time listening to, or singing, film songs.

The MQM is endeavouring to shed the ethnic label. It has to try much harder by playing no other but the Pakistan card, and also work to shed its "mafia" image. Between the MQM and the Tehreek-e-Insaf of Imran Khan, who must avoid being seen in wrong political company, the two offer possibilities of breaking the stranglehold of feudal and family-dominated parties that have led Pakistan to nowhere in the last over sixty years. Both will face the combined wrath of such parties, and of the religious parties, but have to learn to bear it with dignity.


The writer is former corporate executive. Email: husainsk@cyber.net.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

AS TIME RUNS OUT

ABID HASAN


Three years after the euphoria produced by the elections of February 2008, both democracy and the economy are heading for catastrophic failure. Pakistan can be described as a train on collision course, with the driver and his staff playing political poker in the engine compartment.


The government has taken a few positive steps. These include the Balochistan package, the 18th Amendment, the Seventh NFC Award, and the Benazir Income Support Scheme. But since the very design of the Balochistan package was faulty, there are no signs that the package is improving the delivery of services to the people of the province. Similarly, the checks and balances and expenditure and the responsibilities for revenue-raising prescribed by the 18th Amendment and the Seventh NFC Award have serious flaws. Their positive impact is therefore limited. 


Parliament remains ineffective, and real power continues to lie with the president. The federation and the provinces are pulling in different directions, which is causing serious failures in coordination, thereby deepening the fiscal crisis. At the same time, because of the deficiencies inherent in these, the 18th Amendment and the Seventh NFC Award are unlikely to be able to ensure the effective working of the federal structure.

Three years of ineffective democracy and leadership crisis have led to the bad quality of governance becoming abysmal, with key federal and provincial institutions more dysfunctional now than they already were. These, coupled with the corruption and nepotism and the floundering economy, are rapidly eroding people's faith in democracy.

The weak growth in exports is causing ballooning external deficits. Fiscal deficit is out of control because of the government's unwillingness to raise taxes or lower wasteful expenditures, and irresponsible provincial spending as a result of the Seventh NFC award. Domestic and foreign investment has dropped dramatically, and our international image and credibility is at its lowest. The recent investment MOUs are worthless under the present conditions. 

Averting economic meltdown will require national consensus on reforms to address the key challenges for the following results to be produced: acceleration of growth, reduction of inflation, improvement of human development indicators, raising of federal and provincial revenues for the lowering of the fiscal deficit, reduced national debt and increased development expenditures. The water, food and energy shortages must be overcome, unemployment addressed and the rate of population growth lowered.


No reforms involving the federal and provincial governments can work without improved inter-provincial coordination, which is why more attention should be paid to efforts for coordination between the centre and the units. The provinces may be different units, but actions by any one province in some field have an impact on other provinces, and in turn influence national outcomes. 


Pakistan needs effective democracy, and not a dysfunctional and corrupted dispensation which is paraded as democracy. There is a close link between effective democracy and development, and vice versa. Both in an interactive way create the level of trust that is necessary for investment and commitment to economic success. Strengthening of democracy would require actions to prevent capture of the political system by gangs of corrupt and criminal politicians. 

Such elements have deliberately enacted flawed electoral laws, and weakened the Election Commission. Repeated elections under the present laws will not reduce the political hold of such elements. The current parliament and political leadership are unlikely to take actions in this regards, because they benefit from the status quo. Here the role of the Supreme Court is vital. It needs to refocus its judicial activism and suo moto powers on the "big picture," and on issues related to good governance, so that Pakistani citizens' faith in democracy can be rebuilt, without which even effective democracy cannot endure. 

The Election Commission must be strengthened, and electoral laws, especially those related to the functioning of the political parties must be overhauled. Without this overhaul, dynastic politics, which is increasingly becoming a bane for democracy in Pakistan, will continue, and so will the stranglehold of corrupt elements on Pakistani politics. Campaign expenditures must be reduced and closely monitored, so that strictly money does not play a role in electoral results, as happens now.


No political reforms in Pakistan would be complete without transparent and officially monitored elections within the parties. Elections within the political parties will also remove, or at lease lessen, nepotism in Pakistani politics. 


Pakistani politics cannot afford the continuation of the present situation where the majority of its legislators are not paying taxes and indulging in egregious abuse of their positions. It has now become indispensable for Pakistan to ensure that in future the majority of its legislators don't belong to the same corrupt elements which have turned Pakistani politics into a scandal.. 


Those who manage Pakistan's economy need to become an assertive force for reforms and for promotion of fiscal discipline. Individually, members of our economic team are very competent, but collectively they have become ineffective, mainly because of lack of rulers' support for reforms. The economic team needs to adopt a tough stance on fiscal and monetary discipline. They must ensure that State Bank financing does not allow the federal and provincial governments to exceed fiscal deficits beyond 3 per cent of the GDP. They publicly oppose, and block where they can, bailout subsidies and loans for loss-making state enterprises. They should oppose external borrowings for deficit financing, since such debts will simply finance wasteful expenditures and state enterprise losses. In this respect, donors can strengthen the economic team's hands by denying loans for financing budget deficits, and emphasise the need for government to implement fiscal and governance reforms. 

The government, the Supreme Court and the economic team must realise that time is running out for averting the complete failure of democracy and meltdown of the economy. If these fears are realised, Pakistan will move further down the road to becoming a failed state.


The writer is a former advisor at the World Bank. Email: fffhasan@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

REVOLUTIONARY PROSPECTS

DR A Q KHAN


In the last few months the danger of a revolution in Pakistan has been discussed. Analysts and writers have rightly pointed their finger at the feudal lords and corrupt rulers for the crisis in the country. The seeds of drastic change are always sown by tyrannical, corrupt and incapable rulers. A revolution destroys everything in its path. Let us take a look at some of the major revolutionary movements.


The French Revolution started in 1789 and continued till 1799. Within three years after the revolution began, the tyrannical rule of Emperor Louis XVI was destroyed, he and Empress Marie Antoinette were executed, and a republic was proclaimed in 1792. The establishment of republics and liberal democracies, the general acceptance of secular ideas, the growth of modern ideologies and, unfortunately, the advent of total wars, all owe their birth to the French Revolution. The French Revolution has drastically changed the world's ideas on governance. It also cost the lives of about 30,000 opponents, both guilty and innocent.


The main reasons for this revolution were the absolute and oppressive rule of the monarchy, financial bankruptcy due to mismanagement and wars, unemployment, failed harvests, hunger, and the ever-rising price of bread. Marie Antoinette is often (wrongly) quoted as having said when told of non-availability of bread: "Then let them eat cake." 


In 1917 Russians revolted against Tsar Nicholas, who was an absolute, autocratic ruler. He was an oppressive tyrant who had surrounded himself with selfish, incompetent cronies. Unemployment, hunger, food shortages and the failure of law and order, all led up to this. It was actually a series of revolutions. In 1917 civil war erupted between the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin and government forces. World War I, which started in 1914, had a direct effect on the revolution. The defeats suffered during the war, the loss of troops and the total collapse of the economy led to the success of the revolution. In 1917 the tsarist regime collapsed and a year later the Tsar and his entire family were executed.


The Chinese Revolution followed only 32 years later. Dictatorial suppressive policies, hunger, unemployment and food shortages led to widespread hatred against the rulers. Gen Chiang Kai Shek went all out to wipe out the communists using many harsh and illegal means. Many innocent people lost their lives. In 1935, when Chiang's troops had almost succeeded in surrounding and wiping out Mao Tzedong's communist army, the communist leader led the strategically famous Long March. I was fortunate to have met many senior generals who took part in this March and to have heard first-hand accounts of this historic struggle. 


After World War II was over, Chiang Kai Shek again turned on the communists, for which he received the wholehearted support of the Americans and Europeans. Despite the heavy odds, the communists defeated Chiang Kai Shek and he and his close colleagues fled to Taiwan. In March 1949 Chairman Mao and the People's Liberation Army entered Peking (Beijing) in triumph and on Oct 1 he announced the formation of the People's Republic of China. 


The Chinese people offered enormous sacrifices for their freedom, but within one generation they had the satisfaction of seeing their country becoming powerful and prosperous. Chairman Mao died on Sept 9, 1976. I happened to be in Peking at the time and witnessed the spontaneous weeping and mourning of the whole nation, which reminded me of the demise of our own beloved Quaid-e-Azam.

 

In Iran, the first revolution occurred when Dr Mossadeq revolted with the help of the people. The autocratic and oppressive Shah Mohammad Reza Shah Pehlavi fled the country. That revolution was short-lived because the American and British intelligence agencies used the services of some treacherous army officers to arrest Mossadeq and jail him. Foreign Minister Fatemi was murdered and the Shah was brought back, and became even more cruel and dictatorial. The Shah's opponents were picked up and killed. The secret police, Savak, indulged in all sorts of illegal activities like the disappearance and murder of opponents of the Shah's regime. 

In 1962 Khomeini appeared as a popular leader and the subsequent demonstrations against the Shah led to the merciless killing of many people. Khomeini was arrested in 1964 and deported to Iraq. From there he moved to Paris. He remained abroad for 14 years. Such public pressure was exerted on the Shah that he and his family left Iran on Jan 16, 1979. It was an ignominious end for a powerful monarchy. The death of the Shah in disgrace and in exile is a lesson to all corrupt, despotic rulers. On Feb 1, 1979, Khomeini returned to Teheran and was received by millions of jubilant people. The revolution was a direct result of a corrupt, oppressive, despotic regime. The new regime sent all the culprits to the gallows, cleansing Iranian society once and for all. The revolution had come about through the hard struggle and sacrifices of the people. 


We see that the conditions prevailing in Pakistan are similar to those which prevailed in France, Russia, China and Iran at the onsets of their respective revolutions. There is an oppressive and corrupt rule, together with unemployment, high inflation, a food crisis, electricity and gas shortages and rampant lawlessness. The rulers and the so-called opposition are hand-in-glove. Like Savak, the intelligence agencies act illegally and are above the law. People are picked up and simply disappear. Courts have failed to deal with the crimes of the influential. Foreign interference is everywhere and innocent people are being killed in drone attacks. Our leaders have given a green signal to the carrying out of brutalities. 


Patriotic analysts have spoken of the possibility of a revolution in Pakistan, but revolutions do not take place through armchair politics and fiery rhetoric and slogans. It is only through the involvement and sacrifices of the people that any such change can be achieved. Unfortunately, our public has become cowed and prefers to starve, be beaten and baton-charged, rather than doing something to break the power of the rulers. We are passing through a very precarious and dangerous period. If we don't wake up and take action we will become like Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone in the near future. 


A bold and talented leadership must take the initiative for the production of change in the country. Otherwise the public's flood of anger, when released, will sweep away everyone, including the alternative leadership. It is time for a young, dynamic generation to wake up and bring about a revolution – peaceful or otherwise – of which the country is dire need if it is to survive.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE ROAD TO SALVATION

YUSUF H SHIRAZI


As soon as a developing country breaks off the shackles of an economic pattern not set by it and undertakes economic development leading to self-reliance; it faces numerous contradictions. Of them, the one that is perhaps the most difficult to resolve is the contradiction between high rates of economic growth and external viability. Many developing countries have neither the will nor the resources to achieve any real economic development and are, therefore, content only with putting up a façade of development, mainly for internal consumption and as a defensive reaction against rising expectations. This façade is, however, easily torn by external disequilibria that do not take long to raise an ugly head. Pakistan, for one, is an example of this façade.

In Pakistan, with the sixth largest population in the world, there is no dearth of resources – human resource of high caliber, mineral mines, and an abundance of other commodities, to name a few and it is only the will to develop these resources that has been lacking. In order to avoid the mistakes of the past there should be a careful study of the objective conditions surrounding our external economic relations. Many of the problems faced by Pakistan in this field are unique. Therefore solutions to Pakistan's problems have to be provided by Pakistan itself. 


To depend entirely on text-book maxims for solutions of specific problems would, however, be a grave error. Each country has its own mores and cultures and its own social and specific experiences. Pakistan is certainly no exception. In order to be fruitful, all such studies must proceed from one's own specific realities and from the actual experience of those who are involved in trade and industry from day to day. One of the most complex problems that Pakistan is faced with today is the attainment of external balance, and self-reliance. In order to keep the country's foreign indebtedness within reasonable bounds, Pakistan has to be more discriminating in accepting foreign aid, loans and credits which, as experience shows, have not helped but hurt the economy. Specific measures and institutional changes are thus needed for improving the export orientation of the economy as a potential remedy to the ailment. The mutual trade of developing countries like India (Aman ki asha) and Malaysia has great potential which has yet to be fully realised. Many of the policy measures can be implemented only on a bilateral basis. Pakistan's trading relations with particular countries thus need a careful and continuous review in the light of the actual current relations.


Pakistan's external economic relations are likely to deteriorate in terms of trade imbalance and unequal exchange rates particularly in relation to the developed countries. Its trade imbalance is diagnosed as a predicament forced on the country by the quality of foreign aid pumped into the economy by affluent countries. The mounting burden of foreign debts is a source of rapidly increasing pressure on the country's limited export earnings. The total economic assistance from the developed countries to the developing nations was below the United Nations general target of one per cent of the developed countries' gross national product. The increasing frequency of world monetary storms that have occurred in the last couple of years is expected to force the developed countries to reduce their aid still further in the next few years and much less to Pakistan.

An increasing realisation is now descending on the developing countries that they have to depend more on trade than aid for attaining equilibrium in their external relations. This is an instructive outcome of the disquieting global trends which have unfolded in the recent past. The UN development efforts have been frustrated in Pakistan, more so than in other developing countries. The external trade of developing countries increased during all this period, but it has been a disappointing increase as compared to the increase for the developed countries. The share of the developing countries in world exports has come down to a paltry sum – about 20 per cent! The developed countries are exploiting the technological and economic weakness of the developing countries by forcing them into an acceptance of the onerous term of their tied aid, loans and credits which are no better than suppliers' credits. 


Pakistan's self-reliance index is lower than the already low standards of the developing world. Improvement can only come through a diversification of the country's economy and improvement in its investment, production, export and technological standards. At present, the export orientation of Pakistan's economy is poor. The share of manufacturing in Pakistan's gross national product is much lower than in most other developing countries. As such the export orientation of the country's manufacturing sector must now gather momentum if self-reliance is to be achieved in order to ensure the nation's sovereignty.


The increasing viability of domestic industry requires a determined focus rather than ill-advised demands for greater aid and perpetual spoon-feeding by IFIs and developed nations. The production structure of the economy must be diversified still further. An emphasis on heavy, basic and engineering industries should become the key-note of our industrial policy rather than relying on aid, loans and credit. 


According to an FBR and World Bank report recently, 57 per cent of Pakistan's economy is underground – through rampant under invoicing, tax evasion and smuggling. Only if this part of the economy is brought into the tax-net, Pakistan would be self-reliant and not dependant on the merciless terms of aid, loans and credits which have always left Pakistan poorer. 


The need of the hour is local investment, production and export leading, among others, to employment and local consumption – Roti, Kapra and Makaan – Bread, Clothing and Housing. In that alone lies the salvation and nothing else.


The writer is the founder/chairman of the Atlas group of companies. Email: yhs@ atlas.com.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

ANY WAY OUT OF THE AFGHAN QUAGMIRE?

AYAZ WAZIR THE WRITER IS A FORMER AMBASSADOR AND HAILS FROM FATA.


Speaking the truth for a change, Henry Kissinger once said about his country that its enmity was dangerous but its friendship was fatal. 


This seems to be proving true in the case of Pakistan which not only established far-reaching strategic relations with America since the days of SEATO and CENTO but is now its frontline ally in the so called "war on terror". It has rendered immense sacrifices to serve their interests. 


Even then the US contemplates conducting raids inside Pakistan as reported by the New York Times. Whether President Obama approves the request of his military commanders or not, it does betray the mindset of the US high command. 


In case he agrees, the special task force which is flexing muscles in Afghanistan will launch raids inside Pakistan to cleanse the tribal areas of militants and their sanctuaries. 


Conducting raids in the tribal areas will not be as easy as the US thinks, particularly in the two Waziristans. Let us not forget that it was this very region that knocked the British out when they tried to catch or kill the Faqir of IPI. Despite the use of all firepower, air and ground, available in the subcontinent at that time the British had to cut a sorry figure.


Some analysts consider this demand to be a pressure tactic aimed at forcing Pakistan to launch military operations in North Waziristan, which the US has been persistently demanding for quite some time. 

Here again the US seems not to have learnt lessons from the failure of such operations in other parts of the tribal areas during the last seven years.


If the US launches cleansing operations in the tribal areas, with or without the overt connivance of our government, there will be serious repercussions. It will provoke public outrage and further inflame the already festering anti-U.S. sentiments to such an extent that it could lead to any untoward incident. 


Spontaneous public reaction of this type was seen in the late seventies when on the basis of an unconfirmed report the US embassy in Islamabad was burnt to cinders by the public in no time. 


By ordering troops to cross the border into Pakistani tribal areas the US will not only increase the number of enemies in the region but will also hasten its own defeat. It will also make it impossible for our military leadership to avoid retaliating as in the case of drone attacks to which the political leadership had secretly agreed, as confirmed by Wikileaks. 


Our political leaders have completely deserted the strife-torn areas. They have not visited them even once during their three-year rule over the country. They have taken the easy way out leaving it totally to the army to handle the situation there, including the decision whether and when to launch a military operation – a decision which should be taken by the political leadership and not left to the army alone. 


The US would be well advised to stay away from any such venture. It should remember that the UN had mandated it for operations inside Afghanistan alone and had not given it authority to cross the border into Pakistan. It would be better-off concentrating on securing Afghanistan – particularly the areas near the border with the tribal areas of Pakistan – rather than carrying out drone attacks inside there. 


One fails to understand the logic of the US targeting people inside Pakistan, in total violation of International law. If the drones can hit people inside Pakistan what prevents them from targeting militants once they have crossed over into Afghanistan? 


That would save them from violating the sovereignty of Pakistan on a daily basis. What arguments can they offer to justify this blatant violation of International law other then shifting the responsibility, as well as the focus of the world attention, from the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan? 


The failures of the US led war in Afghanistan are so great that it will not be possible to hide them under the cover of drone attacks or military assaults inside Pakistan. The common American will not be convinced this way that the war is being won, nor will it provide a face-saving exit strategy for the US troops from Afghanistan.

The US has not been consistent in its policy towards Afghanistan. It has not stopped changing goalposts in the war in that country. It did not hesitate to bring those to power who fought against her during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and, while still in the middle of the war, it preferred invading Iraq on the pretext of search for the elusive weapons of mass destructions.


The US could not bear to hear the name of the Taliban during the initial days of the war, what to say of talking to them. It chose to ignore the lessons that others had learnt in Afghanistan. Now after suffering heavily in the ten years of fighting they seem to have realised their mistakes and seem convinced that an all-out defeat of the Taliban is not possible. 


The London Conference, the Kabul Conference and the Lisbon Declaration all endorsed this fact when they laid emphasis on finding a solution to the problem through negotiations. But here again the element of insincerity was obvious when the process was subjected to conditionalities. 


Mullah Omar, his Quetta shura and the Haqqani group were barred from negotiations. Barring foreigners from negotiations is understandable but barring Mullah Omar or Haqqani is beyond comprehension. They are not only nationals of that unfortunate country but major players in the conflict. 


How can they be kept out of negotiation if these are meant to end the conflict in Afghanistan? Negotiations to end wars are conducted between rivals not allies only. What the Americans are doing in Afghanistan is difficult to comprehend. It has rightly been said about the Americans that they can be counted upon doing the right thing but once they have exhausted all the other available alternatives. 


The days are not far when they will have no option but to follow the right course of action which they are avoiding at the moment. 


Email: waziruk@hotmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

DEMOCRACY NEEDS GILANI

 

IN the backdrop of speculations by vested interests that there are moves to change the Prime Minister, the President and Co-Chairman of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari has come out with a categorical statement expressing his full confidence in Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani. In a telephone call the President assured the Prime Minister that he had full support of PPP and that he would complete his full term in office.


The rumour-mongers had been active for the past few days suggesting that the fall of the Government was imminent after JUI (F) Chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman demanded resignation of the Prime Minister. To give credence to their viewpoint, they were insisting that the Maulana who has only eight members in the National Assembly was acting on the express desire of somebody who wanted to change the Prime Minister. JUI (F)'s decision to quit the coalition did not make any difference but the departure of the MQM from the coalition at the Centre left the Government in minority in the Lower House of Parliament. It was a cause of concern for the Prime Minister and he met Punjab Chief Minister Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif and PML-Q President Ch Shujaat Hussain in Lahore on Monday to discuss the evolving political situation and seek their backing to ensure that the democratic system moves on. While the Punjab Chief Minister assured him that his party would not become part of any conspiracy to hurt democracy, the PML-Q leadership was more forthcoming and extended conditional support to Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani with the resolution of multi-dimensional problems of the masses. Ch Shujaat Hussain told media that they had no differences with Premier Gilani and his party would not indulge in politics of blackmailing. Even the MQM has stated that it was not going to demand the removal of the Prime Minister. On the other hand if one takes into consideration the serious differences among the PML-N, PML-Q and the MQM, there is no possibility that they would join hands to dislodge the sitting Government. Even if they do so, a stable Government would not be possible and that would derail democracy. This is fully realized by the top leadership of the country and hence there is no possibility of any no-confidence move against the Prime Minister. In this scenario, we believe there is no danger to the Government of Prime Minister Gilani and the Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar was absolutely right in terming the present political crisis as merely a storm in the teacup and things would settle down soon. We believe democracy needs Mr Gilani who has proved his worth and sincerity to democracy in the past three years and followed the policy of consensus and reconciliation taking all the stakeholders along on critical national issues.


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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PEOPLE-CENTRIC PROCEEDINGS IN NA

 

IT was one of the rarest scenes in the National Assembly on Monday as the House did not transact any other business except discussing and agitating the latest increase in the prices of the petroleum products. Leaving aside whether or not the circumstances and expediencies forced both the opposition and the Treasury to adopt a pro-people stance or sympathetic attitude towards grievances of the general public, it was heartening to note that at least representatives of the people have started taking care of their otherwise forsaken electorates.

People and their welfare should be the focus of discussions in the elected Houses but unfortunately once elected, Members of these Houses are least bothered as to what happens to the unlucky souls. It is frequently pointed out that problems of the people and policies of the government are debated in representative houses during democratic dispensations but it is also a fact that these discussions remain mere discussions and we have never seen any concrete outcome of any debate through adjournment motions. Even unanimous resolutions adopted by one House or both Houses of Parliament have remained neglected. It seems that the parliamentarians too are mindful of this reality as almost all of them on Monday wanted that instead of talking out the matter the debate should be result-oriented. The united stance adopted by all the Opposition Parties compelled the Treasury Benches to agree to a compromise proposed by Asfandyar Wali Khan. Consumers throughout Pakistan are agitating against the increase in POL prices that have triggered a fresh wave of inflation. We hope that apart from POL prices, the political parties would also take serious note of the crippling shortage of gas in the Punjab and power outages in the country besides fleecing the people by sugar mafia. Otherwise, it would be construed that they are just taking political advantage of the situation and have no concern for the plight of the hapless consumers.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

SOOTHING BALOCHISTAN

 

BALOCHISTAN remained neglected for long but it appears that a right beginning has been made to address the problems of the Province on a long-term basis. The establishment of Pakistan Education City at Sui by Pakistan Army would go a long way in spreading light in the hitherto dark and backward area and that is why Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has described it as a New Year gift for the people of the Province.

Human development is key to socio-economic progress of a society and a country and that is why we have been emphasising in these columns to lay emphasis on establishment of schools, colleges and universities as well as media facilities in different areas of Balochistan to bring about a genuine revolution in the lives of the people, who have deliberately been kept ignorant by vested interests that have also exploited meagre resources of the provinces for their own ends. Intellectual empowerment of the people would help them distinguish clearly between their friends and foes and channelise their energies for their own welfare and uplift of the provinces and the country. Pakistan Army deserves appreciation for taking a lead role in such endeavours by setting up the third Cadet College at Sui dismantling the local cantonment as per long-standing demand of the people. The Army also inducted 3,500 Baloch youth and imparted them technical training while another 1700 are being trained at the moment. But the Army alone is not expected to undertake the huge task in Balochistan and that is why there is a dire need for the Provincial and Federal Governments to complement the process by launching similar schemes in other fields. The Province is receiving 110% more resources under the new NFC Award and the additional resources should be judiciously utilised for resolution of the problems of the people and improving economy of the Province.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

FROM CRISIS TO CRISIS

SHAKEEL AHMED

 

Islamabad this morning is enveloped in a thick rolling fog. There is no gas in the house. Earlier in the morning there was load shedding of both the scheduled and un-scheduled type. Life appears to bring no relief— misery having started from the first day of the new year when a steep increase in POL prices was announced. The earlier price increases, specially in the price of diesel oil led to conversion of public transport wagons from diesel to CNG. Shortage of CNG developed and has forced the closure of CNG stations for two days in a week. There are huge waiting lines at the CNG stations not witnessed before. It would not be surprising if an announcement in the increase of CNG prices is made as soon as the Petroleum Minister Naveed Qamar wakes up to take advantage of the situation. 


The government of President Zardari does not possess a magician such as private banker Shaukat Aziz who could perform abra cadabra with the economy and actually convince the outside world that Pakistan was attaining great economic heights. Shaukat Aziz could not have been a reality. Like him, his much vaunted economic miracle has come and gone. It was with Gen. Musharraf's approval that the unprecedented and mysterious step of a 30% upward revision in the GDP was undertaken. It was Shaukat Aziz who claimed that he had doubled per capita income from $400 to $800. This was a cruel joke played on a hapless nation. It was obvious to everyone except the General that for the claim to be credible, per capita income would have to grow at 25% plus the rate of growth of the country's population. It is true that mobile phones became popular. It is also true that banks lent billions for the purchase of cars and other toys. But such developments simply conveyed to the world that some people had become very rich and poverty was rising. The manipulated economic data did nothing to enhance the well being of the common man. The biggest disappointment is that the magician Shaukat Aziz was unable to change the structure of the economy. 


The rich became richer and managed to remain out of the tax net. Their ill gotten wealth was stashed away in foreign banks. Agricultural incomes were not taxed. Land reforms did not take place. The problems that plagued the economy in October 1999 persisted through the Musharraf regime and were there for the new democratic government to face—a task to which they were supremely unqualified. The economic crisis was building up during the Musharraf era. The widening trade gap would have forced a decline in the value of the domestic currency. POL prices were artificially maintained at unsustainable levels. Most of the unpleasant decisions were left to be taken by the popularly elected government. Private banker Shaukat Aziz packed the few belongings he had and evaporated in thin air. The new government had to tackle multiple economic crises. It found itself totally ill-prepared and clueless in addressing the challenges arising out of the shocks. While rest of the world was taking corrective measures and adjusting to higher food and fuel prices, Pakistan lurched from one crisis to another. For a protracted period after the 2008 elections, there were no finance, commerce, petroleum and natural resources and health ministers in the country. 


The government lost six precious months in finding its feet. Mr. Zardari was ill-equipped to lead the nation. With effort and devotion he could have managed a country farm. Pakistan was never easy to govern. He gave the impression of having little sense of direction and purpose. A crisis of confidence intensified as investors and development partners started to walk away. The stock market nosedived, capital flight set in, foreign exchange reserves plummeted and the Pakistani rupee lost one-third of its value. In short, Pakistan's macroeconomic vulnerability had grown unbearable. It had no option but to return to the IMF for a bailout package. There were no road maps, no contingency plans, no options. There was only one plan, that is, to return to the IMF.

The fact is that Pakistan's economic problems are chronic, endemic and systemic, beyond the capacity of Pakistan's present rulers to fix. Military rule simply brushes the problems under the carpet. Due to lack of vision and leadership qualities, Pakistan's democrats have failed to solve these problems which are becoming insurmountable year by year. Debt has become the ugly hallmark of Pakistan's economy together with rising poverty. This debt burden which has simply increased over time has now reached the tipping point where it is overwhelmingly suffocating and crushing Pakistan's economy. As the debt crisis in Europe currently shows a point will come when lenders will stop lending to indebted borrowers; in Pakistan's case the much hyped 'Friends of Democratic Pakistan' has been an abysmal failure with only $700 million materialising. 


Pakistan has so far failed to cut the budget deficit. Even cosmetic changes have not been made. The economy continues to remain in intensive care unit and is breathing thanks to the injections from the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The economy is not on the radar screen of the government and as such the economic managers have no relevance in the current political set up. That could be a prime reason for the invisibility of the current Finance Minister, Mr. Hafeez Sheikh.


Action needs to be taken quickly to bridge the budget deficit. As pointed out by the State Bank of Pakistan in its latest report, the printing of notes at their current levels cannot be sustained. If resources cannot be increased in the short run, government can take measures for a drastic cut in expenditures. This does not seem to be on the cards. Pakistan does not deserve to face another crisis on this account. Should Mr. Yusuf Raza survive the present crisis he should move to correct some of the structural imbalances.


—The writer is a member of the former Civil Service of Pakistan.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

US HAS ALWAYS TREATED PAKISTAN UNFAIRLY

ASIF HAROON RAJA

 

The US has always remained inclined towards India and treated Pakistan unfairly. In the early 1950s, when the US built a defensive arc to contain communist southward expansionism, Pakistan was made part of SEATO and CENTO only when India turned down the offer. Pakistan agreed because of its acute security concerns from hostile India and unfriendly Afghanistan. During and after Indo-Sino border conflict in 1962, the US and the west filled up India 's arsenal with weapons and equipment. By so doing, it tilted the regional military balance towards India which was aligned with USSR. 


During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, the US blocked supply of armaments to Pakistan and India, despite knowing that Moscow was continuing to supply India its defence needs uninterruptedly. Pakistan 's military reserves got so critically depleted that it had to agree to ceasefire at a stage when its strategic reserves were well poised to mount a counter offensive in Ravi-Chenab corridor. The US sanctions seriously jeopardized Ayub Khan's second five-year development plan which had all the potential to address east-west economic imbalance.

The US once again stopped the flow of military supplies to Pakistan after March 1971 while India kept receiving its defence needs from Moscow. It placed Pakistan at a serious disadvantage when war broke out in November 1971. The US, western world as well as the UN remained drawn towards India and none came to Pakistan 's rescue when it was dismembered. India was let off by USA and the west for its nuclear explosion at Pokhran in 1974. But when ZA Bhutto expressed his intentions to make Pakistan nuclear, he was threatened of dire consequences. India 's progress in nuclear program was ignored, but Pakistan 's nuclear program was subjected to unrelenting propaganda campaign in the 1980s and bogey of Islamic bomb was raised to frighten the world. Harsh sanctions were imposed on Pakistan by USA in 1965, 1971, 1979, 1990 and 1998 and thus became the most sanctioned country in the world despite being the most allied ally of USA . India on the other hand was never punished either by USSR or USA despite its poor track record in state terrorism, cross border terrorism and human rights violations. Despite series of sanctions, Pakistan 's economy till 1990 was much healthier than India . 


The visible discriminatory incline was again seen on the occasion of nuclear tests by India followed by Pakistan in May 1998. While India was given a polite slap on the wrist, all hell broke lose on Pakistan . Its sin has not been forgiven to this day since nuclear capability with a Muslim state is unacceptable to USA , Europe , Russia and India . China and North Korea are the only two non-Muslim countries that have no ill-designs against Pakistan 's nuclear program. Rather, the two have contributed towards it. Deliberate efforts are underway to

disable Pakistan 's nuclear program.


The US has awarded civilian nuclear deal to India in violation of NPT to allow India further upgrade its nuclear capability. It has however, denied the same to Pakistan and also wants to roll back its modest program. While it has no objection to India inking nuclear agreements with Russia , Japan , France and Israel , it expresses its deepest concerns over China installing another reactor at Chashma. The US has also been trying to smuggle out enriched uranium from Pakistan . In the conventional field also, while India has been given full leverage to shop sophisticated weapons from anywhere in the world, Pakistan could get its F-16s after a delay of 23 years. Even counter terrorism equipment is given with undue hesitancy so as not to displease India . 


During the Kargil conflict, G-20 countries led by USA came down heavily upon Pakistan . Intense pressure was put on Pakistan to withdraw its forces from occupied territories. Ultimately it was forced to give up its gains without getting anything in return. India has never been accused of its massive human rights abuses in occupied Kashmir . Ignoring UN resolutions, which clearly lay down the need for a fair plebiscite, and also turning a blind eye to freedom struggle raging since 1989, the US and the west never question India . They agree with India 's harebrained stance that liberation movement is Pakistan aided and fall within category of terrorism. Now when the armed resistance has got converted to unarmed movement led by teenagers demanding freedom from India, the champions of human rights are still tightlipped and the western media silent.


Despite knowing that Kashmir is a flashpoint, the US has distanced itself from playing any part towards its resolution. It has however been applying pressure on Pakistan to settle the dispute on Indian terms by accepting Line of Control (LoC) as permanent border. India has not committed a single soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq to fight the militants. Pakistan is fighting US dictated war on terror since 2001 and has committed nearly 150,000 troops. Its casualty rate is many times more than combined fatalities suffered by 48 countries involved in counter insurgency. Yet the wrath of USA falls on Pakistan and affections and benefits are reserved for India .


During ten-month Indo-Pak military standoff in 2002 when the entire military might of India had got deployed on Pakistan's eastern border on a fabricated charge that Pakistan was behind the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament, the US sympathized with India. It made no effort to make it pull back its forces from the border. In that timeframe, Pakistan was extending all out support to US military to consolidate is gains in Afghanistan . Four air bases in Balochistan were leased to US military and 70,000 troops had been deployed along its western border to prevent the fleeing Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters to enter Pakistan . Since India was on the wrong, it had to withdraw with egg on its face. The US pressured Pakistan to disable six Jihadi groups including Lashkar-e-Taiba engaged in supporting liberation movement in occupied Kashmir , control cross LoC movement and to let India fence the LoC in Kashmir . These steps took the life out of freedom movement. 


Indian military leaders started crowing that its forces had succeeded in snuffing out terrorism in Kashmir . Pretending to be a strategic ally, the US allowed CIA, FBI, Mossad, RAW, MI6 and RAAM to carryout intensive covert operations against selected regions in Pakistan from Afghan soil with a view to weaken Pakistan's hold over nuclear arsenal. ISI trying to foil foreign inspired conspiracies displeased USA . It strove to cut ISI to size so that it was not in a position to put up a frontline defence for Pakistan . 


When Mumbai attacks took place in November 2008, Pakistan was blamed and the entire western world and USA began to sympathize with India and are still doing so. USA and UK exerted extensive pressure on Pakistan to let Indian air force carry out surgical strikes against suspected terrorist camps in Azad Kashmir and Muredke so as to avoid a full fledged war. All the strike formations of Indian military remained in battle locations for many months in 2009 and Gen Kapoor hurled threats of limited war under a nuclear overhang. The US took no notice of these jingoistic statements. Several RAW sponsored terrorist group attacks were launched in Lahore on sensitive targets. Ignoring Pakistan 's protests, the US harped that India posed no threat to Pakistan 's security and that it should shift all its forces from eastern to northwestern border. 


With this background and ongoing history of discriminations, how can the US claim that it doesn't harbor ill intentions against Pakistan and has not been treated unfairly? The US will have to do a lot more to alleviate the misgivings and fears of people of Pakistan and win their hearts and minds. Attitude and evenhandedness and not aid will bring the change. 

The writer is a defence analyst. 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

COLONIALISM IS THE REAL ENEMY

MOEZ MOBEEN

 

It has almost been two centuries since the Muslim World engaged itself in the debate about revival which was stimulated by the rise of European Liberalism and the decline in the power and influence of the once mighty ottoman caliphate. It is both ironic and encouraging that the debate continues; ironic because the Muslim World still finds itself in decline and in an abysmal state, encouraging because they haven't given up on changing their state of affairs. 


Although the debate about revival within the Muslim World took many ideological turns in the course of these two centuries, exploring new ideas, testing new notions, looking for new solutions, it was from its very start to the present day, influenced from outside the Muslim World. Infact it was not until liberalism took hold in Europe, radically changing its outlook and political institutions, and the rapid industrialization which strengthened the European Powers of the day both economically and politically, resulting in European expansion around the globe that the Muslim World start to feel its weakness and the need for internal strength. 

Just as Francis Fukuyama learned a decade later about the limits of liberalism, with the launch of the war on terror which was an explicit admission by the West of its failure to convince the Muslim World of Western ideals and thus a resort to force to control the affairs of the Muslim World, the Muslims under the Ottoman caliphs found out the cost of the intellectual lethargy which had engulfed the Muslim World. Western colonialism within the Muslim world can be divided in to three phases over the course of the last two centuries: 1-Soft Colonialism: An era stretching from the end of eighteenth century till the destruction of the Islamic Caliphate on 3rd March 1924. The colonialists exploited the intellectual weakness of the Muslim World realizing that their material and scientific progress has impressed many amongst the Muslims especially the educated class and led an intellectual struggle within the Muslim World forcing her to reform her political institutions in tune with Western political institutions. This phase could also be called cultural colonialism in which the colonialists prepared Western trained and cultured Muslim elite who would become her ideological agents and spread Western ideals like democracy, freedom, feminism, nationalism, sovereignty of the human mind and the need to separate religion and state. The aim of the colonialists was to internally weaken the ottoman caliphate so that it can be disintegrated and eventually destroyed. The cultural bombardment of ideas from Western civilization was coupled with the ever increasing political pressure which the colonial states like Britain and France brought upon the ottoman caliphate pushing it for political reform and granting autonomy to its provinces which were later to be separated and majority of which were to become colonies of the European Powers. During this phase the Ottoman caliphate saw much of its territory being lost in the Balkan regions, Africa, Middle East and the subcontinent. 


2-Classical Colonialism: This is the era of physical and direct occupation of Muslim lands by Western colonialists. This occupation started towards the end of eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century till it reached its pinnacle after the destruction of the ottoman caliphate at the hands of the allies in the First World War on 3rd March 1924. It marked the start of an era of complete domination of Muslim lands by Western Powers when the whole of Muslim land came under the physical control of the colonialists. Apart from plundering the resources of the colonies the Western powers used this era to inculcate in the Muslim mind the Western political thought through the education curriculum and establishment of political forces advocating the reorganization of the Muslim societies based on the separation of state and religion. It was also the era in which the colonialists oversaw the consolidation of Westphalian ideal of national sovereignty in Muslim lands. This was the beginning of the introduction of democracy in Muslim lands, a system imposed by the occupying forces on their subjects. It is no wonder then after the end of physical occupation by the colonialists on Muslim lands these areas inherited the boundaries drawn by the colonialists as agreed between them in the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Treaty of Sevres as well as the constitutions made for them by the colonialists.


3-Neo-Colonialism: After the Second World War the European Powers were significantly weakened and could not physically control their colonies. Also the rise in power and influence of the US and Soviet Union meant influence on Muslim lands had new and strong competitors. The colonialists withdrew from Muslim lands and designed the architecture for neo colonialism by institutionalizing what we today know as the international community and international law. International organizations like the IMF, World Bank, United Nations and Commonwealth were formed and their governing structures were designed in a a manner that these institutions were controlled and dominated by the great powers. The Veto wielding Security Council members, the unwritten law that the head of the World Bank would always be an American and that of IMF always a European, the US being the only country to have a super majority in the governing board of the IMF giving it an effective veto, are some examples of how the newly setup international community was designed to serve the colonial powers. Moreover the efficiency and lethargy of these organizations with regards to different global issues speak volumes about these being tools of colonial powers. The quickness with which the United Nations acted to establish the Israeli State and the delay in the resolution of the Palestinian issue, United Nations mandating the attack on Iraq at the time of first Gulf War and the invasion of Afghanistan while delaying the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, the partition of East Taimur from Indonesia on the one hand and failure to stop the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo in former Yugoslavia on the other, the provision of Civil Nuclear Deal to India while its refusal to Iran are examples of the inherent bias of the international institutions towards Western colonialists. However what served as the pillars of neo-colonialism in Muslim lands, apart from the so called "international community" were two of the major tools which the West nurtured during the era of soft colonialism and classical colonialism; pliant puppet rulers and Western systems (mainly democracy). 

It was to this hard fact that the Wikileaks pointed out, as a rude reminder to Muslim masses that although the era of classical colonialism may be over but colonialism persists in Muslim lands in a new shape; agent rulers, western systems and the holy than thou international architecture governing the relations between states. The Muslim world needs to realize that colonialism is the real enemy and if they are to arrest the decline prevalent in their lands they need to viciously target every aspect of the colonialist presence whether it be the agent rulers, democracy and the rejection of the biased international order which has imposed destructive wars and economic stagnation over their lands. It is by returning to re-establishing the ideological Islamic state and resurrecting the institution of the caliphate that they have any hope of ending their abysmal state of affairs. That is the lesson of history for the Muslim World.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

DAYS OF YORE

YAHYA AHMAD

 

Before the 80's there was no concept of sectarian violence present in Pakistan. All the sects used to enjoy complete harmony and respect for each other's beliefs. There might have been some underlying tensions, but they never seem to threaten the social structure. This menace broke out during the rapid so called Islamization in the early 80's, with the instability of our neighbors and the Afghan war contributing to it. Afghan war specially brought in the weapons required, to add fuel to this fire. The steps taken by the then government and the preceding regimes were mostly ineffective and insufficient as the scale of this danger grew much rapidly. 

To add further to our difficulties anti-state and foreign elements jumped on to this opportunity, to destabilize and weaken the country. Since the last two decades more than 7,320 people have been injured in this bloodshed, while more than 3,423 have lost their lives. Up to 2530 incidents of sectarian violence and killings have been recorded. There has been a sharp rise in sectarian violence casualties in 2010 as only 49 incidents took place but with a record casualty figure of 457 killed and 1087 injured. This is the highest throughout the history of this menace since the 80's. Recently, the blasts at shrines of Baba Farid in Pakpattan, Abdulah Shah Ghazi shrine and Muharram procession in Karachi and Data Darbar in Lahore, are the horrific examples of this blood bath. Last year, in the same sacred month of Muharram, a suicide blast ripped through a procession killing 25 and injuring 80. The casualties resulting in the blast of Data Darbar from twin suicide bombers resulted in the death of 42 people and 175 others were injured. The attack on the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi resulted in the deaths 12 people including 2 children, while 65 sustained injuries. These are all examples how these elements are choosing their targets, keeping in view not only to further their agenda but also maximize casualties. Muharram is the time which these elements exploit every year to make trouble, as the emotions and sentiments are high and the events are in the limelight for the world to see.


The easy availability of latest weaponry and access to military grade explosives has made their job easier. With the recent situation in the tribal areas (which is also the victim of large scale sectarian violence), neighboring Afghanistan, worsening economic condition and lack of education, the situation is ripe for the fanatical and anti-state elements to exploit. In these conditions they are attracting people by either filling their minds by their poisonous interpretations of the religion or by awarding economic incentives. Foreign destabilizing elements have also pounced at this prospect and are providing funds and assistance covertly. Our security situation has worsened, as our civil security apparatus seems to have failed in defeating this threat. They seem to be ill-trained, ill-equipped and worst of all lacking morale to fight the danger this country faces. 


The governments throughout this reign of terror were not able to make any significant attempts to curtail it, or to root out its causes. In some cases, the steps taken by the state covertly or overtly have only made matters worse than they already were. These terror networks are also being funded and protected by many political and public figures who, are looking to take advantage of the situation for their political gains. Due to this many of the banned outfits are still operating without any hindrance, under the very nose of the state.


It is now the responsibility of everyone, the state and the people, to drive these elements away before they do any more damage. The government in association with local people and NGOs should, take the initiative to setup schools and educational institutions in rural and underdeveloped areas. This will take the fertile recruiting ground away from these terror networks, as people will be educated and will develop tolerance for each others' beliefs. Economic stability should also be achieved by devising proper long term policies, facilitating the people by creating jobs and controlling inflation. The security apparatus, such as the police and intelligence networks should be properly trained and equipped. They should be awarded proper incentives and their morale should be boosted. Funding and supplies to the terror networks should be obstructed at the source, so as to run these organizations dry. Anyone found in sponsoring these subversive acts of terror for personal or political gains should be given exemplary punishments, no matter how highly placed. Foreign intervention should also be removed from the equation, by confronting the nations involved.


To sum up, if we want the days of yore to return, the country to prosper in peace where, everyone has respect for other's views, then serious and concrete measures will have to be taken not only at state level, but individual level as well. People will have to open their minds and develop acceptance (which is rarely present in our society now) for communities with different beliefs. Only then, Pakistan can flourish and we can take steps in the right direction to make up for the time lost in this long battle.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

HOW TO STAY FRIENDS WITH CHINA

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI

 

THE visit by President Hu Jintao of China to Washington this month will be the most important top-level United States-Chinese encounter since Deng Xiaoping's historic trip more than 30 years ago. It should therefore yield more than the usual boilerplate professions of mutual esteem. It should aim for a definition of the relationship between the two countries that does justice to the global promise of constructive co-operation between them. I remember Deng's visit well, as I was national security adviser at the time. It took place in an era of Soviet expansionism, and crystallised United States-Chinese efforts to oppose it. It also marked the beginning of China's three-decades-long economic transformation — one facilitated by its new diplomatic ties to the United States.


President Hu's visit takes place in a different climate. There are growing uncertainties regarding the state of the bilateral relationship, as well as concerns in Asia over China's longer-range geopolitical aspirations. These uncertainties are casting a shadow over the upcoming meeting. In recent months there has been a steady increase in polemics in the United States and China, with each side accusing the other of pursuing economic policies that run contrary to accepted international rules. Each has described the other as selfish. Longstanding differences between the American and the Chinese notions of human rights were accentuated by the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident.


Moreover, each side has unintentionally intensified the suspicions of the other. Washington's decisions to help India with nuclear energy have stimulated China's unease, prompting increased Chinese support for Pakistan's desire to expand its own nuclear energy potential. China's seeming lack of concern over North Korea's violent skirmishes with South Korea has given rise to apprehension about China's policy on the Korean peninsula. And just as America's unilateralism has in recent years needlessly antagonised some of its friends, so China should note that some of its recent stands have worried its neighbours. The worst outcome for Asia's long-term stability as well as for the American-Chinese relationship would be a drift into escalating reciprocal demonization.

The pressures are real. The United States' need for comprehensive domestic renewal, for instance, is in many respects the price of having shouldered the burdens of waging the 40-year cold war, and it is in part the price of having neglected for the last 20 years mounting evidence of its own domestic obsolescence. Our weakening infrastructure is merely a symptom of the country's slide backward into the 20th century. China, meanwhile, is struggling to manage an overheated economy within an inflexible political system. Some pronouncements by Chinese commentators smack of premature triumphalism regarding both China's domestic transformation and its global role. (Those Chinese leaders who still take Marxist classics seriously might do well to re-read Stalin's message of 1930 to the party cadres titled "Dizzy With Success," which warned against "a spirit of vanity and conceit.")

Thirty years after their collaborative relationship started, the United States and China should not flinch from a forthright discussion of their differences — but they should undertake it with the knowledge that each needs the other. A failure to consolidate and widen their co-operation would damage not just both nations but the world as a whole. Neither side should delude itself that it can avoid the harm caused by an increased mutual antagonism; both should understand that a crisis in one country can hurt the other. For the visit to be more than symbolic, Presidents Obama and Hu should make a serious effort to codify in a joint declaration the historic potential of productive American-Chinese co-operation. They should outline the principles that should guide it. They should declare their commitment to the concept that the American-Chinese partnership should have a wider mission than national self-interest. That partnership should be guided by the moral imperatives of the 21st century's unprecedented global interdependence.


The declaration should set in motion a process for defining common political, economic and social goals. It should acknowledge frankly the reality of some disagreements as well as register a shared determination to seek ways of narrowing the ranges of such disagreements. It should also take note of potential threats to security in areas of mutual concern, and commit both sides to enhanced consultations and collaboration in coping with them. Such a joint charter should, in effect, provide the framework not only for avoiding what under some circumstances could become a hostile rivalry but also for expanding a realistic collaboration between the United States and China. This would do justice to a vital relationship between two great nations of strikingly different histories, identities and cultures — yet both endowed with a historically important global role. The writer was the national security adviser in the Carter administration. — The New York Times

 

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the austRALIAN

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

THE ECONOMICS OF EMPATHY

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AMONG THE OLD WILL DELIVER DIVIDENDS.

 

At the University of California, scientists, presumably from the Institute for Stating the Obvious, have discovered that we develop empathy as we age. The experiment involved showing distressing scenes from films to people of all ages and measuring responses. The older the audience, the more emotions they felt. There are two explanations for this. The one scientists like is that we are programmed from pre-history to be more aware of the needs of those around us and to protect the powerless as we age. Ideas of this kind are all the go at present, as brain researchers discover that much of what we do was programmed in pre-history. According to this sort of scenario, older people acquire empathy as a survival skill. In ancient societies where food was scarce and everybody had to pull their weight, caring for children and the sick was work for those who could not hunt or farm.

 

It's the sort of explanation only an economist could love, reducing the ability to feel the pain of others and a desire to save them from suffering to a biochemical exchange mechanism.

 

But there is an alternative, commonsense suggestion: people who have seen a bit of life empathise with suffering because they have endured something similar themselves. The longer they live, the more old people become determined to save others from making mistakes and suffering pain, especially children they love.

 

This capacity to understand others and respect their needs is now highly regarded by pyschologists, who refer to it as emotional intelligence.

 

We used to call it generosity of spirit and wisdom.

 

Whatever labels we attach to compassion and understanding, the good news is that there is going to be a lot of it about. There will be 4 million Australians aged between 65 and 80 in 10 years time and paying for their prescriptions and pensions will be expensive.

 

But if existing trends continue, there will also be many more older workers. Economist Judith Sloan says the number of women in the 55-64 age bracket who are in the workforce has doubled in 20 years. And the presence of increasing numbers of these mature workers, especially women, will make for workplaces where there is more courtesy than confrontation, which will inevitably improve output.

 

Standby for economists explaining the productivity dividend generated by the old and emotionally intelligent.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

MORE TAX WILL NOT PROTECT RETAILERS FROM CYBERSPACE

WHEN THE SHOPPING MALL IS GLOBAL, ONLY COMPETITION CUTS IT.

 

It would be tempting, but dangerous, to dismiss the campaign by some retailers against the GST exemption on privately imported goods valued at less than $1000 as self-interested special pleading. Naturally retailers are looking for government protection, or at least a level playing field, as their businesses face global competition in the digital age. It is also true that economic conditions are making life tough for retailers, that consumer spending is down and that the strength of the Australian dollar is making online shopping particularly attractive. But it would be a mistake to push the retailers' complaints aside or dismiss them as a story getting too much attention in a quiet news period. Gerry Harvey is not the only entrepreneur having to cope with the unforeseen consequences of the digital era, and governments and businesses must adapt quickly to a rapidly changing world.

 

There is little the government can do to solve this particular problem. They cannot turn back the clock. Consumers are the winners and any government that tried to levy GST on small personal transactions would face stiff resistance, even if it were possible. Price competition for many commodities no longer recognises national boundaries and the long-established practice of putting different margins on branded goods in different markets will become much harder.

 

Differential tax, however, is just one of many challenges to high-street retailers of easily transportable, non-perishable goods. Floor space and wages are generally higher in Australia and a relatively small, geographically spread market makes economies of scale harder to achieve. Retailing is not alone as a relative newcomer to the forces of global competition or as an industry that before the dawning of the digital age was protected by national boundaries. The newspaper industry is quickly learning to adapt and television business models, both pay and free-to-air, must adapt to high-speed broadband distribution. And the revolution has hardly begun. The gambling industry, publishing, pharmaceuticals, banking, travel agencies, higher education and even accountancy are feeling the red-hot competition of a global economy.

 

It took the Hawke and Keating governments in the early 1980s to get the measure of the first wave of globalisation and to implement the structural reforms and macro-economic policy settings that ensured our continued prosperity. Riding the digital age will require the same degree of foresight and, like the deregulation implemented by the Hawke and Keating governments, sensible public policy will generally remove market impediments rather than impose them.

 

The Gillard government has at least recognised the challenge by expanding the communications portfolio and giving Stephen Conroy the title of Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. We wait to see how he tackles that last area of his portfolio, but we seriously doubt if the National Broadband Network will address the issues at hand.

 

Digging trenches and stringing cables is the easy part. Providing the vision to help Australians prosper in an interconnected world will be much more challenging.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

DEFENDING ALL RELIGIOUS RIGHTS

EGYPT'S CHRISTIANS NEED PROTECTION FROM SECTARIAN ATTACKS.

 

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak blames foreigners for the bombing of a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria which killed 21 worshippers and wounded 100, and there is every reason to believe the attackers were at least inspired by al-Qa'ida. But that is only part of the story. The root cause of the deepening sectarian crisis in the Arab world's most populous nation lies in the failure of Mr Mubarak's long-serving government (in power since 1981) to protect the Coptic minority.

 

Instead, by appeasing Muslim militancy, he has made Christians more vulnerable to attack.

 

Copts make up 10 per cent of Egypt's 80 million people and have been a vital element in society since the 1919 revolution, when a green banner bearing both an Islamic crescent and a Christian cross symbolised the unity of the two groups. However, the Copts now complain of discrimination at every level. An unsympathetic bureaucracy requires high-level approval for the smallest of alterations to existing churches, as well as for new places of worship. Copts are denied jobs and education opportunities. Marriage between Coptic men and Muslim women has been banned. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights organisation reports that 52 anti-Christian incidents between 2008 and 2010 have gone unpunished. The issue of religious conversions is also highly charged. In Iraq, al-Qa'ida calls for attacks on Christians to avenge the alleged kidnapping and detention by Egypt's Copts of two women who are claimed to have converted to Islam. In this environment Muslim extremists taking their cue from al-Qa'ida, whose deputy leader is the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, have been acting largely with impunity. They see the Copts as easy targets, forsaken by a government which is buttressing its political base by appeasing the militants it once campaigned to crush.

 

Mr Mubarak is a tough former air force commander who has shown himself to be uncompromising in dealing with terrorist groups and speaks of cutting off the hand of terrorism. He should spare nothing to do so. The Copts need protection against extremism and an end to discrimination. Otherwise a sectarian conflagration in Egypt is inevitable. Coptic Pope Shenouda III has made an appeal for help. Mr Mubarak should heed it.

 

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

A COUNTRY'S PRACTICE: INCOMPLETE

 

As the Australian dollar has moved steadily to parity with the US dollar and above, we have noted how the competitiveness of our service sector industries has been eroded. We have argued that the answer is not protection or subsidies, but intelligent work on improving value for money so that quality, not cheapness, becomes Australia's selling point.

 

Education is coming close to being Australia's top service export industry - understandably so when young people can combine good and stimulating study with a pleasant and safe place to live, especially for those from Asia's newly prosperous nations. In NSW it is second only to coal shipments in bringing overseas money into the economy, about $6.7 billion a year.

 

Yet, as the Herald reported yesterday, there is another example of foreign students getting short shrift in NSW after forking out huge sums for their degrees. A survey by the Australian Medical Association has found that most foreign medical students were not told before enrolling that the hospital internships so vital to rounding off their training were not guaranteed. The rules were changed in 2009 without much publicity, to give preference to Australians and New Zealanders trained here. As one student put it, without an internship, a new medical graduate was virtually unemployable after education expenses of $300,000.

 

There is a serious ethical lapse here if, as the medical association's findings indicate, our health and university authorities utilise the full-fee paying foreign student population to subsidise courses for local students and then deprive them of the practical experience needed to build on their degrees. It will add to the perception that behind the talk of the broadening effect of students from different countries mixing together, we are only out to exploit the foreign student dollar to the max.

 

The rash of attacks on Indian students in 2009 showed our governments caught unawares by the social impact of the education industry they had so blithely encouraged. Much remedial action was required, and at least the violence seems to have diminished greatly. But more needs to be done. Reinvestment of some of our educational earnings in providing enough medical internships seems one obvious thing, especially if we face a shortage of doctors. As we have been arguing, more help for students with housing in Sydney and Melbourne is another. And why are our state politicians still stalling on the few million dollars needed to extend public transport concessions to overseas students, removing a rankling discrimination?

 

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

OLDIES CAN BE GOLDIES

 

There have to be good things about reaching the age of 60, and fortunately there are, according to two new studies in the US. People in their 60s tend to become more mellow, more accepting and more empathetic, which is good news, because it is useful for society when we are facing an enormous challenge in the increased scale and cost of aged care.

 

A standard cliche of older people is that of the curmudgeon, the crotchety grouch, prone to complaint. It's a cliche because it is often true. This cliche has its roots in physiology, with research showing that the brain functions responsible for impulse-control diminish with age. Also diminished are the functions for memory and planning. As a result, many people do not age gracefully. They become self-absorbed and negative. This, in turn, produces the delusion that talking about one's ailments is interesting conversation. Generally it is not. Politeness from the listener is not the same as interest.

 

That's the bad news. The good news arrived in the form of two studies conducted by psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley, who surveyed groups of 144 and 222 healthy adults respectively. Both studies found that people in their 60s have a higher emotional intelligence than the younger people studied in the surveys.

 

The results of both Berkeley studies were consistent with scientific research that finds our nervous systems structured to become more detached with age, and more concerned with caring and being cared for. One study found that older people were better able to draw positives from adversity, and to be more objective and more accepting than younger people.

 

The second study found people in their 60s felt more empathy than people in their 20s and 40s when shown distressing images in films. This, the researchers concluded, resulted from the more extensive life experiences of the older participants, which gave them a greater first-hand experience of loss.

 

There is a practical good to all this. With lifespan increasing, the percentage of Australians over the age of 60 is inevitably increasing, especially with the first of the largest generation, the baby boomers, entering their 60s. What these studies point to is the resource that people in their 60s represent as a caring generation for people in their 80s and 90s. Governments need to ponder this potential. We tend to think of carers as younger. Becoming a senior does not have to mean becoming irrelevant. Greater acceptance of life's unruliness is a key to ageing with dignity and usefulness.

 

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

CABLES SHOW ANTI-WHALING POLICY IS ALL AT SEA

 

THE Labor and Coalition approaches to Japanese whaling before and after November 2007 highlight the role reversals a change of government brings. For a decade, the Howard government insisted on a restrained diplomatic approach to a key trading partner. Even as public outrage grew at whaling in a declared Southern Ocean sanctuary, the government pursued its unproductive course while the opposition demanded Australia take legal action. Today, it is the Coalition that condemns diplomatic compromise as yet another whaling season begins.

 

The Age supported the government's decision to mount a case in the International Court of Justice. That was one bold promise Kevin Rudd eventually kept as prime minister. In Tokyo in mid-2008, Mr Rudd seemed to have defaulted to the position of his predecessor, John Howard. The leaders said the bilateral relationship was too important to risk over whaling. Mr Rudd even copied the Howard government in saying the countries had ''agreed to disagree''. Unblushingly, the opposition said this was not good enough and Australia should do more - a word-for-word echo of Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett three years before.

 

By 2007, Japan's ''research'' program targeted up to 935 minke whales, a doubling of earlier quotas, and up to 50 humpback and 50 fin whales for the first time. This year, 935 minke and 50 fin whales are in the whalers' sights. So much for diplomatic pressure. By 2007, even Mr Howard conceded it hadn't worked. But still his government opposed a Federal Court action by the Humane Society International against whaling in the Australian Antarctic zone, and Japan felt free to ignore the court decision.

 

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In 2008, the new government sent a ship to the Antarctic to collect evidence against whaling. Protesters also published damning material. Japan responded by sending spy flights, from Australian airports, to track the protesters. As The Age reported yesterday, US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks show that last February, Mr Garrett, as environment minister, told the US ambassador the political and public reaction made it harder to accept a US-favoured deal under which Japan could pursue commercial whaling, with smaller quotas and excluding humpback and fin whales.

 

The cables expose rifts in the Australian ranks. Publicly, Mr Rudd wanted the slaughter of whales cut ''to zero'' and said Australia would launch legal action. Foreign Affairs officials indicated to the US last January that Australia was open to a compromise, which must include a minimum number of whales saved - 5000 over 10 years was suggested. A cable a month earlier said Mr Garrett had told the US he was ''more committed to ending whaling than the Foreign Affairs experts negotiating with Japan''. Two months later, US diplomats heard from Foreign Affairs that a deal had ''bounced off'' Mr Garrett. Ministers also appeared to be at odds. Last October, Mr Garrett objected to US meddling in internal deliberations following a letter from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to then foreign minister Stephen Smith, whose staff told the US its deal could be accepted.

 

This is not so much duplicity - the opposition claims the leaks show the government was saying one thing publicly and another privately - as confusion and disagreement about how to proceed. Today, though, The Age reveals a shameful motive for the International Court of Justice action, which Foreign Affairs advised had a limited chance of success. According to Labor sources who briefed the US, taking the action would ease pressure on the government for at least a couple of years while the case proceeded.

 

All the while, the slaughter continues. Opposition parties are right to call for closer monitoring of whalers and their clashes with protesters. Tony Abbott's caveat-laden call is to ''continue all reasonable efforts to do what we can to stop the hunt''. A lot depends on the political definition of reasonable. Save the whales? Not, it seems, if that's left to politicians.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE SPIRIT OF GIVING IS IN OUR BLOOD

 

SOMETIMES, the most precious gifts are beyond monetary worth and materialistic advantage. Their significance can not only be life-affirming, but also life-saving. One such gift is within us all, and without it we would die.

 

Most people take blood for granted - knowing it flows through the body, out of sight and efficiently, and comes to the surface only occasionally, perhaps when the skin is nicked in the kitchen or while shaving. But the importance of blood has more significance than its containment in any one body: it can also be there to share. As The Age reported yesterday, blood is always in demand, and the search for donors never ends. According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, although one in three people will need blood, there is only one person in 30 willing to supply it. At this time of year, with many regular donors away, blood stocks drop dramatically. Yet the demand - almost 27,000 donations a week are required for needy patients - remains constant, especially for the rarer blood types. The majority of donated blood goes to cancer sufferers, accident or burns victims; while plasma and platelet donations are used to make 16 different blood products. But all these have limited shelf-life, and keeping up supplies is crucial.

 

''You can do so much good so easily,'' said one donor, Bernadette Dennis, who shares her blood type with only 6 per cent of the population, and who has donated more than 200 times. Ms Dennis, who lost both parents, a sister and a brother to cancer, has strong reasons to be a blood donor - but the capacity is also there for those without such an unfortunate history, who might simply wish to help. The Red Cross website has many inspiring stories from recipients and donors, including 73-year-old James Harrison, who has been giving blood since he was 18 and is known as ''the man with the golden arm''.

 

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All this is a far cry from the days of the BBC's The Blood Donor, when Tony Hancock told the doctor, ''I don't mind giving a reasonable amount, but a pint … why that's very nearly an armful. I'm sorry. I'm not walking around with an empty arm for anybody.'' Fortunately, the facts contradict the man with the empty arm's far from sanguine parsimony: the Red Cross says the standard blood donation of 470 millilitres is less than 10 per cent of body volume and quickly replenished. In truth, donors are always required, and the time is minimal. It takes about an hour to give the blood that could extend a recipient's life by years.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

HUNGARY: ONE-PARTY RULE

 

Rightwing populist Viktor Orban is the last person in Europe suited to hosting the EU rotating presidency

 

When he swept to power in April last year, Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, said voters had carried out a revolution by giving his rightwing Fidesz party more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament. Since then, he has stripped his country's constitutional court of the power to review the budget; he has attacked the Hungarian National Bank, the last major institution not under his party's control; and now he has turned on journalists. A national media board has the power to impose crippling fines for coverage deemed unbalanced, immoral or "offensive to human dignity". People should judge for themselves what colour this revolution is.

 

Hungary's problems are now Europe's too. As holder of the EU rotating presidency for the next six months, Hungary has many responsibilities: to conclude an EU entry deal with Croatia, to bring Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area, to discuss the integration of the Roma community and to agree on better economic governance within the EU. As a rightwing populist who has already provoked the ire of Germany, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and the OSCE over his media law, Mr Orban is the last person in Europe suited to oversee, let alone host, any of these negotiations. His one contribution to the central European debate has been to raise ghosts of the past by granting citizenship to 3.5m people of Magyar extraction in neighbouring countries, while stopping short of the incendiary proposal by the neo-fascist Jobbik party to give them voting rights.

 

It is right to acknowledge the disastrous economic legacy of the previous Hungarian government. Yet perhaps the closest parallel to Mr Orban's national patriotic revolution is the ill-fated rule of the Kaczynski twins in Poland. But, unlike Poland, Hungary is a small country – and one whose economy is dependent on German investment. Without it, this house of cards would collapse.

 

Mr Orban has already kicked out the IMF, insisting Hungary could find money from the markets. But when 15 of Europe's leading companies and major foreign investors then complained about a windfall tax imposed selectively on them to shore up the national budget, Mr Orban found himself stepping on some even more important toes. Hungary, now effectively under one-party rule, can be populist, isolationist and poor, or it can seek foreign investment. But it cannot do both. As Mr Orban and his party control not only parliament but almost every major city, it falls to the media to play the role of scrutineer and political opponent. Their role should be vigorously upheld, in the European courts if need be. Criticism from Europe may not frighten the prime minister, but the spotlight is now on his whole country.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

VAT AT 20%: A VERY DELIBERATE CHOICE

 

Mr Osborne's deficit-reduction package will end up hitting Britain's poorest hardest. It doesn't need to be this way

 

As of this week, VAT has risen by two and a half percentage points to 20%, which in theory puts an extra £340 on the advertised price of a basic Volkswagen Golf, pushes up a typical 37-inch plasma TV from something like £449.99 to £459.57, and pulls the average pint of lager over the £3 mark. Not to mention raising the cost of petrol and even the humble packet of crisps. It will take time after the January sales for all these increases to reach customers, and in some cases competitive retailers may squeeze their margins rather than lose market share, but still shoppers will have less money after their weekly tour of duty. How much less? The government estimates that the increase will bring in an extra £12.1bn by next Christmas. Oh, and don't forget the rise in fuel duty, the annual round of increases in public transport and still-climbing household energy bills. Happy new year, everyone.

 

Whenever chancellors raise extra taxes, they usually claim to have no other option. The task of his opponents, on the other hand, is to point out the alternatives. This was the script George Osborne and Ed Miliband dutifully stuck to yesterday. The chancellor claimed the VAT hike was a "tough but necessary step" and that 20% was "a reasonable rate to set, given the very difficult situation we find ourselves in". Against that stands the Labour leader's condemnation of the move as "the wrong tax at the wrong time". If anything, Mr Miliband's criticism does not go far enough.

 

 

Not only has Mr Osborne picked a bad time to hike taxes, with the British economic recovery running low on momentum, the US in the doldrums and the eurozone bracing for another market meltdown before winter is out. Far from being unavoidable, the rise in VAT has been made not just to tackle the deficit but to pay for other tax cuts – a point forcefully made by the man who now heads the chancellor's budget watchdog. While the chancellor is willing to discuss revoking taxes on those earning over £150,000 a year, he has made it clear that this week's VAT increase is permanent. Yet this latter levy will hit the poorest harder than the rich. And if Mr Osborne wants to hear more about VAT's regressiveness, he could simply ask David Cameron, who has previously argued this precise point. In short, the chancellor's VAT increase is a political choice dressed up as economic necessity; it is also socially divisive.

 

Alongside the rise in VAT announced in last June's emergency budget, the chancellor cut (among others) corporation tax and employers' national insurance contributions, and raised the income tax threshold. He opted to make those cuts, even while he chose to raise VAT. Just over six months ago, while still at the independent and respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, Robert Chote remarked: "When Mr Osborne said that 'the years of debt and spending' [under Labour] made the … increase in VAT unavoidable you might just as well say it was his desire to cut other taxes that made it so." Mr Chote now heads the Office for Budget Responsibility, and an enterprising Treasury select committee member might invite him to repeat those remarks.

 

The chancellor claims that this week's rise is relatively fair. Fairness is a slippery term; but if a fiscal measure hits the vulnerable more than the well-off, it is clear that such a change is regressive. The IFS has calculated that the rise will cost the poorest 10th of society over 2% of their income, while taking less than 1% from the richest 10th. If that sounds unprogressive to you then you are in good company: both Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg described VAT as regressive before the election. Mr Osborne wants to portray his regressive tax measures and spending cuts as a matter of necessity. The reality is that his deficit-reduction package will end up hitting Britain's poorest hardest. It doesn't need to be this way.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … TWELFTH NIGHT

 

Twelfth Night – still one of the most welcome days in the calendar – offers one last chance for revels and misrule

 

An evening's wassailing not being what it once was, Twelfth Night has declined into one of the less widely celebrated of the ancient festivals. All the same, Twelfth Night is still one of the most welcome days in the calendar, in spite of the absence of agreement about when it actually falls. If you take the view, as some do, that the evening of 24 December marks the start of Christmas, then last night, 4January, was the twelfth. If you go with 25 December as the first night, as most do, then Twelfth Night instead falls this evening, 5 January. Many nevertheless continue to regard 6 January, the feast of Epiphany, as Twelfth Night. Yet if there is little concord about when Twelfth Night actually falls – and perhaps it hardly matters – there is at least a healthy consensus that it marks the decisive end of Christmas. Twelfth Night, whenever observed, is the universally understood moment when the decorations come down, the cards are removed and the tree is stripped and banished. In Trafalgar Square tonight, London's Christmas tree, which survived student protesters' attempts to torch it last month, will finally become mulch. InTate Britain, Giorgio Sadotti's bare spruce will come down too, as the spirit of Christmas is driven out of the gallery in a free one-off piece of performance art. Twelfth Night offers one last chance for revels and misrule. Shakespeare, who understood this best, subtitled his transgressive play What You Will. Tomorrow, though, the normal order resumes – and not before time, for many of us.

 

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

'PREDICTABLE' VERDICT IN MOSCOW

 

Mr. Mikhail Khodorkovsky is a difficult man to like. He is a Russian tycoon, a multibillionaire who got rich

 

during the fire sale of Russian national assets during the kleptocratic years of the Yeltsin era. But being unlikable does not make him a criminal, and neither does daring to challenge Russian strongman Mr. Vladimir Putin, then president, by funding opposition political parties. Those appear to be Mr. Khodorkovsky's real offenses in the aftermath of his second conviction in late December on charges of money laundering and theft. Mr. Khodorkovsky's trial has been viewed as a test of Russia's commitment to the rule of law. If that is the standard, then the country has failed.

 

Mr. Khodorkovsky was a child of perestroika, using the newfound economic space created by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to get rich. He parlayed bank holdings into majority stakes of large Russian resource companies. He turned Yukos, an oil company, into a petroleum conglomerate that could rival any of the Western seven sisters.

 

Mr. Khodorkovsky was not content to just be a businessman. Instead, he called for greater transparency in business and political practices in Russia, alarming both his competition and the real power in the country. Shortly after, he was arrested in 2003 and charged, along with Mr. Platon Lebedev, a business partner, with tax evasion and fraud.

 

The two were convicted in 2005 of failure to pay $30 billion in taxes, an astronomical — some would say ludicrous — sum and was given an eight years' imprisonment, and Yukos was sold off in pieces to pay the arrears. Most observers agree that the charges were trumped up and Mr. Khodorkovsky's real crimes were his allegations of corruption and challenging Mr. Putin by financing an opposition party.

 

Mr. Khodorkovsky had been scheduled to be released this year and the prospect of him regaining his freedom allegedly prompted the filing of new charges. This time, he and Mr. Lebedev were charged with money laundering and theft. According to prosecutors, the two men stole some $27 billion in oil, virtually all that their company Yukos produced between 1998-2000, and all the oil it exported between 2000-2003, and then laundering the proceeds. More likely, the charges were leveled to keep Mr. Khodorkovsky in jail during 2012 when Russia holds its next presidential election. Prosecutors have been asking for an additional six-year sentence.

 

The Dec. 27 verdict was widely viewed as an indication of Russia's future. Unlike Mr. Putin, who has made his distaste for Mr. Khodorkovsky well known — early last month the prime minister said the former oligarch had blood on his hands and "a thief must go to jail" — President Dmitry Medvedev has warned against politicizing the courts. He is thought to favor a more independent judiciary and a country that divorces law from politics. That divergence in views had turned the trial into a symbol of who held the stronger hand in Russian politics: Acquittal would indicate that Mr. Medvedev was ascendant. To no one's surprise, the victor appears to be Mr. Putin.

 

This political competition also helps explain Mr. Medvedev's visit to the Northern Territories at the beginning of November. The move may have infuriated Japanese and effectively blocked any progress in bilateral negotiations over the islands, but it played well to a Russian domestic audience that expects its leadership to spare no expense in protecting its sovereignty — and its territory in particular. In the runup to 2012, every candidate has to be wary of attacks from the right.

 

The verdict has triggered protests worldwide. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it "raises serious questions about selective prosecution — and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations." German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle agreed, noting that "The circumstances of the proceedings are highly alarming and a step backward for the country on its road toward modernization."

 

Mr. Khodorkovsky's hands may well be dirty; it is hard to imagine anyone succeeding in the cut-throat world of Russian business without crossing some lines. In fact, what seems to distinguish Mr. Khodorkovsky from his peers is his willingness to challenge the political authorities. Other oligarchs have either made their peace with the regime or gone into exile. Only he has remained in Russia, and spoken up.

 

A sentence of six more years in prison for Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev was announced Dec. 30 after the judge finished reading aloud the 250-page verdict in keeping with Russian tradition. Mr. Khodorkovsky will be deprived of any chance to influence the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. A light verdict — including a suspended sentence — could have signaled a shift in the balance of power in Moscow. Mr. Khodorkovsky's lawyers have said that they will appeal the verdict, although that is likely to be fruitless if political dynamics prevail over legal issues.

 

In November Mr. Khodorkovsky said a guilty verdict was "predictable." Sadly, he was right. Worse, that prescience was not based on any inside knowledge of the facts in the case. Rather, it was the political logic that dictated this result.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CHINA TARGETING U.S. DETERRENCE

BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON

 

SINGAPORE — In 1996, China fired ballistic missiles and held military exercises in waters close to Taiwan to warn the electorate not to vote for a pro-independence candidate in presidential elections. In response, the United States sent two aircraft carriers and their warship escorts to the area. It was a display of American naval might and striking power that Beijing could not counter.

 

Since then, China has given top priority to developing a defense system known in military jargon as anti-access area denial. A key part is the world's first hypersonic ballistic missile armed with a high-explosive warhead capable of tracking and hitting U.S. carriers 1,500 km or more from the Chinese mainland.

 

If China had such a weapon, it would make it more difficult, perhaps even impossible, for Washington to send aircraft carrier battle groups to help defend Japan, South Korea, Taiwan or any other ally or friendly nation in the western Pacific from being threatened or attacked by Chinese forces.

 

Since World War II, America's global nonnuclear deterrent power has rested heavily on its ability to send carrier groups to far-flung trouble spots, including the Asia-Pacific region, without serious risk that they would be damaged or sunk. If China could challenge such deployments with its anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the basis of U.S. deterrence in Asia might be questioned and the value of its alliances in the region called into doubt.

 

But would they? In a Japanese newspaper interview published Dec. 28, the head of U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Robert Willard said that China's increasingly powerful military had "achieved initial operational capability" with its ASBM, although full flight testing might take several more years. Exactly what he meant by "initial operational capability" of the land-based Dong Feng-21D missile is not completely clear. U.S. military manuals say it means that some units scheduled to get the weapons have got them, and can maintain and use them.

Andrew Erickson, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College who follows China's ASBM development, said that the Second Artillery, China's strategic missile force, "already has a capability to attempt to use the DF-21 D against U.S. carrier strike groups, and therefore likely expects to achieve a growing degree of deterrence with it." Other analysts say that even if the ASBM is in the early stages of deployment, there is still enough time for

the U.S. to develop effective missile defenses or take other countermeasures.

 

However, some of the latter would be profoundly destabilizing. The warhead of the DF-21 D would be guided to its target with the help of Chinese satellites, over-the-horizon radar and unmanned aerial vehicles. If the U.S. was unable to shoot down incoming ASBMs, it would have to attack Chinese missiles and radar on land, or the guidance satellites in space. This could trigger a wider war with China, possibly escalating into a mutually devastating exchange of nuclear weapons.

 

Indeed, if China hit and sank a U.S. carrier with an ASBM it would be "bigger than Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined," according to John Pike, founder of the Washington-based think tank Global Security. "America would want payback," he added. "Would Beijing want to go there?"

 

With such high stakes involved, under what circumstances, if any, would China use ASBMs to attack the U.S. Navy?

Still, the Obama administration is taking the threat seriously. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in September that China's "investments in anti-ship weaponry and ballistic missiles could threaten America's primary way to project power and help allies in the Pacific, particularly our forward bases and carrier strike groups."

 

The U.S. Navy has 11 big aircraft carriers, all nuclear-powered. It also has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as sea bases for helicopters and vertical takeoff jets that could be vulnerable to ASBMs.

 

Gates, who is scheduled to visit China from Jan. 9-12, pointed out in May that a modern U.S. carrier with its full complement of the latest aircraft would "represent potentially a $15 to $20 billion set of hardware at risk." He added that the virtual American monopoly on precision guided weapons was eroding and that the U.S. "will also face increasingly sophisticated underwater combat systems — including numbers of stealthy subs — all of which could end the operational sanctuary our navy has enjoyed in the Western Pacific for the better part of six decades."

 

In his interview with Japan's Asahi Shimbun, Adm. Willard said that China's anti-access area denial strategy affected not only Japan and other economies in Northeast Asia, but also countries in Southeast Asia. Beijing, is using its growing power to enforce extensive sovereignty claims in the South and East China seas.

 

Willard said that Beijing was also "interested in minimizing foreign military influence" in a vast maritime zone that extended south from the main island of Japan, skirting the east coast Taiwan and the west coast of the Philippines, and encircling virtually the whole of the South China Sea, deep in the maritime heart of Southeast Asia. This zone, which encompasses Beijing's offshore sovereignty claims, is known as the First Island Chain in Chinese military theory. It forms a geographic basis for China's inner maritime defense perimeter.

 

Beijing appears intent on trying to exercise control over the zone by scaring the U.S. away and ousting rival claimants, including Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. But at what cost to relations with many neighbors and other countries alarmed by its muscle-flexing?

 

They know that East Asia's rise from the ruins of World War II to global economic powerhouse has depended on freedom of navigation and maritime trade. China's self-declared maritime defense perimeter covers inter-connected seas and straits used by international shipping to carry more than $5 trillion in annual commerce, including $1.3 trillion in U.S. trade.

 

As China pushes ahead with anti-access area denial by developing more and better ASBMs, submarines, anti-ship cruise missiles and other weapons in an integrated command and control network, it will have to choose between a disruptive grab for sole control or a sharing of policing power with other countries that have a strong interest in preserving free-flowing maritime arteries.

 

Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

LOST RELIGIOUS LIBERTY WORLDWIDE

BY DOUG BANDOW

 

WASHINGTON — Many of us take religious liberty for granted. Unfortunately, this most fundamental freedom is not protected in many countries around the world.

 

Religious liberty is the proverbial canary in the mine. If a state won't respect this most basic freedom of conscience, it isn't likely to respect people's lives and dignity in any context.

 

There is more than enough bad news to fill the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's latest annual report. Worst were conditions in 13 "countries of particular concern."

 

* Burma. In this poor Southeast Asian nation, explains the panel, "Religious freedom violations affect every religious group." Christians and other religious minorities have suffered the most, especially from government military operations.

 

* China. Communist officials obviously fear religion. Reports the commission: "The Chinese government strictly controls all religious practice and represses religious activity outside state-approved organizations." Moreover, members of "unregistered religious groups, or those deemed by the government to threaten national security or social harmony" risk fines, property confiscations and prison.

 

* Eritrea. This North African nation has been turned into a totalitarian tragedy by home grown revolutionaries, who suppress all freedoms indiscriminately. According to the commission: "Systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations continue." Not even members of registered faiths are safe.

 

* Iran. Most vulnerable are religious minorities: Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sunni Muslims and especially Baha'is. The latter are viewed as heretics and treated accordingly. The USCIRF points to: "prolonged detention, torture and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused."

 

* Iraq. The commission details the horrors unleashed by the U.S. invasion: "Systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations continue in Iraq. Members of the country's smallest religious minorities still suffer from targeted violence, threats, and intimidation, against which they receive insufficient government protection." Iraq's Christian community, which predates the arrival of Islam, has been largely destroyed.

 

* Nigeria. An estimated 12,000 have died in sectarian violence over the last decade. Reports the USCIRF, "The government of Nigeria continues to respond inadequately and ineffectively to recurrent communal and sectarian violence." Although Christians and Muslims share responsibility, violence has been concentrated in the Muslim-majority states to the north, where Shariah law has been widely imposed.

 

* North Korea. In probably the most repressive state on Earth, observes the commission, "The government controls most aspects of daily life, including religious activity, which is allowed only in government-operated religious "federations" or in a small number of government-approved 'house churches.' "

 

* Pakistan. The commission cites: "Systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief." Blasphemy laws are routinely abused, resulting "in the lengthy detention of, and sometimes violence against," religious minorities. Most frightening has been persistent sectarian violence.

 

* Saudi Arabia. This U.S. ally avidly enforces religious totalitarianism. The USCIRF points to "Systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom." Despite official promises to tolerate private worship, the government's religious police even raid home gatherings and arrest non-Muslims. Lengthy imprisonment and torture await those arrested for religious offenses.

 

* Sudan. The situation has gotten better in south Sudan, where Christians and animists predominate. But religious persecution remains distressingly common. According to the commission, violations include attempts to impose Shariah, discrimination against non-Muslims, and "the criminalization of conversion from Islam, a crime punishable by death, and the intense scrutiny, intimidation and even torture of suspected converts."

 

* Turkmenistan. Human rights abuses remain rife, despite some recent improvements. According to the USCIRF, the country's religious law includes: "intrusive registration criteria; the requirement that the government be informed of all financial support received from abroad; a ban on worship in private homes and the public wearing of religious garb except by religious leaders; and severe and discriminatory restrictions on religious education." Members of disfavored faiths can end up in prison.

 

* Uzbekistan. Reports the commission: "The Uzbek government harshly penalizes individuals for independent religious activity, regardless of their religious affiliation. A restrictive religion law severely limits the rights of all religious communities and facilitates the Uzbek government's control over them, particularly the majority Muslim community."

 

* Vietnam. This communist state harshly restricts religious liberty. According to the USCIRF, the regime "continues to control government-approved religious communities, severely restrict independent religious practice, and repress individuals and groups viewed as challenging political authority." Prison is a common penalty.

 

Another dozen countries are on the commission's watch list. They engage in severe religious persecution, just not quite as bad as the preceding nations: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.

 

Western nations cannot force these states to change, but the world's democracies should make religious persecution part of their human rights dialogue with other nations. Equally important, free peoples should support and pray for the oppressed around the world.

 

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of "Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics."

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

EU'S INSTABILITY MECHANISM

BY HANS-WERNER SINN

 

MUNICH — By 2010, Europe was to be "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge- based society in the world." This was the proclamation in 2000 by the European Commission in the "Lisbon Agenda." Now, a decade after that bold pledge, it is official: Europe is the world's growth laggard rather than its champion.

 

While current EU members grew by 14 percent over the past 10 years, North America grew by 18 percent, Latin America by 39 percent, Africa by 63 percent, the Middle East by 60 percent, Russia by 59 percent, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan by 52 percent, India by 104 percent and China by 171 percent.

 

The Europeans wanted to achieve their goal through, among other means, further environmental protection and more social cohesion — desirable aims, but certainly not growth strategies. The Lisbon Agenda turned out to be a joke.

 

The European Stability and Growth Pact of 1995 has fared no better. EU countries agreed to limit their fiscal deficits to 3 percent of GDP to ensure debt discipline under the euro, so that no country could use the new currency to take its neighbors hostage and force them into bailout operations. In fact, the EU countries exceeded the 3 percent limit 97 times.

 

In 29 of these cases, the breaches were permissible under the pact's original formulation, because the countries were in recession. In the remaining 68 cases, however, deficits above 3 percent of GDP were clear violations of the pact, and the European Council of Finance Ministers (ECOFIN) should have imposed sanctions. Yet not a single country was ever penalized.

 

The political debt constraints that the eurozone's members had self-imposed were never taken seriously after that, because the sinners and the judges were one and the same. A subject worthy of Kafka and Moliere.

 

Indeed, this year, two countries, Greece and Ireland, were bailed out by the rest of the EU, even though Article 125 of the consolidated EU treaty stipulates that no member state is to stand in for the debt of another, a guarantee that Germany required as a condition for giving up its beloved Deutch mark. That doctrine of hard discipline was abolished in a coup in May 2010, when it was claimed that the world would collapse unless Germany opened its purse.

 

It is emblematic of the laxity with which the Stability and Growth Pact was pursued that Greece was able to join the euro through plain fraud, claiming that its deficit ratio was below the 3 percent-of-GDP threshold when it was, in fact, far above it. In view of Greece's deceptive behavior, Eurostat, the EU's statistical agency, declared that its Greek counterpart and the supreme Greek supervisory authority had "deliberately falsified" the data. But no matter, Greece was already in — and able to take its fellow EU members hostage.

 

Germany has now opened its purse, acting as Greece's prime rescuer. Moreover, at their pre-Christmas summit, European heads of state agreed to amend the EU treaty by legitimizing the European Financial Stability Mechanism, now called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), and making it a permanent institution.

 

Once back home, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had insisted for months that the facility had to be terminated, celebrated this as a victory over the rest of Europe. In fact, it was largely a necessary concession to Germany's Constitutional Court, which had argued that the bailout measures lacked a proper legal basis. The participation of creditor banks, which had long been the condition sine qua non for Merkel, was downgraded to optional status.

 

The European Central Bank also lost its credibility. A year ago, it vowed to stop accepting BBB- rated government securities as collateral for its monetary operations. But that, too, went out the window in May, when it started buying even Greek junk bonds. Meanwhile, the ECB has announced that it will have to double its equity capital.

 

The EU's maneuvers may stabilize Europe in the short run and help it to withstand better the current speculative attacks on some of the euro countries' government bonds, but they risk long-term destabilization. While financial contagion today is limited to bank interaction, the EU's measures have broadened the channels for contagion to include government budgets.

 

Indeed, the first step toward a potential chain of government insolvencies in Europe has been taken. The risk may be limited today, but it will become larger should the new ESM become full-coverage insurance against insolvency with no burden-sharing by creditors. In view of the foreseeable demographic risks from pension entitlements, a time bomb may now have been set ticking.

 

When politicians try to fight the iron laws of economics, they lose. This time is no different. But politicians are averse to academic advice. All too often, they prefer bad jokes — until the last laugh is on them.

 

Hans-Werner Sinn is a professor of economics and public finance at the University of Munich, and president of the Ifo Institute. © 2011 Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

A FRAGILE COALITION

 

The unity of the present ruling coalition that supports President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration is facing a real test going into the new year — a test which many say is the starting line for the presidential race in 2014.

 

Coordinating Economic Minister and coalition member Hatta Rajasa, who also chairs the National Mandate Party (PAN), warned all coalition partners on Sunday against wasting time and energy over unnecessary bickering that could not only splinter the alliance, but also put government programs in jeopardy.

 

Cracks had been visible within the coalition ever since the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) threatened to quit the political bloc and form an axis force, reminiscent of a short-term grouping of Islamic parties formed to prevent Megawati Soekarnoputri from becoming Indonesia's first female president in 1999.

 

The recent PKS warnings expressed the party's resentment over the joint secretariat decision making mechanism within the coalition, which they said had led to coerced uniformity of opinion.

 

The internal rift came on the heels of a possible Cabinet reshuffle, which a number of Yudhoyono's Democratic Party leaders say should lead the PKS through the exit door because of its questionable loyalty.

 

It was not the first time that members of the Yudhoyono-led coalition have been embroiled in an open conflict — and survived. Last year the Democratic Party and the Golkar Party collided head-on over the suspicious bailout of the now-defunct Bank Century. The infighting was resolved with the Cabinet exit of former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who was deemed responsible for the policy.

 

It's commonplace that internal squabbling occasionally occurs in relationships among coalition partners. Unfortunately, in Indonesian real politics since 1999, endless bickering has forced every ruling party to form coalitions as a responsive consequence of the multi-party system — unless one party achieves an outright majority in the House of Representatives, which is almost impossible.

 

Like or not, the present coalition that took shape under Yudhoyono's United Indonesia Cabinet, part one, remained intact until his term ended in 2009. It was then extended for another five years, demonstrating the former Army general's conflict management skills. Dealing with friends and foes alike, most of whom have never forfeited their vested interests, requires not only negotiating expertise, but extreme caution.
The give-and-take formula is not without sacrifice, which in the case of Indonesian contemporary politics comes at too high a price because it risks derailing reform agendas. Sri Mulyani's departure is just one example of the politics of compromise required to preserve the coalition.

 

There will inevitably be more dangers lying ahead if the coalition is sustained only to serve the interests of its members, rather than for the good of the nation. It is during the coalition era that law enforcement agencies have angled those who in the past were once untouchable, but the public has been waiting for equality and law enforcement against prominent coalition leaders implicated in corruption or human rights cases.

 

 

It goes without saying that power sharing constitutes distribution of access to financial and natural resources among coalition partners, although it is often difficult to prove.

 

While acknowledging that coalitions are a necessity, at least for the time being, the question that remains is whether they live up to the public's hopes for a strong and effective government that can ensure delivery of services and protection for all of Indonesia's citizens.

 

Or, perhaps the coalition was formed not only to meet the power brokers' needs, but also to serve their greed.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

WINNER TAKES ALL OR PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION?

ENDY M. BAYUNI

 

Every five years we renew the debate over the most appropriate electoral system to use: the first-past-the-post method or proportional representation? While the arguments are essentially unchanged, their proponents are different this time around.

 

Predictably, the House of Representatives, which is debating the bill on general elections, is polarized, with the three big parties on one side and the six smaller parties on the other. It is not an equal contest, as the big three — the Democratic Party, the Golkar Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) — dominate the House. The outcome will almost certainly be in their favor.

 

In the last three elections, Indonesia has moved further and further away from the proportional representation system of the Soeharto years, with seats in the legislature divided among contesting parties according to their share of the votes, to something closer to a winner-takes-all system, with district winners gaining the entire vote.

What Indonesia has is a combination of the two, with the country divided into electoral districts of three to 10 seats. It is not the single-seat district system found in the US, UK and Australia, but as Indonesia moves toward a system of smaller districts, the number of seats per district is reduced. The first district seats go to candidates winning the greatest percentage of the vote, with the remaining seats allocated proportionally.

 

The Democratic Party has made the most vocal push for smaller districts comprised of three to eight seats. It would mean more districts nationwide, and probably more seats to contest in the House than the current 550. Fewer seats mean fewer proportional allotments.

 

The Party, established as a political vehicle for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to contest the 2004 presidential election, was the main beneficiary of a system that was then still tilted toward proportional representation. Two elections later, the Democratic Party has become the largest party and has worked against any upstart parties hoping grow along similar lines.

 

The Golkar Party will likely support the Democratic Party but will also likely be less vocal in pushing for a single seat district system. PDI-P will follow suit as well, though it has to do some cost-benefit analysis on moving closer to a single-seat district system.

 

The six smaller parties of the House — the PKS, the PAN, the PPP, the PKB, the Gerindra Party and the Hanura Party — are expected to join hands in opposing moves towards smaller districts.

 

They are fully aware that their influence in the capital would be decimated — if not completely eliminated — in 2014 if the big parties get their way. They have the support of dozens of small political parties that have registered with the government but lack House representation.

 

Small parties are already struggling to fend off the big parties' move to raise the parliamentary threshold, which grants parties earning a high enough percentage of the nationwide vote the right to sit in the House of Representatives, from 2.5 percent to 5 percent.

 

There is already consensus among the big three to try to reduce the number of political parties in the House in an effort to simplify the multi-party system. But simple does not mean efficient.

 

Under the mixed system in 2009, some 18 percent of the valid votes that had gone to small parties were wasted because they did not win any seats in any of the districts or they did not reach the parliamentary threshold.  Smaller districts would mean even more votes wasted in 2014. That's the consequence of winner-takes-all. Some see this as its downside, but others would equally argue this to be its strength.

 

There is no right or wrong answer in this debate. Both first-past-the-post and proportional representation — or a combination of the two — are used in many countries in the world. One is not more or less democratic than another.

 

The US, the UK, Australia and Malaysia are among the countries using the first-past-the-post system.

 

Netherlands and Spain are examples of countries using proportional representation. Germany, Japan and Thailand are, like Indonesia, using a mixture of the two.

 

The proponents of single-seat districts or smaller districts argue that it would bring the elected representatives closer and more accountable to the constituents. It seems like a reasonable argument.

 

The proponents of proportional representation say their system guarantees the multi-party system, which suits Indonesia given the size and diversity of its population. This too sounds like a valid argument.

 

The move toward a single-seat district or smaller district system would certainly eliminate the small parties and may even put Indonesia well on its way towards an eventual two-party system, a proposition that appeals to some people who are confused by and tired of the many political parties that in effect are not all that different.

 

Which way is Indonesia going?

 

Unfortunately, the decision is not so much about what the national priority at this stage of development is. It is not whether we want politicians who are closer and more accountable to the constituents or a legislature that reflects its political plurality. Instead, the decision will likely be the outcome of negotiations between the political parties in the House of Representatives. For better or for worse, the bigger parties will prevail.

 

The writer is senior editor at The Jakarta Post.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

TWO SIDES OF NUCLEAR FUEL

 

The country's uranium stock, which was previously expected to support our needs for merely 50 to 70 years, will now be enough for 3,000 years we are told. This is a marvelous leap forward in technology and will help ease our growing energy needs. For that alone, our nuclear scientists deserve the highest praise.

 

We are not nuclear scientists, nor can we live until 3,000 years from now to verify the truthfulness of the claim that China has made a technological breakthrough in reprocessing spent nuclear fuel that could extend uranium's usage by 60 times. But if this is the case, then it will certainly help meet China's future energy demands.

 

However, even if the technological breakthrough is capable of dramatically prolonging the country's nuclear fuel self-sufficiency and results in plenty of uranium to feed our nuclear power plants, we hope that the environmental impact of "reactor spent fuel reprocessing" is being taken into consideration.

 

Since spent nuclear fuels contain 96 to 97 percent of their uranium content before reprocessing, they are highly radioactive with devastating environmental potential. Thanks to strict government control over the industry and nuclear materials, wastes included, no accident has been reported as of yet, which is an achievement that needs to be maintained.

 

But the country's current approach, keeping spent fuel containers in special water tanks, has weaknesses. There is no guarantee each and every precondition to ensure safety will always remain satisfied. It may take between 500 to more than 2 million years for radioactive properties of spent fuel to decay naturally to the level of those in uranium ores. With such potentially disastrous consequences, we cannot rely on luck.

 

Globally, our country has the largest number of nuclear-power facilities in the pipeline; by the end of September 2010, the central government had approved the construction of 34 nuclear power generating units. This means the stock of spent nuclear fuels will be increasing. Unless properly taken care of, that could well turn out to be a huge threat to the environment.

 

The revolutionary significance of the reprocessing technique lies in the way nuclear contents in nuclear fuels are exploited. Technological feasibility aside, the new-found capability inspires us to hope, that one day the radioactive properties of all spent fuels from our nuclear reactors may be recycled and fully exploited.

 

In this way, their harmful potential to the environment can be reduced to a minimum. Even though that is not realistic now, that is where our future endeavors should be aimed.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

UN COUNCIL REFORM

 

The debut of Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa as non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), starting on New Year's Day, has aroused expectations for the greater representation of emerging economies in the world body and renewed calls for UN reform.

 

The five newcomers will serve a two-year term on the council, which is believed to be the most representative yet. This means that all the BRIC states, an economic bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and the soon-to-be new addition South Africa, are all members of the council. Given their rising economic clout, these countries have given much hope to the world economic recovery.

 

In their latest joint statement welcoming South Africa to what will be BRICS, these nations vowed to cooperate more on multilateral platforms.

 

The UNSC will be an ideal place for their future collaboration and will increase the influence of emerging