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Thursday, January 6, 2011

EDITORIAL 06.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 06, edition 000722, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




































































  5. 2011: Armageddon can wait - By KENNETH ROGOFF















The DMK may be gloating over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s latest assurance that all is well with the Congress-DMK ties, but it is facing real trouble at home. Party supremo M Karunanidhi’s elder son and Union Minister MK Alagiri has reportedly threatened to quit his Cabinet post (some reports say he has already done so) if the party fails to distance itself from the tainted former Telecom Minister, Mr A Raja, and MP Kanimozhi who has been dragged into the 2G Spectrum scam following the release of the Radia tapes. While some senior DMK leaders are seeking to brush aside Mr Alagiri’s threat as mere posturing, the fact remains that the mercurial Minister has for some time now been aggressive on his demand that the party act against the two leaders so that it could approach the electorate for a fresh mandate in the coming Assembly election with a clean slate. Since he is a heavyweight in his own right in Tamil Nadu, it would be naïve to dismiss him. While Mr Alagiri has been sulking for a number of other reasons as well, including those relating to family matters and party hierarchy, Mr Karunanidhi’s most recent act of backing the former Telecom Minister appears to have needled him afresh. So much so that he even opted out of an important Government function held in his stronghold, Madurai, which was attended by his younger brother and Deputy Chief Minister MK Stalin. While the two brothers have not shared a comfortable relationship within the party — Mr Stalin has been given a bigger role in State politics while Mr Alagiri has been shunted to New Delhi, a place where he has been distinctly uncomfortable — they have found common cause in the Raja episode. The younger brother may not be openly venting his anger over the party’s reluctance to isolate Mr Raja and Ms Kanimozhi, but he can be expected to use his influence within the party, and more importantly with his father, to force some action sooner than later.

In the given situation, Mr Karunanidhi’s position is unenviable. He has to simultaneously manage both party factionalism and family considerations, without hurting either. But the way he has dealt with the crisis so far has not helped anybody. While the DMK is hurtling towards an election with its reputation in tatters after the 2G Spectrum scam and the party’s obstinate defence of Mr Raja, the family feud is out in the open and getting bitter by the day. As if the brothers-sister dispute were not enough, the Marans have waded into the muddy waters, with former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran openly siding with the brothers against the Raja-Kanimozhi combine. Can Mr Karunanidhi, who has decades of experience in writing scripts with unexpected twists and turns for Tamil films, provide a satisfactory ending to the ongoing saga? If and when the DMK chief finds time from these pressing engagements, he will have to contend with another equally ominous threat — a belligerent J Jayalalithaa. The shrewd AIADMK supremo has seized upon the travails of her political foe and hit the road ridiculing the DMK’s sorry situation. Since she has been drawing impressive audiences at her meetings, the DMK faces a rejuvenated rival. By all accounts, we can look forward to interesting times ahead with politics in Tamil Nadu following the scripts that make Tamil films into blockbuster movies.







The release of ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa on bail on New Year’s Day with less than four months left for the Assembly election in Assam may be seen as the Congress Government’s effort to revive the party’s electoral fortunes in the State. In its effort to bring the ULFA leaders to the negotiation table, the Government not just expects to end insurgency in the State, but hopes that the promise of peace will go down well with voters and help neutralise the strong anti-incumbency tide. The party no doubt is on a sticky pitch in the State because it is steadily losing its Muslim vote-bank to the All-India United Democratic Front as was evident from the results of the last Lok Sabha election. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s efforts to form an alliance with the AIUDF have failed so far as party president Badruddin Ajmal has openly asked Muslims not to cast a single vote for the Congress’s candidates. He is believed to be discussing a possible tie-up with the Asom Gana Parishad by way of a pre-election alliance. Worse still, a crack has developed in the ruling alliance as the Bodo People’s Front, the junior partner in the Assam Government, has turned down the Congress’s offer to jointly fight the Bodoland Territorial Council election in April, forcing the latter to go it alone. With its electoral prospects looking none-too-bright, the Congress is eager to play the ‘ULFA card’ once again.

The effort to bring the ULFA leaders around — the way insurgent outfits Mizo National Front and Tripura National Volunteers were brought into mainstream politics — is a welcome step, but the Government would do well to remember the organisation’s links with the ISI, its terror run and that it does not consider Bangladeshi infiltrators, but those from other States of India, as ‘outsiders’. It is a pity that after the ULFA leaders were left licking their wounds inflicted by the NDA Government, which succeeded in persuading Bhutan to take action against the militants hiding in that country, the UPA Government has failed to take the war on ULFA to its logical conclusion. More important, the soft line that is being adopted by the State Government, obviously in collusion with the UPA Government at the Centre, will have a disastrous effect on India’s foreign policy. Bangladesh has played an important role in tracking down ULFA leaders hiding in that country, arresting them, and handing them over to Indian authorities. Now that we have set them free, Dhaka can be expected to wonder why it took the trouble of cracking down on ULFA leaders on New Delhi’s behalf. No less worrisome is the possibility of the organisation using this opportunity to regroup, rearm and strike back at the state with renewed ferocity. It is amazing that men wanted for murder and worse should get off so lightly.









Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is one of the few Chinese leaders respected by his Indian interlocutors because of the refreshingly open approach that he adopts even on contentious issues like differences on the demarcation of border or on issues like climate change. It was during the visit of Mr Wen Jiabao to India in 2005 that the two countries agreed on the guiding principles which would underlie a settlement to the border issue which had led to a brief conflict in 1962 and remains a source of tension.

The most significant aspect of the 2005 understanding was that in determining a border settlement, the two countries would “safeguard the interests of settled populations in border areas”. For India, the agreement signalled the readiness of China to discard claims to populated areas in Arunachal Pradesh and recognise the Himalayan watershed along the McMahon Line as the international border. 

Mr Wen Jiabao reached out to Indian corporate leaders, mediapersons and academics, apart from a get-together with Indian school children who were thrilled to meet Grandpa Wen. His meetings were laced with quips like “India and China are friends”, “cooperation and not competition” and “there is enough space in the world for the development of both countries”. Mercifully, there were no chants of “Bhai-Bhai”.

Mr Wen Jiabao is one of the smartest figures in the politics of the Middle Kingdom. He accompanied CPC chief Zhao Ziyang during the latters fateful trip to meet the protesters in Tianamen Square in 1989. While Mr Zhao Ziyang was purged and placed under detention for “grave insubordination”, Mr Wen Jiabao survived, adeptly using his charms to rise under party leaders ranging from Mr Zhao Ziyang to Mr Hu Yaobang and Mr Jiang Zemin.

Emerging as a protégé of former Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, Mr Wen Jiabao has played the role of Grandpa Wen with the people in China during floods and the SARS epidemic. He charmed Mr George Bush in 2003 into rebuking Taiwans President Chen-Shui-bian. Barely a few years later, he drew applause from his party colleagues by warning Mr Bush on Taiwan, averring, “We dont wish foreign intervention, but are not afraid of it.”

Within a year of the 2005 agreement, China started singing an entirely new tune, laying claim to entire Arunachal Pradesh, describing it, for the first time, as “Southern Tibet”. Moreover, this period saw increasing Chinese military intrusions across the Line of Actual Control though both countries had repeatedly pledged to “maintain peace and tranquillity” along the LAC. Responding to these developments, India decided to raise two new Army divisions for deployment in Arunachal Pradesh and deployed frontline SU-30 fighter squadrons along its eastern border.

While China had traditionally avoided taking sides on India-Pakistan differences on Jammu & Kashmir, new visa procedures it adopted in 2009 were designed to show that it did not recognise Indian sovereignty over the State. Military contacts, which were being developed between the two sides, came to a grinding halt when India’s Northern Army Commander, whose area of responsibility in Jammu & Kashmir includes command of troops on its western border with China, was denied a visa to undertake a scheduled visit to Beijing. 

With the US and its European partners weakened by the economic downturn, India noticed growing Chinese assertiveness in enforcing its maritime boundary claims on its Asia-Pacific neighbours, ranging from Vietnam and the Philippines to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The visiting Commander of the American Pacific Fleet was even told that his country should recognise the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean as Chinas “sphere of influence”. The Chinese vehemently opposed joint US-South Korean military exercises in the Yellow Sea after North Korea provocatively torpedoed and sank a South Korean naval vessel.

In the wake of these developments, India’s Defence Minister AK Antony visited Vietnam to boost defence cooperation and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Japan and South Korea to strengthen growing strategic ties. These visits signalled to China that India was prepared to proactively respond to its moves to strengthen Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile capabilities and to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean.

Sensing growing unease and faced with moves by its ASEAN neighbours to recast the Asian security architecture by invitations to the US and Russia to join the East Asian Summit, China evidently realised the need to cool frayed tempers across its western border with India. Mr Wen Jiabao’s offer to visit New Delhi was welcomed as India has no desire to see tensions with China escalate.

Mr Wen Jiabao’s discussions in New Delhi appear to have been unusually candid. India had given an indication that this would happen when it brushed aside Chinese demands that it should boycott the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony honouring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. New Delhi made its concerns clear to Mr Wen Jiabao on Chinese actions on visas for its nationals from Jammu & Kashmir, its continuing nuclear, missile and defence cooperation with Pakistan, and its growing trade surplus, which has been accentuated by denial of adequate market access to Indian corporations, in areas ranging from information technology to agro-products and pharmaceuticals.

It is also evident that suspended military-to-military ties will not be resumed till these concerns are addressed. The ritualistic reiteration of India’s One China mantra was avoided. With Chinas political leadership set to change in 2012, there are no illusions that differences on sensitive issues like the demarcation of land borders can be settled anytime soon. Nor are there expectations of any change in nuclear weapons and missile related cooperation between Beijing and Rawalpindi. 

In 1991, Deng Xiaoping wisely advocated a strategy of “hide your strength, bide your time”. While Dengs advice was followed for over a decade, the People’s Liberation Army evidently concluded around 2006 that China was no longer a mere emerging power and that Dengs advice of “bide your time” was outdated. This has inevitably led to China’s neighbours getting together to respond to Chinese assertiveness.

It now appears that China’s rulers have realised the need to appear reasonable and non-aggressive. With China due for a leadership change next year, it remains to be seen if its political leadership is willing or able to rein in the hawks in the People’s Liberation Army. Moreover, can the new generation of Chinese leaders, including Vice President Xi Jinping, resist the temptation of becoming jingoistic to overcome internal contradictions? In these circumstances, there should be no slackening in steps to enhance our defence capabilities.








The outgoing year witnessed a number of shocks in post-Soviet countries. A highly charged election campaign in Ukraine was crowned with a convincing victory for Viktor Yanukovych, who back in 2004 lost out to Viktor Andriyovych Yushchenko during the ‘orange revolution’.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev lost power in a coup. The bloody clashes that erupted in the south of that Central Asian republic after his expulsion almost escalated into a large-scale crisis involving neighbouring states, but a parliamentary election and the formation of a new Government at the end of the year ensured that did not happen.

The pro-Russia party Harmony Center, which got 26 per cent of the vote in September’s parliamentary election in Latvia, emerged as the second-largest political force in Parliament. The election in Moldova did not succeed in putting an end to an 18-month long political crisis. Clashes in Tajikistan were reminiscent of the civil war that raged there 15 years ago.

The OSCE summit in the Kazakh capital of Astana, the first to be chaired by that Central Asian country, failed to yield any practical results but did furnish President Nursultan Nazarbayev with his moment of glory. The parliamentary election in Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus passed off calmly and gave predictable results.

The presidential election in Belarus also ended predictably: Alexander Lukashenko won once again and ordered that the Opposition, which has staged protests against the election results, be ruthlessly quashed.

That is the broad generalisation of unfolding events, delve a little deeper and one can see highly dynamic political processes at play across the former Soviet Union. Events in the former Soviet republics, especially the westernmost ones, are no longer the center of the world’s attention.

The agreement that Russia and Ukraine signed in Kharkov, extending the deployment of the Russian Black Sea Fleet until 2042, which would have been sure to provoke a media stir 18 months ago, only managed to hold the international public’s attention for a few days. The reason is that, fundamentally, nothing changed.

Europeans may be shocked by the post-election scandal in Belarus, but they are unlikely to resort to drastic measures against ‘Europe’s last dictator’.

Political confrontation in Moldova prompted more of a response from Moscow and other European capitals. Russia and the EU are each actively supporting their favoured coalitions there, but the ultimate result will hardly vary whoever takes charge in Moldova.

The tensions permeating Russia’s relations with Europe intensified after the Georgian-Russian war over South Ossetia in 2008 but were assuaged by the economic crisis and Russia’s improved relations with both Poland and Latvia. The United States has reviewed its priorities and put post-Soviet countries on the back burner.

The outgoing year also saw a fine example of constructive cooperation between the perennial ‘freinemies’, Moscow and Washington, in the post-Soviet space. For the first time in decades, they coordinated their positions during the power struggle in Kyrgyzstan, where they each have military bases, and have been trying to avoid unnecessary confrontation since then.

Russia concentrated its efforts on working to strengthen its integrative alliances, and encountered a number of problems in the process. Member countries willingly demonstrated unity so long as their economic alliance EurAsEC and security organisation CSTO were loose clubs of ‘Russia’s friends’ but their interest quickly cooled when it became apparent that they needed to make a practical financial, political and ideological contribution.

The Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan has been advancing very slowly, hindered by an acute struggle between Russia and Belarus, on paper the closest two partners in it.

Problems during the Kyrgyz events showed that the Collective Security Treaty Organisation is not ready to confront crises. Uzbekistan, which logically should have been the first to step in and help stop the slaughter of ethnic Uzbeks, held their fire lest any such action set a precedent for Russian interference and even make it the next target.

Some minor progress was made at the Customs Union and CSTO summits, held in Moscow at the end of the year, but instability in Moscow-Minsk relations promises to yield yet more unpleasant surprises.

It is a paradox that ‘fraternal’ Belarus has become Russia’s main opponent in the post-Soviet space. Their economic clashes over oil duties, gas prices and access to markets have grown into a full-scale political conflict. President Alexander Lukashenko made a show of supporting Kyrgyzstan President Bakiyev, who was overthrown with Moscow’s tacit approval, and even gave him the opportunity to address the international community from CIS headquarters in Minsk. In so doing, the Belarusian President showed that Belarus is a nation that backs law and order throughout the post-Soviet space, whereas Russia supports the ‘rebels’.

Moscow-Minsk relations later came close to escalating into a cold war, as political leaders exchanged personal insults. Tensions between the two countries eased by the end of the year, but there is no love lost between them and it is only a matter of time before the next conflict flares up.

Overall, Russia acted more prudently and less emotionally in 2010. Its decision to avoid military involvement in Kyrgyzstan is evidence that it has started adjusting its desires to what is actually possible. Its standing among the former Soviet republics has strengthened, even if partly due to the decreasing activity of the US and the EU.

Meanwhile, new forces have been gathering weight across the region. One of them, Turkey, announced the revival of its ambitions regarding virtually the whole of the former Ottoman Empire (which controlled vast areas around the eastern Mediterranean and was at the centre of interaction between the East and the West for six centuries).

Another new centre of power, China, has kept aloof from politics, limiting its rapid growth to economic matters. But its very presence in the region and the huge financial resources it has at its disposal have changed the situation dramatically. It was no coincidence that the Belarusian President turned to China for support during his quarrel with Russia.

Central Asia will likely move to the forefront of international attention next year. The US Administration will have to implement a new strategy in Afghanistan, which will in turn determine regional policy. Changes in Belarus are possible and will most likely be initiated by the authorities; this can be the only explanation for President Lukashenko’s decision to play an all-or-nothing game.

In Ukraine, the Opposition will become increasingly marginalised, while the pace of progress in the country’s relations with Russia will probably decrease, although conflicts are unlikely. Moldova will remain in the grip of a chronic political crisis.

As for Russia, it will continue to strengthen regional organisations, in particular the CSTO, with its sights set on an Afghanistan after US withdrawal. However, Customs Union development may slow while Russia focuses on accession to the World Trade Organisation.


The writer is the editor-in-chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal. 








It speaks volumes for the country’s indifference to its north-eastern States that few voices have been raised in protest against the release of the chairman of the United Liberation Front of Asom, Arabinda Rajkhowa, on bail. The release, which comes in the wake of that of the ULFA’s deputy commander-in-chief, Raju Baruah, on November 25, and its ideologue, Bhimkanta Burogohain, on December 5, 2010, is set to be followed by those of other ULFA leaders. The releases, purportedly meant to facilitate talks to end the campaign of murder, sabotage and abduction for ransom, which the secessionist organisation has carried out in Assam since the 1980s, are utterly condemnable on two counts.

First, affected when the organisation is down and out following tough measures taken by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Government in Bangladesh, which has destroyed its hideouts in that country and landed leaders like Rajkhowa in India’s hands, these will give it an opportunity reorganise and revive itself. Second, Assembly election in Assam is due in April next. This gives the releases all the trappings of an utterly opportunistic move to improve the electoral fortunes of the Congress, which is in power in the State, with support from ULFA followers.

The present State Government’s softness towards the ULFA is hardly a secret and the allegation had been heard repeatedly of behind-the-scenes ties between the Congress and the secessionist organisation and of the latter’s support to the former during elections. The order given to the security forces in 2005 — just before the Assembly election of 2006 — to stop operations against the ULFA in the State-lent considerable credibility to the allegation which received further corroboration when the Congress won the polls. The same game seems now to be replayed.

This is a very serious matter. The releases may jeopardise not only India’s security by reviving a murderous secessionist movement that is now gasping for breath, but also damage its relations with friendly neighbouring countries. According to a report in the Indian Express of January 3, Bhutan has conveyed to India its unhappiness over the releases, particularly of leaders like Bhimkanta Burogohain, whom it had handed over to Indian authorities following the Royal Bhutanese Army’s offensive against camps established in Bhutan by the ULFA, Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which began on December 15, 2003. The operation was highly successful and, by December 18, officials in Thimphu asserted that all 30 terrorist camps in the country had been uprooted. Of these, according to a Bhutanese Foreign Ministry statement, the ULFA had 13, the NDFB 12 and the KLO five.

The offensive delivered a very serious blow to the ULFA, which had established itself in the Bhutan’s southern forests and the Samdruk Dzonkha area, as early as 1992. According to the Indian Express report, the ULFA had vowed to target the Himalayan kingdom. There is every reason to believe that it meant what it said and harbours a deep feeling of anger and desire for revenge against Bhutan. Bhimakanta Burogohain alias Mama in an interview published in The Telegraph, Kolkata, as late as December 15, 2010, described the events of 2003 with the words, “We had been betrayed and attacked.”

Not surprisingly, Bhutan’s Army Chief, Gen Baboo Tshering, has reportedly written last year to the commander of the Indian Military Training Team at Thimphu as well as the Ministry of External Affairs on the dangers of releasing ULFA leaders, particularly those who had been active in south Bhutan. New Delhi has paid scant heed to Bhutan’s concerns. After this, will Thimphu oblige India a second time by launching a military offensive against a revived ULFA should it again establish camps in Bhutan? Bangladesh will be equally miffed. Unlike Begum Khaleda Zia, who had described secessionist rebels of north-eastern India as “freedom fighters” and given every possible help to them, Sheikh Hasina has sent them packing. One can hardly blame her Government if it feels that a revived ULFA may join up with fundamentalist Islamist terrorist organisations, spawned by Pakistan’s Directorate General of Inter-Services Intelligence, with which it has close links, to unleash violence in the country and even try to assassinate Sheikh Hasina. She has already survived several attempts on her life. 








The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists”, said Isaac Asimov. On this the first working day of 2011 in the Western world, go read Melanie Phillips in her analysis of what’s going on in the world. While she focuses on the demonisation of Israel and the bizarre distortion of West Asia realities in the West, her argument applies across the board to the internal debate in Western democracies today.

In short, as in the title of her book, this can be described as turning things upside down, creating a counter-reality based on emotion over facts and the belief that privileged groups can be said to be always right whatever they do because of past claimed victim status. This new way of looking at the world throws out of the window all of the logical, pragmatic and democratic concepts that have made the West so successful.

I would add that her argument overstates the negative since that’s what she’s trying to explain and given the brevity of her lecture, as well as the fact that she’s experienced the worst of it in the United Kingdom. A lot of people — roughly a minimum of 50 per cent in every country — knows that something is seriously wrong with the public debate and Government policies. What Phillips does so well is to articulate precisely what’s happening.

Then there is an incredibly brilliant article by Douglas Murray on how the West has dealt with the Islam issue so badly because it has been pushed to deal with it on Islamic, rather than Western, terms. While focussed on the Ground Zero mosque/community center project, he ranges much further. It is the best single article on Western internal responses to Islam and Islamism that I’ve ever seen.

To summarise even more briefly, the issue is admirably presented in George Orwell’s novel 1984. His nightmare of the mental (as much as repressive) dictatorship of the future was a place dominated by three slogans: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. These are the slogans that, in effect, dominate our world at this moment. What do they mean?

War is peace is the failure to recognise on the part of many (but fewer each day) that this is an era of struggle in which forces within are bashing away with sledgehammers at the foundations of Western civilization and democracy at home. 

At the same time, the central issue in much of the world is the struggle of revolutionary Islamists to impose totalitarian dictatorships on dozens of countries and hundreds of millions of people. This includes the notion that those waging war both on the West and on their own people are either friends or easily made to be so by appeasement and flattery.

Freedom is Slavery means that growing Government power and regulation, along with the narrowing boundaries of individual freedom, freedom of speech, and other treasured rights, is presented as a positive development that will make life better.

The belief that people cannot be trusted with freedom but must be told what to do for their own good has, camouflaged in many ways, become prevalent. The idea that they are too stupid, greedy, bigoted, and short-sighted has become a powerful belief among Western elites. Ironically, anti-democratic actions have been rationalised in the name of the Left, which has historically supposed to have been the champion of the common people but has now become a tool to enhance elite privileges through statism. 

Ignorance is Strength is in practice the view of all too many of the very institutions supposed to enlighten the people and safeguard democracy but have become propaganda organs to spread misinformation. It tells people to ignore the evidence of their experience, dispense with the history and traditions of their societies, and to throw away their common sense. 

The personnel in large elements of the schools, mass media, culture, and publishing have either consciously decided to use these vehicles to spread their ideology or choose to censor information so that people will only be told what — in the eyes of the gatekeepers — will elevate their consciousness. The goal here is to use the media to fundamentally transform — the split infinitive isn’t mine — Western societies through what might be called voter-assisted suicide.

As noted above, these problems are far from universal, yet they are in Europe and North America more widespread today than at any time in living memory.

Your task in 2011 is to try to find ways and act on them that will roll back this plague; to create a wider liberated zone for security, freedom and knowledge at the end of this year than exists today. Please go to work.

The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. 









THE urgency being shown by the United Progressive Alliance ( UPA) in bringing up the Lok Pal Bill is understandable, but, sadly, its motives are less than honest. They are essentially to divert the attention of the people from the fire that has been lit under the UPA government by the 2G scam.


So, instead of addressing the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the issue which has rocked the country and brought the Parliament to a standstill, the government has brought out the old perennial from the hat.


Since 1969, there have been as many as nine attempts to pass the Lok Pal Bill. In a bid to show that the new Bill, which is sought to be brought in via an ordinance, has teeth, the Prime Minister has been included in its ambit.

But then, who has targeted the Prime Minister? In offering Dr Manmohan Singh as a target, the UPA is once again using his wellknown integrity as a shield.


In actual fact the Bill is toothless, just as Lok Pals and Lok Ayuktas are, across the country. Despite his best efforts, Justice Santosh Hegde has been unable to make a dent in the mining mafia which runs Karnataka, the state where he is Lok Ayukta. Uttarakhand, another state with rampant corruption, too, has a Lok Ayukta, but he is neither seen nor heard.


The real weakness of the proposed Bill lies not in the sections and sub- sections of the proposed Bill, but in the belief that is sought to be fostered, that legislation can rid the country of corruption, just as another measure being mooted is supposed to eliminate hunger. In this, the UPA is not fooling the people, it is merely deluding itself.



THE Bharatiya Janata Party’s ( BJP) aggressive stand on the corruption charges against the Congress, and the Grand Old Party’s counter- attack over Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh elements being linked to various terror attacks in the country, would not turn out to be a zero- sum game.

The sparring has not reached a crescendo on either side and the reasons are not too hard to find. The BJP, for example, is not free of the corruption taint either. The Karnataka state government headed by B. S. Yeddyurappa faces a series of land scams involving the Chief Minister and his sons, and other scams involving the Reddy brothers.


For its part, the BJP alleges that the Congress is soft on terrorists like Afzal Guru and that the party seems to pander to the Muslim community, using terror as a political crutch.


The net result of this shadow- boxing so far has been lack of action from either side to address the concerns raised by each. It is as if the two parties are indulging in a war of attrition, but by some kind of tacit understanding are not willing to land the lethal blow.


In politics, where compromise is often the best solution to keep skeletons inside the closet, both the BJP and the Congress seem to have mastered the art quite well.


Taseer killing a warning sign


THE assassination of Salman Taseer — the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province — by his bodyguard is not the result of an isolated indivdual’s rage.


The killing, as well as the support among sections of the Pakistani public for the assassin Malik Mumtaz Qadri — who claims to have killed Taseer for publicly supporting a blasphemer — reflects the entrenchment of extremism in Pakistani society.


A large number of groups and pages that came up on the internet in Qadri’s support, attracting thousands of followers, is testimony to the widespread acceptance of the use of violence to meet obscurantist ends.


The assassin is associated with the Dawat- i- Islami, an otherwise non- violent group belonging to the Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam which has no history of being linked to Jihadist activities.


Yet 500 Barelvi scholars have hailed his act and asked “ Muslims” to boycott his funeral ceremony.


This is a cause of serious alarm for India since the Barelvis, who are also numerous in India, were seen as being hostile to Islamic radicalism of the Deobandi variety.



            MAIL TODAY





AZIM PREMJI has given away about 11 per cent of his holdings to fund elementary education in India. If Ratan Tata scored higher on the glam scale by giving away less, it is because his target of affection was the Harvard Business School.


However, it is Premji’s contributions that will count as truly philanthropic, and not Tata’s. He was not looking at the Ivy League but at poor children in ill equipped class rooms across villages and towns of India.


How serious is our education short fall? Very serious! After health, it is the single largest blot on our society. If our malnourished children total the population of sub-Saharan Africa, if maternal mortality rates in our country remain stubbornly high, let us also remember that our literacy rate at 66 per cent is almost 20 per cent lower than the average world standard. Also, literacy by itself does not mean that it equips one to read, write and compute effectively. It has been found that more than half the children in our middle schools cannot make sense of a simple paragraph, nor do an elementary sum.


On the health front it is impossible for Premji and other philanthropists to make a difference. To keep hospitals up and running require investments that private charity just cannot muster. There is no alternative but state intervention in this matter. However, when it comes to setting up schools, individual donations can make a big difference.




Mr. Premji wants to concentrate on elementary education, but that is just for starts. What comes after that? Just as it is heartbreaking to save a child from dysentery if he were to die of appendicitis a little later; likewise, elementary education cannot be the end- game. What happens after someone gets literate? Do we leave such people there? Will that take our country towards development? Not yet. Interventions, like Premji’s, should act as catalysts for the state to step in and take education forward. Hopefully, there will be more Premjis who will help India’s school going children.


It would be disappointing if this goodwill and large heartedness stops at the school level.


From elementary and secondary stages we must move into higher education, and ultimately, research and development.


On its own, neither a Secondary, nor even a Higher Secondary, degree takes the young very far. Roughly, 60 per cent of unskilled labour in our country have such qualifications and are languishing in permanent poverty. Or, take the spectacular case of Kerala. Its high literacy rate ( above 80 per cent) and school attendance rate ( 91 per cent from class I- IV) have not made it quite as developed as one expected it to be. Unfortunately, Kerala’s urban poverty rate, at about 9.3 per cent, is higher than 20 of the 32 states and union territories of India.


If Kerala does not attract emergency attention, it is because foreign remittances have kept this state on life support.


Often derided as a “ money order” economy it gets roughly ` 433,000 crore from the one in six people it sends abroad to work.


The point then is that elementary education is not enough; we have to think of higher education too. But there is a catch here, and we must look at our figures carefully. Thus while the number of scientists, engineers and technicians per thousand population, is growing steadily, the proportion engaged in R& D is, simultaneously, also declining steadily. Today it is roughly half of what it used to be in 1978.




This is why in terms of GDP per capita, India is still a lowly 123 out of 164 countries according to the World Bank, and 137 out of 182, according to IMF. If India has to catch- up with the world it must perform according to world standards. The only way to do this is to upgrade our education to the level where it can contribute to knowledge. Given our poor technological backup, the advances in employment, such as they have been, are largely in the informal economy, or, what is euphemistically called, the SME sector.


To get a measure of how far we lag behind, let us take a look at China. According to OECD, over $ 40 billion of America’s trade deficit with China is in “ high technology” goods. On the other hand, the bulk of our exports come from low- grade technology items such as garment, hosiery, gems and jewellery, cashew nuts, and so on. Is this the route to becoming a world economic power? The truth is that the taste of higher education in a country is in its research outcome. It is this that ultimately translates into growth. Our record in this sector is far from encouraging.


In terms of the manpower base of scientists and engineers our figures are 1/ 100th of USA, 1/ 50th of Korea and, bad news, 1/ 5th of China as well.


For a rounded development of the country we must also remember that if higher qualifications do not contribute to Research and Development ( R& D), then we are essentially handing out paper degrees.


Sadly, according to the Manpower Profile of India, Research and Development Personnel in our country is actually declining.


Is it surprising then that India’s R& D should be 1/ 60th of that of Korea, 1/ 250th of USA and 1/ 340th of Japan? Even in the IT sector in India, where things should be better, R& D expenses are just three per cent of sales. In most reputed companies the world over the figure is between 14 per cent- 15per cent.


It is facts such as these that prompted a special committee set up by the Planning Commission under S. P. Gupta to advocate “ bold steps” in education, particularly in Research and Development. This suggestion came as far back as 2002, but we have yet to take it seriously.




Large hearted efforts such as those of Azim Premji will yield true dividends if they are taken forward to encourage higher education with discernible R& D outputs. All too often we are satisfied with base line measures. Our poverty figures are not estimated in terms of quality of life, but by just being able to live. Our health status is also determined by how many cases of dysentery we have been able to ward off, and not by how many people have the security of medical care through their life.


Hopefully, we will not look at education in a similar way. Elementary education is a stepping stone to much bigger things and not an end in itself. It does not spur growth, recall the Kerala story, nor does it attract investments, recall the Kerala story again. Some of us have been misled into believing that primary education is all that matters.


If that point of view holds, then Azim Premji’s efforts will be of limited value. We would then have failed Premji, and that would be a shame.


Only when education finds its soul mate in R& D it raises the country’s economy to being world- class.


The writer is senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library








THE ANNUAL ritual of the Indian Science Congress (ISC) is underway in Chennai this week. Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan — who is participating in the event along with two other co-winners of the 2009 Chemistry Nobel — has described it as ‘the world’s most ceremonious science congress’. This is perhaps an apt description given the nature of such events and how they are held. Yet such occasions provide us an opportunity to reflect on the state of science education and research in the country.


After many years of empty announcements and failed schemes to enthuse new blood in science education and research, we seem to be moving ahead.


Firstly, there is great amount of institution building happening. I don’t think there was ever so much of frantic institution building after the Nehruvian era which saw new Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management and central universities come up.


At the end of 2000s, not only are IITs and IIMs multiplying and new IISERs ( Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research) taking seed, the government has grand plans for setting up a dozen innovation universities, some 30 new central universities and a string of Navratna varsities — desi version of the famed Ivy League institutions — as announced at the science congress by Kapil Sibal who happens to be both Human Resource Development and science minister.

Another signal of the changing atmosphere comes in the form of induction of new talent in research. In order to arrest the trend of the cream of science students taking up management or other streams, a scheme was launched a couple of years ago to offer doctoral scholarships for first rankers in any branch of science, engineering, medical, and agricultural technologies.


As a result, 380 such rank holders — two- thirds of them women — have joined research streams.


Universities — starved of funds for research all these years — are gradually returning to research.


About ` 200 crore has been disbursed to 14 universities as research incentive under a 2008 initiative called ‘ Promotion of University Research and Scientific Excellence’ designed to reward universities publishing more research papers. Another 29 universities have joined the scheme now. Nearly a third of Indian papers published last year emanated from universities according to Sibal. This is indeed significant.


Notwithstanding these green shoots of research and education, areas of concern remain. The foremost is quality. The existing institutions are suffering due to shortage of faculty. According to official data, about 1300 faculty posts are lying vacant in seven older IITs. The situation in newer ones is no better. With the government allowing private participation in higher education, regulation has also become critical.


The experience of engineering and medical education regulators shows that the existing set up can’t be trusted. In research, we need clear direction and goal setting, otherwise increased availability of resources would be wasted with just incremental results. Let’s set these things in order and move ahead.



FOR LOVERS of chemistry, here is a piece of good news.

2011 is being celebrated as the Year of Chemistry to mark the centenary of chemistry Nobel awarded to Marie Curie.


The theme — ‘ Chemistry – our life, our future’ — has been selected to highlight the fact that all living processes are controlled by chemical reactions. The American Chemical Society has launched a unique online calendar that links almost 250 days of the year to events triumphal and trivial in chemistry such as discovery of oxygen, first treatment of diabetes with insulin, landmark research on radioactivity, new uses of crops like peanuts, besides highlighting the significance of chemistry in everyday life.


Access the calendar at http:// iyc2011. acs. org/



IF YOU are under the impression that medical science has made great strides in the past century, think again. The editorial in the medical journal The Lancet this week is an eye opener. It takes a look at the past 100 years in medicine through the prism of the journal's first editorial of 1911, entitled “ The Promise of 1911”. Strangely, many issues that were relevant then remain so today. The 1911 editorial had talked about the “ demon of tuberculosis”, and hoped that “ better understanding would one day result in mastery of the disease”. This is true even in 2011.

Some leading causes of death in South Africa in 1911 — such as tuberculosis, diarrhoea, and respiratory infections — remain so 100 years later. Even medical tourism gets a mention in 1911, and this is extremely relevant in 2011 in light of the frenzy surrounding the NDM- 1 superbug.



VERY FEW Indians would know that it was an Indian Dr Yellapragada SubbaRow who had discovered many antibiotics including tetracycline which changed the face of medicine in the last century. Fewer would know that he was not allowed to publish some of his earlier work while he was working at Harvard in 1930s. Some believe this work was pioneering and could have advanced the birth of modern biotechnology by a few decades.


In 1965, Nobel Laureate George H Hitchings affirmed that his Harvard colleague had isolated over a period several phosphorus compounds that were in all probability nucleotides involved in the synthesis of RNA and that these had to be rediscovered years later by other workers because SubbaRow was not allowed to publish them. The birth of biotechnology was delayed to that extent.


Now SubbaRow’s all previously unpublished 80- year- old scientific papers have been made public as part of the ‘ Doctor Yellapragada SubbaRow Archives Online’ which includes his personal papers and published work. This monumental work is a result of personal efforts of his biographer, S P K Gupta, over the past three decades.


“ Now historians of science, especially biotechnology chroniclers, have the opportunity to check the affirmation of Dr Hitchings”, says New Delhi- based Gupta, a former journalist.


The papers are based on SubbaRow’s research at Harvard Medical School from 1929 to 1935 and fill a vital blank page in his curriculum vitae. All the papers can be accessed freely at the online archives, which is a sub site of ‘ www. ysubbarow. info’. The unpublished papers were made available to Gupta in 1965 by Lederle Archives where they had been kept after SubbaRow’s death in 1948.


SubbaRow had worked in Lederle where he discovered several antibiotics, isolated folic acid and antifolates which led to development of cancer chemotherapy.


Gupta has donated the microfilms to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and its digitised copies have

been made available at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

TIMes of indial logo






Pakistan's ongoing crisis has just taken a sharp turn for the worse. The assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, by one of his own security guards has far-reaching political implications. Certainly, the loss of one of its stalwarts will be a blow to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), currently struggling to stay in power as a minority government. But in a larger context, the more pertinent concern is what this assassination says about the idea of Pakistan. 

Taseer's assassination, the influence wielded by hardline parties such as the Muttahidi Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamaat-e-Ulema Islam(JUI-F), the radicalisation of the Pakistani polity and the fraying of the country's socio-cultural fabric are all of a piece. Ongoing investigations may throw up other facts later. But as it stands now, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the security guard who assassinated Taseer, did so because he was angered by Taseer's denunciation of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law and defence of Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman recently sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy. 

This is not an incident that took place in a vacuum. Societal shifts have created an environment where violence can become the language employed to silence those championing liberal, progressive values. From General Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation of the Pakistani military and civil society to the harnessing of radical elements for geostrategic purposes, political considerations have vitiated Pakistan's ethos. There was a time when legislation such as the blasphemy law would have been supported only outside the mainstream; no longer. The efforts to undermine the Women's Protection Bill, 2006 is another example of this. Itself an attempt to redress the wrongs of the infamous Hudood Ordinances implemented under Zia-ul-Haq and afford women a modicum of protection against rape, forced marriage and the like, the Bill and its defenders have been slammed not just by hardline elements but by significant sections of the polity as well. Intolerance, religious extremism and an inferior social and legal status for women all go hand in hand. 

When the Federal Shariat Court can challenge the state's right to pass Bills such as this; when Taseer can be assassinated and other prominent politicians such as Sherry Rehman attacked for attempting to protect Pakistan's minorities; when hardline political parties wield an influence entirely disproportionate to their electoral strength; the signs are clear. Pakistan's leaders must comprehensively reject Zia-ul-Haq's vision and turn back to a more moderate and democratic ideal of Pakistan, taking on extremist elements. Otherwise cracks in the polity will only deepen, and the worst losers will be the people of Pakistan. 







The scope of the multi-crore scam at Citibank's Gurgaon branch is still guesswork. But its reverberations have hit the bank's top bosses in the US, their names being hauled into an FIR registered in India. It's been argued that the scandal involving fraud allegedly by a lone-ranging Citibank relationship manager seems limited in scale, posing no systemic challenge. Discomfiting suspicions have nonetheless arisen about a possible bank-corporate house nexus greasing funds diversion to the bourses. A money-laundering angle is also being probed, adding to unease. A private sector banking giant, Citibank can claim credit for having detected and exposed malpractice. But questions still arise about its internal audit and oversight mechanisms. If a single staffer could facilitate huge money transfers in and out of accounts without tripping alarms, surely the bank wasn't on full alert. 

No amount of vigilance is too great for banks when monitoring and reporting transactions, boosting transparency by diversifying or rotating multi-level personnel authorised to grant clearances on movement of money. In fast-growing India, demand for wealth management can only increase. It doesn't inspire confidence when financial institutions riding on reputations falter on the checks and balances that shield clients against in-house cheats. Externally, RBI should implement its idea of making data transfer on bank transaction returns fully automated. That way, a centralised information storehouse can be accessed whenever required for investigative purposes. Finally, high net worth individuals expected to be financially literate were the scam's casualties. The ugly truth is, clients often collude in their own duping whether by reposing inordinate trust in a single bank representative, not keeping track of accounts and portfolios or chasing market-defying returns on investments. America's Bernie Madoff couldn't have thrived without lack of caution in his victims. So, people should bank first on their own financial prudence.








A report on January 4 described how Raj Kishore Keshari, a BJP MLA from Purnea Raj in Bihar, was stabbed to death by Rupam Pathak who alleged she had been raped by Keshari and his men for three years. Others at the MLA's residence beat her up so severely before handing her over to the police that she is listed in critical condition at the local government hospital. Informed of the incident, BJP state president C P Thakur and chief minister Nitish Kumar, head of the BJP-JD(U) coalition government, praised Keshari, condemned the attack on him, promised a thorough probe and directed a review of security for legislators. No sympathy for Pathak, whose suffering was traumatic enough to drive her to such desperation. 

Three years ago, this writer highlighted the positive changes initiated in Bihar by Nitish. One can be contrarian again and caution against the feel-good euphoria of the chattering classes after the recent elections returned Nitish to power with over 80% of seats in the vidhan sabha. 

Ancient Rome had a custom to guard against ego inflation. Roman generals who achieved famous victories on the battlefield were honoured with a triumphal march through the imperial capital. But they would also have a slave positioned strategically behind, whose task was to whisper regularly: "Memento mori" (remember you are mortal). Today you are famous, marching through Rome in triumph; tomorrow you will die. 

The bane of India's political chieftains is sycophancy more than treachery. Ubiquitous chamchas eagerly play to every perceived foible and vanity of chief ministers, prime ministers and political kingmakers while whispering ill of rivals. What true leaders should seek out is frank advice in private and unquestioning loyalty in public. 

The 1990-2005 period - when the charismatic but destructive Lalu Prasad ruled Bihar as his fiefdom - was a dark chapter in the state's history. "Jungle raj" doesn't capture the lasting damage inflicted on its social, political and physical fabric. Life got nastier, shorter and more brutish for all sections of society. Bihar became a failed state as transportation and power infrastructure broke down, the law and order machinery was captured by criminals, capital, administrative competence and integrity fled the state, and castes were pitted against one another in a relentless race to the bottom. 

Lalu's defeat in 2005 lifted a shroud from Bihar's body politic. Nitish invested heavily in upgrading physical and social services infrastructure, including roadways, public hospitals, schools and the food distribution system. Corruption was brought within the national bandwidth. Women were empowered down to the panchayats. 

At first blush, Nitish's superior performance on governance has been handsomely rewarded by the voters. The deeper reality is less rosy. He has benefited disproportionately from the quirks of the first-past-the-post electoral system. The BJP-JD(U) alliance increased its share of votes from 36% to 39%, to produce the remarkable gain from 143 to 206 of the 243 assembly seats. By contrast, the Congress, Lalu's RJD and Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP combined polled 34% of the votes for 29 seats. 

Electoral arithmetic is the first grave symptom of Nitish's political mortality. In the last Lok Sabha elections, Lalu and Paswan offered an insultingly low number of seats to their erstwhile Congress allies in Bihar. Rahul Gandhi rightly rejected that and decided to go it alone. His gamble paid off in UP but not in Bihar. In the state elections, the Congress again contested all seats on its own but won a humiliating four seats. What if they recreated their former alliance of convenience? 

That could not be done without a political price in terms of damage by association to the Rahul-branded Congress. But it may prove necessary, for caste politics have not been discarded by the Bihari voter. Nitish's new cabinet is very much an effort to form a caste-based winning coalition. The fact that five sitting cabinet ministers were thrown out by voters despite the Nitish wave shows that factors other than competence and integrity had influenced his previous cabinet formation. Similar calculations still hold sway. It is hard to detect where he has invested in the future of the state by appointing, reappointing or promoting the new faces of a rising and shining Bihar. 

Bihar remains one of India's most backward, poor, violent, caste-riven states. Noted British political philosopher Thomas Hobbes would be proud of how much it conforms to his description of politics. Its social and economic indicators (household income, literacy, life expectancy, child and maternal mortality) are comparable to sub-Saharan African countries. With no one behind him to whisper "Memento mori", like Lalu, a hubris-filled Nitish too may fall victim to arrogance and conceit lulling him into fatal self-delusion. 

Bihar remains a low-hanging fruit waiting to be plucked by politicians and parties with daring, imagination and skills. Individual states, like India nationally, need opposition parties as alternative governments-in-waiting. The most encouraging feature of Bihar's elections was rejection of dynastic politics. The Congress's organisation was destroyed by Indira Gandhi in her drive to convert it into a family firm. Both NDA and UPA need credible state leaders with broad, independent bases of local support. What is a danger to Nitish - smug self-satisfaction - is an opportunity to the Congress: a pool of capable, competent, charismatic and trusted local leaders who can help the latter drag Bihar into the 21st century. 

The writer is professor of political science, University of Waterloo, Canada.






DMK chief minister M Karunanidhi's assertion that he will continue to distribute freebies so long as poverty exists gets the wrong end of the policy stick. As the aphorism has it, it is better to teach a man to fish rather than to give him fish. By encouraging the latter, the DMK provides short-term relief to a problem that requires much more. 

The need for the times is a viable long-term solution. It depends on empowering the poor, which in turn is dependent on providing education, infrastructure and health. Education enables the poor to safeguard themselves by making them capable of engaging a broader spectrum of the economy. It can only engage the poor if infrastructure is up to scratch. After all, companies cannot be expected to make their way to the poor - or the reverse - if there are no routes for communication. Finally, healthcare serves all. Health is an intrinsic value but also means reliable labour. Policies that deliver all three simultaneously not only alleviate want, but also lay the foundation for a high-value economy. Its creation, in short, reduces poverty, and once operational, provides a long-term solution. The beneficiaries then are not just the poor, but all of society. Moreover, the benefits will be felt not just at election times - when political parties demonstrate their largesse most dramatically - but at all times. 

The beneficiaries will extend to include the politicians who implement such plans. In today's India the idea of trusteeship, whereby elites alleviate the condition of the poor but poverty remains a given, is dead. An aspirational society wants to emulate those economically better off, not live off their handouts. Engaging this new sentiment requires a new type of politics, one that moves away from crass populism to policies that nurture and sustain the desire to end poverty once and for all. 







In an anti-poor environment, Karunanidhi's plain talk that his government would continue to put into action populist schemes as long as poor people exist must be lauded. Thanks to the DMK chief, the state's 20 million ration cardholders covered under the public distribution system are receiving free Pongal Bags to welcome the New Year in their traditional style. But, as usual, the supporters of neo-liberal economics led byAIADMK chief Jayalalithaa, is slamming Karunanidhi's action as a needless freebie that will create a society of parasites, dependent on subsidies. 

However, the neo-liberals fail to gauge the significance of populist measures in a country like India. Despite India's economic achievements, the country still struggles to eradicate rampant poverty. According to poverty figures put out by the World Bank the number of poor in India - defined as people earning less than $1.25 per capita per day in purchasing power parity terms - rose from 435.5 million in 1990 to 455.8 million in 2005. It shows that the benefits of a liberalised economy have not percolated to the lowest rungs of Indian society. In a country where a large chunk of population lags behind in socio-economic progress, direct state intervention in the form of freebies for the poor and other populist measures are very much needed. 

In that sense, populism is just a political expression of what ordinary people want. While poverty eradication through infrastructure developmentand skills development remains the ultimate goal, the freebies and subsidies come as an immediate and interim relief for the poor. When corruption in public life has ebbed to new lows as demonstrated by the Commonwealth Games and the Adarsh housing scam, the focus should be on combating real issues that impede our economic growth. Targeting pro-poor and pro-farmer policies won't serve India's interest. 







"We look Bofors and after/ And whine o'er all the loot... 

Our saddest songs are those/ Which say no one cares a hoot." 


Apologies are due not only to Shelley, but also to Shakespeare since i must add that the Bofors ghost, like Banquo's, keeps coming 'unbidden to the feast'. Whether the latest volley by the I-T Appellate Tribunal is the flogging of a dead horse or yet another nightmare for the Congress, i cannot tell since i'm not an elasticised TV expert who fits smugly around all topics. But i can provide an Eightfold Path to how much has changed and how much remains the same between this mother scam and her many bastard offspring. 

But first, a recap for those born after outsourcing, Tendulkar's first century and reality TV. The 1987 scandal involved a big Swedish gun and alleged kickbacks to bigger Indian guns. More important, it was the point at which India lost its political virginity. True, way back in 1958, the Mundhra financial scam had been exposed by none other than Rajiv Gandhi's father Feroze, to the huge embarrassment of his father-in-law, Pandit Nehru. So it's not that our netas were stainless steal vessels before Bofors; it's just that they became Teflon-coated as well after it. 

Readers also need reminding that Bofors was worth only Rs 64 crore, a pathetic sum even accounting for inflation and the Onion Index, whichever is greater. More impressive is the fact that it has retained its mythic status despite subsequent scams posting figures which look like a rogue silicone implant. Chara Ghotala Lalu's Rs 900 crore; Big Bull Harshad's Rs 4,000 crore; Satyam Raju's Rs 24,000 crore; Stamp Paper Telgi's Rs 43,000. And after 2010, you could be forgiven for believing that SCAM is an acronym for Sports, Communications & Army Misappropriations. 

Through hell and high dudgeon, the Bofors controversy remained as recoilless as the gun itself. Quattrocchi (the 'Q' in the incriminating diaries of the Bofors MD, Martin Ardbo) is walking free abroad. The Brothers Hinduja were exonerated last year, perhaps because the judges found it difficult to tell which one is which. Rajiv Gandhi and Win Chadha are dead. Monday's I-T Tribunal revelation that Quattrocchi and Chadha did indeed receive kickbacks has subjected Sonia Gandhi to yet another scathing attack. But if she hadn't become such a fixture on the firing range, she might well have remained comparatively bulletproof. 

So now let me list my Eightfold Path to what's different and what's not. One, Bofors involved three Aruns, Nehru and Singh targeted by Shourie; the journo-politician is still a lethal weapon, and now there's also Arun, crack sniper Jaitley. Two, the portly Arun Nehru was codenamed 'Nero'; today the upright Manmohan Singh is accused of fiddling while his own fingers burn. 

Three, the Bofors gun performed admirably in the Kargil war; the army brass performed atrociously vis-a-vis Kargil war widows in the Adarsh scam. Four, Bofors allegedly compromised India's security; India's security no longer needs a scam to be exposed as a sham. 

Five, the role of lobbyists was central to both Bofors and 2G. Six, Bofors made Chitra Subramaniam, the Hindu's Geneva correspondent, into a star; the Radia tapes almost turned two media stars into a black hole. Seven, Ardbo's 'Robert', believed to be Rajiv Gandhi, has been replaced by Robert Vadra, as yet untainted by sins of commission, or even omission. He never omits the chance to be with bro-in-law, Rahul. 

And finally, Bofors's much exploited 'Italian connection' is now only a restaurant, or worse, a home delivery outfit run by a pasta-ben. 








In recent times, whenever the two Pakistans have collided, it's the secular, liberal one, which was the dream of its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah - rather than the homegrown brutish jihadi fundamentalist one - that has come off the worse for the wear.


The murder of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, by his bodyguard is indication that Pakistan today seems to be taken over by elements who have no roadmap for the country other than one which is on the slippery slope to ruin. The question often asked about Pakistan is that of who really rules the country.


If, and this is popular perception, we were to assume that it is the army that really calls the shots, then the least that can be expected is that there would be a modicum of law and order.


But if an elected and popular representative of the people like Taseer is not safe from those who oppose his views, the army is either complicit in this or unable to control those who are determined to destroy whatever it left of Pakistan's civil society.


Taseer's singular crime seems to have been to criticise both the Taliban and to call for the revocation of the draconian blasphemy law. His crimes, according to his detractors, seem to have been his fondness for a Western lifestyle and his lack of adherence to the kind of Islam prescribed by the Talibanist elements in Pakistan.


Taseer was probably among the few of the generation of Benazir Bhutto who were held up as beacons of modernisation for Pakistan. But what we see today is a country which does not have either the leaders to pull it out of the morass it is in, or even an army which can enforce law and order. The bodyguard who killed Taseer seems to have, at least by his own admission, grown up on a diet of retrogressive views of Islam.


The worrying aspect of this killing is that fundamentalist elements seem to have infiltrated all sections of Pakistani administration, including its security apparatus. This is an occasion for Pakistan to grasp the nettle and begin a drive against those who are killing its own people in the name of a distorted religion. Taseer was clear that politicians and the army were either going along with or were actively aiding the growth of terror.


Pakistan has lost too many people who could have prevented it from becoming a basket case. This murder should galvanise the government to crack down on the fundamentalists who are holding the country to ransom.


This is the least that Pakistan owes to Taseer, a direct descendant of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who was an exemplar of secularism and tolerance in the true tradition of Islam.








The Khans of Bollywood are not exactly shaking in their boots after hearing about the new challengers, but a couple of athletic men with above-average looks and a decent fan following can give the ruling stars a run for their crores.


Tennis ace Leander Paes and boxer Vijender Singh have set their eyes on Bollywood this year. While Paes is acting in two movies, Singh has signed up for three. Both men are playing main leads in their respective films. Paes' old buddy Mahesh Bhupathi is taking another route to enter the magical world of films: he is producing a road movie, Chalo Dilli.


So what does it take to rock Bollywood? Singh's deft uppercut: "a fit body". Therefore sportspersons, the boy from Bhiwani feels, can do everything ("boxing to dancing") needed to be a Bollywood champ.


"Acting is not difficult at all," is Singh's final knockout shot.


Except one, none of these movies are sports movies. But as Singh says in his disarming fashion, one has a "love angle" too! So there you are, the formula looks time-tested: an athletic hero, a love angle and some nice locales; 75% of Bollywood's basic requirement is done. The other 25% (acting and a good story), the lack of both has sunk many earlier productions involving sportspersons, will hopefully not be entirely forgotten. But there are no guarantees.


So do these new entrants augur well for Bollywood? Will the audience appreciate Singh serenading his heroine in some heavenly locale instead of practising his upper cuts for the next championships? Or Paes bashing up some rowdies instead of mangling his Davis Cup opponents?


In an age of multi-taskers, they just might have the last laugh and spur the Khans to deliver better. We are not complaining.







There is a strange view that holds that people like Arundhati Roy can get away with making outrageous claims, like 'Kashmir has never been an integral part of India', because India is a democracy. This view presumes that free speech is not a fundamental right, but a special favour granted magnanimously to the Indian people by the State. And that the citizens of this country should be ever grateful to their rulers for this favour and desist from criticising it.


So how democratic are we really? Ever since the banning of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, a steady stream of writers and film-makers have been driven to the wall by bans, proscriptions and extrajudicial censorship. We can mention, among others, James Lane and his two books on Shivaji, which put the Maharashtrian Hindu street in motion, and Taslima Nasreen who did similarly with the Muslim street in Bengal.


Theatre-owners in Gujarat gang up against Aamir Khan and refuse to show his film for he committed the 'mistake' of attending a Narmada Bachao Andolan sit-in. Rang De Basanti is 'shown' to the defence minister so that a sanitary certificate can be obtained before it's released in theatres. Both Khan and Amitabh Bachchan make it a point to wish Bal Thackeray on his birthday lest he turns his own ferocity and that of his followers upon them for one communal or proto-fascist reason or the other. Khushboo, a Tamil actor, is intimidated by fringe groups for having said that men and women should practise safe sex in pre-marital relationships. One could go on and on.


We call ourselves the world's biggest democracy on the basis of the numbers who participate in our polls. But whenever a culture of dissidence threatens to strike roots, we use all our might to crush it. The problem may be that Indians don't have a clear understanding of 'dissidence'. A dissident is not just an opponent of the government or an agent of social and political protest. A dissident goes against the very logic of the civilisation in which he is forced to operate for reasons of history. A dissident is someone who repudiates family (family as in authority, not family as in love and affection), country and religion. A dissident is fundamentally someone who believes that all those who wield power must be called into question over their actions and the legitimacy of their power.


The reason for the phenomenon of dissidence to be rare in India is that culturally, as a nation, we put a premium on harmony, especially social and political harmony. This harmony is not accompanied by equality and justice but it is enforced by strong authoritarian figures placed on top of some very rigid hierarchies like that of caste and class. Parents have life and death power over their children (see honour killings), the community has life and death power over individuals and the nation-state is ruled by a prince who wields absolute power ruthlessly. Progress is made through a head-on collision of ideas, through conflict, strife and discord. But here, such things have no value; intellectual progress and the building of a great society are of little consequence.


In the East, all that matters is money and social peace. The Chinese Communist Party frequently talks about the need for harmony and extols Confucian virtues. It has succumbed to tradition and now runs an authoritarian, Asian values type of regime that was first made popular by Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore. We, in India, are not that badly off as yet. India struggles against its rotten traditions. Our very modernity is determined by this struggle - see Rammohun Roy and the abolition of sati, Vidyasagar and the remarriage of widows, we had dissidents in the 19th century under the British, people who were willing to go against the very grain of their own culture.


But in the recent years, the democratic space has begun shrinking. The state of our fundamental rights - free speech foremost among them - is an indication of this shrinking space.


Soumitro Das is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal







Yes, these are stalactites that I am talking through. I freeze up when the temperature dips below 20 degrees. This must be the defining difference between the south and the north.


Oh, we in the north have many ways in which to keep warm. One, of course, is our cuisine which consists of such heartening fare like butter chicken and incendiary chilli chicken on a good day. I don't suppose you have anything like that in your repertoire.


We do, in the form of rasam and such like. But, we are more tropical in our outlook. You can see that in the way we look at life. Very calm and easy.


I am telling you very nicely that things are much better here in the north, even though you are giving me a lot of lip. We northerners may be a bit fiery but I assure you that I am asking you to agree with me in a very cool manner.


I notice that despite the cold weather, you seem very hot tempered. I must ask you to calm down and not get so hot under the collar.


Please don't let me say anything I might regret later.


Do say: We can weather this.

Don't say: Let's keep our cool.







Beset by scam and scandal, an India trying hard to better itself is always in search of inspiration. In Maharashtra, a state particularly plagued by widespread corruption and a crumbling administration, the latest inspiration comes in the song-filled speeches of a portly, Class 4-pass woman dressed in a traditional nine-yard saree.


"Bhashan dila shivai ration millat nahin (Without bhashan (speech), no ration)," says Sindhutai Sapkal, 62, before beginning another speech in the distant Mumbai suburb of Ambernath. If you invite her she will come, and once she's enthralled you with her gut-wrenching story, she will ask you to contribute to her mission: providing a home to at least some of India's uncounted homeless children. She's fully booked for January and February with as many as three speaking appointments on some days.


Sapkal is popularly known as Mai or mother, which is what she's been for more than 30 years to more than 1,000 orphans or unwanted children whom she has raised in five centres across Maharashtra. All these years, she went about her work quietly, begging, pleading and struggling to find money and resources; when there wasn't enough, she has had to thin down the children's milk or ration vegetables.


Sapkal attributes her sudden popularity to a movie, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal (I am Sindhutai Sakpal), which after 50 days is still running quietly in a handful of Mumbai theatres. You won't find the movie in any English-language newspaper listings (including this one). But since last November, it's attracted fair attention at global film festivals from New York to London. As you read this, the movie is being unveiled at Palm Springs, Florida.


Sapkal's story - an example of the indignities millions of Indian women endure even today - begins in the lush but poor village of Navargaon in eastern Maharashtra.


Born into a family of cattle herders, she herded buffaloes as a child, abandoning them during the day to dash to school. As was custom, she was married at nine to a 30-year-old cattle herder, who often beat her because he caught her reading newspaper wrappings (at times she even swallowed the paper). "He thought I was trying to prove I was smarter than him," she says. "I just wanted to read."


Abandoned by her husband after she bore him three sons - he says she left home on her own - Sapkal gave birth to a daughter, Mamata, in a cowshed where she cut the umbilical cord with a stone. After her mother drove her out, the stunned young mother roamed towns, begging and singing for her living on streets, platforms and trains. Twice she contemplated suicide, once stepping away from a train and the second time at the edge of a cliff, drawing back at hearing her daughter crying. "I then decided I should live and not just for my daughter but for so many children I saw abandoned," says Sapkal. That became her life's purpose and mission.


"My hair stood on end when I met her in December 2009 and heard her story," says Ananth Mahadevan, the director of Mee Sindhutai Sapkal. "Her facts were stranger than fiction… she has lived a life that is on some level absurd, on some level horrific and on some level dramatic and inspiring."


A rare biography of a living person, the movie costs Rs 1.5 crore (including publicity) and it is Mahadevan's first Marathi film. He shot it in San Francisco, where Sapkal was once invited to address a Marathi literature conference, and in the south Maharashtra town of Gaganbawda, where he used village children as actors.


After the film's success, satellite and home-video distributors are lining up for rights, but Mahadevan says he's holding out because he's getting international feelers.


The journey from living on the streets to international attention has asked of Sapkal many sacrifices, none more difficult than her decision to leave her daughter in a hostel run by a Pune trust so she could focus her energies on her mission. Today, Mamata, 36, is the administrator (she has a master's degree in social work) for her mother's homes. She acknowledges her childhood wasn't easy.


"I had no such 24/7 relationship, so I didn't really miss it," says Mamata (, when I ask how difficult it is to know you have a mother but not see her every day. "But when I saw children with their parents, something used to break inside."


Mamata and her mother finally live together at one of their centres in Pune. They have no professional management; Sapkal's 'children', about 30 of them, many in their 30s, do their bit in running the organisation.


Despite Sapkal's new celebrity status, there's never enough to provide for the children who keep flowing in, to build new infrastructure. "There are so many destitute children in this country," says Mamata, "There will never be enough organisations like us to look after them."


So Mother India's lecture tour will never end. Invite her. She will come.



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






Before the liberal among us fume at the RSS’s ever deepening fundamentalist particularism, let’s ponder the delightful irony of the outfit being enlightened at last on the obvious. The unmistakable leather belt spot in the middle of the distinct RSS uniform — holding together not merely the characteristic khaki shorts and white shirt but seemingly, symbolically, the very ideology and activities of the RSS — has just revealed its essence. Everything, after all, comes together in the middle — the centre which must hold. And without the decades-old Ganavesh that’s grown on the idea and image of the RSS as skin, what would this Sangh outfit be?


It wasn’t till the 1920s that men and boys started wearing the belt. The trivium behind this historic change of mode for holding the upper and lower halves of the male dress together was the advent of a lower trouser waist. It’s just as well that the RSS was founded in 1925. Nevertheless, the leather belt of the white-khaki-dark brown triad is indeed animal skin, albeit tanned from putrescible rawhide, as leather by definition is. Some voices have been raised against the binding strap — and the RSS will dispense with it this year, substituting a synthetic replacement.


Back in 2009, there was talk of a change of the Ganavesh, as there were reports of the RSS losing touch with the youth. The RSS is in a bit of a serious spot again. Its image has taken a sound beating with investigations into saffron terror. There will, however, be no change apart from the belt for now, certainly not the shorts — a frightful thought in this cold. What’s more, the RSS is banking on technology to reach out, with its IT cells expanding from the one in Bangalore. Will its virtual world too be no stranger to the RSS’s real-world concerns?







If there is one thing that is worse than too much regulation, or no regulation at all, it is confused regulation. Rules and norms that pull in different directions make for a sector in which confusion stifles growth. Unfortunately, that lesson does not seem to have been internalised by our higher education establishment. This newspaper reported on Wednesday that the UGC has decided to tighten control over private universities, ensuring that they adhere to stringent regulations with regard to not only programmes offered and quality testing, but also admissions procedures, faculty pay, physical infrastructure and tuition fees.


This is an unhappy development. We certainly need careful regulation and accreditation of our higher education. The number of aspiring students is exploding; and protecting their investments of time and money, allowing an informed choice, should be the highest priority. There must be no more problems like what we now see in students of “deemed universities” that face having their degrees annulled or cancelled. But this is not the way to go about protecting students. Rather than certifying the quality of output, the educational establishment has fallen into its customary trap of choosing to exert excessive control — particularly over inputs. Why should the UGC, rather than the head of a university, determine a lecturer’s salary, or tuition fees? This will simply make it harder to set up and run well-functioning private universities, surely the opposite of what regulation should achieve.


Yet the haphazard policy confusion on display is worse, in that it appears the HRD ministry and its associated organs have no idea what good regulation looks like. On the one hand, the UGC expands control. Meanwhile, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal announced nine new universities — which, notably, he said would be of Ivy-League quality, and he would “free them from the shackles of government control”! We need to debate why it appears to make sense to so many in the establishment that world-class universities would necessarily have to be outside the current regulatory framework.







Tuesday’s murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, by one of his guards underlines the deepening structural crisis in the nation. The first major political assassination since the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto a little over three years ago has brought into sharp relief the growing militant infiltration of the security forces, a weak civilian government that is unable to govern, an economy in shambles, and an all-powerful army leadership that appears to have lost the plot. The assassin has reportedly said his motivation was to avenge the governor’s support to changes in Pakistan’s notorious law against blasphemy that has victimised not only religious minorities but also mainstream Muslims. Taseer had visited Aasiya Bibi, a Christian woman awaiting the death sentence for blasphemy, and forwarded her appeal for pardon to President Asif Ali Zardari. Last week, protests by Islamic groups against any changes to the law directed their anger at Taseer.


Vigilantism against blasphemy is not uncommon in Islamic societies, but its penetration of security forces raises profound concerns about the future of Pakistan. Whether the killer was part of a larger plot against Taseer, also a leading light of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, might never come to light. Pakistan has a poor record of investigating political assassinations, as seen in the cases of Benazir Bhutto and General Zia-ul-Haq. Zardari, who is unable to confront the possible involvement of Pakistan’s “permanent establishment” in plotting the death of his wife, is unlikely to dig deep into the killing of his close ally Taseer. Equally disturbing has been the support on social networking sites for Taseer’s killer and his cause.


The future of the PPP government, meanwhile, is hanging by a thread, after it’s been reduced to a minority following the withdrawal of support from two of its coalition partners. It has been no secret that the army leadership is unhappy with the PPP government and has been looking for a political rearrangement in Islamabad. If the feckless civilians have never been inspiring in their leadership and have often played the Islamic card for political benefit, the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, may be in no position to steer Pakistan away from the abyss. Despite the acute militant threat to Pakistan’s heartland and the spillover of the Afghan war into Pakistan’s tribal territories, Kayani has shown no inclination to abandon the army’s longstanding policy of instrumentalising radical Islam. As it watches the crisis next door, India must necessarily prepare for the worst as Pakistan slides down the slippery slope.








To say that Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was equally controversial and courageous when he expressed his views is an understatement. The story of his assassination reads truly like a chronicle of a death foretold, and brings to the fore the demon that’s been eating away at the soul of Pakistani society: religious intolerance. It was a demonstration of bigotry and hatred at its worst as the killer security guard kept smiling before the cameras, showing off his pride at what he had done. Condemnations of the murder by fellow politicians, Taseer’s own party leaders and opponents, came equally reluctantly.


While the mullah brigade won another day on Tuesday in Islamabad, the vernacular media also came out as a party to their culpability in which the two sinisterly rejoiced. How can anyone dare defend a poor Christian woman convict accused of having blasphemed against the Prophet of Islam? The question was asked repeatedly. No prizes for guessing the unanimous answer. The stage was being set to kill Taseer and to make a horrible example of anyone else who dared tread the same path.


A sizeable section of the media gave enough coverage to obscure prayer leaders from here and there who announced head money for killing Taseer. Others demanded his dismissal from the governor’s office and declared him murtid (a lapsed Muslim). The state watched as the threats were issued; no action was taken to apprehend those who openly incited the faithful to murder. Even in his own People’s Party, no one came forward to defend Taseer’s views on the very controversial blasphemy law that was enacted by the dictator Zia-ul-Haq and further strengthened by Nawaz Sharif when he was last the prime minister. PPP MP Sherry Rehman is the only other courageous politician in the entire party who has drafted a new law and deposited it in parliament, seeking to amend the blasphemy law that has now claimed several lives. Unfortunate as it is, she is seen to be acting alone, with no other ruling MP openly coming to her aid in the crucial matter.


A sustained media campaign was mounted by Taseer’s arch enemies, the Sharif brothers and their minions, to smother his image. His opponents often struck the Punjab governor below the belt by releasing his family members’ pictures to the media in which they appeared partying, as proof of their waywardness and “un-Islamic” behaviour. The hate campaigns were unending, yet Taseer had the dignity to walk away with grace, issuing no denials whatsoever. Responding in kind was way beneath the man.


Taseer was groomed in the enlightened, progressive tradition of his father’s house where poetry and the arts had made home. His father, professor M.D. Taseer, was a well-reputed and respected man of letters, who had also served as the principal of M.A.O. College, Amritsar, before independence. His mother, (Christabel) Bilquees Taseer, was the elder sister of Alys who married the poet laureate Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Together, M.D. Taseer and Faiz were the shining stars and pioneering members of Urdu’s (leftist) Progressive Writers’ Movement of the 1930s, alongside Syed Sajjad Zahir, alias Banne Bhai, of the Communist Party. Taseer’s and Faiz’s wives too were steeped in leftist ideology, and had come to India from Britain to see and support the Indian freedom movement against the Raj.


Raised in such informed company, Salman Taseer got a head start that many from his generation envied. He wore his inborn secularism and often contradictory Muslim credentials with equal ease. If being secular was his inner conviction, being a culturally proud Muslim was perhaps a corollary, and not entirely his political compulsion. His youthful exuberance and flamboyance attracted many, including the dashing journalist Tavleen Singh by whom he had a son, Aatish Taseer — now a writer in his own right. Walking away from Singh and his son, he went on to take two wives, one after the other, to eventually settle down in Lahore and raise a family in an open, progressive home environment that can be said to be at odds with what Pakistan as a society has become over time; but which many urban Pakistanis continue to hold on to as their little secrets that are jealously guarded against the bigotry surrounding them.


Taseer’s lifestyle and the open manner in which he conducted his controversial personal and business affairs and politics upset many people, but none enough to kill him. His remorseless killer had to be a religious fanatic; the 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri of Bara Koh, a small settlement outside Islamabad, fitted the profile. The muted reaction to Taseer’s killing is also symptomatic of the sickly, hypocritical society Pakistanis live in today, which allows little room for debate on any issue tainted with religion, let aside dissent against popularly accepted formulations based largely on myths or sheer ignorance.


This is a society that courts one disaster after the other, with a repulsive appetite that refuses to be satisfied. Islam in Pakistan is certainly not in safe hands, and has become a tool in the hands of a growing number of people to settle personal scores, hurl abuses and threats or simply to kill to ostensibly please Allah. The all-pervasive state of denial on the part of the leadership to come forth and say that there is a problem that must be fixed is equally repulsive and leaves one with little hope. To put it crudely, it’s a dog-eat-dog world.


Whether or not this newfound world of bigotry consumes another celebrity like Salman Taseer who’s willing to stand up and say what must be said, it will surely continue to consume many more Aasia Bibis, average citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim, who keep falling easy prey to what Taseer courageously called a “black” law. This is because many in the media and from their pulpits in the mosques will keep inciting the faithful to murder and mayhem. Pakistan indeed is a dangerous place to be.


The writer is an editor with ‘Dawn’, Karachi








In the early 20th century, Bal Gangadhar Tilak caused polarisation in his hometown of Pune, once the seat of the Peshwas, between Brahmins and non-Brahmins. Tilak had supported the Brahmins who had refused to use “Vedokta” (Veda-based) rituals to crown Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, on the grounds that he lacked enough blue blood. Shahu Maharaj then pioneered the quota system in 1902, by proclaiming that 50 per cent of people serving him would be hired from non-Brahmin communities.


The question of whether the cleansing of the Hindu religion should precede the freedom movement or vice versa began to be discussed, with strong anti-Brahmin sentiments prevailing among non-Brahmins. Tilak’s son Shridhar was attracted towards the social revolution led by B.R. Ambedkar, who had the blessings of Shahu Maharaj. Shridhar’s social affiliations invited the wrath of orthodox Brahmins, leading to a legal battle for control of Tilak’s Kesari newspaper after his death. Ultimately, Shridhar, who had even organised a community dinner with Ambedkar and attended his meetings in Mumbai, committed suicide. The anti-Brahmin movement was led by Marathas and OBCs, with barrister Ambedkar lending legal and social support. Even Bal Thackeray’s father Prabodhankar Thackeray was a part of the anti-Brahmin movement.


In Maharashtra, where the Maratha empire eventually passed into the hands of the Brahmin Peshwas, the Marathas and the OBCs form a major chunk of population. Both communities claim to represent over 35 per cent of the population. The non-Brahmin polarisation was a manifestation of the anguish that orthodox Brahmins ruled everyone’s socio-economic as well as religious lives.


A century later, Pune has again become a hotbed of caste politics. James Laine’s controversial book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, polarised Maratha leaders, who believe that history has been distorted by Brahmin historians portraying a larger-than-life picture of Shivaji’s martial arts teacher Dadoji Konddeo. They are particularly annoyed at doubts raised over Shivaji’s lineage — that Konddeo, not Shahaji, was his biological father. The Bhandarkar Research Institute, visited by Laine, was ransacked by a Maratha outfit, the Sambhaji Brigade.


The caste polarisation this time is not like it was a century ago, when most non-Brahmin communities had united. Now, Marathas in general, and those in the NCP in particular, are central. The predominantly Maratha NCP allied with the Shiv Sena-BJP to wrest power in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) from the Congress in 2007, to establish its supremacy in western Maharashtra. The PMC, in which the NCP is the single largest party, passed a resolution to shift Konddeo’s statue — from a group of statues of young Shivaji, his mother Jijamata and Konddeo at Lal Mahal in Pune — and shifted it in the dead of night on December 27. It is to be substituted with Shahaji’s statue.


One of the reasons for the NCP’s strong reaction is that it has been humbled by the Congress in both Lok Sabha and assembly elections in 2009. That humiliation continues: several projects, such as Lavasa, linked to Pawar or his family have been under the scanner of the Central government for violating norms. By shifting Konddeo’s statue, the NCP has put the Congress, its ally in the state government, in an embarrassing position. The Congress has chosen to pass the buck to the PMC saying that the civic body is within its jurisdiction to shift the statue. The Sena has been opposing the NCP’s move, as the Sena has always been pro-Brahmin.


The statue episode also has an OBC angle. The NCP wants to reach out to OBCs on two counts: because they form the backbone of the Shiv Sena, and because a section of the OBCs are annoyed after Chhagan Bhujbal was asked to quit as deputy chief minister so that Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit could get the post.


Hence, the state home ministry headed by the NCP’s R.R. Patil chose to expose the Sena by tapping the phones of the Sena MLC from Pune, Neelam Gorhe, and Uddhav Thackeray’s secretary Milind Narvekar, on the eve of the Pune bandh the Sena called to protest against the statue shifting. The tapes revealed that the leaders had issued instructions to their workers to indulge in violence and arson. This is nothing new for the Sena, known for taking the law into its hands, but it has put Uddhav in a tight spot: if he disowns responsibility for the telephone conversations and blames it on the Sena cadre, it could imply that he has lost some control of the party to rump leaders such as Narvekar. And if he says Narvekar was acting on his orders, he can be booked for instigating violence.


For now, the gainer in this game seems to be the NCP. But the Sena is not likely to take it lying down, and has already dug up another old ghost — reviving its campaign to rename Aurangabad Sambhajinagar, a proposal the party first mooted in 1995. Identity politics seems an open-ended chapter in Maharashtra.








The circumstances surrounding the death of many separatist leaders are street knowledge in Kashmir, but nobody speaks about it publicly. Even the local media refrains from discussing it. The separatists themselves — even those who have personally suffered — prefer to be diplomatic about it. There has been, until now, a consensus among separatists of all hues that silence on these killings is in the interest of the Kashmir cause.


That, however, gave the killings a wicked rationale of their own. The traitorous acts of the murdered leaders, it was believed by a large section of the population in the Valley, justified their killings. In some cases where such a generalisation appeared too inconvenient to make, the killings were alleged to be the handiwork of government forces.


This is why when former Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat spoke about it, he broke what has been the biggest taboo in Kashmir’s separatist discourse.


At a seminar organised by JKLF supremo Yasin Malik in memory of Abdul Ahad Wani, a JKLF ideologue who was kidnapped and shot dead by unidentified gunmen in 1993, Bhat — in characteristically theatrical style — announced that the “time to tell the truth had come”. Pointing to a large photograph of Wani, Bhat said it was odd to remember Wani without dwelling on who killed him. He said that Wani, Maulvi Farooq and Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone were not murdered by “the army or the police but their own people”.


Bhat’s outburst was followed by predictable reactions. The hardline Dukhtaran-i-Millat, a women’s separatist outfit, branded him an “Indian agent”. Ayaz Akber, spokesman of the hawkish Hurriyat faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, said that Bhat’s speech did not deserve a response. Similarly, moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq didn’t follow up on Bhat’s line of argument in his subsequent speech at the seminar; nor did he contradict him. Senior Hurriyat leader Bilal Lone, also present at the seminar, didn’t say anything. Their silence was significant: Maulvi Farooq was the father of Mirwaiz, and Abdul Ghani Lone of Bilal.


Why did Bhat choose to speak about the killings now, when the Valley seems to have come to grips with the loss? And when the circumstances that prompted these killings no longer exist? For one, militancy is at its lowest ebb. Two, separatists, because of their reduced political clout, are no longer in a position to play the high-stakes game that they did in the early 1990s. Their vulnerability seems to have only increased. Perhaps, what has drastically changed the dynamics for them — especially for moderates — is the exit of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf.


In the latter half of the general’s nine years in power, which saw a movement towards a framework for resolution of Kashmir, the leaders of the moderate Hurriyat faction, led by Mirwaiz, had emerged as Islamabad’s favourite separatists. Islamabad had decisively turned its back on Geelani when he chose to oppose Musharraf’s four-point proposals on Kashmir and personally accused the general of selling out the state.


The new dispensation in Islamabad has not only gone back on Musharraf’s four-point proposals but has also returned to its traditional stand on the state, which is to call for the implementation of UN resolutions, and seeking a right to self-determination. Pakistan, now, also tries to maintain a degree of parity between the various separatist leaders, irrespective of their moderate or hawkish leanings. The Mirwaiz is no longer the sole chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, as he was earlier known, but the head of just one faction. Similarly, Geelani, who in earlier invites was referred to only as buzurg rehnuma (veteran leader), is now again addressed as the Hurriyat chairman.


The sudden policy shift has radically altered the equations between the separatists in the Valley. The hardline Hurriyat faction, whose disapproval of the talks between the Centre and the moderate Hurriyat was irrelevant through Musharraf’s tenure, now carries weight. It was this opposition, followed by the assault by unidentified gunmen on moderate Hurriyat leader Fazl-e-Haq Qureshi, which played a significant role in ending the quiet dialogue between the Centre and the Mirwaiz group in early 2009.


The moderate group, which essentially champions a pragmatic solution “that accepts the ground reality of Kashmir as a state inhabited by a heterogeneous mass of people with different political aspirations”, feels hemmed in under the circumstances. There is little space for political manoeuvring for this faction in a scenario where the UN resolutions have again become the central template for the resolution of Kashmir. More so for Bhat, who holds that these resolutions and the right to self-determination are no longer relevant. But stepping outside this historical framework could be fraught with unknown dangers for them. Hence they alternate between restraint and an effort to break free. Fazl-e-Haq’s fate is still fresh in memory.







Hours before the judge in the latest Mikhail Khodorkovsky trial announced yet another guilty verdict last week, Russia’s most prominent political prisoner was already being attacked in cyberspace.


No, Khodorkovsky’s website, the main source of news about the trial for many Russians, was not being censored. Rather, it had been targeted by so-called denial-of-service attacks, with visitors receiving a “page cannot be found” message. Such attacks are an increasingly popular tool for punishing one’s opponents, as evidenced by the recent online campaign against Amazon and PayPal for mistreating WikiLeaks, but rarely generate as much outrage as formal government attempts to filter information.


In the past, repressive regimes have relied on firewalls; China has been particularly creative. But the pro-Kremlin cyberattackers who hit Kodorkovsky’s website may reveal more about the future than Beijing’s adapting of traditional censorship to new technology.


Under the Russian model of “social control” no formal, direct censorship is necessary. Armies of pro-government netizens take matters into their own hands and attack websites they don’t like.


The Kremlin, in fact, practises very little formal censorship, preferring social control to technological constraints. There is a certain logic to this. Outright censorship hurts its image abroad: Cyberattacks are too ambiguous to make it into most foreign journalists’ reports about Russia’s worsening media climate. By allowing Kremlin-friendly companies and vigilantes to police the digital commons, the government doesn’t have to fret over every critical blog post.


Most are used to more blatant measures of Internet control. China’s draconian efforts to filter the Internet — the “Great Firewall of China” — hearken back to the strict censorship of the airwaves by Communist governments during the Cold War. Back then it was possible to keep out or at least cut down on the influence of foreign ideas by jamming Western broadcasts. The Internet, however, has proven to be far too amorphous to dominate. So its better to co-opt it as much as possible by enabling private companies and pro-government bloggers to engage in “comment warfare” with the Politburo’s foes.


Meanwhile, China itself is quietly adopting many measures practiced in Russia. The website of the Norwegian Nobel Committee came under repeated cyberattacks after it gave the 2010 award to the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Many Chinese government officials are now asked to attend media training sessions and use their skills to help shape online public opinion rather than censor it.


The eventual disappearance of Internet filtering in much of the world would count as a rather ambiguous achievement if it’s replaced by an outburst of cyberattacks, an increase in the state’s surveillance power, and an outpouring of insidious government propaganda. Policymakers need to stop viewing Internet control as just an outgrowth of the Cold War-era radio jamming and start paying attention to non-technological threats to online freedom. Addressing the social dimension of Internet control would require political rather than technological solutions, but this is no good reason to cling to the outdated metaphor of the “Great Firewall.”




Morozov is the author of ‘The Net Delusion.’







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. 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.


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 per cent 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 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 like Twitter. Their valuation 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 rate — so any capital gain it makes on its venture in Facebook will be sheer profit. Second, Goldman has almost locked up the role of lead manager of the inevitable Facebook initial public offering. Fees for underwriting public offerings are about 7 per cent of the value of the stock sold. Facebook could easily sell $2 billion of stock or more, generating fees to Goldman and other underwriters of at least $140 million.


The other benefit for Goldman in leading the public offering 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 per cent initial fee plus 5 per cent 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.


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 realises the firm’s financial performance doesn’t live up to its hyped valuation.








The RSS feels that there is something more than what meets the eye when it comes to the recent increase in food prices. The outfit actually suspects deliberate manipulation by the government.


Talking about inflation crossing 12 per cent last week, a front page article in Organiser says, “with some active machination by a few Union ministries like food and agriculture, food inflation had touched 21.19 per cent” during the same week last year, too. “What gives credence to accusations of price manipulation by the government is that food prices have not spiraled abroad as much as in India. Last time, during the boom period of 2006-07, food prices across the world had shown a sharp uptick, owing to economic growth in countries like India and China, where consumption had far outstripped production,” it explains. “But this time round, even though food prices have risen only marginally the world over, and in some cases the prices have actually come down, resurgent inflationary pressure has made the government look helpless. The helplessness could be owing to the fact that the ministries are themselves involved in manipulations,” the article goes on to claim.


Panchjanya insists that if the UPA government and the Congress devoted even a fraction of the energy they spend on covering up corruption, and raising the bogey of saffron terror to make political gains and divert attention from jihadi terror, to the problems of the common man, they could have found a solution to issues like inflation and unemployment.


Bizarre outrage over Binayak


The lead editorial in Organiser vents its anger at human-rights activists who have been vocal about the life sentence handed down to Binayak Sen. It says these “professional jholawallahs” and “self-styled civil liberty activists” keep mum when Maoists kill innocents and indulge in violence. One has not seen them “staging their theatrical dismay over the mindless violence of the so-called red revolutionaries.” That is why, the editorial says, the “bizarre exhibition” of outrage, anger and anguish over the sentencing of Sen and two others to life term for sedition, criminal conspiracy and collaboration with Maoists sounds “bogus, if not spurious”.


“What is it that these men and women are protesting? Do they want us to believe that Binayak Sen, because he is Binayak Sen, is above the law of the land? That no court, no police, no authority has a right to prosecute him however dubious his actions are or however criminally involved he is with the Maoist merchants of death?” it says.


The editorial attacks the argument that the charges against Sen are weak and that he does not deserve the life term awarded to him. “He was tried under the law of the land... It was a free and fair trial. He received the best possible legal aid. There is no dearth of resources or support for Sen to fight his case,” it says.


Finally, it says “these people” are the same “who claim to occupy the middle ground, claim to mediate for widening the space for dissent, defend every terrorist, secessionist, separatist, and their common objective to shrink the Hindu majority space... They hog the limelight, special mentions and awards in the fashionable international circuit. Their mandate is to weaken the state, create disaffection in the pillars of democracy and try and make India a banana republic. See the manner in which the National Advisory Council, Sonia Gandhi’s handpicked men and women in the UPA government, has reacted to the Raipur court verdict. Are they trying to intimidate and undermine the judiciary in the country? Or tell the world that the Indian legal system is not free and fair?” it asks.


Congress as property


An article in Panchjanya mocked the Congress’ celebration of its 125th anniversary, and the release of a publication tracing the history of the party on the occasion. It says the Congress is basically a “property” of a particular family and hence it shouldn’t speak about its history. “Properties have no history. Though families and clans do have. So the Congress shouldn’t boast of its history. It should first become a party, decide its ideology and then give an account of what it has done,” the article says.


It goes on to attack the Congress more viciously. “Is nationalism its ideology? Then why are they irked with Vande Mataram? The Congress has linked saffron — the symbol of Indian culture — with terror. It is the same Congress which propounded the thesis of giving Muslims the first right on the country’s resources,” it adds.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







The virtual splitting of the country’s biggest engineering & construction company, Rs 45,000-crore Larsen & Toubro, into nine independent entities, with plans to list a couple of them in the next few years is a masterstroke. Chiefly, for three reasons. One, the clubbing of five dozen-odd businesses across 14 operating divisions into nine clearly demarcated entities with a dedicated company-style CEO, CFO, HR head, board, and, most importantly, a separate profit and loss account, will bring the much needed focus to individual businesses, some of which were falling under the radar in the current milieu where the buck really stopped at the chairman, the indomitable 68-year-old AM Naik’s door. Carving the 10,000 people strong software-to-rigs conglomerate into nine entities will enable individual businesses to demonstrate performance more explicitly and that will help unleash the entrepreneurial spirits in L&T managers, long used to the bureaucracy and anonymity of a big professional-driven organisation.


Secondly, by creating more opportunities for young people to head big businesses (Naik expects each of the nine entities to quickly ramp up to a billion dollar in sales and the CEO to be in the 55-59 year bracket), the company, at one shot, has also tried to address a long-standing management lacuna, and that is its inability to create a strong leadership pipeline capable of leading L&T in the 21st century. Remember that most of the current L&T executive board members, including Naik, are set to retire in the next two years, and this restructuring has come not a day too soon.


Lastly, this virtual split, with the potential to unlock value by listing various businesses, is also a way of preparing L&T for the future, where the new chairman may have to take big calls on businesses like defence, nuclear power, etc. Naik, an L&T veteran for 46 years with the last 11 at the helm, was largely instrumental in identifying and exiting non-core businesses like cement, ready-made concrete, food processing, tractors, petrol pump machinery et al in the last decade or so and giving a huge impetus to core businesses in constructing ports, airports, factories, power plants, bridges, turbines, etc. Amongst non-promoter driven companies, including Tatas, L&T is India’s number one company by sales today. No wonder, Naik stands like a colossus in the Indian business firmament. But history will judge his true legacy, much like with the legendary Jack Welch of General Electric, perhaps on the resilience of the organisation after the fading of larger-than-life aura of a charismatic leader. The current reorganisation therefore can be read as much as the company’s gambit to improve its growth prospects as Naik’s one last big contribution to the company’s future and his legacy.







The most obvious way to reduce food prices is to raise agricultural productivity—after all, if there is more supply of anything, prices will fall. This, however, is a bit of a longer-run thing, and requires serious upgrading of the government’s ability to deliver agricultural extension services, better irrigation and so on. It does happen, and maize and cotton are two crops that have seen a huge hike in productivity (100% for cotton and 60% for maize) in the last decade, but there have been no such changes in foodgrains or vegetables and fruits. The next-best option, and a much faster one, is to reduce the difference in the farmgate selling price and retail prices. Typically, the farmer gets 20-30% of the retail price. Reducing the margin was the subject of an FE front-page story on Wednesday.


Prices rise at two levels. First, at the mandi where they more than double; they rise by another 60% or so while going through 3-4 more levels of intermediaries before reaching the retail outlet. Under the Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee Act, farm goods can only be sold at the mandi. Since this is where the most mark-up takes place, controlling the mandi is critical. Organised sector retailers, such as Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Mittal, have seen huge profit potential here and so have asked to be allowed to buy directly from farmers, bypassing the mandi. This got caught up in the big retail versus small kiranas debate and never took off. A prime minister’s task force, which includes Ambani, has suggested a way to bypass the tricky debate—allow private mandis licensed by the state government. The plan will now go to the prime minister’s trade and industry council, which includes Ambani and Mittal among others like Ratan Tata, so presumably it will get

endorsed. Whether it will move beyond this remains to be seen. If it does, it will provide a big fillip to organised retailers. But even the smaller vegetable vendors will find it easier to buy fruits and vegetables at lower prices. Seems a win-win proposition for all, except for those who control the mandis right now.








The year 2010 was the one in which India’s economic potential truly came to the fore. The year was an inflection point in India’s economic evolution in the context of the global economy. The US economy grew at 3.2% during the third quarter of calendar year 2010 and the EU grew at 1.9% while India’s economy grew at 8.9% during this period. This difference will sustain over the coming years. Indeed, India’s favourable demographic profile, with a young population, large additions to the workforce and reducing dependency ratios, positions it better than most other emerging economies as well.


To fully realise India’s potential, we would need to focus on addressing the gap in infrastructure development, adequate skill-development and availability of trained manpower, and greater integration of rural India into the economic mainstream. While each of the above has been widely recognised, the next few years will be important in terms of increasing the pace of action and building the scale required to address each of these challenges effectively. In the near term, there are certain areas that require close monitoring. The external environment continues to remain challenging, given the weak economic prospects of some of our large trading partners. Growth and interest rate differentials relative to the rest of the world have been attracting significant capital flows, which may turn out to be volatile. Supply-side pressures continue to cause inflationary trends. The fiscal situation also needs to be carefully managed.


The developments in the financial and banking systems in India are reflective of those in the economy.


Despite intermittent volatility in the equity and foreign exchange markets, financial conditions remained stable throughout 2010. Our financial institutions remained strong with improved profitability and healthy capitalisation. The financial sector is well placed to serve the needs of the economy, be it investment or consumption-led credit demand. The prospects for the sector, therefore, are encouraging.


As with the economy, the next few years will see some changes in the environment for the financial sector as well. The regulatory framework globally continues to be in an evolutionary phase with significant changes expected in the international financial architecture. Adopting these changes in the Indian context while sustaining financial sector growth will be a critical and challenging task. Last year also marked a significant change in the monetary policy stance in view of developments on the inflation front, leading to tighter liquidity in the system. This aspect of balancing monetary policy considerations with the growth requirements of the banking system and economy, particularly in light of large capital flows, is expected to assume greater importance and complexity over the next few years. While addressing these immediate challenges, it would also be important to work towards achieving the longer-term objectives for this sector. These include enhancing depth and liquidity in the corporate bond market.


2010 was also an important year for ICICI Bank. In the uncertain economic and business environment during 2008 and 2009, we had focused on strengthening our deposit profile, reducing credit costs, increasing operational efficiency and conserving capital. The success of this strategy has positioned us for growth. Our growth strategy encompasses leveraging our strong capital base in a profitable manner, leveraging our expanded branch network to maintain our low-cost deposit base, continuing to contain credit costs, maintaining operating efficiency even through the growth phase and focusing on customer service delivery. Our progress with respect to each of these objectives has been significant and has positioned us better to capture the growth momentum of the economy going forward. We saw expansion of our branch network as a critical element of our strategy to serve the vast Indian market, and accordingly, we took a major initiative to this end with the merger of the Bank of Rajasthan with ICICI Bank. This immediately increased our branch network by over 20% and we now have, by far, the largest branch network among private sector banks. We deepened our presence in northern India, complementing our strong presence in western and southern India. The integration of the Bank of Rajasthan franchise with ours is proceeding well and in 2011 we will leverage this combined platform for accelerated growth.


Going forward, we see opportunity in the domestic and global investment plans of Indian companies; in the emergence of new entrepreneurs; in growth in existing urban centres and the emergence of new towns and cities as growth nodes; in the rising incomes and aspirations of households; in the provision of financial services to the under-served sections of society; and in the emergence of new technologies that will enable new paradigms for delivery of financial services. As a diversified financial services group, we believe we are ideally positioned to play a role in every opportunity in India, be it in intermediating domestic savings, partnering companies and entrepreneurs in their growth, providing access to financial markets and facilitating trade and capital flows to and from India. Over the next few years, our endeavour will be to leverage the benefits of our recent initiatives to accelerate growth, increase profitability and partner India in its journey towards greater prosperity.


The author is MD & CEO of ICICI Bank








What cost does a national government pay when it bails out its banks? Can the cost of a bank bailout be so humungous as to imperil the sovereign’s credit standing itself? National policymakers across the world treated these questions as mere intellectual indulgence, but the recent crisis in Ireland forces policymakers to grapple with this important question. A recent piece of research by Professors Viral Acharya, Itamar Drechsler and Philipp Schnabl of the Stern School of Business at New York University highlights the fact that the direct costs of bank bailouts, even leaving aside the potential moral hazard concerns that bailouts create, can be prohibitive to national governments.


The basic point of their research can be summarised by plotting the spreads for Credit Default Swaps (CDS) for the Irish government as well as the Irish banks. CDS are financial instruments that provide protection against a possible default by a corporate/sovereign entity. Intuitively, CDS are similar to insurance contracts. When I buy car insurance, I buy protection against the possibility that my car suffers damage in an accident. Similarly, when an investor buys a CDS on Irish government (or on an Irish bank), the investor buys insurance to protect against the possibility that the Irish government (or the Irish bank) would default on its debt obligations. Therefore, the CDS spread is similar to the premium paid on an insurance contract. Greater the insurance premium, higher the implied risk.


On September 30, 2008, the government of Ireland announced that it had guaranteed all deposits of the six of its biggest banks. As part of the ‘Eligible Liabilities Guarantee Scheme’, the Irish government provided an unconditional and irrevocable government guarantee for all eligible liabilities, which included deposits of up to five years maturity.


As explained above, the market’s assessment of the Irish government’s credit risk as well as that of its banks can be measured using the premiums charged on the respective CDS contracts. In this context, three different observations can be made. First, while the cost of purchasing such protection on Irish banks fell overnight from around 400 bps (100 bps equal 1%) to 150 bps, the CDS spreads for the government of Ireland’s credit risk rose sharply overnight. In fact, the CDS spread on the Irish government quadrupled to over 100 bps within a month of the bailout. Second, before the bailout in September 2008, the CDS spreads on the Irish government were remarkably stable even while the CDS spreads on the Irish banks were steadily widening since July 2007; in other words, before the bailout in September 2008, there was little correlation between the Irish government’s credit risk and that of its banks. In contrast, after the September 2008 bailout, the market’s assessment of the credit risk of Irish banks has moved in tandem with its assessment of Irish government’s credit risk. Third, within six months of the bailout, the CDS spread on the Irish government had reached 400 basis points, which was identical to the CDS spread for Irish banks on September 29, 2008. While there was a general deterioration of global economic health over this period, the risk of the Irish financial sector has been transferred substantially to the Irish government’s balance sheet.


Viewed in the light of the eventual bailout by the EU, the cost of this bailout has risen to dizzying heights, which has prompted economists to wonder if the precise manner in which bank bailouts were awarded have rendered the financial sector rescue exorbitantly expensive. Just one of the Irish banks, Anglo Irish, has cost the Irish government up to 25 billion euros. This amount equals a third of the rescue package announced by the EU and amounts to 11.26% of Ireland’s GDP. Ireland’s finance minister Brian Lenihan justified the propping up of the bank “to ensure that the resolution of debts does not damage Ireland’s international credit-worthiness and end up costing us even more than we must now pay.” However, the bank bailout ended up creating the precise scenario that it was supposed to avoid, i.e., damage Ireland’s creditworthiness.


This episode is not isolated to Ireland though it is perhaps the most striking case. In fact, a number of western economies that bailed out their banking sectors in the Fall of 2008 have experienced, in varying magnitudes, similar risk transfer between their financial sector and government balance sheets.


Acharya and his co-authors argue that taxpayers also pay a long-run cost for such bailouts. National governments would attempt to recoup the cost of the bailout by levying excessive taxes on the non-financial sector in future or by using other distortionary measures. However, such distortions would blunt the non-financial sector’s incentives to invest and drag down economic growth to a trickle.


The short- and long-run cost of these bailouts sends a clear message to national governments: look before you leap into a bailout!


The author is assistant professor of finance at ISB, Hyderabad







No free lunches here


The central and state government team that is inspecting the Lavasa project near Pune is taking the no-free-lunches policy quite literally. The 27-odd members have been instructed not to spend the night in Lavasa (that will mean accepting HCC’s hospitality) and to carry their own food as well. So, the team is to spend the night at Pune and to carry a tiffin from there for each of the three days it will be there, with enough food for lunch and perhaps a snack in the evening.


Back-seat now


The BJP’s national executive to be held in Guwahati between January 8 and 9 has seen a mad scramble for air tickets to the city. Party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who flies as a commercial pilot for Indigo airlines, decided that he would fly the Guwahati-bound morning flight of January 8, to combine business with his political assignment. News of this leaked out soon, raising all sorts of talk. Poor Rudy was forced to cancel his plans. He is still flying Indigo, but only as a passenger.







 ‘I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing’


The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province has gone down with tens of bullets from his own bodyguard. And it was all on account of alleged blasphemy. Fanatics would say it was all on account of a woman, Asia Noreen. She happens to be Christian. When she offered water to thirsty fellow women, that offer somehow got transfigured into blasphemy because its origins were ‘unclean’. She was given a death sentence and Salman Taseer said this was unfair. He tweeted recently, “We live in a country where (the) mullah brigade can get away with murder but minorities are persecuted on frivolous charges.” Now, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws date back to colonial times and were drawn up by the British. But there is no question that they acquired teeth only over recent decades of intolerance. For easy reference, there is no more obvious place to begin than the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. The trajectory of that intolerance, however, now spreads across TJ Joseph’s hand getting chopped off over an exam paper in Kerala to Hollywood sanitising The Golden Compass of its theological heresies. A Facebook page set up in support of Taseer’s assassin got thousands of fans within hours.


How should secular society respond? What should religious people who embrace a peaceful vision of the world do? Exactly what Taseer did. Put out soothing markers into their community so as to underline that extremists are not in the majority. “A very narrow minority, but... they are always prepared to do and die,” Taseer warned. Let’s gird up to do and not let the good die.









Bofors is 20th century India's defining political corruption scandal. In magnitude, the $50 million payoff — an aggregate of illegitimate and supposedly prohibited ‘commissions,' calculated on a percentage basis, paid into secret Swiss bank accounts during 1986-87 for winning a howitzer contract with India — by the Swedish arms manufacturing company pales in comparison with the corruption scandals of today. Over a quarter of a century, Bofors has had its ups and downs, its ebb and flow, in the public mind. But its unravelling greatly raised public consciousness, enabling politically minded Indians to gain a sharper perspective on how various institutions perform in relation to corruption. With the executive branch resorting to flagrant cover-up and obstruction of justice, Parliament, the Central Bureau of Investigation, and the judiciary failed to do the right thing by the people of India. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, a dependable but underestimated custodian of the public interest, blew the whistle on some suspicious financial aspects of the defence deal. But it was the press, and specifically The Hindu, that unearthed and documented the actual corruption involved in the decision to award the howitzer contract to Bofors, the bribes disguised as ‘commissions,' and the secret agreements and communication that enabled the payoffs into Swiss bank accounts. Had proper action been taken in time, under the law of the land, against those who received the payoffs and those in positions of power who set up and facilitated the scam, India might have been spared the spate of corruption scandals that torments it a quarter century later.


Unlike other corruption scandals, Bofors has refused to go away as a national issue — because the deep-seated political, moral, and systemic issues it raised won't go away. The CBI may, in deference to its political masters, be pushing for closure of the criminal case against Italian wheeler-dealer Ottavio Quattrocchi, whose only connection with howitzers was his proximity to those who could make crucial decisions on their acquisition. The CBI's rationalisation, among other things, is that the alleged offence is 23 years old; the co-accused are either dead or have proceedings against them quashed; the Delhi High Court has knocked out the corruption underpinning of the case; and in any case the attempts to secure the Italian businessman's presence in India have failed. It is typical of Bofors that at a time its funeral rites are being readied, it has risen from the bier thanks to a totally unexpected intervention. This time the intervener is the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal.


The 98-page Order (the text is at of ITAT's Delhi Bench ‘B' in an appeals case featuring Hersh W. Chadha, son and legal heir of Bofors agent W.N. Chadha, arrives at damning conclusions based on a lucid review of the facts of the larger case. The key finding in the Order (page 92): “There is enough material on record to hold that the payments were indeed made by Bofors to Svenska, AE Services and Moresco through the above foreign bank accounts, in connection with the defence deal with the Government of India … Therefore the assessee is liable to pay income tax as determined by the AO [Assessment Officer] in this behalf.” The Bofors-Chadha contention that the payments were ‘winding up costs' and not illegitimate ‘commissions' is shown up to be totally false, nothing but a cover up story. In fact, challenging or attempting to block proper disclosure of relevant details by the Swiss government to the Indian judicial system can result in an adverse inference being drawn against the assessees. In the process of fact verification, the ITAT Bench examines the material and circumstances that stand against Mr. Quattrocchi and A.E. Services Limited, the front set up weeks before the contract was signed to receive three per cent of the howitzer contract value for no legitimate services rendered. The Bench also finds fault with the IT Department for failing to take action against A.E. Services Limited and against Mr. Quattrocchi. It affirms that since the defence contract was executed in India, all the entities that received the payments “are amenable to [the] jurisdiction of [the] Indian Income Tax Department.” It holds that Bofors should have deducted withholding tax from payments made to Win Chadha, to A.E. Services Limited, and to Mr. Quattrochchi, and that failure to hold Bofors to account is “a serious issue.” Inaction in such matters goes against the rule of law and can foster the notion that “India is a soft state and one can meddle with its tax laws with impunity.”


Finally, the ITAT Order presents interesting insights into what constitutes admissible evidence in such cases. Criminal law relies on the Indian Evidence Act and the Rules of Evidence. Income tax liability, on the other hand, is “ascertained on the basis of the material available on record, the surrounding circumstances, human conduct and preponderance of probabilities.” Thus on Bofors, the documents and other material available from the Swedish National Audit Bureau's report, the Joint Parliamentary Committee, the CBI's charge sheet, and The Hindu (in the form of photo copies of the documents and other material published) can be taken on board, with due safeguards, in the assessment of tax liability. There is a compelling parallel between this approach and the ways of sound investigative journalism. Just as income tax professionals have drawn resourcefully from the press, investigative journalists can learn usefully from the method and fact verification disciplines employed in this case by the income tax assessment officer and the ITAT Bench. For the powerful in India, as the law scholar Upendra Baxi once noted, there may be immunity from prosecution at the bar of law but there is no immunity from prosecution at the bar of public opinion.









On December 16, 2010, the Supreme Court (Justices G.S. Singhvi and Asok Kumar Ganguly, ) ordered a comprehensive and thorough investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate into what has become notorious as “the 2G scam.” The investigation, into spectrum allocation from 2001 to 2008, would be monitored by the judges.


One is reminded of the Jain hawala case ( Vineet Narain vs UOI) in which the author was counsel for the petitioners and later designated as amicus curiae. In that case, the CBI chargeesheeted three Central Cabinet Ministers and the then Leader of the Opposition in January 1996 leading to their resignation. In May 1996, the serving Governors of Kerala and Uttar Pradesh were forced to resign and were charged. The fallout of all these resignations was described by the BBC as “the biggest political earthquake to have hit independent India.” In the April 1996 elections, the Congress was reduced to 130-odd seats in the Lok Sabha and was voted out of office. However, all the prosecutions failed and most of the accused were discharged by the trial courts before the final judgment was delivered on December 18, 1997. (1998) 1 SCC 226).


The Supreme Court observed: “The recent experience in the field of prosecution is also discouraging. To emphasise this point, some reference has to be made to a large number of prosecutions launched as a result of monitoring by the court in this matter which have resulted in discharge of the accused at the threshold … These facts are sufficient to indicate that either the investigation or the prosecution or both were lacking” (Page 264-265, Para 50).


The 2G scam has an equally explosive potential and should not result in a similar denouement. It is instructive to revisit some of the principal shortcomings of the investigations and the lessons from the past.




Considerable effort was made in the Jain hawala judgment (Justices C.J. Verma, Bharucha and Sen) to insulate the CBI and the Chief Vigilance Commissioner from political influence and make them autonomous. But the guidelines and directions given have been circumvented and have failed to achieve that result.


Many CBI officers, past and serving, are handicapped and cannot act independently and fearlessly, being subordinate to the political executive and bureaucrats — the same set of persons who are suspects.


Where powerful persons are involved, the CBI's track record is abysmal and hopeless. Justice Santosh Hegde in the CPIL vs . UOI: (2000) 8 SCC 606, 625 = Panna-Mukta Case observed that the CBI had resorted to ‘suggestio falsi' and ‘suppressio veri' and noted that files were destroyed unauthorisedly with an ulterior motive by its officers.


An equally trenchant criticism came in the Taj Corridor Scam case ((2007) 1 SCC 110 at 133), in which Justice Kapadia observed: “We reject the status report dated 31-12-2004 as it is a charade of the performance of duty by CBI” (Para 33).


“In matters after matters, we find that the efficacy and ethics of the governmental authorities are progressively coming under challenge before this Court by way of PIL for failure to perform their statutory duties. If this continues, a day might come when the rule of law will stand reduced to ‘a rope of sand'” (Para 35).


The CBI's track record in the Jain hawala case: The CBI's record in the Jain hawala case was equally disappointing. Sanjay Kapoor's first story in the Blitz on August 10, 1991 under the caption “Top Politicos in Multi-Crore Hawala Scandal” evoked no reaction from the investigating agencies. However, while investigating terrorist funding, the CBI on May 3, 1991 carried out simultaneous raids and searches all over India. Accidentally, diaries and documents were seized from the Jains, in addition to substantial cash and foreign exchange. The diaries contained hawala entries of payment in foreign exchange made abroad and equivalent rupee payments made in India to prominent and powerful politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen easily identifiable by the initials mentioned. The diaries were a ticking time bomb which could suddenly explode and had to be covered up. The cover-up was commenced by suspending the DIG-CBI in-charge, on the allegation that he was asking for a bribe — a trap laid by the CBI with the cooperation of the Jains who, ironically, instead of being the accused, became star witnesses. The unintended and unforeseen result was that the incriminating diaries were preserved. The time bomb was only temporarily defused.


The Jains were not even interrogated till the Supreme Court intervened on a PIL petition filed by Vineet Narain, Rajinder Puri, Kamini Jaiswal and Prashant Bhushan. The authenticity of the diaries was confirmed by the CBI after the resourceful journalist Vineet Narain presented their photocopies.


The version of B.R. Lall, former Joint Director, CBI, on how the Jain hawala case was scuttled by Vijaya Ramo Rao (then Director, CBI) is detailed in his book, Who Owns CBI — The Naked Truth.


In sum, the investigations were derailed till the court proceedings. Secondly, defective charge sheets were filed leading to the accused being discharged. Thirdly, the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax were kept out of the picture from 1991 to about 1995, disabling them from recording statements which are admissible in evidence under FERA and Income Tax unlike those recorded by the police. The entire political establishment (ruling and opposition) closed ranks to save itself.


Skipper Cases


In the Skipper Construction cases, the Supreme Court, through a series of orders and with a continuous “hands-on” approach by Justice Jeevan Reddy, forced the investigating agencies to achieve substantial success. Some innovative approaches in those cases are worth recalling. If, prima facie, there was a case of bribe or loss caused by public officials by breach of the fiduciary duty or violation of law, the court attached the properties of the suspects, their spouses and dependants. ((1996) 1 SCC 272; (1996) 4 SCC 622, (1997 (1) Scale 532).


Peep into the future

The 2G scam case may acquire contours similar to the Jain hawala case as very powerful industrial and banking lobbies will exert influence to undermine the investigations.


But in contrast, there are powerful elements in favour of unravelling the truth. The Supreme Court has adopted a “no-nonsense” approach; the CAG report cannot be wished away; the Opposition is in full cry; the electronic and print media are doing a commendable job — and it is the unremitting pressure and the continuing debate in the media that can tilt the balance and become decisive factors.


The media, however, have their faults and excesses. To recall the famous words of Chief Justice Hughes of the U.S. Supreme Court: “Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of everything, and in no instance is this more true than in that of the Press … it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits. “


The media as a professional group have an inbuilt self-corrective mechanism promoted by the pressure of competition and the lure of improved ratings and readership. This hydraulic pressure is a self-cleanser and works aggressively even against media icons.


The way forward


First, the innovative steps in the Skipper Cases of attachment of properties for suspected bribes or breach of duty can be a potent judicial tool. Secondly, a key input would be to fashion a leak-proof mechanism (independent of the government and investigating agencies) to collect evidence from ‘whistleblowers' and potential insider ‘approvers' with the assistance of former police officers, CVCs, CECs and others with impeccable integrity.


Thirdly, the money trail through the money laundering, FEMA and Income Tax routes — where statements recorded during investigations are admissible — should be traced.


Our respected Prime Minister in his New Year message has promised to double efforts to make a “course correction” and cleanse our “governing processes” ( The Hindu, January 1, 2011).


A long-term solution and course correction to reduce corruption will require parliamentary intervention by setting up an Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) with a distinct cadre of investigative officials and with an autonomous status and constitutional protection equivalent to the higher judiciary, the CAG and the CEC. A Director of Public Prosecution with similar status and protection must also be appointed. Other measures would merely be a charade.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his address to the CBI in August 2009, exhorted the agency to aggressively pursue high level corruption and change the perception that while petty cases were quickly tackled, the “big fish escaped punishment” ( The Hindu, August 27, 2009). Will the investigating agencies live up to that exhortation? Can they catch the big fish? The litmus test is whether they will receive vigorous and unstinted support from the highest quarters. Otherwise, the fish will continue to feed on our national wealth.


(Anil Divan is a senior advocate.









Britain has some of the most strict rules in the western world to ensure impartiality of television news — not just on the BBC but across the medium — and Rupert Murdoch who is trying to acquire full control of Sky TV is said to have been warned that he won't be allowed to turn it into a British version of his right-wing and partisan Fox News.


The idea that television journalists should not only be impartial but like Caesar's wife be seen to be impartial is so strong that apparently political editors of BBC and Sky don't vote and are discouraged from discussing their political leanings even though it is an open secret in Westminster Village that one is on the centre-Left and the other slightly, well, on the “other” side of the divide.


No impartiality rules, however, apply to newspapers and there is a long tradition of British newspapers publicly declaring support for their favourite party at election time. At the last general election, in May 2010, The Guardian and Independent backed the Liberal Democrats while the Murdoch press ( The Times and the Sun) which had supported Labour under Tony Blair switched support to the Tories after heavy wooing by David Cameron which included a promise to go slow on broadcast regulations. The Telegraph as always batted for the Tories.


Where it began


But there is now a growing view that the time has come to open up television news so that TV channels are allowed to express partisan political opinion in the same way that newspapers are. Surprisingly, the BBC for whom impartiality has been the holy grail of news journalism was the first to throw up the idea sparking a vigorous debate.


Its director-general Mark Thompson took his own colleagues by surprise when, speaking at a seminar, he advocated Fox-style networks arguing that with the rise of internet journalism old rules of impartiality had become outdated. It was no longer appropriate for public service broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to have a “monopoly” over news and there should be room for opinionated television channels such as Fox.


While insisting that the publicly-funded BBC would remain impartial, Mr. Thompson said he would welcome “polemical” channels with “strong” opinions. He expected even the BBC to provide more space to “extreme and radical perspectives” within the broad parameters of impartial reporting.


“There was logic in allowing impartial broadcasters to have a monopoly over the broadcasting space. But in future, maybe there should be a broad range of choices. Why shouldn't the public be able to see and hear, as well as read a range of opinionated journalism and then make up their own mind what they think about it? The BBC and Channel 4 have a history of clearly labelled polemical programmes. But why not entire polemical channels which have got stronger opinions? I find the argument persuasive,” he said.


Mr. Thompson did not agree that impartial broadcasters would necessarily lose the ratings battle to the polemical networks as had happened in America where CNN had lost audiences to Fox News. On the contrary, impartial journalism could gain with people putting more trust in independent news sources.


“I don't believe that necessarily means you get the dire consequences that some people see in America. Having a broader range of channels would actually strengthen that enduring tradition of impartial journalism across BBC, ITN and Channel 4. They would continue to be trusted,” he said.


Attenborough's reaction


His views have since been echoed by others with a number of liberal voices joining in. Veteran broadcaster David Attenborough believes that with the proliferation of news channels there is no logic any more in imposing arbitrary impartiality norms. Such rules made sense when one channel (the BBC) had a monopoly over news but when there are so many channels they should be allowed to carry opinionated news.


“I think that the multiplicity of channels makes a quite totally fundamental difference to the sort of television I went into which was a monopoly. If you are a monopoly, you have to be unbiased. But if you have 50 channels then maybe there should be areas where people should say, not exactly what they like, but at least be biased,” he said.


There is also the view that in an information age when people are spoilt for choice with regards to news sources (not to mention the generally growing political awareness) it is somewhat patronising to assume that they would not be able to distinguish news from propaganda. In America, for example, despite the heavily biased and often racist coverage of the last presidential election on far-right television channels ultimately people made up them their own minds and voted for Barack Obama.


“It is rather insulting to think that British voters are not capable of independent thinking,” said one media commentator suggesting that there is no reason why television channels should not be allowed to take positions on issues like immigration or Britain's relations with Europe.


Thankfully, nobody is seriously advocating “Fox-ification” of British television yet but the fact that a debate has started suggests an increasing impatience with the idea of “received” impartiality.









The third runway at London-Heathrow was one of the first casualties of the coalition government's regime; hundreds of building projects, including for schools, followed soon afterwards. The comprehensive spending review put paid to new construction and heralded the age of let's stick with what we already have.


The one area that escaped the chop was the rail industry. Big infrastructure projects such as [London] Crossrail and high-speed train links from London to Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham are still going ahead. Add in electrification of the lines in the urban north-west of England, and the demand for skilled labour on the railways looks buoyant for at least the next decade.


The trouble is, though, that unless something is done soon, there won't be enough people to work on these projects or those that might follow.


Skills shortage


Until its demise, British Rail (BR) ran acclaimed training programmes for engineers. Nothing since has quite matched them, and many who trained with BR will soon retire. Despite training offered by about 100 private providers and colleges, a serious skills shortage is looming.


Last month, in December 2010, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, gave government backing to a new National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering (Nsare), expected to commence operations this year. One of its missions will be to lure more young people into an industry which, says Gil Howarth, the Nsare programme director, is still saddled with “an oily rag, steam engine image”.


Campaign aimed at the young


Howarth knows the challenge is considerable. “Railway engineering certainly isn't a career of choice,” he says. “People who do go into engineering find Formula One much more attractive, or aerospace, or nuclear. We have a huge challenge.” Things must change if rail is to attract the 1,000 apprentices and graduate entrants Howarth reckons it needs each year. And one way to make a difference is to persuade children and young people that rail is a good career.


To that end, a team of 600 young engineers have been recruited as ambassadors to go into schools, colleges and universities. “The best role models for young people are those who aren't much older, who have recently done an apprenticeship, degree or training in an FE college,” says Howarth.


Nsare will work in partnership with the Lloyds Register Educational Trust and the Smallpeice Trust, a charity that promotes engineering careers, to attract secondary school children. At Easter, it will offer a residential course for year nines at Nottingham University in railway systems engineering, and one for older students up to year 13 at Birmingham.


The government is putting in almost £3m over three years and 60 sponsors with an interest in the rail industry have come forward, among them Network Rail. “We have a skills gap, particularly in electrification,” a Network Rail spokesman says. “There's been a 15-year period of inactivity with new electrification which has led to low industry demand.


“Now we've had the go-ahead to expand the electrified network, there's a greater demand for skills. The academy will be a channel for the whole industry so that supply can better match demands.” Training accreditation will form a major part of Nsare's income. A new qualifications framework will be introduced based on “competencies the industry needs and [that] are nationally recognised”. Nsare is also looking at fresh approaches such as introducing level-4 apprenticeships, on a par with certificates of higher education. Historically, much of the rail industry's intake has failed to progress beyond level 2.


Howarth is keen to get more FE colleges involved. “We've never really engaged with them,” he says. Among those he has sought out are colleges in the rail heartlands of Crewe and Derby, whose engineering department is in the Roundhouse, a locomotive shed dating from the 1830s. Derby College has long-established links with rolling stock manufacturer Bombardier and with Rolls-Royce.


The image of railways


Yet even in this heartland, the image of rail as a grimy manual industry is hard to shake off. “Unless young people have contact with someone who knows what's goes on, that's how they see engineering,” says the vice-principal of Derby College, Steve Logan. “But those who get the opportunity to work in it and see the reality wake up to the fact that it isn't like that.” He sees the college “as a big asset” in helping Nsare promote career routes through engineering. “The academy is keen to broaden the intake, and the industry is still seen as very male dominated,” says Logan. “But it isn't what it was 50 years ago; there is a lot more technology, a lot more competences needed, and regulations.


The infrastructure is much more complex. Even for people working out on the track in the cold and wet, the skill levels needed are quite high.” Railways are woven into the fabric of Crewe-based South Cheshire College, whose roots can be traced to the 19th century when three rail companies joined forces to train staff.


The former vice-principal, Stan Cowell, who now works liaising with the community, says dynastic traditions of becoming a “railwayman” have prevailed in Crewe. “When Lord Adonis [the former Transport Secretary] visited, he found most of the students had been recommended by another member of the family or their next-door neighbour,” he says.


“But that's changing.” Stuart Nixon, 21, a trainee with URS/Scott-Wilson, specialising in signalling, is doing a foundation degree in electrical and electronic engineering at South Cheshire. He is not from a railway family and as a teenager never envisaged a career in rail until URS/Scott-Wilson gave him his first break. Nixon now thinks rail could offer rich possibilities. “The government is spending more money, yet I don't think a lot of people on my course are aware of what's happening and how the railways are trying to move forward,” he says. “The signalling I work with is very complex and there are new technical challenges.”


Opportunities are growing locally: South Cheshire is now working with a local company, Keltbray Aspire, which is involved in electrification and recently took on another 25 apprentice linesmen. But Cowell admits that a high-skills culture has still fully to take root. “People think level 2 or 3 is good. From the 1990s apprenticeships dropped very significantly within engineering manufacturing, but have started to recover,” he says.


Across the world

Howarth says the railways across the world are expanding faster than any other infrastructure and so there is little danger that new recruits to the industry could run out of work in future. In the U.K., there will be more high-speed rail links to follow those already agreed, he says.


“Historically, we've always had major projects — before Crossrail, it was west coast mainline, and before that, the channel tunnel.”— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011







Australia's scientists are trying to wipe out dengue fever by a groundbreaking scheme of field trial that could save tens of thousands of lives each year, the Australian Associated Press reported on January 3.


They have developed a bacterium that acts as a vaccine for mosquitoes, which could in turn stop the disease spreading in humans, the report said. Professor Scott O'Neill, from the University of Queensland, was “incredibly excited” about a 12-week field trial that starts in the Cairns suburbs of Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale in far north Queensland.


With up to 100 million people — largely from developing countries — being infected with dengue fever each year, a global solution was long overdue, he said.


Up to 40,000 people die, because families in poorer nations are unable to seek health care.


O'Neill said his project could become the safest and most cost-effective solution, eliminating the need for environmentally harmful insecticides.


The field trial, that began on January 4, involves introducing strains of a naturally occurring bacterium called Wolbachia into the mosquito population.


Laboratory research has shown that Wolbachia acts like a vaccine for the mosquito, by monopolising resources needed by the dengue virus. The Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes have been bred at James Cook University, Cairns.


The Eliminate Dengue team says it has made sure the Cairns community, which records an average of 1,000 cases of dengue fever each year, is fully informed of the trial. “If those experiments are successful then we might expect to see full implementation and control of dengue in the Cairns region in a two to four year time frame,” O'Neill said. “If we encounter unexpected difficulties, for example if we were to determine that the Wolbachia infection did not spread easily into wild mosquito populations, then it may take a longer time to fine-tune the technology until we are ready for full deployment,” he added.— Xinhua








What happens to a dark energy dream deferred?


An ambitious $1.6 billion spacecraft that would investigate the mysterious force that is apparently accelerating the expansion of the universe — and search out planets around other stars, to boot — might have to be postponed for a decade, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says, because of cost overruns and mismanagement on a separate project, the James Webb Space Telescope. The news has dismayed many American astronomers, who worry they will wind up playing second fiddle to their European counterparts in what they say is the deepest mystery in the universe.


“How many things can we do in our lifetime that will excite a generation of scientists?” asked Saul Perlmutter, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who is one of dark energy's discoverers. There is a sense, he said, “that we're starting to give up leadership in these important areas in fundamental physics.”


The satellite telescope


Last summer, after 10 years of debate and interagency wrangling, a prestigious committee from the National Academy of Sciences gave highest priority among big space projects in the coming decade to a satellite telescope that would take precise measure of dark energy, as it is known, and also look for planets beyond our solar system. The proposed project goes by the slightly unwieldy acronym Wfirst, for Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.


The Academy's report was ambushed by NASA's announcement in November that the successor to the Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, which had been scheduled for a 2014 launching, would require at least another $1.6 billion and several more years to finish, pushing the next big mission to 2022 at the very earliest. The Webb will search out the first stars and galaxies to have formed in the universe, but is not designed for dark energy.


Euclid option


To take up the slack until 2025 — or whenever the American mission can finally fly — the space agency has proposed buying a 20 per cent share in a European dark-energy mission known as Euclid that could fly as soon as 2018. In return, NASA would ask for a similar investment by Europe in Wfirst.


But, said Dr. Perlmutter, “most of us think it is hard to imagine if we do Euclid now that we will do a dark-energy mission then.”


Alan P. Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who heads a committee that advises NASA on astrophysics, said: “If Euclid goes ahead, they're going to own the field. There's no way the U.S. can stop them.”


Last month, the American astronomers' worries about falling behind seemed to be validated by a second Academy panel convened to consider the Euclid option. The panelists pointed out that part of the reason that Wfirst had been given such high priority was that it could be launched sooner rather than later. The panel urged NASA to stay the course or to explore merging Wfirst and Euclid in a joint operation.


Everybody agrees that nothing is cast in stone yet. Euclid must survive a bake-off with two other projects before it is approved by the European Space Agency, or E.S.A. Not until then, European astronomers say, will they be able to talk about changes to the project.


NASA has not said how it plans to get the $1.6 billion it needs to finish the Webb telescope, and thus how much will be left for other projects this decade. Some of the answers will be in the 2012 NASA budget due next month. “Fitting the E.S.A. and NASA processes together at this stage would be a challenge, but the scientific benefits are clear,” according to the new report by the Academy, which was delivered in December.


Jon Morse, director of astrophysics at NASA headquarters, said in an interview that NASA was committed to carrying out the recommendations of the original Academy survey that endorsed Wfirst. It is the “sense of Congress,” he said, that the Academy “should guide NASA science programmes.”


Asked about worries that Euclid could give the Europeans a big leg up in dark-energy work, Dr. Morse said, “The Europeans have developed a significant capability for doing their own missions.” “The scientific return for their investment has been outstanding,” Dr. Morse said, adding that European astronomers are looking for “frontier scientific discoveries” to make.


Dark energy a frontier science


Dark energy certainly counts as frontier science. The discovery a decade ago that the universe is speeding up, in defiance of common sense or cosmic gravity, has thrown into doubt notions about the fate of the universe and of life within it, not to mention gravity and even the nature of the laws of physics. It is as if, when you dropped your car keys, they shot up to the ceiling.


Physicists have one ready-made explanation for this behaviour, but it is a cure that many of them think is worse than the disease: a fudge factor invented by Einstein in 1917 called the cosmological constant. He suggested, and quantum theory has subsequently confirmed, that empty space could exert a repulsive force, blowing things apart. But the best calculations predict an effect 10 to the exponent of 120 times greater than what astronomers have measured, causing physicists to metaphorically tear their hair out and mutter about multiple universes.


In December, NASA solicited proposals from astronomers who want to join Euclid and named a team that will begin meeting in February to begin planning Wfirst.


One problem with Euclid from the Academy point of view is that it does not include observations of supernovae, the technique by which dark energy was discovered. Nor does the United States play a leadership role.


Dr. Boss, however, speaking personally, said he worried that those recommendations were out of date with new realities — budget and otherwise — and that following them could keep the United States out of what might be the only dark-energy mission for some time. “It's time for some creative thought,” he said.


“The European Union is producing more papers per year than the U.S.,” Dr. Boss went on. “They passed us a year ago and are doing quite well.”


Dr. Blandford, the chairman of the original Academy panel, agreed. “Dark energy and exoplanets are both fields of tremendous scientific importance and have caught the public's attention,” he said. “In both cases, the U.S. is currently the leading contributor. To abdicate that investment and opportunity would seem a terrible shame, but it doesn't mean we have to see Europeans as enemies we have to vanquish.”


Dr. Perlmutter, one of the discoverers of dark energy, sounded a similar note. “What's sad here is that everybody's been trying hard, there are no villains,” he said. “We all feel it is important to be at the table. At the end of the day we're scientists, you want to see science done.”— © New York Times News Service










During his visit to India, US President Barack Obama pointed out that India is fortunate to have over half of its total population of 1.2 billion under the age of 30. Out of the 600 million young persons, over 60 per cent live in villages. Most of them are educated. Mahatma Gandhi considered the migration of educated youth from villages to towns and cities as the most serious form of brain drain adversely affecting rural India’s development. He, therefore, stressed that we should take steps to end the divorce between intellect and labour in rural professions.

The National Commission on Farmers stressed the need for attracting and retaining educated youth in farming. The National Policy for Farmers, placed in Parliament in November 2007, includes the following goal of the new policy — “to introduce measures which can help to attract and retain youth in farming and processing of farm products for higher value addition, by making farming intellectually stimulating and economically rewarding”. At present, we are deriving very little demographic dividend in agriculture. On the other hand, the pressure of population on land is increasing and the average size of a farm holding is going down to below one hectare. Farmers are getting indebted and the temptation to sell prime farmland for non-farm purposes is growing. Over 45 per cent of farmers interviewed by the National Sample Survey Organisation wanted to quit farming. Under these conditions, how are we going to persuade educated youth, including farm graduates, to stay in villages and take to agriculture as a profession? How can youth earn a decent living in villages and help shape the future of our agriculture? This will require a three-pronged strategy.

l Improve the productivity and profitability of small holdings through appropriate technologies and market linkages.
l Enlarge the scope for the growth of agro-processing, agro-industries and agri-business.
l Promote opportunities for the services sector to expand in a manner that will trigger the technological and economic upgradation of farm operations.


Some years ago, the government of India launched a programme to enable farm graduates to start agri-clinics and agri-business centres. This programme is yet to attract the interest of educated youth to the degree originally expected. It is hence time that the programme is restructured based on the lessons learnt. Ideally, a group of four to five farm graduates, who have specialised in agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, agri-business and home science, could jointly launch an agri-clinic-cum-agri-business centre in every block in the country. Agri-clinics will provide the services needed during the production phase of farming while the agri-business centre will cater to the needs of farm families during the post-harvest phase of agriculture. Thus, farm women and men can be assisted during the entire crop cycle, starting with sowing and extending up to value addition and marketing. The multi-disciplinary expertise available within the group of young entrepreneurs will help them to serve farm families in a holistic manner. The home science graduate can pay particular attention to nutrition and food safety and processing and help a group of farm women to start a food processing park. The group should also assist farm families to achieve economy and power of scale both during the production and post-harvest phases of farming.

Opportunities for such young entrepreuners are several. Climate resilient agriculture is another area that needs attention. In dry farming areas, methods of rainwater harvesting and storage and watershed management as well as the improvement of soil physics, chemistry and microbiology, need to be spread widely. The cultivation of fertiliser trees which can enrich soil fertility and help to improve soil carbon sequestration and storage, can be promoted under the Green India Mission as well as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme. A few fertiliser trees, a jal kund (water harvesting pond) and a biogas plant in every farm will help to improve enormously the productivity and profitability of dryland farming. In addition, they will contribute to climate change mitigation.

The “yuva kisans” or young farmers can also help women’s self-help groups to manufacture and sell the biological software essential for sustainable agriculture. These will include biofertilisers, biopesticides and vermiculture. The Fisheries graduate can promote both inland and marine aquaculture, using low external input sustainable aquaculture (Leisa) techniques. Feed and seed are the important requirements for successful aquaculture and trained youth can promote their production at the local level. They can train rural families in induced breeding of fish and spread quality and food safety literacy.

Similar opportunities exist in the fields of animal husbandary. Improved technologies of small-scale poultry and dairy farming can be introduced. Codex alimentarius standards of food safety can be popularised in the case of perishable commodities. For this purpose, the young farmers should establish Gyan Chaupals or Village Knowledge Centres. Such centres will be based on the integrated use of the internet, FM Radio and mobile telephony.

In the service sector designed to meet the demand driven needs of farming families, an important one is soil and water quality testing. Young farmers can organise mobile soil-cum-water quality testing work and go from village to village in the area of their operation and issue soil health and water quality cards to every family. Very effective and reliable soil testing kits are now available. This will help rural families to utilise in an effective manner the nutrient based subsidy introduced by the government from April 1, 2010. Similarly young educated youth could help rural communities to organise gene-seed-grain-water banks, thereby linking conservation, cultivation, consumption and commerce in a mutually reinforcing manner.

Young farmers can also operate climate risk management centres, which will help farmers to maximise the benefits of a good monsoon and minimise the adverse impact of unfavourable weather. Educated youth can help to introduce the benefits of information, space, nuclear, bio- and eco-technologies. Ecotechnology involves the blend of traditional wisdom and frontier technology. This is the pathway to sustainable agriculture and food security, as well as agrarian prosperity. If educated youth choose to live in villages and launch the new agriculture movement, based on the integrated application of science and social wisdom, our untapped demographic dividend will become our greatest strength.


M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India’s green revolution.








In India, the judiciary was always seen as the last refuge of the helpless citizen. Judges were knights in shining armour who fought to give justice to the weak and the vulnerable. But, of late, the image of the august institution has taken a beating like never before. The series of allegations that have come up against the kin of former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan has created more doubts in the minds of many about the credibility of an establishment once considered above reproach.

When Mr Balakrishnan took over as CJI in January 2007, legal luminaries hailed it as the beginning of a new era. He was the first dalit to occupy the high office and was seen as a person of integrity and a symbol of the empowerment of the oppressed. But the flurry of charges made against his family in the last several days has forced the same leading lights to change their tone to one of disappointment and anger. The allegations are that Mr Balakrishnan’s sons-in-law, Mr P.V. Sreenijan, a Congress leader, and Mr M.J. Benny, a lawyer, garnered assets worth crores of rupees when Mr Balakrishnan was holding office as CJI. His brother, Mr K.G. Bhaskaran, a special government pleader in Kerala, was also accused of buying up huge swathes of land in Tamil Nadu. Allegations have also come up against other family members. Under pressure, Mr Sreenijan has resigned from the Congress and the advocate-general has asked Mr Bhaskaran to quit his post. The state government has also asked the vigilance wing to examine the charges against Mr Sreenijan. Though no specific charges have been made against the former CJI himself, the frenetic manner in which his family made assets during a specific time-frame has, unfortunately, cast a shadow on him too.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the allegations have surfaced at a time when the judiciary is under the scanner. Just weeks ago, former Union law minister Shanti Bhushan had risked contempt by openly accusing some former judges of corruption. This was followed by the Supreme Court expressing concern at the phenomenon of “uncle judges” in the Allahabad high court. As if on cue, a Rajya Sabha panel had found Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta high court guilty of misappropriation of funds and may well proceed with his impeachment. As the Supreme Court said in connection with the Allahabad high court, all this indicates to the careful observer that “something is rotten”.

In this context, the allegations made against Mr Balakrishnan’s family raise many disturbing questions. The former CJI had already courted controversy though his “inaction” on a letter from a Madras high court judge regarding former telecom minister A. Raja’s interference in a case. Mr Balakrishnan, at present chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, has so far not reacted to the charges against his kin. The eminent jurist, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, was speaking for many concerned citizens when he said that Mr Balakrishnan’s silence was disconcerting. Mr Iyer has asked the former CJI to step down from the post of NHRC chairman and clear his name by facing a high-level probe. According to him, this was necessary to restore the faith of the people in the judiciary. This is correct advice which Mr Balakrishnan should heed. In a season of scams, if the judiciary, too, is seen as not being above board, the mood of cynicism and despondency in the nation will intensify to depressing levels. A former CJI, of all people, should not allow this to happen.







We are only too well aware that New Year resolutions are made only to be broken, the difference perhaps being whether you break it on January 2 or January 6.


But now a US study says that if you do break a New Year resolution, don’t be harsh on yourself. It seems that it is not easy break bad habits because they get “wired” into our brains.


A reason for that is the greater value of immediate reward over long-term benefits (like eating that ice-cream right away rather than sticking to the diet!).


The study also found that most of us tend to overestimate our will power, believing that once we make a resolution, we will stick to it. For those of us who have for years broken our New Year resolutions, surely we should know better.


So is there a way out? Maybe, once they find a way to curb the release of dopamine, the chemical that gives us a high once we form our bad habits. Otherwise, there is just the old-fashioned way that our grandfathers told us about. Make simpler resolutions, and strengthen your will power. And how do you strengthen will power? It is done in bits and pieces.







Former chief justice of India and chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) KG Balakrishnan is in the middle of a storm over the doings of his family members.


His brother, KG Bhaskaran, and his two sons-in-law, PV Sreenijan and MJ Benny, all stand accused of amassing and owning property disproportionate to their known means of income. Distinguished legal luminaries such as VR Krishna Iyer and Fali Nariman have demanded that Balakrishnan should step down as NHRC chief.


What is the connection between Balakrishnan and the questionable financial status of his relatives? The allegation is that his brothers and his sons-in-law have acquired the properties while Balakrishnan was the chief justice of India. Even that would not make legal sense unless it is proved conclusively in a court of law that the former chief justice was complicit in the deals. He cannot be faulted that his name was misused unless it is proven that he helped them in their financial deals.


There is however the question of image and credibility because Balakrishnan is holding an important office. As chief justice he did not inspire confidence because of his wobbly stand on key issues relating to probity of the higher judiciary.


Last year, he had opposed judges declaring their assets, as demanded by an RTI, raising questions about why he was so reluctant on transparency questions. He also did not oppose the promotion of Karnataka chief justice PD Dinakaran, who faced charges of corruption, to the Supreme Court.


He failed to show the zeal that was expected from our highest judicial officer. It would have been better if he

was not appointed as NHRC chairman after he demitted office as chief justice because he did not display any extraordinary flair on constitutional matters or on the question of human rights.


The new round of accusations places Balakrishnan in a tight spot, and he should come out with a clear statement that he has nothing to do with the financial deals of his brother and sons-in-law. This is necessary, not just to keep himself in the clear, but also to preserve the credibility and reputation of the NHRC.







The gunning down of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, at the hands of his personal guard on Tuesday is tragic and disturbing even in a country that has been living through such times for nearly a decade.

The assassination of Taseer — a modern businessman-turned-politician —reveals the many fissures in Pakistan,

ravaged by the war in Afghanistan and the religious extremists gaining ground inside the country. It also

highlights the fundamental problem – the confrontation between the religious fanatics, who are but a minuscule minority at the base, and the equally small, progressive elite at the top of the social and political pyramid. Pakistan’s silent majority belongs to the camps of neither the retrogressive fanatics nor the impressive progressives.


While the killing of Taseer shows that the public space for the liberal, tolerant voices in Pakistan is shrinking more than ever, that is not the whole story.


The apparent reason for Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the guard who fired the bullets into Taseer, is that the late governor was trying to save a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who is facing a death sentence under the blasphemy law, specifically Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).


She is accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad, the penalty for which is death. Taseer stood up for Asia, visited her in prison, and was planning to get her a presidential pardon. This was incendiary stuff for the religious bigots. They did not seem to have lost any time in brainwashing Taseer’s personal guard against the vocal politician. This is an ideological war. Taseer’s killer represents the deadly ideology of religious extremism that threatens to tear Pakistan apart.


Sherry Rehman, a member of the national assembly and a colleague of Taseer in the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has moved an amendment to the blasphemy law. Liberals like Rehman, and Taseer was one of them, are doing their best to keep alive the values of tolerance and humaneness in Pakistan. It is clear that this is going to be a difficult task.


The reason is that political leaders of the mainstream parties, including the late Benazir Bhutto, have not hesitated to flirt with jihadi groups to pursue foreign policy objectives.


The jihadis have turned against their political masters in Pakistan, and in the case of Taseer, it was literally so. The only way for Pakistan’s leaders to save their country from disaster is to isolate and oppose most unambiguously the jihadi elements in the country.








As a student of democracy and democratic processes, I have no hesitation in conceding that the last decade or two have been chillingly frightful.


The history of democracy from the days of the industrial revolution, the emergence of the three basic organs of the nation-state, and the separation of the powers, which define the edifice of parliamentary democracy, has started appearing increasingly alien in the age of globalisation and uninhibited neo-liberalism.


Moreover, the changing contours of the media, whose status is no less important than the three basic organs of the state — legislature, executive, and judiciary — and which is why it is recognised as the ‘fourth estate’ of the nation-state, is also worrisome.


When the paradigm of neo-liberal globalisation began substituting and subverting the traditional capitalist state, the war cry of the new ethos was “unleashing the animal instincts of the market”. While the State or its executive functions did not disappear, it implied that the executive’s singular focus was to facilitate the uninhibited trajectory of the market. Catchphrases such as “liberty, equality, fraternity”, or about a government “by the people, of the people, for the people” were consigned to the dustbin of history.


The above conclusions are not the inventions of critics but articulated by its very champions. Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher coined the term “social Darwinism” to describe the process wherein markets were identified as the most effective instruments to manage the world’s resources and pitched for subordinating the role of the government to the requirements of the market.


The trouble is that in contrast to the earlier role of the nation-state, with its inherent checks and balances and the separation of powers that ensured the accountability of the State to the people, the State’s new trajectory would ultimately become the handmaiden of the market, which by extension meant international finance capital and global corporates, who are the principal drivers of this all-embracing process.


A major casualty of this development is the role of the ‘fourth estate’.


The media has to play a role in enforcing the accountability of the State, particularly that of the government. But due to the overreach of corporates and the media evolving as an industry — a capital intensive one at that — it is increasingly apparent that the media is corporatised. This lends itself to a clear conflict of interest and the subversion of the media’s independent role. The emergence of a powerful oligarchy involving politicians, government officials, media, and corporate business is a reality that has assumed nearly irresistible powers.


Sometime back, a former US federal agency operative, John Perkins, wrote an autobiographical narrative about how the US government and global corporates penetrated, undermined, and subverted policy and decision-making of several Third World governments and multilateral agencies. In his spine-chilling account, Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man, Perkins coined a term “corporatocracy”. This, he elaborated, was a global regime of powerful economic and financial corporate entities. That cronyism would be a natural consequence of such a paradigm is quite obvious.


In moments of frustration, any liberal democrat will feel despondent. But any such overwhelming concentration of power will give rise to conflict and contradiction. For instance, who could have imagined that the increasingly convergent influence of the all-powerful corporatised media could ever be challenged?


The Julian Assange-led WikiLeaks has put the mighty US establishment on the defensive. This is a completely new genre of news gathering. Raw unedited cables from the US war zone in Iraq and Afghanistan or from its embassies and diplomats from all over the world are exposing the reality of the US’ sinister attempts to enforce hegemony in the interest of its mighty corporates. This information cannot be kept outside the public domain because of the alternative media that has emerged. The cables have revealed the entire sequence of events leading to the Indo-US nuclear deal and the degree of our official capitulation and pusillanimity.


Our own brand of exposé is out in the open through access to the Radia tapes. Not only have the corporates come to dominate and garner favourable conditions for their respective businesses — be it telecom or natural


gas — but they have come to actually dictate policies, decisions and cabinet positions of the government.


The new year is agog with the noise of scams and never ending series of corruption and wrongdoings. This New Year is heralded with the spectre of a corrupt establishment that consigns its common citizens to despair and ignominy. The challenge, therefore, is for citizens, civil society and the political process to come together to face this threat to our democracy that the founding fathers of our nation feared.








After the tsunami of 2004, the government was forced to rethink its policies on the Indian coastline. And hence, the coastal management zones (CMZ) were established.


This move affected about 100 million people living along the approximately 7500 km long coast.


Strangely, while recognising the importance of coastal areas in protecting coastal people, the CMZ encouraged increased development, and diluted the existing laws that prevented industrialisation of the coastline. After vociferous protests from across the country including fishermen’s unions, NGOs and scientists, the government reconsidered these guidelines.


A committee headed by MS Swaminathan was set up to spearhead the modification of these regulations and make recommendations for a new policy. Accordingly, a new draft was drawn up in 2009.


The recent draft of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification specifically recognises the existence and rights of fishing communities in the six mainland states and two island union territories by defining two-fold threats to their way of life. It identifies conservation of biodiversity and rapid (capital-driven) development as the most significant dangers to coastal people.


While the struggle between marine protected areas and fishing communities has been covered, the issue of fishermen versus modern development is usually sidelined. Even while highlighting this issue, the draft falls short as it does not empower these communities to deal with the purchase and conversion of shorelines. In fact, it specifically allows the conversion of natural shores to ports, ‘non-polluting’ industries and elevated roadways.


While these land conversions are subject to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), the history of both assessments and the organisations performing them are sketchy. It is odd that the new draft would base itself on the fundamentally flawed premise of the existing EIA procedure


The history of impact assessments, as seen in the case of Vedanta’s plans in Orissa or the Lavasa issue in Pune, sets a bad precedent.


Most organisations do not invest the time or expertise necessary to collect in-depth data on the existing ecosystem, let alone make good predictions of how the land conversions will affect the system or the people. In most cases no trained ecologists or sociologists are employed. A more ecologically disastrous consequence of the proposed bill is that not only does it ignore biodiversity conservation initiatives, but also encourages environmentally disturbing coastal development such as roads on stilts.


While elevated highways may not be as harmful as roads laid at sea-level, there is no quoted research on the benefits of laying concrete columns in the ecologically fragile inter-tidal zone of the sea. Pouring cement as required for concrete columns into such a delicate system that is already being threatened by extensive human use, could spell its doom.


Given the future scenario of sea level change, shifting sandbars and increased storms, surges or tsunamis, the maintenance of such coastal roadways is likely to prove extremely expensive both financially and in terms of human lives, completely outweighing the benefits.


For such a notification to be applicable in the long term, it should follow a multi-pronged approach, trying to link short-term developmental requirements with long-term coastal sustainability and conservation.








As we bathe in the glory of Vaishno Devi there are certain points all of us need to consider seriously. To begin with it should be a matter of immense satisfaction for us that we have reached yet another milestone in terms of numbers of pilgrims paying obeisance at the holy cave. As many as 87.2 lakh have turned up in 2010, an increase of 5.2 lakh over the previous highest reached last year. For quite some time the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) has been aiming to play hosts to ten million guests in a year. In its well-intentioned goal it has often been foiled by turmoil of one kind or the other --- not of its making. Last year too, it is said, the estimates have gone haywire because of the situation in the Valley which, not surprisingly, created an adverse impression across the Ravi river. If only all of us know that we have stakes in peace and prosperity we will be much happier. It can simply be a joy for us that we have visitors around the year. There is hardly a day when thousands of them don't come for a holy climb on the Trikuta hills. No other place in the north of the country can claim such privilege. The credit for this should mainly go the SMVDSB. Over the years it has built a formidable reputation for hospitality which it continues to maintain actually adding one feather or the other to its cap. It has also proved that it is possible to use the offerings and donations made by the devotees for the benefit of humanity as a whole. For all this we have to express our gratitude to the deity presiding over our hills. She must be pleased with the work being done in Her name especially in the field of education.


From all accounts the local police as well as the administration and para-military forces have been able to maintain all-round security and discipline. Having noted this it needs to be said that there are certain areas that deserve our attention. First of all, it is high time that the Railways expanded its network in keeping with the increase in pilgrims' rush. It is not a complaint. For, it has gradually stepped up the number of trains. Somehow these are not enough to cope up with the demand. Hundreds of passengers are unable to get tickets unless they make bookings in advance --- well in advance, to be specific. There is very little chance of a person getting accommodation at the last minute. The Railways has a system of assessing the total scenario. Presently it may find that introducing another train like Rajdhani between the national capital and this city can ease the situation.


Secondly, our perpetual concern is to devise strategies to divert a section of pilgrims to our other religious shrines and tourist resorts in the vicinity of the Trikuta hills. It is required for giving an added boost to our economy. Thirdly, our distinct emphasis should be on hygiene all over --- from this city to Katra and within Katra especially. After all, it is an old advice that cleanliness is next to godliness. This is one field to which all of us can make handsome contribution and we should not be found wanting in this regard.







Just next door to us a courageous man has lost his life fighting an orthodox law against the minorities particularly Hindus and Christians in his country. Governor Salman Taseer of Punjab in Pakistan was actually fighting on several fronts. In a brave move, by his country's dismal record in such matters, he had openly sided with a Christian woman Aasia Bibi for whom major religious parties are seeking execution for blasphemy under questionable charges levelled by her fellow Muslim villagers. Not surprisingly, he became a hate object for the extremists. Moreover, there was little love lost between him and the powerful Sharif brothers --- Mr Nawaz Sharif and Mr Shahbaz Sharif (Punjab Chief Minister) --- he and his liberal family were subjected to a vicious personal campaign against which he is stated to have observed graceful silence. He was unhappy with the way the provincial government was handling the challenge being increasingly posed by radical elements. He was thus disliked by the Islamist zealots, who wanted him to be sacked for supporting the case of the Christian woman, opposed by his political rivals and not wholeheartedly backed by his own Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The ruling party in Islamabad admired him and placed him in charge of a politically important region but was evidently hesitant to come out strongly against the blasphemy law for unstated fear of inviting popular ire. Perhaps the only person who stood by him was another PPP leader Sherry Rehman who along with him sought to repeal or amend the retrograde legislation. Very correctly Ms Rehman has cautioned her country and its leadership that Mr Taseer's assassination "is a clear signal to the state that some serious thought, planning and resources need to go into facing this threat to the state and nation… (the murder) represents a terrible loss to the progressive forces in Pakistan…it is a very tragic incident." It is to be noted that the Lahore High Court has admitted a petition against Ms Rehman in which she has been accused of the un-Islamic act of seeking an amendment to the blasphemy law through a private member's bill in parliament. This can possibly happen only in Pakistan where democracy and tolerance are not being allowed to take roots.


A leading Pakistani commentator has remarked in the Dawn: "The point here is that a prominent MNA (member of the National Assembly) can be dragged by orthodox elements, seeking her disqualification, before a court because she wants to protect the rights of Pakistan's minorities...Here is a respected member of the National Assembly acting according to her conscience, and seeking to right a grave wrong inflicted on Pakistan's minorities in the shape of the blasphemy law. This piece of legislation has taken and blighted hundreds of lives ever since it was inflicted on us by the dictator Ziaul Haq. The law has been misused mostly against Christians and Hindus, the most vulnerable sections of our society." It is just a coincidence that only a few days back Mr Taseer had written on an extremely popular social networking site: "I was under huge pressure sure to cow down by rightest pressure. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing." Finally they have got him. How far can the killers go is for Pakistan to decide?








Fifth in less than the six months, increase in petrol prices by oil companies has left the common man stranded and cheated. Already reeling under hyper inflation our masses have got another hit from the petroleum companies, and feel helpless. We should also understand that the consumption of petroleum products is not like any other item of consumption. Increase in prices of petroleum products apart from increasing the transport cost, both freight and passenger, also causes cost of industries, as this increases energy cost both directly and indirectly. Clearly, any rise in prices of raw materials for industry would result in increase in the prices of goods and services produced by the same. Though petro companies have for the time being spared diesel and LPG prices but this relief is only a temporary one. This implies that sooner or later freights and passenger fares are also going to increase. Increase in cost of living due to passenger fares and freights on the one hand and cost of industries on the other may aggravate the inflationary pressures.

Rise in prices of petroleum products is not a new thing. New phenomenon is that earlier petro prices were administered by the government, but from June, 2010 they have been left under the control of companies; what they call market determined prices. These companies have effected 5.6 percent hike in price of petrol in December 2010 and price of petrol has increased by nearly Rupees 3 as a result of this hike. However, diesel price has not been changed, but these companies are giving signals to effect similar hike in diesel and LPG prices too.

Former System of Government Control

Prior to June 2010, the Government used to administer petroleum prices. Petroleum prices used to change for one or more occasions in a year, but hike never used to be so frequent and so big in a particular year. And there were instances when petroleum prices were even reduced when price of crude fell in international market. More important is the fact that the Central Government never used to give much Government subsidy in its endeavor to keep these petro prices under check. Petroleum companies were told to issue Oil Bonds to compensate their losses in the event of high crude prices internationally. Everyone knows that oil prices do not remain static in international market. Oil prices in the international markets last year rallied between US$ 64 and 90. If we take account of the last 2 years, in the international market highest price of crude oil was recorded at US$147, whereas it even touched a low price of US$ 34.57 also. This means that by selling at loss at one point of time, when international crude prices are higher and compensating the loss by issuing oil bonds, does not mean loss in the long run, as the companies could redeem these bonds, as and when they have surplus when international crude prices come down. On the whole these companies were making profit, though their profits were not very huge under administered price regime. But they were also not a liability on the public exchequer.

Attempt to justify its earlier decision to allow companies to fix petro prices, the government says that because of government control and its attempt to keep the price of diesel, petrol and LPG under check , petroleum companies were incurring huge losses and the Government was not in position to compensate the same. These companies may still continue to incur losses because they will charge lower prices for diesel and kerosene, Government says. Government claims that as crude oil prices continue to rise and consumption of petro products is ever increasing, losses of these petro companies may rise further. Therefore only way to save these companies from losses is to allow them to determine cost plus prices.

But the arguments of the Government do not hold much water. We find that these companies have been making huge profits in the past. For instance, in the year 2008-09, ONGC earned a net profit of Rupees 16, 041 crores while GAIL's profit was Rs 2814 crores and Indian Oil's profit was 2570 crores in the same year. This was incidentally the year in which highest ever crude prices were recorded in the international market. That means there is no crux in the argument of the government that new arrangement has been put to place to save petro companies from huge losses. On the contrary due to increasing demand of these petro products, governments (both Centre and States both) had also been gaining significantly by way of taxes. These taxes are in the form of excise duty, VAT and others. These companies also give dividends to the government from their profits in proportion to the shareholding of the government. As per the provisional estimates of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of India, the contribution of oil sector to Central and State exchequer is booming Rs. 1,83,861 crores in 2009-10. Therefore if the government is made to compensate the losses of petro companies occasionally, it should not hesitate in that.

Process of Loss Compensation so Far

Argument of the Government that it was giving huge subsidy to keep the petro prices low is not correct. During the year 2009-10, when high crude prices were recorded, Central government's subsidy was only Rupees 14954 crores, whereas a provision of only Rupees 3108 crores has been kept for the year 2010-11. This subsidy is mainly for kerosene, diesel and LPG. The government has promised to continue subsidy on diesel, kerosene and LPG. Therefore burden on exchequer will continue to be there. If we look at the loans raised by oil companies by way of oil bonds, we find total loans raised by them were only Rupees 10306 crores, as per the revised estimates for 2009-10. Therefore the story of burden on exchequer to the tune of Rupees 70,000 due to low administered prices seems to be exaggerated.

Gainers from the New Policy

It is amply clear from the facts as narrated above that the policy of administered prices was not causing any major problem for the oil companies or the Government. So far as the public sector oil companies were concerned, they can obviously be expected to forego a part of their profits to ensure a 'public good', namely, keeping petro prices low. Government should also be expected to shell a part of their revenue from this source to compensate occasional losses to oil companies. Yes, private petro companies are definitely benefiting from the new policy. In view of the facts as mentioned above and petro companies' attempt of seeking a periodic hike in petro prices, it is the time for the government to rethink about its petro price policy and re-introduce the earlier system of administered petro prices to save the common man from a fresh spurt of inflation.








Some of the erstwhile terrorists-the men of reason who could understand that all was not well happening to them and hence came back on the rails, were very close friends of mine. Most of them are serving the nation now with all love and devotion. They would come to me and shared their excruciating experiences of the days when they were lured by certain organizations from across the border, enticed with some currency notes initially and then harnessed with life-seeking and suicidal paraphernalia. After being pushed back into their native land, they were literally left to the mercy of God. Financial assistance stopped; no subsistence, no medicine, no security- despite having their parents alive, they were rendered orphans left in deeps of forest with open sky overhead and bare and gravel earth underneath. While narrating their tale of woe, most of the times, eyes of these yesterday's stone-hearted killers would get suffused to tears. The deceitful designs of instigating Pakistan had almost left them as fragile as wing of a butterfly. Any moment they would fall and crumble to the pieces like pieces of brittle crockery. When asked why they did all this against their motherland, they used to say, "For gaining the will of God and a space in the paradise. We were told that this is Jihad and it would lead us to the paradise after death." On the contrary, they were left to beg of the people for survival.
During early nineties, it is said that some of the terrorists were moving from door to door, sometimes bare-footed, to collect alms for their sustenance. Is this the plight of a Jihadist? No. One who undertakes Jihad has to take care of many things together. They have to follow the dictates of divinity i.e. to love human beings, to spread the message of peace and security and not impose pains on other. On the contrary, the terrorists have frequently been found involved in all obnoxious acts of crime- the rapes, robberies, indiscriminate killings, extorting money from the people, eliminating the precious lives, indulging into molestations, running love affairs and making the innocent and poor girls pregnant at the gun-point-all strictly prohibited in Islam. We have thousand and one examples of such diabolical designs of terrorists in our state. Their ultimate motive is to put the peaceful and secure machinery of this country out of gear and render a setback to the left over solidarity of this nation who has sheltered even her enemies with great love and respect. If we have a look into Islamic literature, we don't find even a single verse of Holy Quran that justifies all the above mentioned actions of terrorists in and around India. The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was the benefactor of entire humanity, not only of Muslims and he has always taught to love humanity. 

Another disgusting aspect of the terrorism which came out in the wash left me senseless for a while and that is the trafficking of drugs-like hashish, cocaine and so on. They were all transformed into less or more drug smugglers. Pakistan executed two-fold policy-first to compel the militants to make their livelihood out these drug-packets handed over to them when they are pushed into Indian Territory secondly to spoil the life of our youth to the drug-addiction. Pakistan has not to spend much money in spreading militancy in India. Drug like opium, heroin and cocaine come from Afghanistan, weaponry comes from America and China and our youths offer themselves for implementing all vicious policies of the enemies. But "one who digs pit for others himself falls into it" is a renowned maxim of the yore but unfortunately our neighbouring nation has always bypassed this bare truth despite smouldering in the leaping flames of the same fire made for our nation. What is important to note is, the present style of terrorism, tarnishing the image of humanity, is almost a thousand year old. It can better be termed as the old wine in the new bottle. The present terrorists are, in fact, the spirit descendents of Hasan-ibn-al-Sabah, the father of this organized terrorism who undertook this cult of bloodshed when he was ousted from his land by the Persian Monarch in 12th century. Just like the terrorists who volunteered to die for a cause a thousand years ago; those who are committed to do so now are brainwashed and misguided idealists. The terrorism actually started from Lebanon and culminated in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 
Today's terrorists are also brainwashed, but they are unable to feel the pulse of time and circumstances. Under the impact of seduction of money and the hypnosis of gaining paradise, they become oblivious to the fact that they would cease to exist and would not know the result of their deeds. The Prophet always advised the Jihadists to take care of two things i.e. the feelings and emotions of the innocents should not be hurt and to defend the weaker sections of the society even if they are the enemies. One who comes forward for the noble cause does not bother for the fruit of his crusade or the war he enters but fights for the maintenance of justice and security of the masses. He sacrifices his last drop of blood for saving humanity from the bloodshed. But unfortunately the terrorists, in the garb of Jihadists, have let loose a reign of terror on the global life. They have shaken the very foundation of the world-wide peace and security spreading fear and fret all around. Several of them are allowed to wallow in extravagance before they die; they take it for granted, in fact they are rendered incapable of serious thought. The terrorists imagine that their opportunities for luxurious living would multiply but all in vain. Some are wise enough to realise before losing much but some are too unfortunate to have an escape from the satanic exploitation of the ill-brained agencies. A terrorist finds a vicious gratification in destruction, murder and massacre, either because he is made to believe that such barbarism is sanctioned by his faith or he deliberately uses the faith as a pretext to translate his vandalistic approach. 

There is of course another category of terrorists, recruited often forcibly, brainwashed and used by vested interests. Whatever is the reason but the fact remains that the present cult of terrorism can't be termed as Jihad. It is a fertile hallucination of the futile mind. The entire water of this earth can't wash their hands smeared with the blood of the innocence and humanity. One's heart stops pulsating and the eyes are filled with water when one comes across many young and old men and women in Rajouri and Poonch sector who have been deprived of one or the other body organ by the terrorists for they were loyal to their motherland despite the fact that the allegiance to the nation is the thematic crux of Islam. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) Impresses upon one and all to attain education even if one has to travel to China. Exactly contrary to this commandment of Islam, the terrorist have set Hundreds of school buildings ablaze burning the breathing dreams in the eyes of little students. 

The Prophet appreciated those who sympathized with the ailing ones in hospital and said that one who helps the patients is acquitted of the sins and granted salvage after death. But one can't forget the hospitals and dispensaries being reduced to ashes by the terrorist. Even then they say that are Jihadists. The terrorists always relegated Islam to the background whenever they carried their programmes into effect. Their every act collides with Islam and the sacred sayings of holy Prophet. They have distorted the original picture of Islam. Even then they claim to be Jihadists.








No one would have believed a year ago that Manmohan Singh would be outpaced by Nitish Kumar in the credibility and performance stakes. While the former was on the way to become the longest serving prime minister outside the Congress's first family, the Bihar chief minister was yet to prove that he was any different from others in the same position elsewhere. Yet, how the scene has changed in 12 months! 
Manmohan Singh is labouring today under the stigma of having failed to check the rot of corruption in which his party and ruling alliance are immersed. Notwithstanding the clean chits from Nitish Kumar and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen about his personal integrity, the prime minister cannot escape the blame for having presided over what is probably the worst scam-ridden government ever. In contrast, Nitish Kumar is emerging as an icon who is regarded with pride by ordinary people and with envy by politicians. 

The difference between the two is made all the more stark by the similarities of their respective political positions. Both run coalitions. But while Manmohan Singh was patently unable to control cabinet colleagues like Andimuthu Raja, as was apparent from the Supreme Court's surprise that the latter could be discourteous towards the prime minister, the Bihar chief minister maintained an iron grip on his allies. So much so that the BJP had no option but to keep one of its own icons, Narendra Modi, out of Bihar because the chief minister would not allow his Gujarat counterpart to set foot in the state lest he alienated the minorities. 
If only Manmohan Singh had been equally firm with Raja once it became clear that he was becoming a grave liability, he would not have had to take a new year pledge to provide a clean administration. Arguably, the DMK is a more troublesome ally for Manmohan Singh than the BJP is for Nitish Kumar. But it has to be remembered that at the national level, the BJP is a bigger party than the Janata Dal (United). Besides, the BJP heads the NDA. But the BJP's No. 1 position did not deter Nitish Kumar from asserting his rights as the chief minister. 

Today, he may have become a larger-than-life figure, but he wasn't so earlier when he turned deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP virtually into a cipher, literally hounded the BJP's minion George Fernandes out of the JD (U) and defied his own party's president Sharad Yadav on the women's reservations bill. He had also shown his disdain for the BJP by agreeing with the Rajinder Sachar committee report on the minorities. By thus stamping his authority on the Bihar scene, Nitish Kumar was laying the cornerstone of his resounding electoral victory, which would make him the most admired person of 2010.

It was not only in the matter of letting his partner know who was the boss which characterized Nitish Kumar, he also showed a determination to curb lawlessness which few politicians had shown before. By incarcerating hundreds of anti-socials, he made Bihar's roads and homes safe after a long time, leading to a 45 per cent surge in automobile sales because people could travel in increasing numbers with their wives and children and stay out till late at night without fear.

Since shops and business establishments did not have to down their shutters by 8 p.m. as before and contractors and engineers could concentrate on rebuilding the state's infrastructure instead of living in fear of extortionist criminal gangs, Bihar's growth rate of 11.3 per cent rivalled that of Gujarat. This single-minded focus on development contrasts sharply with Manmohan Singh's stalled economic reforms since he cannot overcome the Congress's "socialistic" resistance to a further opening up of the economy.

But Nitish Kumar's most notable achievement has been in the matter of checking corruption. Where the Congress has been forced by public opinion and opposition pressure to talk of fast-track courts, the chief minister has taken determined steps in this regard on his own, punishing bureaucrats via a law enacted in 2009 and setting up schools in their confiscated property. He now intends to draft another law which would make officials respond to public complaints within a specified period. 

Manmohan Singh's failure has been his inability to use the fund of goodwill which he enjoys in the country and outside because of his honesty and intellect to push through his own agenda. The only exception was the nuclear deal, but he might have failed even there if Rahul Gandhi did not support him and the Samajwadi party did not switch its allegiance from the Left to the Congress. Nitish Kumar did not have the benefit of any such reservoir of widespread admiration. At least initially, although he has now built up his band of wide-eyed acolytes. But he has done so by proving that he is a doer par excellence.(IPA)








No one would have believed a year ago that Manmohan Singh would be outpaced by Nitish Kumar in the credibility and performance stakes. While the former was on the way to become the longest serving prime minister outside the Congress's first family, the Bihar chief minister was yet to prove that he was any different from others in the same position elsewhere. Yet, how the scene has changed in 12 months! 

Manmohan Singh is labouring today under the stigma of having failed to check the rot of corruption in which his party and ruling alliance are immersed. Notwithstanding the clean chits from Nitish Kumar and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen about his personal integrity, the prime minister cannot escape the blame for having presided over what is probably the worst scam-ridden government ever. In contrast, Nitish Kumar is emerging as an icon who is regarded with pride by ordinary people and with envy by politicians. 

The difference between the two is made all the more stark by the similarities of their respective political positions. Both run coalitions. But while Manmohan Singh was patently unable to control cabinet colleagues like Andimuthu Raja, as was apparent from the Supreme Court's surprise that the latter could be discourteous towards the prime minister, the Bihar chief minister maintained an iron grip on his allies. So much so that the BJP had no option but to keep one of its own icons, Narendra Modi, out of Bihar because the chief minister would not allow his Gujarat counterpart to set foot in the state lest he alienated the minorities. 
If only Manmohan Singh had been equally firm with Raja once it became clear that he was becoming a grave liability, he would not have had to take a new year pledge to provide a clean administration. Arguably, the DMK is a more troublesome ally for Manmohan Singh than the BJP is for Nitish Kumar. But it has to be remembered that at the national level, the BJP is a bigger party than the Janata Dal (United). Besides, the BJP heads the NDA. But the BJP's No. 1 position did not deter Nitish Kumar from asserting his rights as the chief minister. 

Today, he may have become a larger-than-life figure, but he wasn't so earlier when he turned deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP virtually into a cipher, literally hounded the BJP's minion George Fernandes out of the JD (U) and defied his own party's president Sharad Yadav on the women's reservations bill. He had also shown his disdain for the BJP by agreeing with the Rajinder Sachar committee report on the minorities. By thus stamping his authority on the Bihar scene, Nitish Kumar was laying the cornerstone of his resounding electoral victory, which would make him the most admired person of 2010.

It was not only in the matter of letting his partner know who was the boss which characterized Nitish Kumar, he also showed a determination to curb lawlessness which few politicians had shown before. By incarcerating hundreds of anti-socials, he made Bihar's roads and homes safe after a long time, leading to a 45 per cent surge in automobile sales because people could travel in increasing numbers with their wives and children and stay out till late at night without fear. 

Since shops and business establishments did not have to down their shutters by 8 p.m. as before and contractors and engineers could concentrate on rebuilding the state's infrastructure instead of living in fear of extortionist criminal gangs, Bihar's growth rate of 11.3 per cent rivalled that of Gujarat. This single-minded focus on development contrasts sharply with Manmohan Singh's stalled economic reforms since he cannot overcome the Congress's "socialistic" resistance to a further opening up of the economy.

But Nitish Kumar's most notable achievement has been in the matter of checking corruption. Where the Congress has been forced by public opinion and opposition pressure to talk of fast-track courts, the chief minister has taken determined steps in this regard on his own, punishing bureaucrats via a law enacted in 2009 and setting up schools in their confiscated property. He now intends to draft another law which would make officials respond to public complaints within a specified period. 

Manmohan Singh's failure has been his inability to use the fund of goodwill which he enjoys in the country and outside because of his honesty and intellect to push through his own agenda. The only exception was the nuclear deal, but he might have failed even there if Rahul Gandhi did not support him and the Samajwadi party did not switch its allegiance from the Left to the Congress. Nitish Kumar did not have the benefit of any such reservoir of widespread admiration. At least initially, although he has now built up his band of wide-eyed acolytes. But he has done so by proving that he is a doer par excellence.(IPA)



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PAKISTANI Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer, who was gunned down by one of his own security guards in Islamabad on Tuesday, represented a distinguished class in his country. As a liberal thinker and politician, he expressed his views without bothering about its consequences. That is why he not only opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law, a relic of the days of military dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haque, but also campaigned for its repeal with vigour. In the process, he emerged as a fearless champion of the rights of the minorities in Pakistan. When he recently declared that he would plead with President Asif Ali Zardari for the grant of pardon to Aasiya Bibi, a Christian, sentenced to death under the blasphemy law, he had stated that the case was an example of how members of a minority community can be made to suffer because of the existence of laws which can be easily misused. He himself belonged to the Shia minority.


However, whether Taseer lost his life because of his stand on the Aasiya Bibi case or owing to some other reason — he had a running battle with Pakistani Punjab’s most prominent political family, the Sharifs — may be known in the days to come, when the report of the enquiry ordered into his assassination will be made public. His appointment as Punjab Governor was openly opposed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother and the province’s Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif after the February 2008 elections. Taseer would use every available opportunity to criticise the PML (N) government in Punjab. His outbursts against the Shahbaz Sharif government were among the factors which led to the parting of ways between the PPP and the PML (N) soon after the formation of the PPP-led coalition ministry in Islamabad. Taseer remained safe in his coveted position because of his closeness to President Zardari.


Taseer, who remained a PPP member despite being the Governor of Pakistan’s most influential province, belonged to a small but vocal section which wanted to free Pakistan from the clutches of extremism. His thinking got reflected in the English language paper he owned — Daily Times. His killing is a major setback to the fight against the culture of intolerance being nurtured by extremism. 








THE stabbing to death of a BJP legislator of Bihar, Raj Kishore Keshri, by a woman visitor, Rupam Pathak, in full view of his bodyguards and supporters at his residence has sent shock waves across the country. Significantly, Rupam had earlier accused the MLA of sexually exploiting her repeatedly. She had lodged a report of rape against the MLA and one of his lieutenants, Bipin Rai, in May, 2010, but later withdrew it. Pathak’s shocking narrative has many familiar shades — that of Gaganjit Barnala’s 45-year-old maid servant, who accused the Tamil Nadu Governor’s son of rape. A case was registered and the procedure followed. Eventually, the woman withdrew her complaint. Same helplessness was reflected by a couple of women who committed suicide before the office of the IG, Police, Haryana, when their complaint of sexual harassment by police officials was not registered.


Taking the law into their own hands is not the right solution. Rupam Pathak cannot but be held accountable for the murderous attack. Beyond sensationalism created by this news, what should disturb a civilised society is events that lead to such desperate actions like committing suicide before the office of an IG, Police, or killing the accused rapist, especially, since enough laws are available to protect women against any kind of sexual exploitation. Their implementation depends on a social reality. Therein lies the flaw.


The victims of sexual exploitation in all these stories are accused of conniving with the opposition to ruin a flourishing political career. Which is nothing but clichéd. If a woman would risk bleeding to death to benefit an opposition party, or, would opt for gallows, is left to one’s imagination. Strangely, no political party stands by these victims. These are cries of desperation, of women pushed against the wall of apathy. They are also indicative of failure of a system; well meaning though, it fails to rescue the weak against the powerful in time. Ruchika’s case is still in the process of getting justice, after two decades! Such issues end up being dumped in the collective insomnia of society. Paradoxically, they take birth from the same phenomenon.









PRIME MINISTER Wen Jiabao is one of the few Chinese leaders held in high regard by his Indian interlocutors because of the refreshingly open approach that he adopts even on contentious issues like the differences on the demarcation of borders or in seeking common ground on issues like climate change. It was during his visit to India in 2005 that the two countries agreed on the “guiding” principles which would underlie a settlement to the vexed border issue, which led to a brief conflict in 1962 and has remained a source of tensions. The most significant aspect of the 2005 understanding was that in determining a border settlement, the two countries would “safeguard the interests of settled populations in border areas.”


In Indian eyes, the guiding principles signalled Chinese readiness to discard claims to populated areas in the State of Arunachal Pradesh and recognise the Himalayan watershed along the McMahon Line as the international border.


Wen made an unprecedented effort to reach out to Indian corporate leaders, media persons and academics, apart from a get-together with Indian school children, who were thrilled to meet “Grandpa Wen”. His meetings were laced with quips like “India and China are friends”, “cooperation and not competition” and “there is enough space in the world for the development of both countries”. Mercifully, there were no chants of “Bhai Bhai”.


Wen himself is one of the smartest survivors in the politics of the Middle Kingdom. He accompanied party chief Zhao Ziyang during the latter’s fateful trip to meet the protesters at the Tianmen Square in 1989. While Zhao was purged and placed under detention for “grave insubordination,” Wen not merely survived, but also thrived, adeptly using his charms to rise under party leaders Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang and Jiang Zemin.


Emerging as a protégé of former Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, Wen has played the role of “Grandpa Wen” with the public in China, during floods and the SARS epidemic. He charmed George Bush in 2003 into rebuking Taiwan’s President Chen-Shui-bian. Barely a few years later he drew applause from his party colleagues by warning Bush on Taiwan, averring: “We don’t wish foreign intervention, but are not afraid of it.”


Within a year of the 2005 agreement, China started singing an entirely new tune by laying claim to the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh, describing it for the first time as “Southern Tibet”. Moreover, this period saw increasing Chinese military intrusions across the Line of Actual Control that emerged after the 1962 conflict, though both countries had repeatedly pledged to ”maintain peace and tranquillity” along the Line. Responding to these developments, India decided to raise two new army divisions for deployment in Arunachal Pradesh and deployed frontline SU-30 fighter squadrons along its eastern borders.


While China had traditionally avoided taking sides on India-Pakistan differences on Jammu and Kashmir, the new visa procedures it adopted in 2009 were designed to show that it did not recognise Indian sovereignty over the state. Military contacts between the two sides came to a grinding halt when India’s Northern Army Commander, whose area of responsibility in Jammu and Kashmir includes command of troops on its western borders with China, was denied a visa to undertake a scheduled visit to Beijing.


With the US and its European partners seemingly weakened by the economic downturn, India noticed growing Chinese assertiveness in enforcing its maritime boundary claims on its Asia-Pacific neighbours, ranging from Vietnam and the Philippines, to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The visiting Commander of the American Pacific Fleet was even told that the United States should recognise the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean as being in China’s “sphere of influence”. The Chinese vehemently opposed Joint US-South Korean military exercises in the Yellow Sea after North Korea provocatively torpedoed and sank a South Korean naval vessel. In the wake of these developments, India’s Defence Minister A.K. Antony visited Vietnam to boost defence cooperation, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Japan and South Korea to strengthen growing strategic ties. These visits signalled to China that India was prepared to proactively respond to its moves to strengthen Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile capabilities and to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean.


Sensing growing unease and faced with moves by its ASEAN neighbours to recast the Asian security architecture by invitations to the US and Russia to join the East Asian Summit, China evidently realised the need to cool frayed tempers across its western borders with India. Premier Wen’s offer to visit New Delhi was welcomed, especially as India has no desire to see tensions with China escalate.


Wen’s discussions in New Delhi appear to have been unusually candid. India had given an indication that this would happen, when it brushed aside Chinese demands that it should boycott the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony honouring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. New Delhi made its concerns clear to Premier Wen on Chinese actions on visas for its nationals from Jammu and Kashmir, its continuing nuclear, missile and defence cooperation with Pakistan and its growing trade surplus, which has been accentuated by denial of adequate market access to Indian corporations, in areas ranging from information technology to agro-products and pharmaceuticals. India also asserted that military-to-military ties, which it had suspended, would not be resumed till these concerns were adequately addressed. Ritualistic reiteration of India’s “One China” mantra was avoided. With China’s political leadership set to change in 2012, there are no illusions in India that major differences on sensitive issues like the demarcation of land borders can be settled anytime soon. Nor are there any realistic expectations of any change in nuclear weapons and missile-related cooperation between Beijing and Rawalpindi.


In 1991, Deng Xiaoping wisely advocated a strategy of “hide your strength, bide your time”. While Deng’s advice was followed for over a decade, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) evidently concluded around 2006 that China was no longer merely an “emerging power” and that Deng’s advice of “bide your time” was outdated. This has inevitably led to China’s neighbours getting together to respond to Chinese “assertiveness”. It now appears that China’s rulers have realised the need to appear reasonable and non-aggressive.


With China due for a leadership change next year, it remains to be seen if its present political leadership is willing or will be able to rein in the hawks in the the People’s Liberation Army. Moreover, can the new generation of Chinese leaders, including Vice-President Xi Jinping, resist the temptation of becoming jingoistic to overcome internal contradictions? Amidst these uncertainties, there should be no slackening in enhancing our defence capabilities.








The recent proliferation of scams in society brings to the fore a great national strength which has so far not been appropriately exploited. Our ability and natural genius as scamsters is something which could make a huge contribution in making India the superpower it craves to be. But in order to nurture this enormous talent we need an institution where the fine art of scamming can be passed down to future generations by the masters so that this legacy can be preserved for posterity. It is time to think of an Indian School for Scamsters.


The school would be a hub for all educational activities connected with the art of scamming. Since the spectrum of scamming activities today is very vast, the school will need specialists from all walks of life to focus on their areas of expertise. Thus we will have politicians, bureaucrats, members from the corporate world, defence, para military and sports heading the various departments. One might think that finding such eminent personalities is not a very difficult task because one has only to scan the newspapers and television channels and the names will reveal themselves. Not so. Most of the names that appear are of scamsters who have practiced the art; failed; and been caught out whereas what we are looking for are the masters who are yet to be caught. No cause for concern though because as we are repeatedly told, the known scams are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. If that be so, we are looking at a very vast recruitment base provided we tap it right.


Funding this potentially world class school should not be a problem. All we need to do is to resolve that 10 per cent of all funds that are made available from failed scams will be diverted to this school so that future generations benefit from the mistakes made by the present lot of unskilled scamsters. This should throw up enough resources to not only fund the school but also various branches that will be necessary to spread scamming wisdom across our vast country.


We shall need land for the school. Since land scams are at the very heart of the scamming industry we need to reach out to the land mafia for making land available. To begin with, the Commonwealth Games Village would be a suitable venue for the school, with the Mumbai chapter based at the infamous Adarsh Society. Eventually, we need branches in all states for which land can be suitably identified on similar lines.


Any such institution must have a vision for future growth. The school’s vision will be to eventually develop into a National Scam University where advanced studies in scamming can be undertaken. This university need not be confined by artificial borders as exist between nations. Indeed we need a Global Vision as appropriate to an emerging superpower. Students from all over the world will one day flock to this university to learn from the masters and restore India to its pre-eminent place as the fountainhead of knowledge in this chosen field.


A seat at the high table at the United Nations is assured. De-hyphenation from Pakistan will follow. The K word will become irrelevant. Economy will boom. Unemployment will be history. The Sensex will soar. All will be well in the world!n 









The recent complaint from none other than Deepak Parekh, the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian business, that the governance deficit in India is pushing Indian investment abroad is a cause for some concern. The outbound investments include virtually all the important business houses of the country ranging from the Ambanis to the Tatas with the Bharti Mittals, the Kirloskars and many others thrown in for good measure [see table].


We have been long used to the illegitimate private wealth being stashed abroad. But this is the first time that even the legitimate wealth of the nation is flowing out. And that too in billions of dollars.
The latest villains to facilitate this outflow that we have identified are the lobbyists and corruption within the government. When the dust settles down on the 2G spectrum scam it will most probably turn out that the lobbyists play but a bit role in facilitating corruption.


Some have in the past even argued that in an extremely etiolated and inefficient system of governance such as exists in India corruption plays the part of greasing the machinery of governance. The more serious problem that has not been addressed at all concerns the key leverage points within the system of governance.


The problems of governance in India are far too numerous and tangible to require enumeration. To keep on harping about the quality of the bureaucracy, however, is to miss out on the most important structural limitations with which our governmental systems have functioned for the past so many years.


It is easy enough to lament the declining standards of our civil service and to reminiscence about the days when things were better but those were also the days when ministers did not necessarily work at cross-purposes with the departments under their charge. While people are looking at Air India and the government telephone companies being almost run to the ground by their respective managements, it would do well to recall other analogous episodes.


In the not too distant past the Transport Ministry made serious efforts to run down the Delhi Transport Corporation and bring in the killer Blue Line buses as a solution to the traffic woes of Delhi even when a coeval study done by Amitabh Kundu of JNU had said that the then DTC was one of the most efficient city bus services in the world.


Then there was the occasion when the minister in-charge of Posts and Telegraphs went on a week-long visit to the North-East while the postal department employees went on a nation-wide strike, making demands that were easily accepted once the postal services had been run to the ground and private courier companies began to thrive.


These have been the more visible events. Usually the insidiousness of ministerial omissions helping in running down the departments under their charge is subtle and not always visible to the public eye.


One feels that the entire lament about a decline in the bureaucracy is a misleading one insofar as it does not really address the problem at hand. The idea that dismantling the civil service, allowing lateral entry of professionals etc. would help improve matters are all based on the assumption that the quality of personnel in the public sector is completely different and sadly lacking in comparison with their peers in the private sector.


This might be a comforting thought since it has been argued for so long but the fact remains that it has little basis in reality. It is also substantially inspired by the false idea of the generalist civil servant who, it is presumed, has little idea of the complexities of modern-day governance. It is a matter of detail that in the last twenty-five years the profile of personnel entering the Indian Administrative Service has changed profoundly.


At one time, a majority of civil servants had degrees in the liberal arts or the basic sciences. This is no longer the case. Nearly 80 per cent of those entering this profession today are engineers, doctors or management professionals by training. Moreover, some of the best in-service training ensures that bureaucrats build up professional competence and remain updated about their field.


That being the case, the question that comes to mind is: How come the similar human material given a location in the private sector is able in general to achieve better results while about the government, the less said the better? Surely, we need to look at structural constraints to performance-oriented behaviour in the bureaucracy. No doubt individuals are important but the organisational logic that governs their actions is even more so.


The one parameter that distinguishes the private sector from the public, above all, is that they are driven by the imperative to show tangible results and this applies to all personnel beginning from the CEO downwards. Perhaps that is why the majority of CEOs in the private sector have a very high turnover rate. This is certainly not the case in the bureaucracy.


In the case of any ministry in the Government of India or a state department, the CEO is the minister-in-charge who is the executive head. As the person responsible for all decisions taken in his department, whether directly or by way of delegation, it is the minister who has the authority to set the agenda for the department and to monitor its execution. Yet there is no mechanism to ensure that ministerial actions are dictated by the goals of the organisation. There are no stakeholders to whom the minister is answerable in the context of the specific department entrusted.


The current organisational structure and practice in the government in India does not demand that the CEO of any ministry be held accountable for any result or departmental action. Here is a case of complete authority with equally complete lack of responsibility. It is this lack of accountability which is the crux of the matter. The cases of public sector units which went into doldrums because the minister-in-charge consistently took decisions against organisational interests are legion.


Yet in the considerable public discourse on the subject of governance, most commentators assume that the minister is a figurehead and that it is the bureaucrats who really “run” everything. This is far from the truth. It is not and never was the task of the bureaucracy to lead executive action; that is a job for the political executive.


Given, that the minister has the authority to take decisions on all executive matters, it is difficult to see how the minister could be a figurehead. Like any CEO, it is the minister who sets the tone of the department. Should his bureaucrats disagree with him regarding the well-being of the department, it is they who get transferred out and not the minister. The problem of non-performance within the department remains unaddressed.


So far as the private sector is concerned, it is seldom argued that personnel should act despite their superiors, so why is it so easy to argue this in the public sector? To do so would be to ignore the logic of organisational behavior completely and to have a serious misunderstanding of the role of the minister. As representatives of the public in a parliamentary democracy, it is the political executives who are and should be responsible for both policy and action.


Cases of ministers or secretaries, as they are called in the USA and the UK, taking the credit or the heat for administrative decisions are routine. So why is it that we in India find it so difficult to credit or discredit — as the case may be — the minister-in-charge for any action? The maximum that we do is to hold them responsible for their personal actions. When it comes to departmental action, this is seldom the case.


Policy and action go hand in hand and it is neither possible nor desirable to separate the two. Yet it is routine for ministers in India to say that they were looking at the “big picture” and they are not responsible for administrative details. In a democracy, such statements are incongruous, to say the least.


It might be a good idea to remember that the Challenger space shuttle disaster of the 1990s happened due to a defective rubber seal. But is it possible for those in charge of the project to say that they were too busy “looking after the big picture” to take care of such details? Whatever they might have been busy doing, the one casualty to such an approach is surely the absence of effective results in any government programme.


The writer is a Professor of contemporary history at Panjab University, Chandigarh. A guest faculty at the LBSNAA, Mussoorie, for many years, he has provided inputs for redesigning the current IAS training programme








The note about a series of workshops to be held at the K R Cama Oriental Institute from mid-January reads, “From the pattern on carpets to the facades of new architecture, and from the paintings of how gods and mythic heroes could have looked, to the studies in ornamentation, the 19th century was an important period in the history of art, design and architecture for contemporary India.” 


The workshops, with the general title of “Orientalism and Aesthetics in 19th century India” will be conducted by Kaiwan Mehta, a researcher and theorist in the fields of visual arts and architecture. 


Among the topics to be discussed are the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 and the Arts and Crafts movement, the setting up of the Department of Science and Art in South Kensington, and the establishment of museums and art schools in India, the work of E B Havell, Coomaraswamy, Raja Ravi Varma and others, the architecture of cities such as Lucknow, Hyderabad, Bhuj and Shekhawat. 


There is a registration fee, and reading material will be distributed. 


 We in Mumbai live in an essentially 19th century city, the product of maritime trade, industrialisation, and colonialism. Our university was built at the time, so were many of the buildings which we see in South Mumbai. Many far-sighted individuals, and sometimes entire families were involved in reform in society and education, and debates about colonialism and nationalism. 


It was a lively and stimulating century as I discovered during my research into the literature of the period. Commissioned to compile an anthology of women’s writing in English in the 19th century, I found that I just could not get going on the project. Then I chanced upon some letters written by Toru Dutt, and they were a compelling read, very different from her poetry. They were observant, amusing, affectionate and compassionate. I wondered if there was more material of this kind, and ended up with not one anthology but three! 


One was extracts from women’s novels, autobiographies, articles, the second was by men and women writing on the subject of purdah, and the third was a volume about the Satthianadhan family who, like the Dutts were Christians, and also like them were all writers. 


It is sometimes said that the British erected these great buildings to impress us with their imperial power. Possibly. But who are we building for? One has only to compare the 19th century Fort campus of the University of Mumbai with the shoddy designs and shoddy workmanship of the buildings on the Kalina campus to get a sense of the fall in aesthetic standards that has taken place. 


A few years ago, one of the vicechancellors wanted to erect a replica of the Rajabai Tower (Fort Campus) in Kalina. Perhaps that was his contribution to the mingling of styles said to characterise the 19th century! 
    All those abandoned and derelict mills have more character than the faceless towers with which we are overwhelming the city. Nepean Sea Road, once full of beautiful old mansions, is now just like any other third-rate road in Mumbai, ugly and over-crowded. 


Removing statues of our erstwhile rulers, renaming roads are minor matters, though they do infringe on our sense of the history of this city. But liberal intellectual and political traditions have also taken a beating. 


 Excluding others has always been part of our cultural life. But after “getting rid” of the British, we now want to get rid of other Indians. In fact, those who write in various regional languages like to assert that those who write in English are not real Indians. 


History is not just a subject to be studied. It’s in the air we breathe. It would be the greatest pity if we let the air become more polluted than it already is.





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As the Union finance ministry settles down to prepare its annual financial statement and the Budget for 2011-12, the challenge of fiscal consolidation faces the Union government starkly. The reassurance provided by the Union finance minister and his officials on their commitment to stick to the fiscal projections of the 2010-11 Budget is welcome. However, as they well know, this has been made possible both on account of higher-than-forecast national income growth and the higher-than-expected windfall gains from disinvestment and the sale of 3G telecom spectrum. As the Mid Year Analysis of the economy provided by the ministry of finance candidly states, higher-than-expected non-tax revenues have played a critical role in the government cushioning increased expenditure this year. Going forward, the document clearly recognises the nature of the fiscal challenge at hand. It remains to be seen if the government will be able to eliminate the revenue deficit altogether in the near future or not. Equally important, will the government be able to get a grip on domestic debt? Quite obviously, the fiscal adjustment strategy for 2011-12 will have to be based on expectations of sustaining high growth and generating higher revenues. An important means to this end would be tax reform which seems to be adrift. Hopes of getting movement forward on direct and indirect tax reforms remain just that. If anything, there has been a rollback in the process of tax reform in the past year and no evidence of much political stamina in the government to give a push on this front.


There are at least two important reasons why fiscal stabilisation and adjustment must constitute the fulcrum of the budgetary strategy for 2011-12. The first and foremost is inflation management. It is now clear that resurgent inflationary pressures cannot be fought with monetary policy alone. While there is still some headroom available for interest rates to be raised, and while it is true that global commodity price inflation is contributing in part to inflation in India, the fact also is that both at the global level and in India, liberal fiscal policies have aggravated inflationary pressures. Fiscal populism may be popular with the masses in the short term, but it is they who are hurt the most by it in the medium term if inflation rises. Increasing subsidies to appease political constituencies hurt by inflation is like robbing the aam admi with one hand and gifting with another!


 A second reason why Budget 2011 must focus on fiscal adjustment and stabilisation is that this year growth is forecast to be above average. It is on the upswing that fiscal stabilisation is best made. Grandmothers call it “saving for a rainy day”! Given uncertain global portents, with attendant implications for the business cycle, and the certainty of the domestic political calendar, with attendant implications for the political spending cycle, it is best that the fiscal house is cleaned up when the going is good. The Mid Year Analysis was right to identify fiscal consolidation as the first of the five challenges facing the government. No better time to get a grip on it than now.







All river water-sharing awards invite controversy. So, the varied reaction to the ruling given by the second Krishna water disputes tribunal, headed by Justice Brijesh Kumar Mishra, is not surprising. But what sets it apart from most other river water awards is that all the three main contending states (Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh) have found something positive in it, though some concerns have been expressed against the award in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The four-decade-old dispute pertained essentially to sharing of 448 thousand million cubic (TMC) feet of surplus water of the river Krishna, over and above the existing quotas of these states fixed by the first Krishna water disputes tribunal, headed by Justice R S Bachawat in 1969. The present tribunal has allocated the largest share of 190 TMC feet of water to Andhra Pradesh, followed by 177 TCM feet to Karnataka and 81 TCM feet to Maharashtra. The noteworthy point is that it has permitted Karnataka to raise the height of the Almatti dam over this river in its Bijapur district by five metres to facilitate higher water storage.


Though, Andhra Pradesh can derive satisfaction from the fact that it has been given a lion’s share of the waters allocated, the award can also potentially pose some problems for the state. Impounding of more water in the Almatti dam, after the height is increased, may impact the ongoing projects in the Krishna basin, particularly in the Rayalaseema region. Power generation potential of Srisailam and Nagarjunasagar may also come under strain. This apart, the tribunal’s verdict that Karnataka must release 8 to 10 TMC feet of Andhra Pradesh’s share of water from Almatti in the months of June and July for farm operations may prove inadequate to meet the stated objective. Indeed, such a low level for mandated water releases during the period when the monsoon has normally already set in defies logic. Karnataka would surely not mind releasing even higher amounts of water when the inflows are copious. While Andhra Pradesh’s response so far has been mature, despite the state losing the “right” to surplus water, the award has the potential to create a new wave of resentment in the state that political parties are wont to exploit.


 Maharashtra, on the other hand, is worried on another count. The extension of Almatti dam might make some areas in Satara and Sangli districts of Maharashtra flood-prone. However, on the whole, there are more pros than cons of this award for the state. The enhanced overall entitlement of Krishna water, after the allotment of additional quota of the surplus water, will enable it to augment irrigation and generate more power from its Koyna dam. The ball is now in the Centre’s court since it must ensure implementation of the award. The tribunal has directed the Centre to set up Krishna water implementation board after the mandatory three months for parties to review and understand the award are over. Hopefully, this award will meet with better fate than other similar water-sharing awards, including for the Cauvery, which have all been mired in controversy.








The comforts of civilised living for all Indians require dedicated collective effortAt this difficult point in our hapless trajectory as we thread our way through the divine comedy, there is a sudden burst of light, cutting through the gloom of the new year: an uncharacteristic but effective bipartisan effort by a group of parliamentarians in dealing with a practical problem. This is the saga of the hapless and troublesome monkeys of Raisina Hill and its environs, booted out by the Brits to build the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Central Secretariat, and the parliamentarians who live on Mahadev Road nearby. Press reports say that BJP Spokesman Prakash Javadekar adopted a problem-solving approach by suggesting to six of his neighbours (five Congress MPs and one Independent) that they collectively hire a langur patrol to shoo away the monkeys that have been marauding in their gardens. Five of the six responded positively, and so they have a langur patrol, as do a number of government buildings there. And the monkeys stay away.


Why is this important? Because of how powerfully it illustrates the obvious: that collective, goal-oriented action can be very effective in achieving results. Now, if this could be extended to bipartisan initiatives (in the sense of government and the Opposition in the context of our fragmented politics), e.g. in building national assets like infrastructure, then constructive, forward-looking policies can be framed, and we can start building on what has gone before. This will take us past the blight of being in a perpetual stall. One example is resource-sharing for countrywide broadband and communications services. Another is our approach to energy production and supply. And so on.


The bipartisan imperative

I have written earlier on the rationale for spectrum- and network-sharing for broadband and telecommunications.


The framework for this kind of resource-sharing and organisation cannot be done without bipartisan efforts at the policy formulation stage for conceptualisation and during implementation, because various state and local governments will be involved, as will many central government ministries and departments. A bipartisan approach is also essential for devising supportive tax policies, including the development and execution of uniform, inexpensive rights-of-way charges at the state level. Not least will be the question of spectrum pricing, a matter muddied by so much contention and confused thinking regarding the economics and the technology, aggravated by opportunists seeking to make a killing, together with the well-intentioned but ill-informed flailing of strident advocates urging counterproductive measures like cancelling licences without due process and/or holding more auctions, all supposedly in the national interest, oblivious of the consequences.(Click for OPTIC FIBRE CABLE NETWORK)


To appreciate the compelling logic, consider the network of an organisation like RailTel, with over 35,000 route km of optical fibre cable (OFC) network, or Gailtel with about 14,000 route km of OFC and planning close to 19,000 OFC in the next few years (interactive maps at:

BSNL has over 67,000 route km in the southern region alone, and other PSUs and private operators like Bharti Airtel and Reliance have their own extensive networks. Combining or integrating these will shift the focus to the tasks of last-mile access and spectrum deployment to achieve potential connectivity for most households and users.

Imagine the potential with some (three or four?) consortiums of wholesale service providers for the country having access to the combined networks of all or several such owners, including the collective capacity in terms of spectrum, access, aggregation and backhaul. These, in turn, could enable access to many retailers for local services to end users.


A second substantive aspect of such a bipartisan initiative is in structuring the national backbone facilities organisation, e.g. on the lines of Singapore’s OpenNet*. This may be an opportunity to capitalise on the BSNL and MTNL networks and revive them, perhaps as the anchor investors (possibly with other PSUs, such as RailTel, GAIL, and Powergrid). This anchor investor consortium could hold, for instance, 30 per cent of the equity in the venture. Other participants could include international companies like Axia, which design, build and operate next generation networks. Axia started out in Canada over 10 years ago and now has projects in France, Spain and Singapore, and has bid for a project in America. Other participants could be like Spectrum Bridge, a US company which runs centrally managed spectrum networks in America in the TV “white spaces”, the digital dividend from TV spectrum reallocated for telecom purposes. Their database-driven approach could be applied to the entire pooled spectrum of a large network with the participation of systems integrators like Infosys, TCS, Wipro, or IBM.


A third potential initiative is to encourage R&D and applications, perhaps seeking the development of local standards for wireless communications in the long term, even the Holy Grail of inexpensive “cognitive radio” (self-managing end-user equipment) with open spectrum. The size of our market offers the potential for such ambitious and potentially beneficial development. This will need policy support, especially for collaboration between defence and the private sector, with the creation of sustained support over a long period.


We know the apocryphal tales like that of the four bulls and the lion: the bulls are safe as long as they stay united, but when they squabble among themselves, the lion picks them off one by one. There is Aesop’s fable of the old man who shows his sons that while they can easily break one stick at a time, the same sticks bound together cannot be broken. Or the Mongolian story of the five siblings, the ancestors of the Mongolian clans, whose mother shows them that while each can easily break a single arrow, the five arrows tied together are unbreakable.


Despite this knowledge and evidence that the comforts of civilised living for all Indians require dedicated collective effort, we refuse to work to this truism of the need for collaborative effort. Suddenly, Mr Javadekar’s can-do Langur Initiative changes the game.


Even as the due process of law continues with regard to past wrongdoing, our parliamentarians should be grappling with substantive issues of nation-building such as those described above, instead of wasting time on tearing each other down.








When the world’s cheapest car was launched to global fanfare at the 2008 Delhi Auto Expo, a Singaporean journalist asked Ratan Tata whether he had considered the traffic implications once the Nano hit the roads. Tata returned a slightly irate answer about being a businessman, not a social worker. It was a valid answer; but the journalist’s question was no less so.


India’s automobile industry appears to be slowdown-proof. Car manufacturers’ domestic sales grew over 25 per cent in 2009-10 and are expected to be over 30 per cent in 2010-11. That means more than 3 million cars have been added in two years to an urban road network that has scarcely expanded. To be sure, it’s not the Nano that has contributed to this acceleration — Tata Motors is struggling with the opposite problem of low sales. India’s shining incomes and glittering loan schemes are accelerating automobile sales every month as Indians look to acquire status and insulate themselves from poor public transport facilities. Ergo: car manufacturers cannot be held responsible for growing road traffic and its associated problems. As Tata’s reply suggested, they’re in the business of producing and assembling increasingly world class automobiles for upwardly mobile Indians (safer ones, too, with seat belts and air bags). Benchmarked against the tank-like utility of the Ambassador and the East European stolidity of the Premier Padmini, the two long-running monopolists of yesteryear, it has to be admitted that they’re getting better and better at doing so.


All the same, it is also possible to argue that the exponential growth in automobile sales is a key contributor to the fact that India now has the world’s highest reported road traffic accident rate, according to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) latest Global Status Report on Road Safety. And on this count, India’s convergence with world class standards diverges. Where trends in traffic deaths in the developed West are showing a decline, India’s are now crossing the 120,000 deaths per year mark. The bulk of these traffic-related deaths are on account of speeding (despite impractically low speed limits within cities and on the highways) and drunken driving.


Traffic-related deaths represent the extreme result of abysmal road discipline. According to the WHO report, India also has a robust record of non-fatal traffic-related injuries (almost 500,000 a year, and these are only the reported numbers), indicating a chronic problem. (The costs of traffic-related deaths and accidents apparently account for as much as 3 per cent of GDP, though the basis of this calculation is not clear.)


Obviously, the state and central governments must bear the burden of the responsibility for this sorry state of affairs in which traffic rules are locally administered and appear to represent enrichment opportunities for law enforcement personnel. And certainly there is no shortage of suggestions and white papers on the subject of road safety. In 2006, a report (the Sundaresan Committee on Road Safety and Traffic Management) drew on global best practices to make recommendations which were absorbed into a National Road Safety And Traffic Management Board Bill, which is due for Cabinet consideration.


Even so, it would not hurt for an industry that is reaping the benefits of economic growth to play a larger role in advocating the cause of road safety in a more sustained manner — that is, beyond the odd banner-waving or TV campaign launched to expend CSR budgets. WHO declared 2011 as the starting point for the road safety decade, providing a good springboard for the campaign.


Anyone who drives on a regular basis can vouch for the fact that awareness of traffic rules and road etiquette is

as low as willful rule-breaking is rampant. That is no surprise when it is an open secret most “authorised” driving schools in any city are little more than licence-procuring agencies that represent an additional source of income for traffic department personnel. If more automobile companies cooperated to set up driving schools with rigorous standards, they’ll be doing society as much of a service as donating to a politically correct charitable cause. Maruti has already set a precedent that is certainly worth emulating on a wider scale.


Equally, collaborative campaigns against drink-driving would go amiss. The UB Group and Seagram’s creative and impactful advertisements were one indicator of what can be done but they were urban-focused, presumably since their consumers are located there. It’s the trucking community that urgently needs targeting with an awareness-cum-enforcement exercise in collaboration with state authorities. Given that most of India’s automobile manufacturers represent some of the world’s and India’s most powerful and, therefore, influential institutions, that shouldn’t be such a tall ask.


India is not really an outlier in terms of road accidents and fatalities. One notable point about WHO’s report is that low- and middle-income countries account for 91 per cent of world road traffic accidents but 48 per cent of the registered vehicles. But since we’re intent on acquiring the world class label in manufacturing and services, why not look at meeting those standards on road safety too.








With the talks threatened by protectionist forces and increasing bilateral FTAs, key WTO members have their task cut out


As 2010 was drawing to a close, negotiators in Geneva were getting active to try and conclude the evasive Doha Round in 2011. Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Pascal Lamy referred for the umpteenth time to the “last window of opportunity” available to the member countries to conclude the development agenda that was agreed at Doha, Qatar in November 2001.


 Lamy may not be wrong this time. Missing the opportunity to conclude the WTO Round this year may point to the fact that countries do not consider a multilateral trade liberalisation agreement to be of any help in boosting trade flows. With the global economy getting back on track after the slowdown, it is important for all countries to get together and conclude the Round. India has already voiced its consent to conclude the Doha negotiations at the earliest.


As member countries intensify their efforts this year to wrap up the negotiations, it will be important for all nations to refrain from certain pitfalls that seem obvious in a global environment in which developing and least developed countries, which are supposed to gain the most from the Round, have rebounded the fastest from the slowdown, while developed countries remain sluggish and tentative. With developed countries still working hard to ward off the ills of recession-induced protectionist tendencies and export restrictions growing across the globe, negotiations can go off the track.


Some of the developed members who would play a key role in concluding this Round are the US, the European Union (EU) and Japan. Among developing countries, China, Brazil and India would have to play an equally important role and the least developed countries would have to keep a close watch to ensure that they receive their due from the development Round.


From the US’ perspective, it would be important for the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to ensure that he does not pander to the protectionist tendencies that have grown in the country. Industry in the US seems keen to conclude the Round and it would be important for Washington to stay focused on removing distortions such as those in agricultural subsidies to convince other members of its seriousness to conclude the Round.


The EU has a crucial balancing act to perform. With the eurozone under pressure, it will be important for the 27-nation EU to ensure that it is able to show reasonable success in its demands from developing countries. Also, the fact that some countries have shown better growth than others in the EU may create some problem for EU’s negotiators. However, the EU will have to show leadership if this Round is to be concluded in 2011.


Japanese companies, in the last one year, have shown tremendous desire to invest abroad and tap markets overseas to overcome the recession at home. Tokyo, therefore, will look towards further openings in the industrial goods area from developing countries like India and Brazil and in the emerging countries in Africa. However, it has the problem of being completely defensive in agriculture. For achieving some good results in industrial goods, Japan may have to move forward on its position on services and agriculture.


Developing countries like India, Brazil or China have been very keen to conclude the Round at the earliest and are open to moving forward on position on a reciprocal basis. However, New Delhi should ensure that the development objective of the Round remains intact.


The WTO’s Annual Report states that world trade in 2010 recovered strongly following its worst decline in many decades. The Report forecasts world trade to grow by 13.5 per cent in 2010. The report illustrates that the world economy is still in a recovery phase from the global financial crisis.


The growing number of free trade agreements (FTAs) also poses a threat to the multilateral trade negotiations body. There are 200 regional trade agreements in place and another 100 are under negotiations across the globe. These agreements provide the much needed expansion of markets for countries, taking away the importance of a multilateral agreement.


The Doha Round is at a critical juncture this year. It is threatened by the mushrooming bilateral free trade ]agreements as also the protectionist tendencies across the globe. To keep the WTO relevant, the member c]ountries need to find acceptable solutions to conclude the Doha Round. At the same time, they should ensure t

]he development agenda is kept intact. There is a lot at stake for the WTO in 2011 and die-hard multilateral t

]rade liberalisation supporters expect it to deliver.


he author is Principal Adviser APJ-SLG Law Offices








The benefits of subsidised LPG fail to trickle down to low-income households in India


Just about 40 per cent of the population in developing countries has access to modern cooking fuels — these are electricity, kerosene, natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), with LPG and natural gas being most widely used. According to the United Nations Development Programme estimates, almost three-fourths of those who use solid fuels for cooking live in Asia, with India and China accounting for 27 per cent and 25 per cent of this segment. Lack of access to modern fuels for cooking has a significant impact on health since burning of solid fuels like wood, charcoal, dung and straw results in indoor pollution and also imposes socio-economic costs such as time spent on fuel collection by women.


 The District-Level Household and Facility Survey (DLHS-3) 2007-08 results showed that in India, the highest dependence is on wood, with 65.4 per cent of rural households and 26.5 per cent of urban households using wood as cooking fuel. Less than a quarter of households use LPG, and usage is heavily weighted in favour of urban areas. In rural India, less than 10 per cent of households had access to LPG. On the other hand, in urban areas a little more than 57 per cent of households used LPG.(Click for table)


State-wise disparities in the use of LPG as cooking fuel are huge. In five states, less than 10 per cent of households use LPG as cooking fuel — these include Bihar (4.9 per cent), Chhattisgarh (8.2 per cent), Jharkhand (6.3 per cent), Meghalaya (6.7 per cent), and Orissa (5.5 per cent). Tripura (10.4 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (10.3 per cent) are marginally better. There are just four states/Union Territories where more than half the households use LPG — these are Daman and Diu (51.5 per cent), Goa (60.3 per cent), Delhi (84.3 per cent) and Chandigarh (86.1 per cent). The use of electricity for cooking is negligible, while kerosene accounts for less than 2 per cent of households in India.(Click for graph)


Though the number of LPG consumers has risen from 84.5 million households in 2004-05 to an estimated 111.3 million by September 2009, the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin LPG Vitrak Yojana launched in 2009 aims to cover 75 per cent of the population by 2015. This will increase access of rural households to subsidised LPG. As the Kirit Parekh Report on pricing petroleum products points out, one of the main reasons for government intervention in pricing is to provide merit goods like natural gas, LPG and kerosene to replace biomass cooking fuel; and sale of subsidised domestic LPG cylinders constituted 86.5 per cent of total LPG sale in 2008-09. However, according to the Report, in 2004-05, only 2 per cent of households with lowest consumption expenditures in rural areas used LPG as a cooking fuel; this share was 33.5 per cent in the highest decile. In urban areas, the share of households using LPG for cooking was 8.6 per cent in the lowest consumption expenditure decile and 82 per cent in the highest decile. So, even as the rising fuel subsidy bill has caused much concern, it is clear that the benefits of these subsidies are currently going largely to high-income households. In such a scenario, a subsidy mechanism that targets the lower-income groups more effectively is imperative.


Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters 







 L&T proposes to break itself up into nine companies that might eventually be listed as independent entities on the stock exchange, company chairman A M Naik told this newspaper. While it might seem a good way of providing the conglomerate’s 64 businesses strategic focus and quality managerial attention, the strategy might well set L&T up for grabs in instalments. L&T is one of those handful of companies in India that have no promoters, are widely held and professionally managed and yet thrive. The attempted takeover of L&T by Reliance is part of India’s corporate lore. That did not succeed for a variety of reasons, including the would-be acquirer’s resort to underhand methods that made further official acquiescence in the transaction politically difficult. India’s stock market is far more transparent and efficient today, but we are yet to see any large-scale change of corporate control via secondary market transactions without managerial consent. This encourages many to believe that hostile acquisitions are not possible in India. This would be an extreme view and a spanking new L&T offspring might well offer itself as a test case. In theory, there is nothing wrong with such acquisitions. A company is worth acquiring only if more value can be created out of it than what it costs to acquire it. So, acquisition would lead to greater value creation for all stakeholders. Except, in the present case, for L&T’s remaining companies if they derived synergies from the sibling company that parts company. As a large entity with a unique identity, L&T is virtually immune to takeovers, but it would be a different story for L&T babies. Footloose global capital now adds a new dimension to take over ambitions, beyond Indian predators. 


That said, restructuring the conglomerate makes sense. It would allow more business units to emerge within the company, with the potential to ride India’s fast growth that spawns enormous demand for everything that L&T is good at making: construction, power, machinery, heavy engineering, switchgear, etc. It would also allow more managerial talent to find fulfilment within the company. But whether restructuring should stop short of creating new listed companies is definitely worth a rethink.








 THE assassination of PPP leader and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer is another marker of Pakistan’s descent into a social and political black hole. The killing of a liberal politician arguing against the country’s repressive blasphemy laws is dastardly enough in itself. But this killing also highlights the twin evil aspects of the Islamisation of Pakistan’s polity. One is the fact that Mr Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard, a member of an elite unit of the Punjab police. That underlines the danger of creeping extremism within Pakistan’s security apparatus. The second is that a group of around 500 ‘moderate’ religious leaders virtually condoned the killing by asking people not to attend Mr Taseer’s funeral, even suggesting that those who do so deserved the same fate. What has aided the spread of such extremism, apart from the security establishment having used extremist/ terror groups as instruments of state policy, is the Islamisation the Zia-era laws sought to bring about. Part of those is the blasphemy law, which makes it possible to sentence people to death virtually on hearsay. This law is used to target minorities, settle personal scores as well as raise the bogey of some western conspiracy against Islam and Pakistan. And Mr Salman Taseer paid with his life for defending a Christian woman sentenced to death under these same laws. 


 But there is another key reason for the rise of such extremism and the ability of the Islamic/religious parties to hold the country hostage. And that is the wider failure of Pakistan’s secular political parties, not least given the fact of largely comprising elements from within the same feudal elite, to foster an agenda of progressive, inclusive democracy and development. Given the failures of the state, the religious parties have found the space to mutate the anger of the disempowered masses into disaffection articulated along religious lines. Matters are made worse by the fact that the political elite is squabbling, not over forging a consensus on a progressive, inclusive agenda, but over grabbing a share of the pie. Yet, there is no realistic way out except hoping this political class realises the need for the former. The alternative is military rule or anarchy. Or both.







 ANew Yorker tried to commit suicide, jumping out of his ninth floor window, only to be saved by a pile, a big pile, of garbage. Thanks to the city’s violent snowstorm, sanitation workers had not collected garbage for a week. Clearly, one man’s stench is another man’s life. But, of course, this is from the point of view of those who wanted the man alive, including his aunt who couldn’t thank the snowstorm-induced dereliction of duty on the part of the city’s garbage collectors. But how should the poor man who jumped, he thought, out of his earthly misery, only to find himself on a hospital bed, after a short spell on a pile of rubbish? Should he thank his stars or be convinced of his utter worthlessness even further? He cannot succeed even in a task where the principal role was entirely outsourced outside his own incapable self, to a normally fail-safe force of gravity. He was refused his final prayer by, of all things, a pile of refuse. Should he see his life as a never-ending pursuit of refusal and denial or should he see redemption and a new beginning even in what convention deems mere smelly rejects of quotidian life? 


Morals are what we seek to instill in our young. But morals have perverse practical implications. For example, garbage is good, even when not removed. Not doing your duty is good, if you happen to be a New York sanitation worker. But then, trash is not really trash, as any green enthusiast of recycling will tell you. Nor are dirt and stains on your clothes such bad things, if you believe detergent advertising in India. It all depends on the context. Which then junks absolute notions of good and bad.






THE Jalan committee report has elicited a lot of comment, mostly related to its recommendations with regard to listing, profit caps and restrictions on the number of exchanges. Important as these issues are, they miss out on the central concern of the report which has to do with systemic risk. In our understanding, whereas the report pinpoints the problem accurately, its recommendations do very little to address this very vital issue and is, therefore, a missed opportunity. 


The report characterises, and we broadly agree, market infrastructure institutions (MIIs) as having the following attributes: MIIs are “likely to gain and keep market power”; MIIs are “systemically important”; and finally, MIIs produce a public good. 


In addition, it argues that it is not possible to separate regulatory and commercial interests; and that the required number of MIIs is limited. The recommendations that follow, therefore, are perfectly logical: enhanced regulatory scrutiny; retention of the SRO (self-regulatory organisation) model; and the dampening of profit expectations. Despite agreeing on MIIs, on regulation, market structure and markets, we find ourselves at variance with the report and, therefore, its recommendations. Regulation: For stock exchanges, economies have used a variety of regulatory mechanisms: the government model; the limited self-regulatory model; the strong exchange SRO model; and the independent SRO model. The report argues that for India, which follows the strong exchange SRO model, “it is premature to think of the ‘independent SRO model’… The government model may not be entirely possible in the Indian context considering the size of the market.” 


There is no elaboration of this very critical assessment. Why is it premature to consider the ‘independent SRO model’? What does the report mean when it says that they government model may not be possible ‘considering the size of the market’? Is the size too big? Both the UK and France follow the government model and the UK market is many times that of India. 

 In our assessment, Sebi has been an effective regulator and, therefore, either the independent SRO model or the government model is open to us. Given that MIIs are systemically important, they allow us to deal more effectively with significant conflict of interest issues. 


Market structure:In terms of the arrangement between stock exchanges, clearing corporations and depositories, there are two types of market structures — vertical silos or horizontal integration. The report argues that in India, which follows vertical silos, this market structure has “proven to be competitively viable… no pressing need to alter the existing market structure of solely to address the issue of competition”. 


The report provides no evidence that the market is competitive. In our understanding, the market is a very profitable duopoly. In 2008-09, as reported, the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) margins of the BSE and the NSE was 70.1% and 73.1%, respectively. If anything, there is a lack of sufficient competition. 


FINALLY, the report does not support the separation of stock exchanges and clearing corporations. It argues that “on value chain consideration… the most risky element… would have to be attached to the clearing and settlement function. Shorn of the clearing and settlement function, the stock exchange is merely a provider of an electronic trading platform”. The report seems to suggest that stock exchanges should own clearing corporations because they are a source of profitability. 


 In our understanding, however, the whole point of the report was to look at ways to systemically derisk MIIs. From that standpoint, to completely separate stock exchanges and clearing corporations would be appropriate. The report is concerned that “a single clearing corporation may levy excessive charges on its users”. There are, however, ways of dealing with the issue of market power. For example, the settlement fee can be decided by the regulator. In India’s debt clearing mechanism, the fee is approved by the RBI. 

The market and competition: The report argues that technological change has limited the number of MIIs that might be needed to service the entire marketplace. While remaining agnostic about the optimum number of players in a market, for us what is more important is making the market contestable. We would do this in two ways: first, by reducing the barriers to entry by having an independent clearing and settlement corporation; second, letting market dynamics decide whether competition in trading platforms will come in the shape of new entrants, new products or both. The key is to allow competition to drive an efficient price discovery process. 
Conclusion: Therefore, we are at complete variance with the report on the issue of regulation, market structure and the nature of competition. We believe we should move from vertical silos to horizontal integration. We propose that we move away from the strong SRO model; that clearing and settlement functions be separated from stock exchanges; and finally, cross-listing be allowed. It would also allow us to remove needless restrictions on investors and the cap on profit. 

 Given that MIIs produce a public good, we believe that it is fair to have expectations about a reasonable level of profits that MIIs might make. But it is much better to achieve this through taxes on windfall profits (as for public utilities in the UK) rather than cap them at an arbitrary level. 


 Our framework would make it possible to both attract capital to stock exchanges and to meet all the concerns of the report with regard to systemic risk and stability. The report has been very radical in posing important questions related to systemic risk. But for reasons best known to itself, the committee has hesitated in choosing the best available option in addressing the issue. 


(The authors are members of faculty at     IIM Calcutta. Views are personal.)







THEyear-end brought a spate of forecasts. From India’s point of view, the four critical questions are the following: 

 Will global growth adversely impact on ours?: 


Those predicting a ‘double-dip’ recession were proved wrong in 2010 and they will be proved wrong again in 2011. The global economic recovery has turned out to be stronger than was expected a year ago. Global economic growth for 2010 is estimated at 4.8-5% in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms in 2010. In 2011, the overall growth should be about the same. Of the three key economic blocs — the US, the eurozone and emerging markets — only the eurozone faces weak growth prospects in the coming year. 


 In the US, quantitative easing, combined with the tax cut package pushed through by the Obama administration, should provide some stimulus to the economy. The Economist thinks this could take US economic growth from 2.7% in 2010 to 4% in 2011. This appears overly optimistic. But an improvement in the growth rate seems highly probable and this bodes well for the world economy. 


The eurozone is likely to see growth of under 2% as it struggles to cope with banking and fiscal crises in its member states. In its October 2010 forecast, the IMF expected growth in emerging markets to slow down in 2011. This appears unlikely in the face of recent optimism about US growth prospects. That apart, China and India also have the potential to switch to greater reliance on the domestic market. In 2011, India should be able to match or exceed growth of 8.5-9% projected for 2010 despite any hardening of interest rates. 
    Will the euro break up?: A break-up of the euro is worrisome because of the destabilisation it will create in financial markets. The disruption of financial flows could unsettle emerging markets, including India, as happened during the financial crisis. 


Though many observers think the probability of the eurozone cracking is higher than ever before, this is unlikely. The costs to the better-off nations in the EU, like Germany and the UK, of saving the euro are lower than the long-term costs of a break-up of such an ambitious political project. So, they will do what it takes to keep the euro going. 


However, unlike in the case of the rescue of Greece and Ireland, the EU will be less willing to foot the bill all by itself. It will seek to minimise the costs to taxpayers in the betteroff countries. This means that if Spain, Portugal and Italy run into trouble, creditors will have to bear the loss, whether they are holders of bank bonds or government bonds. ‘Debt restructuring’ has been a dirty word in the Greek and Irish crises (although not in Iceland), but there is every likelihood that it will come into vogue in 2011. 


 Will the inflation rate come down in India?:Policymakers were proved wrong throughout 2010. Wholesale price inflation remained in double-digits until July 2010. From August onwards, it started falling but was still 7.5% in November. Food inflation has been primarily responsible for the high rate of inflation. 
    We should continue to see a decline in the next six months, thanks to the ‘base effect’ (the high level of inflation in the same months in 2010). But the inflation rate will still be above the RBI’s comfort zone of 5-5.5%. In the second half of 2011, the inflation rate may be expected to climb again, thanks to high commodity prices and a rise in inflation in manufactured products. We should expect an inflation rate of 7-8% through the second half of 2011. There is not much the RBI can do to fight food inflation. Raising interest rates also risks inducing higher capital flows. A high level of inflation for a second year running, with high food inflation, is going to be a big headache for the UPA government. 


 What are the major political risks to India?: 

None that appears intimidating. Some people think there is the risk of the UPA government unravelling as investigations into various scams gather steam. The risk is highly exaggerated. Coalition governments have tended to last because parties know that if they don’t hang together, they will hang separately. 
    Even if a JPC probe into the so-called 2G scam materialises, it is unlikely to locate any political villains. The JPC probe into the securities scam of 1992 pointed fingers at brokers, but it could not pin the blame on any politicians or bureaucrats. No charges could be brought against even the top executives of UTI. So, a JPC probe into the 2G scam is also likely to find that the CAG’s contentions about losses to the exchequer are highly exaggerated, that there was a degree of continuity in policy between the NDA and UPA governments and that telecom policy has been broadly pro-growth and pro-customer. The UPA government should shed its fear of aJPC and accept one. 


 Then, there is Telangana, the ever-present threat of a terrorist strike inspired from across the border and more muscle-flexing on the part of China. We have seen worse before and we should be able to see off these as well. In the aggregate, it should be a good year for India but the aam admiis in for a rough time.







 NORMAN Vincent Peal and his power of positive thinking are global brands today. In stark contrast, few people have heard of the psychoanalyst Smiley Blanton, who collaborated with Peale in the initial stage of the Methodist minister’s career. The two men had established a religiopsychiatric outpatient clinic adjacent to the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, where Peale began his 52-year tenure as one of New York City’s most famous preachers. 


Smiley and Peale also collaborated on a book called Faith is the Answer. But Smiley had second thoughts on the collaboration when his partner’s solo essay, The Power of Positive Thinking, ran into controversy. The psychoanalyst distanced himself from Peale’s evangelism and refused to endorse the book. 


He also declined to defend Peale publicly when he came under criticism: the book was attacked for being “full of anecdotes that are hard to substantiate”. Almost all of the experts and many of the testimonials that Peale quoted as supporting his philosophy were alleged to be “unnamed, unknown and unsourced”. 


Some therapists compared Peale’s techniques to those used by hypnotists. Others attacked his description of the workings of the mind and the unconscious mind as being deceptively simplistic and false. 


But all this did not affect Peale’s prospects — his paean to positivity stayed put on The New York Times’ bestseller for 186 consecutive weeks. How did one resist someone who said, “if life hands you a lemon, make lemonade”? In his funereal eulogy, President Bill Clinton described Peale as an optimist who lifted the spirits of millions and millions of people with his simple message of hope and faith. 

In the Indian context, this could perhaps be paraphrased by the creed of shraddha (faith) and saburi (patience) taught by that iconic Master of Shirdi, Saibaba. The therapeutic power of belief appears to be so great that it operates even at the unconscious level. If recent studies are to be believed, placebo power has been validated in ways that literally defy belief. 


Earlier, it was thought that the secret of the placebo’s healing power lay in strong positive belief. Now, it turns out that belief may be irrelevant to healing as long there are ‘kind’ healthcare providers to hand out the sham pills! Does this validate the importance of the Guru or the medium more than that of the message? No guru, no gyan!








The Government is fighting a losing battle in trying to contain food inflation which remains stubbornly high; ironically, some of the recent policy actions may actually result in a further increase in the prices of certain essential food items. Sugar is a prime example. Based on the preliminary estimates of cane output and projections of sugar production for 2010-11, the Government allowed export of five lakh tonnes of the sweetener, in addition to about 11 lakh tonnes towards meeting the pending export obligation. This surely was a welcome step to ease the possible inventory overhang and help bring about a fairly decent demand-supply balance in the domestic sugar market.


However, two other recent decisions could prove counterproductive and may actually contribute to a rise in domestic sugar prices, especially when the prices of several other essential food products are at elevated levels. One is that futures trading in sugar has been allowed. This is sure to attract a flow of speculative capital into the sugar market. Speculative funds do exert a disproportionately larger impact on prices in a market that is finely balanced. We have seen it happen already. Sugar prices have gone up by a good 10 per cent in recent weeks, to over Rs 3,000 a quintal. With the supply outlook for the season still hazy, even a small fall in sugar production can propel open market rates higher. Instead of futures trading, an ideal measure for the season would have been delivery-based forward contracts. The second, and more disturbing, decision is to allow the Customs duty exemption granted to imported sugar to lapse after December 31. In other words, if sugar is imported now, it will attract the usual Customs duty of 65 per cent ad valorem. There is little logic in reviving the Customs tariff on imported sugar. We need to keep the duty-free import window open to ensure that prices remain on a leash. A combination of unchecked derivatives trading and closure of the duty-free import option will pose a huge upside risk to domestic sugar prices. Globally, too, sugar market prices are at record highs. Even a small hint that India may be forced to import sugar will push prices to astronomical levels.


Instead of tinkering with trade and tariff policies, the Government's attention must turn to the next season. If we want our sugar market to remain reasonably insulated from volatile global conditions and be largely self-reliant, there is no escape from ensuring sugarcane acreage of at least 50 lakh hectares for 2011-12 and cane output of well over 300 million tonnes. If this is not realised, sugar can turn bitter in 2011. Meanwhile, all the big talk of sugar decontrol heard several months ago seem to have evaporated into thin air. The sector is crying for reforms and the industry needs consolidation and modernisation. The restrictive policy environment offers little incentive for fresh investment.








It would be churlish to shrug off the tribunal verdict on the I-T liability of Win Chadha as of no consequence to the Bofors case which the CBI is close to winding up.


 The recent order of the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal affirming the order of the Assessing Officer (AO) asking the alleged Bofors middleman, the late Win Chadha, to cough up tax on the commission received by him abroad has stirred an hornet's nest.

It has brought back attention on a matter that was given up, sadly due to lack of in-house forensic skills sharp enough to follow the trails leading to distant shores and due to lack of cooperation from nations whose banks are alleged to have harboured the the alleged kickbacks.

There is a view, however, that the tribunal order does not say anything new on the issue and therefore the Opposition's ‘I-said-so' triumphalism is unwarranted and out of place.


The Piara Singh case


The income-tax proceedings against Win Chadha are a throwback to a very old case involving a gold smuggler, Piara Singh, decided by the apex court long ago. Piara Singh was caught along the Indo-Pak border and was found in possession of gold for which he had no explanation.


The Customs authorities confiscated the gold and handed him over to the income-tax authorities who in turn asked him to pay tax on the unexplained income. Under the law, any asset for which there is no explanation as to its source is deemed to be arising out of unexplained income.


Piara Singh successfully convinced the apex court that he might have fallen foul of the Customs law, but not of the income-tax law because in computing one's income, all expenses must be allowed.


The apex court saw merit in his submissions and held that dispossession of one's asset (gold confiscated by the tax authorities) is allowed as a loss incidental to one's business or trade.


This verdict has been dissected and discussed ad nauseam in knowledgeable tax forums and many have questioned allowance of confiscation under law as a legitimate expenditure because there is a vast difference between money lost by a bank through a dacoity (Nainital Bank's case decided by the Supreme Court in favour of the bank) and goods lost through confiscation for wrong-doings; but one has to concede that calling upon a person to pay income-tax on an asset/income he has been dispossessed of would be a double-whammy for him.


Retrospective amendment


One wonders whether Piara Singh would be twice as lucky if the Department were to reopen the case in the light of a retrospective amendment made to Section 37 (1) vide insertion of Explanation 1 by the Finance (No.2) Act, 1998 which reads as follows: For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that any expenditure incurred by an assessee for any purpose which is an offence or which is prohibited by law shall not be deemed to have been incurred for the purpose of business or profession and no deduction or allowance shall be made in respect of such expenditure.


The point, however, is not whether the Piara Singh case should be revisited by the Department. The point is about two Departments of the Government acting in tandem.


Those who contemptuously shrug off the tribunal verdict in Win Chadha's case should at least concede that whatever evidence unearthed by the assiduous AO should be examined afresh by the investigating agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) which has been in a tearing hurry to close the file for lack of evidence and lack of cooperation from abroad.


Ultimate authority


That the tribunal has upheld the findings of the AO bolsters the case of the department given the fact that under the law the tribunal is the ultimate fact-finding authority and its views can be challenged only on the grounds of misinterpretation of law.


Win Chadha evidently was a resident and ordinarily resident of India in the financial years for which the tax demand was raised, making him liable to pay tax in India on his global income.


It would be instructive and illumining for the investigating agencies to learn from the income-tax files so that they can nail a larger lie, if any. Of course, this is assuming the CBI has not already done so.


The point is if the Customs authorities could hand over Piara Singh to the their income-tax counterparts, there is no reason why the income-tax authorities should not hand over Win Chadha papers to the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI halted in its tracks by the allegedly complicated web of money transfers that cloud and obfuscate evidence as to the ultimate beneficiaries of the payoffs.


Chadha's assessment orders could provide vital clues to the investigating authorities and it would be churlish to shrug off the tribunal verdict as being of no consequence to the main case. While the dead don't come back to life to spill the beans, an attempt can be made to link the income assessed to the larger issue of kickbacks.


If Chadha and his estate have not been able to adduce satisfactory evidence of foreign income or expenditure incurred by Chadha giving rise to the inference of undisclosed income, that could be a pointer to a larger malaise overlooked either by design or by accident.


(The author is a Delhi-based chartered accountant)









It is difficult to see any impact being made on corruption without a concerted effort to reduce the gap between the illegal and the immoral.


The astronomical proportions that scams across the country touched last year generated a predictable set of reactions. Political parties were quick to grab opportunities to attack each other, the judiciary tended to get into proactive mode, and the general public took cover under moral outrage.


In the process an obvious, and rather more important, question was pushed to the background: Why is it that India is so corrupt and is becoming increasingly so? Answering this question in any meaningful way must necessarily take us to the growing gap between the illegal and the immoral, and the possibility that our approach to social reform may have itself contributed to this gap.


Flawed answers


The easy answer to the causes of India's corruption have already been given, and found to be fundamentally flawed. The most popular of easy answers in the years soon after liberalisation was that corruption was essentially the result of a state-led economy. With liberalisation the role of the state would decline and, as a result, so would corruption. Harshad Mehta told us very quickly what he thought of this idea with a scam of a magnitude that the state-controlled era had not seen. And each succeeding scam has only made the earlier one seem like a schoolboy's prank.


With that answer being a non-starter the focus has shifted to the legal system and the punishments it can offer to deter corruption. But this is, at best, a triumph of hope over experience. Apart from its long delays, the judiciary has not had the best press last year. The media has been tempted to fill this gap. But what with paid news and less-than-ideal taped conversations, the media's credibility is not at its peak either.


In this milieu of cynicism about all institutions, it is not difficult for the accused to turn accuser. And once an environment is created where the innocent can be accused just as easily as the guilty, there is little shame attached to a criminal charge.


Criminal fringe


If this was simply a matter of the criminal fringe finding a way out, things would be bad, but not as bad as they are today. Every country has its criminal fringe, people who don't mind being considered immoral by the rest of society. The trouble is that the willingness to break the law in India has extended to persons who would like to be seen as god-fearing, moral individuals. The obvious example is that of corrupt politicians who take a great deal of care to demonstrate their religiosity. Their re-election suggests that their electorate does not find the politicians' corruption a serious enough breach of morality for them to consider changing their vote.


We could brush this under the carpet of a larger crisis in the political system. But cases of people breaking the law with moral righteousness are not unknown. It has taken the form of khap panchayats ordering the murder of couples belonging to the same gotra. In less extreme forms people often take great pride in bending, if not breaking, the law to help a family member or someone from their caste or any other group they identify with.


This gap between what people on the ground believe to be moral and what is legal has been there since Independence. But in the euphoria of gaining state power, in a global ethos where this power was ascendant, the gap did not generate much concern. On the contrary, the power of the state to change the law was seen as an effective instrument to transform society. As a result, the legal system was taken further away from what people believed to be moral, on the expectation that when a new law was in place the morality people believed in would fall in line. And there are a number of transformative laws, from land reform legislation to laws protecting the rights of women that made this effort worthwhile.


But in the decades since Independence, two factors have distorted this simple belief. First, in the pre-Independence years, since Indians did not have control over all instruments of state power, a great deal of emphasis was placed on social movements. Across the country there were reformers who brought about social change, not through the power of the state, but by convincing people to change their beliefs. This has been largely replaced in the post-Independence years by political movements that force the state to change the law. It is then assumed that once a practice becomes illegal, it will automatically be seen as immoral.


The extent to which this assumption has held may be open to debate, but a second factor has made the difference between the legal and the moral more difficult to ignore. Decades of democracy have given voice to ordinary Indians, including those holding regressive views. Institutions such as the khap panchayats are now willing to campaign for their regressive beliefs, even attributing a moral edge to them. And the campaign to provide a moral edge to corrupt practices is carried out through a variety of popular narratives ranging from the-world-is-like-that to corruption being a tool to correct historical wrongs committed on a caste or community.


It is difficult to see any impact being made on corruption without a concerted effort to reduce the gap between the illegal and the immoral. On the legal side, this would require greater sensitivity to moral beliefs on the ground while introducing legislation. On the other side, it will require a greater recognition that social transformation cannot be brought about by laws alone, but require moral beliefs on the ground to be changed through modern versions of social movements carried out by social reformers of the pre-Independence era.


(The author is Professor, School of Social Science, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.








As China grapples with the social tensions and contradictions inevitable in a closed, one-party state, it may be tempted to divert attention by resorting to jingoism. Can its new generation of leaders resist this temptation?


Prime Minister, Mr Wen Jiabao, is one of the few Chinese leaders held in high regard by his Indian interlocutors, because of what is seen as a refreshingly open approach that he adopts, even on such contentious issues as differences on the demarcation of borders, or seeking common ground on climate change.


It was during the visit of Mr Wen Jiabao to India in 2005 that the two countries agreed on the “guiding principles” that would underlie a settlement to the vexed border issue, which led to a brief conflict in 1962 and has remained a source of tensions. The most significant aspect of the 2005 understanding was that in determining a border settlement, the two countries would “safeguard the interests of settled populations in border areas.”


For India, the guiding principles signalled Chinese readiness to discard claims to populated areas in the State of Arunachal Pradesh and recognise the Himalayan watershed along the McMahon Line as the international border.


Mr Wen made an unprecedented effort to reach out to Indian corporate leaders, media and academics, apart from a get-together with Indian schoolchildren, who were thrilled to meet “Grandpa Wen”. His meetings were laced with quips like “India and China are friends”, “cooperation and not competition” and “there is enough space in the world for the development of both countries”. Mercifully, there were no chants of bhai bhai.


Quick rise


Mr Wen himself is one of the smartest personalities in the politics of the Middle Kingdom. He accompanied Party Chief Zhao Ziyang during the latter's fateful trip to meet the protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. While Zhao was purged and placed under detention for “grave insubordination,” Mr Wen not merely survived, but thrived, adeptly using his charms to rise under Party leaders Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang and Jiang Zemin.


Within a year of the 2005 agreement, China started singing an entirely new tune by laying claim to the entire State of Arunachal Pradesh, describing it, the first time, as “Southern Tibet”. Moreover, this period saw increasing Chinese military intrusions across the “Line of Actual Control” that emerged after the 1962 conflict, though both countries had repeatedly pledged to ”maintain peace and tranquillity” along the Line. While China had traditionally avoided taking sides on India-Pakistan differences on Jammu and Kashmir, new visa procedures it adopted in 2009 were designed to show that it did not recognise Indian sovereignty over the State. Military contacts, which were being developed between the two sides, came to a grinding halt when India's Northern Army Commander, whose area of responsibility in Jammu and Kashmir includes command of troops on its western borders with China, was denied a visa to undertake a scheduled visit to Beijing.


With the US and its European partners seemingly weakened by the economic downturn, India noticed growing Chinese assertiveness in enforcing its maritime boundary claims on its Asia-Pacific neighbours, ranging from Vietnam and the Philippines, to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The visiting Commander of the American Pacific Fleet was even told that the US should recognise the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean as being in China's sphere of influence.


In the wake of these developments, India's Defence Minister, Mr A.K. Antony, visited Vietnam to boost defence cooperation and the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, visited Japan and South Korea to strengthen growing strategic ties.


These visits signalled to China that India was prepared to proactively respond to its moves to strengthen Pakistan's nuclear weapons and missile capabilities and to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean. Sensing growing unease and faced with moves by its Asean neighbours to recast the Asian security architecture, by invitations to the US and Russia to join the East Asian Summit, China evidently realised the need to cool frayed tempers across its western borders with India.


Premier Wen's offer to visit New Delhi was welcomed, especially as India has no desire to see tensions with China escalate.


New realities


Mr Wen's discussions in New Delhi appear to have been unusually candid. New Delhi made its concerns clear to Premier Wen on Chinese actions on visas for its nationals from Jammu and Kashmir, its continuing nuclear, missile and defence cooperation with Pakistan and its growing trade surplus, which has been accentuated by denial of adequate market access to Indian corporations, in areas ranging from information technology, to agro-products and pharmaceuticals. India also asserted that military to military ties, which it had suspended, would not be resumed till these concerns were adequately addressed.


With China's political leadership set to change in 2012, there are no illusions in India that major differences on such sensitive issues as the demarcation of land borders can be settled anytime soon. Nor are there any realistic expectations of any change in nuclear weapons and missile-related cooperation between Beijing and Rawalpindi.


As China grapples with the social tensions and contradictions inevitable in a politically closed one-party state, the temptation to divert attention by resorting to jingoism is difficult to resist. Can the new generation of Chinese leaders, including Vice-President Xi Jinping, resist this temptation? Amidst these uncertainties, there should be no slackening in enhancing our defence capabilities.








Exception reporting can help minimise incidences of fraud by flagging deviations and abnormalities quite early.


Abraham Lincoln's quote “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time” is probably the first thought that comes to mind after a fraud was reported at Citi, Gurgaon.


Some years ago, such an event would have raised hell and fury, but has been taken with an air of eventuality and inevitability in the present scandal-ridden times.


It proves yet again that some lessons of the past are still not being learnt. Frauds cannot be eradicated like a disease, but can be minimised like a long illness. Compared with the past, it can be said that the diversion of funds was detected in quick time of 14 months. While questions could be asked of audit, systems and governance, one should also look at the customer to whistle-blow a fraud — which is what appears to have happened at Gurgaon.


A forged letter from the market regulator and the eternal hope that the markets would bring in outstanding returns could not camouflage the fraudulent intent of the trickster.


A well-known industrial group succumbing to the temptation of a 24 per cent annual return on its investments and forking out a substantial sum of money adds to the intrigue.


A bank promising astounding returns should have triggered a red flag in investors. The past is replete with examples of tricksters acting as investment advisors promising abnormal returns on investments — Double Shah of Pakistan and Triple Ashok Jadejahas in India being the unworthy examples. Teak-tree plantation schemes that offered abnormal returns in five years though a teak sapling would need about 20 years to grow and generate returns make the past historically relevant.


A reality check of what the market is offering in terms of returns can help scuttle fraudulent intent. It takes us back to the age-old auditing concept of exception reporting — anything deviant from the set benchmarks is looked at closely. Technology at banks could be used to alert managers on exceptions.


The exception reporting alerts should include both quantitative and qualitative data feeds. Apart from debits/credits in accounts, they should also include employee data. T


his can be a part of the best practices at banks and should be integrated in the routine for internal and concurrent audits. The criticality lies in acting on abnormal exceptions reported. Extending the concept of exception reporting alerts to real estate and stock market transactions would also be useful to track down fraudulent schemes as both are popular places for unusual and untaxed funds to be parked.


Segregation of Duties


Post-Enron, one of the requirements of the Sarbanes Oxley Act was that an analyst providing research reports on entities should not trade in that entity's shares.


This concept of segregation of duties has evolved over the years to include empowering Audit Committees to decide on critical matters and in some instances splitting management responsibilities between the Chairman and the Chief Executive Officer. The bank at Gurgaon gave one employee powers to source high net-worth customers and collect funds from them — a basic risk management precaution that could have prevented the event.


Strong supervisory systems


In an article, Mr Uday Kotak, Chairman of Kotak Mahindra Bank, opined that the financial system must have dynamic supervisory systems that anticipate and manage systemic risks, strong governance and effective and leak-proof delivery.


This aptly summarises the need for regulators of markets and banks to evolve dynamic supervisory systems in order to stay one step ahead of persons intending to bypass the systems for individual gains. Every episode adds to the experience of the regulators and the dynamism of the supervisory systems.


(The author is a Bangalore-based chartered accountant.)










We know the application of Six Sigma in manufacturing and business processes reduces the possibility of defective products to 99.99966 per cent or 3.4 defects per million. Is Six Sigma quality possible in financial audit?


If we are talking about achieving maximum possible quality in audit process to arrive at true and fair position of financial statements by using appropriate sampling methodology and conduct audit in a regulatory environment of checks and balances and oversight mechanism, the answer is in the affirmative.




In the case of audit of the public sector undertakings, Section 619 of the Companies Act provides a two- tier system with specific oversight powers vested with the Comptroller and Auditor General of India unlike the audit of private sector companies.


This section empowers CAG to appoint statutory auditors of Central as well as State-level public enterprises, give directions about the manner in which the audit is to be conducted, oversee the audit done by them and provide supplementary comments over and above the auditor's report wherever deemed necessary because of omission or commission on their part.


In certain cases, companies may revise the accounts and obtain a clean certificate from CAG. In most cases, there would be qualifications stated by the statutory auditors, supplementary comments of CAG, explanations of the auditors; subject to a number of comments and notes, the account is finally certified as true and fair.


In such a situation, readers of the financial statements get perplexed without understanding the real import of all qualifications and notes. Many a time, instead of enhancing the quality of accounts, unhealthy professional rivalry and competitive attitude result in a hostile environment defeating the very purpose.


Three Phase Audit is an innovative approach introduced by CAG in the audit of financial statements of selectcentral PSUs .It is, in many ways, an attempt towards achieving Six Sigma quality standard in audit of certification of accounts. The ongoing financial year 2010-11 will be the third. .


Big success


When this experiment was first introduced in 2008-09, all the concerns and doubts of the stakeholders were cleared by organising tri-party meetings of managements, statutory audit firms, and government auditors by the CAG, in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kochi. This experiment has proved to be a great success. Being a quality-centric methodology, the new system was welcomed by the Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE), complimented by the PSUs and CA firms. In the first year, 59 CPSUs opted for audit and in the second year, 114 CPSUs and in the third year more are likely to adopt this Three Phase Audit.


Three Phase Audit is based on the principle that the fundamental objective of audit of financial statements is to factor in all qualifications that can be quantified and draw the correct P&L account and Balance Sheet depicting the true import. In this approach, audit firms and the government auditor brainstorm to find a mutually acceptable solutions to all the red flagged accounting issues raised by both the government and the statutory auditors and encountered by the management. The Government auditor is involved in the process in three quarters instead of arriving at the last stage after certification of accounts. He can identify and quantify the contribution made by him in the process, while all the three parties interact intensely for problem resolution rather than scoring points against one another at the cost and risk of the management and stakeholders. Even then, if the accounts, signed and audited by the statutory auditor, have mistakes, the government auditor duly qualifies under the provisions of the Companies Act, but in most cases this is rare.


Key parameters


To have six sigma quality in audit of financial statements, it is important to have an effective internal control system with independent internal audit, audit committees, independent external statutory auditors and auditors from an independent oversight body such as the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board established under the Sarbanes OxleyAct of 2002 in the US..


There could be supplementary audit by CAG under the Companies Act for public sector enterprises. Best practices such as joint auditors in big firms and rotation of auditors and prevention of auditors taking other jobs affecting their professional independence in conducting audit are also inevitable.


It may be argued that level-playing field is to be provided for all public and private sector companies and it is all the more important in the case of listed entities. In the light of the lessons learnt from many governance failures such as the infamous Satyam fiasco, it can be argued that a more stringent control mechanism is required in private sector companies too, with the establishment of review of audit process including empanelment of auditors, selection and allocation of audit jobs by objective criteria, and certification of accounts by an independent oversight body for ensuring quality and safeguarding the interest of the stakeholders, especially in an environment where there are more takers for creative accounting and window dressing.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




In India, the judiciary was always seen as the last refuge of the helpless citizen. Judges were knights in shining armour who fought to give justice to the weak. But, of late, the image of this august institution has taken a beating like never before. The series of allegations that have come up against the kin of the former Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, has created more doubts in many minds about the credibility of an establishment once considered above reproach.


When Justice Balakrishnan took over as CJI — the first dalit to occupy the high office — in January 2007, legal luminaries hailed it as the beginning of a new era. But the flurry of charges made against his family in the last many days has forced the same leading lights to change their tone to one of disappointment and anger. The allegations are that Justice Balakrishnan’s sons-in-law, Mr P.V. Sreenijan, a Congress leader, and Mr M.J. Benny, a lawyer, garnered assets worth crores of rupees when Justice Balakrishnan was in office; and his brother, Mr K.G. Bhaskaran, a special government pleader in Kerala, was also accused of buying up huge swathes of land in Tamil Nadu. Under pressure, Mr Sreenijan has resigned from the Congress and the advocate-general has asked Mr Bhaskaran to quit his post. The state government has also asked the vigilance wing to examine the charges against Mr Sreenijan. Though no specific charges have been made against the former CJI, the manner in which his family made assets during the time-frame has cast a shadow on him, too.


It is perhaps no coincidence that the allegations have surfaced at a time when the judiciary is under the scanner. Just weeks ago, the former Union law minister, Mr Shanti Bhushan had risked contempt by accusing some former judges of corruption. This was followed by the apex court’s expressing concern at the phenomenon of “uncle judges” in the Allahabad High Court. As the Supreme Court said in connection with the Allahabad High Court, all this indicates that “something is rotten”.


In this context, the allegations made against Justice Balakrishnan’s family raise disturbing questions. The former CJI had already courted controversy through his “inaction” on a letter from a Madras High Court judge regarding former telecom minister A. Raja’s interference in a case. Justice Balakrishnan, at present the National Human Rights Commission chairman, has been silent on the charges against his kin. The eminent jurist, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, was speaking for many concerned citizens when he said that Justice Balakrishnan’s silence was disconcerting. Justice Iyer has asked the former CJI to step down from the post of NHRC chairman and clear his name by facing a high-level probe, as this was necessary to restore the faith of the people in the judiciary. This is correct advice which Mr Balakrishnan should heed.








During his visit to India, the US President, Mr Barack Obama, pointed out that India is fortunate to have over half of its total population of 1.2 billion under the age of 30. Out of the 600 million young persons, over 60 per cent live in villages. Most of them are educated. Mahatma Gandhi considered the migration of educated youth from villages to towns and cities as the most serious form of brain drain adversely affecting rural India’s development. He, therefore, stressed that we should take steps to end the divorce between intellect and labour in rural professions.


The National Commission on Farmers stressed the need for attracting and retaining educated youth in farming. The National Policy for Farmers, placed in Parliament in November 2007, includes the following goal of the new policy — “to introduce measures which can help to attract and retain youth in farming and processing of farm products for higher value addition, by making farming intellectually stimulating and economically rewarding”. On the other hand, the pressure of population on land is increasing and the average size of a farm holding is going down to below one hectare. Farmers are getting indebted and the temptation to sell prime farmland for non-farm purposes is growing. Over 45 per cent of farmers interviewed by the National Sample Survey Organisation wanted to quit farming. Under these conditions, how are we going to persuade educated youth, including farm graduates, to stay in villages and take to agriculture as a profession? How can youth earn a decent living in villages and help shape the future of our agriculture? This will require a three-pronged strategy.


* Improve the productivity and profitability of small holdings through appropriate technologies and market linkages.
* Enlarge the scope for the growth of agro-processing, agro-industries and agri-business.
* Promote opportunities for the services sector to expand in a manner that will trigger the technological and economic upgradation of farm operations.


Some years ago, the government of India launched a programme to enable farm graduates to start agri-clinics and agri-business centres. This programme is yet to attract the interest of educated youth to the degree originally expected. It is hence time that the programme is restructured based on the lessons learnt. Ideally, a group of four to five farm graduates, who have specialised in agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, agri-business and home science, could jointly launch an agri-clinic-cum-agri-business centre in every block in the country. Agri-clinics will provide the services needed during the production phase of farming while the agri-business centre will cater to the needs of farm families during the post-harvest phase of agriculture. Thus, farm women and men can be assisted during the entire crop cycle, starting with sowing and extending up to value addition and marketing. The home science graduate can pay particular attention to nutrition and food safety and processing and help a group of farm women to start a food processing park. The group should also assist farm families to achieve economy and power of scale both during the production and post-harvest phases of farming.


Opportunities for such young entrepreneurs are several. Climate resilient agriculture is another area that needs attention. In dry farming areas, methods of rainwater harvesting and storage and watershed management as well as the improvement of soil physics, chemistry and microbiology, need to be spread widely. The cultivation of fertiliser trees which can enrich soil fertility and help to improve soil carbon sequestration and storage, can be promoted under the Green India Mission as well as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme. A few fertiliser trees, a jal kund (water harvesting pond) and a biogas plant in every farm will help to improve enormously the productivity and profitability of dryland farming.


The “yuva kisans” or young farmers can also help women’s self-help groups to manufacture and sell the biological software essential for sustainable agriculture. The Fisheries graduate can promote both inland and marine aquaculture, using low external input sustainable aquaculture (Leisa) techniques. Feed and seed are the important requirements for successful aquaculture and trained youth can promote their production at the local level.


Similar opportunities exist in the fields of animal husbandary. Improved technologies of small-scale poultry and dairy farming can be introduced. Codex alimentarius standards of food safety can be popularised in the case of perishable commodities. For this purpose, the young farmers should establish Gyan Chaupals or Village Knowledge Centres. Such centres will be based on the integrated use of the internet, FM Radio and mobile telephony.


In the service sector designed to meet the demand driven needs of farming families, an important one is soil and water quality testing. Young farmers can organise mobile soil-cum-water quality testing work and go from village to village in the area of their operation and issue soil health and water quality cards to every family. This will help rural families to utilise in an effective manner the nutrient based subsidy introduced by the government from April 1, 2010. Similarly educated youth could help rural communities to organise gene-seed-grain-water banks, thereby linking conservation, cultivation, consumption and commerce in a mutually reinforcing manner.


Young farmers can also operate climate risk management centres, which will help farmers to maximise the benefits of a good monsoon and minimise the impact of unfavourable weather. Educated youth can help to introduce the benefits of information, space, nuclear, bio- and eco-technologies. Ecotechnology involves the blend of traditional wisdom and frontier technology. This is the pathway to sustainable agriculture and food security and agrarian prosperity. If the youth choose to live in villages and launch the new agriculture movement, based on the application of science and social wisdom, our untapped demographic dividend will become our greatest strength.


* M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India’s green revolution.








DID the former Attorney General of the United States, Mr Michael Mukasey, the former New York Mayor, Mr Rudolph Giuliani, Mr Tom Ridge, a former homeland security secretary, and Mr Frances Townsend, a former national security adviser, all commit a federal crime last month in Paris when they spoke in support of the Mujahideen-i-Khalq at a conference organised by the Iranian opposition group’s advocates? Free speech, right? Not necessarily.


The problem is that the United States government has labelled the Mujahideen-i-Khalq a “foreign terrorist organisation”, making it a crime to provide it, directly or indirectly, with any material support. And, according to the justice department under Mr Mukasey himself, as well as under the current attorney general, Mr Eric Holder, material support includes not only cash and other tangible aid, but also speech coordinated with a “foreign terrorist organisation” for its benefit. It is therefore a felony, the government has argued, to file an amicus brief on behalf of a “terrorist” group, to engage in public advocacy to challenge a group’s “terrorist” designation or even to encourage peaceful avenues for redress of grievances.


Don’t get me wrong. I believe Mr Mukasey and his compatriots had every right to say what they did.

Indeed, I argued just that in the Supreme Court, on behalf of the Los Angeles-based Humanitarian Law Project, which fought for more than a decade in American courts for its right to teach the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey how to bring human rights claims before the United Nations, and to assist them in peace overtures to the Turkish government.


But in June, the Supreme Court ruled against us, stating that all such speech could be prohibited, because it might indirectly support the group’s terrorist activity.


The Chief Justice John Roberts reasoned that a terrorist group might use human rights advocacy training to file harassing claims, that it might use peacemaking assistance as a cover while re-arming itself, and that such speech could contribute to the group’s “legitimacy”, and thus increase its ability to obtain support elsewhere that could be turned to terrorist ends.


Under the court’s decision, the former President Jimmy Carter’s election monitoring team could be prosecuted for meeting with and advising Hezbollah during the 2009 Lebanese elections.


The government has similarly argued that providing legitimate humanitarian aid to victims of war or natural disasters is a crime if provided to or coordinated with a group labelled as a “foreign terrorist organisation” — even if there is no other way to get the aid to the region in need.


Yet the Times recently reported that the US treasury department, under a provision ostensibly intended for humanitarian aid, was secretly granting licences to American businesses to sell billions of dollars worth of food and goods to the very countries we have blockaded for their support of terrorism. Some of the “humanitarian aid” exempted? Cigarettes, popcorn and chewing gum.


Under current law, it seems, the right to make profits is more sacrosanct than the right to petition for peace, and the need to placate American businesses more compelling than the need to provide food and shelter to earthquake victims and war refugees.

Congress should reform the laws governing material support of terrorism.
It should make clear that speech advocating only lawful, nonviolent activities — as Mr Michael Mukasey and Mr Rudolph Giuliani did in Paris — is not a crime.


The First Amendment protects even speech advocating criminal activity, unless it is intended and likely to incite imminent lawless conduct. The risk that speech advocating peace and human rights would further terrorism is so remote that it cannot outweigh the indispensable value of protecting dissent.


At the same time, Congress also needs to reform the humanitarian aid exemption. It should state clearly that corporate interests in making profits from cigarettes are not sufficient to warrant exemptions from sanctions on state sponsors of terrorism. But Congress should also protect the provision of legitimate humanitarian aid — food, water, medical aid and shelter — in response to wars or natural disasters. Genuine humanitarian aid and free speech can and should be preserved without undermining our interests in security.


* David Cole is a law professor at Georgetown University Law Centre









The rishis of ancient India who created our rich tradition were highly practical men. The sages of the past envisaged a useful life for the people throbbing with positive energy and life-force.


They were the first to realise the role of the mind-power in moulding one’s life and winning all accomplishments in the material and spiritual lines. Mind power or will power can work like wonders. It is the level of will power a person carries that decides what he becomes and how much he achieves in life.


“Brahmanaa thanyate viswam manasaiva swayam bhoova Manomayamatho viswam yannamaparidrisyate”
This sloka in Mahopanishad hails the importance of mind power.

Lord Brahma created this world out of the power of his mind — his power of imagination. Everything is the creation of mind. If it could cause the world itself, why can’t it create material things?

In Puranas also there are several parables that appreciate the great power of will and resolution. Markandeya, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva was destined to die at the age of 16.


But since he knew he was born after long penance of his parents and they could not afford to bear his bereavement, he decided not to yield to death! He observed penance and kept himself close to the Shivalinga that represented the Lord Himself.


As Yama, the lord of death, came to take his life and cast a noose, it fell on the neck of the boy and also the Shivalinga whom the boy had hugged closely. Surging with rage, Lord Shiva opened his third eye, showered Agni, and burnt Yama, the deity of Death.


The devotion that made the Lord protect his devotee even from death, was, in fact, his will power in disguise. He chose not to die.

Such was the strength of his resolution that even death failed to take him.


— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the authorof Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.He has also written books on the Vedasand Upanishads. The author can be reachedat [1]









Yes, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has mishandled the case. Initially, when the Uttar Pradesh police was investigating the Aarushi-Hemraj double murder case, several vital clues, including fingerprints, footprints and bloodstains, were not properly preserved for investigation. The scene of the crime was not seized at the right time. The Uttar Pradesh police botched up the evidence. The evidence was perhaps available at the crime scene when the insensitive Uttar Pradesh police were in charge of the case in the initial days.


The media was allowed to enter the house of Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar on the intervening night of May 16, 2008.


The CBI had taken over the double-murder probe in June 2008, after 15 days of the crime, which was a big blow to the investigating agency. Whoever might be the accused behind the double murder, the person (or persons) has completely destroyed the evidence that could have led the agency to identify the perpetrators of the crime.


But even if the case was botched up by the Uttar Pradesh police initially, the CBI, later on, was uanble to coordinate with them and get any vital clues or evidences.


The CBI, citing circumstantial evidences, has claimed that the father of the killed teenager, Dr Talwar, was the suspect in the case. But what direct evidence has the probe agency gathered? Nothing. Simply pointing fingers towards a suspect is not going to be fruitful for any agency seeking to get to the bottom of any crime.


The CBI, knowing well that the narco-analysis test is not admissible in a court of law as evidence, made the Talwars undergo this test. But then, nothing came out of the whole exercise.


The agency also failed to establish the motive behind the brutal killing of Aarushi and the Talwars’ domestic help, Hemraj, even after subjecting several suspects, including Dr Talwar, to sustained questioning and narco-analysis tests. On the other hand, the perpetrators managed to dress up the crime scene and all fingerprints were found contaminated.


The CBI also failed to recover any data from Aarushi’s mobile phone, which, in any case, was recovered from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh after over a year. While the CBI managed to find the phone in a distant city, it failed to recover the bedsheet on which Aarushi was found lying in a pool of blood. It also failed to conduct a “touch DNA” test that may have helped to get some clue. But their experts said there was little point as the samples were highly contaminated.


(As told to Suchitra Kalyan Mohanty)


Joginder Singh, former director, CBI

* * *

Case was handled professionally

By K.T.S. Tulsi

The CBI has professionally handled the case. According to the closure report, the CBI has arrived at the following conclusions:

Entry of an intruder on the intervening night of May 16, 2008, has been ruled out on the basis of direct and scientific evidence. There is no evidence of forced entry, and nobody saw anyone entering or leaving the building.


Taking into account all the circumstances, the CBI arrived at the conclusion that all the servants, who were suspected by Aarushi’s parents, are innocent.


If these conclusions are assumed to be correct, it leaves only one possibility: that the double murder was committed by those in the house. They alone had the opportunity, access, expertise, motive or provocation for killing their own daughter.


There is no reason why the CBI should withold evidence of circumstances which have been firmly established. The time of the two murders is established on the strength of the post-mortem report. Experts have opined that the injuries found on the forehead of Aarushi and the back of the head of Hemraj were caused by a blunt weapon of identical dimensions.


The closure report reveals that the scene of crime was dressed-up and the private parts of the victim had been cleaned. The bedsheet had been changed and an attempt to wipe the bloodstains had been made. This is alleged to have been testified by Bharti, who last saw the Talwars together with Aarushi on that fateful night.


The CBI cannot be faulted for incorporating these facts in the report. Tampering with evidence is ordinarily suggestive of guilt. The CBI can’t be faulted for bringing on record the evidence that after Aarushi’s body had been taken for cremation, the staff of her parents cleaned up the walls and floor of Aarushi’s room and took the blood-soaked mattress to the terrace.


The CBI could not have withheld the evidence from the court that, according to doctors who conducted the post-mortem, both the bodies had sharp weapon injuries on the neck caused by a surgically-trained person.


The information officer (IO) may have grossly erred in not submitting a chargesheet against Aarushi’s parents. His fault may be on account of ignorance of law or the high-profile nature of the case, but he certainly can’t be blamed for having brought these facts to the notice of the court. Whether or not his opinion is correct will eventually be decided by the court. But to say that the IO should have withheld these facts from the court is grossly erroneous.


K.T.S. Tulsi, senior criminal lawyer

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HARDLY unexpected was the “nothing new” line taken by the government’s apologists who masquerade as Congress party spokespersons, and echoed in court by the Central Bureau of Investigation when reacting to the Income-Tax Appellate Tribunal’s order nailing Ottavio Quattrocchi to the Bofors cross. Though, officially there was no word from Raisina Hill (embarrassed silence?) the fact that the Additional Solicitor-General appearing for the CBI said no fresh instructions had been issued to the agency by the law ministry is proof enough that UPA-II remains as anxious as ever that the probe into the Bofors kickbacks is closed. Maybe it is true that the CBI has not mustered enough evidence for a successful prosecution ~ a contention disputed by former officials of the agency ~ but that is essentially because from day-one, little professional effort was made to unearth the truth or follow the money-trail (as the ITAT appears to have done). Critical leads were deliberately ignored, a cover-up was top priority. The terms of reference of the Joint Parliamentary Committee that was appointed in the wake of massive political pressure were so constricting that Opposition parties declined to get involved in a fraud to camouflage a fraud. With one scam after another battering the Manmohan Singh administration, there could be no abandoning the cover-up strategy. It is equally disgraceful that non-Congress governments failed to ensure effective investigation, but that does not justify the slighting of the ITAT. The track record would confirm that other democratic authorities have received equally short shrift from Congress-led governments when it came to fixing accountability for Bofors. For the UPA that would be par for the course, it has consistently been shielding the corrupt. There is no need to be taken in by the argument that Raja had to go, as did Ashok Chavan, and that the CWG inquiries are progressing: only when there was huge outcry were the 2G Spectrum and Adarsh scams “recognised” by the government, and everyone in the PMO was conveniently blind when the CWG loot was perpetrated under its very nose.

Bofors is terribly different, for the key suspect Italian businessman has been much too close to Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi to permit him to possibly “sing”. Hence he was permitted to leave the country; feeble were the efforts to extradite him, and the government facilitated the un-freezing of bank accounts in the UK. Indeed the government is guilty of abetment to fraud: a charge it would prefer to face from political rivals rather than risk Quattrocchi’s swindling be exposed. For who knows what or who would also be exposed. The howitzer kickback has impacted on many a reputation, the latest being Dr Manmohan Singh’s ~ someone who is “clean” must not entertain unclean associates, or have the moral courage to step aside if unable to resist pressures to “protect”. Bofors is like a cancer, it may be temporarily suppressed but will surely erupt again ~ possibly to devour its “host”.




THE West Bengal government has verily tied itself up in knots in trying to execute its rehabilitation package for tribals of the Maoist-affected regions. The plan to provide cycles to the girl students of Junglemahal appears to have run aground. This is just a part of the overall package that was promised. Initially, the Backward Classes Welfare Department’s efforts didn’t take off on account of dearth of funds, a testament to the lack of coordination between the department directly concerned and finance. Still more crucially, the state is on the verge of bankruptcy. Yet the process of tender evaluation suggests that there was considerable indecision, if not a little manipulation, somewhere. The government is yet to come upfront on why the company that had quoted a lower rate has been ignored. In consequence, the Backward Classes Welfare department will now have to buy the 10,000 cycles at a considerably higher price, indeed with an additional expenditure of Rs 10 lakh. The disconnect is stark. Having held up the project because of a funds crunch, the government is now prepared to shell out more, as reported in this newspaper.  The highest bidder may not ipso facto provide a better mode of this convenient transport in the rural areas. This argument has clearly been trashed by the finance department, and amazingly without factoring in the cost factor in an impoverished state.  Apparently, the BCW department has had to function on the dictates of the finance department which has cancelled the first tender and opted for a far more expensive bidder.

It is quite obvious that the government has lost an opportunity to save Rs 10 lakh, a fair amount of money for an administration in fiscal straits. The rigmarole in a particularly volatile part of the state stands out in sharp contrast with Bihar where Nitish Kumar’s position ~ between 2005 and 2010 ~ was considerably strengthened with free distribution of  cycles to every girl student in the rural areas. And without much ado. The perceived achievement of the recapture of Junglemahal may well get neutralised because of the indecision and worse ~ between two departments ~ on which cycle to provide.




EVEN as the Naga peace process with the NSCN(IM) is on, there comes the demand for a Frontier Nagaland under the Constitution which, if not a momentary phenomenon, can seriously affect the ongoing reconciliation and unity process and heighten friction among various tribes. A delegation of six major tribal groups comprising Changs, Konyaks, Sangtams, Kheanmungans, Yimchungers and Phoms under the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation is reported to have met Union home minister P Chidambaram and Union home secretary GK Pillai, and submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister. The movement covers four of Nagaland’s 11 districts, like Longleng, Tuensang, Khipire and Mon, and three sub-divisions of two other districts with a population of 900,000, a little less than half of the total and comprises half of the state’s geographical area. In the memorandum, they reportedly said they were forced to look for an alternative because of the lack of proper development in their areas and that if they continued to stay under the present government their aspirations would never be fulfilled. In recent months, the people of these districts have often complained of being deprived of basic amenities like good road communications and uninterrupted power supply. The Rio government’s much-touted roadshows in different districts have apparently failed to impress these people. All that these shows, as also the annual Hornbill Festival, have depicted are Naga traditions and community camaraderie. Recently, a Naga minister complained of the Centre not clearing some development projects. Which is more than passing strange when New Delhi claims there is no dearth of funds as far as development in the region is concerned. The NSCN(IM) is unlikely to relish the Frontier Nagaland  movement as this goes against its concept of Greater Nagaland. But it suits no one to drag on the peace process. The new movement only emphasises the need to find an early solution. Three years ago, the NSCN(IM) split. And the Frontier Nagaland demand is seen as a taunt to the NSCN(IM) leadership.








THE environment minister has expanded the “Go” areas approved for mining of coal from 344k hectares to 380k hectares. An additional 36k hectares of dense forests will now be available for felling and mining. The country’s annual production of coal is about 530 million tons. Coal minister Jaiswal wants to increase this to 1000 million tons per annum. The Prime Minister agrees that we will have to cut the forests for coal mining. 
The Prime Minister must reconsider. A report of The Energy Research Institute (TERI) has estimated that the total availability of our coal reserves would be sufficient for 160 years. But much of this coal lies deep in the earth’s womb, as it were. Commercially viable extraction technologies are not  available at present. The minable coal reserves are adequate only for about 40 years. A doubling of the pace of mining will lead to exhaustion of these reserves in 20 years. This is not desirable from the standpoint of energy security.
The argument in favour of  rapid mining is that technological changes in the next 20 years may render the need to mine coal redundant. Alternative sources of energy may be developed. The cost of solar energy has come down from about Rs 20 per unit to Rs 11 per unit over the past decade. Thorium-based nuclear energy may be developed. Technologies to extract coal from greater depths may also be developed. We should take the risk and rapidly utilise the available reserves, runs the argument. Hopefully, new technologies will be devised in this period and the high rate of growth, based largely on new technologies, will continue after 20 years. There is merit in this argument.

But is the risk worth taking? America did take the risk and the country is in trouble. Technological development is the hallmark of its economy. The pace, however, has slowed down over the past decade. Yet the country took the risk, assessed that new technologies will somehow be generated and continued to maintain high levels of consumption as if no crisis had arisen. The US government provided cheap housing loans and encouraged the people to borrow and buy homes. The country borrowed heavily in the world financial markets. But technological innovations did not materialise, the high levels of wages and consumption could not be sustained and the economy has virtually gone into recession. Relying on a futuristic technological scenario would be disingenuous.

We need more electricity for sustaining our economic growth. Currently, however, the  generation of electricity is often being used for vulgar display and ostentatious consumption. The monthly domestic electricity consumption bill of a top industrialist of Mumbai is Rs 70 lakh. It is not wise to cut the forests to sustain such consumption. The government must try and reduce the consumption of electricity. We must generate only so much electricity that is genuinely required for productive purposes. Such ostentatious consumption also transfers resources from the poor to the rich.

The agricultural fields of the poor are acquired for mining and for putting up hydropower projects. They are deprived of minor forest produce. The rise in global temperature affects the poor more than it does the affluent. The present policy of generating ever higher levels of electricity, therefore, leads to waste and is, therefore, unjustified.

Yet we have to mine.  Apart from coal, we need aluminium, iron, manganese, uranium and other minerals. Cutting forests for such supposedly ‘developmental’ needs is not to be decried. The 146th hymn of the 10th book of  Rigveda states: Goddess of the wild and forest... seemest to vanish from sight. And, yonder what seems a dwelling-place appears... another there hath felled a tree. Lord Krishna and Arjuna most valiantly burnt the Khandava forest and opened up the area for human habitation. Therefore, to cut the forests for ‘higher’ human habitation is okay. The mistake lies in leaving the mined areas barren.

Huge amounts of coal have been extracted from the forest lands of Sonbhadra district in southern Uttar Pradesh. Mining has been done largely through the open cast process. The soil has been removed and stored in huge man-made mountains. The coal lying below the soil has been extracted. On the one hand deep pits have been constructed artificial mountains have been created on the other. Both are barren.  Knowledgeable sources say that only cosmetic and superficial plantations are visible on some of the mountains. There are few bushes around. The deep pits are entirely barren.

Forests have been restored in other countries. Large tracts were once cut in the industrial area of Ruhr in Germany. These abandoned mines have today become lush forests that support bio-diversity. Similarly, extensive logging was undertaken in the northern areas of New Zealand. An estimated 60,000 hectares of such deforested land now support the legendary Kauri forests. No fewer than 20 species of trees are found in a hectare. During a visit to the National Environment Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, this writer was shown photographs of regenerated forests. Though restricted to experimental plots, it indicates that regeneration is possible.

An excellent effort has been initiated in Congo. The authorities found that it takes 42 years for a forest to regenerate. They divided the forests into blocks. One block will be felled during the next 42 years. Then, this block will be closed for regeneration and felling will be carried out in another block. Bio-diversity will be possible in these regenerated forests. This will facilitate mining and also protect the forests.

Our government should reflect on its policy of marking the forests in “Go” and “No Go” areas. Such a division suggests that the “Go” areas will be cut and left barren forever. The minerals lying below the forests in the “No Go” zones will never be extracted. We will, therefore, be doubly deprived. We shall lose the forest cover in “Go” areas and the minerals in “No Go” areas. This is undesirable.

The correct approach is to reforest the “Go” areas, allow bio-diversity to shift from the “No Go” to “Go” areas, and then open up the present “No Go” areas in a planned manner for mining. Such an approach will provide us both with forests and minerals.

Mining companies should be asked to formulate effective reforestation programmes. This involves the laying of topsoil on barren mountains, using fertilizers and watering the saplings that are planted. Legislation should be enacted, requiring the companies to reforest the lands already mined by them. Licences should be granted only after satisfactory progress in reforestation. Mining should not be carried out in contiguous areas. Large tracts of virgin land must be left untouched. This is essential for the survival of bio-diversity and wildlife.
The writer is former Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.







It’s a little surprising that our friend across the border has left us alone for more than a fortnight or so. The daily dose of venom has been absent for some time now but then, the current crop of leaders that rules Pakistan is too preoccupied with the country’s internal affairs. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led alliance that props up Mr Asif Ali Zardari’s government is in a total disarray. The PPP’s biggest ally in Sindh and Islamabad, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), largely patronised by the country’s Urdu-speaking population, has withdrawn its ministers from the government in Islamabad. The Jamiat-ul-Islam helmed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman wants Prime Minister Mr Yusuf Raza Geelani to go. And, though Mr Geelani doesn’t exactly get along well with all constituents of the alliance, he demonstrated a palpable desperation this week to remain in power.
Mr Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), the second largest group in the National Assembly and which rules the country’s most populous province, Punjab, continues to sit on the fence. A former coalition partner of Mr Zardari, Mr Sharif wants to keep the President guessing on which way he will eventually jump. The former Prime Minister of Pakistan is also perfectly aware that Mr Zardari and his PPP are not exactly very popular with the people at the moment. Invoking the martyred Benazir Bhutto at will still does pull crowds somewhat but not quite at the scale Mr Zardari had witnessed whenever his wife took the dais. The Pakistan President is a lonely, unpopular man in the Aiwan-e-Sadar (the presidential palace), with few of the old guard willing to bail him out.

So what’s keeping him and his government afloat then? The army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). What unites the spies and the soldiers is a deep mistrust for Mr Nawaz Sharif. At the same time, it could have hardly escaped the PML-N chief how the Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, granted himself a three-year extension just as he was nearing retirement. 

The situation is certainly not very happy for the people of Pakistan. For every WikiLeaks disclosure, Pak TV subjects them to extensive footages of meetings between President Zardari, Prime Minister Geelani, General Kayani, ISI chief General Shuja Pasha, Mr Nawaz Sharif and his brother, the Punjab chief minister Mr Shahbaz Sharif, and the former US Ambassador to Pakistan Ms Anne Patterson. In this context, the sudden death of President Obama’s interlocutor for Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af-Pak) Mr Richard Holbrooke can be certainly seen as a setback.

With the USA-led Nato pressuring the Afghanistan government for a freer hand in crushing rebels on either side of the Af-Pak border, Gen. Kayani and his men find themselves in a Catch-22 situation! WikiLeaks caused more trouble for Gen. Kayani when it exposed his doublespeak on the country’s security interests. Curiously, and I am quoting here Mariana Baabar, one of Pakistan’s best known journalists, when she speaks of a Wikileaks cable dated 7 October, 2009 “sacrilegiously” citing how the ISI’s Gen. Pasha was in contact with the Israelis about terror threats to Israeli targets in India. 

This disclosure prompted the Pakistani defence analyst, Dr Shirin Mazari, to wonder: “What message are we conveying to the Palestinians as the army looks up to (former) US Ambassadar Patterson as a glorified agony aunt for a solution to all their problems?” Baabar notes that the influence that the USA wields in Pakistan isn’t the stuff of myths. WikiLeaks reveals how Gen. Kayani had persuaded General Pervez Musharraf to step down in 2008 as the President with the bait of a promise made by his likely successor, Mr Zardari, to grant Gen. Musharraf immunity from prosecution.

But once Mr Zardari stepped into the Aiwan-e-Sadar, he didn’t seem as much interested in keeping his word. Ms Patterson, says Baabar, acerbically noted in a cable: “Zardari is walking tall these days, hopefully not too tall to forget his promise to Kayani and to us on the immunity deal (for Gen. Musharraf).”

With so much on its mind, no wonder the Pakistani political establishment is giving India a momentary break. But certainly not as much as India would like it to. It has kept the Kashmir pot boiling by facilitating a few infiltration. The seasonal snows may have shut down the passes in the country’s northernmost state with winter at its height, yet not a day passes without at least one report of Pak-trained terrorists trying to sneak in, defying the snow and sleet. The Line of Control still reverberates with sounds of clashes, with both India and Pakistan counting casualties. 

And, the weather doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirits of the separatists in the snowbound Valley. Even at a time when nature has rendered stones and pebbles virtually invisible under a cover of snow, they managed the other day to stage one major stone-pelting session. But such zest can be and was traced last summer to the tempting remuneration that the separatists offer to unemployed youth to hurl stones at policemen and destroy police and other government property. The bumper fruit crop in Sopore and Shopian has surely helped the separatists, who persuaded the fruit exporters to contribute handsomely to keep the stone-throwers happy. 

In the middle of this mayhem, it was heartening to hear the resolve in the voices of schoolchildren from the Valley. In a TV interview, they said they hoped to take the annual examination at urban centres, their voices tinged with of losing yet another school year.

This makes me wonder what the three interlocutors appointed by the Central government to help resolve the problems in Jammu and Kashmir managed to achieve so far? In these two months, they could have at least prevailed upon the separatists to hold fire till schools and college exams got over? Personally, I don’t see the threesome achieving much but I am happy for them. All are probably retired ~ and for their trouble, the lucrative remuneration of Rs 1.20 lakh plus the monthly Rs 40,000 that the government pays them each, must come handy. Whenever the trio visits the Valley, they are treated as state guests. The Valley winter demands rich food and I do hope they get to sample the wazwan once a day. Since the interlocutors will be spending only one week a month in J&K, they can be assured of a paid holiday for a long, long time.

The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor, The Statesman, New Delhi   









It was a day to define all days, the night to defeat all nights. When the evening sank into darkness, the people of my pre-Partition village in Sialkot district, Sambrail, eagerly waited for the street lamp to be lit by a blue-uniformed chowkidar. He climbed a high wooden ladder to reach the top of the bamboo-post on which an oil lamp glowed majestically, like a beacon on the high seas. 

That was the highest point in our village whose two parallel streets had claimed my entire childhood. Those were the days of wick-lights, green lanterns, yellow hurricane lamps. Our whole life revolved round the lamp post. 
Sambrail was a tiny un-electrified railway station in what is Pakistan now, known for its night bats, midnight fireflies and glowworms which came out only around dawn. I used to collect them during my school days and some scrapbooks which survived the Partition still bear testimony to my childhood pursuit. In dark monsoon nights, the oil lamp was particularly alluring. It would smoulder like a bride with the glow-emitting insects making up her entourage. 

A beggar-woman would sleep at the base of the post bundled in an ancient razai (quilt) into which would burrow in the occasional sparrow or the parrot. Children played merrily around. Like many other children, I tried and failed many times to dislodge the oil lamp from its perch because the bamboo pole was too high and my pebbles ill-aimed. 

The lamp post had been there for generations but no one could tell since when. When the spring breeze began to simper, the village belles would converge there and whirl around like a potter’s wheel. They danced until dark when their brothers come to take them home. The lamp post was, in a way, what Sambrail had been ~ straight and radiant. There were no five-year plans then and no one even knew what GDP or per capita income meant. 
The railway station was our link with the outside world. We were happy, even proud, when a train stopped at our village station, after crawling like an impertinent insect all the way from Wazirabad, a town founded by a wazir (courtier) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In those days, the trains ran so slowly that one could get out of the compartment, pluck flowers from fields through which the tracks passed and board once again without incident. Sometimes such we competed with each other to gather flowers. 

On the night of Lohri, we got lost in the hymns of Baba Farid sung at the foot of the lamp post. In spring, we placed tributes of yellow flowers there. Boys flew kites and girls tended the reels, and friendship blossomed, sometimes. 

Then one day, the impossible happened. The bamboo post was uprooted, the wick-lamp brought down from its perch and its oil poured down a nearby gutter. An iron pillar took its place. Before it flickered for the last time, the oil lamp struggled like a wounded bird. The moths and the fireflies coalesced in sorrow, butterflies hovered with drooping wings. The boys threw away their catapults and no girl danced at the post again. The beggar-woman picked up her razai and left to seek comfort someplace else. The hungry bitch who shared her warmth howled into the air. Even the gutter rats deserted the spluttering lamp. 

That was the day electricity came to our village.







Mr Ottavio Quattrocchi has been demonised because of his involvement in the Bofors deal. His invincibility displayed through his dealing with India’s successive governments is traced to his links with Mrs Sonia Gandhi. But could it be the other way around? Could Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s invincibility despite specific charges against her of holding foreign accounts be traced to Mr Quattrocchi? In other words, could Mr Quattrocchi be representing a powerful international corporate mafia or foreign Intelligence instead of being just a dubious individual player? Need one recall that Rajiv Gandhi and Olof Palme, who finalsed the Bofors deal, were assassinated? Mere coincidence? The Bofors saga has obscured the reach and extent of Mr Quattrocchi’s links to other activities. He seems to have represented a sinister nexus. Consider a few facts.

During the probe in the Jain Hawala case, the CBI interrogated the main accused, Mr SK Jain. In his recorded confession to the CBI, Mr Jain revealed that Mr Quattrocchi had introduced him to Rajiv Gandhi. Subsequently Rajiv Gandhi helped Jain obtain lucrative contracts for power projects. One of these was for the Uri project in Kashmir. That is why the Hawala money was paid to Kashmir terrorists. The release of a kidnapped foreign engineer working in Uri necessitated the payment. Jain also revealed that it was Mr Quattrocchi who introduced him to the Hawala kingpin, Ameer Bhai. Mr Quattrocchi and Mr Jain jointly decided how to utilise the money. Apart from Rs 2 crore paid to Lalit Suri for allegedly passing on to Rajiv Gandhi, the rest went to others spread across the Opposition including top BJP leaders. On 10 August, 1997 the CBI told a law court that Mr Quattrocchi had diverted $19 million to Jain. This was Mr Jain’s share of the kickback received from their joint operations in one contract. 

It transpires from Mr Jain’s confession and the CBI’s statements made in court that Mr Quattrocchi was not only through remote control seeking to influence opposition leaders, but he was also the mastermind having contacts with the Hawala network used for transferring illegal funds abroad. When Quattrocchi was charged in court during the time Sita Ram Kesari was the Congress president, Mr Advani while attending a wedding reception in Andhra said that Mr Quattrocchi was being “made a scapegoat”. It was an unexpected reaction from a leading Opposition stalwart! When Mr Quattrocchi sought permission to leave Malaysia where he was being restrained, a leading Indian newspaper editor travelled to that country to give Mr Quattrocchi a character certificate in court which helped him leave the country. 

Currently there is considerable controversy about Ms Niira Radia. On the basis of a letter alleging that she was a foreign spy, her phone was tapped over a two-year period. No such misfortune befell Mr Quattrocchi. Nobody ventured to suggest that for national security his activities and contacts needed to be monitored.  

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist








It must be a bizarre strategy for a political party to join an alliance only to weaken itself. It should thus be natural for the Congress to see the next assembly polls in West Bengal as an opportunity to rebuild the party in the state. Its alliance with the Trinamul Congress can make sense only if it helps the Congress achieve its own goal. Recent political trends suggest that an alliance between the two parties can end the long rule of the Left this time. But it will do the Congress no good if the party is reduced to the TMC’s tail. Unless the Congress leadership plays its cards carefully, the party’s state unit could face a real danger of complete marginalization. Exactly this happened to the Communist Party of India when it surrendered its self-esteem and chose to become an inconsequential ally of the CPI (Marxist). True, the TMC remains the largest opposition party in West Bengal. But it attained that status primarily at the cost of the Congress, which lost the will to fight and survive. Yet, not all is lost for the Congress in West Bengal. The results of last year’s municipal polls showed that while Mamata Banerjee’s party won Calcutta on its own, it still needed the Congress to defeat the CPI(M) in the rest of the state.


However, the larger issue goes beyond these results and the comparative strength of the Congress and the TMC. It is ultimately a question of a party’s principles and its commitment to its own future. It cannot be the strategy of any party to surrender its identity to pressures and compulsions of coalition politics. The Congress has tried to seek comfort and space in other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu by surrendering to regional parties. In all these states, the party has been paying a heavy price for not rebuilding itself. The last assembly polls in Bihar showed how self-destructive this strategy could be. The fault lies primarily with the Congress’s policy of concentrating all powers in the high command. This policy, dictated first by Indira Gandhi and followed by the party ever since, has been at the heart of the party’s decline in the states. It prompted party leaders in the states to dance to the tune of the leaders in New Delhi and ignore party-building at home. It is time the party turned this policy around and freed the state units to grow on their own. Rebuilding the party in the states will take time. But only this can save it from further decline.








Three years separate the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and that of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who was gunned down by his security guard in Lahore recently. Taseer is no comparison to Bhutto in political stature, but in many ways, his death could prove to be more of a turning point for Pakistan’s politics than Bhutto’s death. It might even be correct to see his death as evidence of Pakistan finally taking the turn it missed three years ago, when the possible defeat of Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship had blinded the nation to the roadblocks that decades of political play with religion had set up. If there were doubts whether it was religious extremism or political conspiracy that had claimed Bhutto, there are hardly any in the case of Taseer. The Punjab governor — part of Pakistan’s illustrious elite, some of whom, like Taseer, had managed to keep the flag of the country’s liberal, syncretic culture flying high — was felled by a religious fanatic who was merely following the established practice of valuing one’s religion more than official duty. Like him, many in Pakistan’s political and military establishments, and increasingly, in society, have prioritized their responsibilities. The evidence of this choice has been manifest in incessant terror attacks on civilians, military and specific religious communities. And the choice-making has been helped by the Pakistan State itself, over the years, through the shariatization of laws, education and politics, the promotion of the interests of particular communities at the cost of others and the sponsorship of jihad against neighbouring countries.


The Taseers, with their liberal views on religion and society, are literally being made into a dying breed in Pakistan. It is unfortunate that given its political compulsions, the minority government of the Pakistan People’s Party, to which Taseer belonged, will find itself in no position either to take up his tirade against the blasphemy laws or his pro-women reformist ideas. It may even be in a quandary to proceed against the assassin, who is already being projected as a hero. The looming economic crisis and political chaos may even obliterate the memory of Taseer’s crusade for basic freedoms altogether, thereby removing the last obstacles to the victory of the religious Right in Pakistan. When that happens, Pakistan will surely have taken a turn for the worst.









Much has been made of the fact that leaders of all the permanent five member countries of the United Nations security council have visited India in 2010 in quick succession. This degree of bilateral attention to India within a short span of time may be unprecedented, but its significance should not be overstated. India’s international stature has no doubt grown in recent years, largely on account of its economic performance. The P5 visits do show a desire to engage more with a rising India, but over-interpreting the happy coincidence of the clustering of these visits in a single year as a sudden collective surge on the part of the great powers to acknowledge India’s global importance should be avoided. Nor should the timing of these visits be seen as a direct product of India’s enterprising diplomacy. In 2011, any visit by a P5 head of State or government to India should be ruled out as it will be our prime minister’s turn to make return visits, not necessarily to all these countries as diplomatic calendars have their own dynamics. But then, would the absence of such visits in 2011 imply a sudden loss of India’s global status as well as its diplomatic prowess?


Barring China, all visiting leaders gave us satisfaction in varying degrees on some issues of importance to us. On terrorism and its linkages with Pakistan, the United States of America, France, the United Kingdom and Russia have been chary of specifically naming Pakistan as a source of terrorist threat to India. The tendency has been to project Pakistan as a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem, make believe that it is on the right side of the debate as a victim of terrorism and to keep official silence on its terrorist affiliations in the Indian context.


Prime Minister David Cameron breached this inhibition by pointing to Pakistan’s double face toward terrorism. President Barack Obama disappointed by confining himself to known US positions in referring to terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan and calling for those responsible for the Mumbai attack to be brought to justice. The bolder statements came from the French and Russian presidents, with the former stating incisively that no one has imposed on Pakistan the choice to be “either a victim or a crucible of terrorism” and calling for the “perpetrators, authors and accomplices” of Mumbai to be brought to justice. The Russians have been, until now, unwilling to publicly chide Pakistan for its terrorist links, possibly because they want to keep their lines with Pakistan open, avoid raising the Cold War era concerns that Russia was taking sides in South Asia, and refrain from causing anxiety to the US by targeting a country critical for US operations in Afghanistan. President Dmitry Medvedev went a step ahead of the French president in stating that those who harboured terrorists on their soil were as guilty of terrorism as those who perpetrated such acts. He too called on Pakistan to comprehensively deal with those involved in the Mumbai carnage. No wonder Pakistan has called the relevant part of the India-Russia joint statement “unwarranted and unacceptable”.


The new willingness to be less squeamish about Pakistan’s terrorism links helps to corner it and squeeze its ability to manoeuvre, though the hardened Pakistani leadership has weathered more frontal charges of duplicity by US political and media circles by hunting with the Pentagon hounds and running with the Taliban hares. Premier Wen Jiabao, who in Delhi avoided expressing sympathy for the Mumbai victims that all other leaders made a point to do, felt no qualms about comforting Pakistan in Islamabad by lauding its role in combating terrorism, demonstrating again the cynicism of China’s foreign policy.


India’s candidature for permanent membership of the security council got a boost from these visits, the exception once again being China. President Obama’s endorsement, however weakly formulated and indeterminate in terms of time, was, in a sense, most significant as without US lead no reform of the security council can occur. France, which has been in the forefront of supporting India’s candidature, went further than ever when President Nicolas Sarkozy envisaged India’s membership in 2011 itself. Cameron too has backed India’s case unreservedly. Russia, the first P5 country to extend support, has been qualifying its endorsement, but President Medvedev made amends during his visit. Premier Wen resorted to the usual patronizing Chinese equivocation on the subject. All this support will remain at the rhetorical level for the time being, but India is right to press its candidature despite uncertainties ahead. In terms of its demographic and economic size, its human capital, its contribution to world civilization, its stakes in virtually all the challenges facing the international community, not to mention its stature in Asia vis-à-vis China, India must be represented in the one body, however imperfect, which has the mandate to ensure global peace and security.


President Obama took the lead in Delhi in endorsing India’s eventual membership of various non-proliferation and technology denial regimes such as the nuclear suppliers group, the missile technology control regime, Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement, as part of the welcome process to remove the anomalies that trouble India’s relations with restrictive cartels. Of this, the NSG is the most important as it governs global trade in nuclear materials. With the envisaged expansion of India’s nuclear power programme with foreign participation, it should be inside this group and participate in decision-making rather than merely comply with whatever is decided without its say. France and Russia too have extended support, and the UK can be counted upon to do so. Premier Wen, again, was silent on this subject, demonstrating China’s unwillingness to back a higher role for India in international power-broking.


On the civil nuclear liability issue, all three prospective participants in India’s nuclear power programme — the US, France and Russia — find their plans jeopardized because our legislation does not altogether exclude supplier liability in case of an accident. The US companies are most vocal in their opposition; President Sarkozy expressed reservations publicly and so did President Medvedev. All want the rules and regulations to be drafted under the legislation to define and limit supplier liability in amount and time as a viamedia. As a result, neither the French nor the Russians could sign, as they had initially hoped, commercial nuclear agreements during the presidential visits. The problem is legally complex and a neat solution may not be easily achievable.


The Chinese premier did nothing during his visit to allay the core of India’s concerns about China’s attitude and policies toward it. On the issue of stapled visas, the implied questioning of India’s sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir and China’s growing presence in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, he came with no answers. Worse, on the boundary issue he conveyed the tough message that no complete resolution is possible in the foreseeable future, implicitly rendering hollow the mandate of the special representatives. China intends to maintain pressure on India as part of its larger strategy to increasingly penetrate the latter’s strategic neighbourhood to its disadvantage.


As India rises, the dynamic will be to build on the convergences with the US, France, the UK and Russia, and reduce divergences with China. As the totality of the P5 visits to India in 2010 show, the outlook on the first is positive, that on the second much less so.


The author is former foreign secretary of India








It could well have been a traffic accident. When a former village mayor came under the wheels of a truck on Xmas morning, everyone concluded it was murder because he had been arrested thrice for petitioning the authorities on behalf of the villagers. But investigations by independent fact-finding teams have discounted this probability.


Qian Yunhui had helped fellow villagers fight for enhanced compensation for their land taken over by a power company in 2004. In 2005, he was elected director of the village representatives’ committee to enable him to continue the fight, with villagers pooling in money to finance his travels to petition the authorities. Though the years of struggle had worn down many of his supporters, and the power-plant had already started functioning, he continued to be respected for his commitment. His home was sparsely furnished, while the previous director used to drive a BMW and his wife a Mercedes-Benz. Understandably, Qian’s family didn’t care much for his commitment.


The timing of his death was significant: just three months before the next mayoral election, for which Qian was a favourite candidate. The truck belonged to a company to which the government had given even more land to build a ‘development zone’; the villagers, instigated by Qian, had prevented company workers from carrying out construction three times in December.


Qian’s death sparked off attacks on the police. But the police neither lathi-charged nor fired on the violent villagers; they just arrested six of them. Imagine that happening in India! The internet furore caused by his death, specially the reported statement of an eye-witness that the director had been held down by four security guards who then called the truck over, resulted in reporters from all over descending on the village. A ‘civilian’ team, comprising journalists, lawyers and scholars, also investigated the incident. No one stopped them from meeting the villagers, the two truck drivers, the security guards accompanying the truck or the ‘eye-witness’; the police, too, answered all their questions. The eye-witness retracted his statement, and a lie-detector test found his retraction to be true.


True picture


While these teams were in the village, another ‘eye-witness’ surfaced, who claimed having seen three men with surgical masks hold the director down. But within a day, she retracted, and said she’d been promised money to make such claims. Her husband revealed that she was mentally unstable.


So strong was the belief that this was a murder that some netizens alleged that the fact-finding teams had been paid fantastic sums to support the police version. But this charge is being seen as untenable, given the reputation of the individuals involved. However, the incident has highlighted the zero credibility of the administration. As the famous blogger, Han Han, wrote, “the government ought to reflect on why so many people don’t believe them, why people think that the government is capable of murdering a persistent petitioner, why trustworthy people are considered evil doers if they agree with the government findings.... No matter whether this was a murder or a traffic accident, Director Qian can go in peace because this incident has let the world know about the injustice done to the villagers....”


The issue of compensation for village land is as sensitive here as it is in India, with both governments seen as far too helpful to corporates. In this case, the power plant went ahead despite not getting State approval. However, while both governments do not consult villagers whose land is to be acquired, in China, protests are allowed, and often, compensation is enhanced, though the decision to scrap the project has rarely been taken. In India, adivasis have lost their lives opposing land acquisition.







A few months ago, addressing the joint Houses of Parliament, President Barack Obama stated, “For Asia, and around the world, India is not simply emerging; India has emerged”. In a small way, this made the Indian people hold their head high. Yet, in a span of weeks, so buffeted has India been by a torrent of scandals and indifferent leadership that public confidence and morale are being undermined. Many wonder why suddenly a shining India has turned into a whining India. Sceptics could well say that Incredible India was always an Incredibly Corrupt India.

Nations are not just geographical entities, but are also made up of diverse people and institutions. Among the established institutions of a mature democracy are the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, the pillars of democracy, each working in its respective domain. The fourth estate keeps a watchful eye on the integrity of these institutions on behalf of the people to keep the ship of a democratic nation on an even keel.


With all the above institutions in place, it is difficult to comprehend how a sudden storm has so battered the ship of State. Worse still, while all hands do appear on deck (save one minister), there is silence from the quarterdeck — making one wonder if the captain is indeed in command. It is easy to start damning individuals and to pretend that once they are shamed all will be well. Yet, it is crucial to look back objectively at the institutional pillars of Indian democracy to understand the roots of this unfolding tragedy.


Parliament is the most revered of democratic institutions, representing the voice of the people. In times of crisis, the nation should be able to draw hope, direction and confidence from the Parliament. Instead, Indians find their Parliament paralysed. Whether or not the demand for a joint parliamentary committee is legitimate, once the majority of legislators deemed it fit, the spirit of democracy should have prevailed. That the ruling coalition remained adamant speaks poorly of the confidence of the executive. In the bargain, both the Opposition and the ruling parties showed total disregard for the legislature and belittled the people.


Perceptive watchers of national polity are not surprised as something like this has been in the making for decades, resulting in structural weaknesses that now run deep. For one, coalition governments are not being formed on common principles and programmes, but on pure political and personal expediency. Members of legislative assemblies and members of parliament change allegiance not on matters of ideology or principle. Horse-trading and market prices are no more matters of conjecture. Leaders are no longer democratically elected but appointed, thus diluting their moral authority, and democracy survives more in name than in spirit.


Before it is too late, India must resolve to implement comprehensive and long-debated electoral reforms, or else there is a grave danger that the legislatures will grind to a halt, much as it happened during the winter session of the Parliament. If this one lesson dawns across the political divide, it can be a one silver lining to this sordid drama. For the present, this is a forlorn hope.


Clearly, the shenanigans of the executive sowed the seeds of the present telecom scandal. That one single minister in a cabinet could cause the national exchequer a presumptive loss of some Rs 1.76 lakh crore, as reported by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, defying the advice of the prime minister and under the benign eye of the Central Bureau of Investigation, shows the fragility of the executive. In the process, not only has the office of the prime minister been devalued, but, if tapped phone conversations are to be believed, the prerogative of cabinet formation has also been snatched away from the prime minister. Surely, this cannot be the doing of just one man, however powerful a coalition ally he may be, or one lobbyist, however resourceful she may be? What happened to all the checks and balances? For such a brazen scandal to take place, there must be a well-oiled machinery spread over various government ministries, departments and agencies, which, either through omission or commission, let this historical abuse of institutions of governance take place.


The Adarsh housing scam shows that India has graduated from the traditional neta-babu nexus to one of co-opting the uniformed fraternity as well. Once corrosion begins to touch the institution of the armed forces, external forces will find it easy to subvert Indian democracy from deep within. Over years of worsening security challenges, India has steadfastly chosen to keep the armed forces out of security policy-making. The bureaucracy virtually rules over the military with no accountability, and successive governments have failed to heed calls for reorganization of the higher defence establishment. For long, there has been patronage and interference in some senior appointments, laying the foundations for the emerging neta-babu-military nexus.


In this season of scandals, two other vital institutions of the executive need brief mention — the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission. Both should have been the iron fences protecting institutions of the State from degenerating into pool tables in a casino. Both are mired in their own controversies and were subjected to some plain speaking by the highest court of the land. By brazenly acting as the handmaiden of successive governments, the CBI commands no confidence with the public. The CVC’s predicament today is that of the executive’s making.


In the midst of this gloom, there is a ray of hope in the judicial system. The apex court is monitoring investigations into the telecom scandal and the appointment of the CVC. But with every institution within the system neck deep in turmoil, it would be naïve to believe that some of it has not rubbed off on the judiciary. A Calcutta High Court judge faces impeachment. Beyond his telecom fiefdom, the ex-minister has succeeded in embroiling the ex-Chief Justice of India and an ex-chief justice of the Madras High Court in an internal judicial spat, and in a recent order, a bench of justices of the Supreme Court made an observation to the effect that “something is rotten” in the Allahabad High Court.


Finally, the fourth estate has also been showing signs of wear and tear. First, there was the disclosure of paid journalism and an effort by the press council to take stock. The tapped conversations, however, reveal that some of the icons of India’s free media are acting as middlemen and fixers on the side. The incestuous relationships among lobbyists, corporates, journalists, bureaucrats and politicians is perhaps the most damaging revelation of this entire affair and shows India to be a crony-democracy rather than a people’s one.


Mercifully, the only silver lining in this gloom came from the people of Bihar when, for the first time, their vote spoke for good governance and development. Nitish Kumar is back at work already, having confiscated the property of a bureaucrat convicted of corruption, with his cabinet deciding to discontinue the practice of the MLA development scheme, which is a breeder of corruption. If Bihar can become the template for the future of Indian democracy, amidst the present darkness there is a strong ray of hope.


The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force








It is liberalization that has brought about the current inflation

The inflation imbroglio in India is rapidly getting out of hand. What is the cause of inflation and what is its remedy? Let us take the example of potatoes. Potato prices in the market have been Rs 40 per kilogram. But farmers get Rs 1.50 to Rs 3.50 per kg. Where does the remainder go?


A structural change in India’s economy can be one of the causes behind this huge gap. Take the case of manufactured food products. The unit price per ounce of a manufactured food product is 20 to 50 times higher than that of the raw material from which it is made.


Take potato chips. A kilogram of potato chips will cost you at least Rs 300 per kg at the American Dry Fruit Stores at Flora Fountain in Mumbai. If you buy it in the small packages that Frito-Lay sells in India, it will cost you almost Rs 600 per kg. What you pay for, then, is a fancy piece of packaging with a brand name and the air in the bag. The quantity of potatoes is minuscule. The nutrition value is non- existent.


We are so proud of our rural distribution system that we take pride in the fact that the humblest village retailer has several flavours of assorted potato chips, which the farmer’s children can buy at his shop. But we have forgotten that perhaps the same farmer grew the potatoes and could sell them to middlemen only at Rs 3.50 per kg. So where has the balance of Rs 596.50 per kg gone? Between the farmer and the buyer of potato chips, a number of manufacturers have added on costs and dubious middlemen have taken their cuts.


This, of course, reflects the reality of liberalization. Indian consumers have never had it so good. They have been seduced into paying several times more for a manufactured food product that will be of immense food value to them. Or so they believe.


There is another dynamic process going on here. As the number of middle-class consumers rise, demanding greater quantities of manufactured products, the relative amount available per person for those who simply want the basic items declines sharply. As the number of food processing companies in India rise, they purchase increasing amounts of raw materials for their packaged items.


If this growth in demand were accompanied by a corresponding growth in supply, as happened during the late 1960s and 1970s, all would have been well. But ever since the supply of agricultural raw materials has come to a shuddering halt, because of severe stagnation in India’s agricultural production, the amounts available for the common man are declining steadily on a year-to-year basis and prices are skyrocketing.


This is the contemporary Indian tragedy. The growth in demand has simply outstripped the growth in supply. As a result of basic food items being purchased at high prices, the greater portions of the incomes of average Indians are spent on buying day-to-day necessities. There is little left for spending on developmental activities like education. This situation has the potential to exacerbate the already severe inequalities in the Indian economy.


What should the government do here? The sale of certain important items, including grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, fish, meat and other sources of protein, at fixed prices through the public distribution system is a must.


The supply management process also involves the monitoring of production, of supplies at mandis, enforcement of price codes and so on. India’s free-market traders have never been oriented towards the common man’s welfare. The so-called growth story driven by liberalization is a pipe dream. It has been a liberalization of profiteering. Control profiteering and manage supply, and the inflationary dragon will be slain, and the welfare of the common man ensured.




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





The ghost of Bofors is back again to haunt the Congress. And this time, it is official. An income tax tribunal has ruled that kickbacks of Rs 41 crore were indeed paid to the late Win Chadha and Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Howitzer gun deal and that they are liable to pay tax in India on such income. The IT order says that Bofors paid a ‘fee’ to Quattrocchi and Chadha to secure the contract, although such ‘fees’ were explicitly prohibited under a clause in the contract and that the amount was transferred by the beneficiaries from one account to another to obliterate the money trail to avoid detection. 

The IT ruling nailing Chadha and Quattrocchi couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Congress. It is under siege in connection with an assortment of giant corruption scandals. Even as it struggles to save itself from a deluge of scams from the recent past, it has been hit by a 23-year-old tidal wave — the Bofors scandal. Quattrocchi’s proximity to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is well known and the IT tribunal’s order confirms the Bofors kickback trail to Quattrocchi.

The IT tribunal order is an indictment of Chadha and Quattrocchi. This calls for an explanation from the CBI. It had allowed Quattrocchi to quietly empty his bank accounts in London where some of the payoffs had been stashed. It subsequently sought a closure of the case against him claiming it had no evidence. It then removed his name from the look-out notices issued by Interpol. And prime minister Manmohan Singh endorsed the CBI’s actions, saying it was ‘not good’ to ‘harass’ a person when the “world says we have no case.” The government did have a case. It chose to squash it.

Despite the concerted attempts over two decades by successive governments, whether led by the Congress or BJP, to allow the beneficiaries of the Bofors deal to get off the hook, and even to bury the case, the scandal has resurfaced time and again to haunt the Congress. Putting a lid on the case will not make the crime go away. It is time the guilty are punished. The case must be reopened. The BJP, for its own reasons, must not stop at just embarrassing the Congress and take the issue off its agenda again. Concerted civil society pressure must force the government to reopen the case now.








A spat between India and Iran over payment for oil could prove extremely costly for India. Last week, the RBI barred companies from using the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) to pay for oil and gas imports. This hit India’s import of oil from Iran. Indian oil companies then requested Iran to nominate a European bank through which they could channel payment.

However, the National Iranian Oil Company is reported to have refused payment outside the ACU. India purchases about 4,00,000 barrels per day of Iranian crude. This is roughly 13 per cent of the crude it imports. If it cannot pay for the Iranian crude, it will have to quickly find an alternative, which is unlikely to come cheap. Iran too is unlikely to go unscathed. India is a major customer of its crude.

The long hand of the US in the spiralling crisis is evident. Doing business through ACU had enabled India to bypass western sanctions on Iran. The mechanism was working well. But since the US was unable to monitor transactions via ACU it was pressuring India to stop using this route. The result was the RBI directive. MEA officials are seeking to distance themselves from the RBI’s decision by pointing to the fact that it is an autonomous institution. However, their efforts are not convincing. India is repeatedly toeing the American line when it comes to Iran and the ban on using ACU for transactions is simply the latest example of Delhi succumbing to US pressure.

Talks are on to break the deadlock. Officials have said that it is likely that the Iranians will agree to Indian companies paying in UAE dirhams. This might get India out of the mess for now. However, its impact on India-Iran relations, already on the downslide, is unlikely to go away. Some have said that the cost of deteriorating ties with Iran is not much to India. After all, its oil imports from the UAE and the Saudis are growing. However, this is a narrow argument. India’s ties with Iran go beyond the crude connection. It is an ally of India in Afghanistan. It provides India with a land route to Afghanistan and Central Asia. 

Losing the support of a long-standing friend for the sake of a new and shaky dalliance with the US is not in India’s interest.







The regional security in South Asia is marred by Afghanistan’s endless civil war, despite the induction of additional Nato troops.


From the point of view of international peace and stability, 2010 ended on a positive note with the ratification by the US Senate of the new Start treaty that will further reduce deployed strategic nuclear weapons of Russia and the US to 1,550 in seven years.

Though the year gone by has been relatively peaceful in South Asia — with the exception of the conflict in Afghanistan, the unstable regional security environment, India’s unresolved territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan and continuing internal security challenges are a cause for concern.  After West Asia, this region is perhaps the most trouble prone in the world.

With a history of four conflicts in 60 years and three nuclear-armed adversaries continuing to face off, South Asia has been described as a nuclear flashpoint. Hence, in view of the ongoing conflicts and the possibility of new conflagrations, 2011 is likely to be a turbulent year.

The regional security environment in South Asia continues to be marred by Afghanistan’s endless civil war despite the induction of additional troops in 2010 by the US-led Nato-Isaf coalition forces. The situation can be characterised as a strategic stalemate. 

This will continue with the Taliban and the Nato forces alternately gaining local ascendancy for short durations in the core provinces of Helmand, Marja and Kandahar.

The Afghan National Army is still many years away from achieving the professional standards necessary to manage security on its own. It will, therefore, be difficult for the US to begin its planned drawdown of troops in July 2011.

Pakistan’s halfhearted struggle against the remnants of the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, fissiparous tendencies in Baluchistan and the Pushtun heartland, continuing radical extremism and creeping Talibanisation, the unstable civilian government, the floundering economy and, consequently, the nation’s gradual slide towards becoming a ‘failed state,’ pose a major security challenge for the region.

Unless the Pakistan army gives up its idiosyncratic notions of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan and fuelling terrorism in India and concentrates instead on fighting all varieties of Taliban that are threatening the cohesion of the state, the instability in  Pakistan will continue.

The military stand-off along the 38th Parallel in Korea has further exacerbated the already unstable situation in East Asia caused by increasing Chinese assertiveness that is completely out of character with its stated objective of a peaceful rise. Though the international community may be able to ensure that a major conflict does not erupt again between the two Koreas, the sub-region will remain volatile unless the Chinese use their influence with North Korea to persuade it to back off from the path of confrontation.

Turmoil in West Asia will continue through 2011 as Israel stubbornly refuses to halt the construction of new settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinian militias are getting increasingly restive. The collusive nuclear weapons-cum-missile development programme of China, North Korea and Pakistan and Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons are issues of concern.


Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the vaguely stated threats of several of its neighbours to follow suit are a major cause of potential instability in the region. Saudi Arabia, in particular, may fund Pakistan’s nuclear expansion programme as a hedging strategy against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. Such a course of action would be a disastrous blow to international non-proliferation efforts.

Sri Lanka’s inability to find a lasting solution to its ethnic problems despite the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) has serious repercussions for stability in the island nation. Bangladesh is emerging as the new hub of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism even as it struggles for economic upliftment of its people.

It can be deduced from recent arrests in the UK and elsewhere that international fundamentalist terrorists may succeed in launching another spectacular strike in the West. A successful strike would resurrect the al-Qaeda and enable it to rally its wavering cadres.

Simmering discontentment in Tibet and Xinjiang against China’s repressive regime is gathering momentum and could result in an open revolt. The peoples’ nascent movement for democracy in Myanmar and several long festering insurgencies may destabilise the military Junta despite its post-election confidence. The movement for democracy could turn violent if the ruling Junta continues to deny its citizens basic human rights.

The spillover of religious extremism and terrorism from Afghanistan is undermining development and governance. Other vitiating factors impacting regional stability in South Asia include the unchecked proliferation of small arms, being nurtured and encouraged by large-scale narcotics trafficking and its nexus with radical extremism.

India’s standing as a regional power that has global power ambitions and aspires to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council has been seriously compromised by its inability to successfully manage ongoing conflicts in its neighbourhood, singly or in concert with its strategic partners.

These conflicts are undermining South Asia’s efforts towards socio-economic development and poverty alleviation by hampering governance and vitiating the investment climate. It appears inevitable that in 2011 the South Asian region and its extended neighbourhood will see a continuation of ongoing conflicts without major let up. In fact, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan could deteriorate beyond the ability of the international community to control.

(The writer is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)








The attack on WikiLeaks shows what officialdom does when it is challenged.


Why has the corporate media been so keen to fuel a smear campaign against Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks? He has been described as slippery, slimy, bizarre and irresponsible and has been accused of endangering lives and as being a self seeking publicist void of morals.

The media has also made the most of the rape accusation, which emerged at a very convenient moment. Assange has had to endure a series of attacks on his personality and demeanour. Shock-horror — he is even castigated for wearing pointy boots and not having a house and owning few possessions. This smear campaign was as unsubtle as it was predictable.

Now, you could understand the US indulging in such tacky tactics given that WikiLeaks exposes its hypocrisy and wrongdoings, but why were so many journalists and media commentators willing to contribute this type of smear campaign?

More ‘serious’ journalists have been a little more subtle when attacking Assange. They have criticised him for his apparent lack of ‘ethical judgement’ and for supposedly being unaccountable to anyone. Where is his objectivity, they have often asked. Of course, these journalists very often privilege their own positions under the guise that they adhere to rigid professional standards, are accountable and employ high levels of objectivity in their work. Under this smokescreen of respectability, they claim to be ‘responsible’ men and women to be revered by the public. But just what does this mean in reality?


To whom are journalists accountable and just who shapes their ethical standards? To find the answer to this, we need look no further than the owners, advertisers, contacts in officialdom, lobbyists who shape agendas and a range of other influences that affect the production and reporting of news. News is the end-product of selective filtering by or on behalf of media owners and by managers and employed commentators of the corporate media.

Corporate sponsored think tanks and scientists, advertisers, government spokespersons and PR machines also feed into the process. The outcome effectively keeps public discussion within a narrow range of officially sanctioned discourse, which ultimately provides support for certain state-corporate decisions and policies.

This is the respectability that journalists talk of. This is the basis of their spurious objectivity. This is the wobbly foundation of their professional neutrality and impartiality. This is the myth of their unbiased integrity.

As if to emphasise the point, WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson recently brought attention to the media being much too close to the military industry and of being out of touch with the public mood. Recent events in India involving the blurring of the boundaries between journalism, politicians and corporate houses indicates the problem goes far beyond links with the military industry alone.

In the past, any criticism of journalists was at times restricted to a few lines on the letter’s page in a newspaper. The internet has changed that. There very often seems to be a gulf between professional journalists and readers, especially when the comments sections beneath articles on newspaper websites are looked at. WikiLeaks has served to widen the gulf further.

For ordinary people, WikiLeaks allows them to read a news story then click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself if the story is true. Professional journalism can thus be held to account. And that is no bad thing.

In a wider sense, WikiLeaks and the internet allow ordinary people to see how democracy really functions. In turn, much of the reaction to WikiLeaks exposes how the powerful react when their position or actions are questioned or highlighted. Look no further than the political pressure that has been exerted on supposedly independent organisations to close off WikiLeaks’ financial support and its ability to operate. Assange has not been convicted of any crime, but these actions against him show what officialdom does when it is challenged.

The mainstream corporate media has largely failed the public and has been doing so for decades. For instance, decisions are made behind closed doors by unaccountable individuals in big business in conjunction with top politicians and unelected bureaucrats.

Close links between these groups ensure unity of interest and action. Parliaments are merely the final process where decisions become rubber stamped.

We need bodies like WikiLeaks. Assange and his organisation have revealed uncomfortable truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars and the nature of politics and corporate interests.

If you were to just read or watch the mainstream corporate media all the time, you would have quite limited insight into how democracy and its governments really function beyond the veneer of official ideology and parliamentary processes. That’s a massive failing of mainstream journalism.







The sms was sent to a few ‘bakras’ and they started calling one by one.


“Call me when u r free, ok... I heard something about u, bye.”  This was the sms which I received from my friend. I wondered what it might be. Then, I thought if there was something like that he would have immediately called me instead of sending such an sms. Moreover, we had just spoken and he had not mentioned anything about it.  Then I scrolled down the message and saw the real element of this message which read, “shocked? Frwrd n c how many bakras u make who dnt read the sms fully.”

I thought I will forward this to some of the prospective bakras. I send it to a few of them early in the morning. Immediately the bakras starting responding. First one was our officer who saw it as soon as she returned from her morning walk. She asked me in a soft worried tone. I asked her to read the message fully. She called me back and I could imagine a relieved broad smile on her face when she spoke “Yenri nanage bellige bellige bakra madi hedarasi bitri.”

The phone rang again and this time it was my ex-colleague. He was not very comfortable in his new place of posting. He was also curious to know what people were saying about him after he left his earlier place of work. When he read the complete sms he too called back, laughed at the sms and we had a long chat which brightened both of our moods. I was happy to hear him after a long time. The third call was again from another ex-colleague who was not happy knowing that he was made a bakra and he must have thought that this lady has no better things to do early in the morning.

The next call was from another of my best friend. She is a lady with lot of patience. I had sent the message at 6.30 am but she responded only at 8 am after her daughter left for school. She slowly asked me what it was. When she read the message again she too was relieved. It seems that she was putting a lot of weight and there were rumours that she was pregnant. She was shocked when she thought that these rumours have reached my place and she was eager to clarify it. Here, too we had a nice chat discussing about everything on the earth including our kids who are of the same age.

Inspite of the continuous disturbance with each incoming call amidst the early morning busy schedule of preparing breakfast, sending my son to school and getting ready to go to office, I enjoyed the conversation with all these people who made my day. Sometimes we need to come out of our routine business and do something different. Next time, I am thinking of editing the sms to make it more mischievous.







Is it a crime to take photographs of the President of India? Why were three photo journalists summoned by the police on Wednesday for taking pictures of President Pratibha Patil holidaying on Benaulim beach? The photographs, taken on Tuesday afternoon, show Ms Patil sitting on a chair at the beach wearing a sari. They were published in a number of local newspapers in Goa on Wednesday. 

The very same day, photographers Ganadeep Sheldenkar, Soiru Komarpant and Arvind Tengse were summoned by the Margao police, who recorded their statements on how and why they clicked these photographs. As it turned out, the pictures were taken from a considerable distance, using a powerful zoom lens. 

Was any crime committed? If so, under which section of what law? If not, what was the reason behind summoning the photographers and recording their statements? 

Police have been quoted as saying that the President’s security officer told them that this was a ‘private’ visit and that no photographers would be ‘allowed’ to take pictures. Police say that accordingly, they instructed the lensmen to stay away from the President. 

India is a country ruled by law. If photographers are to be forbidden from taking photographs of the President, it can only be by force of law. It cannot be because the President’s security officer feels in his personal ‘wisdom’ that taking pictures of the President on a private holiday is inappropriate. 

Sources within the presidential entourage say officials were ‘embarrassed’ by the sight of a white couple in scanty beach wear near the President, and that the photos were ‘not in good taste’. But then, there were a large number of Indian tourists wearing modest clothing in the photos too. 

Basically, it seems to be a story that is purely for public consumption. What is more likely to have upset the President’s security detail is the fact that the pictures show an obvious and embarrassing lack of security personnel around the President, and many tourists in unduly close proximity to her. Are Goa’s photographers being unnecessarily penalised for lapses by the President’s security apparatus? 

In any case, where do these gentlemen get the idea that photographs of the President are ‘not allowed’? It is perfectly possible – maybe even understandable – that the President ‘did not like’ the way the photos appeared. But then, being a President is not the same as being a monarch or dictator that rules by whim. 

India is a democracy. Here, people have rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, which can be restricted or curtailed only by force of law. This includes photographers, in case all the President’s men are unaware of this. Unless the police can quote which section of what law the photographers broke in taking photographs of the President, they have grossly violated their fundamental constitutional right of freedom of expression.






The dust on the ‘police-drug peddler nexus’ is yet to completely die down. Yet, a local channel has telecast latest footage of what it says is former Anti Narcotics Cell (ANC) Police Sub-Inspector Sunil Guddlar convincing two girls, both foreigners, to purchase ‘charas’, and allegedly selling drugs to them. 
This PSI is the one who ‘cracked’ the previous police-peddler nexus case. PSI Guddlar was not only instrumental in arresting drug dealer David Driham alias Dudu with a cocktail of drugs, but he also nabbed PI Ashish Shirodkar after he was named by Yaniv Benaim alias Atala as his supplier of drugs. 
That is what makes this sting operation all the more important. Swift investigation and stiff action are called for.








On 6 January, Catholic communities all over the world celebrate the feast of Epiphany; in commemoration of the successful journey of the Three Wise Men (Magi) from the East, who, under the guidance of a strange star, visited Baby Jesus in a cattle-shed in Bethlehem. According to the Bible, it is the occasion when God revealed himself in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ to the world, through the three wise men, who reached the Infant Jesus with the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – symbolising Kingship, God-head and suffering of Jesus respectively (Gospel of Mathew, Chapter 2). The feast of Epiphany marks the end of twelve days Christmas celebrations around the globe. 

In Goa, Epiphany is celebrated as the ‘Feast of Three Kings’ at Reis Magos-Verem in Bardez, at Chandor in Salcete and at Cuelim-Cansaulim in Mormugao. The feast is celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm at all these places. But as far as traditions, rituals, colour and glamour are concerned, the one at the mount of Cuelim exceeds them all. It is here that history and tradition consolidate and create a spectacle to behold.
It is a time of the year when mount Cuelim, that high point of folk destination, plays host to the local denizens and others, as the pretty Chapel on the Mount celebrates its annual feast. For the Catholics as well as people from various other faiths, it is a time to renew acquaintances with the Lady, who guards their little village. It was between the end of 16th and beginning of 17th century that the Franciscan Friars built a small oratory on top of the hill and dedicated it to Nossa Senhora dos Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies).
Traditions die hard in Goa. In pre-Portuguese era, Goa being an agricultural land, had an intricate and elaborate well-knit system of collective living known as ‘gaokarias’ (associations of residents of an area). A member of a ‘gaokaria’ was known as ‘gaokar’ and according to his profession, occupied a place in the hierarchy of the village affairs. Every village had a number of ‘vangodds’ (unions) where ‘gaokars’ were classified as per their profession.

The ‘gaokars’ were the owners of orchard lands and paddy fields, not individually, but as collective dominion. The ‘gaokar’ had several duties to perform in the village hierarchy and in turn, was entitled to a free barber, free lighting of the way, if lost in the night, etc. The Portuguese tried to bring a lot of pressure to do away with these institutions, but were never successful.

As per traditions, Cansaulim, Arossim and Cuelim were agriculture based communities, who lived in peace and harmony due to slow manual labour, few needs and wants, and due to the effective functioning of the hierarchy of ‘vangodds’ of the ‘gaokarias’. For example, at Arossim, the life centered around the ‘Templo de Aros’ (Temple of Rice) before the 16th century. It was only in the 17th century that the Chapel of St Lawrence came into existence. The Catholic Church being the only known religious body in the 16th century, was located at Cansaulim and was known as ‘paroquia de Sao Tome’ (Parish of St. Thomas), but for administrative and spiritual needs, comprised of Cansaulim, Arossim and Cuelim.

The ‘gaokars’ of these villages were very active in those days and in recognition of their devotion to the Church, were allowed to offer their gifts to Infant Jesus on the occasion of Epiphany, but with a certain peculiarity – it was not the adults, but male children aged between seven and ten years; son or a grandson of a ‘gaokar’, who had received the ‘Holy Communion’.

Every year, the ‘gaokars’ choose one ‘vangodd’ in each of the three villages to offer gifts to Infant Jesus at the Chapel of Our Lady of Remedies on the mount of Cuelim. And as January 6 is considered the day when the three Kings (Magi) guided by the star, walked to the manger where Jesus was born and offered their gifts, three young ‘gaokars’ of Cansaulim, Arossim and Cuelim in a romantic mood, take the chivalrous steps of climbing the hill, to offer their gifts like little kings. They are dressed accordingly with a crown adorned with gold trappings, gold bordered red coloured vest to cover the upper part of their body, and a wig of long hair. They climb the hill on horse back by a band of musicians and flag bearers. (to intimidate evil spirits).
There are three separate pathways to reach the base of the hill, one for Cansaulim, one for Arossim and one for Cuelim and once they are there, the three young kings climb together to reach the chapel on the mount, in time for the concelebrated High Mass, at 1030am. There is nearly a stampede when the little Kings reach the top of the hill, with people kissing the Kings, their costumes, etc. Such is the faith of the people.

Soon after reaching the Chapel, each of the Kings places his crown at the altar. The crown of the Cuelim King is placed at the centre and that of Cansaulim and Arossim are placed on the right and left sides of Cuelim, respectively. During the High Mass, the boys are specially blessed by the Priest.

After the solemn mass, the three Kings, their relatives and friends descend the hill and assemble at the Church of St. Thomas in Cansaulim. Later, each King is escorted back to his respective village by his relatives and fellow villagers, and after a thanksgiving litany at his house, the people are treated to a banquet. There is music, with a brass band in attendance, to make the celebrations complete.

From a small chapel feast, the occasion has grown into Goa’s widely attended celebration and a fair with social flavour, which cuts across religious boundaries. The stalls sell traditional Goan sweet meats of varied tastes, including the famous ‘kadyobodyo’ made of ginger, jaggery and a fair sprinkling of ‘til’ and coconut toffees, with little boys and girls tugging at your sleeves pleading to buy their candles and flower garlands. Since the last few years, it has changed in different ways at the organisational as well as, social level. The crowds are also different. Earlier, people from Cansaulim-Arossim-Cuelim and nearby areas formed a large part of the crowds thronging the fair at the Cuelim Chapel feast. However, nowadays, more cosmopolitan and more boisterous young people are present.

The aspirations of the crowds that throng the chapel have also changed over the years. The offerings of wax offered by thousands of pilgrims, once used to include limbs and other parts of the body, a symbol for better health, have also changed. Pilgrims who wished for better health in their prayers to the Virgin, now increasingly ask for more worldly goods like houses, cars, motorcycles and even happy marriages. These are reflected in the stalls which sell these wax offerings. Wax houses, cars and even a male and female couple signifying a happy marriage, now form a prominent share of the sale to pilgrims.

This ten-day festive occasion at the mount of Cuelim has a tremendous potential for tourism, being the high point of folk destination with the panoramic view from the hill, amid the blue waters of the Arabian Sea and the long line of beaches. All that the Tourism department could do is to develop this place by setting up certain infrastructure like adequate parking space for vehicles, electrification of the area and water supply system to start with, for the convenience of the regular pilgrims and tourists alike.


Cuelim needs to be promoted in a big way.







Exercise is the fountain of youth! Wake up your life by walking. It is a stress-free way to look better, and feel better. Studies in physiology show that exercise by the middle-aged and elderly, can turn back the clock 10 to 25 years.

You do not have to go a long way to find something, as good as exercise, as a fountain of youth. And you do not have to run marathons, to reap the benefits. Little more than rapid walking for thirty minutes at a time, three or four times a week, can provide ten years of rejuvenation.

You have to exercise regularly. It takes many weeks, even months, to reach peak conditioning. Try to maintain an exercise schedule.

Warm up first. The older you are, the more important it is, to prepare the body for exercise. A proper warm-up protects the heart, muscles and joints from injury.

Cool down afterwards. Never stop vigorous exercise abruptly. Joy walk for a while.

Stepping out a day, can melt the pounds away and shed stressful worry. It certainly reduces stress. Active people know from experience, that after exercise, you feel less anxious and think more clearly.

Why this occurs is not completely understood, but walking is, after all, an action that uses almost all of the body’s bones and major muscles.

What makes a good walk? First and foremost, a good walk should be a pleasant sensory experience, be it in the countryside, a beach, or a jogging park, on the clear early morning roads, or anywhere you are comfortable. 

The more your senses work with your feet, the more satisfying your walk will be. Birds chirping, water babbling, wind rustling the leaves, waves caressing the seashore and people happily talking, are the symphonic sounds of a good walk. I am reminded of the ‘hello’ man Doctor Fernando Jose Mascarenhas who, on his early morning walk, waving cheerfully, wishes everyone he meets!

For any exercise to increase long-term health benefits, it must be practiced with consistency over a lifetime. And this is where walking has a distinct advantage over other activities that may offer greater short-term training benefits. Walkers are rarely stopped by injuries, so common in other exercises. And walkers keep up their activity, year after year, simply because it is so pleasurable, realising that our bodies were made to hunt and fish, till the good earth, and travel on foot.

Today, millions of people are running, cycling, swimming and walking their way to a healthier, more fulfilling life. Millions wish they could, but do not know where to begin.

A sound pair of shoes is the first priority. Your shoes must support your feet in a forward movement and absorb the shock of each footfall.  The most important things to look at are midsole and heel. As a general guide, the shoes should fit your foot at its widest point. Allow about half an inch between your big toe and the end of the shoe. Your heels should fit snugly.

Have you ever wondered about keeping your brain in shape? Many neuro scientists and psychiatrists are adopting the concept of use-it-or-lose-it when it comes to our brains. Seniors should make an attempt to learn a new language, play the piano, and solve crossword puzzles. Try to stretch the brain in a dramatically different direction: juggling and so forth. Yes, brain exercise stops mental deterioration. Stretch and bend the mind in the hope it stays in shape longer.

At all times, avoid junk food and go in for whole foods. You ought to become more aware of a good, balanced diet, rich in natural unrefined and raw foods. Your body needs water: so drink plenty of fresh water to keep your system tuned up.

On my part, each day, I also say a special personal prayer, thanking my Creator for giving me the opportunity and health to do what I love most; knowing if I get stuck in bed, I am dead!








The Christian community in Delhi today decided to come out openly in support of the convicted Dr Binayak Sen and the possible future harassment of human rights activist Teesta Setalvad by gathering at India Gate braving the biting cold of the Capital with the hope that the lit candles they held in their shivering hands would enlighten the authorities.

Remembering the words of Jesus who once said "I tell you, if I told these people to be quiet and they were silent, the very stones would shout out!", they decided to speak up for what they perceive as injustice meted out to Dr. Sen and Setalvad. 

In a letter written to the Prime Minister and signed by some prominent Christian leaders, the Community has expressed its distress over the turn of events saying, "Today the largest democracy in the world is faced with similar situations [as at the time of Jesus]. It is in deep distress and anguish that we point out to you that Human rights defenders are being targeted, and silenced, by all sorts of forces - from sections of the judiciary, administration and police on the one hand to political extremists on the other hand".

The letter further states, "Small and perhaps powerless we may be, but as a community and as people committed to peace with justice, we cannot remain as silent spectators to such erosion of truth and injustice", for Jesus too said, 'Truth will make you free'. We are in fact in duty bound to speak out, for these elements of civil society. 

The group demanded that authorities and the Judiciary see to it that the sentencing of Sen to a life term must be reviewed and the police case against Ms Setalvad rescinded. 

The candle-lit protest march ended in typical Christian style with a prayer for peace in India, especially in the troubled areas and for justice to all.


Fr Dominic Emmanuel SVDSpokesperson - Delhi Catholic Archdioces







Of course, that is the need of the hour for both the parties DMK and Congress, as they are in alliance not only in Tamil Nadu but also at the Centre. To break this alliance it is necessary for the opposition team led by the BJP and what all propaganda going on in the name of the 2G, CWG, Adarsh housing scam in Maharashtra and now the revived Bofors ghost by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal are part and parcel of this sinister game plan.
Corruption in India is nothing new. It is there anywhere and everywhere. It is the creation of the ruling party's right from India gaining independence. If a clerk in a Corporation office has to grease the palm of the babu of same office dealing with personal file to release his/her annual increment, and again to pay chai-paani baksheesh to the Accounts Clerk/Auditor, one can just imagine of the plight in other more vital/sensitive areas where big deals are being made.

It (corruption) is now already institutionalized; therefore, there is nothing new when the opposition combines make all such hullabaloo over this issue. In fact, the Indian opposition parties know that the UPA, which was given a second chance to rule because of their common man's welfare oriented policies and programmes, cannot be uprooted unless and until some big issues are blown out of proportion.

There are agencies that are working towards bringing up such scandalous  issues. For example, the CAG report on the 2G spectrum. Earlier, it was the Bofors issue in 1986. That single issue had catapulted a much strong Congress government under the late Rajiv Gandhi and several combination of parties formed governments at the Centre. thereafter. Even the DMK, which is now with the Congress that reiterates they will maintain their alliance intact, was a part of the anti-Congress government ie the NDA led by the BJP under the veteran politician AB Vajpayee. But then the hard question is: why the NDA was uprooted so soon and the people of India brought the Congress back to power, despite all the allegations of corruption like the Bofors. It was because the NDA brought much disrepute to the nation by their sinister campaign against the minorities. That was more dangerous than the corruption or other scandals which, in any case, every political party(s) were engaged in. Were the opposition rules corruption free?

Why the Morarji Desai led Janata Dal government that was formed after the infamous National Emergency that was  vehemently opposed by the late Lok Nayak JP, had to resign? People of India cannot forget so easily such historical facts.

Even in the opposition party ruled States, whether it is BJP, BJD, JD (U) or the Left Front, cases of graft are more common. But the divisive politics ie dividing people on communal, casteist and religion or regional biases is far more dangerous for the very existence of Indian federalism. Now, if the present UPA alliance government is brought down on the ongoing graft/corruption scandals, then alternative left is a mid-term poll. To conduct a mid-term poll is quite expensive and that may even outweigh the alleged losses through  the scams. Is that worth for a country whose food inflation is going up day-by-day?

Now, petrol, diesel and cooking gas, the three main items that inflate food prices, are on the rise, as these were decontrolled (with the tacit support of all the opposition parties) ever since oil and gas companies were given free hand to raise their prices according to fluctuation in crude oil price in the international market. 
RK Kutty







The Prime Minister has called for concerted efforts to build and motivate a new generation of scientific talent and noted that over 3.5 lakh students in the age group of 10-27 have been awarded scholarships to pursue studies in science. Dr Singh has announced 2012-13 as the 'Year of Science' to unleash the energies of young scientists and attract more people towards research streams.

The time has come for Indian scientists to think big, think out of the box. The time has come to produce Ramans and Ramanujans as we usher in the decade of innovation," he said. 

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has given a clarion call to the scientists of the country working abroad to return to their motherland. 

Dr Singh said that red tapism, political interference and lack of recognition of good work contributed to regression of Indian science. Usually the expatriate scientists blame lack of facilities for scientific research in India for moving out of country in search of better job prospects. However, it is a fact that many of the revolutionaries inventions- rail engine, telephone, telegram, bulb, gramaphone, radio, aeroplane, film, car and others were achieved in the situation of stark privation. All of these were not attained in fully equipped labs and factories with all the facilities. The Indian scientists should go with the spirit to forge ahead in whatever condition available in the country and further nation's scientific progress considering all the great feats were achieved in very hard conditions. We still depend on imports from other countries in the field of defence for weapons, fighter planes and naval vessels.







Last fortnight (see 'The endgame at Cancun', we discussed the clandestine endgame afoot at Cancun to change the framework of the climate change negotiations to suit big and powerful polluters. Since then Cancun has concluded and a deal, in the form of a spate of agreements, has been gavelled into existence by the chair. Commentators and climate activists in the Western world are ecstatic. Even the critics say pragmatism has worked and the world has taken a small step ahead in its battle to fight emissions that determine its growth.

Let’s assess the outcome at Cancun to see if this is indeed a step forward. It is well-accepted that to keep the world below the already dangerous 2°C temperature increase, global emissions need to drop to 44 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent(mix of greenhouse gases measured in CO2e) by 2020—against the roughly 48 billion tonnes of CO2e emitted currently. In other words, the world has already run out of atmospheric space and has to cut emissions fast and drastically.

That’s why at the Bali climate conference in 2007 the target placed on the table was for the industrialised countries to cut emissions 20-40 per cent by 2020, over their 1990 levels. The actual number was to be finalised at subsequent meetings. So what does Cancun do? It mouths some platitudes that the industrialised countries will scale up their mitigation efforts but does not specify a target. 

Instead, it endorses an arrangement that emission reduction commitments of industrialised countries will be decided on the voluntary pledge they make.They will tell us how much they can cut and by when. The US, which has been instrumental in getting the deal at Cancun, is the biggest winner. If its target to reduce emissions were based on its historical and current contribution to the problem, the country would have to cut 40 per cent by 2020, over the 1990 levels.

Now, it has pledged that it will cut zero percentage points in this period. The Cancun deal legitimises its right to pollute.

This is not all. Under the Cancun deal, all countries, including India and China, are now committed to reduce emissions. India’s pledge to reduce energy intensity by 20-25 per cent by 2020 is part of this global deal. After all, all countries must be part of the solution. It is also in our best interest to avoid pollution for growth. 
But surely nobody can agree that the burden of the transition should shift to the developing world. But this is what has happened at Cancun. If you compare the sum of the “pledges” made by the industrialised countries against the “pledges” made by developing countries, including China and India, a curious fact emerges. While the total amount the rich will cut comes to 0.8-1.8 billion tonnes of CO2e, poor developing countries have agreed to cut 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2020. In other words, emission reduction promised by the industrialised world is pathetic. And the principle of equity in burden-sharing has been completely done away with.

Let us be clear, Cancun makes no pretence that global equity is a principle best trashed into the world’s dustbin. Just consider. All previous drafts of this agreement stated that developing countries would have equitable access to the global carbon budget. This has been crucially diluted in the Cancun agreement. It reads in a fuzzy and meaningless way that there will be “equitable access to sustainable development”. We have surrendered our demand to apportion the global atmospheric space based on our right to development.

This is not the worst. For a moment let’s say India should be willing to pay this price for the global common good. But the pledges will add up to practically nothing in terms of averting the worst of climate change. With the Cancun deal in force, the world is in for a 3-4°C temperature rise. We are most vulnerable. Already, when world average temperatures have increas¬ed by just 0.8°C, our monsoons are showing signs of extreme variability leading to floods and droughts. 

Then how can a weak and ineffective deal on climate change be good for us? 

But the spin masters want us to believe otherwise. The Western media is hailing Cancun as the much-needed breakthrough. That’s because the Cancun deal protects the interests of the rich polluters. It is their prize. 
What has the developing world got in return? There is no commitment to cut emissions needed to avert climate change. No money is promised either. The agreement provides for the creation of a green fund and repeats the de¬cision to give US $30 billion as fast track funding by 2012 and US $100 billion by 2020. But this is fictional money to cajole and bribe. The fact is that the rich world is saying openly it cannot pay because of recession. It now wants the developing world to look for these funds in the private sector. The technology deal is even weaker. It only says that it will set up a technology centre. The tricky issue of preferential access to intellectual property rights over low-carbon technologies has been skipped altogether. 

The fact is we hate being hated in the rich man’s world. Cancun was about our need to be dealmakers on their behalf—even if it costs us the earth. 

Sunita Narain







BJP MLA from Purnia Assembly constituency in Bihar, Raj Kishore Kesri was stabbed to death at his residence in Purnia today by a woman named Rupam Pathak. It was revealed that the MLA allegedly outraged her modesty a year ago and the woman acted in vengeance.

51-year-old Keshari was a four-time legislator from Purnia. He was a popular leader, and was known to have a clean track record. His family is said to be in the liquor business. 

40-year-old Rupam is a teacher by profession and runs a school in Purnia city. She had, in the last week of May, accused Kesri of raping her and filed an FIR against him. 

But the police had not yet taken any action against the MLA – probably the reason she decided to take the drastic step of murdering Kesri.

The lady teacher is said to have changed her statement shows that she may have done so in fear. The police also yields to pressure from big wigs in registering criminal cases against politicians. 

It may be noted that Gunda Act is in force against Samajwadi Party MLA in Uttar Pradesh, Raja Bhaiya. Similarly, in Karnataka there are charges against both Reddy brothers for illegal mining. Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan had to quit his post after the busting of Adarsh Housing  Scam. Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa has also been accused of grabbing land.

In Madhya Pradesh too there is a case against a former MLA for alleged misbehaviour and murder of his relative. Three other senior IAS officers Arvind Joshi, Tinu Joshi and Rajesh Rajora are facing charges for accumulating wealth more than their sources of income. Union Telecom Minister A Raja had to quit after the 2G spectrum scam was unearthed. Similarly, former Governor of Andhra Pradesh ND Tiwari is facing a criminal case. 

An Income Tax tribunal has observed that the government had to pay excess amount of about Rs 41 crore, which was passed to the late Chaddha and Quattrocchi against the terms of contract in the Bofors issue.
It is important that the Govt restores the faith of the people in the system by taking firm and timely actions against the guilty and corrupt leaders.








If we didn’t know better, we’d subscribe to the conspiracy theory, whereby the Treasury is actually elated about the seaports strike.


If we didn’t know better, we’d subscribe to the conspiracy theory gaining currency in Israel’s business sector, whereby the Treasury is actually elated about the seaports strike.

According to speculation spawned by exasperated importers and exporters, this strike – despite the palpable damage that every single hour of inactivity at the ports causes the economy – makes the Finance Ministry look good, while the Histadrut appears to have leapt headlong into an open trap.

Until the strike call last Monday, it was the Treasury that was receiving unremitting bad press for its refusal to up the minimum wage. But then, with confounding bad timing, none other than the labor federation divested itself of its advantage and diverted attention away from the struggle for the weakest components of the workforce. Instead, it threw its weight aggressively behind some of the public sector’s highest earners.

In so doing, the Histadrut may have unmasked some of its own damaging misorientations. As too often in the recent past, the Histadrut is allowing itself to be perceived as the guardian of the strongest and most powerful unions, capable of resorting to the most blatant bullying tactics. Incongruously, it thereby risks causing damage to the cause of the economy’s real have-nots – the very groups who most require Histadrut protection.

As a result of the port strike, public discourse is now revolving around employees earning an average of NIS 23,000 a month rather than those whose gross income doesn’t reach NIS 4,000. With this cardinal blunder, the Histadrut has allowed the government to appear as staunchly defending the public against extortion rather than as a bureaucracy that ignores the need of the working poor.

IT WAS actually ministerial mismanagement that rendered the present confrontation inevitable.

When the previous government, under Ehud Olmert, contracted the ports reform in 2005, it gave employees extraordinarily generous terms to facilitate the overhaul. This grievously undermined future governments’ bargaining positions.

Owing to the deal struck five years ago, the port workers’ average wage had risen by 35 percent in the interim, to say nothing of a NIS 100,000 grant per employee to cement the reform.

The Histadrut claims that it is now fighting on behalf of new crews who began working at the ports post-2005. But this is disingenuous.

Intrinsic linkage means that any sub-grouping’s gain automatically increases wages for all others – in this case an overall 15% and a new top-scale grade.

Moreover, even new port workers already take home much more than the national average. The typical “second generation” rookie port worker earns a monthly NIS 13,500, which constitutes a 50% rise since 2005. Given these figures, the government was inordinately generous to even offer port employees the 6.25% hike given other public sector personnel.

Ironically, many workers in many sectors, for whom the Histadrut should look out, stand to suffer for the port workers’ exaggerated demands, and the Histadrut’s pliability. Omnipotent unions are paralyzing the economy, and threaten to shut down numerous plants, cause mass layoffs, cost Israel valuable foreign markets and lose it credibility, with incalculable longer-term damage.


While the entire economy may grind to a halt, the veritable last waltz on the Titanic goes on. Industrialists alone voice alarm. The equanimity with which the ongoing mega-sabotage at the country’s seaports has thus far been generally received borders on the surrealistic.


Yet the unions vow to settle for nothing less than putting the ports themselves up as collateral for wages and perks. This constitutes undisguised intimidation in the cause of monopolist control – exploiting public property to hold the public hostage.

No society can allow itself to be held up this way. Union chieftains must be made personally accountable for the damage they are wreaking. At this juncture, only the courts can, once and for all, halt the heartless dispute. It threatens all Israelis – including those who seem complacently oblivious to it.








Bil’in woman's death last weekend remains a puzzling tragedy; by suggesting it’s all made up, IDF is demonstrating contempt for an innocent dead woman.

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The death last weekend of Jawaher Abu Rahmah is a puzzling tragedy. The IDF, however, has turned it into an example of how the occupation brings out this country’s ugly side.

Abu Rahmah died after inhaling tear gas at last Friday’s weekly protest against the security fence in her West Bank village, Bil’in. She was 36. People are not supposed to die from tear gas in the outdoors, and in the rare cases they do, they suffer, as a rule, from some serious preexisting condition, such as respiratory or heart disease, that gets severely aggravated by the tear gas. But the dead woman’s family and employer say she had been basically healthy, and the only preexisting condition her medical records turned up was an inner ear infection.

The Ramallah hospital where she died Saturday listed the cause of death as “lung failure caused by tear gas inhalation, leading to a heart attack.”

If tear gas was all that killed her, it would be extremely unusual. What’s more, about 1,000 people were at the protest, and while many felt the harsh effect of the tear gas, none except for Abu Rahmah was hospitalized for it. (One other demonstrator was hospitalized after being hit in the face by a flying tear gas projectile.) 

It may be that Abu Rahmah wasn’t as healthy as her family and employer evidently thought and her medical records showed. We may never know; citing religious reasons, the Muslim family did not allow an autopsy before burial.

In its response, the IDF could have raised reasonable, legitimate doubts about whether tear gas inhalation was solely responsible for her death. It could have acted decently – and you would think that of all times for the IDF to act indecently, this would not be one of them, because prior to Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s death, the last fatal victim at the Bil’in protests was her younger brother, Bassem, killed in 2009 when an IDF tear gas projectile hit him in the chest.

But instead of presenting reasonable doubts, IDF “senior officers” are suggesting that this woman wasn’t even at the demonstration. They’re suggesting she was never taken to the hospital at all, that she might have died at home, and of leukemia. They’re suggesting that a Ramallah hospital and Red Crescent ambulance wrote up a bunch of false documents about her treatment, and that her family, neighbors and others at the protest are just plain lying about seeing her overcome by the tear gas, foaming at the mouth, vomiting, losing consciousness, being taken by ambulance to the hospital and dying.


“[S]enior officers sounded certain of their claim that this was no [lethal] tear gas attack by IDF soldiers – but rather a fabrication and provocation meant to harm Israel,” wrote Yediot Aharonot.

The IDF says there’s no evidence Abu Rahmah was at the protest, noting that these demonstrations are heavily photographed, yet there’s no photo of her.

BUT SEVERAL people at the demonstration say they were standing near her, off to the side of the crowd, away from the action, which would explain why she wasn’t photographed.

“I saw her around the start of the demonstration, and later on I saw her being put in the ambulance,” Jonathan Pollak, the leading Israeli activist in these protests, told me. “I know her family very well; I knew her and I knew what she looked like.”

The IDF says that as of Friday night, the Palestinian Authority was reporting no serious injuries in Bil’in, with two people having been mildly injured, hospitalized and sent home. On Saturday morning, these senior officials say, the story suddenly changed from two people at home with minor injuries to a woman dead in the hospital.

That’s odd – on Friday afternoon, or early evening at the latest, even I knew, just from surfing the Web, that a woman had been critically injured in Bil’in. It was all over the Israeli media that day; I even saw it on at least one American website. The Jerusalem Post website wrote: 

“Bil’in: Protester inhales tear gas, left critically injured – A female Palestinian, Jawaher Abu Rahmah, was taken to hospital in Ramallah after inhaling tear gas sprayed toward protesters in Bil’in on Friday. The 36-year-old was in critical condition and did not respond to treatment...”

Yet the IDF didn’t know anything about this until the following day. I don’t know which is worse – if these senior officials are lying, or if they’re telling the truth.

Another “contradiction” cited by the IDF is that one document shows Abu Rahmah only being admitted to the hospital, Palestine Medical Complex, on Friday at 3:20 p.m., while another already shows her being given a blood test at 2:45 p.m.

To this, her brothers told The New York Times that the earlier time was when she took a blood test in the emergency room, while the later time was when she was admitted to the intensive care unit.

But even without such an explanation, to take what seems like a time discrepancy in two hospital documents as evidence that hospital officials manufactured a paper trail for a dead woman they never saw – that’s malicious. Hospital clerks, nurses and doctors fill out lots of forms and are known to make mistakes. I watched a nurse at a major Israeli hospital weigh my newborn son, then write down the wrong weight on his card – but, unlike these IDF senior officials, I’m not a conspiracy freak so I didn’t run to the press.

The bit about leukemia is based on the drugs that her hospital records say she was treated with – the IDF says they’re given for cancer of the blood, or leukemia. But if these senior officials are suggesting that the hospital papers were forged, that she never went to the hospital at all, then I don’t see how they can at the same time use hospital documents as evidence that Abu Rahmah had leukemia.

At any rate, Physicians for Human Rights, which is going over this case very intently, has found no indication she had the disease. “The IDF has not presented any evidence at all that she had cancer, and we haven’t found any, either,” Ran Yaron, director of PHR in the occupied territories, told me.

So enough of this garbage. The IDF is feeding the worst kind of Israeli callousness and smugness – the kind that comes from accepting anything that’s said against any Arab as God’s truth, while dismissing anything that’s said in any Arab’s defense as the Big Lie.

“I was standing beside Jawaher on the hill that is near the place where the demonstration took place, when we were injured by a cloud of tear gas. Jawaher began to feel unwell from inhaling the gas and started to move back from the place; soon after that she vomited and collapsed. We took her to the nearest road, and from there she was evacuated to the hospital, where she remained until her death.”

That’s from her mother, Soubhiya. The IDF is suggesting she made that all up. The IDF is suggesting everybody made it all up, and by doing so is demonstrating contempt for an innocent dead woman, for her family, for the Palestinians as a whole.

“This is an attempt to delegitimize Israel,” the senior officials told Yediot, and I’m sure they were unaware of the irony in their words. Whether or not Jawaher Abu Rahmah suffered from a preexisting condition, the IDF certainly does: blindness and numbness.








The Iranian president risks repeating the late Iraqi leader’s mistake: convincing his enemies that he’s too dangerous to ignore and must be removed.

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Remember how neighborhood bully Saddam Hussein hinted about his WMD arsenal, shut out UN inspectors and raised suspicions that he was building nukes to go with his chemical and biological weapons? Even his generals believed him. Worse, so didGeorge W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Shoot first and ask questions later, they said; don’t wait for the mushroom cloud. They weren’t taking any chances that he might be bluffing – which he was.

It is looking like déjà vu all over again. Some of the Bush hawks and others, notably in the pro-Israel community, are saying this time we’re sure and can’t take any chances with Iran. One of the loudest voices is Bush’s former UN ambassador John Bolton, who despite Cheney’s support failed to convince Bush to bomb Iran, so now he’s going after Barack Obama. Look for Bolton, (who has visions of running for president next year) to be a frequent witness at House hearings on Iran as the GOP leadership tries to paint Obama as soft on Teheran.


The compulsively blustery Iranian PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad, like Saddam a decade ago, may go overboard in boasting about his military prowess.

“Saddam had no WMD but he had to have people believe he did, to the point where he lost his country. His first priority was to deter Iran, and then to deter the United States,” said Keith Weissman, an Iran analyst. “But there are differences. For Ahmadinejad, command is not from the top straight down, as it was in Saddam’s Iraq. He can’t fool his generals the way Saddam did.”

Military policy is in the hands of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei; he sets broad strategic policy and has his own advisers in addition to Ahmadinejad, some of whom are the president’s rivals.

The parallels may not be precise, but Ahmadinejad risks repeating Saddam’s mistake: convincing his enemies that he’s too dangerous to ignore and must be removed. The Iranians consider Israel unpredictable and dangerous, but feel Obama, like Bush, doesn’t want war and will keep the Israelis – who they taunt as “too weak” and afraid to attack – on a short leash.

THAT CAN be a risky game. Hans Blix, the Swedish former head of UN inspectors in Iraq, said Saddam was “an utterly ruthless, brutal man” who thought he could outwit the West and “misjudged things.” Ahmadinejad & Co. have been boasting about weapon “advancements,” and saying mass graves are already being dug for American invaders.

Iran has been developing its own military-industrial sector (with a lot of help from North Korea and China, among others). One analyst told me he wouldn’t be surprised if some of the technology Israel has sold to China has been repackaged and sold to Iran.

Iran claims to have developed a drone bomber Ahmadinejad dubbed the “ambassador of death,” its own air defense system “just as good” as Russia’s advanced S-300, and ballistic missiles that can strike Tel Aviv as well as all US bases in the region. The Iranian navy boasts the “world’s fastest” missile boats and 11 stealthy home-built submarines with homemade missiles and torpedoes.

Whether it is firing up the Bushehr nuclear plant or announcing new weapons systems, Iran’s goal is to show that sanctions are meaningless and it can be self-sufficient in producing modern, advanced weapons, even if it is not true.

For now, Iran’s greatest threat may be its terror network – Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and others – that can wreak much damage on Israel, American interests and neighboring states. To some extent they are independent players, but they cannot afford to ignore the wishes of Iran, which has provided them with tens of thousands of missiles and other weapons along with training and financing. Iran could also give some terror group radioactive materials for a ‘dirty’ bomb that could not be traced to Teheran clearly enough to bring significant retaliation.

Iran’s nuclear program apparently suffered a serious – though probably temporary – setback with the Stuxnet computer virus attack on its centrifuges, adding to the uncertainty about the immediacy of the nuclear threat.

The boasting is also intended to frighten weaker neighbors and exploit anti- Israel and anti-American feelings. Just as important, Ahmadinejad wants to convince the Iranian people their government is too strong to be overthrown – from the inside as well as the outside.

WikiLeaked cables showed Arab leaders would like the US or Israel to take out the Iranian regime, but only if it is completely destroyed; not by merely having its nuclear facilities crippled. The Iranian opposition, however, wants to be the ones to change the government, not outsiders who would leave them looking like collaborators instead of patriots.

How much is bluff and how much is real? Is the much-hyped Iranian military prowess a Potemkin arsenal? Maybe – and if so, Ahmadinejad could end up like his late neighbor, Saddam, whose braggadocio cost him his regime and his life.

The bottom line is best summed up by Jon B. Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies: “The real issue is how willing are you to be wrong, and what are the consequences of being so? Everything else is commentary.”








The source of the problem here rests with a system in which people power is largely sublimated by the dominant political parties.


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Corruption and sex scandals are not a new phenomenon for this region. The Bible records a colorful variety of examples, including the episode of King David, who sent a soldier to his death so that he could marry his widow Bathsheba. But at least, and unlike former president Moshe Katsav, he subsequently displayed remorse and publicly acknowledged his wrongdoing.

I was personally acquainted with Katsav, and confess that I took considerable pride in presenting him as an example of how a Sephardi Jew from a poor family raised in a development town could rise to the top echelons of society.

I am disgusted when I now realize that it was common knowledge among many of Katsav’s Knesset colleagues, including those who supported his candidacy for the presidency, that he had a reputation for sexually harassing women. Even some of the sanctimonious Shas MKs whose clandestine last-minute change of support enabled him to win the vote were aware of his sleazy lifestyle.

The then-leader of the opposition, Ariel Sharon, bears particular responsibility. It has now been disclosed that he personally badgered his media contacts and succeeded in persuading them to suppress an exposé of Katsav’s disreputable behavior.


Katsav is not the first president forced to retire prematurely. His immediate predecessor, Ezer Weizman, was also obliged to stand down before ending his term when it was discovered that, as a minister, he had accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreported gifts from wealthy businessmen.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert was also forced to retire after facing charges of corruption and financial irregularities, which are still pending. Not to mention other prominent politicians, including finance minister Avraham Hirchson, currently in prison, defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai, interior minister Aryeh Deri, justice minister Haim Ramon, health minister Shlomo Benizri and, most recently, Tzachi Hanegbi. A number of other leading politicians, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupoliansky are under investigation.

TO HAVE such a wide range of leading politicians charged with bribery, corruption, sexual offenses and other serious crimes suggests their behavior may simply be a mirror image of a corrupt society.

Some explain this phenomenon as a byproduct of a rapidly developing new country, constantly under siege, which failed to create a political infrastructure with adequate checks and balances.

The reality is that the seeds of the political corruption we encounter today were sown in the early years of the state, during the period of Mapai hegemony, when power was overwhelmingly controlled by one party. In those days, the expression “vitamin P” was an oft-used code word for protekzia which exemplified the endemic corruption.

Those not affiliated with the ruling political party – especially those associated with the Revisionist movement and the former underground movement, Irgun Zvai Leumi – were systematically discriminated against and denied respectable positions in the public sector.

In the 1960s, matters deteriorated to such an extent that there were even public demands from a “new guard” faction within the Mapai establishment, demanding that meritocracy replace rampant nepotism.

Nevertheless, an important element distinguished this period from the current era. The Knesset was then comprised largely of dedicated idealists forged in the fires of the Holocaust and the struggle to create a Jewish state.

Most were not tempted by material possessions and lived modestly, as exemplified by leaders such as David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin.

The ruling Labor Zionist establishment may have exploited the system to promote its political objectives, but in the main its leaders were personally incorruptible.

At least as far as we know, most bribes and graft went into party coffers, not private bank accounts.

Pinhas Sapir, the highly admired finance minister, never personally benefited from his position. But he had no compunctions about extorting donations from foreign investors in attractive state enterprises for the benefit of the party as well as government infrastructure projects.

When in 1977, Avraham Ofer became the first minister to be accused of corruption, he committed suicide, although his alleged transgression for the benefit of the party had yet to be proven and paled compared to the proven behavior of subsequent ministers.

A few months later, Yitzhak Rabin was obliged to resign from his first term as prime minister when it was discovered that his wife Leah had breached the law by maintaining a dollar account in Washington dating back to when he had served as ambassador. Attorney-general Aharon Barak had insisted that a prime minister be held to the same judicial standards as an ordinary citizen.

There is an iron law applicable to political life: Once unorthodox or corrupt practices are introduced to benefit political interests, a slide toward outright personal corruption is almost inevitable.

This was accelerated as the country transformed itself from a socialist to a capitalist economy and a new breed of politicians inclined toward hedonism succeeded the idealistic founders.

But having said that, the true source of the problem rests with a system in which people power is largely sublimated by the dominant political parties.

This enables party interests and cronyism to minimize the checks and balances, as well as frequently providing a protective umbrella to leaders who bend the rules to suit themselves.

THERE IS one factor that now substantially mitigates this. That is the intensified deterrent power of the judicial system in creating genuine fear of retribution.

Nor should one underestimate the role of Micha Lindenstrauss, who despite enormous pressure from the Olmert government to desist, has transformed the State Comptroller’s Office into an effective unit exposing corruption.

While this does not detract from the imperative to devise an electoral system in which the people are enabled to directly punish those who behave dishonestly, we can take pride in the fact that our judiciary has established a reputation for dealing more ruthlessly with crime among the high and mighty than with the ordinary citizen.

That no one, including presidents, prime ministers and ministers, is above the law is certainly something which other countries could well emulate, and which augers well for our future.

The legal system undoubtedly goes a long way toward ensuring that the shame inflicted on us by the appalling behavior of some of our leaders is not replicated. But the problem will only be fully resolved when the electoral system is reformed to weaken the control of political party machines and deny excessive leverage to small one-dimensional parties exploiting the system exclusively for their selfish ends. There is no stronger barrier to corruption than people power.









Recent outrageous remarks and events emanating from the country make it extremely hard for us to show restraint. We will react, as any other sovereign nation, to such insults and abuse.

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Contrary to popular assertions, the current crisis with Turkey did not begin yesterday and certainly not after the events surrounding the flotilla in May. The crisis began long before this government was established and was long predetermined in Ankara. The exact genesis of the current crisis can be traced to the moment in January 2009 when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan verbally attacked and humiliated President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Everyone who saw this unsettling scene was left in no doubt that this outburst was not improvised or reactive, but part of a carefully thought-out strategy.

Israel has never sought a change in its relationship with Turkey and even today it remains in the best interests of both nations for relations to return to pre- Davos levels. However, the understandable offense Israelis feel towards Turkey’s continued harsh rhetoric makes it very difficult for the government to accept any preconditions for normalization.

The completely unilateral change in the relations is not reflective of our actions; rather it is the result of Turkey’s internal politics. Turkey’s relations with Israel are only a small reflection of what is occurring in Turkish society. The best example of this is Ankara’s decision not to vote for sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, in direct opposition to its allies in NATO.


UNFORTUNATELY, RECENT events in Turkey are reminiscent of Iran before the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei. Like Turkey, Iran was among Israel’s closest allies and the two nations held good relations between both governments and people.

Similarly, the Khomenei revolution was the result of internal factors and had absolutely no connection to Israel.

During the last couple of months, the incitement against Israel has reached new heights. During Erdogan’s visit to Lebanon in late November, he said that Turkey will not “remain silent” while Israel will “kill women and children using modern aircraft, tanks... phosphorus munitions and cluster bombs.”

It is important to note that Erdogan’s visit followed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon a month prior. It was difficult for us to perceive any differences in the vitriol of the two. We had to make difficult decisions concerning how to react to this dangerous rhetoric, and it ultimately was decided the best course of action was to exercise restraint and refrain from a response.

However, in December the trailer for the upcoming film as part of the Valley of the Wolves series was released. This series continues to depict classic anti- Semitic motifs like the kidnapping of non-Jewish children, Jewish obsession with blood and murder and portraying Jews as the most evil people in the world.

ON DECEMBER 25, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke about Turkey’s quick dispatch of planes to help us battle the Carmel Forest fire, and suggested that, had the situation been reversed, Israel would not have reciprocated. Davutoglu must have forgotten or been unaware of our immediate response to the tragic earthquake disaster in 1999 when a contingent of 250 emergency workers was dispatched to Turkey, where they erected a field hospital and rescued many from the rubble.

The contingent stayed for weeks, long after most other international emergency workers went back home. In addition, the Israeli public launched a spontaneous campaign to assist the earthquake victims, in an impressive display of friendship and goodwill.

I repeat once again that we are extremely grateful to the Turkish government for its assistance during the Carmel fire and I say assuredly that should there be a disaster in Turkey we will once again immediately offer our complete cooperation and assistance, regardless of the current political atmosphere.

However, while presenting itself as interested in a rapprochement, the Turkish government maintains a disingenuous position. Subsequent to the Carmel fire when Davutoglu spoke of his hope for a repair in relations, the government refused to renew a trade agreement that will leave 800 Turkish workers here without jobs. The inexplicable cancellation was unilateral and without warning.

The hatred and incitement reached its peak during the dreadful spectacle when a crowd of 100,000 welcomed the terror ship Mavi Marmara back to Istanbul chanting jihadist slogans and “Death to Israel.”

The lack of condemnation for these outrageous scenes from any official Turkish sources makes it extremely hard for us to show restraint. We will not be a punching bag and will react, as any other sovereign nation, to such insults and abuse.

If the Turkish government is truly honest about seeking to normalize relations with Israel, it needs to stop looking for excuses and attaching preconditions. Israel should not be used as an issue in the upcoming Turkish national elections in June.

We are seeking a return to a frank and honest dialogue with Turkey, and I invite my counterpart, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, to Jerusalem, or any other location, where we can discuss all issues of relevance to both nations and the wider region. Allies can have disagreements; it is how we deal with these disagreements that is the true mark of any relationship.

The writer is deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs.








We, workers of the Foreign Service, often can't make ends meet, which is why we have taken strong measures and used strong language in our latest labor dispute with the Finance Ministry.


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Diplomats are always seen as polite, soft-spoken, seeking accommodation and conciliatory. And yet, the diplomats of Israel’s Foreign Service are in a feisty mood these days, taking strong measures and using tough language in a labor dispute. Militant diplomats?! 

The reasons are clear.

The devoted and multi-talented diplomats of the Foreign Service have been taken for granted for too long. The salaries of young as well as veteran diplomats are dismal. Twelve percent of the Foreign Service lives below the country’s poverty line, and 25% receives welfare supplements. We are talking about people who have language skills, broad knowledge in many areas, and serve their country through thick and thin, at home and abroad.


Our diplomats overseas face hostility and security threats, but in recent years often cannot make ends meet. Diplomacy abroad does not consist of cocktail parties (which are only a tiny fraction of any diplomats’ activities). Diplomacy abroad is a vast array of intensive activities on behalf of the State of Israel.

The diplomats represent the country on the front lines of the international arena. Those who are in Jerusalem provide the backing, logistics, policy guidance and instructions for activities abroad, as well as activities here. They are loyal to the country, and more than willing to make great sacrifices, including those made by their spouses and children.

But is the government loyal to its diplomats? 

THE SITUATION and salary conditions have deteriorated greatly over the past 15 years or so. Several attempts to find solutions vis-à-vis the Finance Ministry have met with a solid wall of obtuse deafness. Finally this year, a labor dispute was declared. Even then, for several months the diplomats took only minimal steps to give negotiations with the Finance Ministry a chance. Finally a proposal was made by the Finance Ministry. To say it was insulting and contemptuous is putting it mildly. The proposal would leave many sections of the diplomatic corps with only a few crumbs to add to their salaries.

We diplomats want the labor sanctions to end. We very much want to get back to our work, with the dedication and intensity we have always shown. But we are not virtual slaves; no one works for practically nothing. Certainly it will be difficult to attract new members to the Foreign Service if all they have to look forward to is lousy pay and growing frustration.

For us to do our duty, the government should do its duty and properly address our needs.

The writer is head of the diplomatic employees workers’ committee. He served as spokesperson in the Israeli embassy in Moscow and as a consultant at our embassy in Berlin.








Washington’s current flirtation with Damascus points to an American foreign policy that for two years has been built on a fundamental misreading of the region.


With the peace process returning to a deep freeze, the Obama administration is eyeing an opportunity to make headway with Syria.

The theory is nothing new: If the regime in Damascus can make peace with Israel, end its sponsorship of terrorist groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas, distance itself from Iran and reorient itself toward the West, then the US would further isolate Teheran’s rulers while giving a critical boost peace efforts around the region. To that end, President Barack Obama confirmed the new US ambassador to Syria in a recess appointment and reports have surfaced of a recent back channel opened between the White House and Syrian officials.

While Team Obama may see such a development as a panacea for what ails the Middle East, the reality is that Syria will simply use the opportunity to play all sides against each other and pocket concessions, while preserving the very status quo that Washington seeks to alter.


The timing could not be any better for the Assad regime. The special tribunal for Lebanon tasked with investigating the string of assassinations in 2005, including that of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, is set to hand down indictments in a matter of weeks. Hizbullah will likely be held responsible with the support and orders coming from Assad’s inner circle.

Moreover, just last month US satellite imagery revealed a compound in western Syria with hundreds of missile-shaped items, functionally related to the North Korean-designed nuclear reactor destroyed in September 2007. For more than two years, Syria has blocked International Atomic Energy Agency access to the remains of the al-Kibar nuclear site and similar installations.

THE PATTERN is already familiar. Damascus makes tactical choices for diplomatic engagement without making the strategic decision to change its worldview in a manner consistent with a state seeking either peace or a regional realignment. By engaging with Syria now, the US not only ensures that Damascus will not be held to account, but it rewards its rogue behavior and emboldens America’s enemies.

Nevertheless, even if one buys the diplomatic snake oil Damascus is selling, there remains the problem of enforcing any imagined peace deal. The international community and UNIFIL have utterly failed to prevent the rearmament of Hizbullah, now stocked with more weapons from Syria’s shelves than ever before. If the US remains incapable of stemming the flow of insurgents across Syria’s border into Iraq, what makes the administration believe it would be successful in enforcing an Assad commitment to stop arming Hizbullah and cut support for Hamas? 

The Assad regime always benefits from the process of peace, but it is the process and not the peace that interests Damascus. That is because Syria has no intention of trading alliances or stopping its support for terrorists, since its importance rests solely on its capacity to light fires around the region. Nor has there been any change in Syrian rhetoric. President Bashar Assad still considers Hamas to be a legitimate resistance group and preserving Hizbullah’s strength is a strategic imperative for the regime whose first foreign policy priority is regaining and retaining its domination over Lebanon.

Simply put, for Syria, the rewards for a peace agreement acceptable in Jerusalem and Washington are far outweighed by the benefits provided by its strategic and long-standing alignment with Teheran.

Washington’s current flirtation with Damascus, then, only provides benefits to Syria. This distraction points to an American foreign policy in the Middle East that for two years has been built on a fundamental misreading of the region. Indeed, it still rests upon the belief that the problem is one of communication, rather than the decisions and strategic calculations of states and actors such as Syria, Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas. Obama came into office with engagement as his mantra, seeking to reset US relations around the globe. One can only hope the White House finds the reset button quickly when it comes to its current approach to the Middle East.

The writer is director of policy of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington and editor ofinFOCUS Quarterly.









As in oil and gas exploration, drilling in the Israeli-Arab conflict has recently produced hopeful signs. Yet these signs, too, have long since ceased to interest the public, and with considerable justice. After all, the Israeli-Arab conflict has included a ritual dance for years now called "The Palestinian track has reached a dead end? Let's go, Syria!"


Since the 1990s, there have been numerous examples of switches between the two tracks, since the politicians' working assumption is that diplomatic negotiations cannot progress along both tracks at once. Yitzhak Rabin, for instance, preferred to focus on the Syrian track, but later abandoned it in favor of the Palestinian track, which ended in the Oslo Accords. Ehud Barak also initially favored the Syrian track, but after he failed there, he decided to move over to the Palestinian track - where he also failed.


And now, talks with the Palestinians have once again reached a dead end. So it's no surprise that the Syrian option is once again sprouting up. The convergence of several signs - U.S. envoy Dennis Ross' visit to Damascus, the appointment of a new American ambassador to Damascus and reports in both the Arab and the Israeli press about secret talks - evokes the possibility that perhaps the smoke really does attest to the presence of a fire, even if it is currently a small one.


Aside from the dead end on the Palestinian track, what has actually changed on the Syrian one? A great deal, but at the same time, nothing at all. Syrian President Bashar Assad's worldview hasn't changed. Ever since he took power, his stance has been consistent: He is willing to conduct negotiations and sign an agreement that will lead to a full Israeli withdrawal to the banks of Lake Kinneret, but not to normalize relations (as in the peace with Egypt ). All the rest - demilitarization of the Golan Heights, early warning stations, an industrial park on the Golan, and so forth - can be discussed during the negotiations.


What has changed, however, is the environment. Turkey is no longer Israel's ally, and therefore cannot serve as a mediator. And Iran has increased its influence over Syria (via a series of military and economic agreements ), as well as its involvement in Lebanon.


That last development is actually particularly interesting, because it creates a basis for distancing Syria from Iran due to the former's fear of becoming a mere appendage of the latter. It's worth emphasizing that despite the alliance between the two countries, Syria's natural place in the regional alignment is with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and there's nothing to prevent it from returning to that place if given the right incentives.


But what is Israel doing? Very little. It hasn't responded to Assad's proposals with the appropriate seriousness. It has plenty of excuses: Syria's alliance with Iran, its support for Hezbollah, and of course Assad's uncompromising position. Nevertheless, the Syrian conflict is riper for solution than the Palestinian one.


Most of the issues have already been resolved in previous rounds of talks, and none of the outstanding disputes (including the question of Lake Kinneret ) is anywhere near as significant as the problems of Jerusalem or the Palestinian refugees. And the advantages of a peace agreement with Syria are numerous and well-known; thus it's no surprise that many people in the defense establishment support such a deal.


But such a move requires a leadership decision. And so far, no Israeli prime minister has ever dared to make such a decision.


Judging from past experience, it is reasonable to assume that the current drilling on the Syrian track will also come up empty, since the composition of the current government does not imply any potential to exploit this opportunity. But one brave decision could alter the regional balance of power in Israel's favor and strike a decisive blow at the forces of radical Islam headed by Iran. So where's the Israeli leader who would be willing to take up the gauntlet?


The author is a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.








It's high time a legal ban on the Israeli left be instituted. Why do we continue beating around the bush? Why do we need such a taxing, exhaustive legislative process in enacting law after law? What's the use of all these various proposals and amendments? In lieu of all the aforementioned, let's just do one very simple thing: declare the left an illegal entity in the State of Israel. From then on, whoever thinks left, acts left, demonstrates left or tolerates left will belong in jail.


Let's build another "holding facility" for foreigners, but this time for the foreigners from within - the leftists - thus purging and purifying our camp. Such a step would accurately reflect the zeitgeist that has taken hold among the majority of Israelis, and allow them to sketch a genuine portrait of Israeli democracy.


In the Israel of 2011, it's no longer legitimate to belong to the left. It's illegitimate to campaign for human rights or to oppose the occupation or to investigate war crimes. Such actions earn Israelis a mark of shame. A land-stealing settler is a Zionist; a warmongering right-winger is a patriot; an inciting rabbi is a spiritual leader; a racist who expels foreigners is a loyal citizen. Only the leftist is a traitor.


The nationalist loves Israel, while the leftist despises it. One doesn't have to apologize for anything, while the other must disprove rumor and speculation. In the Israel of 2011, we can no longer speak of the sentiments expressed by the vendors of the open-air markets and bazaars. Now, a majority of government agencies and legal entities are taking part in this dangerous bonanza of delegitimization.


The Knesset has resolved to create a parliamentary committee of inquiry to look into the activities of left-wing groups "and their contribution to the delegitimization campaign against Israel." Such a panel would make even Senator Joseph McCarthy blush.


Nuri el-Okbi, a Bedouin citizen and rights activist, was sent to prison for operating an unlicensed business by Judge Zecharia Yeminy, who wasn't embarrassed to admit that he upped el-Okbi's punishment solely due to the fact that he'd acted on behalf of the rights of the scattered Bedouin population.

Jonathan Pollak, a member of "Anarchists Against the Wall" and an anti-occupation activist that any healthy society would be proud of, was sent to jail for riding his bicycle on the road.


Mossi Raz, a former Knesset member who was innocently standing on the sidewalk during a protest against the killing of a Palestinian activist in Bil'in, was beaten by a police officer, handcuffed and arrested.


Peace activists are questioned by the Shin Bet security service and warned ahead of time against committing any violations. A physicians' group is "on the extreme left," a social foundation "despises Israel," dedicated women who monitor checkpoints are "traitors" and an information center is considered "an accomplice to terrorism."


Settlers who hurl trash at Israeli soldiers and their friends who set fire to Palestinian fields are not placed on trial, and yet Pollak is sent to jail. Soldiers who killed Palestinians carrying white flags have yet to be punished, but those who revealed such incidents are denounced. All of this is compounded by a plethora of bills - from the loyalty oath to the Nakba law. Everything blends together to form one horrifying picture: The left is an enemy of the people and an enemy of the state.


While all of this transpires, the real damage to Israel's image and its international standing is being caused by its obstructionist policy and the government's efforts to further solidify the occupation. It is caused by the violent activities of the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers, along with the racist actions of Israel's legislators and rabbis.


One day's worth of Operation Cast Lead did more to putrefy Israel's stench than all of the critical reports combined. One torched mosque did more to drag Israel's name in the mud than all of the columns and editorials criticizing Israel combined.


Yet nobody is demanding that any of these incidents be investigated. Very few people, if anyone, have been put on trial for such actions. What remains of the left, the only group who continues to preserve Israel's moral standing? The lone few keeping the flickering flame of humanity burning are accused, convicted and punished while the true guilty parties are cleared of all charges. The police, the legal system, the Knesset, the Shin Bet, and the IDF have joined forces with the propagandists of the right to act as prosecutors without a trial, while the left is deprived of a defense attorney.


One single law could simplify matters: Let every Israeli know that it is forbidden. It's forbidden to believe in a just Israel, forbidden to fight against any of its injustices, forbidden to struggle for its soul. Still, a bit of doubt manages to creep into the heart. Do all of those waging a fight against the left - from the heads of the Shin Bet and the police, to the judges and the right-wing lawmakers - really want a "democracy" without the left?







The more Israel's isolation in the world increases as a result of the government shunning the peace process, the more energy the right-wing parties, led by Yisrael Beiteinu, are investing in silencing internal criticism.


It may seem ironic that Avigdor Lieberman, the same foreign minister responsible for some of the crises that have led to Israel's delegitimization, is the person leading this crusade to silence and persecute leftist and human rights groups in Israel, a crusade that culminated yesterday in the initiative to establish a parliamentary panel of inquiry to "investigate" such organizations as Breaking the Silence, Yesh Gvul B'Tselem on the grounds that they are "damaging Israel's legitimacy."


But it shouldn't seem ironic, since these things all go together, as history shows: Confrontational leadership that attempts - out of ideology or cynicism - to establish its rule by disseminating fear, paranoia and hatred toward the entire world, will not stop at destroying foreign relations. It will blame the results of its mistakes on internal enemies, on a fifth column.


The extent of the political right's cynicism is evident in the fact that its demand to "investigate" "the intervention of foreigners in Israel's affairs" is directed only at left-wing groups, while "foreign" interference in the country's affairs by the supporters and financiers of the settlement movement is ignored and silenced with a wink.


There is nothing new in criticism being leveled at those who spread information or opinions that are not always convenient for the reigning national-security narrative.


What is new is the intensity of the "persecution of the left," which has become not only a craze but a replacement for any sort of policy.


The blame for this wave of attacks lies with the "sit and do nothing" policy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who despite lip service to the contrary here and there, is celebrating the victory of this fatalistic and pessimistic narrative - the narrative that claims that the conflict with the Arabs is insolvable and all that that can be done is to manage it. And the more detached and fragile this "management policy" becomes, the greater the incentive to uproot any information that threatens to pull the ground from under it.


Persecuting internal political rivals will do nothing to convince anyone of the just path of the right-wing government headed by Netanyahu and Lieberman. It will only undermine Israeli democracy even further.








Raise your eyes, Bibi. The prime minister's study is a pleasant room, but a closed one. So one must rise from the desk and take a few steps out to the secretaries' room. One must cross the secretaries' room and enter the prime minister's office. Then leave the prime minister's office and walk about the other rooms. And watch. See what human materials the prime minister's bureau is made of. See how the prime minister's bureau is run. Ask what Benjamin Ze'ev Herzl would have said about such a bureau. Ask what Winston Churchill would have said about it. Is the current prime minister's bureau the best national headquarters Israel can produce?


Raise you eyes, Bibi. When you enter the Israeli cabinet's meeting room this Sunday look around you. Look right, look left, minister by minister. Are there five excellent ministers sitting around the cabinet table? Are there 10 worthy ministers? Is the foreign minister the right one for the job? Is the interior minister the right one? What would Herzl say about this mediocrity? What would Churchill say about this wretchedness? Can the current government deal with existential challenges?


Raise your eyes, Bibi. Walk along the corridor, get out of the glass aquarium and go down the stairs. Enter the armored Audi and take a tour around the state's systems. You will see the diplomatic system collapsing. You will see the defense-military system struggling. You will see the education system floundering. You will see the interior systems failing. Yes, the Mossad and Shin Bet are still outstanding. The health system is impressive. But most of the public administration systems are atrophied and clogged. There is no constitution, no rule, no governance. The state has no landlord.


What would Herzl say about such a lamentable state of affairs? How would Churchill have won with such dysfunctional state systems? What has the current prime minister done to repair the state from its core?


Raise your eyes, Bibi. Board a helicopter and fly the length and breadth of the country. Not to put out a fire this time, but to see a fire. Because the entire state is being sucked into the center, whose towers are rising to the the sky. The bubble is getting bigger and bigger to the verge of explosion. But we're losing the Galilee and Negev. We're losing Jerusalem. The West Bank is becoming an irreversible entanglement. The periphery is abandoned, the margins are injured, the occupation is suffocating. The country is burning in a silent combustion. Formidable centrifugal forces are closing in on the Israeli center. Herzl's state of the Jews is losing its hold on the land. The Churchillian struggle-state is losing its spirit. There is no leader to forge a path and show Israel the way out.


Raise your eyes, Bibi. When the helicopter lands get out and talk to people. Go and see what is really going on. When was the last time you had a profound conversation with Amos Oz? when did you last ask Stanley Fischer about the state of the nation? When did you listen to a young company commander who has left the army and is searching for his way in the Israeli jungle? Only if you listen perhaps you'll understand how desperate the intellectual elite is. How anxious the business elite is. How the best of our young people are losing hope. The Israelis devoted to Israel do not see the Churchill who will save the Herzlian state. They see a Netanyahu who is a shadow of Netanyahu's shadow. A grotesque of Netanyahu. A pale copy of what Netanyahu was supposed to be.


Raise your eyes, Bibi. You've passed another budget, survived another year. During your first 20 months in office you've maintained calm on the borders and preserved the economic growth. But under the quiet surface the state is mortally sick. Under the surface of growth society is crumbling. The international situation, the national situation and the social situation are intolerable. Israel is losing its international legitimacy, its inner unity and the meaning of its existence. While you are lowering your gaze, Bibi, history is focusing its gaze on you.








With former President Moshe Katsav's foolish behavior and his decisive conviction by the court, a new tune can now be heard in the public discourse: questioning the institution of the presidency. Who needs such a thing, a rapist president? We're wasting money that could instead be channeled into more positive ventures, such as helping the poor, they are saying. But these comments are not rooted in a profound discussion of the significance or symbolic value of the institution, but the fact that a convicted rapist served as president of the country.


This formula is based on a combination of words: Moshe Katsav the man, who committed rape, also served as president of Israel. The analogy has been made, and the phrase has begun to dominate the discourse: a rapist president. This phrase indicates our problematic use of language and the way in which our thinking is dependent on it. We shoot out words every day, we release them easily - after all, there is ostensibly no danger in the flow of words; with so many words out there, maybe nobody even notices one word or another.


But this is an illusion, that words are simply erased into thin air. In effect, we etch words into our consciousness. Words can construct a reality. For example, asking for forgiveness at a critical moment of tension will likely lead to reconciliation and the turning of a new leaf in relations.


In South Africa, during the transition period between the despotic apartheid government and the democratic government, which was still fighting for its establishment, the words "I'm sorry" coming from the former oppressors provided an opening for forgiveness and cooperation. Our reality is constructed in our minds from words, our thought processes are composed of words, and these words guide our perception of the world around us and the ways in which we orient ourselves on its complex paths.


And so the saying that words can kill is true, especially when these words include stereotypical terms, like racist or rapist. When certain rabbis issue a flyer that is defined as racist, suddenly all the rabbis become racists and the generalization is perpetuated. Over time, the word loses its dictionary meaning and becomes part of a new context, a magic word.


Eytan Sheshinski, for example, is no longer the man himself, but a symbol and expression of the pressures exerted by business tycoons and of surrendering to the omnipotent. A rapist president has now also become a symbol - and the reaction is that we should abolish the institution of the presidency. Journalists of all people must be particularly careful about the phrases they coin and perpetuate.


So many women are jumping for joy. "Skipping around the house like an idiot," says Merav Michaeli, quoting her friends, because they convicted the rapist, and all women everywhere are now "extremely excited." What is that, if not a generalization itself? Did the Katsav case provide an ultimate characterization of the rapist male sex? Don't these women understand that by using the stereotype, by generalizing that all men are rapists, by saying that only now, thanks to Judge George Karra (oy, a man ) and his two female colleagues (luckily women ), the men were caught before being able to carry out their evil intentions - don't they realize they're only reinforcing the gap between men and women?


The language of generalization is dangerous; it's the language of propaganda, the language of hatred, the demonic rhetoric of fascist regimes which fans the brotherhood of the masses through incitement against the other, based on stereotypes that reinforce such hatred. Generalization versus specifics. We of all people, here in Israel, must insist on specifics. Moshe Katsav himself was accused of rape, and was found guilty by the court. That's all; not every single male nor every single president.


The writer is the author of "The Israeli Discourse: Between Aggressiveness and Rationality" (in Hebrew ).



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES





THREE years after the mortgage crisis began, there are still 11 million to 15 million homeowners who owe more than their home is worth, meaning that about 25 percent of all mortgage holders are underwater. As a result, foreclosures continue to mount; many homeowners can’t make their payments and are tempted to simply walk away from their debt. Meanwhile, the lenders and investors who own the loans are unwilling to work out a deal if, as is usually the case, it means losing money.


Fortunately, there is a solution. Rather than be at odds, homeowners and investors should partner in long-term equity-sharing arrangements.


Here’s how it would work. Let’s say a homeowner purchased a house in 2004 for $300,000 with no money down, and the property is now worth $150,000 — a 50 percent drop in value.


In an equity-sharing arrangement, the lender would write a new loan for $150,000, retire the original $300,000 loan and, to make up for that loss, take a 50 percent deeded ownership interest in the property. The homeowner would also agree to split 50 percent of the net proceeds of any future sale of the property with the lender. The new arrangement would also include a buyout provision, so that if the homeowner ever wanted to take over the lender’s share, he would simply pay the lender a predetermined amount of cash.


Such a plan would be relatively easy to put in place, assuming the lender held the loan in its own portfolio. In most cases, however, lenders immediately sold their loans to investors and merely performed loan-servicing duties like collecting monthly payments and sending statements.


In those instances, the lender would have already made its money when the loan was originated, the proceeds from the new loan and the 50 percent deeded interest in the property would go to the investor, not the lender. The investor would also benefit from any future sale or when the homeowner exercised the buyout provision.


Equity-sharing would be a boon for everyone involved. Homeowners could stay in their houses and preserve their credit (assuming they stay current on the new loan). The neighborhood would avoid a foreclosure, which can depress property values. And the lender or investor could participate in the upside potential when the house eventually sells. Best of all, it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.


A major reason the mortgage mess has gone on so long is that homeowners, lenders and investors assume their interests are at odds. An equity-sharing arrangement would bring all three onto the same side — and help solve America’s foreclosure crisis.


Alex Perriello is the president and chief executive of a real estate franchise organization.








Past New York governors usually leaned on lofty rhetoric and vague promises as they gave their annual State of the State speeches in the stuffy halls of the Legislature. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wisely chucked all that on Wednesday in favor of a stark analysis of New York’s dismal plight.


Assisted by huge video screens at Albany’s downtown auditorium, Mr. Cuomo offered elaborate — and promising, if he can pull them off — proposals to “reinvent, reorganize and redesign” New York government at almost every level. He vowed to make New York “a business-friendly state” and to curb state spending. He ended by literally bellowing about his pursuit of progressive causes, from marriage equality and reorganization of juvenile detention centers to new consumer protections and fresher food in urban centers.


Now if he can only deliver. (His ode to the state’s dysfunctional Legislature, while probably a diplomatic nicety, was not encouraging. The Legislature is part of the problem, not the solution, at this point.)


Although detail was lacking, the governor’s “fundamental realignment” of state government included a few particularly promising ideas:


¶The creation of three commissions to recommend within weeks how to trim state government agencies and authorities by 20 percent, how to remove the costliest state demands on local governments, and how to cut Medicaid costs, probably by at least $2 billion. All of these changes must go through the Legislature, but the panels will at least provide a place to air his proposed budget cuts. They could even offer better ideas.


¶To encourage good government practices, an extra $250 million for local governments to consolidate their services and $250 million for school districts that educate their students more successfully.


¶A “Clean Up Albany” package, not “watered down” by the less wholesome forces that still dominate state government. The governor’s list includes public financing for elections, an independent redistricting commission, full disclosure of outside income by legislators, and other reforms that are indispensable if New York government is ever to regain credibility.


¶One financial regulation department to deal with banking, insurance and consumer protection. Mr. Cuomo promised that the new department will focus on protecting consumers from predatory lending, seedy foreclosures and other dishonest practices.


Governor Cuomo’s pep rally came almost a month before he will present his first balanced budget (due Feb. 1). He acknowledged how big the problem is. If underlying costs for the state are not addressed now, he said, a $10 billion gap looms in next year’s $136 billion budget, $14 billion the year after that and $17 billion after that.


Mr. Cuomo has wisely promised no one-time fixes when he presents his budget. And he said he would close the “partisan political theater” — which should mean he will open the budget process to more than the three men in a room who have made budget decisions for many years. But he has also stuck to his vow to impose a property tax cap and a cap on increases in the state budget at the national inflation rate.


These caps sound frugal and sensible, but artificial caps on state spending are bad long-term policies, and the real estate tax cap will punish poorer communities where facilities deteriorate because homeowners will not agree to pay more taxes.

Mr. Cuomo cut his own salary by 5 percent, and asked for a wage freeze for most state workers for a year. That would make more budgetary sense if he did not seem so inclined to eliminate the income tax surcharge on people making more than $200,000 a year.


Mr. Cuomo has been talking a lot about returning to a time when New York’s government was the model for other states. As he well knows, that is a high bar.







John Boehner, the new speaker, promised the incoming House members of the 112th Congress on Wednesday to “give the government back to the American people.” But away from the camera, the chamber’s new Republican leadership is busy doing the opposite.


Darrell Issa of California, the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has sent out letters to 150 businesses and trade groups, asking them for suggestions on loosening what he called “job-killing” corporate regulations.


This, of course, has nothing to do with Mr. Boehner’s tearful populism and everything to do with the tens of millions in corporate dollars that helped propel the Republicans to power in the House. Businesses have complained about the Obama administration’s expanded, and necessary, oversight of finance, health care and food production, among other areas. Now they have helped elect a House leadership that is eager to do their bidding.


Mr. Issa did not have to wait long for answers to his query. To cite just a few: Financial companies have protested the new controls on debit-card fees, which were enacted to save small businesses billions of dollars and to lower prices. Manufacturers said they did not like the proposed E.P.A. limits on greenhouse gas emissions, intended to begin addressing global warming. There were even complaints about the cost to business of proposed federal limits on how long truck drivers can be behind the wheel, which would save lives on the highway.


None of this should be surprising, especially coming from Mr. Issa, who has already made clear his intention to harass the Obama administration with “seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks.”


One of his targets, he has said, would be the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is intended to curb some of the financial industry’s worst practices and help head off another meltdown. Apparently he required no hearings or the slightest smidgen of evidence to declare that President Obama is “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times,” even if he now claims that corrupt does not mean criminal.


The new Republican leaders love to insert the phrase “job-killing” in front of everything they oppose, hoping it might mask their true intentions. Mr. Boehner has been speaker for just one day. But it is already clear that the Republicans’ plan is to serve their corporate donors, above all else.








Christians are increasingly under siege in Egypt and Iraq. Over the past year, hundreds have been killed or wounded in attacks, and the violence is further raising political and sectarian tensions in the two countries. All people, regardless of their beliefs, should be outraged.


The latest incident in Egypt occurred in Alexandria on New Year’s Day. Twenty-three people were killed and nearly 100 wounded in a bombing after a midnight Mass at a Coptic Christian church. Since then, there have been three days of unrest as Coptic Christians have taken to the street to protest and demand government protection.


Egypt often tries to keep a lid on things by blaming foreign actors for Muslim-on-Christian violence, and President Hosni Mubarak quickly pinned the attack on “foreign fingers.” Officials later said local Egyptians might also have been involved. Authorities need to find and prosecute all who were responsible.


Unfortunately, extremists have fertile ground in Egypt, where tolerance and diversity were once prized. The Mubarak government has a longstanding policy of repressing Muslim fundamentalists, further radicalizing these groups. And, as its political support has waned, it has sought to pander to the Muslim majority by discriminating against other religions — especially Coptic Christians, who are about 10 percent of the population, and the smaller Bahai community.


Meanwhile, thousands of Christians have fled Iraq since an October siege at a Baghdad church that killed 51 worshipers and two priests, and a subsequent series of bombings and assassinations singling out Christians. The Islamic State of Iraq, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the church attack and has threatened more to come.


Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, have pledged to tighten security and have appealed for tolerance for minority faiths. They also need to ensure that the attackers are brought to justice. Extremist attacks must not become an excuse for more authoritarianism in either Iraq or Egypt. But if the two governments do not bring things under control and provide security for all of their citizens, their once richly diverse societies will suffer. Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Maliki need to find the right balance, quickly.







Next month, you will be able to buy the single- volume NewSouth Edition of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” edited by Professor Alan Gribben of Auburn University at Montgomery. It differs from other editions of those books because Mr. Gribben has turned the word “nigger” — as used by Tom and Huck — into “slave.” Mr. Gribben has also changed “Injun” to Indian.


Mr. Gribben says he wants to make these American classics readable again — for young readers and for anyone who is hurt by the use of an epithet that would have been ubiquitous in Missouri in the 1830s and 1840s, which is when both books are set. He says he discovered how much Twain’s language offended readers when he began giving talks about “Tom Sawyer” all across Alabama in 2009. He has also acknowledged that what he calls “textual purists” will be horrified by his sanitized versions of the two classics.


We are horrified, and we think most readers, textual purists or not, will be horrified too. The trouble isn’t merely adulterating Twain’s text. It’s also adulterating social, economic and linguistic history. Substituting the word “slave” makes it sound as though all the offense lies in the “n-word” and has nothing to do with the institution of slavery. Worse, it suggests that understanding the truth of the past corrupts modern readers, when, in fact, this new edition is busy corrupting the past.


When “Huckleberry Finn” was published, Mark Twain appended a note on his effort to reproduce “painstakingly” the dialects in the book, including several backwoods dialects and “the Missouri negro dialect.” What makes “Huckleberry Finn” so important in American literature isn’t just the story, it’s the richness, the detail, the unprecedented accuracy of its spoken language. There is no way to “clean up” Twain without doing irreparable harm to the truth of his work.








Nearly a year after the earthquake in Haiti, more than one million people are still living in tents and reconstruction has barely begun — and that’s a useful reminder of the limitations of charity and foreign aid.


Private and public donations saved lives in Haiti, no question. But it’s also true that well-meaning bleeding-hearts tend to exaggerate the impact aid typically has on a country. Those nations that have managed to lift themselves out of poverty have done so mostly with trade, not aid — with giving people jobs and a ladder, not handouts and an elevator.


On the other hand, stony-hearts mistakenly surrender hope. They see Haiti — or Africa — as a bottomless pit, a perennial hell impervious to progress. That doesn’t match reality either.


So let me guide you to a village in the Haitian interior where I recently saw an aid program making a difference — by helping people help themselves. There are many variants of such programs around the world, but this one is run by Fonkoze, a peasant bank that is one of the most admired aid organizations in Haiti. It was founded by a local Catholic priest, Father Joseph Philippe, who then recruited an American management consultant, Anne Hastings, to run it. Ms. Hastings went to Haiti for a temporary visit in 1995. She is still there.


On a hillside in central Haiti, I met Odecile Jean, a 35-year-old woman with five children, ages 5 to 15. When she entered the Fonkoze program, none of her children were in school, and she had no farm animals. The family lived day to day, surviving on odd jobs.


Yet after 13 months in the 18-month-long program, Ms. Jean beamed as she showed off her brand new cow, discussed her thriving lumber business and boasted that her children were all in school. Her husband, Lionel, hinted of ambitions for them to go to college.


This transformation began when the couple’s “caseworker,” a stern young Haitian named Pascale Joseph, insisted that the family start three separate businesses so as to have a reliable way of making a living. They discussed several possibilities and decided to focus on buying logs and sawing them into lumber. It’s hard work, but profitable.


The family also entered the livestock business, with a couple of goats, and the chicken industry, starting with

four newborn chicks. Mr. Joseph helped them build pens and advised them on caring for the animals. He also helped them plant 15 mango trees so they could sell fruit in the market.


I asked Ms. Jean how her chicken eggs tasted, and she looked scandalized. “I’m not going to eat these eggs,” she said. “I’m going to use them to raise more chicks.”


Ms. Hastings beamed when she heard that. “She’s getting in the habit of reinvesting, which is good.”


In exchange for the help they receive, participants like Ms. Jean must show that they can save money and invest it wisely to grow their businesses. Participants also must send children to school and adopt family planning.


To reduce malnutrition, participants are obliged to feed their children at least two hot meals a day. My kids were with me on this trip to Haiti, and they looked with interest at Ms. Jean’s list of obligations posted on her door.


“Dad,” my 16-year-old son pointed out, “I don’t always get two hot meals a day.”


Whether in America or Haiti, poverty is sometimes linked to self-destructive behaviors that lock families into unending cycles of penury. Caseworkers shatter those cycles, partly by ensuring that earnings go to education rather than alcohol.


Mr. Joseph, the caseworker, explained: “I say, ‘Every day you go out and drink and smoke, that’s another day that your child can’t go to school or eat.’ ”


Granted, things don’t always work smoothly. In a different village, I met a 20-year-old single mother in the program who had let baby goats die of negligence, and who celebrated her first earnings by buying a makeup kit. But after hounding by the caseworker, the young woman has gotten the hang of supporting her children, and is exhilarated by new possibilities.


What Haiti needs above all these days is these kinds of livelihoods for its people, not just shipments of food and clothing. It’s hard to think of a charitable project that will be as beneficial as the Coca-Cola Company’s decision to build up the mango juice industry in Haiti, supporting 25,000 farmers. The same is true of the move by South Korean garment companies to open factories in Haiti.


I strongly believe that we have a moral obligation to address extreme poverty around the world. But sometimes the best way to discharge that obligation isn’t charity in the old-fashioned sense of handouts, but rather helping people like Ms. Jean find their own ways to support their families.








They’re back! As has been frequently noted, the first day of a new Congress is very much like the first day of school. Except for the part where it’s on TV and the fate of the largest economy on the planet hangs in the balance.


But when the 112th Congress opened on Wednesday, you definitely had a lot of excited new faces. The House of Representatives is flooded with freshmen, some of whom will embark upon a career of service that will allow them to remain in office for the next 20 years without ever impinging on our consciousness a single time.


Others are pretty clearly gunning to become household names, like Representative Allen West, a Republican from Florida, who began his Congressional career by picking, for his top aide, a radio talk show host known for her colorful gift of gab. (“If ballots don’t work, bullets will.”) Her employment was very brief, very stormy, and filled with questions about whether it was really a good idea to suggest that illegal immigrants be hanged and sent home in a box. Looking back on the episode, West assured a Fox interviewer, “I didn’t learn anything from it.”


The House on Wednesday was all about change, change, change, beginning, of course, with the new speaker. “Be it providence or destiny, a man of uniquely American values has been called,” intoned Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas in a nominating speech for John Boehner. “He has lived the American dream and will protect it for our posterity.”


Nononono, Representative Hensarling! You do not want to talk about John Boehner and the American dream, because he will start to cry and we’ll never get through this.


Sure enough, Boehner pulled out a handkerchief. But decorum was maintained.


Boehner began his tenure by promising more transparency, “a free exchange of ideas,” the chance to offer amendments on the floor and “open debate.” Also, of course, there would be lots of budget-cutting, and sponsors of bills are going to have to show how to pay for them.


His speech was noninflammatory, in keeping with his new role as a guy who everyone is beginning, in desperation, to tag as a potential bridge-builder. As Politico recently reported, Boehner hopes to model himself after Nicholas Longworth, a powerful speaker from the 1920s who also came from Ohio. Longworth is best remembered for having an office building named after him, and definitely not at all remembered for allowing a free exchange of ideas and open debate. But at least Boehner’s not promising to be like Ronald Reagan.


After the reform rules are approved, the House will move on to the Republicans’ first order of business, repeal of the health care reform law. The new rules would, in theory, require that the sponsors explain how to replace the $100 billion that the Congressional Budget Office says the law will save over the next 10 years. But this one does not have to be paid for, because the new majority feels the Congressional Budget Office is wrong. Anyhow, they won the election.


Also, there will be no amendments.


I’m willing to cut the new leadership a little slack. If you’re going to bring up a wildly partisan and totally symbolic bill, there really isn’t any point in fooling around with cost estimates and opposition amendments. It would be like putting up warning signs for the wolves before you shoot them from a small plane.


Let’s wait to see what the new House majority does on its much-vaunted promise to immediately cut $100 billion — or up to 30 percent — of discretionary domestic spending this very year.


Although, House aides told The Times’s Jackie Calmes, maybe you should make that $50 billion. Whatever. Boehner has definitely gotten the ball rolling by cutting Congress’s own budget by 2.6 percent.


Meanwhile, over in the Senate, the thought of change was also in the air. “They say you can never step in the same river twice,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, who went on to assure his listeners that it was also not possible to step in the same Senate twice.


There was lots of discussion of reform in the Senate, too, and the chamber jumped into a vigorous debate on Democratic proposals to change the rules. The plan would decimate several venerable traditions, like the one that allows one senator to bring all progress on a bill or a nomination to a screeching halt without having to reveal his or her identity.


Everybody is now going home for two weeks to think about it.


This sort of change can only be made on the first day of business, but fortunately, Reid has invoked a special rule that allows him to keep the chamber at opening day until the end of the month. This is something that happens only in the United States Senate and early episodes of “Star Trek.” We are waiting to see if the senators continue to age while time stands still.








AS we all move forward with our New Year’s resolutions, it’s a good time to remember the promises our politicians have been making about the American mortgage market. The Obama administration, at a conference last August on the future of housing finance, pledged to have, come January, a plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants that are now wards of the government. Congressional Republicans, in their recent position paper, made an even bolder resolution: to build a mortgage market that “does not rely on government guarantees” and “does not make private investors and creditors wealthy while saddling taxpayers with losses.”


This latter promise is pleasing populist rhetoric. The problem is, it may be neither politically nor practically feasible. Even if we forget about the gigantic near-term problem — namely, that the federal government is in the housing market mainly because most banks simply won’t issue mortgages that can’t be guaranteed by Fannie, Freddie or the Federal Housing Administration — there’s the fact that federal involvement in housing has been a constant since the 1930s. A market without government support would almost certainly involve the demise (for most of middle-class America) of that populist favorite, the low-cost 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.


For a homeowner, a mortgage with a 30-year fixed rate (especially one that he can pay off early without a penalty) is a wonderful thing. For lenders and investors, however, it is a financial Frankenstein’s monster, an unnatural product filled with the potential for losses. Absorbing some of the risk of those losses is a large part of what the government does in the housing market.


Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for instance, were created by the federal government to buy up mortgages from lenders, thereby enabling them to turn around and issue more mortgages. Among other things, this allowed the lenders to get off their books the two kinds of risk that a mortgage carries. We’re all now sadly familiar with one kind, credit risk — that is, the danger that a borrower won’t pay back the mortgage. The second is interest-rate risk, the danger that interest rates will rise sharply after the mortgage has been made, thereby burdening the bank with money-losing loans. (Interest-rate risk was the root cause of the savings and loan crisis.) The longer a mortgage lasts, the more difficult it is to manage both of these risks. And 30 years is an awfully long time.


With the advent of securitization, or the ability to package up mortgages and sell them off as securities, the market found some investors — bond funds, insurance companies and others — that were willing to take on interest-rate risk. But even in those halcyon days when credit risk wasn’t supposed to be an issue, the majority of investors still didn’t want it. So Fannie and Freddie solved the problem by guaranteeing the payment on mortgages before the securities were sold off to investors. (In the non-government market, the ratings agencies provided a solution, by stamping large pieces of securitizations with the supposedly ultrasafe triple-A rating.)


Today, credit risk is anathema, and by shouldering it, Fannie and Freddie are propping up the housing market. The banks that make the mortgages don’t want credit risk, and neither do investors. Indeed, William Gross, the co-founder and managing director of the investment firm Pimco, has said his funds wouldn’t buy pools of so-called private label mortgages — those lacking a government guarantee — unless the homeowners involved had made a down payment of at least 30 percent.


The proposed Fannie-Freddie reform that has gotten the most traction recently — various iterations of this have been endorsed by Hank Paulson, the former Treasury secretary, among others — calls for new private-sector entities that would continue to provide credit guarantees on mortgages. These guarantees would not be entirely private, however, because they would be explicitly backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.


There are various proposals for how this could be done with less risk to taxpayers than Fannie and Freddie pose, but, obviously, we’re still talking government involvement. And there’s something perverse about creating companies that would be saddled with exactly the same kind of risk — credit risk — that took down Fannie and Freddie in 2008. Furthermore, we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think that once the memory of the housing bubble begins to fade, these new creatures won’t find themselves under political pressure to keep the price of their credit guarantees low, in order to help keep the price of the 30-year mortgage low as well.


Wouldn’t a better solution be for banks and other financial institutions to offer mortgage products that they actually want to keep on their own books? Maybe these would take the form of 15-year mortgages with a rate that would be adjusted after five years so that the banks wouldn’t have to worry about long-term interest-rate risk. This might not even mean the disappearance of 30-year fixed-rate mortgages — the private market has historically provided them to consumers whose mortgages are too big to qualify for a Fannie and Freddie guarantee. But these are usually issued only to the wealthiest, most credit-worthy consumers.


And therein lies the rub. Almost certainly, any 30-year product would be offered on a more limited basis and at a higher price than it is today. How much higher, it’s hard to say. In the pre-crisis days, Fannie used to argue that its guarantee enabled consumers to pay one quarter to one half of a percentage point less in annual interest on their mortgages; today, Mr. Gross says that mortgages without a government guarantee would cost at least several percentage points more. If his numbers are right, then mortgages — and 30-year mortgages in particular — would be far more expensive, and the pool of American homebuyers would shrink.


This may well be the right long-term answer. After all, other countries manage fine without the widespread availability of 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. But is there an American politician alive who would accept responsibility for depressing the housing market further?


In any case, even a willingness to have more expensive mortgages would not get the government out of the housing market completely. Recall that, before the bubble burst in 2007, the private sector didn’t do much better than the government-sponsored entities at monitoring mortgage risk. What would happen years down the road if one of our increasingly large banks, one that is critical to the mortgage business, ran into trouble? Even assuming that we’d solved the issue of allowing such banks to be too big to fail, there’d still be deposit insurance. Taxpayers would still be on the hook.


So be wary of politicians bearing promises of a perfect world where average Americans can get the mortgages to which we now all feel entitled and the government is nowhere to be seen. It’s a mirage.


Bethany McLean is the co-author, with Joe Nocera of The Times, of “All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis.”









The people who captain the nation's aircraft carriers are not to be confused with choir boys. They lead crews big enough to populate a small town and command firepower sufficient to decimate a large city. They must be leaders with a capital L — people of substance, savvy and gravitas, with the instinct to make sound decisions and set an unerring standard for command.


Today, thousands of sailors, former sailors and others are rallying to the defense of Navy Capt. Owen Honors, the fired commander of the USS Enterprise, arguing that he is such a leader — a first-rate commander sacrificed on the altar of political correctness because some thin-skinned weenies were offended by videos he used to inspire his crew.


There seems no doubt that Honors inspires fierce loyalty. But the image the ex-captain puts forth in the videos, made when he was second in command, hardly merits it. If you didn't know the man's job, you might assume that he was the class clown, indifferent to the juvenile image he projects or to the consequences of his actions. Once public, such an embarrassment would earn firing, demotion or transfer in almost any context.


To be sure, humor is a valuable tool for building morale. But a savvier leader would know how to do it without resorting to frat-boy mockery, sexism and slurs against gays — on tape no less.


Honors' productions include scenes of simulated same-sex showers and masturbation, and of Honors using an anti-gay slur. Judging by the outpouring on Facebook, many crewmembers enjoyed the videos, shown on closed-circuit TV on the ship's movie night in 2006 and 2007. But some — it's unclear how many — complained. Honors' dismissive treatment of the objections says as much as the videos do about his leadership qualities. At the start of one video, he talks about complaints sent "gutlessly through other channels," and tells the "bleeding hearts" that they're likely to be offended again. Then the show goes on.


Yes, firing Honors was an easy call.


Much tougher to deal with are the broader questions the episode raises about the modern Navy.


When the videos, all at least three years old, surfaced Saturday in The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, the Navy initially seemed dismissive. Only after the videos went viral did the hammer come down on Honors.


The episode, and the Navy's shifting response, raise doubts about how much the Navy's culture has truly changed since the infamous Tailhook scandal two decades ago. In 1991, after more than 80 women were assaulted by Navy and Marine aviators at a Las Vegas convention, investigations revealed that the Navy tolerated sexual assault, harassment and demeaning treatment of women. While the Navy has come a long way — women are in top command posts and will soon be welcomed on submarines — vestiges of those problems apparently remain.


Now, just weeks after Congress ended its ban on openly gay servicemembers, the Navy ought to figure out why a rising-star commander felt free to make and distribute videos with anti-gay epithets. If "don't ask, don't tell" is going to be successfully repealed, the military is going to need officers who know how to lead by example. Whatever his other estimable qualities, Capt. Honors failed that test.








I am a veteran of both the 2006 and 2007 deployments on the USS Enterprise, and Capt. Owen Honors doesn't deserve any of the treatment he has been given. He certainly does not deserve to be fired. His actions, especially the videos, had a positive effect on the crew's morale during two strenuous, wartime deployments to the Persian Gulf.


The 12-minute clip released by The Virginian-Pilot does not accurately represent the original videos that were played every Saturday night during our deployment. These videos discussed important ship-board topics while using a humorous twist to keep them entertaining and memorable. Their production only stopped after Capt. Honors completed his normal, two-year tour of duty on the ship.


His successor as executive officer ("XO") on the ship actually tried to continue a version of movie night because of its popularity, but he wasn't able to reach the crew the way Owen Honors did. The supposedly "offensive" portions of the video are being portrayed extremely out of context.


A scene depicting people, both men and women, showering together in pairs was originally aired as part of a discussion about water conservation. With limited water supply on the ship, showers were restricted to three minutes. In order to take a six-minute shower, two people are shown showering together. At the end of the video, the sailor being bent over a counter is reminiscent to all sailors of a very intrusive medical exam, which is required upon enlistment. For men after a certain age, every physical includes this procedure.


On a Navy warship, the terms "fag" and "gay" are not used as a means of gay-bashing or to spread anti-homosexual beliefs. With a crew that's 90% men, they simply become words used as insults, always playfully. As a sailor, I have a filter that I switch on and off when with my shipmates or when in public.


Those two worlds are remarkably separate. To judge Navy behavior and language from a politically correct public viewpoint is irrational. And it is a contradiction to put a PC agenda on a ship whose ultimate mission is killing our enemies to defend our freedoms. Many former crewmembers, including women and some who are openly gay, have defended Capt. Honors, saying that they enjoyed watching "XO Movie Night" whenever they got the chance.


With that said, Capt. Honors was the best XO and commander I had the privilege to serve with, and he continues to have the undying support of his crew.


Jared Carson is a retired second class petty officer who served as a nuclear electronics technician on the USS Enterprise.









Sarah Palin's Alaska, a TLC miniseries, has been quite a spectacle.


We've watched Mama Grizzly mush a dog sled across a glacier; stalk caribou on the tundra; paddle raging white water; and match her frontierswoman sturdiness against Kate Gosselin's urban diva shtick. In the lulls between action, the ex-governor gushed about family values and her love for Alaska, and threw political elbows. Love or loathe her, this series seems a huge success at projecting the essence of Sarah to the world. And without that myth, what's left?


However, thousands of Alaskans hold a different view. Those of us who've actually lived off the land are less than impressed by Palin's televised exploits and, more important, by what they tell us about her. Tentative, physically inept, and betraying an even more awkward unfamiliarity with the land and lifestyle that's supposedly her birthright, Palin deconstructs her own myth before our eyes.


To be sure, packaging and style have often trumped substance in American democracy. From the days of literal stump speeches and catchy but empty political slogans such as "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!" politicians have vaulted into power on the shoulders of charisma and sound bite, projected to the widest possible audience by the best available media. Indeed,Barack Obama's own ascendance had less to do with his scant political résumé than his ability to light up a teleprompter. You could argue that Palin's mercurial, tweet-propelled rise is just the latest manifestation of a time-honored tradition. However, Sarah Palin's Alaska seems to have ushered in a new and troubling era in our democracy: the point where a burgeoning cultural fascination with reality TV and celebrity worship intersected mainstream politics, and the three merged into one.


Since orchestrated reality is about all anyone can expect from Palin — who is uniquely unavailable in unfiltered form to the "lamestream media" — we have no choice but to glean what we can from the offered narrative. Palin is presented as the embodiment of The Great Land itself — tough, unpretentious and aw-shucks alluring. But as she ushers us from bear viewing to bonking halibut, the Palin that emerges just doesn't live up to her backdrop. You don't have to be a mountain man to see past the thin veil of smoke and mirrors.


Guided 'adventures'


From the opening credits, Palin's not actually leading, as the show's stirring theme song (Follow Me There) suggests. Instead, she's tucked far under the wings of professional guides, friends, or family members — in a curious subtext, almost all males.


They instruct and coddle her along, at one point literally hauling Palin uphill on the end of a rope. Even post-production editing can't hide a glaring, city-slicker klutziness.


Most of the show's escapades bear scant resemblance to the activities of most outdoors-oriented Alaskans. In fact, about half of the Palins' "adventures" are guided trips aimed at mass-market tourists. You won't find many Alaskans on those theme park rides, which require no skills beyond a pulse and the ability to open your wallet.


Of course, there are sequences that feature Palin tagging along with working Alaskans. However, posing for hands-on scenes guided by loggers or commercial fishermen (including her husband, who's obviously a top notch outdoorsman) doesn't help. Alaskans would be a lot more impressed if she proved she could gut a caribou or set a gill net on her own — skills at which many bush-wise Alaskan women excel — and still keep those immaculately manicured French nails intact.


The caribou hunt episode provides a centerpiece of the series' excesses, as well as Palin's ineptitude. According to script, it's Palin's turn to replenish the family's dwindling freezer with wild meat — from an Alaska point of view, all good. But the logistics of the trip defy common sense. Instead of hunting within reasonable distance of home, her party flies 600-plus miles to a remote camp in multiple chartered aircraft. This isn't subsistence but the sort of experiential safari popular among high-end, non-resident sport hunters. For all that, Palin ends up with a skinny juvenile cow caribou. Boned out, we're talking maybe 100 pounds of meat, at astaggering cost per pound.


Faced with that hapless animal, this darling of Second Amendment supporters nervously asks her dad whether the small-caliber rifle kicks. Then, even more astoundingly, her father repeatedly works the bolt and loads for her as she misses shot after shot before scoring a kill on the seventh round — enough bullets for a decent hunter to take down at least five animals. (Given Palin's infamous tweet "Don't retreat, reload," we can infer she plans to keep her dad close by.) Later, Palin blames the scope, but any marksman would recognize the flinching, the unsteady aim and poor shot selection — and the glaring ethical fault of both shooter and gun owner if the rifle wasn't properly sighted. Instead of some frontier passion play, we're rendered a dark comedy of errors.


Why it matters


This would all be laughable, harmless television if that's where this story ended. Yet this show and its veneered presentation of Palin is sadly emblematic of American politics today.


Sarah Palin's Alaska is just back story rather than substance. But when our candidates can also produce poll-tested commercials, trot out ghost-written websites and deliver telepromptered speeches — all financed by unlimited special interest money — Americans are essentially casting votes for fictional characters. This is not an indictment of one Sarah Palin. It's an indictment of the system.


How's that for reality?


Alaska writer Nick Jans' latest book, The Glacier Wolf, is available at He is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.








Congress greets the new year with a crop of newly elected representatives, many of whom have ridden to power on a wave of discontent with the Democratic political leadership. There is a sense that President Obama is failing to substantiate all the hope his campaign inspired.


In truth, Obama's presidential approval ratings follow a predictable pattern. A new president sweeps in to power on a wave of optimism and euphoria that does not persist. Why not? The answer puts Obama in good company, and has something to do with overconfidence.


I study overconfidence among all sorts of people, from business leaders and politicians to college students and office workers. And my research shows that most people are vulnerable to overconfidence. We are excessively confident that we know the truth and have correctly seen the right path forward to prosperity, economic growth and moral standing. Research results consistently show that people express far more faith in the quality of their judgment than it actually warrants. Our politicians are even more inclined toward overconfidence than the rest of us, for at least two reasons. The first is that the process of political campaigning effectively selects the most confident — those who can go out day after thankless day, asking people for their votes and their money.


Honesty comes in second


The second is that the competitive rivalry of a campaign invites candidates to express more confidence than the other guy. Who is going to earn your vote — the honest or the confident candidate? When Walter Mondale told voters that he would raise their taxes, they gave a landslide victory to his opponent,Ronald Reagan, the picture of presidential confidence, if not honesty. History testifies to the victory of confidence over honesty at the polls.


Having elected the most confident candidate, who has won our votes by promising us glory and prosperity, we cannot help but be disappointed when this talented and idealistic politician's plans run headlong into the realities of a political system that hamstrings him with checks, balances, and entrenched interests who put the brakes on those ambitious plans.


Promises, promises


As predictable as this pattern is, it could also be desirable. On average, the evidence suggests that if we want to pick the candidate who will deliver the most, voting for the candidate who promises the most might be a good way to go. But we should expect that, when elected, he will deliver less than he promised. Obama's failure to bring down unemployment does not imply that we'd have been better voting for John McCain, because unemployment might have been even higher under his leadership.


And what should we expect from the new 112th Congress? Certainly less than their voters hoped for, and probably less than they promised. Indeed, polling already suggests that the public is skeptical that the newRepublican majority in the House can restore the economy and bring down unemployment by cutting taxes for the rich and the dead. The enthusiasm that brought them to power will fade, and threatens to turn into renewed political cynicism.


Instead, allow me to suggest that boldness and confidence among our elected officials may not be such a bad thing, but that we as voters would do well to understand the dynamics of the political game in our democracy. Candidates will overpromise and underdeliver. The former is why we elect them, and the latter is a consequence of the former. In any case, it is entirely predictable.


Don Moore is on the faculty at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley.








There is often a great deal of difference between a political party’s stand on an important issue and the way a majority of citizens feel about the same topic. That’s true in the United States, where the current effort to repeal or significantly alter health care legislation approved last year runs counter to the stated desires of most Americans. It’s true, too, in Israel, where the disconnect between political leadership and the people on the issue of peace with Palestinians has created fissures in Israeli political and civic life.


The Israeli government’s official stance is that peace talks with the Palestinians are acceptable, but that they must take place with no prior conditions. Palestinians, on the other hand, refuse to engage in discussions unless the Israeli government imposes a reasonable moratorium on settlement-building in disputed areas. A majority of Israelis, surveys indicate, want peace talks to continue, even if it means an end to construction of the settlements.


The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who holds office because he was able to cobble together a coalition of often-feuding political parties in Parliament, is unable to act on citizens’ desires. To do so would be political suicide for Netanyahu.


Hawkish, right-wing parties in the governing coalition have made it clear that any concession to Palestinians on settlement building (or most anything else) will prompt their withdrawal. That would end Netanyahu’s parliamentary majority and force new elections. Fearing that, Netanyahu has taken a hard line with Palestinians. The result: Peace talks ended abruptly in September after a dispute about settlements. No date for resumption has been announced.


Now, another of Netanyahu’s major coalition partners is upping the ante. A spokesman for the moderate Labor Party said earlier this week that his party will pull out of the government if there is no progress in the peace talks in the next couple of months. The threat reflects both the party’s exasperation at the situation and the growing discontent of many Israelis about the government’s blatantly political approach to peace with Palestinians.


Netanyahu certainly is aware of the dangers the Labor Party threat poses. If it does withdraw from the coalition, the prime minister would be hard-pressed to maintain a viable majority in Parliament. Even if he did, the loss of Labor support would be a signal to the world that hard-liners opposed to peace with Palestinians on all but the most self-serving terms held the upper hand.


International demands for Netanyahu to actively pursue peace are growing. That encourages Palestinians to insist that their terms be met before talks resume. Netanyahu’s endorsement of continued settlement building is a rejection of Palestinian demands — and a signal that the politics of expediency rather than statesmanship and the will of the people continue to govern Israel’s approach to the peace process.







There are many public and economic advantages to allowing police officers to take their cruisers home when their shifts end. Still, it’s not surprising that the City Council agreed on Tuesday with the mayor to end the free take-home-car policy. Initially, the city should be able to save some money, and that bit of short-term savings is what the city needs to meet a tight budget. Alas, the budget gains will be outrun by higher future dollar costs, and the loss of morale and volunteer emergency response capacity will be immediate.


Allowing police officers to take their patrol cars home effectively puts more police cars on the street around the clock. The public and long-term cost benefits of that alone are huge. The long-term dollar savings are probably equally significant.


The visual presence of police cars, including those driven by off-duty officers, clearly deters both potential traffic offenders and criminal activity. The specific cost savings of that deterrent value may be hard to quantify, but it’s indisputable.


By the same measure, having off-duty police officers in patrol cars also allows more officers to respond more quickly to serious emergencies and crime events. Off-duty officers in their cruisers can instantly communicate with a dispatcher, turn on their emergency lights and move rapidly to the scene of an emergency — or, as the case may be, respond to a crime that they see occur. That’s not so easy, or as likely to occur, when officers are commuting or on personal business in their private vehicles.


The long-term cost savings of allowing officers to take their patrol cars home is significant, as well. Studies have long shown that when officers are the only users of their patrol cars, the cars last significantly longer and go with fewer repairs than if they are used continuously by officers on different shifts who have no personal interest in taking better care of a pool car.


Once a city makes the initial investment in patrol cars for every officer — as the city has already done — the city accrues significant savings in future vehicle costs over time.


Having personally assigned cars, moreover, lets officers report more quickly to their duty sectors and eliminates the time needed by officers to drive to a central location, pick up a pool car, transfer their personal police gear, and drive to their duty sector. It’s simply a more efficient use of officers’ and taxpayers’ time.


In addition, the city’s action in revoking the use of take-home cars hurts morale because it amounts to a take-back of a useful privilege that was initiated, at least partly, in lieu of a higher raise some years ago. That hurts officer morale, and like it or not, poorer morale adds its own costs. When officers, like any other employees, feel devalued or wronged, their willingness to offer voluntary help in emergency situations or crime events in their off-duty hours will likely, and understandably, be undermined.


City officials came up with the plan to take back the take-home car privilege as an austerity measure to reduce the tax increase last summer. That was a mistake, and city officials ought to acknowledge it.


Mayor Ron Littlefield’s proposal Tuesday to re-establish the take-home-car program in the next budget year for officers who reside in the city is essentially an admission of the mistaken new policy. But city officials shouldn’t have made this mistake in the first place.






With some pomp and circumstance, and with a great deal of responsibility, the newly elected 112th Congress of the United States has begun 2011 with significant changes in its membership.


In the Senate, Democrats retain a majority, with 51 members (their number is reduced from 56 in the previous Congress). There are 47 Republicans and two Democrat-backing independents in the new Senate.


Democrat Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada continues as majority leader. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky continues as minority leader.


But there are far bigger changes in the House of Representatives. The previous House had 255 Democrats, with 179 Republicans and one vacancy. But the new House has only 193 Democrats, with a Republican majority of 242 members.


Thus Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California has shifted from being speaker of the House to minority leader, and Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio has become speaker.


Tennessee fortunately still has Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker in the Senate. Tennessee has seven Republican representatives: Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga, Phil Roe, John Duncan, Scott DesJarlais, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn and Stephen Fincher. The state has two Democrat representatives: Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen.

Georgia’s able Republican U.S. senators are Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, while Georgia has eight Republican and five Democrat representatives. The Republicans are Jack Kingston, Lynn Westmoreland, Tom Price, Rob Woodall, Austin Scott, Tom Graves, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey. The Democrats are Sanford Bishop, Hank Johnson, John Lewis, John Barrow and David Scott.

President Barack Obama faces a divided Congress in 2011, and thus will have a difficult time putting his policies into effect when they differ with the views of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.







Symbolism is no substitute for substance -- but symbolism is important at the right time and place.


You may have read or heard British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's famous address vowing to defend Britain from Nazi Germany. He said, in part, "We shall fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender."


Churchill's address was not, in itself, the "fight." But it symbolized the war effort, and it inspired not only the British but freedom-loving peoples around the world.


The new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is now being faulted for its plan to read the text of the Constitution on the floor of the House today. The reading is mere "symbolism" and "grandstanding," critics say.


We freely concede that the reading of the Constitution in the House is symbolic. It will not, in itself, repeal a single unconstitutional law or a single bit of spending that is nowhere authorized by the Constitution.


But part of the reason why such laws are enacted to begin with is that many lawmakers either don't know the Constitution or ignore its limits on federal power.


A reminder to them, in the form of a reading of the Constitution, is a wholesome act. Then the readers and the listeners ought to follow that symbolic act with the hard work of restoring constitutional governance.







The operations of Congress often are neither "neat" nor "efficient." But they aren't supposed to be. Legislative bodies should be designed to promote debate, to be informative, to avoid "rushed" action and to permit varied views to be heard -- so the ultimate decisions may be made by well-informed legislators.


But much talk in Congress sometimes may frustrate both the legislators and "the people."


Tennessee's erudite U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander made a significant address to The Heritage Foundation in Washington a few days ago to explain the virtues of the Senate's sometimes "extended debate," often derisively called a "filibuster." The address came as Democrats, who no longer have a "filibuster-proof" majority in the Senate, were seeking to sharply curtail the filibuster.


Alexander quoted Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, a brilliant observer of early 19th century America. De Tocqueville warned of the danger of the "tyranny of the majority," fearing that the rights of the minority might be trampled.


Members of Congress certainly may become worse than tiresome when they talk too much or otherwise try to prevent an issue from coming to a vote that they might lose.


But it has been observed that no really "good and necessary" action by Congress has been defeated by long-winded debate -- and that much "bad and undesirable" legislation has been avoided by extensive debate.








In the Gospel of John, Jesus comforted his disciples -- who would face severe persecution -- with these words: "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."


We know of no better words of comfort for the families of scores of Egyptian Christians who were slaughtered or injured as they left a New Year's Day church service recently in the city of Alexandria. Twenty-one died and many more were wounded in the terrorist bombing.


Christians make up 10 percent of the population of Muslim-dominated Egypt. Not only rogue terrorists are intolerant of Egypt's Christian minority, but so is Egypt's government. Last year, the government used deadly violence to prevent the construction of a church near Cairo. And in 2009, 250,000 pigs used by Christian garbage collectors to dispose of organic waste were slaughtered, destroying the Christians' livelihood.


"The Christians saw it as an expression of Muslim disgust at pigs ...," The Associated Press reported, noting that the government used the excuse that the slaughter promoted health.


In Iraq, meanwhile, it was only two short months ago that 68 people peacefully practicing their faith in a church were killed in a siege and hostage-taking by terrorists.


Christians have been fleeing Iraq in waves to escape oppression. An estimated half-million Christians remain in the country, compared with about 1.4 million prior to the war in Iraq. Whatever terrorists may think about the removal of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by the U.S.-led coalition, Christian worshippers in Iraq did not cause the war and should not be persecuted for it.


In the United States, with the protections of our First Amendment freedom of religion, it is hard to imagine the danger that Christians in other lands face for practicing their faith. But the persecution is real.


It is a testament to their faith in Christ that believers in such nations continue to gather for worship. We send them our prayers and support.









Working as we do in a country with more than 50 journalists imprisoned, hundreds more facing the same threat and recurrent assaults on press freedom, our views on the topic are well developed: When journalism is lanced anywhere, we believe, all of us bleed.


When the assault emanates from the country now leading the European Union, it is clear the rules have changed.


Which is why we rewrote the rules for both today’s front page and our regular house editorial, “Straight.” On an ordinary day, circumspection dictates that we limit commentary to the small box that announces the Straight’s content, a collective view appearing in our commentary section. Today, we deviate from this practice, reproducing Monday’s front page from Budapest daily, “Nepzabadsag.” Online, we are similarly innovating. 


“The freedom of the press in Hungary comes to an end,” headlined our colleagues in Budapest. That sentence was followed in translation with every one of the 23 official languages of the EU. Certainly we fear for the rights of journalists in Hungary. But our greater fear is that the EU itself is abandoning a core principle of the European Project. The centrality of freedom of expression is not only enshrined in all EU treaties, it is also among the obligations that all candidate countries assume. 


In Hungary’s case, this scene from a movie with which we are all too familiar came into being with a new law

passed in late December and in force as of last weekend. Created by the ruling Fidesz party, the law empowers a new media regulator to monitor media content, require reporters to reveal sources and allows fines of nearly $1 million for “unbalanced coverage.”


The law is a transparent outrage. But equally outrageous is the near silence of the European Commission and EU leaders. One lonely voice has been that of tiny Luxembourg’s foreign minister, who said the law reduces the status of free expression in Hungary to that of Belarus. He is right. It has been condemned by virtually every media association and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE.


But the expressions from Brussels have been vague banalities along the lines of “wait and see.” 


In one example, the European Commission spokesman uttered the following: “At this stage, what I can tell you is that in its capacity as guardian of the EU Treaties, the Commission will follow up and we will evaluate the situation on what concerns the (union’s) principles and the European legislation.” 


The tragic irony is that all of this comes as Hungary assumes the EU’s six-month, rotating presidency. The stripping of an EU member of this right and its responsibilities is without precedent and surely difficult. But no other sanction fits the crime that Hungary’s government has committed against its own citizenry, against democracy and against the essential values of Europe in the 21st Century.








The news of our neighbor Greece building a wall on its border has made me wonder about Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “zero problems with neighbors” target.


I think the wall beautifully symbolizes the purgatory between dream and reality.


The disagreement between me and Davutoğlu, whom I admire for his deep knowledge of history and the richness of his imagination – of which many novelists might be jealous – rose from his claims to be building a “multi-dimensional foreign policy” against my introduction of a “result-oriented” foreign policy concept.


Since my education has engendered in me a deep concern about solid results, I have been waiting for Davutoğlu to list the successes his policy vision has attained so far. But he insists on general objectives (which in the current schema can be seen as dreams).


At times, I have the feeling that his mind confuses dream and reality.


For example, following the release of WikiLeaks cables Davutoğlu said United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized to him. To those who claimed that “she didn’t apologize but commiserated,” he responded “I am the foreign minister.”


But in the end, a U.S. State Department spokesman clarified that she did not apologize but commiserated. The spokesman praised the former ambassadors to Ankara who caused blunders to cause the apology crisis.


We are also swinging back and forth between dream and reality with the expression “neo-Ottomanism.”


According to Mehmet Ali Birand’s Dec. 28, 2010 column, he and Davutoğlu had the following conversation:


“He stressed that this [4th restoration period in foreign policy] was not another attempt to revive the Ottoman heritage. To tell the truth, I could not quite understand the minister being sensitive about this subject and reacting so strongly. “Why are you so sensitive?” I asked.”


“By spreading such rumors they try and scare Middle East and Balkan countries that have bad memories of the Ottoman period, but which we try to approach. They try to make them believe the Ottomans are back. That is why I am so sensitive about it,” he said.”


However, Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post wrote an article on Dec. 5, 2010 based on an interview with Davutoğlu.


“Turkey could become a union of nations just like Britain’s union with its former colonies,” he reported the foreign minister as saying. “Britain has a commonwealth with its former colonies, he reminded me. Why shouldn’t Turkey rebuild its leadership in former Ottoman lands in the Balkans, Middle East and Central Asia?””


For God’s sake, if this is not an aspiration to build a neo-Ottoman commonwealth on former colonies, based on Turkey’s leadership, what is?


Let’s say that Diehl read Davutoğlu incorrectly, or even that he lied. But then, why did Davutoğlu not ask the prestigious Washington Post to publish a disclaimer between Dec. 5 and Dec. 28 regarding the interview?


Since we have all our ambassadors together, let me ask them the following question: in the “result-oriented” foreign policy, what were the solid gains and losses in 2010?









Former Interior Minister Saadettin Tantan had a lot to say during a meeting with newspaper correspondents in Ankara.


Following short speeches by the police officials, light switches were turned off and we saw images on a screen reflecting some police operations. Houses were being entered, secret sections in these houses were being explored and corpses were taken out.


Different images followed. It was torture during interrogations. But the torturers were not after finding out the real perpetrators by questioning the incarcerated people, who were certainly about to be killed. Interrogators, just like the inquisitor, were chasing after the confessions of the suspects in a way to relieve their spirits. Following the confessions, hands and feet were tied behind; ropes were circled around their necks and then were tied to their feet. The method was called hogtie. The interrogators were slowly choking the suspects.


Images disappeared and the lights were turned on to expose a horrified look on the correspondents’ faces.


Everyone was ashen faced. Silence pervaded the hall. Tantan was sitting in the front row. He turned around and said “Here, it is; Hizbullah!” The organization was hunting the people outside with possible links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and was killing them by shotgun or knives.


The members inside the organization that were considered to have departed from the path and become secularized were murdered by the organization via torture during interrogations. The minister shared the images with us, “Here they are. You look at them!” I couldn’t get over it for days. That was around a decade ago.


Sense of justice


I remembered that night as I was watching the festive crowd in front of Diyarbakır Prison and waiting for the release of Hizbullah members in charge of armed operations. They were accused of tens of murders but were about to be set free under the newly amended article of the Code of Criminal Procedure, or CMK, according to the latest ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals.


The anchorman was saying “images reminding Habur,” but what I remembered exactly was the face of Hizbullah which Tantan made us see on that night.


Did the Supreme Court of Appeals, however, not know that the real problem stemmed from the judiciary being late in trial processes as they decided for the release of those that have been in prison for five years and for 10 years if they are accused of terrorist organization membership? Did our high judges not know as they ruled for such a painful verdict that the real problem is not the release of the accused but the failure in judging them in time?


Why was the reform to speed up judicial processes not prioritized though it was included in the government’s program? Why did the government simply focus on the regulations about the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, rather than setting up courts of appeal and paying attention to the warnings of Court of Appeal chief justices who were lamenting “We cannot catch up with time”? Was it because the government wanted to make sure that regulations were not turned down by the Constitutional Court and that better-suited judges were found through structural changes in the HSYK because it was in charge of appointing judges to prospective appeal courts? We don’t know.


All right, but why did the Supreme Court of Appeals not touch the Hizbullah dossier for the last four years? We don’t know this either.


Perhaps, it is the same reason why they didn’t touch the file on the man who recklessly killed five at a wedding ceremony in Solhan, Bingöl.


As much as the economic crisis the amnesty called the “Rahşan amnesty” played a crucial role in the elimination of the Democratic Left Party, or DSP, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and the Motherland Party, or ANAP, coalition in which Tantan served as minister in 2002. Rahşan Ecevit, the wife of the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and founding member of the DSP, had said, “This is not an amnesty by me,” but many accused were out as a result of the MHP bargaining, that especially hurt the sense of society. And after that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to the government by promising justice and development.


However, the “Rahşan amnesty” is pale in comparison, considering this practice which involves the government on one side and the judiciary on the other.


Instead of gearing up the judging process, murder suspects are released. But, for instance, we keep some people, such as Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal, who have never touched a gun in their life and who have never planned to kill anybody.


We are deepening the sense of injustice spreading in society. We are causing a bleeding in justice. None of us is innocent.


*Murat Yetkin is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.







A few months ago I wrote that the silicon valley of Turkey would be established in Kocaeli. On Firday, Turkey's Industry Minister Nihat Ergün announced the plans.


The IT Valley will cover a 1,600-hectare area and infrastructure for the first valley will be completed in 2011. In the article I wrote about the subject I claimed it wasn’t a very wise choice. Many NGOs and business leaders were cold the idea. Therefore it is not surprising that Informatics Industry Association, or TUBİSAD, and Istanbul Technical University, or İTU, signed an agreement to build Turkey an R&D facility named the “Digital Turkey Base.” The base will cover 30,000 square meters at ITU’s Maslak premises. Together with the facility, a Computer Sciences Department will also be built. The main purpose of the DTB will be to link the university research to the industry needs. The aim is to create know-how and transfer it between the university researchers so that the ongoing work at the universities will be in a better position to address the technological problems and needs in daily lives. It is also hoped that international companies will move some of their offshore facilities to Turkey with incentives from the DTB. The incentives will be subjected to the law about supporting R&D efforts within Turkey.


The DTB is supported both by the industry – as TUBİSAD represents 95 percent of all ICT firms in Turkey – and academia. So I wonder what will happen to the Silicon Valley in Kocaeli? The government really didn’t listen to the people for whom the Silicon Valley will be built and in the end we now have two different efforts. I hope there will be enough firms to fill up both places.


Though, I cannot really help but wonder if physical space is really that important for research especially in ICT? My answer would be a big NO. I believe that it would be easier and more efficient for the government to issue a law making all of Turkey an R&D base without discriminating cites or neighborhoods.


Physical space is especially meaningless as we are experiencing a mobile explosion. According to the magazine Computer World: “A huge percentage of employees are bringing personal quick-access storage devices to work and putting sensitive documents and e-mails on them. And here come tablets. Over 30 new tablets were announced or delivered in 2010, and they're inexpensive enough that a lot of people are buying them. When you connect meaningful enterprise data to tablet computers served via your data center, private cloud or hybrid cloud, you've got a transformational technology. For years we've been trying to unchain knowledge workers from their desks so they can interact with one another and work wherever they go. There is a potential to create near-real-time business communication without us having to work at that full time. The days of large, monolithic, LAN-connected, proprietary enterprise apps are numbered.”


In 2011 people will be working from everywhere. This means they will be wherever they want. Though bad luck for Turkish researchers because they have to get in and out to the same office everyday in order to hold onto their incentives.








Once again it is Syria. The deep Turkish-Israeli rupture emerged after then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seemed to disappoint Turkish expectations by conducting a major military operation only days after meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during Turkish mediation between Syria and Israel.


According to reports in a Kuwaiti newspaper, Syria has again demonstrated interest in engaging in dialogue with Israel. On an interesting note, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close confidante in the U.S. Jewish community, Malcolm Hoenlein, visited Damascus and according to reports in the Israeli media, conveyed a message from the Israeli prime minister to Bashar al-Assad.


Despite Israel’s formal denial, something seems to be moving on the Syrian track. Yet, as in the past, in order to materialize it will probably need a third party. This will inevitably bring Turkey again to the frontlines. Although Netanyahu has ruled out in the past such a possibility, Israel realizes that Turkey is the real addressee on the issue. Ankara, which has tried to become a regional factor of stability, would not like to miss such an opportunity.


This is maybe the reason Netanyahu seemed to have recently acted so fervently in the bridging of any differences. Following the fires in northern Israel and the Turkish gesture of sending two planes, he dispatched his personal envoy to Geneva to explore ways of ending the tensions between the two countries. Yet, due to senior Israeli ministers’ opposition, discussions were stalled.


Ahmet Davutoğlu attributed this freeze to an Israeli passivity due to political coalition considerations. Yet, despite the initial will to quickly proceed with an ending of all the outstanding bilateral issues, additional policy and international law considerations tied also to the dawn of a new perspective on the Syrian track may have also played a role in the configuration of a more constellated Israeli position.


In light of the Mavi Marmara incident where nine Turks were killed after an Israeli raid on a Gaza bound ship, Turkey has called for an Israeli apology, for compensations to be paid to the victims’ families and for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. All three issues pose some legal and political hurdles.


The Gaza blockade was instituted and intensified mainly as a way to prevent the entrance of ammunition to the strip, but also as a means of pressure for the cessation of the Gaza rocket attacks and the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is being held by Hamas. With the rocket attacks continuing and Shalit still in captivity, it is questionable whether an unconditional annulment of the blockade would not facilitate the military option, but this should not be advanced but rather suspended through various political decisions. Moreover, Israeli efforts to prevent the entrance of ammunition acquire an additional dimension throughout the exploring of the Syrian track. In light of the Camp David talks collapse and the outburst of the Second Intifada, Israel would not like to see a similar scenario in if talks with Syria fail.  


The Turkish insistence on an Israeli apology coupled with payment of damages is also problematic in the way it was formulated. It legally indicates acknowledgment of accountability and also connotes potential penal connotations. With a request filed by the victims’ families to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor to open an investigation for potential Israeli war crimes, Turkey could have never expected Israel to accept such accountability. Being in a state of war with Syria, Israel will not want to proceed to the act of admission of wrongful acts, setting a precedent which could later be invoked by the Syrian regime in other cases.


For many years Syria has been accused by the West as a destabilizing factor in the region. A current Syrian turn of policy – if it takes place – will see Damascus not only returning to the arms of the West but also as the mobilizing force behind a Turkish-Israeli rapprochement. Eventually, the road for Israel and Turkey passes through Damascus.


* Solon Solomon has served in the past in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) legal department in charge of international and constitutional issues. The opinions expressed are personal and do not represent or necessarily reflect the views of the Israeli legislative and executive branches.








Syria has always seen Lebanon as one of its provinces, a part of the “Greater Syria,” a malleable almost-nation that can serve a thousand Syrian purposes. Lebanon is to Syria very much as Afghanistan is to Pakistan – a convenient back garden, to be used as needed.


So it is natural that when things go out of balance in Lebanon, Damascus will exert coercive force, either directly or through a surrogate. Few doubt that this is what happened on Valentine’s Day, 2005, when Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was blown up in Beirut by a car bomb, along with most of his armored motorcade.


State-sponsored assassination and terror are not uncommon. Most governments will practice them if they sense a tipping point or an opportunity, and believe their role will be sufficiently masked. The Russian government must have believed that when a person it now disclaims put polonium in the tea of the rogue ex-FSB agent Litvinenko in London three years ago. Apparently so did Israel’s Mossad before amateur clumsiness exposed its murder of a Hamas agent last year in a luxury Gulf hotel. In those assassinations, of course, both of the victims were themselves veteran practitioners of the black arts.


Rafiq Hariri was the opposite – as real a saving angel as anyone who has appeared on the Lebanese political scene since the country’s calamitous 1975-76 civil war. Sadly, the drawn-out aftermath of his murder now seems ready to pitch Lebanon into civil tumult again.


Not long before Hariri was killed, my wife and I were guests at an event he hosted. I had witnessed up close the safety net he had placed much of Lebanon under starting in the mid-80s, long before his political career began. The millions he had made as a businessman in Saudi Arabia were poured month after month into social services to both the Muslim west and the Christian east of Beirut – services the fractured and paralyzed government could not provide itself. He funded daily caravans of food trucks that crossed into the country; it was out of his pocket that thousands upon thousands of school tuition payments were made, and that countless university scholarships materialized, to keep classes in session despite steady carnage on all sides.


Hariri was politically conciliatory, but not pro-Syrian. His landslide election victory in 1992 would send tremors through Damascus. After the end of his premiership he continued to symbolize a more independent Lebanon. He was too robust a force to be left alone.


The Iran-backed, militarily powerful Hezbollah his a primary partner in today’s Lebanese government. A dozen of its members were called in by United Nations investigators in April for questioning about the Hariri assassination. Since then the vise of the investigation has tightened on Hezbollah, and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has threatened that his group “would not stand by” if it is accused of complicity in the assassination. Many have seen this as blackmail language, since Hezbollah, with a huge Syrian-supplied arsenal of rockets and missiles, is easily capable of toppling the government in Beirut.


Nasrallah has said as an aside that the U.N. investigation has a false focus, since it was surely Israel that carried out the assassination.


Few of the assassination’s planners may have anticipated the blowback that followed it. A furious Western outcry led by a close friend of Hariri, French President Jacques Chirac, forced Syria’s army out of Lebanon after a 29-year stay. The U.N. Security Council quickly set up a full-scale investigative apparatus, and its operatives unearthed an elaborate trail of preparations leading from Japan to Dubai and involving, over the years, the snuffing out of a decoy bomber, the disappearance of a Syrian intelligence agent arrested after arranging the planting of a diversionary bomb, and the killing of the chief Lebanese investigator. U.N. sleuths also released a recorded phone call made to a Syrian-backed former Lebanese president minutes before the blast that took Hariri’s life. Interestingly, sources claim that a key investigative breakthrough came when a perpetrator called his girlfriend and exposed what had been a closed cell phone network.


The U.N. team’s findings have been dramatic, but the investigation has had an on-and-off pace, marked by bursts of discovery followed by long lapses. Since 2005 the investigation has had a succession of three leaders, a German, a Belgian, and a Canadian. By now it is hard not to wonder how much the search has been intimidated by the fierce threats of the accused.


Fierceness has not been absent in past Syrian policy. To get a glimpse of what it and Hezbollah, its Lebanese tenant, might be capable of doing if formally accused of engineering Hariri’s death, it’s instructive to refer back to the Baathist creed of violence that has animated the history of the regime in Damascus. Government in Syria has been an al-Assad family dynasty for 40 years. Power is molded around the Baath Socialist ideology worked out in the late 1940s by the Lebanese schoolteacher Michel Aflaq, who lamented Arab disunity and had a vision of pan-Arab power, modeled along the secular lines of Italy’s and Nazi Germany’s no-nonsense fascism. Baathism became national dogma in Syria in 1970, two years after the same thing had happened in Iraq. A steely rivalry between Hafez al-Assad and Saddam Hussein developed. Both crushed all dissent at home, al-Assad spectacularly in 1982 when he used artillery, tanks, and jet bombers to put down an incipient Muslim Brotherhood rising in the northwestern Syrian city of Hama. Bulldozers finished the job in the parts of the city that were not adequately razed. There were at least 15,000 dead.


When Bashar al-Assad returned in 2000 from his ophthalmologist’s job in London to take the reins of government after the death of his father Hafez, it seemed for a while that Baathist rule in Syria might ease, and for a time it did, as Muslim Brotherhood prisoners were released and a smattering of pro-democracy demonstrations were seen. But that was a false spring. Discipline soon tightened again. In the eyes of Baath traditionalists, the need to maintain iron stability was reinforced as they looked across the Iraqi border and saw the sectarian bloodletting there. Since then the Syrian government has been a tight ship, locked down against mutiny, ready to sever any hand that tries to loosen its grip on any part of what it sees as its rightful sphere of influence – including Lebanon.


What about Syria and Turkey? The once-frigid stand-off relationship between the two countries ended six years ago when Bashar al-Assad came to Ankara on a state visit. Dealings between the two governments have warmed considerably since. This is all to the good; neighbors should work to get along. Yet it’s prudent to see at the same time that if the Hariri case drags Damascus toward the court of world opinion, those seen as its backers will be dragged in that direction, too.


Justice in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri may never be served. Those who orchestrated and carried out his killing may never be tried and put into prison.  Cautious pragmatism may trump what is morally right. Energy is draining from the U.N. investigation. Harriri’s son Saad, Lebanon’s current prime minister, may need to swallow this bitterest of pills to keep his country from bursting apart. But it will take years for the air of Lebanon to clear itself of the foul smell of unpunished murder. If it ever does.








Turkey is appalled by seeing suspects from the famous Hizbullah terror gang case emerging from prisons in Diyarbakır and Istanbul in the darkness of the night to a rabble-rousing welcome of their radical Islamist supporters. Not only suspected Hizbullah gang leaders, who are alleged to have masterminded the murder of dozens of people, but also some important figures from the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, terrorist gang and other urban terrorist gangs have been released from prison since the start of the New Year.


“Journalists, writers, professors are in, murderers are out,” an angry advocate of a journalist who has been behind bars for almost two years complained to the media while Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin was trying to kick the ball out of the government’s court and put the blame on the Supreme Court of Appeals, which did not give prominence to the case files for suspects who might be released under the “restrictions” imposed on the maximum arrest period for unconvicted suspects.


The problem is something related to a 2005 amendment made in the Code of Criminal Procedure, or CMK. One article of the CMK law, the one pertaining to maximum arrest period of suspects for both criminal cases as well as “crimes against the state” was not implemented like the other articles. First its implementation was postponed to 2008 and later to the end of 2010. That is, the “crisis” the country is facing today was something known well in advance and indeed postponed twice, yet no measure was taken to prevent the appalling situation.


As has been stressed repeatedly many times in this column and elsewhere, there is absolute necessity for urgent judicial reform in this country. The judicial reform needed, however, was not the one to domesticate the higher judiciary, but rather to speed up the justice system and put a full stop to the perennial “late justice is the biggest injustice” complaint. The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has its own agenda. Instead of facilitating the judicial system with comprehensive justice reform, it tried to domesticate the higher judiciary with the latest constitutional deform (which, I must admit, apart from the articles on the high judiciary included some revolutionary reforms that must be applauded).


For the past many years lower and higher court judges, prosecutors, lawyers and virtually everyone with some brains have been demanding from the government to take some urgent measures such as increasing the number of departments in the Supreme Court of Appeals, establishing provincial courts of appeals that could serve in between the lower courts and the Supreme Court of Appeals and thus facilitate justice and bring an end to the structural deficiencies of the judicial system through recruiting new judges and prosecutors and establishing new courts.


Yet, the government preferred to concentrate on constructing justice palaces. It is show time, is it not?


Now, it is indeed a contradiction to see people appalled by the release from prison some suspects – even though they were Hizbullah gang leaders – because after more than 10 years in prison the cases against them could not be finalized and no verdict [including appeals] has been delivered against them.


Irrespective of who they are, what their name might be or what their profession might be, is it acceptable to have people behind bars for more than 10 years without sentencing? If they are found not guilty by the court, how can the period these people served in prison be compensated?


Now the justice minister and the government has woken up from their deep sleep and started talking about “If necessary we shall make a new law and get rid of the anomalies.” Indeed, Turkey should get rid of this anomaly, but let’s first describe what the anomaly is. Is it the relevant article in the CMK, or is it the slow pace of Turkish justice?


Making an amendment in the CMK should be no big deal for the AKP government and its comfortable majority in Parliament that should be able to pass whatever it considers appropriate. Yet, increasing the maximum arrest period for suspects more than five years for common criminals and 10 years for people accused of gang activity or crimes against the state, will create more injustice. Even 10 years is too long a period if until being sentenced everyone is innocent and there is the possibility of a suspect being found innocent by the court. Then, what should be done is clear: Enact a comprehensive justice reform to facilitate justice and speed up the court process.


Let’s hope the trauma suffered with the release of alleged Hizbullah leaders helps us rid this country of an agonizing problem.








Recently, a number of members of the Turkish Hizbullah, an illegal group that has no ties to the Lebanese group of the same name, suspects have been released. Outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, suspects have also been released. The mafia easily walked out straight out the prison door. People have started saying that Ogün Samast, the suspect in the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, might be released in a year.


And the reason is quite simple: the judiciary is ruined!


Thousands of files are piling up in courts. Judges have difficulties processing these files. Cases take too long to be settled and those whose time is up are released.


We are facing a very obvious judiciary problem and nobody does a thing about it. Turkish society does no longer believe in justice in this country.


If we were to conduct a simple survey in society you would see that the majority of the community says there is no judiciary left in this country. And that is the greatest of all dangers in a country.


Even if highways were abundant and average per-capita income was increased to $20,000, or if the country was a leader in the region, it would still be of no worth unless the society believes in its jurisdiction.  


It seems to me the current administration is content with criticism directed toward the judiciary. Instead of starting reforms it contents itself as being merely a spectator. Maybe it is waiting for an increase in the desire of the public for reforms. What a pity for us. Let’s save the judiciary from this rudimentary situation immediately.


Let’s form a judiciary system that’s prompt without delay. Let’s save it from contradicting regulations. Let’s leave aside our dream of making the world admire us and start cooking.


We forgot about the martyrs in Myanmar


I have written about it before and will continue to do so until the Foreign Ministry wakes from its dream.


If Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu does not intend to take a break from trying to make the world admire us and take care of Turkish martyrs in Myanmar I will try and make the prime minister hear my voice.


I will try and wake politicians who believe in “my minister, my army, my Ottoman” and that one Turk is worth the entire world. I know it won’t be easy because Myanmar is very far away.


But there are 700 of our martyrs laid to rest in this far away place. Nobody knew. We didn’t know, until Baran Binboğa, a 23-year-old university student, and his friends discovered this fact as by accident as they were traveling. During World War I, these martyrs fought against the Brits in Palestine, Mesopotamia and Yemen, were taken prisoner and drifted to this corner of the world where they died. They were buried in a cemetery. And in time this cemetery fell apart and roads were built on top of it.


What a sorrowful story, isn’t it? I felt very sorry while reading it. Binboğa and his friends could hardly make out the name “İbrahim Türk” in this cemetery that turned into a piece of farm land. As a matter of fact, people there were familiar with the Turkish cemetery.


Binboğa wrote about it in daily Hürriyet’s supplement Seyahat May issue. That’s where I read it.


Now I am curious about what the Foreign Ministry or the administration party did in this respect. Myanmar is connected to our embassy in Thailand.


I wonder if our embassy has been instructed to “go and take a look in order to examine the situation of the cemetery and stake a claim.” Or did nobody care because there was no benefit to it? Did they show the tiniest trace of sensitivity they showed in respect to Palestine?


I don’t think so. If they did, I’d be very stunned. And I am open for any surprise though. My concern is that they at least take action from now on.


Remember how New Zealand, Australia and England claimed the children they left behind in Çanakkale… how the Jewish community established a symbolic martyrdom in Kadıköy for the 18 Jews who fought in the Ottoman army during World War I.


Won’t we claim our martyrs that are buried partly under a road and partly in a farm field 9,000 kilometers away from home? A state that can’t claim its martyrs cannot be considered a state.


And the slogan “One Turk is worth the entire world” would turn out to be bogus.








Salmaan Taseer has been laid to rest in Lahore, the city where he spent most of his tragically shortened life. Mercifully, fears that floated through the day of possible violence by angry PPP workers did not materialise. The funeral went ahead with dignity, though demands were raised from party activists for justice for the assassinated governor of Punjab. There was also the emergence of some tensions, with PPP senior leaders in Punjab reportedly preventing Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif – with whom Salmaan Taseer’s relationship had been intensely acrimonious – from attending the funeral.

Much attention has been focused in the aftermath of Taseer’s death on the potential political fallouts. But the representation of almost all major parties at the funeral indicated that they were united in shock. The same sombre atmosphere that prevailed at the funeral was seen elsewhere, with life in Lahore at a standstill. But more than the political repercussions it is the social ones we need to consider. In some places rallies were held to “celebrate” the death. In an extraordinary display of bad taste, sweets were distributed in Mansehra. Less than 24 hours after Salmaan Taseer died thousands of messages had appeared on a Facebook page hailing his killer as a “hero” All this makes us question what our future is to be and whether our own battle for hearts and minds has actually been lost. The question also arises if this is not happening because of mishandling of situations and whether the policies resulting into extremism and terrorism need a serious review. Should we allow the society to divide further? Still more grim are the questions concerning security. Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the Elite Force guard who killed the governor in cold blood, had been turned down for the Special Branch on security grounds. Yet he was able to get on duty with the governor. This is now being investigated, after the damage has been done. Even more hair-raising is the account from Qadri reported by Geo TV which says he had told his fellow guards of his plan and asked them not to shoot him after he had killed the governor. They appear to have complied. We need an urgent inquiry into police affairs. For the PPP the loss of Taseer is a grave one. An acting governor has been appointed in Punjab. Developments in the politics of Punjab will now be closely watched, as will the process of investigating the assassination of yet another major political leader.







Children surely play no role at all either in the devising of policy or in other decisions made at the national and provincial levels. Yet they have been made targets in the conflict between terrorists and the state. Very recently in Turbat, five children were injured – four of them critically – when the van taking them to school was attacked through a remote-controlled explosive device. The fact that the school was run by the FC is likely to have been a factor in the strike carried out by well-prepared militants who fired several rounds of shots before fleeing.

The targeting of children surely marks an act of extreme dastardliness. It is hard to even imagine anyone immoral enough to be capable of carrying out such an action. No matter who the perpetrators are they must be hunted down and punished under the law. The attack in Turbat seems to copy those that happened previously in the tribal areas and even in Peshawar. The fact that few arrests were made will have encouraged others to adopt similar methods. It is possible that nationalist militants have picked up ideas from the Taliban and resorted to the same violence the Taliban have used so often to create havoc across in our north. The last thing we need is for this to spread. The level of literacy in Balochistan is already extremely low. In some areas it stands below 20 per cent, compared with the national average of just above 50 per cent. It would be a disaster if more children were to be driven away from schools because their parents are too afraid to send them to there.







As the nation absorbs the shock of the death of Salmaan Taseer, the business of politics continues. On the day he was assassinated there were developments that would have been headlines had his death not pushed the story to the bottom of the page. The PML-N has, seemingly, finally decided to get tougher with the PPP but is not yet prepared to challenge it by moving a vote of no confidence. The PML-N has announced a nine-point agenda for which it seeks government compliance, and the agenda comes attached to a 72-hour deadline (amended in the light of governor Taseer’s murder by three days to allow proper respects to be paid.) The other major party in the National assembly the PML-Q also held back from the no-confidence line in the dust; and there is a collective holding of breath and careful scrutiny of positions to see who is going to blink first.

There does not appear to be the political desire to oust the government, at least not yet, and space has been created for some high-speed horse-trading and the extraction of political concessions by the opposition from a government weakened by the decision of the MQM to sit on the opposition benches in the Centre. The prime minster has indicated that he may consider a reversal of the decision to raise petrol prices. Such an adjustment is a quick fix, and easier to fulfil than getting rid of corrupt officials, cutting back on government expenditure and appointing independent members to vacant seats on the election commission. These latter are rather more difficult to achieve than by the stroke of a pen, and the PML-N will doubtless have been aware of that when its demands were formulated. Breathing space is provided by a cushion of 45 days which the government has been given by PML-N to meet its demands – which takes us to February 20. After that, and if the government has failed to comply, the PML-N is saying it will put the same agenda to other opposition parties to see if consensus can be arrived at for a challenge to the government. Whatever happens, the government just saw its ‘wiggle room’ diminish significantly, and for the first time in the current crisis change may be on the horizon.








Salmaan Taseer died doing what he wanted to do, to the best of his considerable abilities. In that sense he died with his boots on. There was no other way that he would have wanted to go. And he would have wanted to be mourned, as much as he will be in the days to come, not only by his friends but the people – that mythical horde which some of us, the privileged, profess to serve but which so few of us get a chance to serve; or rather, make that chance happen, Salmaan Taseer did. 

Salmaan Taseer was the epitome of a good politician. His sense of timing was exquisite. He knew when to fight, what to fight about and when to get others to fight, as he stepped back and enjoyed their discomfiture. It was all part of politics; no hard feelings were involved. He loved turning the tables on his opponents. The recent caper of his disappearance to Dubai and sudden appearance after his opponents had swallowed the bait and yelled foul was right up his street. It was a made-by-Salmaan sting operation. 

Salmaan wanted to be in the thick of things. He loved the cut and thrust of debate. The roar of the crowd gave him a rush, the likes of which, he once told me, was a high like no other. But it wasn’t just that which he craved. He wanted to make a difference, and he was convinced that he could. And by the time he was killed, he had finally succeeded in carving out for himself a position of relevance to the life of a people, of a province and a country, which he loved. 

Not for Salmaan the proverbial villa in Tuscany and a life of the indolent rich, which he could well afford. He actually seemed to prefer the company of the unwashed; the cries of the hawkers and their coarse language excited him, it made him feel at home. His oneness with them never embarrassed Salmaan, the tycoon. And he appeared almost grateful when they treated him as one of their own. If he was ever scared, it was that the poor may set him apart merely because of his wealth. His thoughts were focused on their welfare. And yet he was no bleeding-heart liberal who shed tears at what fate had visited on some. You make your own fate. Get up, dust yourself off and fight, was the message he had for those who came to him for sympathy, I made it, and so can you. 

What drew us, his friends, to Salmaan, and what we considered his greatest virtue, was, to his adversaries, his greatest fault, and that was his fearlessness, his irreverence for authority, his “in your face” approach, to say things as he saw them, bluntly and incisively, and never to beat about the bush. This often got him in trouble and finally cost him his life. But it would have been intolerable for Salmaan to live otherwise or, frankly, care. “You live once and you are dead forever” might have been his favourite saying. And that is how he lived. Such was his lust for life that he regarded sleep as an enemy because it robbed him of the opportunity to do more. He was indefatigable. 

I first met Salmaan in England in 1962. I was at university and he was doing his articles to become a chartered accountant. He had to make do and live within a paltry stipend. I was better off because my father was posted in London, and hence Salmaan and others were frequently fed at our home. We met frequently, and later also in Lahore where we both found ourselves. 

I recall being invited by him to spend a week end at his mother’s small flat on Golding Road in Lahore. There was one bed and, as I was his guest, he offered it to me while he slept on the floor. It was a cold winter night and the floor could not have been comfortable, but not for a moment did Salmaan lose his bonhomie. In fact, as I climbed into bed, I asked jokingly what he was “climbing” into. “A much bigger bed than yours,” was the prompt reply, “I have the whole floor.” 

Salmaan’s toughness, his ability to withstand physical discomfort was pushed to the limits when he was imprisoned by Nawaz Sharif in the Lahore Fort in the late eighties. His cell consisted of a hole punched into the concrete. He asked his warder for one book – the Holy Quran, in English translation. He studied the Quran for the entire three weeks that he was held in solitary confinement, while stretched out on the floor. He read every word and page over and over again. And one can be sure that by the time he emerged he knew more about the Quran and Islam than his murderer. It is there that he decided that, while he would take his coat from the tailor, he would not take his religion from the mullah. His own take on the Quran and Sunnah, which he had studied and absorbed, sufficed for him. He was confident that he had got the meaning right, and we know now that he did. 

Of all the benefits that virtue confers on us, said Montaigne, the contempt of death is one of the greatest. Almost every action of Salmaan manifested that contempt. He actually flaunted his ability to go where he would unarmed, unguarded and unprotected. And actually he was right again, because in the final analysis he was killed by the most unlikely assassin, his own bodyguard, against whom no amount of security could work.

Salmaan Taseer would admit in his candid moments that Pakistan was in trouble. Hypocrisy, greed and deceit fuelled by incompetence had brought it to its current sorry pass. It worried him that in some of our cities there were many mosques but very few schools, factories and workshops. Surely, God is to be found in your heart, he once said, and not only in the mosque. But the answer, he used to say, is not to opt out but opt in. Not to flee but to stay. Nor, in his view, was something so wrong with Pakistan that only a miracle could fix it. 

Well, he tried. Did he succeed? We don’t know, but what we do know is that Salmaan Taseer gave his life in attempting to, and no one can ask for more.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







He was smiling, his face a picture of happiness, even serenity, and he had just killed the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer. This was the face of a man who was composed, comfortable with his actions and happy to own them, a face that spoke of conviction and rightness. His face was in all the newspapers on Wednesday morning and in under an hour of the killing there were pages on Facebook lauding his actions that were picking up hundreds of supporters almost by the minute. Calls by other Facebook members to have them shut down fell on deaf ears. Members of the religious right called for the truly faithful to boycott the funeral of a man shot down outside one of my favourite coffee shops in Islamabad; and my adopted country took another step down the darkest of roads.

Let us not view Salamaan Taseer through rose-tinted spectacles, for a saint he was not and as far as may be determined, never claimed to be. He was a powerful and extremely wealthy businessman who had built a diverse portfolio of assets that kept him in a style few could ever dream of, never mind achieve. You don’t get that rich and powerful in Pakistan without cracking heads and making enemies – of which the latter he had in abundance. He was for many a controversial figure, and politically the vitriolic enmity that existed between himself and the PML-N in Punjab was one of the headline acts of the stageshow of governance. He was a supporter of an unpopular president and could be mercurial, flamboyant even.

All of this was, to a degree, both expected and tolerated. This is how some of our leaders are, and we are remarkably forgiving – or perhaps deficient in short-term memory – of them. Yet there was something that Salmaan Taseer had in his make-up that was for many unforgivable. He was a secularist, and that is what killed him in the end. He was not particularly moderate as he has been portrayed in some of the western press published on Wednesday morning; nor did he have an outstanding record as a human rights activist. The person currently being spoken of in the same breath as Salmaan Taseer as a champion of the rights of the minorities and the down trodden is Sherry Rehman. The two could not be more different, at least as far as their human rights record goes. Sherry Rehman has a lengthy pedigree stretching back decades. Salmaan Taseer was a relative newcomer to the field. No matter, he supported Sherry Rehman in her attempts to get the blasphemy laws revised, he visited in prison – in a move that was genuinely courageous and not just political grandstanding – Aasia Bibi, the woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.

And a lot of people did not like this. Not just a few mullahs out on the crazier fringes of the religious cosmos, but hundreds of thousands of people – perhaps millions – who might otherwise not give a thought to the killing of their fellow man, but who would wholeheartedly support the murder of Salmaan Taseer and lobby for the release and pardoning of his killer. Some of them would be of this mind out of fear, the fear of being branded as less than what their faith demanded of them and therefore themselves within the circle of blasphemy that would ensure their own death. Many others would do it out of what they would see as honest conviction, a belief that those who were perceived or alleged to have blasphemed or supported alleged blasphemers should be killed.

Far from this being a minority view I would suggest that the tipping point has been passed, and the voices of the enlightened moderates, not all of them secularists, have been reduced to a piteous whisper unheard among the cacophony of calls for righteous blood. There is no ground, no platform that has widespread popular support, for the alternative narrative to that parlayed by Zia’s children. The government is powerless to do anything in the face of a truly mighty “religious” lobby that has developed extra-parliamentary muscle to the extent at which it, not the government, may be seen as the real power in the land. There are a few brave individuals who take a stand – and whatever else I might have doubted about Salmaan Taseer his bravery was never in question, he knew they would try to kill him – and there always will be. You occasionally see and hear them on the TV, or read their thoughtful pieces in the press, but you never see or hear them determining political direction or policy.

We have not arrived at this state of affairs overnight. I saw the beginnings of it in 1993 when I first came to this place, and have seen the malign tumour of extremism grow ever since. Successive governments in that time have failed to tackle the hydra; and we now find ourselves living in a state where the prevailing mindset is dominated by intolerance for anything ‘other’ and a bloodlust that can be triggered at the drop of an opinion.

It is not that the battle for moderation has been lost – it is that the battle for moderation was never joined, or at least not joined to the extent at which other voices might have fought for and gained a place for themselves closer to the levers of power. I have no wish to belittle the efforts of my many moderate friends and colleagues, they struggle in ways that I never could, nor do I have the stomach for. Yet I would ask that we all look into the face of Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the face, until Tuesday afternoon, of an ordinary man just doing his job. His job, as he saw it outside a coffee shop that sells cappuccinos at the price of what a daily-wager might earn for a days labour, was to kill a blasphemer. His is the face of the new managers of Pakistan PLC. And they don’t drink coffee.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:







At a well-attended panel discussion recently in Washington after the Af-Pak Review by President Barack Obama, the question and answers about Afghanistan and Pakistan required some plain talking. The feedback should be interesting for those concerned with planning the next moves not only in the US administration but all those deeply concerned about the region. 

One question was obvious: “The Pakistani army is not fighting the Taliban and President Obama is running out of time because next July he has to reassess that strategy. There are reports, although denied, that there are plans for US ground troops to go into Pakistan for operations against the Afghan Taliban. What are the dangers or benefits of this strategy?” My answer: “The Afghan Taliban do not exist in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda does in the form of the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP). This is an entity which is totally separate from the Afghan Taliban.” Gilles Dorronsoro went to great lengths to explain that “US boots on the ground inside Pakistan will be a total disaster. I don’t think any Pakistani government will be able to sustain that without reacting. For starters, they will stop all supply routes – a precedent for that passive way has been set recently. Secondly, if they fight back, that will be a greater disaster. The US should reassess its policy towards Pakistan.” 

Bob Dreyfuss of The Nation made more of a statement than a question. “It seems to me almost like Pakistan’s saying that it wants to find the terrorists is like OJ (Simpson) saying he wanted to find his wife’s killer. Maybe I am missing something here, but obviously Pakistan has spent a quarter of a century building terrorist groups and supporting them across the border. Let us call facts as facts – Pakistan is in the terrorism business?” My answer was categorical, “Wrong, absolutely wrong! What you are saying is that the ISI, served 90 per cent by the Pakistani army, is funding terrorists to have its own personnel killed. Can you imagine giving silver bullets to kill your own family members? This is nonsense! Pakistan was never in the terrorism business but it was in the business of supporting the freedom fight in Kashmir. Somewhere along the way the lines blurred, and that was wrong. Pakistan has made great sacrifices and lost many army officers in the fight against militants, so Pakistan is definitely not supporting terrorism. With so many army officers having been killed, it is nonsense to suggest that Pakistan is in the business of supporting terrorism.” 

Gilles Dorronsoro added to what I had said. “The Pakistani army lost control of some groups. The Afghan Taliban [are] not fighting the Pakistano army, they are very quiet in Pakistan, especially in Quetta where [their] leadership is, or was thought to be, but that is a bit complicated. Drone attacks or US ground troops in Pakistan are not going to solve the problem in Kandahar.” 

The next question followed the same thought process. “What about the threat outside of the Afghan Taliban – i.e., the Haqqani network. What is their strength?” Gilles Dorronsoro took that on. “The idea that the Haqqani Network is outside the Afghan Taliban is wrong. Did we see in the last ten years any military clash with people separately working for Haqqani? They are part of the larger strategy, but you cannot distinguish where it starts. People close to the Haqqani group are basically targeting specific people in Afghanistan and there is nothing to indicate that there is any pressure on them by the Pakistani army, they are under no strategic threat from Pakistan.” I clarified: “The Haqqani Network has never acted against mainland Pakistan. However, some militant groups from the TTP have sought refuge with them, sooner or later the Pakistani army will have to act. At the moment the army is really stretched. Besides that, they need far more helicopters because there are very few roads, and these too are almost inaccessible.”

“Could you comment about the success or lack of efforts to build up the Afghan security forces?” My answer was: “Let me tell you first that the Afghan National Army (ANA) has never fought the Taliban. Personnel of the ANA deserted during the Soviet era instead of fighting the Mujahideen, and they are not fighting now. Look at the desertion rate in the Afghan police and the ANA. Then if you look at their casualty rates, which I think is a good indicator of their taking part in battle, this too is not more than 100 killed in the last 18 months.” 

Gilles Dorronsoro said: “Many who join the ANA are non-Pakhtuns because Pakhtuns are just not joining the army, with one or two exceptions among the tribes. You can build an army without a state but it is a bit risky. The Afghan state is losing ground and also losing control in the countryside. Officers are human beings and then there are political affiliations. What we are seeing now is that Karzai is acting like a godfather and creating networks of people as he wants to put the militia inside the army. The army is not going to be a strong coherent one with this kind of culture. As far as the Afghan police is concerned, they cannot do the counterinsurgency job, they are just not equipped to fight the Taliban.”

Ambassador Thomas H Pickering, former US under-secretary of state, asked: “Giles mentioned three or four times about the negotiations scenario and Ikram Sehgal mentioned on one occasion, perhaps a little more elliptically than he would like, that the Taliban would be back in charge. For Giles: What will be the outcome of a negotiation scenario? And for Ikram Sehgal: You said that there are some 33,000 Pakistani troops in North Waziristan and they are currently under attack; what are you going to do about it? Nothing? Make a deal with them? Or drive them back?” 

Gilles Dorronsoro answered: “There should be a kind of political deal between Afghanistan and outsiders with the USA as a go-between. It is the 2001 process again with the Taliban. Here the idea is that we let Afghanistan do the job and you stay in the background and when needed you enter the negotiations at the end.” I added: “I am one of those who believe that we should not have gone into Waziristan in 2003 without having adequate forces. We got a bloody nose and were forced to agree to a peace agreement which was ludicrous. The Pakistani army is now responding to every attack very adequately. Ultimately we will have to deal with the problem, but in order to do so we must have adequate forces and adequate equipment which includes a lot more helicopters to allow us more mobility. You cannot have peace treaties with people like that.” 


(Transcript of a question-and-answer session at the South Asia Centre of the Atlantic Council in Washington DC. The panel consisted of Gilles Dorronsoro, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ikram Sehgal, chairman Wackenhut Pakistan and Shuja Nawaz, director, South Asia Centre.)

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:







The State Bank of Pakistan is managing a thankless job. From the public’s point of view, it appears to be failing in its two main responsibilities – controlling inflation and ensuring a steady stream of private credit. It is argued that inflation is rising without respite and private investment is down; furthermore, GDP growth is sluggish and the salaried class is witnessing falling living standards on a monthly basis. 

Has SBP failed? My sense is that SBP would be on the defensive in answering this question. Will raising interest rates solve the problem? It may not. Then why is SBP making a bad situation even worse? For this I have an answer. 

Economic imbalances and its manifestations (e.g. fiscal and current account deficits that trigger rising inflation; falling foreign exchange reserves; a depreciating currency; and excessive government borrowing) must be managed; if not, these imbalances become more damaging for the economy. Furthermore, in a situation where imbalances are large and growing, the effectiveness of traditional policy instruments (interest rates, tax/tariff rates, changes in bank regulations etc) is weakened and somewhat compromised. 

Let us focus on Pakistan and look specifically at the government’s fiscal policy. In my view, there are two types of fiscal policy: an active, goal-oriented fiscal stance and a passive, leakage-driven fiscal position. So, on the one hand, an expansionary fiscal policy could either be tax cuts to spur private sector activity or an ambitious infrastructure development program; on the other hand, it could be anemic, leakage-driven revenues that cannot finance current expenditures, which in turn requires continuous government borrowing to meet its day-too-day needs. 

We all know where we stand. Let’s be honest – Pakistanis could not be bothered to pay their taxes while the existing tax collection machinery is a sieve. So as the country’s growth potential is choked by cutting development spending (what we sometimes call financial management), current spending continues to exceed revenues, which means it must be financed. No external source will finance this, so it must be sourced domestically. 

And what is the last resort of domestic finance? SBP of course, or more accurately, its printing press. 

So what are the challenges? (1) an insatiable government appetite for money to finance expenditures (especially of the non-productive variety) that no-one – except SBP – is able (or willing) to satisfy; (2) an appetite that appears to be insensitive to how expensive the food is; and (3) a public sector that appears unable (or unwilling) to diet. 

What options does SBP have? (1) it does nothing; (2) it stops the printing press; or (3) increase interest rates – i.e. make the food more expensive, hoping it will curb public sector appetite, or at least give it heartburn. 

1. The do nothing option. The public sector continues to consume newly printed currency notes. This stokes inflation and makes inflationary expectations more deeply engrained. Sure the private sector continues to borrow at stable interest rates, but what happens to the newly printed money the government borrows – it ends up in the economy and increases domestic demand. Not a bad thing, until one realizes that much of this demand is for imports, which means no action will increase the country’s external deficit. If left unchecked, this will eat into our foreign exchange reserves and begin to put pressure on the exchange rate. 

2. Stop the printing press. If there are to be no new notes, then the government must meet its borrowing needs from commercial banks. Assuming that it cannot curb its appetite, this means it will borrow much more from banks. What will this do? Other than squeezing out the private sector one-to-one (each additional Rupee lent to the government would be one less Rupee for private investors), this would generate huge upward pressure on interest rates. So while SBP may be earning the public’s wrath with its 50 bp increases, stopping the printing press would easily raise market interest rates more sharply. The banks wouldn’t complain one bit, as this would boost their risk-free earnings and overall profitability. The losers would be private investors and the general public. 

3. Increase interest rates. Not a popular decision, but the best option available. Even if the heartburn does little to dampen public sector appetite, SBP must safeguard the external sector. One must realize that management of the exchange rate and the country’s foreign exchange reserves also rests on the central bank’s shoulders. 

Let us be clear, although a significant share of inflation is coming from supply factors (food, energy, administered prices), inflationary expectations imply that prices are rising across the board. These expectations are becoming deeply engrained as public sector borrowing from SBP continues. A time will come when expectations are so engrained that even if the government were to miraculously stop its borrowing from SBP, inflation may not drop to single digits for a year or more. 

Inflation is regressive, politically sensitive, and damages the very fabric of society. SBP cannot reduce the public sector’s financing needs; only Pakistan’s political leadership as a whole can do this. One can only hope that difficult decisions are taken by Parliament to stop leakages and tax evasion, and also to mobilize additional revenues. 

We all must learn to live within our means; if not, SBP will flag the bad news through its actions. As the saying goes, shooting – or blaming – the messenger will not improve the news. 

The writer is chief economic adviser at the State Bank of Pakistan. These are his personal views, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institution.







The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

The strike observed across Punjab on the last day of 2010 made it seem as if most people supported the religious parties in their demand that the blasphemy laws not be amended or repealed. Traffic remained off the streets and markets failed to come to life.

The truth, however, is that most shopkeepers had downed their shutters only to avoid vandalism and other repercussions of their failing to go along with extremists’ demands. Many, quietly, criticised the strike – but were too scared to break it. While earning a living is foremost on the minds of almost everyone in these increasingly hard times, far fewer have any strong sentiments about retaining a law that has resulted in hundreds of persons being unjustly imprisoned. Most shops were freely serving customers by evening, eager to bring in what earning they could. This should be a powerful tool to be gripped by political parties.

But as the New Year rolled in, with a spell of seasonal fog in Lahore and some other cities, the question of the blasphemy law and the future of Aasia Bibi, the Christian mother of five sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy early in November, cast further gloom over the darkened skies. This came in sharp contrast to the light that had shone soon after the verdict in the case was passed. Most observers swiftly reached the conclusion, after assessing the facts, that the young woman had been victimised by fellow labourers. The president indicated a pardon for her was possible, even probable, and several PPP members spoke of amendments to the law introduced by Gen Ziaul Haq. The tragic assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer only added to the darkness, as did the distasteful scenes of sweets being distributed to celebrate it.

The speed with which things have changed has been absolutely terrifying. In a statement on the floor of the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Ahmad Shah, the minister for labour and religious affairs, has stated that his party had no intention at all of changing the law or doing anything to prevent its misuse. The sharp about-turn from a party that prides itself on its liberal values seems to be a result of pressure from the religious lobby. It left some members of the party appalled. 

The presidential suggestion that members of the party would be prevented from moving private-member bills placed a huge question-mark over the PPP’s democratic credentials. If anything, the latest act in the blasphemy saga underscored the lack of principle within parties. It also badly damaged the PPP, which caved in without even an attempt to struggle, to pressure from the disgruntled JUI-F and from the wider extremist club which has no electoral backing but plenty of nuisance value. Few other political players, it must be noted, spoke out with any force.

These problems are enhanced by strong, and frenzied, support from elements within an inherently conservative media. The demand for blood from this quarter comes wrapped in layers of morality and the false sense of religion that has become so much a part of life in the country. Without even realising it, people borrow ideas from the concepts that stem from these ideas, falling into step with the thinking that prevents us moving forward or evolving into a genuine democracy. 


One hallmark of this is the absurd obsession with the trivial. Take the brief fuss created by the appearance of a Pakistani actress in an Indian TV channel’s reality show, during which she allegedly acted “inappropriately.” This motivated anchors to host entire shows discussing the conduct of an individual who had hurt no one but these anchors. They said people’s “sentiments” had been hurt. But apparently these sentiments remain unscathed when mobs kill those accused of blasphemy or a terrified woman waits her fate in jail, facing the threat of death. The same brand of thinking determines calls to shut down Facebook or the other non-issues that creep from time to time into our lives.


The PPP must take a long hard look at itself. It has plenty to gain by pushing Pakistan towards a future in which sectarianism and grotesque injustice plays no part. It can do so only by working to change the way people think, rather than attempting to gun down each and every militant. The suicide attacks targeting members of minority communities, worshippers at shrines and the lashkars (armed militias) set up to take on the militants makes it plain that this is simply not a viable strategy. There are ways in which change can be achieved. 

The blinkered view of the world put out for years by PTV determined to a very great extent the vision of several generations. Money to fund a channel which genuinely breaks with the single-dimensional approach of a media which – despite the multitude of current affairs programmes being aired and the many newspapers being published – says essentially the same thing, could offer one way to move towards this. Somehow people need to be made to think a little harder about the environment they live in and what it has done to us as a nation.

The PPP has, by its shameless backtracking on the blasphemy issue, made a terrible start to 2011. We have not even heard an adequate explanation from any party member in a position of responsibility as to why the turnaround came about. The party already lacks support from an increasingly powerful media and from other institutions. It must not disenchant those who still back it and understand that at least some of the problems of governance are created by factors quite beyond its control.

But this can be no excuse for spineless compromises, or the caving in under the first wave of pressure. In the past, when put to the test, the extremists have not proved to be quite as mighty as they pretend. On the blasphemy issue at least, they need to be taken on fiercely and a strategy should be developed to take Pakistan to a place in time where hatred and intolerance is not quite so prominent a trait. A failure on this count would only expose us to the risk of producing contingent after contingent of militants baying for blood and pushing us towards still greater disaster.









On the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, sweets were distributed, congratulations exchanged, and a sickening contentment was evident on the faces of quite a few people that I managed to interact with. In fact, certain individuals were heard saying that the Punjab governor deserved to be killed for criticising the blasphemy laws. And, yes, the people I mention were apparently educated, “enlightened,” middle-class citizens of the glorious Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The effect of this brutal and sinister murder will not simply be confined to the event of the governor’s assassination. In fact, it will have a negative impact of creating in the public a perpetual and suffocating fear while engaging in public debates, questioning anything that the religious bigots have to say or analysing any interpretation that they posit. By killing the governor, purportedly for his speaking ill of an error-riddled law, the Right-inclined have essentially tried to shut down any debate which will dilute their influence, weaken their suffocating hold over Pakistani society and thereby their monopoly over anything overtly religious.

One of the arguments in favour of Salmaan Taseer’s assassination is that he committed a grave crime in supporting an alleged blasphemer, namely Aasia Bibi, and in calling for the repeal of a “religious” law. This is despite the fact that Aasia Bibi is currently pursuing an appeal before the competent court of jurisdiction and, therefore, until the appeal is decided, her innocence or guilt is still a matter of dispute. Secondly, the blasphemy laws, as enacted by men are not God’s law but an interpretation of what God has commanded. They are susceptible to human error, and are therefore amenable to revision in order for them to be brought more in line with God’s commandments. In fact, any attribution of divinity to these man-made legislations would seem to contradict the very principles of blasphemy that the so-called religious zealots seek to protect.

Other than this, there are others who vehemently declare that Taseer brought about his own death by daring to voice his opinion about the flaws in the man-made blasphemy laws and the inaccuracies in the conviction of Aasia Bibi at the lower court level. For them, the blame did not lie with the cold-blooded murderer who took a Muslim’s life in the name of Islam, but rather at the doorstep of the person who simply opined about the correctness or inaccuracies of the drafting of a particular type of law. Such is the hypocrisy engrained in our “religious” clique that one maulana, asked on television whether he thought the assassin was wrong in what he did, refused to call the killer a criminal. He said he would leave that decision to the courts. Ironically, these very maulanas had issued fatwas against Salmaan Taseer and called him wajib-ul-qatl (deserving to be murdered) for simply airing views that contradicted theirs. 

It is clear that the assassination of Salmaan Taseer will have serious consequences for the general public and people’s freedoms, whether they realise it or not. His death signifies not only an attack on the freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution, but also on what is left of Jinnah’s Pakistan. Jinnah would probably have never created this country had he realised how we would eventually cede power and mortgage our lives to those who in fact were against the very idea of Pakistan. 

If Jinnah were alive today, he wouldn’t have been around for long. He would probably have been killed by these extremists on trumped up charges of blasphemy. God help us. 


The writer is a Fulbright Scholar and a lawyer based in Karachi. Email:








ASSASSINATION of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer has shocked not only leadership and workers of Pakistan Peoples Party but also people across the political divide. Apart from comments made by leaders of the public opinion on the tragedy, it is also reflected by decision of the Federal Government to declare three-day official mourning, decision of the PPP to mourn his death for two weeks and declaration of public holiday by the Punjab and Sindh Governments.

Rawalpindi, which is considered twin of Islamabad, has acquired notoriety for high profile murders following assassination of the country’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, PPP Chairperson and former PM Benazir Bhutto and hanging of PPP’s founding leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, which is being labelled by many as judicial murder but it is for the first time that a political murder has taken place in the Federal Capital. Joint Investigation Team has started the probe to determine how the Governor became an easy target despite battalion of a security at his disposal, which was augmented by a sizeable number of policemen from Islamabad Capital Territory. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has categorically stated that there was no security lapse as he was provided every possible security that should have been given to a VIP but no one can do anything when the assassin happens to be one of the guards. On the face of it, there is no ambiguity in this case as to who killed him and for what, because Malik Mumtaz Qadri, member of the Elite Force deputed for security of the Governor, who committed the murder has confessed that he did it because blasphemous comments of Salman Taseer. The man has already surrendered himself to the authorities concerned and made his motives known and, therefore, there was absolutely no justification to arrest his family members — father and brothers — who had obviously nothing to do with his personal act or behaviour. But that is what our police is known for — unnecessarily harassing people, who are not directly connected with any crime. The killing of Salman Taseer has highlighted the fact once again that there is always a price when religious sensitivities of the people are injured. We have every sympathy with the bereaved members of the family of Taseer but the fact remains that the Governor displayed over-enthusiasm over a highly delicate issue. He not only went to console a woman who was convicted by the court of law on charges of blasphemy but also vowed to take personal interest in seeking presidential pardon for her and make efforts for the change of the blasphemy law, which was obviously not his domain. It is also regrettable that while Salman made care-free remarks about a serious religious issue, his other colleagues in the Government made vague statements about the fate of the law and not one of them said in categorical terms that the Government had no intention of amending the blasphemy law. Instead of clarifying the issue to pacify the people, these colleagues including Law Minister Babar Awan only stated that was nothing against the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah can be legislated in the country, which was nothing but a generalised statement that not supposed to address the real issue. It was because of this that religious and political parties gathered at one platform and announced to launch a countrywide movement against plans to revoke or amend the law and the successful shutter down on Friday last was a testimony that they enjoyed support of the masses on the issue. The issue is unlikely to die down as about five hundred Ulema gave Fatwa not to offer funeral prayers of Taseer and praised the act of Qadri and in this backdrop the Government needs to do damage control on an emergent basis by issuing a crystal clear statement whether or not it was contemplating any change in the law. Otherwise, we have seen elsewhere in the world as well similar consequences when religious sensitivities or national pride was hurt — killing of Indira Gandhi and Anwar Sadaat being the pertinent examples. We must not fan issues that could fan extremism and tarnish image of the country in the comity of nations. Similarly, short-sighted people should also not be allowed to politicise a murder because the country can ill afford further polarisation. Investigations are underway and hopefully these would make all aspects more clear including the one whether or not Qadri did it on his own. 







IT is the considered opinion of the economists that political stability and domestic order are important preconditions for economic development of a country. Businessmen and investors think many a time for doing business where law and order situation is far from satisfactory and there is no guarantee for the continuation of economic policies due to political instability.

Keeping in view the prevailing situation in Pakistan, Vice President of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a veteran business leader Iftikhar Ali Malik speaking at a roundtable in Lahore on Tuesday stressed that political stability was the prerequisite for economic growth and development of the country. He urged upon the political leadership to help strengthen democratic system in the larger national interest by burying their differences and to take the country on the path of economic development. Apart from political stability and a secure environment, other factors such as legal certainty, economic efficiency and a favourable business climate, the right policies and regulations are essential to ensure success in the infrastructure and economic development of Pakistan. The country has suffered a lot over the last over six decades due to political instability and frequent interventions by non-democratic forces. There is no doubt that irregular political changes such as coups d’etat instil great amounts of uncertainty into the market-place, slowing down and even reversing economic growth. Therefore the appeal by Iftikhar Malik is very timely because foreign and local investors would only pour in their money in businesses if democratic institutions are strong and a peaceful atmosphere prevails all over. Pakistan achieved tremendous economic growth and witnessed all round development when Shaukat Aziz was Prime Minister and Finance Minister because there was political stability and investor friendly policies were introduced. Today Pakistan’s economy is suffering due to acts of terrorism, energy shortages and political uncertainty. As a result our GDP growth is the lowest as compared to other countries in the South Asian region and thus unemployment, poverty and inflation are on the rise. Other factors like target killings and the latest tragedy of the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer adversely disturb the investment climate in the country. Therefore it is time that political leadership and other stakeholders must rise above personal and party considerations and join hands to bring stability in the country which is vital for our economic survival and development.









Who says “what”, to “whom”, with what “purpose” and what “effect”, is the method to analyse propaganda, as its manifest content usually conceals its latent content. Therefore, for analytical purpose ‘who’ represents the communicator. Unlike Black propaganda, in White propaganda, the identity of the source of communication is not distorted. It is part of the credibility management that the authenticity of the source is established - a vital gimmick necessary so that the message is not summarily pooh poohed. Some truths are contained in the communication cock-tail where the ‘lies’ are finely blended with the prevalent ‘images’ of the country and the ‘individuals’, as it would do no harm in saying what is quite obvious. So to agree with audience’s perception of realities, political or otherwise is to establish rapport with the listeners/readers of the message. This technique is known “flogging the dead horse”. 

A communication has to be evaluated as to what are the core messages interposed with the others mainly to augment the credibility of the communicator. The ‘who’ aspect is the source through attributed to be a mischief of one man — Julian Assange, projected as a villain of the cyber net, a psychopath, a very shrewd person and a master hacker, and so forth, capable of intruding into the private world of the diplomats. A single person howsoever dexterous one might be as eavesdropper, it is rather impossible to gather such a flood of information, that too right from the horse’s mouth, covering such a wide array of subjects. Ordinarily, one would contend that the “real” source of the communication are the personnel of US establishment, specialized in the psy war trained at Fort Brag, North Carolina. USA at Special School which provides competent propaganda warriors to be embedded in the war operations, as in Gulf Wars, ‘war on terror’ notwithstanding. They influence the minds in the targeted countries — i.e, the ‘whom’ dimension is the audience to which the message is designed to reach. A careful look at the contents shows that Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Arab Emirates are the prime targets.

Propaganda is the weapon used to influence behaviour of nations, for the attainment of national goals and objectives. The first generation of propaganda weapon was termed “psychological warfare”, and it is a recorded fact of history that in the outcome of World War II, it played a vial role in the defeat of Nazis and the victory of the Allied Forces. Hitler’s propaganda warrior Dr. Goebell’s strategy was to use false messages to be repeated over time, so that people would come to believe it. This actually backfired and the ‘propagandist’ learnt quite well that lies have to be tempered with truth to appear credible.

The second generation of propaganda war was termed ‘Psychological Operations’(abbreviated Psy Ops), as ‘warfare’ is emotionally loaded word, and during ‘peacetimes’ it would not be appropriate to call it ‘warfare’. Moreover you don’t influence the minds of neutral and friendly countries to achieve national objective by calling it ‘warfare’. So it was changed, so that Psy Ops could be waged during peace time as well, and use psychological activities like giving economic aid, military assistance, flood and other reliefs due to natural calamities and providing scholarships to students etc, to create the desired attitudinal change among the targeted audience. Psy Ops, became a combat support weapon that the commander applies to assist in the accomplishment of his mission. It is effectively used in any type of operation – strategic or tactical, besides unconventional and counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. Psy Ops is also used during peace time, or crisis situations, e.g., in the context of Pakistan, pressure is being mounted to extend its military operations in North Waziristan, so that Pakistan alienates itself from the Pushtoon belt, which is the major ethnic group in Afghanistan. The mass media - Voice of America, CNN, Fox, besides the British, the French and German media are all orchestrating the gross deceptions behind the so called war on terror, to be able to create propaganda harmony. The ‘neo-con’ ambitions are camouflaged through the jugglery of words constantly hitting the minds of the people all over the globe 

The third generation of propaganda war is its massive extension into what is called “cyber war”, which is excessively being used by USA and its allies. China, India and Israel are not lagging behind. Compared to other propaganda devices, it has a colossal reach and tends to be the more penetrating and, if it not properly guarded it can prove detrimental to national security, much more than what conventional warfare could achieve. It is waged in cyber space, and its weapons are cyber espionage, cyber vandalism and disrupting vital infrastructures through virus and worm release. China quite effectively countered “goggles”, which was penetrating into their cyber space. 

A great hue and cry was made that China was obstructing freedom of expression. The Wikileaks, ironically has been condemned by USA for compromising what was supposed to be the confidential messages from the diplomats working in different countries. Internet is its handy weapon which can target vital installations, government computer system and financial markets. More than hundred countries are engaged in the cyber warfare. It is estimated that till April 2009, Pentagon had spent more than 100 million dollars in just six months in cyber war alone besides the usual propaganda through psy ops. In October 2010, US Army created its cyber war command structure under a 3-star General. 

Is Wikileaks an aggressive cyber propaganda war or just an act of nemesis? USA has created havoc under a Machiavellian strategy of misleading the people of the world. The real face of USA has been exposed, by Assange, an Australian, who has lived in Sweden for long. He was arrested on the flimsy charge of sexual assault on Swedish women, when in reality these women had consensual relations with the cyber wizard. This goes to show how the West reacts, when some one exposes its deplorable duplicity. It is indeed ironical that despite the huge paraphernalia of propaganda weapons, being used round-the-clock through media and the cyber net, somehow the truth has come out which is shocking to the ‘power wielders’ as they are caught in their own trap, as a poet said: “Khud aap apne daam main sayyad aa giya” (The garden looter is caught in his own trap. Seeds of mistrust is being sowed between Arab and Ajam as US diplomats are set to create an impression that Saudi Arabia hates Iran, more than it dos Israel – a very nefarious game indeed! The proponents of so called democracy, human rights and all those glittering constructs do not practice themselves. 

In Pakistan, knowing that the politicians are ‘dirty’ and corrupt are being supported by USA, as this lot is very compliant to its demands. The fact is well known to the America and the other westerners that India’s hands are red-in-blood by enormous atrocities it is committing against the freedom seekers of Kashmir. But it is Pakistan, which is being dubbed as ‘terrorist’, besides covertly involved in fanning insurgency in Balochistan and tribal areas of Pakistan. Wikileaks has nothing added from its own. Only it holds the mirror to depict what are the stark realities. “History” as Lawrence Durrell said, “is endless repetition of the wrong way of living.” 

—The writer is Secretary General, FRIENDS.









These were scenes never witnessed before on live TV in Pakistan. In the present political mayhem when the government is facing the worst crisis of its life, losing the support of its two major coalition partners, the nerves of some politicians are so badly jangled that they have lost their sense of decorum and decency. The MQM Chief Altaf Hussain in his highly emotional and high pitched telephonic address to a large audience in the interior of Sindh made some derogatory remarks about PML leader Mian Nawaz Sharif’s performance during his two stints as prime minister of Pakistan. In reply some senior PLM-N leaders made a few derogatory remarks about Mr. Altaf Hussain which hurt his followers very badly. After all, there are many skeletons in the closets of all our political leaders and it hurts very badly when they are pointed out.

This war of words took a very ugly turn on December 29, 2010 when Ch. Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of opposition in parliament, spoke in front of live TV outside the House hitting Altaf Hussain below the belt by calling him a British national who has been under treatment at a rehabilitation centre near London. He has been living in London as a British citizen for the last 19 years after taking the oath of allegiance to the British Queen and has not returned to Pakistan since then. These inflammatory remarks naturally enraged two MQM leaders Wasim Akhtar and Haider Abbas Rizvi who came up to the microphone and let loose a barrage of insulting and even abusive language against both Mian Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who was not a party in this war of words. They not only attacked their performance as political leaders but also their persons and their characters. This was indeed obnoxious and highly defaming to the two major political national leaders. If they want they can file defamation suits against both MQM leaders. This was the first time in my forty year service in PTV as general manager and Director News that I saw such outrageous behavior of parliamentarians on TV. I remember only two examples of misbehavior in parliament which I saw with my own eyes.


Mian Nawaz Sharif won the general elections in 1990 winning a comfortable majority to form a government, and became prime minister. As is customary, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan addressed the joint sitting of parliament in December 1991. As he stood to deliver his speech, late Ms Benazir Bhutto, whose government had been dismissed by Ghulam Ishaq Khan only three months back was fuming with anger and launched a venomous attack as soon as the President started to speak. She raised a slogan “go baba go” and started thumping her desk. All members of her party joined her and the entire house was echoing with “go baba go” and thumping of desks. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who had never faced such humiliation before withstood this onslaught for sometime but then he cracked up and started perspiring as his body trembled. 

He nevertheless continued reading his speech till the end. Ms. Benazir Bhutto repeated her star performance nine years later on 9 March 1999 when she not only chanted the slogan of “go baba go” but also made a parallel speech throughout President Rafiq Tarar’s address to parliament. Nobody could make head or tail of what he was saying. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the behavior of the leader of the Opposition as “undemocratic.” But only a few years ago when he was in opposition he and his followers did almost the same thing to humiliate President Farooq Leghari with added attraction of displaying banners and placards with anti Leghari slogans all over the floor of the National Assembly. 

This behavior of our top political leaders was no doubt against democratic norms, but not in any way as outrageous as the recent behavior of our parliamentarian. Pakistan came into being as a parliamentary democracy under the guidance of the Quaid-e-Azam but soon after his death leaders like Malik Ghulam Mohammad derailed the democratic system sowing the seeds of civil and military dictatorships. Most of these self serving rulers violated the basic human rights of the citizens, including their most cherished right of dissent and freedom of expression. Luckily now when media is free, we are not using it for constructive purposes to promote the values on which this country was conceived and founded by Iqbal and Jinnah. TV which is the most powerful medium of information and entertainment is wasting most of its time in commercial programming rather than nation building efforts. News too has a sensational bias rather than factual to attract commercial income.

The abusive verbal duel between the parliamentarians of MQM and PML-N was shown on almost all TV channels verbatim which was most disgusting. At one stage one wished that it was not shown at all or at least sound should have been switched off at certain points. There is no doubt that the Mohajir community in Karachi has been nursing its grudge against Mian Nawaz Sharif ever since his government launched a military crack down on Mohjirs in Karachi. But that does not give Mr. Altaf Hussain or his followers the right to use foul language against him or his followers. However, one feels gratified that both Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain have not reacted to the distasteful incident and it seems they have left it behind. 

However, when parliament met after the distasteful duel between Chaudhry Nisar and Wasim Akhtar one hoped the since their leaders have not reacted they will also keep quiet, but they didn’t and again exchanged angry words in foul language inside the House till the Prime Minister interfered saying “saying such things should not happen.” He and Chaudhry Nisar both advised media not to highlight such unfortunate incidents.

—The writer is a former Director News, PTV.







The last week of 2010 saw a lot of Taliban activity which enabled them to inflict 711 deaths among the foreign forces for the month of December. This was the highest toll, so far, suffered by the foreign forces in any month since 2001. Despite the harsh winter and the atrocious bombing raids by drones etc, they dared to attack Kabul/Bagram Base as well as In the South/North of Afghanistan. Traditionally, winter produces a lull in any fighting in that country. Quite naturally, the Taliban, generally, reduced their forays in to the ‘enemy’-controlled areas around Oct last year. The foreign forces dangerously increased their nightly aerial bombing/missile attacks on the defenceless population. 

This strategy was allegedly adopted on the initiative of Gen Petraeus who was persuaded by his ‘informers’ that the Taliban were getting weaker due to in-fighting and lack of volunteers. Politics apart, by now the US Administartion and the General-staff would have realized that wishful thinking can’t change the harsh ground realities in Afghanistan. History teaches a clear lesson. If a foreign force is identified as an ‘occupation force’, then all Afghans are prepared to wage a war to liberate their country. Last December saw a lot of political activity on the part of the US Administartion n despite the sudden death of HolBrook. President Obama paid a surprise/brief visit to address his troops in Bagram at the start of the holiday-season in US. He also held consultations with Karzai. The C-in-C paid the usuaol tributes to his forces to boost their morale and to sell the idea that they were making their country secure by staying in Afghanistan. He also saw a that the ‘enemy’ was on the back-foot due to their prowess. The US also its partners like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey to develop better understanding/co-operation in fighting the prevailing terror. 

All these factors appear to have provided a format for the issue of a policy ‘Review’ of the Afghan war given out by Obama last month with broad consulations with his Security Team. It involved inherent spin which must have left Americans pretty confused/ Hence the latest poll shows that 63% Americans treat it a lsot war. The Administration’ predilection for wishful paradigms appears to have triggered atrocious Drone attacks on a regular basis on Pakistan’ border areas called FATA/PATA. Such tactics would spread hostility towards the US. It can also promise bigger casualties for the foreign troops in the months ahead. No wonder Andrew Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert and former adviser to General David Petraeus, insists that each innocent victim “represents an alienated family, a new revenge feud, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially as drone strikes have increased”. This is the wisdom of history, tradition of the area. Hese people have the capacity of waging blood-feuds easily for a century if the same are not settled as per the tribal customs involving an open apo;ody and indemnification by the Jirgaon payment of compensation to the aggrieved. No wonder Pepe Escobar went so far as to write an article entitled, “For CIA Drone Warriors, the future is death,” on December 24th whereby he links the current desparate killings to the focus on maintaining a monopoly on the region energy resources which is, as for him, the cause of launching the war on terror in 2001, by George Bush. 

It appears that as the war drags on in to the 10th year, longer than the Vietnam debacle, some Americans are getting concerned about its consequences in future. The media has highlighted already an enquiry in to a war-crime committed by its troops and leaked by the New York Times. It has also been reported that the US Intelligence agencies see a bleak future for their forces in Afghanistan. The attitude of the foreign forces has usually been bizarre towards the local people. U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) raids are reported to be in defiance of all laws/rules of fighting a war. A worrying story in the US media has also highlighted that there is a “killing team” in Afghanistan whose conduct is being investigated by the US Army. As per Chris Mcgreal, a Brig. General has been appointed the inquiry officer into the allegations that 3 Afghans were murdered by 5th Stryker Brigade after having been taken into custody. 

The probe also involves the issue of the failure of the commanders concerned to stop their troopers from committing crimes. The principal accused is Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs,while he has 4 colleagues as accomplices. One of the co-accused, named Morlock held that “Gibbs had pure hatred for all Afghanis and constantly referred to them as savages,”. Such conduct is very dangerous not only for the foreign forces but it has terrible implications for their future. The Afghan, generally, loves self-respect and can keep fighting for the same. Since the ‘surge’ of troops in Afghanistan there have been many complaints of this nature which is likely to complicate the issues despite the US’ power. It could be promoted by ignorance or Empire-complex found among the foreign forces. Robert Fisk, the great journalist, has beautifully touched on the same theme in latest article entitled, “Bombs make no moral distinctions where they fall.”Fisk depicts another incident wherein the Danish troops killed their captives. 

He reports, “that after murdering the 3 Afghans “...with a crack of gunfire...”, one of Danish soldiers claimed, “We eliminated them in the most humane way possible,” Condemning the misconduct of the soldiers, he has the moral courage to admit, “But they also killed wounded soldiers, just as we did in Normandy. And in Afghanistan.” The people in US/EU must wake up to realize what atrocities their soldiers are allowed to commit by ‘Military-industrial complexes’. It can be dagerous for yhe Globe; more so as the Israelis seem to be bulldozing everything and everybody including the UWS President. An Afghan peace-mission is due in Islamabad on Tuesday. There is a lot of resentment against the drone attacks on Pakistani territory. Pakistan has made a lot of sacrifices in the fight against terror. However, people are wondering how can they fight the terrorists and also be submit to being bombarded by ‘friends.’ 

—The writer is a former Secretary Interior.








The statement by former U.S. President George W. Bush in his 497 – page memoir of “Decision Points” that a

secret peace deal was worked out between the then-prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, which “we devised a process to turn .. into a public agreement” had not Olmert been ousted by a scandal to be replaced in the following elections by Binyamin Netanyahu, who reneged on his predecessor’s commitments, is a piece of history which highlights the fact that peace making in the Arab – Israeli conflict and the peace process have been hostages to the rotating U.S. and Israeli elections since the Madrid peace conference of 1991.

Of course Bush had a different point of view. In his Rose Garden speech on Israel – Palestine two-state solution on June 24, 2002, he said that “for too long .. the citizens of the Middle East” and “the hopes of many” have been held “hostage” to “the hatred of a few (and) the forces of extremism and terror,” a misjudgement that led his administration to strike a deal with the former Israeli premier, now comatose, Ariel Sharon to engineer a “regime change” in the self-ruled Palestinian Authority that resulted – according to Sharon’s terminology – in the “removal” of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who made peace possible in the first place for the first time in the past one hundred years and for that deserved to be a Nobel Peace Laureate, to be replaced by the incumbent Palestinian leadership of Abbas who, despite being almost identical of both men’s image of a peace maker, is again victimized by the same rotating U.S. and Israeli elections, much more than by what Bush termed as “forces of extremism and terror.”

Ironically, Bush’s own Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, some three years ago, had to admit that there is no consensus among U.S. officials on a clear-cut definition of “extremism and terror” when she said, referring to acts of Palestinian anti-Israeli military occupation, that, “The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people.” Even Olmert’s care-taker successor and the opposition leader now, Tzipporah Malkah “Tzipi” Livni, became the first ever Israeli cabinet minister to strike a line between an “enemy” and a “terrorist” when she told U.S. TV show “Nightline” on March 28, 2006: “Somebody who is fighting against Israeli soldiers is an enemy .. I believe that this is not under the definition of terrorism.”

However, judging from the incumbent Barak Obama administration’s adoption of Bush’s perspectives on the issue, as vindicated by Obama’s similar stance vis-à-vis the Palestinian anti-Israeli military resistance, in particular from the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli captive corporal Gilad Shalit, the U.S. successive administrations - whether Democrats or Republicans is irrelevant – are still insistent on shooting their Middle East peace efforts in the feet by giving the priority in peace making to fighting “extremism and terror” rather than to make peace as the prerequisite to ruling out the root causes of both evils. Once and again, then again and again, U.S. and Israeli elections bring about new players and governments that renege on the commitments, pledges and promises of their predecessors vis – a –vis the Arab – Israeli conflict in general and the Palestinian – Israeli peace process in particular, with an overall effect of being much more harmful to peace making than any forces of ‘extremism.”

This overall effect is devastating. First and foremost it creates the vicious circle of unfulfilled promises and hopes, which in turn, secondly, undermines what little confidence might still be there to believe in the same pledges of the newcomers, which their predecessors reneged on. Third, the repeatedly aborted endeavors for a breakthrough renders the “peace process” less an honest attempt on conflict resolution and more a crisis management effort, which is the last thing the Palestinian and Arab “peace partners” would like to put on their agenda. The ensuing environment of these and other factors is, fourth, the ideal setting for opening a new “window of opportunity” as soon as an old one is closed for “the forces of extremism” to exploit the political vacuum thus created. By default or by decision extremists in the Arab – Israeli conflict are U.S. and Israeli made as well as they are a legitimate byproduct of a failed process where the mission of peace making has been moving on from an old administration to a new one, each with a new plan that hardly takes off before another is offered by new players.

The outcome of the latest U.S. mid-term elections was not an exception. Both Palestinian and Israeli protagonists were on edge “waiting” for a new equation that would change the balance of power between the incumbent administration and the Congress to serve their respective goals and expectations, and a change did occur that will curtail the ability of President Obama to follow up on his pledges to deliver on his promises of peace making. The Palestinian disappointment is on the verge of despair to consider alternatives to the U.S. sponsorship of peace making, let alone continuing a peace process that has been counterproductive all along. The Israeli jubilation is on the verge of declaring an Israeli victory in a non-Israeli U.S. Congress over a U.S president who never even thought of compromising the U.S. – Israeli strategic alliance or the decades old commitment of successive administrations to the security of Israel, but only pondered a non-binding plan to bring the protagonists together to decide for themselves through strictly bilateral direct negotiations that rule beforehand any external intervention. 

The following elections followed the collapse of the Camp David trilateral summit and the ensuing violence, which led the new premier, Ariel Sharon, to declare the death of Oslo accord. Sharon succeeded in recruiting the support of George W. Bush to put the change of the Palestinian Authority (PA) regime of Arafat as the only item on the agenda of the “peace process” as a precondition to its resumption and convinced Bush to delay the official launch of the “Road Map” until after the Israeli elections. All that done already, and a new PA regime of their liking is already in place, but the Map has yet to be implemented. 

—The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. 








It’s a new Middle East where creative chaos is rampaging through it like pestilence; sounds familiar? New Year’s Eve suicide bombing of a Coptic Church in Alexandria is an ominous sign that things could go from bad to worse in Egypt. Sectarian violence has already taken its toll in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Aside from rampant and indiscriminate terror attacks, sectarian killings are now the second most dangerous phenomenon plaguing this region. The two are also linked to each other.

But going back to “creative chaos,” an intriguing proposal first suggested by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice almost five years ago as a revolutionary end-game for a new Middle East, whose “birth pangs,” as she later put it, where evident in Israel’s brutal aggression on Lebanon in the summer of 2006! It was then that Iraq’s sectarian killings were at their height. Rice’s defense of Israel’s war and her lack of sympathy toward the Palestinians reveal a sinister agenda.

Although the Bush agenda is no more, it is difficult to acquit Israel which has an existential interest in spreading chaos in the region. Who benefits the most from a divided and weakened Iraq, a crises-ridden Egypt, a security paranoid Gulf and a partitioned Sudan? The creative chaos approach has already paid dividend in Palestine where Hamas and the PNA are at each other’s throats while Israel tightens its siege on Gaza and embarks on the biggest colonial scheme in Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 war.

Both terrorism and sectarianism are comparatively new factors in the region’s troubled history. The first began to dig roots in the last 20 years of the past century—mostly in Egypt after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan—but then ceased to be a localized phenomenon after 9/11. The appearance of Al-Qaeda on centre stage changed the world’s perception of Islamic fundamentalism and religious militancy. It remains an enigma how the convergence of militant Muslim organizations in Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula and Afghanistan gave birth to an organization which managed to stage the biggest terror attack yet against the United States.

The second factor, sectarianism, was already evident in Lebanon, which suffered a long civil war in the 1970s. But aside from Lebanon religious and sectarian frictions were hardly felt elsewhere in the Arab world. There have always been minorities in this part of the world, but coexistence rather than rejection of the other was the norm. Political regimes tended to persecute all, Muslims and Christians, Arabs and non-Arabs, but while that was the official policy in countries like Iraq, Sudan, Algeria and others, followers of different faiths coexisted for centuries in Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and Morocco. 

Egypt has always presented itself as an example of religious tolerance and freedoms, especially before the 1952 military coup. It was in the 1980s that first signs of religious tension began to appear. The country’s Coptic Church played an important role in Egypt’s political life; refusing to allow followers to visit the Holy Land while it remained under Israeli occupation.

Egypt’s successful campaign to eradicate militant groups during the 1980s and early ‘90s did not stem the tide of fundamentalist dogma, which continued to spread its principles from mosques and small schools. And while the regime focused its attention on harnessing the opposition, both secular and religious (like the Muslim Brotherhood), it did little to stop the rising sectarian tension, which erupted in small confrontations, especially in Lower Egypt.

Failure to stem the tide of religious extremism may have prepared the ground for bloody events like the killing of seven Christians in Nagea Hamadi last year and the Alexandria massacre last week, which killed 22. Today, sectarian concerns are rising in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Sudan. In Egypt they are the biggest threat to stability and riots may get out of control soon. The regime will have to adopt a package of political reforms if it wants to quell fears and satisfy the opposition. In Iraq sectarian violence takes every shape and form and is not targeting Christians only but followers of every creed and sect. In Afghanistan both Sunnis and Shiites have been afflicted by religious violence and the same is happening in Pakistan.

This lethal combination of terrorism and sectarianism has pushed the region further inside a dark tunnel with no end in sight. In fact every Arab country is vulnerable to both, and unless quick and sober action is taken chaos will take over, permeating borders. This contagion threatens all and it can only bring destruction and division. There are no winners.

Those who negate the conspiracy theory may be right after all. But in any case our foes will be happy to see the region falling to crises. Conspiracy or not, regimes should move fast to buttress the domestic front against sectarian breaches, just as they moved to confront terrorism.

—The writer is is a veteran journalist and political commentator based in Amman.—The CG News


the austRALIAN







After a tough year in the office, Wayne Swan has earned a break indulging his passion for surfing. Even so, he has taken time over the festive season to think about the challenges facing the Gillard government and Australia over the coming year, arguing in a column in The Australian on Monday in favour of reform. His criticism that the Coalition has not devoted enough energy to advocating economic reform has a kernel of truth. That said, the opposition's bona fides have scarcely been tested by the quality of the government's reform proposals so far, which lack a clear strategy.


The biggest test this year will be tax reform. The Henry review has provided a blueprint for a flatter, more efficient tax system to boost productivity by encouraging incentive and welfare-to-work. The government's tax summit in the first half of the year is a chance to inject vigour into broad tax reform, a subject about which Mr Swan, conspicuously, has had little to say.


Yesterday's front page of The Australian serves as a useful pointer to both sides of politics that there will be many pinch points in the Australian economy this year. Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, who both succumbed to rank populism by rejecting out-of-hand a "big Australia" during the election campaign, must confront the threat to future prosperity from the serious shortage of skilled workers. Given the nation's need for tradespeople, science teachers, academics, engineers, nurses, mine workers and other skilled staff, the Immigration Department's 28-month backlog in processing applications by 140,000 skilled migrants is intolerable. As Reserve Bank director Graham Kraehe, the chairman of BlueScope Steel and Brambles, points out, an increase in skilled immigration is needed to curb pressure on wages. Longer term, the ageing of the Australian population, which will see just 2.7 working-age Australians for every retired person by the middle of this century, compared with nearly five now, makes sufficient skilled migration a no-brainer.


Mr Swan should also take on board Reserve Bank board member Donald McGauchie's warning that government spending and the investment in the NBN is forcing the bank to raise interest rates. That view echoes Treasury's Red Book advice that tighter fiscal policy and boosting labour-force participation and productivity "could play a useful role in complementing monetary policy, reducing the size of the required increases in interest rates and the exchange rates".


Mr Swan's frustration with the opposition's nit-picking populism is understandable. Mr Swan is no clean-skin when it comes to opposition for opposition's sake, of course, though we recognise the constructive arguments he made while in opposition for welfare-to-work tax reforms to address anomalies that discouraged workforce participation. Not only is it time to make good that idea, but he and the government are in a position to test the economic skill of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey by legislating for tax reform, tightening spending, cutting inefficient industry protection and planning effectively for a "big Australia".


It would be a brave and crazy Coalition that could resist such genuine reform. Mr Swan's resolution for 2011 should be to put the opposition to the test.








As a symbol of the religious extremism engulfing Pakistan, the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer could not be more significant. Inevitably, there will be grave fears for the survival of the nuclear-armed nation's nascent democracy. Taseer, a liberal man in every sense of the word, incurred the wrath of religious fanatics over his bold defence of Aasia Bibi, the 45-year-old Christian mother of five sentenced to death by hanging for alleged blasphemy under the Islamic laws introduced by previous military dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Bibi clashed with fellow labourers while working in a field over their reluctance to share a water bowl with a Christian. Words were exchanged in which, it is claimed, she insulted the Prophet Mohammed. Taseer, who was tortured unmercifully when he bravely campaigned to save Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from Zia-ul-Haq's executioners, was outraged by the sentence imposed on Bibi. He used his office to campaign for the blasphemy laws to be repealed.


It was an audacious move. Last week's nationwide strike in support of the blasphemy laws showed religious zealots in the ascendant as never before.


Taseer, a jovial bon vivant, highly successful entrepreneur, media magnate and author, was undaunted by threats. While others shied away, he insisted on visiting Bibi to be photographed with her and paid the price for his decency. But in his tragic death lies further evidence of the catastrophe looming in Pakistan. Last week's massive show of support for the religious extremists showed how strongly the tide is running in their favour. So does the fact that Taseer was shot by one of his own guards, an Islamic fanatic almost certainly not acting alone. Such extremists are believed to be rife throughout the country's official structures.


Pakistan, which even more than Afghanistan, is pivotal to Western security, is in dire straits, with riots over petrol prices and the shortage of commodities. The IMF has just stopped payment on a massive loan because of the failure of the government. The religious zealots believe they have the wind with them. The dreams of liberal democracy held by Taseer and others when the Musharraf dictatorship was overthrown are in ruins and the outlook is bleak as the world seeks to deal with al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.









France is wasted on the French. They live in a country of such beauty that they have a month-long bicycle race to show off the sights. The food and wine are so good it is illegal not to stop work for lunch. And from adultery to entertainment, life in France is considered the height of hedonism. It is unsurprising that the nation that puts style into life is the world's favourite holiday spot. About 75 million people visited France last year. And yet the French are miserable, according to a new survey of levels of economic optimism in 55 countries. With unemployment about 10 per cent and economic growth expected to be a little over a 10th that this year, this makes some sense. But not enough for the French to take the world's misery-guts mantle. Yes, in the land that gave us Cotes du Rhone and croque monsieur, people are more miserable than residents of Bangladesh and Nigeria. Even Afghans reckon this year will be a bottler, compared with the French.


Pourquoi? The obvious explanation is France has always paid too much attention to intellectuals, who consider happiness a bourgeois construct and when it comes to national mood think black is the new black. But this does not explain why more pragmatic nations are almost as miserable: the US and Britain were also very pessimistic in the poll. The real answer, we suspect, is that people in welfare states, where the government is expected to pay people to live comfortable lives, worry that the good times are over. Rightly so, considering France and Britain are slashing public spending to reduce debt and the entire US government runs on borrowed money. The contrast with the developing world, where welfare is a lot less generous but where growth means more jobs, is stark. According to another survey, from the US Pew Research Centre, about 87 per cent of Chinese, 50 per cent of Brazilians and 45 per cent of Indians think their country is going in the right direction, whereas only 31 per cent of Britons and 30 per cent of Americans do. And they are sunny optimists compared with the French, only 26 per cent of whom think things will improve.


Of course there is another explanation for Gallic gloom. It must depress a proud people that after centuries making wine and cheese and cultivating the good life, they are now a distant second to the world's best. They should get used it. After all, not everybody is lucky enough to be Australian.








Kristina Keneally has cast her decision to appear before a parliamentary inquiry into her government's rushed sale of significant slab of the state's electricity assets as one made in the spirit of ''transparency and openness''. The reality is a long way from that.


The Premier and the Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, have been dragged kicking and screaming to this point by public outrage over her decision to ask the Governor, Marie Bashir, to prorogue the Parliament two months early to avoid such an investigation.


Ms Keneally is now asking us to believe that she is concerned about allowing the public, via her appearance at the inquiry, to examine the fine detail of the $5.3 billion sale before the election.


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But by refusing to make another trip to Government House and asking Bashir to temporarily reopen the NSW Parliament, thereby restoring the inquiry's full powers, she has chosen to capitalise on the fear already instilled in many potential witnesses.


Rightly or wrongly, Keneally's repeated assertion that the inquiry cannot afford witnesses the protection of parliamentary privilege has spooked many if not all of the eight directors of the power companies who resigned in protest on December 14.


When their high-priced lawyers return from the holiday break, they will be presumably scrambling for their legal advice before making their decisions.


There is a real question to be asked about just how significant the risk is. Who, for example, would sue them, and for what? That said, without the real or imagined protection of the Parliament, directors will be deeply reluctant to put themselves in the situation.


One other significant effect of leaving the inquiry in legal limbo is that it cannot compel witnesses to appear, further reducing the likelihood that directors will show up.


Crucially, Keneally has also said it will be up to individual public servants to decide.


Key among them is the secretary of the Treasury, Michael Schur, who with Roozendaal has steered this transaction from the start.


It has been said, and denied, that Schur is less than enthusiastic about the so-called Gentrader model chosen to achieve the sale.

Because of Keneally's decision, it is highly unlikely the inquiry will get the opportunity to question him about this and other matters.


So the government, in its trickiness, has managed to retain the upper hand politically. It may yet get the result it wants - and a toothless inquiry.


That will not be spectacular news to the long-suffering public of NSW. But it also leaves one significant question unanswered: what is it about this transaction the government is so desperate to hide?







THE revelations, via WikiLeaks, of Rudd government dissensions about Japanese whaling do great damage to Australia's international standing on this issue, showing as they do strong misgivings about the wisdom of Kevin Rudd's insistence on challenging Japan in the International Court of Justice and some disingenuousness in motive.


This challenge will be presented in the court in four months and Japan will then have a year to present its defence of its ''scientific'' whale hunt in the Southern Ocean. A judgment may be three or more years away. This long process, it emerges, was part of the attraction of a legal challenge, perhaps the main one. Equally as important as the dim prospects of success, our officials told US diplomats, was ''removing some of the pressure on the government for the next few years''.


As the former environment minister Peter Garrett told the US ambassador, Labor was feeling ''boxed in'' by the Greens. It is even more boxed in by them now. The International Court action might still be justified, if its likely failure did not damage the campaign by Australia and other anti-whaling nations. But the government's advice from concerned officials was that the action might actually strengthen the legality of Japan's whaling, by encouraging changes to ''improve the science''.


Of course, this advice might be mistaken or overly timorous. Making whaling more scientific would suggest a much lower annual kill, or even a switch to non-lethal sampling, and much less emphasis on harvesting of whale meat. But if an unsuccessful case leaves the situation unchanged, a lingering question will be whether court action has encouraged a backdown or compromise by Japan, or simply reinforced a stubborn will to show that, in this respect at least, Japan is a country that can say no.


Unsurprisingly, voices opposing the court case were those more concerned with the broader relationship with Japan. They included the then foreign minister, Stephen Smith, and trade minister Simon Crean, and implicitly the Foreign Affairs and Trade officials examining paths of compromise that would result in Japan greatly reducing its whaling in Antarctic waters, exempting certain whale species and concentrating on whaling in its home waters.


As Foreign Affairs Minister, Rudd may now regret his rejection of that advice and wonder if diplomatic opportunities were lost with Japan's change of government in 2009. As it is, Canberra now has little choice but to stick to its legal guns, and make it clear that if Japan's whalers can exercise freedom of the seas, so, too, can Sea Shepherd and any others for vigorous peaceful protest.







PAKISTAN is at the crossroads. So, too, after a decade of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, is the global struggle with terrorism. But it is increasingly clear that the most crucial front of all is across the border in Pakistan. With a history of sponsoring the Taliban, the world's sixth-most populous nation faces an existential crisis brought on by the extremists within. On Tuesday in the capital, Islamabad, the most serious assassination since that of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto three years ago showed how much is at stake.


The victim was Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's most populous and politically important province, Punjab. A moderate secularist, Mr Taseer spoke out against religious extremism and blasphemy laws. In the 1980s, he had been jailed by the military regime of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, which introduced the laws. Recently, a Christian woman was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad and Mr Taseer was one of the few politicians to take up her cause. His killer was a police bodyguard, whose motive was Mr Taseer's stand on the blasphemy laws.


The assassination came just as a split in the ruling coalition threatened political chaos. Mr Taseer was a member of Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, which came to office after elections ended the most recent military rule in February 2008. His death threatens to silence moderate voices and to hamper efforts to save the government of her widower, President Asif Ali Zardari. Yet so great are the crises engulfing Pakistan that analysts suspect the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, may baulk at supporting a parliamentary vote of no confidence. Talks are under way to restore the governing coalition's majority after its second-biggest bloc, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, walked out. After the assassination, the PML-N extended a deadline for the government to accept its demands and avoid a vote to bring it down.


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So much more is at stake than who leads the next government. Many Pakistanis are alarmed at how deeply Islamic extremists have penetrated their society, including, it seems, the security establishment, whose commitment to tackling Taliban and al-Qaeda forces based along the border has long been doubted. The US believes success in Afghanistan depends on eliminating these havens and has invested heavily in the relationship with the Zardari government. If it falls, that is a problem, but a much bigger problem would arise if Pakistan's democracy project fails.


In fighting Islamic extremists, the West needs to avoid alienating the majority of Pakistan's 185 million people, 95 per cent of them Muslim. With 50 per cent illiteracy among over 15s and 25 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, many people fail to see the benefits of a secular democracy, particularly one so corrupt and impoverished as Pakistan. Continual turmoil has stalled political and economic reforms that might deliver those benefits. Pakistan needs all the diplomatic and development support it can get to minimise the popular discontent that extremists exploit. Other nations have a clear interest in restoring lasting stability, but the old quick fix of a ''friendly'' dictator will not achieve that.


Pakistanis must be given reasons to identify with the moderate democratic values of tolerance and inclusion, and the allied rewards of education and opportunity. A letter from Karachi to yesterday's Age indicates this is a broader and more subtle process than narrowly political diplomacy can manage. Usman Khawaja's Australian cricket debut had many Pakistanis watching on TV, wrote Irfan Qureshi. ''Suddenly my nation's entire cricket-loving population was behind your team. Australia, we love you!''


Sadly, Pakistan is so violent and insecure that its own cricket team does not play at home. Moderates have not felt so vulnerable since the Zia dictatorship. A nuclear-armed nation of so many people and of such strategic importance cannot be allowed to succumb to extremism.







JUST when we thought the moral climate had calmed down in the wake of the Bill Henson images-of-naked-teenage-girls scandal, along comes a new year fracas that again raises concerns about the differences between freedom of expression and potential pornography.


This time, an entire exhibition - Out of the Comfort Zone, featuring works by some of Australia's leading artists, commissioned to work outside their normal media - has been threatened by official timidity. The Sydney Children's Hospital Foundation rejected a photograph by Archibald Prize-winning artist Del Kathryn Barton of her six-year-old son, Kell, in jeans but naked from the waist up. The reason: the work did not comply with the hospital's strict rules for the use of images of children. The exhibition will go ahead in March, but the expected proceeds of $200,000 will go instead to the Midnight Basketball youth charity.


The absurdity of the foundation's decision to abandon the exhibition is emphasised by the fact that the photograph in question was published on the front pages of yesterday's editions of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald without fear of breaching rules of taste or propriety. In fact, it is hard to discern from Barton's image of her son anything other than a Puckish wistfulness: the same qualities possessed by Renaissance cherubs. Another irony is that the hospital, in provoking the very publicity it should have avoided, has reassigned the notoriety from the artist to itself.


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The wider ramifications of such overreaction, however, are far more serious, and impinge into the region of censorship versus artistic freedom that most cultures have long since overcome. By contrast, Australia still seems, in some part, to be a moralistic parallel-universe, trapped in the age when piano legs were considered licentious and had to be concealed. Three years ago, at a sand-sculpture exhibition on a Sydney beach, the council ordered the organisers to put a pair of bathers on a statue of a naked child.


There are always going to be problems dealing with issues of child abuse and exploitation, particularly in the murkier reaches of the internet; but these should not be the impetus for ridiculous compromise or wholesale suppression. As Tamara Winikoff, executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, says: ''In our zeal to protect children we are erasing them entirely.''


Commonsense should have prevailed. Instead, the comfort zone has become decidedly awkward.








Trickier than handling the immediate situation is the task of interpreting what it suggests about the coalition's NHS reforms


It flares up quickly, only semi-predictably and brings panic in its wake. Fluis a phenomenon to send a shiver through any government, and yesterday's 60% increase in intensive care cases is dangerous because it follows the health secretary's autumn refusal to publicise vaccinations. Worse, although Andrew Lansley has now activated a separate campaign about hand hygiene, the move appeared to come late in the day.


Neither the former decision nor the latter delay is proof of wickedness. Judgments like these inescapably turn on a balance of risks, and the interim chief medical officer (recruitment for the permanent post is ongoing) was on hand yesterday to explain why the timing of the new campaign fitted with expert opinion. She struck a plausible enough note, and yet as the cases continue to snowball, so too will the controversy. The vaccine's take-up has been dismal, and some practitioners are pointing the finger at the lack of publicity. The immediate danger for Mr Lansley is complacency; he must sound prepared for the worst – a winter crisis in the hospitals – without in any way hamming up a situation he still hopes to avoid. Striking that balance will be tricky enough. Trickier still will be interpreting the wider lessons.


One of Vince Cable's more stinging misspoken words was his characterisation of the coalition's NHS reforms as "Maoist". With little cover from his own party's manifesto, and less from that of the Lib Dems, Mr Lansley is abolishing primary care trusts and requiring GPs to pick up the work, whether they want it or not. He puts enormous faith in the decentralised decisions of family doctors. The nationwide vaccine campaign was deemed superfluous on the basis that it was for them to chivvy vulnerable patients into getting the jab. If it transpires that many GPs have failed to communicate that effectively, then it will be as well to pause and ask how well they will fare at thornier tasks, such as managing contracts with mighty hospital trusts and rationing costly drugs.


The other big question is where even justifiable penny-pinching on flu prevention would leave Mr Lansley's personal ambition of transforming his ministry into a department for public health. It would be likewise hard to square with the coalition's wider emphasis on changing behaviour through persuasion – in the buzzword, "nudge". In these pages this weeksenior minister Francis Maude damned the mismatch in spending between educational prevention and medical cure, and yet this arises because communications budgets are such soft targets that the chancellor has made great public play of cutting them to curb council tax. Once it has thrown off the flu, the government will have some serious thinking to do.







Biodiversity is all we have, so the case for conservation ought to be obvious – but change remains blighted by several obstacles


Continental Europe is home to more than 125,000 known species of terrestrial and freshwater animal, and each year another 700 newly described species join the list. That sounds like good news to mark the end of 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity. It may not be. The planet buzzes with life, most of it unidentified and an alarming proportion of it now vulnerable to extinction. That is why the UN has declared 2011 to be both the International Year of Forests and the launch of an International Decade of Biodiversity, with a new intergovernmental panel of expertise. French researchers pointed out in November that theinventory of European fauna is incomplete and that they cannot begin to guess what the total might be. Yet Europe is where taxonomy and ecology began: from Beijing to Bradford, from Windhoek to Wisconsin, creatures have formal Latin names because Latin was the scholarly language of the first systematic catalogue of the living world little more than 250 years ago.


Biodiversity is all we have. Living things provide humankind's food, fabric, fibre and pharmaceuticals; they fertilise and pollinate crops, generate oxygen and recycle water. The wealth of nations is built upon biodiversity: even the oil, coal, peat, chalk and flints dug from the ground were once living tissue. So the case for the conservation of life's variety ought to be obvious. But biodiversity is a problem in four parts. We do not know, cannot identify, and cannot even begin to count most of the creatures upon whom we depend; nor do we know how these unidentified species interact with and depend upon each other; yet we are extinguishing this richness at a rate perhaps unparalleled in the 3.5bn year history of life on Earth; and we have as yet no masterplan with which to address any of these challenges.


Right now one fifth of the planet's known vertebrates and one fifth of its named flowering plants are vulnerable, threatened or heading for extinction, but these represent only a small fraction of all that there is to conserve. If biodiversity is still unfinished business in the continent in which research began – and which is still home to most of the world's expertise – then things look ominous for those places so much richer inwildlife and so much poorer not just in money but in scientific investment: those countries with the coral reefs, mangrove swamps, rainforests, savannahs and dry uplands that are home to the greatest diversity.


There are of course vital projects – the Census of Marine Diversitythe Barcode of Life, International Union for Conservation of Nature red lists and so on. But they do not add up to global determination, and so far these initiatives do not address one taxonomic riddle: confusion about how many species have been "discovered" and named more than once. There is a global convention on biological diversity with 193 signatories, which declares that living species are not the common heritage of all mankind; instead states have sovereign rights over their own biological resources, and therefore implicitly a direct interest in conserving them. Since the richest concentrations of biodiversity are held by the poorest nations, scientists from Europe and the US must negotiate formidable bureaucratic and social obstacles before they can begin research, train local naturalists and start to advise on conservation techniques. Such intricacies forced the last-minute cancellation of a London Natural History Museum initiative in Paraguay in November.


Meanwhile, the most conservative estimates suggest that creatures fashioned by millions of years of evolution are being extinguished at a rate a thousand times faster than, for example, at the end of the Ice Age, and that as the human population grows in the next 90 years, this extinction rate is predicted to increase by a further tenfold. Such problems cannot be solved in a year, or a decade. But perhaps, with serious political investment, a concerted global effort can at last begin.








Let's hope, however vainly, for a collective resolution to extend a smidgeon more trust in considering what makes people tick


The ancient cynics shunned wealth in pursuit of virtue, their very name – a classical cousin of the modern "canine" – a token of the dog-like contempt earned by willful forbearance of poverty. The cynicism which pervades public life at the dawn of 2011 is less a descendant of this noble lineage, than its antithesis. It is a creed that ascribes the basest motives to everybody, and dismisses the very possibility of moral improvement. Inflamed by the MPs' expenses crisis of 2009, and by the too-casual jettisoning of manifesto pledges that followed election 2010, mistrust is paralysing politics. It is evident in marketopian reforms which treat public servants as knaves to be slapped into line by the self-interested whack of the invisible hand. It is evident, too, in fear and loathing between the governing and governed, and – we admit – in newspapers being too gleeful about catching yet another snout in the trough. The great injustices of the day have at times been buried in a blizzard of dodgy receipts for duck islands and patio doors. The dismal worldview reaches its apogee in the rightwing blogosphere, where pundits parade as anarchists but subtly entrench hopelessness by decreeing every call for public virtue to be a cover for private vice. None of this is to deny the praiseworthiness of doubt and sceptical inquiry, preconditions for both good government and clear thought. But it is to hope, however vainly, for a collective resolution to extend a smidgeon more trust in considering what makes people tick.









Prime Minister Naoto Kan expressed his political hopes for 2011 at a news conference Tuesday, including his determination to end money-tainted politics and his wish to hold consultations with the opposition forces on reform of the social welfare system and reform of the tax system, which would include raising the consumption tax. But the political situation surrounding him will not allow things to go as smoothly as he wishes.


Mr. Kan said, "This year I want to overcome the problem of money in politics." His remark is aimed at former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa, who lost to Mr. Kan in the DPJ's presidential election in September and whose aides have been indicted over political funds scandals. Mr. Kan believes that Mr. Ozawa's presence in the DPJ is a big factor that has caused his Cabinet's approval rating to sink below 30 percent.


As a result of decisions by a citizens' legal panel, Mr. Ozawa is expected to be indicted in late January in connection with his political funds management body's alleged false reporting over a fund raised in 2004. Mr. Ozawa in late December told politicians close to him that he was ready to appear and speak before the Lower House's Council on Political Ethics even before the start of the 150-day ordinary Diet session this month as Mr. Kan and the DPJ leadership want.


At the news conference, Mr. Kan escalated his attack on Mr. Ozawa by saying that if he is indicted, he should concentrate on his trial and consider resigning as a Diet member.


Mr. Kan is apparently trying to shift the responsibility for his administration's poor performance to Mr. Ozawa. Ridding of the strongman may help raise his Cabinet's approval rating but will have no effect of improving Mr. Kan's running of the government.


His vehement attack on Mr. Ozawa will fan the antipathy of pro-Ozawa DPJ members to Mr. Kan, thus undermining the party unity. The more Mr. Kan attacks Mr. Ozawa, the further deepens people's perception that the DPJ is obsessed with an intraparty strife, forgetting stabilizing people's lives.


Even if Mr. Kan and the DPJ leadership expel Mr. Ozawa from the party, the opposition parties will not give a helping hand to him because they perceive the Kan administration as a sinking ship.


Mr. Kan expressed a hope to launch cross-party talks involving the DPJ and opposition forces on social security reform and on how to finance social security by around June. But it is very unlikely that the opposition forces will cooperate on these matters because they are waiting for the Kan administration to further weaken and are trying to seize a political chance to pull it down. Mr. Kan also should remember that after flip-flopping on the consumption tax issue during the campaign for the July Upper House election, he stopped talking about the issue for many months, causing a halt in public discussions over tax reform.


Mr. Kan faces another headache. The opposition parties that in November passed censure resolutions against Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku and infrastructure and transporter minister Sumio Mabuchi in the opposition-controlled Upper House are now poised not to join Diet deliberations unless Mr. Kan removes the two from his Cabinet.


The two Cabinet members were criticized especially for their handling of a Chinese trawler's colliding with two Japan Coast Guard patrol ships near the Senkaku Islands of Okinawa Prefecture in September.


Mr. Kan expressed his intention to reshuffle his Cabinet prior to the start of the regular Diet session, hinting that he will remove Mr. Sengoku from his portfolio. Mr. Sengoku has played an important role in running the government and protecting Mr. Kan from the opposition forces' attacks. Removal of Mr. Sengoku, the cornerstone of the Kan Cabinet, would further weaken the Cabinet.


Mr. Kan said that his administration will decide by around June whether Japan should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional free trade agreement the United States, Australia, Chile and several other countries are pushing forward. Unless he comes up with a policy package that will make Japanese agriculture more competitive, he will face strong opposition from farm lobbies strongly opposed to the TPP. Mr. Kan also has no prospects for solving the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa Island.


Mr. Kan will face a severe test in April when local elections will be held at many places in Japan. The DPJ suffered one defeat after another in local elections last year, raising fears that the DPJ may suffer great setbacks in the coming elections. There is also a possibility that even before the local elections, the Upper House will vote down budget-related bills, cornering the Kan Cabinet. Unless Mr. Kan and the DPJ leadership develop strong political prowess, the Kan administration could face a big crisis as early as March.








LONDON — "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 U.N. the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United States and the European Union, but getting him out will not be easy.


Gbagbo, once a history professor and a prodemocracy 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 ceasefire 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 facade of a Muslim takeover bid that began with the military mutiny in 2002.


The north-south division in Ivory Coast is real. The country has shifted from a narrow Christian majority 25 years ago to a Muslim majority today — and it has done so largely through illegal immigration from the much poorer, entirely Muslim countries to the north: Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea.


About 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 U.S. 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.


Gwynne Dyer's latest book, "Climate Wars," is distributed in most of the world by Oneworld.








NEW DELHI — For a country with 1.2 billion people, India is ruled by a surprisingly small elite, which runs everything from the government to large companies and even sports bodies. But a series of scandals, some involving billions of dollars, has now seriously undermined that elite's standing in the eyes of the Indian public.


Almost anyone in a position of power in India, including well-known print and television journalists, is now viewed with suspicion. This is occurring at a time when economic growth is pulling a young and upwardly mobile population into the urban middle class. This new middle class is no longer constrained by the patronage systems of the village, and it does not enjoy the cozy relationship that links the old middle class with the elite. Could this crisis of the elite trigger India's own Tiananmen Square moment?


Except in totalitarian regimes, a country's elite depends on a degree of popular acceptance, which is mostly derived from the belief that the elite is broadly "fair" in its dealings. Following the recent series of scandals, the average Indian does not believe this anymore.


Of course, doubts about the ruling elite are not unique to India. Almost all countries undergoing a shift from a pre-industrial equilibrium based on patronage to one based on modern institutions and the rule of law have faced such crises of legitimacy.


Until the early 19th century, for example, British politics was extraordinarily corrupt. The old aristocracy not only dominated the House of Lords, but also used its influence to get relatives, friends and family retainers elected to the House of Commons by exploiting a key institutional weakness — the existence of "rotten boroughs" that could be bought and sold.


The Duke of Newcastle alone is said to have controlled seven such boroughs, each with two representatives. Meanwhile, large and populous industrial cities like Birmingham and Manchester were barely represented. In 1819, a crowd of 60,000 gathered in Manchester to demand reform, but were charged by the cavalry. Fifteen people were killed and many more injured in what is remembered as the Peterloo Massacre.


Given the recent memory of the violent French Revolution, the British elite reluctantly agreed to democratizing reforms. Ultimately, the Reform Act of 1832 abolished the rotten boroughs and extended the franchise to the new middle class (the working class and women would have to wait).


The United States, too, went though a period of robber-baron industrialization in the 1870s and 1880s. The greed and corruption of that era were satirized in 1873 by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book "The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today." The period ended with the depression of 1893-96, and was followed by the major political reforms of the Progressive Era.


For Britain and the U.S., the transition in the nature of the governing elite was relatively smooth. But there are many examples where such change was sudden and violent —- the French and Russian Revolutions, for example. In Germany, the old Prussian elite successfully managed the country's industrialization in the late 19th century, but was discredited by defeat in World War I. Nazism filled the ensuing vacuum, and a new equilibrium would be established only after World War II.


Similar shifts have been witnessed in Asia. Japan saw two shifts — the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the period after World War II. South Korea was ruled by generals until widespread student protests led to a democratic transition in 1987. (Many of the country's top businessmen faced prosecution in subsequent years.) Indonesia experienced its shift more recently, in 1998.


When China confronted this moment during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the communist state repressed the students with an iron fist, but has since maintained a single-minded focus on economic growth. Corruption remains a major problem, but the authorities take care to punish the worst excesses in a highly visible way. Still, as the recent controversy over the Nobel Peace Prize demonstrated, the government remains nervous about any dissent that challenges the legitimacy of the ruling elite.


Even adjusted for purchasing power, India's middle class today probably totals no more than 70 million (far smaller than is generally assumed). But, in the coming decade, today's established middle class will be swamped by newcomers working their way up from the country's slums, small towns and villages.


One can see them everywhere — learning English in "coaching centers," working anonymously in the new malls and call centers, or suddenly famous as sports stars. Never before has India experienced such social mobility. So far, this new group has been too busy climbing the income ladder to express their resentment at the excesses of the elite, but one can feel a growing sense of anger among its members.


It is impossible to predict when the shift will happen or what form it will take. Given India's democratic traditions, it is likely that the change will be peaceful. One possibility is that it will take place province by province — the previously ungovernable state of Bihar being a prime example.


But we might also see an unpredictable turn, with a new political leader or movement suddenly capturing the popular imagination and sweeping aside the old arrangements. As we know from Nazi Germany and other cases, such movements do not always lead to a happy outcome.


Perhaps India's existing elite will learn from history, purge itself and then open itself up to new talent. Many investigations have been ordered into the current corruption scandals. Over the course of this year, Indians will find out if such efforts are serious and whether they will lead to reform — or merely to deeper crisis.


Sanjeev Sanyal is the author of "The Indian Renaissance: India's Rise after a Thousand Years of Decline." © 2011 Project Syndicate








MELBOURNE — Sometimes we know the best thing to do, but fail to do it. New Year's resolutions are often like that. We make resolutions because we know that it would be better for us to lose weight, or get fit, or spend more time with our children. The problem is that a resolution is generally easier to break than it is to keep. That is why, by the end of January, most people have already abandoned their New Year's resolutions.


John Stuart Mill, in his classic defense of liberty, argued that each individual is the best judge and guardian of his or her own interests. But recent research suggests that we can use some help. Dean Karlan, a professor of economics at Yale University, examined ways to help some of the Philippines' poorest people achieve their goals. He found that, like people everywhere, they had difficulties resisting the temptation to spend what little they had, even when they recognized that it would be better to save for a goal that could make a more substantial difference to their lives.


When given access to banking, they would save a little, but then withdraw it before they reached their goal. But, if offered a savings account that penalized them for withdrawing money before they reached a goal that they themselves had specified, many chose that type of account, even though the interest they earned was no higher than in an account that allowed them to make withdrawals whenever they chose. Using the account that penalized early withdrawals helped them achieve their goals.


Karlan then turned to other areas in which people lack self-control. He found that when people want to quit smoking, they are more likely to succeed if they arrange to lose money should they fail. In a randomized trial, 30 percent of those who risked a penalty for failure achieved their goal, compared to only 5 percent in the control group.


Karlan discussed his work with colleagues at Yale. How, they asked themselves, can we give people stronger incentives to keep their resolutions and achieve their personal goals? You can find their answer at a website they helped to start,, where you can make a Commitment Contract, which obliges you to reach a goal of your own choosing. Then, as an incentive to fulfill your commitment, you can decide on a penalty that you must pay if you fail.


For example, one way of giving yourself a strong incentive to reach your goal is to commit to pay money to someone if you fail. Better yet, you can specify that you will have to pay a certain sum to a cause that you detest. If you support protection of the world's rain forests, you could decide that your penalty payment will go to an organization that favors commercial development of the Amazon.


In addition, the website makes the commitment public, and allows you to have supporters who will encourage you to meet your goal, and whom you will disappoint if you fail. So far, 45,000 people have used stickK to make Commitment Contracts, with a success rate, for those who give themselves a financial incentive, above 70 percent.


Karlan's research, and the results obtained at stickK, suggests that most people, when they are thinking calmly, have a sense of what is in their interests, but, faced with more immediate temptations, are often unable to keep to their plans. For example, the wide availability of electronic gaming machines and online gambling makes it difficult for "problem gamblers" to stop gambling, even though they know that they are losing more than they can afford to lose. As a result, many ruin themselves financially, causing great distress to their families. Some stoop to crime to pay their gambling debts. Could a commitment contract help problem gamblers to stop?


For the past two years, almost all gambling in Norway has required the use of an electronic card. Cash is forbidden. The card allows the government to impose daily and monthly limits on the amount players can lose on electronic gaming machines. This approach appears paternalistic, and perhaps it is, but it could also be defended in terms of preventing people from making their children destitute, and becoming — in a country like Norway, which provides for its poor — a burden on the state.


But the card also gives gamblers the chance to set limits for themselves. They can limit how much money they will spend, or how long they will spend at a machine at any one time. That is not paternalism, just an encouragement to pause and reflect.


The idea of offering gamblers a chance to set their own limits before they begin a gambling session is beginning to spread around the world. In addition to Norway, it exists, in various forms, in Sweden, New Zealand and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.


Australia's Productivity Commission recently studied the value of such pre-commitment systems. It estimated the annual social cost of problem gambling in Australia at $4.7