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Saturday, January 8, 2011

EDITORIAL 08.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 08, edition 000724, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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












































































The Srikrishna Committee report on Telangana has unveiled nothing that was not known before. For instance, the six options it listed have all been under discussion in the public domain. The fears of a backlash it has expressed in case of accepting one demand at the cost of another too have been obvious. The panel has tried to be helpful by ruling out three of its options as non-pragmatic; one wonder why then did it even mention them if they were unworkable. If this can be explained away under the pretext that the committee was following its mandate of putting on the table all the possible solutions and their merits and drawbacks, and leaving the final call to the Union Government, there is no explanation for the panel to have weighed its report largely in favour of a unified Andhra Pradesh — in other words, maintaining the status quo while providing some sops like the creation of an autonomous Telangana Regional Council. It is no wonder, therefore, that the report has triggered disquiet in the ranks of pro-Telangana activists. The demand for a separate 'Telangana State' is decades long, and the movement could gain momentum if the Government eventually accepts the unified Andhra Pradesh proposal, creating further headaches for the Congress that is already battling several problems in the State. While the fact that the panel report also speaks of Andhra Pradesh's bifurcation into Seemandhra and Telangana could offer some hope to the pro-Telangana camp, the overall tone of the report is discouraging. Despite this, even some proponents of a unified Andhra Pradesh have expressed reservations, simply because the committee dared to suggest the bifurcation as a possibility. But whatever happens next, it will not only be a challenge for all factional leaders but also their responsibility to ensure peace and harmony. The demand for Telangana, although legitimate, cannot become a cause for bloodshed and animosity. If a separate State for the region is not ceded to following the panel's findings, the campaign for it to happen must follow democratic procedures. After all, it is not possible for people's aspirations to be muzzled for long. At the same time, the pro-Telangana agitationists would do enormous harm to their cause if they indulge in mayhem. Similarly, the State Government too should avoid harsh confrontations with the supporters of a 'Telangana State', and not treat them as enemies.

Meanwhile, the Union Government needs to understand that the issue of smaller States will not disappear with the resolution of the Telangana matter. There are already demands for Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal and Vidarbha regions to be carved out as separate States, and those demands are likely to be animatedly revived in the coming months. The Union Government may believe that accepting a 'Telangana State' could open a Pandora's Box for these demands to be also met. But regardless of the Telangana resolution, they will remain, just as they have survived even after the creation in the more recent past of three States — Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. The issue of creating smaller States, therefore, cannot be tackled in a piecemeal fashion. The time has come for a holistic approach: the establishment of a panel on the lines of the States Reorganisation Commission (which was backed by an Act) that functioned more than five decades ago to reshuffle boundaries of the Indian States. While the Commission had used the linguistic parameter to determine the boundaries, a new panel could use other equally localised and currently relevant factors.







The news of a Mumbai-based mining company extracting at least 10 times more bauxite ore than it is allowed to from a village in Ratnagiri in Maharashtra and causing the State a revenue loss of crores of rupees by not paying the royalty has once again brought to the fore the issue of rampant illegal mining across India. What is shocking is that the State Government has been caught napping — or did it elect to look the other way? — while the company continued with the plunder long after its lease expired in November 2009. This is not a case in isolation. Scores of mine-owners have excavated iron ore, chromite, bauxite, manganese and other minerals much beyond the stipulated limit in Jharkhand, Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra and other mineral-rich States. In Odisha, out of 341 mines, only 126 have been found to have a valid lease. Since most mines have been operating years after their leases have expired by using a loophole in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, we can arrive at only one conclusion: There is a nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and mining companies. How else can one explain the misuse of the deemed extension clause that is meant to ensure that mining operations do not come to an abrupt halt due to administrative delays in deciding renewal applications?

The UPA's hyperactive Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh, has been selective in acting against the mining companies that are looting India's wealth. He prefers to use different standards. As a result, companies indulging in illegal mining are also flouting the Forest Conservation Act and damaging the fragile ecosystem as a good number of mines co-exist with reserve forest areas. The bureaucrats, well aware of the large-scale pillage, turn a blind eye as long as their nests are feathered. This casts serious doubt on the Congress's assertions that it would uphold green laws and not sacrifice environmental sustainability. Worse, there is growing evidence that the revenue from illegal mining in tribal areas is going towards funding insurgent activities of Maoist outfits. Mr Ramesh's failure to crack down heavily on illegal operators is in essence allowing law-shirking plunderers to line the pockets of anti-nationals covertly. Now that the Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee has submitted its detailed report, what is needed is an expeditious implementation of CEC's recommendations without any bias and better coordination between officials of the Mining Ministry and the Environment & Forest Ministry to effectively enforce statutory provisions. Further, exemplary actions must be taken against babus whose deliberate delay in disposing of mining renewal applications results in a revenue loss of crores of rupees. This is the least that Mr Ramesh can do to stop the loot and save the country's precious mineral resources. 








Salman Taseer's murder for defending an ordinary woman facing punishment under Pakistan's terrifying blasphemy laws is an act of extraordinary infamy. Whatever his other faults, the late Governor of Pakistani Punjab was only doing the decent and civilised thing when he raised his voice against the blasphemy laws and called for this relic of the Zia-ul-Haq era to be removed. Sadly, he paid for it with his life. Yet, for one brief and heroic moment, he was once more the idealistic young man of the late-1970s — trendy leftist, follower of the polemical socialism of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, son of an Urdu poet, nephew of the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz himself. There is a melancholy to such men, and Salman Taseer recovered some of it in his death.

Some who knew and had met Salman Taseer — and this writer is not one of them — have chosen to praise him as a liberal and pointed to his rakishly flirtatious nature and his ability to nurse a drink as evidence. This is a trifle silly, especially when ranged against the gamut of problems Pakistan faces and which eventually ended Salman Taseer's life. Salman Taseer, as is well known, has an Indian son, born of a brief relationship with an Indian lady three decades ago. The estranged son, a remarkably level-headed and unusually talented writer called Aatish Taseer, wrote a book called Stranger to History a couple of years ago. At one level it was the story of a son and the father he never knew; at another level, it was a searing exploration of Islam — or the many Islams — in its various homelands: Northern England, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. In Iran, one of the junior Taseer's interlocutors described the species he was examining as "Homo Islmaicos".

Aatish Taseer's book is only incidental to the story of his father, and to the decline and implosion of Pakistan. Nevertheless it offers a fascinating window. The life and tragedy of Salman Taseer is not that he did or didn't offer an Indian visitor a drink but that he moved so far away from what he once was. Here, again, it is not the individual who is important; it is an entire society. The fact is Salman Taseer moved far away from his instincts because his entire country did. 

Into his 20s when Aatish Taseer travelled to Pakistan to finally see his father — their first meeting since he was a baby — the person he encountered stunned him. The Salman Taseer his mother once knew and the Salman Taseer the son met were two different individuals. The first was an outsider; the second was Pakistani establishment: Rich, well-heeled, well-settled. The first rebelled against a military dictator; the second was a fellow traveller of Gen Pervez Musharraf and, at the time the book was published, the Governor of Punjab who had just dismissed a democratically elected Provincial Government.

In the intervening years, Salman Taseer had also rewritten his relationship with religion. While not a ritualistic or even an observant Muslim — the book said he didn't pray five times a day and was once known to remark the Quran had nothing in it for him — Salman Taseer had became part of the post-9/11 defensiveness that had the Pakistani elite in its grip.

Against his grain (or so the son hoped), the senior Taseer denied — or mitigated the impact of — the Holocaust, a view Aatish Taseer wrote was among the "more moderate" he heard in Pakistan. Salman Taseer also blamed the West even while sending his daughter to college in America, disparaged Hindus, described himself as a "cultural Muslim" and accused his son, after Aatish Taseer wrote a negative article on the radicalisation of second-generation Brit-Pakis following the 2005 London bombings, of not understanding the "Pakistani ethos".

It is this evolution of Salman Taseer, from a mildly Left, pro-democracy and religion-neutral young person of the 1970s and early-1980s, to somebody convinced his faith and country were somehow perennially conspired against, that is truly remarkable. It speaks of just how much Pakistan has been transformed and just how much first the Zia interregnum and then the Afghan war of the past nine years have embittered and blackened its psyche. Regrettably it is now a society that is probably beyond repair.

When a man of the learning of Salman Taseer, a man who has travelled the world and seen more of it than many others, is reduced to downplaying the Holocaust — he was probably too educated and intelligent to completely deny it — it does leave you wondering. Did he actually believe this? Was he doing it only because it was expedient, because everybody from his potential voters to his second cousins were convinced of it, and it was the only passport to survival in the scorched-earth discourse of Pakistan? Whatever the answer, it has to be scary.

Despite all his compromise with Pakistan's bazaar intellectualism — a compromise necessitated perhaps by compulsion rather than conviction or maybe a combination of the two — it took one commonsensical statement from Salman Taseer for an extremist to gun him down. This raises the cost of speaking out in Pakistan. Any politician or public figure would be still more careful and cautious in saying anything that may sound remotely 'liberal' or pro-Western, or be interpreted as heretical and oppositional to Zia-inspired and Taliban-mandated postulates of Islam. After all, nobody wants to be the next Salman Taseer. His insistence that he was a "cultural Muslim", his railing against America, his Holocaust denial — nothing saved him.

Depending on which military strongman comes to rule it and when, Pakistan may or may not become a stable state at some stage in the next five or 10 years. Yet, can it ever become a stable nation, at least one in the conceivable future? A stable nation is built of a middle class that has a stake in it, defines and constructs it in its image, and creates civic spaces to nurture freedom of personal thought and choice. Savaged by the brutalisation of two Afghan wars, both of which injected toxic doses of Islamism into its bloodstream, Pakistan's nation-building project is all but dead. Even if it one day defeats Islamist terrorism, it cannot seriously hope to survive as anything but an Islamist society. That is the poignant truth Salman Taseer has taken to his grave. 






Why does the Bofors corruption scandal keep resurfacing in our national attention? Because it is an unresolved issue involving India's defence preparedness and the corrupt subversion of national interest by foreigners in favoring the purchase of 400 long-range 155 mm guns produced by a Swedish company because of bribes. 

Indians are still patriotic by and large, and are loathe to tolerating any compromise with national security. That is why in every war since 1947 from Kashmir to Kargil in 1999, Indians have risen as one, much to the surprise of our enemies.

Therefore, the Bofors scam will never fade away till the guilty are brought to book. The people instinctively know that it represents corruption in very high places. The key figure in this scam is the Italian family friend, and fixer, of the then young Prime Minister who was introduced to the nation as "Mr Clean". But the hapless inexperienced PM was manipulated by his Italian wife to commit this unforgivable crime against the nation. 

By the time he woke up to it he was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in 1991 by the terrorist and now defunct LTTE. So too was the then Swedish Prime Minister, and his close associate. But the key figure behind the scenes in effecting the deal in 1986 is in power today, and was influential with those in power for most of the period since 1991. 

The Italian fixer and small arms supplier to the LTTE, Ottavio Quattrocchi, who was nailed as the catalyst in the deal by the CBI, in return for a hefty commission, had escaped from India in 1993, then from Malaysia in 2002 via a rigged court judgment obtained by collusion, and from Argentina by the same CBI fudging the records — all achieved under three different and consenting Prime Ministers. 

But like the law of Karma, the scam keeps re-surfacing from one window or another. The latest is the ITAT quasi-judicial order, which under the law cannot be appealed against in the High Court unless it can be proved that a "substantial" law has been violated by the order. There is no such violation. As I see it, the ITAT order therefore holding the Italian fixer guilty and the government of the day as of liars, is final and has to be executed by the government. That means also re-opening the CBI case against the Bofors scam. 

This scam is stuck in Sonia Gandhi's political throat — it was "Q" who got a big slice, and so too the Jamshed Dadachandji-managed "Gandhi Trust" of the family referred to by Martin Ardbo in his diaries (in which Sonia is residual legatee], and the then brother-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, Walter Vinci, who was married to Anushka. He was grafted by Sonia on Rajiv Gandhi's delegation to Sweden on March 26, 1986. This was to ensure that as PM, Rajiv signed the deal — to ensure the March 31, 1986 deadline set by Bofors Co., was met by "Q" to earn his dirty commission via AE Services. Since the deal was consummated, Vinci has bolted with his loot, abandoning Anushka. 

As Union Law & Justice Minister 1990-91, the files sent to me by Prime Minister Chandrashekhar made it obvious that Rajiv was just a facilitator, but nevertheless an unforgivable accessory in the Bofors scam. The real operator however was Sonia, alias Antonia Edvige. 

The principal investigator of the felony in Sweden, the Police Commissioner, in fact later wrote to Defence Minister George Fernandes in the NDA government that it is Sonia, who must be interrogated to get at the truth, but that he was constantly denied access to her by successive Indian governments. George too soon after he called for the files from his Ministry was told: "Is par haath math lagao" (don't touch the Bofor files). So he dropped the matter. 

In a chance(?) meeting in Brussels in late 1990 as Union Commerce Minister, Dr Igor Linderoth, the new Bofors chairman and successor to Martin Ardbo introduced himself to me as a student of the Harvard Business School, and said he remembered me from then. I was told by him that if the Indian government which had already invested `550 crore in joint production of the Bofors gun, went ahead with it, he would give us the list of payments made with bank transfer details, which list was safely kept in a locker in Sweden. 

When I brought this to the attention of Chandrashekhar, he arranged to bring Linderoth to Delhi incognito and a deal was discussed. It required the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) to revoke the blacklisting of Bofors Company. But before we could get the papers ready for that, Rajiv and Chandrashekhar got into a scrap over the Haryana Police surveillance issue. The second Janata government fell on March 12, 1991. 

I also learnt while in Brussels that a fight in early 1986 had erupted between Sonia and the Bofors Company, which was delaying finalisation of the deal and making "Q" nervous. It was over her insistence on getting the 20 per cent commission as a lump sum and up front. The Bofors company said they would give the commissions in installments as the government purchased the installments (of 20 guns per month). 

The matter was resolved by the Hindujas, whose powerful antenna had picked up the details of the fight. They paid her the lump sum and agreed to collect the installments from the Bofors Company, and thus the deal was clinched. Hindujas are technically right when they said in court later that the Bofors payments to them did not constitute a bribe. It was in effect a repayment of a "loan" in installments. Thus began a close friendship of the Hindujas with Rajiv, who earlier in 1985 had cancelled a dinner with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the UK because the invitees list included the Hindujas. That friendship continues today with the residual legatee Sonia as well, and naturally it better! 

What is to be done now? ITAT bench of Tolani and Sharma have done for India on corruption what earlier Justices Jagmohan Lal Sinha and HR Khanna did for the nation's democracy. I am of the view that in the present circumstances we must work with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has a chance to redeem himself to get to the bottom of the scandal. We must give him a chance. In any case, if he does not come through, we can later always prosecute him as an accessory after the fact. 

I suggest therefore the following steps be taken: 

Step. No 1: An Informal Action Committee (IAC) of persons having no past taint on corruption or sleaze or having links to Sonia be constituted to prepare a criminal complaint under the Prevention of Corruption Act, with Sonia Gandhi as the first accused and Quattrocchi as second accused. Other accused can be added later. 

Step No. 2: Before it is filed in a Special CBI Court for taking cognizance under the Act we need to send the complaint to the PM for grant of sanction. 

Step No. 3: If the Lok Pal Bill is enacted in the coming session of Parliament then this complaint can be filed in that institution as well. 

Step No. 4: The IAC can take up the money trail question with the Governments of India, Switzerland, and other safe haven nations.


The writer is president, Janata Party








The New Year eve Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) ruling on an extraordinary tax case brought the Bofors kickback once again to the public stage. And now, following the spate of reports based on the judgment of the quasi-judicial body, coupled with the leakage of the testimony to the CBI by the SPG officer who did duty for Rajiv Gandhi's family show the unique dynamics of India. Truth does prevail, just as the legend on the national emblem states. The wheels of 'Stya' (truth) may move slowly indeed, but it does defy the high and mighty in power. 

Digvijay Singh may fret and fume, but who could have dreamed of the ITAT's coup de grace in a year which saw the unsettling of the great Indian empire of scams? Nobody cared for the ITAT as long as it proceeded with its hearings on a snail's pace. Digvijay, whose ranting over "Hindu terror" was an ill-concealed attempt by his benefactors in 10 Janpath to deflect attention, revealed how frustrated he felt at the failure of his attempt to whip up the "communal" bogey to deflect attention. He literally shed bitter tears at the 'sabotage' — somebody had turned the knife on the Gandhi family by not only bringing forward the day of the ITAT verdict to facilitate the generation of anti-Congress opinion, but had also leaked its contents to the pesky media. 

The leaking of the testimony of Sonia Gandhi's personal security officer Naresh Chandra Gosain clears all doubts on the close relationship between the Quattrocchi and Gandhi families. The frequent visits of the Bofors suspect to 10 Janpath between 1987 and 1993 speak much of the depth of their friendship. On top of that we have Quattrocchi's driver Sasidharan's statement to the CBI which covers the post-Rajiv massacre period right up to the night of the Italian businessman's flight from India. Both testimonies were recorded by the CBI on 1997, but never came up before any court. 

Gosain says, "Mr Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife Maria Quattrocchi were very close to Mr Rajiv Gandhi and Mrs Sonia Gandhi. When Shri Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, Mr Quattrocchi and his family members used to visit the PM house and the family members of Shri Rajiv Gandhi also used to visit the house of Mr Quattrocchi... In the initial period of Prime Ministership of Shri Rajiv Gandhi, the children of Shri Rajiv Gandhi used to stay at Mr Quattrocchi's house during the foreign visits/domestic visits of the Prime Minister. We used to perform our shift duties at the residence of Mr Quattrocchi on such occasions. Sometimes, Mrs Sonia Gandhi has also stayed in the house of Mr Quattrocchi and at that time we used to perform our duties there."

Gosain goes on to add that Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife Maria enjoyed free access to the Prime Minister's house. "At No. 5 & 7 Race Course Road, private cars were not allowed to enter inside the bungalow. Only the ferry cars of SPG used to carry such visitors from reception to porch and back. Mr Quattrocchi and Mrs Maria Quattrocchi were very close to Shri Rajiv Gandhi's family and they got free access to the PM's House… All visitors to No 5 & 7 Race Course Road were issued passes at the reception near the alighting point. Every time a card was kept ready for Mr Quattrocchi and his family members as and when they visited the PM's house. Everybody in SPG posted at the PM house knew Mr Quattrocchi and his family members. Hence, there was no question of identifying them," he adds. 

These hidden truths, kept in the deep freezer of CBI have now come out. No responses have come out from the Congress leaders on this shocking revelation directly hitting the Congress president. 


he role of RTI activists and whistleblower officers always plays a crucial role in bringing out corruption and hidden truths. Facts hidden in government files are now coming to light thanks to the hard work of RTI activists. Judges are nowadays forced to declare their assets because of the patient letter war waged by the famous RTI activist Subhash Agrawal. 

Mumbai's Adarsh flat scam was first brought to light by sustained RTI activism by the Mumbai Citizens' Forum. Battered by RTI queries the UPA government is now trying to change the rules. Amendments are sought to be introduced to limit the number of words on the queries up to 250 and to compel each RTI applicant to just one subject. 

The Pioneer's two-year long battle on 2G Spectrum scandals and blatant corruption of Raja was brought to the limelight with the help of a central government officer who put his conscience before loyalty to a corrupt minister. But the bigger questions still remain on the protection of these bold government staffers. After the snail's pace of finalising and drafting the Whistleblowers Bill, it is now pending before Parliament. 

The credit also goes for the exceptional bureaucrats who are not only honest, but have the spine to resist corruption. One such case is former Central Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha. All the present investigations on the spectrum scam were initiated by his order to the CBI to register the case under the provisions of criminal conspiracy of IPC and provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act. It is a known fact that even the Prime Minister came to know this unexpected move by the CVC on October 2009 through newspapers. That perhaps explains why the government chose a 'not so strong' PJ Thomas to succeed Sinha. 

Other crusaders against corruption are the persons approaching courts through the Public Interest Litigation route. The PILs filed by Prashant Bhushan and Subramanian Swamy always give nightmares to the government of the day. The UPA government, which was sitting smug till the second half of 2010, has been shaken to its foundations by these two fearless crusaders. 

Credit should also go to the new mindset of the judiciary. Judges no longer close ranks to defend a brother Judge — not even a former Chief Justice of India, as the KG Balakrishnan case bears out. It is clear that his sons-in-law could not have accumulated their extraordinary wealth had they not taken advantage of his position of the CJI. Both the sons-in-law were born in poor families but now hold properties worth millions in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Delhi. 

Apart from the judicial activism in exposing corruption, one institution, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), stands supreme. Its Constitutional insulation from the political leadership is the sole energy behind its lily white image. When CAG submitted its report on Bofors in 1988, the Congress was enjoying historic majority with 425 MPs in the Lok Sabha. Today, after 22 years, the Congress' strength is reduced to less than half. But in terms of corruption, it has advanced by leaps and bounds. Understandably, the truth is bursting out and resolving the people's desire to punish the corrupt. 


The writer is Special Correspondent, The Pioneer








The biggest problem with democracies of the world today is the collapse of people's trust in governments because of unprecedented rise in corruption. As the respected group, Transparency International reported recently, nearly 75 per cent of 178 countries surveyed scored below five on a scale of 0 (very corrupt) to 10 (very clean). Experts are warning that the existing state of severe corruption in dozens of nation states means that entire humanity faces a future of instability, violence, poverty and massive environmental failure. Six out of 10 people around the world feel corruption has increased over the past three years, says Transparency International, which went on to note that one in four reported paying bribes in the last year

India is one of those countries where corruption knows no moderation. Up to the 1990s, corruption deals and scams made "news" whenever detected. But after the fodder scam of Bihar, the mindset of people was conditioned to laugh away any loot of public funds worth less than Rs 900 crore as undeserving of their attention. We are paying the price of that folly now. The Commonwealth Games scam is rumoured to be of the order of anything between Rs 20,000 and Rs 80,000 crore. The 2G scam is even bigger — Rs 1.6 lakh crore. The Bofors payoff, which hurt the nation's image and compromised her security, is, thanks to the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal Order's judgment, even bigger because it was worth up to $ 50 million in 1986. 

Can anybody today imagine what $50 million in 1986 translates meant? In those days, if my memory serves me right, a Dollar was worth Rs 17 in India. In rupee terms it translated into Rs 950 crore. That equaled the entire Plan fund for an Indian state in those covering the important sectors of education, health, public engineering, industrial infrastructure, roads, irrigation, etc. 

Today, Rs 950 crore worth of 1986 rupees is easily worth 15-20 times, i.e. between Rs 14,000 and Rs 20,000 crore. How many hundreds of first-class schools with full tuition and accommodation free for a year would it be possible to build with that kind of money in a backward district in the Maoist infested areas of India? 

That amount, combined with the money which went into the pockets of the CWG authorities and the revenues lost thanks to "Spectrum Raja's" sleight of hand for rules, could lead to India attaining the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals in respect of health and sanitation. India's economic transformation since the early 1990s has been without corresponding positive change in social development. The UN has noted India's uneven expansion of social opportunities, with growing disparities across regions, castes, sex and other characteristics. Today, even though the economy is 'growing' at over 9 per cent, every second child in India is malnourished. Less than one-fourth of the rural population has access to proper toilets. And what is most shameful: only four of 10 girls who enroll for schooling complete eight years of formal education.

My question is: does this or doesn't this affect India's Muslims? Can the Congress get away by fooling the Muslims of India that it alone can serve the interests of the religious minorities? The perverse implication is that a Muslim does not care for the nutrition, education and well being of his children. Corruption is the only phenomenon which has secular implications. The money looted by the rulers of India is food snatched from the mouth of a newborn; death caused to a child for want of care in a ramshackle hospital; unemployment for an adult. There are myriad other manifestations of this scourge.

Manmohan Singh is toasted by the genteel folks of India for being the author of India's liberalisation programme. Under him the rich of India have become billionaires. India is 'shining' for those who made the right choice of parents. For the majority of Indians, the post-1991 period has been pure hell. Every necessity of life has gone beyond the reach of the aam admi. The latest government statistics on food inflation says it went up by 18.3 per cent in the Christmas week. The common Indian knows the connection between corruption and food inflation. The Agriculture Minister and his cohorts are making a killing through speculation in food prices. They are allowing essential commodities to be hoarded and exported while the vast majority of India's children are going to bed every night hungry. 

One reads in the papers about the Prime Minister's resolve to get cracking at corruption. That is nothing but a joke. Can he bring Sonia Gandhi before a court of law for her role in protecting the beneficiaries of the Bofors payoff? Of course he cannot. That is why the ordinary people of India have no faith in this government any more. They have begun looking for the right political combine to defeat the UPA in the next election. The Muslims, like their brothers and sisters in other faiths, are keen to see their beloved nation rid of corrupt leaders.

 Editor, Daur-e-Jadeed



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What happens when whitening knights meet our fair lady? Ask a well-known fashion magazine. The glossy featuring reams of dreams hit the headlines for boringly prosaic reasons recently, when it was reported that Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan might look a tad too fair for comfort in its new issue. Confronted with possibilities of having been 'photo-shopped' to a dazzling new complexion (with the underlying hint that she wasn't perfect to begin with), the star is apparently none too pleased, supposedly considering clanging on the bells of justice if the allegations prove true. What a to-do. Instead of fixating on crucial matters like her hairdo, readers will now pore over the mag only to see if Ash looks a little more ashen than usual.

But even as the legal eagles rub their hands with glee, it's time to lighten up a little, folks! Why grudge anyone the chance to change an appearance (preferably of course, their own, but even someone else's)? Doesn't the global cosmetics industry run on the truth that sweet sayings aside, beauty is very much skin-deep? To change what the Lord gave into something much nicer? To evolve from residents of caves into those of condominiums who wax?

It doesn't stop at wax; there's quite a bit of polish involved. All those foundations, powders and concealers that slick smoothly onto millions of skins every day whisper seductively, "Here i am, and there you go, here's brand new you!" The cosmetics are one part catering to your child-like enthusiasm for colours (except the canvas to experiment shifts from your parents' walls to yourself). The other part is creams catering to your dread of ageing, which, using gold, silver, carrots, sticks, even nuclear technology, promises to bash up those lines on your face, restoring you overnight to sweet sixteen. We love it. And we buy it.

Women aren't the only suckers...sorry, 'dreamers' the beauty industry targets. Ask any man seeking a potion to make him a sohna munda with snowy skin. Even Bollywood's badshah, Shah Rukh Khan, understands. That's why he tenderly endorses creams that take your skin in their hands and turn things around forever. Racism, some shout. It's colour preference, fair over dark, white over black. But the beauty industry is too mixed-up to be anything except grey.

A brouhaha erupted when German supermodel Claudia Schiffer slapped on dark foundation and donned a black afro over her pale hair. Racism, shouted the kill-joys. Fun, say we. That's why the Japanese dye their hair blonde, the Europeans spend years tanning and the Indians slap on the talcum. It's all about chasing what you don't have. Buying what Mother Nature and Father Christmas didn't gift you. Righting the wrongs of the past. Who can grudge you that? The doubts, expense and bother are because you're worth it. And they'll never let you forget that. Ash should feel so flattered. She's fair. And everyone's lovely.







On May 4, 1919, 3,000 students marched through the centre of Beijing to protest against the weakness of their country, an iconic event still known today as the "May Fourth Movement". Many of those students were enrolled at Peking University, the Chinese capital's finest seat of learning, whose president was a scholar named Cai Yuanpei. Cai was wedded to the idea of a university as a place that provided "education for a worldview": not just instruction, but a whole new way of seeing and being.

More than nine decades later, that same university, along with its great counterparts such as Tsinghua (the MIT or indeed IIT of China), is central to the worldview of the Chinese Communist Party. But the party's view is very different from that of Cai Yuanpei. For the party's plan is that universities should be powerhouses in their strategy for China to move from a country that imitates to one that innovates in science and technology. Much of the "software" is already there: China already graduates some two million engineers and scientists a year.

Authoritarian societies can produce high quality science. In the 1950s, the USSR gave the Americans a real fright when they launched Sputnik, sent the first man into space, and showed that Soviet technology had the potential to beat the West. Today, as funding for science in the West falls victim to budget cuts and government spending restraints, the Chinese are now at the cutting edge of technology in many areas. Chinese work on solar energy is widely regarded as world-beating. The Chinese space programme has already produced its first astronauts, and few would be surprised if China were to place a man or woman on the moon within the next decade.

Furthermore, the Chinese are placing their (considerable) financial reserves where their rhetoric is. While the British government, for instance, has cut total university spending this year, Chinese annual spending on research and development in universities and other institutions exceeds that of Japan and is beaten only by the EU and US. The authorities have also sought to clean up the nature of Chinese academic culture. Many journals which publish shoddy or plagiarised work will be shut down. Many other journals have begun to publish in English, on the grounds that this is the only significant international scientific language. For the next few years, then, there is no reason that Chinese scientific research should not forge ahead even while freedom of discussion on political matters remains restricted.

However, the lessons of the USSR and other non-democratic societies are not so favourable to China when it comes to a longer-term attempt to create a world-leading scientific culture at the same time as maintaining severe restrictions on freedom of speech. Academic debate does not exist in a different universe from the wider social conversation. The best illustration of this is another Soviet example, the biologist Trofim Lysenko, who was favoured by Stalin and given a stranglehold over the field of genetics in the USSR of the 1950s, forcing colleagues and competitors to publish work that was scientifically spurious simply because it fitted Lysenko's political beliefs. The Soviets may have forged ahead in space, but political repression hobbled them for decades in genetics.

Of course, China today is much freer than the USSR of the 1950s. But there are large areas of academic discussion that remain simply out of contention for debate. Departments of political science outside the Chinese mainland debate whether there will be an end to the dominance of the Communist Party rule in China, or the reasons for the uprising and deaths at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Such topics are forbidden for their colleagues in China itself. Nor can their colleagues in history departments give the full details of events such as the Great Leap Forward famine of 1958-61, which killed some 20 million people. And in the longer term, it will be hard for the party to allow free research into hard sciences while restricting social science research into areas that are politically embarrassing.

For scientists know that they do not operate in a vacuum. To work in an institution which is known for restricting freedom of academic expression will, ultimately, be problematic for a scholar's standing. Few scientists of repute, after all, would choose to work at a US college run by fundamentalists who deny evolution, however significant the funding they are offered. And science knows no boundaries; the best laboratories recruit their staff from around the world. The party will need to realise that to recruit and retain scientists at the highest international level, it must offer not only money, but an environment for research and thought that will have credibility with the research community around the world. And this will mean that, inevitably, more space will have to open for public discussion of change in politics and society, fully informed by thinkers who can speak freely about their own country.

This is, in the end, something that the greatest Chinese educators have always understood. It is a very Confucian, not western, idea that the ability to think well has positive effects for all of society, not just a restricted part of it. Cai Yuanpei knew that.

The writer is professor, history and politics of modern China, Oxford University.







When he was 16 years old, Sachin Tendulkar had said that he would never endorse a liquor brand. Others might or might not remember it, but the cricketing legend himself certainly does. And that's why he's turned down a Rs 20 crore offer - not exactly chump change even for someone as wealthy as him - to endorse a liquor brand. He's not alone in taking a principled stand on such issues. Actor Sanjay Dutt has refused to endorse a cigarette brand while other actors and sports personalities have also drawn red lines when it comes to endorsements for tobacco products, liquor, gutka and the like. And by thus safeguarding how their images are used, these people are taking sensible, responsible decisions.

The crucial point to consider here is that people such as these are not simply accomplished professionals in their chosen fields. This is a country where sports heroes and movie stars are idolised. They are role models with larger-than-life personas and public images. Like it or not, what these personalities do and say has an inordinate influence on large segments of their fans, many of whom might not be old enough to have developed firm perspectives and personal codes. Given this, it is a socially and ethically responsible act to refuse to endorse products that might have adverse effects - health or otherwise - on impressionable fans.

There's another good reason why celebrities shouldn't simply barter their public image to the highest bidder, without thinking through the implications. Peddling harmful products or unethical causes just for the money, can affect their brand value. It's only to be expected, therefore, that some of these stars wish to stay away from products that might shape their images - and by extension, the public's perception of who they are in their private lives - in a way they would not want.







Unpacking the herd mentality of the bevy of stars who have jumped on Sachin Tendulkar's bandwagon reveals a crude and simplistic approach, compounded by its false moralism. The point is not just why one should object if an individual wants to make a bit of money from endorsing a product that's perfectly legal. It's also that behind the near universal endorsement of Sachin's conduct lurks a thinly veiled finger wagging away at those who might do anything 'wrong'. But right and wrong are contestable. While drinking to oblivion obviously is not healthy, are we to condemn everyone who might enjoy a drink? What is required is a sense of nuance and this seems to elude celebrities.

It is laughable when Sanjay Dutt, an actor infamous for his entanglements with the law, chooses to become an example for something as relatively innocuous as not smoking. And what of the kind of goons and mafia dons that Dutt and other celebrity actors play on screen? If we argue in such cases that the audience is mature enough to distinguish between Dutt the person and the roles he plays, surely it's also adult enough to distinguish between a celebrity model and the products he endorses.

It's obviously up to each celebrity to decide what products he endorses. But when they turn moralistic about their choice, glaring inconsistencies show up. Sachin, for example, endorsed Pepsi Cola in the 'dil maange more' series, and is reported to have signed a Rs 20 crore deal with Coca-Cola. It's well documented that a high intake of sugary cola drinks is detrimental to health, which is why colas and other junk food are often banned from school premises. While liquor is sold only to adults who can make responsible choices, colas are guzzled by children who are open to suggestion. So, whatever happened to ethics in this case?









If ever there was a report that tries to be all things to all people and ends up pleasing no one, it is the one filed by the Srikrishna Committee on the contentious Telangana issue. While the underlying theme of the report is to have a unified Andhra Pradesh and possible Union Territory status for the state capital Hyderabad, it appears dead in the water from day one. The report has recommended several permutations and combinations, none of which have pleased the prime agitator, the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS), which is adamant on a separate Telangana state with Hyderabad as its capital. As things stand now, the TRS will not be able to go it alone on the Telangana issue. Since getting the Congress on board is not an option, the logically ally would be the BJP. The Opposition party has already weighed in on the side of creating Telangana but with no roadmap as to how this can be done or how the controversial issue of Hyderabad can be settled.


What is worrying is that BJP president Nitin Gadkari has already threatened to stall the budget session of Parliament if a Bill for the creation of a separate state is not introduced. This, along with the other issues that Mr Gadkari's party has been using to derail Parliament, can only cause further disillusionment with a seemingly cynical political class. But for the moment, the Congress is on the backfoot. If it agrees to create Telangana, it loses massively in other parts of the state such as Rayalaseema that oppose any division of the state. The Congress is already on shaky ground in this area with Jaganmohan Reddy, son of the late Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajashekhara Reddy, challenging it. With Jaganmohan, who is riding on a wave of sympathy for his immensely popular father, gaining ground, the Congress looks unable to hold its own flock together in the state, leave alone tackle a belligerent BJP or the TRS.


Where the Srikrishna report makes a valid point is that a separate Telangana could become fertile ground for increased Maoist activity. This could have severe implications that have been overlooked in this explosive political atmosphere. Since it is clear now that the solution has to be political, it is incumbent on all the political parties concerned to sit across the table and hammer out a viable solution. Too many young people have already died over this issue in the last round of agitations. The Srikrishna report may be disappointing but it would be worth the time and money spent on it if it forms a starting point for an all-party discussion.








The arrest of a Gurgaon businessman for abusing his servant, an eight-year-old boy, should have brought with it some debate on the status and treatment of domestic workers in urban India. It did not. Predictably, the issue was ignored by most mainstream media as a page three snippet. Equally


predictably, the businessman was out on bail in a matter of hours, despite the twin allegations of physical abuse and the hiring of a minor child.


Perhaps hiring little children, beating them up, denying them food, making them live in the most appalling conditions is more widespread than we would like to believe. But we don't know. We don't know because we don't talk about it. We acknowledge that our lives will be impossibly hard, if not impossible, without servants. But for most middle class Indians, domestic workers are the silent majority who sweep, clean, dust, cook and drive. They live in our homes, but within tightly drawn boundaries, observing social lines that must never be crossed. The cook in the kitchen will at short notice whip up a meal for unexpected guests, but will only eat leftovers. The maid will make the beds, never lie on them.


There are an estimated 60,000 domestic workers employed in Delhi. Many come from impoverished states. Most have left their families behind. If they're lucky they will meet them once a year on their annual vacation. Almost none receive minimum wages as stipulated by law though many employers will argue that the shortfall is made up in kind — meals and cast-off clothes, for instance. The best employers will allow a weekly off, a generous Diwali bonus or an interest-free loan for a daughter's marriage. The worst? As the arrest of the Gurgaon businessman shows, there is no worst. If you missed the sordid details: someone saw the businessman's wife kicking her child employee and took a surreptitious film. The visuals were then sent to television networks where they were aired. The child was rescued a few hours later and told the police that the businessman had also let his dog loose on him. He had scars as evidence.


Despite the obvious intimacy of the relationship, the relationship between employer and employee remains fraught with suspicion. Police constantly remind you to verify staff. In most households, cupboards are locked. This is not to imply that opportunistic crimes by domestic workers don't happen. Rifling through loose change, siphoning off petrol, eating a piece of forbidden fruit are some of the smaller misdemeanours that most employers turn a blind eye to. But sometimes disparities are so obvious and inequities so wide that they will lead to real tragedy — the murder of an elderly employer or large-scale theft.


These are rare but because these are played out so prominently in the press, it seems like all domestic workers are potential murderers. Worse, the more prevalent abuse of domestics goes ignored. It's only when a Shiney Ahuja is accused of raping his maid (a charge that was later withdrawn), that the issue gets full play, and even then the larger issue — the sexual exploitation of women domestic workers — passes us by.


Yet, when a crime occurs, it's almost invariably the servant who is the prime suspect. The first suspect in the murder of Aarushi Talwar was the family servant, Hemraj Banjade. When his body turned up, rather inconveniently for the police, on the terrace of the same building where the Talwars lived, the story had to be quickly changed. The father did it, said the police. The motive? An inappropriate relationship between Hemraj and Aarushi. The CBI closure report once again points suspicion on the father, a suggestion that is angrily denied by him.


In a country where rural poverty is endemic and middle class aspiration rising, domestic help will never be difficult to get. Yet, as India's social landscape undergoes a transformation, we need to acknowledge the complexities of our relationship with those who help us around the house. Starting by seeing them as human beings, worthy of respect and attention wouldn't be a bad place to begin.


Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer n The views expressed by the author are personal







In all the anxiety about Andhra Pradesh, the angst over the corruption churn and the concern over the possible unravelling of our violence-ridden neighbour, we have, it seems, forgotten all about Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Or perhaps — and this may be why things end up where they do — we only pay


attention to the state in moments of crisis. But, almost on the quiet, something deeply significant happened in the state this past week.


There was, for the first time, an admission by a Kashmiri separatist leader of a truth that previously could not — or would not — be spoken. In a startlingly frank moment, Hurriyat representative, Abdul Ghani Bhat, the maverick politician who once taught Persian, conceded that two key assassinations of separatist leaders were the brainchild of men within their own ranks. For Kashmir watchers, the import of this utterance was not its content per se (known already to many over the decades) but that it was said at all, and said out loud.


Both the senior Mirwaiz and, more recently, Abdul Gani Lone, Bhat said, were killed not by the army or the police or any other security agency, but "by our own people". Then he added in his characteristically twisty turn of phrase that it was time to free the Kashmiri people from "sentimentalism bordering on insanity" by speaking the truth. We forget that insurgencies are often rooted not just in history, the alienation of ordinary people and omissions of justice — but also in the power of the popular narrative. And here, after two decades of unrest in the Valley, the narrative, as it has been constructed over the years, was being challenged.


I still remember the exact moment in May 2002 when Lone was killed. Ironically, it was at a rally in the Eidgah grounds of Srinagar to commemorate the death anniversary of the senior Mirwaiz who had been murdered in 1991. I was standing along with other journalists at the base of the dais, expecting the proceedings of the day to be routine and unremarkable. Suddenly, towards the end of the ceremony, in the blink of an eye, two gunmen emerged from within the crowd, charged towards the stage and shot Lone with brutal precision.


As people dispersed in panic, the gunmen disappeared into the maze-like bylanes of downtown Srinagar, never to be found or identified. This was Srinagar in the era before mobile phone connectivity, and I ran down the deserted streets, desperate to find a phone booth to relay the news back home. This was a watershed in the state's troubled history. It was clear, even then, that the 70-year-old Lone had been assassinated because he had been publically supporting a dialogue process and condemning violence as a means of protest.


Later that night, I remember meeting his emotionally overwrought son Sajad who, unmindful of the consequences, shrugged off the restraint being urged by the flood of mourners at his house and blamed Pakistan's Inter-State Intelligence (ISI) and rival leaders of the Hurriyat conference for the fact that his father was dead. The next morning, possibly reeling from the violent backlash his bluntness generated, he retracted his comments and, in an interview to me, said the remarks were an "emotional outburst." But in the same interview he said his father had been murdered by an "ugly convergence of interests" and it could be the work of "any agency, either from India or Pakistan." Today, after Bhat's admission, he is urging an end to what he has called "half-truths" saying that the people have a "right to know who killed whom".


Indeed. Now, how should we react to the new willingness to call a spade a spade?


It would be utterly short-sighted for New Delhi to respond with a gloating, we-told-you-so smugness. The hardline narrative on J&K questions the liberal media's nomenclature of 'moderate separatists'. But the truth is that at every stage those separatists who have spoken in favour of reconciliation have paid with their lives. Think of Fazl Haq Qureshi who went from being an architect of the azadi platform to an architect of a state's search for peace. He brokered the first and only dialogue between the government and the Hizbul Mujahideen in 2000. More recently, as he revived his attempts at a dialogue process, an assassin's bullet tore open his skull.


As unpalatable as the sentiment of secessionism may be to strategists in New Delhi, there has to be recognition of the risks being taken by those within the separatist ranks who are engaging with the truth. In fact, if you chronicle the state's history, every time governments have failed to engage with the more moderate voices in the Valley, the radicals have become emboldened to hijack the agenda.


We must also pause to reflect on the relative quiet in the state since the summer of unrest last year. The media's commentary on J&K cannot be restricted to happily hauling chief minister Omar Abdullah over the coals when the chips are down, but looking the other way in disinterested silence when things are comparatively better. Doesn't the changed environment need acknowledgment, comment and, yes, debate as well? And no, not because a political problem can be solved by tourists or trade — it absolutely cannot — but because the truth comes in many, ever-evolving shades, and it is our job to reflect all the colours, not just the ones that fit in with our prejudices.


Finally, remember Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece- Rashomon on the nature of truth? The film depicted how one crime was recounted in widely contradictory ways by different witnesses. "We all want to forget something, so we tell stories," says one character. That may be true, for all sides, across the divide, in Kashmir.


Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV n The views expressed by the author are





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

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

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

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

India Express






What makes for a great Test series? Unquestionable greats at their best — Tendulkar, Kallis. A fire-breathing fast bowler running through a line-up — Dale Steyn. Two teams at the peak of their powers, the best in the world, one with a reputation to defend, the other with a bastion to storm. And, to demonstrate what sets Test cricket apart — a well-fought last day in which great batsmen showed that under-glorified aspect of their brilliance, an unwearied, unhurried patience.


Any other contest could well have been overshadowed by the pomp and glory of the Ashes an ocean away. But not this one. This had every marker that one could want. Sachin's 51, of course. But even Rahul Dravid, going through a patch of middling form and worse luck, sailed with customary quietude through two enormous milestones: the first man in Test history to 200 catches, and the third batsman to 12,000 runs. Fittingly, his South African counterpart in determination and defence, Jacques Kallis, ended the series at 11,947, and with the chorus declaring him the finest all-rounder in memory growing ever louder. And it revealed to an Indian audience the truth behind the murmurs about Dale Steyn, the truth that his stunning bowling average — hovering around 23, unmatched by any other quick in world cricket today, with Zaheer next at 30 — could only imperfectly convey.


Perhaps no other batting line-up in world cricket could have withstood Steyn and Morkel steaming in on their home pitches. And Dhoni's feared, courageous chasers surely saved this series because they've won so many Tests chasing big targets. When cricket's best teams play thus, it shows why Test cricket is in such rude health. If only, if only, there were two more to play.







The Indian armed forces have spent all the funds allocated in the defence budget for fiscal 2010-11, and asked for more. This hadn't happened in more than a decade as reported in The Financial Express on Friday. In fact, the state of affairs in our armed forces had come to be defined by large sums returned unspent each fiscal, with military modernisation seriously jeopardised in the process. The inability to purchase the necessary force multipliers, to optimise on time and costs as well as indigenise, had begun eroding the conventional edge the Indian armed forces have had in the subcontinent.


This prolonged stasis in defence procurement was a political failure. The current sentinels at the defence ministry and the UPA government had seemed so scared of an arms purchase scandal that they steadfastly refused to budge on procurement at the slightest hint of controversy. So many trials and tenders had fallen prey to this fear. The result was an armed forces undermined as an institution and beginning to resemble the average sarkari "department". Therefore, it's a healthy surprise that the defence ministry has asked for an upward revision of both capital and revenue expenditure estimates. Although this may not mean a full-fledged course correction and making up for lost time, there are substantial goods that have exhausted most of the defence budget — Fifth Generation fighter aircraft from Russia, C-130 J heavy lift aircraft and C-17 aircraft from the US, Advanced Jet Trainer Hawk from the UK's BAE Systems, and Russian collaboration on developing military transport aircraft.


India's list of military necessities include new guns — the artillery hasn't ordered any since the late 1980s; air-defence missiles to protect our naval assets; and fighter aircraft — with the air force having seen a drastic fall in squadron numbers. Without the capability of a sharp and rapid conventional response, our regional diplomacy will be off-balance. This truth holds despite the popular belief in nuclear deterrence as the ensurer of regional peace. Nevertheless, this news is only about spending. We need still greater policy clarity on defence production and procurement.







It is now more than a year since the Centre capitulated to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi's passive-aggressive tactics of political blackmail and, out of the blue, accepted the rationale for separate statehood. In acceding to TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao's pressure, intensified by an 11-day fast and weeks of student protests, it disoriented the long, and often reasoned, struggle for the idea of Telangana into an immediate play for political stakes in Andhra Pradesh. Ever since that night in December 2009, AP has been on edge. In the expectation that something would give, political parties for the past year have been positioning themselves for gain in any regional polarisation — thereby abandoning the sobriety needed to respond responsibly to regional aspirations. The Srikrishna Committee now provides an opportunity to step back from this year-long politics of immediacy and look for solutions on the basis of consultation and administrative reason.


In a carefully crafted report, the committee lays out the options on responding to Andhra's sub-regional aspirations. It lists the six options available, ranging from a united Andhra with a statutorily empowered Telangana Regional Council, to bifurcation, to simply maintaining status quo. And while it is straightforward in recommending the first option, the committee's valuable contribution is to meticulously detail the framework in which political consultation and administrative responses need to be made. It is now up to political parties to rise to the occasion and junk the kind of competitive anxieties on display in the past year. The report gives them a tool to proceed on the basis of argument, not rhetoric.


The Srikrishna panel has taken stock of the development indicators of Telangana, Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra Pradesh. It finds little here to show the relative backwardness of Telangana, even when Hyderabad is excluded. But sub-regional aspirations are often less about specific grievances than about a perception of having been denied certain aspirations — and Telangana, with a decades-old history of protests fuelled by cultural grievance, needs an administrative solution. It is for the Centre and the state government to investigate enlightened ways of breaking out of the current zero-sum politics and investigating the committee's idea of a united Andhra with special constitutional/ statutory measures for Telangana. In addition, the inordinate emphasis on Hyderabad's status in the six options is revealing. In the popular estimation cities are integral to individual aspiration and collective progress. It's a reminder that not just Andhra, but India as a whole needs to invest better and more coherently in upgrading existing cities and building new ones.








The number of obituaries written ruing the terrible loss of Salman Taseer tells how popular he was among his fellow liberals on both sides of the border. In his death Pakistan has lost one of its most articulate, modern and fearless liberal leaders. But as somebody who knew Salman more than a bit, particularly in his street-fighting years (and my pavement-thumping years as a reporter), I am surprised by how little is said of him as a genuine Pakistani patriot and a proud Muslim. Also, while he had the Pakistani liberal's usual respect for India's democracy, his belief in the two-nation theory, the ideology of Pakistan was unshakeable. He would pamper silly a friend visiting from India — but if you as much as mentioned Kashmir, he would pounce on it as if somebody had bowled one short outside Inzamam ul-Haq's off-stump.


By merely remembering him as a Pakistani liberal, as if that would disqualify one from being a staunch Pakistani nationalist and Muslim, we are not only being unfair to a most fascinating, brave and charming politician, but also missing a most significant and scary developing story in Pakistan. Pakistani anti-Indianism can broadly be divided into two categories. One is its liberal elite's intellectual dislike/ suspicion/ distrust of India based purely on our contrasting national ideologies, further coloured by an almost unanimously shared outrage over the "injustice" in Kashmir. The other stream is more simplistic, represented by some in the religious right, particularly in Pakistani Punjab, who detest India on purely religious grounds: "How seriously can you take a country run by infidels?" Until a decade ago, this was a tiny minority you could ridicule or ignore. It is no longer so. And Taseer's death has further shifted the balance in favour of these India-hating lunatics, and weakened those not exactly friends of India, the more rational, India-baiting, modern Pakistani nationalists.


This fundamental complexity in Pakistan needs some explaining. Just being a liberal in Pakistan does not mean being pro-India. Jinnah, for example, has been the most liberal Pakistani leader so far. You wouldn't call him pro-India. The original Pakistani distrust — even fear and hatred — of India has been rooted in its new nationalism that Jinnah founded. The English-speaking Pakistani military-bureaucratic-political-intellectual leadership may have viewed India as a rival, a threat, an expansionist, arrogant, militaristic hegemon, whatever. But all this was rooted entirely in their own faith in the two-nation theory and Jinnah's idea of nationhood as against that of Nehru's India. For the first 50 years since Partition, this was the dominant — in fact mostly the only — anti-Indianism. Sometimes we merely argued with it intellectually, and sometimes we fought wars. But even our wars were fought quite cleanly, not like communal riots. Since this phenomenon was more about competitive nationalism, there was also a cute, sort of sporty side to it, laced with nostalgia, and even some shared ideals. At the extreme right of this "Ideology of Pakistan" were those that questioned the legitimacy of the Indian state and believed in its ultimate self-destruction, thinking it too unwieldy, large, diverse or chaotic to survive. Taseer, actually, belonged to the very left of this nationalistic stream.


The other thought is the one we earlier laughed at; for these five decades it was only believed by a small group of right-wing clerics or the extreme right-wingers in the Pakistani army (mostly of lower ranks). They believed that India was not just an unviable or unmanageable state, but an immoral, illegitimate and even an infidel one. Their dislike for India was pure hatred, and their belief in the "inevitability" of "Hindu" India's destruction was rooted in faith. How could a country of India's size be run successfully by infidels? For far too long this was such a marginal view that it was seen as good comic relief by policy-making elites on both sides. That is why, when a prominent Pakistani cleric declared in a public speech that he was leading a jihad that would unfurl the green flag of Islam on Delhi's Red Fort, the late S.K. Singh, then our high commissioner in Islamabad, made a (very gently) mocking statement that Maulana Sahib was most welcome to visit India and should he come to his mission for a visa, he would be welcomed with folded hands, a bouquet and a fruit-basket. You cannot laugh it away in the same manner now when the cleric says something similar now.


Let's try to simplify it further. In the older, gentler and more reasonable, ideological nationalist view, Kashmir was, and is, the "core" issue between our two countries. You settle this, and we can live peacefully, even like the US and Canada. For the now rising wave of Islamic nationalists, Kashmir is merely a small symptom: the very existence of India, or to put it more brutally, and correctly, "Hindu" India is the problem.


You can no longer dismiss these people as mere nutcases. This last post-9/11 decade has seen this lunatic, religious and fundamentalist version of Islamic nationalism increasingly marginalise the modern nationalists. It started slowly with Zia-ul-Haq's infiltration of Pakistan's institutions with the religious right. In fact, Pakistani writer Shuja Nawaz describes this lot of recruits to the Pakistan army as "Zia bharti" in his brilliant Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within. They have also spread into the ISI and have nonchalantly run rogue operations in India — including, as is now becoming clearer, 26/11. You will also find their fingerprints on the first (post-Babri) serial bombings in Mumbai in 1993. Salman's death is one more shot, their biggest victory after Benazir's. It will stun the modern nationalists. It will further shake the elected government's already minimal resolve to take on the violent right. And it will narrow India's options and ideas on how to respond to this new reality in Pakistan.


Postscript: Here is my favourite Salman Taseer story. Sometime in 1993, I took him out to lunch on one of his visits to Delhi, and we talked the usual stuff for a couple of hours. He came back with me to my office (at India Today) for some more gossip, and as we were climbing the narrow Connaught Place steps to the second floor, he asked me what would be the problem if a plebiscite was held and the Kashmiris opted for Pakistan. I said, it would be a mortal blow to the secular nationalism we are building as, thereon, all other Muslims will be seen as suspect, and may even be victimised. His jaw tightened, he made a mock gesture to roll up his sleeve, and said, "if you victimise your Muslims, you think the 14 crore Muslims of Pakistan will sit like cowards and do nothing?" (His exact expression: "Hum 14 crore Pakistani Mussalman bhi chudiya pehen ke nahin baithe rahenge.") Now how would you describe Salman? In my book, a liberal Pakistani nationalist, a proud Muslim, and of course so bluntly Punjabi.








The internal conflict within the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), the largest party in the constituent assembly, is no longer a secret. But what defied political speculation was party chief Prachanda's last-minute reluctance to take disciplinary action against his senior colleague Baburam Bhattarai and his supporters. Bhattarai, through a note of dissent in the party's central committee meeting, said that toeing Prachanda's political line — a mass revolt for power capture and treating India as the party's principal enemy — would endanger the country's independence.


No doubt, there is speculation in Nepal, and perhaps in the international arena, on whether Nepal will hold together. There are clear political and social divides along ethnic and caste lines. But Bhattarai's dissenting note hardly admits his party has made a mistake in promoting ethnicity-based governance and federalism, or in going for undeclared alliance with various church-backed groups while declaring Nepal a secular country instead of the "Hindu nation" status it earlier had constitutionally.


Declaring India an enemy by a political party, and a faction within it opposing that line, will not necessarily have consequences for India or for Nepal as there are other crucial factors that determine and dictate the bilateral relationship. And in that context whether Bhattarai should be treated differently from Prachanda will ultimately have to be decided by his actions, and not words alone. He will be judged on whether he will work for democracy without violence, or whether he will still go for a people's republic that he's advocated more vigorously than Prachanda himself did during the past four years of the peace process.


As the United Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) prepares to depart any time after a week from now, without a settlement on the issue of the integration of Maoist combatants and on their arms, what happens after its exit remains a big question, especially because the parties in the peace process have failed to work out a clear mechanism. The UCPN-M believes India would want to fill the vacuum that the UNMIN's departure would create.


Almost coinciding with the UNMIN's impending exit, India is suddenly exhibiting heightened concern about Nepal's affairs. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's forthcoming visit is likely to be followed by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's. A 20-member contingent of Nepali parties — including those that do not see eye to eye — left for Delhi on January 5 to participate in track two talks on the way forward for Nepal, but Nepal's constitution-making and peace processes perhaps cannot be retrieved so easily.


One question that Indian authorities of late have been asking the Nepali side in formal and informal gatherings is: what can India do to bring the peace process on track? But an honest way out would be hard to find unless India admits it's been involved in each and every crucial phase of Nepal's peace process — from authoring the 12-point programme in November 2005, to bringing Maoists and the other Nepali parties together and ending the monarchy.


India also needs to assure the international community as well as Nepalis that the interest it showed and the role it played in Nepal were in good faith. After all, it was India that had convinced the international community of the Maoists' commitment to peace and democracy.


With the peace and constitution-making processes more uncertain than ever before, Nepal's politics is showing early signs of a three-way polarisation. First: ultra-left groups from various communist parties, mainly the Maoists, are preparing to regroup with the plea, "Give us power or we will snatch it anyway." Second: some anti-Maoist groups in the ruling alliance are mooting this idea and President Rambaran Yadav has not turned it down completely, that as there is no possibility of forming the government and conducting its business as per the norms of the interim constitution, let the Nepal army back the president as head of the executive so that any possible armed rebellions may be crushed.


Third: as the post-2006 politics has failed and chances of the new constitution being delivered within the extended deadline of May 28, 2011, appear almost impossible and the coalition for peace and the new constitution stands almost fragmented, conventional forces are fast regrouping to seek a revival of the constitution of 1991 that favoured constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy. There are demands that a round-table conference of all political parties, and including the former king, Gyanendra, be called to find a way out of the current impasse. Incidentally, it was former Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai, the lone surviving founding member of the Nepali Congress, who first demanded the revival of the 1991 constitution "to save the country from disintegration" and outside diktats.


Of course, such a tussle among different political forces, if sorted out democratically with the people's mandate, could consolidate democracy. But that's a big if.








After a murder


Punjab Governor Salman Taseer's assassin, who surrendered immediately after shooting him on January 4, was produced in court the next day. Dawn reported: "The accused killer... was transported in a blue armoured police vehicle for a court appearance. Some people screamed 'Allahu Akbar' (God is great) as he entered the court. Others threw rose petals and clapped. Three hundred lawyers told a court they were willing to defend the member of the elite police force free of charge." Daily Times added: "Religious parties... seemed united in protecting Taseer's assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri... Maulana Raghib Naeemi told Daily Times that anarchy would increase in society if some one tried to amend the blasphemy law. 'It is a principled decision of the Mahaz to support Qadri,' Naeemi categorically stated. Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer, Syed Munawar Hassan, justified Qadri's act, saying Salmaan Taseer himself had to be blamed for his fate."


The News reported on January 6 that PML-N leaders were conspicuous by their absence at Taseer's funeral. "The funeral prayers of Salmaan Taseer were attended by a large number of leaders of various political parties. However, no prominent leader from the PML-N attended the funeral. Only two provincial ministers, Malik Nadeem Kamran and Ahsanuddin Qureshi, represented the chief minister and PML-N." It was reported Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif was advised by his party against attending the funeral to avoid any unpleasant run-in with PPP workers who were enraged by the assassination.


Unstable Islamabad


Pakistan's federal government, meanwhile, was rocked by the formal withdrawal of a coalition partner, the Karachi-based MQM — which was followed swiftly and startlingly by the reversal of the decision.


The saga began, as Daily Times reported on January, with "the MQM... [throwing] the government off balance by announcing its decision to sit on the opposition benches in the Senate and the National Assembly." The News added: "The dramatic move came after the party leadership held talks with President Asif Zardari in Karachi. The MQM cited the recent hike in petroleum products and non-seriousness of the government to remove its concerns as the major reasons for withdrawing support..." The MQM also opposes new taxes like the reformed general sales tax and insists agriculture tax be levied only on large-scale farmers. Immediately after the MQM in Karachi announced withdrawal of parliamentary support, its London-based chief, Altaf Hussain dialled MQM's opposition partners in Pakistan to "discuss the overall political situation," reported Dawn.


Not to be left out, former president Pervez Musharraf said his newly formed party, APML was prepared for possible early elections, reported Daily Times: "'A little more time would be useful as we are a new party... I must return (to Pakistan) well before the next elections, whenever that may be'."


Sensing danger, PM Yousaf Raza Gilani came to his rescue and that of his government, reported Daily Times. "PM Gilani has said that the government is going nowhere and that it will continue no matter what... Gilani said he did not see any political crisis in the country pertaining to the


government, adding that he is not in favour of horse trading, or making forward blocs. 'I was unanimously elected as PM, therefore I expect support from all,' he said, adding the government had good terms with PML-N chief


Nawaz Sharif."


PML-N's ultimatum to the PPP came soon after Taseer's assassination, reported Daily Times on January 5: "The PML-N... gave the government a three-day ultimatum (starting after the three-day mourning of the Punjab governor) to accept a 12-point 'charter of demands' if it wanted to avert its possible collapse... in parliament... Nawaz said the government must reverse the price hike, cut government expenditures by 30 per cent and implement a series of court verdicts against ruling party officials for corruption."


In a surprise move, the MQM revised its decision to quit the government, reported The News on January 7: "PM Yousuf Raza Gilani was accorded a warm welcome upon his arrival at the MQM headquarters... after behind-the-door contacts proved fruitful... The PPP's estranged ally... in a late night meeting decided to come back to the fold if Gilani took concrete steps to remove its reservations... It was decided to rejoin the coalition government and not let the premier return empty-handed."







When President Obama hosts the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, in Washington later this month, North Korea is certain to be high on the agenda. But as in the past, Beijing is likely to use its leverage with Pyongyang only if a major


war threatens.


Two standard explanations are generally offered to explain why China is reluctant to put pressure on North Korea, whether the issue is nuclear weapons, the sinking of a South Korean Navy vessel, or the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island: China's fear of instability if North Korea implodes, with the resulting massive flow of refugees across its borders, and China's appetite for North Korea's vast reserves of iron ore, magnesite, copper and other minerals.


Both of these explanations are valid and important. But more basic geostrategic factors, as well as latent separatism among ethnic Koreans in China's border region, are also behind its approach to the Korean peninsula.


China does not want Korea to be reunified under a South Korean regime allied militarily with the United States, and therefore wants the survival of a pro-Beijing regime in Pyongyang. This was obvious when Beijing was aligned against Washington during the Cold War, but the Chinese desire to keep Pyongyang afloat has increased in recent years as a result of broader conflicts with Washington throughout East Asia, including US ties with Taiwan and US opposition to Chinese seabed claims.


A more immediate factor in China's strategic calculus is that it hopes to get access to the Sea of Japan for the first time by helping to develop a new North Korean port at Rajin. China is also interested in keeping Russia and Japan from making inroads into the North. At the same time, Beijing has repeatedly stated that it would not be opposed to the unification of Korea if it were peaceful and if a unified Korea maintained a neutral stance in international and military affairs, in which foreign military forces are excluded from the peninsula.


The big imponderable facing intelligence analysts in Seoul, Washington, Moscow and Tokyo, of course, is whether Beijing has kept up covert military ties with Pyongyang. In the early 1980s, when China feared that Pyongyang might give Moscow a naval base at Rajin or Nampo, Beijing launched a military aid offensive, most notably upgrading the aircraft provided to the North Korean Air Force.


Another little-noted factor that has surfaced in my conversations in Beijing over the past four decades is the fear of nascent Korean nationalism among the 2.5 million Koreans who live in the three northeastern provinces of China contiguous with North Korea.


What has made the political potential of its Korean minority worrisome to Beijing is the linkage between the Koreans of northeast China and cultural movements in South Korea such as the Damul Institute. China is aware that damul means "reclaim all," and the founder of the Damul Institute, Ki Joon Kang, has written of the "Korean people's fervent hopes to recover our lost land."


In recent decades, the Damul Institute regularly took well-financed delegations consisting largely of South Korean businessmen on tours of northeast China designed to stimulate an awareness of the area as part of the Korean heritage and a good place for Korean investment. More than 100,000 people went on these tours after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Seoul in 1992.


The vigor of the Damul movement, which in the 1990s claimed 50,000 members, led Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng to protest against its activities at a meeting in 1995 with visiting South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo. Damul spokesmen then became more circumspect, emphasising cultural objectives and denying any irredentist goals.


For North Korea, the need to make ever more economic and political concessions to China is abhorrent. But South Korea's return to the hard-line policies and the "Bush lite" policies of the Obama administration toward North Korea — conditioning talks on full denuclearisation — have left Pyongyang with no choice but to lean on China.


In all my visits over the past three decades, North Korean leaders have emphasised that they want normalised relations with the United States primarily to avoid excessive dependence on China. It seems particularly galling to them that the United States is attempting to use Beijing as a diplomatic intermediary. As then-Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju commented during my visit in May 2005, alluding to the servile posture of the Yi dynasty monarchs toward China, "This is not the 19th century." SELIG S. HARRISON








On a woody avenue came first the office park, with thousands of employees. Then came the inevitable strangle of traffic jams on the street leading to the office cluster. Next came the announcement that the road would be widened. Finally, the tree-fellers made an appearance with their motorised blades. That story climaxed in Bangalore last week when residents of C.V. Ramannagar, a suburb off Old Airport Road, staged massive protests against the felling hundreds of trees on Suranjan Das Road. The road leads to the Bagmane Tech Park, home to companies such as Volvo, Yahoo, Texas Instruments


and Samsung.


It is also a tragically familiar story, played out over and over in a city in the midst of explosive growth. Green activists say some 40,000 trees have been felled in the last few years to make way for infrastructure projects. It is the de-greening of a city whose historical appellations Garden City and Air-conditioned City now seem like misnomers.


It also signals the horrifying demise of an aspect that made Bangalore the rarest of global cities — a metropolis with an abundance of shaded boulevards and tree-lined streets, whose canopies sometimes provided such a thick cover that the sun barely streamed through the big-leaf mahogany, neem, tamarind and rain trees even in the summer.


Bangalore's real heritage is not its old buildings, its scientific institutions or its software companies. Its real legacy is the elegance of its tree-lined boulevards, says Leo Saldanha whose Environmental Support Group rallies around ecological causes. Saldanha might soon need to rephrase his words in the past tense though.


A walking survey by his group counted an average of 150-200 trees — some dating back to the early part of the last century — per kilometre of Bangalore road. Barring a few cities such as Hanoi and Boston, only Bangalore has such a profusion of streets bordered by trees, says



The cheerless tree stories continue to pour in. A military memorial has become controversial because it will take over invaluable green space in the heart of the city and lead to the severing of a dozen trees. Earlier this week came the news that yet another road-widening project on the verdant Jayamahal Road, abutting the Bangalore Palace estates, would leave over a thousand dead tree stumps. That widening is on the back of similar projects on beautiful landmark streets such as


Seshadri Road, Palace Road, Hosur Road, Sankey Road and Race Course Road.


The impact of such large-scale denudation is palpable. Researchers at Atree, the Ashoka Trust for


Research in Ecology and the Environment, say that difference in temperatures (a dramatic five per cent), humidity (20 per cent) and pollution levels (four times) in Bangalore's tree-lined and bare stretches can directly be tracked to the massive loss of tree cover.

With 41 per cent of India's population expected to converge to its urban centres by 2030, it is time to rethink ecology and understand its urban manifestation such as trees, parks and water bodies, says Atree's Harini Nagendra.


Vinay Sreenivasa, who researches urban issues in his day job, is chief volunteer at Hasiru Usiru which crusades for saving the city's green cover. "Bangalore's roads are changing because of the loss of greenery," says Sreenivasa. The so-called gentrification of neighbourhoods has only led to their complete deterioration, he says. But the bad news is not over yet. Road-widening projects, flyovers, metro rail, mono rail, high-speed airport trains and an assortment of projects will not just denude roads but also parks in the city, despite strident campaigns and alert civic groups like Hasiru Usiru and Cubbon Park Mitra Sangha. Some 261 road-widening projects are in the works, snaking 500 km through the city.


Other groups are attempting to restore the green by planting trees. Trees for Free counts 24,000 trees — in the city's far-flung layouts and even small satellite towns like Doddaballapur and Anekal. "Instead of crying over Bangalore's lost trees, we encourage individuals and companies to sponsor tree planting at Rs 100 a sapling," says Janet Yegneswaran of Trees for Free. It is becoming a fad to plant trees on birthdays and anniversaries, she says.


All that is well, but chopping century-old trees in the city centre and planting saplings in the distant suburbs is a feeble solution, says activist Saldanha. Is Bangalore headed to become another horrendous urban sprawl like Los Angeles, he wonders.








The much awaited Telangana report was released on January 6. While we debate the merits of whether the state of Andhra Pradesh needs to be bifurcated, we should take time out and reconsider the larger issues raised by the report. Two issues dominate: first, that there is a crying need for a States Reorganisation Commission, Mark II; and second, that it is time we considered the writing of a new constitution.


This requires a mindset change among our leaders. It is more than sixty years since the Republic was formed, and a lot has happened in the interim. Consider some of the seismic changes which could not have been imagined in 1980, let alone in 1950. The World War had ended, communism was in the ascendancy and India gained its independence. It is not a coincidence that most of the people still clinging to age-old ideas are old — old age being a necessary condition for having an antiquated mindset. India's per capita income was 6.6 per cent of the US in 1950; today the relative income has doubled to 12.6 per cent of the US level (in PPP terms).


But this is not the only change. In social indicators, especially education, India has made rapid strides over the last decade. As well documented by the ASER studies, education, especially among the poor, has improved enormously. It no longer is the case that Sita doesn't go to school; we now have a developed country problem — Sita goes to school but cannot read! Even more advances have been made in girls' education relative to boys'; girls are now just as well educated as boys and even get higher grades. If you don't believe me, ask any khap panchayat representative, or better still, ask Nitish Kumar.


So let us accept that India has changed enormously and is now set differently for its second innings. So what can responsible Indian leadership do to set the course for the rest of this century? There are three major decisions. First, we need to view India as a very different economy, and polity, than that faced by the founding fathers. Which means we are not a nation of the poor; we are now a nation of middle class, with the poor aspiring to be middle class. We are not a nation of illiterates anymore; and we are more than involved in the democratic process.


This mindset change can set the stage for implementing two big ticket political items. The first is the setting up of the second States Reorganisation Commission. The first was led by Justice Fazal Ali in 1953, and as an intellectual counter to the report, Dr Ambedkar penned Thoughts on linguistic states. In this volume, he correctly anticipated aspects of the Telangana problem and reminded all that there was more to the sub-division of states than mere language — for example, size. Dr Ambedkar was pioneering, distinguished, and perhaps the most underestimated leader among the founding fathers. It is not a coincidence that the underestimation arises from the fact that Dr. Ambedkar was a Dalit — but that is again a pointer to how India has changed. Today, the minorities (Dalits, STs, Muslims and women) have a significantly improved status, and the future should mean further progress.


Several of the debates, and recommendations, in Ambedkar's report are followed up in the Telangana report. Language cannot be the only criterion. Ambedkar suggested that north Indian linguistic states were too large; for example, UP needed to be divided into three separate states. Now that our democracy has matured, it is an appropriate time to set guidelines for a further sub-division of states. There have to be principles involved, not just the ad hoc nature of the ambitions of some politicians. What these principles are — economic, cultural, political and administrative — should be the mandate of the new blue-ribbon commission.


The second big task for India is the writing of a new constitution. If anything has outlived its usefulness, and purpose, it is our constitution. The rot set in almost a decade after the writing; Dr Ambedkar, the lead author, had indicated that reservation policy for the disadvantaged Dalits was not desirable in perpetuity and even suggested that this constitutional provision be reviewed after a decade. Instead, our politicians went the opposite way. More and more job and education reservations have meant that half of the population is believed to be "disadvantaged" with some states even raising the bar to more than two-thirds reservations for the "minorities" (sic).


Is this constitutional? You bet it is — in India. And in case the liberati (no typo, the term refers to the in-your-face "liberal" glitterati) thinks that only the Shiv Sena are bad sorts with their demand for local hiring, they should look at their liberal cousins in Andhra Pradesh. These folks have had a ditto copy of the Shiv Sena rules called the Mulki rules: region-specific reservations in certain categories of jobs.


There are several other quirks in our constitution. The fact that arrests can be made at will, with little regard for individual rights, the core of any decent constitution. This core is all but absent in ours. Most of what our dated constitution regards as constitutional is the right of the state — with Indira Gandhi even going to the extent of changing the constitution to reflect her personal ideology that India is a socialist state. If we had an individual-rights oriented constitution, then Binayak Sen probably couldn't be arrested and Niira Radia's phones could not have been tapped.


The constitution is the problem.  Amendment after amendment has meant that India holds the record for the largest amount of amendments in the shortest period of time — 94 amendments in total, or once every six months. Think about it — we have changed the constitution faster than most people change their toothbrush!


 The writer is Chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm









On the day No One Killed Jessica was released in cinemas across the country, telecom minister Kapil Sibal scripted his own version of 'There was no telecom scam'. In an amazing display of reductio ad absurdum, he took the CAG's estimate of the Rs 1,76,000 crore loss caused by A Raja's licences in January 2008 and reduced it to zero. While this left many wondering if Raja was on his way back, Sibal dropped another bombshell: the PM did not direct Raja to auction licences, nor is it true he was not kept informed, indeed 'the PM accepted this outcome regarding spectrum pricing'. Expect a huge storm in the days ahead as the Opposition further hardens its stance, hits the road and uses Sibal's statements to allege the PM was party to the scam. Given Sibal's statements, it is not clear what happens to the show cause notices issued to 85 companies for getting licences by submitting incorrect information. In principle, there is no contradiction between the two events, but it is likely the pressure to act on the notices will reduce. After all, if there was no loss to the exchequer, all this means is that another 85 firms should have got the licences—with no loss to the exchequer, how does it matter?


How Sibal demolished the CAG is interesting. He took the Rs 1,76,000 crore figure and first removed Rs 37,000 crore, which the CAG estimated was the loss caused due to the 'extra' spectrum given to the older telcos like Bharti, BSNL and Vodafone. Sibal said this was part of the approved policy—the CAG had included this as the Trai report of May 11, 2010, had said the spectrum was 'extra' though a subsequent TDSAT judgement last month said it was kosher. The Rs 1,39,000 crore left was reduced to Rs 99,000 crore because the government had given each of the 157 licensees 4.4 MHz of spectrum, not the 6.2 MHz the CAG had assumed—the CAG had assumed this because the licences say 6.2 MHz is to be given eventually (with no extra cost for the balance 1.8 MHz). This was then reduced by half after taking into account inflation (10% each year from 2008 to 2010 when the 3G auctions took place) and other factors. Never mind that with over 250 million more subscribers added on between 2008 and 2010, the addressable market was lower in 2010, so the prices in 2008 should have actually been higher. Sibal then says 3G spectrum is 3-4 times more efficient than 2G spectrum and reduces the loss to Rs 17,000 crore. There is, though, no global evidence that 2G and 3G pricing is different, which is why the Trai recommended using 3G prices to cost the 'extra' spectrum. As for what's left, Sibal says you get 4.4 MHz of spectrum free with a licence anyway. Sibal's defended Raja eloquently at a press conference. Raja's best hope is to get him to do the same in the Supreme Court.







By most conventional measures, the future of Indian innovation in the global context seems doomed. According to the KEI (Knowledge Economy Indicators) developed by the World Bank, India has an adult literacy rate of 66% (compared to 90% and 93% for Brazil and China, respectively), a tertiary education enrolment rate of only 11.85% (versus 30% in Brazil), 110 researchers per million people (China has 926), R&D spending of a measly 0.69% of GDP (versus 1.42% in China, that too over a bigger base) and hi-tech exports as a percentage of total manufactured exports of 6% (compared to China's 29%, again over a larger base). Not only this, India's KEI score has fallen from 3.56 in 1995 to 3.09 in the most recent assessment, while China's has gone up from 3.93 to 4.47 and Brazil's from 5.23 to 5.66. So not only is India far behind China and Brazil, its latest population-weighted score is lower than that in 1995. Add to this the fact that India has only one name in the list of top 300 global entities that have received the most number of patents. But then India's overall innovation metrics have improved in the past decade. India is second in the number of patents filed amongst the Bric (plus South Africa). Although it is alarming that filings by CSIR, India's largest patent holder, have reduced, the decrease appears more due to the cost of filing and maintaining patents in the US than the rate of innovation, according to a report by FE. In any event, even though CSIR's numbers are down, the number of patents filed by Indians in the USPTO has risen to 2,387 (2007) from 438 in 2000— a five-fold increase in just seven years.


In moving to a more innovation-friendly environment, India is instituting some interesting measures, one of which is the Protection and Utilisation of Publicly Funded Intellectual Property Bill that proposes to split royalty from publicly funded research projects between the researchers, the institution and the government to help accelerate the pace of innovations and encourage patenting. But improving the incentive framework is not enough—India needs to enact an over-arching programme like China has done, putting down some tangible targets for the numbers of patents to be filed, the number of examiners, public funding for R&D spending, closer interaction with industry as well as exposure to global practices via exchange programmes between universities as well as R&D institutions. The country would do well to take a page out of corporate India's book on investing in skilled manpower so it has enough manpower to exploit opportunities as and when they present themselves.








The much-awaited Telangana report was released on January 6. While we debate the merits of whether the state of Andhra Pradesh needs to be bifurcated, we should take time out and reconsider the larger issues raised by the report. Two issues dominate—first, that there is a crying need for a States Reorganisation Commission, mach II and second, that it is time we considered the writing of a new Constitution.


This requires a mindset change among our leaders. It is more than 60 years since the Republic was formed, and a lot has happened in the interim. Consider some of the seismic changes that could not have been imagined in 1980, let alone in 1950. WW-II had ended, Communism was in ascendancy and India gained Independence. It is not a coincidence that most of the people still clinging to age-old ideas are old—old age being a necessary condition for having an antiquated mindset. India's per capita income was 6.6% of the US's in 1950; today, the relative income has doubled to 12.6% of the US level (in PPP terms).


But this is not the only change. In social indicators, especially education, India has made rapid strides over the last decade. As well-documented by ASER studies, education, especially among the poor, has improved enormously. It no longer is the case that Sita doesn't go to school; we now have a developed country problem—Sita goes to school but cannot read! Even more advances have been made in girls education relative to boys; girls are now just as well-educated as boys and even get higher grades. If you don't believe me, ask any Khap panchayat representative or better still ask Nitish Kumar.


So, let us accept that India has changed enormously and is now set differently for its second innings. So, what can responsible Indian leadership do to set the course for the rest of this century? There are three major decisions. First, we need to view India as a very different economy, and polity, than that faced by the founding fathers. Which means we are not a nation of poor; we are now a nation of the middle class, with the poor aspiring to be middle class. We are not a nation of illiterates any more; and we are more than involved in the democratic process.


This mindset change can set the stage for implementing two big-ticket political items. The first is the setting up of the second States Reorganisation Commission. The first was led by Justice Fazal Ali in 1953, and as an intellectual counter to the report,


BR Ambedkar penned Thoughts on Linguistic States. In this volume, he correctly anticipated aspects of the Telangana problem and reminded all that there was more to the sub-division of states than mere language—size, for example. Ambedkar was pioneering, distinguished, and perhaps the most underestimated leader among the founding fathers. It is not a coincidence that the underestimation arises from the fact that Ambedkar was a dalit—but that is again a pointer to how India has changed. Today, the minorities (dalits, STs, muslims and women) have a significantly improved status, and the future should mean further progress.


Several of the debates and recommendations in Ambedkar's report are followed up in the Telangana report. Language cannot be the only criterion—Ambedkar suggested that north Indian linguistic states were too large; for example, UP needed to be divided into three separate states. Now that our democracy has matured, it is an appropriate time to set guidelines for a further sub-division of states. There have to be principles involved—not just the ad hoc nature of the ambitions of some politicians. What these principles are—economic, cultural, political and administrative—should be the mandate of the new blue-ribbon commission.


The second big task for India is the writing of a new Constitution. If anything has outlived its usefulness, and purpose, it is our Constitution. The rot set in almost a decade after the writing; Ambedkar, the lead author, had indicated that reservation policy for the disadvantaged dalits was not desirable in perpetuity and even suggested that this constitutional provision be reviewed after a decade. Instead, our politicians went the opposite way. More and more job and education reservations have meant that half of the population is believed to be 'disadvantaged', with some states even raising the bar to more than two-thirds reservations for the minority (sic).


Is this constitutional—you bet it is, in India. And in case the liberatti (no typo—the term refers to the in your face 'liberal' glitterati) thinks that only the Shiv Sena are the bad sorts with their demand for local hiring, they should look at their liberal cousins in Andhra Pradesh. These folks have had a ditto copy of the Shiv Sena rules called the Mulki rules: i.e., regional specific reservations in certain categories of jobs.


There are several other quirks in our Constitution. The fact that arrests can be made at will, with little regard for individual rights, the core of any decent Constitution. This core is all but absent in ours. Most of what our dated Constitution regards as constitutional is the right of the state, with Indira Gandhi even going to the extent of changing the Constitution to reflect her personal ideology that India is a socialist state. If we had an individual rights-oriented Constitution, then Binayak Sen probably couldn't be arrested and Niira Radia's phones could not have been tapped.


The Constitution is the problem. Amendment after amendment has meant that India holds the record for the largest number of amendments in the shortest period of time—94 amendments in total, or once every six months. Think about it—we have changed the Constitution faster than most people change their toothbrush!


—The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firmThe much-awaited Telangana report was released on January 6. While we debate the merits of whether the state of Andhra Pradesh needs to be bifurcated, we should take time out and reconsider the larger issues raised by the report.







Though the jury is still out on whether the recent incident of the Rs 300-crore fraud by a Citibank wealth manager, Shivraj Puri, was systemic or not, of late cases of employee infidelity are on the rise with India Inc. The bribes-for-loan scam involving officials of half a dozen government banks and LIC Housing Finance was again essentially a case of dishonest employees—involving some right at the top of the food chain—caught with their hands in the till. And the Citibank imbroglio has already done collateral damage at the Munjals-led Hero Group, with a CFO of a privately held group company behind bars for allegedly colluding with Citibank's Puri in directing the Munjal family money into schemes pushed by Puri.


Though not as high profile as some of yesteryears' cases—remember Samsung Electronics' former IT division's chief executive Vivek Prakash who was taken into custody for alleged siphoning off Rs 100 crore at the Korean chaebol or the mid-2000s case of a high flier CEO of a consumer expendables major fired for apparently stealing from the employees' provident fund—these cases nonetheless should be a wake-up call for corporate India, as willy nilly the impact of such employee misdemeanour will ultimately come back to haunt corporate reputations.


A year-old study on corporate fraud, Indian Fraud Survey Report 2010, by consulting and audit major KPMG pointed to this growing malaise, with over 75% of survey respondents saying that in the last two years there has been a rise in the incidence of fraud in corporate India, with around half reporting that they are witnessing more such cases within their organisations. The respondents here were senior managers (CXOs) of mid-to-big size Indian and foreign-owned companies across industries—consumer goods, IT, financial services, real estate, infrastructure et al.


What's most alarming, and prescient looking back, is that the around three-fourths of respondents in the KPMG survey said that employees are the chief perpetrators of most frauds, barring those involving intellectual property. But unfortunately, even though companies recognise that 'the enemy within continues to pose the biggest threat', the survey points that in just one in three cases did the organisation initiate legal action against the erring employee, with the majority of the cases investigated and dealt with internally. This may be a grave mistake that companies are making at their own peril.


For, in a globalised world, where factors of supply and demand—from component makers, financiers, shareholders and customers—may be geographically spread out across the world, what binds the business is trust. And in every incidence where this trust is breached, more so by one of their own, the company needs to show to all its stakeholders that it has a zero tolerance level for fraud.


Merely addressing it within the organisation, as the practice seems to be with most companies in India, according to the KPMG survey, may appear judicious at first go, but is really an opportunity lost to reiterate the sanctity it places on that 'trust' with all stakeholders. Because nothing gnaws at corporate reputations in a service-dominated economy like ours—where customers' finances and data from earnings, expenditure, savings, investments, telecom conversations to shopping habits are all accessible to even low operational-level employees—more than this breach of privilege by the very people who were supposed to be the custodians of it. For a Toyota may come out of a massive product recall of last year after all, but it was impossible for an Arthur Andersen to resurrect its business and reputation after the allegations, and initial conviction, of its people colluding with the infamous Enron in dressing up the now defunct energy major's books.


In that sense, companies should treat their employees much like Caesar's wife, seen to be completely above suspicion, and loudly and publicly disowned for any breach of trust.






To err is human

After rubbishing the CAG's estimates of the loss A Raja's licences caused to the exchequer, telecom minister Kapil Sibal decided to be magnanimous. When someone asked if the CAG should be asked to quit, since his Rs 1,76,000 crore estimate had been reduced to zero by Sibal, the minister said "Galti sabse hoti hai, judges se, ministers se, aap se … (we all make mistakes) … but you don't ask everyone to go." The question as to why A Raja was asked to go since all he was guilty of was also a mistake, was drowned in the din.


No one killed Jessica


Call it a coincidence if you will, but the day telecom minister Kapil Sibal had his 'There was no telecom scam' press conference is the same day the movie No One Killed Jessica got released. In both cases, no one was found guilty of the crime—the murder in Jessica Lall's case and the scam in the telecom case. The difference, of course, is that the Jessica retrial resulted in the guilty being sentenced. Perhaps there's hope yet.







The Karbonn Mobiles 17th Annual Star Screen awards were hosted by Shah Rukh Khan. His film My Name is Khan won the Ramnath Goenka Award, while he won the Best Actor-Male award in the popular category. The big winner of the evening was Dabangg, which swashbuckled Salman Khan into the award for the overall Best Actor-Male. Ever since this film got a big opening, the talk of tinsel town has revolved around whether it would overtake the collections won by Aamir Khan's 3 Idiots. Many newbies also left a mark on the awards evening. But not to detract from the newbies' fledgeling achievements, what remains incontrovertible today is that the Khan trinity has stood


Bollywood in rock solid stead since its arrival here around 1990. It's Salman whose star has ascendency today, but it's Shah Rukh and Aamir who have enjoyed this situation at other times. Across the four corners of the country, across its villages and towns, you find people perennially ready to debate the strengths of one Khan or the other. So, may the Khans prosper. May we see them act together.









The assassination of Salmaan Taseer by his police bodyguard — which recalls in some way the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 — is a grim reminder of the extent to which Pakistan has descended into the depths of religious extremism. The Governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Mr. Taseer was an abrasive and sharp-elbowed politician of the ruling Pakistan People's Party. Commendably, he was one of the rare leaders in this party of diffident moderates who was unafraid to confront religious extremism. One of his first acts after taking office in May 2008 was to declare that Basant, a spring festival in Punjab opposed by religious clerics and banned by a court order, would be revived. Recently, he angered Pakistan's Islamic political parties with a spirited campaign against the controversial blasphemy law. His visit to a jail to meet Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted under the law and sentenced to death, and his assurance to her that he would help her obtain a presidential pardon, triggered a nation-wide protest against him by the religious parties. Some clerics declared he was an apostate. Mr. Taseer's assassin declared, after being taken into custody following the killing, that he was proud to have killed a "blasphemer." It remains unclear if the man was acting alone or at the behest of others. Certainly, it is no secret that the Pakistan security forces, the law enforcing agencies and other key government institutions are infiltrated by sympathisers of militant groups and those with extremist views. But the realisation that even a special commando unit assigned to protect Pakistan's leaders is not immune from such elements is frightening.


The incident is bound to reduce the limited space for Pakistan's liberal-moderates and their modest efforts to stem the tide of extremism sweeping across the country. The mealy-mouthed condemnations of the killing even by PPP politicians and the surge of popular support for the assassin show which way the wind is blowing. Pakistani voters may not choose Islamist political parties to lead them. But over the decades, large enough numbers in all sections of society have become sufficiently radicalised to ensure that anyone who attempts reform, even of recent horrors such as the murderous blasphemy law and the anti-women Hudood laws — both the legacy of the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq — does so at great personal and political risk. The radicalisation is the undeniable result of a deliberate policy by the Pakistan state to nurture militancy in order to meet regional strategic objectives. Mr. Taseer's killing is another setback for President Asif Ali Zardari and the PPP government, already in trouble after being reduced to a minority regime following the withdrawal of support by a key coalition partner. It can only be hoped that the tragic incident serves as an alarm call to Pakistan's decision-makers, the Pakistan Army included, that they need to act with extraordinary urgency, courage, and honesty to clamp down on fanaticism, extremism, and terrorism of all kinds before the country sinks any deeper.







It was fitting that the three-Test series between India and South Africa finished level, for there was little to separate the world's two best cricket teams. The 1-1 result enhanced India's meticulously earned reputation as a skilled, determined touring side. But despite its success in other parts of the world since the turn of the millennium, South Africa remained beyond it: India had lost each of its four Test series in South Africa. It was a record that needed remedying, for a No.1 side can't afford to be seen as second-best. India was in danger of being perceived as just that after being outclassed in the first Test. But M.S. Dhoni's team then accomplished the two things that have been most striking about its ascent to the top: it rebounded, not so much addressing the concerns of defeat as transcending them, and it outplayed a host team that had mistakenly arranged for conditions that suited the quicker bowlers. The win in Durban captured in miniature the metamorphosis of the Indian team from one which played warily in such conditions to one that seized the big moment.


India may well have secured its first series win in South Africa had it not encountered the great Jacques Kallis at the peak of his powers. Thirty-five-year-old Kallis wrenched the series from India with a singularly masterful performance in the third Test. In the first innings he countered alarming movement and stitched the lower-order together. In the second, with India sensing victory, he lifted his side, batting without nerves on a surface that took turn. In each innings he overcame severe physical pain. If Dale Steyn, who bowled brilliantly, had the luck and the support he deserved, Kallis' efforts would have earned a series win. For India, its council of elders once again excelled. Sachin Tendulkar continued his phenomenal run-making, V.V.S. Laxman was the match-winner in Durban, and Zaheer Khan inspired the best out of a talented but inconsistent seam attack. Also heartening was the form displayed by Gautam Gambhir. The only discordant note in a compelling series rich with drama was the inclination of both teams to switch to defensive cricket too easily. This tendency hurt India on the fourth day of the deciding Test. If India is to become a dominant No.1 side, it's an area that needs work.









A crisis triggered by conflicting political interests can be solved only through political intervention. This realisation has so far inhibited any knee-jerk reaction to the option suggested by the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee that keeping Andhra Pradesh united with constitutional safeguards for Telangana would be the "best way forward."


On the shoulders of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) now lies the responsibility of choosing among the two key options — a united State with a model for Telangana's development, or a bifurcation with Hyderabad as the capital of Telangana.


The adverse implications of bifurcation have been enunciated unambiguously. It would give a fillip to similar demands outside Andhra Pradesh. Also, it would be for the first time after the re-organisation of the States that a political demand to divide a State constituted on linguistic lines would have been conceded, by the creation of two Telugu-speaking states. The Committee wanted the issue of whether a region could be allowed to decide for itself its political status, to be viewed in the larger context.


What stands out in the Srikrishna Committee's report is its sagacity in debunking, on the basis of facts, certain dubious and time-worn theories that were in circulation. The report showed that Rayalaseema, a region rich in mineral resources, was more backward than Telangana. The growth in per capita Gross District level Domestic Product (GDDP) between 2000-01 and 2007-08 was 58.4 per cent in all of Andhra Pradesh, while it was 63 per cent in Telangana including Hyderabad, 60.3 per cent excluding Hyderabad, 58 per cent in Rayalaseema and 54.1 per cent in Coastal Andhra.


The Committee was pragmatic in acknowledging that the demand for Telangana was not unjustified. In fact, it did not flinch in saying that a separate Telangana state would be viable economically as its Gross Domestic State Product (GDP) would be above that of even smaller States such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, though this was a neutral factor in its decision-making relating to Telangana. Telangana's per capita income would in fact be a notch higher than the all-India average.


The Committee put the record straight on the extent of support in Telangana for a bifurcation of the State. Strong pro-Telangana elements existed in Warangal, West Khammam, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, southern Adilabad, Siddipet area of Medak, parts of Nalgonda and Mahabubnagar and some areas of Ranga Reddy. The most vociferous and agitating sections were students, unemployed youth, lawyers and non-gazetted government employees.


An appreciable segment of the population was neutral. It included the original population of Hyderabad; people living in villages bordering Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema; people from the 'settler' villages in the Telangana heartland (migrants from Andhra); and the migrant population in Hyderabad. A large section of the tribal people, particularly those belonging to the hill tribes, even favoured a separate State of 'Manyaseeema' comprising parts of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.


The Scheduled Castes, the Backward Classes and the minorities had their own aspirations for political space, economic development and reservation benefits. This incisive observation is borne out by the clear caste divisions witnessed among the Telangana joint action groups, including those on the Osmania University campus.


Also, the Committee placed on record what everyone knew but hesitated to articulate — the exploitation of educated youth by politicians, causing inter-regional and inter-community disaffection. The mismatch between the skills of many of the graduates with those required by employers, given the poor quality of private colleges (engineering colleges in particular), was resulting in graduates being able to find only low-paying jobs, or no jobs at all. Their frustration was being exploited by politicians, ascribing their problems to discrimination against the people of Telangana.


Addressing a genuine concern of the people of Telangana, the Srikrishna Committee advocated steps to strike a regional balance in making appointments to key posts such as that of the Advocate-General, and to positions in administrative tribunals. It wanted the government to provide fair representation to all regions while making choices for senior positions in the Secretariat and the Directorates, a safeguard not available in the Presidential Order of 1975.


The Committee, though, was not correct, politically or factually, on every score. Suggesting 'Rayala-Telangana' as an option and then ruling it out was seen as a red-herring aimed to give the impression that it had reached its final conclusion after weighing all options. Not many people had treated this demand seriously and it was voiced by a minuscule section. The Committee erred in recommending a medical college for North Telangana; one already exists in Adilabad.


The question of the future status of Hyderabad apparently influenced the "optimal solutions/options" furnished by the five-member panel. It finds a mention in four out of the six options. A bifurcation of the State without Hyderabad going to them is not acceptable to the people of either region, because of sound economic reasons as well as sentimental factors.


The destabilisation of the economy of, or flight of capital from, or erosion of business confidence in India's fifth biggest city would be to the detriment of all regions of the present State, considering their economic inter-linkages with Hyderabad. In fact, the information technology industry in Hyderabad was connected more to the national (through investment) and global (through the market) economies than it was to the regional economy. The IT industry accounted for 15 per cent of India's software exports in 2008-09.


The Committee drew a distinction between the situation in Hyderabad and in Brussels, the Belgian capital. In 1968, riots broke out in Belgium on the question of who had the claim to Brussels as three languages are spoken in the country — Flemish, French and German. The capital region of Brussels was, therefore, organised as a separate bilingual capital region with a separate administrative set-up and jurisdiction. However, Andhra Pradesh by and large has a common culture.


A significant observation was that Telangana with or without Hyderabad was likely to experience a spurt in Maoist activity. The report did not furnish further details beyond saying that a note was submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs in a separate cover.


Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram convened a meeting of eight recognised political parties on January 5, 2010, which paved the way for the constitution of the Srikrishna Committee. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) was one of them. It was well understood then that the Committee's recommendations would mark the way forward, though the final decision would rest with the Centre.


None of the parties to that decision, including the Central government, the Congress and the TRS, can now disown the report just because the 'best way forward' is either not politically inconvenient or because sections or the whole of the parts are not in its favour. This is especially so of the Congress, which should not be influenced by the argument that the panel has no statutory backing.


Conscious of the opposition that its last option would inevitably encounter, the Committee noted that the initial reaction to it would be one of total rejection. It may fuel violent agitations in Telangana and put pressure on MLAs, MLCs and MPs to resign and lead to the demand for a Regional Council in Rayalaseema and the other backward sub-regions of the State.


The Srikrishna Committee has accomplished its assignment with competence and professionalism as claimed, but the road ahead for the Congress is riddled with political landmines. Exercising the option to keep the State united may mean erosion of its already weak base in Telangana. Dividing the State will not enhance its popularity as it has to contend with competition from N. Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party and from former Kadapa MP Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy in the 'Seemandhra' region.


It can emerge from this zero sum game only through "firm political and administrative management" of the unfolding situation, as suggested by the Srikrishna Committee. High expectations rest on Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, who has given every indication of being resolute in the face of pressure. Much is expected also from the all-party meeting convened by Mr. Chidambaram towards the end of January to discuss the 461-page report.









The subject of this talk is Nalanda and the pursuit of science, but before I go into that rather complex issue, I must say something about Nalanda itself, since it is still an obscure entity for most people in the world. Since the university is being, right now, re-established under a joint Asian initiative, the fact that Nalanda was a very ancient university is becoming better known. But how does it compare with other old universities in the world?


Well, what is the oldest university in the world? In answering this question, one's mind turns to Bologna, initiated in 1088, to Paris in 1091, and to other old citadels of learning, including of course Oxford University which was established in 1167, and Cambridge in 1209. Where does Nalanda fit into this picture? "Nowhere" is the short answer if we are looking for a university in continuous existence.


Nalanda was violently destroyed in an Afghan attack, led by the ruthless conqueror, Bakhtiyar Khilji, in 1193, shortly after the beginning of Oxford University and shortly before the initiation of Cambridge. Nalanda university, an internationally renowned centre of higher education in India, which was established in the early fifth century, was ending its continuous existence of more than seven hundred years as Oxford and Cambridge were being founded, and even compared with the oldest European university, Bologna, Nalanda was more than six hundred years old, when Bologna was born. Had it not been destroyed and had it managed to survive to our time, Nalanda would be, by a long margin, the oldest university in the world. Another distinguished university, which did not stay in existence continuously either, viz. Al-Azhar University in Cairo, with which Nalanda is often compared, was established at a time, 970 AD, when Nalanda was already more than five hundred years old.


That is enough vaunting of age (as you know, in India we take age quite seriously), and I hope you have got the point: we are talking about the oldest university in the world by a long margin, that is, if we do not insist on continuous existence. The university is being re-started right now, and since I happen to have the difficult task of chairing its interim governing body, I am finding out how hard it is to re-establish a university after an 800 year hiatus. But we are getting there. This meeting here gives me an opportunity to recollect the pursuit of science in old Nalanda which will inspire and guide our long-run efforts in new Nalanda. I say long run, because mainly for cost reasons — indeed entirely for cost reasons — we cannot start the science faculties immediately (physical and biological sciences cost much more money than the humanities and the social sciences do). The recollection — and more challengingly, assessment — of the scientific tradition in old Nalanda are important right now, partly because we have to start thinking about the long run (even as we try to raise money for initiation and expansion), but also because a scientific attitude and disciplined thought are important for the entire conception of new Nalanda, including the teaching of — and research in — humanities (such as history, languages and linguistics, and comparative religion), as well as the social sciences and the world of practice (such as international relations, management and development, and information technology).


Let me identify a few questions about the pursuit of science in Nalanda. First, was the old Nalanda sufficiently large to be a factor in whatever pursuit it might have been championing? Was it not merely a drop in an ocean of superstition and ignorance that some people see as the characteristic feature of the Indian old world: you only have to read James Mill's "History of India," which was obligatory reading for all British civil servants sent off to run the Raj, to see how firm and politically important this conception of the past was in keeping modern India in check.


Well, Nalanda was an old centre of learning that attracted students from many countries in the world, particularly China and Tibet, Korea and Japan, and the rest of Asia, but a few also from as far in the west as Turkey. Nalanda, a residential university, had at its peak 10,000 students, studying various subjects. Chinese students in particular, such as Xuanzang and Yi Jing in the seventh century, wrote extensively on what they saw and what they particularly admired about the educational standards in Nalanda. Incidentally, Nalanda is the only non-Chinese institution in which any Chinese scholar was educated in the history of ancient China.


It is also important to recognise that while Nalanda was very special, it was still a part of a larger tradition of organised higher education that developed in that period in India — in Bihar in particular. In addition to Nalanda, there were in the vicinity other such institutions, such as Vikramshila and Odantapuri. Indeed, Xuangzang wrote about them too, even though he himself studied in Nalanda. There was a larger social culture to which Nalanda belonged, and this is important to recollect in thinking about the tradition of Nalanda.


The second question to ask is the difficult one about the room for science in what was after all a religious institution. Nalanda was a Buddhist foundation, as were Vikramshila and Odantapuri, and surely the central focus of these institutions were studies of Buddhist philosophy and practice. The point to remember here is that by the nature of the philosophy of Buddha, whose focus of preaching was on enlightenment (the name given to Gautama, viz Buddha, itself means "enlightened"), there was a basic epistemic and ethical curiosity in the tradition of intellectual Buddhism that sought knowledge in many different fields. Some of the fields were directly related to Buddhist commitments, such as medicine and healthcare; others went with the development and dissemination of Buddhist culture, such as architecture and sculpture; and still others linked Buddhist intellectual queries with interest in analytical discipline.


Let me comment briefly on the last — not specifically with reference to Nalanda, but as a way of understanding better the Buddhist intellectual impact. One of the connections on which evidence of intellectual connections between China and India is plentiful is the impact of Buddhists in general, and of adherents of Tantric Buddhism in particular, on Chinese mathematics and astronomy in the seventh and eighth centuries, in the Tang period. Yi Jing, who was a student of Nalanda, and to whom I referred earlier, was one of many translators of Tantric texts from Sanskrit into Chinese. Tantrism became a major force in China in the seventh and eighth centuries, and had followers among Chinese intellectuals of the highest standing. Since many Tantric scholars had a deep interest in mathematics (perhaps connected, at least initially, with Tantric fascination with numbers), Tantric mathematicians had a significant influence on Chinese mathematics as well.


Indeed, as Joseph Needham notes, "the most important Tantrist was I-Hsing (+672 to +717), the greatest Chinese astronomer and mathematician of his time." Needham goes on to remark that "this fact alone should give us pause, since it offers a clue to the possible significance of this form of Buddhism for all kinds of observational and experimental sciences." Yi Xing (or I-Hsing, to use Needham's spelling), who was in fact never a student of Nalanda, but belonged to a tradition of which Nalanda was one of the results, was fluent in Sanskrit. (I request the audience to be careful of the distinction between Yi Xing, the mathematician, and Yi Jing, the intellectual trained in Nalanda, who was, among other things, interested in medicine.) As a Buddhist monk, Yi Xing was familiar with the Indian religious literature, but he had acquired a great expertise also on Indian writings on mathematics and astronomy. Despite his own religious connection, it would be a mistake to assume that Yi Xing's mathematical or scientific work was somehow motivated by religious concerns. As a general mathematician who happened to be also a Tantrist, Yi Xing dealt with a variety of analytical and computational problems, many of which had no particular connection with Tantrism or Buddhism at all. The combinatorial problems tackled by Yi Xing included such classic ones as "calculating the total number of possible situations in chess." Yi Xing was particularly concerned with calendrical calculations, and even constructed, on imperial order, a new calendar for China.






The world's primary conservation body, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), on January 7 called on British listed companies, SOCO and Dominion, to abandon their oil exploration plans in the Virunga National Park located in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


The WWF warned that these actions will undermine decades of work aimed at saving the park, which receives vital funding from the European Union.


"The U.K.-listed companies' plans will be costly for the area's precious and fragile biodiversity, including, chimpanzees, hippos, elephants and other rare species, as well as the local population who benefit from tourism and sustainable fishing inside the national park," it said in a statement issued in Nairobi. Africa's oldest national park (1925) and its first World Heritage Site (1979), Virunga is home to many diverse species and an impressive diversity of landscape and habitats. Covering 7,800 (3,000 sq.miles), it is also home to about 200, almost a quarter, of the earth's last remaining mountain gorillas. Some 30,000 local fishermen fish sustainably on the park's Lake Edward, a Ramsar protected site. Company maps seen by the international media indicate that SOCO intends to drill through much of the park in areas with some of the highest savannah biomass in the world.


Armed groups are moving out of the park, and efforts put into conservation work are starting to pay off. — Xinhua








There is something very wrong with food prices and food inflation. No one seems to get it right, neither the finance minister nor the Planning Commission deputy chairman, nor the Prime Minister's economic adviser. The agriculture minister is least accountable. For the whole of last year these gentlemen have been hopeful, telling us that food inflation would go down by the end of 2010. They were left fumbling on Thursday when food inflation hit 18.32 per cent for the week ending December 25, 2010. The usual excuses for high prices is trotted out, namely demand outstripping supply, purchasing power up due to the 6th Pay Commission, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme where the minimum wage is `150 per day, changing patterns of food consumption, migration of farmers to urban areas as agriculture is unremunerative, destruction of thousands of tonnes of food grain by rodents, food and grain rotting due to lack of warehousing and storage facilities, and so on. The obvious question is, why has the government not planned for increased production and the infrastructure to get these from the farm to the table? Is the government really serious about increasing production? When is the last time that we had an experiment like Amul that saw a milk revolution, or a breakthrough like the green revolution?

Around August last year, for instance, when the government announced the support price for food grain it announced a minimum support price for tur (widely used for making sambhar) of `3,000 per quintal with a bonus of `500 per quintal purchased by the government. But till date no purchasing centres have been opened. On the contrary, tur is being imported from Burma duty-free. The result is that the farmers who were getting `100 per kg are now getting only `30 per kg and they are discouraged from cultivating tur. It is the same story with other food items.

The problem is that the government is looking at food inflation only from the point of view of the consumer, and not from the farmer's angle as well. You cannot please the former at the cost of the latter. From the farmer's perception, the bureaucrats in Delhi have one solution: importing cheap grain. But now the international scenario has changed and commodities are no longer cheap. This is what the bureaucrats do not seem to realise. For instance, edible oil prices have been increasing. They have a connection with crude prices. Crude oil has gone up to nearly $91 per barrel so the price of maize has shot up as it is used to make ethanol. Similarly, palm oil is used to make bio-diesel in Europe to heat buildings. Palm oil had increased from $800 a tonne to $1,300 per tonne in the last two months. We are major importers of these items and this pushes up international prices further.

The government needs to sit with people who understand agriculture and the dynamics of agricultural production and find ways to increase food and food grain production so that we are nearly self-sufficient. Imports are becoming expensive also because of the droughts in Russia, Brazil and Argentina and floods in Pakistan and China. So, relying on imports is no longer an option. The pioneer of India's green revolution, M.S. Swaminathan, who chaired the government's Farmers Commission, has recommended that agricultural growth not be measured by production but by how much the farmer's income has increased. When wages are increasing everywhere and the country is becoming a consumerist society, why should it be only the farmer who makes sacrifices but does not get the benefits of a growing economy?









"Smash that cup, O Bachchoo

The poison of regret

Some make love to remember

Some make love to forget..."

From Songs for the



The assassination of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's Punjab state, in a popular public place has made him the latest martyr to the idea of Pakistan. His killer, Mumtaz Qadri, a 26-year-old commando detailed to be one of his bodyguards shot 27 bullets into him at point blank range and then surrendered himself.
Qadri told his captors that he "killed him for Islam". He confessed that he had been planning the murder ever since he was assigned to this particular bodyguard duty just four days earlier. He also boasted that he was proud of having eliminated a "blasphemer".

He didn't, of course, mean that Taseer himself had transgressed the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, which carry a mandatory death sentence for convicted transgressors. He meant that the governor had spoken out against the death sentence imposed on Asya Bibi, a Christian woman who allegedly insulted the Prophet Mohammed. Taseer had also pronounced himself in favour of ameliorating or abolishing the present blasphemy law.
An appointee of the present Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Taseer was universally known as a liberal. He was quoted in a recent international interview echoing the words of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan who said that the state born out of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 was to be a "secular" entity in which Christians and Hindus would be free to worship unmolested in their churches and temples. The blasphemy law as it stands was brought in by the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq and its proposed modification or abolition today, which has found focus in the case and conviction of Asya Bibi, is the latest dividing line between the liberals and the fundos.

The assassination comes at a time when the ruling coalition is in trouble as the Muttahid Quami Movement has withdrawn from support of the majority partner, the PPP.

The crises of Pakistan, with the devastating floods, continuing lack of the reach of state provision and of challenges to the writ of the state, go from bad to worse.

In this climate, the ironies of Taseer's martyrdom to this liberal idea of the state, an idea which the work and life of the Quaid-e-Azam, Jinnah would undoubtedly support, multiply.

Qadri avowedly sees himself as a martyr of Islam. He has taken the path of the suicide bombers and terrorists who are convinced that their act of killing people, whether they be working in a building on the Wall Street, praying in a mosque in Islamabad or sleeping on a railway platform in Mumbai, will take them to heaven. They undoubtedly see themselves as martyrs to their religion and to the cause of the state they serve which may be Pakistan or the Universal Caliphate to come.

The very personal irony is that of Taseer's half-Indian half-Sikh-by-birth son, the writer and novelist Aatish. He is a friend but I betray nothing of that friendship if I say that his first book Stranger to History: A Son's Journey through Islamic Lands, is about discovering his father and his father's professed faith, and that before and after he wrote it his father Salman accused him of being insufficiently Islamic.

And now in the wake of his murder, 500 "moderate Islamic scholars" have issued a statement saying that "anyone who expresses grief over Taseer's assassination could suffer the same fate".

Now one knows that Pakistan has curious history books which portray the subjugation, defeat and slaughter of the populations of their territories by ruthless Arab invaders as "great victories", but their dictionaries must now have very peculiar definitions of "moderate" and of "scholar". Kher!

If I can arrogate to myself, only for a moment, the position of adviser to my friend's father, I would plead with Taseer as he reaches the gates of heaven and is met by the angel Jibrail, to boast not that he was a martyr to Islam, but that he was a martyr to the idea and, yes, to the very survival and continuity of Pakistan. Let Qadri claim to be a martyr to Islam after he is hanged — and let him take his chances.

It is important that Taseer is seen as such in the world and most of all in Pakistan, because the country has not in all its years of existence decisively defined its soul.

One may say that no country has or can, but we can certainly discern a distinct identity and inclination in, say, North Korea, Iran, China and even in capitalist and wildly democratic India. We all knew what Stalinist Russia was about and the world knows, and some of it craves, the myths by which the US of America defines itself.
Pakistan can go nowhere and can't even initiate the capability to recover from the floods that continue to devastate it until it decides between the martyrdoms of Taseer and Qadri. Have Pakistan's political parties decided to take a lead in steering the country towards this crucial decision, or are they, as all my Pakistani friends tell me, taking advantage of the chaos to profit from it as individuals and interest groups?
The instinctive response of any observer would be that the first step towards finding its dynamic is the imposition of order. Pakistan has done that only through the imposition of military rule. The instinct of the same observer might rather that order come about through the will of the people.

Late last year Pervez Musharraf launched his political party the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). The non-Pakistani observer's opinion of this party's manifesto will carry no weight with anyone, but could it be that Pakistan can only be brought to order and face the future under the elected leadership of someone who has a clear vision of this dilemma; an experience of trying to resolve it without the weight of a popular ballot behind him and may, with such a force be instrumental in resolving it; has not corruptly profited from the chaos imposed by the dilemma; can even without the swords on his shoulders command the respect of the armed forces and has demonstrated through the measures of his albeit military and disputedly-democratic rule that he is on the side of the redeeming (is it too early or silly to call it the Taseerian) idea of Pakistan?








What a lovely start to a new year. For all of us nervous about letting go and terrified of change, the first week of 2011 was very reassuring. Each day, we peered cautiously from under comforting blankets, fearing the worst. Okay, we could come out. The world hadn't changed with the turn of the decade. We began each day with fresh news of rapes, murders, financial scams and failure of justice. All was well with our country.
Take the case of this Bihari schoolteacher stabbing to death the local MLA (member of the legislative Assembly). On January 4, Raj Kishore Kesri, 51, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Purnea, was knifed to death in public by Rupam Pathak, 45, a school principal. Kesri was meeting people at home when Ms Pathak, who had known him for years, walked in with a concealed kitchen knife and stabbed him. She was almost lynched by the MLA's men. In hospital, she showed no remorse. "The MLA is a demon", she said, of course, he wouldn't die.

Till now, all we know about the MLA from public records of 2005 is that he had five serious criminal cases against him, including attempt to murder (Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code), attempt to commit culpable homicide (IPC, 308), voluntarily causing hurt (IPC, 323), wrongful restraint (IPC, 341), assault or criminally deterring public servant from discharging his duty (IPC, 353) and theft (IPC, 379), among other grave offences. He had not been convicted in any of these. In 2008, he had been charged with rape by another woman, but was given a clean chit.

Last year, Ms Pathak had accused Mr Kesri and his associates of raping her over three years. But in court, she withdrew the allegation. When the police gave the BJP MLA a clean chit, Ms Pathak filed a protest petition in court, saying she was bullied into withdrawing her charges. And now she has killed her accused.
Maybe she killed the MLA because she, like millions around the country and particularly in states like Bihar, had lost faith in the justice system. Because she believed that ordinary citizens like her would never be able to punish politicians like this MLA for even the gravest of crimes. Perhaps the bullying by the powerful to shut her up got to her. "It will be better if I am hanged", said the desperate woman.

Or perhaps she was part of a murder conspiracy against Raj Kishore Kesri, as alleged by the BJP. The police have swiftly arrested the editor of Quisling, the local weekly that had first reported Ms Pathak's complaint against the MLA. Or perhaps we will find out that the lady was of unsound mind and querulous character, as stated by some, and the MLA of admirable reputation and squeaky-clean character, as stated by some others.
With some luck and proper political affiliation of the murder accused, we may even find out that she didn't kill him, and that sundry Hindi haikus were found in Kesri's home, from which the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had safely concluded that the MLA, being fond of Japanese culture, had committed harakiri at his morning durbar. (Nah, no Hindi haikus have been found as yet, I just made this part up.)

Fact is, we may never know what the real story is. But what we do know is that our MLAs and members of Parliament (MPs) are very often criminals who get away with murder and rape. A large chunk of our elected representatives in Parliament and in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are history-sheeters. With the police and sometimes even the courts working against them and for the powerful netas, the ordinary victim has no access to justice. Usually they hide in shame, their reputation destroyed, their lives in a shambles for trying to punish the powerful. Sometimes they kill themselves. And rarely, they attack their tormentor. All this signifies a terrible failure of justice.

Take the testimony of Nirpreet Kaur in a Delhi court on January 6. She gave a detailed eyewitness account of how her father was burnt to death as Congress leader Sajjan Kumar incited a lynch mob in 1984. The match that set her father, doused in kerosene by the mob, ablaze was provided by a police inspector. Nirpreet, then 16, saw it all, but could not save her father. Later, her demand for justice sent her to jail on several false charges. Accused under Tada (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities), she spent years in jail, but was later cleared in all cases.

Meanwhile, Mr Kumar flourished as a Congress MP. He was withdrawn as a candidate in last year's parliamentary elections only after Sikh reporter Jarnail Singh threw a shoe at home minister P. Chidambaram at a press conference. The journalist had asked about the CBI's giving a clean chit to Mr Kumar and Mr Chidambaram had given a vague and smug reply. Mr Singh was roughed up by Congress supporters, but the party recognised the importance of the shoe attack, and dropped Mr Kumar as a candidate 25 years after he had been accused of instigating the Sikh massacre. The cases against him were reopened.

But a frenzied attack in public is the last recourse of the desperate. These shouldn't happen in a functioning democracy where people have faith in justice, where the police and the courts work. Sadly, our police act as the private army of influential netas and the courts very often give unjust verdicts that please the powerful. Among recent judgments, sentencing human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen to life imprisonment was one such. The Ayodhya verdict that did not even mention the demolition of the Babri Masjid and refused to acknowledge that it was a place of worship while accepting enthusiastically that Ram idols wrongfully placed there gave Hindus a two-thirds claim on "the disputed site" was another.

Every day, we see the failure of justice and the desperation that it breeds. We try to stem the rot by going after the disgruntled lot — whether they are desperate housewives like Rupam Pathak or organised killers like the Maoists. If we really want a clean state, we need to urgently clean up the mess that lies beneath. Then we could really have a Happy New Year.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at:








An amusing sight to start this year was that of President of India, Pratibha Patil, sitting gingerly on the edge of a deck chair, fully dressed, in her long-sleeved blouse and covered head on the beach at Benaulim, Goa. Some enterprising photographers used telephoto lenses and managed to grab that unforgettable, silk-clad vision. Sadly, there are no pictures of her husband who had gone paragliding.

Therefore, we had to imagine a man in a silk dhoti, waistcoat, kurta pyjama and perhaps even a Nehru topi fluttering over the Goa skyline. Or, were we wrong, was he being "normal" and had stripped to beachwear — in which case the vision is even more… err, surreal.

But all this, of course, in a way, is blasphemy for us, isn't it? These are sacred figures and given the high security, which surrounds them, how dare we even raise our eyes and notice their eccentric behaviour? At least, that's what the newspaper photographers in Goa were made to feel when they were chastised by the security forces and the Raj Bhavan for having taken the pictures.

Their publication, it seems, was controversial enough for the photographers to be summoned by the police and questioned from morning to afternoon.

They explained that they had actually gone to shoot Amitabh Bachchan and had managed to click the seated President quite by accident. Apparently, according to an unnamed spokesperson of the Raj Bhavan, the pictures were not "in good taste" and the President was not pleased. It is something to wonder about.
We apparently live in a democracy, but when the President of the country comes out in public and sits within the public — in full public view — it is "not in good taste" to take any photographs of her. Obviously, there were other reasons to question the issue of taste.

The President was the only fully-dressed person on the beach — apart from her small army of fully-armed security guards. Was that the objectionable bit?

Should there be now a ban on people on the beach when these "servants of the people" appear? The line-up of huge security and guards all around Margao right upto Colva was shocking. It is a complete waste of time for so much of the police force to be guarding one rather diminutive figure and her family. Is it in good taste for these people who hold high office to come and disturb the peace and equanimity of ordinary folk like you and me — not only by their bizarre choice of beachwear (silk sari etc.) but by the rude distance they maintain? Will we have to endure security checks now when we go to beach if the President of India is visiting?
On the other hand, wouldn't it have been much more fun and normal to have a President who could have hitched up her petticoat and waded into the water, at least?

Redemption came in the form of Big B, who was having a blast with his grandchildren, also on Benaulim on the same day. Dressed in beach shorts and a shirt, he even took his grandson for a spin on a water scooter.
And now my admiration for him has gone up 100 per cent: I have sat on those beach scooters and they are lethal. You have to ride them at really high speeds because the moment you pause, the scooter can sink. If only Madam Patil could be more like the irrepressible Bachchan!


Meanwhile, Goa was buzzing for New Year — and the beaches were crowded to the hilt. The Sunburn music festival has been enormously successful yet again. It attracts musicians and festival junkies from all over the world. But like every year since we discovered our wonderful 450-year-old home, we have spent New Year's Eve in it — enjoying the peace and quiet within its thick walls — while the world celebrates.
But the house also needs repairs and I was struck this time at how much self-respect the Goan labourer has. The painters who have installed themselves within our house have insisted on certain terms: they want tea with biscuits in the morning and a cold drink in the evening. And, of course, in between they have to have their siesta…

The siesta, like other traditions, still prevails in Goa. But I wonder how long it will be before this tiny state is also run over by the demands of a country racing towards modernisation.

One of the main drivers of modernity has also been an influx of money, and now I fear that Goa is being turned into one big party zone.

Of course, all tourism is good for the economy, but it also means that then (as had happened in Kashmir) there is a seasonal influx of people. And for many of the local residents this is the only time in the year when they can reap rich dividends.

It is also the time of the year when huge damage is done to the fragile ecology of this lovely state. The enormous piles of waterbottles, paper cups, plastic bags, which are already clogging up the small towns and villages — as well as the drains and the beaches — are going to cause havoc in the long run. What will it take to introduce eco-friendly tourism — and perhaps a cleaning up campaign — which should carry on simultaneously?

The problem when you treat a place like a party zone is that it becomes like a one-night stand. You have a good time and get out regardless of the consequences.

Goa needs urgent attention; it needs more rubbish bins and clean toilets — as well as the urgent encouragement of recycling habits.

Perhaps Pratibhaji could next time, don some beach wear, and lead a cleanliness drive?

The writer can be contacted at










I had taken my son to a birthday party in Manhattan when an Israeli woman in a flowing kurta gave me a beatific smile and said; "Yoga is very interesting". I muttered that I had no clue about yoga! She looked taken aback and blurted, "But you are Indian, right?" I patiently explained that not everyone from India was into yoga.


"I love horse riding which is what I did even when I lived in Delhi. I just never had anything to do with yoga", I explained as the woman studied me like I was an astonishing species. Clearly, I was ruining her warm and fuzzy yoga stereotype about Indians.


The woman then told me that she taught yoga at my son's school


and he was very good at it. Now it was my turn to be surprised. After this awkward first conversation, Dvora Furst who lives in an ashram in the East Village in Manhattan and I became friends.


She started teaching my son and four American children yoga in my house on Friday afternoons. I suppose it was all good because the kids would shriek "tiger, lotus, or downward-facing dog" when Dvora flashed yoga pose cards. Then they would bend like contortionists doing asanas. The yoga sessions always ended with the group chanting slokas around an oil diya.


Dvora is sought after as a yoga teacher in Manhattan's schools as she has developed her own interpretation for children. Fortunately, she has no intention of seeking a yoga patent. She hates the idea of US companies saying they want to copyright yoga.


The US Patent and Trademark Office has granted at least 131 patents on the subject of yoga, mostly for books and yoga mats. The database of pending trademarks lists 3,700 trademarks but no specific patents on yoga routines or variations of asanas.


Of course, the Beverly Hills "bad boy" of yoga, Calcutta-born Bikram Choudhury, who owns a fleet of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, started the patent fuss by claiming as his intellectual property, a sequence of 26 postures that his students performed in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius. Open Source Yoga Unity filed a lawsuit against Choudhury's 'hot yoga' patent and the lawsuit resulted in a confidential settlement agreement.


I still don't have a yoga limb in my body, but agree it should be freeof absurd patents. India should ensure the US doesn't give out patents for yoga teaching methods and routines.


As a first step, India's Traditional Knowledge Digital Library has taken good aim at yoga theft by documenting 900 yoga postures for the international patent system. By doing this India is putting yoga ahead of patents and keeping it free for the world.








Your friend complains that you saw right through him on the street without acknowledging him; you're very sure you didn't see him; in any case you were preoccupied. A radiologist scans an X-ray for a broken rib — but fails to see a tumour in the lungs that is blindingly obvious. Faced with a complex problem, a business tycoon says he'll go with his 'gut instinct', when an analytical approach may have served him better….


These are all mind-blowing illustrations of "everyday illusions" of the mind that profoundly influence our lives, argueDaniel Simons, psychology professor at the University of Illinois, and Christoper Chabris, assistant professor of psychology at Union College in New York, co-authors of The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us.


Many people hold distorted beliefs about their minds that are wrong in "dangerous ways", they reason. In an interview to DNA, Simons talks about these 'everyday illusions' that profoundly influence our lives — and deceive us and let us down,occasionally in critical situations and with serious consequences.

What's this about an invisible gorilla?


The book title is based on a study that Chris Chabris and I did more than a decade ago: we had people watch a video; their task was to count how many times three people wearing white shirts passed a basketball. We also had three people wearing black shirts passing a basketball, but they were to be ignored. About halfway through the video, a person wearing a full-bodied gorilla suit walks into the scene, turns to face the camera, thumps her chest at the camera, and walk off the other side. About half the people who watched the video didn't see the gorilla at all. When we asked them afterwards, they were shocked they could have missed it.


What broader principle does this illustrate?


First, that we often fail to see unexpected things that are right in front of us if we're focussing on something else. Even if we're looking right at it, we can miss seeing it. That applies in a wide range of contexts, including driving accidents, where people look but fail to see another car; at a swimming pool, the lifeguard sometimes doesn't see a child in trouble.


Ironically, the reason we fail to see unexpected things is because we're so good at focussing our attention. We need to be able to focus attention without being distracted. Unfortunately, the distractions sometimes are things we might want to see. Second, and perhaps more important, the finding is counter-intuitive: we think we will notice those unexpected things. It's that 'intuition' that we call the illusion of attention: we believe we automatically notice anything that's in front of us.


So, isn't multi-tasking efficient?


A lot of people believe they can do two things at once. The reality is that whenever you do two things at once, if they use up the same cognitive abilities or capacities, you don't do either one of them as well as you would otherwise. We can focus our attention on one thing at a time — and do it well.


Why do people sometimes appear to lie about their memories? For instance, President George W Bush publicly recalled having seen on TV the first plane hit the World Trade Center on 9/11, but there was no video footage of the first crash until later.

It may not so much be a lie as an illusion of memory: we believe our memories are accurate and precise, far more so than they actually are. For instance, if people are asked what they were doing and who they were with when they heard of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they can recall it in great detail. It feels vivid and emotional, like you're putting yourself back in that moment.


But just because it feels vivid doesn't mean it's accurate. We mistake richness in detail and that emotionality for precision. Our memories, even for highly important events, can be distorted in systematic ways.


Bush's experience is entirely consistent with the sort of memory distortions that people have all the time: he'd seen video of the second plane hitting the towers. There were news reports of the first plane hitting the tower, but we didn't have many details. It's quite possible that he misremembered actually seeing both when he really only had seen one.


What other illusions of the mind are there?


There's also 'change blindness': a failure to notice that something is different from one moment to the next, a failure to realise that something has changed in the world around us. In movies, this shows up as an error of continuity: in a scene in Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts picks up a croissant but takes a bit out of a pancake. In The Godfather, Sonny Corleone's car is riddled with bullets, but seconds later its windshield is miraculously repaired.


But it also has real-world implications: when you're driving, you have to notice when something about your situation changes. For instance, say you look down at your radio for a second and look back up. If the car in front of you has its brake lights on, and you didn't see them go on, you can easily miss the change.


Why are most talent show participants really awful?


It might be due to the 'illusion of confidence', but there are two aspects to it. One, we are overly trusting of confident people and assume that their confidence means they are skilled, competent and knowledgeable. The other is that we tend to overrate our own abilities, and the people who are the least skilled tend to be the most overconfident in their abilities. That's why we have people on talent shows like American Idol who are convinced that they are great but they are really awful.


The illusion of confidence also works in other settings: for instance criminal trials. If witnesses to crimes are certain of themselves, the jury is more likely to believe they remember correctly. They might just be confident people, though, and they could be confident that they remember even though they are wrong.


You are sceptical of people who claim extra-sensory perception powers or who say they're intuitive. Why?


The idea of the power of intuition has been oversold. There are lot of claims that you can rely on your gut to make better decisions than if you spent time deliberating about it. There are some contexts in which that's true; if you're trying to judge which ice cream you like better, there's no reason to think that studying it more will give any more insight.


For judgements based on emotional or aesthetic preferences, you don't get any additional information by thinking about it. But for decisions for which you can get more data, more often than not you'll do better if you take the time to reason it through.


Yet, the power of gut instincts appeals to people: the idea that you can take the easy way out, that you can do something without much effort, and perform just as well if not better is really appealing.


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The Public Undertakings Committee of the Assembly has done well to focus its attention on timber fire incidents in the State. It has sought a report from the Government (Forest Department as well as the State Transport Corporation) on details of such happenings between 1990-91 and 2007-08. Although no occurrence of fire in a timber deport has come to light in recent times it is necessary to ensure that there is no complacency or lowering of vigil in this regard. A look back should help in devising future pre-emptive strategies. In the none-too-distant past we have often lost our green wealth in infernos some of which are alleged to have been triggered by design to cover up the smuggling of wood. Apart from that, there is, of course, the continuing problem of mystery fires in forests. A document of the Planning Commission has noted: "Forest fires are prevalent in the Jammu region. Generally in the summer, Chir forests succumb to forest fire. So far the forest department has taken no concrete steps to prevent this." A detailed study of this region has observed: "Forest fires imprint a significant effect in shaping the character and composition of forest vegetation. Study conducted by Forest Survey of India reveals that 46% of forest area of Jammu and Kashmir State is subjected to repeated annual fires. The major losses are suffered by chir pine crop. Coming to the fire characteristics, these move in all directions after ignition. They move rapidly with wind or uphill especially in Kalidhar region where the head fire flame is close to forest floor and preheats the fuel. Firstly, the fire starts from low vegetation as surface fire Further it gains intensity along the slopes and preheats the over-storey canopy, causing it to burn rapidly as crown fire, which generally burn foliage and small limbs of trees above forest floor." 

On the other hand, the Forest Protection Force has claimed in its performance record of 2008-09 that it has saved 2700 kanals of area against fire. The draft State Forest policy has thus proposed a remedy: "Management of forest fires is an important aspect of forest protection. Working Plan of each Forest Division will devote a separate section on forest fire management. Proper equipment and trained manpower will be provided for effective management of forest fires in vulnerable areas. Involvement of local communities in prevention and control of forest fires will be further strengthened through incentive based mechanism." There is a general belief that forest fires are as old as forests themselves. These are ignited by natural causes like lightning and high atmospheric temperature to which dry senescent leaves and twinges in particular are vulnerable bursting into flames kindled by the slightest spark. There are man-made disasters too; a carelessly thrown cigarette butt in a dry bush can play havoc.


Now and then we have come across forest fires in which landmines have exploded further aggravating the damage. This can be averted once the basic source of trouble is nipped in the bud. We should do everything possible to stop the erosion of our green belts. The nature has been extremely kind to us in this State. It expects a matching response from the beneficiaries. With the Assembly panel taking interest one trusts that forests and their produce will be safer.







A report in this newspaper recently brings to the fore our lazy verging on pathetic approach towards making travel safer in our mountains. The report says that there is a proposal to install crash barriers on the Batote-Doda-Kishtwar road (National Highway 1B) but it has been hanging in the air for rather too long --- one and a half years, to be precise. The reason is that the money for the purpose is not being made available. This is surprising considering that it is perhaps the most accident-prone part of the State. Hardly a fortnight passes without our not hearing of one tragedy or the other on this 110-kilometre long stretch. In fact, if one goes back a little further one will come across the deliberations at high-level meetings emphasising the necessity of raising fortifications on hilly roads. Evidently the State Government has been as slow in following up its well-intentioned decisions in the past as is the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) now. As we have often stated in these columns there is a lot of concern at the time a road accident takes place. Copious tears are shed and moving condolence messages are issued. The death toll during such mishaps in the mountains is invariably high. The occupants of a vehicle skidding off the road and rolling down from a considerable height into a gorge or a stream --- the mighty Chinab in this instance --- have little chance of survival. There is, however, hope for them if their means of transportation meet some sort of resistance after initially losing their way but before facing an eventual disaster. It is precisely to prevent them from going totally adrift that crash barriers are brought up. Also known as guardrails, these are obstructions on a road designed to prevent vehicles from leaving the roadway. Their ultimate objective is to improve road safety. Of course, one presumes that there is no compromise at all with their construction quality as nearly impregnable fences. Any delay with respect to them is unjustified. It is said that a few crores of rupees are needed to complete the project. This is a paltry sum i in view of the significance of the task for which it is to be utilised. Human life is too precious to be allowed to be wasted for avoidable reasons. No responsible arm of the administration should be callous.
Having noted this we must point out that the crash barriers alone are not enough to make our hill travel safer. A fundamental requirement is smoother road itself. It should be wide enough too. There are then other precautions as well which we must take. In terms of infrastructure the roads should be equipped with plenty of studs and speed-breakers at blind turns, for instance, and well-illuminated safety signals. Above all, there is the human factor. Rash and negligent driving should be shunned at all costs. Vehicles should be in top condition. A perpetual trouble with us is the overcrowding of buses; it is something that is best avoided whatever the compulsion. Everything about hill travel is a challenge. Drivers have to be vigilant and passengers careful. Moreover, we should always be prepared to spend more in deference to a tough terrain. .









How come our friend across the border has spared us for nearly a fortnight or more. There must be something wrong. It's natural, not unusual for Pakistan to give us our daily dose of venom. Y'see, it doesn't do you any good not to regularly spit out venom; dealing it out in one quiet spurt is no fun; that way once done, you do not have to wait guessing all the time what next or when.

The truth, though, may be that Pakistan is busy sorting out its internal affairs to be bothered about for the moment about the "known" enemy. And when I speak of Pakistan here, I am not speaking for all the good people inhabiting the troubled land.

It's just that the current crop of leaders of the country is far too busy, in a crude way you might call it, taking each other's pyjamas off. The alliance that props Asif Ali Zardari's government is in total disarray. For the record the PPP's biggest partner in Sindh and in Islamabad too, the Qauami Muttahida Movement of the Urdu-speaking population has withdrawn its Ministers from the government in Islamabad; Jamiat-ul-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rahman wants Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Geelani to be sacked because, unlike our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, he does not know how to mollycoddle the different shades of government represented in his government. Yet the man was desperate early this week trying to stay in power.

The Nawaz Sharif Muslim League, the second largest group in the National Assembly and ruling the most populous province, Punjab continues to sit on the fence. An original coalition partner of Zardari, Nawaz Sharif wants to keep Zardari on the tenterhooks without ever telling him which way he will jump.

The other fact is that Nawaz Sharif knows that Zardari and his People's Party have sunk to hitherto unknown depths in terms of popularity. Invoking the name of his wife, the martyred Benazir Bhutto does help get the crowds out even now but not with the intensity one had known when she was around. Zardari is a lonely, unpopular man in the Aiwan-e-Sadar, with few of the old guard willing to bail hin out.

Then, what's it that keeps him and his government alive? It's largely the Army and the ISI. And not because there is any love lost between them but for the simple reason that General Pervez Kayani does not trust the next man, Mian Shah Nawaz. The Muslim League (N) leader can't be unaware of the three-year extension which Kayani gave to himself as Army Chief just as he was headling for retirement.

It does not seem particularly encouraging even to the Pakistani people at large. For every fresth bit or Wikileaks disclosures about their country is accompanied on Pak TV by footage of meetings between President Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Geelani Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Gen. Pasha, the ISI chief and Nawaz Sharif and his brother the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz confabulating with the just retired former US Ambassador Anne Patterson. The sudden death of President Obama's AF-PAK interlocutor Holbrooke should in this context be seen as a set-back.

Even the increasing pressure on Afghanistan by the American-led NATO troops for a freer hand in crushing the rebels on either side of the AF-Pak border puts Kayani and his gang in a catch- 22 situation! Wikileasks spells more trouble for Kayani here when it quotes his double speak on the country's security interests. Curiously, and I am quoting Mariana Baabar, one of Pakistan's best known journalists, when she speaks of a wikileaks cable of Oct. 7, 09 "sacrilegiously" citing ISI's Gen. Pasha in contact with the Israelis about terror threats against Israeli targets in India.

This disclosure prompted the Pakistani defence analyst, Dr. Shirin Mazari to ask "what message are we conveying to the Palestinians as the Army look up to Patterson (former) US Ambassadar as a glorified agony aunt for a solution to all their problems". Baabar notes that the US influence in Pakistan isn't the stuff of myth. The Wilkileaks reveal how Kayani told President Musharraf in 2008 that he should resign as President since his likely successor Zardari, had promised to grant him (Musharraf) immunity from prosecution. Once Zardari stepped into the President's House, he did'nt seem as enthusiastic about the word given to Kayani. Patterson, says Baabar, acerbically noted in a cable "Zardari is walking tall these days, hopefully not too tall to forget his promise to Kayani and to us on the immunity deal (for Musharraf)".

These then are the preoccupations of Pakistan currently to spare us Indians from their customary barbs. I had indeed wondered how come for almost two weeks Islamabad and its spokesmen had spared Indians "of pursuing their malign attentions". It is not that Pakistan has altogether stopped to keep the Kashmiri pot boiling even at the height of winter in that State. The seasonal snows may have shut down the passes, yet not a day passes when you do not hear of Pak-trained terrorists trying to sneak in through snow and sleet.
Of clashes on the border of the LoC we have been having quite a few, each claiming casualities on either side. Even in the snowbound valley the separatists haven't quite paused in their labours. They even managed the other day one major stone-pelting session, at a time when stones and pebbles are covered by thick layers of snow. But then you had the answer to that and to the spate of stone-peelting incidents last summer: The separatists are offering really high wages to youngsters for pelting stones at policemen and their vehicles setting fire to government property. The bumper fruit crops and profits in Sopore and Shopian have come in handy to the separatists, who have promptly blackmailed the exporters of fruit into submitting a part of their earnings for the stone-throwers.

In the midst of all this mayhem I was gladdened to hear children from all across the valley, interviewed by the local TV, praying that peace would prevail in the urban centres for them to be able to take annual exams. There was genuine fear in their voices that they might yet lose a year at school.

This makes me wonder what the three interlocutors appointed by New Delhi to disentangle the problems in the State have achieved during the past two months or so. Why can't they at the very least prevail upon the separatists to hold their fire until the schools and college exams are done. Personally I don't see the threesome achieving much but I am happy for them - all three probably retired from their jobs - to have been granted a lucrative remuneration of Rs. 1.20 lakhs plus Rs. 40000 p.m. for the great patriotic service they have undertaken. To be sure that the three live in comfort additional whopping salaries, they will be treated as State guests whenever they visit the State which I hope includes at least one wazawan a day. Y'see the valley winter demands rich food. Since they will be spending only one week in a month in the State the three can be assured of a long, long paid holiday.








2010 may or may not go in the annals of contemporary history of the country as a year known for mega scams involving corruption in the highest echelons of Indian polity and society but it would definitely be remembered in the parliamentary history as year when one entire session failed to have a debate or a discussion.
The blame game between the ruling UPA and the opposition shall continue with the two accusing each other for the parliamentary impasse. Undoubtedly, it is the duty of the opposition in the Parliamentary form of democracy to remain on vigil and bring misdeeds and wrong doings of the government but this role cannot be fulfilled by blocking the parliamentary business and debate. 

Whether the ruling combine agrees to the opposition's demand for a probe into the alleged scam of 2G spectrum allocation by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) or not only time will tell but one thing can be said with certainty that corruption will continue unabated in the system because none of the political actors are really keen to address the problem which is eating away the very vitals on which the democracy functions and flourishes. 

So many JPCs and equally more commissions of enquiry have failed to make a dent on prevailing corruption which continues to grow as the political parties are really not serious to tackle the menace. One remembers the days of Bofors scam when the entire country was agitated about the alleged bribe that had been paid to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the purchase of Howitzer guns from Swedish company A B Bofors. The entire country was appalled at the news as it broke and dominated the media columns. 

After a long debate, a JPC was constituted and the issue remained in the public domain as media persons were officially and unofficially briefed about the proceedings of the JPC. The opposition gained politically leading to the defeat of the Congress party in the 1989 general elections. A Janata Dal government led by former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh was formed which sowed the seeds of coalition politics in the country. 
Though V P Singh government was short lived, it showed the contradictions of the coalition politics. It also marked the demise of a strong Prime Minister which had been the hallmark of the years of premiership of Indira Gandhi. During her years in power, Prime Minister's office better known by its abbreviation PMO became one of the most important tools of executive action. 

The Janata Dal government, which was formed on the basis of outside support of both the BJP as well as the Left, did precious little to unearth the mystery of the illegal Bofors payments as it struggled to survive. The BJP, whose leader Arun Jaitley was the Additional Solicitor General in the short lived V P Singh government, was busy in making the Ram Temple movement successful rather than ensuring the smooth functioning of a government which had come to power on the issue of corruption. 

Fall of the Janata Dal government ushered in the era of coalition politics. By definition, the party leading the coalition has to be accommodative rather be submissive to the wishes, desires and whims of the coalition partners. All the coalition governments bear enough testimony to the above phenomenon. 

Yes, it is true that another Congress government came to power in 1991 and the issue of Bofors was not a priority for them but then from 1996 to 2004, Governments in New Delhi were of those parties which had politically benefited from the Bofors rather from the issue of corruption but none of them including the 6 years long NDA government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could not reach to the bottom of the allegation to prove that the illegal payments were paid to the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. 
Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, who has now again demanded the reopening of criminal investigations into the 25-year old Bofors case in the wake of the order of the Income Tax authorities who have detailed the money trail of alleged kickbacks and commissions paid to Win Chadha and Ottavio Quattrocchi, was a Law Minister in the Vajpayee government and could hardly do anything to unravel the truth. 

Surprisingly, the Vajpayee government did not enact a single law to prevent corruption. Despite claiming to be leading a "party with difference", neither former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani nor Jaitley, who had the solid support of the Sangh Parivar, could influence the government to undertake reforms which could hit at the very root of the corruption.

Even the issue of bringing back the black money stashed away in the Swiss banks was not tackled while the BJP was leading the government but once the party came into opposition corruption becomes the leading theme of the party which firmly believes in the politics of emotions than of substance. 

Various Congress governments including the present one have undoubtedly been guilty of various acts of commission and omissions which have resulted in scams but then the UPA-I should also be credited with enacting the Right to Information which is an important tool to expose corruption.

The way to eliminate corruption from the political and financial system is to have a systemic approach by enacting laws which comes hard on corrupt political leaders, bureaucrats and financial leaders. And to achieve this, there is a need for a political consensus among the major political parties which remains elusive as the political parties are more interested in capturing power rather tackling the issue of corruption. 
Probe by a JPC may help the opposition to win an electoral battle but the war against the corruption cannot be won by such an approach. (NPA)








If the bill is legislated without alterations, it will give rise to even more commercialisation of the education sector. 

From kindergarten to schools to colleges and universities, commercialisation has taken root. When Jamsetji Tata started the Indian Institute of Science or Madan Mohan Malavia started the Banaras Hindu University there was no profit motive behind such initiatives.

Today perhaps a handful of philanthropists think of starting educational institutions with an altruistic motive.

Even swamijis and matadhipathis, who are involved in starting such institutions, look for profit. If this is the environment in India, will foreign universities be any different?

In the US, reputed universities are mostly private and often supported by their alumni. These are Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, Northwestern, University of Chicago, Rice, Carnegie Mellon, etc. If they were to come to India to start universities, we should welcome them. Unfortunately most of them are not interested. They already have access to Indian talents in terms of graduate students and well qualified faculty from India. Some of their business colleges have shown interest to open centres or join hands to offer executive or degree programmes. This is only to earn additional revenue or learn about an emerging market.

On the other hand, less reputed foreign universities which are prepared to bend rules can see enormous profit opportunities. The proposed bill has clauses banning transfer of profits. But creative accounting can always overcome such problems. With the entry of these commercially oriented foreign universities India will reach another sophisticated level of commercialisation which we cannot even imagine today. It has been argued that some of them are already doing that in an informal way and the bill is supposed to stop such exploitation by framing rules. If the bill can effectively result in stopping such exploitation, then it is a welcome reform.
Some protagonists of the English language and western culture may claim that but for western education we would have remained a backward country under the burden of caste, sati, ban on widow marriage, untouchability, etc. But a study of Indian history does show that there were leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Vallabhbai Patel, Raj Gopalachary, K. M. Munshi and others who were deep rooted in Indian philosophy. Do we want to a repeat of history even when we recall the dreadful education system introduced by Macaulay and the terrible harm it has done to our education system?

The argument to support the bill is that foreign universities offer competition in the education sector. Though competition is always good under a commercial environment, it is not the case for the education sector. Also, the competition by the third-tier foreign universities is likely to be based more on an irrational desire to have "foreign degrees" and less on the quality of education. We have seen how even the best managed government schools are suffering from the competition by third-rate "convent" schools offering English medium.
Another argument to support foreign investment is that only 12 per cent of our school leavers go to college and the government wants to increase it to 30 per cent by 2020. This is because a large majority is unable to complete high school education. For example, many engineering colleges are not able to fill their seats while science colleges do not get enough candidates seeking admission.

We need to ask the question whether we need foreign investment in education at all. Is it because we do not have enough capital? Or is it because we do not know how to impart world class education? The answers to these two questions are in the negative. 

By changing priorities, the government can find enough budget. India already has world class educational institutions like IITs, IIMs, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, etc.

It is argued that once foreign universities start their campuses in India, Indian students will not go abroad resulting in the saving of foreign exchange. One can't agree with this argument. For many it is a way to go abroad seeking higher paying jobs and to migrate. The lure of a better standard of living abroad, especially in western countries, is still there despite India shining. 

We should certainly keep our doors open for well planned interaction with the leading universities in the world as we are already doing. One of the reasons for the phenomenal success of the IITs and the IIMs was the assistance they got from reputed foreign universities. But we should not expect that by adopting the present bill we will solve the basic problem of declining quality of higher education. 

It is highly unlikely that any revolution which is larger than the one in the telecom sector, as predicted by Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, will happen as a result of this bill. Should any revolution take place its impact is likely to be more harmful than beneficial. (INAV)

(The writer is former Vice Chancellor of Gujarat University)




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





THE government has linked the wages paid under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to inflation from January 1. This will raise the wages paid under the Act — Rs 100 a day at present — by 17 to 30 per cent. Accordingly, the government's spending on this national programme will go up from the present Rs 40,100 crore a year. The cash-strapped government has resisted Congress president Sonia Gandhi's pressure for aligning the NAREGA payments with minimum wages. The government cannot afford to make a commitment it cannot keep.


Passed in 2005, the landmark legislation initially covered 200 districts and was extended to all 593 districts in the country in 2008. It serves the twin purpose of undertaking measures like flood control, water conservation etc and providing guaranteed employment for 100 days in a year, or unemployment allowance if no work is given, to a rural adult with a job card. NAREGA, as the scheme is popularly called, has raised rural incomes, checked migration from villages and promoted inclusive growth, and also contributed to the Congress' return to power.


The scheme has faced problems like delayed payments, resistance to the issue of jobs cards and fudging of records, but it has brought in transparency and accountability in providing entitlements to the rural poor through a bottom-up approach in a system notorious for leakages. The unemployment allowance results from an administrative failure and the amount paid is deducted from the pay of the erring officials. All wage payments are supposed to be made through banks and post offices. The administrative costs cannot exceed 6 per cent of the amount spent. The entire expenditure on works and workers is put on the NAREGA website. Details of works undertaken and material purchased are provided on the walls of panchayat buildings. Rajasthan has led the states in NAREGA implementation, while Punjab and Haryana have lagged behind. But awareness about the scheme is spreading and workers are getting organised to demand their entitlements from reluctant state governments.









IT is a sad consequence of the abdication of authority by the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra that a group of political activists belonging to the youth wing of the Shiv Sena was able to dictate the selection of the Mumbai University hockey team for an All-India Inter-University Hockey Tournament and force the exclusion of some outstation players. Reports say around 50 Shiv Sainiks marched into the Khalsa College campus in Mumbai on Wednesday afternoon, where the Mumbai team for the fortnight-long tournament was to be announced, and told those in charge to give preference to locals if they didn't want the matter to be taken up by "higher authorities" of the Sena or its youth wing, the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena. After spending a couple of hours on the campus, the activists left with the team they wanted. Out of the five outsiders who were from Haryana and Rajasthan but were studying in Mumbai, three had been dropped.


One can hardly hold it against the team selectors when the state government's own record of protecting the people against political goons has been pathetic. Indeed, the Shiv Sena's record in the past year speaks for itself. It thrashed non-Marathi auto and taxi drivers, attacked movie theatres that screened "My Name Is Khan", threatened to sabotage Rahul Gandhi's Mumbai tour, banned and burned a book written three decades ago and anointed Shiv Sena supreme Bal Thackeray's son Aditya as the future of the party. As so often in the past, the government in Maharashtra timidly acquiesced in all the excesses of the Sena activists. It is this attitude that has turned the Shiv Sena into a Frankenstein monster whose one call for a bandh paralyses life in the entire business capital of the country.


Hitherto, the Shiv Sena's connection to sporting matters was normally restricted to cricket and Pakistan. The latest action will embolden the Sena goons to extend their destructive influence to other sports too. It would be unfortunate indeed if such attitude as was displayed in the latest incident leads some other states to act in retaliation against Maharashtrian youth. It is time the state government called a halt to this brazen parochialism. If it does not, the consequences could be grave.








IN a progressive step, the government has decided to allow private shipbuilders to construct warships. The measure comes as a sequel to a series of measures taken by the government during the last decade to involve the private sector to bolster India's self-reliance in defence hardware. Until the 1980s, private sector participation had been non-existent in India's state-owned military industrial complex. At best, the private sector played an ancillary role. It was after the disintegration of India's main weapon supplier, the Soviet Union, that the Indian defence establishment, further induced by its economic liberalisation policies, began to reach out to the private sector. In 2001, the government took the unprecedented step of permitting 100 per cent Indian private sector participation (and even foreign direct investment up to 26 per cent) in the defence industry. Since then there has been a steady involvement of the private sector in the defence industry.


But India is still far behind advanced democracies such as the United States where the military-industrial complex has a huge private sector involvement. The Indian private sector's success in the civil sector is only too well known. And so, there is no reason why India's private sector cannot deliver in the defence sector. Obviously, the issue is not that simple. Many private companies do not find the defence sector lucrative enough because not only is their client likely to only be the Indian armed forces, but they are unlikely to be able to compete in the highly competitive world armament market dominated by both big and well established players. Also, despite the government continuously revising the defence procurement procedures, many in the private sector are still finding it difficult to do business with a defence ministry dominated by civilian bureaucrats and steeped in bureaucratic mindset.


All said and done, however, there is no doubt that private sector participation in the defence sector is imperative for India's quest for self-reliance, especially in core weapon technologies, which foreign countries are either usually reluctant to export or sell only with a high price tag.









THE decade that began on January 1 will be Africa's decade. Unprecedented opportunities are opening up for India-Africa cooperation in Africa's rise in several areas, notably higher education, industrialisation and agriculture.


There is a new awakening in Africa about its place in the fast-changing world of the 21st century. There are breakthroughs in several areas — a remarkable decline in the incidence of AIDS and malaria, a tangible reduction in poverty, a substantial increase in longevity, a rise in primary school enrollment from 58 per cent in 2000 to 74 per cent in 2008, and a general decline of violence. Provision of fertiliser and new varieties of seeds by governments to poor farmers in countries like Malawi has increased agricultural yields, and surpluses of tropical crops are finding markets abroad.


In the continent as a whole, 2010 was exceptional in the number of elections. Burundi, Guinea, Ethiopia and the semi-autonomous region of Somalia had elections early in the year; Tanzania and Chad followed. The referendum in Kenya was another successful democratic exercise giving that country a new constitution, which is helping to resolve ethnic tensions. Increasingly, the voters are holding politicians accountable, and that bodes well for Africa's future progress.


The economy of the continent has shown much strength in a period of global recession. According to an IMF report, Sub-Saharan Africa grew at more than 5 per cent during the period 2000-2009. The spike in commodity prices contributed only a quarter of the growth. Even countries without mineral resources grew at a healthy rate of more than 4 per cent.


The consumer spending of the continent, with less than 1 billion people in 2008, was $860 billion, more than that of India with a population of 1.2 billion. As many as 316 million mobile phones were added between 2000 and 2008. There are likely to be shortfalls in the achievement of Millennium Development Goals, largely because of the shortfalls in financial support promised by rich Western countries; but the broad picture is one of dynamism, hope and the promise of continuing advance in the years ahead.


At a recent discussion in Delhi, Rwanda's young and dynamic High Commissioner, Mr Nkurunziza, spoke of a new paradigm in India-Africa partnership. India, he said, should lead the industrialisation of Africa and it should help with the human resource development in the continent by setting up model institutions like our own IIMs, IITs and universities.


In fact, the recent turn-around in Rwanda from a nation devastated by genocide to a peaceful, vibrant, electoral democracy is a great story in itself. Till the traumatic genocide of 1994, in which 1 million people were killed and 3.5 million had fled the country, Rwanda was a virtual dictatorship. The next eight years marked the transition under a multi-party, national government. A new constitution adopted in 2003 laid the foundation for a new democratic Rwanda.


In the 2003 elections, Mr Paul Kagame was elected President. Under his leadership peace was fully restored, the country gained stability and reconciliation between the Hutus and the Tutsies, the two major ethnic groups of the country. In addition to solid progress in economic and social development, constitutional processes in the fledgling democracy were strengthened. The majority party, for example, can hold only the post of Head of State; the posts of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House have to go to the Opposition.


The election in August 2010, in which Mr Kagame was re-elected President with a tally of 93.8 per cent of the votes cast, was a remarkably peaceful exercise. The turnout in the election was 95.4 per cent of the 5.1 million electorate despite the fact that voting in Rwanda is not compulsory. Both figures have been questioned by some NGOs and the media in the West. It stands to reason, though, that a nation new to democracy will demonstrate great enthusiasm for the electoral process and register a large turnout at the polling stations. We experienced this here in India in the early years of Independence. Also, in nascent democracies leadership and a leader's charisma and record of service matter.


President Kagame, in his first term, had endeared himself to all sections of the population by not resorting to retribution for genocidal crimes. Socio-economic progress achieved under his leadership and the virtual elimination of corruption in his first term as President had increased his popularity. Women now enjoy a special status: they are in majority in Parliament, and 40 per cent of the Cabinet posts are held by women. There is near 100 per cent health care and immunisation. Enrollment in primary education is 97 per cent. Nearly all girls have access to education. The number of universities, one in 1994, increased to 16.


The World Bank recently judged Rwanda as the best governed state in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the top country for doing business in. Under a single-window scheme introduced by President Kagame, it takes just three days for a foreigner to start a business enterprise in Rwanda. The country, impoverished beyond imagination by predatory colonialism and torn by ethnic conflict for decades, has become a development model in a rising Africa.


In the success stories coming out of Africa, there are lessons to learn for the world, and a message for India in particular — Africa looks to India, not for patronage, not for roads and railways enabling exploitation and export of its vital resources, but for cooperation in activating its indigenous talent and in harnessing Africa's resources for Africans.


Happily, some limited but impressive Indian engagement with Africa of the kind that the Africans want already exists. For example, the Pan-African e-network, an idea of Dr Abdul Kalam, is helping in e-medicine and e-education. Some of India's better-known corporate houses — Tatas, Bajaj, OVL, Essar, Sanmar, Ranbaxy and Reliance — have their presence in Africa. The acquisition of Zain telecom by Bharti Mittal has made it the biggest telecom company in Africa.


There is good, though rather small, cooperative activity in agriculture also. Karuturi Global has taken a large acreage in Ethiopia for horticulture, and Punjabi farmers in East Africa are growing high-value crops, including pulses and maize, for local consumption and for export. The rice cultivation project in Senegal by Kirloskar is often cited as an example of South-South cooperation. NIIT has done pioneering work in IT training in countries like Nigeria.


An African leader said recently that, in Africa, China was doing more, but India was doing better. We can and should be doing more, especially by way of cooperation in higher education — in engineering, business administration and medicine — and in the development of indigenous industry. And with an improved record of performance, we can do even better than we are doing now.


Indian universities, think-tanks and the media have a great role to play in increasing awareness in our country about a new wind of change blowing across Africa. Our government, on its part, should give a much higher priority in India's foreign policy to diplomatic relations with African countries. An African Head of State should be the chief guest on the occasion of Republic Day, 2012.


India's engagement should move away from sporadic events to a continuous activity and engagement, and the implementation of identified projects should be carried out as scheduled.


Mr M. Rasgotra is a former Foreign Secretary and Mr Viswanathan has served as India's Ambassador in many African countries.








I SPENT a weary day, trudging form one laboratory to another, intimidated and frightened by the competitively futuristic ambience of each and by the cold, clinical detachment that the technicians brought to their dealings with me. I survived because of the comfort and constant reassurance provided by the presence of my children. This process had been occasioned by the occurrence of occasional spells of dizziness, culminating in a collapse on the roadside.


Late in the evening, when the results of all the tests had come in, I met my medical specialist. Atul studied the reports carefully and then smiled his usual reassuring smile. "Nothing to worry about," he said. "It is a disease which upsets the fluid in your ears and causes this disbalance. It can be controlled through medication but you will have to accept it as part of the process of ageing."


The quiet acceptance I had brought to all the difficult cards that life had dealt me slipped away from me to be replaced with blistering, searing anger with life and with the world, not only at this latest blow but also for having denied me the opportunities that I knew I could have done so much with. But even as the anger flashed through my mind I saw an opportunity staring me in the face.


The two interests in my life have been my teaching and my writing. For 47 years the time I have spent with my students in the classroom, has been the focus of my existence and a source of great joy. With my writing I have not been so lucky. Hampered as I was with the knowledge that my limited writing talent would not permit me to earn a livelihood, I could not bring to my writing the passion and enthusiasm that I brought to my teaching. I have written a number of books, short stories and an endless stream of middles and found pleasure in this writing. But it had always remained, at best, a secondary activity.


Most of my writing had also been compromised because it was commissioned work, written more with an eye on the payment received than for the pure joy of writing. Now with a modest, but steady, income to give me financial security, and having been told that I am too old to be given a teaching assignment, I could do what I have always wanted to do and fill the vacuum that I have always felt while embarking on a book: write for the sheer joy of writing without a thought to contracts, royalties and reviews


The anger slipped away from me as suddenly as it had come to be replaced by a thrill of anticipation. I would waste no time on useless regrets, on futile guilt trips, the sense of loss at the silence of so many of friends. I would concentrate now on all the things I had wanted to write and not been able to. I was content.









WHATEVER may lie ahead, it hasn't been a happy New Year for Pakistan's ruling party. Should the hectic efforts to salvage what's left of its coalition and to bolster it sufficiently to fend off potential parliamentary motions of no-confidence come to naught, perhaps the likeliest outcome will be another bout of direct military rule.


That has always been a profoundly unpleasant prospect. It was particularly so in 1977, when Gen Zia-ul-Haq's coup pre-empted a formal truce between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's government and its political opponents, and led to the murkiest phase in Pakistan's history, whose appalling repercussions continue to reverberate. But even in 1958 and again in 1999, when sections of the population welcomed military intervention as a form of temporary salvation from the shenanigans of self-obsessed politicians, the consequences were largely unsalutary.


Most Pakistanis ought to have realised long ago that if Pakistan has a future — and it's arguably a bigger 'if' now than ever before — it lies in consolidating civilian rule, establishing a coherent modus operandi for coexistence with India, and easing out of the clutches of the US without conceding ground to violence-prone obscurantists.


It's a tall order, no doubt, and the task is obviously confounded by the calibre of the politicians Pakistanis have to contend with. But there are no other feasible options. Direct military rule — and the deliberate implication in describing it as 'direct' is that the army has effectively never been completely out of power since 1977 — would be a case of two steps back without a face-saving one step forward.


At the same time, it ought to be acknowledged that the PPP's political rivals offer little scope for comparative advantage. The MQM accurately accuses Nawaz Sharif's faction of the PML of having been created by the military, but in doing so overlooks the circumstances of its own genesis in the early 1980s under a more ethnically specific nomenclature, when its emergence was facilitated by a regime that welcomed civil strife on the basis of ethnicity as a distraction from political challenges to its legitimacy.


Both these parties have evolved since then, but hardly in directions that could be deemed politically desirable. Much the same could be claimed about the PPP, of course. Notwithstanding its transformation within the first decade of its foundation in 1967 from a potential vehicle for social democracy into a profoundly personalised political entity characterised by autocratic zeal and a high degree of opportunism, circumstances in the late 1970s propelled it into the role of a pro-democracy force. The popular enthusiasm that greeted Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan in 1986 must have caused the spontaneous soiling of more than one pair of khaki pants.


She lost little time, however, in demonstrating a tendency to imbibe the wrong lessons from the nation's recent past. She had seen how her father had incurred the wrath of Uncle Sam by ploughing his own furrow in the field of international affairs, and by openly pledging to build a Pakistani nuclear deterrent after India had carried out a test in 1974. Although there are no WikiLeaks cables to substantiate the claim, it is widely believed that the US was complicit in Bhutto's overthrow in 1977 and put up no meaningful resistance to his judicial murder two years later.


At the very least, one would think a certain wariness of Washington ought to have been the logical response of a bereaved daughter. She evidently decided, instead, that the only feasible route to power in Pakistan passed through Capitol Hill. And the extent to which she was willing to ingratiate herself is demonstrated during a particularly cringe-worthy movement in Bhutto, the documentary produced by her lobbyist-publicist friend Mark Siegel, when in an audio-clip Benazir seeks to clarify that Henry Kissinger's notorious threat to ZAB, to the effect that a "horrible example" would be made of him should he persist with his nuclear ambitions, was, in fact, "a friendly warning". She evidently couldn't bring herself to suspect — or at least to say — that the US could do any wrong.


Which helped, of course, to propel her to power in 1988, after Zia got his comeuppance in midair. Perhaps, "power" is something of an exaggeration, given that the PPP did not have a parliamentary majority, compromised on continuity (with a hostile President and a military-affiliated Foreign Minister), and left hardly any discernible marks on the political landscape. The credibility of Benazir's return to office in the following decade was compromised when her husband was appointed Minister for Investment, of all things, and a bitterly public estrangement with her mother ensued over the return to Pakistan of Murtaza Bhutto.


Murtaza's murder in 1996 at the hands of a police posse on the streets of Karachi, just metres from his home, effectively sealed Benazir's political fate for the time being. Her mortal fate was sealed 11 years later, at least partly on account of her willingness once more to be a pawn in the hands of powers she appears never to have fully understood.


Her political and personality flaws do not substantially detract from the intensity of the tragedy on Dec 27, 2007. In the film "Bhutto", though, the attempts to strike a balance are somewhat superficial and ham-handed. A proportion of the sound bites are allocated to detractors, though, including Fatima Bhutto - whose visceral reaction to those she deems responsible for the assassination of her father, Murtaza, is much more human than that of her aunt. The movie provides a momentary counterpoint to the official narrative on this score with the image of a clean-shaven Asif Ali Zardari at a condolatory function in the aftermath of his brother-in-law's demise.


A considerably more poignant clip - unlikely to have ever been seen before - depicts, all too briefly, ZAB in his prison cell. It serves as a reminder of what has been lost since the fleeting period back in the early 1970s when there were grounds for being optimistic about Pakistan's future. Who on earth can bring back that feeling?


By arrangement with Dawn







THE assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer has unleashed a torrent of commentary about the decline of society, and rightly so. The story of the latest political figure killed at the hands of an extremist, though, has a twist to it: Mr Taseer broke no law, temporal or spiritual, but was instead killed for questioning a law. That unprecedented motive for an assassination ought to be reflected on. The country appears to have lurched to the conservative right even further and more abruptly than ever before in recent years. Consider that when Gen Musharraf (retd) attempted to revisit the issue of the blasphemy laws, he quickly had to back down and was only able to make some procedural changes. But just those few short years ago the level of vitriol and anger the Musharraf-led effort stirred up was nothing in comparison to what has been on display since the conviction of the Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, for blasphemy late last year. Clearly, the forces of extremism are on the march like never before and they are determined to bully and threaten people, with death even, to push them out of the public discourse.


Yet, this is not just an issue about social and religious conservatives versus liberals competing to define Pakistan. The fact of the matter is, increasingly even moderates are being shouted down and bullied out of the public space. Moderates coming from the conservative right who dare to pronounce that man-made laws are always open to scrutiny and revision have been threatened. Those espousing interpretations of Islam that are removed from the literalist, narrow interpretations of ultra-conservatives and extremists have been killed. The war to define Pakistan is not just being fought between the `liberal` and `conservative`, but between the ultra-conservatives and everyone else, liberal, moderate and even mildly conservative.


What truly makes the societal war so frightening is the fertile ground the extremists have to plant their millenarian ideology. Mr Taseer`s killer may have been an `elite` policeman, but the educational system and cultural environment in which he grew up likely never equipped him with the tools to rationally reject the poison flowing in the milieu in which he lived and worked. As long as the state ostensibly fights extremism without even a semblance of a counter-extremism strategy, more tragic deaths like that of Governor Taseer`s may be inevitable. Punishing those who incite violence would only be a starting point. The shameful heroic reception accorded to Mr Taseer`s killer indicates how complex the task is, how deep-rooted the problem has become. Truly, we are at war with ourselves. And at the moment, it looks like the extremists are winning.


An editorial in Dawn







What is a fair tax? According to Chanakya, governments should collect taxes like a honeybee, which sucks just enough nectar from each flower. This does not hurt the flower, and yet the bees create a lot of honey. (Today's tax collectors sometimes get this Chanakya message bungled. Rather than being gentle, they sting us like a bee!) 


Principles of fair taxation also require that there be horizontal and vertical equity. The former means if two people are earning the same income, their tax burden also should be similar. The latter means that if one person is earning more than another, then his tax burden should be higher. 


The city government does not have the legal power to collect income or sales tax. Yet it has to manage spending and a budget worth almost twenty thousand crores annually. For how else to supply water, run BEST bus service and fire brigade, collect and dispose garbage, run municipal schools and hospitals? 


The tax revenue to BMC is broadly only under two heads — octroi and property tax. The former is a tax imposed on movement of goods into the city by road, rail, air or sea. It is archaic, inefficient, corruption-prone, but remarkably reliable and buoyant. Hence, BMC is unable to get rid of its octroi addiction despite decades of demand by citizens and businesses of Mumbai to get rid of it. 


On the other hand, property tax is more logical. It has the potential to raise much more revenue to the city than it does now. It is paid by owners of property (not tenants or renters), and is based on value of the property. 


You might think that as property values soar, so should property taxes. Unfortunately, that is not so. Because all these years, the BMC calculated the value of your property on the basis of how much rent it can fetch, and not on the basis of what is its market value. Since in most parts of the island city are under rent control (due to legislation going back to the 1940s), the rent-based property value is very low, even if the market value might be astronomical. The newer property especially in northern suburbs did not suffer this handicap, since it was not subject to rent control. Hence, typically property taxes in Andheri or Chembur can be much higher than in Charni Road or Byculla. 


All this will now change as, for the first time, BMC is switching over to market value-based property taxes. The expert committee has recently submitted its report on how to compute property value, which is more linked to market value. The rules framed by the expert committee incorporated public feedback, since they were put up on BMC's website for two months, before being finalised. The new property values will be based on a "ready reckoner" used by builders and flat purchasers, which lists the latest market values of properties all over Mumbai. 


As we move towards a more logical and presumably more fair way of collecting property taxes, it is sure to cause some heartburn, especially among owner occupants who have got used to very low property taxes. Many such families of South Mumbai, who have a modest income, even though they notionally live in houses worth crores, will find a steep rise in their tax obligations. This might force many to sell their flats, and move to distant suburbs, or even out of the city. 


Of course, this is not the purpose of tax reform, but such community dislocation cannot be ruled out. Thanks to forces of commerce and economics, the nature and profile of South Mumbai communities have changed substantially over many decades. There are much fewer "chawl" or single-room tenement family dwellers now. 


 Such churn is part of the cosmopolitanism of the city. But hopefully the new tax rules will be gentle like the honeybee, not sting like a wasp.




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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!








Twenty years ago, a Maruti 800, with an air-conditioner fitted, cost a little less than Rs 2 lakh. Today it costs about Rs 2.5 lakh. Twenty years ago, a branded 1.5 tonne window air-conditioner cost about Rs 30,000; today, you can get a split AC unit for that price. Then, Videocon was offering large refrigerators for more than Rs 30,000; you can get better units today for much less. TV prices have crashed too, and one can go on with this list. In a period when salaries in the corporate sector have gone up by about 15 per cent annually, and inflation-adjusted per capita income has roughly trebled, consumer durables of virtually every hue have become infinitely more affordable.


Why has that not happened with onions? In 1980, Indira Gandhi swept back to power on the back of an election campaign that talked of onions costing the then stratospheric sum of Rs 5 per kg. Now it is Rs 70. Home-grown apples (not the ones from Down Under) cost over Rs 100 in Delhi, and lentils of various sorts have also hit triple-digits. These price increases far outdo income increases, rapid though they have been for most people, and it is simply not enough to seek palliatives in short-term measures like raising interest rates. Nor is it enough to say that there has been demand growth for proteins because of higher incomes. There has been comparable demand growth for eggs, but they have not seen similar price inflation. Nor is it good enough to argue that there are global shortages in commodities — both cyclical (as in sugar) and structural (lentils). The truth is that we face inflation in agricultural products, on a scale that we don't see in manufactured products, because agriculture has not been reformed, whereas industry has. There is talk of collusion in onion prices — which raises the question of reforming trade. Everyone knows that the difference between farmgate and retail prices is unusually high in India, in part because of multiple intermediaries. But the country has not been able to benefit from supply chain efficiencies because organised retail has not been allowed to grow, and to link producer and consumer prices more closely by squeezing out middlemen. Politicians who for two decades have opposed reforms in both agriculture and trade will be loath to own up responsibility for today's food price inflation; they should know that the situation will get worse if reforms are not introduced even at this late stage.


Twenty years ago, the Congress capitalised on a macro-economic crisis to introduce far-reaching economic reforms; industrial licensing and import licensing were abolished within days of each other. Reform of agriculture is admittedly more sensitive; India has millions of farmers who barely eke out a living, they have no cushion if reforms squeeze them. But the failure to reform hurts farmers too; they have needed repeated loan write-offs, while there have also been farmer suicides and other signs of extreme distress. Reform of agriculture and trade are needed urgently, and it has to be intelligently designed.


Some things are obvious. India's land productivity is low in most crops. If there have been large-scale suicides by cotton farmers in Vidarbha, but not in cotton-growing Gujarat, the explanation is that Gujarat's cotton productivity is much greater. Then, India loses up to a third of its harvest of different crops, because of poor storage and distribution. This is criminal waste, but the country has done little to create cold chains. The prime minister should do for agriculture and domestic trade what he did for industry and export trade 20 years ago.








No great economy is generated without innovation and invention, and embedding them in the growth process. This is India's missing link, says Parthasarathi Shome.

India's growth surge has been phenomenal. Growth reached 9.5 per cent in 2005-06 and 2006-07, and 9.2 per cent in 2007-08. Subsequently, the global financial crisis dampened growth to 6.7 per cent in 2008-09 and 7.4 per cent in 2009-10, but it is likely to pick up according to independent projectors. What lay behind growth of the Indian economy? 1. Was it neo-classical a la Robert M Solow and T W Swan, who emphasised the role of savings — translated into investment — in economic growth? 2. Was it demand-driven a la John Maynard Keynes, where an x amount of expenditure, even if not backed by savings, would lead to a multiple yx of income? 3. Was it economic growth and rising incomes that triggered both savings and investment, in line with Arthur W Lewis' capitalist surplus concept? 4. Or was it technological innovation that shifted up the growth path trajectory and endogenised technical change, as economists such as Paul Romer have hypothesised? Link 1. What stands out most is India's savings trajectory (Figure 1). Gross domestic savings rose from 10.3 per cent of GDP in 1950-55 to 36.4 per cent in 2006-07. This success is revealed even in international comparisons where India is shadowed only by China (at over 50 per cent). Look at three components of savings. Specific policies facilitated growth in household savings. Population per bank branch fell from 90,000 in mid-1950s to 14,000 by early 1990s. Also reflecting active interest rate and anti-inflation policies, household financial savings rose from 1.6 per cent of GDP to 10.6 per cent during this period. Growth in private corporate savings then became the front-runner, its share rising from 70 per cent of total savings in the first part of this decade to 85 per cent in the second part. Public sector savings languished, however, declining from 1.7 per cent in 1950-55 to -0.6 per cent in 2003-04. Dissavings first appeared in 1998-99 as the public sector failed to meet its own revenue expenditure. Subsequent discipline under the 2003 FRBM Act that enabled public savings to reach 5 per cent of GDP by 2007-08 was lost to fiscal relaxation. It fell to 1.4 per cent in 2008-09.


Link 2. Expenditure (in the form of investment) played a significant role pari passu with savings right from the early Plans. In those years, government considered itself the engine of growth and assumed a leading role in investment in strategic, infrastructure and large industrial sectors. It confined private sector activity to only residual sectors. India made an economically costlier choice of self-reliance over the export-orientation of East Asia or Latin America. In hindsight, it did imbue India with a long-term advantage in today's international environment, by facilitating her global political and economic reach.


That scenario changed with a setback in public sector productivity. From around the mid-1980s, public investment declined and private investment grew in terms of GDP (Figure 2). A resurgent phenomenon of the 2000s, however, is a reversal of that process with a rise in public investment at the cost of household and corporate segments. Given low public sector productivity, this manner of crowding out is not justifiable. When the private sector is capable of undertaking mega projects and is willing to do so, what is needed is an accommodative environment created by the government to enable private investment in infrastructure and large industry, protecting only the core strategic sector in its own brief. Accommodation is not tax incentives but removing non-tax barriers that comprise the real stumbling blocks for efficient allocation of resources between public and private sectors as well as for quantum of private sector resources that large businesses — foreign and domestic MNCs — are willing to invest. The private sector does vie for incentives not only on a large scale as reflected in both our income tax and indirect tax structures such as the SEZ Act but also for minuscule relative advantages over perceived competitors. But this behaviour would tend to dissipate once a non-tax level-playing field begins to appear on the scene.


Link 3. The overall high savings-high investment economy has generated high growth. India has generated the largest international marketplace and has experienced the largest expansion in the taxpayer base from 15 million to over 30 million between 1995 and 2008. Growth has also produced robust capital accumulation as the country's middle classes as well as corporate sector activity and investment have grown. Economists* have found growth as the causal factor in India's capital accumulation.


Link 4. The role of technology seems below potential in generating India's growth. Apart from advanced economies, middle income countries are investing heavily in R&D. India's figures are inadequate. We emulate techniques of production and service generation but linger in productive primary research. No great economy is generated or sustained without innovation and invention, and embedding them in the growth process. This is India's missing link!


We are well poised for further savings generation. Our demographic projections reveal, up to 2045, the 25-59 age group of income earners will increase though our younger cohorts will diminish and retirees will increase (Figure 3). Thus, for the next 30-35 years, our savings and investment will increase further, have positive ramifications for economic growth, and vice versa. However, we need to innovate and take technology forward. The public sector to step back once again and stop crowding out the private sector. We should eradicate custom-tailored tax incentives and create a level-playing field for all productive activity. We will then surely witness a resurge in economic growth and in tax revenue with which we might address our deep challenges in income distribution and poverty.


The views expressed are exclusively the author's *Chandra, R and R Sandilands, "Does Investment Cause Growth? India 1950-96", University of Strathclyde working paper, UK








Salman Taseer, the assassinated governor of Punjab, was no paragon of virtue, but the irony of his cold-blooded killing and aftermath will forever burnish his reputation as the last of the liberal leaders of Pakistan. The irony only starts there. Although given a state funeral and three days of official mourning, his political patron and ally, President Asif Ali Zardari, was too frightened to attend the funeral in Lahore because of the security risk. No leading cleric would come forward to perform Taseer's last rites. And his unrepentant, smiling assassin is being celebrated as a hero by many of his countrymen.


That is the degree of the paranoia, political paralysis and social discord that now afflicts the Land of the Pure. Taseer's last stand was to fight for a poor Christian village woman, jailed and sentenced to death for allegedly blaspheming the Prophet but Asia Bibi is reportedly one of hundreds of such Christians held in Pakistani prisons on similar charges. In Lahore's well-off homes, they often find work as domestics because their employers can use their permits to buy liquor legally. It is a similar character, though not Christian, called Blind Zainab who is languishing in jail for the crime of "unlawful fornication" in Mohd. Hanif's brilliant, best-selling satire of life under Gen Zia-ul-Haq, A Case of Exploding Mangoes. It is such cruel, bigoted laws, especially against defenceless women, that political leaders like Salman Taseer opposed in a country caught in the toils of the three A's — Allah, Army and America.


 In Pakistan's case, art does not imitate life, rather the reverse may be true. How chillingly close to the bone the truth cuts is borne by recent literary fiction from the country hailed as some of the best writing out of the subcontinent. Through Mohsin Hamid's lens in The Reluctant Fundamentalist is captured the rise of jihadist culture, in the case of "corrupt idealists" like the upper class, the international executive from New York who grows a beard, expresses delight at World Trade Centre's bombing and returns home to tell his story in Lahore. Or Daniyal Mueenuddin's stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders that encapsulate the feudal structures of the rural hinterland, never really dismantled, and portray a male-dominated elite ruthlessly preying upon powerless female victims. It is hard to imagine the rise of political leaders like Mayawati or Nitish Kumar in Pakistan today just as it would require a stretch of the eyeballs to believe that a robust entertainment culture like Bollywood, in all its energetic exhibitionism, could exist there.


The hope of political representation for the disadvantaged on the one hand, and of raucous escapist fantasy on the other broadly symbolise a liberal ethos. A woman Dalit leader can become chief minister of India's most populous state and a middle class boy like Shah Rukh Khan can become a mega movie star. In India these are achievable aspirations. In Pakistan, such possibilities have narrowed dangerously. Robbed of a democratic tradition and devoid of a large, vigorous middle class, the gap between the rulers and the ruled is a widening abyss. Anyone can step in — and trigger-happy mullahs triumphantly have.


The liberal Pakistani elite lives in a shadowy dark space, holding on, as one commentator in the wake of Taseer's killing put it, "to their little secrets that are jealously guarded against the bigotry surrounding them". In Pakistan's cities, the bootlegger's cell number is the most precious of all, downloaded racy Bollywood hits are on everyone's lips, and you're not worth the seat in the National Assembly if you don't race round in an SUV (with tinted window panes, of course). But out in the streets, girls don't wear jeans and it is advisable to pay lip service to Allah five times a day.


Salman Taseer, son of a scholar, nephew of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, trained as a chartered account, liked his whisky, was a philanderer, self-made millionaire and ardent Bhuttoist. He was hardly eligible for the halo of Islamic martyrdom. But he died upholding Pakistan's vanishing liberal tradition.








In one of Charles Dickens' most memorable classroom scenes, Thomas Gradgrind, who believes in the importance of facts, asks Sissy Jupe to define a horse. She panics and fails to find the correct answer. "Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!" said Mr Gradgrind. ...Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy's definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours. Cold-eyed Bitzer knows the answer. "Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth."

—Charles Dickens: Hard Times, 1854

This passage provides a clue to how the Shakespeare scholar and professor at Warwick, Jonathan Bate, is able to provide a selective canon of the entire range of English literature from the 5th century BC down to the present in nine small chapters in the Very Short Introduction Series (Oxford University Press, Special Indian Price Rs 165). If the basic substance of all imaginative literature (novels, plays, poems) was not reason but emotion which you learn from experience and relationship not from fact and system, then the facts of chronological history and a brief anatomy of the main landmarks of literature (as has been done in the standard anthologies, like Oxford, Norton and others) are not really required by the common reader. And if "English" and "Literature" had to be defined and the question of "inclusion" and "exclusion" discussed, these can be substituted by ideas of the undercurrents of literary movements and their multiple themes over the centuries. Suitable quotes from specific texts embellish the text that should seduce the reader to discover the original on her own. This is what the professor has done in this small little book that really attempts to answer the question, "What is Literature?"


First, the little book itself. There are just nine chapters: Once Upon a Time; What it is; When it Began; The Study of English; Periods and Movements; Among the English Poets; Shakespeare and Dramatic Literature; Aspects of the English Novel; and The Englishness of English Literature?


 The introductory chapters deal with classical children's literature of "the golden age" when God was in heaven and everything right with the world. So, we have "recollections of early childhood", as Wordsworth put it, with Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) and A A Milne's Winnie the Pooh that takes in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883) and comes right down to Harry Potter and the wizards of Hogwarts. It's quite a sweep that includes many juvenile novels in English because Bate is inspired by Kipling's line, What should they know of England who only England know?


After the brief introduction, the remainder of the book divides into two sections. Three chapters deal with What is Literature, when English literature could be said to have begun and how it has been studied and written about. These deal with Medieval English literature like Beowulf, Chaucer, Anglo Saxon Celtic and Norse and so on that includes texts in which language is used most cleverly, and "those that respond to a diversity of meanings".

The section endorses Dr Johnson's thought that a century was the real test of literary durability and T S Eliot's dictum that "the past is altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past". Bate has also included in this section "the sort of analysis that has been going on since the 1950s when the French semiotician (theorist of signs) Roland Barthes published Mythologies that explored the cultural meaning of everything "from wrestling to soap powders".


The inter-disciplinary approach that combines aesthetic, historical and cultural studies inevitably gives prominence to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Austen and other leading lights of English literature who have been widely quoted throughout the book. Bate endorses the idea that a conversation between living and dead authors, and authors with their readers is what makes literature meaningful and come alive for every generation. But what makes literature live is not a description of things as they are but the way in which they are said, that is, the style. Bate quotes several authorities on how style has influenced thought, clinching his argument with Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University (1858) that "literature expresses, not objective truth... but subjective... not things, but thoughts, style is thinking into language".


Bate's canvas is so wide that you may feel that he has tried to do too much within the limited space available to him. Bate has given weightage to Jane Austen, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf that should satisfy feminists of different hues. More importantly, readers must bear in mind that the book has been written for the serious common reader.


Perhaps the most endearing feature of the book is that Bate sees English literature as "hybrid", the product of "a mongrel nation". So, we have a range of non-British writers included here: Beckett and Joyce, "though Irish", Vikram Seth and Chinua Achebe, Derek Walcott and V S Naipaul and so are the Americans who have enriched language beyond measure. As A Very Short Introduction of just 180 pages, it couldn't have been better.









THE government's decision to link wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to the consumer price index is welcome. This will protect the real consumption of people at the lowest deciles of income in the country — as prices go up, so would their income, at least for 100 days of the year, so that inflation would not eat into whatever little they consume. However, it is not sufficient for the government to improve distributive justice by raising the earnings of the rural poor, it must follow through with measures to address the necessary consequences of its decision. It must curb its own expenditure elsewhere and enforce better tax compliance to absorb the impact of the cost of wages under the scheme that will go up 17%-30% — the government cannot allow the course of fiscal correction to be altered. Subsidies on petro fuels and fertiliser should be the first to be pruned. More importantly, the government must take concerted measures to raise aggregate farm output. As the real incomes of those at the bottom of the social pyramid and those in the organised sector at the top get insulated from inflation, inflation would squeeze the real consumption of the rest all the more, producing a sharp outcry of protest. Their reaction would be politically inimical to the ruling dispensation, apart from other things. 


 Global food prices are 30% higher today than a year ago. But blaming the foreign hand will not satisfy the hurt consumer. For that, intelligent strategies are needed, to raise output and make it available at the retail level with minimal supply-chain costs and mark-up. Policy needs to go beyond raising support prices. Deployment of newer technologies, inputs and better agronomy practices, achieving economies of scale, adding value at levels of production that facilitate value accrual to farmers and organised retail — all of these are vital. We need a new Operation Flood for vegetables and fruits. This calls for engaging with people, that too real people who sweat on the farm, the kind who go out and vote politicians to power. This calls for political leadership, not pushing files in some Bhawan or the other.






IT IS notable that Japanese textile and apparel majors are now actively seeking trade and investment opportunities in India. With the two countries set to sign a free trade agreement early this year, it should provide ample scope for zero-duty exports of textile and apparel on both sides. Besides, on sourcing yarn, fabrics and other textile products, the Japanese now see India as a natural alternative to China, whose domination they want to reduce so as to de-risk and aim at better balance. The gameplan seems to be to amplify imports from India, boost exports of Japanese textiles and seek out technological tie-ups with Indian manufacturers. It would be 'win-win' for both. The Indian textile industry is an important sector for foreign exchange earnings, employment and output. But there's much obsolete technology in use in production, and other rigidities galore, such as infrastructure bottlenecks, the lack of functional labour markets thanks to the colonial-era laws still in force and low productivity levels across the board in the industry. 


However, lately the Indian textile and apparel industry has proved that it can adopt and adapt to the latest technology and, in the process, produce world-class products. The amounts sanctioned under the multi-year Technology Upgradation Fund Schemes add up to $18.9 billion, of which $16.4 billion had been disbursed till the end of April 2010. The Indian industry is the second largest, after China's, in terms of spindleage, and accounts for about a fourth of global spindle capacity. It also has access to abundant raw materials such as cotton, so as to reduce costs and lead times. However, the industry in India is highly fragmented, which lowers scale economies and productivity across various segments. The way ahead is the need for proactive policy to develop a large number of textile clusters, so as to reduce overhead costs. In parallel, we need better diffusion of skills in fashion and apparel design for the industry to improve its international profile. The projection is that annual exports of textile and apparel could triple to $210 billion over the text 10 years. It may make better sense to target a quadrupling of the exports, which would be in line with the increase in overall output.








 SQUARING the series 2-2 is a lot better than losing it 3-1," Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting said after England retained the Ashes in the Melbourne Test. For the Australians, the failure to regain the Ashes was a bitter pill to swallow. Now that England has beaten them by an innings for the third time in four weeks, the Aussies have been divided into two camps: the angry and downright furious. Andrew Strauss's men showed immense character and skill throughout the series, but they were duly aided by an utterly disappointing performance from Australia. Australia's sixth defeat in its last eight Tests marks the crumbling of a once-fearsome reputation for invincibility. Now, the joke is: What do you call a world-class Australian cricketer? Retired! 


According to Ian Chappell, if Australia had only been just beaten, there would have been a temptation to do a Band-aid job. "But having been beaten so heavily, Cricket Australia will hopefully look at the whole system, as I'm not sure it's still producing the required standard of players." Among the current players, Mike Hussey has been excellent but he's more to be admired than feared. Michael Clarke has been struggling for runs since moving to number four. Not long ago, the sight of Ponting at the crease was enough to evoke thoughts of a matchwinning feast of runs, but not any longer. In the whole series, he averaged just 13. Shane Watson makes runs, but seldom the big ones. Australia's three spinners between them took just four wickets for 556 runs. Mitchell Johnson has lost his bowling edge so completely that he has become the delight of rival batsmen. With Australian newspaper headlines declaring them 'Our worst XI', it seems only bringing back legends like Warne, McGrath, Hayden and Langer can save Australia. But then, how long can one cling to past greatness?







WITHIN two decades or less, a rapidly rising India will very likely become the world's third largest economy — after China and the US. It would be appropriate to start speculating now on what kind of a superpower India will be or could be when it becomes one. 


Complex adaptive systems cannot change their stripes once they have evolved. How a system evolves determines its end-state. In short, how India becomes a superpower will predefine its structure, its mindset and its behaviour. 


First, India's emergence as a superpower will show that it is possible to lift millions of people out of poverty within one generation while embracing pluralism, a free press and a vibrant multiparty democracy. Most analysts predict that, over the next two decades, India's GDP will grow at a faster pace than China's. As the world's fastest-growing large economy on a sustained basis, India's rise will put to rest the idea that a command-and-control political system is the only viable route to rapid economic growth and that democracy is somehow antithetical to rapid economic growth. 


Second, India has the potential to serve as a leading example of how to combine rapid economic growth with fairness towards and inclusion of those at the bottom rungs of the ladder. In a democratic system such as India's where even the poorest people exercise their political rights actively, fairness and inclusion will be even more critical for social stability than in China. As it becomes a great power, these values will likely become an enduring part of the country's DNA. 


Third, the prospects are high that, by 2025, India will likely emerge as one of the world's least corrupt developing economies. While widespread corruption is a reality in almost all developing economies (as well as some of the developed ones), India is one of the very few developing economies with a free press that continues to be vigilant and merciless in exposing the corruption. It is very likely that a vigilant and free press will ensure that the likelihood of getting away with corruption will decline rapidly — with salutary deterrent effects. 


Fourth, India will likely emerge as one of the world's leaders in leveraging information technology (IT) to boost the effectiveness and efficiency of its institutions — the corporations, the government and as well as civil society organisations. As 3G and 4G wireless connectivity becomes widespread over the next five years, it is a near-certainty that we'll see a rapid diffusion of lowcost tablet computers along with free or near-free applications aimed at selflearning, mobile banking as well as commercial productivity. India in 2025 could well emerge as one of the world's most connected and IT-savvy societies. 


Fifth, India will almost certainly become a leading example of efficient resource utilisation, especially in energy. India relies on imports for a bigger proportion of its oil & gas needs than any other large emerging economy. The situation is likely to get worse, with sustained growth. The consequences are clear. One possible outcome is that India hits a resource-scarcity wall and economic growth comes to a screeching halt. An alternative scenario is that the country's industry, government and consumers will respond vigorously to the imperative for ever-greater resource efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources. Given the ambitions and ingenuity of its people, I am inclined to bet on the latter scenario. In the process, efficient resource utilisation is likely to become an embedded part of the country's psyche and behaviour. 

SIXTH, India is likely to emerge as one of the world's leaders in market-driven innovation. Adversity combined with ingenuity has always been the mother of innovation. Think of how Japan emerged as the world's leader in lean manufacturing. Given very high population density and thus scarcity of land, companies such as Toyota could not afford to build Detroit-style automobile plants. In response, what Toyota did was to invent just-in-time inventory management, total quality management, long-term partnerships with suppliers and other complementary processes that enabled the near-complete elimination of wasteful space. Think now about the fact that even as India grows to become the world's third largest economy, it will still be one of the world's poorest countries (in per capita terms) for the next two to three decades. Low income levels will continue to provide a very large opportunity to India's entrepreneurs to emerge as the world's leaders in frugal innovation i.e., the design, production, and delivery of products and services that are ultra low-cost. Virtually all of this innovation will be market- rather than technology-driven and is likely to become an integral part of the country's corporate DNA. 


Last but not least, India in 2025 is also likely to emerge as one of the world's most entrepreneurial societies. Given a culture of individualism, Indians are "born" entrepreneurs. They also benefit from the fact that, relative to China, India's economy depends far more on pure private sector enterprises than on state-led ones. These entrepreneurs will not only serve as the engines for the country's rapid economic growth but will also benefit from the vast new opportunities that a larger economy will open up for them – domestically within India as well as globally. 


India will not emerge as a superpower unless it is smart about managing the evolutionary process of getting from here to there. The seeds for the tree that India as a superpower will be are being planted right now. 

 (The author is Michael Dingman Chair in Global Strategy & Entrepreneurship, Smith     Schoolof Business,     University of Maryland)








 MARSH & McLennan Companies ventured into the insurance business after the great Chicago fire that killed hundreds and virtually destroyed the US city in 1871. Today, the group has an annual revenue of over $11 billion. Marsh, its risk and insurance services arm, started operations in India in 2003, three years after the sector opened to private insurers. Two years later, the company was mired in an insurance scandal in the US, though that did not impact its operations here. Sanjay Kedia, CEO and country manager, Marsh India, says the business has gained momentum after the freeing of price controls in general insurance. 


"Marsh India has been the fastest growing entity in the group over the last two years. We have doubled our revenues in the last two years and the total number of corporate clients in India has grown from 450 in 2008 to 1,300 in 2010. We have already placed around . 1,000 crore of direct broking premium this fiscal," says Kedia. 


 The company's takeover of HSBC's insurance broking arm in India has also helped fuel its growth. "HSBC Insurance Brokers was a global acquisition. In the process, we acquired its Indian business. We are already seeing good organic growth. Besides, we are particularly keen to grow through team acquisitions and open to business acquisitions as well. Additionally, we are constantly looking at expanding our range of service offerings in the area of risk management consulting," says Kedia. 


 An alumnus of the Harvard Business School, Kedia led speciality practices in Marsh, including energy, infrastructure and aviation. Prior to that, he was in the project finance advisory and debt syndication team with IDBI. 


Kedia says that the recession did not have much of an impact on the company's operations here. It offers corporate risk and insurance solutions and the thrust areas include group health insurance, aviation, energy, infrastructure, liability insurance, trade credit and political risk and micro insurance. 


"The rising complexity of risk and insurance environment has enhanced the need for corporate clients to have professional risk and insurance advisers to protect their interests. Marsh India expects growth to continue in the coming years. It plans to more than double its revenue in the next three years. "The commitment is to deepen the risk advisory services in emerging risk issues — supply chain/business interruption, corporate governance, pandemics, environment — and bring in best global practices in managing total cost of risk for local and global companies operating here," he says. 


 Although there are a large number of insurance brokers registered with insurance regulator Irda, only a few are active. However, the proportion of corporate insurance policies placed through brokers is on the rise in India and has accelerated after detariffing of the general insurance business. 


 "However, factors such as restricted freedom of wording, restrictions on offering claims advisory services by broking firms, not allowing brokers to handle premium collection and claim collection, uncertainty on renewal of licences, and lack of availability of skilled manpower are the major stumbling blocks for the sector," says Kedia. 


He also reckons that the broking industry in India will soon see consolidation. "Mergers and acquisitions will bring in size and scale to the benefit of customers in terms of price discovery and solutions benchmark. At the same time, India is a large country, with distinct customer segments and we see the strengthening of many specialist brokers for products such as health, liability and emergence of strong regional brokers. However, there is not enough clarity on regulations on mergers and acquisitions, which may delay this consolidation for some time". 


 The general insurance sector is expected to grow, driven largely by health and motor covers. "Property or fire insurance rates have dropped by over 80% on an average in the last few years and the rate wars have ended. On the property front, we expect pressures of rise in deductibles before major rate increases as the levels of deductibles in India are very low. They do not create the appropriate incentive for risk management and risk participation by corporates." The growth in the sector is likely to spur as the economy grows and there will be huge opportunities to tap, says Kedia.







 POLICY needs to enable foreign capital investment in domestic funds and abandon policies that export the fund management industry to Mauritius. The Mauritius Fund industry primarily comprises alternative funds (AFs). Unlike mutual funds (MFs), AFs are privately raised ones targeting only qualified investors. AF mandates are diverse — invest in infrastructure, start-ups, listed or unlisted companies, create hedged portfolios or bet on market direction. 


The only Indian AF industry, with a few domestic funds, is the small, policy-hobbled VC fund (VCF) industry. Sebi-registered VCFs are tax 'pass through vehicles', uncompetitive vis-à-vis 'tax-exempt' MFs. Policymakers fail to grasp the key challenge facing VCFs — they have to compete with MFs for raising domestic capital and with FIIs for raising foreign capital. Economic rationale to invest in a VCF (a concentrated portfolio of illiquid, unlisted businesses) exists only if post-tax risk adjusted returns are superior to a MF or FII. 


 Unlike VCFs, Indian MF investors enjoy tax arbitrage. Firstly, tax liability arises only when units are sold while in international regimes tax liability arises when the fund makes NAV gains. Secondly, NAV may increase through short-term capital gains (STCG) or interest income but can become long-term capital gains (LTCG) for the MF investor. Thirdly, tax differentials are high, jeopardising investment in VCFs: zero LTCG taxes on sale of equity MF units vs 22% LTCG taxes on sale of unlisted VCF investments. 


 Mauritius Funds gain marketshare due to two factors. One, asset side regulations on VCFs: one licence raj-style regulation restricts VCFs to nine sectors to qualify for the 'privilege' of a tax pass through. Other sectors (including infrastructure!) are offlimits but can be accessed as FDI by Mauritius Funds! Two, the world's biggest investors i.e., pensions and endowments, find economic rationale only for Mauritius Funds compared to investments at home where they enjoy tax-exempt status. 


 Policymakers need to recognise that investing in unlisted and listed businesses are two sides of the same coin and treat them on par. Innovative unlisted businesses are job creators. Mega infrastructure projects are done in unlisted startups. Unlisted investing — in all sectors — needs a competitive framework. 


 The new Direct Taxes Code incorporated two sterling provisions in the first draft — all equity funds will be tax pass through vehicles sans distinction between unlisted and listed investing. But, the draft was justifiably criticised for taxing capital gains at incometax rates. The latest draft is proposing a halfright solution that takes us back to square one — low tax regime for listed equities only and tax-exempt status for MFs. While tax arbitrage on debt MFs remains plugged, it is illogical that LTCG taxes on unlisted investments have increased to 30% of gains. 


 We need to revert to the principles espoused in the first draft but adopt a low capital gains tax regime. Reverting also provides the platform for an AF industry framework that would add depth to the domestic fund industry. 


 AFs secure long-term capital —10-year closed-end funds or open-ended funds with negotiated lock-ins up to three years — which can only be good in today's world of hot capital flows. Wouldn't it be better that foreign capital comes into a domestic AF, subject to Sebi inspection, instead of P Notes? Creating an AF industry framework will require several steps but the following two are essential. 

 Sebi should create a framework for AFs, targeted only at 'qualified investors' — defined by a high subscription threshold per investor. Regulations for AFs should focus on the liability side — KYC norms and fund marketing. There should be no asset side regulation and AFs should be free to structure asset side activity as desired by investors. VC regulations should be scrapped and VC funds should be registered as AFs. 


 Secondly, tax policy should be framed on equitable principles: Tax liability should be the same for investing directly or through a fund; funds should be tax pass through vehicles; listing status should have no impact on tax liability; STT be levied on all transactions in equity and units of funds (include IPOs/FPOs and open offers). LTCG tax has to be zero; STCG tax to be 5% and profits of equity funds should be capital gains (not business income). 


Funds could pay STCG tax and issue tax credits to investors. However, caution needs to be exercised and the low capital gains tax regime should be restricted to only companies engaged in business. Rules to ensure that asset transfers don't masquerade as share transfers will need to be formulated. Tax collections will increase as funds pay STCG tax and AF managers pay tax on their fee income. 


 Let Mumbai compete with Mauritius! 

 (The author is a private equity professional. 

 Views are personal.)


Policy in India has kept out all alternate funds other than venture funds, and gifted them to Mauritius 
Sebi should create a framework for alternative funds, targeted only at 'qualified investors' 
Tax policy should not favour mutual funds over alternate funds, nor punish routing investment through a fund









LOTTERY tickets strewn near the vendor's stall tell the story of hope betrayed by chance. Every day brings in fresh litter. This only means "hope springs eternal in the human breast", quips the wag quoting the proverbial phrase from Alexander Pope's famed Essay on Man: for aren't we humans "born but to die, (and) reasoning but to err?" So we dream on daily, about jackpots struck and riches won without much effort. 


 So why don't we think as much about the odds stacked against someone becoming an accidental crorepati? Blame it on evolution or on behavioural economics. Unlike standard economics, behavioural economics does not assume that people are rational. In such a scheme of things, we are more like Homer Simpson than Superman, writes Duke University don Dan Ariely in his blog. 


This means we may be biased by evolution towards grabbing all those free lunches. The good news is that Homer Simpsons are not beyond redemption: of course, when he sees something that's free, he almost automatically goes for it even if it's not good for him. But as is shown in episode after episode, even Homer can be taught to over-ride his grossest instincts. 


 One way of doing that would be to reflect on the hidden costs of hitting the jackpot. A Boston Globe report on those who won the Bay State Lottery warns potential mega million winners against "greedy ex-spouses, mooching relatives and leeches masquerading as long-lost pals coming out of the woodwork to put the bite on you". 


It goes on to advise the potential winner to "brace for old friends' who come looking for ashare of the loot; it also advises the aspirant to finalise any divorce or separation arrangements, ostensibly even before one has bought the ticket, so one doesn't have to fork over half the winnings to the former love of their life! 
    It also seems imperative to hire a good accountant, lawyer or a financial planner "even before cashing in the ticket" and one should certainly not be in a hurry to grab that lump sum payment before considering the tax liabilities. Beyond these nitty gritties is this nugget which says money does not bring happiness, it brings a lot of bullying. 


A winner laments that there's a lot of jealousy; although she loves the idea of winning, she also feels a lot of pressure. "Be careful who you trust," she adds. "Know who your real friends are. It's complicated." This is exactly what Panchatantra says.










If there is one zone of comfort the nation can always look for, it is in the Prime Minister's capacity to diagnose a hidden malady in our society and offer home remedies. Addressing the "Infosys Prize 2010" award event in Mumbai a few days ago, Dr Manmohan Singh bemoaned the spread of private, "for-profit" educational institutions as a "worrisome trend". The Prime Minister did not elaborate for which stakeholder the increasing privatisation of higher and school education was worrying; right now, privately-run colleges are mushrooming and are a hugely profitable business, especially in management, computer science and, of course, "media studies." His suggestion to the private entrepreneurs was to generate funds in the form of scholarships to reward "excellence".


There can be no argument with Dr Singh's plea or the sentiment behind it: India needs dollops of excellence in various fields. But in order to get that laudable result, one has to abide by certain working assumptions. Excellence is the product of "creative minds" that may be burdened by "socio-economic handicaps", in the words of the Prime Minister himself. But by that yardstick alone, more than a third of India's population will qualify for funding. For scholarships not to degenerate into subsidies for the economically handicapped, merit has to be the defining criterion among the needy candidates. From his own cited example, it is clear that merit got Dr Singh the kind of scholarships that launched him towards the pinnacle of excellence, as an economist first and then India's venerated Prime Minister. But there's the rub. Public policy and, by implication, private enterprise have, by and large, worked on two principles for higher education — subsidies (both in monetary terms and opportunities) for the socially handicapped, that is reservation, and fees, or more infamously, 'capitation fees' for the economically well-endowed. While it is entirely possible for excellence to emerge under these conditions, history shows that its more plausible development needs the special and, therefore, 'discriminating' quality of merit: and that, as the PM will agree, requires a set of criteria other than just "economic and social handicaps." So, when the PM finds an absence of funding to enable the pursuit of excellence, he has to first look at the history of public policy that, perhaps without meaning to, downgraded merit in higher education.


It's not too late. While pursuing populist reservations based on class or caste, public policy must equally incentivise corporate houses, in particular, to fund merit and "creative minds" so as to render the chase for excellence more meaningful.









Huge arrears of tax are locked up in appeal. There is a crying need for quick settlement of disputes which can lead to substantial reduction and recovery. The normal appeal process has proved to be time-consuming. Every first appellate order results in two appeals before the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and then there is a protracted appeal to the High Court.


The Government thought a way out of these difficulties and established the Settlement Commission with effect from April 1, 1976 so as to put an end to disputes and collect the taxes at the earliest.


This high power body has seen several changes in the law. Surprisingly, even though the commission was found useful, the original DTC chose to omit all references to the Settlement Commission. It looked as though the Government wanted to do away with this institution. Subsequently, when the draft DTC Bill was introduced in Parliament, the Settlement Commission reappeared and is now part of the Bill.


In two minds


The Government has always been in two minds about conferring powers on the Settlement Commission. The Commission was empowered to grant immunity from prosecution for any offence under the tax law, the Indian penal Court or any other Central Act. It can also grant immunity from penalty. The Supreme Court analysed Section 245H of the Income Tax Act, 1961 and commented that it is "a suspect instrument of negotiable corruption".


In the leading case of Bhattachargee 118 ITR 461, the court observed that it was not the policy of the law to provide a rescue shelter for big tax-dodgers, who indulge in criminal activities by approaching the Settlement Commission. Taking note of the criticism, Finance Act 2007 amended the law barring the jurisdiction of the Settlement Commission in search and seizure cases. This was done by a simple amendment of the term 'case' in Section 245 A[b]. The amended law came into force from June, 2007.


Surprisingly, Finance Act, 2010 amended the definition of the term 'case' in Section 245A which had the effect of empowering the Settlement Commission to look into search and seizure cases and also cases involving reassessment. A qualification was added. For an application before the Settlement Commission to be admitted, it should be shown that the additional income offered before the Settlement Commission should be at least Rs 50 lakh. Before this amendment, even those offering additional tax of Rs 3 lakh can approach the Settlement Commission for redress.


Limited powers


What is the idea in making this forum available for the big fish involved in search and seizure and other cases and shutting the door for the small fry with income less than Rs 50 lakh? The same figure of Rs 50 lakh is repeated in Section 273 of the DTC 2010. Section 283 of the DTC empowers the Settlement Commission to grant immunity from penalty under the Direct Tax Code and from prosecution.


Whereas the Act of 1961 clothed the Settlement Commission with wide powers to grant immunity from prosecution for any offence either under the Income Tax law or under the Indian Penal Code or under any other Central Act for the time being in force, the DTC Bill limits the power to grant immunity only to the offences committed under the income tax and wealth tax laws.


The proceedings before the Settlement Commission result in a sort of finality. No appeal is provided against the orders of the Commission. Either party before the Commission, namely the Revenue or the taxpayer, can move the High Court or Supreme Court only with the writ petition and these are between few and far between. Normally, no party before the Settlement Commission goes totally dissatisfied. The tendency has always been to grant relief. It is difficult to understand why this facility of quick settlement should be available only to high income and wealth cases.


Harassment is more common with people with lesser incomes. The reason for raising the limit for admissibility to Rs 50 lakh is difficult to appreciate and the bringing back of the power to grant immunity from prosecution and penalty can only mean conferring a benefit on tax dodgers, something that the Supreme Court frowned upon.


Critics have pointed out that this will amount to the reintroduction of the amnesty scheme in disguise. There are various provisions in the law which will enable the Government to look into the prosecution part of the proceedings.


It is necessary that in the Budget to be presented next month, the government should restore the eligibility of a case to go before the Settlement Commission to a figure of Rs 3 lakh instead of Rs 50 lakh. It is also necessary that the power to grant immunity should remain with the government, and not with the Settlement Commission. This will lend credibility and transparency to the Government handlings of tax matters.


(The author is a former Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax.)








It is important that all major constituents and stakeholders in every sector pay greater attention to self-regulation and to weeding out the rotten apples from within their midst.


Corruption, that has been corroding our system over the decades, now threatens to derail the India growth story. It has perhaps already become systemic; according to the pessimists, the rot is so deep and widespread that it is beyond repair. Such pessimism, I think is both undesirable and unwarranted.


While the rot is undoubtedly extensive and seriously damaging to Brand India, it can still be reversed and the system saved from its pernicious impact.


To appreciate this, we must recognise that we are today free from the earlier forms of petty corruption that characterised nearly all aspects of our daily lives. We do not have to pay bribes for securing an industrial licence, phone or gas connections or to get a railway ticket.


These are but a few examples to highlight that liberalisation, combined with rapid growth, has eliminated many varieties of corruption and rent-seeking that were due to widespread supply shortages and policy-introduced rigidities.


While industry and the middle-classes clearly suffer far less now from corrupt practices than in the pre-reform period, the poor continue to suffer as a result of extensive misgovernance that characterises the delivery of public goods and services in nearly all parts of our country.


Onus on governments


The onus for this corruption is clearly on the State and Central governments. This needs to be tackled urgently as misgovernance is arguably the most important cause for the worsening internal security situation. But the main sources of corruption today relate to either the allocation of scarce natural resources, such as land, spectrum and minerals or to large-scale government construction or procurement contracts. In all these cases, the government at various levels, especially the higher echelons of public authorities, and not the petty official, are involved and implicated.


On the other side of these transactions are either a new breed of fortune-seekers or the larger corporations and not the small and medium-sized entrepreneurs who, instead, have to deal with fending off the inspectors who harass them to ostensibly enforce the non-enforceable statutory provisions.


A new form of crony capitalism can be observed in the various scams that unfolded over the latter part of 2010, in which the new class of entrepreneurs build a strong nexus with corrupt politicians and succeed with the active connivance of some bureaucrats.


The question must be whether there can be a push-back against such a nexus and crony capitalism in a situation where all major constituents of our social fabric seem to be tainted.


The media, judiciary (including its highest-ranking members), civil society organisations, the formations to whom we look for fighting against entrenched vested interests and corruption are sadly themselves often implicated.


This allows the unscrupulous to brazenly argue that no one has the moral authority or right to hold anyone else to account.


Not a banana republic


One is tired of hearing the worn out cliché about everybody being naked in the bathhouse. It is indeed distressing and shameful that this hollow argument is now routinely bandied about to justify one's own indefensible acts of audacious corruption. Let's hope we are not yet a society or banana republic which has come to accept corruption as normal, let alone glorify it.


It is therefore important that all major constituents or stakeholders in the country pay greater attention to self-regulation and to weeding out the rotten apples from within their midst. In this context the initiative taken by the IAS association in UP several years ago to identify the most corrupt within them is indeed commendable and is a step in the right direction. It is a pity that the initiative seems to have withered away. It is important that such laudable initiatives are mainstreamed and receive institutional support and encouragement.


There is an attempt now to shift the entire blame for corruption on to Indian industry and there is growing talk in the public domain of the ethical deficit in the Indian corporate sector. India Inc cannot, of course, deny that a few of its members are a party to corrupt transactions. But it must be remembered that for every bribe-giver, there is a receiver too.


However, there is some basis for optimism on this count. FICCI, the oldest industry association in the country, recently released a resolution which, among other things, states that: "Given FICCI's roots in nationalism, we are deeply concerned about the potential damage to Brand India and the India story due to brazen acts of corruption by a select few. To preserve India's robust image and keep the growth story intact, FICCI calls for transparency, accountability and probity in our system of governance. We urgently need rules and regulations that do not allow rent-seeking.


Therefore, FICCI believes that anybody found indulging in corrupt practices, either as payee or recipient, must be punished summarily in a fast-tracked process."


Let us hope that other industry associations will follow this lead and also establish some self regulatory mechanisms like an ethics committee that will lay down some norms for their members and ensure their compliance. This will give India Inc the high ground from which it can demand higher standards of probity and accountability from the political and bureaucratic establishment and other social formations.


(The author is Director-General, FICCI. The views are personal.)









Towards the close of 2010, the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) issued a circular with clarifications about the excise duty exemption for industrial units in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. "Even as the units set up there are trying to figure out the impact of the proposed GST (Goods and Services Tax) on the duty holiday, this clarification was a pleasant surprise," observes Mr Sriram B., Executive Director – Tax & Regulatory Services, PricewaterhouseCoopers Pvt Ltd, Chennai, in a recent e-mail interaction with Business Line. Excerpts from the interview:


How attractive has been the excise duty exemption for enterprises to choose Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh as destinations?


Certainly, these exemptions have had significant impact in attracting investments into these States. Facts and figures would substantiate the same, as reported in the media, around the close of the last fiscal.


"A total of 1,967 industrial units worth Rs 17,352 crore have been set up in Uttarakhand since the launch of the scheme, providing jobs to 1,21,811 people, according to the State Investment Commissioner's office.


The bulk of the investment has been concentrated in Haridwar (840 units), Uddham Singh Nagar (597 units), Dehradun (350 units), and Nainital (79 units)."


Reports also spoke of investments in the State by auto-makers Mahindra and Mahindra (Rs 1,500 crore), Tata Motors (Rs 1,000 crore), Hero Honda Motors (Rs 600 crore), Ashok Leyland (Rs 110 crore), and Bajaj (Rs 150 crore), under the exemption regime.


Mr Sudheer Nautiyal, Uttarakhand's Director of Industries, has reportedly spoken of how investors propose to put in another Rs 30,024 crore to set up 3,237 units that would employ at least 2,00,000 people.


In Himachal Pradesh, too, investments in value terms have tripled from Rs 3,087 crore (in the year 2002-03) to Rs 10,408 crore (in the year 2009-10), according to


What have been the typical disputes as regards the above duty exemption?


Largely, the issues hover around the point, "What is 'substantial exemption' to qualify for exemption?"


This has been a very important interpretation issue which the courts and the Board were busy with in the past. Substantial exemption as per the notification requires expansion in the installed capacity of an existing unit by not less than 25 per cent as a result of installation of additional plant and machinery.


The other disputes typically faced include: (a) whether peripheral activities undertaken would qualify for exemption; and (b) exemption to contract manufacturers in the pharma industry, etc.


Does the recent CBEC circular resolve some long-standing posers of the industry?

The circular clarifies the scope of the two extant notifications (issued in the year 2003) relating to excise duty exemption for industrial units Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The circular talks of four scenarios, as follows:


(i) New products with existing machine: Whether a unit can produce new products with the machines installed up to March 31, 2010.


(ii) Existing products with new ancillary machines: Whether a unit can upgrade the installed capacity after March 31, 2010, so as to increase the efficiency of the machinery by installing ancillary machines or replacement of some parts etc, but in such a way that it does not lead to increase in capacity of production.


(iii) New products/ product variants with existing machinery: Whether new dosage forms can be manufactured after March 31, 2010 on the same line of production with the same machinery.


(iv)New products with new machinery: Whether a unit can manufacture a new product by installing fresh plant, machinery or capital goods after March 31, 2010.


The Board has answered all the questions in the affirmative for the reason that "the provision of these notifications do not place a bar or restriction on any addition/ modification in the plant and machinery or on the production of new products by an eligible unit after 31.3.2010".


Are there still any grey areas that would continue to perplex the industry?


Though the clarification would be welcomed by the trade and industry, the ambit of question 4 needs to be cautiously approached, as it seeks to provide unlimited scope of interpretation to cover any possible situations.


For example, can an existing unit manufacturing pharma products manufacture cosmetics by installing fresh plant and machinery. Or, what is the sanctity of having a cut-off date for commercial production as March 31, 2010?


The reading of the circular should be in conjunction with the prevailing law (such as in the form of notifications).


So, the following two clarifications need to be examined in detail in the context of notifications before a final view is arrived at:


(a) Whether a unit can upgrade the installed capacity after March 31, 2010, so as to increase the efficiency of the machinery by installing ancillary machines or replacement of some parts etc., but in such a way that it does not lead to increase in capacity of production; and


(b) Whether a unit can manufacture a new product by installing fresh plant, machinery or capital goods after March 31, 2010.









Service tax is leviable on 'taxable service', which is defined in Section 65(105) of the Finance Act, 1994 as 'any service provided or to be provided'. Clause 65 (90)(a) of the Act relates to taxable service of 'renting of immoveable property' and includes renting, letting, leasing, licensing or other similar arrangement of immoveable property.


Taxable service in the context of renting of immovable property has been defined in sub-clause (zzzz) to mean rendering of taxable service to any person by any other person, by renting of immoveable property or any other service in relation to such renting for use in the course of, or for furtherance of, business or commerce (subject to two exemptions provided).


Prior to amendment by the Finance Act, 2010, the taxable service w.e.f. June 1, 2007, meant service in relation to renting of immoveable property for use in the course or furtherance of business or commerce.


The amendment became necessary to clarify the impact of Delhi High Court decision in the Home Solution Retail India Ltd vs UOI (2009 20 STT 129) case.


Constitutional validity


The Constitutional validity of taxing such service was challenged before the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Shubh Timb Steels Ltd vs UOI (2010 29 STT 479). It was claimed that service tax on 'renting of property' relates to tax on land and building covered by Entry 49 of the List-II in the Constitution and not Entry 92C read with Entry 97 of List-I and, therefore, the the State Government, and not the Central Government, is more competent to levy such a tax and, hence, service tax on such a service is contrary to the Constitution and should be struck down. The High Court has not agreed with this view.


According to the court, List-II relates to tax on land and building and not to any activity relating thereto. Income-tax on income from property, wealth tax on capital value of assets, including land and building, and gift tax on land and building have been upheld, and it cannot be said that renting of property does not involve any service.


According to the court, renting for commercial purpose is certainly a service and has value for the service receiver. The service element in a renting transaction is certainly an independent aspect covered by Entry 92C read with Entry 97 of List-I and, hence, the Centre is competent to impose tax on such a service. The validity of the tax was upheld by the court.


It may, however, be mentioned that Delhi High Court, in Home Solution Retail India Ltd (supra), held that service tax was a tax on value addition as the words 'in relation to service' was to be provided in relation to renting of property and the property by itself could not be regarded as service.


Renting of property did not involve any value addition. It was, accordingly, held that notification dated May 22,

2007, and Circular of January 4, 2008, issued by the CBEC, providing for service tax on renting of property, per se, was ultra vires the scheme of levy of service tax.


The Punjab and Haryana High Court had decided that even if a transaction of transfer of right in immoveable property does not involve value addition, the provision cannot be held to be void in the absence of encroachment on List-II. Accordingly, no merit was found in the writ petition and the same was dismissed.


There is apparent contradiction in the two decisions. The Punjab and Haryana High Court may be technically right in upholding the constitutional validity of the service tax on renting of immoveable property, but it will be of no avail if the Delhi High Court's view, which seems to be more convincing, prevails — that is, within the framework of the Act no tax can be imposed on such a service.


(The author is a former chairman of CBDT.)








Larsen and Toubro Ltd is reportedly mulling demerger involving conversion of its 48 divisions into nine companies. Demerger is antithetical to the conglomerate approach to business management and is a sort of atonement done at the behest of the core competence enthusiasts who set store by the credo that one must stick to one's knitting and not stray away from the straight and the narrow.


The term conglomerate is given a more liberal meaning to denote a group consisting of several companies, each sticking to the straight and the narrow but with considerable cross holdings. These are called chaebols in Korea and keiretsu in Japan. For the purpose of this article, we will stick to the narrower definition — a single company with multiple unrelated product or services divisions. While core competence has an intuitive appeal, diversification per se does not rule out the advantages emanating out of core competence — size, economies of scale and better oversight, given the fact that divisions themselves can be run as profit centres by experts in the field with considerable latitude.


Tax considerations


The Birla group was a strong votary of the conglomerate model till recently. It has for strategic reasons spun off cement divisions strewn across various companies of the group to bring them under the banner of Ultra-tech Cement Ltd to take on competition from foreign majors such as Holcim, Lafarge etc. In fact, demergers have been precursors to mergers in India, given the fact that the Income-tax Act as indeed the Direct Taxes Code (DTC) in the offing insist on merger of the lock, stock and barrel variety, thus necessitating demerger of the division desired or cherry-picked from out of several divisions as a prelude to the merger of the newly spun-off company with the acquirer.


Demerger and merger would be tax-neutral when the DTC kicks in, but as it is merger scores over demerger in a limited respect — carry forward of business losses for a fresh period of eight years whereas the resulting company on demerger can carry forward only for the residuary period in the initial eight years during which losses are allowed to be carried forward for set-ffIndian corporate history is replete with examples of demerger being used for carving out mini-empires to placate squabbling siblings.


A conglomerate set-up not only has a sound economic rationale — not putting all eggs in one basket, but also scores over stand-alone single activity companies in that the loss of a division can be set off against the profit of another division belonging to the same company. In the United Kingdom, the loss of a 75 per cent subsidiary is available for set-off against the profits of the parent and vice-versa, but not in India, even if the subsidiary is 100 per cent owned.


One then wonders what could be the rationale for the proposed demerger of the L&T conglomerate. The usual reasons trotted out are crown jewels tend to be dimmed in the company of mediocre divisions, thus resulting in conglomerate discount on the bourses. Again, separate companies can mobilise more funds from the public than can a conglomerate. L&T perhaps does not need the tax shelter inherently available to a conglomerate, confident in the knowledge that none of these divisions would incur losses. One hopes it has reckoned with the grim reality that smaller companies lend themselves to easy takeover unless like Korean chaebols, they guard their flanks through cross-holdings. If siblings crave for mini empires, managers too want to be satraps. Conglomerates might spin off their divisions just to placate the chafing divisional heads. One hopes that is not the case with L&T.


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





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




There is something very wrong with food prices and food inflation. No one seems to get it right, neither the finance minister nor the Planning Commission deputy chairman, nor the Prime Minister's economic adviser. The agriculture minister is least accountable. For the whole of last year these gentlemen have been hopeful, telling us that food inflation would go down by the end of 2010. They were left fumbling on Thursday when food inflation hit 18.32 per cent for the week ending December 25, 2010. The usual excuses for high prices is trotted out, namely demand outstripping supply, purchasing power up due to the 6th Pay Commission, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme where the minimum wage is Rs 150 per day, changing patterns of food consumption, migration of farmers to urban areas as agriculture is unremunerative, destruction of thousands of tonnes of food grain by rodents, food and grain rotting due to lack of warehousing and storage facilities, and so on. The obvious question is, why has the government not planned for increased production and the infrastructure to get these from the farm to the table? Is the government really serious about increasing production? When is the last time that we had an experiment like Amul that saw a milk revolution, or a breakthrough like the green revolution? Around August last year, for instance, when the government announced the support price for food grain it announced a minimum support price for tur (widely used for making sambhar) of Rs 3,000 per quintal with a bonus of Rs 500 per quintal purchased by the government. But till date no purchasing centres have been opened. On the contrary, tur is being imported from Burma duty-free. The result is that the farmers who were getting Rs 100 per kg are now getting only Rs 30 per kg and they are discouraged from cultivating tur. It is the same story with other food items. The problem is that the government is looking at food inflation only from the point of view of the consumer, and not from the farmer's angle as well. You cannot please the former at the cost of the latter. From the farmer's perception, the bureaucrats in Delhi have one solution: importing cheap grain. But now the international scenario has changed and commodities are no longer cheap. This is what the bureaucrats do not seem to realise. For instance, edible oil prices have been increasing. They have a connection with crude prices. Crude oil has gone up to nearly $91 per barrel so the price of maize has shot up as it is used to make ethanol. Similarly, palm oil is used to make bio-diesel in Europe to heat buildings. Palm oil had increased from $800 a tonne to $1,300 per tonne in the last two months. We are major importers of these items and this pushes up international prices further. The government needs to sit with people who understand agriculture and the dynamics of agricultural production and find ways to increase food and food grain production so that we are nearly self-sufficient.








 "Smash that cup, O Bachchoo

The poison of regret

Some make love to remember

Some make love to forget..."

From Songs for the Bulbultarang


The assassination of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's Punjab state, in a popular public place has made him the latest martyr to the idea of Pakistan. His killer, Mumtaz Qadri, a 26-year-old commando detailed to be one of his bodyguards shot 27 bullets into him at point blank range and then surrendered himself.


Qadri told his captors that he "killed him for Islam". He confessed that he had been planning the murder ever since he was assigned to this particular bodyguard duty just four days earlier. He also boasted that he was proud of having eliminated a "blasphemer".


He didn't, of course, mean that Taseer himself had transgressed the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, which carry a mandatory death sentence for convicted transgressors. He meant that the governor had spoken out against the death sentence imposed on Asya Bibi, a Christian woman who allegedly insulted the Prophet Mohammed. Taseer had also pronounced himself in favour of ameliorating or abolishing the present blasphemy law.


An appointee of the present Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Taseer was universally known as a liberal. He was quoted in a recent international interview echoing the words of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan who said that the state born out of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 was to be a "secular" entity in which Christians and Hindus would be free to worship unmolested in their churches and temples. The blasphemy law as it stands was brought in by the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq and its proposed modification or abolition today, which has found focus in the case and conviction of Asya Bibi, is the latest dividing line between the liberals and the fundos.


The assassination comes at a time when the ruling coalition is in trouble as the Muttahid Quami Movement has withdrawn from support of the majority partner, the PPP.


The crises of Pakistan, with the devastating floods, continuing lack of the reach of state provision and of challenges to the writ of the state, go from bad to worse.


In this climate, the ironies of Taseer's martyrdom to this liberal idea of the state, an idea which the work and life of the Quaid-e-Azam, Jinnah would undoubtedly support, multiply.


Qadri avowedly sees himself as a martyr of Islam. He has taken the path of the suicide bombers and terrorists who are convinced that their act of killing people, whether they be working in a building on the Wall Street, praying in a mosque in Islamabad or sleeping on a railway platform in Mumbai, will take them to heaven. They undoubtedly see themselves as martyrs to their religion and to the cause of the state they serve which may be Pakistan or the Universal Caliphate to come.


The very personal irony is that of Taseer's half-Indian half-Sikh-by-birth son, the writer and novelist Aatish. He is a friend but I betray nothing of that friendship if I say that his first book Stranger to History: A Son's Journey through Islamic Lands, is about discovering his father and his father's professed faith, and that before and after he wrote it his father Salman accused him of being insufficiently Islamic.


And now in the wake of his murder, 500 "moderate Islamic scholars" have issued a statement saying that "anyone who expresses grief over Taseer's assassination could suffer the same fate".


Now one knows that Pakistan has curious history books which portray the subjugation, defeat and slaughter of the populations of their territories by ruthless Arab invaders as "great victories", but their dictionaries must now have very peculiar definitions of "moderate" and of "scholar". Kher!


If I can arrogate to myself, only for a moment, the position of adviser to my friend's father, I would plead with Taseer as he reaches the gates of heaven and is met by the angel Jibrail, to boast not that he was a martyr to Islam, but that he was a martyr to the idea and, yes, to the very survival and continuity of Pakistan. Let Qadri claim to be a martyr to Islam after he is hanged — and let him take his chances.


It is important that Taseer is seen as such in the world and most of all in Pakistan, because the country has not in all its years of existence decisively defined its soul.


One may say that no country has or can, but we can certainly discern a distinct identity and inclination in, say, North Korea, Iran, China and even in capitalist and wildly democratic India. We all knew what Stalinist Russia was about and the world knows, and some of it craves, the myths by which the US of America defines itself.


Pakistan can go nowhere and can't even initiate the capability to recover from the floods that continue to devastate it until it decides between the martyrdoms of Taseer and Qadri. Have Pakistan's political parties decided to take a lead in steering the country towards this crucial decision, or are they, as all my Pakistani friends tell me, taking advantage of the chaos to profit from it as individuals and interest groups?


The instinctive response of any observer would be that the first step towards finding its dynamic is the imposition of order. Pakistan has done that only through the imposition of military rule. The instinct of the same observer might rather that order come about through the will of the people.


Late last year Pervez Musharraf launched his political party the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). The non-Pakistani observer's opinion of this party's manifesto will carry no weight with anyone, but could it be that Pakistan can only be brought to order and face the future under the elected leadership of someone who has a clear vision of this dilemma; an experience of trying to resolve it without the weight of a popular ballot behind him and may, with such a force be instrumental in resolving it; has not corruptly profited from the chaos imposed by the dilemma; can even without the swords on his shoulders command the respect of the armed forces and has demonstrated through the measures of his albeit military and disputedly-democratic rule that he is on the side of the redeeming (is it too early or silly to call it the Taseerian) idea of Pakistan?







It seems Mr Jannat Husain is having a great time as Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). He went on leave for a week in early December to visit the US and is now enjoying a Pongal vacation from January 3 to 13. According to sources in the know, the chief information commissioner cannot go on leave or leave the city if the other state commissioners are also absent.


At present there are no other commissioners as their term expired in November so the CIC is the only available authority. If there is an emergency, the CIC has to obtain permission from the Governor to leave the state. The CIC may well fall foul of RTI activists who could be asking him some uncomfortable questions about the number of days he has worked and how many complaints he has heard etc.



The number six is considered to be auspicious for the TRS chief, Mr K. Chandrasekhar Rao, but the same number has proved to be inauspicious for Telangana, the cause he so ardently pursues. The six-point formula arrived at during Indira Gandhi's regime, to reconcile Telangana and Andhra leaders, finally did not work. The famous 'Gentlemen's agreement' which consists of six members in 1956 decided the formulate the power and funds sharing arrangement among Telangana and Andhra regions also did not work. The six zones that were created after the Andhra agitation for public employment did injustice to Telangana, according its leaders. Even the '6'10 G.O. issued by N.T. Rama Rao, to correct the irregularities, never worked. And now, the Justice Srikrishna panel has given six options to resolve the matter, and the sixth option, i.e. keeping the state united, is the best option according to the committee, but according to T-protagonists and KCR, it is the worst!



Chiranjeevi must be wishing he had stuck to acting instead of venturing into politics. The fast changing political scenario in the state is literally getting on the nerves of the Praja Rajyam president. He had planned to revive his party in the Telangana region by supporting the T cause but was forced to change track in view of the Srikrishna Committee report. The committee's "six-point formula" forced Chiranjeevi to do a rethink and he decided to go with his 16 MLAs who all hail from the Seema-Andhra region and want a united Andhra Pradesh. Only two MLAs — Mr E. Anil Kumar from Balkonda and Mr Maheshar Reddy from Nirmal — are for Telangana.


The Balkonda MLA, Mr Anil, regularly attends the party office and has been a staunch supporter of the T cause. The poor man got quite a hostile reception at the TJAC dharna after his party's flip-flop. A staunch separatist, he is now in the awkward position of having to fight for the T cause while his party opposes it!








What a lovely start to a new year. For all of us nervous about letting go and terrified of change, the first week of 2011 was very reassuring. Each day, we peered cautiously from under comforting blankets, fearing the worst. Okay, we could come out. The world hadn't changed with the turn of the decade. We began each day with fresh news of rapes, murders, financial scams and failure of justice. All was well with our country.


Take the case of this Bihari schoolteacher stabbing to death the local MLA (member of the legislative Assembly). On January 4, Raj Kishore Kesri, 51, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Purnea, was knifed to death in public by Rupam Pathak, 45, a school principal. Kesri was meeting people at home when Ms Pathak, who had known him for years, walked in with a concealed kitchen knife and stabbed him. She was almost lynched by the MLA's men. In hospital, she showed no remorse. "The MLA is a demon", she said, of course, he wouldn't die.


Till now, all we know about the MLA from public records of 2005 is that he had five serious criminal cases against him, including attempt to murder (Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code), attempt to commit culpable homicide (IPC, 308), voluntarily causing hurt (IPC, 323), wrongful restraint (IPC, 341), assault or criminally deterring public servant from discharging his duty (IPC, 353) and theft (IPC, 379), among other grave offences. He had not been convicted in any of these. In 2008, he had been charged with rape by another woman, but was given a clean chit.


Last year, Ms Pathak had accused Mr Kesri and his associates of raping her over three years. But in court, she withdrew the allegation. When the police gave the BJP MLA a clean chit, Ms Pathak filed a protest petition in court, saying she was bullied into withdrawing her charges. And now she has killed her accused.


Maybe she killed the MLA because she, like millions around the country and particularly in states like Bihar, had lost faith in the justice system. Because she believed that ordinary citizens like her would never be able to punish politicians like this MLA for even the gravest of crimes. Perhaps the bullying by the powerful to shut her up got to her. "It will be better if I am hanged", said the desperate woman.


Or perhaps she was part of a murder conspiracy against Raj Kishore Kesri, as alleged by the BJP. The police have swiftly arrested the editor of Quisling, the local weekly that had first reported Ms Pathak's complaint against the MLA. Or perhaps we will find out that the lady was of unsound mind and querulous character, as stated by some, and the MLA of admirable reputation and squeaky-clean character, as stated by some others.


With some luck and proper political affiliation of the murder accused, we may even find out that she didn't kill him, and that sundry Hindi haikus were found in Kesri's home, from which the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had safely concluded that the MLA, being fond of Japanese culture, had committed harakiri at his morning durbar. (Nah, no Hindi haikus have been found as yet, I just made this part up.)


Fact is, we may never know what the real story is. But what we do know is that our MLAs and members of Parliament (MPs) are very often criminals who get away with murder and rape. A large chunk of our elected representatives in Parliament and in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are history-sheeters. With the police and sometimes even the courts working against them and for the powerful netas, the ordinary victim has no access to justice. Usually they hide in shame, their reputation destroyed, their lives in a shambles for trying to punish the powerful. Sometimes they kill themselves. And rarely, they attack their tormentor. All this signifies a terrible failure of justice.


Take the testimony of Nirpreet Kaur in a Delhi court on January 6. She gave a detailed eyewitness account of how her father was burnt to death as Congress leader Sajjan Kumar incited a lynch mob in 1984. The match that set her father, doused in kerosene by the mob, ablaze was provided by a police inspector. Nirpreet, then 16, saw it all, but could not save her father. Later, her demand for justice sent her to jail on several false charges. Accused under Tada (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities), she spent years in jail, but was later cleared in all cases.


Meanwhile, Mr Kumar flourished as a Congress MP. He was withdrawn as a candidate in last year's parliamentary elections only after Sikh reporter Jarnail Singh threw a shoe at home minister P. Chidambaram at a press conference. The journalist had asked about the CBI's giving a clean chit to Mr Kumar and Mr Chidambaram had given a vague and smug reply. Mr Singh was roughed up by Congress supporters, but the party recognised the importance of the shoe attack, and dropped Mr Kumar as a candidate 25 years after he had been accused of instigating the Sikh massacre. The cases against him were reopened.


But a frenzied attack in public is the last recourse of the desperate. These shouldn't happen in a functioning democracy where people have faith in justice, where the police and the courts work. Sadly, our police act as the private army of influential netas and the courts very often give unjust verdicts that please the powerful. Among recent judgments, sentencing human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen to life imprisonment was one such. The Ayodhya verdict that did not even mention the demolition of the Babri Masjid and refused to acknowledge that it was a place of worship while accepting enthusiastically that Ram idols wrongfully placed there gave Hindus a two-thirds claim on "the disputed site" was another.


Every day, we see the failure of justice and the desperation that it breeds. We try to stem the rot by going after the disgruntled lot — whether they are desperate housewives like Rupam Pathak or organised killers like the Maoists. If we really want a clean state, we need to urgently clean up the mess that lies beneath. Then we could really have a Happy New Year.


* Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: [1]


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REPEAT a lie 50 times and it becomes that truth, the Nazis declared. It would appear that the Bharatiya Janata Party believes the reverse is equally true ~ it takes the line that by consistently slamming the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, Jammu and Kashmir will be deprived of its special status. At the root of that thinking is an acceptance of the reality that even by its own brand of secularism it finds no takers in the Kashmir region: the emphasis on the majority viewpoint taking precedence stops at Banihal. 


It is in furtherance of that skewed thinking, mischievously camouflaged as "patriotism", that its youth wing plans to terminate its Rashtriya Ekta Yatra by hoisting the Tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on 26 January. Would it care to reflect that Republic Day celebrates the adoption of the Indian Constitution, of which Article 370 is an integral component? Would there be a single local resident on the streets to cheer the BJP activists? So how would the objective of promoting "national solidarity" be achieved? Omar Abdullah is perfectly justified in asking the BJP to desist from what could prove provocative. "If there are any repercussions in the Kashmir Valley I will hold them personally responsible" he has averred, observing that "the BJP's aim is to set Kashmir on fire". On the ground it is highly likely that a curfew will be imposed, and as happened when Dr Murli Manohar Joshi undertook a similar misadventure some years ago, only security personnel will be around to "witness history". Actually history would be made if the BJP announced that along with the Tricolour its activists would raise the State's flag ~ which the Constitution approves.

Political philosophy apart, the BJP plans reflect a pathetic lack of responsibility. Srinagar and adjoining areas were subjected to immense suffering in the wake of a vicious cycle of stone-pelting and curfews last summer. The violence levels may have dropped of late, but occasional trouble is still reported. Oddly, the weather conditions that keep the stone-pelters indoors has brought in a fair number of snow-charmed tourists, enabling the "trade" to recover some of its summer losses. Is it the BJP's intention to throw a low blow at the common man? Or is the average Kashmiri ~ no need to mention the reasons why ~ excluded from the party's "middle name"?




While some people will carp at the world's top-ranked team not having attempted a 340-run target on the final day at Cape Town, India, on balance, have emerged with credit from their Test match encounters in South Africa. A 1-1 result is a fair outcome for a keenly-contested series, and certainly the visitors did nothing to suggest that their rank was unjustified. Indeed, many cricket commentators had, on the eve of the tour, said India's ability to cope on the faster South African pitches would be the true test of their ability. They coped, and did it well. Except for the first essay at Centurion when conditions aided their opponents, India played like a quality team. Meanwhile, as India battled South Africa, the Ashes contests in Australia provided insights into the form of world cricket's other two top teams. While the once-invincible Australians are clearly in the doldrums, the English seem the champions of the future not least because they have a settled batting line-up and a bowling attack with depth and variety.

India fared well, but they still have problems, not the least of which is that their two best-performing batsmen ~ Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman ~ are on the last lap of their illustrious careers. Rahul Dravid, too, is at the same stage and while Virender Sehwag's failures can be attributed to poor form, there is no replacement yet for the No. 6 slot that Sourav Ganguly once occupied with distinction. Within the next couple of years, the entire middle-order will be gone and there is little evidence that the replacements ~ of whom Suresh Raina and Cheteshwar Pujara were on view in this series ~ can handle the pressures of hostile foreign pitches. When the increasingly fragile Zaheer Khan is unavailable, the opening bowlers struggle and Harbhajan Singh, his wonderful record notwithstanding, has not been consistent in recent times. MS Dhoni is a good leader, but a very ordinary wicket-keeper, and now it seems that the inspirational Gary Kirsten, too, will not be available. Each team goes through this process of rebuilding, but it is likely that Indian fans will need to expect less in coming years. For the moment, though, let us rejoice in India's achievement ~ there is some pleasure to be derived from this drawn series, especially as it yielded Tendulkar's 50th ~ and 51st ~ centuries.




There are two facets of the Centre's year-end agenda on technical education. The first is decidedly societal ~ the technical institutes will have to reserve five per cent of the seats for the backward sections. At another remove, the second has a profound corporate underpinning. It is a gift to the private sector which will be allowed to set up what they call "not-for-profit" institutes, a critical concession that had hitherto been denied. In effect, the HRD ministry has unshackled the system, and the private sector will be able to set up technical institutes under Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act. Till now, corporate effort was restricted only to registered societies and trusts. The surplus earned will have to be expended only on the campus, and not for any other purpose. Almost inevitably, there will be a dramatic entry of private players in the sphere of learning. Yet for all the corporate grandstanding, the very pertinent question that survives is whether a liberal dose of investment will eventually translate to a qualitative improvement in technical education. The provision that these institutes will be under the control of the ministry of corporate affairs chimes oddly with the academic ambience of the campus. Though education is in the Concurrent list, the corporate institutes will function under the umbrella of the Centre. This is the unmistakable dichotomy of the new arrangement, one that might, just might, be detrimental to coordination.

The second aspect relates to the reform package for institutes under the All India Council of Technical Education. The intervention ought to make for transparency in the functioning of the AICTE. Chiefly, the package is geared to benefit the students. Aside from the mandatory five per cent reservation for backwards, no fewer than 200,000 seats are to be added to the engineering institutes. This entails an extensive development of infrastructure; the relaxation of the land requirement norms addresses only part of the issue. No less critical is the strength of the faculties; the severe shortage faced by the IITs, for example, can neutralise the anticipated benefits of development. Altogether, technical education is set to enter a phenomenal phase with the huge increase in the intake of students and the entry of the private sector. Action in the follow-through must be equally swift and effective.








Pakistan's Punjab Governor, Salmaan Taseer, was shot dead by his security bodyguard Mumtaz Hussain Qadri because of his liberal views and criticism of the death penalty given to a Christian lady on the charge of "blasphemy". After he murdered the Governor many people congratulated the assassin and even garlanded him. Before being led away by the police Qadri shouted: "We are ready to sacrifice our life for the prestige of the Prophet Mohammed." The assassin's claims suggest that the crime may have had the sanction of security forces. Five hundred Pakistani clerics and scholars issued a statement praising the assassin. They said Qadri had "revived the 14-century-old traditions of Islam" and made Muslims worldwide proud.

This murder was reminiscent of the murder of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh guards who also received praise from some Sikh clerics and followers for upholding the Sikh faith. Clearly, Pakistan is in the deepest trouble. Clearly, the world is in deep trouble. The spectre of fundamentalist terror continues to grow. How can it be checked? It can only be eliminated effectively if its root cause is countered. The root cause of terrorism is never specified for fear of treading on delicate ground. But as the crisis of fundamentalist terror escalates to engulf the entire world in its coils, the time has come for plain-speaking.

This is what happens. People see other people die. It makes them wonder about their own death. At the deepest subconscious they think of their personal unknown future. The unknown makes them curious and it makes them scared. Spiritual personages considered divine by their followers explained the future on the basis of their inner experience. They gave their views to humankind about virtue and vice, about heaven and hell, about salvation and damnation. They offered a way out of uncertainty and anxiety. Because of their divine presence and the example of their own lives they influenced people. After they departed from the earth their followers codified their teachings and created religions.

To sustain and further promote the religion, priests entered the process. The priests are not divine. They interpret and propagate the teachings of the divine. They are the self-appointed guardians of a religious faith. In the absence of the divine soul they exercise the greatest influence upon devout believers. But they are human. They can make errors. There are good priests and bad priests. That is the start of the problem. There are bad priests with strong human failings in all religions. Christian priests are known to have sexually exploited children. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh priests are known to have likewise sexually exploited women and children. Thereby inferior individuals start laying the agenda for ethical living before the adherents of their respective religions. These inferior individuals have taken it upon themselves to interpret the messages of the great divine personages that inspired the creation of their respective religions. That is how priests started distorting religious teaching.

That is why Pakistan 's clerics can hail the assassin of Salmaan Taseer as a warrior. The clerics of Pakistan who said this are beneath contempt. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Nanak and other great personages who inspired religions did not descend upon earth to serve Christians, Muslims, Hindus or any other exclusive group. They came to earth to serve humanity. They belong to all who choose to revere them regardless if one belongs to a particular religion or not. That is why one can opine with assurance even without being a Muslim that the Prophet Mohammed would have treated the statement of Pakistan's clerics with extreme disfavour.
That one who accepted the duty of guarding a Governor should have shot him betrays extreme cowardice and treachery. That there are clerics who extol this act of cowardice as one of bravery betrays extreme perversity. Violation of dharma can never be condoned. One iterates in these columns the episode of Hazrat Ali, the great warrior saint. In battle he pinned his adversary to the ground and was on the point of slaying him when his intended victim spat upon him. Ali stayed his hand and spared him. After battle asked why he showed mercy, the saint explained that when he was spat upon he was filled with hate. He refused to kill in a state of anger. All actions were to be dispassionate and in the pursuit of dharma. The much abused term of jihad actually refers to a process of deep introspection and inner cleansing. It has been distorted beyond recognition by clerics to sanctify cowardly killing of innocents. The fundamentalist extremists swayed by the false teaching of priests become assassins and terrorists. Their less extreme brethren applaud them. This is the root cause of fundamentalist terror. How might it be checked?

The solution must start with reform of the priestly class. Fortunately in all religions good priests far outnumber bad priests. Unfortunately they are not sufficiently active or vocal. When religion is distorted some of them may occasionally write an article or make a statement to offer the correct interpretation. That is not enough. The world is in crisis. The good priests and religious scholars must speak up. They must campaign. They must take the bad priests head-on to preserve the sanctity of their respective religions. They must help preserve world peace. Humankind is in a dangerous state of decay. That is why the better judges, bureaucrats, politicians and journalists have started to cleanse their respective ranks. Should priests lag behind? 

The writer is a veteran journalistand cartoonist







Vyjayanthimala is nothing if not a classical dancer. This statement may surprise many who know her only as a Bollywood star. But the artiste herself does not seem to think much of her hugely successful career in films which she quit at its peak more than four decades ago after her marriage to Dr Chamanlal Bali in 1968.  

Vyjayanthimala began a career in films with Vazhkai, a Tamil movie, in 1949 as a 15-year-old. It was a hit and was remade in Hindi as Bahaar (1951). She acted with the big three of Tamil cinema ~ MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan. Her early Hindi movies were Ladki and Nagin (1954). In Bimal Roy's Devdas (1955), she was cast opposite Dilip Kumar in the role of Chandramukhi. She won the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award for her performance in this movie, but she turned it down saying the role of Paro essayed by Suchitra Sen was of equal importance. After the success of Devdas, she starred in four more movies with  Dilip Kumar ~ Naya Daur (1957), Madhumati (1958), Ganga Jamuna (1961) and Leader. In 1966, she starred in the epic Amrapali. It did not do well at the box office to her acute disappointment. Her passionate portrayal of a woman adored by two men (Raj Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar) in Sangam earned her Filmfare's Best Actress trophy again in 1964. 

Vyjyanthimala has had a fairly long innings in politics too. She was elected to the Lok Sabha as a Congress member for two terms in 1984 and 1989. Later, she was nominated to the Rajya Sabha for a six-year term in 1993. RC RAJAMANI met the septuagenarian danseuse at her Chennai residence a few hours before a scheduled Bharatanatyam performance.  

When did you quit films? 

After my marriage in 1968. Of course, the last few films that I starred in were released in 1969 and 1970. 

You have been concentrating on your first love, dance, since? 

Yes, if I remember correctly, my first major dance performance after marriage was in Delhi, in 1969. On that day, the city was hit by an earthquake. The Statesman headlined the story such "Vyjyanthi Rocks Delhi". I still remember the wonderful review written by the newspaper's music and dance critic Dr Charles Fabri. He was a Hungarian who was an acknowledged expert on all classical Indian dance forms as well as western classical music.

So your heart is clearly in dance, not films? 

Absolutely. Perhaps, it was destined that I would be a dancer all my life. Maybe, it became apparent when I was born. Yes, I entered this world moving my toes and not head first. I was born with dancing toes, if I may say so. 

Do you remember Subbudu, a long-time music critic of The Statesman? 

How can any artiste afford to forget him? Yes, he had a devastating pen and spared none. Of course, he was knowledgeable and fearless. I always respected his reviews. 

You reportedly performed before the Pope as a child. When was it? 

Oh, yes I still remember it vividly. It was in 1939 and I was barely five years old. I was with a cultural troupe that was touring Europe at that time. It was sponsored by the erstwhile royal family of Mysore. My mother Vasundhara, father MD Raman and grandmother Yadugri Devi were part of the ensemble. 
We visited the Vatican and had an audience with the Pope. He called me over and asked me to perform, I did so without fear or inhibition. I danced to the Hindi song More mandir me aao pujari. As a child, I would often practice in front of the mirror with plates in my hands, balancing them such that they do not fall. I reprised it before the Pope. It happened such a long time ago, but yet it feels like yesterday. 

You call your mother by her name. Why so? 

Yes, my mother was just 16 when she had me. Besides, those days, especially in Brahmin joint families, this was not uncommon. If the father happened to be the eldest in the family everyone called him Anna (elder brother). I would call my father Anna too. For all practical purposes, my grandma was my mother. I was attached to her all my life. She was my friend, philosopher and guide. 

How do you keep fit at this age and dance with the same energy as you did before? 
I never think about my age. If others think (about my age) it is their problem (laughs). Yes, of course, it is divine bliss. I am grateful to God. I am a devotee of the Vaishnava saint poet Sri Aandaal. It is her grace. I always invoke Aandaal before any public performance. Yes, I feel I am fortunate to have been born a Vaishnavite.
Not many people know you are a singer too? 

That's right. But dance and music are inseparable. If you don't know music you can't be a complete dancer. My grandmother was my inspiration. It was she who goaded me into learning both dance and music. In fact, just a few days ago I gave a lecture demonstration on 'Composers for Dance'. I paid a tribute to late DK Pattammal, who was not just my guru and mentor but also a mother figure. In fact, she wanted me to pursue classical singing with a little more seriousness. She trained me so that I could participate in the Tiruvaiyaru festival, which I did for three years. Pattammal always felt I would have made a fine singer had I not taken up dancing. 
Since it was the fourth day of the Margazhi festival, I began the concert with Aandaal's Aazhi Mazhai Kanna. Yes, Bhakti is essential to music and dance. Without devotion, it would be a futile affair. I am convinced that I have been guided towards my accomplishments by a divine presence all my life. 

Can you recall any memorable events in your life? 

It is difficult to choose. Of course, my marriage to Dr Bali was one. 

When did he die? 

Hmmm (takes a deep breath)… No, he lives on in my heart … always, forever. 

Sorry, let me switch the subject. You have a son, what is he doing? 

Yes, Suchindra Bali, Suchi for short. He is a qualified lawyer with an additional degree in management from Columbia University, USA. He has dabbled in modelling, film production and also acted in a few Tamil and Hindi films. He is happily married to a charming Mandyam Iyengar girl. Now, returning to my memorable moments, I must mention here my meeting with the former US First Lady ~ Mrs Hillary Clinton. A few years ago, I had gone to the USA with my son and was about to leave New Jersey for home when I received a call from the White House. The First Lady wished to meet me. Hurriedly, we rescheduled our travel plans and left for Washington. We had a great meeting with Hillary and shared her friendliness and warmth. When told that my son had been to Columbia, she quipped, "Why not Yale?", her alma mater. I felt humbled by the First Lady's simple manners. 

What about your directors and co-stars? 

I was lucky to have begun my career in films with the great AVM banner. My producers and directors were giants like SS Vasan and Bimal Roy. They were all task masters. Bimalda was kind and gentle. I have acted with the Big Three of both Hindi and Tamil films. I met Gemini Ganesan sometime before his death a few years ago. He was in bed and could hardly speak. His family members tried to pep him up, telling him, "Look, who has come!" The veteran looked up and uttered "Pa… aapa". (Vyjayanthimala's friends and colleagues call her Papa) in a feeble voice but his eyes lit up. I met Dev Anand recently at the wedding reception of Rajinikant's daughter. We reminisced about the old days. Dilip Kumar is not well. I am in touch with Saira (Banu) too who is a good friend and a warm person. I wish him Godspeed.  






They say Ma, Mati, Manush (mother, land, people). Our refrain is Krishi, Shilpa, Manush (agriculture, industrialisation, people). 

West Bengal chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee 

The people of West Bengal are getting the best New Year gift ~ elections in May 2011. We will ensure that the elections are held peacefully. 

Union home minister Mr P Chidambaram. 

Whatever Chidambaram has said is correct. There is no time now for the polls to be advanced. They will be held in Bengal along with five other states. 
Trinamul supremo Miss Mamata Banerjee. 

We are taking care not to increase prices. I don't think the empowered group of ministers should meet just now to decide on pricing. 

Union petroleum and natural gas minister Mr Murli Deora on the fuel price hike 

To us who sing his compositions, Tagore is God and Suchitradi was our medium of reaching Him. 
Noted Rabindrasangeet singer Purba Dam after Suchitra Mitra's death 

We hope that Telangana as a state with Hyderabad as its capital will be one of the options mentioned by the Srikrishna Committee. 

Congress MLA Mr Uttam Kumar Reddy 

We have been saying that the Trinamul is hand in glove with Maoists. We had written as much to the Union home minister. At times, even Maoists have spoken about their association with the Trinamul. Now a Trinamul MP has written (about the association) in his book, citing the dates and places of the meetings (between Trinamul members and Maoists). We don't have anything more to say about the nexus. 

CPI-M leader Mr Shyamal Chakraborty at a Citu rally 

Presidency of our time and of today is not the same. We need to take a broadminded approach to get the Presidency that we want. 

Nobel laureate economist and Presidency alumnus Dr Amartya Sen 

I want to live ... I am now really worried about my family's safety. I don't feel safe here any more, I might as well seek political asylum in some other country. 

Mrs Ilina Sen, wife of Dr Binayak Sen at the Press Club of India 

 At this point in my career, I don't need any uncertainty. 

Cricketer Anil Kumble after retiring from the IPL tournament







The lucid report on Public Instruction in Bengal for 1910 which has just been published, shows in a very striking manner that the desire for education is making progress among the agricultural population. There was an increase during the year of 668 aided and 622 unaided primary schools. Mr Kuchler, however, describes this development as a doubtful gain, since an increase in the number of aided primaries involves a reduction in the gurus' income from public funds, which are "in a stagnant, if not shrinking, condition"; while the unaided institutions are of very little value from the educational point of view. "Yet," observes the Director of Public Instruction, "the growth is a sign of the people's effort, however feeble, to provide some sort of education for their children. A good agricultural year brings such schools into being by hundreds; a bad year sweeps them out of existence: but the desire is there, and, given the requisite amount of support, mass education is sure to spread rapidly." The evidence that the value of education is appreciated among the ryots of Bengal is thus beyond cavil. On the other hand, the provision for the instruction of this class ~ the most helpless in the Province owing to their ignorance ~ is not only inadequate but compares most unfavourably with that made for the sons of the more wealthy inhabitants, who might well be called upon to defray the full cost of the Univesity education of their children. The aggregate annual amount directly expended upon boys' primary schools in Bengal is roughly Rs 29 lakhs, or 190,000 pound, a sum which is miserably inadequate. The result of the insufficiency of financial resources is to be found in underpaid and too often inefficient teachers, and the starving of education whee its steady development would be of advantage both to the people and to the State. It is significant that out of the 38,349 teachers engaged in the boys' primary schools 9,700 possess no certificates of efficiency of any description, and that 12,484 have no qualifications higher than the lower primary standard. But the remuneration paid offers no inducement to qualified men to engage in the teaching profession. A statement made by the Chairman of the Bhagalpur District Board, affords eloquent testimony as to the sombre outlook even of a trained teacher. "Here, is a guru," observes the Chairman, "who has passed the Final examination of the Madhepura Gurus' School. He gets Rs 2 a month and what he can earn by fees ~ precarious amount. Whilst under training he got a regular stipend of Rs 5 per month. This is not an encouragement to other gurus to undergo training. But I do not think District Boards can afford to pay all gurus Rs 7 a month." Meanwhile many of the gurus who have received training at the cost of the Department display natural unwillingness to resume the work of teaching, and this tendency is likely to increase rather than to diminish unless the obvious remedy is applied.









A new year invariably brings with it new expectations and anxieties. It is necessary, unless the expectations were to be relegated to a wish list in a New Year's Eve parlour game, to ground the wishes in reality. Following this, it is not unrealistic to expect that the Indian economy, which coped with the global economic downturn without any major hiccups, will continue to grow and the dream of a double-digit growth rate will come closer to being achieved. But this economic performance has to be tempered with worries at a different level. The first of these is the rising prices of some food items, especially onions. It is not clear how this phenomenon is going to be tackled by the government despite an acceptance of its importance in official circles. A related but far more long-term problem is the growing difference in Indian society between the rich and the poor. There is no sign that this problem is being taken seriously by policy-makers except for introducing schemes like the national employment guarantee scheme. Without underestimating the necessity and the success of this, and similar schemes, the problem of poverty demands greater attention if India is not to become two nations held together by one Constitution.


The year opens with the speculation that the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, will reshuffle his cabinet. This reshuffle, if it takes place at all, has been long in the making. But a reshuffle is not a solution to some of the problems facing the prime minister. It has become quite apparent that there is a deficit of accountability and performance within the government. The entire episode concerning A. Raja, the former minister of telecommunications, which left the government somewhat embarrassed, would not have been possible if processes of accountability and transparency had been more firmly in place. The slur of corruption has stained this government despite the undeniable personal integrity of the prime minister. There is the growing impression that the prime minister does not always impose his will on the government. Mr Singh should dispel this impression. He should not underestimate the goodwill he commands and should proceed to leave his own indelible mark on the administration, as he has done on foreign policy and the economy. If Mr Singh does this, 2011 could very well be his year.


Current trends lead to fears about the nature and the future of Indian democracy. It is evident that the delicate balance that should exist among the judiciary, the executive and the legislature has been disturbed. The threats, external as well as internal, have provided a suitable alibi to subvert some of the basic democratic rights. These are, of course, issues affecting the whole of society rather than only politicians and the government. They cannot be brushed aside by any glib talk that India's moment in the world has arrived.









Books do not change lives, but books can change the way we look at the world. As a student of economics, I was a high modernist who believed in transforming rural communities through industrialization. Concern for the poor came with a heavy dose of condescension. Those who lived outside cities had to be improved and uplifted through an infusion of modern technology and what used to be known as the 'scientific temper'. Then I read Verrier Elwin's Leaves from the Jungle, a charming evocation of the life of the Gond tribals of central India. This, and his other works, showed me that despite their apparent illiteracy and lack of material wealth, the tribals had a rich tradition of poetry, folklore and art, a deep identification with nature, and a strong sense of community solidarity. In the latter respects they had, in fact, something to teach a modern world that dismissed them as primitive and uncivilized.


A little later, I became a Marxist, persuaded into the faith by the scholars who taught me in Calcutta. I was young and impatient; the incremental idealism of my parents' hero, Jawaharlal Nehru, did not seem sufficient to make a dent in the poverty and inequality that was so manifest a feature of social life in India. Then, on a visit to Dehradun, I picked up from the pavement of the town's main street a copy of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. I took the book home and read it through the night. Orwell had seen, at first-hand, how the democratic aspirations of the Spanish people had been undermined by the takeover of their movement by a band of cynical and amoral communists, acting under the instructions of Josef Stalin. He communicated his experiences in prose of an uncommon clarity. By the morning, I had abandoned Marxism, and was a social democrat once more.


Another book that changed the way I looked at the world was Truth Called Them Differently, published by the Navajivan Trust in Ahmedabad. This reproduced the debates between Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. They argued about many things — India's place in the world, the role of the English language, whether an hour a day at the spinning wheel was mandatory for the patriot. The exchanges reveal the intellectual and moral qualities of the two men, each of whom had the ability (and courage) to change his views when circumstance or reason so demanded.


Elwin was once a well-known writer in India. Tagore, Gandhi and Orwell enjoy global reputations. All had a considerable and varied oeuvre in English. Their books were published by the most prestigious publishing houses. A fourth book whose reading radically altered my understanding of the world was, in contrast, written by an author unknown outside his native Karnataka. And it was published by a totally obscure press. Browsing through Bangalore's Premier Book Shop in the early 1990s, I came across a slim book called The Flaming Feet. The title was intriguing, as were its contents — a series of essays on and around the figure of B.R. Ambedkar.


Published by a local NGO called the Institute of Cultural Research and Action,The Flaming Feet was the first work in English by D.R. Nagaraj, a professor of Kannada in Bangalore University. The politics of the 1930s and 1940s had placed Gandhi and Ambedkar as antagonists — as, more recently, had the politics of the 1980s and 1990s. The Bahujan Samaj Party had launched a series of stinging attacks on the Mahatma, accusing him of patronizing the Dalits and impeding rather than aiding their emancipation. From the other side, the Hindutva ideologue, Arun Shourie, had written a 600-page screed depicting Ambedkar as a toady of the British.


D.R. Nagaraj was unusual and — at that time, at least — unique in admiringboth Gandhi and Ambedkar. To be sure, in their lifetime their respective social locations made it hard for these men not to be political adversaries. By the time Ambedkar returned from his studies in the US, Gandhi was the acknowledged leader of the national movement. For a brilliant and ambitious young man from a Dalit background, to join the Congress was to relegate oneself to a secondary role in politics. Thus, as Nagaraj pointed out, "there was very little scope for a Congress Harijan leader to develop interesting and useful models of praxis from within". So, Ambedkar chose to form his own political party and fight for his people under a banner separate from, and opposed to, Gandhi's Indian National Congress.


In The Flaming Feet, Nagaraj demonstrated how, through their debates and arguments, Gandhi and Ambedkar transformed each other. The Mahatma became more sensitive to the structural roots of caste discrimination, while Ambedkar came to recognize that moral renewal was as critical to Dalit emancipation as economic opportunity. In seeking to honour both men, Nagaraj was, as he put it, fighting both "deep-rooted prejudices" (which urged Indians to follow only one or the other) as well as "wishful thinking" (which made one believe that one or other thinker provided all the answers to the Dalit predicament). Nagaraj insisted that "from the viewpoint of the present, there is a compelling necessity to achieve a synthesis of the two". "The greatest paradox of modern Indian history," wrote Nagaraj, was that "both Gandhian and Ambedkarite perceptions of the issue are partially true, and the contending visions are yet to comprehend each other fully".


Reading Nagaraj, like reading Tagore, Gandhi, Orwell and Elwin, was an epiphanic experience. He taught me to recognize that while Gandhi and Ambedkar were rivals in their lifetime, from the point of view of India today the two men should rather be viewed as partners and collaborators. The legacy ofboth was required to complete the unfinished task of Dalit emancipation. After the publication of The Flaming Feet, Nagaraj began writing more often in English. These later essays, like the book, were marked by an unusual ability to bring disparate worlds into conversation: the past and the present, the elite and the subaltern, the vernacular and the cosmopolitan.


In 1998, just as he was maturing as a scholar and political analyst, Nagaraj died of a heart attack. Now, 12 years later, his published and unpublished essays on Dalit questions have been brought together in an expanded edition of The Flaming Feet, edited and sensitively introduced by his former student, Prithvi Datta Chandra Sobhi, and appearing this time under the imprint of a more mainstream publisher. Here Nagaraj writes with elegance and insight about a wide range of subjects — on the "lack of a living tradition of militant Gandhianism"; on the self-invention of a Dalit identity (as he points out, in searching for a history outside Hinduism, "the modern Dalit has to seek his rebirth in a state of fearful loneliness. S/he has nothing to rely upon in his/her immediate Hindu surroundings"); on the need to build a united front of ecological, Dalit and tribal movements.


Nagaraj was a social scientist as well as littérateur whose mode of writing was sometimes empirical, at other times metaphorical. Here is a representative excerpt: "Babasaheb [Ambedkar] had no option but to reject the Gandhian model. He had realized that this model had successfully transformed Harijans as objects in a ritual of self-purification, with the ritual being performed by those who had larger heroic notions of their individual selves. In the theatre of history, in a play with such a script, the untouchables would never become heroes in their own right, they were just mirrors for a hero to look at his own existentialist anger and despair, or maybe even glory."


This new edition of The Flaming Feet may be the most important work of non-fiction published in this country in 2010. At any rate, it is indispensable for anyone with any serious interest in society and politics in modern India.


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





The roaring food inflation rate, which hit an almost two-year high of 18.32 per cent on Thursday, has belied all calculations and expectations.It has aggravated the common man's miseries and compounded the government's political worries. There has been no let-up in the price spiral in the last many months, in spite of predictions of moderation by March this year. It is now clear that the general inflation target of below 6 per cent will not be achieved in the next three months. Home minister P Chidambaram, who is a former finance minister, has admitted 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 failure of the government is obvious and the runaway prices cannot all be attributed only to unseasonal rains that spoiled onion crops. It is not just the food prices that have shot up. The mineral prices have gone up by more than 30 per cent and petrol prices by 25 per cent. It gives no comfort to say that food prices are high all over the world. Even if there was no production shortage, increasing demand for food, resulting from growth-induced prosperity, would have caused the prices to go up. The government has not put in place an anti-inflation policy, taking such factors into consideration. Pro-active measures against hoarding and profiteering have also been absent at both state and central levels.

It is almost certain that the Reserve Bank will raise interest rates to curb money supply in its January 25 meeting. It has done so a number of times in the last one year but the results have not been great. Monetary signals and measures take time to travel through the economy. But there does not seem to be any alternative, though the tightening will increase the cost of capital, hurt production and spending, and slow down growth. But making food articles available at affordable prices should be a matter of priority. Long-term measures to ensure that, like increasing agricultural productivity and output and improving supply chain arrangements, storage, etc have not received adequate attention. If the basic issues constraining the growth of agriculture are not addressed, fire-fighting measures to curb the rise in food prices will not help either.








It's debatable if the most compelling Test series in recent history required a winner to add to its lustre. Even as Australia were being sent on a hiding to nothing in their backyard by England in a one-sided Ashes showdown, India and South Africa were providing the ultimate advertisement for Test cricket in another part of the southern hemisphere. It was in the fitness of things that after 15 days of intense, no-holds-barred action, the three-match series ended in a stalemate, the 1-1 result making it the first time in 18 years and five visits that India had come away from South Africa with the series squared.

The world's top two sides put on a veritable cricketing feast made possible by a trio of excellent pitches that offered batsman and bowler an even chance. Several of modern-day cricket's glittering jewels chose the right stage to leave a lasting impression, none more so than Jacques Kallis. All on his own, he defied India's charge for an historic triumph in the final Test in Cape Town, not even the debilitating effects of a painful muscle strain coming in the way of his magnificent twin hundreds. Kallis sparkled the brightest, but Dale Steyn and Sachin Tendulkar weren't too far behind, the former cementing his status as the most feared bowler in international cricket with a telling exhibition of brilliant swing bowling at sustained pace and the latter brushing aside the ravages of time with two of the most delightful hundreds of the series.

The last three showdowns between these two sides have all ended indecisively, showing just how well matched the teams are. India have never come this close to unravelling the South African puzzle away from home, and therefore there will be an inevitable sense of disappointment. It is unlikely that when India travel to South Africa next, the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and maybe even Zaheer will be around to spearhead the challenge. But M S Dhoni's men have shown that South Africa can be conquered. England's rebirth as a cricketing giant must be welcomed if only because it is the traditional home of cricket. Test cricket needs a strong, competitive tussle for the top spot to sustain interest in the sport and attract new audiences; one can say with confidence that the era of one-team dominance, like in the hey days of the West Indies and Australia, is well and truly behind us.







Digvijay is diligently erecting a platform which, in his view, is the only one on which the Congress should stand in its quest of a comeback.


Is former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh living dangerously? Or is he on a high wire act secure of a safety net below? In other words does he have the support (and to what extent?) of the party high command, particularly Congress president Sonia Gandhi?

It is generally believed that Rahul Gandhi supports him totally. That mother and son are sometimes gauged separately could well be a result of New Delhi's grapevine mischief.

By his statements in recent months Digvijay Singh appears to be diligently erecting a platform which, in his view, is the only one on which the Congress should stand if it is in a serious quest of a comeback.

He spelt out this platform in a recent TV interview. He saw Jawaharlal Nehru as an anchor. The line then becomes clear. "The party must be secular, left-of-centre, pro poor" with an independent foreign policy — and all of this without any prejudice to economic growth.

There is nothing in these formulation that should invite a howl of protest. But whispering there will be for a variety of reasons. Congress leaders, on a slow trot, do not like anyone among them to break loose on a gallop. Also, if they have been managing national and state politics, sitting proximate to the leader, in obsequious obedience, it is unlikely that they will gush forth with admiration if one among them unbends his back to talk.

What is most disconcerting is straight talk in a culture of double speak, dignified over the years as a form of clever politics. But clever for whom? Certainly not the Congress which came down to its lowest electoral performance on Congress president and prime minister P V Narasimha Rao's watch in the 1996 general elections — 140 seats in a House of 545.

It is a long story but two landmarks can be cited en route the Congress' current debilitations and which Singh is trying to address. After Indira Gandhi's second coming in 1980, possibly in a state of funk after the 1977 defeat, Congress leaders began to lend their ear to the Sangh Parivar's chant, risen to a crescendo in the classical style of propaganda, that Muslims were 'appeased.' How 'appeased' they were has been laid bare by the Sachar Committee report two years ago.

Hospitality to Parivar propaganda confirmed the re-emergence in the Congress of a streak, a certain inclination. Soon after Nehru's death, prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri led the country to the 1965 war with Pakistan. During this war, Guru Golwalkar's RSS volunteers were commandeered by the government for civil defence.

A fear, real or simulated, that the Hindus would walk out on the Congress, led to an ambidextrous policy — open the locks of the temple at Ayodhya to please the Hindus; upturn the Shah Bano judgement to please the Muslims. The policy boomeranged resulting in the demolition of the Babari Masjid. The Muslims walked out on the Congress en masse. He flirted with caste and regional forces but, in the absence of secular options, has hovered on the edges of the Congress with Hamletian indecision.


Another factor, in fact a landmark, which has distanced the Muslim from the Congress, is the perceived insensitivity with which the UPA government joined the global anti-terrorism chorus, in which the line between the jihadi and the Muslim was increasingly blurred.

When George Bush enlisted Islamabad as its premier ally in the war on terror, New Delhi felt badly left out. Here was a victim of cross border terrorism since 1989, and Washington enlists the very source of terror as its anti-terror ally. Washington's explanation was that Islamabad had joined the 'global' war on terror.

It was the charged, post 9/11, global anti-Muslim atmosphere that encouraged the Gujarat 2002 pogrom. Worldwide pressure on Muslims, amplified by the media, generated Muslim anger in India too but which never exploded as mass terrorism.

Meanwhile, post Gujarat, political uses of terrorism were cunningly recognised. Acts of terror, pinned on the Muslims, would create a hothouse atmosphere, divisive, in which an over arching Hindu consolidation was possible.

It was part of this strategy that Malegaon, Mecca Masjid, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti's Dargah in Ajmer, Samjhauta Express, Hemant Karkare, happened. Of course it is the strength of Indian secularism that such mischief was investigated. Equally, there is this reluctance even among folks wearing the secular badge to discuss this kind of 'embarrassment.'

It is here that Digvijay Singh (supported by Rahul Gandhi) has generated a debate where those wearing badges will have to wear them with commitment.

This is a departure from the recent Congress electoral politics of tactically changing platforms from state to state. The wizened voter, particularly Muslim, has seen through the Congress hypocrisy. The writing is on the wall.

To revert to the old Congress charter with a commitment to abide by it requires courage, a willingness to gamble the electoral future in 2014.

The party could well be shifting from tactics to strategy, a strategy predicated on the principle that he who is willing to sacrifice for a set of values will win the people. But will this platform create a cleavage between the party and the government? I suppose in this season of scams that may well be a thought crossing minds inclined to protect the party.

A softened political atmosphere would not be congenial for terrorism to breed. What 'terror' material would the intelligence agencies then furnish to their patrons at Langley? Malegaon?

There may also be some difficulties for the industry grown accustomed to the Congress and the BJP fighting electorally but putting their heads together in the House on Bills of interests to industry.

Such considerations make 'cowards of us all.' Will cowardice or courage prevail? Will the party proceed paraphrasing the Biblical dictum: he who is willing to lose will win!








It sounds profound. But take a close look at the calibre of the scholars of different faiths and what their followers imbibed from their ink when they used it to spread their message: first examine their role in Islam. By common consent the most widely respected in the Ummah (Muslim community) is Osama bin Laden from Saudi Arabia.

He has followers in all Muslim communities in the world and are known as the al-Qaeda, Taliban and dozens of others, all committed to jihad against infidels and Muslims opposed to Osama. His principal target is the Royal House of Saudi Arabia. So he dares not enter his motherland.

He now lives in hiding in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Americans have made many attempts to kill him. So would we if we could lay our hands on him because his followers infiltrate into Kashmir with the intention to kill innocent Indians in the name of jihad, spill their own blood to achieve Shahadat — martyrdom.

Let us examine the case of Hindus. Their revivalist was Veer Savarkar whose large-size portrait hangs in parliament. He was a weird sort of scholar. He wanted a monarchy — a Hindu Rashtra with the King of Nepal as Samraat (Emperor) of India who would show religious minorities their proper places.

He strongly disapproved of people like Gandhi, as whose murderer he was named, and Nehru who preached equal respect for all communities. He was the inspiration behind Hindu militant groups like the RSS. Most of the leaders of the BJP were from its ranks. They wore white shirt, khaki knickers and carried 'danda' in their hands and paraded like Boy Scouts. They destroyed the Babri Masjid and took leading roles in killing Muslims in Gujarat. They spilled blood, but not their own.

And finally, the Sikhs. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale hardly deserves to be called a scholar. But his message went down the rural rustics. He said besides Kirpan, Sikhs should carry pistols and have motor cycles to get to their targets. And so they did. His answer to critics was to have them eliminated.

So in 10 years he created havoc in Punjab. Some half-wits are still trying to keep his memory alive: many gurdwaras abroad display large photographs of him at their entrances. And a few brainless youngsters wear T-shirts with his portraits.

So much for the ink of scholars and the blood of martyrs!

Living happily ever after

Suresh Kalmadi who I befriended in the 1980s before drifting apart dropped in to my house some time ago. He looked woebegone. By coincidence it was the same day as Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar solemnised their marriage with the couple's children present. I tried to cheer up Kalmadi by saying, "You have been in the headlines of papers as much as Shashi and Sunanda. I hope your story has the same ending as theirs — "And they lived happily ever after."

He cheered up and replied, "I had far more media coverage than they. About living happily ever after, I will only know when the inquiries into the Commonwealth Games are over."

To Mamata with love

Strange are the ways of God and womenAnd before I'm lynched, also of menOur dear Mamata BannerjeeShe is a cabinet minister, so obviouslyShe's free to slam the government openly.

Now that elections are coming, which she fightsShe makes friends with naxalites

And spites the national policy,And on the phone from KolkataRuns her ministry.


And if there is an accident accidentallyWhich happens so frequent

"It is a clear sabotage, and who is to blameCPM obviously, because it has no shameSo in heaven's name

To solve railway problems, one and allThrow out the government in West Bengal."

(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)








Just as we cannot choose our relatives, we cannot choose our calendar.


January is here and it is obvious that a new year has rolled in. Employees like me scan the calendar to know what is in store for us in the next 365 days. We search with a bit of trepidation because it is a loss of a holiday if Sunday butts in as a spoilsport. But if it is a Friday or a Monday we leap with joy because it will be a three-day holiday. Planning begins for a trip.

Let me begin at the beginning. January has two sure holidays — Sankranti and 'chabbis' Jan. If they fall on a Sunday it's an inauspicious beginning of the New Year.

February is lean holiday wise, but yet welcome because it has fewer days. If it is not a leap year, we get full salary even though we have worked (?) only for 28 days. March may herald spring, but holiday wise it is no balmy weather because only Shivaratri and Holi are marked on the calendar — both are not listed as closed holidays.

April and May will be sizzling and while we may want to enjoy the cool comforts of home the calendar shows a lean patch. April has Ugadi and Mahavir Jayanti — both holidays — but thank your stars if they don't fall on a Sunday. May is a dullard as even the May Day has lost its significance with communism losing its charm and is no longer a holiday.

It may be pouring in the monsoon months of June and July but it is literally a dry season with no holidays at all. August has 15th but the I-Day will be more colourful if it falls on a Friday or Monday. No? For the next holiday we have to skip the entire September and wait for Gandhi Jayanti on October 2.

As the year gets into its last quarter Dasara and Deepavali add colour and noise but leave a hole in the pocket. So try to show some restraint. Come December the yuletide spirit can cheer all. And it is time to say good bye to the New Year.

Years will come and go but we cannot design a calendar of our choice. Just as we cannot choose our relatives we cannot choose our calendar. We must make do with what we have. If stars do not cooperate this year the situation might improve next year. Let's not lose hope.







It seems the Mormugao Port Trust's (MPT's) woes are only expanding. It's inability to persuade the people of Kharevaddo in Vasco to accept alternative accommodation and shift from their waterfront homes has come a cropper. And now, the Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has shot down the MPT's proposal to massively expand its coal handling terminal at Berth No 11. It may be a big blow for MPT, but it also comes as a huge relief to the people of Vasco, who have suffered intensely from toxic dust pollution as a result of irresponsible coal handling at the port in the past. 
Studies done by the State Environment Department in areas outside the port premises had confirmed high levels of toxic coal dust in the air over many parts of the city. But even after that, open handling of coal at Berth No:


11 continued. 

The MoEF has now sought a new proposal, to be submitted after a two-year study following mechanisation of the existing facility. It has also suggested another study, to shift all coal handling facilities to berths away from Vasco city, leaving Berth 11 exclusively for clean cargo. It rightly sees this as the only possible permanent solution to dust pollution, and to avoid public interest litigation (PILs). 

The High Court had issued orders only for mechanisation of the existing coal handling practices, and not for any expansion. Consequently, the MoEF has ruled that environment issues may be monitored for two years after this mechanisation is implemented. A separate proposal for expansion can be made only thereafter, keeping in mind Vasco city's acute vulnerability to such dusty cargo. It has also ordered public hearings, and pointed out that issues raised by the public should be tackled in the Environmental Management Plan. 

It seems that until the new state-of-the-art coal handling terminal being constructed under Private-Public Partnership (PPP) by the Adani Group's Mundhra Port becomes operational, there are no simplistic solutions to Vasco's unhealthy tryst with coal dust. 

Neither is there any fast track for the new fishing jetty at Katem Baina. This jetty was intended to enable the Port to set up new berthing facilities at Kharevaddo, and shift the fishing trawlers that presently operate from there. The MoEF has now recommended transfer of the proposal to the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, which it says should also examine all complaints against it. The Port also has to seek clearance under the 1991 CRZ Notification, with the recommendation of the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority. 
It is surprising that the Naval authorities controlling the heavily bird-hit Dabolim Airport have not objected to this jetty, which is very close to the airport, and will exponentially increase the number of large raptor and scavenger birds flying in the area around the runway. Maybe they are too busy putting claims on Bimbvel beach and the Islands of St George to bother about issues that should be much higher on their priority list.


Sealed deal?

Could it be that the proposed re-induction of former Tourism Minister Francisco alias Mickky Pacheco into the cabinet has now been shelved for the foreseeable future? Dissolved shortly after Mickky resigned from the cabinet, the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) board was reconstituted on Wednesday, sans inclusion of Mr Pacheco's close comrade-in-arms Lyndon Monteiro. 

Curchorem MLA Shyam Satardekar retains the post of Chairperson, while the post of Vice-Chairperson – which Mr Monteiro held earlier – has been dissolved. And while there are three potential vacancies that could be filled, these are for members, not for office bearers. A subtle but clear indication? 








It is said "Onions have something about it. They make you weep when they are around, as well as when they are not around." The prices of onions which have, of late, been spiralling out of control, is sufficient to bring ears in the eyes of the common man.

Onions have always been in the news, for all the wrong reasons. It is one edible commodity, the price of which, has shot up several times in the past. At one point of time, it (the price of onions) nearly brought down an elected Government. It must be said that if this were to be an election year, in all probability, the present government would have been shown the door.

Onions do not just add taste to our cooking. It has medicinal as well as aphrodisiac value. Obviously, it will be missed by many, for whatever reason. Over the years, India has been exporting onions to the neighbouring country, Pakistan. But then this year because of the shortage of the bulb, we had to import it from the neighbouring country, at a higher price. This boils down to we, Indians, paying more for our own produce. Writing about Pakistan I am reminded of a saying. "Friendship is like an onion. It gives taste to life. But cut it and it brings tears." But then, the breaking news is that Pakistan has stopped exporting onions to India. 
Be that as it may, can you imagine Indian, or even Goan, cooking without the all-prevailing onion? Can you prepare an omelette without onions? Can you prepare onion pakodas (Khanda Baji) without onion, as an ingredient? Can you prepare an Onion Utappa without the bulb? Well, it would be like preparing a chicken-roll without chicken. Who is to be blamed for the sorry state of affairs?

Well, for a change, traders cannot be blamed for hoarding the commodity, in order to create an artificial shortage in the market. This is so, because onions happen to be a highly perishable commodity, and if traders resort to hoarding, they will end up with rotten onions. Well, if you have no excuse, blame it on the weather Gods. It is probable that the extended rains have been held guilty for the shortage of the commodity. But then in India, the officials are more than responsible for the shortage. 

It is common knowledge that several people in the country, die of starvation, even when tonnes and tonnes of food rot, or are eaten by rodents, in the government godowns. The same could be true with onions, which is a highly perishable food item. 

It is understood that 200 tonnes of onions, exported from Pakistan, are lying at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust at Nhava Sheva, in Mumbai, for want of a "No Objection Certificate" from the health department. In all probability, these onions will rot in these store-houses. 

For the housewife, here is a piece of advice. If you find it difficult to add onions to your cooking because of the prohibitive price, spring a surprise for your spouse. Use spring-onions, instead of onions. As for me, I shall no longer be dependent on the fluctuating market for the elusive bulb. I have decided to grow my own onions, in my kitchen garden.







It has become conventional at the end of the year for newspapers, magazines and TV channels to present their readers and viewers with a retrospective of the year, just past and to remind them, of some of the highlights of the year -- events which had a notable impact on the public. This is a good practice which needs to be emulated by corporate business houses and governments. 

The Catholic Church has always recommended such an 'examination of conscience' for its members at the close of each day. It is important to review one's thoughts, desires and actions during the day and to evaluate the moral status of these, before going to sleep. Resolutions based on such examinations, are practical and salutary. 

It is from this practice, that the common notion of New Year's resolutions has emerged, but unfortunately, it has been superficialised to making resolutions, like giving up smoking or drinking; taking a greater interest in cultural pursuits etc. Somehow, the practice of reviewing one's actions of the past year and making resolutions for the New Year, have become mere fashion, like the wearing of jeans or shoes of one company, or perfumes of another.

What is really needed is a collective evaluation of the performance of public institutions such as the government, the judiciary, the educational system, and the institutions of social welfare, voluntary organisations and the like. 

Many public institutions have internalised practices and values, which are harmful to society and to social institutions like the family, the school, the university and other institutions of higher learning. These collective social practices form the core of what is commonly called the 'culture' of the institution or of the society. Some practices have become entrenched solely because they 'bring in the moolah' or enrich the business house, irrespective of the damage that is done to society, in general or to the physical and cultural environment. 
After years of such deleterious business practices, the world suddenly awakes to the understanding of the relationship between these practices and the social and environmental impacts. 

For example, the uncontrolled mining of mineral ores from the bosom of the earth has led to the destruction of forests, the pollution of underground water sources, and above ground water bodies such as lakes, rivers, springs etc., and a general deterioration of the health of the environment, as well as the health of the citizens. As soon as this consciousness becomes widespread, the citizens rise up in protest and begin agitating against official policies and practices, which are responsible for their discomfort.

The promotion of certain industries and the setting up of certain kinds of factories should always be tested against the touchstone of social justice, and the achievement of the common good. Smaller social groups can only control their activities, which affect a smaller environment. It is the role – and duty – of a government to ensure that private enterprise always conforms to the promotion of the common good. 

This involves the formulation of policies at the level of the state or of the federal government. The effect of shoddy planning becomes painfully evident, in crises such as the rise in prices of essential food commodities. That people have to buy onions at between Rs60 and Rs70 a kilo, only a few months after they had been purchasing them between Rs5 and Rs8 per kilo, speaks volumes of the infiltration of social injustice in our economic system. 

The increase in the use and commercial transaction of drugs and other harmful substances in the name of tourism, is another indication of the failure of the government, to get its priorities right. The biggest failure of the government is evident in the sudden escalation of crimes of all sorts, including the rapes and murders of foreign tourists, the induction of minor girls in the prostitution trade, the smuggling of people across state borders for questionable purposes, such as slave labour. The approach of the government to these social problems is clearly blinkered and myopic. It allows (and even actively collaborates in) the proliferation of gambling, prostitution, and other social vices in the name of increasing its income. We have built up an entire social and political edifice on practices, which can only destroy a healthy society.

The time is ripe for an open and honest examination of our social conscience. Is this the kind of society that we want? Is this the kind of society that will promote virtues and healthy lifestyles for our children and grandchildren?

Jesus proclaimed loudly: "Change your ways; the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt.4:17) Our economic, social and political situation is not dissimilar from that which prevailed 2,000 years ago. We are still wandering in the desert of uncertainty, about the future, about our origin, and our final destiny. We have placed our confidence in false prophets, and in devious messengers of peace, brotherhood and progress. 

In the guise of promoting freedom, some dubious "freedom fighters" are sowing the seeds of hatred and intolerance. They are propagating an attitude of "we" against "they." They continue to tilt at windmills, which they perceive as nasty giants, which are determined to deprive them of their freedom. Their preferred path of freedom is the path of confrontation. Only they have the master plan to which everyone else must conform. They are the only ones who know what true "nationalism" is. They are determined to exterminate those, who do not agree with their definition of true nationalism.

The month of January is notable, for the fact, that the apostle of non-violence sacrificed his life, in pursuit of his mission. Recent Popes have dedicated this month, as the month of peace for all. The world day of peace is celebrated throughout the world on the 1st. of January, but in India, 30th January, is in remembrance of the unique contribution which Mahatma Gandhi made towards the promotion of tolerance, inter-religious goodwill and non imposition of views, on unwilling persons. He, like Jesus, gave us the example of a non-violent way to promote peace and harmony. 

In times of crises, like the present times, we look for leaders and prophets to get us out of the mess, which we have created for ourselves. But the solution can never be imposed from outside. It has to come from inside ourselves. Each individual has to "resolve" to make his own unique contribution to the promotion of peace, goodwill and justice in society. No one can substitute us, in the building up of the kingdom. The time for repentance, is at hand. 

We need to ask forgiveness from God, the angels and saints and "you, my brothers and sisters" for the sins of commission and omission — for what I have done and for what I have failed to do — so that the peace, which defies all understanding,will come upon all of us.









A serious allegation against Justice KG Balakrishnan, former CJ I is doing the rounds in Media. A complaint has been lodged by some one in Kozhikode that KG Balakrishnan's son-in-law P.V. Srinijan amassed wealth disproportionate to his known source of income during the time KGB remained the CJI. The allegation is that Srinijan was having wealth of only Rs. 25, 000/- at the time he filed nomination for the Kerala Assembly election in 2006 against a Congress party ticket. But now he is worth Rs. 7 crores and therefore he might have misused his power and position when KGB remained as the CJI. Now persistent demands are being raised against KGB to quit the post as Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a post that was bestowed on him post  retirement from SC. 

Chief amongst those who come up with such a demand is the former SC Judge V.R. Krishna Iyer. Justice Iyer further alleges that a former Judge, whose name he refuses to reveal, has asked Justice Iyer not to write to the PM to remove KGB from the NHRC. Strange things are happening in this country. If this is the yard-stick, then who can hold a responsible post in this country. Of course, the likes of Morarji Desai, P.V. Narasimha Rao and so many others had to pay the price of misdeeds of their sons while they were in power. But, there are also the likes of Lal Bahadur Shastry and A.K. Antony who set exemplary examples to emulate. A.K. Antony is the one who scrupulously follow the rule of the game by keeping his power and family at an inapproachable distance.
We all lately came to know of his worth, the poorest politician in India today. Whatever that might be the misdeeds of P.V. Srinijan, who happened to be the son-in-law of former CJI KGB, but casting crass aspersions simply on complaints and not verifying facts on ground is injustice. P.V. Srinijan, apart from a Congress Youth leader and MLA has a legal profession. His wife Sony, daughter of CJI KGB too is a lawyer. Now that the Kerala Government has ordered a Vigilance Inquiry on the matter, we have to wait for its outcome.   Casting stones at the former CJI by those who have no right, whatsoever, as in this world everyone is corrupt in one way or the other, is against the divine law and justice. 'If any one of you is without sin, let him/her throw the first stone'. 

RK Kutty






The media in India is truly bipolar. And thanks in no small measure to Madame Niira Radia, the fact is now evident to the lay reader and the aam viewer, who no longer has to suffer from the illusion that the world of journalism is defined by ABCauthenticity, brevity and credibility. A new age generates a new ethos and the product of the new age has adapted to new values, discarding the dated ones. Into the dustbin, thus, must go old-fashioned notions of ethics and morality, the two essential ingredients that had supposedly given credibility and respect to the staid media of yore. 

There is the upper crust in the brand media of today that hobnobs with the high and mighty, and wines and dines with the corporate honchos and their well-oiled spin doctors. It is this class of journalists, famous and comparable to glamorous celebrities in fan following, who are ordained to discharge the onerous task of telling the nation everyday - why or how the country is rotting, and the only way out is to listen to their honest views. 
At the other end are the hoi polloi that are seen scrumming at the press conferences by VIPs from the world of politics and bureaucracy for some newsy byte that may emanate from a statement or subsequent grilling by the inquisitors. They aspire to break the class barrier in journalism but the field is crowded and the competition is too tough to allow an easy and quick transfer to the upper league. 

Make no mistake. The extent of immunity from various indiscretions enjoyed by the A class of journalists is way above that of the much-cursed politicians. Journalists of high calibre commit no indiscretions. Period. They know their claims of safeguarding the national interest carry more conviction than that of the netas (leaders). 
How forthrightly do the A-class journalists go about dissemination views! They burn the proverbial midnight oil, glued to their expensive mobiles, listening and responding reverentially to the great insights provided to them by the real movers and shakers in the country. Armed with the insiders knowledge, it is incumbent upon the high-flying journalists to use their clout and the great fund of public trust they enjoy to ferry messages between the government and business leaders. 

National interest demands that it is the exclusive class of top journalists who must go on overdrive at a momentous occasion like cabinet formation, offer advice on the choice of solicitors and ensure the right placement of stories and articles in the media.  

Plebeian journalists do not comprehend the word accuracy, well, accurately. Mere cross-checking does not eliminate the danger of a factual error that is best avoided by asking straightaway the weighty source about the contents that should be written or aired. 

In the contemporary lexicon, the word quid pro quo must be a synonym for blasphemy. Even to suggest that the influential source is ready to offer to the high-class media contact anything more than help with the facts to write a story is unpardonable.

In the rising and shining India, journalists need not be identified with the mythical jhola (sling bag) and an austere style of living where the high point of unethical behaviour was accepting invitation to an evening of free tipple. Altruism is not in sync with modern journalism when your calling as a top grade journalist expects you to lead a style of living that matches that of your source.

Who can deny that India has moved miles away from the socialist days of the 1960s or 1970s? That was the time when neighbours were envious of those who had a telephone connection or owned a scooter. And many journalists had both, obtained through their privileged position that entitled them to avoid the line for the two facilities. Today, anyone not owning a swanky car worth seven figures in cash and moving without the latest in mobile telephone will be clubbed in the OBC category of journalists.  

It is a dated dictum that used to be dinned into the ears of impressionable young entrants into the profession in yesteryears that editors should be heard, not seen. As would befit the era of 24x7 TV channels, editors are both heard and seen, displaying their amazing dexterity in a variety of fieldscuisine, pop music, five-star travel and tourism. Oh, yes! Politics too.

Admittedly, with so many tasks on hand it must be taxing to write ponderously on matters politics that used to be the forte of the aforesaid editors who could only be heard, a metaphor for read, as there was no TV in the days of dull journalism.           

Admirable is the devotion of todays top drawer journalists who for the sake of nothing but truth, the whole truth, take the job of being heard so seriously that they do nothing but shout and scream on the TV screens! What amazing lung-power! And envious is the tenacity with which they stick to their point of view even when the victim of their verbal fusillade questions the facts hurled at him or her.

Come on. Be honest. When the print media in much of the world is hurtling towards extinction because of the various new ways of accessing the newsand viewsis it realistic not to expect journalism in India to change its course and colours? The new age reader is better served by a new kind of journalism that speaks straight and reflects the views of people who really run the countrythe big business houses. 

Pity those who believe in the ABC of dated journalism.

Atul Cowshish, Syndicate Features







Yet another New Year has dawned. Would it be a happy one? Nobody can predict. It is the same every year--investment, foreign direct investment, FII pouring in and fast repatriation--flying away with profits.
Certainly there is something eerie about it. 

Sadly, we dont change the prescription. The big corporates and rich individuals flourish. The marginalised get further marginalised. International bodies lament the trend but in actuality aid the process. It suits them.
True, exploitation is a bad word but that is what the new world economics, including Manmohanonics signify. The concept of growth is based on disposing of human labour. The profit theory is founded not on the concept of sharing wealth but by amassing of it by the few seemingly sophisticated but ruthless management-culture-oriented persons. 

In this pursuit of God, the mighty forget about the lesser God on whose blood and toil they are thriving. This lesser God, the common man, is deprived of his livelihood for GDP growth. He is asked to have less for his labour, in the name of labour reforms, made to pay high prices for all that he needs food, clothing, shelter or loan.

The Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has the audacity to blame this poor mans increase in disposable income (spare money) for the rising prices. He does not know that someone who does not have an income could not have spare money. The income of the small number of salaried class has also eroded under a compound inflation of over 15 per cent (calculated modestly) a year since the May 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

The appointees of the IMF in key policy making bodies have turned high-profit-oriented money making enterprises as models for growth. If the socialistic model of abhorring profit was an extreme, the neo-economic model of worshipping it is yet another extreme.

It is not a dichotomy to see that as corporate profit increases  their balance sheets and Reserve Bank analysis testify--more and more people are put out of jobs. It is happening in thriving industries. Do we need any more reforms in the labour sector?

It is time to call for a check on the level of profits. The biggest consumer goods company Hindustan Unilever has had an average profit of over 30 per cent during the past many years. It has been eluding competition by buying up its rivals. Like the US, India does not have an anti-trust law. The competition law is more a showpiece and MRTPC has been rendered useless. The poor is not the concern of the corporate. The Government has to fend for them.

Undoubtedly, Government programmes have many things for the poor  from Rs 2 rice or wheat to 100 days of guaranteed work assurance under the MNREGA. It sounds good. Rarely the pitfalls, siphoning of cheap foodgrain to corruption in MNREGA, allow the poor to reap the benefit of the programmes in most States.
This is in contrast to what the Indian bania used to do. Somewhere they do it still. Charity has been part of their business practice. It is called dharmada. They used to donate 1.5 per cent of their income to it. In many places, free schools, dispensaries, hospitals, orphanages and shelters were run by dharmada. It has been more effective than what corporate social responsibility (CSR) is supposed to be. The CSR either is not there or if at all it is used as propaganda to bolster the corporate image and evade taxes.

Corporates do not like charity the way the desi baniya has been doing. It is not on radar of the IMF-World Bank economy. Though charity contributes to welfare of the poor, in modern economics it is considered a burden, a reduction of profit. The modern economic concept is based on the concept that one is not supposed to get something if he cannot pay. Charity is just opposed to it and based on the concept of empowering one who cant do it himself.

This is how education is being made so expensive that a generation is going under the debt trap. Till the early 1980s investment by the bania and the concept that education has to be provided as a gift---vidyadaan--created the capable Indian seen in prime positions the world. Today this has been replaced with the idea that if one paisa is invested then one must get back ten paise. 

It has made education unaffordable even by the many so-called middle class people. Profit-orientation that was anathema to Government institutions has become their policy as well. They have also reduced scholarships and free education. Lakhs of students find it difficult to continue with their courses and drop out.
India needs to understand that easy affordable education has led the country on the growth path. There would have been no Manmohan Singh, Prashant Mohalanabis, APJ Abdul Kalam nor RA Mashelkar had there not been the system of affordable education in the country.

Agriculture still employs over 55 per cent people (almost 60 crore). It is one of the robust sectors. But for the sake of making ways for corporate entry, the entire sector is being rendered sick. Our farmers are indeed capable provided they are supported adequately to make the country food sufficient. The Government policies are preventing it. A re-look at the farm policy to create a resurgent India without interference of the corporate is needed.

The New Year calls for a new orientation to create an economy that is based on sound political concept that supports the poor, workers, agriculture, education, keeps the corporate on leash and checks rising prices.
Shivaji Sarkar, INFA







Country's food inflation has accelerated for the fifth straight week to the highest in more than a year. Onion prices increased  by over 23 per cent over the week. The food price index rose 18.32 per cent in the year to December 25 and the fuel price index climbed 11.63 per cent. This compared with 14.44 per cent and 11.63 per cent respectively in the previous week.

Headline inflation had eased to a 12-month-low of 7.48 per cent in November after hitting 8.58 per cent in October. The central bank has said it would revise at the January 25 policy its end-March target of 5.5 per cent.
The finance ministry's chief economic adviser, Kaushik Basu, has said monetary and fiscal policy measures may not be adequate to tackle sector specific price rises and the country would have to live with such price rises.

C Rangarajan, chairman of the prime minister's economic advisory council, said on Wednesday more action on interest rates may be needed from the central bank if inflation remains sticky.

The rise in food inflation has been mainly on account of 58.58 per cent rise in prices of vegetables in the wholesale market.

Among the individual items, onion became dearer by 82.47 per cent on annual basis, while egg, meat and fish became costlier by 20.83 per cent, fruits by 19.99 per cent and milk by 19.59 per cent.

According to experts unless the production is increased substantially and bottlenecks in the supply chain are addressed, inflation would not be controlled.

It looks as though income generated in rural areas in particular is having a direct bearing on demand for food products with people spending a larger proportion of income on food items.

As common man spends more than 43 per cent of the disposable income on food items, the government should seriously think about the management of food economy.

India had a production of 12 million tonnes of onions for 2010, out of which it had exported around one million tonnes and was falling short of 500 million tonnes, which shot up the onion prices by about 8-9 times.








For the good of the country, Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to agree to establish a state commission of inquiry on the Carmel fire.


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.









The world is likely to welcome South Sudan as its newest state after its citizens take part in a referendum on


Independence this Sunday − but will Israel also have a new official ally? The outcome of the vote, mandated by the 2005 agreement that ended decades of civil war, seems clear. South Sudan is likely to secede from the north, and leaders of the state-in-waiting have already been making encouraging noises about establishing official ties with Israel, which provided discreet support to some rebel groups during the lengthy civil war.


In October, South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit, leader of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement, said he did not rule out the opening of an Israeli embassy in the capital, Juba. Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin was even more direct. "The independent south will establish relations with all the countries of the world and will not be an enemy to anyone. There are diplomatic relations between some Arab states and Israel, so why not us?" he said.


On the face of it, official relations between the mixed Christian and animist South Sudan and Israel would make perfect sense. Israel would gain another friend in the world, a new East African ally, along with Kenya and Ethiopia, to help counteract the Sudan-Iran alliance, not to mention a potential base for the interdiction of smuggled materiel between Iran and the Gaza Strip.


Yet Jerusalem is not rushing to establish a new mission in Juba, with diplomats markedly cautious about accepting the invitation. For a start, they are emphatically not convinced about South Sudan's commitment toward actually establishing diplomatic ties and suspect rather that its approach goes along with the classic assumption that if a developing country wants support from Western allies, it should make friendly noises toward Israel. Others note that the fledgling state will have to negotiate a complex set of alliances.


"Such statements regarding Israel are a clear indication of the political immaturity of the leadership of South Sudan," says Prof. Yehudit Ronen, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center and political scientist at Bar-Ilan University. "South Sudan needs the utmost political support from its African and Arab environs. The last thing the leadership needs now are complications due to relations with Israel."


Indications are that the leaders already realize this, with the London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat reporting last week that Kiir had assured Amr Moussa, general secretary of the Arab League, that he appreciated the sensitivities surrounding South Sudan-Israel relations.


Juba is going to have to choose its friends carefully because while secession seems inevitable, the political repercussions are far less clear. The most dramatic scenario would be a return to full-scale civil war.


Khartoum has long opposed the division of the country, not least due to fears of losing control of the approximately 80 percent of the country's vast oil resources that lie in the south, although the 2005 peace agreement mandates that proceeds be split equally between the two sides.


Although many African states view the implications of the major precedent of the referendum with alarm, others, some of them Sudanese allies, have tempered their previous opposition. Even Egypt is now backing secession, perhaps hoping Juba will support it when it comes to a new agreement on the use of the waters of the Nile, signed in May by Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, in an attempt to replace the long-resented 1959 treaty giving Egypt the largest share. Cairo boycotted the new accord with Khartoum's support; now a Juba government must decide whether to sign the pact.


Further afield, China, staunch oil consumer and arms supplier to Khartoum, is trying to build close ties with both sides, and most recently Russia, previously concerned that an independent South Sudan would turn into a "new Somalia," is also supporting secession.


"China and Russia are following the oil," says Ronen. "If there is a new state in South Sudan, practical interests will shape relations with the new state, not ideology or emotion."


A resumption of outright hostilities is deemed unlikely, however. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir already has an international arrest warrant hanging over his head for alleged war crimes and genocide, and the extent of the support he would receive both at home and abroad for a new and costly war is questionable. Khartoum may instead accept secession but maneuver to ensure that South Sudan is utterly dependent on it; all infrastructure for processing, not to mention exporting the oil, is in the north, together with the only seaport.


But conflict could still erupt in the form of a fresh internecine war within the rival tribes and interest groups in South Sudan itself. The majority Dinka control the oil resources, but others will also want to enjoy the profits, meaning a likely scramble over control. "Israel has absolutely no interest in getting sucked into either scenario," says an Israeli official.
Evidently, diplomatic, security and intelligence links between Israel and South Sudan already exist under the radar, and these are likely to continue. But Israel doesn't necessarily benefit from making these links public. Another friendly vote at the UN may not compensate for the potential troubles which might greet official Juba-Jerusalem ties.


Daniella Peled is an editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.









About three weeks ago, my wife and I took a road trip to Nazareth, where we spent the weekend in a funky little inn, the Fauzi Azar. The visit was a delight, but also made vivid the political challenge that Israeli Jews obscure with scare phrases like "demographic problem." Indeed, Nazareth raises the question of whether any state can implement the kind of visionary federal arrangements Israel will need − not only with a Palestinian state, but with its own Arab minority − to survive as a vital, global and Hebrew democracy. Might Europe's biggest national Jewish movement of the interwar period, which was not Zionism, serve as inspiration, if not as a model?


The inn was established in the home of the Azars, a large Christian family that had been divided by the 1948 war. The stately building fell into disrepair during the 1980s, but several years ago, a young Israeli Jewish entrepreneur, Maoz Inon, approached the Azar children with a proposition: If they would lease him the building at no cost, he would renovate the entire property, creating an inn and youth hostel. Any profits would be taken by his company, but the family would be partners; one daughter, Odette Shomar, is now chairman of the board.


The inn is now an international phenomenon. Volunteers from around the world come to its hostel, earning bed and board by serving hotel guests tea, or walking them around the old city of Nazareth − which, not coincidentally, is reviving. Everywhere you go in old Nazareth there's the musty, sweet-smelling dust of cement, sounds of renovation, new places to eat, boutique-like stores. The atmosphere is not tense, like in the Old City of Jerusalem. We first defaulted to English, only to find Arab merchants frustrated. Then we'd switch to Hebrew and see the relief in their faces.


Yes, Nazareth is hemmed in by land policy and suffers from serious infrastructural and educational deficiencies − inevitable in a country that spends less than half per capita on its Arab citizens than on its Jews. You hear of rivalries between Druze, Muslims and Christians, growing youth gangs, problems with drugs and thefts. Yet old Nazareth is a delicious portent of what peace might feel like in this country, with Israeli Jewish tourists − bikers from Tel Aviv taking a rest stop, moshavniks from the Jezreel Valley shopping for olive oil and embroidery − sharing a dreamy Sabbath sunset with the sounds of the muezzin. Staying a couple of days in Nazareth, in short, feels like taking a vacation to a foreign, if curiously familiar, country. Our drive only reinforced the feeling. We started in Sakhnin, then turned at Arabeh for Kafr Kana, and from there took a back road to Nazareth. When we left, we headed to Wadi Ara, skirting Umm al-Fahm and the other cities of the Little Triangle. That is, we drove through contiguous Arab cities containing at least as many people as were in the Jewish Yishuv and rose against the British in 1948.


I don't mean to imply that these cities are inclined to violence against Israel. Some 80 percent of Israeli Arab youth express positive attitudes toward integration ‏(a willingness to have a Jewish friend, and so forth‏), far more than the 50 percent of Jews who do − though if an intifada were again to break out in Jerusalem, sympathetic disturbances in Arab cities seem likely to be renewed. My point is that the long-term challenge posed by the cultural distinction of these cities is even more daunting for Israeli Jews than the assimilation of Israeli Arabs as individuals. These are not like transitional suburbs on the outskirts of Paris. They are a 40-minute drive from the rest of the Arab world. Nor do their residents want to become part of the Palestinian state. They are too liberal and hybridized by Israeli commerce and science for that.


If anything, the situation of Israeli Arabs is more like that of the Jews of Poland during the interwar period: a growing Yiddish national minority, over 10 percent of the total population, eager to remain integrated yet apart, subjecting their rival religious tradition to enlightenment criticism; a minority with a centuries-long history and sense of place, but living in the interstices of a Polish state that, for its part, was born out of deep historical grievances and nursing a fierce, once-repressed nationalism of its own. And the strongest political parties in Yiddish urban areas were affiliated with the Jewish Labor Bund, whose demands, in retrospect, seem eerily like those of Israel's Arab parties.


What Bundists demanded from Poland, after all, was recognition of Jews as a national minority, constitutional equality for all individuals, protection for the existing Yiddish language and educational system and, where warranted, municipal autonomy. They affirmed economic integration, albeit through proletarian lenses. Much like the rights of Arab citizens have become a crucial cause for Israeli Jewish progressives, so the rights of Jews − though not always national in nature − were critical for Polish liberals. In the municipal elections on the eve of World War II, the Bund won 62 percent of Jewish votes in Warsaw.


Sadly, it has become commonplace for Israelis to look back at the fate of Polish Jewry and consider the Bund hopelessly naive. But this view is itself naive − and cruel. The fact is, Bundists were pressing for an experiment in cultural autonomy, federalism and democracy that the Nazis ended, not the Poles, though there was a substantial Polish right that would have been relieved to see it end without the devastation that ensued. We simply do not know how far the Bund's experiment might have worked, particularly if war had been averted, and Poland enjoyed, as now, the benefits of European integration.


In any case, burgeoning cities like Nazareth are, in a way, a chance to continue the experiment. They offer, already, a lovely chance for Israeli Jews to get in the car and breathe different air. In any peace, they will be a natural bridge to commercial opportunities and cultural exchanges in the Arab world. Finding new ways to integrate them into Israel would be a fitting tribute to, of all people, murdered Jews who wanted freedom and continuity − and found grotesque human hatred instead.


Bernard Avishai is adjunct professor of business at Hebrew University and the author of "The Hebrew Republic." He blogs at









The American government is frustrated by the dead end at which Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations find themselves and, as Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz earlier this week, it blames Ehud Barak for misleading it over more than a year and a half. Barak is, indeed, an experienced misleader: As Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, prime minister and defense minister, he has misled both peace supporters in Israel and the U.S. government. He also contributed to escalated Israeli-Palestinian violence and indescribable political havoc.


Although it is important to study the techniques Barak uses to lead others astray, it is worth remembering that he also depends on the willingness of others to be led down the garden path.


While he takes advantage of his place in the power structure, he also exploits contradictions in the positions promoted by the local peace camp, and by the U.S. government. As chief of staff, between 1991 and 1995, he was supposed to be subordinate to the government, but he claimed that withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and West Bank cities was impossible, for security reasons. With Barak arguing that Israel needed to be able to monitor the borders with Egypt and Jordan, the army delayed its redeployment from Gaza. Then he deferred redeployment from West Bank cities until the end of his term; only then were the Oslo II negotiations able to begin. Barak's claim was that no withdrawal was tenable before security was guaranteed to the settlers, and that required construction of bypass roads. In this way, he exploited a contradiction in Yitzhak Rabin's policy, in which the late prime minister's aspiration to leave the cities of Gaza and the West Bank clashed with his desire to leave Jewish settlers in those areas.


Ahead of his election as premier in 1999, Barak promised that the IDF would leave southern Lebanon, with or without an agreement with the Lebanese. He knew that the IDF supported an agreement with Syria that would include a coordinated, agreed-upon Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the Golan Heights; he knew that the public eagerly supported a withdrawal from southern Lebanon, but not from the Golan. In order to mislead the army, he conducted negotiations with Syria − and then subsequently blamed it when the talks failed ‏(although both Americans and Israelis who were present claim that responsibility lay with Barak‏). He then forced the IDF into a humiliating, unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon.


Barak's chief act of deception occurred at the Camp David talks, when he was prime minister, in 2000. For a year he refrained from conducting negotiations, as time slipped by. He then proposed a "decisive summit conference" in which he would submit far-reaching proposals.


Barak knew the gaps between the Israelis and Palestinians were huge. His ambition was not to conduct talks, but rather to prove that he was prepared to make peace, while the Palestinians were not.


To achieve this goal, he had to submit a proposal that would be considered generous and far-ranging by Israelis, but unacceptable to the Palestinians. Barak made his participation in the summit conditional on the U.S. government committing not to put forward its own compromise formulas − proposals that were liable to ruin the show.


He proposed at the talks that the Palestinian Authority receive the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, a generous offer in Israeli eyes. He was not, however, prepared to relinquish Israeli sovereignty over the shrines on the Temple Mount, despite Yasser Arafat's announcement that he would not agree to such control, since the sites are a sacred Islamic trust. In this way, Barak derailed the negotiations while causing the Americans and the public at home to believe that Israel had no Palestinian peace partner.



In 2007, the Labor Party elected Barak anew as its leader, hoping he had learned some lessons and changed. Yet, as defense minister in the Olmert government, he once again misled the public − immediately after Barack Obama was elected U.S. president on November 4, 2008. That very day, the IDF penetrated the Gaza Strip, after four and a half months of a cease-fire, bombed a tunnel and killed six Hamas activists. In response, the Palestinians fired Qassam missiles at Israel. The IDF responded by choking the Strip economically. Thus, a worsening crisis was created. The alternative to the military operation was negotiating a new cease-fire agreement with the Hamas government, which would likely have included opening border crossings in exchange for an end to missile fire, plus a prisoner exchange that would have led to the release of Gilad Shalit.


Operation Cast Lead was ostensibly designed to impose on the new American administration a political reality divided between "good" Palestinians ‏(in the West Bank‏) and "bad" ones ‏(in Gaza‏), and thereby forestall chances of a comprehensive agreement. The operation created a misguided framework for discussion in the Obama administration of Israeli-Palestinian relations, one that the U.S. government has yet to extricate itself from. The division of the Palestinians into two regions and two governments obstructs any negotiation and the chances for a peace agreement.


Very quickly, Barak identified and exploited a fundamental contradiction in U.S. administration policies: a desire to encourage peace along with a tendency to accept impossible conditions created by Israel.


That the U.S. government has sobered up and acknowledged that it was led astray by Barak is good. But in addition, and no less important, the time has come for Labor supporters, who have been duped by Barak for 10 years, to do the same. The destruction he has sown will be very hard to repair, and if he remains in office, the situation will continue to degenerate.


Prof. Lev Grinberg is the author of "Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine: Democracy vs. Military Rule" (Routledge, 2010).









After coming to the realization that Israel's enemies are not delegitimizing our nation's existence fast enough, our government has decided, once again, to go after human rights organizations. This time it is playing the patriotism card, in a bill that would establish a Knesset committee to investigate organizations that dare to criticize Israel Defense Forces behavior.


In fact, the IDF already has investigated claims raised by some of the NGOs now under attack by our right-wing leaders. And it is the IDF itself that should − and sometimes does − take the lead in addressing internal criticism: whether investigating why so many protesters have been killed during legal demonstrations against the security barrier, or looking into alleged misdeeds in Operation Cast Lead. The IDF's own military advocate general, Avichai Mendelblit, praised B'Tselem, one of the NGOs now slated for investigation, for its contribution to uncovering military misdeeds.


Last year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the IDF the most moral armed forces on earth. The NGOs that Yisrael Beitenu wants to undermine through the new parliamentary committee are the very organizations that are fighting to make sure that the IDF lives up to its own standards.


Breaking the Silence ‏(BTS‏), for example, is not an advocacy organization. Its idealistic members are IDF veterans and reservists committed to Israel's future who have served in the territories from 2000 until today. Many continue to serve in the reserves and fulfill their missions faithfully, including by protecting settlers.


BTS has two main concerns: to expose the harm we are doing to our soldiers serving in the occupied territories who are asked to engage in acts of questionable morality or legality; and to expose the damage we are doing to the Palestinians, whom we will be living next to for the rest of our lives. BTS gives voice to soldiers who might otherwise succumb to social and political pressures to hide what they have done instead of questioning their actions and thus trying to raise the moral standards of the IDF.


The organization gathers testimonies from former soldiers, but only publishes a fraction of what it collects because, like competent journalists, its members only publicize claims that have been verified by at least one additional source. The testimonies are published anonymously to allow the soldiers to testify as openly as possible, and to protect them from possible retribution from the IDF or other government agencies. BTS publications are intended to bring the truth to the Israeli public, and to pressure the IDF to determine, and enforce, clear boundaries of acceptable military behavior.


In any democracy, the greatest patriots are the few who dare speak truth to power. For more than 20 years, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel ‏(ACRI‏) has dared to expose the inequities of Israeli society, and advocate for change to redress those wrongs. Perhaps, more than any other single NGO, ACRI has helped establish a civil society that can protect the rights of Israel's disadvantaged and disenfranchised populations − from the poor to new immigrants to foreign workers to our own Arab citizens − and of our Palestinian neighbors. It has done more to improve Israeli society and its international legitimacy than a hundred Yisrael Beiteinu bills.


While Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman works to silence dissent, rights organizations fight to create a serious and open discourse about the future of this country. The organizations under attack welcome investigation, because they have nothing to hide. But our resources would be better used investigating the injustices they have exposed − particularly the daily abuse of Palestinians tolerated in the occupation − instead of trying to silence the messengers.


The extremists directing our government's course believe that power gives you the right to abuse whomever you want. Power can be used to bully your critics into silence, to vilify them, to turn them into enemies of the state.


Moshe Katsav believed something similar. In a rare moment of sanity, and thanks to some fearless victims who were willing to blow the whistle despite the additional pain it would cause them, our justice system said "No."


Lieberman has power now, but he will not always have power. If he succeeds in creating a society that punishes dissent, the time may come when his views will be the dissenting ones, and the legislative instruments his party is busy creating now will be turned against those who espouse them.


But that is not how we want the wheel of history to turn. We want an open democracy, in which freedom of speech and dissent is protected at all costs, protected first and foremost by our politicians, our leaders and our defense forces.


We must also say "No." We won't allow our civil society organizations to be bullied, threatened or harassed into silence. We should instead be debating our competing visions for Israel's future. Our democracy cannot afford to be victimized any further.


Don Futterman is the Israel program director of the Moriah Fund, a private American foundation that supports strengthening civil society, immigrant absorption and empowerment of disadvantaged minorities in Israel.









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.


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On Sunday, southern Sudan is expected to vote to secede from Sudan, creating two states. The referendum is part of a 2005 agreement, which ended two decades of fighting between the Arab Muslim north and the largely Christian south that killed two million people.


International activists were so concerned that the referendum could set off a new war that they posted a live satellite feed of Sudan on the Internet so the world can see if troops begin massing. Their fears are understandable, especially with Omar Hassan al-Bashir — the author of the murderous war in Darfur — still Sudan's president. But months of mediation by the Obama administration and African leaders seem to have persuaded Mr. Bashir to forgo confrontation, for now. The United States and others must stay involved to ensure that the difficult post-referendum transition remains peaceful.


More than 3.5 million southerners have registered to vote and a United Nations panel has endorsed the process. This week, Mr. Bashir visited Juba, the south's capital, to espouse peace. "We cannot deny the desire and the choice of the people of the south," he said. Mr. Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court at The Hague, is not a credible character and regional leaders are concerned that members of his ruling party are still pressing him to thwart independence.


Even with a peaceful, credible vote, there will be many post-secession issues to resolve, including borders, citizenship protections (for southerners in the north and northerners in the south), and division of the earnings from the south's huge oil reserves. Southern Sudan has 75 percent of the oil, but needs the north's pipeline to get it to market.


The two sides failed to resolve an impasse over the oil-rich border region of Abyei, so another referendum that had been set for Sunday — on whether it should join the south or stay with the north — has been delayed. There is now talk of trying to settle things through negotiations. What is most important is that leaders in the north and south explain to their citizens what is happening and work toward a swift, sustainable solution.


The United States, the United Nations and the African Union will have to remain deeply engaged, prodding both states to compromise on these difficult issues. United Nations peacekeepers, sent to Sudan in 2005, should stay in southern Sudan temporarily to maintain security.


Washington has tough sanctions on Sudan, as a result of its early harboring of Osama bin Laden and then Mr. Bashir's genocidal war in Darfur. To encourage a successful referendum, President Obama offered to remove Sudan from Washington's terrorism list and eventually loosen other sanctions. He showed good will already by allowing some agricultural sales to the north.


Going forward, Washington must reassure Khartoum that it understands the hardship that secession will cause. If secession is peaceful, Washington should help the north by facilitating debt relief and foreign investment. If Sudan resorts to force, sanctions must be tightened. A recent rise in violence in Darfur is worrisome.


Washington must also use its diplomatic influence and aid to encourage southern Sudan to build a responsible and pluralistic government. Since 2005, the south's government has set up more than two dozen ministries and built schools and roads. But it will still need a lot more international aid and advice to create a truly functioning state. A peaceful, credible referendum is an important start, but only a start.







For almost 40 years, the New Jersey Supreme Court has tried to fulfill its duty to enforce the education clause in the state Constitution by compelling the governor and Legislature to provide equal educational opportunity for public school students. In 2009, the court decided the state had finally devised a way to do that, through a formula that would give each student, especially in poor districts, a chance at "an unhindered start in life."


This week the matter was back before the court because New Jersey is spending 13.6 percent less on education than the state said was required. The governor is presenting this as an "unavoidable" consequence of "dire fiscal circumstances," but it is in fact a matter of choice. Eliminating a billion-dollar tax break for the state's wealthiest residents would all but solve the problem, but Gov. Chris Christie chose not to do that.


The Education Law Center has shown how the shortfall has reduced teaching, learning and, in some schools, safety, because of cutbacks in security. It means the state cannot provide "a constitutional education to all public school students."


The center took the issue back to the court. The right decision is clear. The shortfall in money and other defaults amount to "deficiencies of a constitutional dimension," which the court had warned would lead it to step in again. The justices should order the state to fully finance education as it committed to do.


In 1975, the court seemed to anticipate today's financing challenge. It found that any "theoretical conflict" in the state Constitution between "the strictures of the Appropriations Clause and the mandate of the Education Clause" must be resolved in education's favor. When the state failed to finance education at the level required, the court cut off state financing altogether.


The court now faces a politically charged decision. As bombastically as he seems to do everything, Mr. Christie is waging a battle against the court and what he calls its activism. (That has nothing to do with actual activism, but applies only to judges who rule in ways Republicans don't like.) If the governor were a student of the court instead of its heckler, he would know the court's role here is judicially modest.


The state set the education standards that students must meet. The state decided how much money was needed to give each student the chance to meet them. The court's role is simply to assess whether, by those measures, current financing is adequate.


It would be natural for the justices to seek a unanimous ruling in a case this important, to underscore that the decision is being made by a coequal branch of government. The appeal of a unanimous ruling is most likely greater because of the governor's attack on the court. But the best reason for a unanimous ruling is the law. The court should order the state to solve this problem.







To keep the Defense Department running, President Obama was forced to sign a spending bill on Friday with a particularly harmful provision that bars spending to transfer detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States for trial. As wrongheaded as this prohibition is, the president was right not to declare his intention to defy it in an accompanying statement. By doing so, he demonstrated a greater respect for the law than did President George W. Bush.


The defense bill passed in the final hours of last year's lame-duck Congressional session with little objection from most Democrats. Many seemed to have bought into the irrational fear that trying Guantánamo prisoners in the United States is somehow more dangerous than trying other mass murderers, like the scores of terrorists already convicted by the federal courts.


Much of the public and most politicians seem to feel that as long as these suspects are held out of sight on the island of Cuba, they can be held indefinitely without trial, in violation of basic constitutional protections and international treaties.


President Obama could have pushed harder on this issue, but he has at least vowed to close the Guantánamo camp and try some of its inmates in federal courts. In the signing statement, Mr. Obama called the ban "a dangerous and unprecedented challenge" to the executive branch's authority to decide when and where to prosecute detainees. It could undermine counterterrorism efforts and harm national security, he said.


Despite his objections, Mr. Obama did not say he would defy the law and try to transfer prisoners anyway. That was the right position. As a candidate, he often objected to Mr. Bush's cavalier use of signing statements to assert that his interpretation of the law trumped that of Congress and the courts. Mr. Bush routinely and contemptuously disregarded laws that he himself signed, most famously stating that he was not bound by the ban on torturing prisoners.


The American Civil Liberties Union argues that the bill only restricts the use of Defense Department money for transferring prisoners to the United States. The administration, it argues, is free to use funds from other departments. But such a cramped reading of the law would be seen by most Americans as a defiance of Congressional intent. Taking the high ground puts President Obama in a better position to argue for the rule of law.








The new year is barely a week old, but the nation has already recorded its first deadly school shooting.


On Wednesday, a 17-year-old student opened fire at Millard South High School in Omaha, sending students rushing to the kitchen to seek safety. The vice principal, Vicki Kaspar, was killed and the principal, Curtis Case, was seriously injured. The gunman, Robert Butler Jr., was later found dead in a car not far from the school, an apparent suicide.


It would be comforting to believe that this latest outbreak of gun violence will also be the year's last. Comforting but unrealistic.


In 2010, there were at least 15 shootings at educational institutions from elementary to college level, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. While not all resulted in injuries, some did. In one shooting last February at Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Colo. — the same town at which the massacre at Columbine High School took place — a man shot and injured two students.


Such incidents rarely make much news, unless the death and injury toll is large, as at Columbine and Virginia Tech. Even then, the public's attention quickly turns away, while the gun lobby keeps pushing more outlandish strategies to expand the threatening presence of guns in society.


For example, a lawsuit filed in September and supported by the National Rifle Association is challenging the longstanding federal law prohibiting licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to anyone under 21 years old. A second filing seeks to overturn a Texas law setting 21 as the minimum age for carrying a concealed weapon.


This week's killing at Millard South is a horrifying reminder that politicians must stop cowering before the gun lobby and its reckless agenda to make it easier for volatile young people and troubled adults to obtain guns.








Next week the House Republicans are going to vote to repeal the health care reform law. It's a symbolic gesture they got the right to make when they won the majority, but it would be nice if they could leave God out of it.


I am thinking about you, Representative Steve King of Iowa. On Friday, King gave a 58-minute-and-20-second speech on the floor of the House in which he made it abundantly clear that God did not want more federal regulation of health insurance companies. "We will carry on this struggle until in God's good time, with all his power and might, he steps forth to the rescue and liberation of our God-given American liberty," King declared.


The Republicans have set aside seven hours for debating the repeal, but once one side has announced that God is their co-signer, there's really not a whole lot more to say.


We are going to be hearing a lot about Representative King in the coming year. "I have more words in the Congressional Record than anyone else," he bragged during an interview with a newspaper in his district. And he is one quotable fella. Just the other day he jumped into the health care fray to defend his party's leadership against a Democratic attack, declaring that Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor had "established their integrity and their mendacity for years in this Congress."


King also got into an argument about whether insurance could be regulated as interstate commerce, claiming that some people are born, live their lives and die in one state without ever having one single encounter with health care. When a Democrat demanded to know where you could find a baby born outside a hospital without a midwife's assistance and with no inoculations, King retorted: "I hate to tell you, but they show up in garbage cans around this country, sir."


King was in line to be chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration this year, but the Judiciary chairman, Lamar Smith, decided he'd rather go for someone who did not walk into the Capitol on Day 1 waving a bill to eliminate citizenship rights for children born in this country to parents who are illegal immigrants. Score one for the new civility.


And kudos to Representative Darrell Issa, the incoming head of the powerful House Oversight Committee. This week Issa turned over a new, more collegial leaf by taking back, sort of, his recent claim that Barack Obama is "one of the most corrupt presidents of modern times."


Which was certainly not charitable. Particularly from the party that gave us Watergate, the Iran-Contra Affair and Warren Harding.


What he actually meant to say, Issa explained, was not that Obama was on the take, but that "when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect."


So it was all about big government! Much less appalling. Although, did you notice that the first trillion came while somebody else was in office? Issa could at least have added, "and obviously, when you look at it that way, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were two of the most corrupt presidents in modern times."


Kudos to the Democrats for their spirit of charity in the matter of the two House Republicans who missed the swearing-in ceremony because they were at a celebration elsewhere. Which they insisted was not a fund-raiser, but simply a gathering of 500 constituents who paid $30 apiece to get there.


The lawmakers, Pete Sessions of Texas and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, did raise their hands and recite the oath of office in front of the televised version of the event. But really, what if we'd all done that? If I'd known it was an option, I would definitely have sworn myself in and then gotten my picture taken with John Boehner.


Plus, Sessions and Fitzpatrick violated the parliamentary rules set down by Thomas Jefferson. If Jefferson had wanted representatives swearing in front of a flat-screened TV, he would have said so. Those founding fathers knew what they were doing.


Things got more complicated when it turned out that Sessions, unsworn, had gone to a committee hearing and voted to set rules for the debate on repealing the health care law. (Fitzpatrick went to the House and took part in the reading of the Constitution.)


To make sure the rules were still legal, the House had to vote to straighten everything out, which it did very speedily and — this is the important part — without all that much Democratic sniping about what had come to be called "the undocumented members." This was obviously because people have decided that in times of great conflict and stress, it is better to be collegial.


Also, the Republicans permitted only four minutes of debate.








Consider the extremes. President Obama is redesigning his administration to make it even friendlier toward big business and the megabanks, which is to say the rich, who flourish no matter what is going on with the economy in this country. (They flourish even when they're hard at work destroying the economy.) Meanwhile, we hear not a word — not so much as a peep — about the poor, whose ranks are spreading like a wildfire in a drought.


The politicians and the media behave as if the poor don't exist. But with jobs still absurdly scarce and the bottom falling out of the middle class, the poor are becoming an ever more significant and increasingly desperate segment of the population.


How do you imagine a family of four would live if its annual income was $11,000 or less?


During a conversation I had this week with Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a longtime expert on issues related to poverty, he pointed out that the number of people in that tragically dismal category has grown to more than 17 million. These are the folks trying to make it on incomes below half of the official poverty line, which is $22,000 annually for a family of four.


No one talks about these families and individuals living in extreme poverty. Certainly not the Republicans who were having a dandy time this week deliberately misreading the Constitution and promising budget cuts and other initiatives that will hurt the poor even more.


If you're still having trouble deciding whose side the Republicans are on, just keep in mind that the House G.O.P. bigwig Darrell Issa sent a letter to 150 businesses, trade groups and think tanks asking them to spell out which federal regulations they dislike the most. These are lifeguards on the side of the sharks.


Scared to death of being outdone, President Obama and his sidekicks climbed into their spiffy new G.O.P. costumes and promised in humiliatingly abject tones to shower the business world with whatever government largess they could lay their hands on. The first order of business (pun intended) was the announcement that William Daley, the Chicago wheeler-dealer and former Clinton administration official who landed a fat gig at JPMorgan Chase, would become the president's chief of staff. Mr. Daley was a loud critic of recent financial regulatory reforms and has been obsessed with getting Democrats to be more subservient to business.


The poor, who have been hurt more than anyone else in this recession, don't stand a heartbeat's chance in this political environment. The movers and shakers in government don't even give a thought to being on the side of the angels anymore — they're on the side of the millionaires and billionaires.


Nearly 44 million people were living in poverty in 2009, which was more than 14 percent of the American population and a jump of four million from the previous year. Anyone who thinks things are much better now is delirious. More than 15 million children are poor — one of every five kids in the United States. More than a quarter of all blacks and a similar percentage of Hispanics are poor.


Are we doing anything about this? No. Our government officials, from the president on down, are too busy kissing the bejeweled fingers of the megarich.


Professor Edelman broke the poor into two categories: the new poor, who have lost jobs and homes and otherwise been clobbered by the recession; and the old poor, who in many cases had previously been working, sometimes sporadically or part time, at jobs that didn't pay much. Many of those low-paying jobs have since vanished and the old poor have just been crushed.


"There is this astonishing number of people all the way down there at the bottom that we just don't talk about," Mr. Edelman said, "and they're in very big trouble."


Welfare, even for the poorest of the poor, is not much help. More than 17 million people may be living in extreme poverty, but welfare, for most of the people who need it, was "reformed" right out of existence. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which is what welfare is called now, helps far fewer people than welfare used to, even though the poor have been laid low by the worst economy since the Depression.


Hardly anyone cares. Hardly anyone even notices.


With the tax cuts for the rich saved and William Daley coming on board, the atmosphere is being readied for Obama & Co. to tap the fat cats for the zillions necessary for next year's re-election run. And that, of course, is the only thing that really matters.








Years ago, my oldest son told me that he thought those in our small Baptist church had all been brainwashed. How else could they believe in the unbelievable? At the time, I was shocked.


He later softened that position. Although he said that he couldn't accept all things biblical, he explained, quite eloquently I thought, that he "wouldn't want to live in a world where a God didn't exist." I was impressed.


Then, a few months ago, he told me that he was a deist. I was confused. This time I had to turn to the all-knowing and omnipresent — Google.


Through it all, I've been very sympathetic about my son's spiritual quest, in part because my own religious beliefs are evolving. I have gone from the most devout born-again Christian to a more nebulous, nondoctrinal set of beliefs that do not necessarily align with organized religion. When people ask about my faith, I often reply, "unresolved."


This is increasingly the face of religion in America — fluid, fluctuant, questioning, nonconformist and in many cases unaffiliated.


That's why a report this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life about the religious composition of the 112th Congress caught my eye. According to the report, the unaffiliated (atheists, agnostics, the unchurched, uncommitted, etc.), at 16.1 percent of the population, is the largest religious group in America without representation in Congress. (Six members, about 1 percent, did not specify a religious category.)


For perspective, there are almost two-thirds as many unaffiliated people as there are Catholics in this country and nearly as many as there are Baptists. Their number is more than twice that of Methodists, and more than nine times the numbers of Jews or Mormons. Yet, no unaffiliated representation. Why?


First, let me get this out of the way: I don't for a second believe that all those members are religious. I believe some are trapped in the religious closet of American politics where nonbelief is a nonstarter. It's not only seen as unholy, it's also seen as un-American. (Although Pete Stark, a California Democrat and a Unitarian, has said that he doesn't believe in a Supreme Being. One out!)


Second, and perhaps more important, the unaffiliated are simply not unified. They have few advocacy groups or high-profile faces. They don't congregate, organize or petition like members of organized religions. Politicians don't feel the need to court them, let alone identify as one of them. Part of the problem is that the unaffiliated are a jumbled lot. Only about a fourth are atheists or agnostics. Many of the others feel strongly connected to religion, but choose not to participate. It's like a protest vote.


Whether they are organized, cohesive or disgruntled, the unaffiliated are the fastest-growing religious category in America. Nonaffiliation is not un-American. Increasingly, it is America. Eventually, our politics will have to catch up.









Many area residents probably have not thought much lately about the flu. That's understandable. So far, there have been relatively few cases locally. The wide availability of vaccine this year has sharply reduced worries about the illness and its effects. That doesn't mean, however, that people should ignore the possibility that flu will strike.


Health officials and private health care providers correctly remind the public that widespread illness is still a possibility. Influenza season, they point out, traditionally ends on March 31, but that it can extend beyond that date.


Whatever the case, there is reason for concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks the number of flu cases and charts its spread by state, reports that the incidence of flu across the United States seems to be increasing following a relatively stable period. The CDC's tracking information, readily available on the agency's Web site, is instructive.


 It indicates that a majority of states -- 35 -- report minimal incidence of influenza. Others, however, others report a greater presence of the ailment. Six states -- including Georgia and Alabama -- are listed in the CDC's most recent tally as having what the agency characterizes as a "high" incidence of illness. Tennessee is included in the states with a "low" incidence of cases, but given the trends in Georgia and Alabama, flu soon might be on the rise here.


Indeed, local and area health departments report a rise of in the number of fever, upper respiratory problems and influenza-like illnesses in the last couple of weeks. That understandably fuels worries that the flu will become more widespread here in the days and weeks to come. There's still time, though, to take preventive action.


A spokesman for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department says that it is not too late to get a flu shot. There is an ample supply of vaccine available at the health department as well as at private providers. The CDC recommends that just about everyone older than six months get an inoculation. The health department here concurs with that suggestion.


The vaccine for the current flu season, officials say, protects against the H1N1, the H3N2 and influenza B viruses. It's a three-in-one formula that can be delivered with a needle or via nose spray. The benefits of the vaccine should be obvious. It can eliminate or significantly reduce the aching, coughing, sneezing, fatigue and other discomforts that are influenza's calling cards. It also provides a broad societal benefit.


The more individuals who are inoculated, the less the likelihood of widespread outbreak of illness. That's important for those most susceptible to flu -- the very young, and very old, those with chronic health conditions and health care workers. Even in years with a low incidence of flu, it still claims numerous lives.


The flu vaccine -- despite a small minority who continue to argue against mounting evidence to the contrary that any vaccine is dangerous -- is both effective and safe. The vaccine is a useful tool in the on-going effort to reduce the toll the flu can exact. There's no excuse to avoid getting a shot. Lives -- yours and others -- could depend on doing so.







Given their ubiquity, one would think Americans no longer can live without the iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys, smart phones and assorted electronic devices that collectively provide the chirps, whistles, clicks, beeps and other noises that have become the soundtrack of contemporary life. Not so. The gadgets, to be sure, are extremely useful, but they remain a convenience not a necessity in the truest sense of the word. Sensible limits on their use are wise.


Most schools now ban their use in classrooms. Judges routinely outlaw them in their courtrooms. Airlines and medical facilities ban them in many circumstances, too, pointing out that their use can interfere with the operation of equipment vital to the safety and security of their passengers and patients.


Indeed, rather than finding ways to expand the arenas in which the use of electronic devices is acceptable, there appears to be a trend toward limiting their use. That's evident in the stern looks and sometimes harsh words directed to those who use electronic devices in a restaurant, movie theater or other confined but still public spaces. It's a movement that should be encouraged in the name of public politeness and propriety.


Not everyone, of course, agrees with that assessment. Some actively oppose it. That's certainly the case for the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. They've proposed a rule that will lift the current ban on such devices on the floor of the House. They've wrapped up the proposal in language that suggests they don't want to trounce tradition, but a careful reading of the proposal suggests otherwise.


The rule, proponents say, will permit the use of the devices as long as it doesn't "impair decorum" and only if they are used for official business. There is, as one would suspect, no definition of "impair" or "decorum" or description of what constitutes "official " rather than unofficial business. Given those omissions, it seems likely that many members would use their BlackBerrys, phones and other devices however and whenever they choose.


That won't do. House members don't need additional distractions. There already are enough. Voters are right to wonder if their elected representative spends more time on personal business and political issues than in serving those who put them in office. Allowing widespread use of electronic devices on the House floor likely will create additional diversions that would take more of the members' already fractured attention away from the debates and votes that are essential to the operation of government.


The chamber has operated without the distractions of electronic devices for more than two centuries. It should continue to do so. The proposal to allow the gizmos on the House floor should be defeated.










By the time you finish reading this column, 12 million women around the world will have been beaten up by their husbands, brothers, fathers or lovers. One million of these women will carry the marks of the beating on their bodies for at least a week. Thousands of these women will never fully recover and 120 will die.


The good news is that the figures are not real; I've just made them up! But the bad news is that those figures could be much higher because domestic violence goes unreported most of the time. For it is such a shame, such a serious crime against humanity, that women are embarrassed. They are ashamed of themselves sometimes and sometimes of the violator. But we must not be ashamed. We must not keep it as a secret. We must expose it.


Sixteen men in the daily Hürriyet's New Year's supplement have made a move. No, they didn't just wear women's clothes, but tried to feel women's spirit. They showed that the black circles around eyes as a result of beating are not only around eyes, but also around the spirit of women, of humanity, of human character. They are a bunch of good men, a few brave hearts. They showed the hidden wounds.  "Look, they hit exactly here!" they said. Trying to understand is half way to full understanding.  


I congratulate Şermin Terzi, who is the thought mother of our New Year's exclusive, and Sebati Karakurt for wonderful photographs. I know that it was not easy to convince men about the idea. But in the end, an extraordinary work was done; an impressive project came to life. 


I thank these 16 courageous men. They posed to grab our attention and focus it on the difficulties of being a woman. I can only guess that it was not an easy task for them either. However, with this small step they have taken, these brave men have made a tremendous impact.


They said they had a word or two to say, not only to men but also to women who hide their suffering.


I leave the final remark to Oscar Wilde: "I always astonish myself. It is the only thing that makes life worth living."


The people you see in these photographs have surprised us. Look at them and be astonished.


This will be a simple but giant step toward erasing the figures mentioned above.








The Kurdish question is Turkey's litmus test and a mirror of reality. Until now, it's been handled through security measures, internal war and gross nationalism. But from now on, it needs to be tackled by brand-new concepts such as "living together without denying each other's identity."


The task is difficult so let's consider the debate on the way to reform the administrative system so to address the wishes of citizens of Kurdish extract. The debate that finally emerged during the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, meeting recently held in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır truly reflects how Turkey was caught off guard.   


For the time being, Kurdish politics has the initiative in terms of the type of administration. Material errors in references and discrepancies exist between the text proposed by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and the one published by the Fırat News Agency. No matter how unworkable the suggestions are, however, they have no serious counter-proposals either.


Yet a discussion void of substance is taking hold, directly leading to the "secession" rhetoric. We are shouting ourselves purple talking about "unity and togetherness" while going back to age-old reflexes, just like in what happened at the latest National Security Council, or MGK, meeting. The tension grows in the meantime as black and white majorities turn against each other all the more.


In the meantime, the real discussion suffers from vulgar rhetoric as the very issue is how to establish a decentralized administration, which would be both a milestone for the solution of the Kurdish conflict and a crucial tool for all regions. Alas, the crucial debate over decentralization has started with the Kurdish proposal of "democratic self-government." Although unfortunate, state and politics are to be blamed for not paying due attention to such a critical matter until today. Clearly, Turkey will ponder decentralization and regionalization for years. But for today, let's go back to a few points that grabbed my attention in the latest days' poor debate.


'Local' and 'regional' are two different things


People discussing the notion of self-government have confused what is local and what is regional. These two notions are not identical. In Turkey, the only administrative body beneath the center is the municipality. Local administrations or municipalities for villages, towns and metropolitan areas are service-oriented. The region, on the other hand, is an administrative unit which corresponds to a geographic, historic, linguistic, economic and, at times, religious entity. Authority and the functions of regions vary from country to country.


Since there is no regional interface between the central and the local in Turkey, local administrations have been tasked with functions unrelated with municipal duties. In time, municipalities have become the voice of the periphery and of political action for those who fail to reach the center. The BDP, just like the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which has forgotten where its roots since it came to the center, had to follow this line of course. However, it is not healthy for municipalities either to get involved in politics besides basic services or to create conditionality between the delivery of services and politics. Likewise, relatively small administrative units like municipalities being subordinate to a huge center causes big problems. Despite these major impediments, many believe the reinforcement of local administrations could be a remedy. Wishing for the transformation of all municipalities – small or big – into structures capable of providing services other than municipal ones means the nationwide spread of an unsustainable system.


Thus the real issue is to mull over how to establish regional structures to be positioned between central and local administrations that would have sufficient authority and power to check and balance out the actions of the central authority.


Decentralization restricted by the Constitution


When the issue is regionalization and regionalism, we have an abundance of examples around. The most developed practices are seen in the post-national European context. Besides advanced examples in Germany and Spain, there exist the Council of Europe's "European Charter of Local Self-Government" as well as the norms, standards and practices of the EU's Regional Policy. Turkey is party to the non-binding Charter of the Council of Europe and is in negotiation process for the binding rules of the EU's Regional Policy.


But none of these has the power to overcome the exceptionally centralist constitutional and legal armor of Turkey. Therefore, for a decentralized administration, the future Constitution should announce the necessary legal basis. At the same time, an adequate formula should be designed to meet regional demands and to lead the way for good governance. The path opened by the creation of development agencies thanks to the EU's Regional Policy – despite being very centralistic and timid – looks like the most reasonable and soft way toward regionalization, provided that constitutional guarantees are there.









Nowadays, it is hard escape the name of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, let alone his policies, while discussing Turkey's place in world politics with government officials and academics alike. Dr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, whether one likes his vision of the present, future or even the past, occupies a considerable position among contemporary statesmen.


 That is why, every once in a while, especially if it is the beginning of a new year or decade, it is tenable to give a grilling on the past and weigh in on expectations for the future. In that perspective, Davutoğlu's series of major speeches in recent weeks, whether in Washington or Erzurum, in which Turkey's third ambassadors' meeting was held this week (Davutoğlu's speeches are available on the Turkish Foreign Ministry's website), have been very helpful in shedding light on Turkey's new proactive role and its performance during the last decade.


It was Mark Parris, a former U.S. ambassador to Ankara, who first called Davutoğlu Turkey's Henry Kissinger, a powerful U.S. statesman from the recent past. If nothing else, the similarity in both men's style – especially in terms of interpreting history for their own countries and drawing parallels or creating assignments for the future – proves Parris right. Davutoğlu, in addition to applying countless historic references into Turkey's future foreign policy vision, also uses them to legitimize those for new beginners.


For instance, Henry Kissinger, in his book of genius, "Diplomacy," describes Ottoman Turkey as the weakest link but one that had to be protected against other major powers, therefore resulting in its survival for an extra two hundred years. In Davutoğlu's paradigm, for the same reason, Turkey should not, or must not, be allowed to be designated the same passive actor like it was prior to World War I, in which Ottoman Turkey was used like a pawn by other great powers.


While narrating new Turkey's story both to the world and its own citizens (which Davutoğlu says both need to hear), according to a Turkish political science professor who is a careful Davutoğlu observer, he also seems to be at ease with reconciling this narrative with Ataturk's vision of a secular state. Davutoğlu finds Ataturk's slogan "peace at home, peace in the world" perfectly coherent with the work of his administration as it seeks to prevent conflict around Turkey.


For Davutoğlu, in reality, 21st century international diplomacy started in 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell. Since then, Davutoğlu argues, a new phase continued into the next decade, in which the rest of the century will be structured by "city planners" like clear sighted wise men. Davutoğlu mentions the G20 as one of the most significant groups of this new decade and Turkey's growing economy and clout in other countries' economy as also playing an important role.


In that sense, not only classic diplomacy, but energy, climate and economic diplomacy will also have more sway in boosting a country's influence in the international arena.


Davutoğlu is urging Turkish diplomacy to adjust to the new times and transform its identity from a simple or traditional firefighter, who only puts out fires when they occur, to a sort of "wise firefighter," who can also sense upcoming devastation and preempt it from happening. Because it is a wise country, Turkey will not only "react" to events but will bring its own interpretation to problems. To do so, Turkey must be one of those city planners who will design the future, because, Davutoğlu argues, the planners of the last 200 years did a pretty bad job in terms of preventing fires.


During the speech, it was surprising to hear Davutoğlu cite the "flotilla attack" as one of those moments when Turkish diplomacy failed to live up to its potential role of being a "wise firefighter" in 2010.


Davutoğlu praised Turkish diplomats' quick response to that particular event in the early hours of the crisis, but also said they acted in roles equivalent to mere extinguishers in the tragedy. In Davutoğlu's rhetoric, the "flotilla incident" was given as a sample to prove what happens if and when Turkey does things unwisely.


Davutoğlu has been accused for sometime of being utopian in his ambitious characterization of Turkey's real weight, portraying it as an ultimate mediator between East and West or North and South. He also had to endure criticism for his aspiring rhetoric which always seemed to disregard the manpower that his foreign ministry has vs. needs.


]Obviously bothered by being called as "utopian," or "dreamer," in Erzurum, Davutoğlu not only used more of a down to earth kind of dialogue, but he also directly responded to those critiques, just like he did in Washington.  


Davutoğlu, in Erzurum, while emphasizing "integration" with neighboring countries big and small, argued that integration should happen on "equal" terms and affirmed that Turkey does not seek to dominate any country, but is working towards an "equal future."


Davutoğlu also announced that number of Turkish diplomats currently reached 1868, almost a one third increase within just two year, but still third of that United Kingdom currently employs. To address understaffing issues effectively, the Foreign Ministry, in addition to increasing the number of diplomats, a series of legal changes to the Foreign Ministry's organization law which were adopted by Parliament in last summer.


While drawing parallels with beginning of the 20th century, Davutoğlu sounded as if he expects that just like a hundred years ago the future will bring monumental changes that could potentially create new havoc around Turkey.  


The financial crises that started more than two years ago, according to Davutoğlu, still have the contingency to become social and political crises.


Since the Cold War ended so have the static alliances and Turkey must convert itself into a dynamic country. This is exactly what Turkey is striving to do, Davutoğlu concluded.


When looking back on 2010, Davutoğlu gave a pass to Turkish diplomacy. Turkey's visibility has increased, Davutoğlu reminded us. Indeed, if we were to believe that "there is no bad advertising," Turkey had a good PR year in terms of gaining more recognition.


In the beginning of a new year, and the dawning of a new decade, Davutoğlu's vision seems to be somewhat softened and more adjustable to the real world in front of his first class diplomats. Davutoğlu sounded as though reconciled with Turkey's secular past and Atatürk's vision, rather than condescending toward neighbors while affirming that are all are on equal footing.


Until an opposition emerges that incorporates a vision that can compete with Davutoğlu's interpretations of the past, present and future, Davutoğlu will surely remain a strong figure with the backing of a strong and stable administration.


Davutoğlu presented his arguments well enough to make most feel like his administration's rule would continue for a quiet sometime.








Turkey was shaken last week by the release of hundreds of notorious suspects from jail.


These included many members of the "Kurdish Hizbullah," a brutal terrorist organization that committed horrible tortures and killings in the 90s. The media, naturally, got outraged, while the government and the high judiciary accused each other. Yet still, men who are probably responsible for unspeakable crimes walked out freely – and cheerfully.


(As a side note here, let me say the "Kurdish Hizbullah" has no relation to the real Hezbollah in Lebanon, which looks all too moderate when compared to this fanatic group in southeastern Turkey. It should be added that this "Kurdish Hizbullah," which fought with the "infidel PKK," made a name for itself for being an indirect arm of the counter-terrorism campaign of the Turkish state. Yet they have killed moderate Islamic figures, too, including prominent figures from the "Nurcu" community.)


Justice delayed


The reason for the scandalous release of these suspects in question was nothing other than the unbelievable sluggishness of the Turkish justice system. They were on trial since 1999, and they simply reached the end of the maximum custodial period of 10 years. In other words, Turkish courts could not reach a final verdict in a decade. In fact, they were all sentenced (mostly for life) in the local courts where they were first tried but their files were simply stuck in the terribly long cue at the Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara, which was supposed to give the final word.


These days, every political camp is trying to put the blame of this legal scandal on the other side. The truth, however, is that we have an inefficient and incompetent justice system that needs urgent and radical reform.


Just look at the figures. As pundit Mehmet Altan noted, there are only some 7,000 judges in Turkey, which means 90 judges per million citizens. In Germany, the number of judges per million citizens is 240. And while the German Republic spends 9 million euros a year on its justice system, the Turkish Republic spends only 2 million.


This poverty of Turkish justice is partly due to the fact that Turkey is a poorer country. But it is also related to the way we Turks decide to spend our public resources. As columnist Kanat Atkaya noted, public expenditure on the military is four times larger than that of the judicial system. The expenditure on the police forces is only half of what goes into the military. We spend much more on guns, in other words, than we do on justice.


Yet when justice lags, all else gets corrupted. That's why the government should plan and implement a comprehensive reform of the system. It is good that they have recently built larger and nicer buildings – "justice palaces" – to have better courtrooms. What is more important, though, is radically increasing the number of judges by employing new ones – and employing them according to objective criteria.


The latter point is particularly crucial, for Turkish society really has little belief in the impartiality of the judicial class. First, on the most mundane level, there is the widespread belief that some judges might be compromised by indecent proposals. (Hence comes the popular saying, "don't hire a lawyer, hire a judge.")


Ideology vs objectivity


Besides that, there is a perception that some judges uphold their ideology over objectivity. The Kemalist cadre has been quite unabashed about that, for prominent judges in that camp they have repeatedly said that their foremost job is to "protect the principles and revolutions of Atatürk," besides everything else. (Reflecting a similar mindset, a recent survey among top judges showed that many of them proudly uphold "the interests of the state" above anything, including the rights of the citizens.)


Yet this doesn't mean that other ideological camps, including the conservative one, have a better reputation when it comes to impartiality. There have not been too many instances yet to test the impartiality of conservative judges and prosecutors, but the perception in society – created by the recent controversies over the "Ergenekon" and "Sledgehammer" cases – is that they are hardly any different than the Kemalists in terms of coping with the expectation of a powerful political agenda.


That's why I think the tragedy of Turkish justice is a "bipartisan" problem, in the sense that it pervades both sides of the political divide. Of course, we have many righteous judges as well, but their virtues have been overshadowed by both their less principled colleagues and the inefficiency of the overall system.


Therefore we should stop seeing the judiciary as the battlefield of competing ideologies and start to think together about how to rebuild it in a way that really serves justice, and serves it swiftly.








Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP's biggest trump-card for the upcoming elections is women. 


We, women journalists, have recently joined with the CHP deputy leader responsible for women's organizations, Gülsün Bilgehan, former head of the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey, or KAGİDER, Gülseren Onanç, the voice of "concerned moderns," Professor Binnaz Toprak, and the Turkish Women's Association President Sema Kendirci.


Without doubt, the CHP now has a brand-new look, with these women asserting a new gender equality.


Bilgehan is showing signs that the current party formation, compared to that of former leader Deniz Baykal, will emphasize gender equality. "Women's rights are not just an issue for women, but for men, too. So, we will closely work with men for gender equality," Bilgehan said recently, adding that the CHP leader whole-heartedly believes in gender equality.


Turkey did very poorly in the gender equality issue and it is pleasing to see the CHP prioritizing the issue. Emphasis on social policies has been another significant party development.


Poverty increases in Turkey


I was attracted to two brochures sitting on a table before meeting with female members from the CHP. One of these brochures was about the "disabled," an issue as important as gender equality. The other was about poverty.


Let me say something here. According to the results of the "Poverty Research" by the Turkish Statistics Institute, or TurkStat, the number of people who technically qualify as "poor" in Turkey has climbed to 13 million.


Poverty is an important indicator of the wage gap in Turkey. The main point of concern here is the increase compared to last year's figures. In other words, the number of the poor is increasing as Turkey's economy grows stronger and stronger.


If we go back to the CHP brochure, the line "Our objective is zero poverty," is quite impressive. Just as the president of Brazil, Lula, said years ago, "The target is zero poverty." As I read the sentence, I couldn't help but think to myself, "I wonder if Kılıçdaroğlu will follow Lula's footsteps…"


Let promises not remain on paper 


Did Brazil achieve zero poverty, as Lula claimed? I wouldn't know exactly, but the most popular politician in Brazil has remarkably reduced the poverty rate. That we all know. How did he do it?


"The three meals a day" campaign he launched, costing $40 million, for people who live on the poverty line. He raised the monthly salary of the unemployed to $65.


We see from the CHP's "zero poverty" brochure that the party is planning a "family insurance" program as a remedy to poverty. Family Insurance means the state's putting families on monthly salary.


The CHP is planning to pay this money to housewives regularly but the amount is yet to be properly determined. Therefore, the main opposition party intends to bring women at home to a better financial position.


This is a nice idea of course, but I do have question marks in my mind. Did the CHP find resources to support the poor? As far as I know, Lula had a strong team of economists when he announced the "zero poverty" target.


Of course many people, like me, will be happy to see Kılıçdaroğlu following in Lula's footsteps, but let no promises that cannot be satisfied remain on paper.








Lately everyone is talking about the same thing: Power is shifting from the west to the east. It will surely bring a certain balance to international trade relations and accelerate new developments from a larger geography. However, we should also consider the negative side effects of this shift in order to consider ways of prevention.


I was twice invited to different think tank discussions. One was organized by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK, and the other by a private company. In both cases, we discussed the future development scenarios for Turkey and ended up with the same important factor for growth: countrywide education and active participation of women in society. A person cannot perform anything well if half of that person's body is not functioning well. Societies are the same.


Turkey is one of the few countries where you have such a big difference between women from various levels of society. The country has well-educated female presidents and CEOs as well as poorly educated and isolated women, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately the latter still accounts for the majority. Representation of women in the Turkish Parliament is still less than 10 percent.


The picture is not very different if you take a look at other emerging markets. The awkward thing is that this situation is unfortunately created by poorly educated women themselves. Pre-education is the key factor in all countries. Males get their first education through their mothers. The norms and values take shape during these years and poorly educated women unfortunately pass on traditions that work against them without even noticing. If you add a child's observations about his or her father's behavior, you end up creating another prototype for the society.


Let's move on to the power shift toward China, India and others. Power is also shifting from relatively more balanced societies toward male-dominant ones. Either this shift will enforce participation of more educated women as it did with the western world, or the power will be even more on the masculine side in the world as today even as the western societies are also not in perfect shape regarding this issue.


If we want to create a better and caring world, equal participation is the key. In order to eliminate competition, secure their dominance and keep their comfort zone, men are not in favor of giving up their space. However, if we all want to secure a better life and a good future for our children, we must use every helping hand in our societies to create one.


* Zafer Parlar is the founder of istventures (, which supports international companies in their market entries and development in Turkey, as well as Turkish companies in their local operations and international expansion plans.








What does it mean when the United States, Britain, France and Spain upgrade the diplomatic status of the Palestinian delegations in their capitals, as they all did in the past year? When the number of countries recognizing Palestinian statehood now exceeds one hundred?


Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, former deputy prime minister of Israel and minister of Industry, Trade and Labor in the current government, thinks he knows. "I wouldn't be surprised if within one year the whole world supports a Palestinian state, including the United States," he warned his Cabinet colleagues recently.


Ben-Eliezer doesn't mean a hypothetical Palestinian state at some point in the distant future, after Israelis and Palestinians have miraculously agreed on borders, refugees, etc. He means a real Palestinian state, declared this year and promptly recognized by practically everybody.


It would have a seat at the United Nations and the right in principle to control its own borders, though in practice it would still be under Israeli military occupation. Exactly where its borders are, like a host of other issues, would have to be settled afterwards, by direct negotiation between Israel and Palestine.


At first glance, the immediate creation of an independent Palestinian state sounds like an idea whose time has come. The "peace process," now 17 years old, has clearly run out of road, goes the argument, so we might as well try something different. As a rationale for creating a fully-fledged Palestinian state now, that's not very convincing – but it's not really why people are talking about this.


Many Arabs and Americans support the idea because they hope that the creation of a legitimate and theoretically independent Palestinian state would give Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, enough credibility to keep the West Bank out of the hands of Hamas a while longer. (Hamas, which rejects any permanent peace with Israel, already controls the Gaza Strip, the other part of occupied Palestine.)


Some Israelis back the idea too, but not many, and none in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Netanyahu does everything he can to avoid direct peace talks, because any Israeli concessions would break the ruling coalition apart. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says even an "intermediate" peace deal could take decades.


So despairing advocates of a peace settlement are now lining up behind the idea of declaring Palestinian statehood even in the U.S., where former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk recently endorsed the idea. But it is, alas, an idea whose time has not only come but gone.


It has suddenly become popular because a lot of people are finally realizing that the "two-state solution," seen for the past quarter-century as the only possible foundation of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, is dying if not already dead. The proposal to create a real Palestinian state, even without agreed borders, is meant as a last-minute rescue mission, but it probably comes too late.


Popular support in Israel for a land-for-peace deal collapsed years ago, but now the Palestinians are also losing faith in a two-state future. They are concluding that the peace talks have been a charade from the very start, because Israeli politicians, even the best-intentioned ones, will never find the political courage to stop the process of spreading Jewish settlements across the West Bank.


What is the point, Palestinian critics ask, of a truncated Palestinian state that is riddled with Jewish settlements and utterly dominated by Israel? What do Palestinians have to lose if they forget about a state for now and just wait until a higher Palestinian birth rate makes them a majority across all of former colonial Palestine (i.e. Israel and the occupied territories)?


They would have to live through another 10 or 15 years of military occupation and occasional Israeli punishment campaigns like the 2008 operation in Gaza. They would have to accept that there will never be an exclusively Palestinian state. But once they became the majority, they would launch a non-violent civil rights movement demanding one person, one vote in all the lands between the Jordan and the sea.


That demand – One Big State with equal rights for all – is what wise Israelis fear most, because it would put Israel in the same position as apartheid South Africa. All these people, both Arabs and Jews, live on lands that are under your permanent control, the rest of the world would say. Why won't you let the Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank vote? Israel would survive, but it would become a pariah.


That is why Netanyahu has suddenly demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a specifically JEWISH state: if they agreed to that, they could never credibly demand One Big State. It is also why various non-Israelis have begun to advocate the early creation of a Palestinian state: they are hoping to keep the two-state solution alive. But it is already on life support, and the oxygen is running out.


*Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. His latest book, 'Climate Wars,' is distributed in most of the world by Oneworld.








Human rights activist Dan Milis was fined $175 two years ago for polluting the environment because he left bottled water in parts of the Arizona desert for immigrants illegally crossing the border from Mexico to the United States.


Milist wanted to save them from dying of dehydration. Such a simple reason to bock a humanitarian effort to prevent thousands of Mexicans, mostly children, from dying while passing through the Arizona Desert has nothing to do with morality. Yet, this clearly shows only one thing: when security concerns are at issue, the right to life – let alone the suspension of human rights – is totally ignored.


A similar situation is imminent in neighboring Greece. For they have decided to build a wall at the Turkish border similar to a fenced wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. As of April, the Greek government plans to rid refugees that have begun to be a burden on the administration. All right, but could the U.S. manage to prevent illegal arrivals from Mexico, even with live wires? No.


It should be noted that the refugee issue has paralyzed Greece. Every day a group of immigrants large enough to fill a small village arrives in the country. In Greece, whose population is about ten million, the estimated number of refugees or asylum seekers stands at about one million – including those who have arrived in the country legally.


Obviously, Greece cannot deal with such a massive flock on its own. However, a new plan by Athens might not bring a solution to the issue. This will rather cause more human traffickers to appear, with a possible change in the trafficking route. In addition, over 500,000 refugees who flocked into Greece via Turkey in the last four years made their attempts across the sea, not the highways.


This security perspective is totally against human rights. First of all, it risks the right to asylum cited in the United Nations Human Rights Convention. If Greece builds fences on the border in order to stop refugees flocking to Europe via Turkey, it would mean a wall built between Greece and humanity. Under the fuss about border security, the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers are being reduced to a simple footnote.


Such a shameful project, which is totally against the right to live and security of refugees who need to protect their lives and to survive, is actually in accord with the recent European Union policies enforced about immigration and refugees. The security paranoia of the EU especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and current economic crisis, has forced the block to make radical changes concerning refugees and immigration. With the intention of taking no serious responsibilities in the subject, the EU has embraced policies to find a gate-keeper for its borders. In this direction, the Readmission Agreement at issue is a manifestation of such policies which are of interest to us.


Readmission Agreements come in two types: the first is one in which countries involved are obliged to readmit each others citizens if they are seeking to migrate. Source countries, such as Pakistan, in the case of immigration flocks to the EU, have already signed Readmission Agreements. The second is one in which countries involved are obliged to readmit citizens of third countries who illegally try to escape to another country. This closely interests us.


Turkey remains familiar with this agreement through negotiations with the EU over visa-free entries. The EU uses refugees as parts of negotiations in order to force Turkey to sign the Readmission Agreement in exchange of visa-free entry to the block. Readmission is, first of all, an open threat to human rights and a product of the unethical policies of the EU to burden poor countries when it comes to illegal immigration. The Readmission Agreement is the reason behind delayed asylum applications, keeping people in limbo for years.


If Turkey signs this agreement, we will witness a chain of deportations. Through promises that contain no guarantees, the EU expects Turkey to become its gate-keeper. Turkey could imminently turn into a migration site. For this reason, we hope Turkey will not sign the agreement.


*Recep Korkut is a social worker with the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants, or SGDD, and a journalist who has written articles about minorities, international issues, migration and refugees. Korkut can be reached at








When top judges of the Supreme Court of Appeals as well as almost all leading men of law in the country were stressing a few years ago the need to increase the number of departments in both the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State and demanding the creation of provincial courts of appeals to ease the workload of the Supreme Court of Appeals, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government was objecting.


In part, the AKP government was objecting because of the structure of the Judges and Prosecutors High Court, or HSYK, at the time because, as sad as it was, the government of the country did not have confidence in the HSYK and believed the HSYK would appoint some "anti-government" top judges to fill the new posts. Back in 2005 and 2006 the AKP government indeed seriously considered creating provincial courts of appeals. Then Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek was very positive about the idea and about increasing the number of departments in the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State. Yet, those efforts did not receive the support of "legal experts" of the AKP government and thus were not given the "go ahead" order from the absolute ruler, the prime minister.


The new Criminal Procedure Code, or CMK, was passed toward the end of December 2004. That is, the new CMK is work of the Justice Ministry under Çiçek, or the AKP government as well. Besides, if the AKP government was unaware of the complications Article 102 in the CMK would raise by introducing limitations on maximum arrest periods without conviction, why did it postpone entry into force of that particular article twice while all other CMK articles entered into force back in 2005?


It is a fact that the alleged leaders of the Islamist radical terrorist gang Hizbullah [a terrorist group not to be confused with Lebanon's Hezbollah] – alleged to have killed over 180 people – suspected members of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terror machine as well as members of many urban terror gangs, murderers and thieves are now being released from prison. Why? Right, it is difficult for this government to accept Islamists might be involved in terrorism as well. It is difficult for them to publicly accuse an Islamist gang. The Islamist-conservative culture nourished in this country gradually since the 1980 coup is the common grassroots base of the AKP and Islamist groups, including the Hizbullah. But, those alleged Hizbullah leaders were not released because the government loves them. They, and other people, under arrest for lengthy periods without conviction are being released because their trials were not completed within the past many years and now that finally the limitations regarding maximum arrest periods introduced under Article 102 entered into force, they could no longer be held behind bars.


Now, the government should stop kidding with the country by trying to kick the ball of responsibility and put all the blame on the slow pace of the Turkish justice system on the Supreme Court of Appeals. Of course the court has been slow. But why has it been slow? Or, what do we mean when we say it was slow?


According to what top judges of the country have disclosed over the past few days, we have learned that if we assume that, like other public servants, Supreme Court of Appeals judges also work eight hours a day and around 250 days a year – if we deduct weekends and official holidays from the total annual working days – and on an around 14,000 cases were handled a year by the court, then it becomes clear that around 70 cases are finalized by the top appeal court every hour. Then, why do we have such long delays from the appeals court? Because there is an incredible accumulation of cases over years and that is why it generally takes more than three years for a case to be completed by the Supreme Court of Appeals.


Thus, top judges were perfectly right when they were persistently demanding an increase of court departments and an introduction of provincial courts of appeals. But, to take such a step the AKP government needed first to tame the HSYK and make sure that people of its liking would be appointed to those new departments.


Thus, for years, despite the looming entry into force of CMK Article 102, the government slept on the issue and somehow could not find time to concentrate on it again after last summer's constitutional "reform" that helped tame the HSYK.


Now, is it possible for the AKP to place the blame for the ignorance and total underestimation of the probable impact of entry into force of the long-suspended Article 102 on the Supreme Court of Appeals? Can this country be fooled once again by the sheer allure of the blame game?








As an employer, David asks:

"Hello Sadettin Bey,

Greetings from Göcek.

I have been following your columns in the Hürriyet Daily News for some time – they always prove interesting and informative. To introduce myself, my name is David Robertson and I am the manager of the Turkey branch of a yacht sales company called Sunbird International Yacht Sales, which has a head office in the U.K. with another branch in Spain.


We have been working in Turkey since 2000, with offices in Göcek and Marmaris. We employ a limited number of staff (four to be precise), two of whom are foreigners (Christine and Peter).


I read with dismay recently that in future we will need to employ 5 Turkish nationals for every one foreign worker. We cannot afford to do this, nor can I afford to lose my two foreign workers.


Both of the people in question have been working for / with me for over eight years. Both have been in Turkey for a great many years (15 or 20) and both are settled here. 


As we should renew Christine's work and residency permit in March, and Peter's in November I would be keen to learn if these new employment laws will only affect new businesses in which case we will apply as usual or will the new law affect every business, no matter how large or small, recently opened or long term, in which case I will need to decide how best to proceed given the fact that we are a small business and very much rely on these two members of staff.


I would be grateful to hear your thoughts on the above and maybe get some ideas about where we stand for the future. A Happy New Year to you and yours. David."


Dear David, you're talking about a regulation which was discussed in 2010. However, this draft regulation has

not yet been enacted. You are right to worry but there is more time until the implementation. 


Turkish citizenship by birth…


Turkish citizenship is a question that receives the most attention from foreigners. Another reader also asks about it.


"Selam aleykum,


I found your website by accident and I have been looking for an answer for my question. I hope you can help me with it.


I am a non-Turkish woman married with a Turkish man and now I am pregnant. I heard that once I give birth to our baby I will be granted Turkish citizenship at once, but I searched on the Internet and I couldn't find the answer. Thanks & Regards, Mrs. Literature."


'Aleykum selam.' Dear Mrs. Literature, if your husband is a Turkish citizen and you have already been married three years, you can apply for Turkish citizenship. The birth has no bearing on being granted Turkish citizenship.


For your questions:









The CHP's magic formula for Kurdish votes


Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has had set his sights on a single goal since his first day on the job: the government.


In order to achieve this goal, the CHP had to reach out to sections of the community that it has neglected in the past, especially the poor and financially underprivileged. Kılıçdaroğlu has been shaping new policies centered on such groups, while his first parliamentary group speech was full of examples on the subject.


Kılıçdaroğlu hopes to achieve his ultimate goal by challenging former CHP leader Deniz Baykal's understanding of "high politics" and by making attempts to conquer the hearts (and pockets) of people in the street. Kılıçdaroğlu is operating under the impression that he must reach out to the groups living on the periphery regardless of their ethnic, religious or political background.


Opinion polls indicate that Kılıçdaroğlu has jumped in the polls thanks to his policy change – or at least because of his promises to change. In the latest survey conducted by MetroPOLL, the CHP climbed to 30.7 percent while the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, stood at 45 percent.


It is critical for the CHP to overcome the 30 percent national threshold because the highest percentage the party won under Baykal was always around 20 percent. Things now seem relatively optimistic that the CHP will be able to surpass these former, low numbers.


But could this be enough for the CHP? Kılıçdaroğlu had mentioned the level of 40 percent while his right-hand man, Gürsel Tekin, said he expected 37 percent. Given these figures, the CHP must have been calculating the possibility of forming the government by looking for a coalition with other entities as circumstances allow. For instance, a new formation in the center-right to overcome the threshold through alliances could pull down the AKP a little and carry the CHP to the government after the election, even if in a coalition.


CHP officials, however, are preoccupied by questions such as "How could a CHP failing to gain 7-10 percent of the votes in eastern and southeastern Anatolia reach the 30-40 percent level?" or "How could a CHP failing to have a share in Kurdish votes, like the AKP and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, come to power?"


According to a KONDA survey, at 31 percent, the majority of the CHP votes would come from Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir.


Kılıçdaroğlu has shared his perspective on the Kurdish question, suggesting social democracy as a third way against religious and ethnic approaches.


Meanwhile, the CHP will support the use of Kurdish, except in public institutions, while factories will be built in the region, solving the unemployment problem.


The CHP also plans to approach the Kurdish issue from the point of view of human rights, the party has said, but added that it will not entertain BDP demands for bilingualism or self-government.


Clearly, this approach will not bring any additional votes to the CHP in the region. Baykal, too, followed similar policies for years and in the last elections, the CHP barely gained 1.3 percent of votes in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır. The fact that Diyarbakır-resident Sezgin Tanrıkulu is now with the party is important, but is unlikely to raise expectations. Besides, the rumors are that he could be nominated for Istanbul instead of Diyarbakır.


What, then, is the CHP's magic formula? Let me share what I've heard: The CHP plans to generate policies to penetrate the ethnic politics in the region, expand the gap and increase their votes in the first elections from 1.3 percent to 5-10 percent in Diyarbakır.


For this, some of the area's tribal makeup is key. The CHP already knows that it cannot win an abundance of votes in eastern and southeastern Anatolia, so the party will try to benefit from the power of tribes by nominating prestigious tribe members who are not involved in either the BDP or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and therefore gain more votes.


At certain times, Baykal tried a similar approach in the provinces of Hakkari and Diyarbakır and managed to even gain some parliamentary deputies from the region. We'll see if the CHP's plan to steal away more Kurdish votes through this method will work out.


Raise for deputies on the way?


The "omnibus bill," a term that describes a package of amendments to various laws, has over 200 articles, from tax debt to insurance premium debt and to state affairs. The bill covers almost every single subject, except one: a salary raise for parliamentary deputies.


But could it be possible after a while? The rumor in the backroom is that it is simply waiting for the approval of political party leaders. In other words, if the leaders say "yes," such a wage hike will be thrown into the draft as well.








It seems that the EU financial crisis is worsening even more, and heaven knows how it will end.


Last year it was Greece, and then it was Ireland that needed to be bailed out. This year it will most likely be Portugal and Spain. The German press proposed to the Greeks that they start selling off some of their islands in order to reduce their budget deficit while renting others. And some small privately owned islands have been put up for sale but buyers have yet to appear. 


We all know that Germany too has a budget deficit of 1.8 trillion euros, a high rate of unemployment but, fortunately for the German people, they are not yet suffering as the citizens of other EU countries are. We birds would not be so shocked to see ministers of one of the suffering countries of the EU put themselves up for sale in order to acquire money with which to gradually start paying off their country's debt.


So you can imagine our shock and dismay when we saw a German federal minister up for sale. From a German advertising magazine we quote the following: "First Limited Edition: Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, five grams pure silver. The price of silver has increased more than 74 percent in value from November 2009 until Nov. 11, 2010. Price of 1st edition is five euros."


In the center of the advertisement there is a picture of a silver coin, on which one side there is the profile of a man wearing glasses. Above the profile picture the following is mentioned: "Bundesminister Karl-Theodor Zu Guttenberg." On the back side of the silver coin the German Parliament is depicted.


The coin is produced by the BTN company whose website is www.btn-muenzen-de. For five euros plus the 2.45-euro shipping and handling fee, any human being can purchase Mr. Guttenberg, who also happens to be the German defense minister. 


The question arises now whether or not there are more federal German ministers selling themselves off in this way in order to acquire money to reduce the budget deficit of Germany. And if this is the case, then the financial situation of Germany must be worse than it appears to be. But the Greek politicians could use this example of Guttenberg and start selling themselves off this way for the benefit of their country. We think that Papandreou will permit them to do so if it means the budget deficit will be reduced. Finally, it is interesting to note that nobody in Germany has noticed that Mr. Guttenberg is up for sale. Maybe this is a sign of the times.


Ponder our thoughts, dear humans, for your benefit.








The PPP's slipping hold on government has grown stronger as the MQM has decided to rejoin the government without rejoining the federal cabinet. The partial success came after Prime Minister Gilani visited Nine Zero for the first time since assuming charge as head of government. The visit by Gilani and the warm reception he received was in itself an indication that the MQM, with its 25 crucial National Assembly seats, would be moving back to the treasury benches. The final round of talks at Nine Zero had been preceded by hectic negotiations between the PPP and MQM leaders including Altaf Hussain in London. The government's move to reverse the raise in POL prices was, on the face of it, a key factor in the MQM's decision. An assurance from the PPP on the RGST issue was also reported to be a pivotal point persuading the MQM to make its swing. And for the future, the PM has promised action to tackle corruption.

But much remains uncertain. The immediate threat to the PM, who had lost his majority in the lower house, may have grown more distant but it has not vanished completely. It is significant that the MQM has opted not to rejoin the cabinet and has acted only to prevent the fall of Mr Gilani's administration. This indicates that it may not have complete faith in its ally. The latest arrangement leaves space for the MQM to criticise government decisions. This should help keep the PPP on alert. But how well it utilises the second life it has received is yet to be seen. Many problems of course still remain. These will not disappear with the prime minister's success at Nine Zero. The economy remains as fragile as ever, the threat of militancy hovers and it is unlikely that corruption will be banished given how deeply entrenched it is in the ruling setup. This means uncertainty and a sense of crisis will continue, even if, for now, the government can breathe a long sigh of relief. 








With the whiff of expediency and an urgent desire to cling to power hanging about the PPP government, it is worth considering the wider perception of the decision to reverse the rise in the cost of fuel. The price of a litre of petrol in Pakistan might not be thought to be of much concern to Hilary Clinton, the ice-maiden at the top of US foreign policy. Yet within hours of the announcement to reverse the deeply unpopular rise, here was Mrs Clinton banging on something awful about how much of a "mistake" this was. She was closely followed by a spokesperson of the IMF – architect of much of our fiscal policy in recent years – who said that fuel subsidies were untargeted and that the bulk of the benefit of subsidies went to the rich rather than the poor and big business; which is for the most part undeniable. Mark Toner, one of Mrs Clinton's bag-carriers from the State Department chimed in to say that the increase in prices of fuel was "vital" for our future financial stability. 

We might be forgiven for wondering what all these powerful figures are doing meddling in our internal politics. Surely it is up to the government to determine the price of petrol or any other commodity or utility it controls? 'Yes' and 'no' is the answer to that. Sovereign we may be, but we are also close to bankruptcy and kept afloat by the IMF among other entities – all of whom we are massively indebted to. The money that buoys us up comes with conditionalities, the strings that we so resent. One of those conditionalities is that for the IMF we are obliged to remove subsidies on fuel – which we were progressively doing much to the pain of everybody. The price rises announced a few days ago were not made on a whim; they were a part of the process of subsidy reduction that was in turn a part of our agreement with the IMF. We have now effectively turned back from this, as we have from the agreement to implement the RGST and for which the IMF has just granted us a nine-month extension in order that the government can herd the opposition into a place where it agrees to the revision. Whatever the short-term political effects of the price reversal may be, in the long term we are burdened with IMF conditionalities. We may pay less for our petrol tomorrow for which we may be thankful, but at some future point the IMF is going to be demanding its pound of flesh.







The process of judicial trial and meting out of punishment to those found guilty is intended to deter persons from crime and also to offer access to justice to those who suffer grievance. But there is real reason to fear that the trial of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who shot dead Salmaan Taseer, could be determined by quite different factors. The chief one among these is fear. The gathering of a crowd of religious parties' activists around the Rawalpindi Anti-Terrorism Court, prevented the judge from reaching a venue in Islamabad where police had decided to bring Qadri for the hearing, on security grounds. While a 5-day remand was granted after Qadri was brought to the court, government lawyers stayed away, apparently because they felt threatened. The images of the smiling Qadri being showered with rose petals can only have added to the sense of intimidation.

We must hope this will not determine the future course of events. Taseer was gunned down in cold blood. Justice is required to prevent others following the violent example of Qadri. There is also a need for good sense. The interior minister's absurd comments that he would himself shoot dead anyone opposing the blasphemy law makes him hardly any better than Qadri. As a man in a position of responsibility, he should surely be speaking for the rule of law, for judicial process and for fair inquiry rather than promoting vigilante justice. The consequences of such justice have been seen not only in the killing of Taseer but also in what happened in our tribal areas. In far too many cases of blasphemy, 'guilty' verdicts have been meted out because the judges fear for their lives. Some have admitted this and said they prefer to allow the case to move up to the higher courts rather than risk death. The presence of extremists in courts adds to the sense of danger. The government needs to act to ensure this does not happen in the case of Qadri. Already, apprehension is being expressed about what may happen as the hearings continue or the time comes for a verdict to be delivered. 








The IMF has remained involved with Pakistan for the last two decades. Several programmes were agreed with the IMF and some successfully completed. In most cases programmes however were abandoned mid-stream after disbursement of one or two loan tranches by the IMF. There is no evidence that IMF programmes have helped Pakistan make any dent in its underlying economic problems, although its financial support pulled the country back from the brink of international loan default on some occasions. 

In the matter of economic management, if anything, fundamental structural problems have become more complicated over time and difficult to resolve, with the addition of the overhang of the huge external debt burden that was accumulated during this period. 

Pakistan has usually blamed the IMF for its tough and anti-poor and anti-growth conditionality, faulty design of the policy package and irrelevance of short-term stabilisation programmes for the deep-rooted structural economic problems of the country.

There is some truth in these allegations because IMF programmes were based on its charter and policy framework that are designed to meet short term financing requirements of its member countries in temporary balance of payment difficulties in order to give them breathing space to address the underlying causes of external disequilibrium. 

On the other hand, Pakistan, as a developing country, requires long term development finance for investment and economic growth on relatively easier terms. Economic stabilisation programmes, while essential to lay the foundation for steady economic growth, could not address developmental problems involving deficiency in saving and investment and long term structural impediments. 

The IMF, on the other hand, believes that Pakistan remained largely a "one or two tranche" country because successive governments accepted the conditionality of economic policy reforms to get a financial bailout package but were not serious or effective in fully implementing economic policies agreed with the IMF. The programmes were not implemented in letter and spirit and therefore did not achieve the desired results, which was a prerequisite to enter the next stage of acceleration in the rate of economic growth. The IMF would concede that financial sector and exchange rate reforms were carried out successfully by Pakistan. 

IMF objections thus mainly relate to the budgetary areas and governance matters. It is also alleged that window-dressing and figure-fudging was used on many occasions to meet the quantitative fiscal criteria of programmes. Such statistical manipulation may have satisfied IMF conditionality on paper but could not enable the economy to reap the program's intended benefits. 

The difference between success in reforming the financial sector and exchange rate policy and failure in the budgetary and governance areas was in the "ownership" of the reform programmes. The financial sector and exchange rate reforms were mostly home-grown, initiated and owned by the State Bank of Pakistan, endorsed by the government and accepted by the IMF. In the case of budgetary and governance reforms, policy proposals were mostly made by the IMF and accepted by Pakistani negotiating teams but not really "owned" by the government. In the absence of true "ownership" and political commitment, implementation of policies remained faulty or incomplete. 

Promises and commitments made to revamp the taxation system, introduce agricultural income tax, plug tax loopholes, improve revenue collection, control current expenditure, strengthen fiscal federalism, eradicate corruption, reorganise the civil service, adhere to the rule of law and stop losses in public sector enterprises were not followed up and implemented with resolve and a genuine effort. Lacking ownership and commitment, the country failed to achieve any progress in these areas. If anything the fiscal situation got worse and the country took a nose dive and registered a sharp deterioration in the area of governance. 

Another set of major factors is also responsible for the failure of these programmes. It is political instability, frequent changes of government and lack of national consensus on a long-term agenda for economic reforms. Its causes are deep-rooted in history, the socio-political structure and the vested interest of the ruling aristocracy, and cannot be covered in this brief article. 

It is enough to point out that each government blamed the previous for all economic ills, quickly disowned the policies of its predecessor, flirted with various new ideas without much thought, commitment and success, and ultimately went back to the IMF for a program on the Fund's terms. In the process, international credibility and the standing of the country became increasingly suspect and questionable. 

The present government's program with the IMF is also being derailed by the absence of political ownership of policy reforms, lack of grasp of the complexity and seriousness of the current economic and financial situation, the absence of a strong economic team to make a convincing case for reforms, inadequate communication with the public about the growing threat of economic collapse, and partisan politics creating political uncertainty.

This historical perspective is given to drive home the message about the need to develop a home-grown program to address country's economic problems on a sustained basis. Pakistan is indeed in dire need of "A Charter of Economic Reforms" to be agreed upon by all the political parties and other stakeholders not to please the IMF but to put its own economic house in order. In fact, foreign policy, national security and economy are deeply interlinked and none of them should be used as a political football for partisan purposes. 

The main economic policy areas in which national consensus needs to be developed are those relating to inflation, budget deficit, external indebtedness, low savings rate, income inequality, unemployment and mass poverty. The government and the opposition need to act collectively to arrive at a consensus on policies in the larger interest of the country. 

Such a "Charter of Economic Reforms" should be explained to the people fully and sincerely by the collective political leadership and implemented by whichever government is in power. It is such a home-grown, broadly agreed and politically "owned" "Charter " that should serve as a basis for international financial support anchored around an IMF program or a series of programmes. 

The problem of external indebtedness cannot be addressed unilaterally by Pakistan without the cooperation of the international financial community and donor countries. To galvanise international support for this purpose, Pakistan needs to engage the IMF through a constructive, purposeful and professional dialogue on a home-grown economic program not to acquire more expensive loans from abroad but to obtain major external debt-restructuring and debt relief. The strategic and security clout that Pakistan has at present should be used effectively to negotiate major debt relief and not seek more loans that further drown the country in debt. Debt relief will open up fiscal space and reduce pressure on the balance of payment whereas more foreign borrowing will add to the long-term budgetary and balance of payment problems. 

The present half-hearted, piecemeal, short-term and partisan approach to obtain more foreign loans, avoiding difficult economic policy decisions and giving false hopes to the people of Pakistan, is like using tranquilisers to relieve the pain of the fatal cancerous cells in the economic, social and political body of the country without the urgently needed surgical operation.

The writer is a former governor of the State Bank.







Salmaan Taseer distinguished himself as a PPP bulwark in Punjab by fighting on the front foot on behalf of the Pakistan People's Party. Cast in an uncompromising and bellicose mould because of his incessant verbal feuds with the PPP's adversaries, particularly the Sharif Brothers, Salmaan Taseer was equally known for his devastating repartee. At one time the imposition of governor's rule seemed to be imminent.

A man with an overbearing and tough demeanour, Salmaan Taseer was the closest confidant of President Zardari, who spurned demands from diverse quarters to replace the governor with a less combative person.

Pakistanis watched in disbelief as the rhetorical vituperations in Punjab degenerated into dangerous political brinkmanship. The governor and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif remained at daggers drawn. Then there were the verbal salvos Salmaan Taseer and Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah fired at each other. The attacks were a demonstration of what ugly proportions politics can assume on the verbal level.

Because of his unguarded, sweeping and hard-hitting statements, the late governor narrowed the popular support base for the PPP in Punjab. As a result of the governor's aggressive approach, the PPP has remained in a defensive posture in the province. The coalition between the PPP and the PML-N in Punjab has never been harmonious. The late Salmaan Taseer can be held responsible to a large extent for the worsening of the political situation in the province. 

At the same time, his combative, rash conduct made him a hate figure for the religious right, and this culminated in his tragic death. His visit to Aasia Bibi in prison and his press conference in which he heaped scorn on the clergy and criticised the blasphemy law showed how he underestimated the power of the religious outfits in Pakistan. His pronouncements against the blasphemy laws were unwise, because they were an unwarranted challenge to the violent and fanatical clerics in Pakistan. Given the present religious atmosphere in the country these days, even an ordinary person would have sensed that such challenges to entrenched rightist ideas were simply suicidal. They provoked the brutal and unforgiving religious demagogues. While his political opponents were nasty, the religious foes of the governor made a lethal attack on him.

In general, Pakistanis are liberal-minded and relatively casual with regard to the performance of religious rituals, even mandatory obligations. Liquor is legally prohibited for Muslims, but a segment of the Pakistani population drinks. Pakistanis also engage themselves in entertainment and merrymaking, which are equally frowned upon by the over-religious. But these Pakistanis seldom display public defiance regarding their conduct, as Salmaan Taseer did continuously. 

That is why the whole religious lot, despite their mutual deep-seated sectarian disputes and differences, rallied onto one platform and launched a movement against him. There were looming threats to his life, with the religious zealots vowing vengeance for his perceived provocations. But it seems he did not take these grim threats seriously.

Nevertheless, there is another dimension to the whole situation .Salmaan Taseer was a great political stalwart of the PPP and a resolute defender and unswerving warrior for his party, and specifically for President Asif Ali Zardari. But his policies and muscle-flexing postures were making matters worse for his party, and not only in Punjab but in the other provinces too. There was concern within the PPP about the way the governor was running the show in Punjab. So his tragic assassination, although a heart-wrenching event for the party, may lead to the PPP high command appointing as his replacement someone who is more cautious and discreet. 

One pernicious fallout of the blasphemy controversy is that the religious extremism that seemed to be on the wane seems to have resurfaced with new vigour and vitality. In the foreseeable future, no government in Pakistan will be in a position to amend Zia's enacted blasphemy laws, even though they patently lack rationality and need to be brought in conformity with the spirit of Islamic jurisprudence. The professed secularism of the PPP would remain elusive until there is resurgence in civil society. Only this resurgence will put Pakistanis in a position where they can reassert themselves against religious extremists and against their myopic, over-dogmatic conservatism. 

There are countless liberal and forward-looking people in Pakistan. But they lack the courage to come out and counter the obscurantist and reactionary elements. Religious orthodoxy and conservatism will remain dominant until a mass movement takes place in Pakistan to reduce the role of over-dogmatic attitudes in their daily lives and in the affairs of state. 

Unless civil society, human right organisations and the progressive forces are strong enough to put up dogged resistance to the intimidating dictates and provocative antics of the religious zealots, no single person, not even someone as outspoken and daring as Salmaan Taseer, is going to change the stifling atmosphere. 

One can gauge the powerful influence of the clerics in Pakistan's society from the fact that the impoverished people, forgetting their own socio-economic sufferings, zealously take part in processions led by religious leaders and spiritual charlatans.

The writer is a Dallas-based journalist and a former diplomat. Email:qureshisa2003@ 







It has been said that more than any other position of eminence that of prime minister is filled by fluke. We went one better in Pakistan: we filled two positions of eminence by fluke--president and prime minister. And three years later, the "flukes" are still there, albeit by the skin of their teeth. However, elections are not won by fluke. If they are free and fair, performance will determine the outcome and how adroitly the politicians campaign. All of which may be put to the test very shortly as the government is on its last legs, having lost, and barely regained, its majority in parliament, though surely not for long. 

If it is to be returned to office, the government will have to do vastly better in whatever time that is left; and that is what Mr Zardari told the meeting of PPP's Central Executive Committee in Naudero recently. While we have no idea who among the legion of ministers will get the chop, we can perhaps speculate who might. 

Assuming, of course, that Mr Zardari will not be overcome with a rush of good sense to replace himself, the first deserving casualty that comes to mind is Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Mr Gilani's performance in office has come within a hair's breadth of being atrocious. And that's only partially his fault; he was never cut out for the job, in the first place. However, because a strong and capable deputy with an independent political standing within the party is not what a fuehrer like Mr Zardari wants, Mr Gilani was the preferred candidate.

What ails Mr Gilani? It's not the mediocrity of his thinking, or the poverty of his language, or because he has as much charisma as a superannuated clerk of the Statistics Division. It is because, rather than let his actions and good decisions speak for themselves, he spends most of his time trying to reconcile what is true with what is false, in the hope of coming up with something plausible and pleasing, and then failing. Initially, he invited sympathy as he shuffled about dowsing fires lit by his boss, until it became evident that he was starting as many on his own. Nevertheless, all that can be overlooked. 

But what cannot be overlooked are his deplorable choices to fill key posts, his disdain for the established rules, his lack of common sense and a modicum of ethics, when it comes to promotions and postings, and his complete inability to manage or administer the vast edifice of government, or to take timely decisions and, most importantly, implement government policies. The poor impression that he makes on foreign leaders when interacting with them is another. 

In short, Mr Gilani's problem is capacity and, alas, cranium capacity. Put simply, he is unable to cope. His oh-so-contrived amiability with the opposition, the reconciliation that he preaches ad nauseam, even as other colleagues are plunging the dagger into the opposition. These fool no one and do not compensate for his many other deficiencies, even if we discount rumours regarding his financial probity. It is unimaginable, therefore, that Mr Zardari should want to enter the next electoral race with an albatross around his neck, or even put up with Mr Gilani for much longer as the clock winds down. 

Nor will the military be sorry to see Mr Gilani go. Their control of the key ministries and the final say on foreign policy and strategy having being secured, they will support anyone who will deliver. Actually, they would relish being spared the micromanaging they have been forced to undertake due to the incompetence of the regime.

The most fancied successor is the perennial prime-minister-in-waiting, Shah Mahmood Quraishi. In intelligence, savoir faire and in making an impression, he is streaks ahead of Mr Gilani. He is a smooth talker, albeit, too smooth for the liking of many. However, he is unversed in handling the finances of anything but a shrine. Given our dire economic straits, this country needs someone with near-professional economic acumen to manage its affairs. He also has no special flair for administration, but then which politician does? 

However, Shah Mahmood Quraishi has the one failing that Mr Zardari may well find impossible to overlook; he is seen as far too ambitious. And an ambitious man has as many masters as there are people who may be useful in bettering his position. Mr Zardari, like most of our political leaders, prefers slaves who have only one master. Let's, then, just say that Shah Mahmood Quraishi may not be as nice as he looks as a replacement prime minister. 

The other and better candidate, in my view, would have been Salmaan Taseer, but he is no more. A victim of that thought process that is hurtling Pakistan into the abyss of intolerance. In any case, neither stood a chance once Mr Zardari made it clear the other day that he and Mr Gilani would sink or swim together. Besides, having lost his majority and then regained it by some last-minute shabby concessions, Mr Zardari will probably not want to have another fight on his hands as he manoeuvres to oust Mr Gilani. Meanwhile, the country will be denied a government that is half competent, just so that Mr Zardari has his way and can boast that he has, as promised, ensured that the government has completed its term. 

Mr Zardari would be better off to show some courage. We know that he is not risk-averse. Salmaan Taseer's death has generated a mite of sympathy for the PPP which he could consider cashing in on. Of course, it is nothing like that which followed Benazir Bhutto's murder, but frankly he has little else going for him, and time is not on his side. Mr Zardari may lose now, but there is every chance that he will be humiliated later. In any case the writing is on the wall. This government is a lame duck. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel, only more tunnel. Mr Zardari may as well bite the bullet and call for elections. If nothing else, he will be doing the country a favour. 

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







At a time when the country is at war, President Zardari, the supreme commander, spends almost his entire existence in the confines of a bunker-- he seldom leaves it these days. If he is so fearful for his life, he has no right to be the supreme commander.

The non-sovereign rubberstamp parliament is fake like a Potemkin village, with quite a few members of this body holding fake degrees. Pakistan will be Pakistan again as soon as we have swept away this scum, and there will be no Pakistani who will not cry with joy when that happens. Instead of being allowed to masquerade as chosen representatives of the people, its members should all be tried and sent to prison.

We have a disjointed, lopsided, hybrid, artificial, corrupt and dysfunctional political system. We have a weak, ineffective and corrupt prime minister, the epitome of self-satisfied mediocrity who changes his public statements as often as he changes his designer suites. Pakistan is like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen and can't stretch out your hand to prevent them.

While Pakistan's rulers are corrupt, despotic and accountable to none, the opposition languishes in torpid impotence, utterly failing to play the role it should be playing in a parliamentary form of government. "The two parties are like competing stage coaches which occasionally splash each other with mud, but travel by the same road to the same place." It is as if Hazlitt was referring to the PPP and the PML-N.

Otto von Bismarck once said that political genius entailed hearing the hoof-beat of history then rising to catch the galloping horseman by the coattails. Nawaz Sharif has a decisive role to play in the critical days ahead. People expect him to provide leadership. The voice of history beckons him. Why doesn't he respond? For some inexplicable reason, he is hesitant to "seize the moment." Instead, he continues to prevaricate and stays on the fence. 

Will he "seize the hour"? Will he respond to the challenge? On that would depend the coming course of events in Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif's political future. "If the individual and the situation meet," Willy Brandt told Oriana Fallaci, "then the machinery is set off by which history takes one direction instead of another." 

Imran Khan has caught the flavour of the moment. He has a shrewd sense of timing. Zardari's government is wobbling. His administration is paralysed and is lying prostrate in the boulevards of Islamabad. He is losing political capital by the hour. As his fortunes wane, Imran's star glows brighter and brighter.

"Everything seems to be following its normal course," as Goethe once said, "because even in terrible moments in which everything is at stake, people go on living as if nothing were happening." This is true of present-day Pakistan. But the straws in the wind are there. Time will show whether there are enough of them to make a bale of hay. Beneath Pakistan's placid surface the tectonic plates are shifting. We can wake up today--or we can have a rude awakening, and sooner than we think. 

This nation asks for change. And change now. The demand for change reminds me of the fateful "Norway Debate" in the House of Commons in May 1940. Britain was at war, facing the full might of Nazi Germany. In the backdrop of the dismal picture of failure and retreat which confronted the nation, L S Amery, MP, delivered the historic speech which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Chamberlain and elevation of Churchill as prime minister. "I cast prudence to the winds," Amery wrote in his diary, "and ended full out with my Cromwellian injunction to the government… You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go."

The total collapse of state machinery in present-day Pakistan reminds me of the Twilight of the Mughals. "The symptoms of social collapse are progressive declines in standards of conduct, public and private, and the superiority of centrifugal over centripetal forces. When the administrative machinery breaks down, law and order is the first casualty. And when respect for law and authority declines, the devil of force leaps into its place as the only possible substitute and in the struggle that ensues every standard of conduct and decency is progressively discarded. Men begin by being realists and end by being Satanists. Sometimes synthesis takes place from within; sometimes it is imposed from without. If the original breakdown of authority is caused by a ferment of ideas, a genuine revolution like the French may result. If it is simply due to the decrepitude of authority, the solution is the substitution of a fresh authority, but whether that substitute is external or internal depends upon local circumstances." This is a correct description of what is happening in Pakistan today and it is scary.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,www.







The writer is a Dubai-based commentator who has written extensively on Muslim world affairs. 

What a life! From what little one has read and heard about Salmaan Taseer, he lived life king size with an irrepressible, in-your-face contempt for many things that many ordinary Pakistanis hold close to heart. The slain governor of Pakistan's Punjab was both a successful politician and a successful businessman. Taseer certainly knew how to work his way up the slippery pole of power in the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics, having been close to both the powers that be – President Asif Zardari -- and powers that were -- General Pervez Musharraf. A slick operator and maverick to the core, Taseer had developed a taste for "good things of life" and lived dangerously in every sense of the term. 

Did Salman Taseer deserve to be killed, as he has been? That too in the sweet name of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the blessed faith that he brought?

I know we have been here before but how much more infamy and disgrace Muslims will inflict on their faith in the name of protecting it? Every time we target someone in the name of Islam, we add a blot to the long history of tolerance, kindness and generosity of the great faith. And where's all this going to end, if we start settling our political or ideological differences? As Gandhi would warn, an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind. We aren't living in the middle ages for God's sake!

More important, we do ultimate injustice to the Last Messenger, the noblest and kindest of men, who granted amnesty to the worst of his enemies including those who persecuted and tried to assassinate him when the whole of Arabia was at his feet, every time we invoke his blessed name to settle scores with each other. 

I am no religious scholar. But with the limited understanding I have of my faith, I have to ask these so-called defenders of faith: Would the Prophet approve of this murder and mayhem in his name and in the name of religion that is totally based on reason, truth and justice? But whoever said this had anything to do with religion or faith? This is more like the politics of religion, something we in South Asia have evolved into a science. 

From Mahatma Gandhi's assassination at the hands of a Hindu fanatic to the gunning down of premier Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh guards, religion has gone hand in hand with politics. As the BJP realised to its glee, after it was transformed from a two-member party in parliament into a "natural party of governance" after the Ayodhya campaign, it pays to mix politics with religion, or the other way round. 

Across the border in Pakistan, our cousins seem to have turned this to another level with deadly effect and consequences. Even as I am a great believer in Allama Iqbal's philosophy that "juda ho deen siasat se toe rah jaati hai changezi"(divorced from religion, politics is nothing but barbarity), I dare say what's going on in Pakistan right now has got nothing to do with religion, nor with politics. 

Pakistan was supposed to have been the citadel of Islam, a model state based on the celebrated Islamic principles of equality and accountability before God and justice and security for everyone including its minorities, a utopia that would be a source of inspiration and pride for the believers around the world. 

Where does Jinnah's Pakistan find itself today then? As a country that is so much like my own and is home to some of my closest friends, there's always been a special place for the 'land of the pure' in my heart (no matter what our Sanghi and Sena friends think!) 

But would the founding fathers of Pakistan be proud of the state their baby is in today? Is this what Quaid-e-Azam had in mind when he envisioned a model Muslim state? 

Millions gave up everything they had for the "promised land." There were hundreds of thousands of others who could never make it past what Qurratulain Haider called Aag ka Darya (The River of Fire). Were all those immense sacrifices meant for the dangerous, lawless land that some are bent on making of Pakistan? 

It's not just the lunatic fringe represented by the Tahreek-e-Taliban and numerous other outfits that are distorting the teachings of Islam and chipping away at the so-called ideal of Pakistan, almost every politician and party, including those in the 'secular and liberal' Pakistan People's Party, is guilty of using or abusing religion for petty political ends. 

Same goes for the so-called Blasphemy law, a relic of the late president General Ziaul Haq's Martial law era. Of course, no Muslim, including this one, will ever tolerate any slur against the Prophet, peace be upon him. And one has no reason to question General Zia's sincerity and intention in bringing in the law. 

However, the very fact that it has generated so much heat and dust in and outside Pakistan with genuine concerns and complaints about its abuse to settle personal and political scores, calls for revisiting and reviewing the law. While any assault on the Prophet's person or the Holy Book he gifted us will always be intolerable for all believers, more reprehensible is potential victimisation of innocents. 

This is not just about a controversial law or some fanatics taking law into their hands in Pakistan. I hate to say this but the larger issue at the heart of this whole debate is increasing intolerance in Muslim societies around the world. Whatever the real and imagined causes of this growing extremism – Western conspiracies and interventionist policies, historical injustices or corruption and spinelessness of Muslim leaders -- in our midst, it has acquired truly frightening proportions. 

From mindless, suicidal violence targeting innocent Muslims to shameless attacks on religious minorities, the cancer of extremism is eating away into the vitals of Muslim societies everywhere and pristine image of Islam. And it's no longer possible to ignore these extremists as a tiny, lunatic fringe because they have practically hijacked our voices and causes, painting a community of 1.7 believers as a dangerous, intolerant lot. 

Governments, opinion leaders, intellectuals and religious scholars and leaders in particular have to wake up to this scourge of extremism before it's too late. The Muslims have their issues and problems, just like any other people or community, and they are capable of taking care of them without help and intervention from the nuts celebrating death, thank you very much! Extremist violence in the name of religion is no longer an issue of idle, drawing room debate. 

This is a clear and present danger to all of us. Too many innocents have died and too much innocent blood has been shed in our name. This is not us. Blowing up innocent, unsuspecting folks busy in prayers is the ultimate savagery and crime against the faith, against all faiths. We must act and act now to stop this dance of death in the name of God. For He will not forgive us if we remain silent in the face of this outrage. Extremism has emerged as the biggest threat to Islam and Muslims everywhere. And the alternative to collective inaction is collective doom.







In all backward societies, logical arguments are usually met with violent opposition. As happened in the case of Salmaan Taseer, assassinated near Islamabad's Kohsar Market. The rapid crumbling of Pakistan's dysfunctional system can only provide space to extremist groups bent upon imposing their will through threats, incitement and guns. It is time for Pakistani society to decide whether extremist groups and individuals will continue to be allowed to dictate to it or the country will finally readopt civilised norms.

The tragic irony is that the Punjab governor was not the only voice opposing the blasphemy laws as they exist now. Human rights organisations and members of the legal fraternity--even members of parliament, though not many in number--were equally demanding changes in the laws. And in December 2009, a judicial commission submitted proposals for changes in the blasphemy laws on "a war footing." The commission headed by Lahore High Court judge Iqbal Hameedur Rehman was set up in August 2009 to investigate the Gojra incident, in which several Christians were burned alive after a rumour that the Holy Quran had been desecrated. The commission had warned the government that "the Gojra tragedy must be taken seriously and the needful [should] be done on a war footing without further loss of time." But nothing was done. 

The 258-page report proposed amendments to Sections 295, 295-A, 295-B, 295-C, 296, 297, 298, 298-A, 98-B, 298-C in the anti-blasphemy laws of the Pakistan Penal Code, and to relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Police Order of 2002. The tribunal had reached the conclusion that the riots were a result of the "inability of law-enforcement agencies to assess the gravity of the situation" and "inadequate precautionary and preventive measures taken by law-enforcement agencies."

Politicians and analysts appearing on television channels endorsed the commission's opinions and findings. They acknowledged the misuse of the blasphemy laws and demanded that the misuse be stopped. Even some religious scholars on television expressed the same views. 

The right to religious politicians and groups impose their will was granted to them by the state under Gen Ziaul Haq, whose opponents were mostly democratic and liberal, and he received support from religious parties. Therefore, it was during his dictatorship that the right to declare someone "non-Muslim," an "infidel" or a "blasphemer" was all but delegated to the religious parties and groups and their madressahs. Any religious zealot who could attract a crowd was enabled to deliver a fatawa against "infidels" and "blasphemers." Predictably, this gave "religious" groups and conservative non-state institutions the power to control Pakistanis' religious lives.

What the Pakistani state did under Gen Zia was contradictory to Islamic practices of the Muslim monarchs of the past, and in accordance with the policies of theocratic states like those ruling Saudi Arabia and Iran today, where certain institutions have the authority to issue fatwas. 

The Pakistani state must ultimately take measures to ensure that no group can encourage the imposition of its will on Pakistani society in matters of religion. Pakistan already has a system, though it needs a great deal of improvement, of running the affairs of its society, 

including religious affairs. And it is a system in which the religious parties are free to operate, as they do. If the Pakistani society and state do not take this decision now, the only result can be anarchy, where one can expect more Gojras and more Kohsars. 

The writer is a freelancer






What a life! From what little one has read and heard about Salmaan Taseer, he lived life king size with an irrepressible, in-your-face contempt for many things that many ordinary Pakistanis hold close to heart. The slain governor of Pakistan's Punjab was both a successful politician and a successful businessman. Taseer certainly knew how to work his way up the slippery pole of power in the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics, having been close to both the powers that be – President Asif Zardari -- and powers that were -- General Pervez Musharraf. A slick operator and maverick to the core, Taseer had developed a taste for "good things of life" and lived dangerously in every sense of the term. Did Salman Taseer deserve to be killed, as he has been? That too in the sweet name of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the blessed faith that he brought? I know we have been here before but how much more infamy and disgrace Muslims will inflict on their faith in the name of protecting it? Every time we target someone in the name of Islam, we add a blot to the long history of tolerance, kindness and generosity of the great faith. And where's all this going to end, if we start settling our political or ideological differences? As Gandhi would warn, an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind. We aren't living in the middle ages for God's sake! More important, we do ultimate injustice to the Last Messenger, the noblest and kindest of men, who granted amnesty to the worst of his enemies including those who persecuted and tried to assassinate him when the whole of Arabia was at his feet, every time we invoke his blessed name to settle scores with each other. I am no religious scholar. But with the limited understanding I have of my faith, I have to ask these so-called defenders of faith: Would the Prophet approve of this murder and mayhem in his name and in the name of religion that is totally based on reason, truth and justice? But whoever said this had anything to do with religion or faith? This is more like the politics of religion, something we in South Asia have evolved into a science. From Mahatma Gandhi's assassination at the hands of a Hindu fanatic to the gunning down of premier Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh guards, religion has gone hand in hand with politics. As the BJP realised to its glee, after it was transformed from a twomember party in parliament into a "natural party of governance" after the Ayodhya campaign, it pays to mix politics with religion, or the other way round. Across the border in Pakistan, our cousins seem to have turned this to another level with deadly effect and consequences. Even as I am a great believer in Allama Iqbal's philosophy that "juda ho deen siasat se toe rah jaati hai changezi"(divorced from religion, politics is nothing but barbarity), I dare say what's going on in Pakistan right now has got nothing to do with religion, nor with politics. Pakistan was supposed to have been the citadel of Islam, a model state based on the celebrated Islamic principles of equality and accountability before God and justice and security for everyone including its minorities, a utopia that would be a source of inspiration and pride for the believers around the world. Where does Jinnah's Pakistan find itself today then? As a country that is so much like my own and is home to some of my closest friends, there's always been a special place for the 'land of the pure' in my heart (no matter what our Sanghi and Sena friends think!) But would the founding fathers of Pakistan be proud of the state their baby is in today? Is this what Quaid-e- Azam had in mind when he envisioned a model Muslim state? Millions gave up everything they had for the "promised land." There were hundreds of thousands of others who could never make it past what Qurratulain Haider called Aag ka Darya (The River of Fire). Were all those immense sacrifices meant for the dangerous, lawless land that some are bent on making of Pakistan? It's not just the lunatic fringe represented by the Tahreek-e-Taliban and numerous other outfits that are distorting the teachings of Islam and chipping away at the so-called ideal of Pakistan, almost every politician and party, including those in the 'secular and liberal' Pakistan People's Party, is guilty of using or abusing religion for petty political ends. Same goes for the so-called Blasphemy law, a relic of the late president General Ziaul Haq's Martial law era. Of course, no Muslim, including this one, will ever tolerate any slur against the Prophet, peace be upon him. And one has no reason to question General Zia's sincerity and intention in bringing in the law. However, the very fact that it has generated so much heat and dust in and outside Pakistan with genuine concerns and complaints about its abuse to settle personal and political scores, calls for revisiting and reviewing the law. While any assault on the Prophet's person or the Holy Book he gifted us will always be intolerable for all believers, more reprehensible is potential victimisation of innocents. This is not just about a controversial law or some fanatics taking law into their hands in Pakistan. I hate to say this but the larger issue at the heart of this whole debate is increasing intolerance in Muslim societies around the world. Whatever the real and imagined causes of this growing extremism – Western conspiracies and interventionist policies, historical injustices or corruption and spinelessness of Muslim leaders -- in our midst, it has acquired truly frightening proportions. From mindless, suicidal violence targeting innocent Muslims to shameless attacks on religious minorities, the cancer of extremism is eating away into the vitals of Muslim societies everywhere and pristine image of Islam. And it's no longer possible to ignore these extremists as a tiny, lunatic fringe because they have practically hijacked our voices and causes, painting a community of 1.7 believers as a dangerous, intolerant lot. Governments, opinion leaders, intellectuals and religious scholars and leaders in particular have to wake up to this scourge of extremism before it's too late. The Muslims have their issues and problems, just like any other people or community, and they are capable of taking care of them without help and intervention from the nuts celebrating death, thank you very much! Extremist violence in the name of religion is no longer an issue of idle, drawing room debate. This is a clear and present danger to all of us. Too many innocents have died and too much innocent blood has been shed in our name. This is not us. Blowing up innocent, unsuspecting folks busy in prayers is the ultimate savagery and crime against the faith, against all faiths. We must act and act now to stop this dance of death in the name of God. For He will not forgive us if we remain silent in the face of this outrage. Extremism has emerged as the biggest threat to Islam and Muslims everywhere. And the alternative to collective inaction is collective doom. Email









THIS is how the parliamentarians and the elected government are supposed to respond to the aspirations of the people and their agonies and woes. It has aptly been remarked that the National Assembly and People's Government have, for the first time in three years, discharged their basic obligation of true representation of the people by withdrawing the latest increase in the prices of the POL products as per demand of the general public.

The Government and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani genuinely deserve credit for reacting favourably and sympathetically to the issue of hike in prices of POL products that had over-burdened the masses and triggered a fresh wave of inflation. It is appreciable that the Prime Minister, who has emerged as a man of consensus, adopted a mature and sagacious approach and did not make it an issue of prestige or personal ego in recalling the increase and restoring the prices to previous level. He has once again proved that he can go extra mile to save the on-going democratic process, which is the need of the hour. The decision taken at the meeting of the Prime Minister with parliamentary leaders to set up a parliamentary committee to formulate a strategy for adjustment of the prices of oil in accordance with their fluctuation in the international market is also a step in the right direction and hopefully the committee would devise a mechanism that ends the unpredictability created by fortnightly and monthly adjustment in prices that have played havoc not only with consumers but also the economy. It is also true that the country is passing through a worst kind of economic recession and the Government is under tremendous fiscal pressure. With this in view, it is also hoped that the parliamentary committee would also suggest ways and means to shore up revenues so that the Government is able to meet day-to-day expenditure and carry out developmental activities. But this should be done without treading the beaten path of increasing prices of oil and enhancing tariff of electricity and gas every now and then and instead make those pay who have the capacity to pay. It is also worth mentioning that transportation charges and fares as well as prices of other items and services were also revised upward by transporters, manufacturers and service providers and it is now the duty of the Federal as well as Provincial Governments to see to it that the prices are reversed and the relief trickles down to the consumers. We would also urge the parliamentarians and the Government to demonstrate similar positive approach in addressing other crucial issues confronting the nation.








IT is encouraging that the Asian Development Bank has started the due diligence of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam, which is indicative of the fact that international financial institutions are taking interest in this vital project and ultimately its funding would not be a problem. 

According to a report appearing in this newspaper, the ADB is satisfied over the way things are moving with regard to safeguards and it would be ready to provide substantial loan for its construction. It is because of the criminal negligence of the past governments that the country is today facing crippling shortage of both electricity and gas and with the passage of time and changing pattern of climate, the water shortage is also going to make things worse in years to come if we remained complacent on storage front. Regrettably, the present Government too has not proved different as its Minister for Water and Power Raja Parvez Ashraf contemptuously and unilaterally abandoned the vitally important Kalabagh Dam project, which was mature for initiation of construction activities. History would not forgive the present Government for adopting a myopic approach towards an issue that is directly linked to the economic future of the country. Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Attique had recently told a business forum in Lahore that India had active plans to build hundreds of dams on western rivers meant for Pakistan and when completed New Delhi would be in a position to choke every drop of water that flows to keep our agricultural economy running. In this backdrop, there is every reason to focus energy and resources on fast-track implementation of projects like Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline and mega water reservoirs without which the wheel of economy cannot move ahead. Slow progress on Diamer-Bhasha Dam is particularly unfortunate as the project was non-controversial and the authorities should have expedited its construction. Anyhow, they say it is never too late to mend and we hope that the President and the Prime Minister would take personal interest not only in this project but also several others for which China has expressed willingness to provide financial and technical assistance.








PAKISTAN and Afghanistan have developed better understanding on how to move forward the ongoing peace process as a result of indepth parleys of the visiting delegation of High Peace Council of Afghanistan with Pakistani leadership especially Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The delegation, led by Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assured by President Asif Ali Zardari that Pakistan would support the Afghan-led peace process. 

Ever since Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly acknowledged initiation of efforts aimed at national reconciliation and sought support of Pakistan in this regard, our leadership has been consistently assuring the brotherly country that it would extend every possible cooperation in making the process a success for the sake of peace and stability in Afghanistan, which means much to Islamabad. However, Pakistan has been warning that it should be treated as a part of the solution and not as a part of the problem. It was in this backdrop that during his interaction with NATO commanders in Brussels last year, General Kayani had plain-talking on the issue, telling them that there can't be durable peace sans Pakistan's cooperation and involvement. He also urged them to take into account Pakistan's legitimate strategic interests in Afghanistan and discard the tendency of pampering India for greater role in the neighbouring country, where it has been consolidating its hold to destabilize Pakistan. It was because of hectic efforts by Foreign Office and bold engagement of General Kayani with his American and NATO counterparts that there is now a greater understanding of Pakistani concerns and role of the country in Afghan peace process. However, there are still attempts aimed at undermining Pakistan's interest in post-withdrawal phase in Afghanistan and, therefore, persistent efforts should be made to make all stakeholders understand Pakistani perspective as the country has immensely suffered because of the situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan has no hegemonic designs like those of India but it has legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.









Emotions are what drive us, and also what drive us astray. But we must remember that Allah had sent Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as a great blessing for the world with the message of peace and above all the Truth. Therefore while awarding death sentence to a person who committed act of blasphemy, it must be established that he or she was not framed by the vested interest or out of vendetta. If truth is not pursued then it is negation of the Islamic injunctions. One would not know whether Mumtaz Quadri, assassin of Governor Salman Taseer committing this heinous crime, or he did it on somebody else's behest, which will only be revealed after thorough investigation of the case. 

Meanwhile, the assassin has confessed to his interrogators that he committed this crime in reaction to Salman Taseer's statements regarding blasphemous law; yet he had no right to take law in his own hands, and should not be condoned and projected as a hero. For his part, late Salman Taseer also should not have rushed to approach President Asif Ali Zardari to seek clemency for Aasia — a Christian woman - who was awarded death sentence under the blasphemy law by Sessions Court, as she had the right to go into appeal against the verdict to

High Court and Supreme Court.


Having that said, the brutal assassination of Salman Taseer was tragic and grievous, because if there was something against the Governor, clerics and Ulema should have approached the court instead of taking out rallies and creating hype and frenzy. Unfortunately, media men and even courts appear to be scared of the extremists and terrorists. Indeed there is consensus in all sects and fiqahs of Islam that anybody involved in blasphemy be awarded death sentence. But it is also responsibility of the state that the law is not misused by any one. Therefore, instead of discussing the existing law, another law could be passed to ensure that no innocent becomes victim of misuse of the law. Anyhow, blasphemy is a very sensitive and emotional issue, and all and sundry should be careful in expressing their views so that they are not misunderstood or misinterpreted by the fanatics to charge some one for blasphemy. The problem is that Pakistan is an extremist society vis-à-vis extreme opulence and extreme poverty, and emotions rise high on even small issues because of despondency and impoverishment. Another reason for interfaith intolerance is apathy of Americans and Europeans, who never condemned the newspaper that published sacrilegious caricatures and had hurt Muslims' feelings. They do not feel qualm over violations of human rights though they consider them as champions of such rights.

There is a perception that publishing of blasphemous cartoons was an intrigue by enemies of Islam to provoke the Muslims so that they could be painted before the people of the West as extremists, terrorists, or unruly and uncivilized. But the problem is that it has become a regular feature to hurt feelings of Muslims one way or another. In weekly TIME, the reasons of the Muslim anger were described: "Two weeks after the appearance of the cartoons on 30th September, Muslim leaders had organized a peaceful demonstration in Copenhagen, demanding that the paper issue an apology for the drawings. The paper rebuffed the demand. To make the things worse, Prime Minister Rasmussen had refused to meet with the ambassadors of 11 Muslim countries to register their protest". In this backdrop, the Muslim fraternity was genuinely aflame over the dastardly act. But despite the worldwide reaction not much of remorse or repentance was in evidence in the West. On the contrary, they tried to justify on the specious ground of freedom of expression. This plea was downright lewd. Those who talk of freedom of speech should remember that there are other freedoms also including the freedom of religion, and one freedom ie freedom of speech or expression should under no circumstances negate the freedom of religion.

Nevertheless, if the West and the US are so committed to freedom of expression why are they asking Muslim countries to curb freedom of expression in their societies? For example, they want Pakistan to change school curriculum because it tends to promote religious hatred. But can't they ask their media that they should not promote religious hatred by hurting the feelings of followers of other religions, which is a clear hate crime? As it is, the world is already in turmoil because of the reckless policies and flawed decisions of the US and the West. There are flashpoints like Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir where Muslims have been subjected to oppression, repression and foreign occupation. In all these cases, Muslims have been pushed against the wall with the result that the world has become more violent, more radicalized and more dangerous place to live in. On the face of it, the conflict between the followers of different religions looks like interfaith disharmony but in fact it is the conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed, between the occupiers and those who fight for their independence and sovereignty and last but not the least between haves and haves-not countries. The West should stop ruthless exploitation of smaller and weaker countries to make this world a better place to live in.

Last year, Pope Benedict's uncalled for comment on Jihad and Islam had hurt the feelings of Muslims, which triggered protests throughout the world. However, in a statement from the Vatican said: "The Holy Father sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim believers and were interpreted in a way that does not correspond in any way to his intentions". This in fact was not an apology even by any stretch of imagination, as Muslims were blamed for having misunderstood or misinterpreted Pope's statement. Notwithstanding acts of provocation, Pakistan is under obligation to protect life and property of the non-Muslims as per Islamic injunctions and dictates of our Constitution.

Quaid-i-Azam had envisioned Pakistan to be an Islamic welfare state where all citizens irrespective of religion, caste and creed would be equal before the law. All the prophets preached the same religion Islam and formed one brotherhood and society, but their followers divided the religion into various parts and sects. Muslims believe that God is the most Magnanimous and the most Merciful to His creation and His reward and forgiveness are not confined to any particular sect, discipline or denomination but to all and sundry. 


The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.








Indians believe a lot in myth making. They derive pleasure in pretending what they are not. Governed by the yearning desire to be called a big power, they have been making strenuous efforts to fulfill their dream. After achieving a so-called military victory in former East Pakistan in 1971 with the help of former Soviet Union and Mukti Bahini, the Indians started imagining that India had become mini-super power of South Asia. To put a stamp on self-perceived status, it conducted nuclear test in 1974 but got dismayed when it found Pakistan not getting over awed. 

While India never reconciled to Pakistan's existence and vied to re-absorb it within Indian union, Pakistan's defiance and refusal to accept India as a regional policeman further antagonized Indian leaders. Armed freedom struggle by few thousand Kashmiris in occupied Kashmir against 750,000 Indian troops became a cause of degradation and embarrassment for India. 

Once India came close to USA after 1990, it kept on playing upon US-western sensitivities concerning Islamic fundamentalism, cross border terrorism and Islamic bomb so as to keep Pakistan in their bad books. After suffering humiliation in the battle of Kargil in 1999, Indian leaders burnt with impotent rage and yearned to teach Pakistan a lesson. After 9/11 their joys knew no bounds since the new rules framed by USA to tackle terrorism suited them the most. They found the farce of terrorism a perfect stranglehold to entrap Pakistan and macerate it. However, its first attempt to browbeat Pakistan into submission through 2002 military standoff backfired. It had cost Indian exchequer over $2 billion and nearly 800 fatalities without any side firing a single shot. Indian military kept posturing belligerently from January till October 2002 but in the face of equally aggressive response from Pakistan forces, it couldn't pick up courage to cross the border. The thought of nuclear exchange was too scary despite the fact that it enjoyed 5:1 conventional superiority and also had three times more nukes in stock. Ultimately Indian forces had to sheepishly withdraw thereby giving Pakistan, ten times smaller in size and resources moral and psychological ascendancy over India. It was too frustrating for Indian leaders claiming to be strongest military power of South Asia and an economic power house to have been humbled by a peripheral state. The fiasco made Indian military realize that given Pakistan's nuclear capability and will to fight, conventional war was ruled out as a viable option. In all the Indo-Pak wars and offensive military standoffs, 19-20 days taken to mobilize the combat troops from peacetime stations to forward deployment areas had allowed Pakistan sufficient reaction time to assemble and move forward its troops to meet the challenge. Hence another way out had to be found. 

Taking a leaf out of their Guru Kautilya's book, the Indian planners reread his guidelines which had been successfully employed after the inconclusive 1965 Indo-Pak war to subvert former East Pakistan. Indo-US-Israeli think tank got together in late 2002 and scratched their heads how to ensnare Pakistan. A way had to be found out how to floor Pakistan without letting it brandish its nukes in defence. 

It was decided that India will lure Pakistan into a web of friendship, weaken it from within through cultural invasion from the east and covert operations from Afghan soil. Intelligence agencies of USA, Israel, UK, Germany and Afghanistan were to assist RAW. India was to apply the military instrument only after extracting Pakistan's nuclear teeth and making it morally, politically, economically and militarily sufficiently fragile. It was in the context of Pakistan's nuclear capability and Pakistan's nuclear doctrine envisaging first strike option in any future Indo-Pak war whenever its threshold was threatened which perplexed the planners. All agreed to defame and demonize Pakistan's nuclear program through an orchestrated propaganda war and to work out number of contingency plans how to disable or steal the nukes. During the course of heated discussions, some wise guy came up with a bright idea that if Pakistan's nuclear response rested on the basis of its core areas getting threatened or overrun, why not to tailor the offensive in a manner that invading forces remain well away from the core areas and to confine the war to battle of frontiers thereby giving no justification to Pakistan to exercise its nuclear option. Indian military planners marked 8-15 tactical objectives of politico-economic significance strung along the border. To offset the problem of prolonged mobilization time and to retain vital element of surprise, someone suggested pre-positioning brigade size mechanized battle groups backed by dedicated artillery and air support close to the border. 

They brainstormed that Pakistan lacking in strategic depth could ill afford to lose any space and as such would respond with full force to retake the lost objectives. It was perceived that tactical and operational reserves of Pak Army in all likelihood would get consumed and its strategic reserves would get poised towards most threatened penetration. With bulk of Pak Army getting embroiled in battle of frontiers and up to three corps stuck up in war on terror, it would allow Indian Army to launch its main maneuver if required towards deeper objectives. That is how cockeyed Cold Start doctrine was conceived. Work on the new doctrine commenced in real earnest and the first draft was ready in 2004. It envisaged cutting down mobilization period from 19 days to 72 hours by pre-positioning 8-15 self-sufficient battle groups of two armored regiments and one mechanized infantry regiment or vice versa close to the border and each group assigned shallow objectives of tactical importance. By end 2008 it was polished up and was ready for use. Point of nuclear overhang as mentioned by Gen Kapoor figured out since the doctrine envisaged giving control of tactical nuclear weapons to the operational commander in the field so as to be able to clear any opposition putting up stubborn resistance. With the passage of time as the misfortunes of Pakistan's multiplied because of covert war jointly launched by six intelligence agencies from Afghanistan, it pleased India immensely and it animatedly imagined that Pakistan's fragmentation was round the corner. Indian leaders got so euphoric that they began imagining India to be next to USA in the world ranking. Already living in the world of fantasy and strongly believing in myths and notions, they started humming tunes of 'India shining' and 'India an economic powerhouse' and 'Pakistan a failed state'. 

India was well set to put Cold Start doctrine into practice by end 2008/beginning 2009 since in its view the situation had become ripe to strike the internally enfeebled foe. By then, covert war by anti-Pakistan intelligence agencies had done extensive damage. Over 100,000 troops had got embroiled in fighting militants in the northwest and Pak Army's image had sunk low. Mumbai attacks were stage-managed to give an excuse to Indian strike formations to move forward. Forceful response by Pak armed forces, speedy pullout of formations from northwest to eastern border to restore defensive balance, enthusiastic support given by the nation to the forces and above all Pakistani Taliban's announcement that they would fight the aggressors shoulder to shoulder with the Army and that they would send its suicide bombers into India deflated the jingoism of Indian military under Kapoor. Like in 2002, its second standoff also ended in humiliating withdrawal. 

Pakistan Army on the other hand took the threat of limited war in a nuclear scenario dispassionately and prepared a wholesome response to nip the evil in the bud whenever it tried to sprout up. Pakistan armed forces imbued with complete faith in Almighty Allah do not get overawed with India's never ending high handed tactics. They are focused on India and are well poised to take on the Indian challenge. 

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.










Why this hullabaloo over the WikiLeaks disclosures? Why indeed! There is hardly anything in these disclosures that could not have been anticipated. If one of our enterprising fiction writers had been asked to write a piece on what our political top brass would say to a foreign ambassador his work could hardly have been wide of the mark. There is hardly any disclosure that could possibly result in the raising of eyebrows. For years it has been hardly a secret that our political personalities and our top bureaucrats feel at their most loquacious in the august presence of some foreign ambassadors. 

What is more, some of our bureaucrats have not hesitated to request some ambassadors to put in a good word for them to our leadership. Now if some political personalities have taken a leaf out of their book, it should not be cause for shock or even surprise. Discretion has never been our forte as a nation especially when talking to foreign diplomats. This has been proved – if any proof was necessary – by the nonchalant attitude adopted by our crème de la crème when faced with the WikiLeaks disclosures. So far as they are concerned, it is a mark of distinction to have figured in a report of sent by the Ambassador of the United States of America. So why should our media be so perturbed about it? 

Whatever happened to our thick skin developed over years of arduous training? And, then, it isn't as if this is the first occasion that the fig leaf of our credibility has been shed. Has the nation forgotten that once on an earlier occasion too our 'well- respected' diplomatic brigade had been caught with its pants down vis-a-vis the very same super power? A short clarification may be in order. After the Iranian revolution, students had stormed and occupied the United States Embassy in Tehran. It was well known at the time that part of the Embassy had housed the CIA's regional headquarters. The CIA records were dutifully fed to the shredding machines by the officials before the place was run over and they were taken prisoner.

What happened subsequently is fit to be considered a stuff of legend. The Americans just hadn't reckoned with the determination and the legendary patience of the Iranian students. The latter had gathered and saved all the material that came out of the shredder machines. Over the next several months hundreds of volunteers labored and meticulously put together the shreds to recreate the documents. The sensational texts were then published in several volumes. These volumes contained numerous references to Pakistanis in responsible positions – including luminaries of the Foreign Office – having passed on sensitive information to their American contacts. One does not recall any inquiry having been carried out or of any one having been brought to book for these indiscretions.

Why, then, is this fuss being made about the WikiLeaks' disclosures at this point in time? We have developed a penchant for ignoring history and especially for not learning from our mistakes. There is hardly anything in these leaks that is unexpected and/or sensational. In fact, going by past record, no one could have expected anything different from our luminaries. Given our thick-skinned elite, one can hardly expect any red faces to be discernable here. The hullabaloo created by the media notwithstanding, no expressions of regret will be forthcoming. The only people that need to worry, though, are the custodians of the American archives, who have yet to learn to place less faith in their machines. 

The question that presents itself begging for an answer is: why do our bigwigs develop this urge to unburden themselves of their inner thoughts in the presence of foreign diplomats. That and the reason why they expect foreign governments to take their chestnuts out of the fire? Let us not delude ourselves that the US Embassy is the only recipient of our luminaries' outpourings. Other Ambassadors too must surely be picking up similar gems of information from our loquacious notables. In the field of diplomacy, the most difficult art to learn is when to keep one's mouth shut and, when opening it, to ration one's words. This is not as easy as it sounds. A good diplomat is not one who is articulate but one who knows when to keep his mouth shut. From what one has been reading in the press of late, our public figures badly need to cultivate this habit as well. More important than learning what to say is discerning what not to say and when. 

One other thing that must be kept in mind is that what has been leaked is merely the tip of the iceberg. Only the documents marked 'confidential' appear to have fallen to the hacker. Documents classified as 'secret', 'top secret' and 'eyes only' are the ones that contain the real juicy stuff. Who knows how damaging may be the contents of the stuff that has not been leaked? And even American archivists are so naïve as to store such documents in a computer that can so easily be hacked. The moral is to learn from the affair and to take effective steps to ensure that such lapses on the part of our elite are kept to the minimum in future. This should preferably be done before things spin out of control. After all, there is not much point in latching the stable door after the horse has bolted. 








For quite some time now, a weakened, destabilized Islamabad has been longing for a renewed lease of life, free from foreign occupation and drone terrorism. At the same time, political turmoil has, off and on, added extra worries for the people who continue to face high prices of living. However, the political parties that have close links with USA and UK do not think it fit to ask the occupation forces from NATO syndicate to quit their soil. To make Pakistani politics murkier, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP)-led government suffered a severe blow as it has been reduced to a minority by the withdrawal of support by a coalition partner. .

As Pakistan is facing yet another major political crisis after the second largest party in the ruling coalition Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) with 25 lawmakers in the 342-member National Assembly quit the fragile government on 02 Jan and also announced to sit on the Opposition Benches in Parliament House following a failed week-long dialogue with the PPP, now all eyes are on Pakistan's main Opposition Party, the Pakistan Muslim League led by former premier Nawaz Sharif since its support would be needed for any possible parliamentary vote of no-confidence.The decision by MQM to join opposition at the federal level has taken even the political circles by surprise and has brushed aside the wrong perception about MQM that it had the lust of power and had no heart for the masses. The move will deprive the PPP of its majority in parliament as the coalition has lost a further 25 seats in parliament with the loss of the MQM. Following loss of support from PML (N), PML (Q), JUI and MQM, the ruling party will have strength of 158 against 171 seats. The ruling coalition held 181 seats - including the MQM's 25 - in the 342-member parliament. Without MQM's 25 seats, the PPP's coalition numbers 160 seats in the 342-member National Assembly, 12 short of the 172 required for a majority.

The sudden change in the composition of the National Assembly has rendered it vulnerable. It appears, the decision has been taken on economic grounds as the rampant corruption in the public sector organizations as well as law and order situation have added to the plight and sufferings of the poor of this country. The MQM's departure leaves Gilani well below the 172 seats needed to preserve its majority. The government is now scrambling to find new partners, but that without them, new elections are likely. The PPP has only the support of the Awami National Party in the lower house now. Have the deaths Pakistanis at the hand of the occupying US-led NATO state terror syndicate triggered the crisis? May be, may not be! Right at the start of the New Year the government has raised the prices of petrol and kerosene oil which is unbearable for the people who are already under pressure from the already high prices. In such a situation, the MQM considers it unfair with the people of Pakistan to sit in the government. The MQM, which is the dominant political force in the country's financial capital Karachi, has asserted not to be the part of the government in anti-people decisions especially the exorbitant hike in petroleum prices which it called the worst kind of indirect taxes in the country. The decision was taken by the MQM's coordination committee in a meeting held simultaneously in Karachi and London. MQM chief Altaf Hussain has ratified the decision of MQM Coordination Committee and said that only hard-working and people of poor middle class can save the country. MQM chief said revolution has become fate of the country. In a major blow to the ruling coalition, the MQM made the announcement, days after its two cabinet ministers resigned, and abandoning crisis talks with the main ruling Pakistan People's Party.

The MQM meeting lambasted growing corruption and lawlessness in the country and vehemently deplored the steep rise in petroleum prices, saying price hike has struck the masses hard. It said due to poverty poor people in Pakistan are compelled to commit suicide, and sell their children. It was also discussed in meeting that poverty, unemployment and inflation have made life miserable people while increasing petroleum prices is an atrocity to poor people. The meeting said on one hand government is levying taxes without any reason, introducing mini budgets instead imposing taxes on feudal and landlords and on agricultural sector. They demanded of the government to withdraw hike in petroleum products, control inflation and withdraw unjust taxes, eliminate corruption and take steps for the betterment of law and order situation. While describing the recent increase in petroleum prices as a "petrol bomb" on the poor of this country they said that their party also strongly opposed levy of RGST, unbearable increase in electricity tariffs and other back breaking economic decisions for the masses of this country.

An MQM statement said the decision to break with the coalition was taken because of the government's fuel price policies. The MQM Quaid said the country cannot be taken on the path of progress and development without elimination of feudal system. The MQM had pulled its two ministers out of the federal Cabinet, claiming that they were given "impotent" portfolios, just weeks after another alliance partner JUI parted ways with the government. He called upon the people to support his party for the better future of their generations. MQM leaders while announcing the decision said that MQM would not and should not be the party to any action or decision taken by the government against the interest of the people. They claim they believe in serving and protecting the interest of the common man rather than pleasing to the elite, feudal lords and the corrupt that do not pay taxes rather they plundered the public money through a modus operandi of huge loans from banks and got that plenty of money written off by using their influence. They condemn the government's failure to improve security. The MQM Chief said political leadership was concentrating over development of their constituencies only and it has ignored the Southern Punjab urging the people of these areas to wake up against the injustice being done to them. He urged the people of Southern Punjab to continue peaceful efforts for achievement of their basic rights. He said that his party has a revolutionary plan for development of country and uplifting of the living standard of its people therefore countrymen should join and cooperate with the MQM so as to take the country out of prevailing devastating situation. He vowed to spare no efforts to eradicate the social injustices and outdated system and putting on track to the country on the avenue of development and prosperity through peaceful revolution.

The political maneuvering in Islamabad was disrupted by the assassination on Jan 04 of Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province. Taseer was a close confidant of President Zardari and bitter enemy of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). He was shot by a member of his Elite Force police security detail while leaving a market in an affluent Islamabad neighbourhood. The assassin reportedly said that he had murdered Taseer possibly because of the governor's recent denunciations of the country's blasphemy laws, including the threatened execution of an impoverished Christian woman, Asia Bibi.Pakistan Muslim League-N said it will never lend its shoulder to any force hatching a plot to send democracy packing. In Lahore Prime Minister Raza Gilani said Nawaz Sharif would not let derailment of the democratic system to occur. Pakistan Muslim League-N has an important role to play in the parliament He said that PPP and PML-N could not be merged since they had different ideologies and manifestos. Gilani denied that his government was in danger of collapsing and he reiterated it would complete its constitutional term. He said that PML-N Chief Mian Nawaz Sharif had shown political sagacity on all issues of national importance and he wanted to strengthen democracy in the country. Gilani was to meet with Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif last night.

President Asif Ali Zardari had personally led talks with the MQM in a last-ditch effort which failed to bring the Muttahida back into the fold. Interior Minister Rehman Malik - the party's chief mediator - had earlier failed to achieve a breakthrough. PPP sources said Zardari was weighing several options to tide over the crisis. Options available for Zardari are either dissolution of the National Assembly or an alliance with PML (Q). Zardari's aides are trying to win back the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), a small coalition partner, which left the government LAST month over the sacking of one of its ministers and sat with the opposition. MQM has differences with the PPP government over NRO, RGST, corruption and latest hike in petroleum prices. We cannot cohabit anymore. PML-N leaders say they will not support corrupt government and argue against any change in the government through any unconstitutional means. If Pakistan could not be 'turned back' in the next ten years, a revolution will become inevitable in the country and then everyone will have to pay the price. 

Pakistan came into being as a result of untiring efforts of leadership of freedom movement and sacrifices of millions of Muslims but it was matter of grave concern that despite passage of six decades we have not succeeded to achieve the desired goals for which Pakistan was established. Steering the country out of the prevailing gloomy law and order situation and economic scenario we need to end the culture of hereditary politics and provide opportunity to educated and sincere youth who feel heartfelt grief over sufferings of country and its people. As Pakistan is busy with internal chaos and destabilization, people are unaware of all conspiracies being hatched in New Delhi against Islamabad. Blaming Pakistan for every Indian terror operations and trapping the cricketers with ulterior motives to ruin their career, are only a few known examples. Now that USA and UK terror twins have made terror India the counter- terror leader, world has to fear the UNSC rogues. It is high time Islamabad realized the Indo-Russo-US-UK trap. Unless Pakistani leadership collectively make up their mind to ask the occupying NATO terror syndicate to quite their land, it may not be possible for any chance of peace, stability and prosperity. If Pakistan feels shy of doing this for people, the outcome would be the continued sufferings of people. People will not tolerate the tactful, illegal occupation and the genocides by US drone attacks for long.

—The writer is India-based senior journalist.








Just as scholars continue to debate how close we came to nuclear conflict during the Cuban missile crisis, they will continue to debate just how close the American financial system and economy came to all-out collapse in the six months between September of 2008 and April of 2009."? — White House economic counselor Larry Summers, Dec. 13, 2010.

President Obama must take some comfort that the latest economic forecasts are becoming more optimistic about 2011 and beyond. The more upbeat of these (from, say, Richard Berner of Morgan Stanley) have the economy's growth accelerating next year to about 4 per cent from less than 3 per cent and the unemployment rate dropping from the present 9.8 per cent to 8.6 per cent by year-end. Though that is still depressingly high, it would begin to dispel the gloomy notion that the economy is permanently stuck with high joblessness and give Obama grounds for boasting that his policies drove the turnaround. If average Americans agree, Obama's reelection prospects will improve significantly. But public opinion isn't there yet. A few weeks ago, departing White House economist Summers - who is returning to Harvard - made the case for Obama in a valedictory speech. In what he said and what he didn't, Summers mirrored the strengths and weaknesses of administration policies. This suggests a mixed verdict: Obama deserves more credit than his critics concede but less than he claims.

As Summers noted, Obama inherited a desperate situation. The stock market was collapsing; it would lose $3.9 trillion of value, almost a third, from his election to the bottom in March 2009, according to Wilshire Associates. Global trade was spiraling downward; it would fall 12.2 per cent in 2009. At their worst, Summers said, these declines exceeded the initial drops of the 1930s. Companies fired millions of workers. Fear and hysteria abounded.

Obama helped stabilise the economy and psychology. Both what he did and how he did it mattered. He acted with self-assurance and decisiveness. The roughly $800 billion "stimulus" put money in consumers' pockets and certainly saved jobs; it signaled that government would not allow the economy to fall into an abyss. The "stress test" of banks showed that they were stronger than had been thought. If General Motors and Chrysler hadn't been rescued, joblessness would have increased by hundreds of thousands.True, many of Obama's policies started under President George W. Bush. But it's unclear whether John McCain would have done as well. Without Obama's forceful actions, "we would be looking at a vastly different world today," Summers argued. Something akin to depression was conceivable.

The trouble is that Obama, having stabilised the economy, weakened the recovery. What's missing from Summers's valedictory is any sense of contradiction between the administration's ambitious social and regulatory agenda and the business confidence necessary for hiring and investing. Of course, the connections existed. The health-care law raises hiring costs by requiring in 2014 that all firms with more than 50 employees provide health insurance or to be fined. The law brims with complexities and uncertainties that make it hard to estimate the ultimate costs. Will firms with, say, 47 workers eagerly expand beyond 50 if that imposes all the extra costs? It seems doubtful. Choices had to be made. The administration could either concentrate on promoting recovery or devote itself to more narrow and, usually, partisan objectives. It couldn't do both - at least, it couldn't do both effectively. Obama's solution was to pretend the choices didn't exist. The first hints of this occurred in the "stimulus" package, which provided money for some pet projects that provided precious little stimulus. Until last week, for example, only about 20 per cent of the $8 billion committed to high-speed rail had been disbursed. Planning these massive projects takes time.

The same qualities that initially served Obama well (poise, confidence, aggressiveness) became an arrogant disdain for obvious inconsistencies. Neither he nor Summers showed much understanding of, or sympathy for, the practical problems of firms deciding to hire. Obama proclaimed that he was encouraging job creation while pushing measures that discouraged job creation - health-care "reform," action against global warming, restrictions (after the BP blowout) on off-shore drilling, among others. It was not that every proposal was wrong so much as a highly partisan, complicated agenda was bound to sow ill will, create uncertainty and retard recovery. How much is open to question; the direction is not.

Obama has much riding on the economy in 2011. The present modest optimism reflects many factors: the renewal of the Bush tax cuts; pent-up demand for housing and autos; a recovering stock market; debt "deleveraging" by households. Threats loom in Europe's financial problems, higher oil prices and paralysis over America's long-term budget deficits. The outcome may determine whether undecided Americans credit Obama for preventing a depression or blame him for hampering recovery.—The Newsweek



the austRALIAN






GEORGE W. Bush and Gough Whitlam stand as role models to avoid in the treatment of natural disasters.


Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina after it hit New Orleans in 2005 was one of the low points of his tenure in the White House, while Whitlam was slammed over his seemingly slow reaction to the fate of Darwin after it had been ravaged by Cyclone Tracy in 1974.


All of which would have been playing on Anna Bligh's mind as she started the first few days of her holiday after Christmas Day while floodwaters started hitting southwestern Queensland at first, then eastern Queensland.


The floods started becoming disastrous on Monday, December 27, and on Wednesday, December 29, she returned from Sydney to start touring flooded areas. She had New Year's Eve back with the family but other than that she has been a constant presence in flooded areas.


Bligh has convened an emergency cabinet meeting and appointed a military man, Major General Mick Slater, as head of the Recovery Task Force.


This is a lesson learned from the cyclone that hit Innisfail in 2006, when the recovery phase was going quite well but the government was being slammed for not having a figure directing operations.


Consequently they signed up former Australian Defence Force chief Peter Cosgrove, who provided a commanding and reassuring presence and certainly looked like a man in charge.


So Bligh may have ticked all the boxes, and after an initial doubt about how to handle the situation, the opposition is playing it low-key as well.


Liberal National Party leader John-Paul Langbroek and his spokesman made some early criticisms of the government effort but then realised that at times of crisis, the context is different.


Voters want their government to do well, and normal political attacks can be seen as undermining the efforts of the government to help people under duress. So while Langbroek is out and about in the floods, he's doing so in a low-key way.


But Langbroek, and Bligh for that matter, realise that with these floods, it's the longer term that counts.


Look at the tragic bushfires in Victoria in early 2009: at the time, they were seen as a natural disaster, but over time, they finished the careers of several bureaucrats and arguably played a role in the defeat of John Brumby's government in the December election.


Likewise, when the reviews of why these floods came about, they are not likely to be kind to the state government or local councils.


While planning is a local government issue, all plans have to be approved by the state government. Likewise, the dams are under the control of the state government.


And working in a strained environment such as flood recovery, some mistakes are bound to be made.


At the time, people cut a fair bit of slack with these mistakes; after the event, in a completely different context, they take on more sinister overtones.


With an election due by March next year, this year was supposed to be all about good news for Bligh. The strategy was to get the unpopular privatisations out of the way, then spend this year telling people about the ways they'd spent the money from those sales.


The economic effect of the floods will make the delivery of such largesse considerably more difficult. Bligh estimated that the cost of the floods was well over $5 billion and rising. The slowdown in economic activity caused by the floods will also mean that government income will be affected: coal royalties, for example, a cash cow for the government which was predicted to bring in $3.6bn this year, will almost certainly be well under this.


When asked during the week if the cost of the floods meant that the cost-of-living relief of which she'd spoken was likely to be cancelled, Bligh replied that it was "far too early to speculate".


But disasters such as the floods occurring in Queensland can make or break political fortunes. Both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott visited parts of the flooded regions this week.


In the worst affected Queensland city, Rockhampton, Mayor Brad Carter has suggested a government buyback of houses in low-lying areas in the long term to get people out of flood-prone areas.


The city straddles the Fitzroy River -- which has the second-largest catchment in Australia after the Murray-Darling -- and has had five big floods in the past half century.


Carter said this week his council would need to consider a better planning use for flood-prone areas, such as creating sporting fields.


"Can we get some other form of engineering solution that addresses the flooding issues, can we look at creating better drainage systems, [or] building new facilities to a higher level, above flood areas?" he asked.


Local Government Association of Queensland president Paul Bell said the disaster should encourage government at all levels to reassess their emergency funding and local planning guidelines.


"This has impacted on insurability . . . and all levels of government need to prepare for larger flood numbers," he said. "I think in many cases you can get away with one event, but do you get away with two or three events in a three-year period? Whether it's poor planning or climate change, all of a sudden it becomes a complicated world that these communities are trying to rebuild in."


Authorities in eastern Australia, and at Carnarvon in Western Australia, have been faced with spreading floods for more than a month, since early December, though none have caused the damage and heartbreak that is continuing on and near the Queensland central coast.


Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in inland NSW last month as well as inland Queensland after towns were flooded, and some isolated, following torrential rains in river catchments.


The desire to save water after years of drought may have contributed to the scale of flooding. Phil McMurray, director of engineering services at the Gundagai Shire Council in NSW, told this newspaper last month the Burrinjuck and Blowering dams had been kept too close to capacity.


"In hindsight, they should have been letting some water out over the past couple of weeks before the big rains," McMurray said. "Water is such a valuable commodity, they sell it to irrigators, so I guess it's in their interests not to let it out.


"But it would have been in the interests of the downstream communities if they did."


But despite billions of dollars in expected agricultural and mining losses, the sudden inland seas are likely to leave behind healthier rivers.


Richard Norris, the director of Canberra University's Institute for Applied Ecology, said last week much of the water would gravitate towards rivers and low-lying floodplains because subsoils had now reached their maximum levels of water retention.


"When we get floods like this they rejuvenate the river and its ecology," said Norris.


In turn this poses a political problem for the Gillard government due to demands by irrigators to go slow on reform of Murray River water use.


Other staff reporters contributed to this article








In the depths of the global financial crisis, Kevin Rudd claimed we were living in a time of "truly seismic significance" when "unchecked market forces have brought capitalism to the precipice". The state had to regulate the private sector to save it from itself, Mr Rudd wrote. He got the first bit right -- the world economy is changing in a way unimaginable a generation back. But although humanity still suffers from financial folly and fraud, the free market has sprung from the precipice -- and soared. We live in an age where the internet provides a marketplace that is the nearest thing yet to a classical economist's utopia, the perfect market where individuals have perfect information and where there is perfect competition available with a click of a computer mouse. It is a time where new and nimble entrepreneurs can compete with, and beat, enormous organisations that have dominated markets for decades. It is an era where entrepreneurs create new uses for digital devices that their inventors did not envisage. Most important, we live in an epoch when capitalism is doing what Adam Smith understood in the 18th century it one day would: improving the lives of ordinary people by providing them with the power to buy the best products at the most competitive possible prices. One of the enduring criticisms of classical economics is that consumers have never had all the information they needed to make rational decisions -- they do now.


And Australians know it, demonstrated by the derision that has greeted big retailers' complaints that consumers buying online from overseas stores, which charge no GST, is unfair competition. In response, people point to prices that are much higher here than overseas and to poor service in Australian chain stores. Consumers have no sympathy for large retailers demanding the government do them a favour by levying GST on those of us who shop outside Australia from home. It is a response to gladden economists' hearts, showing Australians understand that pushing up the price of imports to help local manufacturers or resellers of everything from clothes to cars is a tax on everybody else. Above all, it demonstrates the power of the purse is now in the hands of ordinary people. For the moment, the retailers are over-estimating the danger of the cyber mall. Just 3 per cent of Australian retail sales are online and only 10 per cent or so of that figure are made overseas. But the ability to access information on products and prices anywhere in the world means retailers' monopoly on sales here is over. Digital distribution of books and music has already transformed both businesses (seen a retail music shop lately?) and seems certain to do the same to cinemas and TV stations -- as well as newspapers.


The internet is knocking on the head any claim big corporations will always crush small competitors. In the internet age, ideas, not capital, are the currency of success and competitors offering new services will emerge, just as social networking did in the past decade. And it does not take a vast marketing budget or sales network to build a global business anymore. The internet has supercharged the flow of information, creating markets and opportunities all over the world. Welcome to the golden age of capitalism, Mr Rudd.









After a year in which 134 people-smuggling boats brought a record 6535 asylum-seekers and 345 crew to Australia, the Gillard government finds itself back at square one, in almost the same position as the Howard government after 44 boats brought 5516 asylum-seekers in 2001. Yesterday's announcement of a new review process and the appointment of two new federal magistrates by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen in response to the High Court's decision granting unsuccessful asylum-seekers the right to judicial appeal underlines the government's predicament. The increased legal caseload will result in asylum-seekers being detained for significantly longer at a time detention facilities are bursting, with 2828 people detained on Christmas Island and 3469 in mainland facilities. It does not help that the first boat for 2011 carried 90 people, part of a trend towards larger vessels. Business as usual is no longer an option for the government.


When the Howard government opened a facility on Christmas Island, the point was to stop asylum-seekers reaching the mainland. It proved a useful deterrent, but over time lost its effect as Labor softened the Howard government's tough stand. Now with detainees free to plead their cases in court there is less reason to maintain a major processing facility there at exorbitant cost, although an interception facility is necessary because that is where the boats arrive. The government should move swiftly to genuine offshore processing, not in the half-way house of excised territory, but in a third country. While little progress has been made establishing a centre in East Timor, the government of Nauru confirmed yesterday that it was "always prepared to assist Australia in this (and any other) matter" but to date there had been no such approach. Nauru is not a signatory to the UNHCR, but the processing of applicants there was conducted by both UNHCR and Australian officials. While adopting a firmer approach to people-smuggling, the government should also increase the number of refugees admitted to Australia through the proper channels to reaffirm the nation's commitment to playing a generous role in assisting some of the world's 10 million displaced people. Dealing with asylum-seekers is a vexed humanitarian issue at the best of times, but in 2010 it was people-smugglers, not the government, who set the agenda. Australia must change tactics.




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