Google Analytics

Friday, January 7, 2011

EDITORIAL 07.01.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at:



media watch with peoples input                   an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



Month january 07, edition 000723, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































  6. NO HASTE…O.K.














































The Union Cabinet's decision to set up a 'Group of Ministers' — soon a full-time Minister will be required to keep track of and coordinate with all such groups that have been set up ever since a limp-wristed Prime Minister was appointed by the Congress to head a pusillanimous Government — to deal with the problem of corruption. The decision comes in the wake of a slew of corruption charges against the UPA regime, the most notable being the Great 2G Spectrum Robbery and the Games Scam, both of which happened right under the nose of the Prime Minister without his getting even a whiff of what was happening. The new GoM is being set up as part of the 'five-point agenda' that was announced by Congress president Sonia Gandhi during the recent AICC's plenary session. The GoM is likely to be headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and will include Home Minister P Chidambaram, Defence Minister AK Antony, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Law Minister Veerappa Moily. Ms Gandhi had called for fast-tracking all cases against public servants, including politicians; taking forward the proposal of state-funding of elections; legislative and clear procedures to ensure transparency in public procurement; shedding of discretionary powers by Chief Ministers and all Ministers, including in the Union Government; open competitive system of exploiting natural resources. On the face of it, the proposals are unexceptionable — indeed, the proposals, if implemented with sincerity, can make an immense contribution towards cleansing the system of governance and ridding the country of the monster called corruption. At the same time, each of the proposals has been discussed at length and there really is nothing new to either debate or deliberate upon. If the Government had really meant to tackle this menace, and if the Prime Minister's oft-repeated promise of adopting a policy of zero tolerance towards corruption had not been empty rhetoric, India would not have been saddled with crimes like the 2G Spectrum scam and the CWG loot.

The Prevention of Corruption Act is a tough law; unfortunately, it is followed more in the breach than in practice. Had this law been ruthlessly implemented and if the Prime Minister had refused to tolerate the presence of tainted individuals in his Cabinet, then there would have been reason to believe that the Congress and the UPA Government are serious about fighting corruption. Just setting up a GoM to whitewash the Government's sins of omission and commission makes as little sense as the haste with which a law to appoint a Lok Pal is being considered without bothering to discuss its clauses or the powers of the ombudsman with the Opposition. Thursday's decision is no more than window-dressing, a ploy to distract the people and divide the Opposition which has remained resolute on its demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the 2G scam. It deserves the collective scorn of the nation. A Government that instructs the CBI to close the case against Ottavio Quattrocchi who received bribes in the Bofors deal, a regime that thinks nothing of the massive loot and plunder in the name of allotting 2G Spectrum and organising a sports extravaganza while the Prime Minister slept, does not have the moral authority to talk about fighting corruption. If there is any honest intent, let it be demonstrated by setting up a JPC. 







Any self-respecting public servant occupying a constitutional post will quit without delay if his close relatives are found to have indulged in gross irregularities during his tenure. He would even more certainly put in his papers on allegations that he took sides in political disputes. But Mr KG Balakrishnan is made of a different mettle. The former Chief Justice of India and now Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, under attack for the shenanigans of his sons-in-law, brother and other kith and kin has demonstrated no desire to leave the high office he occupies despite the humiliations heaped on him on a virtual daily basis. He has ignored calls from legal experts including former Supreme Court judges to show some dignity and resign. Given the position that he currently holds, easing him out would entail a lengthy procedure, and with the politics that come to play on such occasions, there is no guarantee that the process will succeed. But the issue here is not whether such a process should be initiated or whether it will work, but that of the moral inclination of Mr Balakrishnan. He lacks that completely, and if he eventually (some hope) succumbs to the pressure and does indeed quit it will be for reasons other than a sudden burst of morality. The dubious manner in which he handled the Justice Reghupathy issue as the Chief Justice of India, doing all he could to 'protect' the tainted A Raja, then Union Telecom Minister accused of attempting to pressure the then Madras High Court judge in a murder-cum-fraud case, was matched only by a subsequently brazen but pathetic defence of his action.

He remained unrepentant despite being completely exposed by both Justice Reghupathy and Justice HL Gokhale, who was then Chief Justice of the High Court and is now a Supreme Court judge. Justice Gokhale categorically said that he had informed in writing to the then Chief Justice of India about charges that a Union Minister had attempted to influence judicial proceedings. Among the fresh revelations of his questionable actions as Chief Justice of India, is that Mr Balakrishnan hastened the hearing of a petition in the apex court filed by Kerala Left leader Pinarayi Vijayan — who is at loggerheads with the State's Chief Minister and senior CPI(M) leader V Achuthanandan — in the SNC Lavalin corruption case. The question that demands a reply is: why did Mr Balakrishnan take this extraordinary step even when no one had petitioned him to do so? The act appears not only legally improper but it has also exposed the then Chief Justice of India to the charge that he had taken sides in a crucial case that has political ramifications in Kerala — incidentally Mr Balakrishnan's home State. 









The processes of de-radicalisation initiated by Sheikh Hasina's Awami League Government in Bangladesh after it came to power on January 6, 2009, have been further and considerably consolidated through 2010, with Dhaka successfully reining in the Islamist extremist constituency in the country.

Interestingly, the country's extremist Islamist image has been turned around with relatively little bloodshed, even as Left-wing extremists, whose activities are little in evidence, continue to be killed in much larger numbers. Six fatalities, including three civilians and three militants, were recorded in as many Islamist extremism linked incidents in 2010. Three civilians were killed by the Islami Chhatra Shibir, the students' wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, in three incidents in February. The civilians were killed in Dhaka and Rajshahi districts. The three militants were killed in Chittagong and Nawabganj districts in February and April. 

Indeed, it was after a span of two years that security forces killed militants involved in Islamist extremism, even as Islamist extremist formations appear to have withdrawn into a defensive shell after the arrest, trial and conviction (and including the execution) of many of their top leaders. It would, however, be far from accurate to suggest that Islamist extremism has been wiped out from the country.

Significantly, Maulana Saidur Rahman alias Zafar, chief of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, who was arrested on May 25, 2010, disclosed that the JMB had about 400 full-time cadre across the country and a 'military wing' capable of launching major attacks. He also claimed that hardliners who had taken control of the JMB would be more destructive as a result of his absence as chief. Rahman also disclosed that, apart from the fake currency trade, the JMB received funds from several sources at home and abroad. He admitted that the JMB has explosive devices, handmade bombs and grenades stashed at different locations. 

Alam, the 'acting chief' of the JMB, was subsequently arrested on July 12, 2010, and disclosed that the JMB had a hit list of 12 top political figures, mostly ruling party leaders. (Sheikh Hasina has recently been threatened by extremists.) He, however, claimed that the JMB had destroyed all the explosives it had in the northern region. But Rahman has contradicted this claim, and suggested that Alam could have shifted the arms and explosives to new locations. 

Another senior leader of the JMB, Abu Bakkr Siddique alias Shiblu, who was arrested in Thakurgaon district on May 25, 2010, told security forces that the organisation had trained some of its female operatives in using grenades, and they had been making preparations to carry out a series of grenade attacks in Dhaka on a limited scale. Shiblu confirmed Rahman's claim that the aim of the planned attacks was to signal the JMB's re-emergence and to attract prospective recruits.

Worryingly, the nexus between the JeI and the JMB was revealed like never before. Investigators brought together Saidur Rahman of JMB and arrested leaders of the JeI, including its Ameer, Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary-general Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujaheed, and Nayeb-e-Ameer Delwar Hossain Sayedee on July 13. These three top JeI leaders were arrested from Dhaka on June 29, 2010. It was there that Saidur Rahman admitted his past affiliation with the JeI. He also claimed that the JeI had provided training in handling small arms and grenades. 

In a further development, on December 13, 2010, the Rapid Action Battalion neutralised a hilltop training camp of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami-Bangladesh (HuJI-B) in Chittagong district and arrested five militants along with bombs, explosives, grenades, bomb-making manuals in Arabic, electric circuits, adaptors, fuses and booklets written by former JeI leader Golam Azam and incumbent JeI chief Motiur Rahman Nizami. 

Dhaka has taken a number of visible measures to permanently exorcise Islamist extremism and fundamentalism from the country. The Government has initiated the trial of the war criminals of the 1971 Liberation War as had been promised in the Awami League's election manifesto. This measure seeks to bring to justice the men, including top leaders of the JeI, who collaborated with the Pakistani Army and Government in the 1971 genocide that left an estimated three million people dead; thousands of women and girls were raped. The Tribunal mandated to prosecute the war criminals and collaborators of 1971 was constituted on March 25, 2010. 

The Government-appointed investigative and research organisation, the War Criminals Fact Finding Committee, has handed over a list of war criminals and documentary evidence in support of charges against them on April 4, 2010. According to the convener of the WCFFC, MA Hassan, the documentation includes the names and addresses of 1,775 war criminals, and detailed accounts of their crimes, including mass killings. 

The trial of the war criminals was initiated on March 25, 2010, but there have been demands from many civil society organisations to speed up the process. In response, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed, has given a commitment that the trial of war criminals would be completed within the tenure of the present Government. "We are trying that the war crimes trial lives up to international standards and none can raise any question about it," he said.

One of the most significant steps in connection with the war crimes trials was the arrest of five top leaders of the JeI: Ameer Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary-general Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujaheed, Nayeb-e-Ameer Delwar Hossain Sayedee, senior leaders Mohammad Qamaruzzaman and Abdul Qader Mollah. 

In another blow to the fundamentalists, the Sheikh Hasina Government initiated a challenge to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of April 1979, which removed 'secularism' from the Preamble, and imposed an Islamic character. The Preamble had been changed to include a pledge that "the high ideals of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah" shall be the fundamental principle of the Constitution.

On January 3, 2010, the Government filed a case against the Fifth Amendment, and on October 4, 2010, the High Court ruled that "Bangladesh is now a secular state since the original Constitution of 1972 has been automatically restored following the Supreme Court Judgement." Earlier, on July 27, 2010, the Supreme Court had restored the original Constitution of 1972.

The Supreme Court has also reinstated a ban on Islamic political parties. In a detailed, 184-page judgement, the Supreme Court has scrapped the bulk of the 1979 Fifth Amendment, including provisions that had allowed religious political parties to flourish and legalised military rule. Bangladesh was re-declared a secular state after a gap of 31 years. 


 The writer is associated with the Institute for Conflict Management. 









Of late, the news of Binayak Sen's life sentence has been garnering a lot of attention and making headlines. However, citizens of India have not really got involved in a way they have been with the Jessica Lall case. While that was a rage-driven murder, the Binayak Sen case is of far more relevance to society since it reflects the common man's predicament and democratic rights in India. It is about our right to ideology and our right to work for a better society. And, therefore, every Indian must get involved with this case and come out with a strong opinion. 

Binayak Sen, a paediatrician by profession and the national vice-president of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, has extended his profession and galvanised it with social cause, which is a rare case in India where most doctors today are concerned about making money. He has provided healthcare to disadvantaged tribal families in Chhattisgarh and has also worked with the State Government on health sector reforms. But most important, he has expressed his views on human rights violations during the anti-Maoist operations in the State. And this last part, in short, is his only crime.

Binayak Sen was first arrested for meeting one Narayan Sanyal 33 times in Raipur Jail after prior police permission. On the face of it, the evidence on which Binayak Sen has been charged is highly prejudicial in nature. For argument's sake, even if he was planning some Maoist operation or was passing information to Sanyal, then why did it take 33 closely supervised meetings for the police to prove his crime? Why was he not charged just after the first few meetings? 

The postcard written by Narayan Sanyal, which has been used as incriminating evidence, contains information regarding his health and is duly signed by the jail authorities. Further, the evidence used to prove Binayak Sen guilty consists of books and articles on Maoist ideologies. But mere possession of Maoist literature cannot make a person guilty of sedition. If reading Mao's books and Marx's Das Kapital is a crime, then people across the world, from China to Russia and Cuba to Latin America, are 'criminals'. 

Binayak Sen's fault is that he has raised his voice against the state's way of dealing with the Maoist movement — be it organising and mobilising people's groups like Salwa Judum for which even the Supreme Court has admonished the Chhattisgarh Government, or killing innocent people during combing operations. For doing so, Binayak Sen has been charged under Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code, the same Section that was used against Mahatma Gandhi in 1922 during the 'Great Ahmedabad Trial' wherein he was charged with spreading disaffection against the British. The Section, in the words of Gandhi, is the "prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizens." Ideally, the Section should be abolished in free India.

The moot point here is that the court has found an allegiance of Binayak Sen with Maoists and that is why he has been dealt with in such a harsh manner. Though their means might be wrong, the Maoists represent the oppressed sections of society. Their fight is against the Government and not the common man. It is no secret that due to unflinching support from the tribal poor for the Maoists all operations of the Government till date have failed to neutralise the extremists. 

Our politicians are so insincere that they marginalise millions into sub-Saharan existence, leaving them wallowing in gut-wrenching poverty, with no healthcare, education and employment. Then what does the state expect? Maoism, as I see it, is the people's protest against such marginalisation.

In such a scenario, a patriotic man like Binayak Sen has an important significance because of his deep understanding of the tribal communities. Ideally, instead of sentencing him, the state should have productively engaged him in bringing the tribals around into the mainstream. The authorities have lost an opportunity of neutralising Maoism in Chhattisgarh.

Instead of putting the real corrupt thieves and politicians behind the bars, it is a shame that people like Binayak Sen are being given lifetime imprisonment by the country's judicial system.

Indeed, if Binayak Sen has gone beyond ideologically understanding the root cause behind Maoism — as many others in this country have done — and couriered a letter or two to show his solidarity with the extremists, he surely could have been given a milder sentence. Such a judgement would actually make citizens dither to raise their voices against any wrongdoings or atrocities committed by the state.

Worldwide there have been protests against the sentence. Organisations like Amnesty International, the British House of Commons, the Global Health Council, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and individuals like Prof Noam Chomsky, Mr Amartya Sen and many others have criticised the harsh punishment. What comes as a real shocker is that a person who has been a recipient of several international awards was prevented from travelling to the US to receive the Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights.

Is this treatment any different from the manner in which dissident writer Liu Xiaobo is being treated by authorities in China? 


The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian. 








Television veers between the credible and the absurd. Tuesday's partial solar eclipse, briefly visible in India, triggered a frenzy of surmises, prophesies and repudiations by a host of seers, pundits and sceptics on Hindi news channels. A natural phenomenon, that occurs every year with routine regularity, became a pretext for making dire predictions about the world, in general, and people, in particular, on the basis of zodiac signs. The attempt seemed geared to creating alarm and sensationalising a celestial event, which excited astronomers for entirely different reasons. Some channels hosted heated interactions between astrologers and rationalists, both equally intractable in their arguments. However, this preposterous spectacle was simply a replay of the previous year's heated discussions on eclipses — lunar and solar, partial and complete — with strange remedies for countering the supposed effects of the phenomenon being doled out by smugly self-assured arbiters of destiny. 

In the present instance, hanging a flute inside the house was proffered as an antidote by a richly robed and beaming seer; another advised recourse to coconuts; a third, his eyes gleaming with secret knowledge, alluded to some impending happening that would alter the political course. And so it went on. A participant in the convoluted discussions showed plain common sense when he observed that one reason for fearing a solar eclipse was that eye sight could be impaired by staring fixedly at the sun. So far as pregnant females were concerned, suggested another, they were cautioned against exposing themselves to the eclipse by venturing outdoors because the cosmic rays could affect the embryo. Other states of being were dissected and analysed in relation to eclipses, over-shadowing 'hard' news.

Since centuries, such phenomena have stirred terror for unfathomable reasons. Restrictions on intake of food and water, sleep, travel and other activities are laid down. Special propitiations and ritual bathing in sacred rivers are advised. Last year's Kumbh Mela at Haridwar came to a temporary halt during the solar eclipse, touted as the millennium's longest, when myriad pilgrims spent that time meditating and performing havan. Temples closed, and the bathing ghats were empty of people, who retreated indoors. In India, astrological lore ascribes eclipses to the seizing of the sun or moon by the shadow planet Rahu, which, after a while, releases the orbs. Then, life returns to normal.

Opinion is divided on whether such events have positive or negative effects. In the spiritual realm, the enforced period of restrictions on the body and mind is supposed to turn the mind inwards. Those pursuing a religious regimen are supposed to benefit from the self-control they are made to exercise. But in the mundane realm, the curbs are distorted into antidotes for hovering doom, with media hype further fanning fears. Old taboos are revived but without the correct reference point. This trivialisation of the esoteric has really served to reduce astrology into a maverick exercise, without intellectual or metaphysical moorings. Yet, Maharishi Parashar, the mathematician Varahamihira, sages Bhrigu, Gargya and other savants were all great astrologers themselves. Jyotish was exalted by them as a divine science though it later fell into disrepute owing to crass commercialisation and misuse. 

Viewed as a means to unravel providence's design, jyotish is integral to the Indian ethos. Its linkage with belief in past and present karma as well as rebirth gives it substance, perspective and vision. This is the feature that distinguishes it from random divination that entails throwing of pebbles, straws or dice; drawing of cards from a pack; reading of tea leaves or coffee dregs; gazing into crystal balls and the like. These may be fun but do not require the taxing intellectual regimen, undergone by serious astrologers. Ancient jyotish texts specify that a practitioner must engage in serious study, be spiritual and modest in his needs. Astrology, these state, is meant neither for ego gratification, nor earning a fortune.

But, as with most things considered sacred before, jyotish has been turned on its head. The periodic hysteria whipped up by media-savvy practitioners, who invoke particular deities and planets in order to magnify the drama, has turned astrology sessions on TV news channels into a burlesque. No rational person can be expected to treat these displays of divination seriously. The addition of glamour in the form of well-turned out female diviners, equipped with crystal ball, magic wand and other esoteric implements, trivialises jyotish further. In the rush to play up even routine celestial happenings as TRP-enhancing measures, news channels have managed merely to expose intellectual bankruptcy. Benumbed viewers, exhausted by the tirade of pundits and debunkers, can only rock themselves to sleep.








When ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa walked out of the Guwahati jail on the New Year's Day, the hope for peace-talks picked up in Assam once again. However, the million-dollar question is whether the stake-holders would succeed in finding a solution or would peace elude again?

It is a positive sign that Rajkhowa has announced that ULFA would come to the table without any 'preconditions'. However, the ULFA will have to discuss the modalities within its General Council and come up with a proper list of demands. The Government is not averse to even lifting the ban on the organisation and has made it clear that except sovereignty all other issues could be discussed within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Former Intelligence Bureau chief PC Haldar, who has been appointed as the interlocutor, is said to be comfortable with the negotiations so far. 

Why did the Government take an initiative to hold peace talks at this point of time? There isn't one reason, but many. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi thinks that the atmosphere is conducive now. Further, the ULFA leaders are getting older and their families are putting pressure on them to give up arms. The organisation has become only in a few pockets in the State. Gone are the days when people lived in fear of the ULFA insurgents. 

Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a member of Rajya Sabha from Assam, has shown interest in finding a solution, the State Government has been in constant touch with the ULFA leaders including its founder members like Rajkhowa and Pradip Gogoi, housed in the Guwahati central jail, for the past one year. But most important, the Congress party is keen on peace talks as the Assembly polls are scheduled for April and they want to initiate the talks before the polls. 

The ULFA movement began on April 7, 1979 at Ranghar and slowly got enmeshed with the student movement of the AASU. Even when Asom Gana Parishad, the political wing of the AASU, won the election in the State in 1985, the ULFA continued its armed struggle. ULFA had terrorised Assam for over three decades and had set impossible conditions for peace talks. It was banned in November 1990 under the Unlawful Activities (prevention) Act. Over the years, many of its top leaders escaped to neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar and began operating from there. However, these neighbouring countries have helped India in hounding out these insurgents. Although its self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua still eludes the Indian law, other top leaders, who had been arrested, are now out on bail. 

Stakes are high for the ruling Congress in the State. If Mr Gogoi manages to return to power for the third time in succession, it will be a feather in his cap. Odds are against him, as he will be fighting on a weak wicket with 10 years of baggage. The Chief Minister has already announced several populist schemes like cheap rice, free cycles, computers to students and other sops with an eye on the polls. His only hope is to come back on the development plank. However, the Congress is depending a lot on the division of Opposition votes. The AGP has become weak, the BJP is not so well entrenched, the Muslim front cannot win on its own. Mr Gogoi is hoping to sail through because of the lack of strong Opposition. While the Congress plans to go it alone, it is not averse to some understanding with some of the regional and smaller parties and a possible post-poll tie up. 

In such a situation, time is of essence to Mr Gogoi. With less than three months to go before the polls, the challenge is to get all the players to the negotiating table as early as possible. The release of seven top leaders from jail on bail has already set the ball rolling but two more are to be released. What is of concern is that Paresh Barua is reluctant to relent and threatens to revive the ULFA movement from the Myanmar-China border from where he is currently operating, despite an assurance of safe passage.

To Mr Gogoi's advantage, Assam today is not in a mood to support Barua's 'sovereign Assam' slogan. At the same time, he cannot be ignored when the proposal is of a negotiated settlement. The Government has decided to keep a window open but go ahead with talks with or without Paresh Barua. Efforts are on to extradite another senior ULFA leader Anup Chethia from Bangladesh after he has sent feelers about joining the peace process. This is also a challenge for Rajkhowa. 









One of the most charismatic and highly respected exponents of Rabindra Sangeet, Suchitra Mitra's rendition of Tagore's songs was not just evidence of the tremendous potential of human art but, really, a reflection of divine inspiration. And perhaps it was this touch of divinity that led her rendition of Amar Shonar Bangla Ami Tomai Bhalobashi to so inspire Bangladeshi freedom fighters during the 1971 liberation war that it eventually became the national anthem of Bangladesh. 

Indeed, in the galaxy of Rabindra Sangeet exponents, Suchitra Mitra's star shone bright. She came to be known for her mellifluous voice and her rendition of Tagore's songs had an element of clarity and energy that had not been heard before. Her style was inimitable and peerless although she was a stickler for tradition and refused to experiment. It is little wonder that she enthralled generations of avid Rabindra Sangeet fans with her unique voice and style. 

Suchitra Mitra was probably best known for her versatility. The ease with which she performed the entire range of Tagore's works — from his songs of joyous ecstasy to those of soulful mourning — set her apart from her contemporaries. 

Often described as an institution in her own right, Suchitra Mitra's death on January 3 brings to an end the triumvirate — Debabrata Biswsa and Kanika Bandyopadhyay being the other two members — that once ruled the world of Rabindra Sangeet. 

Her death came on a cool winter afternoon while she was having lunch in her Kolkata home. She suffered a cardiac arrest and suddenly, it was all over. Thousands of fans and well-wishers poured out on the streets near her residence. Suchitra Mitra hadn't conducted a public performance in years due to her failing health, and yet by no means was she a forgotten celebrity. 

A long-term professor of Rabindra Sangeet at Kolkata's Rabindra Bharati University, she had often described her life as one that had been well-lived. Born on a moving train, she had joked in her inimitable style of humour that because of the curious conditions surrounding her premature birth, her mind never quite matured but she was destined to travel extensively. And indeed, she travelled far and wide providing Western and Eastern audiences with an authentic taste of Tagore's creative pieces which included not just his songs but also his plays and dance-dramas. 

The daughter of Sourinder Mohan Mukhopadhyay, a litterateur who was a lawyer by profession, Suchitra Mitra was raised in an environment enriched by the frequent presence of authors, poets, actors, artistes and theatre personalities. Intellectual debates and musical soirees were the norm in the Mukhopadhyay household and all the children, including little Suchitra, were allowed to participate freely. Both parents were great admirers of Tagore and maintained close ties with the poet's family. 

Much of Suchitra Mitra's initial training in music is attributed to these familial influences and, indeed, she took no formal lessons during her childhood. "I remembered well whatever I would hear, and then I sang whatever I had heard," she had once said during an interview. This remains an apt description of her 'lessons' from the renowned musician Pankaj Mullick as well: Often dubbed as her first formal music tutor, she would tune in the radio for his classes! 

A turning point in Suchitra Mitra's life was a scholarship she won in 1941 to study at Sangeet Bhavan, the college of dance and music at Visva-Bharati Santiniketan. Tagore was still alive but ailing. She decided to wait for him to recover but unfortunately, that was never to happen. A distraught Mitra even considered not going to Santiniketan at all, but 20 days later changed her mind and decided to take up the opportunity regardless.

Santiniketan didn't disappoint and her tenure at Tagore's university campus ensured that she learnt her craft from the some of the greatest names of her gharana such as Indiradevi Chaudhurani, Shantidev Ghosh and Shailajaranjan Mazumdar — an experience that strengthened her commitment to Tagore's music and poetry. 

In 1945, HMV released Suchitra Mitra's first record with two mesmerising renditions of Tagore's Hridayer Ekul Okul Dukul Bheshe Jae and Maran Re Tuhu Mama Shyam Shaman that let her win over people's hearts. She had immersed her soul in his songs and in turn, had successfully realised the higher philosophy that defines Gurudev's works. There was no turning back from there. 

A recipient of the Padmashri award in 1973, Suchitra Mitra was also awarded the Tagore Hymn Prize, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Deshikottam and the HMV Golden Disc Award, among several others. 

In honour of Tagore, Suchitra Mitra also found Rabitirtha, an outstanding centre of learning for Rabindra Sangeet. Though in later years, she only had limited involvement in the project, the school continues to be an integral part of her legacy and Kolkata's cultural life. 

A purist by nature, Mitra had consistently resisted any attempts to distort Tagore's work and held his stylebook as sacred. In fact, the singer has to her credit several publications on the grammar and techniques of Rabindra Sangeet. In many ways, it was her dedication to Tagore that defined Suchitra Mitra's life. But ultimately, it was that uniquely divine quality of her voice that rendered it so perfect to carry the poet's message that made her a legend in her lifetime. 










THE Justice B N Srikrishna committee's report on statehood for Telangana seems to have created more confusion than it has resolved. While Justice Srikrishna must be commended for his efforts at reaching out to the various stakeholders over the last year or so, the report's recommendations leave much to be desired. There is nothing new in the six options put forward and the Centre must have been well aware of these possibilities even before the committee was constituted.


 While the committee does recognise the fact that " maintaining status quo is the least favoured option", its most favoured recommendation — a united Andhra Pradesh with constitutional measures for the socio- economic and political development of Telanagana and the formation of a Telangana Regional Council — is not likely to cut ice with the Telangana protagonists, given the overwhelming public opinion in favour of a separate state.


 However, the shortcomings of the report are only a reflection of the Centre's mismanagement of the Telangana crisis. It seems that the committee was little more than a delaying tactic by the Centre, rather than a genuine effort at resolving the issue. The report will only end up creating the space for a renewed political agitation by the pro- Telangana forces and further deepen the polarisation in Andhra Pradesh. The United Progressive Alliance should have resolved the crisis in its first term when the Telangana Rashtra Samiti ( TRS) was its ally. It has only exacerbated the crisis by vacillating on the issue.


 The Centre has little choice now but to address the aspirations of the people of Telangana for a separate state. However this should be done within the framework of a broader states reorganisation commission rather than a reaction to a TRS- led street agitation.



 KABIR Suman, Member of Parliament from Jadavpur, and an estranged member of the Trinamool Congress, has confirmed what has long been suspected — that Mamata Banerjee's party has fraternal links with the Communist Party of India ( Maoist). His account, in a recently published book, may be a bit exaggerated, but it rings true. This is disquieting because Ms Banerjee is an ally of the United Progressive Alliance that rules the country and is expecting to become the Chief Minister of West Bengal soon.


 Politicians, especially in India, have a lot of latitude in what they say and do. But for Ms Banerjee to be associated with a grouping that seeks to overthrow the Indian state is somewhat over the top. No doubt this is a marriage of convenience for both parties — Ms Banerjee gets the firepower needed to counter the ruling Communist Party of India ( Marxist) which is not above using violence to get its way. The Maoists, for their part, get the support of the middle- class elements who are now fully behind Ms Banerjee's anti- CPI( M) crusade, as well as the backing of a skillful, if somewhat temperamental mainstream politician. Both need to be careful of each other. As the ditty goes, if you decide to ride a tiger, you could well end up inside it.



UNLESS a miracle takes place on Friday, Australia will lose the fifth Ashes Test match against England at Sydney by an innings, and thus the series 3- 1. For close to two decades, the rampaging Australians knew no defeat— they were clinically destructive, and even if they lost an away Test match, the team's overall record was better than that of the West Indies in the 1970s.


And yet, in 2010- 11, Australia has lost backto- back series in India and a home series against England, drew one one against an under- par Pakistan. The last time Australia won a Test series was in March 2010, against New Zealand, a team that was later whitewashed 5- 0 by Bangladesh in an ODI series.


Australia's decline can be traced to various reasons — all- time greats retiring, clueless selectors and so on. But the bigger reason is the team's inconsistency. It plays great cricket one day, and terribly the next.


The team that consistently beat the best in the world on any given day for 20 years, needs to stem the rot urgently.



                MAIL TODAY





THE CONGRESS party's response to the ongoing corruption tsunami is, to quote Alice, getting " curiouser and curiouser". It began with a flourish over the New Year, promising an ordinance to deal with the issue. Then it transpired that the measure was nothing but old wine in new bottles — a dusted up version of the Lok Pal Bill thats been around for a while. Now, according to some reports, the United Progressive Alliance ( UPA) plans, believe it or not, to constitute a Group of Ministers ( GoM), headed by the indispensible Pranab Mukherjee.


Its two shining lights are, M K Alagiri whose anti- corruption credentials are mysterious, to say the least, and Sharad Pawar, whose presence in the body seems to be a brilliant stroke of black humour. For the record it also has St Antony, no doubt, to give it a veneer of probity, along with a motley crew of Mamata Banerjee, P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Veerappa Moily.


The party has also let it be known that it is ready to include the Prime Minister in the ambit of a new Lok Pal Bill, as if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were being accused of any personal wrongdoing.


This is such a transparent — if futile — gesture to deflect popular anger, that we can only term it pathetic. It is not going to win any converts among the masses, leave alone moderate the rate of erosion of its popularity.




Clearly, besieged by allegations of corruption, the Congress party leadership is losing whatever little touch it had retained with the habit of mass politics.


Here we don't count staged durbars, contact programmes à la Rahul Gandhi and election rallies. Mass politics is where ideas and issues flow up from the grassroots with the same felicity they come top- down.


In place of a political system that draws its energy and self- esteem from the people, as it were, we have a system where fixers, not only of the corporate variety, but also those who claim to speak on behalf of 10 Janpath or various coalition leaders, decide issues. Legislation is vetted by them, as are key political and bureaucratic appointments.


Orders and instructions flow from the top to the bottom, with little understanding of the context.


One of the more revealing actualities that the Radia tapes have provided is an understanding of the role that corporate lobbyists play in positioning politicians to become members of the Union Council of Ministers. The role of political fixers, however, still remains to be unveiled.


In our system, selecting the Cabinet is supposed to be the PM's call, no doubt worked out through consultation with party bigwigs and coalition partners. But the final choice is the undisputed prerogative of the PM. Now, with hindsight, we can explain the dissonance that has affected the UPA- II government — it arises because the PM is working with colleagues who he may not have selected, or even wanted, in his team.


There is, of course, a more profound problem. This has to do with the nature of the Congress party. Having neutered the politicians, it functions through the agency of bureaucratised politicians, or bureaucrats themselves. Instead of depending on inputs from the orthodox political grassroots, it is used to handling things top- down. That is the reason, the party has begun to put so much store by the agency of legislation as a means of fixing social and political problems. So we have had in quick succession, the Right to Information Act, the Right to Education Act, the National Rural Guarantee Employment Act, and the yet to be passed Right to Food Act.


It is still early days with the RTI, but we can already see the system's backlash.


The killing of RTI activists is one indicator of this. Another is the effort being made to strangle the act by restricting its ambit post facto and packing it with former bureaucrats — the equivalent of having a committee of foxes to organise the security of a chicken coop. The extent of corruption with NREGA is only now becoming manifest.


As to RTE, it is simply not working.




The Right to Food Act, besides being virtually impossible to implement, is likely to become a major source of revenue for corrupt babus. Last year, in what is being called the mother of all scams, it was revealed that ` 2 lakh crore of food grain meant for Below Poverty Line card holders covered under various schemes had been smuggled not only outside the state, but outside the country in the 2001- 2010 period.


Legislation has its place in a democratic country. But it is usually the culmination of a political process that comes from below, or a codification of a set of policy measures needed to make the government work better. Top- down legislation can work if you happen to be Otto von Bismarck.


The problem of hunger, illiteracy and maternal and neonatal health plaguing the country are not because money is lacking or that there is any lack of a specific legislation. You do not need laws to feed the hungry or eradicate illiteracy.


The problem is that money appropriated for doing the needful ends up in the wrong hands.


More important is the structural problem.


More than 60 years after independence, sections of the people — Dalits, women and tribals — are systematically excluded from development schemes because of social prejudice.

The political class can play a positive role here by mobilising and educating mass opinion. Unfortunately they're more focused on enriching themselves and their families.


We need a political class that understands that the state is distinct from the government. When there is an act of corruption by a minister or a public servant, it is the state, on behalf of the citizen that must act against him. This is not an issue that lies within the discretion of this or that party because it happens to be running the government.




State institutions have been undermined by our political class. What is needed now is to empower them and this can, indeed, come through legislation.


Given our parliamentary system, we cannot have any system which is not answerable to Parliament. And that can only be done through a ministry and a minister.


But that does not mean that the department of the ministry — say an autonomous prosecutor's office under the Ministry of Law and Justice — cannot be guaranteed real autonomy.


Legislation is indeed needed to make the Central Bureau of Investigation, which today functions as an attack dog of the government, into a body that uses its investigative and prosecutorial arms on behalf of the state, not the party in power. Likewise, the country needs a strong Central Vigilance Commission, given real autonomy by the laws of the state.


Individuals can play an important role here. After all, it was people like T N Sheshan, a pliant civil servant if there was one, who liberated the Election Commission from its political servitude.


Subsequently Commissioners like J M Lyngdoh have burnished the body's credentials, despite the effort by the Congress to undermine the commission by putting a Gandhi- family friend in- charge of the body. The Comptroller and Auditor General, too, has emerged as an important state entity who is playing the constitutionally mandated role as a watchdog of the people.


Sadly, independence and integrity seems to have been bred out of many of our senior bureaucrats, and the problem is worsening by the year. The public mood is one of cynicism and anger. The Congress will have to do much better to deflect public anger than by pulling some faux legislation and GoMs out of the hat.








THE KILLING of Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, could be a watershed in Pakistan. The modern nation- state is crumbling in the face of a severe onslaught by extremist religious ideology and passions. The tragedy is that some elements of the state are co- sponsors while others are hopeless accessories after the fact. Consider.


Taseer opined that the blasphemy law should be amended to ensure that mischief mongers could not exploit it for mundane ends. He wasn't alone in advocating this line of action. Indeed, quite apart from the moderate silent majority, even the most rigid mainstream defenders of the blasphemy law admit that procedural changes can improve its efficacy and fairness. But the media and mullahs distorted the picture and painted him as an apostate. The mullahs put out head money on him, the media frenetically drummed it up and the state stood by and condoned it all.


Taseer was moved by the plight of Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian, who had been awarded the death sentence by a court for blaspheming against the Holy Prophet ( PBUH). On the basis of the facts placed before him, he sincerely felt there had been a miscarriage of justice, a fairly frequent occurrence in such passionately charged cases. While her appeal was pending before the High Court, he moved the President of Pakistan to commute her death sentence, which he is entitled to do under law. But, under pressure from religious extremists, the high court put a spoke in the wheels of the government by signaling its displeasure at any attempt to invoke the pardon clause in favour of Aasia Bibi. As the media drummed up the chorus of extremist voices arrayed against the Governor, the President balked and the Prime Minister retreated shamelessly: " This is the Governor's personal point of view, I am a Syed, my government has no intention to dilute the blasphemy law", he declared self- righteously. Isolated and condemned, Taseer became a sitting duck for the extremists.


MUMTAZ Qadri, the killer, brazenly manoeuvred with police officials to become part of Taseer's security detail on the fated day, despite a forceful note on file by the Regional Police Officer in 2008 that he should be removed from VIP security duty because of his extremist religious views. He took his commando colleagues into confidence so that they stood by passively as he pumped 26 bullets into his target. There has not been a more outrageous lapse on the part of the police than this in Pakistan's history.


The political parties showed their pathetic colours after the assassination.


Not a single politician from the ruling party or opposition had the guts to unequivocally condemn the killing.


Indeed, the PPP turned the state tragedy into a political conspiracy against the party and democracy. The opposition that is routinely given to thundering against real and imagined excesses was conspicuous by its fearful silence, barely managing to mutter about the " unfortunate" incident. It was left to a group of Islamabad lawyers — part of the famed " lawyers movement" — to shower rose petals on the murderer when he was brought to a court to be remanded to the police. Civil society — that wonderful term denoting the conscience of society — could muster only a couple of hundred protestors the day after in contrast to the thousands of internet users who declared Qadri a hero on Facebook! The police, political parties, parliaments, the bar and bench have all succumbed to the wave of religious extremism threatening to engulf Pakistan. The terrorists are few but the extremists are many in our midst which is a recipe for more terrorism, not less. The state is supposed to have an anti- terrorist policy practiced by the security agencies but there is no sign of any anti- extremism policy articulated by the government. Our textbooks and media are awash with extremist notions and ideas.


Our parliaments are spilling over with primitive mindsets.


A NY PERSON can now stand up and take the law into his own hands on the basis of his religious belief and passion, making mockery of the state's claim that, let alone an individual, even religious parties or groups cannot wage jihad without the state's consent or sanction.


The most frightening part of this episode is the way in which the forces of religious extremism were whipped into frenzy by certain banned jihadi lashkars and organisations which are alleged to retain strong strategic links with the ubiquitous " agencies" of the state. No less ominous is the banding together of the Barelvis, who represent the majority soft version of Islam, with the Ahle- Hadith and Deobandi strains, to create a wave of religious resistance to integration and modernisation. It is as though a sinister message is being signaled to all and sundry at home and abroad — democracy doesn't work, mainstream parties are a curse we cannot afford, religious ideology is the fountain of Pakistani rejuvenation and all those who disagree can shape up or be shipped out to burial at sea.


We reap what we sow. The human tragedy that is in the offing for democrats and moderates will be nothing compared to the collapse of the economy and the misery of tens of millions of the silent majority that lies in store if extremist ideology and religious passion seize control of Pakistan. Mark our words — the Pakistan army, which claims to be a saviour of the last resort, will be the first to bear the brunt of the coming onslaught and pay the highest price.


The writer is editor of The Friday Times


SO HERE I am with my fortnightly comedy show which is going to ring hollow because there's nothing left to laugh at in Pakistan — except me.


Thousands of people laugh at me, unlike Salmaan Taseer, who made thousands of people laugh. We didn't have much in common what with his wit and my mirthlessness, his irreverence and my irrelevance, his larger- than- life presence and my larger- than- life absence, his courage and my porridge.


Salmaan's open manner and my closed mind were admired by all. He had many friends and I have many fans. His passion for life and my love of secrecy were both well known. Salmaan was fond of playing pranks.


He once phoned me posing as one of my twelve ardent fans and got me to attend a public rally for a tajposhi or " crowning" as they say in Lahore. He gave me directions which I followed and ended up at the ape atrium at the zoo, where they were swinging from the trees raising slogans in my honour.


Finally, Pakistan has embarked on the right course.


We are all set to bury Mr Jinnah's liberal and secular dream once and for all. In fact, I will take the next available opportunity to announce the death penalty for all those who celebrate New Year's Eve and I will ensure that the religious right backs me up with amputations, floggings and other such amusements. We will also issue permits for shikaar this winter for another endangered species called " homo sapiens liberalis" or liberal human beings. Given all this, my latest contribution to the peace of the grave in Pakistan, I wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon saying, " I would be happy to accept the tremendous honour of the Nobel Prize for Peace, should you offer it to me.


However, if the Nobel Prize is not available, I nevertheless feel I have a duty to accept any honour in any capacity whatsoever that you care to hand out to me so that I may be better placed to stab Pakistan's few remaining progressives in the back whenever the occasion arises." Having written the letter and sent it off by FedUp swift delivery to Ban ki Moon, I then set out from my Islamabad mansion for a walk. As I was walking up the Margallas, I met the new American ambassador. We shook hands and decided to take the rest of the walk together. The ambassador paused at the summit and I asked him, " where do we go from here?" He replied, " downhill all the way, I suppose." Love, Im the Dim









The Srikrishna committee report on Telangana, made public at an all-party meeting yesterday, needs to be welcomed for its measured approach. The report explores the pros and cons of six options with respect to Andhra Pradesh, following a pro-Telangana agitation which turned violent last year. A division of Andhra Pradesh warrants careful deliberation. The States Reorganisation Act of 1956 had redrawn the boundaries of states along linguistic lines. The sensitivity of the issue was not lost on the legislators of the time and they struck a delicate balance. It was only in 2000, almost half a century later, that consent was given for the creation of three new states - Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. 

The basis for this was as much development as it was identity. But in Telangana's case, it is identity alone that dominates. According to the Srikrishna report, an extensive analysis of the socio-economic parameters of all regions of Andhra Pradesh did not reveal any material evidence to treat the Telangana region as particularly backward. This in itself should be reason enough for the Centre to move slowly on any division plans. Besides, a result that clearly favours either the pro- or the anti-Telangana camp would lead to a backlash from the aggrieved party. There is also the delicate issue of Hyderabad. Over the last two decades, the Andhra capital has emerged as an IT hub, attracting significant venture capital. Pro-Telangana lobbyists can't see a separate state without the city, while those from coastal Andhra and the Rayalaseema regions are similarly unwilling to relinquish their stakes. 

In addition, having smaller states does not necessarily guarantee better governance. Though it was carved out of Bihar, Jharkhand still languishes on development indices. The Srikrishna committee has pitched for a unitary Andhra Pradesh with statutory guarantees such as the establishment of a Telangana regional council as the most favourable option. This could be used as a springboard for greater devolution of political power in the Telangana region. 

But as things stand, the creation of a separate Telangana will increase the clamour for new states, from Gorkhaland to Vidarbha and Haritpradesh. A wider consultative mechanism that looks at various aspects of states reorganisation is the need of the hour. If the popular yearning is for governance they can access rather than government by remote and impersonal entities, this can also be addressed through greater devolution of powers and finances to local bodies. Making Indian cities self-governing to a greater degree, for example, may be just the solution we need for urban blight.







With the National Investigation Agency (NIA) reportedly set to book a Hindutva leader for involvement in the 2007 Samjhauta train blasts, evidence is mounting about the existence and growth of a saffron terror network in India. Swami Aseemanand has been identified as having played a key role in plotting the attack that killed 68 people, 60 of them Pakistani nationals. The self-styled Abhinav Bharat ideologue's name also figures in 2007's Mecca Masjid and Ajmer blasts. Maharashtra's Anti-Terrorism Squad had earlier arrested Hindutva activists like Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and others, including a serving army lieutenant-colonel. It claimed the right-wing group Abhinav Bharat planned the Malegaon blast in 2008. Clearly, saffron extremism has emerged as a serious threat that must be firmly beaten back. This calls for increased surveillance and monitoring of such groups' activities and members, and locating and dismantling terror modules wherever they exist. And those guilty of crimes must be given exemplary punishment. 

The larger question concerns radicalisation of sections of society. The divisive and destructive potential of such a phenomenon can't be underestimated in a nation striving to fight the virus of bigotry. India cannot afford to revert to the vicious communal trap of the past. Both majority and minority communities today speak in one voice against sectarian violence. Both have rejected resort to it even in the wake of vicious terror attacks. Leaders across the political spectrum must, therefore, especially show responsibility, restraint and united purpose in handling the issue. Provocative statements by Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh and rabble-rousing by the Sangh Parivar will only vitiate the atmosphere. Terrorism needs delinking in discourse from specific faiths or communities. It's a common challenge to be tackled with beefed-up security and intelligence. Keep politics out of the anti-terror combat.









When Binayak Sen was arrested it gave a much-needed boost to the Maoists. As they advocate violence to achieve their ends, it is like oxygen for them every time the state commits a travesty of justice. It is worth remembering that armed movements, of whatever variety, have succeeded only in autocratic, dictatorial and monarchical states, but never in democratic ones. 

If there is one major reason why communists have failed in contemporary times, it is because they do not know how to function in a democracy. Whether it is RussiaChina or Cuba, communists struck successfully in places where democracy was missing. This generalisation holds true not just in the case of insurrectionary communists, but for all those who advocate violence as a political weapon. 

As violence calls out to violence, it cannot be dealt with draconian provisions like MISA and POTA of the past, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act of today. As these measures smack of anti-democratic urges of the lowest political type, they confirm the "animal theory of the state" that forms the bedrock of Maoist ideology. The more repressive the state, the better it is for insurrectionary ideologues: it provides them with their ultimate raison d'jtre. 

Karl Marx, the original revolutionary, once subscribed to this view. He gave it up in his later years when faced by the reality of democracy and adult franchise. For example, in Class Struggles in France he wrote: "Rebellion in the old style, street fighting with barricades, which decided the issue everywhere up to 1848, was to a considerable extent obsolete." With this he also made obsolete the Manifesto of the Communist Party, which he had written 40 years earlier, in fact, in 1848. 

Clearly, as the mature Marx had observed, insurrectionary communism does well in repressive regimes but comes apart once the rule of law is in place. With democracy, the format of agitation must change. Binayak Sen, for his part, has never advocated violence, whether by the Maoists, or by the state. Yet, as the charges against him are so obviously trumped up, the Maoists are conveniently using him as their mascot. Sen may have inadvertently given them cause to multiply, but he does not belong to that pack. 

Fortunately, Sen's conviction has alerted democrats across different political persuasions, and this is a very hopeful sign. His cause is not a Maoist cause any longer, but a democratic one, as it should be. Like the 19th century Dreyfus Affair in France, the Binayak affair has every potentiality of flushing out the poison in our political system and forcing India to a more determined democratic path. 

Again, like Dreyfus, Sen too has important supporters. If Dreyfus had Zola, Poincare, Clemenceau and Anatole France, weighing in for him, Sen has an impressive array on his side as well. From Nobel laureates to Digvijay Singh, from Amartya Sen to Ram Jethmalani, the sublime and the ridiculous of the democratic process have come out in his support. 

Emile Zola's open, and condemnatory, letter to the state, entitled J'accuse, that appeared in the front page of Clemenceau paper, L'Aurore, created a furore in France. The popularity this piece achieved frightened the French government to foolishly frame libel charges against him. It is possible some of Sen's friends might be harassed just as much by Chhattisgarh officials. But like the supporters of Dreyfus, they too must hold course. 

What Edouard Drumont's rightwing anti-semitic paper La Libre Parole did to Dreyfus, BJP's Hindutva-oriented rendition of democracy has done to Sen. For example, Sushma Swaraj, far from being embarrassed by the judgment, came out in its open support. She justified Sen's life sentence on the grounds that violence begets violence, so what is the fuss all about? But Sen never advocated violence! Yet, by supporting the untenable charges made against him, Swaraj was providing justification to the Maoists who must be delighted with her statements. This is just the stuff of which Maoist dreams are made of, and the BJP is providing all the froth for such a cause. 

There are other parallels between the Dreyfus Affair and that of Sen. If Dreyfus was a respected captain in the French cavalry, Sen was once member of the advisory committee of Chhattisgarh government's health initiative, the Mitanin programme. Also, like the prosecution case against Dreyfus, the one against Sen too is full of holes. 

In the Dreyfus affair again, the real criminal, Walsin Esterhazy, was exonerated after a perfunctory trial. As the prestige of the army was at stake, Dreyfus could be put away. Likewise, in Sen's case, the Maoist influence in the tribal tracts is exaggerated so that state repression can gain legitimacy. This takes our eyes off the Esterhazys of Chhattisgarh - the buccaneer capitalists and sleazy commercial agents who work in tandem with government officials, elected and otherwise. In all these years of so-called Maoist violence, not a single big timber or mining lord has been hurt, or imprisoned. They go about their business scot-free. 

If Sen's case is overturned, as Dreyfus's was, infantile Maoism will come to grief as much as the crass commercial interests that stalks Chhattisgarh's forests. It is for this reason that democrats must keep up the pressure so that he gets a fair trial in accordance with the best in democratic tradition. 

The writer is former professor, JNU. 




Q & A




What are the implications for commons governance when people who use common resources neither live in the area of the resources nor own them? 

The presumption has been that poor people don't have any knowledge and they shouldn't have any authority. But we find that when poor people have reasonable forms of authority, they frequently - not always - do a much better job than if you have a top-down solution. This is why i very strongly support indigenous people's movements in India. I'm not trying to say that all mines are bad, but i object to this form of organising which is intended purely to help the entry of mining companies into rural areas. But it's also naive to assume that once the communities are given rights through NGOs, they can just be left on their own to negotiate with well-experienced negotiators as has happened in places like Bolivia. We can't romanticise something that worked 500 years ago by saying it's going to work in developed economies. We're going to have to innovate and find new ways of doing these things. 

Since the effects of environmental damage are not necessarily felt locally, are we going to need several layers of environmental governance? 

The only unit of environmental governance so far has been seen to be the international. I and many other people who have worked in the field are challenging this, and saying that a lot of environmental governance should be taking place at the local level, that is, the community and even the individual level. Even emissions reductions can happen at the local level, if local-level incentives are offered. My country, the United States, is irresponsible as heck and it makes me very angry, but if i sit around yelling at elected officials all day, then that's irresponsible too. The risks of not acting are catastrophic. 

Are you encouraged by the fact that indigenous people's rights, environmental concerns and the developmental logic are being contested so vociferously in India? 

I hope 10 years from now we can really get the sense that we've moved ahead and indigenous people's rights have been well represented and indigenous people now have more effective rights rather than just paper. I'm encouraged to see that with the Indian Forest Rights Act (FRA), for example, some communities are using it to have their rights recognised. However, others don't even know about it. I'm against the FRA if it is seen as a panacea, because i'm against panaceas. We have to get away from the notion that top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions always work. 

As the first woman to win the Nobel prize in economics, do you think things need to change for women in academia? 

I came from a generation where women in academia really had to struggle hard. I was told repeatedly that i should not be in academia and should not teach, that my place was "barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen". I didn't take no for an answer and struggled. Fortunately, my early experiences taught me not to be dissuaded and to stand up for my rights, which is why i'm always talking about 'empowering'. And that's what we need for some aspects of this problem. If we preach to people that they are helpless, we make them helpless.







Even before Mukesh Ambani moved into his 27-storey, 7-star abode in Mumbai, super-luxury high-rises became the in thing, not only in Mumbai but also in Gurgaon and in all other parts of the country. 

Not being a pal of Mukesh - or for that matter of anyone who lives in super-luxury style - i've never actually been inside one of these bijou residences. So how do i know that any particular apartment block i happen to be looking at from the outside - like the one i was passing the other day in Gurgaon - belongs to the super-luxury class? Simple. I - or indeed anyone else - can gauge a particular residence's status on the luxury ladder by the clothes favoured by its inhabitants. That's how i knew that the high-rise i was passing - named Palm Springs, Miami Mansions, Hollywood Heights, something like that - belonged to not just the super-luxury but to the super-duper luxury class: the clothes worn by the people living in it had more bling than the gold souk in Abu Dhabi. And that was just their lingerie, or what in local parlance is referred to as underveers. 

The residents of the high-rise weren't having an impromptu fashion show on their balconies in their scanties. January in Gurgaon is too cold for such skin shows. The reason that i knew the intimate sartorial preferences of the people living in that high-rise was because the residents had, literally, let it all hang out: from the balcony of every flat was draped on public display the laundry of each household, saris, kurtas, lehengas, banyaans, kutchchas, the works. 

It's not just people who live in super-luxury high-rises who do it. All Indians do it, high-rise, low-rise, no-rise. We hang out our washing on what might be called the See-Free-line: everyone's free to see the contents of our wardrobes, washed and hung out to dry for the world to look at. It's a generic Indian trait that cuts across barriers of caste, class and creed. Rich or poor, jhuggi-jhopri or Taj Mahal Towers, everyone does it. It's an inherent Indian trait, encoded in our DNA. Like belief in ritual pollution, or not eating food with the left hand. The moment we do our laundry we have to put it out to dry where everyone can see it. 

Why do we do it? Is it because of the prevalence of scams? Do we consciously or subconsciously want to show our neighbours and the wide world at large that we have no dirty linen to hide but only the clean variety, strung up in full public view for all to see? Perhaps. But this national trait has been in evidence long before scams became the country's most popular spectator sport, overtaking even IPL. 

If Laundrygate precedes Scamgate, what is the causative factor behind it? Why do we let it all hang out when it comes to our washing? In smaller, less affluent households, scarcity of space makes the public drying of laundry a necessity. But what about middle-class and upper-class, and super-class households, where there is no shortage of space to accommodate a clothes-drying room tucked away from public view? Why do the Manhattan Suites and Piccadilly Penthouses of India look like the flag-bedecked UN General Assembly in New York City, except that the pennants that our luxury high-rises flaunt are pantsuits and pyjamas?

The reason is our famed Indian hospitality. We want to invite the whole world and its brother into our homes and our lives. As we can't do that, for obvious reasons, we do the next best thing. We give the world a ringside view of our private lives as represented by the clothes we wear, jangias, petticoats, bodices and all. 

Feel free to check out the Suraiya residence. You'll have no problem identifying it. It's the one with the Size 30 Jockey briefs drying up front.









Negative politics has derailed what should have been a meaningful debate into the challenge emerging from recently unearthed terror groups who seem to have been behind the Mecca masjid blast in Hyderabad in 2007, the outrage at Ajmer Sharif dargah, Malegaon in 2008 and last year in Goa. By seeking to dub these outfits as saffron, the Congress, notably All India Congress Committe general secretary Digvijaya Singh, has pitted these subversive elements against so-called Islamic fundamentalists. By dragging in an emotive issue like the call from the late Hemant Karkare who allegedly expressed fears that he was the target of 'saffron' terrorists, Mr Singh has further vitiated the atmosphere.


It is possible that Karkare was apprehensive of threats to his life, but one must question Mr Singh's motive for making this public at a time when investigations are on into the activities of people like Swami Assemanand and his cohorts who seem to have links with several terror attacks. It is condemnable that few seem inclined to denounce terror for what it is instead of politicising it. The BJP appears to be soft-pedalling the issue, perhaps worried about reactions from its parent body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which has torn a strip off Mr Singh on the Karkare issue. Terror, whatever the source, has become a grave threat to India's peace and stability. The home minister has rightly been putting into place several agencies that will tackle this menace in a more comprehensive and coordinated manner. All political parties need to work together on this issue.


Terrorists do not owe their loyalties to any legitimate political formation, a lesson we should have learnt from the incidents in neighbouring Pakistan. To say that some terrorists may be acting in the name of Hindutva cannot be condemned as anti-national. Terrorists have demonstrated that they can strike at will and are able to take advantage of political dissonance of the sort we are witnessing now. Such irresponsible talk can only fuel a fear psychosis and whip up negative public sentiments. A carnage of the magnitude of 26/11 should have galvanised people across the political spectrum to treat terror as the most difficult challenge India faces. Today we have vibrant intelligence-sharing arrangements with several countries, most notably the US. But, we cannot expect people to believe we are serious about the fight against terror if it is reduced to political one-upmanship. Terror has many faces but certainly not different colours.








One of the chief criteria of texts coming to the table for government approval has to be 'understandability'. Even in the dusty, syntax-chomping jargon of our mandarins, there has to be some sense made by our bureaucrats before ministers act on them. The prime minister, noted for his somewhat dull but lucid language skills, doesn't think the babus are drafting cabinet notes properly. Manmohan Singh has reportedly asked cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar to "address the issue". Mr Chandrasekhar has, on his part, sent out a clear, 'defect-free' circular to secretaries in government ministries and departments, containing some suggestions on how to tackle the issue. Attending regular workshops to brush up on writing skills and procedures is one of the suggestions.


We have a feeling that the problem does not lie so much in grammar as it does in attitude. However wary of split infinitives a babu may be, to stop the passing of notes to a minister minutes before a cabinet meeting requires a different strategy altogether. Deadlines are something that are too flexible in the ever-elastic world of bureaucracy. To expect the quality of a note dashed off last minute to have the same standard of legibility as one prepared with a modicum of time in hand would be silly.


Archivists point to the high quality of cabinet notes  passed around during the prime ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru. Sure, Nehru and his colleagues as well as their secretaries had a way with language that bordered on the publishable. But perhaps the general downturn in the quality of ministerial notes can be traced back to centralised governmental decision-making. If one pen stroke determined a policy, where was the incentive to hone and prepare notes? So the prime minister's concern can be seen as a positive: a return to how a government should function through a sophisticated system, rather than through one man crossing the 't's and dotting the 'i's.









In the recently released book, Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation, the section on the Emergency observes: "Sanjay Gandhi had, by then, emerged as a leader of great significance. He also promoted slum-clearance, anti-dowry measures and literacy but in an arbitrary and authoritarian manner much to the annoyance of the popular opinion".  In so far as it pertains to slum clearance in Delhi, I can assert, on the basis of my personal experience and records of the Delhi Election-Office, the Metropolitan Council and the Municipal Corporation, that this observation is wrong. Those involved in the production of the book appear to have relied on hearsay or old press clippings containing superficial or biased reports. Had they applied their minds and taken the trouble of researching the subject, they would have discovered that there had been no forcible evictions of slum-dwellers in Delhi.


What was carried out during the Emergency was the execution of an innovative project called 'clearance-cum-resettlement-cum-development project'. It had been approved by the Union government prior to the Emergency, and I had been executing it as an administrative head of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). Much applauded schemes involving Nigambodh Ghat, Kela-Godam-New Delhi Railway Station, Purana Qila-Matkapir etc., were implemented before the Emergency. Some others were executed during or after that period.


When the contents and procedures remained similar before and after the Emergency, where does the question of excess or arbitrariness arise? Neither Indira Gandhi nor Sanjay Gandhi had ever asked me to do anything outside the scope of the project. 


In fact, during the Emergency, slum-dwellers were treated well. Land worth Rs 2,000 crore (1976 prices) was given free. Building loans worth about Rs 9 crore were disbursed. Forty-one resettlement colonies, with about 145,000 residential plots and about 10,000 shop plots, were developed. About 200 km of metalled roads, 400 km of storm water drains, 500 parks, 2,500 public hydrants, 4,000 hand pumps, 60 tube-wells and 14,000 permanent lavatories were among the numerous facilities provided, besides schools, dispensaries and community centres.


Earlier, there were about 1,400 clusters, scattered across the city, with 71.8% without water taps and  68.9% no lavatory seats. Here they lived in extremely unhealthy conditions, with the stench of human excrement all around. It was from these sub-human conditions that the slum-dwellers were relieved during the Emergency. The resettlement colonies were also appropriately integrated in the overall development pattern of the metropolis. The Dakshinpuri resettlement colony was set up near Okhla Industrial Estate, while resettlement colonies in the trans-Yamuna area were linked with new industrial colonies in that area.


The rationale of the whole project was to create organised settlements, take advantage of the economies of scale and concentrate on environmental, educational, cultural and recreational facilities. Living near the fast-growing industrial areas, the settlers got ample opportunities for securing regular jobs. They became regular employees with fixed hours of work. Delhi too became a neat, clean, orderly and organised city with a personality and identity of its own.


In the elections to the Delhi Metropolitan Council and Municipal Corporation, held after the general elections of March 1977, these resettlers voted overwhelmingly for the Congress. In fact, Indira Gandhi's party lost in almost all the constituencies except those covered by the resettlement colonies, an impossible feat if they had been forcibly evicted.


I was on the verge of setting up eight migrants' colonies, when extensive political changes occurred  and I had to leave the DDA. Those who came to power did not bother either to understand the rationale of the project and used it to to malign Indira and Sanjay Gandhi. If truth is to be the soul of history, we have to look at it with clinical precision, without passions, prejudices and predilections.


Jagmohan was the vice-chairman of the Delhi Development Authority from 1975 to 1977. The views expressed by the author are personal.







If home minister P Chidambaram's recent letter to West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is any indication, it has taken the Union home ministry seven years to realise that arming civilians to fight Naxalites is a bad idea. How much longer will it take for them to realise that the current paramilitary-based approach in Chhattisgarh is similarly bound to fail?


From 2003 onwards, the home ministry has followed a policy of financially and logistically supporting 'local resistance groups' against the Naxalites. Salwa Judum was a classic case, a 'Gandhian movement' in the words of the Chhattisgarh CM, which, however, went around burning, raping and killing villagers. If the home minister is serious about doing away with non-State vigilantes, he must not only condemn the 'Harmad Bahini' in Bengal but also apologise for supporting the Salwa Judum. If Bengal has armed CPI(M) cadre, Chhattisgarh has gone a step further and regularised many Salwa Judum activists as special police officers. They now have official pay. And a licence to kill.


The home minister has frequent meetings with police chiefs and security experts, while the government as a whole has a cozy relationship with industrialists, as the Niira Radia tapes reveal. But I cannot think of even one instance where the prime minister or any senior minister has talked to victims of security forces or vigilante violence, or just ordinary villagers affected by the paramilitary occupation of their schools and their lands. Poll after poll shows how out of touch the government is on this issue. In August 2010, a survey by an academic agency and two media houses across the 'red belt' showed a strong preference for developmental solutions over military ones, for unconditional dialogue, and for reform of the existing political process. A newspaper poll a month later in Telangana showed that 58% credited the Maoists with forcing development on the agenda. On a visit to Dantewada in October 2010, virtually under police custody to ensure I could not visit any villages, I was stopped at all the Salwa Judum camps by groups of people, desperate for peace talks.


If the military prong of the government's strategy is unfeasible, what are the prospects for its 'development' prong?  The Planning Commission's Integrated Action Plan, designed for Naxal-hit districts, is almost custom-made to flop.


A committee headed by the district collector and consisting of the superintendent of police of the district and the district forest officer will disburse R55 crore over the next two years. This means rewarding people like a certain collector of Dantewada whose 'work proposal for the jan jagaran abhiyan' provided a blueprint for the Salwa Judum and stated, inter alia, that "if excesses happen, higher ups must keep silent"; a police officer who instructed his juniors "if any journalist comes this side, kill him", or another who uses vigilante fronts to issue death threats to local journalists who have exposed fake encounters. Independent-minded administrators like Gadchhiroli deputy collector Rajendra Kanphade, who reportedly criticised Chidambaram's  approach are vulnerable to the wrath of superiors.


In Dantewada, expenditure on drinking water is 0.81% of funds available, while expenditure under the National Rural Health Mission for Bijapur and Dantewada is 1.18 and 6.03% respectively. District administrations often claim that it is the Maoists who are preventing them from bringing services to the people. One has only to read the remarkable news service, CGnet's 'Swara' — where rural reporters phone in their news — to realise how self-serving this argument is. Stories abound of corrupt officials taking bribes from schoolgirls to set up bank accounts or liquor shops set up in front of schools with administrative connivance in areas under government control. In any case, if not being able to reach Maoist-controlled areas is the problem, how will pumping in more money under the control of the same people who are not spending it in the first place help?


Where is the mention of supervision by the panchayati raj institutions or of other systems of accountability? The passage of the Forest Rights Act was, at least in part, a vote of no-confidence against the forest bureaucracy in recognising people's rights. How likely is it, then, that divisional forest officers will use their money to ensure its implementation?


At the district level, people don't need the Radia tapes to tell them how close the relationship between the administration and industry is. Ask the villagers of Lohandiguda in Bastar, whose lands are being taken over by Tata Steel. The Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act states that when land is to be acquired in a scheduled area, consent must be taken from the gram sabhas which will be displaced. As in many such cases of forcible acquisition, 'consent' is duly obtained by the local government. Affidavits on record in the Chhattisgarh high court, however, show that villagers were arrested before the gram sabha meetings could be held and released much later. One person who is recorded as having presided over a meeting said he hadn't even been there; another complained that the administration had forged his signature. When the adivasis of Lohandiguda tried to meet the Chhattisgarh governor, they were arrested en route. How surprising that it takes a telephone leak for Ratan


Tata to realise that this country is in danger of becoming a banana republic.


When will this government realise that what the people of this country want is not just an economic 'package' but the right to be recognised as citizens. The all-party visit to Kashmir — a political initiative — did more for mainland-Kashmir relations than anything before or since. Why can't something similar be planned for central India? If only politicians would stop speaking to public relations companies and talk to ordinary people, they might perhaps come up with more imaginative plans.


Nandini Sundar is a professor of sociology at Delhi University. She is the winner of the 2010 Infosys Science Foundation Award in social anthropology The views expressed by the author are personal







There was a time when by 'relationship manager' we meant some friendly next-door auntie with whom you could frankly discuss the problems you were having with your girlfriend or boyfriend. "Take her to a horror movie," the personalised agony aunt would suggest as a remedy to your girlfriend's lack of physical intimacy. And your love life would bounce back like a cheque with an illegible signature.


There was also a time  when you used to step inside the polygonal innards of a bank. You would take money out of your account after approaching a person usually sitting behind a caged space and then update your passbook (no, kids, a passbook was not the beta version of a Facebook account) and would know exactly how much money you have in the bank. There weren't any ATMs back then, and standing in line would lead you to a familiar face or two who would count your money and hand it through the gap. They had no idea of how much money you had in your account and didn't care a bit whether you made any investments or not.


The odd banking employee would suggest some new schemes, you would toy with the idea and after a healthy 40 minutes or so, your personal finance space became clear to you. The visit to the bank was part of the charms and certainties of adult life.


Somewhere down the line, with a few shekels in your bank account (or one of your bank accounts), you don't need to go to the bank, the bank will come to you. All courtesy this entity called the 'relationship manager' (RM). Sure, the RM was such a breath of fresh air into your life when he first made a call. He not only told you how much money you have in your account(s), but also what you should be doing with it.


Considering your salary gets pumped directly into your bank, your RM knows when to drop by and convince you, sorry, gently suggest, about shares of a pharma company nobody's yet heard of. He knows your lifestyle, your taste, your dreams and your weaknesses. ("Try Bushmills. I find it better than Jameson," said my RM on his fifth visit.) Heck, never mind yourself, even your wife or the enforcement directorate guys don't know so much about you and your life. With the recent arrest of a CitiBank RM for siphoning off customers' money, there may be a case in us telling our relationship manager to take a hike, something strangely that I've never heard any RM advise a client. But that would mean tying those shoelaces again and going to the bank. And reacquainting oneself with that deeply personal object called the passbook.


Mondy Thapar is a Delhi-based writer The views expressed by the author are personal









A CROSS sectors — food, oil, commodities — prices have gone up; and consumers have clearly begun to feel the pinch. That's been reflected in Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu's statement to this newspaper that this financial year will end with a wholesale price inflation of 6.5 per cent, 0.5 per cent higher than the previous estimate. This is an urgent problem, and one which requires the sternest policy focus.


As Basu also cautioned, however, this focus must be informed by rational thinking. "We must distinguish," he told The Indian Express, "between short-term commodity-specific price increases and overall sustained price increases." The former, he correctly pointed out, should be seen as temporary adjustments in relative prices, rather than the overall increase in the price level that we call inflation. So we need to look very hard at sector-specific problems. Supply-chain mismanagement; reform to widen market access for participants; the strategic provision of infrastructure to clear bottlenecks in a product's path to the consumer. What it doesn't require, he insisted, is knee-jerk imposition of controls: export curbs, price caps. Export curbs, for example, can cause much more harm than they can possibly cure. India recently restricted cotton exports, after textile producers complained of higher input prices. Cotton farmers, however, were badly hit by the decision; governments of states dependent on cotton protested to the Centre. And it completed the devastation of Pakistan's textile producers, already hit by floods that destroyed 25 lakh bales of raw cotton.


Thus, on a sector-specific level, the solution needed is reform, and forward-looking investment, not backward-looking control. That must happen within a macro-structure that emphasises controlling inflation, the lowering of inflationary expectations, and increasing the power of monetary policy to affect inflation. As matters stand, India's financial markets are so shallow that interest rates would have to be hiked more drastically, if they are to have a suitably dramatic effect on prices, than would be comfortable for growth expectations. Meanwhile, recent purchasing managers' indices — which survey companies about input costs — show corporate India is being squeezed on input prices, suggesting that there are several sectors, not just agriculture, which are serving as bottlenecks for growth and causing inflation. What we need, thus, is clarity and a clear framework from the monetary authority, the RBI; and a clear commitment to reform of and investment in the problem sectors.







Losing out to China in the construction of an important stretch of the historic Stilwell Road, that once connected Ledo in Assam to Kumming in China, is a setback to the geopolitical calculations India has been making in its eastern neighbourhood. This section links the Pangsau Pass on the Arunachal Pradesh border to Myitkyina in Myanmar's Kachin state. New Delhi's shortsightedness is an open book. Yet, in this case, India had expressed its eagerness to develop the stretch from Ledo to Tanai. Myanmar, long reluctant to reopen a road that courses through insurgent territory, has however preferred its best friend China.


The old Stilwell Road was built by General Joseph Stilwell during World War II, to outflank the advancing Japanese army and establish a land supply route to China. India awaited its reopening (and rebuilding of its damaged and disappeared portions) to provide its own landlocked Northeast with a much-needed gateway. Rebuilding and reusing this existing infrastructure would be the Northeast's easiest entry into Southeast Asia. Strategically, the Stilwell Road would bolster India's Look East policy and facilitate trade by opening border points. But getting the opportunity to build a key section of the road would have helped India also check China's pervasive and still-spreading influence in the region.


Nevertheless, if the Stilwell Road opens in near future, it's welcome. India has alternatives too: its development of the Sitwe port on the Bay of Bengal will bring the Northeast closer to a commercial sea route, via the Kaladan river and a highway linked to NH 54. Besides, ambitious border infrastructure projects, such as in Manipur's Moreh where NH 39 can eventually become part of a trans-Asian road system, are meant to develop and integrate the Northeast. Whether or not the reinvented Indo-Bangladesh relations bear fruit any time soon, border infrastructure must be upgraded, for larger trade volumes among other things. And this must be done unilaterally.


Instead of ruing an opportunity lost, Delhi should speed up and not let India's neighbours dictate its pace and profit.







Books are, among other things, markers of their time, its fascinations and concerns, prejudices and revulsions. And so is Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), which captures both the inflections and attitudes of 19th century America; a bildungsroman as much about the adventures of two boys as it's a story about pre-Civil War Missouri and its realities, especially racism. So when a Twain scholar called Alan Gribben decides to replace the word "nigger" (which occurs, people have calculated, 219 times in the book) with "slave" in a combined edition of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer to be published by NewSouth Books in Alabama next month, it is cause for consternation.


Gribben argues that the word "nigger" could upset modern-day readers, especially young students. (The presence of the racial epithet has been controversial many times earlier.) But by expunging the word, Gribben is tinkering with the entire social and linguistic context of Huckleberry Finn. That's not education, that's erasure. You don't have to dumb down Mark Twain for America, or the world, that's come over a hundred years forward and is still so fascinated with the author that his hefty autobiography has become a bestseller. The new classrooms of the world and their inhabitants should be able to discuss and debate Twain's lexicon, the text and the context. Be horrified and be enchanted by it, but read it nevertheless like Twain wrote it.


It is also cause for consternation because if the Gribbens of the world had the last word, then Lolita would be blacklisted and Shylock would be deracinated. Mark Twain himself pointed out in an explanatory note to the book how "a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary 'Pike County' dialect". Let us not, like the Widow Douglas tried to do to Huck Finn, sivilize Mark Twain.








The tide is beginning to turn in Nepal — one which is likely to test India as much as the decision to drop monarchy in favour of democracy back in 2008. This time it would mean standing with the democratic forces in the face of a fresh Maoist onslaught, the makings of which were indicative in a Prachanda-sponsored political document at the central committee meeting of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) this week. Baburam Bhattarai, who is currently in India, was the only prominent dissenting voice.


From what India has reliably learnt, the document identifies "Indian expansionism" and "domestic reactionary forces" as their principal enemies. It signals a call for a people's revolt, if need be, to defeat these forces. Supporting Prachanda in this call is the Mohan Baidya faction, which leaves Bhattarai on the margins despite his wide urban appeal. At the root of this is a quest for power, which the Maoist leaders have not hidden from their Indian interlocutors, telling them in no uncertain terms that it would be difficult for their cadre to give up arms without first being in power. The Young Communist League and the battery of trade unions are all firmly behind this stand.


The Maoists don't want the UN's Nepal mission to be wound up right now. The reason is quite clear — the Maoist weapons are currently inside large containers kept at eight locations, they are locked but the keys are with the Maoists themselves while the locks have been sealed by the UN. Periodically, the locks are de-sealed, opened, weapons checked in the presence of both sides, then locked and sealed again. The locations are under round-the-clock CCTV monitoring to ensure there is no breach of the pact. The mandate of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) has already been extended and now ends on January 15. Thereafter, a Nepalese army general appointed by the Nepalese parliament will take over the onerous task of monitoring these containers filled with weapons.


The Maoists, clearly, object to this but the move has the support of all other political parties and so, the Maoist leadership has written to the UN secretary-general to continue with the UNMIN. The matter may be discussed in the UN Security Council, where India is now a non-permanent member and the voice it lends will, perhaps, count the most. New Delhi, by all accounts, should favour the views held by the majority of the parties in Nepal that the time has come for them to manage and monitor these weapons. It also means that the Nepal government gets to handle its own internal affairs. However, New Delhi often gets caught up in artificially balancing disparate voices and this at times creates uncertainty in Nepalese political circles on what is New Delhi's approach.


There is no doubt that the situation in Nepal has never been tougher than this for India. Just a few days back, Nepal's parliamentary committee on international relations and human rights, headed by Maoist MP Padmalal Bishwakarma, refused to clear 28 Nepal Foreign Service recruits for a two-week training at Foreign Services Institute (FSI) here on the grounds that it was an Indian attempt to "brainwash" these fresh trainees. As it turns out, these recruits had not received any training before being drafted into the service and the Indian side thought it could be of help. In fact, the FSI was not too keen as it is already overburdened, but South Block managed to prevail.


It is also important to read the commentary against Rakesh Sood, the Indian ambassador to Nepal, in this context. He has had his share of run-ins with Nepalese activists, the press and even politicians who have, in turn, attacked him. No diplomat would like to land himself in such a situation. But having said that, the root of it all lies in a fundamental decision to respond and, at times, even strongly react, to discriminatory or blatant anti-India moves. This, especially, has come to the fore in the case of Indian business interests. For instance, take the case of an Indo-French joint venture that bid for a Japanese-funded Sundri Jal drinking water project. Even though the Indo-French venture apparently bid the lowest, the project went to a Chinese firm even before the bids were opened. Subsequently, it came to light that the Chinese firm had a higher bid. Now, these are commercial allegations with strong political overtones. India decided to back its company's views and, as a result, the Japanese funders JAICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) have ordered an inquiry into the bidding process.


The fact is Nepal has turned into a place of competing self-interests, where India can no longer take matters for granted, neither can it remain in a constant self-flagellating cycle which rests on the presumption that India is responsible, in some ways, for Nepal's woes; that there is merit in the Maoist line about Indian hegemony and whatever India does, it must remember these red lines. But there is also a line between observing caution and getting apologetic. India has to let its neighbours run their own countries while also securing its own interests.


Nepal is critical to India's security. The open border means easier access to Indian hinterland for both terrorists and Maoists. Just recently, between May and August 2010, there was reliable intelligence of 25-30 Indian Maoists having received training in Nepalese Maoist camps. India officially took up the matter, but not much came out of it. Several other inputs keep surfacing about Indian Maoists taking shelter or getting medical treatment in Nepal. But when India offers to strengthen Nepalese immigration or its border-monitoring mechanisms, it invites criticism of interference in Nepal's sovereign functions.


The same is not the case with China, which has a limited focus on ensuring that Tibetans don't use Nepal as a staging ground to move in and out of Tibet. So much so, the Chinese ambassador directly speaks to local police officials and goads them to act against Tibetans. In fact, the word is out that China has officially offered monetary remuneration to police officials who nab Tibetans. At one level, no one can grudge China for trying to protect its interests.


India, on the other hand, has large stakes in Nepal and, perhaps, the biggest stake in its peace and stability. The more powerful of Maoist factions, however, see India as part of the problem just as they saw the democratic experiment as a way to capture power and not share it. Multi-party democracy in Nepal is set to come under increased threat — it is, therefore, that much more important for India to speak in one voice and to speak clearly.











In December 2010, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) delivered its much-awaited first "final order" following an investigation under the Competition Act, 2002. The case was Neeraj Malhotra vs Deutsche Post Bank Housing Finance Co and Others; and by a majority of 4:2, the CCI decided the collective decision of banks/ housing finance companies (HFCs) to levy prepayment charges was not a cartel in violation of the act.


The CCI may be commended for the view taken by it that, for the purpose of the act, an "agreement" should be one between enterprises, and cannot include one between an end-consumer and an enterprise. This should enable the CCI to weed out some of the more consumer complaint-type cases that have been brought before it in recent times.


In this case, the director general (DG), in his investigation report, found among other things that, in a meeting of the Indian Banks Association, a collective decision was taken to impose a prepayment charge. Surprisingly, in a sweeping conclusion, the DG had implicated even those HFCs which were not members of the IBA, had never attended the impugned meeting of the IBA, nor received the IBA circular to the member banks; clearly there was no ground for the DG to implicate such HFCs.


Somewhat disconcertingly, the majority decision of the CCI seems to have set an unusually high threshold on the issue of what amounts to an "agreement", by concluding that the meeting of the IBA did not evidence any agreement or action in concert, but merely a discussion — and, further, that the IBA circular in question had left it to the individual banks to take a decision whether or not to levy the prepayment charge, and if so how much. The leniency displayed by the CCI could have consequences beyond this case in its fight against cartels, allegedly one of the persistent features of the Indian markets.


The Competition Act defines an "agreement" very widely and includes any "arrangement, understanding or action in concert", "whether or not formal or in writing" or "intended to be enforceable by legal proceedings". Similarly, in mature jurisdictions, a broad interpretation is given to each of the terms "agreement", "decision" and "concerted practice", and there are numerous instances where cartels have been punished based on merely exchange of sensitive commercial information, or acts/ practices well short of a formal legally enforceable agreement.


Indeed, the European Court, in Suiker Unie (1975), observed: "the concept of concerted practice refers to a form of coordination between undertakings which without having been taken to the stage where an agreement properly so-called has been concluded, knowingly substitutes for the risks of competition, practical cooperation between them..." In Tate & Lyle (2001), the European court held the disclosure of intentions by even one of the participants at a meeting amounted to a punishable agreement, or concerted practice. In Arnold Pontiac-GMC, Inc (1987), the US courts were of the view that a memorandum describing the meeting provided direct evidence of the conspiracy amongst competitors.


While respecting the majority view of the CCI, the facts evidence a discussion in the IBA meeting where a normally prohibited subject was discussed and information was shared such that this influenced the independent minds of the member-banks on the issue of levying prepayment charges — thereby adversely affecting the level of competition in the market for home loans. By letting off the IBA member banks lightly (as distinct from those HFCs, which were not members), the CCI may have compromised its ability to punish other suspected cartels of a more insidious nature, including where these allegedly operate through trade associations. The requirement of proving a legally enforceable agreement entered into at a particular point in time sets the bar very high.


In Steel Beams (1999), the European court held that mere attendance by an undertaking at meetings involving anti-competitive activities suffices to establish its participation in those activities in the absence of proof capable of establishing the contrary. An act of "public distancing" is generally necessary to dissociate an enterprise from such actions. In T-Mobile Netherlands (2009), the same court observed that even a single meeting was sufficient — and what matters is whether the meeting afforded the undertakings an opportunity to take account of the information exchanged in order to determine their conduct and knowingly substitute practical cooperation between them for the risks of competition. Thus if one IBA member bank got to know of other banks' intention to impose pre-payment charges, it could decide that there was low competitive risk if it too decided to introduce such charges.


The IBA has a history of useful work in the banking sector, and in this case, it had not operated in a clandestine manner, and the member banks may not have intended to breach the competition law. This could have been a mitigating factor in deciding on the remedy or the quantum of punishment — but this could not be a ground for not finding a violation of Section 3 of the Competition Act. One would hope that the CCI would soon enough consider a course correction.


The writer is a former chairman of the CCI. This article was co-written with Sonam Mathur








In July 2010, India joined the ranks of the major currencies of the world by adopting a symbol for the rupee — an elegant blend of Devanagari and English, with attributes of the Tricolour represented in the two lines at the top and the white space in between. The Indian rupee symbolises the strength of our economic system and our rising financial prowess, acknowledged and admired the world over.


At a time when we are celebrating the growth of our economy, the symbol and substance of what the Indian rupee represents is undermined by an irrational policy of our government. The Indian rupee, a perfectly legal form of currency through the entire length and breadth of our country, becomes unusable in a certain area — the protected environs of duty free shops at our international airports, where the memorable phrase "show me the money" acquires a whole new meaning. If you are an Indian national, feel free to buy what you want. Of course, terms and conditions apply: you can spend a maximum of Rs 5,000 in Indian currency. But if you are a foreign national and the billing assistant asks — cash or card — please don't make the mistake of offering Indian rupees. They are unacceptable. You can shop till you drop, but pick up a credit card or foreign currency to pay for the purchase.


Is there another nation that disregards its own currency as we reject the rupee in our territory? I think not. At other international airports, prices are marked in local currencies and paid for in local currencies. Among the great and small nations, we are the only nation that gives short shrift to our own currency and refuses to accept the rupee as a form of payment. It defies common sense.


For foreign tourists, Incredible India turns into incredulous India when after a memorable stay in our country, they are told the rupees they used throughout their stay are not good enough at the airport duty-free shop. Imagine the irritation of travellers who have set aside a few hours and a few thousand rupees to take back tangible memories of India. The Indian currency in their hand cannot pay for the goods they buy. They have to change their Indian rupees into foreign exchange by paying a commission, a double whammy since they would have paid it to convert their foreign exchange into Indian rupees at the time of arrival. Instead of being able to spend it freely at the point of departure, they have to convert it before spending it.


How does it serve us in economic terms or in terms of perception of being seen as a warm and hospitable country if the foreign traveller decides against shopping because she cannot use the Indian rupees in her wallet? What is the policy compulsion behind such a practice? When foreign tourist and business travellers spend money in India, on their stay, food and shopping, it flows into our economy. Why does the colour of money become an issue in the hands of a foreign national at an international airport? An Indian rupee is being spent in India. What is the harm in that?


At a time when we are building state-of-the-art airports with facilities and services comparable to the best in the world, this law is outdated. India is likely to emerge as an important hub in the years to come and it makes enormous economic sense to take this one simple step to make the entire visiting experience a pleasant one for tourists and business travellers. There are many international airports that are marketed as the ultimate shopping destination for travellers. We are not in the same league yet but if we want to get there, we should review our policies. If we don't change our attitude we will lose an important source of revenue, as sales at some of the best duty-free shops run into billions of dollars, sorry, thousands of crores of rupees annually.


India is a trillion-dollar economy, growing at close to nine per cent with foreign-exchange reserves of almost $300 billion. The strength of the Indian economy is for all to see and experience. As a country confident of our economic ability and our financial muscle we should allow the use of Indian rupees at duty-free shops. This step will be in line with our recent adoption of the rupee symbol; it will increase the visibility of our currency and enhance its distinctive identity.


When Sher Shah Suri introduced the first rupee in the early part of the 16th century, he could not have imagined that 500 years later, our currency would not hold sway in some parts of our sovereign territory. It took me five years of relentless letter writing to all stakeholders and decision makers — the ministry of finance, the ministry of tourism and the Reserve Bank of India — to get Indian citizens to use Indian rupees at airport duty-free shops. That change of policy was notified in September 2005. I hope I don't have to wait that long to get this discriminatory policy struck off the rule book.


The new rupee icon includes a symbol of equality. The time has come for us to reduce the artificial divide between my rupee and their rupee. In India, we accept the INR anytime, anywhere.


The writer is a member of Parliament








An amazingly durable holy pact that has lasted over 250 years — between Prince Muhammad ibn Saud, a clan chief who ruled over a patch of the Arabian peninsula, and Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, a religious fugitive — which forcibly imposed the latter's arid, ultra-orthodox, intolerant version of Islam on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, is finally showing signs of coming apart.


Saudi Arabia 's all-powerful religious police (mutawallees, muttawa or Hey'a in Arabic), empowered by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, are now hated and despised as never before. In May 2010, in an unprecedented outburst, a married woman shot at several officers in a patrol car after she was caught in an "illegal seclusion" with another man in the province of Ha'il. Only a few days earlier, the Saudi daily newspaper, Okaz, reported that a religious cop was taken to hospital with bruises after being punched by a woman in her 20s in the city of Al Mubarrazz. The young lady reportedly got violent with the officer after he asked her and the man she was with at a public park to verify their relationship.


Change is certainly coming to Saudi Arabia. Leading this churn are Saudi women and lending support to them are some very powerful men in the Saudi hierarchy, including the monarch, King Abdullah, who to some is the kingdom's Mikhail Gorbachev. Whether the rumblings on the surface are indicative of a tectonic shift in the making is difficult to say. But there is no mistaking the shifting sands, especially in the last two years.


December 2010: Saudi Arabia is elected a member of the executive council of the recently created UN Women, an organisation meant to stress gender equity. Sceptics are not impressed, but others see this as one more marker of the kingdom's belated march towards modernity. Meanwhile, the former Saudi education minister Muhammad Ahmad al-Rashid kicks up a storm in the Arab world with his book that staunchly opposes gender segregation, supports co-education and questions the relegation of Muslim women to the rear section of the mosque. Al-Rashid argues that Islamic scholars who prescribe the headscarf or the veil merely represent a "minority view". (In December 2009, Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi, appointed head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice after the sacking of his hardline predecessor earlier in the year, had also questioned Saudi Arabia's strict gender segregation. The nation's outraged clerics have been baying for his blood since, in vain.)


July 2010: Adel al-Kalbani, a cleric at Mecca's Grand Mosque, issues a fatwa saying he found nothing in Islamic scripture forbidding music. This when musical performance in public is banned in the kingdom and the orthodox insist that music is prohibited even at home.


June 2010: Sheikh Abdul Mohsin Bin Nasser al-Obaikan, member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars and adviser to the king, creates a sensation by issuing a fatwa that says Saudi women can breastfeed their foreign drivers for them to become their sons (as a way of skirting the ban on gender mixing). Weird and even obscene as the fatwa may sound, Saudi women activists choose to turn it to their advantage and demand: "Either allow us to drive or to breastfeed foreigners." (Women are banned from driving and hired drivers are mostly migrant males.)


May 2010: King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan get themselves photographed alongside 40 Saudi women with their faces uncovered. By Saudi standards, this is highly "provocative". Also, a survey conducted by the Research Centre for Women's Studies in Riyadh, examining Saudi newspapers and websites, showed that from mid-January to mid-February 2010, some 40 per cent of the articles in print and 58 per cent of online articles addressed gender issues.


April 2010: A national campaign is launched calling for women's participation in municipal elections scheduled for the autumn of 2011.


The previous year also saw plenty of forward movement. Hatoon al-Fassi, an assistant professor of women's history at King Saud University in Riyadh, describes 2009 as "the year of the campaigns" where women Saudi activists embraced causes as diverse as a ban on child marriage and the right to set up businesses without male sponsors.


November 6, 2009: Saudi women launch the "Black Ribbon Campaign", an international campaign demanding that they be treated as citizens on par with their male counterparts; enjoy the rights to marry, divorce, inherit, gain custody of children, travel, work, study, drive cars and live on an equal footing with men; and gain the legal capacity to represent themselves in official and government agencies without the need of a male guardian.


The "year of the campaigns" is also noteworthy for many firsts: the launch of Saudi Arabia's first ever mixed-gender university, the appointment of a woman to the council of ministers, the election of a woman to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


Perhaps nothing symbolises the changes sweeping the Saudi kingdom better than a picture published on the

front page of Al-Jazirah newspaper on November 16, 2010. The photograph shows a pilgrim couple perched on a stone on the holy Mount Arafat, absorbed in reading the Quran. It is the woman who holds the book, reading to the man. And her face is unveiled. Al-Jazirah's caption applauds her role as the religious mediator.


Ya Allah, what might our own Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind, Jamaat-e-Islami, Tableeghi Jamaat, Ahl-e-Hadith, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, and above all, Dr Zakir Naik, be thinking of such disturbing developments in Islam's holy land?


The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy, and co-editor, 'Communalism Combat'







Have you ever seen a person with smallpox? We rejoice that probably you haven't. In 1977 the disease was eradicated. Only two known research collections of smallpox virus remain, in laboratories in Russia and the United States. This month, the World Health Organisation is debating whether to set a date for destroying these remaining research samples. Elimination of the virus collections is a bad idea.

Smallpox, the most infamous infectious disease in history, killed 300 million to 500 million people in the 20th century alone — more than three times the number killed by wars. Its eradication was the culmination of an 11-year global campaign that stands as a milestone in cooperative international action.


So why not exterminate the last lab specimens? The reasons are born of 21st century changes in global security, technology, politics and, particularly, the threat of bioterrorism. Smallpox is a potential weapon because of the disease's high fatality rate (30 to 40 per cent), its ability to pass from person to person, and the fact that over 40 per cent of the world's population has no immunity because civilian vaccination was stopped over 30 years ago.


In 1980, nearly three years after the last natural cases of smallpox occurred, WHO urged countries to destroy all remaining virus samples or transfer them to the secure Russian or American repositories. However, there was no attempt to verify that labs or governments complied with this request. As a result, it has long been suspected that there are infectious smallpox samples held by other labs in a number of countries — either clandestine specimens or samples unknowingly retained in large virus collections in lab freezers.


In addition, modern biology has created methods that can retrieve virus intact from frozen corpses, old lab specimens, or other materials. And advances in molecular biology make it possible to synthesise smallpox DNA from published information and then use the DNA to rebuild the smallpox virus.


In this light, destruction of the two known virus collections will not eradicate the possibility of smallpox on earth. It will, however, eradicate much of our ongoing public health research with the virus. We think that is very undesirable.


The United States has stockpiled over 300 million doses of an effective smallpox vaccine — enough for every American. But this low-tech vaccine is not ideal for all people and can itself cause deaths. Moreover, most other countries have little or no smallpox vaccine of any kind, and there are no drugs or effective and safer high-tech vaccines licensed to treat the disease should it occur in the unvaccinated. Under these conditions, most of the world's population could be held hostage to terrorists wielding the virus.


Continuing research on smallpox will further develop the tools to detect, defend and respond to an attack. Research on the live virus is ongoing and includes the genetic sequencing of the many strains of virus, development of new methods for rapid field diagnosis, creation of new and safer vaccines, and early development of first-ever drug treatments for smallpox. Recently, the Institute of Medicine and two expert committees at the WHO have reported on continuing public health advances that are being developed with research on live smallpox virus.


If we were to exterminate the remaining research virus now, we could potentially rebuild it from genetic material should we need it to develop additional drugs or vaccines. But that would put us on a course to undercut an international norm, which we support, that prohibits synthesis or genetic manipulation of smallpox virus. This proposition has been accepted by all 193 WHO member governments, including the United States. Terrorists, however, have no such constraints against synthetic biology, for example by changing an animal pox virus into human smallpox. Alternatively, we could wait until after an attack to restart this research, but that would leave us without adequate preparation or expertise.


Some argue that the greatest threat from smallpox would come from the misuse or theft of the strains in the Russian and US repositories. But that is a very remote possibility, because of the extremely tight security at both labs, and because WHO oversees all research with these samples. We believe that it is better to accept this tiny risk of terrorist theft or researcher malfeasance than to deny ourselves capabilities to defend against smallpox recurring from any source.


Smallpox, the naturally occurring disease, is gone. But let us be sure that when we eventually destroy the last of the legitimate research samples, we have adequate defences to deal with any recurrence of smallpox, from clandestine sources or from virus created in a terrorist's laboratory.


We have an obligation to ensure that our children's children never have to worry about seeing this ancient scourge kill yet again. Destroying the remaining research specimens of smallpox at this time will prevent us from fulfilling this obligation.









The government has come under severe criticism for the price rise of essential commodities. An editorial in the Hyderabad-based daily Rahnuma-e-Deccan on December 24 says: "The government claims it is sensitive to the difficulties of aam aadmi. But instead of reducing these difficulties, it is increasing them... The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer." The paper laments: "The curious situation is that one does not find any restlessness among the people in this regard."


Diagnosing the cause of the present trend of rising prices, Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj writes in its January 3 editorial "Menhgaai ka naya saal" (The new year of price rise): "As soon as the second term of the UPA government began and it got free of the Left Front, it became completely uncontrollable (poori tarah belagaam ho gai). The outcome of this development is there for all to see. In the first term of the UPA government the Left Front was part of the government as an ally, and the government's hands were tied. The communist parties did not allow the government to revise prices of certain items and the government was compelled to control prices... Today there is no party to control the government and check the forces that make prices rise." The paper goes on: "In reality the person most responsible for the present situation is Sharad Pawar because of whose irresponsible statements and policies the prices are uncontrollable."


Rashtriya Sahara says in a December 26 editorial: "The fact that we are hesitating to accept is the real cause of uncontrollable prices. The real reason is that even 63 years after independence, we have failed to establish a solid and sustainable system of purchase, storage and supply of food items. As long as we will not accept this truth and create a solid and organised system, we will have to face such a situation again and again." This paper, too, is not convinced by the agriculture minister's statements, particularly his reported response to the PM's query about the cause of the steep rise in the price of onions.


In a strongly-worded front-page commentary on January 1, the Jamaat-e-Islami's bi-weekly, Daawat asks: "Are the other names of development 'high price' and 'poverty?'" The paper says: "Now the rates of growth and inflation are almost the same... People are not concerned about what the country's current level of GDP is. They are badly hit by the price rise that empties their pockets, and becomes the cause of increased poverty and starvation."


An editorial in Delhi-based daily Jadeed Khabar on December 23, points out that "even in the states where the BJP or other regional parties are in power, prices are rising as much as in Congress-ruled states. The need is to take strong action against hoarders who earn immense wealth exploiting the needs of the common people." 


Ghalib and Science


Urdu poet Ghalib's poetry has been analysed, unusually and at length, for the echoes of science in his work. According to December 29 Rashtriya Sahara, at a special lecture to commemorate Ghalib's 213th birthday at the capital's Urdu Academy, professor Wahab Qaiser of Maulana Azad National University reportedly said that "in Ghalib's time, many madrasas established in Delhi taught medical science and also included elements of mathematics, astronomy and the study of elements.... Ghalib belongs to the 19th century, when science was making rapid progress in Europe, and Ghalib was not untouched by its impact. If his poetry is analysed in the light of scientific knowledge, it will be found that many couplets clearly show the influence of the principles of life sciences, medical sciences, chemistry, astronomy and environmental sciences."   

Imams at Rs 12!

According to a report from Hajipur in Hamara Samaj on the December 26, imams, appointed in Bihar's jails for conducting namaz, are paid a daily remuneration of only Rs 12, amounting to Rs 144 a month, as against the salary of a chowkidar, which is Rs 5,000. Their duties involve leading namaz five times a day, and special prayers on festivals like Eid and Baqr-Eid. This continues till today. According to the report, the teachers appointed for teaching the jail inmates are paid the same amount. 


Compiled by Seema Chishti








Supporters of a separate state of Telangana will highlight those parts of the Srikrishna Committee report that show how it got shortchanged, whether in terms of engineering colleges, or even the number of Telanganaites employed in top jobs in the state (the concept of Mulki Rules was enshrined in the Gentleman's Agreement in 1956, made to keep Telangana in the fold). Critics will point to how the Committee brings out the fact that the region is not that badly off on most parameters—indeed, if economic and social backwardness is to be the criterion for statehood, it is Rayalaseema that needs a new state—and how in some it actually leads the state. There can, however, be no doubt that, as a region, the Telangana one is the one that is growing the fastest in all of Andhra Pradesh. There is no rocket science here, it's that age-old thing economists call 'catch up'—less developed regions, after a while, tend to grow faster than better developed ones. It's the reason why India will grow faster than China in a few years, despite its levels of literacy being lower, its colleges and universities being vastly poorer (India has just two universities in the top 500 in the world versus China's 34), the R&D being a fraction of China's; as for the infrastructural differences, the less said the better.


The Committee brings out all of this in a wonderfully-detailed and well-argued report. The case for smaller states, it says, is made out on mainly two or three grounds, of lack of economic development, of poor human development indicators, and of lack of political representation. On the economic front, after examining all manner of parameters—per capita incomes, share of industry in state GDP, growth in credit, among others—it finds Telangana has nearly the same per capita income as coastal Andhra Pradesh, Rs 33,771 versus Rs 36,496, a difference that no one would claim is particularly significant. Mind you, this is Telangana once you take out Hyderabad. With 9% workers who are graduates, Telangana ex-Hyderabad is better off than Rayalaseema with 7.4% and coastal Andhra with 8.8%; it has an 89% literacy among 8-24 year olds versus 88% in coastal Andhra; it has less engineering seats though, and less MBA seats as well; 8 doctors per lakh population versus 11 for coastal Andhra.


So will having a separate state help? Apart from the political fallout, the Committee makes some strong arguments. On average, to cite one of the arguments, more economic activity takes place along the coast than in the interiors. So, a landlocked Telangana will lose out on this front—just see what development of ports has done to Gujarat to know what this means. There is all the activity related to the oil and gas off the Andhra coast that needs to be kept in mind as well!


In any case, while political power (which Telangana supporters say they have been denied) can be used to help a region get a better chance to develop, it cannot correct for historical facts—some regions have better entrepreneurial talent, some don't (just visit Gujarat to understand what this means). But, you can anticipate the refrain, the demand for a separate state is about giving Telangana the political space to develop. There's this great table in the report which says the Telangana region held the chief minister's job for 10.6 years versus 23.9 for Rayalaseema and 18.1 for coastal Andhra, but it held the deputy chief minister's job for 7.8 versus Rayalaseema's 5.7 and the coast's 2.2 and the revenue job for the most time—23.1 years versus 20.9 for coastal Andhra—the pro-Telanganaites explain this by saying their politicians got coopted by the coastal Andhra ones! Which makes you wonder if they'll do that good a job in an independent state—look at the chaos in the newly-created Jharkhand to understand what this means and look at the way Nitish Kumar is husbanding his meagre resources in Bihar.


What happens to Hyderabad, of course, is the most important part of the entire agitation since everyone recognises that it is the magnet around which investments come in, around which higher education and even entertainment are getting built. Which is why the larger part of the Committee's energies have been around how to save Hyderabad, of making it a union territory capital shared by all regions in case of a separation, much like Chandigarh. But here's the point, important as Hyderabad is, India's going to need to build as many new cities in the next 20 years as it has in the last 60, indeed many times more, given the existing cities pre-date India's Independence. So Hyderabad is important, to Telangana, and to larger Andhra Pradesh, and it will continue to remain important, but Hyderabad cannot deliver either Telangana or Andhra Pradesh what they need. It is up to the politicians, the Jai Telanganas and the Jai Andhras, to figure this out, and to give themselves the space to allow new cities to develop. Urbanisation is the only way to go. Look around the world to know that.


But the coastal-dominated politics of Andhra won't allow the cities to come up, the educational institutions to flower, the roads to travel ... That's the truth, that's the problem, and that's the solution. This is what the Committee has said is the way forward—of a unified Andhra with an empowered Telangana Regional Council to focus on development of the area—and this is what home minister P Chidambaram endorsed after the all-party meet. For those who came in late, this is what the late Rajiv Gandhi used to talk of when he spoke of the third-tier of government, of empowering local leaders so they can develop their areas. The past is the future.







If reports on the growing influence of neuromarketing (why, the love child of neuroscience and marketing, of course) are to be believed, it is all set to relegate all traditional variants of market research to the back-shelves to occupy prime-space in the central aisles of advertising strategy. As research on brain functions advances, interviews, focus groups and endless questionnaires may become things of the past with pathways straight to consumers' subconscious brain functions—estimated to be responsible for 98% of the brain's energy consumption and, therefore, crucial in the process of decision making.


And this is exactly what NeuroFocus, an American firm setting up shop in India is looking to capitalise on; it proposes to use brain mapping via electroencephalography, fMRI and such methods to determine consumer preference and attitude towards a range of brands in the FMCG, health, automobile and retail sectors by studying the areas of the brain that light up in response to various products. This helps eliminate 'distortions' created by language, culture, education and so on. This will greatly enhance corporations' ability to better utilise their advertising and product-development budgets by knowing what products are more likely to be successful than others (since the average current rate of failure for new products is as high as 80%). But where is the line between influence and manipulation? Despite the potential control that businesses may have over consumer behaviour as a result of knowing our thoughts better than we do, neuromarketing, in practice for over a decade and a half without gaining the kind of prominence it has been projecting, has a lot to decode before it can begin to tip the balance of power in the marketplace.








The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) entered 2011 with its political centre of gravity shaken by the cumulative effects of various scams, reinforcing the popular perception that it was somewhat losing its grip on governance. Any new year does give hope of some renewal but then the baggage of the past is not so easily wished away. So, the question on everyone's lips is—how will 2011 pan out in political and economic terms? In my view, the risks are pretty high for both the polity and the economy in the current year. Also, it is quite likely that the political and economic risks will reinforce each other in the months ahead.


Political instability will flow from the BJP leadership's firm view that its boycott of Parliament, demanding a JPC probe into the 2G scam, has paid off. The BJP believes there is immense popular anger over the way the UPA had dealt with the Commonwealth Games as well as 2G spectrum allocation. This assessment is bound to tempt the BJP to disrupt the Budget session in February.


There was a faint hope that the BJP might soften a bit after the Prime Minister's assurance that, if needed, he would appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is examining the CAG report on the spectrum allocation. However, as a means to mollify the Opposition, the Prime Minister's offer seems to be coming unstuck.


The BJP forced its senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi, who is also the chairman of PAC, to make a statement that the demand for a JPC probe was valid even if the Prime Minister appears before the PAC.


Meanwhile, the Congress's chief trouble shooter Pranab Mukherjee did not exactly further the cause of peace with the Opposition when he uncharacteristically suggested the Prime Minister should not have offered to appear before the PAC. If one takes a charitable view of Pranab's statement, one could argue he was merely implying that the Prime Minister's offer is being seen as a weakness that the Opposition will exploit even more. Pranab's own thinking perhaps was his own offer of a special session of Parliament to decide on the JPC matter should have been good enough. But that was not to be.


What is disturbing about Pranab's statement is that he revealed to the public he was not consulted on the Prime Minister's offer to appear before the PAC. By saying so, Pranab also betrayed the fact that the Congress president had not kept him in the loop either. For Manmohan Singh would not have offered to appear before the PAC without consulting Sonia Gandhi.


This also says something about the communication levels among the top leaders in the Congress party and government. Of late, top leaders and Cabinet members of the UPA have tended to talk through the press, perhaps in a bid to themselves figure out what Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi might be thinking.


Meanwhile, apparently innocuous events like the Income Tax Tribunal pronouncing a tax on commissions paid to the Bofors agent Win Chadha add to the already conspiratorial air in the corridors of power in New Delhi. One had thought there would be some semblance of stability within the Congress after Sonia Gandhi firmly put her weight behind the Prime Minister at the Congress Plenary session last fortnight. Unfortunately, conspiracy theories are refusing to die down, in spite of assurances from 10 Janpath.


This is not good for political stability at the Centre. The Opposition will also view this as an opportunity to stir the melting pot. As a strategy, the BJP wants to keep the UPA unhinged till the West Bengal and Kerala elections this year. BJP leader Arun Jaitley clearly articulated this at the Express Group's Idea Exchange last month. He said there was a consensus that the Left Front would suffer serious political reverses in West Bengal and Kerala this year. Once that happens, the Left will cease to be a lynchpin for a potential Third Front formation. The Left and TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu still want to revive the Third Front. Therefore, once the Left falls in both their bastions, other erstwhile NDA constituents like Naidu would naturally veer towards the BJP.


So, the BJP wants to keep the political pot boiling at the Centre through its disruptive approach until the ground

]is fertile for a larger realignment of forces.


However, a strategy of prolonged political disruption will not be good for the economy. True, the overall economy and the stock markets have been shrugging off political instability so far. But this good run may not continue for very long. Continued political instability can cause policy paralysis. When politics turns very nasty and disruptive, the bureaucracy in general loses incentive to take decisions. Various critical economic legislations are put on the back burner.


Worse, in such a situation the government may start taking decisions with a mid-term general election in mind. Such possibilities cannot be ruled out if things don't get resolved amicably between the Congress and the Opposition. For instance, if the BJP boycotts the Budget session, it would be unprecedented and completely negative for the stock markets and economic stability, in general. In such an atmosphere, other negatives like higher inflation expectations, hoarding by traders and general chaos can prove risky for the economy as a whole. Unfortunately, when the political momentum against any ruling alliance gathers critical mass, various negative and disruptive tendencies feed on each other. 2011 would seem to be ripe for such a cocktail.








It may be true that lyricists and music composers have not been given their fair share of the revenues from films because they have been compelled, thanks to the way the industry works, to relinquish their royalty rights in perpetuity. It's also true that they have made a big contribution to the film industry, which would have been poorer without their talent. However, eminent lyricist Javed Akhtar, who has been fighting their cause, in demanding that they be given their share of the royalties—whether it's from the radio stations, television channels or caller back tunes—cannot question the contribution of the producer or the grounds on which the producer is claiming 75% of the royalty.


To begin with, if the producer had not decided to make the film, the lyricist or composer would not have had the opportunity to write the songs, or set the tunes. The way we understand the business, it's the producer who's taking on the business risk of making the film and, thereafter, selling the various rights, so that he recovers his costs and makes a profit. Since audiences love them, films need stars and, to be able to cut through the clutter, movies need to be marketed, whether by the producer or the distributor. So, high promotion costs today are a reality, whether for a small-budget film or a big-budget film. And whatever one may say, promotions do help in making songs more popular, so it doesn't really seem unfair that the music composers and songwriters do share the costs. Would Mr Akhtar be able to reach out to audiences on his own without the marketing clout that producers have? Whether one likes it or not, 90% of the music that people listen to comes from Bollywood and, without the film industry, most of the music composers and songwriters wouldn't have got the opportunity that they have. Today, non-film music, including Indian classical music, doesn't sell the way film music does and given the plague of piracy, music companies haven't had an easy time.


Also, while it is true that there are songs that may become hits even if the film doesn't, how a song is picturised does make a difference to its success. A good choreographer and a good dancer can change the complexion of the song because television has changed things. Mr Akhtar wonders how good today's compositions are, compared to the songs of yesteryears, and how long they will be remembered. Well then, if the songs are nonetheless becoming hits, they should thank their stars! Mr Akhtar also believes that producers should not differentiate between new and established talent, arguing that royalty is not paid as an absolute amount but as a percentage. So, if the songs are played fewer times on the radio or television, the royalties would, in any case, be smaller. Moreover, Mr Akhtar asks why there should be a difference in royalties at the producer's end if there is no difference at the radio station or television channel's end. The lyricists and songwriters are not wrong in demanding their fair share, as defined in the copyright act, but they need to accept that someone else is taking on the risk.


Especially today, when budgets are becoming bigger. In fact, since Tees Maar Khan didn't exactly break any records at the box office, 2010 will go down in Bollywood's history as another year in which distributors refused to learn their lesson, namely that they shouldn't over-pay. Despite alternate revenue streams like satellite and home video rights, fetching more than they did a couple of years back, sales from theatres still account for half the total collections. As we saw in 2009 and even in 2008, big stars can't pull it off unless the story and screenplay are up to the mark—in 2008, Saif Ali Khan showed us that he could deliver three flops in a row and now Akshay Kumar is threatening to do the same. It won't be surprising then if Bollywood's balance sheet for 2010 isn't as big as it was in 2009. For one, the year saw fewer releases than in 2009, which had ended with the blockbuster 3 Idiots raking in more than any film before it and a couple of other hits like Kaminey. And 2008 had Ghajini to boost the bottom line. Moreover, several of the big-budget movies, like Guzaarish and Kites bombed. Receipts from satellite rights may have jumped by about 15-20%, so that they now fetch a higher 20% of total revenues, but since half the revenues come in from the theatres, and since there were fewer hits last year, distributors are not exactly laughing all the way to the bank. Indeed, it's possible that the industry may not even clock the kind of revenues that it did in 2009, of close to Rs 9,000 crore, which incidentally, was lower than the Rs 10,500 crore that the industry reported in 2008.







No tracks up there

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee should just stop travelling by air. She had a lot of trouble with this some months ago, as was reported by FE. On Wednesday, she took off only to land again after being airborne for a few minutes. After cooling her heels for several hours, the plane took off again.


We're the media, guys


The media continues to haul politicians over the coals for the slightest misdemeanour, but its behaviour has got the National Highways Authority of India fuming. The National Media Centre in Gurgaon opens on to the national highway while the rules clearly prohibit this—the rules say all dwellings have to open on to a slip road. While the NHAI tried to stop this some time back, powerful journalists managed to get their way around the NHAI's political bosses.









By acknowledging the merits of the longstanding grievances of the people of the Telangana region and recommending robust "constitutional/statutory measures" – centred on a Telangana Regional Council – for the "socio-economic development and political empowerment" of the region within a united Andhra Pradesh as "the best way forward," the Committee for Consultations on the Situation in Andhra Pradesh headed by retired Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna has brought uncommon wisdom and progressive empathy to the task of finding a just and equitable solution to a problem that has seemed intractable. The statutory and empowered Regional Council would be provided with "adequate transfer of funds, functions and functionaries" and would also act as "a legislative consultative mechanism" for the subjects it would deal with. Furthermore, a technical body in the form of a Water Management Board and an Irrigation Project Development Corporation in expanded form are proposed for the management of water and irrigation resources. After weighing five other options, the Committee is of the opinion that this is the "most workable option in the given circumstances and in the best interest of the social and economic welfare of the people of all the three regions." The recommendation takes into even-handed account the grievances and aspirations of the people of Telangana, Coastal Andhra, and Rayalaseema – which is objectively identified as the most backward region of the State. Now it is for the Central and State governments to come up with credible guarantees of "firm political and administrative management," which the Committee considers absolutely necessary to carry conviction with the people of the State that this solution is in "the best interest of all." The Hindu wholeheartedly endorses the Srikrishna Committee's sagacious approach and prescription, which comes out of a lot of hard work and open-minded consultation with all sections of the people of the State.


The core issues, the Committee rightly emphasises, are socio-economic development and good governance. The united Andhra Pradesh option, premised on far-going and meaningful regional autonomy for Telangana, is recommended for "continuing the development momentum" of all three regions and "keeping in mind the national perspective." Crucially, it would end the uncertainty over the future of Hyderabad. The "second best option" – bifurcation of the State into Telangana and Seemandhra with their existing boundaries and with Hyderabad as the capital of the former and a new capital for Seemandhra – is clearly a distant second. The Committee's view is that this option should be exercised only if it becomes unavoidable and all three regions come to an amicable agreement on it – a tall order indeed. With Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram calling for an informed and mature debate with an open mind on the Srikrishna Committee Report, it is incumbent on all political parties in Andhra Pradesh, and especially the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, to respond soberly, fairly, and democratically. South India's largest State has a real opportunity to get it right this time.







The Reserve Bank of India's second Financial Stability Report is generally positive. Maintaining and monitoring financial stability has always been a key objective of monetary policy. However, it was only from the middle of 2009 that the government and the RBI sought to institutionalise the process, making financial stability "an integral driver of the policy framework." Accordingly, the RBI set up a Financial Stability Unit in August 2009 and started presenting periodical reports since March 2010. The first report found the banking system to be broadly healthy and well-capitalised, but noted that global economic shocks, inflation, the slow pace of fiscal consolidation and the unsettlingly large capital inflows posed significant risks to financial stability. According to the second FSR, many of the positive features are intact. Growth has rebounded strongly and the financial conditions are stable. Despite intermittent volatility in the foreign exchange and equity markets, the financial sector has been risk-free. New risk assessment measures introduced by the RBI — such as the Financial Stress Indicator and the Banking Stability Index — corroborate the central bank's generally positive assessment.


At the same time, the report also points to some significantly higher risks. Among them are: the widening current account deficit; volatile capital inflows; deterioration in some key external sector ratios; and the persistently high inflation. The asset quality of banks and their asset-liability mismatch need to be constantly monitored. Recent developments in the microfinance institutional structure cause serious concern. Given the increasing correlation between global economic growth and that in emerging markets, the possibility of certain exogenous risks materialising is strong. The finance channel has assumed greater importance in transmitting the pace and severity of the impact of disturbances abroad. The proposed capital rules pose some regulatory challenges. Implementing international norms calibrated to local conditions will require concerted efforts. However, given its inherent soundness, the banking system is unlikely to be stretched unduly.










With the 112th Congress of the United States beginning its work this week, President Barack Obama can expect that many, if not most, of his policy initiatives for 2011 will literally be "up-Hill" struggles, beleaguered by attacks and blockades from a fresh crop of conservatives in the House of Representatives.


Since the November Congressional election handed Democrats a stinging defeat in many States, reversing their control of the House entirely and thinning out their majority in the Senate, the President was quick to strike an inclusive note in its aftermath, in which he emphasised that Republicans shared the responsibility for governing a nation reeling under the effects of the global economic downturn.


Yet the notion of a post-November shift in power balance may be somewhat exaggerated, for it could be argued that it is the Republicans who are between a rock — the Democratic policy juggernaut that is the Obama White House — and a hard place.


Indulge in a thought experiment for a moment. The year is 2011 and the month is, let us say, April. The U.S. unemployment rate is still hovering at above nine per cent, as it has been for most of the previous year.


President Obama, sensing that a funding boost for unemployment support programmes is necessary to reduce the numbers of desperate, near-bankrupt ordinary Americans, proposes a bill to that effect. The Senate passes it narrowly, and it goes to the House.


If the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, takes a view that supporting such a bill would be true to the mandate that he has been handed by voters — to get the U.S. economy back on track following its dramatic collapse under a Republican administration — he and his colleagues would support it and it would pass.


In that scenario his party would still be able to project an image of capable governance and effective bipartisan deal-making, an asset that might prove to be vital during the 2012 presidential elections. Given that the Democratic campaign is certain to blame the Republicans for engendering the crisis this image might well be the deciding factor.


If Mr. Boehner however bends to the will of newbie Congressmen with Tea-Party roots, who will invariably be baying for deficit reduction measures, even during the worst recession in 80 years, he would endanger the prospects of his party in 2012, and with it his own political future.


The reason for this is that besides the risk that Congressional obstructionism through filibuster could deprive the Republicans of any claim to responsible governance, the Republican Party is still struggling to come up with a suitable candidate to run against President Obama in 2012.


Hence the Republicans need every bit of political ammunition they can find if they are to have any hope at all of recapturing the White House; and in that context, to appear callous to the needs of those who have suffered the most during the recession, or to those who have benefitted from last year's game-changing healthcare reform, could be tantamount to political suicide.


Also, as economists such as Paul Krugman and Christina Romer have pointed out, there is a genuine concern that early rollbacks of stimulus policies, in fear of deficit expansion, could resurrect the nightmarish prospect of a long-festering recession, similar to what actually happened in the 1930s.


Similarly Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius warned in an op-ed this week that if deficit hawks attempted to get the healthcare reform laws repealed, that would ironically add close to a trillion dollars to the deficit.


The flipside of that coin, that the U.S.' gargantuan deficit could cripple its economy through a multitude of macroeconomic effects, is certainly a real danger too but one that might be relatively less immediate in terms of its consequences for middle-class Americans.


It is not as though Republicans are unmindful of these ground realities. The problem is that they are equally aware that their control over the House gives them leverage to bargain with the Democrats and the White House — which taken to an extreme could imply a full-scale government shutdown as demonstrated by former House Speaker and Republican Newt Gingrich.


Yet if Mr. Boehner takes Republicans down the path that his predecessor did, history suggests that it is the House majority party, and perhaps millions of furloughed public sector workers, who would feel the pain of government departments suddenly coming to a grinding halt and the flow of pay cheques drying up.


When Mr. Gingrich brought that fate upon the U.S. in 1995, in the heat of a mounting personal rivalry with erstwhile President Bill Clinton, the fallout was that his poll ratings dropped dramatically while Mr. Clinton's public approval soared and brought him a step closer to getting re-elected to a second term.


If all this appears obvious then for what murkier reasons might Mr. Boehner choose to impose a stranglehold on Congress?


The answer comes back again and again to the Tea Party. With even President Obama admitting that Democrats got a "shellacking" in November, the unmistakable wave of discontented voters picking red over blue was interpreted in some quarters as a victory for the Tea Party, which had finally "arrived" in the mainstream.


Yet as the case of Christine O'Donnell demonstrated, the average American voter often shies away from the Tea Party's relatively extreme views on certain subjects — including race relations and the role of religion in politics.


In the primaries Ms O'Donnell, a self-confessed former practitioner of witchcraft, knocked out incumbent Congressman Michael Castle from the race but then ended up losing the House seat to Democrat Chris Coons in November. Speaking after his victory Mr. Coons said to voters, "You sent a message that the politics of no, the politics of division, the politics of negativity have no place in this great state."


Doubtless senior Republican strategists somewhere were gnashing their teeth in frustration as Ms O'Donnell's foray sabotaged, even if unwittingly, the prospects of a mainstream Republican candidate.


Nevertheless, given their considerable presence in the 2011 Congress — they hold 40 seats in the House, out of a total of 435 seats — the Tea Party Congressmen's strident messages on everything from social conservatism to cutting government welfare spending may have already weighed on Mr. Boehner's calculations.


However if his insecurities about the Tea Party causing cracks in the Republican machine prompt Mr. Boehner to stall the very functioning of Congress, then that might be a sign that the Grand Old Party is more internally fragile than even Mr. Obama and his Democratic colleagues could imagine in their wildest dreams.









In the unseemly controversy between the Opposition and the Government in Parliament over the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) for the 2G Scam, the institution of Parliament has suffered a severe blow to its image. Parliament, the foremost democratic institution of our Constitution, has been reduced to a farce by daily disturbances and disruptions by the Opposition demanding a JPC, forcing the presiding officers of the two Houses to adjourn them from day to day for 23 sittings, from November 9 to December 13, 2010. We do not know how this deadlock will be resolved as the Opposition has refused to give up its demand for a JPC even in the next session of Parliament and the government is equally determined not to concede it.


Worst session


In the past 82 sessions of Parliament this has been the worst session of Parliament. The Lok Sabha worked for seven hours and 37 minutes, i.e. 5.5 per cent of its available time, while the Rajya Sabha functioned for two hours and 44 minutes, i.e. 2.4 per cent of its available time. Of the 36 Bills Government planned to introduce in the winter session of 2010, only 13 were tabled; of the 35 Bills it planned to pass, only four were passed, that too without any debate. Supplementary Demands and Appropriation Bills for finances were passed without any debate by a voice vote amidst din and disorder. The Lok Sabha could hold its question hour only twice with only four Starred Questions getting oral replies. In the Rajya Sabha not a single Starred Question was answered. The fiscal loss to the public exchequer was a gigantic Rs.172 crore.


The issue whether the demand for a JPC to investigate the 2G Scam is just and the refusal of government is unjust fades into insignificance with the denigration of Parliament in this manner.


The fundamental basis of the functioning of Parliament under our Constitution is that the majority in Parliament has the right in normal course to introduce and pass legislation and also resolve any contentious issue by its majority strength. It is part of the functioning of Parliament in this manner that the Opposition, not commanding a majority, has to accept the actions of the majority even if it is opposed to it. This is the only practical way in which Parliament can work. A minority opposition cannot subvert or overcome a majority by extra parliamentary methods of creating disorder and stalling the proceedings in Parliament. Enforcing a "bandh" of Parliament is more subversive of the rule of law than the usual political "bandhs" called by political parties paralysing public life which has been condemned by the Supreme Court. However right the demand of the opposition for a JPC, its action leading to the disgracing of Parliament in the manner it has done by daily shouting, creating disorder and ruckus cannot be condoned.


A debate would be democratic


The Opposition can demand a debate on the 2G scam by placing the facts and arguments in Parliament and forcing the government to refute the charges in a debate. A debate would be the democratic way contemplated by the Constitution of bringing government into account for its actions and would itself create a larger volume of public opinion against the government outside Parliament.


A dangerous precedent is being set by those who resort to stalling Parliament in this manner. If the present tactics of pressurising government by paralysing Parliament is considered legitimate, it would be equally legitimate to oppose a legislation to which the opposition is fundamentally opposed by disrupting the working of Parliament. Besides this the authors of the present impasse in Parliament must realise that they are setting a bad precedent not only for a future session of Parliament but also for other State legislatures.


The denigration of Parliament which we are witnessing today has far graver consequences to our democracy than the necessity to expose a major corruption scam by a JPC.


( The author is senior advocate of the Supreme Court and former Solicitor General of India.)









There was silence in the ancient city of Lahore on January 5 as Salman Taseer, a pugnacious son of the soil who made his name by speaking out, was lowered into an early grave.


Soldiers in fantail turbans snapped to attention; a cluster of stone-faced relatives looked on. A helicopter had carried Taseer's body from the governor's residence, a short distance away: authorities feared another fanatic, like the one who gunned down the Punjab governor 24 hours earlier, would show up.


At the graveside, Taseer's three sons, men with black shirts and soft red eyes, flung clumps of rose petals into the grave. One was supported by a friend. A bugle sounded.


As graveyard workers shovelled sticky winter clay on to the coffin, many Pakistanis wondered what was disappearing into the grave with the outspoken politician.


Liberals have long been a minority force in Pakistan, reviled for importing "western" ideas and culture; now they are virtually an endangered species. As Taseer was buried, petals also flew through the sky in Islamabad where a cheering throng congratulated his assassin, a 26-year-old policeman named Mumtaz Qadri, as he was bundled into court. "Death is acceptable for Muhammad's slave," they chanted.


In his assassin's eyes


Taseer's crime, in Qadri's eyes, was to advocate reform of Pakistan's blasphemy law. Few other Pakistani politicians dared to speak against the law, which prescribes the death penalty for offenders yet is widely misused. Those who did now live in fear.


Sherry Rehman, a female parliamentarian from Karachi who tabled a parliamentary bill advocating reform of the blasphemy law, has disappeared from public view. Supporters have urged her to flee the country; sources close to her say she is determined to stay. Rehman has not yet requested extra police protection. A source said she "wasn't even sure what it means any more".


Religious parties refused to condemn Taseer's death, implying that he got what he deserved; some described him as a "liberal extremist". But intolerance from the religious right is nothing new in Pakistan; more striking is the lack of leadership from the country's secular forces.


The opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party was conspicuously absent from the Lahore funeral, perhaps mindful of a decree by Barelvi mullahs that those condoling with Taseer also risked death. But capitulation to the religious right has also infected the ruling Pakistan People's Party, of which Taseer was a staunch member.


Since Taseer's death, party supporters have burned tyres and chanted the old slogans: "Jiye Bhutto!" and "If you kill one Bhutto another will rise!" Party leaders painted Taseer's death as part of a "conspiracy". "We need to find out if this is an attempt to destabilise Pakistan," said Law Minister Babar Awan, announcing the inevitable judicial enquiry.


But the tired rhetoric masked a less palatable truth: that Taseer had been abandoned by his own leadership. After Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws on November 8, Taseer visited her in jail with his wife and daughter to show his support.


Shortly after, an Islamic mob rioted outside the governor's house in Lahore, burning his effigy and calling for his death. On television, prominent media commentators joined the chorus of criticism.


Senior figures in his own party turned tail. Awan, the Law Minister, said there was no question of reforming the blasphemy law. "As long as I am law minister no one should think of finishing this law," he said on November 26. Another minister confirmed that position one week ago.


The U-turn was the product of a huge miscalculation. At the start of the Aasia Bibi affair on November 8, President Asif Ali Zardari suggested he might pardon the Christian woman if she was convicted. But he stalled, apparently hoping to extract political mileage from the affair.


Then on November 29 the Lahore High Court, which had a history of antagonism with Zardari, issued an order forbidding him from issuing a pardon. The issue became a political football, a struggle between the government, the courts and the mullahs. Zardari was powerless to act.


And the Punjab governor was left swinging in a lonely wind.


Last TV interview


In his last television interview, on January 1, Taseer said it had been his "personal decision" to support Aasia Bibi. "I went to see her with my wife and daughter. Some have supported me; other are against me [...] but if I do not stand by my conscience, then who will?" The answer, he knew, was simple: not many. Taseer's liberal politics were controversial in Pakistan's media, which is increasingly dominated by rightwing commentators. He ridiculed his enemies with messages on Twitter, a medium that he relished for its ability to deliver brisk, barbed jabs.


In December even Meher Bokhari — a leading female journalist who had once been ridiculed as a "CIA agent" after attending a U.S. embassy party — asked Taseer if he wasn't following a "pro-western agenda" by supporting the Christian woman. Taseer retorted that he didn't know what she was talking about.


For many, the debacle shows how the heroes of yesteryear have fallen in Pakistan. In 2007, brave journalists, judges and lawyers came together to help oust the military leader President Pervez Musharraf from power. Today the judiciary has become enmeshed in controversy, the media offers an unfiltered platform to extremists, and the lawyers movement has been badly divided.




Ayaz Amir, a progressive commentator, noted on January 5: "The religious parties will always do what they do. You can't blame them. It is up the other sections of Pakistani society to stop the rot and reverse the tide. But it's the political parties and the army should have done it. And they did nothing." Pakistan's military and civilian leaders face many grave challenges, not least the still-burning Taliban insurgency in the north-west. But for embattled liberals, the death of Taseer exposed something ugly in their wider society, much as the shoulder-shrugging reaction to the massacre of minority Ahmadis in a Lahore mosque last May did.


Lahore is the capital of Punjab, the large and wealthy province that is the boiling cauldron of Pakistan's ideological battle. Punjab is the breeding ground of extremists nurtured by the pro-Islamist policies of Pakistan's army, which has used militants to fight Indian soldiers in Kashmir. According to U.S. assessments in the recent WikiLeaks cables, it still does.


Two years ago extremists attacked the police training centre outside Lahore that is home to the Punjab Elite force, the province's best-trained police commandos. This week a member of that same force — Qadri — was responsible for killing Taseer.


What it signifies


Taseer's death has focused that ideological fight around blasphemy. The law originated under British colonial rule in the 19th century but only acquired notoriety in the 1980s when the dictator Zia-ul-Haq decreed that blasphemy was punishable by death (a provision that Islamic scholars say has little theological foundation). The law is also of questionable civil law value: it contradicts fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.


It is a crime where no proof is required. The religious slander allegedly uttered by Aasia Bibi, for instance, has never been repeated by her accusers — to do so would be to blaspheme again. As a result, she has been convicted on the say-so of her neighbours, with whom she was having an argument in a field.


If Bibi's conviction is upheld she will be hanged, the first woman in Pakistan's history to be executed for blasphemy. If freed, she will have to flee Pakistan immediately.


Senior supporters say that Canada has made a tentative offer of asylum. But in the present climate in Pakistan it seems unlikely that Bibi will be set free. Senior human rights campaigners told the Guardian they feared she could be killed by zealots in jail or on the steps of the court, as has happened in other blasphemy cases.


The question now is who will speak up for her. For liberals, Taseer's death is a sign that their political space, already highly constrained, is becoming impossibly small. "If Pakistan and Pakistanis do not try to excise the cancer within, the future of this country is very bleak," read an editorial in Dawn on January 5.


The face of Mumtaz Qadri, smiling beatifically as he was led away by police after killing Taseer, perhaps dreaming of his rewards in heaven, has become the image of Pakistan's national agony. Qadri claims to act in the name of Islam, the reason that Pakistan was founded.


On January 5 on Twitter, the medium beloved of Salman Taseer, liberal Pakistanis bemoaned the disappearance of "Jinnah's Pakistan" — the tolerant, pluralistic country envisioned by its founder, the lawyer Muhammad ali Jinnah, in 1947. Others tried to remember if it had ever existed.


And in the streets outside, Pakistan's silent majority — the ordinary, moderate people who do not favour extremism or violence, and only want their society to thrive — were saying nothing. But in Pakistan, that is no longer good enough. Silence kills.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








Dithering by the government and a lack of co-ordination between aid agencies and donors have crippled rebuilding efforts in Haiti, leaving the country in ruins a year after the earthquake, a report says on January 6.


Nearly one million people remain in tents or under tarpaulins and rubble still clogs the capital, Port-au-Prince, reflecting a "year of indecision" that has put recovery on hold, according to Oxfam.


The report, published a week before the earthquake's anniversary, follows an announcement that political wrangling has delayed the second round of the disputed presidential election until February, leaving Haiti's leadership also in limbo.


The anniversary will fuel recriminations about why a wave of global sympathy and funding pledges appears to have dissolved into lost opportunities and continued suffering.


The destruction of the capital and death of an estimated 2,30,000 people, including civil servants and technicians crushed in collapsed ministries, prompted a huge international relief effort, with $2.1bn pledged. Thousands of aid agencies and missionary groups poured in. According to the U.N.'s special envoy, only 42 per cent of the money was spent.


Roland van Hauwermeiren, the country's Oxfam director, said near-paralysis in the government had been compounded by mistakes in the international response. "Too many donors from rich countries have pursued their own aid priorities and have not effectively co-ordinated amongst themselves or worked with the Haitian government," he said.


Oxfam accused the interim Haiti recovery commission, led by the former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, of being "lacklustre" in managing funds and improving Haiti's technical capacity to spend them.


An emblematic failure is the fact that only five per cent of rubble has been cleared.


Privately, aid agencies have said it is easier to raise funds for shelters and medical treatment than to clear debris which, one said, is "less emotional, less attractive".


To a litany of woes — unemployment, cholera, poverty — an Amnesty International report adds violence against women. Armed men prey with impunity on women in displacement camps, it says.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






Thai authorities have seized a large shipment of ivory (69 elephant tusks and four other pieces of ivory) being smuggled from Mozambique, Africa, at Thailand's main Suvarnabhumi Airport on January 5.


According to the director-general of the Thai Customs Department, airport officials seized the containers labelled as "personal use property", after a tip-off from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) network.


The consignment, that weighed 435 kg, was packed in two containers en route for Laos' capital Vientiane. The ivory is worth 10 million baht ($3,31,000). Trade in (African) elephant ivory is restricted/prohibited under the CITES and Thailand's Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act B.E. 2535 (1992).


In 2010, Thai airport officials intercepted close to 4.5 tonnes of African elephant ivory. Wildlife experts say Thailand is a commonly-used global transit point for the illegal trafficking of animal parts and is also a hub for ivory carving.— Xinhua









The Justice Srikrishna Committee's voluminous report, made public by the Union home ministry on Thursday, has a discernible undercurrent in support of a united Andhra Pradesh, as against bifurcating it in response to the vociferous demand for a separate Telangana state. The committee offers six non-binding options but alsoshoots down four of them as impracticable. Between Option 5, dividing the state as demanded by Telangana protagonists, and Option 6, keeping the state undivided, it plumps for the latter. The committee has made its recommendations on the basis of data it collected to show that Telangana's development indicators, such as irrigation, agriculture, education and public employment, do not suffer too badly in comparison with Andhra. The committee does find substance in the complaints of the pro-Telangana parties on major dams and education. It points out that students from weaker sections in Telangana have fewer opportunities and also notes that health infrastructure is poor in the region.

The committee agrees in so many words that governance has failed Telangana but adds that smaller states may not be the best solution for lack of development as the experiment with Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand prove. At the same time, it also does not argue that council and constitutional guarantees have met with success in addressing identity politics.

Given this broad line of thought, it is only natural that the committee, while noting the cultural differences between the people of the two regions, concludes that the best option is to keep Andhra Pradesh united, with certain constitutional guarantees to address Telangana's concerns. It recommends this option as workable despite the "concerns" in the areas of public employment — which is covered by an amendment to the Constitution — and water and irrigation. The panel more or less backs a united state though it notes that violence could occur when this option is exercised.

Indeed, some violence has already broken out, with students burning buses and pelting stones at policemen and businesses around the restive Osmania University. They have also called for a bandh, which will undoubtedly be the first of many. The presence of 57 companies of Central paramilitary forces will not provide a solution, nor will it assuage the fears of businesses in Hyderabad.

Supporters of Telangana statehood have argued that even the constitutionally-guaranteed mechanism covering government jobs has not resulted in equitable allocation of employment. That has been the biggest promise of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi: Jobs for youth. A statutory council backed by constitutional provisions will hardly satisfy them. The Telangana board that was promised in previous political arrangements has not worked. It will be difficult to convince Telangana's leaders that this band-aid board will fix 60 years of hurt in what arguably was a forced marriage between the two regions.

The pro-Telangana parties have already rejected the committee and its findings. The TRS and the Joint Action Committee are holding the Centre to its promise of December 9, 2009, when home minister P. Chidambaram announced that the "process for the formation of Telangana" has been initiated. The Centre is widely seen as having gone back on that promise. The Srikrishna Committee, which was to point a way forward, appears to lead to a dead end. What is needed is honest action to address the concerns and the demands of Telangana supporters.

But if anything, what the report points to, in its comparison tables, is the truly pathetic situation in Rayalaseema, where the development indices are worse than even in Telangana. The Srikrishna panel does not make recommendations because it is constrained by the terms of reference.








India's first month in 20 years as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council began well with our election to the chair of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee at the start of the New Year. The Committee, the UN's top body on terrorism issues, is an institution of some importance to New Delhi — and it isone which many foreign observers had thought India might not be asked to lead, given our strong feelings on the issue. Coming in the wake of India's record margin of victory in the race to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, this news confirms our standing in the world and the contribution New Delhi is capable of making on the Council.

So what awaits us in our first month at the UN's high table? By the time this column appears, Sudan will be looming large. The Council will have to engage seriously with the implications of the Southern Sudan referendum, an extraordinary event in modern African history, which will permit the residents of one part of a state, the Southern region of Sudan, to decide whether it is wishes to secede from Khartoum. The voting is scheduled to be conducted for one week from January 9 and India will watch it with more than routine interest. First of all, we have troops on the ground — Indians make up an important part of the UN peace-keeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS). Second, our economic interests are involved, since we are an important customer for Sudanese oil and are involved (unusually enough, in partnership with a Chinese company) in exploring a major oilfield in the South. The result of the referendum is not likely to be known for at least three weeks after the end of voting, so the issue is going to require sustained engagement — and when the verdict is out, probably in early February, we may have to be braced for violence that could put Indian lives in harm's way, so every step will be of direct concern to us.

Sudan will also feature more routinely in January, when the Council is briefed by the Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping, France's Alain Le Roy, on the progress (or lack thereof) being made by the two existing UN missions there, UNMIS on Southern Sudan and United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), focused on the conflict-torn region of Darfur. The Sudan Sanctions Committee will also meet to discuss the 90-day interim report issued every three months by a panel of experts, and this month will mark India's first participation in that body.

If Sudan is important for our national interests, even more crucial is next-door Nepal. In early January, the Council is expected to consider the Secretary-General's report on Nepal and to review progress made in implementing the September agreement between the government of Nepal and the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M). The UN Mission there, known as UNMIN, is slated (under last year's Security Council Resolution 1939) to close on January 15, and the report is also expected to contain details of the arrangements being made for the post-UNMIN period, which will naturally be of particular interest to India. The deal is that, unless there is a joint request from the Nepalese parties, UNMIN will indeed be wound up, and there does not appear to be much support amongst Council members for its continuation. Since there is no sign so far of the parties in Nepal asking for an extension of UNMIN's mandate, its termination seems more likely than not, but no one is ruling out a last-minute change of heart in Kathmandu. One should not forget, though, that UNMIN, officially created as a "focused mission of limited duration", has now been extended seven times since it was set up in January 2007. But what happens next is of more than passing concern to New Delhi, and our diplomats at the UN will certainly be in close touch with South Block to ensure that the Council's decisions are in conformity with how we see the future of the Nepalese peace process.
Sudan is not the only African country expected to feature on the agenda in January. This month, Somalia will be the subject of a report by the Secretary-General and a briefing by his Special Representative there, Tanzania's Augustine Mahiga. Also in early January, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Legal Issues related to piracy off the Coast of Somalia, the former French Minister Jack Lang, is due to present his recommendations to the Secretary-General, who in turn, will pass them on to the Council with his own comments. Mr Lang was tasked with identifying "any additional steps that can be taken to achieve and sustain substantive results in prosecuting piracy". With the Indian Navy patrolling off the coast of Somalia, escorting vessels and even intercepting pirates in a couple of celebrated incidents, this is a subject that ought to be of more than passing interest to our diplomats.

The rest of the world will, of course, occupy the Security Council as well in our first month there. There is talk of holding a "horizon scanning" discussion on issues of potential concern, in line with similar consultations that were held in November 2010 when the United Kingdom chaired the Council. This month, the Council will also discuss Haiti, where tensions following recent elections have not dissipated, and where the mammoth task of reconstruction and rehabilitation since last year's devastating earthquake remains largely incomplete. One more subject of particular interest to New Delhi should be the six-monthly briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Asia on the UN Office for Central Asia, which was established in December 2007 and whose activities will no doubt be reviewed carefully by India's representatives on the Council. 
All in all, January offers an interesting example of the range and seriousness of the issues that will occupy India on the Security Council after our two decades' absence from that body. What remains, of course, is the unpredictable and the unexpected. Council diplomats heading off for their summer holidays in August 1990 did not expect Saddam Hussein's tanks to roll into Kuwait that month, transforming their workload and ending their vacations. India's envoys in New York will certainly hope nothing of the sort occurs on their first month on the job. But they know that, if it does, it will give them a chance to make India's voice heard on a global crisis — and its views count in resolving it.


Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency








The Timurid prince was amazed by the wonders of India. Crossing the river Indus, he was to recall, you entered not only another country but "another world". Customs and languages, winds and rains and even plants and animals were all very different from what he and his fellow horse-borne warriors had known earlier.


Among those sights were the great one-horned beasts in the land of the Indus. "There are many of them in the forests around Peshawar and Hashnagar and in the forests between the Indus river and Bhera" he wrote, "In Hindustan, many of them are found along the banks of the Gogra river".

The hunts were not without collateral damage for the rhinos had huge horns and knew how to use them. The warrior Maqsud had his horse thrown the length of a spear and got the nick name "rhinoceros Maqsud".
Good naturalist that he was Babur estimated the size of the animal as akin to that of three horses. Like another large creature he encountered the first time, the wild buffalo, it was a "dangerous, ferocious animal". Even if an archer drew his string back a lot, the arrow rarely penetrated more than four fingers deep. It was only via trial and error, the hunters discovered its weak spots and learnt not only to pursue but also to despatch it.
The rhino was only one of many animals the young Timurid prince encountered in the vastness of north India (or Hindustan) in the 1520s.

These included two kinds of monkeys, the langur with its black face and the bandar, the latter tamed and taught to do tricks. For such creatures Babur could not use words in his native Chagthay Turki and took on local Hindavi words. There were also animals familiar to us in plains India: the nilgai and the kala hiran, the latter the black buck antelope.

For other animals, Babur and his successors used Turki or Persian words. This was the case with the lion, sher in Persian or babri or the tiger. Each of the two big cats was pretty familiar to those from Central Asia: there was no confusion at all.

Some animals they met were integral to older hunting cultures: falcons like the great shahin or the cats used in the hunt, the cheetah and the siyaghosh (or caracal) the latter, to this day has no Hindi name.

But it is the rhinos and where they were found that should concern us.

Nearly half a millennium has passed by and the range of the greater one-horned rhinoceros has shrunk.
Its Latin name, Rhinoceros unicorns betrays the centuries-long European obsession with that mythical creature. Its real-life counterpart, the great one-horned rhino had an extensive range across the flood plains of the Brahmaputra, Ganga and Indus.

Four millennia ago, the artefacts of the Harappan culture clearly depict the animal, indicating possibly a range in parts of present-day Sindh. This extensive distribution may well have been mostly intact in Babur's time for Peshawar had no rhinos at least on record in the British imperial period.

But what is clear is that in the 16th century, a far larger part of the land mass was covered with forest or grassland than we might find easily conceivable today. Estimates of the number of humans and the acreage under the plough vary.

A decade ago, Sumit Guha drew on new and fresh evidence to argue that the number of people in India under the Mughals was about 114 million (far less than that of the Uttar Pradesh of 2001, which was placed at 166 million).

More central to our own story of the living space for rhinos, and other hoofed or feathered creatures, the area under permanent tillage may have been only one in four acres.

Babur recalled large areas of the plains were covered with thorny trees, offering refuge to inhabitants who sought refuge from a creature more dreaded than beasts of the forest: the tax collector.

Babur was doing more than conquering north India and setting up a lineage that would run all the way to 1857-78 when Bahadur Shah Zafar was dethroned. He was part of a world of the Safavids (in Iran) the Ottomans (of Turkey) and the Qing (in China) all of whom fuelled a great global economic expansion.
More trade, more wealth and many more people than earth had ever known before. The doyen of historians of the era, the late John Richards estimated how the number of people on earth doubled in three centuries following upon 1500. No wonder Professor Richards called his book, The Unending Frontier.

Yet, it is still amazing to come across the Friar Manrique's account of a journey through Ayodhya — Faizabad where he spoke of "an abundance of asse horne (rhino horn) that they make here of bucklers and dives sorts of drinking cups". Much of the valley had been or was being cleared but the farm-forest line or the border of cultivation and jungle was an ever shifting one. Rhinos and their products were very much around in the Ganga valley.

The mega herbivore now occupies less than one-fiftieth of its historic range, with the hunger for its horn for medicine or adornment and the expansion of rice paddies having taken a toll. And yes, they long, long since have vanished form Peshawar or Ayodhya.

The Baburnama gives a glimpse of another land and time, when the wild and sown were in close combat, and an immense horned animal could unseat a prince's companion from his horse.

Its hoof print may now be smaller than ever but face it, in his writings, the prince gave our very own unicorn more than its due.


Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and co-editor of The Environmental History of India (Permanent Black, In Press).








The joke arrived by email:

Wife complains to husband: You have stopped loving me.

The husband points towards their five kids and says, "You think I download these from Google?"


The person who sent it was someone who I thought did not even know how to use a typewriter, let alone work on a computer. She's in her mid 60s and lives alone. But from what I now gather, she has picked up the basics of browsing the web, sends emails to her grandchildren and, with the enthusiasm of an Internet neophyte, forwards jokes to the members of the extended family, which is how it landed in my mailbox. Without the Net, she, and many more people like her, would be very lonely.

At 103, Lillian Lowe is the world's oldest Facebook user. She must have been around 75 years old when the personal computer was launched, and 90 when Internet arrived. But you are never too old to learn.
For most people the Net is a source of happiness. It is an escape from boredom and loneliness. A global study by UK's Chartered Institute of IT (known as BCS) shows that access to Internet has a "positive impact on life satisfaction". It says that Internet "has an enabling and empowering role in people's lives by increasing their sense of freedom and control".

Personally, I would be lost without the Net. Even bored, perhaps. Life would be far less interesting.
I use the Net for my work, to keep in touch with friends, read newspapers and magazines (whose print editions I cannot afford to buy), listen to music and watch videos.

What I enjoy the most is reading some outstanding blogs — from art and design to books, science and current affairs. Internet offers us mind-boggling choices. It enables us to do things that we could not dream of just ten years ago.

Ten years ago Google was just a fledgling search engine; there was Hotmail but no Skype (launched in 2003) or Gmail (2004). Wikipedia went online in 2001, iTunes in 2003, Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2007.

In-between there was Napster (June 1999 to July 2001), the revolutionary file-sharing program that introduced the world to music piracy.

You could merrily download music for free. As Napster shut down — or rather was forced to shut down — someone created another file-sharing tool called BitTorrent that is even more difficult to monitor. Just about everything that I use on the Net originated in this decade.

The last 10 years also saw the death of audio as well as videocassettes; CDs replaced the floppy disk and iPod the Walkman. We have sleek flat-screen monitors in place of those ugly, fat things that occupied half our desks. We don't "dial up" but are "always online". These days, even many big boys play the Nintendo Wii.
What else? We print single-sheet airline e-tickets that we buy online and have given up carrying travel guides. We download recipes from the Net and buy music and movies online. We now use digital cameras and smart phones instead of those unwieldy cellphones with antennas sticking out.

When BlackBerry entered the market, we said, "we want, we want". It was a status symbol. When Apple came out with its iPhone we said, "wow". The world was divided into "BlackBerry types" and "iPhone types". And when Apple launched the iPad, we couldn't stop drooling. With these smart phones and tablets we saw the birth of a brand new category called "Apps" (for applications). Every now and then we go to the Net and check out the latest apps; we ask fellow smart phone owners about their apps.

And then Amazon came out with Kindle, a portable e-book reader. So did Sony and Barnes and Noble, among others; even an Indian company came out with its version called Pi.

Initially, we said, who would read books on a screen? This Christmas, Kindle is "the most wished-for and the most gifted item" on Amazon.

I cannot predict what will happen in a year from now, or what will be the top-selling gadget next Christmas. But when I look back, I am just amazed at the pace of change.

In mid-90s, when this newspaper was launched, the total capacity of its main computer was, if I recall, was some 10 gigabytes — that's 10GB.

The equipment occupied many shelves of a small room. Today, the tiny pendrive in my bag can store 32 gigs and weighs less than two grams.


Who can tell what will happen next year.

Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at








Paul McCartney, former Beatle, has asked India to declare January 12 as Vegetarian Day in India. It was the day PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), a group better known for getting attractive people to pose with little or no clothes for animal rights (how fewer clothes mean more rights remains a mystery) was founded in India. McCartney has spoken about India's ahimsa while urging for a vegetarian day.


But while India is famous for its, ahem, ahimsa, it is also well known for its chicken tikka and mutton biryani, and shorshe ilish.


A false notion worldwide is that most Indians are vegetarians, a belief strengthened by the staunchly vegetarian Mahatma Gandhi.


A country that decades ago believed that the only reason the Englishman ruled us was because he was a meat-eater might not be too ready yet to give up flesh on the table.


Also, do these 'special days' actually work? India has a Diabetes Day, and at last count, the number of diabetic patients had gone up, not down. A vegetarian day might just see more kababs on the table rather than less.







Mired in scams, the Congress-led UPA-2 is looking for ways to retrieve lost ground and regain part of its battered credibility.


As a part of this fire-fighting process, the government plans to bring in an ordinance against corruption, incorporating many of the provisions contained in the long-pending Lok Pal bill. It is clear that this is a political gesture more than anything else.


It is not necessary for the government to issue an ordinance. It can wait till the Budget session of Parliament at the end of February and enact a firm law.


While parties in power can be forgiven for indulging in politically cheap tricks, they should not forget that people are not willing to be hoodwinked by theatrical gestures. If the government means business, there are plenty of penal laws that could be effectively used to convict and punish ministers and top bureaucrats. This is not to deny that there is scope for strengthening existing anti-corruption laws and that much more stringent ones need to be enacted.


This should, however, be done through wider political consultation rather than as a peremptory executive act. The proposed ordinance appears to be more in the nature of garnering a few brownie points. The seriousness of intent is compromised when a beleaguered government resorts to provisions like issuing an ordinance.


There are many things that political parties and leaders can do to fight corruption. One of them could be the removal of discretionary powers of ministers with regard to allotment of land which seems to be at the root of much corruption. Congress president Sonia Gandhi was right in making this suggestion, as well as about the state funding of elections. Of course, these are not original ideas, but they do point to probable solutions.


But there is much more that politicians can do to combat corruption. For example, they can weed out the corrupt individuals from their respective party organisations. Political parties can also make public their sources of income and their election funds. This is not an easy thing to do, but it would be right place to start the anti-corruption campaign in earnest.







The Srikrishna committee report on the issue of Telangana has been unwrapped, and Union home minister P Chidambaram took the easy and correct way out by asking the stakeholders – the political parties of Andhra Pradesh – who attended the all-party meeting on Thursday to read it and come back with their responses for the second all-party meeting towards the end of the month. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) were the conspicuous absentees. Discussion and decision have been deferred.


The expectation that once the Srikrishna committee submits its report, there would be an immediate decision about the formation of Telangana is unreasonable. It is a major decision and it cannot be made in a jiffy. There has to be due deliberation and there are also the political and legislative processes to be gone through. The government has a legitimate reason to take its time over the matter.


The report itself is, however, rather disappointing. It has covered familiar ground all over again, and its only virtue is that it is an updated version of the problem. The details do not radically alter the nature of the issue, which is that of a general sentiment among a larger section of the people of Telangana that they need a state of their own. It cries for a political response. According to experts, facts and figures do not really prove that the Telangana has been discriminated more than any other backward region. But it is a question of social and cultural incompatibility. The report does not touch upon this core issue. The options of carving up the state given in the report are not very helpful either.


The Congress' Fabian tactics can only deepen the political crisis in Andhra Pradesh. The apprehension that formation of Telangana would open the Pandora's box of demand for smaller states may be true, but it is not the catastrophe that it is being made out to be.


The Telangana issue should be sorted out in the broader framework of the idea of smaller states, and this would need a second states reorganisation committee (SRC), which is what the Congress had promised in its 2004 election manifesto. It has turned out to be an empty promise.


It is time for the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to think seriously of this question instead of allowing disenchantment and disgruntlement to degenerate into something worse.

That would mean the Congress and others will have to display political maturity instead of skills of crisis management.








The political sport in Britain today is watching the cracks appearing in our seven-month old coalition government.

The present and last Indian government were also coalitions. The BJP and then the Congress did not win clear majorities in Dilli and cobbled together support by offering ministries, concessions and influence to the minority partners from our multifarious states. Ideology played a very small part in it.


I am trying to think of another absolute divide of principle, but Indian politics being what they are, I can't. In the UK the Tory-Liberal Democrat marriage is yet to succeed or flounder, depending on the accommodativeness of the two families.


In India the CPM withdrew its support tothe Congress-led government on the issue of the Inso-US nuclear deal. It was the only matter of principle affecting an Indian coalition that I can recall. Pacts always boiled down to who was offered which gaadi from which maximum influence or corrupt money could be milked.


India should think of out-sourcing political-corruption expertise. In this British coalition the majority Tory party, especially its right-wing stalwarts pull one way and the minority Liberal Democrats, especially the libertarian wing, pull the other. Their coalition is, apart from supporting capitalism down the line, about principles, promises and their betrayal.


The latest conflict of principle and promise arises from the Tory promise to strengthen the nation's security against terrorism and the Liberal Democrats' promise to stand up for civil liberties. The Lib-Dems promised to get rid of what the UK calls 'control orders' whereby suspected terrorists can be detained, put under virtual house arrest, electronically tagged, restricted from using mobile phones or the Net and confined by curfew.


The orders are issued on evidence from the secret services without any public trial of the suspects. The last Labour government, which imposed them, contended that making the evidence public would expose the identities and methods of the services and their agents and that would seriously compromise the security of the nation.


The Liberal Democrats are now in a bind. They want to demonstrate that, now they are in government, they want to keep their promises and abolish control orders. The Tory Party and the majority of the country want to keep this form of restriction in place. At present control orders apply to only eight people, all suspects of possible Islamic terror.


In case of every other crime in the UK, the evidence against the suspect is produced in open court and a judge, or for most offences a jury, pass a verdict. Control orders are a clear case of principle, politics and security in direct conflict.It is not as though the eight people subject to control orders have been sent to a concentration camp on a whim. The evidence of their involvement in a serious threat to public safety has been assessed in secret by a judge.


I won't take my leave without telling you where I stand. I really dislike terrorists and am very tempted to take the position that my late father Lt Col. Jamshed Dhondy would have taken. He would undoubtedly have said: "Line them all up against a wall and shoot the lot". On the other hand I think the Lib-Dem manifesto position is correct: the citizen's liberty under the rule of law is indivisible and sacrosanct.


Perhaps there ought to be three judges assessing the secret evidence — before lining the bastards up against the wall and shooting them.









When the mind is at sea, wrote Goethe, a new word provides a raft. Sometimes, even when the mind is on firm land, speakers and writers construct rafts. There is the perfectly serviceable 'dialogue', for instance, which implies conversation, discussion, chat, discourse, parley — you get the idea. The 'dia' is the Greek prefix meaning 'through', 'across' or 'between'.


A popular word of the year is civilogue (civil dialogue), one in which there are no insults or personal attacks. Dialogue, by implication, is thus full of insults and personal attacks or why would we need another word? This tells us more about ourselves than any tome written in standard English by social commentators. There is 'nonversation' too, a worthless conversation, where nothing is illuminated or explained. Party chatter, in short.


And then there is 'halfalogue', one side of a conversation as when you hear someone on a mobile phone. If you had to retain the Greek flavour, that should have been 'hemilogue' (as in 'hemisphere'), but new words these days are coined not by literary giants or professional wordsmiths but by fashion magazines, columnists, television newscasters, and we must make allowance for their lack of literacy.


"Television?" thundered CP Scott, the venerable editor of the Manchester Guardian. "No good will come of the device. The word is half Greek and half Latin." He might have said the same about fashion magazines and columnists, even those without the Greek-Latin parentage.


The pace at which new words are entering the language (and leaving it thanks to unimaginative concoctions or poor usage) boggles the mind. The Internet has made 'google' a verb. Manscaping (the artful shaving of a man's body hair) and earworm (a song or tune that repeats over and over inside a person's head) await the recognition afforded by inclusion in dictionaries.


Buzzwords are like Page 3 models — admired, commented upon and then forgotten. They are seldom used in conversation. A recent word that swam into our consciousness was 'bridezilla' (a bride-to-be who, while planning her wedding, becomes exceptionally selfish, greedy, and obnoxious), a combination of bride and Godzilla, the mutant dinosaur in Hollywood films who destroyed everything in its path. You don't hear it today.


The Oxford English Dictionary has made its own stab at social commentary by including words like 'defriend' (others have 'unfriend'), a major activity in the age of Facebook which involves knocking people off your 'friends' list. Another popular word, 'chillax', favoured by Bollywood heroines wanting to appear young and with it, has also been sanctified thus. No one above the age of 20 ought to use these words.


In the 1980s, Douglas Adams wrote The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff, using words (he merely took them off signposts at various places) for common experiences, feelings, situations for which no words existed in the language. But even he missed out on the following:


The act of checking the pocket for keys (a word that is in vogue now, 'furgling' was rejected by the dictionary like another word, 'wurfing' — checking the Internet while at work).


The confusion caused by the lights changing just after you have pulled out a particularly stubborn piece of goo from your nose at a traffic signal


The decision to hide behind a pillar at a party a split second after the person you don't want to meet has identified you.


The movement of the right hand that changes from a wave to a brushing back of the hair when you realise the person you were waving to was not who you thought it was.


The desperate search for your mobile phone when someone else's rings.


The habit of writing the name of the murderer on the first page of an Agatha Christie novel.


Americans might take pride in 'refudiate' in the mistaken belief that it is a Sarah Palin original and the Brits may love the sound of 'Ednostic' (sharing Ed Milliband's views without being persuaded he can win an election), but the story of India in 2010 is told by words that already exist: scam, commonwealth, nexus and so on.


Yet there are some meanings in search of appropriate words. For example, the profession of going to television studios offering expert views on subjects from corruption to child marriage to Sreesanth's bowling to the prime minister's favourite song in the shower. 'Televangelism' is already taken, 'telexhibitionism' is a mouthful. Perhaps we need a panel discussion to vote on it.


Meanwhile, those who want to send me instant messages with their suggestions, please desist. I have a dumbphone which can only be used for making telephone calls. Now there's a word of the year which has promise.









Often we shed tears about the plight of numerous water bodies in the State. It is common refrain that these are shrinking. There are studies that have predicted the doom of the Dal Lake, the showpiece of the Summer Capital. The judiciary has intervened to rescue it. Sections in the administration too are keen to prevent its erosion. A lot of money has been pumped in to strip it of its undesirable possessions so that it remains clean. Likewise the Wullar Lake, believed to be Asia's biggest fresh water lake, has been in the grip of environmental threats for long. A vast part of its catchment area is said to have been converted into agriculture land. It is exposed to pollution, animal wastes and wild growth. This is the condition of two of our best-known shining jewels. It is anybody's guess that the situation in the case of others can't be better. Researches have found that several species of fish in these lakes have vanished over decades. In some instances they have comparisons also between their specific numbers in the past and now. It can't be denied that because of a combination of unexpected circumstances we have ignored our extraordinary natural watery assets. There is a will to restore them to their pristine glory or at least save them from further degradation. We have not been able to devise an effective remedy as yet. In addition there are wetlands and traditional village ponds that have disappeared or threaten to fade. We are consuming them because we need space to set up our settlements. As a consequence we are not only depriving ourselves of some relief to our eyes from the concrete structures all around. We are scaring away migratory birds too. 

Only recently we have highlighted in these columns how the Gharana wetland in R.S. Pura tehsil is dying a slow death. The marshlands elsewhere too, especially in Kathua district, have dwindled. What we forget is that, among other things, a fall-out of waning water sources is that a heavy toll is taken of our aquatic life --- fish in particular. There is yet another aspect to which we seem to have not paid enough attention so far. We have not checked extraction of stones and sand along several of our streams --- big and small. We can find the machines roaring near the flow of water. Have we paused for a while to ponder how an activity like this disturbs marine life? We have had plenty of fish on both sides of the Pir Panjal. Thousands of people depend upon it for their economic survival. There are a few areas which are known as angler's paradise. All this is apart from our marked emphasis on planned trout farming. 

Why should the fish that likes to thrive in natural environment suffer? The Tawi in this city and the Jhelum in the Valley are believed to be the worst hit on account of toxic pollutants. With this background in view it is to be welcomed that the Environment Committee of the Assembly has spared a thought in this regard. It has asked fisheries and geology and mining departments to regulate extraction activities to ensure that aquatic life in rivers and streams is not disturbed. It is a sound advice.







Three incidents reported so far in the New Year prove that it has become a habit for us to lose tempers. With or without provocation we are prepared to indulge in violence. It is a coincidence that one of the happenings has been triggered by the snapping of an electricity wire in a village near Pouni Chak under the Domana police station in this district. There was a clash between two groups of people --- one of them playing cricket and the other which felt aggrieved because of the power disconnection. Six of them have suffered injuries including a sub-inspector of the Special Operations Group (SOG) who was on leave and was playing cricket. The matter has not ended here. The rivals have gone on filing first information reports (FIRs) against each other. Who has gained from such avoidable show of misplaced bravado? In the other occurrence a contractor belonging to Sungal village in Akhnoor tehsil was allegedly shot through the jaw. His body along with his licensed 12-bore gun was found by the side of his motorcycle a few kilometres from his native place. Mystery surrounds the entire event. The police is carrying out probe from various angles. Prima facie, nevertheless, it is obvious that somebody's loss of patience, ironically the victim not excluded, has paved the way for the tragedy. Yet another episode has the Iqbal Chowk in Gujjar Nagar in this city as its theatre. In fact, it has two phases. First, a police constable demanded lift from a three-wheeler on the completion of his duty. Then, on being empathically told no by a revenue department official, he opened fire creating panic. It is said that the uniformed man panicked on seeing a crowd that gathered against him. It has also been claimed that that the gunshot had gone off by accident. By no yardstick can it be justified. A person who is supposed to enforce discipline has indulged in gross indiscipline all through. It is to be noted that all these instances have taken place in this district which is more under media and public flare than any other part of the province. It is possible that elsewhere too the people are revelling in such misadventures. 

What can't be denied is that there is a streak of violence in all of us as human beings. We need to control it. Otherwise the danger is that it will turn into war or in madness. There is an ancient proverb that "the man who strikes first admits that his ideas have given out." Can the retaliatory strike by justified? In the land of Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi the answer can only be in the negative: "Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat; for it is momentary." Being the lesser mortals many of us don't realise it easily. As a result the question how one human being can kill another human being is irrelevant in a world in which occasionally we witness patricide as well. In our minds we work out the plans to get rid of our adversaries not by the force of our arguments but by thrashing or eliminating them. Since the mind rules the body we should rule it: it can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.









The ghost of Bofors could not have returned more unexpectedly and at a more inauspicious time for Sonia Gandhi and her son. Even had it not returned to make more trouble for the Gandhis there was trouble already in the form of whispers on Delhi's political grapevine about the family's waning charisma and the seeming inability of the Congress Party's heir apparent to show that he has the mettle and the grit to be a real leader. The whisperers talk of how absent he has been since the dismal results from Bihar and how his favorite ministers in Dr. Manmohan Singh's cabinet have been behaving like loose canons. People ask why Digvijay Singh should be allowed to continue his association with a book tour for a book that charges the RSS with organizing the attack on Mumbai. The book '26/11: RSS ki saazish' is written by a Muslim journalist who could win an award for being a spectacularly inventive conspiracy theorist. His theory is that Zionists in alliance with the CIA and the RSS organized the attack on Mumbai in November 2008 so that it would give them an excuse to invade more Muslim countries.

It is a ludicrous theory and the book would have been ignored if it did not have the full support of Digvijay Singh. He has gone out of his way to tour with the author but there seems to be nobody there to stop him even though the Congress Party and the Home Minister are fully aware that the attack on Mumbai was done by Pakistani terrorists who had clear links to the ISI. So when a senior Congress leader spends his time supporting a book that absolves Pakistan from all blame it causes puzzlement and concern. 

In foggy, wintry Delhi the corridors of power buzz with their own conspiracy theories about why he is not being stopped and the theory that pervades over the others is that this is simply because he is Rahul Gandhi's friend, philosopher and guide. There are other ministers who defy the Prime Minister every chance they get and again the theory is that this is because they take their orders from 'the top'. Nobody can verify the truth of any of these theories or rumours because Rahul, like his Mother, remain regally aloof from ordinary members of the Congress Party who have been considerably disheartened by the Bihar results and the general stink of corruption that hangs over the Government.

Into this atmosphere of despondency and gloom has reappeared the Bofors ghost and this time not at the behest of the opposition parties but as a result of an income tax appellate tribunal that has demanded that Win Chadha's son pay taxes on the illicit commissions his father made from Bofors. According to the tribunal Chadha made Rs 52 crores in kickbacks and another Rs 9 crores were made by Sonia Gandhi's ex-best friend, Ottavio Quattrocchi.

The tribunal has traced the shady companies through which the money passed and names like AE Services and Colbar have resurfaced. Arun Shourie who, as editor of the Indian Express in the eighties, conducted his own investigation into the Bofors deal pointed out last week that both the Express and The Hindu came up with these names long ago and if the CBI (Central Bureau of Intelligence) had wanted to catch anyone they could easily have. Instead, on instructions from 'the top' the CBI pronounced that there was no case against Quattrocchi (Chadha is dead) and as a result of this clean chit given in court Quatrrochi was able to get his money. One of the last acts of Dr. Manmohan Singh's first government was to unfreeze bank accounts in London in which some of the alleged bribe money was stashed.

Quatrrocchi's son, Massimo, when questioned about this by a television channel retorted arrogantly last week that he was only fourteen years old when the Bofors scandal burst upon Rajiv Gandhi's Government so he is not answerable. He added that the Bofors matter was settled long ago in the courts and should not even be talked about now but the problem is that it continues to be talked about because it was the first time that a corruption scandal involved an Indian Prime Minister's own family. No matter how much Congress Party spokesmen deny the Gandhi family's association with the Quattrocchis everyone in Delhi knows how close the friendship was. They went on holidays together, the Quattrocchis had unlimited access to the Prime Minister's house and there would have been no reason for Ottavio Quattrocchi to be paid a bribe by Bofors if he had not been able to render services on account of his close friendship with the Gandhi family. 

There are those who assert that in view of the huge sums involved in more recent scandals Bofors seems almost insignificant with its Rs 64 crores that were allegedly taken in bribes. But, the importance of Bofors remains because instead of a serious investigation into where the money went the investigative agencies of the Government of India went out of their way to blur the details and trivialize the investigation. So for instance, according to Arun Shourie, the reason why Quattrocchi could not be extradited from Argentina, where he was detained as a result of an Interpol notice, was allegedly because Indian officials could not find a Spanish translator. 

The truth is that nobody ever seriously tried to bring closure to the Bofors scandal which is why its ghost continues to haunt the Gandhi family. The truth is that because the government's investigative agencies were deliberately subverted for political purposes they continue to fail in bringing crooks to book. This has led to the unfortunate conviction in the minds of ordinary Indians that all politicians are corrupt and because of this there will never be any reduction in levels of corruption in public life. In the spate of corruption scandals that we saw in the last years of 2010 the Gandhi family remained unscathed enough for Sonia Gandhi to talk loftily of our 'shrinking moral universe'. She must regret those fine words now that the ghost of Bofors is back to haunt her. She may have forgotten that the Quattrocchis were once her closest friends in Delhi but nobody else has.








The New Year starts with the usual sermons but things have changed and as I have said before political parties get into trouble when they think they are invincible and look at the events over the past six months as the CWG10 mess unfolded before us and the 2G scam surfaced along with the soap opera of the DMK family and sadly the UPA2 show little inclination of dealing with the situation on a 'emergency' basis and clearly the political think tank in the UPA and the Congress while aware of the situation but are not able to deal with the situation and in these situations events overtake decisions and the party in power is always the loser! Political punches and firing missiles at each other are a part of politics but we are treading on dangerous ground as the Congress and the BJP trade charges along with the Regional parties and in the chaos of governance everyone in all three wings of governance will settle scores with each other and with a free media [majority] and we see scam after scam surfacing as leaks and spills will continue and anyone in authority today or over a period of time will be exposed and only those with minimal assets [very few] will escape attention. The reality is that there are no innocents in the political arena and with zero accountability in political collections no ordinance or law is going to resolve the issue of corruption and it is a matter of common sense that political donations to political parties always go to the top and never to the middle or the bottom and in Coalition politics with a diffused power base the number of 'collection' points multiply and we see this in the 2G scam and this complicates the issue. We see concentration of wealth [illegal] in several spheres and this wealth challenges political authority as we see in several States and is leading to total political chaos. Political parties who have used these sources for party funds small or big cannot act and this is a virus which is destroying our institutions and our credibility.

The 2G scam is a Octopus with a hundred tentacles and no one can predict when a issue will suddenly erupt and emergency issues cannot be dealt with smart legal arguments or diversionary tactics and examining the telecom policy from 2001-2007 will only prove that both the NDA and the UPA created conditions to raise resources and Minister's opposed to graft and corruption were swiftly removed but all this is not going to justify the delay or the corruption involved in the 2G scam! Political action is necessary and all the licenses issued by A Raja should be cancelled if the Government is serious about the issue. Kapil Sibal is the right choice for the Ministry and combines good legal acumen with integrity and ability but the political direction has to come from the 'top' and this issue cannot be dealt with in a routine manner and in hard political terms the Congress have to think of life beyond the DMK. There are hundreds and thousands of crores involved and A Raja and his associates could not have been the only individuals to benefit. Lack of effective action will mould public opinion and after all elections are won and lost by public perception and not by smart legal arguments and legal verdicts which can take a few decades to settle. 

We have scam after scam and more will surface in a system based on political patronage and for the first time there is a feeling that the majority of the media cannot be muzzled and the media initiating action and discussion on the media involvement in the Niira Radia tapes have shown that 'facts' cannot be suppressed and look at the disclosures coming from all directions. The former CJI KG Balakrishna is under a cloud first with the issue of A Raja and now with the assets of his brother and his son in law and despite the statements of the Law Minister few would be sorry to see him resign as the Chairman of the NHRC. The Judiciary will come under increased scrutiny and is the ex CJI the only Judge of the Supreme Court or of the High Court whose relations have benefited during their tenure in office? 

I still feel that a Supreme Court supervised probe is the best way to deal with the situation but the demand for a JPC will intensify with the ITAT order which came a day before the Court hearing on the 25 year old Bofor gun issue and while the facts will take time to study the opposition have a major weapon to attack the fairness of the CBI and insist on the formation of the JPC. We are looking at a chaotic situation and are we heading for a mid term poll? We have several elections due this year and as things stand the Congress will do well in alliance with the TMC [major partner] in West Bengal, should win Assam and Kerala and will have the edge in Punjab but can lose ground in UP where Mayawati and the BSP look to improve upon their last performance and in Tamil Nadu as I have said earlier you need the services of an eminent astrologer to predict not only the results but the exact nature of alliances. The Congress will be making a mistake by playing the tit for tat game with the BJP and the others as they have little to lose. The 2G scam can destroy the Government and those in governance and the party aware of all the details have to act before the media as this issue will not go away and events will overtake decisions on a daily basis.








True, the revelation made by the former Hurriyat chief, Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat, in a recent seminar is not something unknown. Knowledgeable circles knew without an iota of doubt that the tentacles of ISI's conspiracy of Kashmir militancy were rooted deep and wide. That the militants liquidated many precious lives in Kashmir including those of the father of Mirwaiz and of Bilal Lone, is what these leaders knew but preferred not to stir the hornet's nest.

In what context did Abdul Ghani Bhat disclose the open secret is not important? Its importance lies in the fact that the responsible Hurriyat leader realizes that masses have been fed on false propaganda and rumours for two decades in the past and all to their detriment. 

There are still many diehard sympathizers of militancy in Kashmir who would wish that what Prof. Bhat said were not true. But understandably, the truth that has been said is irrefutable. There could be, and surely will be, many more surprises for the gullible folks in Kashmir about the dimensional thrusts of anti-Kashmiri propaganda that oiled the engines of militancy for lasts two decades. If the slayer and the slain both find honourable graves in martyrs' graveyard, then it is the living not the dead who must come out with a clear and convincing definition of a martyr and an assassin. What punishment does sharia stipulate for an assassin who has shed the blood of an innocent Musulman is what a faithful would want to know?
Responding to unsubstantiated rumours is a bane of Kashmirian mindset. In a phenomenon of make-believe euphoria, usually reason and rationality becomes the casualty. Kashmir history has numerous examples of the sort.

The families affected did not ask for a probe into the killing of the elders. They knew there were skeletons in the cupboard of an organization or party whose leadership they held in their hands. In other words, they owned the subterfuge forged elsewhere but impacting their family elders. How then can they claim the movement which they are heading to be indigenous and not sponsored one?

From this reality there shoots out an embarrassing corollary. If these leaders are so insensitive to the life and works of their distinguished elders, then how far would they be sincere to the masses they are leading? Evidently, they shall have to do stupendous homework to re-establish their credentials as honest public leaders with illustrious dynastic background.

The quintessential issue is why did the militants gun them down when they were not only their co-religionists but also outstanding social and political figures commanding respect in wide sections of Kashmiris? Any dispassionate analysis will establish a few basic facts. Firstly, those who conspired of Kashmir armed insurgency did not make any distinction of their would-be victims on the basis of religion; they were driven by political motivation. By the same token, the gunning down of a couple of hundred of Pandits in 1990, too, was essentially politically motivated and not undertaken as exclusive religious crusade. 

Secondly, what was the political motivation and to whose interests? Evidently, it was to destroy the pro-India support structure in Kashmir, and to the interests of the sponsors of insurgency, viz. our neighbour to our west. The assassinated leaders to whom Prof. Bhat alluded were not pro-India but pro-Jammu and Kashmir. By removing them from political stage, the sponsors of armed insurgency in Kashmir clearly indicated that their political motivation was not for Kashmir. Therefore the present movement, often claimed by the Hurriyatis and other separatists as pro-Kashmir freedom movement is in fact not so. Its valley-based leadership is dancing to the tune of somebody away from the valley. These are harsh inferences from one cannot turn one's head away. 
Thirdly, extirpation of the entire minority community, as we said, too, was politically motivated. The presence of a small religious minority in the valley led to the credence of Indian secular arrangement worldwide. This was gall to the sponsor of Kashmir insurgency. They planned to destroy the arrangement and hence hitting India below the belt; they succeeded in this plan by killing one and scaring a hundred formula.

The time has come for the people in general to understand who wants to enslave them and to what purpose, when obviously, it is not the religion that is the concern of the sponsors of armed insurgency in Kashmir. While external sponsors contrived the decimation of religious leadership in the valley, Indian security forces stand guard to their life and limbs against the atrocities and threats of their own co-religionists. Let us remember that the tallest among the separatists in Baluchistan of Pakistan, namely Nawwab Bughti was struck down in his home by Pakistani security forces with a guided missile. It was a political murder and had nothing to do with religion.

A broad look at the Asian continent will show that India is the lone heterogeneous state whose philosophy of secular democracy is both practically and theoretically functional. The people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir are among its beneficiaries. This is no mean an achievement, and we have seen India has the will and power to protect and perpetuate it. 

The truth about the conspiracy of decimation of Kashmiri nation is known to all well meaning Kashmiris, but now as it comes from the horse's mouth, we need to make deep introspection and ask ourselves the question "Where are we headed to?"




******************************************************************************************THE TRIBUNE





UNION Home Minister P. Chidambaram's appeal to all political parties in Andhra Pradesh to study and debate the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee report on the current situation in the state "with an open mind" is apt. The report, which was released by the Centre on Thursday after a meeting between Mr Chidambaram and recognised parties in the state, has given six options for the Centre to examine. According to the committee, the last three options are feasible and worthy of consideration. These are: bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Seemandhra and Telangana (with separate state capitals) and making Hyderabad a Union Territory; bifurcation of Seemandhra and Telangana with Hyderabad as Telangana capital and a new place for Seemandhra capital; and a united state providing constitutional measures for socio-economic and political development of the state and formation of a Telangana Regional Council.


Significantly, though the committee has given six options together with explanations in the report, it is of the unanimous view that it would not be a "practical approach" to maintain status quo in respect of the current situation in Andhra Pradesh. And this enjoins a heavy responsibility on all the recognised political parties of the state to debate the Srikrishna report thoroughly and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. Today, the opinion is sharply divided between a separate state for Telangana and a unified Andhra Pradesh. There are also differing views over Hyderabad's future in the new political configuration. All these issues can be resolved amicably and peacefully if the leaders of various parties rise above partisan politics and lend a helping hand to the Centre in arriving at a mutually acceptable resolution of the problem.


In a democracy, there is bound to be difference of opinion among various parties. However, democracy also emphasises the need for debate, dialogue and discussion among all the stakeholders for peaceful resolution of any given problem. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the Telugu Desam Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (all of which boycotted Mr Chidambaram's meeting on Thursday) would do well to introspect and attend the next meeting to be convened shortly. The Centre has said that it will go by the collective wisdom of the political parties in resolving the problem and it is with this intention that it had appointed the Srikrishna Committee. The five-member panel has done a laborious job. It has come out with a comprehensive report after having toured the entire state and interacted with all sections of society. Since an issue like statehood is a highly emotive one, nothing should be done that would arouse passions and foment violence and disharmony. 









FOOD inflation shot up to 18.32 per cent in the week ended December 25 from 14.44 per cent, adding to the common man's woes and the UPA government's political worries, and triggering speculation about an interest rate hike on January 25 when the RBI meets to review the monetary policy. This belies the official claims of inflation moderating in the second half of the year and lends weight to former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's candid admission on Wednesday that "the government has not grasped the factors contributing to high prices" and "does not seem to have all the tools to control price rise".


The latest spurt in price rise comes from onions, meat, eggs and fish getting costlier. The Pakistani curbs on onion exports through trucks have erased hopes of early relief. The protein-rich food items are becoming expensive due to increased consumption by the prospering and bulging middle class. Globally, food prices in December crossed the levels that had sparked riots in Haiti and Egypt in 2008. This is because of an oil price hike, excessive heat hitting South American crops, Russia banning wheat exports and floods crimping Australian raw sugar output. Inflation in Eurozone is at a two-year high.


Countries respond to price rise by tightening money supply. China has raised interest rates twice in the recent past. The IMF too has issued the same advice to India in its annual advisory. The RBI may do so at its January 25 meeting despite a prevailing cash crunch in the system. Higher interest rates raise the cost of capital for industries and individuals, hurting production and spending, and slowing growth. India has done little in recent years to raise farm productivity and improve the supply chain for perishable agricultural produce. A lot of cereals, fruits and vegetables go waste for want of processing facilities and scientific storage. There is no shortage of ideas. Political will is required to implement them. Industrial growth alone cannot make India an economic superpower if agriculture, which supports 60 per cent of the population, keeps languishing. 
















ON Wednesday parents and their children in Chandigarh were chillingly exposed to just how vulnerable they are. A passerby in Mohali chanced upon the strangulated body of five-year-old Khushpreet, still in school uniform, who had been kidnapped 16 days earlier from near his house in the Union Territory's Burail village. The gruesome discovery sparked off a violent wave of protest in and around Burail village, which was controlled with great difficulty by the police.


The tragic ending to a kidnapping, violent public protests and teargassing by the police are activities not known to be associated with the country's smallest union territory that boasts of being the first planned city and having the country's third highest literacy rate. But with Chandigarh's rising crime graph, the city seems to have been rendered insecure and violent. In allowing the situation to come to such a pass, the UT police, in particular, and the UT Administration, in general, must squarely take the blame. From the very first day, the UT police was at its incompetent worst. First, the Station House Officer of the concerned police station did not immediately inform his seniors about the kidnapping. Next, the police erased whatever telephonic evidence they had of the conversation between the kidnappers and Khushpreet's family members. And to top it all, despite laying a trap, a team of 16 policemen failed to detect and intercept two motorcycle-borne kidnappers who disappeared after collecting Rs 4 lakh in ransom. All through this period the UT Police remained reluctant to set its own house in order. Eventually, it was only after Khushpreet's parents met senior police officers did they, only a day before the body was found, decide to take action which both predictably and routinely involved transferring out two police inspectors and ordering a departmental inquiry.


Both the inertia ridden UT Administration and the UT Police must accept the blame, account for their actions and fix responsibility. The police must introspect on what went wrong and what they need to do to ensure that there is no repeat of such a tragedy. Similarly, the UT Administration must be both sensitive and pro-actively responsive to the needs and requirements of a disproportionately small and a not so well equipped police force entrusted with maintaining law and order of a demographically ever growing union territory. 









RATHER belatedly the media has discovered that in a "recent judgment" a two-member bench of the Supreme Court has declared that the apex court's 1976 judgment upholding the suspension of fundamental rights for the duration of the Emergency (June 1975-March 1977) was "erroneous". This admission ought to have come much, much earlier, but let that pass. Incidentally, Justice Aftab Ahmed and Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly made their welcome pronouncement while reviewing and partially reversing an earlier verdict.


On May 5, 2009, the court had confirmed the death sentence passed on a man convicted of murdering four members of a family in 1992. Commuting this sentence to life imprisonment, Justice Ganguly, who wrote the unanimous judgment, argued that the instances of "this court's judgment violating the human rights of the citizens may be extremely rare but it cannot be said that such a situation can never happen." In this context he added: "We can remind ourselves of the majority decision of the Constitution bench of this court (in the Emergency case) … There is no doubt that the majority judgment violated the fundamental rights of a large number of people in this country".


Understandably, the two Justices have expressed themselves with judicial restraint. But the story of the Supreme Court's conduct during the Emergency is chilling. Like the other institutions expected to underpin democracy, the highest judiciary also caved in. The five-member Constitution bench's decision, by a majority four to one, to uphold the virtual elimination of fundamental rights for the duration was nothing short of horrendous.


Chief Justice A. N. Ray had presided over the bench. His elevation was highly controversial because to appoint him as CJI, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had superseded three of his senior colleagues amidst countrywide protests. This had happened in 1973 immediately after the apex court's epoch-making judgment — by a majority of seven to six — ruling that Parliament could amend any part of the Constitution but could not alter its "basic structure". Interestingly, this judgment was a tangled skein of conflicting opinions. So much so that the seven judges who prevailed in relation to an issue were not exactly the same that upheld or rejected another contention. Broadly, the picture was that six judges, headed by the then chief justice, S. M. Sikri, and including the three that were later superseded, were against the government's contention while the remaining six, of whom Ray was the most senior, were wholly for the government. Justice H. R. Khanna provided the balance, agreeing with the first set on some points and with the second on others.


Justice Khanna was still on the bench when three years later the apex court heard arguments on the legality of the suspension of fundamental rights under the Emergency proclamation. From the word go it was clear that all the judges except Khanna were inclined to uphold the government's view. At one stage, the dissenting judge asked Attorney-General Niren Dey, whether there was a remedy if a policeman told a citizen that he was going to be shot for no rhyme or reason. Dey replied: "My conscience revolts, My Lords, but under the law there is no remedy." There was eerie silence in the court's chamber.


It is also noteworthy that when the time came for CJI Ray to retire, Justice Khanna was the most senior of the possible successors. Needless to add that he was passed over and Justice M. H. Beg, a clone of Ray, appointed CJI. Justice Khanna resigned, of course. The crowning irony is that his dissenting judgment of 1973 is today the law of the land. For, the 44th Constitution amendment has made sure that any future declaration of the Emergency cannot interfere with fundamental rights to life and liberty under Articles 20 and 21.


By a curious coincidence, the Emergency is in the news again for another reason that is essentially trivial. To celebrate its 125th anniversary, the AICC published a volume on the Indian National Congress's contribution to the making of the Indian nation. A mild criticism of Sanjay Gandhi about the "authoritarian" way in which he enforced such policies as family planning and slum clearance almost instantly touched off a cacophony that often made no sense. Senior BJP leader and former Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani has now given a totally different twist to the discussion. Since copies of the AICC publication are not yet available, one has to take Mr. Advani's word that it has devoted only two paragraphs to the Emergency. His grouse is that the second paragraph on the subject is "a ridiculous attempt to make Sanjay Gandhi a scapegoat" for all the misdeeds such as "mass arrests, suspension of fundamental rights, etc", that the country had to suffer. For these he lays the blame squarely on Indira Gandhi.


This is not all. Mr Advani compares the Emergency era in India to the Nazi rule in Germany. This surely is ridiculous, to borrow the expression from him. Ugly though the Emergency undoubtedly was, during it Delhi wasn't like Berlin under Hitler, Moscow under Stalin, Beijing under Mao or Islamabad under Zia.


Two factors seem to have affected the BJP leader's judgment. First, the Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh's overblown rhetoric against the Sangh Parivar describing RSS leaders as "Nazis"; and, secondly, that while the Gandhi dynasty controls the Congress and rules the country, there are at least two Gandhis in the BJP ranks, too.


Tragically, we Indians are disinterested in history, and when in need of interpreting history we tend to do so in a partisan or palpably esoteric manner. Any dispassionate person can discern that over the last 35 years the perspective on the Emergency has undergone a major change, regardless of the fact that more than half the Indians were born after that hammer-blow. They know little about the Emergency and care even less. Remarkably, an ever-increasing proportion of even those who used to hold Indira Gandhi alone responsible for what went wrong now accept that if she sinned, politically speaking, she was also being sinned against. Some are doubtless implacably hostile to her. However, premier sociologist Andre Beitelle, eminent historian Bipan Chandra and prominent scholar Ramchandra Guha are agreed that the Emergency was "scripted jointly by Indira and J.P.", as Jayaprakash Narayan was popularly known. According to Professor Beteille, the "anarchy" that J.P. promoted and the "abuse of power" by Indira and her younger son, Sanjay, were "but two sides of the same coin". 








THERE'S no telling when the evening of life could choose to descend upon a human being. It comes unsuspectingly, without much ado, and entirely inevitably.


For some, it begins when they start believing that they're past their prime, even when they're not. For others it comes only when it's almost time to go; when they've actually arrived at the departure lounge, as one former officer puts it.


Indeed, the evening of life is as much a state of mind as it is a state of being. There are those who never seem to retire even years after they have actually done so. They are never morose, come what may. They choose to whistle their way through life, and continue to do so even when it is time for the curtain to come down. When it is finally time for them to go, they do so in a blaze of glory. A glow of goodwill and warmth accompanies them.


An 85-year-old lady celebrated her birthday recently with much pomp and show. Her grandchildren around her, she looked resplendent, and couldn't stop smiling.


When asked about the favourite moment of her life, she replied nonchalantly, "This very one! I have always lived in the present and enjoyed each moment to the fullest. "


Indeed, those who look upon life's problems less seriously seem to be the ones who avoid most of its bumps. One retired government officer is much like an entrepreneur, who discovers himself anew every day. He writes, he lectures, he travels and he holds people enthralled with tales old and new. He has an office of his own and is visited by more friends than most serving officers even today.


The general bonhomie and loud guffaws that are an integral part of his office- environment are clearly a reflection of his own glowing personality. As he regales visitors with anecdote after anecdote from his life, he spreads cheer all around.


Another retiree has actually taken to professional singing after hanging up his official boots. He sings at friends' parties and even sings commercially, at other events. He says that he's enjoying life much more than he ever did as a serving officer. His family is always around to hear him croon, and the loud cheers that the crowd unfailingly gives him each time are clearly music to his own ears. The glow on his face and the smile on his lips as he performs make one wonder whether he shouldn't have been a singer all his life. There's clearly much to be said about the sheer pizazz that he possesses as he breezes his way through life now.


One thing's certain. The evening of life has the potential to be as joyous as any other phase of life. What helps make it so is a smile on the lips and a song in the heart. 







There are sound economic reasons for keeping Andhra Pradesh united, reports B. N. Srikrishna committee. However, the inevitability of political unrest and rising sentiment in favour of Telangana rule out the status quo.

MAINTAINING the status quo implies treating the issue as basically a law and order/public order challenge to be handled by the state government, not requiring any major intervention by the Union Government. Such an approach is based on the history of the last 54 years when the demand for a separate state of Telangana was dealt with mainly in a political manner by accommodating different interest groups in the government and the party structure.

All figures including Hyderabad


At the same time, the emotional appeal of "Telugu Pride" was invoked to keep separatist sentiments in check with the result that the demand for Telangana subsided but did not entirely disappear. It resurfaced in the post -2000 period with the rationale virtually being the same as in the earlier movements for Telangana.


Above all, there were the sentimental and emotional reasons and attachment to a long held desire for a separate state of Telangana. The Committee did not find any real evidence of any major neglect by the state government in matters of overall economic development. However, there are some continuing concerns regarding public employment, education, and water and irrigation.


Bifurcation of the State into Seemandhra and Telangana

(Hyderabad as Union Territory)

This option underscores the pivotal position of Hyderabad and its economic significance at all levels -regional, national and international. Hyderabad is now regarded as an engine of growth in view of its position in the global economy as being a hub of information technology and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES).


Besides, it has a thriving real estate industry with strong participation of national players in addition to regional firms. It also has a manufacturing base in the nearby Rangareddy district which has attracted investors from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions as well as from outside.


Over the years, migration has completely changed the demographics of the city and the total number of people from other regions and from outside the state residing in the metropolis is very substantial and estimated to be more than one third of the population of the Greater Hyderabad Metropolitan area.


The situation of Hyderabad can be compared with the metropolis of Brussels in Belgium. In 1968, Belgium had erupted in a series of riots on the question of who had a claim to Brussels city, which is barely inside the northern Flammand region. The only way to settle the issue was to declare that Belgium was a country of two cultures and three regions. It is to be noted that Belgium has a population of about 10 million out of which 6 million in the northern part of the country are Flemish speaking while 4 million, who are mainly concentrated in the south of Belgium, speak French. There is also a small German speaking minority. Belgium is thus constituted as a federation of three language communities -Flemish, French and German.


The capital region of Brussels, therefore, is organised altogether as a separate bilingual capital region with an independent administrative set up and jurisdiction. Andhra Pradesh, however, by and large, has a common culture and was constituted as the first linguistic (Telugu) state.


Bifurcation into Rayala-Telangana & Coastal Andhra

(With Hyderabad an integral part of Rayala-Telangana)

This suggestion was put to the Committee as the second preference by some sections of the people of Rayalaseema region. Their first preference was for a united Andhra. AIMIM also, while strongly advocating the cause of united Andhra Pradesh as being in the best interest of economic growth and welfare of the minority Muslim community, stated that in the event of division of the state it would be in the community?s interest to form a new state combining the regions of Telangana and Rayalaseema. Their argument is based on the demographic composition of Rayalaseema which has over 12% Muslim population as compared to just about 8% in the rest of Telangana (i.e. excluding Hyderabad). The Muslim community in this scenario will get greater political space.


A second rationale for combining the two regions is suggested by the economic analysis of the state which has shown that Rayalaseema is the most backward of the three regions. It is dependent on Telangana for water and irrigation resources and values its access to Hyderabad for employment and education. There is also greater social homogeneity between the two regions. It is for these reasons that given a choice between coastal Andhra and Telangana, the Rayalaseema people may prefer to join Telangana.


Our analysis suggests that primarily taking economic and social parameters into account this would be a viable and sustainable option.


Bifurcation into Seemandhra and Telangana

(With Hyderabad as a separate UT)

This option flows from option (ii) which highlights the characteristics of Hyderabad as a growing global city. The city?s boundaries have recently been revised to extend the municipal limits from the 175 Km2 of the erstwhile MCH to 625 km2 of the current GHMC. The erstwhile HUDA has been replaced by an expanded HMDA, headed by the Chief Minister, with a substantial area of 7073 km2, which is about twice the size of the state of Goa.


Hyderabad may also house the capitals of both Telangana and Seemandhra as in the Chandigarh model with a separate Union Territory administrative set up. Most of the administrative, police, etc. officers will be drawn from the existing state cadres.


Since this would be a reasonably larger area with a population of well over 10 million people, the model could be a mix of Chandigarh and Delhi UTs i.e. it may have its own Legislative Assembly.


As has happened in Chandigarh, over the years its neighbouring towns Mohali, Derabassi, Panchkula and Parwanoo, etc. in Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh have seen remarkable growth and development. Similarly, within this proposed new Union Territory, all the three neighbouring regions (Telangana, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema) will automatically piggyback on the economic engine of Hyderabad.


Creation of Telangana and Seemandhra

(With Hyderabad as the capital of Telangana)


In this option there would be a clear division of Andhra Pradesh into two states - Telangana and Seemandhra and in the interim Hyderabad will continue to house both the capitals till a new capital for Seemandhra is created.


For creation of a new capital, a large investment would be required, provision for which will have to be made both by the Union and the state governments. This option implies accepting the full demands of a large majority of Telangana people for a separate state that will assuage their emotional feelings and sentiments as well as the perceived sense of discrimination and neglect.


As noted in the Chapter on Economic and Equity Analysis, the economic dimension is also not to be lost sight of. The world over, there is a trend towards economic integration with economic blocs consisting of many smaller nations being formed in the interest of enhancing economic opportunities, markets and employment. It is normally believed that formation of smaller states contributes to pre-existing barriers to inter-state and intra-state trade and movement of goods and services. For example, a variety of local entry taxes and cess may impede free trade and enhance cost of business and increase prices of goods and services.


Division of Andhra Pradesh can only be a negative factor which would inhibit the economic growth of the newly formed states. Economically, the land locked region of Telangana may also lose out on access and opportunities to the eastern coastline which has a major port in Vishakhapatnam and many other sea ports. With vast discoveries of oil and gas on the anvil and the resultant likely spurt in economic growth and employment in the coastal region, an integrated economy is likely to benefit the people of both regions optimally rather than through separation by formation of Telangana state.


Unity is in the best interest of all

(But ensure development and political empowerment of Telangana)

The Committee is convinced that the development aspect was of utmost importance for the welfare of all the three regions and could best be addressed through a model that includes deeper and more extensive economic and political decentralisation. The Committee believes that overall it may not be necessary to have a duplication or multiplication of capitals, assemblies, ministries, courts, institutions and administrative infrastructure required by the other options.


The Committee considers that unity is in the best interest of all the three regions of the state as internal partitions would not be conducive to providing sustainable solutions to the issues at hand. In this option, it is proposed to keep the state united and provide constitutional/statutory measures to address the core socio-economic concerns about development of Telangana region. This can be done through the establishment of a statutory and empowered Telangana Regional Council with adequate transfer of funds, functions and functionaries in keeping with the spirit of Gentlemen's Agreement of 1956.









The heart of democracy is individual liberty. In most democracies, and certainly in the three that claim some form of historical or numerical primacy — the United States, the United Kingdom and India — personal freedoms are increasingly under siege as law enforcement agencies seek ever wider and more Draconian powers against citizens. The justification is only one — terrorism. 


In December 2010, the UK police asked for new counter-terrorism stopand-search powers for use even against people not suspected of criminal involvement. An earlier law was struck down in Europe for violating human rights. It was later repealed by the Home Secretary. Still, the Metropolitan force lobbied for its reintroduction, though in a slightly modified form. 


Across the Atlantic, President Obama has (yet another) dilemma on his hands. Faced with new restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees, the President's legal advisors are actually considering a recommendation that would allow him, by executive fiat, to bypass those restrictions, essentially giving him a wide set of powers including the power to transfer detainees to other countries or bring them into the United States for trial. This is a direct carry over from post-9/11 America under Bush and Cheney and their introduction of a quite extraordinary counter-terrorism programme. In The Dark Side, a riveting account of 'how the war on terror turned into a war on American ideals', Jane Mayer shows how "the Bush Administration's extralegal counter-terrorism programme presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history". The English barrister and jurist, Phillipe Sands, says much the same thing in Lawless World, describing how Bush and Blair between them usurped the law and put suspected terrorists in what Sands describes as a "legal black hole". 


 The most insidious aspect of any programme like this is that it cloaks itself in the respectability of law. Binayak Sen was convicted recently not only under the Indian Penal Code but also under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, one of a raft of counter-terrorism laws that invert a fundamental canon of any justice system by assuming guilt unless innocence is proved. 


Terrorism warps our perceptions of right and wrong and makes us accept the unthinkable. In a February 2008 interview on the Law in Action programme on BBC Radio 4, Justice Antonin Scalia of the US Supreme Court, no stranger to egregious assertions, equated torture in detention with 'smacking someone in the face' and maintained that this was okay if it helped you find the hidden bomb about to blow up Los Angeles. 


Terrorists pander to totalitarian regimes. The road to perdition is always paved with claims of necessity. India's latest contribution to this is the NATGRID, a nation-wide intelligence network that our home minister plans to link to Mr Nandan Nilekani's Unique Identity (UID) project, a DNA data bank and nearly 21 other database sets, all to be placed in the hands of intelligence agencies. This Big Brother scenario operates on a single, fatally flawed and thoroughly reprehensible presumption: every one of us is a potential 'terrorist', a threat to the nation. This is a governance of suspicion, a rule of fear. Forget privacy, and forget that it is a fundamental right.

Its invasion is a necessity. 

The error lies in the assumption that individual freedom is the enemy of collective safety. But liberty is not merely personal, though it is primarily that. It describes the state of an entire nation. Our freedoms were not easily gained. "Give me liberty or give me death" is not populist rant. It means this: give me liberty for without it I might as well not live. 


More than death or destruction, acts of terrorism feed a fear of uncertainty. We assuage that fear by surrendering incrementally our freedom. This is a war only terrorists can win. They do not need the physicality of bombs when they can so easily maim our minds. 


The Statue of Liberty in New York's harbour is of Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. In one hand she has the torch we know so well, representing enlightenment and progress. In the other is a tabula ansata, a tablet evoking the law. More than an ideal, the Statue of Liberty represents an essential state of human existence. So does the statute of liberty. We can't afford to lose either. 




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





The brightest star on the Indian economic firmament through the first decade of the 21st century was information technology (IT) software and IT-enabled services (ITeS) or business process outsourcing (BPO) exports. From a mere $2 billion in 1998, these exports touched $49 billion in financial 2010. Historically, IT penetration and absorption has been low in India, in tune with its level of literacy and availability of electricity. Hence the IT sector remained largely export-oriented, IT was something most Indians felt proud about but did not have much use for. Even as Indians helped maintain a lot of the world's computer systems, their own were dated and at times, at the individual level, quite pathetic. But this is likely to change. While software and services exports will continue to shine in India's export performance, a new star will emerge on the horizon of the overall Indian economy. A mega trend in the second decade of the century is likely to be the coming of age of the domestic IT market and as hardware and systems design will dominate hardware manufacturing, it is the domestic software effort and market which will drive this change. For this to happen, Indian business and government have to become more IT-enabled so that domestic demand can become the main driver of the sector's growth. The challenge before policymakers will be how best to foster this change and get the most out of it. While the value created by IT will be important in itself, it will also play a catalytic role in improving efficiencies and productivities across the economy.


In the last five years, software and services exports have grown by a compound annual rate of 22 per cent but this is set to change with Nasscom, the industry body, projecting that in the slowed momentum of the post-financial crisis period, exports in the current year are likely to grow by 13-15 per cent whereas the domestic market will move at a faster clip of 15-17 per cent. The share of the domestic market is currently 28 per cent and will grow if domestic revenue growth continues to outpace export growth by several percentage points over the next few years, as is the general expectation. The two main drivers of domestic demand will be industrial and infrastructure modernisation, and government spending. Telecommunications, insurance and the long-distance-runner banking will continue to lead among industry segments. IT adoption in private enterprises across the board will continue apace, with all major IT integrators offering value packages for small and medium enterprises. But the game-changer can well become the government. Major central government departments and most state governments are now seeking to rapidly e-enable themselves. But the government project that can have an impact far out of proportions to its own budget and take IT adoption in the Indian economy and society to a new level is the unique identification (UID) programme. An identification for all Indians, more and more of whom will own mobile phones which will use applications to offer a host of services to even the semi-literate, can take India's level of development and its domestic IT market to a new level.








At a time when renewed concerns have emerged about power and coal shortage, the intra-governmental debate on the Union environment ministry's "no-go" policy on 203 coal mines appears out of touch with reality. There is no denying that in the interests of environment and the livelihood of people in the affected areas, the government must have a strict and transparent policy. The country's mining industry has not exactly covered itself in glory as far as environmental protection is concerned. Many of the concerns expressed by the Union environment ministry are well taken. Even so, the fact also is that Planning Commission estimates suggest that Rs 40,000 crore worth of investments in electricity, steel and cement are stuck as a result of the unilateral "no-go" policy. This accounts for around 7.5 per cent of India's projected infrastructure investment in the next financial year and over a fourth of the Rs 1,59,000 crore to be invested in the electricity sector alone in 2011-12. Given that these mines account for reserves worth 600 million tonnes, more than India's annual production of 500 million tonnes, it would be impractical not to exploit them at a time when surging demand is likely to keep global coal prices high. India currently imports 50 million tonnes of coal every year to meet the supply gap; by the end of 2012, this is expected to more than double to 120 million tonnes.


Can the twain of "go" and "no go" meet? The Planning Commission has offered several solutions: realign coal blocks so that miners in the current no-go areas get a portion of mineable area or offering the no-go losers relocated mines; ensure stiffer environment mitigation norms and more vigilant monitoring; double the afforestation requirements for coal miners, a creative way to meet the environment ministry's valid concern for India's forest cover. It may be argued that the solution reiterates the obvious: guidelines are already in place, it's the compliance that's the problem. But if the denuded, Mars-like landscape in the coal-mining belt is anything to go by, it is obvious that they are observed more in the breach. So clearly it's time for the stick in the form of a specially created oversight body with powers to impose penalties on transgressors. A considerable amount of new mining is under the private sector aegis, pointing to the need for a stricter monitoring process. But the challenge doesn't lie in setting up such an institutional mechanism; it lies in ensuring that compliance is not reduced to proforma self-certification or hostage to the rentiering of forest and environment ministry officials. In that sense, perhaps the time has come for an independent regulatory agency to formulate environment rules, ensure that they are followed and design penalties for transgressions. The Election Commission has proved a successful regulator of India's vast and unwieldy election process. There is no reason the same structure cannot work in environmental regulation. And, just to be on the safe side, the government can find a retired civil servant to man the office!



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    BUSINESS STANDARD




Whose baby is it really

The film Social Network may be a fictional or realistic account of the creation of Facebook. However, either ways it raises interesting questions — who actually owns an idea? What is the moral obligation of the idea creator to the funder? Is it alright for an idea creator to break social codes to ensure his idea sees the light of day? Is the last-mentioned question a show of poor character or passion? These questions gain in importance as we move from a production economy to an ideas economy where the future of any sector depends on the generation and implementation of new ideas everyday. Chris Anderson in a recent Wired magazine issue writes, "If the community is the university alumni association, the fact that one member has the world's breathtaking idea matters not if it never makes it into the annual newsletter." The meaning of an idea is only realised if its value is implemented. Having an idea is only a start; it then needs a craftsman to give it shape, a good salesman to push it through sceptics and a financier to fund it so that it actually goes out into the real world! Like babies, God's original idea — ideas need both mothers and fathers — mothers to create and fathers to nurture, fund and protect. In that context, as per the film Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg cannot stake single claim to the idea of Facebook.


Chris Anderson also writes, "Innovation has always been a group activity. The myth of the lone genius having a Eureka moment that changes the world is indeed a myth. Most innovations are the result of long hours, building on the inputs of others. Ideas spawn from earlier ideas, bouncing from person to person and being reshaped as they go. If you are comfortable with the language of memes, you could say a healthy meme needs an ecosystem not of a single but a network of brains. That's how ideas bump into other ideas, replicate, mutate and evolve." Mr Anderson rubbishes the traditional theory of ideas owned by individuals — there are no statues to committees — and supports Isaac Newton's thought of "I see the world standing on the shoulders of greats who have come before me".


The Social Network questions are getting raised over and over again in recent times. It's just not a case of compensation — fortune — who makes the money from an idea. It's also a case of fame — who actually should get the credit. The fracas last year between the producers of 3 Idiots and the writer Chetan Bhagat is one for fame. Should he be getting credit only in the rolling titles at the end of the movie or should it be in the opening where the story-writer rightfully believed his place should have been after seeing the movie. Interestingly, read the book and see the movie and there are no right answers on the extent of copying, inspiration or adaptation of the idea. There are arguments on both sides. Those who read the book first tend to believe that the film is a copy; those who saw the movie first think it's only inspired by the book and the credit at the end is good enough! In a manufacturing economy, ideas were few and far between. So, fortune from mass production was a good enough reward for the producer. However, in an ideas economy, ideas are at a premium. So, the creator seeks both fortune and fame — recognition for the idea is as important. And, truly unique ideas tend to reap fortune for a longer period of time and idea creators also seek the emotional satisfaction of recognition. Hence, the law of patents exists to protect and recognise original ideas and their creators.This debate becomes particularly important in the advertising businesss — whose reason to exist is only ideas. And it is in context of both fame and fortune.


Thomas Friedman in his book The World is Flat enunciates that in the future, society will see the emergence of other roles (he calls them middlers) besides idea generators, people with new ideas (traditional creative minds); idea craftsmen, who give it shape (traditional filmmakers); and idea funders, who pay for it (traditionally called clients). There will be synthesisers, who bring artists and engineers together, and make them create magic (the traditional client-servicing people in advertising). There will be explainers, who see and understand complexities and explain it with simplicity to the larger world so that it backs the idea (the traditional account planners in advertising). It is this community that together can truly own ideas generated. However, the proportion of ownership and credit remains a debate.


This brings us to the question of fortune. The advertising business started as agents and got paid by commission. In India, it evolved to being consultants and charged fees in the 90s based on time costs. In the idea economy context, the question gets raised as to whether that's the most "fair" compensation for the power of the idea. Though funded by clients and hence, technically owned by them, the value of ideas goes beyond both time costs and immediate sales. Recent mergers and acquisitions have demonstrated the financial power of brands where the advertising has played a major role in creating that power. Does this need another model of remuneration that recognises the contributions of the idea generator, synthesiser and the explainer who helped make it happen and who happen to reside at the agency? It could be a case of the agency getting a share in the brands that it creates. It could take the form of payment for ideas — a royalty — the way celebrities and models charge for the value they bring to the brand they endorse.


Clearly, as we move into the second decade of the new millennium, we, in India, have had two decades of a liberalised market economy. We have learnt much in these two decades and have seen the power of ideas and their impact. It's perhaps time to view the concept of ideas with a new lens and review the paradigm in which we have traditionally seen them. The movie Social Network in that context is quite timely.


Something worth thinking about.


The author is country head – discovery and planning, Ogilvy and Mather India. The views expressed are personal. Contact at:








As 2011 dawns, financial markets appear more opaque than I remember them being in a long time. I had believed for the last several months that the dollar would continue to hold strong into 2011, particularly given the apparent recovery in the US economy — strong consumer spending this Christmas — and, of course, the permacloud over Europe.


And while that still seems to me to be the percentage play, recent market action — in particular the Australian dollar climbing above parity, and copper, the global commodity bellwether, pushing all-time highs — is giving me pause. Granted, year-end markets are thin and it is usually very suspect to base any medium-term decision on movements at this time.


 But, as I said, the visibility is really poor. There are some certainties, of course — for instance, there is little question that the European problem is far from resolved. While Greece and Ireland have bitten the bullet and taken on ECB support, it is still nowhere near clear that they will be able to both impose severe spending restrictions and create adequate growth to prevent another cap-in-hand visit to Frankfurt. Again, markets have just started tickling Portuguese and Spanish bonds and it is surely just a matter of time before they put the union to even more stringent tests. And, of course, the biggest determinant will be how long the German electorate will agree to continue to be the check-writer of the last resort.


Something's got to give.


The second problematic area is Mr Bernanke and his QE2. Risk assets — in particular, commodities and commodity currencies — have been rocking over the past month, driven by this next flush of liquidity and, of course, strong growth in China and India. The dollar has held its own — the DXY is still around 80 — but this is partly because the euro is so weak. Again, the US consumer seems to have come back to life, if the December sales figures and consumer confidence numbers are to be believed. However, the "strong" consumer recovery in the US is definitively based on "deals" and anecdotal evidence suggests that merchants in the US are expecting this to be the story of at least the next couple of years — sales will rise, but margins will be very, very tight. This suggests that the US cannot afford a weaker dollar, which will drive prices higher.


Unemployment, of course, remains the major issue, and, while it is really a structural problem — both in the US and Europe, most manufacturing is hugely uncompetitive — the solutions being bruited about are superficial ones that enjoy some sort of political possibility. Here, of course, a weaker currency would help, but the scale of weakness needed to render US workers as competitive as, say, Chinese ones, is so vast that using only this lever is a non-starter.


And, finally, of course, there is resurgent inflation in the fast-growing economies, notably China and India. Both central banks are on the job, which means that interest rates in these already attractive markets are going to remain high. This would continue to attract that free QE2 money being thrown about by the US Fed, creating serious asset bubble management problems in the East.


China has already taken things in hand — the Christmas day hike in interest rates and the government's announcement that it would be open to buying Portuguese bonds make it clear that the Chinese are extremely concerned about the world economy, which they need to keep afloat if they are to continue their miracle. More importantly, they recognise that there is a vacuum in global leadership (and dineros) and are moving with characteristic speed and focus to take centre stage.


Having a strong godfather underpinning global growth is, of course, a huge plus, but it is also clear that rising domestic prices in China will keep upward pressure on the yuan. This means that, sooner rather than later, the days of the "China price" are numbered. While many global producers, certainly including companies in India, will heave a sigh of relief, this is going to be bad news for the US, which is the last place on earth that can live with higher prices.


All very unclear, isn't it? Will commodity prices continue to rise, slowing growth globally? Will the dollar finally collapse under QE2? Will the euro survive?


Look for markets to jockey around nervously in the early part of 2011, before some event blows things out. My sense still is that it will be in the direction of a stronger dollar.










Shivraj Puri's official designation was Relationship Manager at Citibank's Guragon branch. Conventional wisdom has it that a relationship manager's primary job is to get high net worth clients for the bank, convince them to invest their money with the bank and keep the relationship going.


That's quite a handful, but most banks have chosen to go in for a much wider definition in practice, thereby giving relationship managers more powers than their designation justifies.


 Consider Puri. This relationship manager had sufficient freedom to enable him to scam about Rs 400 crore (some say the actual amount is much higher) by producing fake letters from the Securities and Exchange Board of India to lend credibility to the schemes in which he wanted his clients to invest.


Puri is obviously an exceptional fraudster but exceptions like him don't prove the rule. If anything, this is a classic example of how many banks have allowed relationship managers a free run without checks and balances in place.


The head of a large financial institution says many banks have no clue what a relationship manager is supposed to do. He cites a recent recruitment advertisement put out by a large bank for the post of relationship manager. Although the required qualification is a plain Bachelor's Degree with three year's experience, the job profile demands a highly-skilled specialist.


The advertisement said the candidate will have to "manage" HNI customers; achieve the business targets assigned in terms of cross-selling, enhancing and upgrading HNI relationships; profile customers and provide financial products to meet customer needs; ensure the highest levels of service to HNI customers; provide financial planning and investment advice and acquire and service HNI customers.


In short, the bank is expecting a BA degree-holder with three year's experience to do everything that an executive director or president in charge of a bank's HNI customers should do.


Yet another recruitment ad says the bank wants a relationship manager who must have knowledge of all areas of financial services. The candidate must continue to find opportunities and, at the same time, manage the credit quality of portfolios he already manages. He also needs sales and customer service skills, as well as an understanding of credit and corporate finance. This, the ad concludes, means that the relationship manager must be a solutions-oriented knowledge intermediary, with an understanding of the competitive demands clients face in the marketplace, simultaneously ensuring a high-quality and profitable portfolio for the bank.


To this rather lofty job profile, add the compensation practices banks follow for relationship managers. In almost all cases, the performance-linked variable pay is completely out of sync with the fixed component. This often prompts relationship managers to follow questionable practices to meet targets somehow or exceed them. Human Resources (HR) experts say though an attractive variable pay or bonus is inevitable, you can't play on people's greed to such an extent.


Another problem is that increased competition for India's wealthy has led to a shortage of qualified relationship managers, forcing banks to recruit them not only at high performance incentives but also without proper reference checks. The problem is so acute that one relationship manager who has been sacked by one bank can be recruited by another quite easily. Many banks also often recruit people who don't have industry experience.


The other problem is the recruitment procedure. Companies get taken in by the apparent smartness of candidates (fluent English, aggressive go-getter are the qualities that are most sought after). And HR experts say the most important requirement – of frequent and regular background checks – is ignored as long as relationship managers bring in the profit. This is despite the fact that many forgeries have been uncovered, though the scale and impact were limited.


This is a job where the trust factor is critical. As the Citibank episode shows, clients like Sanjeev Aggarwal signed blank requisition forms that Puri misused to dip into his bank accounts and generate demand drafts to favoured brokerages. All banks obviously know that thousands of HNIs who don't have the time to manage their money leave the job to wealth and relationship managers. Yet, few banks have a proper system of regular due diligence on relationship managers. Hopefully, they will wake up to the problem after the Citi fraud.


Privacy is another casualty because of the high turnover rate of such managers. HR experts say the recruitment merry go-round often means that you have a new relationship manager every three months. This actually can create trouble for clients since confidential information gets leaked.


So, is it any surprise that incidents of relationship managers misusing access to accounts and their proximity to clients are on the rise?









At 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.









KRISHNA tried his level best to avoid a showdown between cousins, but could not prevent an epic war. Srikrishna's six alternatives seek similar conflict avoidance but history is set to repeat itself, and it is up to political leaders at the Centre and in the state to prevent both tragedy and farce. The Srikrishna panel's finding that Telangana suffers no special backwardness as compared to the other regions of the state might not suffice to douse the passions raging in the region for a separate state. Man does not live by bread alone, and even cake might not compensate the inhabitants of Telangana for perceived cultural slights. The population of Andhra Pradesh is bigger than that of most countries, including those with federating provinces that speak a common language. It can sustain division into separate states, with material and cultural consequences that are, on balance, positive for all concerned. This might not be obvious, right now, to Telugus outside Telangana, particularly in relation to the loss of their capital city Hyderabad where they have made heavy investments, financial and emotional. It is up to political parties of all hues to lead the people of the state to an enlightened view on the subject. The people of Telangana can be given a choice, to accept immediate division and accept Hyderabad as a Union Territory that serves as a shared capital or to wait for five years while a new capital city is built for Andhra. 


If the state is not to see yet another demand for division, the new city would be built bang in the middle of Rayalaseema, with good connectivity to Visakhapattanam, Vijayawada and Hyderabad. A spanking new city with modern, energy-efficient urban planning where people walk to work instead of wasting their lives in traffic jams and has parks, playgrounds and public transport would attract loads of new investment as corporates struggles to find the urban space it needs to house the economic powerhouses that deliver India's 9% growth. Construction of the new town would boost growth in the state and across the country. And moneybags from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh would rush to grab a piece of this new prosperity, creating fresh ties that bind.







 THE government's cup of woes overflowed on Thursday with food inflation numbers accelerating for the fifth straight week to the highest in more than a year. Driven by a sharp (59%) increase in the price of vegetables, the food price index rose 18.32% in the year to December 25, 2010, while the fuel price index climbed 11.63%. Overall, the wholesale price index numbers for primary articles and fuel and power released by the Central Statistical Organisation revealed a deeply worrying situation. Regardless of the underlying factors — unseasonal rains that pushed up prices of vegetables such as onions and tomatoes in recent weeks — high inflation, coming on a high base (19.90%) last year, is bound to aggravate the distress of ordinary citizens. As expected, the sharpest rise was in the case of onions where prices rose 82.5%. However, as the RBI has been warning for a while now, inflationary pressures are no longer confined to primary articles where the rains are a convenient scapegoat. Thursday's numbers show mineral prices up 30.6% and petrol prices up 25%. Food articles have a weight of 14.34% in the broader wholesale price index for all commodities, so the spurt in vegetable prices will show up in the headline inflation number when December data is released a week from today. Clearly, all boasts (hopes?) that inflation would come down to 6% by March end are likely to be belied. 
    The RBI raised interest rates six times in 2010 but, as we had warned in these columns earlier, was clearly behind the curve. Monetary policy acts with a long and indeterminate lag. More important, the old homily about prevention being better than cure is truer of monetary policy than of any other. Having delayed action in the early days when inflation reared its head, it now has no option but to raise them more sharply than would otherwise have been warranted. The tragedy is even if does so, it will be a while before the inflation dragon is slain in a scenario where the US Fed is hell-bent on further monetary easing and global food prices have hit a record high. The least the government can do is to unleash an Amul for fruit and vegetables.







IT COMES in pints!" one of the Hobbits exclaims in delighted incredulity in the film version of The Lord Of The Rings, when offered a drink in a tavern. Tolkien surely meant the Shire and the Hobbits to signify England and its denizens. But for the real citizens of Ol' Blighty, the pint is decidedly not a surprise. As even the accidental tourist to that land can attest to the umpteen number of pints — of beer, ale, Guinness, even the odd one of cider — downed in that land a day, everyday. The surprise of the Hobbit, verily, had more to do with his diminutive size. The Brits have not only been downing pints even before that measure was enshrined by an Act of Parliament in 1698, but they have been stoutly defending it as a mark of national pride, against replacing it with litres, as part of the larger European standardisation plan to replace UK's imperial measures with the metric system. But now, that reigning deity among modern consumer principles — choice — may well see the pint being scuttled. 


In tune with 'changing practices and tastes', the UK government is reported to be contemplating the introduction of a smaller measure customers can choose to imbibe, apart from the normal pint or half (of a pint). And some Brits might take umbrage at the fact that the option will not only be Australian, but is also called 'schooner'. Somehow, that seems to throw back all that seafaring success of the English into their faces. There is, after all, a certain intimacy, perhaps even a metaphysical affinity, with the size of a drink tipplers have worldwide. Imagine, for example, the oddness of having to replace, at least in north India, the addha or the pauva. At this, one must not only commiserate, but rise to defend. Pinters of the world unite!






IN A recent span of five months, the head of government or state from each of the five powers with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council visited India. Accompanied by a team of business leaders, each came with a similar objective — to secure billions of dollars in new Indian contracts. New Delhi was more than happy to oblige. Each left flaunting the new export contracts. 


 The summit hugs actually point to a worrying trend: India seems to measure success of its diplomacy by how many billions of dollars of business it gives to a visiting foreign dignitary. In a world in which trade still follows the flag, India functions as if imports can help hoist its flag. 


 Foreign governments have been aggressively courting India to try to get a slice of its rapidly growing market. With western and Japanese markets racked by economic troubles, other powers' export machines avariciously seek a larger market share in India, the world's second fastestgrowing economy. Also, with India now the world's second-largest arms buyer, wooing New Delhi as a defence and strategic partner has become necessary to sell military wares. The $150-billion worth of potential contracts opened up by the nuclear deal are yet another magnet. 


The beeline to New Delhi began when Prime Minister David Cameroon arrived with Britain's largest-ever trade team. He also hawked defence wares, managing to clinch one weapon deal worth over $1 billion. US exports to India have expanded five-fold in the past decade, yet President Barack Obama marketed his Indian tour as primarily a mission to create US jobs. He left India mightily pleased, with some $15-billion worth of export deals in his bag and assured of new arms contracts. 


To help France win India's first contract under the nuclear deal, the environmental clearance of the Jaitapur plant site was rushed through in record 80 days. President Nicholas Sarkozy's visit yielded $13-billion worth of deals for him. Besides agreeing to buy high-priced Areva reactors of unproven design and safety, India has promised France a contract to upgrade its 52 Mirage fighters — an upgrade for which Paris has quoted a ridiculous price of $2.6 billion, which is as good as the cost of new warplanes of equivalent capability from Russia. Sarkozy's takehome goodies also included an agreement-in-principle on coproduction of a short-range surface-to-air French missile system, to be called 'Maitri'. 


 Just as Chinese President Hu Jintao came to New Delhi in 2006 after Beijing resurrected the Arunachal Pradesh card, Premier Wen Jiabao's recent stopover on his way to Pakistan followed China's unsheathing of a new instrument of leverage against India — Kashmir. In fact, Wen arrived after his standing at home had been weakened in the twilight of his political career, with the state-run national press censoring on three separate occasions his remarks on political reforms. Yet he came with some 400 businessmen to fortify an asymmetrical trade relationship that has turned India into the rawmaterial appendage of a neocolonial Chinese economy. While conserving its own natural resources, China is sourcing primary commodities from Africa and India and exporting refined goods to them in return. While its foreign direct investment in India remains minuscule ($52 million in the past decade) and it continues to impede Indian corporations from entering its market, China is undercutting Indian manufacturing through large-scale dumping. 


AS LONG as China can continue to strengthen such lopsided economic ties and reap a ballooning trade surplus, it will have little incentive to bridge the yawning political divide. Wen, in fact, did not even seek to address any of India's security concerns. Yet he wrapped up his visit with a bagful of contracts worth some $23 billion. At the year-end, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev came calling, India signed a number of economic and defence agreements worth billions of dollars to shore up its relationship with an old ally. In a changing world, sticking with an old, 'tried and tested' friend makes a lot of sense for India. 


 India, though, needs to recognise that reciprocity and leverage are the twin pillars on which sound diplomacy is founded. Dispensing contracts without reciprocity is a path neither to leverage building nor to developing comprehensive national power. Even when the prime minister travels overseas, he awards contracts to his hosts, instead of returning home with lucrative contracts. Little surprise India is the only major global economy that is import-dependent, not export-oriented. India relies predominantly on domestic consumption to fuel its economic growth. 


High import dependency, however, puts an undue burden on the domestic consumer and taxpayer and acts as the main impediment to building comprehensive national power. It also lubricates big-bucks corruption because import deals often offer alluring kickbacks, usually routed directly to offshore bank accounts. More fundamentally, doling out multibillion-dollar contracts as a tool of diplomacy — even as India has gained notoriety for the scale of its stolen national wealth stashed in international financial safe havens — only undermines India's rising strength. 


The import dependency in various sectors has created strong business lobbies seeking to influence foreign-policy options so as to safeguard practices that threaten to pauperise the Indian economy. Such entrenched interests, for example, wish to perpetuate the inequitable trade with China, including the stripping of Indian resources. Also illustrative is defence spending, which India has doubled over the past six years, ploughing more and more funds into arms imports, but without an appraisal of the country's long-term deterrent requirements. The more arms India has imported, the more it appears to lack the capability to decisively win a war thrust upon it by even the smaller of its two regional adversaries. 


India must learn the way foreign leaders aggressively push commercial interests as a central driver of their diplomacy. Promoting exports has to become a key part of Indian foreign policy. Without meaningful political support, Indian industry will remain at a serious disadvantage to its western and Chinese competitors. And the country will stay mired in debilitating import dependencies. The next time the PM goes abroad, he should strive to come back with contracts for Indian industry.






 IMAGINE that you get in the shower, turn on the water, and nothing comes out. You call a plumber, who tells you that there are holes in the pipes, and that it will cost you $1,000 to repair it. You tell him to turn up the water pressure instead. 


Sound sensible? Well, this is the logic behind the US Federal Reserve's second round of 'quantitative easing' (QE2), its strategy to keep flooding the money pipes until credit starts flowing freely again from banks to businesses. 


You wouldn't expect this to work in your shower, and there is little reason to expect it to work in the commercial lending market. The credit-transmission mechanism in the US — and elsewhere — has been seriously damaged since 2007. Small and mediumsize businesses in the US depend on small and medium-size banks for access to vital credit, yet too many of these banks remain zombies, unable to lend because their balance sheets are littered with bad commercial and real-estate loans from the boom years. 


The US Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was an opportunity to force banks to disgorge bad assets —

and thus repair the credit pipes. Instead, banks were obliged only to take equity injections from the government, which they consider politically toxic. As a result, the banks have been focused on returning the bailout funds at the earliest, rather than using them to boost lending. The net result is that, even though the Fed has pushed its short-term lending rate down to zero, most banks will only lend on the basis of vastly greater collateral, and at much higher real rates, than before the bust. So now the US ploughs on with the cheap option: flood the pipes and see what comes out. 


 Make no mistake: something will come out, though not necessarily where it should. We have seen the liquidity intended to boost US bank lending instead leak through the cracks into markets as diverse as agricultural commodities, metals, and poor-country debt. What is remarkable about this is that some of QE2's most prominent cheerleaders think that wherever new demand shows up is fine. After all, it is only 'aggregate demand' that matters to the Keynesian faithful. To worry about the composition of demand is silly; it only complicates the algebra. 


 Nobel prize-winning economist Paul 

Krugman, who berates the Fed for not opening the monetary sluice far wider, showed the follies of the crude Keynesian approach nearly a decade ago. In August 2001, he wrote that, "The driving force behind the current slowdown is a plunge in business investment." But, "[t]o reflate the economy," he told us, "the Fed doesn't have to restore business investment; any kind of increase in demand will do." In particular, "housing, which is highly sensitive to interest rates, could help lead a recovery." 


 A year later, with the Fed not having moved aggressively enough for him, Krugman divined that "it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that [it] needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble." Wish granted. 


 But neither the US nor the world can afford a sequel. Europe, Germany in particular, has been highly critical of the US approach of placing its central bank at the centre of its recovery strategy. But the eurozone is doing the same. 


 Consider the Irish bailout sorcery. The Irish National Asset Management Agency (Nama) was set up in 2009 to clean up Irish banks' balance sheets. But it does this by giving the banks newly conjured government IOUs — not euros — in return for dodgy debt. The banks then dump the IOUs on the European Central Bank, which then provides the actual cash. Since Nama swaps IOUs for bank debt at only about half its face value, the three-way transaction can result in a €1 capital loss for every €1 the banks get from the ECB. Of course, the IOUs now lodged with the ECB may themselves have to be written down, threatening to undermine the ECB's own balance sheet. 


For decades, the US and Europe lectured the world on the importance of cleaning house in the wake of a financial crisis: in particular, repairing or resolving zombie banks. It is time to swallow our own medicine and resume the hard work of repairing our banking systems. To rely instead on central banks to refloat the US and European economies is an abdication of responsibility that will cost us dearly in the future. 





   ©Project Syndicate, 2011








THE headlines in the media, the constant talk of how deep corruption has sunk in our body politic and the nefarious role played by ill-gotten contributions to political parties is a spectre, haunting the public all the time. But why is the government still not persuaded to seriously consider enacting an effectively genuine Lokpal legislation to deal with this menace of corruption? If the draft of the Lokpal Bill 2010 is any indication, it would appear that a realisation of grave urgency is still absent in the government. No one is suggesting that an evil like corruption in public life can be eliminated merely by legislation. 


Aclean public life, the standards and character of political parties have to be built on grounds of moral conscience and public pressure. Corruption in public life can only be eliminated when, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history". But we must face the reality. Such spirits are rare to find and we ordinary mortals must make an effort to find some mechanism which may hopefully be able to keep in check the demoralisation and corruption in our public life. One such mechanism, that almost all governments since 1996 have been promising but done nothing about, is the institution of the Lokpal, an independent body to enquire into the lapses and complaints against legislators and MPs, both at the Centre and the states. 


The government has at last proposed the Lokpal Bill 2010, but unfortunately it fails even to be a cosmetic exercise to fight corruption. It is shamefully toothless and just meant to give a false reassurance to the people that the government is serious in its fight against corruption. The Lokpal is a threemember body consisting of a chairperson who is or was a former Chief Justice or judge of the Supreme Court and two members who are or have been judges of the Supreme Court or Chief Justices of a high court. But restricting it to judges is too narrow, and outstanding social scientists or academicians should also be eligible, and it should be a five member body. The jurisdiction of the Lokpal under Sec 10 apparently covers the PM, ministers and MPs. But the hypocrisy is exposed when at the same time it nullifies the same by providing that the Lokpal shall not enquire into any allegations of corruption against any member of either House of Parliament unless the recommendation of the Speaker or Chairman of Council of States (as the case may be) is received by it. 
    Not only that but insultingly, even when the Lokpal finds that any of the charges has been proved, against MPs, all he can do is to send a report of his findings to the Speaker and Chairman of the Council of States, and they alone will determine what action is to be taken. Of course, the presiding officers have to place the report before both the Houses of Parliament. A formal courtesy is to be done by informing the Lokpal as to what action is taken or is proposed to be taken, which may include the rejection of the findings of the Lokpal. This reduces the authority of the Lokpal to lower than that of a magistrate whose order the highest in the land, including the President, has to comply with. 


The sheer effrontery of the law ministry in proposing such an insulting provision is a direct negation of the institution of Lokpal. What should have been done was to provide that the establishment of guilt by the Lokpal would be treated, in the same manner as Sec 8 of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951, as a disqualification from contesting elections for a period of six years. Further, the Lokpal should have been authorised to impose a penalty for the recovery of any amount found to have been lost by the action of legislators or ministers. The Lokpal, under Sec 11, is also forbidden to enquire into any memo of a complaint if it is made after five years from the date when the offence is alleged to have been committed. 
    Has the government realised the absurdity of providing a limitation period in such complaints, which, if they were to be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act, would have no limitation bar, because there is no limitation for initiating proceedings under criminal law where the punishment provided is more than three years? Also has the UPA government considered that if a fiveyear period were to be provided, by the same logic would they not be barred from holding an enquiry into the 2G scam of 2001-02 during the BJP government (which by all standards should be held along with the enquiry into the 2G scam against Raja)? No judge with even a modicum of self-respect will accept such a demeaning, low grade rate post — the inevitable result would be that the Lokpal Bill will collapse –— an event that legislators have always desired. So it is goodbye to cleaning the political dirt, notwithstanding the high sounding calls by all the governments. Regrettably, cynics may be right when they say 'who cares' if, in the process, some dedicated Gandhians fighting for integrity in public life fast unto death against this unforgivable lapse by the government. 


 (The author is former Chief Justice of Delhi HC)









SPIRIT is one of two small wheeled robots sent to Mars in 2003 to explore its surface and search for clues to past water activity. Its expected lifetime was supposed to be about three months but it's far exceeded this limit with 2011 marking the seventh year on the Red Planet. And even though Spirit is stuck and seems to be out of power, handlers think it can still be used. Spirit was also supposed to travel about a kilometre at most but has logged nearly seven till date. Beth Meleski is a self-admitted stay-at-home mother of three who writes about education, politics and the people in her neighbourhood on her personal blog. Using Spirit as an example she's managed to create a fusion of science and humanity by showing what we can learn from its journey. 

Early in 2006 Spirit's right front wheel developed problems and ultimately stopped working. Engineers overseeing its operations on Earth however developed an ingenious alternative solution: make the machine travel backwards. It worked — for three years without a hitch. Moral of the story by Beth Meleski: "When you can't go forward anymore, try turning around and backing up." Not only did the technique work but the new driving method becameauseful — if unexpected — tool. The dragging effect of the unusable wheel abraded the surface and exposed underlying areas of the Martian soil that would otherwise not have been accessible for study, including large snow packs that once existed for long enough on Mars to dissolve certain minerals. Moral: "Unexpected circumstances can lead to great outcomes." 


Finally in 2009 Spirit got stuck in sand and couldn't extricate itself despite all efforts. Yet there's hope. Scientists have determined that Spirit's instruments and engineering cameras continue to function and it could in future be used as a stationary laboratory. Moral: "If you're stuck in one place, do what you can from there." And finally Meleski writes: "About nine months ago, Spirit stopped transmitting data… In the meantime, it seems that when energy is low, the only sensible thing to do is to shut down and take a snooze." Her moral: "Sometimes, it's best to just take a little nap." 


 The latest is, with spring on Mars in full swing Nasa is taking advantage of the Martian season's ever-longer periods of daylight to try to reawaken its stuck rover after months of silence. For although it's dormant, the Spirit may not be dead.










As anniversaries go, this is not a happy one. Two years ago, this day, Mr Ramalinga Raju, then Chairman, Satyam Computer Services, confessed to a massive Rs 7,136-crore fraud perpetrated by him on the company over many years. The scandal shook Corporate India to its roots and even galvanised the government, not exactly known for acting with alacrity, to quickly supersede the existing Board of Satyam with its own nominees in an effort to save the company.

Well, we all know what happened after that. The good men on the government-appointed Board worked tirelessly through a maze of legal suits and other complications to salvage Satyam and eventually sell it off to Tech Mahindra through a transparent bidding process.


And we all also know what happened to Mr Raju. He surrendered soon after and was arrested and lodged in jail before he found his way to the hospital ostensibly afflicted with hepatitis C. He spent months in hospital before securing bail in July last from the Andhra Pradesh High Court along with his erstwhile CFO, Srinivas Vadlamani, and three others. His liberty was short-lived though, as the Supreme Court upheld an appeal from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is investigating the case, to cancel the bail and eventually, Mr Raju found himself back in jail by November.


Unanswered questions


If that is what we know about the Satyam scandal, the more important stuff is the unknown. What is the true extent of the scam? Is it just Rs 7,136 crore or much more than that?


How did Mr Raju manage to perpetrate the fraud over many years right under the nose of the auditors and also his Board, peopled by eminent personalities such as Harvard professors, Dr Krishna Palepu, and Ms Mangalam Srinivasan and Vinod Dham?


Where has the pilfered money gone? Was Mr Raju acting alone or were there others, including politicians, who partook of the illegal feast?


What role did the auditors play in the scandal? Were they caught unawares, as they claim, or were they part of the scandal?


It is sad indeed that two years after the scandal broke, the answers to these questions still remain a mystery. The powers-that-be, it should be granted, have played their cards well. By rescuing Satyam, the company, from imminent collapse and selling it to a strong business group, the government blunted the impact of the scandal on the corporate sector (particularly, the IT industry) and on the markets.


Even as that helped earn immense praise for itself, the government managed to turn the focus off the other, equally important aspect of the scandal — the whys and wherefores of Mr Raju's shenanigans.


Learn from US


As has been pointed out in these columns before, this is where we need to learn from the US, which has had its fair quota of corporate and market scandals. Whether it was Jeffrey Skilling of Enron or Bernard Madoff, to name just two of the biggest scandals that hit America last decade, justice was meted out quickly. While Skilling, the former President of Enron, was convicted in 2006 to 24 years in jail, Madoff was handed out a 150-year sentence in June 2009, within three months of his pleading guilty. Allen Stanford, who was accused of fraud and running a Ponzi scheme, was promptly arrested in June 2009 and his trial is to start this month.


If the government has been slow on this front, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), which is responsible for the professional conduct of its members, has also been remiss in not quickly investigating Price Waterhouse, Satyam's auditors, during the scandal period.


The ICAI's Disciplinary Committee, tasked with the job of scrutinising the possible negligence or acquiescence of the auditors in the scandal, has yet to come out with any recommendations for action. One would have expected the professional body to act with alacrity in order to clear the image of not just the members in question but the larger profession itself, which has been badly sullied by the scandal.


Thanks to ICAI's vacillation, the market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), stepped in to investigate Price Waterhouse on its own. The latter went to court questioning SEBI's jurisdiction, only to be snubbed, and it now seems as if SEBI will slap penalties on the audit firm well before the ICAI can even come out with its findings. If that indeed happens, the ICAI will find its authority significantly undermined and it will have none but itself to blame for that.


In the current season of scams, the Satyam scandal might rank low in priority. Rs 7,136 crore, the estimated value of the fraud, appears small in the face of the Rs 1,76,000-crore 2G scam, and public memory is short anyway. Yet, it is important that we get to the bottom of the scandal and mete out exemplary punishment to all those involved, if only to prevent similar ones in the future.


That is why the proceedings of the fast-track trial court, which began hearing the Satyam case on November 8, become important. The CBI has already submitted more than 10,000 documents to the court and witnesses have started deposing before it.


With the Supreme Court setting July this year as the date for completing the trial, there is reason to hope that the truth will be out and the guilty punished, bringing to an end a most sordid chapter in Corporate India's history.







Merely curbing credit growth will not be enough; supply will also have to be increased, and quickly, as food

inflation is what hurts most politically.


The Government which, like the proverbial ostrich, had buried its head in the sand, has suddenly discovered that this is a foolish move when the prospect of danger looms. No better proof of this is required than the Prime Minister refusing the UPA Chairperson, Ms Sonia Gandhi's 'request' that NREGA be brought under the Minimum Wages Act. For a long time Dr Manmohan Singh's Government has pretended that it can sustain 9 per cent growth without setting fire to prices. Its spokespersons kept saying that by December 2010, inflation would be down to 6 per cent, as if that was an acceptable rate. But now in January, it has pulled its head out and finds that not only has inflation not gone away, it is here to stay. The Home Minister, who was Finance Minister till December 2008, says the Government has no tools at its disposal to fight off inflation. Most laypersons would tend to agree with him but economists and those in the Government who understand economics will point out that there is indeed a solution available — tested, tried and boringly humdrum: clamp down on monetary expansion and increase supply via imports. Which of these must be done first can be debated but, given that there has been massive expansion in currency with the public, the first salvo has to be fired by the Reserve Bank of India. For the last 12-25 months it has been pandering to the Government's desire to get to double-digit growth, even if only for a few seconds. But now, after the defeat in Bihar and with elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal coming soon, inflation can no longer be ignored by the politicians. Ergo, look out for some strong monetary action in the form of higher interest rates and other methods to dampen demand.


It is arguable, however, that merely curbing growth will not be enough; supply will also have to be increased, and quickly. Since food inflation is what hurts most politically, and since wage inflation at the bottom end of the service sector is driven by it, it is on food inflation that the Government will have to concentrate. But that is easier said than done, not least because imports are not much of an option, unless undertaken on a scale comparable to China. With the current account deficit having crossed 4 per cent, things have become very tight, especially in view of the RBI's warning that most of the foreign exchange could go out as quickly as it has come in for a whole lot of unforeseeable reasons. In any case, it is doubtful that the Government would agree to annoy the farm lobby with large-scale imports. This may not have mattered very much had the last five years been spent on improving farm productivity. But the focus on prices for raising rural incomes has merely increased demand without increasing supply.


All this, and other related things, leave India between a rock and hard place while the options to wriggle out of it are severely limited. At this point, only one thing is certain: 2011 is going to be a most difficult year.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      BUSINESS LINE





The Reserve Bank of India should attempt to bring out a quarterly inflation report addressing both supply- and demand-side factors that could help fine-tune timely policy measures.

Since Independence, India has been a stable country both politically and economically. In a way, economic stability and political stability reinforce each other.

Economic stability has three dimensions. The first is macroeconomic stability, meaning a non-disruptive balance in fiscal, monetary and external sectors.


There were fiscal excesses in India at different points in time, but the monetary measures checked the adverse impact of such excesses. External sector balance was maintained through a gradualist approach to opening up the economy to external forces. Second is financial stability, which has assumed an added dimension since the 1990s, after a series of systemic crises. The third is price stability, or control of inflation.


While credit must be given to the democratic spirit of the people for political stability, it is the economic thinkers and policy-makers, both in the government and the central bank, who should be given the credit for economic stability.


A stalwart among them was Dr C. Rangarajan, who continues to remain at the helm of affairs and has held sway over all major economic reform measures since the early 1980s.


In a fitting tribute to his contributions a galaxy of people felicitated Dr Rangarajan on his 79 {+t} {+h} birthday on January 5. One of the issues that received attention during the proceedings was the problem of current inflationary pressures in India.


Issue of Price Stability


The Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, mentioned that no tax could be more severe than inflation. Pointing out, in particular, the rising food prices, he wondered whether administered prices needed a correction. All factors that contribute to inflation should be understood and also all tools available to control inflation must be deployed.


Dr Kaushik Basu argued that the current price rise must be seen at two levels, one from a sector-specific and short-term viewpoint and, two, as a sustained or enduring price rise.


Very different policies may be required to address the two aspects. If the sectoral rise in prices, such as in food items, is because demand is out of sync with availability, then issues such as product supply and supply chains must be understood. If retail prices are far greater than farm-gate prices, then the impact of cartels of trade should be assessed.


In another separate interview the Finance Secretary, Mr Ashok Chawla, has argued to the effect that neither the government nor monetary policy can do anything more about controlling the present inflation.


Dr Rangarajan emphatically stressed that price stability could be one of the objectives of a central bank, but it must remain the most predominant objective of monetary policy. He added that one cannot brush aside monetary policy, saying that it cannot be effective in the case of food inflation.


Since food inflation feeds into generalised inflation, monetary policy does have a role in controlling food inflation too. He has always held that, of the various objectives, price stability is perhaps the one that can be pursued most effectively by monetary policy.


While the twin objectives of monetary policy in India — price stability and ensuring adequate flow of credit — stay put over time, a precise statement of these objectives and a framework for achieving them have evolved only since the mid-1980s.


Dr Rangarajan had been instrumental in providing a framework, designed on the basis of the interaction and relationships between the three parameters, namely money, output and prices.


Role of Reserve Bank


The Reserve Bank, by statute has the role of maintaining monetary stability, which could be considered to subsume both financial stability and price stability.


When financial stability was added as an objective of monetary policy in the late 1990s, it aimed at

'maintaining orderly conditions in the functioning of financial markets'. But, currently it encompasses a broader

arena of institutions, markets, regulatory policies and infrastructure.


One of the positive offshoots of the Rakesh Mohan Committee on Financial Sector Assessment of 2009 was the

creation of a separate Financial Stability Unit in the Reserve Bank of India.


The Unit brought out its second Financial Stability Report last week, which is an improvement over the first, reflecting the considerable efforts that have gone into upgrading the methods and techniques to assess the health of the financial system and to analyse the potential risks to systemic stability.


But, in this milieu, the importance of price stability has been relegated somewhat to the background. What is more saddening is the sheer helplessness with which the inflation problem is being addressed.


What is clear is that inflation control does not seem to be receiving the attention it deserves. Second, the central bank's focus is diverted because of multiple objectives.


Third, there is no clear understanding of the factors contributing to inflation and in identifying effective tools to mitigate the inflation risk.


As in the case of the Bank of England, which brings out a quarterly inflation report, apart from a financial stability report, the Reserve Bank also should attempt to bring out a quarterly inflation report addressing both supply- and demand-side factors that could help in attuning timely policy measures to check inflation.


(The author is Director, EPW Research Foundation. The views are personal.









Speaking at a function to felicitate the Chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, Dr C. Rangarajan, the Home Minister, Mr P.Chidambaram, came out with home truths that are seldom expressed in public. Admitting that the Government was as much at a loss as the lay public as regards the phenomenon of rising prices, he said: "I am not sure whether we understand all the factors that contribute to price rise, nor am I sure whether we have at our hand all the tools to control inflation….At least in the case of food inflation, I have not heard anyone arguing convincingly that we have all the tools to control food inflation."

At long last, someone in the higher reaches of the Government has had the candour to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Mr Chidambaram has said nothing more than what we, the people, in our hearts and minds, had long suspected. That he chose to do so in the presence of Dr Rangarajan and the Chief Economic Adviser, Dr Kaushik Basu, who are considered the country's economic czars, tells its own tale.


The message clearly is that all the paraphernalia of the panels of experts, think-tanks and professional statutory bodies such as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are playing blind man's buff with inflation. To know how, let us savour some patent inanities uttered by both Drs Rangarajan and Kaushik Basu as reported in the Business Line edition of December 8.


Take, for starters, this pronouncement of Dr Rangarajan about the RBI having to hike interest rates if price rise persists: "The rate hike will be determined by the RBI taking into account the behaviour of prices during January. We still have three weeks to go. If the inflation rate comes down significantly, then there may not be any need for action but on the other hand, if inflation remains sticky then action will be required…If (primary article/food inflation) persists then there will be some reflection in other prices."




Honestly, there is nothing in these observations that is so very profound that they could not have come from a high school student. They do not make us any wiser than before as to the exact point at which the coming down of inflation can be deemed 'significant', and how sticky is sticky. Nor is the tendency of inflation spreading from food and primary articles to other sectors so very stunningly novel that we really need to have someone on a lofty pedestal tell us that.


Then, there is the common weakness of our economic oracles to indulge in soothsaying, which no one can contradict or verify. Dr Rangarajan is particularly given to it. His latest prediction is that inflation 'is likely to be' around 7 percent by December-end and between 6 and 6.5 per cent by March-end.


I would strongly urge the RBI, the Council of Economic Advisers and the Planning Commission to publish periodically in the media a chart juxtaposing their predictions and the actuals.


I did a comparison, on my own, some three years or so ago, and found the predictions of our experts to be wide of the mark.


Dr Rangarajan hits the bull's eye, though, when he forecasts an improvement in the liquidity situation in January-March, following a rise in Government expenditure.


That is the quarter in which all departments of Central and State Governments all over the country are hell-bent on spending the budget allotments at breakneck speed, and if that doesn't drown the landscape in liquidity, nothing else will!


Dr Kaushik has not lagged behind Dr Rangarajan in his amazing grasp of the obvious. His surmise is that the rise in vegetable prices could be due to traders' cartels.


Listening to such inanities, a lay person may well pat himself on his back that his expertise is every whit on par with that of top-notch experts!










Many countries worldwide keep harping on the concept of inclusive growth and do not forget to include it in their major economic policy documents. In the People's Republic of China, for instance, the government has made the creation of a "harmonious society", a concept very closely related to inclusive growth, as the top priority in its EleventhFive-Year Plan. In Thailand, growth with equity is one of the elements of its "Sufficiency Philosophy" which underpins the government's development efforts. It is no small matter that even the avowed votaries of free market economy, such as the IMF and the World Bank, advocate inclusive growth.


One-size-fits-all measures


This espousal is in many ways an attempt on the part of the global monetary agencies to atone for the mistakes committed in the past. Instead of evolving individual solutions for countries caught in economic crisis, these agencies in the 1980s and 1990s imposed one-size-fits-all stabilisation measures. In many countries, especially in Africa and Latin America, these measures led to a decline in public investment and increased the volatility of economic growth and employment.


As far as India is concerned, inclusive growth has been dominating the discourse on economic growth and development for quite some time now. This increased focus on inclusive development stems from the realisation that our stellar GDP growth rates have continuously masked rising inequalities.


Dr Manmohan Singh observes in his foreword to the Eleventh Plan document that the "rapid growth achieved in the past several years demonstrates that we have learnt how to bring about growth, but we have yet to achieve comparable success in inclusiveness. Poverty, whether we look at it narrowly in terms of the population below consumption based poverty line or more broadly in terms of population without access to essential services, is definitely declining but the pace of decline is slower than it should be." Now an attempt is being made to bridge the gap between the two faces of India: A "shining India", which is competing internationally and benefiting from the forces of globalisation; a "suffering India", not as well publicised but even more important, has unacceptably wide swatches of its population who are indigent and vulnerable.


Attitudinal change needed


Merging these two faces — one a beacon of hope and other a symbol of despair — is a real challenge and this cannot be achieved only through policymaking. An attitudinal change is needed to bring about a real inclusive growth; India ranks 94th in the Global Hunger Index of 119 countries.


The World Food programme has estimated that 35 per cent of India's population are considered food-insecure, consuming less than 80 per cent of minimum energy requirements. The government should introspect to find out how it reacts to these issues and how it reacts when sometimes the stock markets plummet or the flow of FDI slackens. This introspection would be the first decisive step towards a real inclusive growth.






                                                                                                                                                    DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Justice Srikrishna Committee's voluminous report, made public by the Union home ministry on Thursday, has a discernible undercurrent in support of a united Andhra Pradesh, as against bifurcating it in response to the vociferous demand for a separate Telangana state. The committee offers six non-binding options but also shoots down four of them as impracticable. Between Option 5, dividing the state as demanded by Telangana protagonists, and Option 6, keeping the state undivided, it plumps for the latter. The committee does find substance in the complaints of the pro-Telangana parties on major dams and education. It points out that students from weaker sections in Telangana have fewer opportunities and also notes that health infrastructure is poor in the region. The committee agrees in so many words that governance has failed Telangana but adds that smaller states may not be the best solution for lack of development as the experiment with Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand prove.

At the same time, it also does not argue that council and constitutional guarantees have met with success in addressing identity politics. Given this broad line of thought, it is only natural that the committee, while noting the cultural differences between the people of the two regions, concludes that the best option is to keep Andhra Pradesh united, with certain constitutional guarantees to address Telangana's concerns. It recommends this option as workable despite the "concerns" in the areas of public employment — which is covered by an amendment to the Constitution — and water and irrigation. The panel more or less backs a united state though it notes that violence could occur when this option is exercised. Indeed, some violence has already broken out, with students burning buses and pelting stones at policemen and businesses around the restive Osmania University. They have also called for a bandh, which will undoubtedly be the first of many. The presence of 57 companies of Central paramilitary forces will not provide a solution, nor will it assuage the fears of businesses in Hyderabad. Supporters of Telangana statehood have argued that even the constitutionally-guaranteed mechanism covering government jobs has not resulted in equitable allocation of employment. That has been the biggest promise of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti: Jobs for youth. A statutory council backed by constitutional provisions will hardly satisfy them.

The Srikrishna Committee, which was to point a way forward, appears to lead to a dead end. What is needed is honest action to address the concerns and the demands of Telangana supporters. But if anything, what the report points to, in its comparison tables, is the truly pathetic situation in Rayalaseema, where the development indices are worse than even in Telangana. The Srikrishna panel does not make recommendations because it is constrained by the terms of reference.








India's first month in 20 years as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council began well with our election to the chair of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee at the start of the New Year. The Committee, the UN's top body on terrorism issues, is an institution of some importance to New Delhi — and it is one which many foreign observers had thought India might not be asked to lead, given our strong feelings on the issue. Coming in the wake of India's record margin of victory in the race to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, this news confirms our standing in the world and the contribution New Delhi is capable of making on the Council.


So what awaits us in our first month at the UN's high table? By the time this column appears, Sudan will be looming large. The Council will have to engage seriously with the implications of the Southern Sudan referendum, an extraordinary event in modern African history, which will permit the residents of one part of a state, the Southern region of Sudan, to decide whether it is wishes to secede from Khartoum. The voting is scheduled to be conducted for one week from January 9 and India will watch it with more than routine interest. First of all, we have troops on the ground — Indians make up an important part of the UN peace-keeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS). Second, our economic interests are involved, since we are an important customer for Sudanese oil and are involved (unusually enough, in partnership with a Chinese company) in exploring a major oilfield in the South. The result of the referendum is not likely to be known for at least three weeks after the end of voting, so the issue is going to require sustained engagement — and when the verdict is out, probably in early February, we may have to be braced for violence that could put Indian lives in harm's way, so every step will be of direct concern to us.


Sudan will also feature more routinely in January, when the Council is briefed by the Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping, France's Alain Le Roy, on the progress (or lack thereof) being made by the two existing UN missions there, UNMIS on Southern Sudan and United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), focused on the conflict-torn region of Darfur. The Sudan Sanctions Committee will also meet to discuss the 90-day interim report issued every three months by a panel of experts, and this month will mark India's first participation in that body.


If Sudan is important for our national interests, even more crucial is next-door Nepal. In early January, the Council is expected to consider the Secretary-General's report on Nepal and to review progress made in implementing the September agreement between the government of Nepal and the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M). The UN Mission there, known as UNMIN, is slated (under last year's Security Council Resolution 1939) to close on January 15, and the report is also expected to contain details of the arrangements being made for the post-UNMIN period, which will naturally be of particular interest to India. The deal is that, unless there is a joint request from the Nepalese parties, UNMIN will indeed be wound up, and there does not appear to be much support amongst Council members for its continuation. Since there is no sign so far of the parties in Nepal asking for an extension of UNMIN's mandate, its termination seems more likely than not, but no one is ruling out a last-minute change of heart in Kathmandu. One should not forget, though, that UNMIN, officially created as a "focused mission of limited duration", has now been extended seven times since it was set up in January 2007. But what happens next is of more than passing concern to New Delhi, and our diplomats at the UN will certainly be in close touch with South Block to ensure that the Council's decisions are in conformity with how we see the future of the Nepalese peace process.


Sudan is not the only African country expected to feature on the agenda in January. This month, Somalia will be the subject of a report by the Secretary-General and a briefing by his Special Representative there, Tanzania's Augustine Mahiga. Also in early January, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Legal Issues related to piracy off the Coast of Somalia, the former French Minister Jack Lang, is due to present his recommendations to the Secretary-General, who in turn, will pass them on to the Council with his own comments. Mr Lang was tasked with identifying "any additional steps that can be taken to achieve and sustain substantive results in prosecuting piracy". With the Indian Navy patrolling off the coast of Somalia, escorting vessels and even intercepting pirates in a couple of celebrated incidents, this is a subject that ought to be of more than passing interest to our diplomats.


The rest of the world will, of course, occupy the Security Council as well in our first month there. There is talk of holding a "horizon scanning" discussion on issues of potential concern, in line with similar consultations that were held in November 2010 when the United Kingdom chaired the Council. This month, the Council will also discuss Haiti, where tensions following recent elections have not dissipated, and where the mammoth task of reconstruction and rehabilitation since last year's devastating earthquake remains largely incomplete. One more subject of particular interest to New Delhi should be the six-monthly briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Asia on the UN Office for Central Asia, which was established in December 2007 and whose activities will no doubt be reviewed carefully by India's representatives on the Council. 


All in all, January offers an interesting example of the range and seriousness of the issues that will occupy India on the Security Council after our two decades' absence from that body. What remains, of course, is the unpredictable and the unexpected. Council diplomats heading off for their summer holidays in August 1990 did not expect Saddam Hussein's tanks to roll into Kuwait that month, transforming their workload and ending their vacations. India's envoys in New York will certainly hope nothing of the sort occurs on their first month on the job. But they know that, if it does, it will give them a chance to make India's voice heard on a global crisis — and its views count in resolving it.


* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency







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.









The Timurid prince was amazed by the wonders of India. Crossing the river Indus, he was to recall, you entered not only another country but "another world". Customs and languages, winds and rains and even plants and animals were all very different from what he and his fellow horse-borne warriors had known earlier.


Among those sights were the great one-horned beasts in the land of the Indus. "There are many of them in the forests around Peshawar and Hashnagar and in the forests between the Indus river and Bhera" he wrote, "In Hindustan, many of them are found along the banks of the Gogra river".


The hunts were not without collateral damage for the rhinos had huge horns and knew how to use them. The warrior Maqsud had his horse thrown the length of a spear and got the nick name "rhinoceros Maqsud".


Good naturalist that he was Babur estimated the size of the animal as akin to that of three horses. Like another large creature he encountered the first time, the wild buffalo, it was a "dangerous, ferocious animal". Even if an archer drew his string back a lot, the arrow rarely penetrated more than four fingers deep. It was only via trial and error, the hunters discovered its weak spots and learnt not only to pursue but also to despatch it.


The rhino was only one of many animals the young Timurid prince encountered in the vastness of north India (or Hindustan) in the 1520s.


These included two kinds of monkeys, the langur with its black face and the bandar, the latter tamed and taught to do tricks. For such creatures Babur could not use words in his native Chagthay Turki and took on local Hindavi words. There were also animals familiar to us in plains India: the nilgai and the kala hiran, the latter the black buck antelope.


For other animals, Babur and his successors used Turki or Persian words. This was the case with the lion, sher in Persian or babri or the tiger. Each of the two big cats was pretty familiar to those from Central Asia: there was no confusion at all.


Some animals they met were integral to older hunting cultures: falcons like the great shahin or the cats used in the hunt, the cheetah and the siyaghosh (or caracal) the latter, to this day has no Hindi name.


But it is the rhinos and where they were found that should concern us.


]Nearly half a millennium has passed by and the range of the greater one-horned rhinoceros has shrunk.


Its Latin name, Rhinoceros unicorns betrays the centuries-long European obsession with that mythical creature. Its real-life counterpart, the great one-horned rhino had an extensive range across the flood plains of the Brahmaputra, Ganga and Indus.


Four millennia ago, the artefacts of the Harappan culture clearly depict the animal, indicating possibly a range in parts of present-day Sindh. This extensive distribution may well have been mostly intact in Babur's time for Peshawar had no rhinos at least on record in the British imperial period.


But what is clear is that in the 16th century, a far larger part of the land mass was covered with forest or grassland than we might find easily conceivable today. Estimates of the number of humans and the acreage under the plough vary.


A decade ago, Sumit Guha drew on new and fresh evidence to argue that the number of people in India under the Mughals was about 114 million (far less than that of the Uttar Pradesh of 2001, which was placed at 166 million).


More central to our own story of the living space for rhinos, and other hoofed or feathered creatures, the area under permanent tillage may have been only one in four acres.


Babur recalled large areas of the plains were covered with thorny trees, offering refuge to inhabitants who sought refuge from a creature more dreaded than beasts of the forest: the tax collector.


Babur was doing more than conquering north India and setting up a lineage that would run all the way to 1857-78 when Bahadur Shah Zafar was dethroned. He was part of a world of the Safavids (in Iran) the Ottomans (of Turkey) and the Qing (in China) all of whom fuelled a great global economic expansion.


More trade, more wealth and many more people than earth had ever known before. The doyen of historians of the era, the late John Richards estimated how the number of people on earth doubled in three centuries following upon 1500. No wonder Professor Richards called his book, The Unending Frontier.


Yet, it is still amazing to come across the Friar Manrique's account of a journey through Ayodhya — Faizabad where he spoke of "an abundance of asse horne (rhino horn) that they make here of bucklers and dives sorts of drinking cups". Much of the valley had been or was being cleared but the farm-forest line or the border of cultivation and jungle was an ever shifting one. Rhinos and their products were very much around in the Ganga valley.


The mega herbivore now occupies less than one-fiftieth of its historic range, with the hunger for its horn for medicine or adornment and the expansion of rice paddies having taken a toll. And yes, they long, long since have vanished form Peshawar or Ayodhya.


The Baburnama gives a glimpse of another land and time, when the wild and sown were in close combat, and an immense horned animal could unseat a prince's companion from his horse.


Its hoof print may now be smaller than ever but face it, in his writings, the prince gave our very own unicorn more than its due.


]* Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and co-editor of The Environmental History of India (Permanent Black, In Press).








Relaxation is that blissful state of being in which one is at peace with oneself and with the world. It is the consequence of an untroubled mind in a relaxed body — a body free from undue tension. It is a fallacy to think that relaxation is something opposite of daily routine. You can't set aside a separate time for relaxation and then get ready to be tense again, can you? In fact, if you cannot relax in your everyday life you can't hope to relax on a vacation. Because your body and mind have forgotten the art of relaxing. You will carry your stress along with your baggage even on the vacation. True relaxation is only possible while doing your daily chores.


The word relaxation is misunderstood because it is thought to be the act. Even the dictionary defines relaxation negatively: "Become less tense, less formal, or less restrained. To abate in severity; to become less rigorous". Ok, even if one becomes less tense or less restrained the positive feeling of well-being is not forthcoming. One doesn't feel "Aha!" which is closely associated with relaxation.


It has to be understood that relaxation is not an activity, it is a result of dropping unnecessary confusion and stress of the mind. The body is naturally relaxed but the mind is in such a turmoil that it infects the body with some of its tension.


Don't wait for the weekend or the yearend to go on a vacation and find your share of relaxation. On the contrary, it will be very beneficial to include relaxation in your daily dose of vitamin supplements. It is much more invigorating than any of the vitamins. If you are relaxed at work it creates measurable changes in the body, such as a reduction in the heart and respiratory rate, blood pressure, blood cortisol levels and muscle tension, and an increase in the production in the brain serotonin, which leads to feelings of calmness and well-being.


To relax is truely a rich and multidimensional phenomenon. It is like a rich tapestry in which the threads of letting-go are deeply interwoven with trust, surrender, love, acceptance, going with the flow, union with existence, egolessness and ecstasy.


It sounds too good to be true but is it easy to learn it? By all means. Osho suggests a simple method of watchfulness. If you add watchfulness to everything you do, the quality of your mind will change. That doesn't mean you will be slack or lousy in your actions, on the contrary you will be more agile and energetic.


This is the Osho way: Start with watching your breathing. As you start watching, the breathing slows down. This itself changes the climate inside and around you. Breathing is the key to your inner organism, this key will unlock many unknown doors in your unconscious mind.


Then expand your watchfulness and include the sounds all around... telephones ringing, a car passing by, people typing on the keyboards, the whistle of the train or the cooker. This all-inclusive watchfulness is a great tool for relaxed awareness. You accept everything around you. Most of the mental struggle is due to not accepting what is happening around. Relaxing within yourself simply means not going outwards, withdrawing all your energy which generally goes on moving outwards. Even if you have tension, include it in your awarenss.


Just try walking very slowly, and you will be surprised — a new quality of awareness starts happening in the body. Eat slowly, and you will be surprised — there is great relaxation. Do everything slowly... just to change the old pattern, just to come out of old habits.


First the body has to become utterly relaxed, like a small child, then only start with the mind. Move scientifically: first the simplest, then the complex, then the more complex. And then only can you relax at the ultimate core.


— Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort,Pune. She facilitates meditation workshopsaround the country and abroad.











EVERY year-end, I would do a review of what I personally achieved and did not achieve. It is a useful reminder of what we might have missed and should really be doing in the coming year.

2010 went by like a flash. At the global level, it was a year of broad recovery from the crash of 2007-2009. The emerging markets grew strongly, whilst the advanced markets still struggled with de-leveraging and high levels of unemployment. The year ended with the Europeans in deep water, as they struggled with the rescue of the Irish economy in order to stop the contagion from spreading. But Germany seems to have become the strongest partner in the European Union, with current account surpluses that are as high in absolute and relative terms as China's. The US economy seems to have got back some growth, but unemployment remains stubbornly high. 
On the whole, from an investment point of view, the developed markets seem to have done reasonably well, thanks to QE2. The US equity market is up 10 per cent, and even the Japanese market is up 10 per cent because of the revaluation of the Yen.  Only the European markets are down roughly 10 per cent, with the exception of Germany, which is up 10 per cent.  Emerging market stocks are up 13 per cent, with Thailand and Indonesia delivering returns of over 50 per cent in 2010. Only China, the fastest growing economy, had a decline in the "Shanghai A share index" of more than 15 per cent, due to concerns with higher interest rates and tighter monetary conditions.

Financial markets, however, did not perform as well as commodity markets.  Gold and oil prices were up nearly 25 per cent in 2010, whilst industrial commodities were up 40 per cent. This basically says that investors prefer to hold more real goods than paper currency and securities. 

Structurally, the advanced markets are now deeply in debt and may have major adjustments to make, especially in Europe. Even though the US debt levels are high, it is likely that with the presidential elections coming in 2012, the year 2011 will continue to be a year of fiscal and monetary stimulus. If unemployment remains high, there will be a new President in 2012. 

Personally, the most interesting experience in 2010 was the psychological change in mindset of the power shift from West to East. In 2009, this was discernible, but not visible. In 2010, there was a distinct change in mood, with Western intellectuals sensing that their theoretical superiority has become highly vulnerable. I believe in the second decade of the 21st century, there will be profound changes in economic theory, moving out of neo-classical free market fundamentalism into more practical and empirically defensible work. Unfortunately, I am not sure that the breakthroughs will come from Asian universities. 

Recognizing the defects of current risk management models as well as forecasting tools, leading business schools in the West are already beginning to change. Drawing upon multi-disciplinary work, they are moving away from partial and narrow models towards more integrative thinking, looking at the world as "whole systems", rather than through the silos of partial analysis. 

In other words, we need to think about the world in terms of systemic complexity and how individuals, firms and even nations adapt to this complexity in which our actions affect the rest of world and vice-versa. Feedback mechanisms have become the core of our thinking and we need to understand that there are multiple solutions to complex problems, rather than the elegant "optimal equilibrium" from neo-classical analysis.
As two University of Toronto professors recently suggested, we need minds that are both "mile deep, inch wide" and "mile wide and inch deep".  Historians, statesmen and journalists tend to think widely, whereas our students today are taught to be specialists in very narrow and professional fields. Our academic disciplines tend to focus on theories that try to "explain a lot by very little", which has shown to be too narrow and simplistic.
For example, most of the stock market analysts tend to be "momentum analysts", using simple charts to project on a linear basis why markets are likely to go higher. Their collective influence on markets make the market more pro-cyclical, because herd behaviour make beliefs self-fulfilling.   

The massive volatilities of the last three years have shattered our faith in such tools. Markets, like the weather, have become extremely hot and cold at the same time. They have become less predictable using conventional tools. 

Firstly, the global warming effects are having more influence on financial markets than most analysts realize.  This is the feedback mechanism between man and nature, in which nature may turn out to be more influential on financial markets than current models impute.  

Secondly, we are shifting from a mainstream paradigm which has turned out to be not useful, into a period of transformation in models and theory, in which a thousand flowers may bloom. There will be a period of confusion, in which some will make fortunes, whilst others will lose them. 

What concerns me is that whilst Asian economies have been shielded from the current crisis better than the West, Asian universities and think-tanks have not really evolved new systems of thinking that can radically challenge those of the West. This is partly due to the fact that our mindsets are dominated by the technological superiority of the West, including in intellectual pursuits and theoretical work. Modernization has often been equated with Westernization. In reality, true modernization at the local level is making foreign ideas local through adaption to local context and realities. If successful, such innovation can then be reapplied for exports back to foreign markets. What is true of products has to be true of ideas also.

This is why I think 2011 will be an important turning point. I do not consider the competition between the East and the West one of GDP or products, but truly one of ideas. Is the Asian model truly resilient or do we have fragilities that we have not fully recognized and corrected? That is the challenge of 2011. 

asia news network

The writer is author of the book, From Asian to Global Financial Crisis, and Adjunct Professor at the Tsinghua University and University of Malaya








It's one of the most unfortunate aspects of disaster management in our country that the victims of floods and landslides are forgotten all too soon. As their more durable needs are neglected, the victims of disasters frequently get trapped in long-term indebtedness. Although the government provides longer-term assistance for disaster victims from the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) but more often than not this help doesn't reach the most needy people.

Recently, this writer travelled to 10 flood-devastated villages across Gonda, Bahraich and Gorakhpur districts in eastern Utter Pradesh to ascertain the extent to which longer-term flood relief had reached them and what their situation was about three months after the devastation caused by floods and resultant land erosion. The villages covered include Bada Mahuwasar, Makhanha, Banjarha (Gorakhpur district) Tapra-Radauli and Maharampur-Gopsari (Gonda district), Golaganj, Silauta, Atodar, Munsari-Kodwa and Marowa (Bahraich district).
As per provisions of the CRF and the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF), these people should have received compensation for the loss of crops in this year's floods, but residents of all villages visited said that they had not received this help so far. As per the CRF and related provisions, people of flood affected villagers should have been compensated for destroyed or damaged houses. Some of them have received this help but most have not. Those who have received this help have generally received less than the official provision.
As per the CRF and related provisions, farmers whose land has been severely eroded, should have been compensated. But in the five erosion-affected villages that we visited, residents said they had not received this support. Needs of people affected by severe erosion are badly neglected by the administration. The existing provisions for helping them are very inadequate and implementation is poorer. 

There is a ray of hope for some villages (like Munsari in Bahraich district) from where the river has receded. In such cases, a new lease of life can be given to abandoned or uninhabited villages. People in Munsari are eager for such an initiative from the government. In villages where land can be reclaimed from the receding river, timely land identification can thwart the efforts of land mafia to appropriate tracts. 

Families, whose land has been eroded by rivers, can be identified as living below the poverty line or possible antyodya beneficiaries and extended benefits accordingly. But this should not be done at the expense of other poor families.

In Bahraich in particular, we saw some good efforts by the administration in the form of raised hand pumps and toilets for displaced people, but officials themselves conceded that more needed to be done. In some villages, voluntary organisations also did a good job.

Flood and erosion affected people face hunger, undernutrition, malnutrition, and shortage of clothes, particularly warm clothes and blankets. The makeshift dwellings in which they are forced to live after floods and resultant displacement cannot offer protection from extreme weather, particularly the cold wave. Also, levels of indebtedness among flood and erosion affected people are very high. Loans are needed to sustain even very basic standards of living. The victims are forced to borrow at 10 per cent rate of interest per month. Health problems among women and children are rampant. Women suffer the most owing to lack of enough toilets and bathing places which offer some privacy.

Several poor farmers have been unable to sow the rabi crop. The implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme leaves much to be desired. This year, officials who were busy with panchayat elections, didn't give flood victims as much attention as they did last year. However, help wasn't readily available even last year as well.
Keeping in view the above problems, adequate relief and help to victims of flood and river erosion should be extended forthwith. The cold wave across north India makes it not just necessary but urgent. Any further delay would lead to a significant increase in mortality rates. Already, displacement is taking its toll in the form of migrant labour, child labour, disruption of education and related problems. Villages trapped between rivers and embankments should be recognised as very vulnerable and which need special attention and help. But most importantly, victims need a proactive government to make any significant difference to their lives. 

The writer is currently a fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi 







The Online edition of a major Kolkata daily headlined a report such on 1 December, 2010: "Road or campus, held at ransom". News of this kind ceased to be of any interest to Kolkata newspaper editors long ago. But, this time, it was different. This was the first gherao of Presidency University which got its varsity status barely two months ago.

This news item took me back to mid 1966 when I witnessed the first gherao of Presidency College as a student there. I always treat it as the point which marked the beginning of the steady decline of our college. When Presidency College was upgraded to a university, I thought, finally, something had been done to resuscitate the heritage institution. But the 1 December, 2010 datelined news gave me a rude awakening.

It was that long and lazy period of 1966 when final-year undergradute students were waiting for their Part II examination results. Serious trouble had been brewing for a while at Hindu Hostel between the warden and Students' Federation of India (SFI) activists. Much to the distress of the authorities, Hindu Hostel had then become a den of communist student activists ~ most of whom not even official residents there. When matters came to a head, the warden expelled three students from the hostel. All of them were final year students of  Presidency College, notable among them the redoubtable Asim Chatterjee, known universally as Kaka. 

SFI and Presidency College Students Organisation (PCSO) were the only two political student bodies of Presidency College at that time. PCSO was a strange blend of rich kids with Senior Cambridge certificates, some clever students experimenting with their contrarian ideas in a communist milieu and many others who were simply fed up with the confrontational attitude of their communist classmates. PCSO claimed to be the party of Independents with no political affiliation. The reality was, as always, more complex.

The day after the expulsion of the three students from Hindu Hostel, communist students picketed the college, denying entry to staff and students. This enraged young PCSO activists, and with encouragement from some final-year students, they defeated the picketers' purpose by successfully scaling the college fence. An inevitable confrontation followed and college teachers had to intervene. Although no classes could be held that day, it became abundantly clear that communist sympathisers would not be able to enforce a strike the next day. This enraged the hard-core SFI activists who threatened to teach the PCSO members a lesson. The final-year PCSO students, who had encouraged the younger activists to scupper the SFI demonstration, were in a fix. One of them contacted a well-known newspaper group and secured an appointment with the Congress party president, Atulya Ghosh, for early next morning. 

At that time, Atulya Ghosh was the most powerful person in West Bengal. His soft corner for good students apparent, he was incredibly friendly and understanding during the interaction. He heard the PCSO activists out though the general feeling was that he had been briefed about it already. The veteran Congressman finally made an indirect promise to provide muscle power through his nephew.

When the PCSO delegation reached Presidency College the next day, goons backed by both parties were everywhere on College Street. Confident PCSO leaders spent the day in the company of Congress-backed gang leaders in Coffee House. Their dangerous companions were in appropriate awe of the city's best students but seemed totally clueless about their expected role in the affairs of Bengal's premier college. But that association ended the PCSO's pretense of political independence.

That day was otherwise uneventful but an air of uncertainty was palpable the next. Once Kaka realised that the posh PCSO brigade had its backers too, he arrived at something of a compromise with its final-year members. He then chose me to announce to the students the face-saving agreement that had been hammered out. One look at the sea of students crowding the historic stairs of the main building, and I froze. Kaka did the honours. Presidency College started functioning normally again and I decided that a career in politics was not for me. 
All was well till the College's governing body (or a similar administrative organ) met to assess the situation and decided that the three students expelled from Hindu Hostel would not be allowed to pursue a Master's degree through Presidency College. It was really an inconsequential decision because students could simply enroll with Calcutta University to pursue a Master's. In fact, few took up post-graduate studies at our college. But this gave Kaka an opportunity to revive his mission. Communist students orchestrated the first gherao of our principal, Dr Sanat Bose, demanding the withdrawal of that order. A mathematician, Dr Bose was an able administrator. During his tenure,  the college had on its faculty some of the most illustrious academics to have taught in the history of Presidency College. Most importantly, he was affectionate with students. The unceremonious gherao and insulting slogans from students devastated him. He often shared his anguish with me. Finally, Dr Bose solicited and obtained a faculty position in the USA, and left Calcutta demoralised. Shortly afterwards, he passed away in a foreign land where he was forced to relocate at an advanced age and largely against his wishes. 

AN Ray, who later became the Chief Justice of India, was the president of the governing body of our college that that time. He flatly refused to rescind the expulsion order. With no solution in sight, Kaka called for a bandh of not only Presidency College, but of Calcutta University as well. Higher education in Calcutta stood paralysed. As the stalemate continued, some communist students ransacked the chemistry laboratory of the college.

Next morning, I went to Ray's residence to talk it over. The vandalism was front-page news in all dailies accompanied by telling photographs of the damaged laboratory. Ray was fuming over a cup of coffee and called for an arrest of the offenders. He was interrupted by a domestic help who announced that a gentleman by the name of Jyoti Basu had come to see him. AN Ray realised the purpose of the veteran communist leader's visit and decided against meeting him alone. He asked me to be present as well.

At that time, Basu enjoyed the people's unstinted appreciation for his untiring criticism of the corrupt Congress government but he was not taken so seriously because of the view that the man was destined to remain an Opposition leader forever. Of course, no one had any inkling then that within a year, he would be the deputy chief minister of West Bengal. 

It was apparent that Basu and Ray had met after a long time. They called each other by their first names and reminisced about common friends from their student days in London. They also wondered about their divergent career trajectories. Basu pleaded with Roy to take back the students, he said he would see to it that they apologised. The communist leader thought it was unnecessary to be so harsh with youngsters who had, in his opinion, well, only strayed a bit. He also said that they could well have been their own children.  

Suddenly two guests arrived unannounced. One was a distant nephew of Ray, and the other a practicing barrister of Calcutta High Court. They referred to both Basu and Ray as mama (maternal uncle) and soon enough, the conversation took a different turn altogether. Within 10 minutes, Basu stood up, excused himself and left. As soon as he left, the visitors confided that Prafulla Sen, the then chief minister of West Bengal, had sent them to sabotage the meeting.

The communist strike brought higher education in Calcutta to a standstill and middle-class parents, who comprised the main supporter base of the communists at that time, were becoming increasingly jittery. Sensing that the shutdown may jeopardise their cause, the CPM leadership decided not to back the bandh anymore. After a gap of four to five months, things slid back to normal. But the damage had been done. Final examinations of city colleges had to be pushed back for an equal duration. As a result, Calcutta University students lost one academic year. This triggered an exodus of the city's best and the brighest to the IITs and to universities in Delhi, thereby irrevocably destroying the academic atmosphere of Calcutta. 
PS  In 1967, a political earthquake shook India with the Congress losing power at the Centre and many states. Despite becoming part of a coalition government, Jyoti Basu could not rescind the expulsion order of the three Presidency College students. Soon after, the bright communist activists of our college joined the Naxalite movement. The rest is history.

The author is ex-dean and professor of applied mathematics at the University of Twente, The Netherlands 






The observations alleged to have been made by Sir Henry Cotton at a meeting of Indians held at the house of Mr Bepin Chandra Pal are in their implications of so shocking a character that we can only assume the report given by the Daily Chronicle to be inaccurate and misleading. Sir Henry Cotton has held high office in the service of the Government of India. He has been the administrator of a province. He must know, therefore, that it is his duty to measure his words in any reference to Indian affairs. Yet, according to the Daily Chronicle, he told his Indian friends that "they must not express themselves too strongly or they would fall into inevitable trouble, as the picture of their unfortunate friend Savarkar on the well reminded them." Sir Henry Cotton is thus made to refer to Savarkar as his "friend," a friend who has been "unfortunate" only because he expressed himself too strongly. We cannot believe that the late Chief Commissioner of Assam can have held forth in such language. For what are the facts relating t the "unfortunate friend"? In the first place, Savarkar lauded and commended as examples the mutineers of 1857, who butchered not only English offices but women and children. According  to the judgment of the Bombay High Court, he "was the leader of a group of ardent revolutionists at the India House. He completed while he was there a History of the Indian Mutiny or as he calls it 'The Indian War of Independence' in Marathi, which was translated into English by other residents at the India House." Nor was this all. He "dispatched to India inflammatory pamphlets styled 'Oh Martyrs' in praise of those Indians who fell on the rebel side during the Mutiny, and metal buttons which have been referred to in this case as Mutiny buttons." Even if this literary activity can be excused as the blunder of a misguided patriot who "expressed himself too strongly," no such plea will avail for his energy in a more practical direction. The Judges of the Bombay High Court found that "in August and September, 1908, he was occupied with other associates at the India House in manifolding a number of typed copies of a work dealing with the preparation of bombs and dangerous explosives suitable for anarchical outrages.  Many of these were dispatched by post to various places in India."







THE assassination of the Governor of Pakistan's dominant Punjab province is symptomatic of the crisis of identity that has plagued the country since its creation. Democracy remains a fig-leaf as it always has been over the past 64 years. The libertarian sentiment ~ however limited and feeble in an Islamic state ~ has been muzzled and mortally so. The beleaguered country, under a tottering central authority, resonates to the gunfire of the 26 bullets that killed Salmaan Taseer. The enormity of the tragedy confirms, if confirmation were needed, that furiously fundamentalist elements have permeated the security network ~ even the military ~ at all levels. Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the alleged assassin who belonged to the elite guards, personifies the trend. And it is an awesome trend that is confirmed with the arrest of no fewer than 39 securitymen and the full-throated support for Qadri in court. Taseer has had to pay for his intrepid condemnation of the blasphemy law as "black" legislation, enacted in the heyday of the fundamentalist General-cum-President, Zia-ul-Haq. His meeting in a Lahore jail with Asia Bibi, a Christian sentenced to death for making derogatory remarks against the blasphemy law, appears to have been the immediate provocation. The liberal establishment the world over may well regard the Governor as  a martyr in the fight against fundamentalism. Within Pakistan, it may be still more difficult for politicians and libertarians in civil society to bare their angst over Islamist trends, most importantly the law on blasphemy that carries the sentence of death. Tuesday's tragedy could silence the religious opposition to passivity.

Central to the assassination has been the misuse of the blasphemy law, of a sinister nature that has now been confirmed by the minority affairs minister, Shahbaz Bhatt. His statement that hundreds of non-Muslims have been wrongly implicated in blasphemy cases should serve as an indictment of the government that is neither here nor there. Warnings by human rights groups that the law has been used to persecute minorities, notably Christians, have been ignored by successive post-Zia dispensations. At another remove, attempts to amend the law have repeatedly been scuttled by prominent Muslim religious groups. Politically, the assassination could not have come at a worse time. The government is struggling to rustle up a semblance of a majority after desertions by the Jamiat, the MQM and most recently the PML(N), the second largest party in the ruling coalition. It is struggling too to shore up its parlous economy in the face of IMF's refusal to advance its next tranche. In a word, the political structure is collapsing in a country that doubles up as the breeding ground of Islamist terrorist outfits. Three years after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan has reached a perilous pass. And the crisis goes beyond fundamentalism, liberalism and secularism. Pluralism has been deleted from the footnotes of Pakistan's tumultuous history.




GIVEN his paranoia over unwitting involvement in dubious defence deals ~ particularly after the Bofors cloud has re-emerged over his party ~ it is possible to understand AK Antony's statement in Chaliyam (Kerala) that there will be no haste in processing the multi-billion dollar deal to acquire 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft. "Before a deal is signed a lot of procedures have to be completed. The utmost care is exercised at each stage of finalising the contract. We will not do anything in a jiffy". Yet the reality is that to talk of "in a jiffy" borders on the jocular for the proposal has been underway for at least a couple of years and there are no signs of the selection being finalised, and only thereafter will laborious contract negotiations commence. Since combat aircraft are not available off-the-shelf a minimum of five years would elapse before the fighters enter squadron service. But since the IAF's fleet is fast diminishing to an all-time low, what the minister projects as due diligence lends itself to condemnation as dithering. Apart from the frustration of military commanders at having to formulate plans for tomorrow's war with yesterday's equipment, thought must be given to whether it is fair to make young pilots use aircraft that are kept airborne only because of Herculean efforts of the technical personnel. Can any minister place his personal interests so far above those of the "soldier"? The IAF had drawn attention to its dwindling fleet long ago: its workhorse ~ the MiG-21 ~ has been over-flogged, the indigenous LCA that was to assume that role is still far away. So the obsession with a foolproof deal is proving a stumbling block. If this acquisition is not finalised soon, a case might even be made out for scrapping it since the "joint-development" Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft might be emerging on the horizon when the MMRCA are due for delivery.

This is not the only deal that is caught in red tape. And with a new procurement policy on the anvil the overall process of modernisation and re-equipment merely limps along, despite funds generally being available. Antony must ask himself if his "cleanliness" has trickled down, and if it has come in the way of keeping our forces state-of-the-art. Unacceptable is the theory that the less you do, the less you can get wrong.




MR Pranab Mukherjee has advanced a proposal to his HRD counterpart, indeed one that does not come within his ministerial remit. The Union finance minister has suggested that Jadavpur University be converted to a Central university; the reason has been left delightfully vague. JU today is one of the country's finest institutions, one that any government would be proud of. It is among the top five in UGC ratings, has been awarded the highest grading of five stars by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, and nominated as a "lead institution" under World Bank-funded programmes. In the process, Jadavpur has become the Centre's object of envy. It was only to be expected that the Bengal Left and the higher education department would oppose the proposal, however cordial Mr Mukherjee's personal chemistry with the Chief Minister might be. It isn't exactly a question of retaining the state authorities' hold over one of the more important academic turfs. Any state government would be loath to part control with such a centre of excellence, embedded in a dedicated faculty and equally serious students. The sterling credentials of the university are universally accepted; what remains unstated is the Union finance minister's underpinning or sudden interest in changing Jadavpur's character. The issue is far too critical for pre-election speculation.

A Central university label shall only benefit the faculties. Hence the laboured campaign by a section of the teachers in favour of the "central tag". The bonanza of the last pay award for academics will doubtless be further enhanced with the additional lolly of Central DA. Beyond such fiscal calculations, upgradation to a Central university can have no tangible impact on the advancement of learning in science, arts and engineering. Is it possible that Mr Mukherjee is trying to woo a section of the teachers with fatter wallets on pay day? Arguably, his objective is election-driven and far removed from academics. Bengal is legitimately proud of Jadavpur University; there can be no call for a contrived central embroidery, not unless benefits to the cause of education become evident.









An extraordinary role reversal has occurred in Pakistan. Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor and crusader of progressive values and minority rights, has died an inglorious death, and his assassin, a fanatic who took the life he was assigned to protect, has found new life as a national hero. The countrywide adulation for Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the security guard who killed Taseer, symptomizes the subterranean shift that has happened deep within Pakistan's society. It is no longer the Westernized, educated (sometimes landed) elite, with their penchant for a moderate, liberal and harmless Islam, who call the shots in Pakistan. They have been upstaged by the virulently anti-West, vernacular-speaking middle and lower middle classes who have, for some time now, been laying an equal claim on the economic and intellectual resources of the country. And the latter believe, like the religious political parties and organizations they patronize, that the fundamental duty of Pakistan, as an Islamic State, is to enable Muslims to order their lives in accordance with the Quran and the sunna. It is not entirely their doing that the interpretation of that duty (most often by politicians trying to keep their job by pacifying the ulema) has come to mean discrimination against, and even persecution of, other religious communities. But the dominant Islam, as it stands today in Pakistan, is intolerant, Salafist and unsparing of anyone who is seen to undermine what is perceived to be 'pure' Islam. The enemies of that pristine religion could be the minority Shias, Ahmadiyas, Sikhs, Christians, or the government itself, when it tries to undo laws, such as those concerning blasphemy, put in place to defend that religion. The protectors of pure Islam are naturally people like Qadri, who place their duty towards their religion above those assigned to them by a treacherous government. Little wonder then that Qadri is being showered with petals while Taseer has been given a quiet burial.


The religious trend in Pakistan would appear to be more dangerous if one were to remember that it aspires to be part of the stateless ummah, a concept that also fires the imagination of the network of terror groups spread across the world. The shariatization of education and politics in Pakistan has fed the radicalization of its polity. It is time to take stock of the damages if the situation is to be retrieved.








Blaming India for their own failures is an old ploy for Nepal's politicians. That the Maoists, too, routinely do this should not surprise New Delhi. What is significant, though, is that a section of the leadership is now openly opposing the anti-India line pushed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The dissenters include senior party leaders such as its vice-chairman, Baburam Bhattarai. By indulging in another bout of India-baiting, Mr Dahal, better known as 'Prachanda', has unwittingly exposed the state of his own party. The rift within the party also reflects Mr Dahal's frustration over his inability to become the prime minister for a second term. He has repeatedly accused New Delhi of thwarting his ambition. What Mr Dahal is unwilling to accept is the fact that not only the other major parties but also sections within his own party do not want him at the head of another government in Kathmandu. The more he feels threatened by some of his own comrades, the more he seeks to invent enemies at home and abroad. The rift within the UCPN(M) is thus largely a matter of Mr Dahal's personal ambition. But then, communist leaders everywhere try to use their parties to build their personal empires.


Of course, New Delhi has a stake in Nepal's politics. Nothing suits India's interests better than a democratic and politically stable Nepal. If India helped persuade Nepal's Maoists to end their armed rebellion and join the political mainstream, it was done to ensure peace and stability in the country. If the peace process in Nepal remains incomplete and its political stability faces yet another threat, the Maoists themselves are to blame. The former rebels seem desperate to not allow a democratic government function if they cannot head it. Their obstructionist strategies have nearly paralyzed the constituent assembly and the functioning of the caretaker government. It is almost certain that the constituent assembly will fail yet another deadline for drafting a new constitution that will lay down the guidelines for fresh elections to parliament. Also, the unfinished task of the United Nations Mission in Nepal, whose term expires on January 15, could derail the peace process. But the Maoists see all these failures as their chance to seize power through another 'people's revolution'. It is a plot that must be foiled for the sake of peace and democracy in Nepal.









The one criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that doesn't stand up to exacting scrutiny is that he doesn't know what's happening in his government. Singh may be habitually reticent and he may often feign ignorance and helplessness — but that is not to suggest he is unaware.


The point is worth illustrating. The last occasion Singh spoke publicly on the unending growth versus environment controversy was at a media interaction on September 6 last year. Asked about industry's fear of the rampaging minister for environment, Jairam Ramesh, the PM proffered what seemed a tangential answer. We have, he said, no intention of reverting to the licence-permit raj.


The answer was revealing. Having played a part in blunting the jagged edges of over-regulation, Singh was able to see the headline-grabbing actions of Ramesh for what they really are: a resuscitation of controls, using a 'green' cover.


Unfortunately, the PM did with his penetrating insight what he has done with other great policy derailments: looked the other way. He may have tacitly encouraged the Planning Commission chief, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, to ask if Ramesh knew the implications of chalking "no-go" areas for economic activity. He may also not have intervened to stop other inter-ministerial disputes involving the ministry of environment from spilling out into the open. But Ramesh has treated decorous voices of scepticism with all the swagger and brashness of a bully from the Praetorian Guard.


The rise and rise of Jairam Ramesh has been one of the most astonishing stories of 2010. An apparatchik with not even a hint of a mass base, he is today arguably the most powerful minister in the UPA-II government. He has become to economic policy what Pranab Mukherjee is to political management. His reputation isn't based on his success in making India a more green and pleasant land but on his penchant for saying 'no'. In a polity where real power lies with the states, he has made his ministry the instrument of the Centre's intrusiveness, with devastating consequences.


Ramesh's 'achievements' are awesome. He has blocked the largest foreign direct investment of Rs 51,000 crore by Posco in Orissa, stymied the emergence of India as the largest aluminium producing hub in the world, disrupted the Rs 2,000 crore initial public offering of the first private sector-created hill station of Lavasa in Maharashtra, and put a spanner in the works of two Jindal-promoted steel plants in Orissa and Chhattisgarh. The opportunity costs of his veto may well equal the Mahatma Gandhi national rural employment guarantee scheme budget!


That's not all. He has unilaterally flouted all guidelines and committed India at Cancún to positions that could undermine national sovereignty and jeopardize the country's future growth. He has shifted the parameters of India's environment diplomacy at both Copenhagen and Cancún, disregarding the advice of India's tried-and-tested negotiators. What is particularly striking is the dreary frequency with which he has personally repudiated the inviolable red lines of India's global positions, much to the amusement of the rest of the world.


In between, he has questioned the government's approach to national security during a visit to China and batted shamelessly for Chinese companies, presumably in pursuit of his Chindia pipe dream. More astonishing, Ramesh has done all this and more after repeatedly rubbing the PM and senior cabinet colleagues the wrong way.


A lesser politician would have been shown the door and made to cool his heels on the back benches. Shashi Tharoor (before his political hara-kiri) was ticked off by party bigwigs for his harmless displays of public-school humour on Twitter. But Ramesh has emerged unscathed from all the controversies and, indeed, grown from strength to strength. He even considered it prudent to level a blanket accusation at the entire political class, claiming harassment by members of parliament lobbying for corporates that have been stung by his decisions.


There are activists who see Ramesh as the best thing since sliced bread: a doughty 'green' crusader who is not afraid of doing what is right and playing by the rule book. He has, they say, put environmental activism on the map of India, not least by heeding Medha Patkar on Lavasa, Bianca Jagger on Vedanta and Greenpeace on Posco, appointing National Advisory Council activists to expert committees, and being influenced by internationally-funded advocacy groups on climate change. If public opinion in India was shaped by earnest graduates of American liberal arts colleges and environmental journalists, Ramesh would have been top dog politically — with the added attribute that he is 'very close' to the equally earnest heir apparent.


Unfortunately, life isn't all black and white. Behind Ramesh's fearless willingness to kick all polluters in the butt lurk malevolent political calculations. The minister, for example, played with a straight bat on the airport in Navi Mumbai. He made Praful Patel sweat, shed tears for the mangrove swamps and then proceeded to clear the project with token caveats. The stakes were just too high and any non-clearance would have led to him being roasted alive by the state Congress.


Equally, he deemed the Jaitapur nuclear power plant of strategic importance and linked it with the Indo-US nuclear agreement. In a different context, he would have waved a report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, describing the project as a "social disaster", to issue an immediate 'stop work' notice. This time, the protests didn't matter because they were, in his view, "politics on the pretext of environment".


He should know. The stay on Vedanta's Niyamgiri project was timed to allow Rahul Gandhi his "sipahi" moment. The dispute in Lavasa arose out of a turf battle: should the clearances have come from the Maharashtra government or the Centre? In the case of Posco, Vedanta and Jindal, brownie points were earned by deflating Naveen Patnaik's aspirational balloon. Additionally, in the case of Posco, there was the delight of undermining the prime minister, who had taken a personal interest in the successful completion of the project. Presumably, from Ramesh's perspective, these decisions didn't amount to playing "politics on the pretext of environment".


There were other sub-texts as well. The Lavasa promoter, it is widely believed, was tarred and made to suffer a huge loss of business credibility for supposedly being 'close' to Sharad Pawar. A project which began in 2004 and has more or less completed its first phase was ordered by Ramesh's ministry to restore status quo ante! The order was subsequently modified but it revealed a mindset. In the case of Vedanta, N.C. Saxena, a member of the inquiry committee, recently admitted to The Indian Express that the decision would have been different if the company had given jobs to 500 local tribals. Posco was asked by Ramesh's ministry to commit some Rs 3,000 crore to a corporate social responsibility programme as a precondition of clearance. These may be worthwhile political calculations, but they were certainly not "green" considerations.


In a recent interview, Ramesh claimed that "I want to professionalise the system of decision-making. I have proposed the establishment of a National Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Authority — a professional body, independent of the Ministry." This may well happen in the future but, for the moment, Ramesh has made the ministry of environment a celebration of discretion and arbitrariness. He has merrily set about adding to the scope of his jurisdiction, taking on non-Congress state governments and overturning existing clearances. His 'green' norms are breathtakingly simple — "show me the person, I'll show you the rule." That, many would say, is what defines governance in India.








Will there be a reshuffle of portfolios in the Central cabinet? Will there be a concerted effort to change the existing status quo on all things important, such as a radical change of general secretaries and senior office-bearers in the Congress as well as important secretaries in the government, many of whom are on 'extension', thereby disallowing other individuals to rise and occupy the high table of decision-making? Will those passing the civil service examinations always have to forego their right to reach the top of their careers because of this terrible reality of 'extensions'? Is the government of India going to return to the rules of the book and restore some credibility in appointments and in the operation of norms that might ensure better governance?


It is clear that the situation on the ground in many states is spiralling out of control for the Congress. In Tamil Nadu, the slow and ponderous movement of the Congress, as it reacts and responds to rapidly changing realities, has diluted its position vis-à-vis the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, permitting Karunanidhi and his sons and daughters to gain an upper hand. The impression is that the party is confused and without a clear plan of action. In Andhra Pradesh, Jaganmohan Reddy has stolen a march over the ruling party and will gain ground on an emotive plea. The Congress has lost the state. Karnataka does not have a 'face' that represents the party. And it is believed that Kerala is disturbed by the scams linked with the United Progressive Alliance and the Congress, and will be wary of a partnership with the latter. There is an aversion to corruption, particularly in states that are looking out and beyond, emerging as independent economic powers within the Union of India. Therefore, finely calibrated political timing is essential if the Congress wants to turn the tide in its favour in the southern states.


Fresh start

In politics, a change in perceptions lead to a change in trends. At this point of time, it appears as though the Congress is losing its headstart rather fast and is complacent because it feels that the Opposition, as it stands today, will not be in a position to replace it. Nothing could be further from the truth, as history has shown time and again. Within the party, the blame for recent losses is being placed on the younger leadership led by Rahul Gandhi. A silent anti-next-generation campaign is snaking its way through the corridors of the party office and onto the streets beyond. The calculation is that the high command, in its quiet dignity, will not react or put an immediate and definite end to this double-talking betrayal. However, times have changed, perceptions and aspirations too have changed, and this old trick of stabbing peers and fellow travellers in the back may not work much longer. This kind of political corruption will start getting exposed and the players will soon find themselves tied up in knots. It is only a question of time.


To set a fresh and more credible standard, the government needs to cease the service of all top officers who are on extension, and bring in the next batch of officers in an effort to stem the rot. Checks and balances need to be restored, integrity of purpose needs to get precedence over other issues to ensure that the process of cleansing gets underway. Timetables need to be created and rigid accountability needs to kick in immediately. The corrective must begin within the Congress and the UPA government, starting from the top. This is imperative if faith and trust in the larger ruling class is to be re-ignited.


The awaited reshuffle could be the first step in the right direction, if done with a serious intent to change the prevailing status quo. It could well be a damp squib though.




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





The Srikrishna Committee report has lobbed the ball of the Telangana issue back into the government's court. It has refrained from coming out with a clear-cut recommendation on whether Andhra Pradesh should be bifurcated or how to create a separate Telangana state. Instead it has put forward six options and listed the pros and cons of each. 

However, it has indicated its least and most favoured options. It has said that keeping Andhra Pradesh united and simultaneously providing certain definite constitutional/statuary measures for socio-economic development and political empowerment of Telangana region through the creation of a statutorily-empowered Telangana Regional Council is the best option. The committee feels this option provides for development of all the regions even as it ensures that Telangana's needs will not be ignored.

The report has indicated that maintaining the status quo is untenable. Other options provide for various permutations and combinations with Hyderabad becoming the capital of one or the other unit or being made a Union Territory.

If for decades successive governments avoided making a decision on the creation of a separate Telangana, it was not because they were not aware of various alternatives or the merits and demerits of each but because none were willing to grab the bull by its horns, given the electoral costs of such a thorny decision.

It was to avoid these costs and at the same time confronted by violent unrest that the UPA government appointed a committee hoping it would make the difficult decision. But the Srikrishna report has not offered that comfort. The government cannot duck a decision now. Home Minister P Chidambaram is right in asking all parties to read the report carefully and come up with suggestions. His consultative approach is welcome.

The refusal of pro-Telangana parties like the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti and the BJP to participate in the meeting called by the home minister to discuss the report is unfortunate. Taking a rigid position and an approach that precludes exchange of ideas and viewpoints is undemocratic. The coming weeks are likely to see various parties engage in tactics to pressure the government to support one view or another.

The government is likely to resort to an old trick that several before it have adopted in dealing with the Telangana issue ie procrastination. But decision making on the issue should not be put off any longer. As the report points out the status quo — even if only a tactic — is untenable.








The Srikrishna Committee report has lobbed the ball of the Telangana issue back into the government's court. It has refrained from coming out with a clear-cut recommendation on whether Andhra Pradesh should be bifurcated or how to create a separate Telangana state. Instead it has put forward six options and listed the pros and cons of each. 

However, it has indicated its least and most favoured options. It has said that keeping Andhra Pradesh united and simultaneously providing certain definite constitutional/statuary measures for socio-economic development and political empowerment of Telangana region through the creation of a statutorily-empowered Telangana Regional Council is the best option. The committee feels this option provides for development of all the regions even as it ensures that Telangana's needs will not be ignored.

The report has indicated that maintaining the status quo is untenable. Other options provide for various permutations and combinations with Hyderabad becoming the capital of one or the other unit or being made a Union Territory.

If for decades successive governments avoided making a decision on the creation of a separate Telangana, it was not because they were not aware of various alternatives or the merits and demerits of each but because none were willing to grab the bull by its horns, given the electoral costs of such a thorny decision.

It was to avoid these costs and at the same time confronted by violent unrest that the UPA government appointed a committee hoping it would make the difficult decision. But the Srikrishna report has not offered that comfort. The government cannot duck a decision now. Home Minister P Chidambaram is right in asking all parties to read the report carefully and come up with suggestions. His consultative approach is welcome.

The refusal of pro-Telangana parties like the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti and the BJP to participate in the meeting called by the home minister to discuss the report is unfortunate. Taking a rigid position and an approach that precludes exchange of ideas and viewpoints is undemocratic. The coming weeks are likely to see various parties engage in tactics to pressure the government to support one view or another.

The government is likely to resort to an old trick that several before it have adopted in dealing with the Telangana issue ie procrastination. But decision making on the issue should not be put off any longer. As the report points out the status quo — even if only a tactic — is untenable.








Islamabad will have to do something whereby people in India are assured that no attack would take place from across the border.


Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah said soon after winning Pakistan that his country would never mix state with religion. The forces which are today trying to assert are going against the undertaking he gave. The killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer indicates not only religious extremism but also the disdain shown to Jinnah's teachings.

No doubt, liberal Taseer characterised the law of blasphemy against women as 'a black act.' But this was his opinion which he never enforced on the government. Fundamentalists do not tolerate any other viewpoint. But Pakistan is a democratic polity which allows dissent.

It is strange that the killing has been criticised by the Pakistan People's Party. Others are either quiet or go over the exercise of criticism for show. And the role of some ulemas is tragic because they are supporting what the assassin has done. They are giving the murder an interpretation that may be grist to the propaganda mills in the West.

The killing brings to my mind the assassination of Indira Gandhi. In her case also, the security guards used the gun meant to protect her. But that was a protest against the army's entry into the Golden Temple, the Sikhs' holy place. The community has come to forgive the government after Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi sought apologies in parliament and at the Golden Temple.

Pakistan's case is different because extremism is on the rise. The more fundamentalisms are propitiated, the more they get strengthened. The Taliban on the one side and the bigoted among the people on the other can be harmful to the nation's development and progress.

New Delhi can be of some help in the situation by starting a dialogue with Islamabad. People in Pakistan may see in the talks a way out of the impasse they face on so many fronts. India's foreign minister S M Krishna may be justified in his statement that Pakistan's posture of 'compulsive hostility' towards India would not help a serious and sustained dialogue between the two countries.

But this was a curt reply to Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Reza Gilani's speech that his country and India could not afford another war, stressing that a dialogue was the way out to resolving differences. New Delhi should not forget that Pakistan is a nuclear power. I recall the warning that Dr A Q Khan gave when he said that Pakistan would use the bomb "if you ever tried to do what you did in East Pakistan."

Dismantle camps

True, Manmohan Singh agreed to separate terrorism from dialogue at Sharm El Sheikh. But Indian opinion was so horrified over the 26/11 attack by terrorists on Mumbai that no government can afford to move forward without the assurance that terrorists' camps in Pakistan have been dismantled.

Pakistan can say, as its spokesman has pointed out, that India is obsessed with the 26/11 attack even after two years. But this argument does not sell in the country which has suffered at the hands of terrorists. Islamabad will have to do something whereby people in India are assured that no attack would take place from across the border.

Pakistan is itself a prey to terrorism and there is hardly any week when bomb blasts do not take place even on as secure place as the police headquarters. And it does not help if Islamabad is chided that it gave birth to the jihadis of Frankenstein which is beyond its control.

Both are facts: India's fear of terrorist attack and Pakistan's helplessness to rein in the fundamentalists or, more so, the Taliban. Yet it is also a fact that the two countries cannot seek a solution to the problem they face unless they begin to talk. Terrorism itself may find the joint approach of the two countries a deterrent.

I met two young men from Kashmir a few days ago. One was a Muslim who argued that if India did not give 'azadi' to Kashmir, they would come to believe in the two-nation theory. He described how his house was destroyed and the family members maltreated at the hands of security forces.

The other young man was a Kashmiri pandit who had sought shelter — and vocation — at Mumbai. He was equally bitter because his family had been forcibly ousted from his house at Srinagar and some members got injured in the process. He blamed writers like me who 'sympathised' with those who were out to break up India.

There are too many hands involved in the mix of Kashmir. Abdul Ghani Bhatt of Hurriyat has said that Mirwaiz's father and Abdul Ghani Lone were killed by the terrorists, not by the security forces or any other government agency. The terrorists are playing havoc in both the countries.

India and Pakistan must resume talks. And once they begin they should not break until they find a solution to the problems. Both countries may have to resile from their firm positions. But governments and political parties should not mind even losing face. The alternative is perpetual confrontation which people in the region do not relish. They want to live in peace so that they can improve their standard of living.







Deng Xiaoping acknowledged China's 'mistakes' early and changed the course dramatically.


Addressing the CEOs in 2005, prime minister Manmohan Singh had exhorted that India should try to emulate a country like China if it aimed at a greater share of the world trade. That year also happened to be first time Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visited India.

In 2010, the Chinese premier told a meeting of business leaders during his recent visit: "China and India are partners for cooperation, not rivals in competition."

What was Manmohan Singh hinting at by saying "a country like China"? Loath to hyphenation with Pakistan, we seem to be smug about the fact that now we are being compared to China. Impressive results count in the long run so there is little point in carping about the many pitfalls of China, the foremost of which is its lack of democracy.
In China, a general liberalisation in the 1980s, of its economic policies allowed private businesses to flourish as credits flowed to peasant start-ups and rural poverty fell dramatically. It was soon to be followed by the massacre of the Tiananmen Square in 1989.


Afterwards the state changed tack by chocking off credit to rural entrepreneurs, switching loan capital instead into large, rebuilt state-owned enterprises and urban infrastructures, and — not least — granting massive advantages to foreign capital drawn to big cities during which time inequality — not only between village and city-dwellers, but within the urban divide itself, was at its zenith.

As a fallout, labour's share of the GDP fell, peasants lost land, rural health care and schooling were dismantled. Amid a 'forest of grand theft', officials, developers and foreign executives prospered while families struggled to get by in the "world's most successful Potemkin metropolis".

China practices a variety of capitalism that has been deformed by a corrupt and self-aggrandising state which denies its people liberty to manage their own economic affairs. A new working class of migrant workers from the countryside are lowly waged, toil up to 70 to 80 hours a week, without any security in atrocious working conditions. 

China is now one of the most unequal and labour-repressive societies in the world. Is autocracy good? At least so it seems in case of China. The size of Chinese economy is way too larger than that of India.

Labour-intensive manufacture exports contribute almost 40 per cent to the Chinese GDP compared to only 16 per cent in India. China's per capita GDP growth has averaged 8 per cent since 1980, which is double that of India's per capita GDP growth rate. By 2004, India received $5.3 billion in FDI, which was less than 10 per cent of the $60.6 billion that flowed into China. According to a prediction by Goldman Sachs, India's GDP will exceed that of Germany in 2025 and Japan in 2035, the USA in 2050, China in 2082.

Overall, when it comes to some welfare indicators, such as living standards, poverty alleviation, female literacy and life expectancy, China has raced past India by a wide margin. Since 1990, China has tripled per capita income and has eased 300 million out of poverty. China, with lesser cultivable land, produces double the foodgrains. The quantum of China's foreign trade is huge compared to India. It has been the second largest buyer of US treasury bonds after Japan, helping to finance the huge US deficits. It is also one of the top importers of oil and raw materials.

China has a huge reservoir of domestic saving — about 40 per cent of GDP — to plough into its mammoth infrastructure. It attracts massive inflows of foreign direct investment as the means to acquire technology, managerial expertise, and factories. With close to a 24 per cent of national saving rate, only a little more than half that of China, India has far less in the way of internally-generated funds to invest into infrastructure.

A look into the trajectory of the two countries lends one to understand that at independence in 1947, two years before the Chinese Communist Party liberated China, India was ahead in many sectors. While both lost steam by adopting the planned economy, Deng Xiaoping was able to acknowledge China's 'mistakes' and China's course dramatically changed when he returned to power in 1978. India could not kickstart its engine of economy before 1991.

Long back, Professor Jagdish Bhagwati prognosticated that India may face a cruel choice between rapid expansion and democratic processes. But could we really blame our democracy for not being able to match Chinese growth? In China, capitalism has been grafted on to a state that is fascist in character.

The accumulation dynamics underlying China's growth are already generating serious national and international imbalances. The social cost for working people in China and the rest of the world to mend them is immense. Should China ever relapse into democracy, India would get a real rival.








He was a widower with no children, quite affluent, and an easy target for robbers.


Always on the look-out for rare human qualities among birds and animals, I have stumbled upon yet another instance of larger-than-life quality in a humble canine, a dog named Simba belonging to an old friend, Ramdas. The following is the story of this Simba as told to me by Ramdas.

Ramdas lived in a farm-house, a large sprawling one on the outskirts of the city, with all the fittings for a comfortable living. He had a number of cows and buffaloes in his cattle-shed, most of them milk-yielding, and all the milk they yielded was daily transported to a nearby dairy. All the men working for him would report to duty at five o'clock in the morning and depart in the evening for their respective homes in nearby villages. From that time to the next morning Ramdas would be all alone in the house except for his faithful dog, Simba. He was a widower with no children, quite affluent, and an easy target for robbers on the prowl looking for lonely farm-houses.

And that was how tragedy struck one morning. It was about 4.30 in the morning that Ramdas heard sounds of unusual activity just outside the farm-house. At first he thought it was just his workmen come to milk the cattle. He turned up the wick of the kerosene lamp and held it up to the level of the window and looked out. No, these were not his men, who wouldn't report for work before five. So who were they?

He broke out in a cold sweat at his own question. He kept no fire-arms in the house. Nor was the house electrified, for he was essentially an old-fashioned but peace-loving person.

Simba, the dog, however, knew what was happening, and started barking his head off. He was scratching at the door frantically, asking to be let out to tackle the intruders. Ramdas opened the door just a crack, hoping that the sight of the dog would make the ruffians take to their heels. But no sooner had the door swung back on its rusty hinges than Simba dashed out and went for the unwelcome visitors.

There was the sound of a struggle, a thud, and then everything was quiet for a couple of seconds. The dacoits, three of them, then barged into the house, located the large, steel cupboard in the corner, picked up the key-bunch from a nail on the wall. Suddenly there was a commotion outside. Men rushed in, the men working for Ramdas, and overpowered the dacoits. Providentially, his workmen had turned up for work a little earlier than usual that morning, and that was the undoing of the intruders. But Simba lay still outside the door, done to death with a boulder.

What was surprising, however, was that the poor beast was still loyal to its master, even after his death. Every night after the above gory incident the howling of a dog was to be heard in the small hours of the morning just outside the door where Simba had died. 

Nobody ever ventured anywhere near the farm-house after dark, for it became well-known that a second attempt made on the house some six months later turned out to be a disaster for the robbers who ran for dear life when the howling started and ended with the death of one of them. Obviously Simba, dead, had proved to be more dangerous than when alive.







When a high profile 'Special Investigation Team' (SIT) fails miserably to crack down on the rising incidence of temple thefts in Goa, is it at all surprising that more than 300 temples in the state have come together to form a sort-of alliance to tackle the menace? Chief Minister Digambar Kamat had appointed an SIT to track down the culprits involved in stealing from temples. This was way back in mid-2009. A year-and-a-half later, the 'prestigious' SIT has failed comprehensively. It has been unable to net even a single accused in these theft cases. And, not unexpectedly, the number of break-ins into temples and daring thefts has increased manifold. 
The police need to hang their heads in shame. If the authorities are too lackadaisical and laid-back to bother about going after those who steal from the Gods, then who is to blame the 'aam admi' if they feel that they must take steps to defend what they hold dearest? 

Temple authorities in Goa are perfectly within their rights to form a 'Gomantak Mandir and Dharmik Sanstha Mahasangh' (GMDSM). Since the police will not act, they must do something on their own. Youth in villages will now come forward to form vigilante squads to protect temples. Last year, the Goa Police, unable to make any headway in the case, had itself mooted setting up of a special vigilante force, with police training local youth to keep vigil in and around temple premises. But even that exercise came to naught! 
In the past six years, show official records, more than 250 temples have been looted, says the GMDSM. A number of Churches and Chapels too have been robbed. Earlier, there was a spate of desecration of temples, and more than 50 idols in 35 temples had been desecrated. However, in the last few years, this has significantly reduced. At the same time, outright robberies have spiralled, and we have been seeing an unending series of thefts in temples and churches. Over the last month itself, three major temples including the renowned Chandreshwar temple have been broken into and looted. 

The main objective of GMDSM, says its Convenor Jayesh Thali, is to maintain coordination among temples and religious organisations to provide free-of-cost legal assistance to temple committees to resolve legal matters and to compel the government to work out measures to curb the increasing thefts. It is a fine initiative, and is a telling comment on the utter failure of the police in this matter. 

There are only two problems. The first is that vigilantism has its own problems. Often, even given the best of intentions, good sense takes a back seat and mob mentality rules when such groups chance upon those it feels are suspects. The second problem with the GMDSM is its Convenor. Mr Thali is also the Convenor of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) and it is the one-point agenda of the organisation to shout out that Hinduism is 'in danger' and whip up people's sentiments against the minorities. Coordinating committees of temples should have temple trustees in charge, not politicians that vitiate the atmosphere by making inflammatory speeches and creating communal tension without any real cause.

Munna's gesture

Actor Sanjay Dutt has done well to stop endorsing gutkha brands and other tobacco products. After the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD) wrote a letter to Munnabhai asking him to stop endorsing Goa Gutkha – which defames this state – he agreed. Dutt's contract with the gutkha brand ends in two months and he has said he won't renew it. Munna is also trying to quit smoking. Way to go(a), bhai…!









After closure report by CBI in Arushi murder case the news could not be digested by TV media and it started blowing against CBI for negligence in conducting investigation and showing disrespect and alleging violation of so called women's rights. The Women Commission's chairperson also showed concern over it and the climax was that the Union Law Minister not only showed interest but summoned the Director and literally asked to reopen the investigation. 

Why so much importance in such normal usual murder case? There was nothing unusual in the murder case. It appears that there are some vested interests of TV media and other persons and hence so hue and cry is being made in the case from the very beginning. 

Virtually this is interference in the work of CBI. Last day the then Union Minister Suresh Pachouri who is president of MP Congress blamed the Lokayukata Police for exonerating the CM of the MP state saying that since Lokayukta Police works under the control of the state government it was inevitable that he was to be exonerated. Think Pachouri that he did not allege against Lokayukta that he is also being appointed by the state government such report was inevitable. Here Pachouri, though half heartedly showed maturity in issuing such statement! What wrong does the opposition parties do if they make allegations against CBI that it works under pressure of the ruling Congress?

Why any Law Minister did not show interest in Bofors case or other important scams and summoned the Director to have active investigation in them? The burning example is of G2 Spectrum scam in which due to the present government policies the case could not be investigated till the Supreme Court castigated the government. 

It is learnt that Arushi was to get huge money, property and other wealth. The key points for investigation may be she might have been murdered by the deceased servant at the instance of her parents and then the servant who might have murdered her was also murdered by giving Supari! Nothing shocking. Such an act is called causing disappearance of evidence of offence or giving false information to screen offender. This is well defined under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code. 

Parents of Arushi should not be forgotten that the CBI had also arrested them in the matter but for want of 'strong' and 'cogent' evidence chargesheet could not be filed against them. Remember that all the three servants had been given clean chit. Hence prima facie it is evident that it is her parents who might be responsible for such offence. If the case is reopened the reverse may be the result.

PV Namjoshi







When I was first introduced to the philosophy and belief system of Brahmakumaris just over a decade ago and was briefed about God-Almighty (Paramatma- Baap Dada in BK language) descending over the mortal land on special occasions, using one of the Rajyoginis Dadi Hridaymohini (affectionately called as Gulzar Dadi) as the medium, it was beyond my imagination that such a miracle could ever happen. But just as the proverb goes "seeing is believing" so is my experience too. As the years passed by and as I got to understand BKs belief system and transform myself into one of them, I also gradually got convinced that this miracle is possible. I did some research also on this miracle and it now seems to me quite logical with this belief system. It is only a matter of time when it will be accepted universally too.

In this backdrop the same miracle was witnessed by thousands at the Shantivan complex of the international headquarters of Brahmakumaris at Abu Road in Rajasthan (India) on 3lst December 2010 from late evening till past midnight. It was a scene of reversal of the biblical exodus to Abu Road to witness this miracle on the eve of the incoming new year 2011. Unending long queues of people from all parts of the country and abroad in pure white attires heading towards Abu road were a happy and surprising feast for the eyes to witness this miracle popularly known as Baba Milan which took place in the spacious Diamond Hall on the Shantivan premises. This is a regular feature year after year and every year the number of visitors keep on swelling to more and more thousands. This year it was estimated at roughly  25 to 30 thousand.

The clock in the Diamond Hall struck  8 P.M. when Gulzar Dadi experienced the first sign of invisible Baap Dada's descension on her and hardly within 5 minutes Baap Dada's soul was there in Gulzar Dadi's body for all of us to see,experience and listen.Gulzar Dadi's natural voice suddenly changed into hush hush tone believed to be the Baap Dada's voice.

Baap Dada starts his divine sermons with a happy new year greetings to all. Baap Dada inter alia importantly exhorts to shed all the vices to replace them in the new year with all the virtues. He further exhorts to practise identifying self with the soul in every body and practice Rajyoga meditation in Amrit Vela (early hours of morning commencing from  0330-4 a.m.) to connect the soul with the supreme soul(Paramatma in Paramdham). Commencing with one second's practice after every hour daily will make the souls perfect in connecting themselves with the supreme soul as days pass by , says Baap Dada. Baap Dada calls upon all the souls to stabilize themselves to become strong enough to face all odds and also mould, not compromise, as the situation warrants. Victory is always at ones door. The need is only to realize ones own inner strength and power to achieve this victory, Baap Dada continues. BK teachers should impart these skills to all the souls in the regular early morning (Amritvela) meditation and Murli classes, Baap Dada concludes.

Preceded by formal cutting of a cake, heralding the onset of the new year with cultural and musical performances by the mortals to which Baap Dada was a witness too, just after the intervening midnight of 31st December and 1st January 2011 Baap Dada leaves the body of Gulzar Dadi.

There was a deafening clapping, applause, by over 20 thousand strong gathering inviting him for a come-back soon for the enlightenment and welfare of the mankind which he is supposed to after every fortnight till April 2011.The occasion was an event of rejoicing, revelling and reciting Baap Dada and an experience of Showering Divinity and purifying souls !!!

(The writer is a former Director, Public Relations and a veteran media Faculty) e-mail:
Krishna Chander Mouli







India's 'Save the tiger' campaign continues to win accolades world-wide. Yet in tiger State Madhya Pradesh one wonders whether the Department of Forests is being needlessly cruel to the King of animals in its tiger reserves. It has been trying to relocate tigers from its national parks to the Panna Tiger Reserve from where all its tigers were poached between 2005 and 2009.

Earlier this month the Department had to abandon its plans to relocate two tigresses from the Kanha National Park. The last minute hitch occurred when a close examination of the tigresses revealed that they were not in a fit condition to undertake an eight-hour road journey to the Panna Reserve. Later in the week when another attempt was under contemplation it was found that one of the tigresses had somehow injured itself.
In Rajasthan's Sariska game sanctuary too, nothing much has changed since 2005 when the State made an effort to re-populate the Tiger Reserve. However, given the Madhya Pradesh Government's experience clearly relocating the tigers to another sanctuary would amount to sacrificing them for a cause that various tiger populated State Governments are not committed to.

This is evident from the Panna Game Reserve's distressing history. While tiger experts have been crying hoarse about the depleting tiger numbers in the sanctuary, the State's Forest Department continue to turn a deaf ear. Shockingly, a poacher who was nabbed near Panna town confessed to have traded-in as many as eight tiger skins sourced from the Reserve!

Sadly, this did not set off alarm bells. Despite repeated warnings by the Central Government's Forest Department the State's bureaucracy failed to initiate preventive action. In fact, just before the State Government officially admitted that tigers were extinct in the Reserve in late 2009, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wild Life, vehemently denied the big yellow-eyed cats absence.  His culpability brought no retribution for him.

Significantly, in tiger reserves around the country nothing has improved. Recently, in a sanctuary not only did a re-located tiger move out unnoticed from the Reserve but also two cubs of a re-located tigress disappeared and were presumed dead. Moreover, the tigers to be relocated presently, unused to the wild, are likely to be sitting ducks.
Various State Governments' indifferent attitude towards protection of tigers was elucidated recently by a Chief Minister. Take Madhya Pradesh. The Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has reportedly made plain that he is not in favour of creating a buffer zone as mandated by the Central Wildlife Protection Act.

Worse, the Chief Minister also chose to ignore the Prime Minister's directive in his letter addressed to him in April last. The Panna Reserve especially is well known for its lackadasical attitude, given that some of the Chief Minister's political cronies have mining interests within the proposed buffer area.

A buffer zone, unlike the core area of a reserve, is protected from major changes in land use, is not inviolate and people living in it are provided alternative livelihood options. Undoubtedly, mining operations cannot take place in it.]

However, alarmingly, the Chief Minister sided with his political cronies and asserted, "I cannot sacrifice Panna for the sake of survival of the tigers. Humans were more important than tigers (even in a tiger reserve)." Only the ensuing uproar made Chauhan back-off. Clearly, the Chief Minister is disinclined towards tiger conservation.  He has now opposed the Centrally approved conversion of the Ratapani Sanctuary into a tiger reserve.
This is not all. The Government is vehemently opposing a case pending in the Madhya Pradesh High Court regarding a ban on tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves, in accordance with the guidelines issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Importantly, according to tiger experts, unrestricted tourism has been a bane for tiger reserves in the country.  What many States promote is a vicious kind of uncontrolled tourism with its infamous "tiger shows" that corral tigers by dozens of vehicles and elephants loaded with unconcerned tourists. This is nothing but "irresponsible tourism".

In fact, famous South African safari pioneer Colin Bell avers, "The best model for wilderness is no visitors at all" and, if they must come, better to have "high prices and low numbers".

Towards that end, Madhya Pradesh conducted a study for determining the carrying capacity of tourists in its tiger reserves in 2003. Noticing excessive tourism pressure in the State's tiger reserves, the report made detailed recommendations. Sadly, hardly any of these have been implemented till date.

Add to this, the hypocritical statements by the State Administration in its affidavit against another petition pending in the High Court has added to India's 'tiger woes.' The Government stated that tourism, inter alia, effectively protects tigers and provides employment to locals. Needless to say a fraudulent  statement as despite restricted tourism in the Panna Reserve all its tigers were poached. And, instead of being made stake holders, the locals are given only menial jobs, if at all. 

In sum, the attitude of various States Governments and its forest officials is out of sync with world-wide concern for the depleting numbers of tigers. Significantly, over 13 tiger-range countries met at a Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg recently and committed around $300 million for the next five years towards doubling the current world population of the ecologically vital species by 2022.

But if tiger poaching continues unabated in India's tiger reserves without any checks to control this, it is quite likely that the prognosis of the Conference might come true. Namely, that the beautiful big cat could become extinct by 2022.

Proloy Bagchi, INFA







Madhya Pradesh too like other parts of the country is in the grip of severe cold these days. Ice has started forming on leaves of trees and standing crops in the fields. There are also reports of birds dying due to the intense cold wave conditions. Though human beings are feeling the pinch of the biting cold, the crops too have not been spared and there is danger of their being damaged. It appears that the crops may wither due to intense cold. According to the Met Department, the cold weather may further intensify in the coming days. 

At this time the most important need is to save the crops. Effective pesticides can only save the crops from being destroyed. The farmers also need fertilisers. Sub-standard pesticides are increasing the woes of the farmers as both money and crops are lost.

The Agriculture Department too is faced with the problem of saving the crops. Minimum temperature in Guna and Umaria is reported at 1 degree Celsius. In other parts the temperature has come down to 5 degree Celsius. As per the Met office the temperature may come down to further 4 degrees Celsius. The early mornings are covered by mist and fog.

However amidst this bad news, the good news is that the weather is proving a blessing for the wheat crop. As a result the State expects a bumper production. This season the wheat acreage has gone up to 42 lakh hectares and the production of wheat may touch 90 lakh metric tonnes which is more than last years 84 lakh metric tonne.
In the State's Malwa mandis, the rate of wheat is Rs 1125 per quintal. The wheat traders presume that due to a bumper crop, the prices of the cereal may come down.







The Central Bureau of Investigation has filed closure report in the over two-decade-old Bofors pay off case. However after an income tax tribunal tracked down the money trail in the Bofors scandal, the issue has once again gained prominence. 

Meanwhile, a lawyer opposing the CBI plea claims he has proof that the CBI has a lot of evidence against Quattrocchi, and was asked by the court to file his objections.

An income tax tribunal in its order issued recently clearly shows how much money Quattrocchi and Win Chaddha were paid by Bofors as bribes.

The kickbacks violated rules, as a middleman is illegal in defence deals in India. Therefore, Quattrocchi and Chaddha are liable to pay income tax on bribe money they got while living in India. It also claimed that due to the kickbacks, India had to pay almost Rs. 160 crore extra for the guns.

The Bofors scandal was a major corruption scandal in India in the 1980s; the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and several others were accused of receiving kickbacks from Bofors AB for winning a bid to supply India's 155 mm field howitzer. The Parliament was paralysed over the issue for days. The case came to light during Vishwanath Pratap Singh's tenure as Defence MinisterIn another high profile murder case of teenager Aarushi Talwar, her parents have alleged that the Central Bureau of Investigation closure report in the case is a web of imagination. 

Mother Nupur Talwar said there was a possibility that she left her daughter's door unlocked and left the keys hanging on the door, which gave the killers access to Aarushi's room. 

Rajesh Talwar, the girl's father who is named as the chief suspect in the sensational murder case in the closure report, said the CBI had to be sure before they charge a parent with a child's murder. The premier investigation agency's decision has triggered a row.











Because I slipped on a banana peel or something like that, I've been unable to write for about three months. When did I discover that something had changed? When I heard a taxi driver describe the behavior of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as "double insanity," an unflattering psychiatric expression, and when I heard MK Daniel Ben Simon (Labor) say that a pair of rogues had taken over the country.


With the exception of its improved economic situation, Israel is in bad shape. In its relations with the world it is losing points. Who would have believed that a country that aspired to be a light unto the nations is gradually turning into an object of criticism whose values and policy are being treated as something liable to drag the world into a nuclear war?


After three months of refraining from writing, I find Israel in a process of internal deterioration. Poverty, crime, the weakening of personal security, the ease with which people murder and are murdered, the drunkenness, the violence, a president who is a rapist, political corruption. These things didn't start now, but they never used to be done in broad daylight. The fire in the Galilee, the fire on the train and the lack of means for dealing with disasters such as the earthquake that the experts are predicting have increased the public's lack of confidence in its leadership.


If once we were proud of our nuclear capability, today not many are eager for Israel to attack Iran. If the 30 puny Scud rockets that Iraq launched at the center of the country in 1991 caused tens of thousands of people to flee Tel Aviv, is our home front capable of facing the tens of thousands of missiles that will be aimed at it? In an interview on Channel 10 television, Bibi was asked how he would react if Hamas made good on its threats. His answer was "Our enemies know not to trifle with me. If they fire, the response comes immediately." The question is: How does he know they know that you don't trifle with him? The answer is simple: He knows it from Barak.


The report about the U.S. administration's disappointment with Barak sheds light on the political partnership that Bibi and Barak have developed. "A one-of-a-kind partnership," according to one MK. They whisper secrets to each other, they meet often and they speak over the phone. Bibi, according to those in the know, is concerned that ever more countries will distance themselves from Israel and there will be a wave of global recognition of a Palestinian state. He's afraid Israel will become a minority among a hostile Muslim majority.


There is a symbiosis between the two − each justifies the other's failures. Bibi is the justification for Barak's failure − staying in a right-wing government controlled by Likud-Lieberman-Shas. Barak lends legitimacy to the diplomatic freeze by having served as its defender while working with the Obama administration. He presented himself in Washington as the responsible adult, promising that he would convince Bibi to extend the freeze. As Netanyahu's advocate he didn't keep his word. It was not unexpected that we would hear Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff until early October, say the United States made a mistake when it thought Barak was capable of bending Netanyahu.


Bibi and Barak are linked in their desire to remain together in the government; the urge of two ambitious politicians who failed as prime minister one after the other a dozen years ago or so. If there is disappointment, it's not all with Bibi, a Greater Israel advocate whose government is based on a right-wing majority. To the question of what Barak seeks in this government, there is one answer: He wants to be defense minister. He is focused on himself, flaunting his wealth and the good life.


He can't stand Arabs; nobody has ever heard him as a leader express a desire for peace. All he knows is how to interpret and analyze situations. Nobody has heard a word of criticism or reservations from him about Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He doesn't mind sitting as a minority in a government of Shas or Lieberman, or right-wing MK Yaakov "Ketzeleh" Katz (National Union) or settlement leader Ze'ev "Zambish" Hever − as long as he's defense minister.


He is full of himself and boundlessly arrogant. As deputy chief of staff he called Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander of the invasion of Iraq in 1991, "Kleinkopf" ("small head"). When he was appointed chief of staff he explained to then-Defense Minister Moshe Arens how much more important than Arens he was as chief of staff, because he was subordinate directly to the government. Now as defense minister he is saying and doing the opposite. The defense minister is king, while as far as he's concerned, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is nothing more than a doormat.


Barak recently said that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was a Churchillian parody of a leader. It would be more accurate to say that about Barak. He's a parody of a leader who is slowly but surely disappearing into oblivion.









Life in the opposition is difficult for someone who once served as minister of justice. It's even more difficult for someone who used to be at the focal point of the decision-making process. How else can one explain how it happened that Yossi Beilin, one of Israel's most clear-minded politicians, suggested pardoning former President Moshe Katsav − who was found guilty of rape. Had someone other than Beilin raised the idea, one could have regarded it as merely a public nuisance and nothing more.


According to Beilin's proposal − which was brought up during the "Politics" program on Channel One and aroused public interest − Katsav would go to prison, put on an inmate's uniform, be photographed and then be set free without delay following a pardon from the president of Israel, at the recommendation of the justice minister. This, according to Beilin, would save us from having to see the person who stood at the head of the state, and symbolized it, behind bars.


Beilin's proposal is defective in terms of its content, nor does it get at the crux of the matter − even if it calls for implementation only after the court procedures are completed.
In examining the content of the proposal, it sees a pardon as a kind of alternative to the sentence that will be handed down by the court. That runs contrary to the firmly established legal viewpoint on the issue of pardons, as was handed down by the High Court of Justice in the Bus 300 affair; this ruling points to an exceptional and out of the ordinary authorization, under special circumstances, that will take place after the sentence is handed down.


In Katsav's case, one can safely assume that in issuing its verdict the court will examine all the relevant circumstances and give weight to the pertinent data in determining the sentence and its measure. Such a decision can provide an opening for an appeal to the Supreme Court, but it cannot serve as the basis for a pardon to be handed down a short while after the judicial sentencing.


Moreover, pardoning Katsav would create a gap in the basic principle of equality of all before the law. This principle obliges the president, who has the authority to pardon criminals and mitigate sentences, to be punctilious about easing an individual's punishment when the same is not being done for others in similar situations. Our prisons are crammed with sex offenders who often don't get even one third of their sentence deducted.


There is no reason in the world Katsav should get off scot-free while the other offenders continue to serve out their sentences. The opposite is true. A person who committed the crimes described in the indictment, if he holds the position of a cabinet minister or of state president, must serve the entire sentence, without any deductions or concessions. Otherwise the principle of law and order within the government authorities will be seriously harmed.


Beilin's proposal is also problematic in the fact that it is being raised now, even before the court has handed down its sentence. The fact that such a well-regarded figure suggested the idea now, gives the feeling, at least on the face of it, that it was meant to influence the judges when they determine Katsav's sentence. As Lord Mansfield's famous saying goes, justice must not merely be done, it must be seen to be done. Launching Beilin's trial-balloon proposal has a negative effect on how justice is perceived and could be seen as an obstruction to the judicial authorities' due process.


In any event, it seems as if the proposal was raised without any sort of consultation with any of the authorities involved in the matter. It does not seem feasible that Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman or President Shimon Peres would be aware of the proposal. Their silence is thundering, and necessary.









Jonathan Pollak is due to go to prison in another few days because of his views. The official reason for his arrest was his participation in a quiet protest by cyclists demonstrating in Tel Aviv against the Gaza blockade. The police said the demonstration slowed traffic. Not nice, to slow traffic, so off to prison with him.


Even before that, Pollak received a suspended sentence for taking part in a nonviolent protest against the separation fence in Bil'in − the same fence that the Supreme Court ordered must be moved off the land of Palestinian farmers. But the army is refusing to carry out the order and is in contempt of court.


I have seen Pollak at dozens of demonstrations, both in Bil'in and Tel Aviv, facing tear gas and water cannon. I have never seen him raise his hand or a stone − he seems to have nonviolence in his blood. This week I saw him once again, at a demonstration in front of the Defense Ministry to protest the killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmah of Bil'in, who died after she inhaled too much "tear" gas. During this demonstration, a police officer punched former Meretz MK Mossi Raz. When Raz asked for the officer's name, he was arrested.


Any nation would be proud of a son like Jonathan Pollak. He's a person of conscience who is prepared to risk himself for the sake of justice, and now also to sacrifice his freedom. He is a worthy grandson of Nimrod Eshel, the legendary leader of striking sailors in 1951, and a worthy son of his father, the actor and idealist Yossi Pollak.


Freedom of conscience is a matter of principle. There is no difference if a person is jailed because of his views for three months, three years or 30 years. Pollak is joining a magnificent group of prisoners of conscience around the world, from the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo to the fighters for human rights in Iran.


Israel is sliding down a slippery slope. A country that imprisons its Jonathan Pollaks will end up with jails filled with "opponents of the regime." We have seen that in other places − let's hope we don't see it here.


The greatest danger looming over Israel's existence today is that it will become a country where it is bad to live, a country whose racist face will repel the Jews of the world, a country where the phrase "the only democracy in the Middle East" will make people laugh. The real danger is not that Pollak and his partners will express their views in stormy protests, but that they will stop demonstrating altogether and look for another place in this world where the term freedom of expression is not a hollow pretension.









The letters of the rabbis and the rabbis' wives are arousing all the dormant Israeli demons. Although sometimes it seems as though the demons are already wearing down, they still have the power to frighten us and cause damage.


The first reaction is automatic and loud: Gevalt! Racists! The second reaction is also predictable: "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor," or how, in light of our own history, we are doing exactly the same things to others.


The next reaction is far more thoughtful and profound: Am I really prepared to marry someone who is not a member of the Jewish people?


I encountered the first part of the question several years ago. A smart, secular and enlightened friend told me: "Avrum, I agree with all your humanistic opinions, but I must admit that if my son brings home a non-Jewish woman, it will cause me heartache."


"And if he brings home a Jewish man?" I asked.


After a long hesitation he replied frankly: "I prefer a gay Jewish man to a non-Jewish woman." For him, as for many others, the key is the "Jew" within him rather than the loving person within his son.


I recently encountered the first part of the answer in a courageous and penetrating article published by Edgar Bronfman, former president of the World Jewish Congress, which included a call to reopen the tent of our father Abraham in all four directions. To contain among ourselves, to stretch out our hands and to adopt the family members who are not of Jewish origin, and they are many. Not to tear apart and exclude, but to greatly expand the boundaries of contemporary Jewish existence.


Fortunately I am already very happily married, but this question awaits me with my children. They travel all over the world, study and with open minds meet Christians and Muslims. Some of their best friends are Orthodox Jews. And like that same friend, I have reached the age at which I have to answer myself frankly, what will my viewpoint be if one of their partners isn't Jewish?


My answer is very simple. For me the test is not their Judaism. The first and almost the only perspective by which I examine my children's friends is whether or not they are good people. The Jewish consideration is not the first one.


These are my considerations only. I have no authority over my children's lives. I speak to them, and that's all, and in the conversation I always want their happiness. One of the foundations of family happiness is a life of partnership, and the secret of genuine partnership is a common value system.


So this is the time to ask what Judaism is. When people say Jew, what do they mean? In the eyes of those letter-writing rabbis and rabbis' wives and all their simplistic and fanatic believers, Judaism is first and foremost a genetic description, a connection of blood and race of "anyone born to a Jewish mother."


And therefore those very same people pile up so many difficulties, and try to deter the converts who want to join our community. In the eyes of Judaism it is a connection to content and commitments; a glorious civilization (which is presently fighting for its life and its future), which is mainly a values-based, humanistic system, embracing all of humanity.


That is why a person's origin is far less important to me than his core principles and his lifestyle. I divide all my worlds into the good and the bad. I totally reject the tacit assumption that all the Jews are on our side and all the gentiles are against us. There are wicked and terrible Jews, and there are good and righteous gentiles. And between them I prefer the latter, because of their goodness, and I despise the former, in spite of their Jewishness.


An eternal Israel will continue to exist and advance only if openness defeats seclusion, only if the Jewish people overcome the ignorant among them.


In order to understand the significance of the argument for everyday life you sometimes have to take the theory to absurd lengths.


Let's say that one of my daughters were to introduce me to two possible sons-in-law: the Dalai Lama, whom she loves with all her heart and soul, or Rabbi Meir Kahane, whom she is willing to marry only because of his Jewish genetic origin.


And let's also suppose that she were to say: Dad, choose for me. My choice would be clear and unequivocal: The Dalai Lama would become my son-in-law, beloved as a son and admired as a true partner in a way of life and principles of existence. Over the years and with patience I would work hard together with him to build bridges of understanding between the truth of his life and the foundations of our family. Together we would create a far broader family spirit than a narrow-minded Judaism of limited horizons. Even though the Tibetan priest does not speak Hebrew, he lives in the "Jewish language."


On the other hand, if she chose Kahane or one of his successors, only because he is a Jew by origin and in spite of his disgusting language and base values, my world might fall apart.


I would probably pull myself together and do everything possible to be with her in any future she might have, but my heart would know and weep: She too is a racist.








Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bears supreme responsibility for everything done or not done by his government. That is the first axiom of Israel's system of government, which accords the prime minister higher status than other cabinet ministers. This, of course, is why politicians aspire to the post. But they want the power without the responsibility − they want only the glory.


The problems within Israel's fire services have existed for many years and throughout many governments, including the first government Netanyahu headed, in the 1990s, and the one in which he served as finance minister, in the early part of the last decade. But, like all of his predecessors, Netanyahu did not lift a finger to implement the recommendations issued by various commissions and state comptrollers, who were shocked by the situation and issued warnings.


As the decision maker, he decided in favor of a different set of priorities that left serious breaches in Israel's civil defense with regard to catastrophic fires. As someone who boasted of his past achievements in seeking reelection, and who later prided himself on his economic policy, Netanyahu must also pay the price of his other decisions − about what not to do, what not to change, what not to fund.


Ever since the dimensions of the Carmel fire disaster became clear, the prime minister has opted to give speeches and be photographed, to do a Google search for "supertanker jets" and to appear on the scene as commander of the war against the forces of nature. As this constituted a de facto admission of his supreme responsibility, he cannot now deny his accountability for the circumstances that prevented the flames from being extinguished before they spread.


Realizing that any independent body that would examine the fire services in depth would assign him responsibility, Netanyahu thwarted various initiatives to set up a state commission of inquiry. That is what an experienced politician does if he remembers the lessons learned from his predecessors, including those who escaped direct hits from inquiry panels − like Golda Meir with the Agranat Commission on the Yom Kippur War, Menachem Begin with the Kahan Commission on the Sabra and Chatila massacres, and Ehud Olmert with the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War. A severe report decimates a prime minister's power and causes or contributes to his departure.


Netanyahu found the right price to buy off Interior Minister Eli Yishai's support for an inquiry committee, but he cannot do the same with the demands of the bereaved families. Their vocal assault on both him and Yishai at Wednesday's memorial ceremony for the Carmel fire victims shows clearly that they will not let those responsible off the hook.


Faced with two alternatives that are both bad for him personally, Netanyahu would do better to choose the one that is good for the state: to agree, albeit outrageously belatedly, to establish a state commission of inquiry.



cid:image024.gif@01CBAE7D.CC105AC0 cid:image025.jpg@01CBAE7D.CC105AC0

******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




The document released Wednesday by the presidential commission investigating last spring's oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is a riveting and chilling indictment of "systemic failures" throughout the oil business and of the federal agencies that allowed themselves to be captured by the people they were supposed to regulate.


The commission will offer specific recommendations for reform in its full report next Tuesday. But the chapter it decided to release early is, by itself, a powerful summons to the Obama administration to press rapidly forward with stronger regulations, and to the industry as a whole to behave far more responsibly than it has.


Another tragedy like the one in the Gulf of Mexico could well occur, the report suggests, unless there is "significant reform in both industry practices and government policies."


The panel traced the blowout to three main factors:


MANAGERIAL FOUL-UPS: The most significant failure and "root cause" of the blowout was a seemingly endless series of fateful missteps and oversights by BP and its partners — Transocean and Halliburton — that, in retrospect, could have been avoided. These decisions included not installing enough devices to stabilize the well, not waiting for the results of tests on the foam used to seal the well, and ignoring the results of an important pressure test. Taken together, these and other blunders allowed gases to enter the well and rise with explosive and ultimately disastrous force to the drilling rig.


SYSTEMIC FAILURE: Though BP in particular has been accused of putting profit before safety, the report avoided linking any individual decision to cost considerations. Even so, BP and its partners repeatedly chose the riskier, speedier course instead of a slower and safer alternative. As Bob Graham, the commission co-chairman, noted in a separate statement, "This disaster likely would not have happened had the companies involved been guided by an unrelenting commitment to safety first."


The report further asserted that this risk-taking was not unique to BP or its partners in the well, that the blowout was "not the product of a series of aberrational decisions" made by a rogue company, but, instead, reflected an industrywide proclivity for risky behavior. "Do we have a single company, BP, that blundered with fatal consequences," asked the other co-chairman, William Reilly, "or a more pervasive problem of a complacent industry?" Sadly, Mr. Reilly said, it is the latter.


REGULATORY WEAKNESS: As expected, the panel took federal regulators in the old Minerals Management Service to task for a range of mistakes, like rubber-stamping drilling permits and failing to oversee operations on the rig. These failures are hardly new. For years, the service has had neither the will nor the resources to police the industry.


Since the blowout, the Obama administration has reorganized the regulatory apparatus to give it greater independence. It has also issued and is now enforcing specific safety regulations and increased surveillance on individual rigs. All this is welcome, but the administration has a long way to go. What is at issue here is nothing less than remaking the culture of an entire industry.






Members of the House might have thought they were bringing the Constitution alive by reading it aloud on Thursday. But they made a crucial error by excising its history. When they chose to deliberately drop the sections that became obsolete or offensive, and which were later amended, they missed a chance to demonstrate that this document is not nailed to the door of the past. It remains vital precisely because it can be reimagined.


Having decided to spend their first moments in power proclaiming their devotion to the Constitution, Republican leaders might at least have read the whole thing. The part, for instance, where slaves "bound to service" are counted as three-fifths of a person. The part where fugitive slaves cannot gain their freedom by escaping to a free state. Or the part where ordinary citizens do not actually get a direct vote for their senator.


All these provisions were written by a group of men that many in the Tea Party and elsewhere seem to consider infallible and nearly divine. The Constitution's words are a stirring proclamation of freedom across the ages. But some passages are artifacts of their time.


Incensed by this rewriting of history, Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., Democrat of Illinois, arose just before the reading to remind the House of what it was redacting. African-Americans and women struggled for decades to be granted the right to vote, he said, and those struggles are clearly reflected in the text. "Many of us don't want that to be lost upon the reading of our sacred document," he said.


But imperfection and change were not the point. The reading was conceived so that Republicans could demonstrate their fidelity to the document and make it seem as though Democrats had abandoned it. After protests, the leadership invited Democrats to join them, and many of them did. It was a stirring moment when John Lewis of Georgia, an icon of the civil rights movement, read to great applause the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.


That was about all that was stirring. Because so many members wanted a piece of the action, the text's momentum was broken up by an endless parade of flat, one-sentence recitations, and many lawmakers later returned to their BlackBerrys or left the chamber.


The Constitution deserves better than this airless exercise. It was a work of political genius, largely because its authors handed its interpretation to the open minds of posterity. The effect of Thursday's reading, in case anyone was actually paying attention, was to wrongly suggest that the document was seamless and perfect, as if carved in marble rather than stained with sweat and American blood.







Gov. Andrew Cuomo struck just the right tone on both adult prison reform and juvenile justice reform in his first State of the State address on Wednesday. He said that New York could no longer afford to keep hugely expensive but unneeded facilities open to serve as "an employment program" for upstate residents.


To get the Legislature to agree to shut these facilities, Mr. Cuomo will have to push back hard against the corrections workers' unions that have thwarted sound closure proposals from all three of his predecessors.


The case for closures is laid out in a new analysis by the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit group. New York's prison population has dropped from about 71,500 at its peak in 1999 to around 56,000 today. This has left more than 8,000 empty beds, meaning that the state could close or significantly downsize eight to 10 of the 67 units in the system and still have ample room to handle any unexpected spike in the population. The savings would be $220 million in the first year.


The state could also save money by reversing misguided criminal-justice policies. In 1995, Gov. George Pataki prohibited people convicted of violent crimes from participating in work-release programs. That order cut the number of participants from nearly 28,000 in 1994 to about 2,500 in 2007, the most recent year for which the association has data.


The point of Mr. Pataki's order was to protect the public from violent offenders, but it may well have had the opposite effect. Once they had done their time, inmates were dumped onto the streets without any chance to reacclimate and find their place in the community. Work-release programs cost about $7,500 per participant annually, as opposed to about $55,000 to keep one person behind bars. Increasing the number of participants to just 5,000 would save more than $80 million a year.


The state also needs to reform a parole system that returns as many as 8,000 inmates a year to prison for technical violations like breaking curfew. Other states have shown that they can keep the prison count down, at no risk to the public, by increasing supervision of violators instead of reflexively bouncing them back to jail.


These will be tough political fights. But for the sake of both fiscal sanity and sound public policy, they are ones that Governor Cuomo needs to fight and win.









MORRIS, the name of the online catalog of the Yale Law School Library, is not an acronym. It's a tribute to Morris Cohen, the school's longtime librarian and law professor, who died in December at 83 and was one of America's great scholarly librarians.


In its whimsy and pithiness — and as a link to a powerful tool of legal research — the name conveys his core values. He became a librarian after seven not very satisfying years as a lawyer. The late start led to an insistent focus on law librarianship as a service to legal practice and scholarship, and an insistence on providing that service his own way.


One of his most creative efforts was his collection of children's books related to law. What began in the 1960s as a hobby for Professor Cohen and his young son would eventually become the Yale Law Library's noteworthy collection of 200 publications described as "juvenile jurisprudence." It includes a noirish Classics Illustrated comic book of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment"; engrossing stories about pirates combining terror and adventure; and beautifully illustrated, moralizing accounts of trials conducted by animals, like "Who Killed Cock Robin?"


Professor Cohen saw law, its study and its practice, as a bountiful, all-encompassing, humanistic field. As the librarians he trained explain, he was delighted by nearly all legal writings because they contain important codes to be deciphered about how different eras and societies viewed the role of law.


Professor Cohen's other extraordinary contribution is his magnum opus, the "Bibliography of Early American Law," which took him and a large team three decades to compile. Seven volumes, and breathtakingly rigorous, it allows users to find virtually any of the 15,000 or so law texts published in America before 1860. Along with statutes and court opinions, it includes ballads, sermons and fiction as well as children's books, underscoring Professor Cohen's conviction that law is transmitted through channels far outside the law.


In an age when the Internet, including MORRIS, gives many the illusion they are scholarly detectives, the meticulous, old-fashioned research he put into the bibliography is almost unfathomable. It yielded a resource that is matchless, brilliant and of eternal value.








The health care reform law was signed 10 months ago, and what's striking now is how vulnerable it looks. Several threats have emerged — some of them scarcely discussed before passage — that together or alone could seriously endanger the new system. These include:


The courts. So far, one judge has struck down the individual mandate, the plan's centerpiece. Future decisions are likely to break down on partisan lines. Given the makeup of the Supreme Court, this should concern the law's defenders.


False projections. The new system is based on a series of expert projections on how people will behave. In the first test case, these projections were absurdly off base. According to the Medicare actuary, 375,000 people should have already signed up for the new high-risk pools for the uninsured, but only 8,000 have.


More seriously, cost projections are way off. For example, New Hampshire's plan has only about 80 members, but the state has already burned through nearly double the $650,000 that the federal government allotted to help run the program. If other projections are off by this much, the results will be disastrous.


Employee dumping. This is the most serious threat. Companies and unions across America are running the numbers and discovering they would be better off if, after 2014, they induced poorer and sicker employees to move to public insurance exchanges, where subsidies are much higher.


The number of people in those exchanges could thus skyrocket, especially as startup companies undermine their competitors with uninsured employees and lower costs. The Congressional Budget Office projects that 19 million people will move to the exchanges at a cost of $450 billion between 2014 and 2019. But according to the economists Douglas Holtz-Eakin and James C. Capretta, costs could soar to $1.4 trillion if those who would be better off in the exchanges actually moved to them. The price of the health care law could double. C. Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute, who has been among those raising the alarms about this, calls the law's structure "unworkable and unfair."


Health care oligarchy. Since the law passed, there has been a frenzy of mergers and acquisitions, as hospitals, clinics and doctor groups have joined together into bigger and bigger entities. The drafters encourage this, believing large outfits would be more efficient. The downside to this economic concentration is there could be less competition and cost control. In many places, the political power of these quasi-monopolies would be huge, with unforeseeable results. The law bans doctors from starting up hospitals to increase competition.


Public hostility. Right now about 53 percent of Americans oppose the health care law and 43 percent support it, according to an average of the recent polls. Complaints are especially high among doctors. According to a survey by the Physicians Foundation, 60 percent of private practice doctors say the law will force them to close their practices or to restrict them to certain categories of patients.


Given this level of unhappiness, people will blame the Obama law for everything they hate about the health care system. Political opposition was fierce last November, and it could easily shape the 2012 election and lead to changes or repeal.


Over all, there is a strong likelihood that the current health care law will face an existential threat over the next five years. Each party should be preparing contingency plans.


When the crisis comes, Democrats will face an interesting choice — to patch the Obama system or try to replace it with something bigger. The administration may want a patch, but by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1, according to a CNN poll, Democratic voters would prefer a more ambitious law. Liberals could logically say that the mistake was trying to create a hybrid system, rather than moving straight to a single-payer one.


Republicans are going to have to move beyond their current "Repeal!" posture and cohere behind a positive alternative. One approach, which Tyler Cowen of George Mason University has written about, is to allow more state experimentation. Another approach, championed by Capretta, Yuval Levin of National Affairs and Thomas P. Miller of the American Enterprise Institute, revolves around the words "defined contribution."


Under this approach, Republicans would say that the federal government has a role in subsidizing health insurance — a generous role, but not unlimited. The government would provide needy citizens with a predefined amount of money to spend on insurance and allow them to shop in a transparent, regulated, but not micromanaged marketplace.


After the trauma of the last two years, many people wish the issue would go away. But it's not going away, especially since costs will continue to rise.


Some Congresses achieve health care; members of this Congress or the next one will have health care thrust upon them.







These are tough times for state governments. Huge deficits loom almost everywhere, from California to New York, from New Jersey to Texas.


Wait — Texas? Wasn't Texas supposed to be thriving even as the rest of America suffered? Didn't its governor declare, during his re-election campaign, that "we have billions in surplus"? Yes, it was, and yes, he did. But reality has now intruded, in the form of a deficit expected to run as high as $25 billion over the next two years.


And that reality has implications for the nation as a whole. For Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely. If the theory can't make it there, it can't make it anywhere.


How bad is the Texas deficit? Comparing budget crises among states is tricky, for technical reasons. Still, data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggest that the Texas budget gap is worse than New York's, about as bad as California's, but not quite up to New Jersey levels.


The point, however, is that just the other day Texas was being touted as a role model (and still is by commentators who haven't been keeping up with the news). It was the state the recession supposedly passed by, thanks to its low taxes and business-friendly policies. Its governor boasted that its budget was in good shape thanks to his "tough conservative decisions."


Oh, and at a time when there's a full-court press on to demonize public-sector unions as the source of all our woes, Texas is nearly demon-free: less than 20 percent of public-sector workers there are covered by union contracts, compared with almost 75 percent in New York.


So what happened to the "Texas miracle" many people were talking about even a few months ago?


Part of the answer is that reports of a recession-proof state were greatly exaggerated. It's true that Texas job losses haven't been as severe as those in the nation as a whole since the recession began in 2007. But Texas has a rapidly growing population — largely, suggests Harvard's Edward Glaeser, because its liberal land-use and zoning policies have kept housing cheap. There's nothing wrong with that; but given that rising population, Texas needs to create jobs more rapidly than the rest of the country just to keep up with a growing work force.


And when you look at unemployment, Texas doesn't seem particularly special: its unemployment rate is below the national average, thanks in part to high oil prices, but it's about the same as the unemployment rate in New York or Massachusetts.


What about the budget? The truth is that the Texas state government has relied for years on smoke and mirrors to create the illusion of sound finances in the face of a serious "structural" budget deficit — that is, a deficit that persists even when the economy is doing well. When the recession struck, hitting revenue in Texas just as it did everywhere else, that illusion was bound to collapse.


The only thing that let Gov. Rick Perry get away, temporarily, with claims of a surplus was the fact that Texas enacts budgets only once every two years, and the last budget was put in place before the depth of the economic downturn was clear. Now the next budget must be passed — and Texas may have a $25 billion hole to fill. Now what?


Given the complete dominance of conservative ideology in Texas politics, tax increases are out of the question. So it has to be spending cuts.


Yet Mr. Perry wasn't lying about those "tough conservative decisions": Texas has indeed taken a hard, you might say brutal, line toward its most vulnerable citizens. Among the states, Texas ranks near the bottom in education spending per pupil, while leading the nation in the percentage of residents without health insurance. It's hard to imagine what will happen if the state tries to eliminate its huge deficit purely through further cuts.


I don't know how the mess in Texas will end up being resolved. But the signs don't look good, either for the state or for the nation.


Right now, triumphant conservatives in Washington are declaring that they can cut taxes and still balance the budget by slashing spending. Yet they haven't been able to do that even in Texas, which is willing both to impose great pain (by its stinginess on health care) and to shortchange the future (by neglecting education). How are they supposed to pull it off nationally, especially when the incoming Republicans have declared Medicare, Social Security and defense off limits?


People used to say that the future happens first in California, but these days what happens in Texas is probably a better omen. And what we're seeing right now is a future that doesn't work.








New Haven


FIFTY years ago this week, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration broke off diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro's government, placing Cuba in the middle of the cold war and changing my life, and that of many of my fellow Cubans, forever.


By January 1961, I had spent a year and a half in Tampa, Fla., where relatives of mine had lived since the 1930s, and where my parents had settled us in 1959, planning to spend as much time as it took for life to return to normal in Cuba, or perhaps to stay.


I was 17 and had gone back to the island about six times. This was because I had left behind my girlfriend, Mercy, and also because I could not get used to American life, particularly teenage mores, which I found silly. ("Teenager" did not exist as a role in Cuban culture.) I saved every penny from my various jobs as dishwasher and bag-boy to buy those plane tickets.


But with the diplomatic rupture, my travels were over. Though I did not know it at the time, Eisenhower's decision turned me into an exile. I would not set foot on Cuba again for 18 years, when I went with a committee of exiles to discuss the release of political prisoners.


Though many Cubans in circumstances similar to mine became American citizens at the first opportunity, wisely aware that their displacement was permanent, I refused to do so because I naïvely associated citizenship and nationality. I clung to my Cuban citizenship, though my Cuban passport soon expired, and as a "permanent resident" of the United States had to travel abroad using a re-entry permit, an awkward document that gave proof, among other things, that I had paid my taxes. Travel through Europe and Latin America required an assortment of visas, but I thought the difficulties were worth it because they allowed me to preserve my identity.


I also latched on to my native culture by making the study of Spanish and Latin American literature my life's work, and in a sense I relived my traumatic acquisition of English as a teenager by learning French and Italian at the University of South Florida with pathological zeal. When I spoke those languages I assumed new personae; they were shields against an American culture I still could not quite absorb. Instead of freezing me into a role, the 1961 break in relations between my two countries transformed me into a man with several voices within my own head, a perspective that has informed my literary criticism, I believe.


Now I am safely far from what I derisively call (to tease my American children and grandchildren) "teenagehood in America." I am a citizen of the United States, rejoicing in this country's democracy which, for all its faults, is the best form of government to which we can aspire. Fifty years after the break in relations, while Cuba is still ruled by a male, white, militaristic, totalitarian gerontocracy, Barack Obama is the president of the United States and Hillary Clinton the secretary of state. Which of my two countries is the revolutionary one?


In that half-century, Fidel and Raúl Castro have managed to run into the ground what was a prosperous country, to drive a million and a half of its citizens into exile and to fill the jails with political and common prisoners. Recent changes in the Cuban economy, conciliatory gestures toward the church and the release and deportation of some political prisoners show that the Castros are aware of the instability of their system — which Fidel Castro not long ago blurted outdoes not even work in Cuba.


The one change that they have not dared to make, however, is to remove fear from Cuban life, because it is the glue that holds together their government. Fear of being accused by a neighbor who belongs to one of the vigilante Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; fear that the secret police will find something to incriminate you; fear that you will be jailed without charges for months or even years; fear that the government-sponsored mobs called Rapid Response Brigades will stage a violent rejection rally in front of your house (as has happened to the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the dissident who died during his prison hunger strike last February); fear that you will be denied your request to travel abroad; fear that you will lose your job; fear, in short, that the long arm of power will reach down to you and smite you.


I am very happy to be here, free from all of those fears and hoping against reason that the next historical break in Cuba will not be a violent one, and that it will bring about a future of peace, prosperity and democracy.


With no more flights to Havana, and having met other girls, I wrote Mercy a letter in 1961 breaking up. I still feel shame for having done this. She came to Miami with her family shortly thereafter and we had an emotional meeting in Tampa when they visited us. But it was over. I have been told that this delicate, petite piano player who wanted to be a kindergarten teacher married a pilot, learned to fly a plane (coincidentally, so did I) and even does sky diving (I would never).


It is a constant of history: political decisions affect ordinary lives in unexpected and often permanent ways.


Roberto González Echevarria, a professor of Spanish and comparative literature at Yale, is the author of "Cuban Fiestas."








Princeton, N.J.


NOW that the holidays are over, many disappointed gift-recipients are heading to the mall to return their useless, unattractive or thoughtless presents. Next year, why not spare them the trouble, and give cash instead?


It makes economic sense — many economists see cash as the most efficient gift, because it allows recipients to choose exactly what they want.


But this horrifies traditionalists, who see giving cash for Christmas as the ultimate commodification of a sacred ritual. Money is acceptable for charitable donations or bonuses, but certainly not for friends or family.


It turns out that both the economic realists who give money as presents and the traditionalists have history on their side, because this is a debate that began back in the early 20th century. As the consumer society expanded and Americans began giving more Christmas presents to more people, money emerged as an acceptable gift. Christmas money, according to a 1912 issue of Ladies' Home Journal, "supplies dearly cherished wishes, adds small luxuries, prevents worriment and gives opportunities for helpfulness as no other gift does."


But how was a recipient to know that a dollar was a gift dollar? That something made of the same legal tender used to buy the daily newspaper, tip waiters and bribe politicians was in fact a gift expressing personal affection?


The challenges of giving money were captured by this 1920s vaudeville act:


HE It's bad form for a person to leave the price mark on a gift, isn't it?


SHE Yes, and I knew a woman who was so absent-minded that when she gave a $50 bill for a Christmas gift, she tried to rub the price mark off of it. ... She was giving the $50 bill to her married daughter, and didn't want her to know how much it was worth.


HE And what did her married daughter do with the $50 bill, when she got it?


SHE She took the money, and paid the grocer what she owed him.


HE And what did her mother do?


SHE Her mother cried, and said, although she loved to give a Christmas present, there wasn't much fun in paying her son-in-law's grocery bill.


The key to the problem, early 20th-century gift-givers found, was to camouflage money inside a traditional gift. This took effort and it had nothing to do with efficiency, but it enabled people to elevate the gift of cash.


In the December 1909 Ladies' Home Journal, for instance, the writer Lou Eleanor Colby said she had found a way to "disguise the money so that it would not seem just like a commercial transaction." She explained how she had incorporated $10 for her mother into artwork. She inserted dollar bills into two posters; one showed five sad bills not knowing where to go, and the other depicted the happy ending: "five little dollars speeding joyfully" toward her mother's purse.


Housewives hid gold coins in cookies and boxes of candies; dollar bills could decorate belt-buckles or picture frames. Women boasted when the recipient failed to realize that the actual present was money. Men also disguised the money they gave to their wives as gifts, to distinguish it from their allowances. If you give her a check, The Ladies' Home Journal advised, "put it in an embroidered purse, or a leather sewing basket or a jewel box which will be a little gift in itself." The better the disguise, the more successful the gift.


Then, in 1910, American Express began advertising money orders as an "acceptable Christmas gift." Western Union improved on the idea by creating distinctive telegrams for sending money for special occasions, while greeting card companies started selling decorative money holders for birthdays and holidays.


After 1905, department stores even designed a new currency: gift certificates. Also called merchandise coupons or gift bonds, these were for a specific sum of money to be spent either on a designated type of merchandise — gloves and shoes were popular items — or, as today, on anything at all at a particular store.


We can't all be as clever as Lou Eleanor Colby, but buying a gift card that restricts what the money can be used for is just another way of distinguishing gift money from regular money, and a way for givers to demonstrate their intimate knowledge of what the recipient likes and cares about.


Nostalgic traditionalists and hard-nosed realists both get it wrong. For over a century, Americans have been demonstrating remarkable ingenuity in turning money into meaningful personal gifts. Let's keep it up. Next year, perhaps take a lesson from the pages of The Ladies' Home Journal and hide cash in a gift of your own creation.


Viviana A. Zelizer, a professor of sociology at Princeton, is the author of "Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy."









Here we go again. A clumsy bit of rulemaking by the Obama administration has revived nutty talk about "death panels" — the inflammatory but thoroughly debunked notion purveyed last year by opponents of the new health reform law.


The idea that the law promoted government-encouraged euthanasia was transparently false, but it went viral among terrified seniors. A recent Kaiser Family Foundationpoll showed that almost a third of Americans 65 or older still believe— wrongly — that the government can pull the plug on them against their wishes.


At issue was an innocuous, bipartisan proposal for Medicare to pay doctors for their time if their patients wanted to discuss end-of-life issues, such as whether they wanted to be kept alive at all costs if there were no chance they'd ever leave the hospital. The fear-mongering was so effective that Democrats dropped the provision from the final bill, but late last year Medicare officials quietly revived it as a regulation.


Faced with more over-the-top reaction, the administration hastily withdrew the regulation.


By then, though, "death panel" hysteria had spread to an even more contentious aspect of medical decision-making: which drugs the government should certify as safe and effective, and therefore likely to be covered by insurers. When the Food and Drug Administration recently said it plans to withdraw approval of the drug Avastin for treating breast cancer because trials showed it to be ineffective or dangerous for most patients, Sen. David Vitter and Rep. Rodney Alexander, both Louisiana Republicans, likened FDA to a "death panel." Hardly. Does anyone believe that leaving such decisions to politicians driven by desperate patients and drug-company lobbyists would yield better results?


To the extent that death panels of a sort do exist, they're composed of state officials who must decide whether each state's version of Medicaid will cover certain expensive, potentially life-saving treatments. In Indiana, the state refused to pay as much as $500,000 for a procedure for a six-month-old boy born without a thymus gland, which is essential to fighting infection. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer decreed that the state's version of Medicaid would no longer pay for certain transplants. A 32-year-old man's liver transplant was stopped at the last minute because he suddenly had to find $200,000 to pay for it.


As painful as these decisions were, they're only the beginning of an excruciating reckoning between the soaring cost of medical care and increasingly strained resources. This is especially true in the states — where balanced-budget requirements make it much harder to borrow to meet exploding medical costs — but Medicare and private insurers face similar pressure. Mindless sloganeering about "death panels" detracts from the need for intelligent discussions about the wrenching questions that arise in an era of medical advances and finite resources.


The purpose of having Medicare pay for voluntary discussions between doctors and patients about end-of-life care isn't to save money, though that could well be a byproduct. Medicare spends 25% or more of its resources on the last year of life, sometimes for heroic, futile care that patients never wanted but hadn't decided ahead of time to forgo.


People don't like to confront the prospect of their inevitable demise. But there's nothing sinister about giving Medicare patients the option to talk through end-of-life issues with their doctors in private, even if it never saves Medicare a dime.


It's the humane thing to do.







It's only been seven days since we made our New Year's resolutions. But many of us have already broken some.


According to noted psychology professor John Norcross of the University of Scranton, here's how quickly we give up:


•About 25% of us will have broken one or more resolutions by next weekend.


•Only about 50% will make it to the end of the month.


Most resolutions dealt with losing weight or giving up smoking. I've made and broken and fixed resolutions on both.


Following my discharge after more than three years of service with the 86th Infantry Division in World War II, including both Europe and the Pacific, I thought I deserved any goodies I wanted. Of course that included eating, drinking and smoking.


In my first year back as a civilian, my weight jumped from 165 pounds to 187. I resolved to go back to sensible eating.


The key to weight control is monitoring it at the same time every day and recording it. This morning I weighed 157; that's 8 pounds below my Army discharge level.


Quitting smoking is more difficult than weight control. I was shocked into that late one night back in 1956, when I was an assistant city editor of The Miami Herald. A loony guy walked into the newsroom, came up to my desk and put down a gun he said he just used to shoot his girlfriend.


Instead of acting quickly, I wasted time fumbling around to get a cigarette and a lighter. A colleague called the cops, and they took away both the guy and his gun.


Later, when I realized what I had done, I threw my pack of cigarettes all the way across the newsroom to the sports department. I haven't smoked since.


Feedback: Other views on New Year's Resolutions


"Whether your resolution is starting a diet, quitting smoking, or getting more exercise, set realistic goals. Reward yourself for small successes. Just not with junk food!"


— Arthur Agatston, M.D., author of The South Beach Diet and The South Beach Heart Health Revolution


"Tobacco smoke is physically addicting and new formulations cross the blood-brain barrier faster, so it often takes multiple attempts to quit. So be patient, but keep trying."


Regina Benjamin, M.D., U.S. surgeon general







Inside the historic government halls, I recently watched as lawmakers barely approved a controversial plan aimed at tripling university tuition rates. Just outside, thousands of protesters got caught up in pockets of violence. Deep spending cuts have pushed people — who are making do with less and being taxed more — to a dangerous brink. Many fear budget cuts will continue to impact local services and whittle away at remaining public-sector jobs.


If this sounds like New York, Los Angeles or Any City, USA, it was actually London. The suffering there made me feel right at home.


The angry British have pledged to continue their campaign against higher taxes and major spending cuts. What is not new is dwindling confidence in government, an undeniable connection we share with Great Britain. According to a Reuters-Ipsos poll, 55% of British citizens are dissatisfied with their government, and only 28% believe that the economy will improve in the next year. Four out of five doubt that the private sector can absorb employees laid off.


One bystander told me during the protests that the British — especially students — are frustrated with broken promises and leaders who don't deliver. He could have easily been talking about stateside worries.


A Harvard survey found that 68% of Americans agree there is a leadership crisis. A similar number believe that if we don't install better leaders, things will only get worse. According to the latest Gallup Poll, President Obama's approval rating is 50%, while Congress hit a new low last month: 13%. No doubt that growing dissatisfaction among voters played a role in giving Republicans a chance to now run the House. Hopefully, the new 112th Congress, which began this week, will lead to more bipartisanship leadership.


This was my first visit to Europe, and I must admit I was looking forward to seeing the U.S. from a different perspective. But everywhere I looked — from Britain to Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal— people were looking for someone to take up the leadership mantle and confront severe budgetary crises.


The nervousness among Europeans with the current economy is a feeling we Americans share. Fortunately, our economic woes have not yet led to the sort of violence I witnessed there. But it serves as an exclamation point on the fact that Obama and the new Congress need to show some leadership on creating jobs, while also confronting our deficit issues.


Joyce King is a freelance writer in Dallas.







The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial: "John Boehner (took) the speaker's gavel from Nancy Pelosi (Wednesday), and the transfer represents much more than a change in partisan control. It marks perhaps the sharpest ideological shift in the House in 80 years, and it could set the stage for a meaningful two-year debate over the role of government and the real sources of economic prosperity. We say 'could' because much depends on which Republican Party chooses to show up. Will it be the incumbent-protection and business interest-group machine that prevailed under the final years of Tom DeLay? Or will it remember that the real sources of its power ... are the Tea Party activists and independents who voted for Republicans in November? So far the signs suggest the latter, but the forces of Beltway inertia are formidable and will weigh on the drive to change the politics of K Street perks and payoffs."


The Dallas Morning News, in an editorial: "The new GOP majority is bound to (have felt) an adrenaline rush having come from as far back as the party did in November. Already, Republicans have said they will take up a motion next Wednesday to repeal the health care law that President Obama and congressional Democratspassed last year. Of course, the repeal effort is for show because Democrats control the Senate, and Obama is still waiting with a veto pen. ... Still, that reality doesn't mean they shouldn't target the bill's serious deficiencies. ... It makes little sense for Republicans to try to repeal the health care law. But it does make sense to reform it."


The Kansas City Star, in an editorial: "When the 112th Congress (kicked off), the 87 new Republicans of this latest revolution in the House learn(ed) the same lesson all rebels must eventually grasp: Winning control is the easy part. Ruling is much tougher. Take, for example, their plans to dive right into attacking health care reform. ... The point of this bill is for show, not substance. It will simply waste time ... on the public tab. ... A nation just bouncing back from a serious financial crisis could do without the games. ... Let's hope the new Congress quickly learns that governing requires both leadership and compromise. Without both, it — and we — will fail."


The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, in an editorial: "This new partisan balance can be either a recipe for gridlock or a chance for both sides to show they know what it takes to govern. For the good of a country still trying to shake off a nasty recession, it had better be the latter. During the lame-duck session ... there was a flurry of activity suggesting that serious cooperation is possible. ... (Boehner) needs to convince Republican colleagues that grandstanding serves no one's interests — least of all those swing voters who bet on the GOP last November. They expect vigorous debate, but they also want it to lead somewhere."


The Orange County Register, in an editorial: "We can expect both symbolic gestures and a few substantive moves in the direction of less-intrusive government. Whether legislators will move much beyond symbolism may not be known for several months. ... The best gauge of whether Republicans are serious on spending will be whether they are willing to entertain cuts in the nation's military budget and overseas commitments as well as domestic spending. ... Throw in investigations of past Obama decisions and a possible showdown in March on the federal debt limit, and it could be an eventful congressional session. Whether it will lead to smaller government is another question."









Most Americans are familiar with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, He's one of the nation's most well-known and popular figures. Holly, the general's wife, is less well known, though she has worked effectively for years as an advocate for military families. That will change soon. Mrs. Petraeus was named Thursday as head of a federal agency that will work to protect military families from abusive lenders. The task is timely and will put Mrs. Petraeus squarely in public view.


Military families, of course, are not the only victims of abusive lenders in the United States. They are, however, particularly vulnerable to the unconscionable individuals and businesses that engage in predatory practices. Indeed, abusive lenders have been a major problem for the armed services for years.


The practice is so pervasive that military leaders agree that it now directly affects military readiness and morale. Mrs. Petraeus' job, as head of the Office for Service Member Affairs in the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will be to halt the abuses. It is a tough assignment. The opposition's deep pockets and political connections make it almost immune to reform.


Predatory lending is a common complaint among military families. They are easy targets for those willing to take advantage of men and women who often are young and inexperienced consumers. In addition, many are stressed by the absence of a loved one in a war zone. As a result, the families become victims of businesses that charge exorbitant rates on loans or use high-pressure tactics to convince men and women to buy vehicles and other items using expensive loans.


If the dictum that businesses go where their market is, the presence of large numbers of check-cashing stores, payday and car title loan companies and auto loan offices just outside many of the nation's military bases speaks volumes. It confirms the need to provide counseling and assistance to individuals who clearly need it.


The new agency is designed to do that. The office Mrs. Petraeus will lead will have the power to write -- and help enforce -- rules to prevent banks and non-bank companies from engaging in practices that prey on members of the armed services and their families. Some companies obviously are worried about their future. They are lobbying to be excluded from the new agency's oversight, but they've found little public support so far.


Mrs. Petraeus' appointment is not a political payoff. She's well qualified for her new public role. She's testified expertly before Congress about military readiness, and she's worked for years with state and local officials to resolve issues affecting members of the armed service and their families. Most recently, she's been a director of Better Business Bureau Military Line, a program that works with the Defense Department to educate military men and women on consumer issues. Her experience should make her a powerful advocate.


The Office for Service Member Affairs will not work in isolation. It is part of a broader effort by the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau to protect vulnerable groups -- the elderly and college students, among them -- from abusive lending practices. A special office for the military, though, is welcome.


Military leaders in war zones report that many men and women in uniform worry more about their families and the problems they face at home than they do about the dangers they face in combat. That's a distraction that could prove deadly. The campaign to end the assault on military families by unprincipled lenders is a worthy one. It should provide immediate and long-term benefits to those in uniform and to the nation as a whole.







One of the most common complaints voiced to Chattanooga's elected leaders, civil servants and law enforcement agencies is that not enough attention is paid to neighborhood concerns. There is legitimate debate about the veracity of that grievance.


Most officials say neighborhoods are the building blocks of the community and that providing services to them is a priority. Many residents say that's not so, reporting that a cold shoulder rather than an offer of assistance is the city's response to most requests. The disconnect between officials and residents, whether real or perceived, creates unnecessary community tension.


There are ongoing efforts to resolve the conflict, and there have been some notable successes in recent years. Indeed, some neighborhood and homeowners associations report cordial relationships with elected officials and point to infrastructure and other improvements that are a positive result of that association. Other groups, however, say their requests are disregarded.


There is an agency designed to facilitate communications between neighborhood groups and public officials. The Chattanooga Neighborhood Association Council was created with city assistance nearly a decade ago so neighborhoods could work together for their common benefit. Its subsequent history has been checkered.


The council was successful in its early years, but lately it has grown more moribund. The council is supposed to comprise 27 representatives -- three from each of the nine City Council districts. Attendance is poor. One representative says only a handful of people show up for meetings and some of those who do work for the city. If that's the case, neighborhood associations should accept some of the blame for their allegedly poor relationships with city officials.


An active council with broader participation from eligible groups would be a force that would attract attention from city leaders. A group that can't muster more than a handful of participants is easily overlooked. The council meets at 6 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the Development Resource Center at 1250 Market St. A full house, or close to one, would send a a message hard to ignore.


The Chattanooga Neighborhood Association council was created to facilitate communication between neighborhood groups and the city. If lack of participation compromises that task, a more effective way to bring government and the governed together should be sought.







With able County Mayor Claude Ramsey leaving office Tuesday to become chief of staff for new Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Hamilton County commissioners have been having a hard time choosing between two candidates to serve as county mayor.


That's because both candidates -- Mike Carter and Jim Coppinger -- are competent and admirable. However the contest ends, the people of Hamilton County "can't lose." But one of the candidates surely will be disappointed.


Coppinger is currently a county commissioner, so the eight other commissioners will make the choice. Four of them favor Coppinger and four of them favor Carter, who has been serving as special assistant to Ramsey.


With votes having been taken four times, there have been four 4-4 ties. Coppinger will become interim mayor if the tie holds when the commissioners vote again on Monday.


But the issue will still have to be resolved eventually. The commission must pick a permanent mayor by April 9. No one, however, has yet indicated that he may change his vote.


We could say that all of those voting have been "right," since both candidates are appealing. But one candidate must ultimately win.


We hope the tie can be resolved Monday to promote stability in county government. The winner should be congratulated, either way.







When is the "right time" to quit smoking? Well, the right time to quit was "yesterday." But since that's not possible, the next-best time is "today." The worst time to quit is "tomorrow" -- because tomorrow you may find a reason to put it off another day, and another, and another.


It's hard to quit, longtime smokers will say. And they are right: It can be incredibly difficult. But with their lives on the line -- and with the likelihood of devastating their families if they die prematurely from smoking -- many smokers will at least acknowledge that they should try to kick the habit.


Some, though, will downplay their problem or say they'll deal with it "later." Unfortunately, "later" never seems to come -- until there are painful or even tragic consequences.


As a nation that is every bit as addicted to deficit spending as smokers are to nicotine, we evidently have not reached the point of admitting we have a spending problem. We seem content to let future generations deal with our calamitous federal spending spree -- through higher taxes, sharp cuts in government services or both.


The trouble is, as the years pass, those "future generations" get closer and closer. It's no longer your "grandchildren's grandchildren" who will have to deal with the mess we are creating. It's your children and your grandchildren. And yes, even "we" will have to face the economic distress caused by reckless Washington spending, as programs such as Medicare are threatened with bankruptcy just a few short years from now.


Even in the coming months, millions of Americans are going to be confronted with painful realities, not only because of the current economic crisis and high unemployment, but because the aid provided to states under the $862 billion federal "stimulus" program is running out fast -- and the massive "stimulation" of the private sector that all that money was supposed to create didn't occur.


"States are looking at a financial cliff because federal stimulus funds will disappear this year before state tax revenues have recovered from their worst pummeling in decades," the Times Free Press reported recently.


In Georgia, lawmakers face the prospect of $1.5 billion to $2 billion in budget cuts, including big education cuts.


In Tennessee, $900 million in spending cuts were staved off in recent years by federal stimulus funds. But now that the non-stimulative "stimulus" is drying up and state revenues aren't there to replace it, cuts can't be avoided.


So states only delayed -- but did not eliminate -- the pain of budget cuts. And now our nation is hundreds of billions of dollars deeper in debt, thanks to a stimulus that has bloated government but left the private sector mostly high and dry.


We are worse off than we were without the stimulus, and the "remedy" will be far more difficult than if government had not kept trying to pick winners and losers in the market by showering favored industries with stimulus cash and bailing out others.


As with smoking, the best time for Washington to stop its unchecked spending is "yesterday." The next-best time is "today." But we're afraid Washington is going to pick "tomorrow" -- meaning it is going to wait until economic catastrophe strikes before it owns up to its spending addiction and takes steps to break the habit.


The harm that procrastination creates may make the current economic crisis seem mild by comparison.







With more than 300 members of the Chattanooga-based National Guard unit leaving home Saturday for service in Iraq, there are abundant good wishes for them to serve well -- and safely -- and return with honor after their important foreign service is completed.


The soldiers are members of the 230th Sustainment Brigade of the Tennessee National Guard. It is planned for them to travel to Fort Bliss, Texas, to complete some final training, and then to be transported to important duty in the southern part of Iraq.


There surely will be many local prayers for the soldiers as they serve us all on the other side of the globe.


We commend those who have volunteered for our military forces. We appreciate their substantial personal sacrifices. We honor them for their important service. And we look forward to their safe return home when their duty in Iraq is over.







One of the first and most proper acts of the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives was to end the Democrats' practice of granting unconstitutional House voting "rights" to delegates from the District of Columbia, as well as Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas Islands, the Virgin Islands and Guam.


The Constitution is as explicit as it can be on this matter.


Article 1, Section 2, includes these passages about who may (and who may not) be a member of the House: "The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States ... . No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have ... been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen."


In other words, people who are not inhabitants of any of the "several States" may not be members of the House. And if they are not members of the House, it is plain that they are not entitled to various voting privileges in the House, as the former Democrat majority had granted them. (Not coincidentally, most of the delegates from the affected areas are Democrats.)


Neither the District of Columbia nor the islands mentioned above that have delegates in the House are states. As such, Congress had no business giving House voting rights to those delegates.


The House acted correctly in ending the delegates' unconstitutional voting "rights."









Many of us at the Hürriyet Daily News well remember the round-ups of Hizbullah suspects a decade ago. The opening of torture chambers, the exhumation of bodies, the shoot-out with suspects before the arrests. What was revealed was a brutal organization, operating a virtual theater of horror that was carried on the nightly news and on newspaper front pages for weeks. This chapter in Turkish history has added its own unique layer to the scar tissue of injustice that defines the public psyche in so many ways.


Which is precisely the problem to which we urge consideration as the justice and injustice of a continuing wave of prison releases of Hizbullah suspects continues, probably to number in the hundreds if not thousands. For this is a highly emotional issue and justice cannot be carried out emotionally. It must be cold, calculating, efficient and above all fair. Turkish justice can sometimes be cold, it is often calculating. Rarely is it efficient or fair. 


The fact is that among suspects now being released – amid images of joyous reunions outside prison gates of bearded men in green parkas – there are surely killers walking free. This is justifiably frightening and the topic of debate on every news talk show.


Far less discussed is that it is equally certain that among those being set free, there are unquestionably innocents who have spent a decade behind bars for crimes they did not commit. And most importantly for crimes for which they were never tried and convicted. 


Many analogies are being made, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, to the series of politically driven amnesties made by governments since the 1970s. Each wave of populist prison clearings has immediately been followed by crime waves seared in public memory. These prison releases are not an amnesty, a distinction often lost in public discourse.


Much has been written about, and will be written about, the confused process by which a supposed effort to bring Turkey's rules of detention in line with European Union norms has triggered this spectacle. But the root problem is a justice system that does not dispense any modern concept of justice. 


In developed democracies, suspects typically have a right to know the charges they face within a maximum of three days. Most jurisdictions in Europe or North America limit pre-trial incarceration to six months. In some cases it is long as a year. A decade is unheard of. 


]The great international exception of recent years has been Guantanamo, a U.S. prison on the island of Cuba created in the wake of 9/11 hysteria, outside the realms of both American and international law. This can hardly be Turkey's standard.


It may not be too late to try many Hizbullah suspects, albeit while they remain physically free and subject to travel and other reasonable restrictions. But the real and fundamental problem is a judicial system that tubbornly defies reform.







We got the opportunity to listen to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as he delivered the opening address at the "Third Conference of Ambassadors" which began on Monday and is due to finish this weekend.


Talking to a large number of Turkish ambassadors who are serving abroad or at home, as well as the numerous retired ambassadors who were in attendance, Davutoğlu has set targets for Turkish diplomacy which are clearly ambitious. To put it in a nutshell, Davutoğlu believes that Turkey will be leading the countries that will lay the foundation stone of the new world order.


According to his vision, Turkey will also be in the category of "wise countries" whose diplomats are like "firemen" and "city planners," and who, in this capacity, will help douse the fires that are destabilizing the world today, particularly in the Middle East and the Caucasus.


According to Davutoğlu, Turkish diplomats will not only have to become "firemen who put out fires," but also "firemen who prevent fires" in the first place. But before all of this can happen we as Turks have to throw off our "inferiority complex" – according to him – and have a clear vision of the strength and influence of our own country. 


It is clear that if this vision of Davutoğlu's can be realized, then Turkey will be one of the key players in the world community, becoming a kind of "superpower" whose decisions have the capacity to influence the international balance of power in a proactive and positive manner.


Call it a "vision" or call it a "dream," but it is clear that the targets set by Davutoğlu reflect nothing more than a hopeful desire at this stage, rather than pointing to anything that is feasible in the medium term given the current state of general affairs concerning Turkey. 


It is of course not hard to get captivated by this dream, since any Turk would want to see his or her country in the category of nations that set the rules of the new world order. The "inferiority complex" issue aside, however, it is clear that Turkey has problems today that will make it harder for the targets set by Davutoğlu to be realized.


No one can deny that Turkey is a country whose economic strength and political clout is constantly increasing. It is by no means a static country in this respect, being a dynamic one, instead that continues to grow and develop despite efforts to drag it down by its many enemies.


It is this fact after all that is fueling the international debate on Turkey today. It is also inevitable that this increase in strength and influence should raise overall expectation at home in terms of Turkey's role in the world. But the simple fact is that Turkey is not "there" yet in terms of Davutoğlu's grand vision.


Put another way, for Turkey to play the role in the world desired by Davutoğlu, it has to overcome a host of problems at home and abroad first. It is patently clear that Ankara will have to put out its own fires first, before it can hope to put out fires elsewhere.


In terms of the domestic scene, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration will have to settle the Kurdish issue, as well as a host of other issues, in this country before it can hope to contribute to the solution of similar issues in other countries. Then there is also the seemingly intractable Cyprus problem, which poses added complications as far as Davutoğlu's grand vision is concerned.


The simple fact is that a Greek Cypriot community whose population numbers less that a million, i.e. about a third the size of the population of Ankara, is being allowed by the international community to put a spanner in the works of a big country like Turkey, which aspires to play an influential role in the world arena.


As a result the AKP administration – with all the strength that it attributes to Turkey today – has been unable to mobilize the support of Islamic nations for their coreligionists, namely the Turkish Cypriots, who are currently under an international embargo whose end is nowhere in sight.


Another example is the inability thus far to normalize relations with Armenia. This fact alone is preventing Turkey from putting out or preventing fires in the Caucasus, and there appears little prospect for this situation to change in the near future.


The current state of Turkish-Israel ties is another case in point. It is more than apparent at this stage that the gradual worsening of Turkey's relations with that country since 2008 has also prevented Ankara from playing a central role in the search for Middle East peace.


As a corollary to this the AKP's Iran policy has also ensured that Turkey does not play a central role as far as the search to ending the nuclear problem with Tehran is concerned. The fact that the second round of negotiations with Iraq will take place in Istanbul later this month does not alter this situation.


However, despite these very real difficulties, there is still an opportunity for Ankara to prove its potential capacity as a "wise fireman." The opportunity lies in Sudan, a country that is on the verge of being split up in a bloody fashion because of the upcoming referendum in the south of the county.


This opportunity is doubly important because it speaks to all the ambitions that Davutoğlu has been pursuing. He is, after all, the prime engineer in terms of the opening up to Arab and African countries. In addition to this, the AKP administration claims to be actively engaged in efforts to bringing about a rapprochement between Christians and Muslims. Turkey, as seen in its policy toward Gaza, also claims to be on the side of oppressed peoples.


Those who know Sudan are aware that it fits the bill perfectly as far as Davutoğlu's vision of Turkey as a country of wise firemen is concerned. The reason is that it contains all the factors named above as the core of the AKP's self-declared foreign policy.


At the end of the day it is good and also necessary to have visions. This is how progress comes about. The fact is, however, that visions have to be realized in order to be valid in the end. A success in Sudan would undoubtedly put Turkey on the map in this respect.









Borrowing Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's metaphor, Turkey these days looks like your willing but semi-sane neighbor appearing at everyone's door in the neighborhood, always uninvited, dressed like a firefighter, holding a huge hose in his hand and smiling… Doors often slammed in his face, neighbors wondering how soon the man will give up offering his unwanted services. He looks weirder especially when he runs to one door after another, in his red uniform and holding his hose, even while his own house is on fire.


But according to Mr. Davutoğlu, "Turkey is a wise country reuniting a torn world!" It would have been much nicer if Mr. Davutoğlu and his government started their ambitious task by reuniting their torn country.


There is evidence that the willing firefighter's firefighting efforts in the neighborhood – the Caucasus, especially on the Armenian border; in Cyprus; on the Aegean Sea; on the borders between Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; on the Turkish-Iraqi border; between Iran and the West; and in Sudan – have all failed while the fire at home is spreading.


One neighbor, Greece, has effectively felt obliged to erect a 12.5-km wall on its border with Turkey to stop an influx of illegal immigrants because "it feels endangered by the flames spreading from the Turkish windows." That must be the "zero problems but 100,000 illegal immigrants a year with our neighbors" policy. All the same the Greeks may be luckier than their Aegean neighbors.


Turkey woke up to shocking news Tuesday when more than 20 extreme Islamist and Kurdish militants were released from jail thanks to a legal amendment the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, passed in Parliament five years ago and which took effect a week ago.


Eighteen members of the Turkish Hizbullah, a Sunni terrorist group not to be confused with Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah, had been convicted of murdering through torture more than 100 people, mostly by their trademark method of burying victims alive, their hands and feet tied together. Upon their release, the extreme Islamists were given a hero's welcome by their comrades. Press reports say 50,000 more such gentlemen have applied to benefit from the legislation – which, ironically, limits the time detainees can be held without being sentenced to 10 years, including the appeals process.


That happened in a country where dozens of anti-government journalists, writers and academics spend time in jail without conviction; the same country where the chief EU negotiator has asked that a student spend up to two years in jail for an egg thrown at him. But what will those poor souls, the Hizbullah chaps, do now that they are free? How will they make a living? A colleague has proposed a wise solution: Employ them for a specific firefighting mission!


Recently, a proposal originated from a meeting between Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan to make the Afghan Taliban a legitimate political entity. Soon after that, the idea of establishing an office in Turkey for the Taliban started to float in the media. My colleague's idea is basically to bring together the Taliban and the Turkish Hizbullah and create synergy to "reunite a torn world." In the future, perhaps, the two can expand their peace mission by inviting al-Qaeda to their coalition.


Meanwhile, a friend suggested Istanbul would make the best home for the Taliban office in Turkey. He particularly proposed an office in the building which housed the HSBC Bank until it was bombed by al-Qaeda – along with a simultaneous attack at the British Consulate – in an attack that killed 30 people and wounded 400 others.


Understandably, Mr. Davutoğlu's "firefighters" hope to highlight their face value by showing that they can play a role in the Afghan issue and facilitate U.S. efforts in the Islamic world. But they expose themselves to the risk of being snubbed as schizophrenic firefighters. There must not be too many countries in the world which offer to host an entity with which they are officially at war.


Obviously, a Turkish office would serve the Taliban's interests as the radical political movement has long sought international recognition as a legitimate political entity. It is uncertain, however, whether the Permanent Representative of the Taliban in Istanbul would serve any Western interests.


As for the Turkish interests… why not, if the neighbors' increasingly loud laughter directed toward the willing firefighter counts…  






When I look at several macro scenarios for the Turkish economy in 2011being depicted by different financial institutions, I barely notice any difference. It looks as if optimism is finally the predominant attitude toward the economy, thanks to self-confidence-boosting developments in the Turkish economy during and after the global crisis. The averages of forecasts are also similar to my forecasts, which I presented here on Dec. 17, 2010.


Let me summarize the macro outlook:


1) GDP growth is likely to be at least 5 percent, probably in the broad range of 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent. 2) Headline CPI inflation will remain within the 6 percent to 7 percent range, after hitting the 4 percent to 5 percent range in the first quarter. 3) Current account deficit is likely to expand to $50-$55 billion range, depending on growth forecast, from an estimated $45 billion in 2010. 4) The fall in unemployment is likely to continue but with reduced momentum. The yearly average unemployment rate will remain around 11 percent, better than 2010 but significantly above pre-crisis levels. 5) Budget deficit and non-interest balances are likely to improve further despite the general elections likely to be held in June. 6) There is a big chance the Turkish economy could be upgraded to investment grade in 2011. Such a rating would improve Turkey's risk profile, bolstering long-term loans and foreign direct investment.


However, the convergence of views does not make me more comfortable. I still wonder whether this big consensus is really healthy. Actually, it means every market player is on the same side and this limits market fluctuations. It is definitely good for financial stability, but it also makes positions more exposed to macro data surprises in both directions.


On the other hand, there is certainly less consensus about financial indicators, especially the Central Bank policy rate path – although most analysts expect further rate cuts in the short-term. In that context, the first edition of quarterly inflation report from the Central Bank, due Jan. 25, will help shape a base scenario for the direction of rates in the medium-term on the policy horizon.


Yet another threshold from ratings agencies...


Could a rating upgrade be a Central Bank mission? Ratings agency Fitch thinks so. A Fitch Turkey analyst said Monday that Turkey's Central Bank faces a challenge to reduce inflation, prevent overheating and limit the current account deficit, and its success in managing this will feed into its rating assessment.


It is not an easy task. Though the headline consumer price index, or CPI, closed last year at 6.4 percent, below the year-end target of 6.5 percent, and I expect it to fall further to around 4 percent at the end of February – mainly due to favorable base effects generated by last year's administrative (tax) price increases. However, from then on, the real challenge will be to keep the CPI below or around the 2011 target of 5.5 percent. In that context, the key variables are oil, unprocessed food prices and Turkish Lira depreciation (or appreciation). The first two are exogenous, but the last one will be tied to the monetary stance of the central bank. The easier the stance, the bigger the upward pressure on depreciation. Consequently, it is good for the current account, but not for inflation.


What is good for the country may not be good for the banks...


On the other side of the ledger, easy money could fuel a lending boom. In 2010, total growth in bank lending reached 30 percent. Moreover, the ratio of change in credit volume to GDP jumped by 11 percent. The Central Bank sees the difference between the system's credit and deposit growth as a proxy to the private sector savings gap.


According to its calculations, all else (public sector savings gap, FDI and portfolio investments) being equal, a rise of 5 percentage points in the credit growth rate will increase the current account deficit by 2.1 points in any given year. Therefore, another strong growth spurt, as many bank CEOs aimed for in their 2011 plan, would make the CBT's plan ineffective. That was the main motive behind the Central Bank's warning to all banks to curb credit expansion to a level (at most 25 percent) consistent with macroeconomic targets of the Medium Term Program.








These recent events represent chaos in the true sense of the word. Members of the Hizbullah, an illegal group that has no ties to the Lebanese group of the same name, walking out the door just like that, after having committed so many crimes and celebrating their victory, has devastated the conscience of people.


But we can not blame these people for being released. We can't say members of the mafia can be released members but members of the Hizbullah can't. Everything is so chaotic that people don't know anymore what's wrong or right.


I'd like to repeat once more. The main issue stirs from Turkey's never-ending trials. The courts have an enormous work load. The system doesn't work.


Prosecutors send each and every complaint to the court thinking, "I don't want to take any risks, let the judges decide." Judges get drowned in the workload and no results are obtained.


This is what we really need to discuss. Unsolved Hizbullah murders, which the police both revealed and exposed as the illegal slaughter mostly directed toward Kurds. But for 10 years now, the cases haven't been able to be solved and Hezbollah members have been released from prison.


Now let's leave aside the discussion of who is wrong or right. Let's give up the fight of whether it is the judiciary's fault or the fault of present or past administrations that did not change the existing laws.


The judiciary has tried to defend itself by saying, "We warned the administration two years ago but it didn't care." And the administration says the judiciary refused to accept new appointees. A real dilemma.


What is expected of the administration is to immediately take measures to stop this course. To reduce the heavy workload of the courts is the only way to go. If today no steps are taken, tomorrow the same courts might get rid of those who are in the administration today.


Besides, let's not forget that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is not solely responsible. The problem stems from the accumulations of the past. The AKP is only responsible for the past eight years.


Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has relieved us partly by talking about his ongoing formulation of new policy to address the problem, but we want to go deeper.


We need to get rid of the perception of "no trust in the judiciary." The wounds in the conscience of the people need to be healed, otherwise we'll be hurting a lot, for a long time. Trust in the judiciary needs to be reestablished.


Out of words on the EU


Regarding relations with the European Union, 2011 will be the year in which there will be no words left to speak.


What I mean by "out of words" is that there will be nothing left to negotiate. The situation at the moment is like this:


In all full membership negotiations there are 33 topics to be negotiated with each candidate country. It is discussed how each country will conform to these topics.


Until now Turkey has been the one country that, during negotiations, 17 of 33 topics have been blocked either by the EU or other member countries because of political reasons. This means that these topics have not yet been not negotiated.


Thirteen out of the 16 remaining topics have been opened up for negotiations. There are only three more left.


Amendments in respect to the topic of public procurement are still waiting in Parliament. As soon as it is enacted this topic will be open for negotiations. Not being able to negotiate social politics and employment topics is totally our fault. Employee and employer unions don't want to conform to EU norms and thus no consensus is reached.


But employees and employers have no choice. They have to reach a consensus and accept EU norms.


The chapter regarding competition is the hardest, because the entire incentive system will be parallel to applications in Europe. There is resistance everywhere but we've still come a long way. And this topic may be opened up for negotiations soon.


If looked at it from a technical perspective the process in Turkish-EU negotiations is still ongoing and technically rather well.


There is no enthusiasm politically or publicly. Nobody talks about Europe anymore. But in the background everything continues.


We need to acknowledge chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış as being right. He works like a bee. In order to set bureaucracy in motion he does anything he can.


But he progressively approaches the end of the road. As I said before, once the remaining three topics are opened up everything will stop.


Bağış targets to complete all amendments necessary by 2014 so the blocked topics can be opened up for negotiation. Thus completing conformation to the EU acquis and starting to negotiate.


As you see, Europe needs to make a decision in the period ahead of us. Will it include Turkey or leave it out?


Brussels can't make up its mind


Looking at the situation, there is no reason for keeping hopes high. Financial and economic crisis has ruined the EU. They are facing a new crisis and don't really know what to do.


Under these circumstances they are not in a position to think about including a giant country like Turkey in their chain. Their priority is to get rid of the crisis. The rest they'll consider later.


In principle, for now Europe remains closed for Turkey.

If winds change, administrations in Germany and France change as well then maybe Turkey's full membership may be put back on the agenda once more.


Then France would lift blockage. Then the EU would push for a solution in Cyprus. Considering all of the above it becomes apparent how important this year is. No matter what though, Europe acting in slow pace affects Turkey progressively.


The EU project has been forgotten about, Ankara's and the public's attention is focused in another direction. I still am insisting on a full membership to the EU.


The reason is very simple. Like Bağış put it, this country really needs to have a disciplined system. And this exists in the EU.


That is why I attach much importance to the year 2011.








The government is of the opinion that its opponents are unjustly exploiting the release from prison of some Islamist radicals as well as some murderers, thieves and of course a famous drug lord on the grounds of Article 102 of the Criminal Procedure Code, or CMK, which came into force on Jan. 1, 2011.


Aware that the nation is enraged with the scenes of celebration in front of prisons by supporters of the radical Islamist Hizbullah terror machine welcoming the chieftains of the gang accused of butchering over 180 people, including some leading Islamist activists who were defending a different Islamist view than that of the gang, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, former Justice Minister and current Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek and the Justice and Development Party's "eggy expert" Parliamentary Constitutional Commission chief Burhan Kuzu have apparently received orders from their boss, the prime minister, to launch counter propaganda.


Indeed, if we are to be frank, we have to admit that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government cannot be accused of letting Islamist radicals out of prisons. That would be a gross exaggeration of reality. The AKP government is not letting only Islamist radicals out of prisons, it is also releasing drug lords, murderers, members of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terror machine as well as members of many urban terror gangs, because the trials of those people under arrest was not completed within the past many years and because of the limitations regarding maximum arrest periods without court verdict introduced under Article 102 of CMK finally entered into force.


The AKP government might be accused of total ignorance. It might be accused of a lack of comprehension or a lack of calculation to realize what might be the consequences of introducing the maximum arrest periods – varies according to crimes, for example for "organized" crimes against the state it might be maximum ten years while for ordinary crimes it might be up to two years, though the law was so vaguely written that almost everyone has a different interpretation – in order to avoid permanent ridiculing by the European Court of Human Rights over the issue of incredibly long arrest periods.


Was the AKP unaware that Turkish justice system was functioning with such a slow pace that any complicated "organized crime" case would take more than ten years to be finalized? Was the AKP government unaware that every year Turkish courts deliver around 12,000 verdicts? Almost all of those verdicts go to the Supreme Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court of Appeals can handle on average 8,000 dossiers a year. Thus, there is a huge archive of dossiers waiting for the Supreme Court of Appeals to handle, God willing one day.


If the AKP was aware of those problems, would it not be wiser for the "wise government" of this "wise country" to undertake a judicial reform, eradicate all such problems by creating some new lower courts, establishing provincial court of appeals and establishing some additional departments at the Court of Appeals and speed up the justice system before introducing maximum arrest periods?


On the other hand, irrespective of criticisms from the European Court of Human Rights and constant ridiculing of Turkey at European Union meetings over the slow pace of Turkish justice issue, can anyone with some brains and of course a humane conscience accept people being placed behind bars and forgotten there for more than 10 years until one day their case might be resolved and they might be either acquitted and released or sentenced? If acquitted – and there are tons of such cases in this country – how would the state compensate those Turks for depriving them of their freedoms?


This issue should not be resolved with some palliative measures. The government is now signaling that it is so scared of the potential impact of this nasty development on its parliamentary election performance that it might introduce some urgent and quick fix remedies, such as appointing some additional top judges to the Court of Appeals.


The problem at hand is not a simple "journalists are behind bars for more than two years but murderers, drug lords and Islamist radicals are allowed out" one. There is no need to approach this issue with political calculations or with hypocrisy. Everyone needs a working justice system in this country and the developments have shown once again that put aside a working one, this country hardly has a justice system.


It is high time to concentrate on comprehensive judicial reform.








Since the introduction of the criminal code and the criminal procedure code in 2005, which have been hailed as big "reforms" by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government, the prison population in Turkey has almost doubled.


However, vacant prison cells did not increase as quickly – even though the Ministry of Justice has been busy building new prisons. In the past, whenever overcrowding was an issue in Turkey, amnesties were passed, releasing convicts to create space. However, this practice leads to public outrage and is no longer seen as a viable option by the authorities. So what to do?


Prison overcrowding is a common problem in many countries. In Turkey, however, it reflects a more punitive criminal justice system rather than a growth in the crime rate. This is unfortunate since evidence suggests that prison does not prevent crime or rehabilitate offenders. What is worse, imprisoning criminals is a very costly exercise. The cost of keeping one person in jail per year is $49,000 in California, in the United States, while even in Turkey this figure amounts to between 10,000 and 12,000 Turkish Liras.


Today, thanks to the new codes, not only sentences themselves but also the mandatory minimum time to be served in prison is longer than five years ago. For instance, if one were sentenced to 10 years in prison before 2005, one served five years in prison – after five years, most were eligible for parole for the remaining five years. Today, the minimum period to be served in prison is six years and eight months. This creates overcrowding.


Another thing that contributes to prison overcrowding is Turkey's detention practices. In this sense, it is difficult to understand the current fuss surrounding the release of those held in custody. We should be glad the provisions that set out maximum length of detention periods for people yet to be sentenced are finally in effect, despite a sad interpretation by the Supreme Court of Appeals which sets the maximum length at 10 years in terrorism cases.


As a result of the maximum length provisions, only a small number of detainees will be released. However, given the profile of those being released, the issue is being portrayed as the release of "murderers."


Let us please first remember that even if they committed those acts, their process is still not over. They are yet to be found guilty and until that time, they are to be presumed innocent. Second, the process should not have taken this long. For whatever reason justice was delayed, the accused should not be asked to bear the consequences. In other words, what we should be outraged about is that the legal process is taking so long, not that people who have not yet been convicted are being released.


On the other hand, the debate overlooks serious issues relating to Turkey's detention practices. First, the legal culture is not libertarian. Thus, helped by the provisions of the "reform" code, judges are able to render decisions to detain too easily. In addition, the state-funded legal assistance scheme offered to those at risk of detention is not working. As a result, detention is so overused in Turkey that today, half the prison population consists of detainees yet to be found guilty of any crime.


Further, once rendered, detention decisions should be reviewed periodically. However, this is not done in an open hearing by checking the circumstances of the detainee or making sure the collection of evidence is complete or otherwise. It should be remembered that detention is a precautionary measure that should be applied only when there are circumstances creating a strong suspicion that a crime has been committed.


In addition, there has to be a reason for detention. Legally, this means that there is strong suspicion that the suspect may escape, destroy physical evidence or harass witnesses. When this is checked only "in the file," detentions continue for long periods of time and turn into punishment themselves. Given all this, the debate in Turkey is disappointing as it tries to battle the consequences and not the causes.


Another disappointment is the fact that many argue that the problem of the legal process taking so long can be solved by hiring more judges and prosecutors. This "solution" assumes that courts are working efficiently and they themselves do not contribute to or create problems of delay. In other words, the argument is that the way the courts are working is just fine – the only thing missing is human resources.


This argument is nothing but "making more of the same." To put it as an analogy, it is as if we tried to solve Istanbul's traffic problem not by building the Marmaray beneath the Bosphorus, promoting public transportation or increasing sea lines, but by building more and more bridges that will be clogged in a few years' time. Applied in this context, instead of the decriminalization of some crimes, establishing diversion mechanisms from the criminal justice system or creating other policies, we are to engage in the costly exercise of hiring more judges as a solution. But wasn't it the courts themselves that created the problem in the first place by not concluding cases in a timely fashion?


*İdil Elveriş is a lecturer and the legal clinic coordinator at Istanbul Bilgi University.








"Europe whole and free" owes a great debt to the decision by a courageous Hungarian government to open its frontiers to Austria in the summer of 1989, allowing thousands of East German refugees to escape. Twenty-one years later, and just as it takes over the rotating European presidency, Hungary is a frontrunner once more. The difference is that this time it appears determined to reverse its course. And the risk is that it might take Europe with it.


Normally, the six-month European Union presidency is a staid and low-key affair, all the more since the creation of a full-time European president and a foreign policy czar by the Lisbon Treaty just over a year ago. Few Europeans even noticed that Belgium, Hungary's predecessor, didn't have a government for the duration of its tenure. But that is clearly too tame for the pugnacious government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Budapest chose to open the year with a display of political fireworks, featuring two show-stopping zingers: a set of new laws restraining the media and a "crisis tax" on investors.


Uproar ensued. In Hungary, students protested and newspapers appeared with blank front pages. A barrage of criticism came from the rest of Europe: from EU commissioner Neelie Kroes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's top media official and the French government to a cross-section of the European Parliament and a dozen European CEOs. When senior representatives of Orbán's Fidesz Party shuffled their feet and made conciliatory noises, the prime minister himself stepped in to clarify: "not…in our wildest dreams" would he allow any changes to the law.


In an attempt at transparency (and damage control), the Hungarian government has now published translations of the media laws in English, as well as lengthy refutations of the criticism against them. It's an unconvincing effort. The new media rules (totaling more than 200 pages) require all outlets, public and private, to register with a powerful new regulatory authority whose five-person board is to be composed entirely of Fidesz nominees. That authority is empowered to probe whether media reporting is "objective and balanced" and to impose punishing fines or even closures on offenders; it may also require reporters to disclose their sources in the interest of "national security and public order." In short, the new rules are unduly intrusive, vague and over-broad. (As for the "crisis tax," Budapest argues that it covers all companies, foreign and national. The multinationals counter that, because of the high threshold involved, it will be applied almost exclusively to them.)


Calls by some critics to impose legal sanctions on Hungary – or to exclude it from the EU – are unhelpfully melodramatic. The Lisbon Treaty does provide for such sanctions in its Article 7; this was a lesson from an abortive attempt, in 2000, to isolate the conservative Austrian government for entering into a coalition with the party of right-wing extremist Jörg Haider.


But Article 7 is the EU's equivalent of a nuclear option, reserved for "a serious breach" of EU rules, and requiring at least a qualified majority in the 27-member European Council. Instead, Kroes has sensibly opted for opening a so-called "infringement action," a standard EU procedure, to bring the Hungarian laws into alignment with the EU's legal system through constructive criticism. This could be a face-saving escape route for Orbán. If he chooses it, that is.


Still, there can be no doubt that Hungary poses a very serious challenge to the European Union. Yet, for now, that challenge is political rather than legal. The new laws are only the latest in a series of profoundly illiberal power grabs – from the constitutional court to pension funds, cultural institutions and the fiscal and monetary authorities – by the Fidesz government, emboldened by a two-thirds majority win in the April 2009 election.


Orbán, for his part, has never made a secret of his contempt for parliamentary democracy: "The republic," he said in 2006, "is merely a cloak for the nation." He could not be farther from the truth. The balance of powers, the accountability of government to the governed and the protection of civil rights and liberties, including the freedom of the press: these are the core principles of the European res publica. To disdain them is to disdain all that Europe stands for.



True, Europe watched silently for months while the Orbán government consolidated its gains. And, yes, press freedoms are treated cavalierly (to say the least) in a number of other European countries, such as Italy and Romania. Germany itself is no stranger to state-sanctioned cronyism: the chancellor, no less, recently appointed a former speaker to head a state broadcasting institution. Most worryingly, the economic crisis has created a fearful, inward-looking public mood all across Europe, which sets growth and stability above freedom and liberal values, making anxious citizens easy prey for ruthless demagogues and populists.


None of this can be an excuse to condone what is happening in Hungary or elsewhere in Europe. On the contrary, Europe must defend its principles – in the political arena. It is time to say that Europe is not just about the euro.


*Constanze Stelzenmüller is a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. The GMF is a non-partisan American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to promoting cooperation between North America and Europe.









The truth regarding political assassinations rarely emerges in our country. It is already becoming clear that a great deal of doubt is likely to swirl around the killing of Governor Salmaan Taseer. Matters are not helped along at all by the rather hasty statements from political leaders. Law Minister Babar Awan, hardly known for exhibiting rationality in his statements, has said the murder was politically motivated and was in fact a murder in custody. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has termed it the outcome of a conspiracy, President Zardari has stated that the killing could be a move to terrorise democratic forces, and other PPP members are demanding the Punjab government stage a full inquiry. What they seem not to be acknowledging is the elephant in the room—the reality that Taseer's murder was the product of extremism. Further, nobody in the government is saying what it is going to do to reduce or eradicate extremism, an omission bound to give comfort and support to those who choose to kill as and when they see fit.

The Punjab government has so far exhibited a great deal of maturity—but it will eventually need to make some comment on the issue and the key questions that are being raised. Was the gunning down of the governor truly the act of a fanatic acting on his own? Even if this is the case, the revelations that Malik Mumtaz Qadri had been declared a security risk while posted in Rawalpindi due to his extremist views forces us to ask how he could possibly have been assigned to guard a VIP. The issue is bound to add to the political tensions. Their presence also means that facts may be distorted or deliberately provocative statements made. Lack of credibility adds to the problems, given that the words of leaders are not always believed. The fact that as a nation we favour conspiracy theories complicates matters, with all kinds of emails and SMS messages adding to a rather widespread sense of confusion. To clear this away we need to get to the bottom of the matter. This will not be easy. But attempts to gain political mileage from a tragic event will make it harder still. If there was indeed a conspiracy that reaches beyond a single man and his distorted view of the world, we need to know who was involved in hatching it. But this will happen only if calm is observed, statements that have no real basis avoided and a genuine attempt made to solve the mysteries behind the latest political assassination to hit us, and add to the difficulties we face in calming a political sea that grows rougher by the day. Also, the cancer of extremism must be acknowledged at the highest level and fought as hard as it fights to dominate all of us. Without this resolve, the chances of us ever being told the truth, that which has not been distorted to serve political opportunism, are infinitesimal.







If ever there was a city that was crying out for a mass transit system, it is Karachi. It is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the world at 3,527 square kilometres and four times bigger than Hong Kong. Between 13 and 15 million people live there and there have been attempts to build a mass transit system for more than twenty years, all of them having failed as has the latest. The Asian Development Bank has pulled the plug on funding for the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) out of frustration at the attitude of the provincial government and its failure to agree a settled position on the project over the last five years. The ADB states unequivocally that it was unable to come anywhere close to resolving fundamental issues with the government of Sindh over the project implementation and has now decided to drop the financing of the project from its pipeline programme.

Once again the residents of this, our most important commercial hub, have been denied an essential infrastructure resource that would do much to enhance the economy of the city; as well as enhancing the contribution that Karachi makes to the national economy – and all because the bureaucrats could not get their act together. Enormous effort on all sides has gone into the effort, but it seems to have foundered on the chronic inability of the provincial managers to agree exactly what it is they wanted and who should deliver it. 

The provincial government had constituted the Sindh Mass Transit Authority (SMTA) in October 2008 to bring the project to fruition. In August 2009 the president himself gave his blessing to it. Today, the SMTA has been dissolved, and there seems to be no progress on the development of the mass-transit circular railway that has been the subject of debate for at least 15 years. Mass transit systems in megacities have proved themselves, everywhere in the world, to be powerful engines of growth. We have nobody but our elected representatives and baboos to blame for this latest shot through our own feet.







Salmaan Taseer did not commit blasphemy. We should get this straight. He was not a Gustakh-e-Rasool (insulter of the Prophet). He did not remotely commit or say anything falling in the category of what the most charged of believers take to be blasphemy. Yet in the name of the Prophet, whom we revere as the Last Messenger of God, he was gunned down by one of his guards. It is at the gates of such madness that we as a nation have arrived.

And if there can be anything worse, it is the reaction of assorted clerics, doctors of the faith and muftis of the media, who instead of condemning this act openly have uttered tongue-twisters and adopted convoluted postures which amount to justifying it. The road to hell is paved with such equivocations.

One of the media muftis pontificating on television when Taseer's blood had hardly dried was heard saying that it was strange of the slain governor to have visited in prison someone convicted of blasphemy — a reference to the unfortunate Christian woman, Aasia Bibi. This amounted to saying that the governor was almost asking for what happened to him.

The other media gladiator was even more startling. He said that while we were sure to hear enough condemnation of the governor's assassination not a word would be said of American atrocities in the war on terror. It is hard to beat this logic or this connection.

There are lunatics in every society, people on the edge holding the strangest of opinions…that the end of the world is nigh or the true messiah is at hand, etc. But here it is not the antics of a lunatic fringe on display, but prominent figures in the mainstream media making asses of themselves.

Then we talk of saving the Islamic Republic. With pontiffs like these injecting their share of refined folly into the national discourse, with no trace of embarrassment clouding the smooth flow of their eloquence, we get a fair idea of how the hill of redemption — trying to change the Republic's suicidal ways — is not an easy one to climb.

And the thing to frighten any weak-hearted man out of his senses: the assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was not acting out of any malevolence or sense of personal injury. He was acting not only in good faith but in what can only be described as the highest manifestation of good faith: according to his Islamic conscience which instructed him that Governor Taseer was a blasphemer of the Holy Prophet and thus unmistakably deserving of death.

Small wonder then that far from anything like remorse on his face, the expression he wore in police custody was almost beatific, as if he had just accomplished a deed worthy of the saints or the holiest of martyrs.

Any lone ranger can kill Martin Luther King or Robert F Kennedy. It was a Hindu bigot, guided by the highest of motives (according to his way of looking at the world), who shot and killed Mahatma Gandhi. Pakistan's tragedy is that its holy zealots are not lone rangers but products, and now the instruments, of a mindset 30 years in the making: from Gen Ziaul Haq's era and the time of the first Afghan 'jihad' down to the present, a mindset totally at odds with what gullible fools like us take the idea of Pakistan, as first mooted in 1947, to be.

It is wrong, therefore, to say that Mumtaz Qadri was acting alone. In the literal sense he may have been alone. But in the metaphorical or spiritual sense he was representing a state of mind, a fever of the brain, which has more and more Pakistanis in its grip. So it is hardly surprising if there should be people, and not a small number either, looking upon him not as a killer but a defender of the faith. Of the few text messages I have received most, to my growing dismay, have spoken of Taseer's killing as a fate he richly deserved. Makes one think, doesn't it?

Without going into the merits of the present anti-blasphemy law — one of Gen Zia's many gifts to the nation, although it is only fair to say that it was later ratified by the 1985 Parliament — is it too much to ask Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to look into a crucial aspect of judicial work at the level of our sessions courts? Why do lower-tier judges go out of their way to look for loopholes when dangerous terrorists are on trial, thus giving them the benefit of the doubt, and why do they close all loopholes and don spectacles of the utmost strictness when it comes to the trial of a poor Christian man or woman, usually the lowliest of the low, charged with blasphemy, on the flimsiest of evidence or the most dubious of motives?

Doubting Thomases in terrorism cases but unbending disciplinarians in blasphemy cases…a strange paradox is at work here: in the first instance, a keenness not to court the wrath of the extremist armies; in the second, a wish to earn merit by coming down hard on supposed blasphemers.

Also worth asking is another question: why do our holy fathers take such a narrow view of blasphemy? Hunger, poverty and injustice move them not. If the Islamic Republic is a living monument to anything it is to injustice, to the unfairness of life, to the vast and growing distance between rich and poor. But the clerical armies reserve their choicest artillery, their most incendiary fire and brimstone, for arcane and esoteric issues which have nothing to do with everyday life.

Riding the cause of such issues they flaunt their strength but forget the cry of the Caliph Omar (which I must have repeated a hundred times) that if a dog went hungry by the banks of the Euphrates he, the commander of the faithful, would be held to account on the Day of Judgment.

The anti-blasphemy law was not being amended. How many times has this to be repeated? No move of the kind was afoot in the halls of government or the corridors of parliament. Yet the clerical armies raised a hue and cry, issuing threats and denunciations, and calling for a national strike on December 31 to add fuel to the fires they had kindled.

On Fridays half the country is shut in any case, Friday being the Islamic Sabbath. Even so, the half which remains open was also closed, making the strike call a success even if few people paused to consider that it had been called over something which, for all practical purposes, was a non-issue.

But non-issue or not a climate was created…and exactly four days later Governor Taseer, whose one fault if we discount all others was an absence of cant and dissimulation when it came to speaking his mind on red-rag issues, had most of a Kalashnikov magazine in his body.

If Mumtaz Qadri pleads diminished responsibility, which of course he won't, he will have grounds for doing so. He acted out his decision against the backdrop of a mood inspired or rather whipped up by (1) a clergy once again on the march and (2) media pundits who froth at the mouth when any religious trumpets are to be blown.

In a landscape marked by all kinds of uncertainties, the only certainty, the one thing constant, is the star of Islam. This is an Islamic land and will always remain so until the end of time. Why then do we conduct ourselves as if Islam is in danger? Pakistan may be in danger, Islam is not. If there is one thing all Muslims, with all their other differences, are agreed on, it is the finality of the prophet-hood of the Prophet Muhammad. No Muslim dare question this article of our creed. Why then do sections of the holy fathers make themselves hoarse over this issue? Like the lady in Hamlet, they protest too much — over a non-issue.

Will we ever get real, ever get out of the world of fantasy and make-believe? If Taseer's killing makes us sit back and think he may not have died in vain. Although to hear some of the voices we are hearing it is hard to be optimistic on this score.







What's the point of liberals beating their chests now over the tragic death of Governor Salmaan Taseer? He was abandoned by opportunist liberals and his own party when he needed them the most. Instead of showing their support on the street to the cause he stood for, liberals intimidated by the mobilisation capacity of religious extremists and the potential threat to their lives, opted for silence. Those from the civil society who took to the street were criticised for adventurism and their inability to mobilise large numbers. The NGO sector that claims to work for human rights remained reluctant to mobilise people . The leadership of the Pakistan People's Party, influenced by the likes of Babar Awan, known for his bigotry, backed out because of the mounting pressure from religious parties. Salmaan Taseer had shown unusual courage and boldness and refused to give into threats. Alas! He sacrificed his life at the altar of betrayal, apathy and inactivity of the "secular" political forces of the country.

The death of Salmaan Taseer can become the death of pluralism, tolerance and democratic values, if we do not rise together to resist the forces of darkness and extremism in the country. In the absence of our collective fight, religious militants will keep on eliminating brave individuals one by one. The best way to pay tribute to such men and women is to begin a movement in which all progressive political forces should join hands to liberate Pakistan from the clutches of bigotry and extremism.

The ideological divide between secularists and religious forces that want to turn Pakistan into a theocratic state is not new. This ideological battle has been going on in the country since Independence. Religio-political parties that opposed the creation of Pakistan and called Qauid-e-Azam Kafir-e-Azam became active in the newly established state. They have been working against the vision of the Quaid, who wanted to establish a modern Muslim state where religion would be a personal matter, with no role in the business of the state.

In the absence of popular support (evident from the electoral results of various elections in the country), "religious" forces are still able to thrust their agenda upon people because of their ability to use political violence. They have never been trusted nor elected by the people of Pakistan to rule this country. Some of them managed to enter parliament in the past but they were able to so only through the support of military dictators and the manipulation of electoral results. They have been pampered and have grown with full financial and political support of our civil and military establishment and consequently the monster of extremism is now out to get us all.

To put the genie back into the bottle requires radical cleansing of this extremist mindset from our security forces, educational institutions, media and religious institutions. The government should take a firm stand on the blasphemy law. It must create public awareness through the use of the national media that that Namoos-e-Rasalt and the Blasphemy Law are two different things. The British law of blasphemy that was changed by the military dictator Ziaul Haq is not a sacred or divine law. If the law is being misused against innocent people then it is the responsibility of the state to review or amend it. The Pakistan People's Party government must take a firm stand to protect innocent people, rather than showing cowardliness and leaving its citizens at the mercy of fanatics.

Another immediate step that the government needs to take is to reverse the trend of radicalisation, by registering FIRs against all those who issued fatwas against Salmaan Taseer. These people had been inciting people to take the law into their hands. This will discourage the trend of issuing fatwas in the country. The structural response to the rising trends of radicalisation demands that the state must provide compulsory and free quality education to all and close such institutions as have become the fortresses of extremism, where thousands of young minds are brainwashed and then used as foot soldiers to promote political agendas in the name of religion. The state must take its responsibility to allow every citizen to develop his/her capacity for critical thinking. Otherwise our youth will become fodder for fanaticism. Also, the government must pursue deweaponisation aggressively so that ordinary citizens feel safe.


Our survival can only be ensured through the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's Pakistan. We must fight together for peace, tolerance and justice for all and should not let Salmaan Taseer's death go in vain.

The writer is director Gender Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University and a member of Awami Jamhoori Forum.






When I arrived on the seventh floor of the building, the familiar door leading to Prof Seyyed Hossein Nasr's office was locked. It was Saturday, Oct 23, 2010. I went to the far end of the long corridor and waited. His office is on the top floor of the Gelman Library of George Washington University in Washington DC. We were going to meet at 10 a.m. and there were still five minutes left.

The elevator door opened and he emerged into the hallway. "O, I am sorry, Dr Iqbal, I am a bit late." He said. "Actually, I am early," I said as we embraced. 

We walked into his office. He had made the special trip on a Saturday for this meeting, for which I thanked him, and said: "I want to discuss with you the situation of the Glorious Quran in our times, and specifically the unprecedented situations that arise as the contemporary world encounters the Noble Quran. There are some 1.6 billion Muslims now on earth. Only about twenty per cent of them actually open the Book sent down for their guidance."

Nasr: It is true that only twenty per cent of the Islamic community is Arab, but that really has very little to do with it. We are faced with an unprecedented situation because of other factors. Of course, not even those fluent in Arabic can simply open a copy of the Quran and begin reading, with full comprehension of all its layers of deep meaning! And it has always been like this: throughout Islamic history, after the early expansion and the Umayyad period, a large part of the Ummah was not Arabic-speaking. The Persians, the people of the Indian Subcontinent, the Turks, the Chinese, the Malays, the Africans—even in the so-called Middle Ages, the majority of Muslims did not have Arabic for their mother tongue.

Despite this sociological and linguistic diversity, however, Islam and Islamic civilisation could only survive, in fact, flourish, insofar as the Noble Quran preserved its centrality. Someone in Sumatra hearing a verse of the Quran would weep as much as someone in Fez or Cairo, and their physical location and the language they grew up in were irrelevant to their piety. 

There were established channels through which the external and inward meanings, the message, and even the art of litany of the Quran were transmitted across the vast reaches of the community of believers, the ummah. There was a historical infrastructure for the dissemination of the Quran and its understanding. Those who knew would teach those who did not know: people would listen to its transmitted understanding in khutbahs (sermons), transmit it through literature, through stories... 

And then, of course, one should never overlook the very important aspect of hearing the Quran. Do not forget that the Quran is an oral revelation; it was not originally a written revelation analogous to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments inscribed on a tablet on top of Mount Sinai. The Prophet, upon him be peace, first heard the Quran. This experience of hearing the Quran is extremely significant. The fact that people might not understand every sentence is in a sense really irrelevant to the basic presence of the reality of the Quran in their hearts and minds.

The new situation we are facing, therefore, is not simply the fact that eighty per cent of contemporary Muslims do not speak or read Arabic. It is that many of those traditional channels I just described have become weakened, or even, in some cases, destroyed. This is heightened also by the introduction of modern education into the Islamic world, as a new so-called intelligentsia—I hate to use this word, because they are not really what we know as the khawas (the elect), but merely educated people in the modern Western sense—came to the fore. Even people without advanced modern education began to be trained in another way of thinking, of connecting subject and predicate, of looking for meaning in sentences other than the traditional Islamic way, as they approached the Divine revelation, and otherwise as well. These acquired habits of mind were very different from the way traditional Muslims thought about and looked upon the text of the Glorious Quran. So our task in the modern world is first of all to recreate, as much as possible, those channels of the transmission of the authentic knowledge of the Quran; and, secondly, to redirect the Muslim minds whose ways of thinking, even unconsciously, have been transformed by the methods of modern Western education back to the Islamic norm.

Iqbal: So even while these minds are being trained, do you not think that we also need to simultaneously revive that direct, heart-to-heart mode of transformation?

Nasr: Absolutely. And that is what is at the heart of what has happened in the Islamic world. Since you spoke about tasawwuf-even though the channels of traditional knowledge transmission were largely bypassed or dismantled, this did not always mean that the turuq died out as well. Many, al-hamdu li'Llah, survived those violent projects in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of the Islamic calendar, that is the 18th-19th centuries of the Common Era, against tasawwuf! Those projects were of two kinds: first, the puritanical, rationalistic, reductionist, simplistic interpretations of Islam which came out of Wahhabism, and later Salafism; second, the modernist movements and colonial influences. These influences, although opposed to each other in certain matters, are joined in so many other things: they all "worship" modern science and technology, they are all indifferent to Islamic art, they all join hands in their opposition to Sufism-but for different reasons, and they are all opposed to the Islamic intellectual tradition.








The writer works for Geo Television.


The United States was never, and is not, an enemy of Pakistan. But the US political, military and intelligence thrust in Afghanistan over eight years has decidedly placed the US on the side of our enemies. This is a US choice, not a compulsion.

From day one, Washington chose to turn Kabul into the new hub of anti-Pakistanism in the region. A lot of evidence suggests a CIA role in tolerating and exacerbating anti-Pakistan insurgencies along our Afghan border. Today all anti-Pakistan terrorists take refuge in US-controlled Afghanistan. American political engineering inside Islamabad ['Exhibit A: the crumbling coalition government'] is motivated by an overriding key objective: downsizing the Pakistani military and forcing the nation to accept Indian regional hegemony. If Pakistan does not accept this it will be punished. 

The role of CIA drones in destroying Al-Qaeda is a myth. The agency's figures on Al-Qaeda in Pakistan's border regions are questionable, to begin with. The single-biggest achievement of drone missiles is pushing Pakistani tribesmen into the hands of terrorists and mind-control technicians who reprogramme them to kill Pakistani civilians and soldiers. 

US claims about the Pakistani tribal belt becoming the most dangerous place in the world is another myth. Over the past 13 months, most of the terror plots in the United States and Europe came from US and European citizens, some of them were of Pakistani origin, who visited this region from the Afghan, not Pakistani, side, and under the noses of the US, ISAF and NATO. How these people managed to slip through tight American and European security procedures is inexplicable, but the stories were always timed with US pressure on Pakistan to start a new civil war against its own people in North Waziristan.

We must eliminate terrorists who kill Pakistanis, but also we must win back tribal Pakistanis. That is not possible without ending foreign meddling and terror sanctuaries in the CIA's Afghan backyard. The TTP and Swat terrorists cannot survive if not for the American sanctuary in Afghanistan. 

A third American myth that needs to be blown is our tribal belt being the source of US failure in Afghanistan. A few on our side of the border sympathising with the Pakhtun-led resistance in Afghanistan because of tribal affinities cannot turn the tables in Kabul. The impending US rout and the growing Pakhtun resistance are a direct result of America's 2002 plan to punish the Pakhtuns—against strong Pakistani advice. That blunder is the driving force behind Afghan resistance, not Pakistan's tribal belt.

Pakistanis have had it with this double game. The dramatic escape from Pakistan last month of CIA's Islamabad station chief is one sign of this. He and his staff are involved in the murder of Pakistanis in an illegal covert war: the UN mandate for American occupation in Afghanistan does not include a role for the CIA to wage a covert war in Pakistan.

The CIA's responsibility for these murders extends to Pakistanis killed in at least two attacks mounted by Pakistani forces earlier this year, one of them in Tirah Valley—based most likely on flawed CIA intelligence—resulting in the killing of more than 60 Pakistanis. 

In the case of the two attacks based on CIA information, the data was so flawed in one case that the Pakistani army chief had to personally apologise for the wrongful deaths and compensate the victims. The bold move by the army chief indicated dismay within the military over innocent Pakistani casualties. It represented a break from the days of his predecessor Pervez Musharraf, whose administration sanctioned, and owned, the CIA's Pakistan operations.

The US government and the CIA were quick to plant stories accusing the ISI of leaking Mr Jonathan Banks' name. But Mr Banks' identity is on record in the files of the Pakistani embassy in Washington and in the Foreign Office in Islamabad. This is why even the next CIA station chief is not safe as long as determined Pakistanis are out there seeking justice through a lawsuit.

Statements attributed to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani clearly show they consented to Pakistani civilian casualties in CIA attacks. US journalist Bob Woodward quoted Mr Zardari as telling senior US officials he was not concerned about civilian Pakistani deaths. And former US ambassador Anne W Patterson wrote in a diplomatic cable to Washington that Mr Gilani encouraged US officials in a meeting to continue CIA drone attacks, and that he would cover up for civilian deaths in public. This is probably why drone attacks in just one year, 2010, at 136 attacks, exceeded the number of attacks in the preceding six years: 96 in 2004-2009.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's envoy in Washington Husain Haqqani has been lobbying to get CIA agents and private US security contractors into Pakistan. His wish was granted last year when President Zardari allowed him the discretion to issue visas in Washington without verification. On one occasion, almost 500 such visas were granted in less than 24 hours. Mr Haqqani has been bullish about allowing undercover US intelligence and military personnel into Pakistan and often argued with his diplomatic superiors over this. Last year, he even complained about the ISI chief to the prime minister over visas to Americans. The classified letter strangely leaked to an Indian television channel in New Delhi.

But if the pro-US Zardari government is involved, what is the Pakistani military doing? Perhaps Gen Kayani does not wish to challenge the civilian government's understandings with Washington because that could lead him down the slippery slope of military intervention, which the army chief doesn't favour.

It is important that the CIA and its agents are purged from Pakistan as soon as possible. Here is a comment that an American left on a US website after reports that CIA drones killed tens of people in Pakistan in the last week of 2010: "It's interesting to witness a country actively cooperating and assisting another country waging war against itself. What a proud nation that must be."

The writer works for Geo Television. Email:







The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

Images collide to reveal a terribly reality. 

Emotional people burning tires to express grief at the murder of Salmaan Taseer...Lawyers in Islamabad showering rose petals on the murderer. State funeral with bugles and salutes and wreathes...No senior official from the province, of which he was the governor, receiving his bullet-ridden body at the airport.

There is more. Hundreds of Ulema not only welcome the murder but also declare all attending his funeral to be beyond the pale of Islam. The fire-breathing Ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islami leads the honour role of vitriol by saying that the victim asked for it.

President Zardari and his cohorts move in a different direction, either unwilling to take on the zealots or keen to settle political scores. They declare the murder an attack on democracy, a political assassination. Some among their flag-waving slogan-chanting supporters directly accuse the Sharifs.

Lost in all this are any basics of decency. A murder most foul deserves condemnation, whatever the views about the deceased. Those welcoming it or eulogising the killer only reveal their barbarity, their twisted mindset, their lack of civilisation. 

The religion that they profess to defend repeatedly exhorts tolerance and condemns one man's murder as murder of humanity. But saying this amounts to banging on a citadel of stony ignorance. The belief of the self-righteous is not informed by the message of peace and tolerance in Islam. The only motivation for them is hate, for anyone having a different point of view.

The last rites also needed to be observed with dignity, solemnity and without political gamesmanship. Basic civility demands transcending anger accumulated over a political lifetime. And also, a pause to contemplate that death will come to all of us. As Bulleh Shah said "dushman maray khushi na kareeay; sajanan wee mar janan," or: do not rejoice when an enemy dies, because friends will die too.

Taseer was a man of many parts: writer, political activist, media baron, savvy businessman and, as his last battle with extremists showed, courageous to the point of recklessness. Love him or hate him, he was in many ways larger than life.

He also had a complete lack of care for what passes for mores and attitudes of a middle-class society. He lived life the way it pleased him, caring little for what other people thought. And there were many among his social class who did not approve him. But he couldn't care less.

He was natural, in the sense that there was nothing put upon and no posturing in his private or political life. He was what he was, take it or leave it. Even as the Governor of Punjab, he chose to lead life the way he saw fit, making very few concessions to the protocols of office. This did not endear him to some of his well-wishers, or his enemies. 

His concern for the minorities or the deliberate misuse of the blasphemy law by some also reflected a spontaneous gut reaction. It was not a political gimmick or some kind of a vote-catching device. It was just the way he felt. 

And if he did, he was not wont to mince his words. It is obvious that his belief in Islam and veneration for the Holy Prophet would not have allowed him to tolerate any words or gestures amounting to blasphemy. But he did, as many others do, have an issue with how the law was applied. 

This is too fine a distinction for those whose entire being is permeated by hate. To them, even saying that certain provisions of the law have been made use of by some people to settle personal scores is blasphemy. They have no compassion for those wrongly accused, for people whose lives have been destroyed because of false charges.

One is tempted to believe that for many such people lack of quality education is the problem. Little knowledge, as is said, is worse than no knowledge. But how does one explain the attitude of people like "Professor" Munawwar Hassan of the Jamaat-e-Islami. 

One imagines that since he is a professor he has had the benefit of a good education. Yet even he refuses to see the distinction between those questioning misapplication of a law and blasphemy. The fact that this law was drafted by fallible people sitting in a parliament and could have some loopholes is not countenanced by the professor. 

This makes me believe that, at least for some, this is all politics. By raising religiously emotive slogans, these fringe parties hope to enlarge their support base. The people most vulnerable to their cheap sloganeering are the semi-literate who are tuned to think only in black-and-white terms. For such people it is easy to believe that anyone who tries to make the blasphemy law less amenable to misuse, is actually committing blasphemy.

We are in deep danger of sliding into social anarchy because of such thinking. It originates from amazing divisions in our education system. The curriculums being taught in elite schools and the so-called English-medium institutions have no compatibility with those in government schools or madressahs. 

Many of us have been warning about this for years; that we are in the midst of an educational apartheid, which is creating deep schisms within society. A Salmaan Taseer and Mumtaz Qadri are not only divided by wealth or position but by a mindset that has no congruence. The live in parallel realities and have no common frame of reference.

This divides the nation more than any other fault line. The divisions among different ethnicities and suspicions among the provinces are real. While they manifest themselves in acts of occasional violence among those living in ethnically-mixed towns, it does not affect everyone. Most people, because of sheer geography, do not experience each other.

But parallel realities of existence brought about by diverse curriculums are everywhere. In every town, in every street, indeed, for those having servants, in every home. If lucky, they coexist but without the faintest idea what motivates one or the other. When luck runs out, it ends up in murder, as in the case of Salmaan Taseer.

Where do we go from here? Is there a way to salvage a nation from the divisions purposely created? Sometimes because of class and wealth and sometimes deliberately to ensure a fanatical mindset. Each one has served a purpose so far, but is now coming back to haunt us. How can we go on like this!

The way forward, if we have the guts to go forward, is to move quickly towards removing the core basis of this division. No amount of fire-fighting will stem the rot. A punishment here, a reaction there can at best contain the raging fires of ignorance. To root it out, we have to focus on education.







It is not about faith. It is about political power. It is about controlling the lives and mindset of people at large, in the garb of their own salvation and by promising them rewards in afterlife. It is about creating a society where no diversity of any sort is tolerated. It is about using brute force against those who do not comply. It is about complete authority, come what may, and no space for any dissimilar opinion. It is not just cultivating a fear of elimination but actual elimination of difference.

To establish this thorough, unitary and absolute domination over social order, every tool at hand has to be employed, be it misleading and misinforming raw minds and ignorant young women and men by making speeches that carry half truths and warped interpretations of what the targeted person or institution has stated. Or by inciting violence and issuing decrees of death against those who threaten self-professed ultimate authority of the bigoted mind over how we should live and think.

Pakistan's political establishment has sided with the bigoted mind all along. Subsequent governments have either tried to use orthodoxy to further their narrow economic interests (for instance, elected representatives belonging to landed elite labelling land reforms un-Islamic) or appease the zealots in order to gain their support in seizing or sticking to power by legally relegating people of different faiths and sects to the level of secondary citizenship. Or tampering with law books in the name of religion to oppress women and minorities, indoctrinating the school curriculum to favour a myopic worldview, and then encouraging the overt and not-so-overt messages of hatred and aggression against the 'other' relayed through media.

There is no doubt that the rise of extremism and intolerance is not just a by-product of poverty and destitution. The movement is neither led by the underclass nor will they be the beneficiaries of a theocratic rule, if fully established. But these people who are betrayed time and again by the elite of this country and are helpless, without any possibility of good schooling and exposure to knowledge and rational thought or access to basic medical care, treated contemptibly by institutions of the state – police, lower courts, public servants – become cannon fodder for the artillery of bigots. Poverty of thought rides over empty stomachs.

But the ones who command the artillery are neither poor nor illiterate. There is an agenda, a plan and a concerted effort to capture state power. Their grip over society is hardening by the day, be it by actual conversion to their worldview or through fear. The state policies over the years and the defence strategy pursued have provided them with an enabling environment. What would happen to the people of Pakistan if they succeed and what would the internecine battles within the rank and file of the artillery make of us, is a separate question altogether. 

Today, the issue is not the person who assassinated Salmaan Taseer whose 'crime' was his objection to the use of a clause of the Pakistan Penal Code introduced in 1986 under General Zia's martial rule against a weak citizen of the state. The issue is whether those legitimising such acts in the name of faith are brought to book or not.

Those who want to see this country survive and prosper and wish this society to become sane and healthy need to come together and impinge upon the state to set the course right.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy.









IT is intriguing that a straight murder, the motives of which are known to each and every citizen of this country, is being politicised for petty considerations. The attempt to give a new twist to otherwise religiously motivated killing of Governor Salman Taseer is being seen by analysts as an after-thought to get maximum out of a God-given opportunity.

Contrary to other high profile assassinations including that of Liaquat Ali Khan, Ziaul Haq and Benazir Bhutto, the real motives of which are still shrouded in mystery, the assassin of Salman Taseer made it known then and there that he killed him for speaking against the blasphemy law. The killer is in police custody and the Federal Government has the entire machinery at its disposal to carry out comprehensive investigations and the option of judicial inquiry is also there to ensure fuller transparency. However, as has been the practice with the members of the ruling PPP, they have started pointing accusing fingers to settle political scores and in the process polluting the environment further. The first salvo was fired by fire-emitting Fauzia Wahab, who termed it a political murder and she was followed by Law Minister Babar Awan, who misses no opportunity of lashing out at the Punjab Government, describing the broad daylight murder as politically motivated 'custodial killing'. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who is in the habit of attributing every violent activity to LeT, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Taliban, has also smelt a conspiracy while Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira sees a big security lapse. All this is nothing but political point scoring as Mumtaz Qadri not only surrendered but explained the reasons for going to the extreme and television footages show him fully satisfied and relaxed as one normally feels after accomplishing some mission. The twist is being seen as an attempt to divert attention from the real issue of Government's intentions to amend the blasphemy law and Salman Taseer's negative approach to the entire issue. While one would agree to the contention that the constitutional head of a province should have been provided fullest possible security, we should also acknowledge the fact that the constitutional head should also have shown respect for a law and the verdict given by a court of law but instead he adopted a derogatory attitude. Analysts also point out that the PPP is giving political colour to the murder in the backdrop of ultimatum given by PML (N) to throw out PPP from provincial coalition set-up if there was no reply in the affirmative to the agenda proposed by Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. Anyhow, the stance adopted by PPP is regrettable as it is the job of the Opposition to indulge in politicking while the rulers set good traditions and work towards stability of the country.







MURDER of Salman Taseer has intensified debate on the Blasphemy Law with representatives of some Western-funded NGOs pleading abrogation of the legislation while some other want amendments in the existing law. However, a vast majority of the people are opposed to both the proposition and want improvements in investigations and procedures to ensure its misuse.

There are many conceptions with respect to Blasphemy Law and some quarters are trying to give an impression as if it is only in vogue in Pakistan and is specific to the Last Prophet (PBUH) of Allah Almighty. In fact, the law, in one form or the other, is there in many countries of the world and the Pakistani law not covers only Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) but other prophets as well including Prophet Jesus Christ (AS) and Prophet Moses (AS). Therefore, the Blasphemy Law in itself is not a strange thing as is being portrayed by some circles and there was absolutely no need to revoke or amend it just to placate the West or get the label of liberalism. We agree with PML (Q) leader Ch Shujaat Hussain, who has suggested that a new law should be enacted to ensure misuse of the existing law. For this purpose, he has sagaciously proposed that Parties within Parliament and outside should be consulted to forge a consensus on the issue. We would go even a step further to propose that prominent Ulema and religious scholars representing different schools of thought should also be taken on board so that a truly consensus mechanism is evolved to prevent misuse of the law. This is a saner advice and we would urge the Government to pursue the same path, otherwise agitation and movement would plunge the country into more violence and extremism.








KASHMIRIS on both sides of the Line of Control and many parts of the world observed the right to self-determination day Wednesday with renewed resolve to continue their struggle with full vigour till the achievement of their legitimate right.

The Day is observed every year to draw the attention of the UN and international community to act upon the resolutions of the world body for a plebiscite. In Azad Jammu and Kashmir people took out rallies condemning massive human rights violations by Indian occupation forces in the Valley and vowed that they would not rest till the attainment of their goal of freedom from the Indian rule. They appealed those nations, governments, organisations, media persons and intellectuals that believe in human rights and humanitarian values, to extend their support to their just cause of national emancipation. Kashmir issue concerns the most important issue of human rights i.e. the inherent, internationally recognized and pledged right of self-determination of as many as over 18 million people, more in number than the individual populations of as many as 134 UN member nations and is being denied to them by India, the so-called greatest democracy on earth. Kashmiris are in pain and anguish to see total apathy of international community towards their cause. Kashmiri leadership in IHK is being put behind the bars or placed under house arrest frequently by India to break their will. However it is satisfying that they are steadfast and despite all the sufferings, have never faltered. It is also encouraging that leadership in Azad Kashmir including the exuberant Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan have been very vocal and raising the issue at all international fora. Kashmiris are determined to pursue their cause at whatever the cost and the issue until settled to the satisfaction of the people has the potential of danger to world peace. Therefore, the international community must wake up and persuade India to agree to a plebiscite so as to bring an end to the sufferings of the Kashmiri people and for peace and prosperity in the South Asian region.









Most parts of the creaky - and corrupt — bureaucracy that swallows up more than a third of national income are unaware that the British Raj ended in 1947,and that India is a free country. Most of the laws of the land are based in the colonial-era formulations,each designed to tie down the population and slowly grind them down into the poverty-stricken,illiterate masses that they overwhelmingly were when India became "free". Jawaharlal Nehru loved British colonial constructs,and saw to it that they remained, by ensuring that laws, procedures and personnel remained the same. An example was that of Girija Shankar Bajpai, who was sent by Churchill to the US during the 1939-45 war to convince President Roosevelt that Indians were unfit to attain freedom. When a native lisped such words, Churchill expected,they would be taken seriously and the US pressure on him to grant at least some autonomy to the natives would get reduced.Bajpai performed with felicity,and Roosevelt soon silenced those in his team who wanted a clear commitment from Churchill that the freedoms mentioned in the Atlantic Charter would be given to the people of India. Alas,Churchill,who left India as a subaltern with a medley of debts behind him,including to the prestigious Bangalore Club (where his name still adorns the records as a defaulter), believed that only those who were of European origin deserved any freedom at all,and who was therefore determined to hold on to India for eternity

Strangely,it is Churchill and the Churchillians who are the heroes of several within the top rungs of those manning key institutions in India. An example is the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), whose top echelon is ever attentive to signals from New York, Zurich, Frankfurt and London, relying on advice from them. Days ago,the RBI threw oil markets in India into a spin when it meekly followed advice from London and New York to block payments to and from Iran through the usual mechanisms, without first putting in place an alternative system. The RBI - which follows a policy of sky-high interest rates and severe curbs on Indian business transactions so as to help foreign competitors - was allowed to do this by the Manmohan Singh government,which is still smarting over Grand Ayatollah Khamenei's repeated calls to the Muslim Ummah to wage war on India, a war that would presumably be waged against India's 160 million Muslims as well. The Grand Ayatollah,whose knowledge if geopolitics seems to be at the same level as his fluency in Esperanto, has converted a friend into a foe through his statements against India, with the result that Teheran no longer has any friends in Delhi who can stand up to international bullying. Of course,the best course would be for the two countries to accept each other's currency. Iran can use the rupees it earns to set up projects in India or buy manufactures and services from this country. However, neither London nor New York would approve of such a move,as both seek to reduce India-Iran trade to zero.And because the RBI follows orders from afar, it seems likely that it will reject any move to use each other's currencies. Those at the top of this colonial-minded institution must be happy at the accolades they are winning in the only places that count - London, Zurich, Framkfurt and New York - at the way in which they are putting oil security at risk. After all,they have made New York and London happy by pushing up interest rates paid by Indian corporates, Zurich is delighted that the Government of India is continuing a policy of blocking the reverse inflow of money placed by Indian nationals in Swiss banks.Had there been anb amnesty,hundreds of billions of dollars would have returned to India, thereby creating employment and wealth.However,Zurich would be devastated,which is probably why the Reserve Bank of India and the Ministry of Finance oppose any practical scheme to get Indian money in Swiss banks back to India,instead chasing willow-the-wisps in a pretence of action

Thus far, the cosy band of what may be called "Closet Colonials" has run a tight ship,ensuring that those who favour the continuation of the colonial straitjacket ( of course,dressed up attractively in populist garb) mutually protect each other. In India,the difference between "Ruling " and "Opposition" is more apparent than real,because all sides butter each other up with regularity,taking care to see that core interests do not suffer.An example is the $45 billion 2G Spectrum Scam. Frantic efforts are being made to reduce the investigation into a political circus,by setting up committees of politicians to "investigate" the matter. If the personal staff of the Opposition leaders are quizzed,they would reveal that dozens of individuals from the telecom industry have been visiting them over the past few months,presumably to assist in investigations into their own wrongdoing. The reality is that the only hope of getting to the bottom of this scandal is by allowing the Supre Court to run the investigation,something that only the Prime Minister seems keen on doing, and with good reason. 

Finally,change may be taking place. A sign is a new interest in investigative reporting by magazines and television channels that have long acted as lapdogs of the powerful. These days,a television channel not known in a decade for its zeal or courage has been breaking one story after the other,even those relating to one of the two "Touch Me Nots" " of Indian politics,Sonia Gandhi (the other being Atal Behari Vajpayee). Thus far, the plethora of "free" media outlets in India have stayed far away from stories that may cast the owner of the Congress Party in a negative light,aware as they are that Sonia Gandhi is protected by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram,both of whom would do anything for their beloved leader,including setting loose the massive bureaucracies that they preside over. Despite this,the INDIA TODAY Group (run by Aroon Purie,who brought modern journalism into India in the 1970s as a young man but seemed lately to have gone to sleep) has become almost as feisty as Geo TV,a good sign for India. It is becoming harder for the Closet Colonials to protect their own,especially because the amount of wealth that they have accumulated cross into the hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Of course,the reaction has been to go after those who are not part of the charmed circle,such as the former Chief Justice of India, K G Balakrishnan, against whom a diversionary attack has been launched. His close relatives have all had their income-tax and bank accounts outed,as well as numerous property transactions. Balakrishnan is the only Chief Justice of India who was born a Dalit,a low caste that has been discriminated against in India (and Pakistan) for millenia. There are several former Chief Justices whose relatives have accumulated vast wealth,including the family of former Chief Justice Sabharwal. However, none of those have come into media attention the way Justice Balakrishnan has been.Hopefully,this will soon get rectified.

Because of redistricting,many more parliamentary seats are urban rather than rural.The urban voter is more demanding of his MP than the rural,and far more fickle.Hence the pressure for change. Over the past few weeks,the Central Bureau of Investigation has been dancing around the question of what action to take against the VIPs that it knows are guilty of the scams that have come to public notice.Thus far,true to form,these VIPs have been given kid glove treatment. Thus far,none of them have even been chargesheeted,leave alone arrested. However,because of the efforts being made by young elements in the media (assisted by whistleblowers eager for change) , public anger is mounting,and this may force the hand even of this famously corrupt agency. Most important is the fact that the Prime Minister of India is an honest individual,who therefore has the moral courage to go after the scamsters,should he find the political courage to do so. 2011 is becoming a Year of Change thus far,despite the efforts of the Closet Colonials to smother the drive towards high-level accountability

Corruption is the disease that is ruining India. The difference that an administration can make can be seen in two satellite cities of Delhi,Gurgaon and NOIDA. While the first comes under a Congress government,the other is under the control of Chief Minister Mayawati,who expects to become the first Dalit Prime Minister of India. It is well kjnown that Haryana (the state where Gurgaon is situated) has become the hunting grounds of land grabbers with high-level support from the Congress Party. the Chief Minister has to fend calls for assistance from VVIPs every day,with the result that the administration has become slack,and Gurgaon's roads look like moon craters. Although the city boasts many high-tech centres and generates billions of dollars in taxes,its civic amenities are rudimentary and law and order non-existent.Many residents have suffered as a result,but it seems that all the VVIPs care for is themselves.In contrast,the roads and civic amenities in NOIDA are far better,even though UTtar Pradesh has been among the most backward states in India. Chief Minister Mayawati is doing a far better job than Chief Minister Hooda,because - unlike him - she is her own boss.The poor Chief Minister of Haryana is in reality nothing but an office boy for powerful people in the All India Congress Committee

The way matters are developing,it seems unlikekly that the PM will be able to solve the mountain of scams that is on his plate.This failure will most probably lead to political turmoil on a scale that may make elections likely in 15 months time.In those elections,hopefully, the Closet Colonials will finally be given their comeuppance,after having looted the country for six decades on a scale that dwarfs the loot indulged in by the Mughals and the British.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








There are various techniques in vogue by terrorists, which are being employed to subvert the uneducated youth and different methods are being utilized to infiltrate communities / masses to gain their support during planning and execution phases. How does a single individual go from standing on a street corner to flicking a switch and blowing himself up? The question is apparently simple. The answers are not. The religious extremists and harbingers of hate follow a rigid curriculum in brainwashing young men to become suicide bombers. It is not easy to replace an individual's intrinsic love of life with death worship, propelling him on a path that ultimately ends up with him in a suicide jacket ready to become a gory statistic. The methodology is described here. The indoctrination lectures progress from the general to specific. 

Throughout these lectures, the teachers convince the young recruits, of whom there is no dearth in the impoverished region they come from, that their religion is the most superior in the universe; that theirs is the only true religion with all the rest being false or erroneous. And that the adherents of those other religions are actually an impediment in the total spread of the one true religion. These initial lectures are rendered with the "fire and brimstone" method of rhetoric and to emphasize the veracity, misquotes from the Holy Qurân are freely used. 

Next, through daily teachings of hour' long sessions, it is instilled in the recruits' minds that the path they have chosen i.e. the propagation of this one true religion and the subjugation of all the rest, is essentially struggling in the cause of God. That this struggle (jihad), though difficult, is ordained by Allah. They are constantly bombarded by "relevant" verses. They are told that heavens and its untold pleasures is the reward for those who die while fighting in the cause of God.

This first indoctrination step, acting as a foundation for what is to come, is relatively simple. The students, who have been born in Muslim families, are already convinced of everything that is told to them and the fiery lectures act as reinforcers for their supple minds. Soon afterwards they are introduced to the implement that will launch them on that one-way journey to the heavens—the "suicide jacket". Starting from the trigger mechanism to its contents and effects, with painstaking thoroughness, the children are taught about a suicide jacket. They are taught that it usually consists of several pockets filled with plates or sticks of explosives. The explosive is surrounded by material for fragmentation effects. The resultant shrapnel is responsible for most of the bomb's lethality i.e. about 90% of all casualties caused by an exploding suicide jacket. A "loaded" jacket may weigh between 5 to 20 kilograms, with 60-40 ratio of explosive to shrapnel material and may be easily hidden under loose flowing garments. For excellent shrapnel effects, any small metal pieces could be used but the best are ball bearing, nails, screws, nuts and metal wire. The most dangerous and widely used shrapnel are ball bearings that are 3 to 7 millimeters in diameter. In the evenings further indoctrination classes are held. In a mellifluous tone, the teacher explains to the children that modernity and secular culture of the West are abominable sins. The import of Western culture is leading the devout astray from God. The unbelief of the West is so grave a sin that it merits death whenever it becomes a hurdle to the spread of the one true religion. It is imprinted on the impressionable minds that the current miserable plight of the recruit's nation is because of wandering away from the chosen path. 

By the end of these lectures, the recruit is usually filled with a feeling of utter humiliation and blinding rage. A consuming hatred for infidels and their local lackeys (no distinction is made between the two) comes as a natural accompaniment of course. At night the children are made to sleep cuddling their suicide jackets to get used to a garment they will be wearing till they go into heaven. They are filled with dreams of entering the pearly gates of heaven in full glory. The cycle of lectures and practical drills goes on for months. On the last day of the training, they are taken to a special hall. Painted on the walls of which are beautiful images of lush green vistas, dotted with fruit laden trees, interspersed with streams of milk and honey. In attendance in the images are lovely dove-eyed females that are beaming inviting smiles at the onlookers. Here the recruits are told that their training is over and they now have to wait for the calling—a proposition almost unbearable for some of the impatient ones. 

They are issued with certificates authorizing them to enter paradise. Two last instructions are given: 1. Not to feel guilty for the victims. The suicide bomber is carrying them to the heavens with him. They will in fact be waiting at the gates of heaven to greet him with garlands.2. To look down while pulling the handle on the suicide jacket. This will ensure that their faces are blown into a million little pieces. This not only guarantees that the infidels cannot track down their identities to this training institution; others' chances of ascension to heavens are also preserved.

This then is the method to the madness, which needs to be countered. There is dire need for the resumption of local community vigilance system, coordination with police and monitoring of children's activities by their parents. We need to promote the need for cooperation of public and activation of community vigilance system as it will enable law enforcing agencies to deliver more effectively and efficiently. Communities and the masses need to learn the techniques used by the terrorists to subvert their targets and motivate them to offer cooperation to the community leaders and the law enforcing agencies to counter the threat / menace of terrorism. 









The disease of pride and arrogance deletes all traces of goodness and piety. This is the worst vice in causing havoc to Deen and a regrettable disease to have for the followers of this perfect and exalted religion. It launches a direct attack on beliefs and principles. If ignored and overlooked for sometime it becomes fatal and incurable, and gives rise to other spiritual maladies and vices. The heart becomes blind to the verse dealing with knowledge about Allah. It is a very grievous vice in which the mind of a man becomes dull and impervious to the understanding of Deen. Allah has said in the Holy Quran: "I shall turn away from My revelations those who show pride in the world wrongfully." (7.146) . Allah has said in another place in the Quran: "And in this way Allah does put a seal on every arrogant disdainful heart." (40.35). The wrath and punishment of Allah fall on the jealous person.

Allah has said: "Certainly He does not love the proud ones." (16:23). It is narrated that Hazrat Moosa asked exalted Allah: "Oh my Lord! Who is the most deserving of your wrath and displeasure?" Allah Ta'aala told him: " It is he whose heart is filled with pride and his tongue is filthy (i.e. Abusive), his eyes are devoid of shame, his hands are miserly and he is of bad conduct and character. Allah will put the proud to disgrace and ill-repute (dishonour) in the Hereafter. Hazrat Hatim Asam (rahmatullahi alaihi) has said: "Do not die in a state of pride, greed and arrogance." Allah does not cause the proud fellow to meet his death unless he is disgraced and dishonoured by his own family, relatives and servants. Similarly the greedy does not meet his death unless he becomes destitute for a morsel of food and a drop of water. In the same way the arrogant person does not meet his own death unless being polluted with his own excrement and urine. The proud renders himself liable to Hell in the Hereafter. It occurs in a Hadith Qudsi: "Pride is My cloak and grandeur is my trousers. If anyone disputes with Me in any one of these (two) I shall admit him into the Hell-fire." In the other words, pride and grandeur are two exclusive attributes of Allah, which none is allowed to apply and ascribe towards himself.

The Prophet (P.B.U.H.) used to tell his companions: "Don't exaggerate in praising me, as Christians exceeded the limits in praising the Messiah son of Mary, for I am the slave and Messenger of Allah." He also used to declare: "Whoever humbles himself to Allah, Allah will raise him (in respect) and He will not enter Paradise who has in his heart an atom's weight of arrogance."

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) said: "You will not enter Paradise until you have faith, and you will not have faith until you love each other. Shall I direct you to something which if you fulfill you will love one another? Spread peace among yourselves. (It was reported by Muslim). To avoid harming other Muslims by words or actions. As a matter of fact Islam forbids vain or evil talk. The Quran says: "Those who turn away from vain talk." (3-23) The Messenger of Allah (P.B.U.H.) said: "The Muslim is he from whom people are safe from his tongue and hand (actions). One day, Aisha, the Prophet's wife heard some Jews in Medina offending the Prophet by greeting him with the wish that poison would strike him. Getting angry at their offence she retorted: "And upon you be poison and curse O you children of apes and swine." Hearing this the

Prophet pacified her saying: "You should have said only, same be upon you also." For the Muslim, he added is not an offender, nor a curser nor a mischief monger nor one who uses dirty language. To turn deaf ears to other people's slandering of your brothers or sisters. This means the elimination of backbiting and slandering in the Muslim society. That is why the Messenger (P.B.U.H.) once passed by two graves. He stood in front of them and said: "They (the dead ones) are punished due to minor sins." One of them used to spread calumny and slander among people. Thus Muslims are reminded that: "He who slanders others in front of you will eventually slander you." It is imperative to refrain from such a dangerous and deadly calamity which leads to loss of knowledge of Allah, inability to understand the commands of Allah, His displeasure, disgrace in this world and the Hereafter and painful torment therein. 

We should, therefore, try to save ourselves from this and seek refuge from Allah. This is a brief account of the four calamities, mentioned in the beginning. Each of these four adversities are very harmful and dangerous in the sight of those wise and knowledgeable persons who are aware of the importance of the reforming of ones heart. Those are the four disease and vices that stem from having pride. How many of us are there that can honestly say, without deceiving ourselves that we are free of this hated ailment? Not many, is the answer. It is imperative that we take heed from this article and we bear in mind the punishment promised by Allah Ta'ala to those with pride in their hearts. 

Pride as a sin is incorrectly considered to be insignificant and minute in comparison to other major sins, by a vast majority of the people. It may be that compared to the major sins like murder and associating partner with Allah, it is slightly inferior. But that is only because of the magnitude of those particular sins that pride is considered a lesser sin. Remember that we do claim to be the followers and believes of Islam and we claim to be Muslims, so how then can we still have pride in ourselves? For the very meaning of Islam is to submit totally and conditionally to the worship of the Supreme Being, Allah Ta'ala and as Muslims it is incumbent upon us to get rid of every drop of pride, superiority and haughtiness within us, as we are small and inferior in comparison to the Supreme Being, if such comparison can be made. So let's try and act upon the very essence of our religion and our adjective as Muslims and submit and surrender ourselves to the worship and pleasure of Allah Ta'ala.








Recently, millions of Pakistanis including members of religious parties and groups joined protests across Pakistan to step up pressure on the government not to make any changes in Blasphemy Law. The government in the National Assembly categorically denied any move to amend or repeal the Blasphemy Laws but the Governor Punjab was not ready for a compromise and wanted this Law to be amended. Generally speaking, the media acted responsible but certain channels tried to air negative themes in order to prove their pro-western and secular approach that eventually led to the killing of Salman Taseer. 

There is no doubt that unfortunate incident of killing of Salman Taseer could have been prevented if the government or Pakistani courts had stopped the Governor in the very beginning from issuing instigating public statements against Ideology of Pakistan and Islamic Laws. Although we cannot rule out that it was the handiwork of foreign conspirators but in case the Police personnel was really involved and had any objection to the statements and actions of the Governor, he should have approached the court instead of taking law into hands. Interestingly, despite being the Islamic state we have complete immunity for the President, Governors and the Diplomats for their actions and words irrespective of the nature of offence they commit. 

The recent incident of killing of Salman Taseer is associated with a background that the highest office of the Governor was involved in challenging the writ of the government. Unlike politicians who make law, a Governor is suppose to implement the law passed by the Assembly and ensure smooth running of the provincial government. One feels sorry for family and loves ones of the Salaman Taseer but this was much expected. It is so sad that even after the passage of 63 years to our independence we are unable to decide the direction on which we have to move. Sometimes one really wonders who is running our country because the champions of the democracy who have in fact the history of being Imperialist and Capitalists have taken over our control and are behaving worse than fascists. If awarding death penalty or murdering someone who is fighting against Allah and his Holy Prophets or intentionally dishonoring is not a crime and Blasphemy Law is "Black Law", what about dozens of Pakistani, Afghani and other Muslims killed each day in military and intelligence sponsored attacks, who dare propagate against system and values of western countries especially US. 

On January 4, 2011, Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer was killed in a firing incident near Kohsar Market, Sector F6/3 in Islamabad. It has been alleged that the shooter was personnel of Rawalpindi based Punjab Police (Elite Force) namely Malik Mumtaz Hussian Qadri who used service automatic rifle to kill Salman Taseer. Taseer received 27 bullets on his body and expired on his way while he was being evacuated in his personal car to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) hospital. Surprisingly, Taseer had always used his Mercedes car but this time he was using Honda Civic for the reason best known to the authorities. Salman Taseer was fighting to repeal blasphemy laws and was reportedly openly cursing the law referring it as Black Law. He along with his family was not only openly meeting the individuals and groups involved in violating the Blasphemy Law but campaigning for them and their release. President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have condoled over the death of the Punjab Governor. Whereas Chief Minister Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif visited PIMS hospital and later the residence of Taseer in Lahore, MQM Chief Altaf Hussain issued a statement that Governor Taseer was killed to destabilize Pakistan. 

Pakistani Interior Minister Abdur Rehman Malik has been instructed by the President of Pakistan to hold an investigation. Soon after the incident Malik announced the first point of investigation will be to find out whether the suspect Qadri carried out the attack as part of a larger plot or on his own. He also disclosed that investigation has been ordered into how the assassin Qadri was selected for the security of the governor. No witness has come out with his statement as eyewitness but as per the media report Salmaan Taseer's guard shot him because he called the Blasphemy Laws a 'Kala Qanoon'. Media reports claim that a Police personnel has provided his account of how the gunman aimed at Taseer and shot him. All the Ulema also refused to offer Namaz-e-Janaza of the Governor that lead to much embarrassment. A number of near relatives including father of Malik Mumtaz have been arrested are still being investigated. It is being projected that Salman Taseer was a man of courage whose stand against the blasphemy law was nothing short of heroic in the face of right wing Muslims and that he died standing up for our minorities. We must not weigh things on western prospective as we are one nation. The minorities in Pakistan are very much Pakistani as any other individual. We are proud that we have one of the best minorities in our country but the western nation exploits them by realizing that they have no rights in Pakistan. I would like to ask my minority brothers and sisters what if you as a minority are dubbed as extremists and made targets of missile attacks and bullets as Muslims of Khyber PK and other places. Don't you think they need a fair trial to defend themselves? Although, things need improvements but one can say with reasonably accuracy that minorities are much looked after in Pakistan. If some one has any doubt they need to compare Pakistani minorities with the Muslims minorities in India, United Kingdom, France, United States of America and other bearers of democracy and advocate of minorities' rights. 

Many people like my own-self feel sorry that despite having Objective Resolution as the preamble of our Constitution we are openly violating our laws rather feel proud in giving statements against them. Obviously, it was not accepted from the office of the governor to give issue public statement against the ideology of Pakistan, the Constitution of Pakistan and Islam but there is something wrong in our system that the government machinery and the judiciary failed to take any notice against the grave violation. We cannot allow ordinary citizens to take law in their hands and decide the fate of violators in streets. Ironically, when we expect tolerance from the religious factions but we often forget what we are doing. Today there are over three and a half million people killed or maimed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other countries as a result of US' war against extremists. In a single day 61 people were ruthlessly killed on respected day of 10 Moharam last month. But media failed to criticize it and claimed that terrorist and extremists were killed.








There is a sharp divide between those economists who view the jump in oil and food prices as part of a trend that will bring higher inflation and consequently higher interest rates and those who believe the hangover from the financial crash will dampen world demand and keep inflation in check. Julian Jessop, chief international economist at Capital Economics, is in the latter camp. He argued today that the pressure on inflation from the rising cost of raw materials was more modest than some had suggested. He said: "Upward pressure on inflation this year from the recent surge in the cost of agricultural commodities will be much greater than that from the pick-up in oil prices. Fortunately, neither is likely to be sustained."

Jessop's argument centres on economic fundamentals and the influence oil and food have on the consumer price index (CPI) measure of inflation used by governments and central banks to determine monetary policy. The impact on CPI from rising oil prices will be limited because oil is only one element in the CPI basket of goods. A 20% rise to $90 a barrel is hurting motorists and hauliers, but is only pushing up average prices by a few decimal points. Food will have a greater impact, with a lag effect that could keep rises pushing through the CPI until the middle of the year. Yet policymakers should ignore concerns that we were entering a new era of rapidly rising prices, he said. "While there is a lot of talk about shifts in consumption patterns as people in developing countries become richer, the upward pressure this might put on prices in future is wildly exaggerated.

"Looking further ahead, we do not expect recent surges in commodity prices to be sustained. World GDP growth is still likely to be slower in 2011 as a whole than in 2010. This, along with warmer weather and, if necessary, increases in Opec as well as non-Opec supply, should pull oil prices down again. Agricultural prices should also fall back as supply recovers." Ray Barrell, at the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), was more circumspect. He believed higher than expected demand from Asian countries for raw materials could trigger a sustained rise in inflation that would need to be quelled by higher interest rates. They are still growing strongly and creating demand."

Monetarist economist Patrick Minford, of Cardiff Business School, took a harder line when he told the Financial Times earlier this week: "The Bank has drifted into dangerous nonchalance over stubbornly high inflation." Some economists argue we must forget about raising interest rates and live with higher inflation imported from China and the east. If UK inflation were the result of excess demand in the UK then higher base rates could usefully dampen consumption and moderate inflation. If inflationary prices are driven by excess demand in the east or shortages in Australian wheat – factors beyond the control of UK policymakers – then why choke off our nascent economic revival with higher rates, they say. Soaring prices of sugar, grain and oilseed drove world food prices to a record in December, surpassing the levels of 2008 when the cost of food sparked riots around the world, and prompting warnings of prices being in "danger territory".

An index compiled monthly by the United Nations surpassed its previous monthly high – June 2008 – in December to reach the highest level since records began in 1990. Published by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the index tracks the prices of a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, and has risen for six consecutive months. Abdolreza Abbassian, FAO economist, told the Guardian: "We are entering a danger territory." But he stressed that the situation was not yet as bad as 2008. Sugar and meat prices are at record levels, while cereal prices are back at the levels last seen in 2008, when riots in Haiti killed four people and riots in Cameroon left 40 dead. Abbassian warned prices could rise higher still, amid fears of droughts in Argentina and floods in Australia and cold weather killing plants in the northern hemisphere. "There is still room for prices to go up much higher, if for example the dry conditions in Argentina tend to become a drought, and if we start having problems with winterkill in the northern hemisphere for the wheat crops," Abbassian said.

At the same time demand from emerging countries such as China and India has been strong. Abbassian played down concern that the rising food prices could cause fresh riots, as happened two years ago when the price of cereals was largely the cause of the problem, along with a dramatic spike in the price of oil. He noted that another rise in the oil price – currently around $95 a barrel – could exacerbate the problem. While oil is rising in price, and forecasters are suggesting it could hit $100, it is still well below the $145 peak it reached in July 2008 on a wave of buying by international speculators. — The Guardian










After one of the longest political stalemates in modern history, Iraq finally has a new government. Or rather, it almost has a new government. Last March, the country went to the polls for only the second time since Saddam Hussein's removal. After interminable horse-trading and an interregnum that has left Iraq largely rudderless, parliament in Baghdad has endorsed a new government that will keep Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki in office, even though his State of Law coalition came second in the number of seats it won.


Even though Mr Maliki has named ministers to 33 cabinet posts, vacancies remain for several key jobs, including the defence, national security and interior ministries that are vital as President Barack Obama prepares to withdraw US forces by the end of this year. The pressure is on to build national structures to replace them.


For countries that helped create the conditions that allowed last year's election to be held, the protracted political paralysis is disappointing and hardly a cause for optimism. Important economic and security decisions have been left pending, corruption has increased and services such as electricity and water have further declined. The result has produced an inevitable growth in public cynicism about the political process and the nascent democracy now restored.


This is not to minimise the difficulties that were inevitable in forming a new government. Mr Maliki's Shia alliance won 89 seats in the new parliament while the multi-ethnic but largely Sunni Iraqiya block of former prime minister Iyad Allawi won 91. After such a close result, compromise was essential, and it is to the credit of both men that the new arrangement approved by parliament provides for effective power-sharing between Shi'ites and Sunnis. Both have agreed to a US proposal for the establishment of a national security council with extensive powers, to be headed by Mr Allawi.


During the interregnum, Mr Maliki has wasted time trying to placate the wishes of the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran, which has been promoting the cause of a Shia front, including cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has returned to Baghdad after three years' exile in Tehran. Mr Maliki's task now is to bring about economic reforms and ensure an equitable distribution of the country's vast oil wealth. He should get on with it.








Australians love new cars and bought more than one million of them last year. Almost 890,000 were imported and 146,000 were locally made. For the 15th year in a row, the best-selling car was the Holden Commodore. The figures tell several stories. First, the strong Australian dollar made imported cars cheaper and more attractive last year. Second, billions of dollars in protection from successive governments has done little to encourage most buyers to opt for locally made vehicles. Third, good cars sell well, regardless of where they are made. And fourth, there is no good reason why Australians should be forced to maintain their 60-year tradition of outlaying billions of dollars to subsidise cars that too few motorists, here or abroad, want to buy.


Yet again, government has failed to "pick a winner" splashing around taxpayers' money. Industry Minister Kim Carr's $1.1 billion Green Car Innovation Fund, supplemented by various state handouts, has allocated at least $35 million to assist Toyota produce hybrid and fuel-efficient engines at the company's Altona plant in Victoria. Last year's 6833 sales of the Hybrid Camry, however, fell well short of the 10,000 expected. Toyota also sold 1611 of its Hybrid Prius. According to figures obtained by The Australian earlier in the year, less than a quarter of the Hybrid Camrys sold up until September were bought by private buyers, with the majority sold to governments, fleets, rental companies, not-for-profit organisations and taxi operators. Whatever the environmental benefits, drivers spending their own money were not convinced by Labor's claim that the green car fund represented "the beginning of a whole new era in Australian motoring".


Although motor vehicle unions have been slow to learn the lesson, old-fashioned protectionism cannot be justified on the grounds of saving jobs, especially amid full employment. If the Gillard government is to enact policies to boost productivity, it would dismantle barriers that deny car buyers the right to buy the best products at the cheapest price. The most effective way to protect manufacturing jobs is through economic policies that allow companies to grow in areas in which they enjoy a comparative advantage. Car assembly lines in Australia have been oiled by taxpayer assistance for too long. The industry's long-term future depends on it paying its way.









WANTED: a vaccine against credulity and conspiracy theories. In 1998 the prestigious medical journal The Lancet published a paper by Andrew Wakefield and others linking autism and bowel disease in children to a one-shot vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella. It had an enormous impact, convincing parents the MMR vaccination was a health hazard and adding to the already common conspiracy theory that drug companies and doctors hide the dangers of vaccination. The year before, federal health minister Michael Wooldridge was so focused on increasing vaccinations he made immunisation a condition of the full payment of maternity and childcare rebates. But while Mr Wakefield was wrong on the science, it took 12 years beforeThe Lancet retracted the paper and the British General Medical Council struck him off for making a case that was less flawed than false. And now the British Medical Journal says Brian Deer, a journalist for The Sunday Times (published by News Corporation, parent company ofThe Australian) can show Wakefield perpetrated "an elaborate fraud" for financial gain. Deer has already reported that Wakefield collected fees from anti-vaccine activists and patented a single-shot vaccine before he called for the MMR three-in-one inoculation to be withdrawn.


With Mr Wakefield out of business it is easy to argue that parents should not worry about MMR and autism, because all is well. But it's not. As the BMJ puts it, "the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession". For a start, parents who believe conventional medicine is a con still put their children at risk. In Australia child immunisation rates are below, albeit not by much, the 95 per cent level the World Health Organisation says is necessary to ensure herd immunity -- in Britain rates were at 80 per cent before Mr Wakefield's research was discredited. And then there is the epidemiological elephant in the surgery -- how he managed to publish in a peer-reviewed journal and why the medical community left it to a journalist to check.


The answer is too many people ignored scientific method and common sense. In the face of denunciations of the MMR, some specialists stayed silent, perhaps not daring to denounce fashionable opinion that sees vaccines as medical pollution. And while it is easy to understand how parents with autistic children wanted something to blame for their misfortune, the statistical correlation between autism and vaccination is so tenuous it should have convinced others that the benefits of inoculation far exceed any verifiable risk. This wretched affair demonstrated not what happens when people put too much faith in science but when they put too little. Wakefield's lay supporters assumed anything published in a reputable journal that appealed to their prejudices must be right. And some doctors abandoned the scientific method at the heart of their profession. Instead of examining Wakefield's evidence, the way he interpreted it, the conclusions he drew from it and asking questions, they stayed silent. And when conspiracy theorists are not challenged the eccentric becomes the orthodox.









THE murder of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, on Tuesday removes one of the few leaders in Pakistan who was both fearless and prominent in confronting the growing influence and intimidation of Islamic fundamentalists in the world's second-most-populous Muslim nation. His assassination underlines that Pakistan - with its 170-plus million people, nuclear arms, large military and ingrained hostility towards India - is the main game in the broader west Asia. Not Iran, not Iraq, not Afghanistan, not Israel. Pakistan is the state the West needs to watch and engage with. It is a disheartening prospect, but an important one.


Ominously, the man who has allegedly confessed to shooting dead the Governor was one of the people meant to protect him. Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was a member of an elite police unit that protects high officials from Pakistan's frequent political violence. He is a devout Muslim who objects to Taseer's outspoken opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws which, among other things, prescribe the death penalty for insulting Islam.


Support for such an oppressive law is growing, not subsiding, as Pakistan's rural majority leans increasingly towards the utopian promises of militant Islamists as the country continues to see its social indicators slide. The glue that held Pakistan together, and kept modern militant Islam at bay, was a tradition of feudalism alternating with militarism. In democratic interludes, this tradition threw up political dynasties such as the Bhutto family, to whom Taseer was loyal. Otherwise, rule came from a military caste which aggregated a great deal of control of the economy, not just state security, to itself.


Advertisement: Story continues below


Neither feudalism nor militarism has served Pakistan well in building the economy or its human capital. Adjacent India, with its much greater population, puts Pakistan to shame. India has a 33 per cent higher per capita gross national product despite having a vast number of rural subsistence farming families, and is regarded as an emerging economic global power. No such plaudits flow to Pakistan. It has developed a reputation as both volatile and stagnant, a dangerous combination.


The West, the nations of east Asia, and international agencies cannot walk away from this. They must redouble efforts to move the Pakistani state beyond feudalism to genuine development, and push for solutions to the seemingly intractable flashpoint of Kashmir - unwelcome as outside ''interference'' may be - because that is a key to ending both militarism and terrorism. Pakistan cannot be treated as too hard or, worse, a lost cause, because any power vacuum is likely to be filled by millenarian certainties.







THE big retailers have overplayed their hand in their attempt to have the goods and services tax applied to all online purchases from overseas, earning an understandably angry response from shoppers. Australians are sick of watching large profitable companies bullying government for special treatment. We have watched as the big banks lobbied against a more vigorous shake-up of competition. We continue to watch as the super-profitable mining industry lobbies against a tax that would more fairly distribute the benefits of this once-in-a-century mining boom.


Retailers should, of course, have the opportunity to present their case. The GST was designed at a time when online shopping was in its infancy, and payment for overseas catalogue purchases was cumbersome. All things being equal, the GST is a relatively efficient consumption tax that should apply to as many purchases as possible, with the exclusion of some essentials such as food. But the administrative challenges of applying the tax to online purchases would seem to dwarf the small amount of revenue leaking from the system from the exclusion of online purchases of less than $1000. It is hard to see how a system could be designed to accurately track and tax such online purchases from overseas without imposing onerous requirements on credit card providers or the customs service.


Instead of taking this ''stick'' approach to stop shoppers going online and offshore, retailers should instead pursue a ''carrot'' approach to make shopping with them more attractive option. Australians love a bit of retail therapy, but the service offered by our big retailers is not what it used to be. Shoppers fondly remember a day when they were met by helpful and attentive staff upon walking in the door. Stores could reinvigorate fading loyalty by improving service and becoming pleasant places to shop again. For customers who choose to shop online, retailers could also make their online offerings more attractive.


In a sense, the shift to online shopping is simply the next step in a process of globalisation from which retailers have been benefiting for decades. They have enjoyed access to cheaper Asian imports but continued to sell their wares at European-level prices. There remains considerable scope for Australian retailers to harness their economies of scale and distribution to directly pass on to customers the savings from cheaper imports and a higher dollar. If they do not, they can hardly be surprised when consumers seek to do it for themselves online.







THE art of retailing is essentially the art of persuasion. It's all about attractive display, canny pricing and, of course, competition. Although persuasion has long sustained the giants of Australia's retailing industry, it appears not to be working in the case of the campaign by a coalition of 21 major retailers, including Myer, Target and David Jones, to convince the federal government to end the $1000 tax-free threshold for overseas online shopping. Full-page advertisements in this week's newspapers say ''there is an urgent need to tackle the uneven playing field that has resulted in this 'overseas retailers versus Australian retailers' debate''.


So far, the campaign has proved to be a wholesale disaster, opposed by consumer groups, independent politicians, small retailers and, indeed, the government, which says there will be no change to existing policy. As Deputy Treasurer Bill Shorten quickly pointed out, only 3 per cent of retail sales are online, of which barely $1 in every $5 goes to an overseas seller. Moreover, a recent Board of Taxation report said that ditching the threshold would cost more than it could recover in revenue and, in any case, couldn't be enforced.


So why are the retailers mounting their campaign at this particular time, especially since internet shopping is not exactly new? And why, as The Age reported yesterday, are they now intensifying it with fresh advertisements and projected radio and television commercials when there is already clear public antipathy to their agenda? Also, why are the big retailers putting themselves in conflict with other retail trade organisations that are working with a Productivity Commission review of the retail industry?


Advertisement: Story continues below


Surely it could have nothing to do with the October retail spending fall of 1.1 per cent, or the dwindling profits over the festive period. It is right for corporate retailers, who have responsibility to their shareholders, to be concerned about the bottom line; but it is short-sighted of them to believe this problem can be solved simply by seeking an impost on those consumers who prefer online to instore. Indeed, the campaign has also backfired in terms of making even more people aware of how much they could save by buying on the internet.


One of the campaign's backers, Gerry Harvey, the head of Harvey Norman, has said he was not surprised by the backlash, ''because people are not quite getting it''. With respect, Mr Harvey, consumers are getting it as they have always got it: by being savvy shoppers who expect efficiency, convenience, variety and a good price.


People are turning to the internet as part of an unstoppable global revolution. In some consumer societies, notably the US, where most retail stores are online, this is part of normal trading practice, and not - as 21 angry Australian retailers seem to regard it - something to be penalised, however unworkable and uneconomic this might be. Although there is an element of fairness in the campaign's aim of seeking the same taxes and duties on internet goods to the value of $1000 as domestic retailers must pay, the real issue for consumers is the dramatic difference in price that still exists between products sold on overseas and local markets.


Evolution is what retailers must embrace if they are to become part of the evolving marketplace - and it is enouraging that Myer, for example, plans to compete with foreign retailers by selling tax-free merchandise through a Hong Kong-based website. But welcome as this is, it is merely a start.


In Australia, banks and travel agencies have embraced the internet, and have altered their physical premises accordingly; so why can't the big retailers do the same? The one advantage bricks-and-mortar retailers could have over the internet is personal customer service - but, in all too many cases, this needs obvious improvement.







THREE years ago, India thwarted Australia's attempt at a world record 17 consecutive Test wins. As captain, Ricky Ponting had emulated the achievement of Steve Waugh's team and hadn't lost a Test since losing the Ashes at Trent Bridge in 2005. But that was in England; at home in 2006-07 Australia hit back with a 5-0 whitewash. Until India's win in Perth, the Australians did not lose a home Test for more than a decade. Ponting was not ready to concede their dominance was at an end. ''Is the invincibility over?'' he mused. ''I wouldn't have thought so, but we'll see.'' This summer, Australians have seen, all too convincingly, that it is over. Halfway into the final Test at the SCG, only the margin of series defeat was in doubt.


The series result fairly reflects England's outstanding preparation and performance against an Australian side that must adjust to life without a generation of champions. Australia never lost an Ashes Test involving bowlers Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, but they played their last Test in Sydney four years ago, as did Justin Langer. His great batting partner, Matthew Hayden, lasted two more years, while Adam Gilchrist, who redefined the role of wicketkeeper-batsmen, lasted one more. At 36, Ponting's glorious career is faltering and he missed this Test through injury. His captaincy has come in for question, too, but he is leading a much diminished team - this Test featured only two of the players who crushed England four years ago.


The selectors have made some puzzling decisions, but must persevere with a new generation of players, as has this England team in recent years. The selectors appear to have been caught unprepared for this process. Indeed, four years ago, when the Test squad contained eight 30-something players (there are now three), then selector Merv Hughes insisted, when pressed about a transition: ''There is no plan.''


Advertisement: Story continues below


England, with the combined experience of 508 Tests, and Australia, with 285, have reversed roles since 2006-07, and their players' career batting and bowling averages suggested as much even before the series. Four years ago, Australia made twice as many runs per wicket as England, 43.9 to 21.9, which was the greatest performance gap of any Ashes series in Australia. This time, England's batsmen, who topped 600 for the second time in the series yesterday and passed 500 two other times, have doubled the Australians' output.


Hard as it may be, Australian cricket must absorb the lessons of being outclassed and plot a course for recovery. It is good for cricket that other nations rank as the world's best, but if Australia is to rise again its decline cannot be shrugged off.









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.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     THE GUARDIAN




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.









Not only the central government but also the nation's local governments face financial difficulties. According to the former's local finance plan, the local governments' total revenue for fiscal 2011 will be ¥82.520 trillion, up 0.5 percent from fiscal 2010 or the first increase in three years.


They will receive from the central government grants amounting to ¥17.373 trillion, up 2.8 percent from fiscal 2010, an increase for four consecutive years. Some portions of revenues from corporate and other national taxes are used to provide the grants. But because the tax revenues are not enough, the central government has to use surpluses from special account budgets.


The local governments have to rely on bond issuance to secure enough revenues. In fiscal 2011, they will be allowed to issue bonds worth ¥6.159 trillion, with the repayment to be made in later years from the grants from the central governments. Bond issuance is 20.1 percent less than in fiscal 2010. Still the outstanding debt of the local governments will reach ¥200 trillion at the end of fiscal 2011.


Of the central government's subsidies to the local governments mainly for use in public works projects, ¥512 billion will have no strings attached. But the local governments will not have much freedom in using the money because it is to cover public works projects that have already started.


Local governments are dissatisfied with the fact that they have to shoulder part of the funds for the child allowance. Although they want more daycare facilities for children, they cannot use the money for the child allowance to build such facilities. It is important for the central government to increase funds the local governments can use at their own discretion to meet the needs of local residents.


If they have more such funds and also if regulations on facilities imposed by the central government are loosened, they may refrain from using the money for large public works projects they used to carry out with subsidies from the central governments. Instead, they may use the money to improve facilities and services directly for the benefit of residents.







Tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain high in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean corvette in March and North Korea's artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island of South Korea in November. The North is also enriching uranium and pushing construction of a light-water nuclear reactor. At Gilju, in North Korea's North Hamgyeong Province, a strange activity has been detected hinting at the North's preparations for exploding a nuclear device for a test.

Following the November artillery attack, South Korea carried out a series of military exercises, despite opposition from China and Russia. President Lee Myung Bak is trying to check North Korean provocations. He also cannot ignore the strong antipathy among South Koreans toward North Korea.


Pyongyang responded to Seoul's military exercises with a threat from its defense minister, King Yong Chun. He said North Korea's armed forces "are becoming fully prepared to launch a sacred war of justice, Korean style, based on the nuclear deterrent at any time if necessary."


Given the current situation, talks between the North and South may be difficult. But both need to have dialogue with each other coolheadedly to prevent military clashes. The international community must help them with such efforts.


Upon his return from a visit to Pyongyang, former Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico said the North is ready to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit a nuclear enrichment facility in Yongbyon, to sell nuclear fuel rods to the South and to create a hotline to prevent military clashes between the North and South. Pyongyang should take concrete steps toward returning to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime and offering the IAEA unfettered access to all its nuclear activities.


North Korea should scrap its "military first" policy and enhance the welfare of its people if it wants to be accepted as a member of the international community. Japan, the United States and South Korea, for their part, must strive to avoid a Cold War-like confrontation with China, Russia and North Korea.








HONG KONG — After behaving in an assertive, sometimes arrogant, fashion through most of 2010, when it at various times took on the United States, Europe and Japan, both Beijing and the people of China appear to recognize the need for greater caution and restraint in the coming year. For one thing, President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit the U.S. in a few weeks, so China will not want to pick a fight with Washington.


China genuinely realizes that despite its rapid growth in the last three decades, it is still far weaker than the U.S., economically as well as militarily.


A Chinese official, Le Yucheng, director general of the Policy Planning Department of the Foreign Ministry, acknowledged that "China is far behind many developed countries, let alone the United States."


"China might rank second by GDP, but it still ranks behind 100th place in terms of per capita GDP, and there is a population of 150 million living in poverty based on U.N. standards," he was quoted as saying in an interview. "In addition, China does not have aircraft carriers. So we must have a clear understanding of our position."


While China is developing fast, Le said, growth is unbalanced. Moreover, China must "coordinate its domestic and international situations" as well as "handle the relationships between safeguarding rights and keeping stability."


A more restrained attitude on the part of the general populace was also reflected in a yearend survey conducted by the Global Poll Center, run by the Global Times newspaper. According to the survey results, released Dec. 31, fewer Chinese now characterize their country as a superpower, compared with the previous four annual polls.


Of 1,488 individuals who responded to random telephone interviews in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Chongqing, 12.4 percent rated China as a superpower, the lowest figure since 2006.


China's determination to become a world power is clear. While Le warned that the country has no aircraft carriers, Beijing has already announced its intention to rectify this shortcoming. And China has had success developing an anti-ship missile, which has been dubbed the "aircraft carrier killer," aimed at redressing the imbalance. The country's growing international role is reflected in the annual addresses delivered by President Hu at the end of each year.


Unlike the U.S. president, whose State of the Union address is directed at Americans only, the Chinese leader has from the beginning included non-Chinese in his annual addresses. In his first speech in 2003, he addressed "Chinese people of all ethnic groups, including those in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan and overseas Chinese" as well as "friends from all other countries."


In 2005, his message was directed not just at China's friends overseas but at "people all over the world."


By 2009, President Hu had widened the scope of his address by calling upon other countries and peoples to join China in creating "a beautiful future of world peace and development." "China," he said, "would work with people of all countries to jointly promote the construction of a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity."


Last week, in delivering the 2010 address, Hu promised to help to improve the welfare of people of all countries. "I believe, as long as the people from all countries make efforts hand in hand, the world will have a better future and the welfare of the people from all countries will be improved," he said.


Over the past eight years, President Hu has gradually shifted from speaking only as the leader of his country to speaking as a world leader calling on other countries and peoples to respond to China's entreaties to build a harmonious world of peace and prosperity. The year 2010 was especially marked by China's challenge of the Nobel Committee's decision to award the Peace Prize to imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo, who had called for democracy and human rights in China.


The imprisonment of Liu was part of China's policy of putting political stability ahead of everything else, including the basic rights of its citizens, which are ostensibly guaranteed by the constitution. The eyes of the world will be on China in 2011 to see whether it will continue its hardline policies both toward the outside world and toward its own people.


Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator (








NEW YORK — Whenever I hear people on America's Republican right call themselves "conservative," I experience the mental equivalent of a slight electric shock.


A conservative is someone who, in the tradition of the 18th-century English parliamentarian Edmund Burke, believes that the established order deserves respect, even reverence. A liberal, by contrast, is someone ready to alter the established order in pursuit of a vision of a better world.


The Whig historian of the 19th century Thomas Macaulay described this difference well. There were "two great parties" in England, he wrote, which manifested a "distinction" that "had always existed, and always must exist."


On the one side were liberals, "a class of men sanguine in hope, bold in speculation, always pressing forward . . . and disposed to give every change credit for being an improvement."


On the other were conservatives, "a class of men who cling with fondness to whatever is ancient, and who, even when convinced by overpowering reasons that innovation would be beneficial, consent to it with many misgivings and forebodings."


By this the standard, the right in the United States — the party of Fox News, the "tea party" and, increasingly, the Republican Party itself — are no longer conservatives. They are radicals.


They are ecological radicals, denying the scientific consensus on global warming; they are prepared to let the Earth cook. What could be less conservative than that?


They are legal radicals, supporting the form of torture called waterboarding, as well as widespread secret wiretapping. On the basis of far-fetched "originalist" interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, they would deny the federal government the power to engage in almost any form of economic support of the general welfare, including health. They are nuclear radicals: Many sought to obstruct the New START treaty with Russia, which will modestly advance the arms-control agenda pursued by all Republican presidents since Richard Nixon.


But nothing illustrates the radicalism of the new right better than the recent attack by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck on the financier and philanthropist George Soros, who is of Hungarian and Jewish origin. Beck's attack, called "The Puppet-Master?," recycles the tropes of the most virulent anti-Semitic ideologies of the totalitarian movements of the first half of the 20th century.


Beck, who denies that he is anti- Semitic, is a conspiracy theorist of classic vintage, though the content of his alleged conspiracies is, to put it bluntly, weird. True, some of it is classic McCarthyite red-baiting. Of Obama's White House, he says, "there are communists, Marxists, revolutionaries all around this president."


Stranger still is his attack on, of all people, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson is fingered as the originator of "progressivism," which, in turn, is — believe it or not — also identified as the point of origin of Nazism and Bolshevism. Beck regularly likens President Barack Obama's policies to those of Adolf Hitler.


Wilson, Hitler and Obama are linked by a chain of association altogether typical of conspiracy theorizing in general, and of its anti-Semitic variety in particular: Wilson was a "progressive"; some progressives dabbled in eugenics; the eugenics movement influenced Hitler; Obama, too, is a progressive. Therefore, progressives, Hitler and Obama are connected!


Of all this we can say what the political thinker Hannah Arendt said of the anti-Semitic forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Its effect is to "reveal official history as a joke, to demonstrate a sphere of secret influence of which the visible, traceable and known historical reality was only the outward facade. "


Now a new epicenter for the Wilson- Hitler-Obama axis has been identified in Soros. While horror-film music plays and clips of history's disasters are shown, a voice intones: "Eighty years ago, George Soros was born. Little did the world know then, economies would collapse, currencies would become worthless, elections would be stolen, regimes would fall. And one billionaire would find himself coincidentally at the center of it all."


Going on to accuse Soros of creating a shadow government in the U.S., the show claims that this "greatly resembles" similar organizations that "he has created in other countries" supposedly "before instigating a coup." Thus, Beck falsely charges that Soros has instigated coups abroad while implying that he plans to carry one out in the U.S.


Beck doesn't say so, of course, but what Soros has actually done is to give support through his Open Society foundations to prodemocracy movements in many countries. Many of them, including Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, were ruled by Communist regimes at the time. One would think that a self- proclaimed conservative like Beck would support that sort of activity.


But since when have conspiracy- mongers been hampered by contradiction?


Indeed, they have historically been no more bothered by engaging in contradictions than in ignoring facts. After all, the Nazis accused Jews of being the secret force behind both capitalism and communism — a contradiction as well as a lie that is resuscitated in "The Puppet Master?"


Since roughly 1994, when Newt Gingrich engineered the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans have taken to calling themselves "revolutionaries" — not a word often found on the lips of conservatives. Has the time come to take them at their word?


Beck's assault on Soros — and the unmistakable stench of its atrocious antecedents — suggests what sort of revolution they may have in mind.


Jonathan Schell is a fellow at The Nation Institute and teaches a course on the nuclear dilemma at Yale University. © 2011 Project Syndicate









The recent deaths of six siblings from the Central Java town of Jepara from suspect tiwul, a staple food made from dried cassava, was indeed tragic. It may be an exaggeration to consider it a human tragedy, but the deaths speak volumes about the abject poverty many in the country are constantly facing.


This also serves as a warning that the situation may be aggravated in the coming months due to people's weakening purchasing power amid the soaring prices of commodities.


Traditionally, tiwul is associated with poverty as it is a cheap substitute for rice, although creative cooks have produced recipes to allow well-off families to digest the carbohydrate-rich food.


Those who died from bad tiwul in Jepara came from a poor family, a family that claims to earn between Rp 150,000 (US$16) and Rp 200,000 per week and had to feed nine mouths. The family turned to tiwul two weeks before the incident as they could not afford to buy rice because the price was skyrocketing due to supply shortages from irregular weather, natural disasters and insect attacks.


The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) said rice price hikes contributed 1.29 percent to inflation in 2010, which neared 7 percent, up from 2.78 percent in 2009.


This poverty-related loss of life is ironic because of the country's poverty eradication campaign, which, according to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has reduced the actual number and percentage of people living below the poverty line in the last six years. The latest BPS data revealed there were 31 million poor as of March 2010, down from 32.53 million in the same period a year earlier.


Almost every year the nation has been shocked by reports of the fatal impact of poverty, most notably the food crisis in 2005 and 2009 in the remote, impoverished Papua highland regency of Yahukimo that left dozens of people dead. The government claimed it was harvest failure instead of poverty that was responsible for the catastrophe.


Of course, the Jepara and Yahukimo stories or sporadic malnutrition deaths in pockets of poverty in rural or urban areas cannot kill the fairy tale of Indonesian development, which has gained international recognition. Indonesia was one of a small number of countries that managed to maintain economic growth despite 2008's global economic crisis, and is predicted to emerge as one of the largest economies in the world in the future.


No one in this country should pass away because he or she has no money to buy food. But market operations to control the volatile prices of basic commodities, the distribution of cheap rice to the poor and other subsidy provision programs are just temporary solutions and will not fix the root causes of poverty.


With abundant natural and human resources at our disposal, Indonesia has many opportunities to quickly eradicate poverty.


At stake will be the Nobel Prize in Economics, awarded in 1998 to Amartya Sen, if even one Indonesian citizen dies of starvation. The economist Sen insists famine does not occur in democratic countries like Indonesia. He says even in very poor democracies, a ruling government's survival will be threatened if there is famine, as elections are not easy to win after famines, nor is it easy to withstand criticism by opposition parties and the press.


As suggested by the Nobel laureate, political leadership matters in the fight against hunger and poverty.


We believe such leadership should exist not only in the months ahead of elections, but from the beginning to the end of political tenure.







Indonesia's three foremost priorities for its tenure as ASEAN's chair have been lucidly articulated by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.


The nation must assure that during 2011 substantial progress is made towards realizing the ASEAN Community in 2015; assure ASEAN's leadership in regional architecture building, specifically to give crucial significance to the East Asia Summit, which has been expanded to include Russia and the US and develop a vision for an ASEAN Community and Global Community of Nations after 2015.


This article will limit itself to Indonesia's leadership in regional architecture building with ASEAN as a center

for such a structural design. "Our capability of including Russia and the United States in the process of thrashing out that regional architecture means creating a dynamic equilibrium," Marty said.


What will be the major challenges of producing a regional architecture? All sovereign countries will at all times defend their independence and their uniqueness. The pursuit of national interests in a globalized world and particularly within ASEAN should no longer be founded on the concepts of Machiavelli nor of Lord Palmerston, who said nations have no permanent friends, only permanent interests. ASEAN has been built on compromises.


To continue to pursue member states' national interests is no longer in line with the method of consensus building in ASEAN. What has changed in ASEAN is how people define their interests, and, in particular, the configurations by which they pursue them.


We are not eliminating national interests in ASEAN. But we have agreed that the best way to safeguard our interests is by cooperating with one another. Cooperation has contributed immensely to identifying and realizing ASEAN's interests.


To avoid misunderstandings, interests have to be put on an equal footing with values and norms. Any foreign policy that is not based on common values and norms as enunciated in the ASEAN Communities Blueprints and the ASEAN Charter should be set aside. The values and norms that we have sanctioned in the charter and its constitutive documents should form the fundamentals of foreign policy.


The foreign policy of every member country should be based on those norms. These values and norms should become the core of our diplomacy and external actions and express our common identity. They should shape Indonesia's and ASEAN's stance in its relations with the world, in finding common solutions and in making commitments to create effective multilateral institutions to face new challenges in a globalized world.


To build an ASEAN-centered regional architecture defies simple approaches. An ASEAN architecture that can accommodate larger powers such as India, China, Russia and the US requires a strong Indonesia in a strong ASEAN.


Indonesia can offer only a relatively small counterbalance to India, China, Russia and the US in the game of maintaining a "dynamic equilibrium" in the new architecture.


However, those powers have already committed themselves to ASEAN values and norms by becoming party to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia as a requirement to join the East Asia Summit.


Recognition of ASEAN, and of Indonesia as primus inter pares, should be capitalized upon in initiating and constructing that visualized ASEAN-led regional architecture. As in the case of building ASEAN, such a regional architecture should also acknowledge cooperation among equals as a fundamental safeguard for their members' interests.


Indonesia will initiate and shape that architecture during its chairmanship, as Marty specified, but the nation must realize that its leadership will only last one year.


Other smaller member countries will have to take over the venture in the years following Indonesia's chairmanship. They will also have to manage ASEAN's internal affairs and timelines to accomplish ASEAN's community building by 2015 to sustain and further develop that architecture.


This means ASEAN must at the same time be supported by a strong regional institution to tackle regional issues and necessitate national adaptations to regional requirements, regional norms.


Managing and fulfilling ASEAN's objectives with clearly set timelines requires a dedicated and autonomous regional institution. Thus ASEAN member states energies will be free to embark upon the bigger task of structuring a huge regional architecture. An ASEAN Secretariat will no longer be able to handle those tasks because of its inherent institutional character.


It is, thus, to set free the energy of ASEAN member countries to build that regional architecture that the ASEAN Secretariat must be developed into a more autonomous institution.


The secretariat must enable ASEAN to focus its energies more on the strategic importance of constructing that new Asia Pacific architecture and delegating non-strategic issues and decisions in ASEAN's agenda of community building to the ASEAN Commission.


ASEAN's current secretary-general, because of his prominence, can be designated as the commission's chairman or president.


A redesign of the ASEAN Secretariat into an ASEAN Commission will reflect ASEAN's shift from a regional forum for ministerial diplomacy into one of summit diplomacy and summit decisions.


This shift has, since 1992, with the initiation of AFTA and later agreements, taken authority away from the ASEAN Ministerial Meetings.


It is this transformation into a redesigned organizational structure that will enable ASEAN to sustain the efforts of structuring a regional architecture for the greatest benefit to the region, Southeast Asia and East Asia.


The writer is a senior researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences' Center for Political Studies.







Indonesian foreign policy in the era of Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has embraced a new perspective – the so-called Natalegawa doctrine. This perspective sees Indonesia in a position of "dynamic equilibrium" in world politics.


There is currently a fragmented distribution of political power, and there are many challenges for inter-governmental cooperation that lie ahead. The foreign minister's new doctrine is therefore interesting to examine in light of these issues.


The Jakarta Post spoke with Marty on Dec. 29, 2010, and many important points in Indonesian foreign policy nowadays were discussed. First, international politics is understood in the new doctrine as a state of "dynamic equilibrium" and "cold peace". The polarities in post-Cold War international politics have shifted, opening up opportunities for strategic cooperation. Therefore, there are many economic and political changes within international politics that can no longer be understood as unipolar.


The dynamic equilibrium concept indicates that there are more possibilities for nations to become new powers in international relations. For Indonesia, this idea allows us to improve our economic and political strength and begin an era of cooperation among the Global South.


Second, dynamic equilibrium is a position of equality among countries in the Global South to cooperate peacefully without having to depend on any forms of hegemony in international politics. As a consequence, Indonesian foreign policy must harness the potential power of developing countries without denying the existence of powers in the "north". This was reflected in the directions Indonesia's foreign policy have taken, as formulated by Marty at the beginning of his term.


Third, this doctrine also views the world through the experience of the Cold War and current "cold peace". Residual forces from the Cold War still exist, but we cannot deny that new forces have arisen in its aftermath. For example, China and India dominate Asian markets and have become emerging forces in regional — and even international — economies. Relations between these forces are not hostile like in the Cold War era, but more competitive, dynamic and non-political.


Fourth, the paradigm of international security nowadays has also shifted in line with the pluralism of the actors. Thus, opportunities for cooperation are wide open. Marty has responded to this situation by increasing economic cooperation within ASEAN member countries and in Asia and the Pacific.


But, the "Natalegawa Doctrine" is not free of criticism. Indonesian foreign policy perspectives lead to a critical question: How can Indonesia compete among the new powers in this post-Cold War era?


The inclusion of Indonesia in the G20, an exclusive group of developed countries, is an achievement of its own. But, this exclusive position must take into account public interests. It is not only about our national interests and acceptance in the international arena, but also in the domestic sphere. The government must also balance its foreign policy with the interests of the wider community.


The government's vow of all-out diplomacy by involving all stakeholders has come under criticism. But, the realization of this promise is important to make sure that the public pays attention to diplomatic practices and propaganda.


In addition, criticism has also been directed at the government's style of dealing with international problems. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono insists on adhering to the tenet "zero enemies, a million friends" when responding, for example, to the border conflict with Malaysia. Some have considered this pragmatic approach unclear.


The "Yudhoyono doctrine" is quite ambiguous. Dynamic equilibrium is established through the strengthening of regional cooperation. It means that foreign policy decision-making emphasizes regionalism — especially in ASEAN. It implies that we should make friends in strategic positions, not with all countries. The criticism of this policy is that it is too fixated on the imagery and spirit of "zero enemies, a million friends". It is also unclear what Indonesia's strategic position is at the regional level.


It would be extremely premature to critique the foreign minister's new foreign policy doctrine. However, constructive criticism should be allowed and public oversight needs to be strengthened in order to match the government's "all-out diplomacy". It would be better if the public could observe and control the execution of diplomacy and foreign policy practice, and criticize together if there are any mistakes.


Hopefully, the Natalegawa doctrine can help to offer a new way for Indonesia to achieve power in international politics.

The writer works at the Institute of International Studies at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.









What sort of textbooks should be allowed in our elementary schools is under heated debate in the nation.


The education department in Shandong province has imposed a ban on unabridged editions of classics for small children in local elementary schools. The forbidden texts include the Three-Character Textbook for Beginners, an elementary book for teaching children to read.


The book, compiled in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), was required reading for young children before the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. It offered the students a basic philosophy to guide them in the way they conducted themselves and a brief introduction to Chinese history.


The Shandong provincial education department has approved abridged versions of these children's classic primers with the parts that the education department deems "feudal poison" removed. They include phrases like "golden houses and beautiful wives can be found through study".


There is no doubt that some of the values the classics espouse are the ideology of older times. But removing controversy from elementary textbooks mars our children's ability to handle problems with depth and understanding. These classics are part of the nation's cultural past.


Many elementary schools and parents have started introducing classic Chinese reading materials to their children in recent years and the study of national culture - traditional Chinese philosophy, literature and history - has caught the attention of scholars.


Whether one deems our present society wonderful or awful, or both, such books help reveal how we arrived at this point and how times have changed. Understanding our past helps us understand ourselves and the world around us.


Why are parents turning their eyes to the textbooks written hundreds of years ago for their children?


We can begin to answer this question by noting that contemporary textbooks are kind of boring. The textbooks are carefully compiled to explain selected values to young minds.


Contemporary textbooks devote a lot of space to heroes. The education media turn flesh-and-blood individuals into pious, perfect individuals without complexity, conflicts, pain, or human interest. Because such textbooks employ a godlike tone, it never occurs to most students to question them.


Students and teachers thus fall back on memorizing what is necessary for tests. Students exit textbooks without having developed the ability to think coherently about the nation.


As a result, many students are hamstrung in their efforts to analyze controversial issues in our society.







Vice-Premier Li Keqiang's ongoing visit to Europe is China's first high-profile diplomacy of 2011. It signifies China's growing interest in strengthening cooperation with the eurozone and its commitment to pushing the comprehensive strategic partnership with the European Union (EU) to a higher level.


Li has been slated to visit Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom from Jan 4 to 12, and his trip comes at a crucial time, when EU countries, Spain included, are battling the debt crisis.


It is believed Li's visit will reap a series of cooperation agreements in various fields with the three countries - including finance, trade and culture. He also promised this week that China will continue to buy Spanish Treasury bonds.


Li's latest pledge is in line with China's determination to support the EU and help it weather the sovereign debt crisis.


Li's pledge together with China's growing penchant for EU goods and services will be a shot in the arm for the eurozone and will help it overcome the effects of the financial crisis and restore confidence in the euro. Strengthened Sino-EU trade ties will also have a positive impact on the global economic recovery.


The EU has for years been China's largest trading partner and largest destination of exports, while China is the EU's second largest trading partner and largest source of imports.


The high degree of interdependency between the two economies and growing cooperation mean it is in China's interest to support EU countries in times of difficulty. It also indicates China is willing to shoulder more international responsibilities as the country's economic clout grows.


Sino-EU trade and economic cooperation is the cornerstone of bilateral relations, which in the past 35 years have witnessed significant growth in a wide range of areas. China and the 27-member bloc, as two globally significant economies, should coordinate their macroeconomic policy-making and jointly combat trade protectionism so that they can concertedly help the world economy achieve a sustainable recovery as soon as possible.


For more balanced bilateral trade, the EU should take steps to lift restrictions on exports of high-tech products. It should also make efforts to reverse the protectionist tendency against Chinese products.


Given that the EU has yet to grant market economy status to China, it is hoped some breakthrough can be made in this regard this year.


As two important players in world affairs, the two sides should also deepen their cooperation on bilateral and multilateral platforms to address major global concerns, such as climate change, global governance and reform of the world financial system.


For bilateral ties to grow steadily and healthily, both sides should deepen mutual political trust and care for each other's mutual concerns and core interests.







Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Europe from Jan 4 to 12 is important for several reasons. First, it demonstrates China's commitment to the European Union (EU), its largest trading partner. In 2009, China-EU trade reached about 300 billion, and China's exports to the EU accounted for almost 20 percent of its total. It is now seeking new investment opportunities across the EU.


Second, it provides an opportunity for a fresh start to EU-China relations that passed through a difficult period in the recent past. At the last EU-China summit in October, there was no progress on key Chinese demands for the EU to lift the arms embargo and grant it market economy status. Nor was there a meeting of minds on trade and foreign policy issues.


As the largest market for its exports, China has an enormous stake in the stability and prosperity of the EU. The debt crisis that has plagued Europe and affected the euro for most of the past 12 months has forced governments in EU member countries to announce strict austerity measures. But the governments find it difficult to implement these measures, mostly economic cuts, because of widespread protests from Greece and Spain to Ireland and Italy.


The financial situation remains fragile as several countries still have very high debt ratios, which have raised the cost of borrowing. At a meeting in December, EU leaders agreed to introduce a permanent stabilization mechanism for the euro as an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty. This reflected the leaders' political commitment to ensuring the stability of the euro. It remains to be seen, however, how markets will react if a financial crisis breaks out in one or two more of the EU countries.


The EU's external relations have been influenced by the budget cuts, too, and the rise in the number of anti-dumping cases against China is a sign of the rising fear of unemployment in Europe. This is also reflected in recent opinion polls, which show more than 50 percent Europeans are concerned about the impact of Chinese trade policy on jobs.


On its part, China has already shows its willingness to help EU countries emerge out of their financial difficulties. After Chinese leaders made this commitment to Greece and Portugal, Vice-Premier Li wrote in a commentary in a Spanish newspaper that China would continue to buy Spain's treasury debt.


The EU is bogged down in negotiations with China over a new strategic agreement, with trade issues acting as the biggest stumbling block. Brussels says Beijing is not fulfilling World Trade Organization commitments on protection of intellectual property rights and criticizes China for creating numerous non-tariff barriers that have made it difficult for European companies to enter the Chinese market. China accuses the EU of being too ready to resort to anti-dumping measures. At a stormy summit last October, the two sides disagreed not only on the arms embargo and market economy status, but also on the Korea Peninsula, Iran, Africa and human rights issues.


December, however, saw a useful EU-China high-level dialogue, which discussed economic and trade disputes. Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, recognized the importance of improving EU-China relations in a report presented to the December summit. She said the continued existence of the arms embargo was "a major impediment for developing stronger EU-China cooperation on foreign policy and security matters", adding that EU lectures on democracy and human rights were unlikely to be well received in Beijing.


New EU Ambassador Markus Ederer has arrived in Beijing. He told the European Parliament last month that he was confident that EU-China relations would improve steadily if both sides made greater efforts to understand each other.


]Li Keqiang's visit to the EU thus comes at an opportune moment, a time when both sides are reassessing their domestic and external situations. If the EU does not recover from its economic malaise then there could be more protectionism and more anti-dumping cases. But hopeful, though uneven, signs of renewed economic growth can already be seen in Europe. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has forecast a 2.3 percent growth for 2011, better than the 2010.


Perhaps the greatest contribution of Li's visit to EU-China relations will be the improvement in mutual understanding. For too long, the EU and China have talked past each other. High-level visits such as the one by Li, during which he will meet with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, can only lead to greater understanding. This is a key element of improved EU-China relations.


The author is a senior fellow at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.







On Christmas day, China's central bank raised interest rates for the second time in 2010 to check rising consumer prices and the heated real estate market. It would not be surprising to see the central bank lift the rates again in the near future.


The move has left me wondering whether allowing interest rates to play their due role in the economy through liberalization, as opposed to raising them artificially time and again, would be a better way of curbing inflation.


While there has been remarkable progress in the interest rate reform since the mid-1990s, China still has restrictive controls over deposit rates and sets a 10 percent floor on benchmark lending rates. It is not hard to see the challenges our economy now faces because of these controls. The rise of the consumer price index by 5.1 percent in November has left negative real rates for deposits, that is, deposit rates are lower than inflation. This indicates that households' purchasing power is being eroded by the rise in consumer prices.


For many years, both experience and research have shown that real interest rates have a close correlation with liquidity levels, consumer behavior and even real estate investments. Deposits tend to be more actively used to buy real estate and other assets when real interest rates are negative, enlarging asset bubbles and, in turn, fanning inflationary fears.


In the intensifying competition to attract deposits with relatively low rates, some domestic commercial banks have even engaged in irregularities such as handing out gifts, or even cash and gold, as rewards to their customers. This kind of behavior shows that the repressed interest rates for deposits do not reflect the real level of market rates. Thus it is reasonable to believe that the interest rates on deposits will automatically rise once they are allowed to fluctuate within a certain range.


Furthermore, liberalization of interest rates is good for the health of our banking industry. It will force banks to become more creative by intensifying competition, narrowing the net interest margin and shrinking the room for profits. That would immediately create incentives for banks to give more loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises, a sector in which banks enjoy higher lending rates, to maintain the financial institutions' profitability. Also, it could help enable the banking industry to change its business model from one that overly relies on income from interests to one that focuses on providing comprehensive and diversified services to customers.


China's banking system will become stronger only when the protection provided by the government's interest rates controls is lifted. If that happens, the pricing capability of a bank will be at the center of its competitiveness. Now, commercial banks simply decide their lending rates according to the regulated benchmark, coupled with clients' ratings and guarantees, but they do not fully incorporate the risks into their pricing.


Once interest rates are liberalized, banks have to measure the risk compensation level by calculating the client's probability of default with their own models before deciding on the lending rates. Things then will be different for every bank and the ones that are really good at risk pricing will stand out and thrive.


Liberalization of interest rates can be useful for deepening China's capital markets and improving the monetary policy transmission mechanism. The rapidly growing domestic stock market, debt market and inter-bank market have not only formed a favorable environment for interest rate reform, but are also calling for further interest rate liberalization.


This reform could enable the central bank to make full use of all its monetary policy tools, focusing more on indirect instruments to fine-tune the macro economy. Given that the benchmark rate is influential and a strong signal for other rates, the central bank can improve its policy effectiveness by making stronger intervention on the benchmark rate.


From a long-term perspective, interest rates are, by nature, the "price" of funds and an economic lever, and therefore must be decided basically by market forces. Properly stepping up efforts to liberalize interest rates has become an indispensable part of the development of socialist market economy. It could better shape China's economic structure, correctly reflect money supply and demand, and improve the efficiency of capital allocation and utilization, as well as improve the efficiency of the use of economic and social resources.


Most countries have imposed controls on interest rates for a certain period in their histories, and such controls have played an important part in economic growth and financial stability. But many countries, both developed and developing, have sooner or later embarked on the path of interest rate liberalization after their economies reached a point where marketization needed to be deepened to improve the efficiency of capital use.


Apart from many advantages of liberalizing interest rates, evidence from around the world shows the significant risks to the economy and financial system that this policy can bring. In some countries' cases, interest rate liberalization revealed their banking industries' vulnerabilities and even made some banks go bankrupt. As a result, those countries had to stop their reform, and resume controls on interest rates.


For China, the time has come to accelerate interest rates reform. China's economy has successfully weathered the storm of the global financial crisis and has become an important growth engine for the world economy. Well-combined with market forces and the government's role, macroeconomic management capabilities in China have been strong enough to meet challenges.


Thanks to years of reform and restructuring China's banking sector, less affected by the global financial crisis, has continually improved its ability to grow, laying a solid foundation for future development.


Many banks have also begun to revamp their risk management mechanisms and develop their "universal" banking businesses to be prepared for financial liberalization and disintermediation.


China has successfully followed a wise road map to liberalize interest rates, that is, liberalizing foreign exchange currency rates before yuan rates; liberalizing lending rates before deposits rates.


So far no ceilings have been imposed on lending rates, and almost all rates in the inter-bank market have been liberalized. What we should do next is to gradually let medium- and long-term, large-sum deposit rates fluctuate within certain ranges. It is necessary to raise the low floor for lending rates, too.


As Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank governor, recently said at a forum, China should let excellent banks enjoy the freedom to be pioneers in further liberalizing interest rates.


There are a lot of things to be done for the reform, and as in other countries, it will take time to realize the goal.


For now, the most important thing is to continue to move in the right direction.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          CHINA DAILY





Garbage has been piled up on the streets of New York for nearly a week after a blizzard hit the northeastern part of the United States on Dec 30. The city's sanitation workers had a hell of job to tackle the garbage after days of hard work to clear the streets of thick snow.


Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked for patience and pledged swift action, the news media have

relentlessly criticized Bloomberg and his team for their inability to deal with the snowstorm in a timely manner.


For days, pedestrians had to wade through water to cross the streets. Of course, that was nothing compared to the plight of residents in some parts of the city, who did not see a snowplow for five days after the storm. A leukemia patient missed his appointment for treatment; it took one woman in labor three hours to reach a hospital.


Complaints about the snow were soon replaced by grievances about the garbage. Local TV news channels showed how bags of garbage in front of some restaurants, including those in Chinatown, were scaring off tourists and residents alike.


It is frightening that an extreme weather event, such as this snowstorm, can catch a city like New York unprepared.


The same sort of thing happens in Beijing. On a December afternoon 10 years ago, thousands of commuters were stranded for hours on the ring roads as a result of a snowstorm which left a few centimeters of snow over a five-hour period.


Four years ago, a summer downpour again brought Beijing to a standstill. The rain submerged several major roads; traffic near the Capital International Airport and on some ring roads stood still for hours.


These days, whenever snow or heavy rain is forecast in Beijing, police and sanitation officials prepare for the worst so as to reduce the effect on the lives of residents.


Unfortunately, the situation is only going to get worse. As climate change continues and the earth's surface temperature keeps rising, we are in for more extreme and unpredictable weather events


Scientists say 2010 is likely to rank among the warmest years since the middle of the 19th century. Some 19 countries set all-time heat records last year. Moscow, for instance, suffered not only record heat, but also raging forest fires.


Extreme weather not only ties up traffic; it also disrupts the delivery of essential supplies. The third day after the blizzard, I got a notice from the management of my hotel, apologizing for not being able to change the bedding. The supplier, it seems, was unable to get into the city.


That is nothing compared to what Chenzhou, a third-tier city of nearly 500,000 residents in central China's Hunan province, went through as a result of continuous snow and icy rain in January 2008. The supply of coal was cut off, leaving the city without electricity for more than a week. The city's water supply system also froze, so residents had no drinking water.


A World Bank report released in early December warns that many coastal cities - from Kolkata, Shanghai, and Guangzhou in developing countries to Rotterdam, Tokyo, and New York City in developed countries - face the same risks if sea levels continue to rise as a result of global warming.