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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

EDITORIAL 12.01.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 12, edition 000727, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































  1. DO IT NOW




  2. DAMMED!


































As the failed United Nation's Mission in Nepal prepares to leave on January 15, its original mandate remains incomplete, having made few advances on key issues such as the election of a new Prime Minister and the integration of Maoist cadre in the national Army. Established in 2007 to monitor the peace deal that ended the Maoist insurgency against the monarchy that has since been abolished, an important mandate of the UN political mission was to monitor the management of arms and the cadre of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army. Four years and seven extensions later, the Maoists still remain hell bent on including all former combatants in the nation's security forces — essentially converting the Nepalese Army into a Maoist military front — while other political parties insist, and rightly so, that the People's Liberation Army be disbanded and its cadre go through a rigorous screening process. On its part, the UNMIN could do precious little to resolve the deadlock. Paralysed by fears that the Maoists would just walk away from the peace process, it was always unwilling to stand up to Maoist bullying. In fact, Ms Karin Landgren, the outgoing chief of the UNMIN, expressed these very concerns when she spoke at the UN Security Council about the possibility of a Maoist military coup after the mission's departure from the country. However, it must be said that irrespective of the hue and cry that has surrounded the UNMIN's departure from the country, the UN mission's effectiveness was never a definitive element in the peace process. The onus has always been on Nepal's political parties, especially the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), to resist from using every stalling tactic in the book and stop political squabbling. The Maoists must put an end to their disruptive and violent agenda that is really geared towards the establishment of a totalitarian state. They had their chance when their leader, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as 'Prachanda', was the Prime Minister, but he chose to engage in unhealthy politics, suppressing all forms of dissent and disagreement and finally creating an unnecessary spat with the Army chief that led to his resignation. Currently, it seems like their plan is to stall the parliamentary process long enough to manufacture popular discontent that will eventually force the masses to consider a single-party dictatorship. This needs to stop.

Instead, the Maoists need to participate productively in the peace process so that Nepal's people may finally enjoy the fruits of a democratic republic. Hopefully, the departure of the UN mission and the consequent absence of a reassuring parent-figure will force the Maoists to finally do more than just pay lip service to the peace process and take some serious steps towards the achievement of peace and stability in the nation. Similarly, other political parties, that have used the ineffective UNMIN as a popular whipping boy in the past, will now have to re-evaluate their positions and make an honest effort to make the peace process a success. Linked to this is the completion of the Constituent Assembly's primary task of producing a Constitution. The tenure of the Constituent Assembly has already been extended for a year and there is little time left for finalising Nepal's republican Constitution. Maoist efforts to scuttle this exercise must cease — or be made to end forcibly.







Ever since he took charge of the Human Resource Development Ministry, Mr Kapil Sibal has shown commendable interest in bringing about much-needed reforms in the education system, be it school education or higher education. His recent proposal to set up Navaratna Universities or an 'Indian Ivy League'aimed at developing human and social capital is another welcome step. However, he has failed to look at the core issues involved. What Mr Sibal should remember is that the Ivy League universities in the US have not become famous because some committee in that country decided that Harvard, Princeton and Yale are excellent. So the Ministry's plan to set up a committee to work out the modalities to decide on the excellence of the proposed Navaratna Universities is worrisome because the basis on which it would decide to give these institutions their exalted status could be flawed and skewed. For any institute to acquire such a status requires decades of hard work, efficient leadership and excellent faculty. The first five IITs did not achieve the status of centres of excellence because a committee called them excellent. They got global recognition because of the quality of education they offered. In fact, Mr Sibal would do well to set up a committee to find out what ails our university system and the reasons why universities languish. The fact of the matter is that most universities today are sausage factories that churn out graduates and post-graduates of dubious intellectual ability. Further, Mr Sibal's declaration that his Ministry intends to nurture these select universities with "generous financial support and freedom to access external funding" would actually mean adopting a step-motherly treatment to other universities.

Having said that, Mr Sibal's idea of giving tax incentives to business houses that will collaborate with universities for research will surely be a big leap forward because corporates will invest big money in setting up quality research and development facilities, which will provide a platform for students to innovate and compete globally. It is extremely unfortunate that a country which gave the world scientists like Satyendra Nath Bose, Jagadish Chandra Bose and CV Raman today has 51 per cent vacancies in research departments of universities. There is no doubt that a lack of conducive environment in our institutions of higher learning is making students shy away from research at home because they get better facilities abroad. That global companies are looking at India for research and development shows we have some of the best brains. Hence, corporate cooperation in university-level research would contribute to excellence, with or without certification by babus.








Alot of people one grew up with, and a lot of people befriended along the way, became members of the 'civil society'. Everyone, after all, evolves in differing directions intellectually. The lure of the lyrical attracts some to seek membership of civil society. Those not motivated by the quixotic remain on the outside of the civil society, denied entry by passes reserved for ideological authenticity. In this manner, civil society membership is a club with a certain exclusivity. Rights of admission are reserved for those in possession of the card. The club card serves as a licence to pronounce opinion on all matters anywhere anytime. But it is opinion always expressed discriminately, subjectively, and with prejudice.

Civil society has been most vocally agitated by the trial court verdict on the sedition case against Binayak Sen. When the court found him guilty of activities that were deemed to be seditious, members of the civil society from Bilaspur to Boston came out to parade their anger and agony. The niche and the famous have devoted much time and energy in expressing their verdict on that of a central Indian court. And consumed yards of news space in print and television with their expressions of dismay at what they have declared to be a case of match-fixing between the lower judiciary and the polity.

It was always a case of 'the court in the BJP-ruled State', forgetting for every moment the remarkable divergence of sentiment between the civil society of India and the sentiment of madhya Bharat. This subjective sense of the civil society was best exemplified when the Central Bureau of Investigation called it quits over its disgraceful handling of the Aarushi murder case. Even before the ink had dried on the Binayak Sen posters, the CBI was wriggling out of the Aarushi case.

The shame that spread across the country was not a shame shared by the civil society: Its silence on the Aarushi murder case was remarkable for its volume and the decibels reached. Because it was not a case that pitted political ideologies against each other, the civil society did not have an opinion about it. Even though a young girl had had her murder case closed by the principal investigating agency of the Union of India on the ground that some people were not cooperating with it.

Talk about the state seceding from itself, which is acceptable to the civil society, but not when one organ of the state passes a verdict on a case revolving around sedition. An un-investigated murder case is kosher, but not a guilty verdict for sedition. There is clearly something amiss somewhere in the sensibilities of those that claim a monopoly over the sentiments of civility.

And this was most apparent in the ghastly assassination of Salman Taseer, the brave Governor of Punjab, in Pakistan. By right, and by practice, members of the civil society can pass strictures and opinions on events anywhere, be it Bosnia, Baghdad or Bir Zeit. But when the Governor of Punjab was felled in Pakistan by Mumtaz Qadri for expressing his opinions, there was none expressed by the Indian civil society. The Pakistani chapter was brave enough to take to the streets in whatever numbers it could muster. Pakistan's civil society at least got its opposition to the killing expressed through print, television and public marches. But the Indian civil society, which has the licence to opinionate on all matters everywhere, expressed its view with a silence that was even louder than what they had reserved for poor slain Aarushi. The pattern is apparent, and it is odious in its insensitivity, and selectivity.

Which then begs the question, why Binayak Sen, and not Salman Taseer, or justice for Aarushi? After all justice is what it is about when the warble is so high over Binayak Sen. The agitation is over a gold-medallist doctor of the poor who got it from the lower court for cohabiting with the Maoists. It doesn't take a long march of imagination to figure out the lines that are to be taken when the case goes into appeal in the High Court. Things are fairly predictable on that score. What is not predictable, however, is the nature of the battle in confronting insurgency and terrorism.

The largest percentage of the subversives operates over the radar. Even as those with their finger on the trigger are a number that can easily be counted, it is the unarmed ones who are more difficult to quantify and identify. It is fairly well known, for example, how many lads and ladies have left which villages to live by the gun, and pull its trigger. What is much more difficult in tackling an insurgency is keeping a tab on those who have joined them on the long march. Marrying the card-carrying with the gun-carrying is the trick, to use counter-insurgency parlance.

For in a curious twist of fortune those that do not carry guns don't in fact make it into the radar cross-sights of the security apparatus. They are, after all, teachers, lawyers, politicians, journalists, businessmen, policemen, and all those others who comprise civil society. And because they remain unarmed they prove difficult to identify as perpetrators of violence.

Violence of the insurgent, the terrorist or the comrade, cannot happen, after all, without the ideological and logistical wherewithal offered by the overground workers. In the words of Chairman Mao, they provide the water that allows the fish to swim. For without them the fish would not have been able to swim — or hunt. Just as the final solution would not have blackened human history had it not been for the twisted ideological intervention of Adolf Hitler.

Hitler may not have pulled the lever on every gas chamber, but he was guiltier than all the prison guards for providing the ideological sanction to commit crimes against humanity. Much like the atmosphere of support and licence that has been created in Pakistan allows a Murtaza Qadri to ride the tide as if he were a 21st century Saladin.

Such crime cannot be tackled without also grappling with those guilty by complicity. Which then makes the Binayak Sen judgement come at a very interesting moment. Even as parts of the state have abdicated their responsibility a trial court in Chhattisgarh has made history by identifying an overground worker guilty by association. This is a first for modern India, and a test for state and society, civil or otherwise. Collusion, after all, we are told from the roof tops, is as much of a crime as the crime itself.

Manvendra Singh, a security affairs expert and public policy analyst, will be writing on this page every fortnight. He can be contacted at:








In keeping with the emphasis on leveraging the knowledge power of the Indian diaspora, a session on science and technology was included in initial two Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. A Task Force was created for promoting cooperation in science and technology between Indian and the diaspora scientists with the secretary in charge of the diaspora as the convener and Mr Sharad Marathe from the US as co-convener. The Task Force had meetings in India and the US and certain areas useful for internal security were identified. The committee's recommendation of promoting interaction among professionals and simplifying procedures to enable them to practice in India was accepted.

The proactive policies of the NDA Government and the enthusiastic response of the diaspora made the process irreversible. In order to enlist the cooperation of the State Governments, it was also decided to hold the third PBD in Mumbai, the financial capital and the centre of the film industry.

The UPA Government, which came to power in 2004, announced the establishment of the Ministry of NRI Affairs. The very nomenclature of the Ministry indicated that it was not a very well-thought-out decision. The name of the Ministry was changed to the Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs after it was realised that 'NRI' would only cover Indian citizens living abroad. The decision obviously caused resentment in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Mr Jagdish Tytler was given independent charge of the Ministry. Though, a dynamic Minister, he faced an image problem because of his alleged involvement in 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. There were plans to organise protests against the Minister by the members of the Sikh community in his very first proposed foreign visit to attend the convention of the American Association of Physicians from India. Sikhs constitute a very important segment of the Indian diaspora. Support of the sections of Sikh communities abroad had been a crucial factor in sustaining the Khalistan separatists' movement in Punjab. Considerable effort had been made to reach out to the Sikh community and assuage their sentiments. Careful thinking had obviously not gone into his appointment.

The UPA Government continued with the policy of holding the PBD on a large-scale and the third PBD was held in Mumbai from January 9 to 11, 2005. Priority was given to the building of business networks. Some measures to liberalise dual citizenship were enhanced in the Prime Minister's address. The event lost some of its charm because the cultural programme was dropped due to the tsunami a few weeks earlier. In his valedictory address, President APJ Abdul Kalam asked for establishment of a foundation for research in science and technology. Several diaspora members promised contributions, however, the proposal was never followed up. In marked departure from the previous practice, there was no participation of anyone from the Opposition in the event.

The fourth PBD was organised in Hyderabad from January 7 to 9, 2006. In a major departure from the practice, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs decided to take complete charge of the organisation. This led to major confusion and the chaotic arrangements and mismanagement caused a lot of dissatisfaction among the participants.

Mr Vayalar Ravi was appointed the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs in January 2006. He revived the practice of organising the PBD in partnership with a trade organisation and chose Confederation of Indian Industry as the partner for organising the fifth PBD in New Delhi from January 7 to 9, 2007. Based on recommendations of the HLC, the UPA Government has announced several measures for strengthening the engagement with the diaspora. Some of the salient steps are:

  Liberalisation of dual citizenship

  Establishment of a diaspora knowledge network

  Improved remittance facilities

  Establishment of a PIO university

  Establishment of Indian Overseas Facilitation Centre in partnership with Confederation of Indian Industry

  Establishment of council for promotion of overseas employment

  Facilitating diaspora philanthropy including establishment of an India development fund

  Facilitating practice by diaspora professionals in various fields in India

  Establishment of an overseas workers resource centre

  Establishment of a global advisory council of people of Indian origin

  Establishment of Indian community welfare fund in 18 countries

The Prime Minister has appreciated the contribution of the diaspora in his addresses at the PBDs. In his speech at the seventh PBD, he recognised the role of the Indian community in facilitating cooperation in the field of civil nuclear technology — "I wish to record our special gratitude to the Indian community in the United States of America for the efforts made by them in mobilising support of the political leadership in that country for India-US cooperation in civilian nuclear energy."

The Government has been very well represented at all the PBDs. The Government has also organised Mini PBDs in New York, Singapore, Brussels and Durban.

In spite of all the lofty announcements, there is growing perception in the diaspora that the UPA does not have similar enthusiasm for engaging the overseas Indian communities as the NDA Government. There are several reasons for prevalence of this view. A large section of overseas Indian communities feel that since the taking over of the Ministry by Mr Ravi, the focus of the Ministry has been Kerala and Gulf centric. Other sections of Indian diaspora have felt neglected. For some years, the Secretary of the Ministry was also from Kerala. The Minister of State for External Affairs dealing with consular matters and Gulf in UPA1 and UPA2 were also from Kerala till the resignation of Mr Shashi Tharoor. Cultivating the diaspora in the Gulf was a part of nurturing the constituency, a common feature among most politicians.

A number of announcements and some of the key recommendations of the HLC have not been translated into reality. The most glaring example is lack of progress in establishment of Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra for which the land was allotted during the NDA regime. The centre was conceptualised as focal point of all major activities and research pertaining to Indian diaspora.

The HLC's recommendation for establishing a good data bank has also not been implemented. Pravasi Bharatiya Samman has from time to time generated some controversy. During the sixth Pravasi Divas at New Delhi, some delegates openly interacted with the media voicing their anger at the manner of selections. Award of Padma Bhushan to Mr Sant Singh Chatwal has also caused unhappiness not only in India but also among overseas Indians. The awards have come to be seen as an exercise in patronage.

The UPA has not projected the national consensus in engaging the diaspora in the conduct of the PBDs. There has been virtually no representation of the Opposition or of critics of the Government at the PBDs since 2005. In fact, in a deliberate snub, the organisers did not extend an invitation to LM Singhvi, Chairman of the HLC to any of the PBDs. There is a feeling of neglect among sections of Gujaratis because they think that the UPA views most of the Gujaratis as supporters of the BJP. The proposal of a PIO university is yet to take off. The progress of establishing knowledge network has been slow and no concrete results have emerged so far. Adequate efforts have not been made to tap the scientific talent of the diaspora. In fact, the session on science and technology has been dropped from the PBDs. The India Foundation has also yet to take off. Overseas Indians Facilitation Centre has also not so far shown any visible and concrete results which have culminated in establishment of ventures by the overseas Indians.

Involvement of MEA in organisation of the PBD is marginal. There has been no joint secretary from MEA in the MOIA for a long time. In the first two PBDs a large number of former Indian Ambassadors were associated to leverage their old association. This practice has now been given up, the PBDs have become a routine exercise and have lost the sheen. There has been decline in number of participants and the quality of cultural programmes. It has become a forum of some announcements by the Government and expression of grievances by the delegates. New regulations tightening issue of visas and travel restrictions have further alienated overseas Indians from developed countries.

Creation of the Ministry of Overseas Indians affairs has not been a sound decision. It has led to a fractured process of decision making on diaspora matters. All political issues remain with the Ministry of External Affairs. The MOIA functions more like a Ministry of Overseas Indian Workers. The officials of MOIA have no direct experience of interaction with overseas Indians and their environment. They have no network of informal friends in the diaspora which they can leverage. Primary responsibility of engaging with the diaspora would always be of Indian Missions. There would always be a qualitative difference between MOIA and MEA's interaction with the missions. There is considerable overlap between the working of consular division of the MEA and MOIA. It is important to take a holistic view of the diaspora policy as it has implications for our foreign policy, national security and development. It impacts our relations with a number of countries. The ideal solution would be to have a department of Overseas Indians and Consular Affairs in the Ministry of External Affairs with an MOS in charge. Officers from other Ministries may be taken on deputation to deal with issues like science and technology and knowledge network, social sector, education, investment promotion and labour etc. The stature of the Minister for External Affairs would facilitate greater coordination as well as a comprehensive view of the diaspora policy. There is need to reassess the organisation of the PBD and to ensure complete fairness in awards to PIOs. The PBDs must reflect national consensus in our approach to the diaspora. It is important to urgently address the issue of restrictions on travel and speedy issue of visa, PIO cards and OCI cards. Special attention is needed to ensure that bonds remain strong with the youth of the diaspora. The current programmes are totally inadequate for the purpose. We must emulate the example of Israel's Masa programme under which a $100 million fund has been created with equal contribution of the diaspora and Israeli Government. The objective is to facilitate six months study or stay in Israel of every Jewish youth. Flexible India study programmes for a semester or three to four weeks are needed in major universities in the States with large diaspora. Some innovative online programmes of India studies are also needed for this purpose

Thanks to the communication revolution and global reach of media overseas Indians are extremely important tool of India's soft power. With 55 billion remittances, they are an important source of foreign exchange. They can make invaluable contribution in making India a knowledge power and a developed nation A developed India with strong voice in international arena enhances the stature and strength of the diaspora. It is in our mutual interest to nurture each other for a better future for both India and overseas Indian communities.

-- The writer is a former Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs. He played a key role in launching the PBD initiative. Concluded.









The four storied apartments in Dongsheng District of Erdos Municipality in Inner Mongolia, China look like any apartment, all 825 of them. They look the same that is until you use the toilet. Detailed instructions nailed to the door tell you how to use them. The urine diverting toilets flush with sawdust instead of water. Urine is collected in tanks tucked away in the basement of the building and used as a fertiliser in a surrounding agricultural field. The solids are composted and reused also as fertiliser. Grey-water coming from the washing machine and bath is treated at a small treatment plant in the development and reused for landscape use. The people who bought the flats did so knowing fully well the systems of sanitation in place and paid the same market rates as the flats which had conventional sanitation systems. This is China's brave new world of waste and wastewater management.


China, and rural China in particular, has been well-known for centuries for reusing human waste as a fertiliser. Legendary tales are told of farmers competing with each other in inviting passers-by to use toilets in their fields so that they could access the fertiliser. There was never any waste only a resource according to the Chinese farmers. This was, however, a small part of the story.

Rural sanitation has been a problem for long. In 1996, only about 20 per cent of households had access to sanitation. The prevalence of open defecation, the use of the traditional pit latrines and in general bad sanitation practices, including the application of untreated human waste for agriculture, had led to the high prevalence of intestinal diseases such as worms in the rural population. A focussed attention first on rural drinking water supply improvement then followed by sanitation access improvement has resulted in about 50 per cent of the populace having access to safe sanitation by 2003.

The technology choice made for sanitation was also interesting. These included five major types of sanitation systems — the triple compartment septic tank type, the double barrel urn type, the methane generation digester type, the eco-san separate urine faeces collector type and finally the conventional sewer type.

While the first and the last are designed exclusively for isolating and treating sewage to safe standards only, the remaining three systems are designed not only for safe treatment but for reuse of nutrients as well as for generation of energy in the case of the methane digester type.

Take the case of the urine diverting dry toilets. The UDDT'S have a pan designed that collects urine and faeces separately. In the case of washers the wash water is also collected separately. The first experiment in Guangxi Province started with the construction of 70 toilets in Dalu village in 1997. This was followed by the construction of 10,000 UDDT's in 1998 and then scaled up to the construction of 6,85,000 toilets in 2003. The construction of the UDDT's has thus been mainstreamed as one of the sanitation alternative while providing the nutrients that farmers need for their fields in a safe and hygienic manner.

The factors for such a rapid and large up-scaling has been the cultural acceptance of the technology, the water scarcity in the villages also makes the UDDT attractive as it needs no water for flushing, the availability of compost and urine as fertilisers, the technological and political commitment to improve and implement such a system.

The methane digester type of toilet, much like our biogas systems, has an innovative component to it. Typically, the toilet of the house is also connected to pig rearing, a poly-house and vegetable cultivation. The Chinese call it the four in one model.

Pig effluent and human effluent go into the methane digester that produces biogas for cooking and for electricity for the house usually not connected to the grid. The digested effluent is used as a fertiliser inside the poly-house used for vegetable cultivation by the rural family. More than a million such units have been established and are running all across China.

Till the 1970s, China meandered along with a set pattern of slow growth till Deng Xiaoping unleashed the economy. The result, decades later, is not only a blistering economic growth but also rapid urbanisation. More than 46.60 per cent of China lived in urban areas in 2009 and the tipping point of 50 per cent is expected to be reached by 2015. More than 300 million Chinese will move in to cities between 2010 and 2025. This will put a tremendous strain on water supplies and waste treatment required to manage the sewage flows adequately.

Chinese rivers are under tremendous stress and are hugely polluted mostly through untreated or undertreated wastewater flows which reach the rivers. A massive commitment has, therefore, been made by the state to provide wastewater treatment plants in all cities by the end of 2010, though recent reports suggest that the target is unlikely to be achieved this year.

China has currently 4,254 sewage treatment plants with a treatment capacity of 226 million cubic metres. Another 1,849 sewage treatment plants with a treatment capacity 46.6 million cubic metres are under construction.

In 2009 China spent $1.17 billion on wastewater treatment facilities and $2.25 billion in just the first half of 2010.

The system of wastewater treatment and reuse is best exemplified by what Beijing does. The city has a population of 22 million. In 2009 it consumed a total of 3.55 billion cubic metres of water though many experts suggest that a sustainable water use is around 2.1 billion cubic metres. Most of the additional water came from the sinking of bore-wells and the exploitation of groundwater which is rapidly sinking.

Almost 93 per cent of Beijing's wastewater is collected and treated in 9 treatment plants. The Beijing authorities expect a 100 per cent collection and also a 100 per cent reuse by the end of 2011, thus supplementing Beijing's non-potable water use requirement. By recycling wastewater and by increasing the tariff of water to control its use Beijing authorities hope to see some sustainability in the city's water needs.

While there are many small sewage treatment plants, the Bailonggang wastewater treatment plant in Shanghai is the world's biggest and treats 3.4 million cubic metres daily. The cause for worry in China is that 61 cities have no sewage treatment plants which are around nine per cent of urban areas.

The lessons for India from a neighbour equally large and with a population which is also large are clear. Invest in sanitation and wastewater, make available treated wastewater for reuse in urban areas and reduce the GDP loss due to bad health and disease which bad sanitation brings.

-- The writer works on sustainable water management and sanitation issues.








Malegaon in Maharashtra, the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan - belatedly but with gathering momentum, evidence is emerging of a network of fundamentalist Hindutva organisations behind them. Swami Aseemanand's December confession providing many of those details may now be disputed by his lawyer as having been made under duress, but it is not the only source of information. The National Investigation Agency has ferreted out a number of operational details related to the Samjhauta Express blast as well. Taken together - and added to information gleaned from the arrests of Lt Col Srikant Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur - we have an emerging picture of a threat serious enough that there can be no political gamesmanship over the issue as we are witnessing now.

The hopeful sign, however, is that if the emerging picture is correct, Malegaon, Mecca Masjid et al have been traced to a small group of extremists, and rolling them up at this point should stop the contagion from spreading. That is what we need to focus on. The BJP should no longer be in denial about saffron terror, but instead purge its ranks of those inclined to follow violent methods in pursuit of religious goals. To some extent the RSS has gone further than the BJP has. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's admission that some members of the Sangh had shown extremist tendencies and were consequently asked to leave is a step away from the Sangh Parivar's policy of absolute denial.

But the continuing political battle over semantics and vote banks misses the point entirely. Terrorism is terrorism; there is nothing to choose between the Islamist variety, greater in scope, and the Hindutva variety, more insidious in its effect on the country's socio-cultural fabric. As there has been a public outcry over laxity in dealing with cross-border terrorism - and subsequent attempts by the government to address the lacunae - so there must be an effort to close down the network of operatives from groups like Abhinav Bharat, Jai Vande Matram and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.

While the BJP continues to be in denial on saffron terror the initial wrong turn taken by investigative agencies, which had started out by blaming Muslim extremist groups for the blasts, is an embarrassment for them as well. A good deal of time has elapsed since the blasts happened, and shoddy investigations risk losing vital evidence while pursuing innocent people. Investigative agencies should speed up their gathering of evidence and prosecution of the guilty, while innocents who were harassed deserve to be compensated.







Half-way through the 40 coldest days of Kashmir's protracted winter, what locals call the 'Chilai Kalan', there are signs of a political thaw that New Delhi would be wise to encourage. Most suggestive is former All Party Hurriyat Conference chairman Abdul Gani Bhat declaring that security forces were not responsible for the deaths of separatist leaders Abdul Ghani Lone and Mirwaiz Maulana Mohammad Farooq. Rather Bhat, followed by Lone's sons, have blamed someone within the separatist movement and in doing so have broken with the norm of holding the army and the Centre responsible for all violence in Kashmir. This outbreak of truth-telling is salutary. It is also indicative of chinks developing within the separatist movement. But there has been a softening of rhetoric even on the part of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who called for jihad in the 1990s and has led the 'Quit Kashmir' movement since June 2010. Geelani still opposes Indian rule - nothing else could be expected - but is now a proponent of 'absolutely peaceful' opposition.

All these are positive signs, which need to be capitalised on. Wasteful shutdowns and violence scarred much of 2010, and there is little point in persisting with such a course. Dialogue without preconditions is the way out. While the Centre has dropped preconditions, separatist factions have quite a few of their own which come in the way of talks. But the Centre, too, must do its bit to prepare the ground for dialogue by normalising, as far as possible, conditions in the Valley. And Pakistan can't be ignored as a factor in Kashmir. Efforts must be made to elicit positive signals from Islamabad.








Just like the Indian Premier League (IPL) games, the auction for IPL IV was part cricket, part commerce and part tamasha. That as many as four players breached the $2 million mark meant that some serious money was thrown around in an auction unique to IPL. But the end result, for all the apparent research that went into it, has left many cricket fans scratching their heads in bemusement.


Some of the million-dollar deals for younger Indian cricketers can be simply explained by the demand-supply mismatch. With only four foreign players allowed in the playing eleven, teams have been willing to shell out huge sums for Indian cricketers who are seen as high-impact players in the Twenty20 format. That explains the megabucks for the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma, Robin Uthappa, Yuvraj Singh and Saurabh Tiwary, some of whom have seen their valuations go up several times over. Whether they will be able to justify their huge salaries only time will tell.

But the most inexplicable buy in the highest-wage bracket is Irfan Pathan whom Delhi Daredevils bought for an astronomical $1.9 million. Not only has Pathan's bowling abilities dipped dramatically over the last couple of years, he has hardly played any cricket at the domestic level for the past few months.

Several other buys defy logic. In their rush to stock up on Indian players, franchisees have paid way too much for players who are either unproven or haven't really shown any sign of being match-winners. Among these are Piyush Chawla, Abhishek Nayar, Munaf Patel, Venugopal Rao, Umesh Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and L Balaji who were snapped up for $500,000 or more.

The apathy towards stars such as Sourav Ganguly, who have retired from active cricket and are seen to come with baggage, is perhaps understandable. But here too the clubs have hardly shown any consistency. Cash-strapped Rajasthan Royals have chosen to retain Shane Warne, who despite his leadership skills is now past his shelf life, at a hefty $1.8 million, and Kings XI Punjab have paid $900,000 for Adam Gilchrist who looked distinctly rusty in the last IPL. Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman, both still playing for India in Tests, can consider themselves lucky to have found teams though at considerably less money than many younger and much less talented cricketers.

The strategy towards foreign players has been puzzling. English and West Indian cricketers were largely ignored because of fears about their unavailability. But despite this, franchisees have paid good money for Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad, considering they won't play the entire tournament, while choosing to ignore a match-winner like Chris Gayle.

Again while a host of proven international players have fallen by the wayside, an untested quantity like Australian Daniel Christian was bought for a hefty $900,000. One of the reasons perhaps for this imbalance is that there are six Australians on the support staffs of the 10 IPL teams which has led to 38 Australians among the 87 overseas players signed up for IPL IV. This ironically at a time when Australian cricket is in its worst shape in years.

Now that the high-profile auction is over, teams will have to fill their roster with the so-called uncapped players - cricketers who haven't donned India colours - who will be paid between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 30 lakh, a pittance compared to those on the auction list. These include several players who have done well in earlier editions of the IPL but have missed out on the auction bonanza. There are justifiable fears that rules might be bent and illegal perks handed out to attract the best among them. Though the BCCI has assured that any infringement would be punished, IPL rules themselves are fuzzy.

While the focus has naturally been on who signed whom, the big question looming before IPL IV is how to maintain its support base and woo new fans. For a tournament in its infancy, nurturing club loyalty will be the biggest test. That is perhaps the reason why one of the two new teams, Pune Warriors, paid big money for a star like Yuvraj Singh and Kochi was desperate to get Sreesanth, a local, but erratic, cricketer. On the flip side, Kolkata Knight Riders took a gamble by choosing to ignore Ganguly. KKR's fans, who are some of the most committed but also the most volatile, have already expressed their displeasure.

Most of the teams also have a completely different line-up from previous editions, which cannot but confuse fans. The best placed in this regard is Chennai Super Kings, which has managed to retain a large chunk of its earlier team, and the Mumbai Indians which held on to a few core players, including Sachin Tendulkar, and built its team around them.

Fan fatigue is often talked about but hasn't been much in evidence in India. This time though the timing of the IPL, which will follow the cricket World Cup in the Indian subcontinent, is not propitious. Even the Indian fan, who seemingly never tires of cricket, might find it difficult to stay glued to the TV screen after nearly 45 days of World Cup matches.

In its brief life, the IPL has had its share of highs and lows. We can only hope that IPL IV will be more about cricket and less about the bells and whistles that detract from the game. Or is that asking for too much?

The writer is a visiting research fellow at ISAS, National University of Singapore.








In New Delhi for a meeting of the Prime Minister's Global Council of Overseas Indians, Kishore Mahbubani , dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School in Singapore, spoke to Deep K Datta-Ray .

How should India negotiate its geopolitical milieu?

This is India's greatest opportunity in 300 years and geopolitics should not get in the way. I'll use an analogy. In 1999, the US bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. It was a mistake, say 80% of Americans i speak to but absolutely every Chinese person says it was premeditated since the only area bombed was the top-secret communications room. The Chinese were furious. Yet, they didn't respond in kind. They swallowed their pride because time is on their side. They will settle all scores, but when they are strong. Similarly, it is in India's interest to bide its time, remain calm, not get distracted by geopolitics and instead focus on your core strengths. India has the advantage even on China because you have a young population. Put aside the border for now, engage China, take advantage of their competencies. Another advantage you have over China is that you have smaller neighbours. China has to deal with equally powerful, if not more powerful neighbours, Russia, Japan, you and of course the United States.

What might help or prevent India from arriving as it were?

Let's compare with China again. They began reforms in 1979 and their third decade was the best in terms of growth. India began reforms in 1991. Now you are beginning your third decade of growth and it looks like growth will be at least 9%. The best is yet to come! A large part of this is in people's attitude. Indians are highly optimistic. It makes for dynamism and a keenness to do more. International investors like to put their money in an optimistic nation. Travelling from New York to New Delhi, is like going from a funeral to a wedding. But i'm always surprised at how Indians see their own glass as half empty, that you are geopolitically disadvantaged, while the rest of the world sees you as full of opportunity. That is why FDI has grown so dramatically. This attitude has to be sustained and nurtured. India's core strength is its economy and the government has to focus on it. There is already so much happening.

What about the contention that India is simply coasting along on the 1991 reforms, that much more reform is required?
Certainly much more must be done. But I'm saying that there is a great deal happening economically. Much more has to be done in terms of infrastructure development because that is what attracts investors. Singapore was able to become the Asian hub for many international companies because we provided the infrastructure. India should also go all out to improve healthcare and education. These are the basics for high growth, to maintain the momentum that so much of the world is envious of.

How can Singapore help India maintain the momentum?

Singapore believes in India and will invest much more. My school believes that the economies that do the best are the ones that can balance the invisible hand of the market with the very visible hand of good governance. That is where Singapore excelled and my school tries to transfer these skills, this approach from the Singaporean experience to Asian civil servants. That is why we give such generous scholarships to civil servants from around the world to come and study in Singapore. And here the best students are Indians and Chinese, if i were to admit the class on merit, it would be divided between Indians and Chinese.





Is so-called saffron, or rightwing Hindu, terror an answer to so-called green, or radical Islamist, terror? No, it isn't. Terror - by whatever name it calls itself, or that others call it - is never an answer to anything: it is an affirmation. It is an affirmation of the only demonic gods that terror, of any stripe, worships: hate and fear.

This cannot be emphasised enough at a time when investigations into several bomb blasts in the country, including the explosion on the Samjhauta Express, have evoked the spectre of a retaliatory 'bomb-for-bomb' 'saffron' terror to counter 'Islamist' terror. The confession made to the authorities by the self-styled 'Swami' Aseemanand about the involvement of terrorist conspirators with RSS links has sparked a war of words between the Sangh Parivar and what calls itself the secular camp, led by the Congress. While the secularists have once again raised a demand for banning the RSS, the organisation's chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has said that those suspected of the bombs were no longer part of the parivar fold, having either left voluntarily or been externed. This in turn has provoked a Congress spokesperson to respond that it was a case not of "rats leaving the sinking ship, but of the ship leaving the rats".

This politicisation of terror, of dividing an indivisible menace into two opposing camps, is exactly what terrorists of all hues want. It has been said before but it needs to be said again, and yet again: terror does not owe allegiance to any faith or religion except to its own perverted and obscene creed which thrives on the massacre of innocents.

The dynamics of terror are based on the twisted logic of obsession. Hatred and fear - the evil twins who always go hand in hand, each reinforcing the other - are both the propagators as well as the spawn of terror. How does the perpetrator of terror ensure its own escalation? By destroying the feared and hated Other, the Enemy? No, because the Other, the Enemy, is necessary for the terrorist himself to exist; without the hated Other, the terrorist has no reason for existence. The survival of the terrorist and his unholy credo dictates a strategy very different from the destruction of the Other. The terrorist doesn't want to destroy the Other, for that would mean self-destructing himself; he wants to turn the Other into a mirror likeness of himself, each locked to the other in an antagonistic embrace of mutual fear and hatred. 'Hindu' terror and 'Islamist' terror aren't mortal enemies; they are incestuous siblings, each feeding of the other's insatiable lust.

The real Enemy, the true Other, of the terrorist is not another terrorist - the two are in fact allies - but the common humanity, the shared cycle of birth and death and the rites of passage in between, that binds us together, regardless of our differences of belief, or caste, or race, or colour. It is this common humanness - humaneness, if you prefer - which is the real target of the terrorist, of whatever kind. For the terrorist, whatever prefixes or suffixes he attaches to himself, the real Other, the Enemy is humanity, the civil society of ordinary people accommodating each other's differences and occasional disputes as they go about the everyday business of living.

The everyday business of the terrorist - saffron or green, or pink, or polka-dotted - is not living but dying, causing the deaths of others and often of himself as well in suicide missions. What happens when a country's way of life becomes a way of death? Today Pakistan - arguably the biggest exporter of terrorism in the world - has shown with tragic inevitability what happens when, left unchecked, terror consumes itself.

Let's not colour-code terror, by saffron or any other shade. Terror is not just colour-blind; its eye-for-an-eye spiral of vengeance makes for a world of sightless darkness.







The beginning of what appears to be a truth and reconciliation process among the ranks of the Kashmiri separatists could also create a new opening for dialogue to arrive at an agreement on how to go forward in the state. Separatist leader Abdul Ghani Bhat's startling admission that many towering leaders like Abdul Ghani Lone and Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq were killed by people within their own ranks shows that a churning process has started within the movement, and that too in the right direction. It is amply clear now that many of the separatist leaders, including Bilal and Sajjad Lone, sons of the slain leader are not willing to be guided by the dictates of hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani or his supporters across the border.


It would be premature to say that something positive could come of all this, given how many false starts we have seen on the Kashmir issue. But there are certain differences this time around. The UPA has pulled out all the stops on resolving the crisis. One step in this direction has been the constitution of a three-member interlocutors' panel to engage with a cross-section of society in the state. So far, people like Mr Geelani had presumed to speak on behalf of all the separatist leaders in rejecting the panel and insisting that nothing short of either azadi or merger with Pakistan was acceptable. The separatist leaders who have now come out with the call for introspection could also be influenced by events in Pakistan. Far from being the promised land for Kashmiris, Pakistan seems unable to shake off the grip of a deadly militancy which has claimed the lives of thousands of its own people, including many of its progressive leaders. Mr Geelani's efforts to disrupt the education system seem to have backfired as also his inability to come up any constructive agenda for the future.


The interlocutors would do well to adopt a more cohesive and positive approach to engaging with the separatists. So far, they have left the door open to any separatist who wants to talk to them. Perhaps, it would be worthwhile being a little more proactive, even if it means eating more humble pie than the three would like. It is vital to ensure that the dissensions in the ranks of the militants do not just descend into accusations and counter-accusations. Even as many of the separatists struggle to come to grips with the violent history of the movement, they should be given a chance to come back to the mainstream on their own terms as far as possible. This is not as difficult as it seems given the determination and innovation shown by the government in recent times.







Italians, as the Catholic concept of the immaculate conception firmed up by medieval and Renaissance Italian popes attest, love metaphysical mysteries. And nothing conjures up the sense of mystery more than Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Just when we were getting used to the fact that the lady in the painting was Lisa del Giocondo, a noblewoman from Florence, we were told that it may be the portrait of Bianca Giovanna Sforze, daughter of a Milanese duke. Then there's the yet-to-be-resolved business of whether the Mona Lisa is really a depiction of Da Vinci himself. Stereoscopic research suggests so. But some scholars argue that Da Vinci, like many artists, saw much of himself in the subjects he painted. This week, we have another Mona Lisa theory thrown at us: the landscape depicted behind the figure of the woman is a real place called Bobbio in northern Italy.


How did Italian art historian Carla Glori come to this conclusion? Well, last year the number 72 was found under an arch in the bridge depicted in the painting's background. This, apparently, refers to a bridge in Bobbio that was almost destroyed by flooding in 1472. Tough one that, but something that didn't stop Dutch researchers, after running the smile through an 'emotion recognition' software in 2005, to state that the Mona Lisa smile depicts 3% happiness, 9% disgust, 6% fear, 2% anger, less than 1% no emotion at all.

Perhaps the only thing that is not a source of anyone's curiosity about Mona Lisa is the gurgling sound from its creator coming from beyond the grave. Our theory is that Da Vinci is rolling with laughter as he sees all these theorywallahs come up with mysteries in his most famous painting and then try and solve them.







Pakistani politician Salman Taseer's assassination has been viewed by many as the death of the dream of a liberal Pakistan. The believing yet secular Muslim, the openly westernised yet rooted Pakistani, the critic of orthodoxy yet the patriot, these values are seen to be increasingly swept away in the avalanche of zealous Islamism and hatred of liberals rampaging through a country where the 'jihadist' is now seen by many as the keeper of the national flame. Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, Taseer's killer was showered with rose petals when he was produced is court, hailed as a 'ghazi' (warrior) by maulanas and as a hero on Facebook.


Tragically, a young religious hardliner's act of murder was painted as heroic for killing an individual perceived to be too anti-religious, too Western-oriented and too elite. There are no Mumtaz Qadris in India yet, but the 'nationalist' rage against 'firangi pseudos' and a militant outrage against those who denigrate 'Indian culture' is a fast spreading epidemic.


Who are the famous 'anti-nationals' today? Arundhati Roy heads the list, with a court ordering an FIR against her for 'anti-India' speeches. Academic Ashis Nandy has had a sedition case filed against him by the Gujarat government despite being one of India's most respected scholars. Sedition cases have also been brought against journalists in other states. Actress Khushboo had a multitude of cases filed against her for denigrating 'Indian culture' simply because she spoke publicly of pre-marital sex.

India's best known artist MF Husain is considered a betrayer of Mother India by 'nationalist' groups. Writer Rohinton Mistry was also called 'anti-national' for having the temerity to write a novel that offended the Shiv Sena. Scholar Amitabh Mattoo's candidate for the post of vice-chancellor of Jammu University was opposed by groups calling themselves 'nationalist' even though Mattoo has been seen as one of India's most talented academics. Binayak Sen has been held guilty of nothing less than rajdroh by the courts and cast as an 'anti-national'even though Chhattisgarh has been his karmabhoomi for decades.


Why is the Indian liberal the target of so much rage?  Part of the reason could be the 'Arundhati Roy effect'. The enormous power and beauty of Roy's writing notwithstanding, she infuriates a section of the urban middle-class, evoking white-knuckled rage like no other. The saying goes: every time Roy writes an essay, a hundred more recruits line up for the 'nationalist' cause.


The anger against Roy has a strong sense of social grievance too. She is repeatedly castigated as someone far too successful and far too beloved of the West. Thus any nuanced argument or public stance contrary to 'nationalist' opinion on Maoism or Kashmir is in danger of being immediately trapped in the 'Arundhati Roy effect' and denounced and stereotyped as unpatriotic. There's a lesson for liberals here perhaps: to build bridges with newer generations and with different social groups, perhaps the liberal needs to urgently speak a more inclusive less alienating language and not overstate the case. To be fair to the nationalist argument, by constantly portraying India as a country of, to quote Roy, "communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor," may delight western readers but is insulting to domestic opinion.


Advancing and sustaining the liberal argument today is more important than ever. An economy growing at over 8 % is creating a hyper-nationalism among the urban middle class which is expressed in social media and through television channels that specialise in raising temperatures along with their TRPs. There are plenty of warning signs that liberal freedoms are under threat from the young and the rigidly hardline.


Youths shouting 'Vande Mataram' actually spat on SAR Geelani, acquitted in the Parliament attack case, at a seminar in Delhi  University. Another seminar on Kashmir was ransacked and violently disrupted simply because the Hurriyat's Mirwaiz Umer Farooq was present, editors have had their homes stoned because they dared to write against building wasteful Shivaji statues, art exhibitions at Baroda University and in Mumbai have been vandalised because of their 'anti-Indian obscenity', theatres staging so called 'anti Hindu' performances have been targets of bomb attacks, novels in university curricula have been publicly burnt,  and on Twitter young right-wing hardliners give vent to rage, even issue death threats, against elitist liberals and the 'pseudo-secular' media who they feel are 'betraying Mother India' by supporting minorities.


In the face of this shrill hyper-nationalism, the liberal may not be in danger as he is in Pakistan, but in India he is certainly on the backfoot. The politicians are not of much help. When Digvijaya Singh of the Congress inveighs against Hindu terror or the RSS infiltration of police and judiciary, his utterances only become part of the war or words between the Congress and the BJP. When Rahul Gandhi speaks of the dangers of communalism, he still does not convince that he can craft a liberal vision for the Congress that is not just a Delhi babalog vision of noblesse oblige to the 'poor' on the one hand and a certain disconnect from India on other, exemplified in the night stays at Dalit homes in the company of then British foreign secretary David Miliband. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is perhaps the only Indian politician today embodying a rooted unassuming liberalism yet Nitish's vision is centred on Bihar and is still not an all India outlook for the future.


The decline of the Indian liberal is a subject on which historian Ramachandra Guha has written with great insight. While Guha sees the Indian liberal squeezed from the doctrinaire approaches of the Left and Right, yet now the liberal faces another enemy too: the youthful, hardline and nationalist, paler versions of Malik Mumtaz Qadri. Salman Taseer was murdered in Pakistan by a young hardliner because Taseer was considered anti-Islam. Will there be a day when an Indian will be faced with mortal danger from a young hardliner because he is considered 'anti-national?'


Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               HINDUSTAN TIMES




This week, Joe Biden will make his most important foreign trip since he became United States vice-president. He will visit Pakistan, a country that is in crisis at every level — military, political, economic and societal. Pakistan has long been troubled, but last week's assassination of Salman Taseer, the country's most courageous liberal politician, has shone a new and harsh light on those troubles. I had always believed that ultimately, Pakistan's governing elite was in charge, its military would not allow the country to crumble, and its nuclear arsenal was safe. After last week, I am not so sure.


The most frightening aspect of Taseer's assassination was that it was carried out by one of his bodyguards. Mumtaz Qadri told his colleagues that he was going to gun down the governor. Not one of them stopped him or informed anyone. The other guards watched as Qadri riddled Taseer's body with more than 20 bullets and then calmly put down his gun. Reports have emerged that Qadri's extremist views were known by his superiors and had been reported to higher authorities, but he remained in his job. 


It was not the first attack to support the conclusion that jihadists are infiltrating Pakistan's military, whose long-standing support for militant Islam has created a Frankenstein's monster. When Pervez Musharraf was president, he survived two assassination attempts by army and air force officers. One of them, Ilyas Kashmiri, a former army commando who has become an al-Qaeda operative, is thought by US intelligence to be as deadly a terrorist leader as Osama bin Laden. In 2007, a Pakistani army officer carried out a suicide bombing against the army's elite Special Services Group.


Just as troubling is that in the wake of the assassination, Pakistan's liberals and moderates have been silent and scared. While mullahs, politicians and even some journalists openly declare that Taseer's murder was justified because of his liberal views, few speak out in support of him. That is the dilemma of Pakistan's society: Islamic extremist parties have never gotten more than a few per cent of the public's votes, yet elites bow to the bigots. Taseer was a charismatic and popular politician. His enemies were unelected thugs. He had the votes, but they had the guns. Ever since the 1970s, when Zia ul-Haq decided that the military gained credibility by allying with Islamic radicals, the country's political institutions have been deeply compromised by extremism.


And there is the challenge for Biden. He must tell Pakistan's rulers that this is their moment of truth. They have to go on the offensive and rid their country of the cancer of religious fanaticism. Biden should make clear that the US supports the democratically elected government, those who urge moderation and peace, and those who are willing to fight terrorism. American influence in Islamabad is considerable and played a constructive role in shoring up support for the civilian government last week.


Pakistan's generals protest that they are fighting terrorists and that the best proof is that they are taking casualties. True. At the highest levels, the military understands that it has to fight Islamic militants. But it continues to try to make distinctions among the terrorists, wavers in its determination and remains obsessed with gaining strategic depth abroad — while its country is going up in flames.


Consider the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership is entirely in the North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani army has refused to attack any groups associated with it, claiming to be stretched thin. In fact, Pakistan's generals still believe that the only way to have influence in Afghanistan is through the Taliban. If Pakistan cannot reverse its downward spiral, the US effort in Afghanistan is doomed. The Taliban could easily withdraw into its Pakistani bases, allow US troops to draw down later this year and then return, rested and rearmed, to renew the battle against the Kabul government. At that point, the US will face the choice of being forced into another 'surge' or continuing the drawdown in the face of a rising Taliban.


Washington Post Writers Group. The views expressed by the author are personal.







A senior IPS officer's son had a dual problem. He was not sufficiently familiar with the hierarchy of the police service and often indifferent to it. The stuff bored him. It was natural for him to have a feeling of discomfort when his father's sidekicks introduced him in social circles as son of the 'No. 2 policeman' in state X. He couldn't fathom why his father got second place as there were so many others who could claim the slot with equal justification.


Disgusted though he was, the absurdity had an impact on him. That's why while reading about Hitler's rise and coming to power, he was curious to know who the Nazi leader's next in command was. After a considerable search he stumbled on the answer: a relatively feeble and unimportant Rudolf Hess, deputy leader of the Nazi Party. Somewhat surprised and disappointed, he again thought of his father.


As he got on in life, the thing about No. 2 became more and more perplexing. His friends were joining jobs, some of them at a newspaper that had started a few years earlier. Number one there was undisputed No. 1, but the second person in the organisation again became difficult to identify. Several names he heard, this time on circuits to which he himself belonged. As he was now closer to the stage of what he had earlier thought was a bit of a comic play, he could not remain impervious to the No. 2 business. He had to drink it in, and even tried to make an academic discourse on who could be what in which circumstances of corporate life. In later years, he found his friends 'getting' No. 2 positions, not with much conviction though. What was thought as 'absurd' seemed in some way very potent.


When the claim to being No. 2 is nothing but a vacuous boast, it is amusing and conducive to small talk. But sometimes this can create governance problems, as often happens in the defence ministry. For example, no one knows who comes next to the minister — the defence secretary or the defence chiefs? It amazes me no end when I hear Pranab Mukherjee was considered No. 2 in the Indira Gandhi years. But today, when he lends shoulder to the PM to keep ranting colleagues at bay, mercifully no one calls him 'second man'.


However, those who equate Sachin Tendulkar worship with patriotism are wiser now. Thirty years ago, Gavaskar fans called the Indian opener "the greatest after Bradman". Sensing the vagueness about being number two, Tendulkar has now been put above the Australian. Period!








Education is a child's right. It is a promise made in the Constitution, and followed up rigorously by ambitious government programmes. Yet, as even the government's flagship programme, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan — whose aim is to address the need of almost 200 million children — shows, demand overshoots supply by a large, worrisome margin and millions of children still remain out of classrooms. It is in this context that an unusual, heartening story of a school in a poor Bihar village, reported by this newspaper on Tuesday, acquires significance — and even points to a way forward.


The Chaitanya Gurukul Public School in the village of Chamanpura does not have teachers or blackboards. Both have been replaced by laptops as teachers from across the state and experts from outside Bihar teach students through Skype. Interaction between a teacher and students in the confines of a room has long been the template of a class; the teacher's physical presence considered essential, inviolable and, often rightly, inspirational. But the Chamanpura example shows that maybe we have to rethink our structures of learning to take quality education to children in far-flung areas; that a low-cost laptop, in the right hands, could play a bigger role than as a means just to bridge the digital divide. It could play the lead role in dispensing education. Poor infrastructure and shortage of teachers have been the bane of education programmes in India. New and interactive tools of communication could be, along with a greater budgetary spend on education and a better allocation of resources, one of the ways to address both these issues. There also has to be a simultaneous shift in pedagogy to equip teachers in their new roles. For, along with the children, teachers too have to be prepared.


Tomorrow's classrooms will be fundamentally different from today's — they will be smart, wireless — but the revolution does not necessarily have to begin in the metros and trickle down to villages.







The ruling United Progressive Alliance has decided to try and develop a roadmap for cleaning up much of the functioning of India's administration. Administrative reform has been a recurrent theme in the Centre's agenda for governance, but so far that has fostered more academic debate than actionable plans. Now, after a slew of scandals that hit the UPA government in the past months, and the political fight-back that began at the Congress's


Burari meet, the government has announced an ambitious frame of reference for an empowered group of ministers: to examine the discretion available to ministries, to find ways of fast-tracking corruption prosecutions, and to make government procurement more transparent and accountable.


The clean-up is, in immediate terms, aimed at retrieving political space for the Congress-led UPA. But amidst a dreadful deadlock in Parliament and piercing scrutiny by the courts, it frames a larger crisis: the eroding credibility of the executive to address perceived wrongdoings in a transparent and accountable manner. Consider the 2G licensing issue. Here is something which is, above all, an executive decision: the formulation and management of policy that ensures the distribution of scarce public resources — the rights to use the telecom spectrum. Yet there is a general belief that there were irregularities in how the decision was made to distribute those resources. The Supreme Court is monitoring the investigation and has been trenchant in posing questions to the government. The Central legislature, meanwhile, is in a paralysing stand-off, with the opposition insisting on a joint parliamentary committee to probe the 2G spectrum allocation and the government firm that it is not required when the Public Accounts Committee will examine the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, as is its remit. The government is further under attack for the manner of appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, with the SC already questioning his oversight of the 2G probe.


The UPA government has already lost one session of Parliament and precious time to its inability to manage the situation. The simple truth is that no government can effectively function when it has a sense of being under siege from the legislature. It is incumbent on the UPA to break this deadlock — by whatever mechanism that enables both government and opposition to move forward. Simply put, each of the three pillars of government relies on and supports the other. For a substantive and durable clean-up, the government needs to recover a working relationship with the opposition in Parliament. And given the stakes, it may have to make the first move.








Neville Maxwell, author of India's China War, resurfaced recently with an article spelling out the ABCs of the Sino-Indian confrontation ('The Night of November 19', IE, December 27, 2010). Once again, he put the blame squarely on Jawaharlal Nehru's "Forward Policy" for the armed clashes in 1962, which led to India's painful humiliation and to Nehru's domestic and international stature being irretrievably eroded.


There is no doubt that there was a serious misreading on the Indian side of Chinese intentions, in particular a failure to relate the events on the border to domestic political developments in China and the larger international situation. Evidence made available recently indicates that Mao, having reoccupied the front line of the leadership after having been weakened by the failure of the Great Leap Forward (1959-61), himself took the key decision, towards the end of August 1962, to launch a full-scale offensive against Indian border forces. The preoccupation of the US and the then-Soviet Union with the Cuban Missile Crisis may have also emboldened the Chinese leadership to target India, taking advantage of this window of opportunity.


A directive sent to the Chinese units on October 6 on behalf of Chairman Mao and the Central Military Commission stated: "If the Indian army attacks, hit back ruthlessly... if they attack, don't just repulse them, hit back ruthlessly so that it hurts." Later, another directive ordered Chinese units to "liquidate the invading Indian army" (Roderick MacFarquhar in The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, 1997). Indian operations carried out till then were mostly in the nature of limited-scale probes and skirmishes with the Chinese border units. The Indian army had neither the troops nor the logistic capabilities to launch full-scale attacks, let alone an invasion. The Chinese were fully aware of this.


This background is important since it is also the judgment of several analysts that if Mao had not reasserted his leadership role at this time, there may not have been the kind of large-scale offensive that eventually took place.


It is clear from the above directives that there was to be no "measured" or "proportionate" response, as claimed by Maxwell, but rather a deliberate and calculated offensive to defeat and decimate Indian military units comprehensively. The objectives went beyond the border issue and included retaliating against India for giving shelter to the Dalai Lama and demolishing India's standing and reputation in the Third World.


Maxwell says that China had no alternative but to "get its retaliation in first" once Nehru had somewhat casually declared his intention to throw out the Chinese from areas claimed by India. It is clear from the phrase itself that the Chinese objective was a pre-emptive offensive rather than a counter-attack in response to any actual Indian operations, and Nehru's ill-advised remarks provided a convenient peg to hang this on. The Indian failure was in continuing to believe that the earlier pattern of limited border skirmishes would continue and that they would not escalate into full-scale armed clashes. This failure should be acknowledged in all honesty and the country should never again have to face a situation of such total disconnect between its diplomatic posture and its military capabilities.


However, the focus on the immediate causes of the 1962 armed clashes should not obscure the larger issue of Sino-Indian boundary. There is also an ABC of the border issue that needs to be kept in plain sight as we struggle to evolve a strategy to manage India-China relations in a rapidly transforming international landscape.


A: India's humiliation in 1962 does not diminish in any way the strength of India's case concerning the India-China border. Nehru's mistakes in handling the border dispute does not in any way negate the massive legal and historical evidence adduced by India in support of its claims. This can be readily accessed in the series of White Papers published by the Government of India on the subject. G.N. Rao's The India-China Border: A Reappraisal also provides an excellent analysis.


B: Chinese claims in the western sector have no historical or legal basis. China's traditional boundary, shown on its own maps, never extended south of the Kuenlun mountains. Aksai Chin never belonged to China. The eastern boundary between Ladakh and Western Tibet had also been fixed by treaty as far back as 1642.


C: There were no significant differences between India and Tibet concerning their traditional boundary and the McMahon Line only formalised what was already well known and recognised by people on both sides of the border. It is China's unilateral and armed occupation of Tibet in 1950, which created, for the first time, a border between India and China. Incidentally, until 1985, the Chinese "package proposal" put forward by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982, would have legitimised the status quo — that is, India to accept Chinese occupation in the western sector, while China would acquiesce to the Indian alignment in the eastern sector, conforming to the McMahon Line, but without the offending label. It is only in 1985 that the Chinese side reinterpreted the "package proposal" to insist that the Indian side would have to make concessions in the east while the Chinese side could reciprocate with some unspecified corresponding concessions in the western sector.


In aiming for a just and reasonable border settlement with China, India will have to take into account current ground realities. A spirit of mutual understanding and some give-and-take on respective territorial claims is unavoidable. However, it is equally necessary for us to exorcise the ghosts of 1962 and dispel the scepticism that appears to have invaded our own perceptions about the strength of our claims on the border.


iThe writer is a former foreign secretary and now acting chairman, RIS, and senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi








Like Sourav Ganguly, his fans too never quite give up. A typical Dada supporter, besides being naturally animated, easily excitable and fiercely faithful, is eternally optimistic. A few years back, when the world wrote off Ganguly, his loyalists stuck by him. They had a hysterical last laugh when their hero made a successful comeback. So much so that they still have a smirk on their faces when Ganguly gets mentioned in cricket debates.


But that expression changed a wee bit the other day when


Ganguly went unsold on the first day of Indian Premier League 4 auction. And as soon as the auctioneer, with perpetually arched eyebrows, struck the hammer and rolled the Ganguly ball to the darkness below the dais, all hell broke loose. A collective shaking of heads questioned the cricketing intellect of the franchise owners.


And logic moved to the back burner as every "sold" or "unsold" new entry on the players' roster was questioned. Meanwhile, the Ganguly gang, not losing hope, were expecting the franchise owner to pick their hero at the leftovers' sale the next day. That was not to be, and rightly so. India's most successful captain can only be the nucleus around which teams can be formed — and not some random electron, added to the outside orbit as a second thought.


Ganguly lobbyists now want to see him as a mentor of some IPL team, preferably Kolkata. That would certainly be a climbdown. Mentors, like Anil Kumble, wear suits on auction day; they frame the skeleton of the squad, and advise owners on when to loosen their purse strings. A feeling of being unsold and "unwanted" wouldn't quite enhance the aura that one needs to be an influential figure in the dressing room.


Like the 38-year-old Ganguly, Brian Lara, 41, didn't excite the owners. The former West Indian skipper's 31 runs from six games during the Indian Cricket League in 2007 meant a stock that had fallen four years back had not quite picked up.


Trendspotters concluded that the snub to Ganguly and Lara meant those on the wrong side of the 30s had no role in IPL 4 — a hurried man's hasty conclusion. Gautam Gambhir, 29, might have got the highest price tag of $2.4 million at the auction; but it can be anybody's guess that Mumbai will pay much more to 38-year-old Sachin Tendulkar to retain him. And considering the multiple role 41-year-old Shane Warne plays for the Rajasthan Royals, it is very likely that he too might top Gambhir. Thirty-nine-year-old Adam Gilchrist might have been sold cheaply at the auction — but he is likely to get a big bonus as he is to lead King's XI Punjab. The same is true for the Sri Lankan veterans Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who too might end up being captains of their IPL sides. And since V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Muthiah Muralitharan will be seen in action during IPL 4, it is a clear indication that age isn't quite an issue with owners.


India's 20-something cricketers getting fat paycheques is perceived as another IPL 4 mystery. But it too has an easy explanation: short supply, high demand. Since the inaugural season, youngsters have always been in demand. The present quantum leap is because of the two new franchises and the $9 million purse they brought with them. So the IPL's most consistent performer Rohit Sharma's tag of $2 million isn't unrealistic, nor is Saurabh Tiwary's contract of $1.6 million unreasonable. Even the big bucks for young pacers Umesh Yadav or Jaydev Unadkat are somewhat justified, considering the chances of these fringe players becoming big stars are high in the coming years.


But still: why was Irfan Pathan, who isn't even playing for Baroda's Ranji side, given $1.9 million by the Delhi Daredevils? Those in the know say that it was a risk worth taking. The all-rounder might be injured and out of form at present, but the IPL has seen several cricketing careers taking U-turns. Both Shane Watson and Ashish Nehra became regulars in the national side after they proved their fitness and form during the IPL. Besides, the franchise can always use Pathan's brand value. Ribbon-cutting, FM appearances and advertisements need famous faces.


Passing judgment on squad selection or calling the deep-pocketed owners at the auction "sharks in suits" have their pitfalls. Just go back to the first season, and the reaction that the Rajasthan Royals and the Deccan Chargers got after the inaugural auction. The Royals were seen as a rag-tag bunch of no-hopers led by a has-been while the Chargers were a dream T20 squad full of big hitters and wily bowlers. The highly unpredictable format saw the critics eat their words. Rajasthan finished at the top; the Chargers took the wooden spoon.


Besides, these are franchise teams and not the national squad. When an owner goes out to shop at an auction, he buys what he likes.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          THE INDIAN EXPRESS





US Vice-President Joe Biden's mission to Pakistan this week, according to the Washington Post, has two objectives. One is to get Rawalpindi to "articulate its long-term regional security objectives" and the other is to call "Kayani's bluff" that the US is not doing enough to help the Pakistan army.


It is indeed amazing that after nearly a decade of occupation in Afghanistan, the US is not aware of Pakistan's regional security objectives — to win a definitive and long-term say in the running of Afghanistan. It is equally astounding that after showering nearly $20 billion worth of economic and military assistance since 2002, Washington thinks it must do more to propitiate the Pakistan army.


One does not have to be a genius to figure out the basic contradiction between the current US quest to stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan's policy of protecting assets that will ensure an enduring future role for it across the Durand Line. The current debate in Washington is about finding the appropriate means to resolve the contradiction. The military leadership, especially the commander of the forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, thinks that with more resources, time and some real cooperation from Pakistan, the situation can be turned around.


The military leaders are deeply frustrated that the loads of US economic and military assistance have not induced the Pakistan army's cooperation. They think the time has come to try the stick against Pakistan. The military wants increased use of drones on a wider range of targets, and expansion of special forces raids against extremist safe havens in Pakistan.


The civilian leaders want none of this. Vice-President Biden has been deeply sceptical of the military's counter-insurgency approach to the war and would like to find an early exit out of Afghanistan. Washington's politicos are afraid of waving a stick, let alone using it against Pakistan.


The civilian leaders fear that military pressure would further destabilise Pakistan. They would prefer a peace deal, brokered by the Pakistan army, that would allow the US to leave Afghanistan with a measure of dignity and a pretence of success.


After ruling out militarily coercing Pakistan into cooperation, Barack Obama has now ordered Biden to tease out more cooperation from Kayani. With only carrots in his quiver, Biden will bargain with Kayani on Afghanistan's future.


Kayani would want the US to accept Pakistan's terms for the process of reintegration and reconciliation in Afghanistan; who the main Pashtun interlocutors of the international community should be; and what the eventual political arrangement in Kabul should look like.


Kayani also apparently wants to reduce the Indian influence in Afghanistan and get India to make concessions on Kashmir. If Kayani's wishlist is long, it is by no means clear that Biden can get what the US wants from the Pakistan army.


The only thing redeeming about the Biden mission is that it might not be the last American diplomatic move on Afghanistan. For Washington is a long way from building an internal consensus on how to move forward or out of Afghanistan.


Nuclear Blackmail


One big advantage of being a crazy state is that every step down the slippery slope turns into leverage. Take, for example, one of the main reasons being cited in Washington on why it should not press the Pakistan army too hard on Afghanistan — the fear of loose nukes.


The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration is concerned that the pursuit of immediate objectives — the disruption and defeat of Al-Qaeda and other extremist organisations — might lead to uncontrollable anarchy in Pakistan and result in nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremist forces.


The murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer last week by one of his security guards has apparently shaken the assumptions in Washington about how secure Pakistan's arsenal is. Kayani should be smiling; for no blackmail is more effective than the nuclear one.




As Taliban and its Pakistani patrons in Pakistan celebrate the US discomfort in Afghanistan, they might also mourn the death of Naseerullah Babar, the man who helped create the Taliban in the mid-1990s.


Babar is a stalwart of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and was minister of the interior in the first government of Benazir Bhutto. When the Pakistan-backed insurgent groups could not gain control of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops at the turn of the 1990s, Babar apparently convinced the Pakistan army to use a new instrument — the Taliban.


That the PPP had a hand in the creation of the Taliban should offer a caution to those who want to view the current situation in Pakistan in terms of a contest between liberals and religious extremists.







The lead editorial in the CPI weekly New Age makes for interesting reading, as it propounds some conspiracy theories about recent political developments. It suspects a behind-the-curtain deal between the Congress and the BJP on the saffron terror issue and talks about a perception that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was behind the "mess" created on corruption.


Claiming that the Congress is trying to checkmate the BJP through selective revelations on the involvement of Sangh activists in bomb blast cases, it points out that "the real question is if the government really has enough proof against Hindutva terrorists, why is it shying away from ordering a comprehensive probe of the entire episode? ...Is there some understanding between Congress and BJP to use it only to score brownie points, and never unearth the real conspiracy as it will ultimately expose the government agencies' involvement itself, and ground the entire theory of Muslims alone being the terrorists? These and many more such episodes hint towards the growing collaboration and sense of friendly fight between the two major bourgeois formations of the country."


Further, it says the Congress is facing trouble not just from allies like the DMK but also from within. It alleges that the Niira Radia tapes were made available by the income tax department and the enforcement directorate selectively leaked them. "Both the departments are under the Union finance ministry headed by the veteran Pranab Mukherjee. The recent order by the tax tribunal in the Bofors case... is also being linked to the FM. Mukherjee is the only senior minister who openly differed with the PM on his offer to appear before the PAC looking into CAG report on 2G spectrum.... Thus, he is being portrayed as the real mind behind all the troubles the Congress is currently facing. To further complicate the matter, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram openly criticised the finance ministry on the issue of price-rise.... This outburst of Chidambaram is seen as a rebuff to Pranab Mukherjee who, according to persons close to 10 Janpath, is solely responsible for the mess created on the issue of corruption," it says.


The NAC betrays the Left


An article in the CPM's People's Democracy criticises the National Advisory Council (NAC) in the context of the proposed food security bill. While noting the NAC's suggestion to raise the wage of NREGS workers, it says "it is not in all instances that the NAC is on the right side. A case to the contrary is legislation that would guarantee the right to food to Indian citizens. ...Having promised to implement that in its effort to win power the UPA is now pulling back. In a process that reflects the pulls and pressures within the policy-making elite, the draft food security bill has been diluted so much that it marks a reversal rather than an advance compared to the status quo."


The article notes that improved management of the food economy requires food initiatives: setting of minimum support prices at levels where the viability of cultivation is ensured and food production made remunerative; ensuring that stocks procured reach all and the subsidy reaches the consumer; universalising access to subsidised foodgrain; and enhancing of public investment in rural infrastructure. "Rather than blazing a new trail [the NAC] has ended up 'recognising' the supply constraints that could hinder implementation of a bill guaranteeing universal access to food through a public distribution system," it says. It decided to set a minimum to the degree and spread of food access that should be provided, a proposal opposed by some of its members.


CPM's Salwa Judum


The CPI(ML) lashed out at the CPM in the context of the killing of seven persons in Lalgarh. The lead editorial in ML Update says the CPM has blood on its hands once again. "Much like the Salwa Judum, the harmad vahinis justify themselves as 'people's resistance' to 'Maoist violence'.... Like the Salwa Judum, the harmad vahinis enjoy the tacit support of the state and ruling party," it says. The harmad vahinis in Lalgarh, it argues, function in close collusion with the joint forces which are conducting Operation Green Hunt. "The West Bengal Government is now attempting to divert attention from CPM's role in the attack by claiming that the massacre in Netai was perpetrated by 'Maoists.' Even this is a leaf taken from the Chhattisgarh book: when the Salwa Judum (now metamorphosed into SPOs — special police officers) massacred villagers at Gompad in Bastar, the Chhattisgarh police attempted to intimidate and pressurise witnesses to blame Maoists for the attack," it says.


It also targets Home Minister P. Chidambaram. It says while he writes letters to Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, "the harmad vahinis are very much part of Green Hunt agenda over which he himself presides and the harmads carry out their intimidatory agenda complementary to the joint forces in the area".


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords this weekend reminded me of another, similar event in 1954, when I was a page in the House of Representatives. While the House was in session, Puerto Rican nationalists burst into the gallery and shot five members of Congress assembled on the floor.


There were few security restrictions around the Capitol at the time; anyone who wanted to watch Congress in action was welcome to walk into the building and take a seat in the House or Senate public galleries. There were no metal detectors or even many Capitol Police officers. In fact, it was a congressman, James Van Zandt of Pennsylvania, who rushed from the House floor and tackled the assailants with the assistance of a gallery spectator.


Americans were shocked at the assault, but only minor security procedures were put in place afterward. Most people assumed the attack was an aberration committed by political extremists and unlikely to be repeated.


My fellow page and best friend Bill Emerson and I carried several of the wounded members off the House floor, and in the years that followed we often talked about what that searing experience had meant. We recognised that the Capitol building itself was a symbol of freedom around the world and was therefore an inviting target. But we concluded that working in the Capitol required the assumption of a certain amount of risk to one's personal safety.


Three decades later we were both members of Congress — he as a Republican from Missouri, I as a Democrat from Pennsylvania — and we continued our debate about balancing members' security with the imperative to remain accessible.


It wasn't idle talk. During the run-up to the first Persian Gulf war, there were threats from Middle Eastern terrorists against Congress, and the sergeant-at-arms tried to persuade Congress to install an iron fence around the Capitol and to encase the House gallery in bulletproof glass. We both strongly objected, and the plan was rejected.


Bill didn't live to see 9/11, but I suspect he would have been as uneasy as I was to see barricades around the Capitol complex and complicated new procedures for visitors, who are no longer free to roam the halls without ID cards. Like most of my colleagues who witnessed the smoke rising from the Pentagon in 2001, I accepted that we had to adopt reasonable restrictions to protect our nation's critical buildings.


Nevertheless, even in this post-9/11 world, the shooting of Giffords was especially shocking, because it was so personal. She was hunted down far from the symbolic halls of power while performing the most fundamental responsibility of her job, listening to her constituents.


As far as we know, her attacker had no grand political point; I doubt we will ever really understand his motives. What the shooting does tell us, however, is that it is impossible to eliminate the risks faced by elected officials when they interact with their constituents.


We all lose an element of freedom when security considerations distance public officials from the people. Therefore, it is incumbent on all Americans to create an atmosphere of civility and respect in which political discourse can flow freely, without fear of violent confrontation.


That is why the House speaker, John Boehner, spoke for everyone who has been in Congress when he said an attack against one of us is an attack against all who serve. It is also an attack against all Americans.


More than 50 years ago, my friend Bill Emerson and I witnessed an unspeakably violent expression of a political message on the floor of the House, and we learned how easily political differences can degenerate into violence. At the same time, regardless of the political climate, there can never be freedom without risk.


Despite numerous threats, Giffords took that risk and welcomed her constituents at a grocery store in Tucson. She recognised, as we did, that accepting the risk of violence was part of the price of freedom.




The writer served in the US House of Representatives from 1985 to 2011








This is going to be an important year for defence modernisation with some of the most high-profile defence purchases in the world expected to reach closure in India. But it is also vital that the government views this as a beginning of a strategic transformation from a country which only buys to one which buys, produces and sells — beyond its own borders, if need be. The challenge is to make this strategic goal an economically sensible exercise in a sector that has been largely untouched by reforms.


Several steps have been talked about. The planned big-ticket purchases have already sparked off a debate on the offsets policy which requires the victorious bidder to invest 30 per cent within India. The latest tweak in policy is that the investment does not have to be in the defence sector alone — internal security and aviation have been added to the list.


Another welcome step is the likely decision to do away with the much abused system of nomination for purposes of procurement. Until now, many major orders could only be made to defence PSUs in the name of strengthening indigenous capability. This required nominating a particular PSU, which in turn could make the purchase from a private or even a foreign vendor. So, rules allowed the private-player entry only in the second tier.


The new defence production policy will ensure open tendering, paving the way for private sector companies to compete on an equal footing with PSUs. For example, recently, a demand for 1,600 six-wheeled Tatra vehicles was raised within the army, but this time its top brass refused to simply place the order through Bharat Earth Movers Ltd, a defence PSU. The reason was that the cost turned out close to Rs 1 crore per vehicle while some officials felt that an open bid with Indian private players in the picture could make the cost more competitive and bring fresh products on the table. This view was upheld.


Linked to this and the offsets question is the third key issue of FDI in defence, which the department of industrial policy and promotion has suggested increasing from 26 to 49 per cent. The defence ministry has expressed its concerns, saying such an increase must be assured with the transfer of high-end technology, else it opens up the possibility of exercising control by way of manipulating the controlling stakes.


The government may face more hard decisions on this front, it is essential to understand the strategic reasoning behind re-energising this sector. The security situation in India's neighbourhood has never been comforting. In the past decade or so, the most significant shift has been the much spoken-about China factor. To its credit Beijing has ensured it has become a major factor in the decision-making matrix of those running governments in Colombo, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Yangon — and for that matter even in the Maldives. It is no secret that these countries often try to leverage the China card in their dealings with India. Coupled with that is the unencumbered progress in the Sino-Pak strategic relationship, which has deepened and broadened in exactly the way Beijing had imagined it.


China's basic strategy has been relatively simple: invest in the militaries of South Asia. It is not by sheer coincidence that the three biggest armies in the region — Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — purchase most of their necessary equipment and ammunition from China. More than just affordability, it ensures supplier reliability during times of crisis. So, even though the Pakistan armed forces have access to Western equipment now, its top brass ensures that the supply and production chain with China is kept well nurtured.


But unlike Pakistan, which identifies India as its principal adversary, other smaller countries have hardly been presented an option. To put it simply, India's lack of military-industrial prowess has allowed China to successfully deploy conventional arms proliferation as a strategy in South Asia. Needless to say, that gives Beijing several levers in India's natural area of strategic predominance.


Homogeneity of equipment increases fears of interoperability in Indian defence circles, spiralling the threat calculus out of control. But there's no doubt that India today needs to build its military capabilities to cater for simultaneous confrontation on two fronts. Alarming as it may sound, this holds the key to strategic preparedness. And this requires two clear-cut decisions — increase defence expenditure for state-of-the-art equipment at a time when everyone is willing to sell to India and second, lay the foundation of a strong defence production capability in India that can service countries within and beyond South Asia.


The first objective cannot be achieved with defence accounting for just 2.12 per cent of the budget (as of 2010-11). Given the kind of modernisation required for its own basic preparedness, the government must consider an upward revision to, at least, close to 3 per cent. Here, political will would be tested in the weeks before the annual Union Budget.


As for the second objective, there can be no debate that India's vibrant private sector holds the key to reviving defence production. The point is to work out effective business models that turn India into a hub for production of high-end defence equipment. For this purpose, FDI caps cannot become a hurdle and, therefore, taking into account all concerns, there is merit in at least exploring a case-by-case clearance for projects with 49 per cent. If there is a certain amount of inhibition, the case-by-case approach could be a good starting point — and, perhaps, a way to generate confidence.


Either way, the fact is that inaction is detrimental to national security. Liberalisation of the defence sector is vital to promoting indigenous capabilities of production and this not only makes economic sense, but is today a strategic imperative.








From pure cultural and brand points of view, iGate and Patni are like chalk and cheese, but their amalgamation will create a large corporation that can surely rupture the comfort zone of the biggies like TCS, Infosys and Wipro, till now challenged somewhat only by Cognizant. iGate is a high-growth firm driven by the ambition to upset the applecart of the leaders in the IT services space. Patni, on the other hand, could never blossom into a world-beater though, ironically, Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy worked there during his initial days. The USP of the deal lies in the fact that the two firms have little or no overlap, with regard to their operational verticals. Two-thirds of Patni's revenues come from the insurance, manufacturing and retail verticals. iGate always did justice to the banking and financial services segment—BFSI constitutes 10% of Patni's revenues but is around 40% for most top-tier firms. It is the low BFSI share in Patni's books that ensured it didn't really benefit when the segment started looking up in the US.


The biggest concern now will be how the two different cultures can work together to create some degree of harmony. Surely, Patni will add over 16,000 employees to give iGate a sense of scale but can they show the required cultural synergy? The two companies had separate conference calls on Monday to announce the deal, and analysts and the media certainly noticed the distance between the top brass at the firms. The operations of Patni are three times bigger and iGate for the first time will have to deal with integration of that size.


Phaneesh Murthy will now find himself in a new world, a bit chained by the debt brought in by the buyout. Tighter finances can sometimes force the CEO to go into a shell. Murthy was never known to be a slow mover but debt can force you to think in different and sometimes undesirable ways. Hopefully, he can sustain his spirit of innovation and march ahead, and not get bogged down by his newly re-arranged finances. If not for anything else, he has to be lauded for his risk-taking ability. Infosys, are you listening?







Despite telecom minister Kapil Sibal's brave attempt to argue that the government never lost even a single paisa in his predecessor A Raja's famed 2G scam (as compared to the CAG's Rs 1.76 lakh crore estimate), the UPA is taking no chances. The 8-member Group of Ministers formed last week has an impressive plan to scam-proof the government. This includes a transparent public procurement policy (presumably this means the auctions Sibal rejected for telecom), fast-tracking of investigations and prosecution of civil servants accused of corruption, curbs on the discretionary powers of ministers (Sonia Gandhi has asked Congress chief ministers to give up their discretionary land-allocation powers), taking a view on state funding of elections (the high cost of funding elections is trotted out as the standard justification of corruption), among others.


It's difficult to say whether this will work but National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy had an interesting take on the subject at a seminar in the capital last week. When asked if linking payments under various social sector schemes to the unique ID card would help cut corruption, she said it would raise transparency. As for whether it would cut out corruption, well that depended upon the government's political will. The A Raja case bears this out. Even if you assume Sibal is right in saying the CAG's estimate is completely wrong, the other aspects of the Raja scam were known way back in January 2008, or three years ago. This is when Raja changed the rules of the game to decide who would be first in the queue to get licences/spectrum, this is when Raja and his band of trusted bureaucrats allowed firms that never even met the required criteria to get licences. Yet, nothing happened till the CAG report came out; the CBI investigation that started after huge media outrage did not make any headway till a public interest petition was filed in the Supreme Court and the Court lost its cool. Till then, neither Raja nor ministry officials had been interrogated. The fate of various prosecutions of politicians like Lalu Prasad and Mayawati are well known, as are the various twists and turns in these cases, mirroring their promise of support to the ruling coalition or the threat to withdraw it. If the proof of the pudding lies in its eating, the proof of the government's sincerity lies in seeing some top politicians and bureaucrats getting convicted.








Telecom minister Kapil Sibal was smart enough not to question the CAG's locus standi in examining 'policy decisions' by the government issuing licences at 2001 prices in January 2008 instead of auctioning them, but enough senior Congressmen and government officials are now asking this question. Some, in the Prime Minister's setup, go so far as to ask, "Who elected the CAG? Policies are made by the government and cleared by Parliament, who is the CAG?"


To understand what this means, let's take a simple example. Let's say Sheila Dikshit, under some power, decides to allot a piece of land to me at Rs 1 crore while the market value of that land is Rs 10 crore. Now, let's say I pay only Rs 1 lakh and no one in Dikshit's setup ensures I pay the rest, nor do they cancel my allotment. Does the CAG have the right to point out to a Rs 9.99 crore loss to the exchequer or can it only point to a Rs 0.99 crore loss? The CAG thinks its rights extend to the former while sections of the government are veering around to the view it can examine only the latter. Veering around, perhaps, is an incorrect way of describing this, since it is precisely what telecom secretary R Chandrasekhar told the CAG several months ago—you can't examine 'policy decisions', he said—and this was done after the law ministry had approved it. (By the way, this 'government policy' argument is what BJP chief Nitin Gadkari made to give a clean chit to Karnataka chief minister Yeddyurappa and the same Congressmen scoffed at him!)


Whether the CAG has the power to investigate what are called 'policy decisions' is back in the limelight since Subramanian Swamy has asked the Supreme Court to hold Sibal guilty of contempt. Since the matter of the losses is before the Supreme Court and is being examined by CBI, Swamy says Sibal is overstepping his brief. The Court has, in a sense, already taken a view on the CAG's powers since, on December 16, 2010, it directed the CBI to take into account the CAG report and the losses the CAG has estimated. This was because CBI had put the loss at around Rs 22,000 crore as compared to the CAG's estimates which were several times higher.


Given that the government is increasingly going to be handing out assets to the private sector—coal mines, oil and gas fields, you name it—the question is going to keep coming up, so it is important to know the Prime Minister's view on this, and perhaps Parliament's as well. After all, if a coal mine has been given to a firm at a fraction of its price, who is to hold the government responsible for this? Theoretically, CBI can investigate this, but CBI reports to the same government and its track record has made it clear it does only what the government wants.


While Parliament and, perhaps, the courts debate the issue of the CAG's jurisdiction, what we need to see is whether Raja's issuing of licences in January 2008 was a matter of policy or an executive decision that can be challenged in any court of law. Prima facie, it would appear what Raja did was not policy since the various affidavits filed by the telecom ministry on the matter say he was merely implementing Trai's recommendations; the then Trai chief Nripendra Misra says he wasn't implementing the recommendations faithfully, but if he was just implementing Trai recommendations, this couldn't be policy.


Government functionaries also argue all that Raja was doing was to implement what his predecessors were doing—by the way, this was also just implementing of Trai recommendations! This has been the subject of earlier columns, so we won't get into too much detail. Suffice it to say that the First Come First Served (FCFS) that Raja used was never anything his predecessors did. Raja defined it to mean the first person to make the payment, while the original FCFS referred to the date on which a company had enough subscribers to be able to qualify for the next tranche of spectrum. Combine this distortion of the FCFS with the fact that 85 firms did not even meet the eligibility criterion, and there is a huge problem here.


Since Sibal has said he will examine this aspect of the CAG's report, let's move on to the more substantive issue of whether Raja was continuing with existing policy. Well, when the government cleared the Universal Access Service Licence (UASL) policy in 2003—which legitimised offering full-blown mobile services on limited mobility licences—Trai recommendation was that all new mobile licences would henceforth be auctioned. The government accepted this. So it's very clear that Raja was not following existing policy even while he claimed to be doing so.


Much is made of how, in 2007, Trai recommended that no auctions be done for new 2G licences. Misra argues, however, that he made no such recommendation! Whether Misra got it wrong, and Raja just faithfully did what he said, is irrelevant since, in 2003, the government had clearly accepted that all future mobile licences would be auctioned.


Let's then deal with the issue of whether 'government policy' is such a holy cow that it can't be called into question. When the cellular mobile firms first questioned the government's right to issue the limited mobility licences in 2001, 'government policy' was the very excuse the government used. The telecom dispute settlement and appellate tribunal (TDSAT) accepted this argument, and rejected the cellular firms' plea. The matter then went to the Supreme Court, where the bench headed by the Chief Justice returned the matter to the TDSAT, saying it had to examine the matter on merits, never mind the 'government policy' argument.


So, it would be nice to hear the PM's views on the CAG's rights since that will settle the debate once and for all. Also, since both P Chidambaram and GE Vahanvati (they are today home minister and attorney general, respectively) had argued, in the limited mobility case, that 'government policy' couldn't be used as an excuse to not examine a policy on merits, it would be interesting to hear their views.







The course of inflation and the official response this year has been quite interesting, as it has been iced with optimism. After being in denial mode for almost 4 months, with the standard response being that inflation will come down to 5% by March, we do realise today that this will not be so. The feeling was that over a high base of last year, the number had to come down, which has not happened and food inflation is ominously in the double-digit range. Now, one is looking at 6-7%.


Some of the myths that have been busted about inflation can be put into perspective. The first reassurance was that we had large stocks of foodgrains with the FCI. Debates ranged on how to get these grains to the poor and the damaged grains in the warehouses added to the decibel levels of discussions. But, FCI holds on to only rice and wheat and, hence, can theoretically influence only their prices. The lesson learnt is that we should not get carried away by this fact as rice and wheat account for around 3.5% of the weight in WPI and there are other components that can jack up the inflation rate.


The second comfort provided was that the kharif production would be higher and, hence, prices would come down from October onwards. While the first advance estimates are sanguine, the point missed is that we have only been brought back to the pre-drought levels. Further, while these products have not displayed a significant increase in prices, other components continued to increase, thus making the inflation number nasty. The clue here is that we clearly need to look beyond the usual staples of cereals, pulses and oilseeds when viewing food inflation.


The third factor in the sidelines was the high MSPs announced, which have ranged from 5% to 30% for various crops and which has increased market benchmarks. While most MSPs are not actually used by farmers, as market prices are higher, there has been an inherent upward thrust to the prices. We really need to revisit this policy of MSPs, as it has been taken to be a panacea for our farm problems. By announcing higher prices, it is hoped that production will increase, which has not always happened. In fact, such high MSPs have tended to divert land from other crops to rice and wheat, where the returns are better and assured. Therefore, MSPs have distorted the cropping pattern as well as imparted an upward thrust to prices. This is a difficult decision to take because higher MSPs give farmers the benefit (to the extent that it does not go to the adathiya), but also add to the woes of the consumer and RBI.


Now, higher prices of food products have tended to become a structural problem and get built into the costing for farmers. With unchanged productivity and land under cultivation, the only way a farmer can protect his income is by increasing prices, which increases cost for users—especially of dairy and poultry. The cost of animal feed has increased due to the drought last year, which has pushed up the final prices. Today, this category, along with the fall in production of vegetables and fruits, has increased prices. Hence, we have a situation of robust kharif production and higher inflation in other products.


The fourth diversion has been the RBI increasing interest rates. But, can higher rates augment production? Certainly not, and while interest rate hikes are necessary to protect savings and address inflationary expectations, they cannot make up for shortages in supplies.


Quite curiously, the government has decided not to increase diesel prices this time as inflation is high. This is an interesting statement because earlier in 2010 when diesel prices were increased, we were reassured that such an increase would have no impact on inflation. What is one to make of it?


Are there any solutions? The answer is actually a confident 'no' in the short run, because the solution is to augment supplies, which can only happen in the medium term. Clearly, this issue has to be addressed, speaking literally, at the ground level, and the government has to take the lead here. Farming is no longer attractive and the private sector's indulgence is restricted to its own activity in the retail segment.


A way out would be to use the funds that are allocated under the MGNREGA programme to actually work on making land fertile and grow crops, which will make the scheme more useful and go beyond a pure dole system, which is what it is today. Modalities can be worked out on using probably a cooperative approach here so that the farmers can also draw benefits from the profits made through such cultivation.


—The author is chief economist, CARE Ratings. These are his personal views







It's a fighter aircraft, not a dosa


Ever since he became Defence Minister, AK Antony has begun almost every press conference with a message to the doubting Thomases on India's long-running indigenous defence programmes like the light combat aircraft Tejas, the battle tank Arjun and the Akash missiles. But on Monday, the former Kerala Chief Minister came out with a fresh script and dipped into some South Indian cuisine for help. "Producing all these complicated, highly sophisticated equipment is not just like producing idli or dosa. It will take time."


Missing in action


At the Prime Minister's meeting on prices on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar made his points and then said, "Yeh sab to theek hai, magar Anand kidhar hai" (all this is very well, but where is Commerce Minister Anand Sharma—in the context of whether imports of onions can be stepped up). A helpful colleague was quick to reply, "Woh South Africa mein T20 dekh rahe hain, Shah Rukh Khan ke saath" (he's in South Africa, watching the T20 with Shah Rukh Khan).



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS




After India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, it is Indonesia that has done some muscle-flexing with RIM, the Canadian provider of the world's fourth-largest smartphone platform BlackBerry. Against the backdrop of a 2008 anti-pornography law, communications and information technology minister Tifatul Sembiring has been raising a fuss about why all Internet providers can't use anti-porn software to block selected content. RIM has been arguing technical difficulties as it did in the Indian case—a whole new network architecture would be needed to isolate Indonesia's data traffic and then block out the offending sites. But as it gave in in the Indian case simply because our market was one it couldn't afford to alienate, so it has given in to Sembiring. An overwhelming majority of RIM's net subscriber additions are, after all, coming from countries like India and Indonesia. The company cannot really sustain 'kerfuffles' with international governments.


Indonesia is not just a fast-growing market for RIM, it is also the world's second-largest market for Facebook and the third-largest one for Twitter. But, as in India so in Indonesia, the government line does not match all people's line. For instance, one lawmaker Roy Suryo has questioned Sembiring threatening to throw out RIM if it doesn't roll out access blocks by the January 21 deadline, saying that this would be like burning the whole barn just to kill a mouse. Suryo joked, "Why on earth would I go to pornographic Websites on my BlackBerry anyway? The screen is too small and would only irritate my eyes."








In a stunning political misadventure, Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology Kapil Sibal has come out as Apologist-in-Chief for the multi-billion dollar scandal of 2G-spectrum allocation in 2008 to favoured parties, including fronts. He chose to fly in the face of facts as well as good governance values in a brazen attack on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. At a time when the Central Bureau of Investigation is pursuing the criminal case under the watch of the Supreme Court, and a one-man committee is looking into the procedures and policies in operation in the Department of Telecommunications from 2001, Mr. Sibal has proclaimed there was no loss to the government from the spectrum allocation on a 'first-come, first-served basis.' The CAG calculated four sets of figures of presumptive loss to the exchequer: Rs.57,666 crore on the basis of sale of equity by the new licensee Swan; Rs.69,626 crore on the basis of sale of equity by Unitech; Rs.67,364 crore on the basis of the rate offered by S Tel; and Rs.176,645 crore on the basis of the 3G auction. True, the 2G allocation was in 2008 while the auction of 3G, which is far more efficient than 2G, was in 2010. Even so, how does Mr. Sibal explain the grant of 2G licences in 2008 at the price fixed in 2001 when the intervening years had witnessed a quantum jump in subscriber base? As the CAG report pointed out, many of the new licensees of 2008, with no experience in the telecom sector, were able to attract substantial amounts of Foreign Direct Investment on the strength of getting licences and access to spectrum. Indeed the CAG report, anticipating many of the lawyerly objections raised by Mr. Sibal, argued that the value of the 2G spectrum given in 2008 could only be "presumptive" because the various determinants such as scarcity value, competition, the number of operators, and the growth of the sector would, "depending upon the market situation… throw up the price that it commands at a given point of time."


If Mr. Sibal's aggressive defence proves anything, it is that the United Progressive Alliance government has a lot to hide. As the 2007-2008 correspondence on the contentious issues between Union Communications Minister A. Raja and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (published in The Hindu on December 23, 2010) reveals, Dr. Singh was fully in the picture contemporaneously. The Prime Minister, whose personal integrity is beyond question, failed to act to stop what he was suspicious about — the lack of transparency in allocation and the under-pricing of the entry fee for 2G spectrum, "which is currently benchmarked on old spectrum auction figures." Mr. Sibal's other defence is pointing to the revenue loss calculations from telecom policy decisions taken by the National Democratic Alliance government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party. This only strengthens the case for a comprehensive enquiry by a high-powered Joint Parliamentary Committee into spectrum allocation right from 2001. Nothing less will do.







The recent cultural agreement between Italy and China, apart from its bilateral importance, has far reaching significance for the cultural policymakers and heritage enthusiasts worldwide. This first of its kind agreement allows China to have museum space in Rome and Italy likewise in Beijing. The arrangement is for five years but it is renewable and can translate into long-term possession. China has got about 600 square metres of space at the National Museum of Venezia Palace and a unique exhibition comparing the two empires — Roman, and Qui and Han dynasties — is currently open for viewing. This is a radical departure from the usual agreements which make provision for travelling exhibitions or loaning select cultural objects for a fixed period of time. When secure space without hurdles is provided, it is bound to encourage source countries to bring in more precious artefacts and offer a memorable experience in the host countries. Over the long term, free circulation of museum objects has the potential to reduce trafficking in antiquities, the third most pervasive criminal activity in the world.


This innovative approach is also a superior alternative to the commercially oriented franchise model promoted by internationally well known museums such as Guggenheim and the Louvre. When the United Arab Emirates wanted to exhibit some of the prestigious international collections of the Louvre and benefit from the brand value, it signed an agreement with France to set up a branch of the Louvre Museum in Abhu Dhabi. In addition to the cost of construction and management, the UAE had to pay a fee of US$ 500 million to use the name of the Louvre. The Mayor of Rio-de-Janeiro also made similar attempts to build a Guggenheim museum, but it failed to take off in the face of opposition to the huge costs and legal tangles. Indian policymakers struggling to improve the substandard exhibiting environment can creatively adopt the public-spirited Italy-China model. Countries with advanced museum experience can be invited to build their own space and showcase their precious heritage without having either to sacrifice social objectives or compromise the integrity of the institutions. As important, this approach will enable museum officials and designers to benefit from the most advanced international expertise.










"Milord," cunning lawyers have argued in countless Hindi movies, "how can there have been a murder when there is no dead body?" I was reminded of this line when I heard Kapil Sibal — who has been performing as an understudy at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology ever since A. Raja was ousted on corruption charges — bravely defending the legacy of his predecessor at a press conference. By attacking the Comptroller and Auditor General's 2G spectrum scam report and claiming the government lost no revenue despite the fact that "procedural irregularities in the implementation of the first-come first-served policy" may have occurred, Mr. Sibal has done the political equivalent of removing the "dead body" from the crime scene and then declaring his clients innocent. For if the government lost no money through the sale of spectrum in 2008, it stands to reason that the politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen who are today being investigated could not have made any money either. Illegitimate profits cannot be conjured out of thin air — which is what spectrum essentially is. There is no dead body milord.


Sadly for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who no doubt prepped Mr. Sibal to make his ill-advised arguments, the CAG report is full of incriminating corpses. And their ghosts are likely to stick around long enough to haunt the ruling party at the time of the next general election.


The central thrust of Mr. Sibal's argument is that the PAC used flawed logic to arrive at the conclusion that the sale of Universal Access Service licenses by the Department of Telecom in 2008 led to a revenue loss of Rs.1,76,000 crore. But here's what he chose not to say. The CAG itself acknowledged in its concluding chapter that the amount of loss could be debated but "the fact that there has been loss to the national exchequer in the allocation of 2G spectrum cannot be denied."


Indeed, the CAG made separate calculations based on four different methodologies in order to demonstrate the flawed nature of the licensing system the DoT ran. The figure cited by Mr. Sibal came from using the 3G spectrum auction proceeds as a guide to the revenue the government gave up by not auctioning 2G spectrum. Other methods used were looking at the sale of equity by shell-company licensees Swan Telecom and Unitech. Both of these companies sold a chunk of their otherwise worthless equity to established operators, thereby providing a helpful indication of what the licenses they had bought for a song were truly worth. Extrapolating from those sales figures, the CAG estimated that the government short-changed itself by anywhere from Rs.57,666 crore to Rs.69,626 crore.


The CAG report methodically establishes how the great spectrum robbery of 2008 was essentially a scam within a scam. The original scam was designed to benefit the universe of existing and potential telecom operators by selling them a scarce resource — spectrum — on a first come, first served (FCFS) basis at a seven-year-old price that had no bearing on current market conditions. Given the exponential increase in teledensity between 2001 and 2008 — by some estimates, the number of mobile subscribers had already risen from four million to 300 million and was expected to continue to grow at a rapid clip — the failure to use an efficient price discovery mechanism meant the government was prepared to forsake an enormous amount of revenue in order to benefit operators fortunate enough to get hold of new spectrum.


But having scripted super profits for the lucky telecom companies in the spectrum allocation process, it was inevitable that the politicians and bureaucrats running the show would take the next step. The only way to accumulate rent from companies benefiting from a giveaway that is available to all as a matter of policy is to use one's allocative power to favour some over others. This was the genesis of the second scam in which a handful of applicants — many of whom were completely unqualified to be applying for telecom licenses at all — were cherry-picked by the DoT in an arbitrary subversion of the first come, first served process. The CAG report demonstrates how Swan, in which the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group had a key stake, and Unitech were among the beneficiaries of this. Bank drafts and guarantees were prepared in advance by some companies who were unofficially tipped off so that their completed applications for spectrum could be submitted literally within minutes and hours of the official call going out.


Mr. Sibal, who tore into the CAG, was sporting enough to admit there may have been some wrongdoing in the manner in which the FCFS policy was implemented. At the same time, he insisted the policy of charging 2001 prices was correct and that a 2G spectrum auction would have led to an increase in the price of telecom services. What he ignores is the fact that the cost of telecom services emerging from the 2G allocation will be a function not of the absurdly low price at which the government sold spectrum but of the prevailing tariff rate in the market and also the higher resale price at which this precious commodity finally enters the system. To paraphrase an argument first made by Sunil Jain in the Financial Express last year, there was indeed an auction for 2G spectrum whether Mr. Sibal approves of auctioning or not. But this auction was conducted not by the government, as it should have been, but by the companies who benefited from the arbitrary manner in which spectrum ended up getting allocated. They simply turned around and resold what they had received to the highest bidder.


Mr. Sibal also sought to argue that the government policy on spectrum allocation — of underpricing it or even giving it away free — was justified in the name of keeping the cost of basic telephony down. He compared the Rs.17 a minute cost of a mobile phone call a decade back with the 30 paise per minute rate today to prove his point but this is a flawed argument. Most technology-driven consumer goods and services experience a declining price curve over time. I paid $1,000 as a graduate student in New York for my first laptop computer in 1990. It was a no-brand, 386 chip, 40MB hard drive heavyweight monster whose battery lasted about an hour if I was lucky. Today, $1,000 will buy you a powerful notebook and decent variants can be bought for as little as $300. It also cost me $2 a minute to call my parents back home (which is why I rarely did so). The last time I was in the U.S., I could call India for eight cents a minute. The drop in call rates has nothing to do with subsidised spectrum as Mr. Sibal would have us believe, but with competition, increases in productivity and the global ebb and flow of technological change and obsolescence which allowed Indian companies to buy 2G network equipment at a relatively inexpensive cost. In any case, even at the supposedly low call rates in India, telecom operators are making serious money. The last thing they need is a free handout in the form of an FCFS spectrum allocation policy, that too one which is rigged.


The government's argument about keeping mobile call rates low may have had some credibility if the logic was applied consistently. But everything in India is contingent on whose asset is being sold to whom. When a public asset like spectrum is to be sold to a private company like Anil Ambani's Swan Telecom, or to Tata or others, we are told the price must be kept low even if there is a revenue loss. When a public asset like food grain is to be sold to the poor under the proposed Right to Food Act, the same people say prices cannot be kept low because this would lead to a revenue loss. When a public resource like Krishna-Godavari (KG) gas comes into the hands of an industrialist like Mukesh Ambani, the price must be kept high even if this means consumers end up paying a higher price for electricity and fertilizers. From 2G to KG to CWG the system's logic and rules will always be designed to allow maximum profits for those with real connections.


The CAG in its report has demonstrated how "the entire process of allocation of UAS licenses lacked transparency and was undertaken in an arbitrary, unfair and inequitable manner … which gave unfair advantage to certain companies over others." It was this "unfair advantage" which allowed "certain companies" to earn revenue that rightly belonged to the government. So compelling is the charge of corruption on a massive scale in the spectrum licensing matter that the Supreme Court has said it will monitor the progress of investigations by the CBI.


Public disenchantment with the corrupt ways of our political and business establishment is running so high that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was forced to promise in his New Year greetings a "course correction" that would "cleanse governance" in India. If Mr. Sibal's arguments are any indication, however, Dr. Singh's New Year resolutions have not lasted very long at all. If the UPA government continues to remain in denial, it will pay a heavy political price. At the time of the next general election, when Congress managers scratch their heads and wonder where on earth the seats to form the next government are going to come from, Mr. Sibal's arithmetic will be remembered as the point where the game which was not going the party's way anyway finally slipped out of its hands.






A Supreme Court judgment projects the historical thesis that India is largely a country of old immigrants and that pre-Dravidian aborigines, ancestors of the present Adivasis, rather than Dravidians, were the original inhabitants of India.


If North America is predominantly made up of new immigrants, India is largely a country of old immigrants, which explains its tremendous diversity. It follows that tolerance and equal respect for all communities and sects are an absolute imperative if we wish to keep India united. If it was believed at one time that Dravidians were the original inhabitants of India, that view has since been considerably modified. Now the generally accepted belief is that the pre-Dravidian aborigines, that is, the ancestors of the present tribals or Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes), were the original inhabitants. This is the thesis put forward in a judgment delivered on January 5, 2011 by a Supreme Court of India Bench comprising Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra . This historical disquisition came in Criminal Appeal No. 11 of 2011, arising out of Special Leave Petition No. 10367 of 2010 in Kailas & Others versus State of Maharashtra TR. Taluka P.S .


The appeal was filed against a judgment and order passed by the Aurangabad Bench of Bombay High Court. The Supreme Court Bench saw in the appeal a typical instance of how many Indians treat the Scheduled Tribes, or Adivasis. The case related to Nandabai, 25, belonging to the Bhil tribe, a Scheduled Tribe in Maharashtra. She was beaten, kicked and stripped, and then paraded naked on the village road, over an alleged illicit relationship with a man from an upper caste. The four accused were convicted by the Additional Sessions Judge, Ahmednagar, under different Sections of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for six months, one year and three months in three instances and to pay a fine in each. They were convicted under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one year and a fine. But the High Court acquitted them of the charges under the SC/ST Act, while confirming the convictions under the IPC provisions. Each was directed to pay Rs. 5,000 to the victim.


Excerpts from the Supreme Court judgment (the full text is at


The Bhils are probably the descendants of some of the original inhabitants of India known as the 'aborigines' or Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis), who now comprise only about eight per cent of the population of India. The rest, 92 per cent, consists of descendants of immigrants. Thus India is broadly a country of immigrants, like North America.


While North America (USA and Canada) has new immigrants who came mainly from Europe over the last four or five centuries, India is a country of old immigrants in which people have been coming in over the last ten thousand years or so. Probably about 92 per cent of the people living in India today are descendants of immigrants, who came mainly from the North-West, and to a lesser extent from the North-East. Since this is a point of great importance for the understanding of our country, it is necessary to go into it in some detail.


People migrate from uncomfortable areas to comfortable areas. This is natural because everyone wants to live in comfort. Before the coming of modern industry there were agricultural societies everywhere, and India was a paradise for these because agriculture requires level land, fertile soil, plenty of water for irrigation and so on, which were in abundance in India. Why should anybody living in India migrate to, say, Afghanistan, which has a harsh terrain, rocky and mountainous and covered with snow for several months in a year when one cannot grow any crop? Hence almost all immigrations and invasions came from outside into India (except those Indians who were sent out during British rule as indentured labour, and the recent migration of a few million Indians to the developed countries for job opportunities). There is perhaps not a single instance of an invasion from India to outside India.


India was a veritable paradise for pastoral and agricultural societies because it has level and fertile land, with hundreds of rivers, forests, etc., and is rich in natural resources. Hence for thousands of years people kept pouring into India because they found a comfortable life here in a country which was gifted by nature.


As the great Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri wrote: Sar Zamin-e-hind par aqwaam-e-alam ke firaq/ Kafile guzarte gae Hindustan banta gaya ("In the land of Hind, the caravans of the peoples of the world kept coming in and India kept getting formed").


Who were the original inhabitants of India? At one time it was believed that the Dravidians were the original inhabitants. However, this view has been considerably modified subsequently, and now the generally accepted belief is that the original inhabitants of India were the pre-Dravidian aborigines, that is, the ancestors of the present tribals or Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes).


The Cambridge History of India (Volume I), Ancient India, says:


"It must be remembered, however, that, when the term 'Dravidian' is thus used ethnographically, it is nothing more than a convenient label. It must not be assumed that the speakers of the Dravidian languages are aborigines. In Southern India, as in the North, the same general distinction exists between the more primitive tribes of the hills and jungles and the civilised inhabitants of the fertile tracts; and some ethnologists hold that the difference is racial and not merely the result of culture…


"It would seem probable, then, that the original speakers of the Dravidian languages were outsiders, and that the ethnographical Dravidians are a mixed race. In the more habitable regions the two elements have fused, while representatives of the aborigines are still in the fastnesses (in hills and forests) to which they retired before the encroachments of the newcomers. If this view be correct, we must suppose that these aborigines have, in the course of long ages, lost their ancient languages and adopted those of their conquerors. The process of linguistic transformation, which may still be observed in other parts of India, would seem to have been carried out more completely in the South than elsewhere.


"The theory that the Dravidian element is the most ancient which we can discover in the population of Northern India, must also be modified by what we now know of the Munda languages, the Indian representatives of the Austric family of speech, and the mixed languages in which their influence has been traced. Here, according to the evidence now available, it would seem that the Austric element is the oldest, and that it has been overlaid in different regions by successive waves of Dravidian and Indo-European on the one hand, and by Tibeto-Chinese on the other…


"At the same time, there can be little doubt that Dravidian languages were actually flourishing in the western regions of Northern India at the period when languages of the Indo-European type were introduced by the Aryan invasions from the north-west. Dravidian characteristics have been traced alike in Vedic and Classical Sanskrit, in the Prakrits, or early popular dialects, and in the modern vernaculars derived from them. The linguistic strata would thus appear to be arranged in the order-Austric, Dravidian, Indo-European.


"There is good ground, then, for supposing that, before the coming of the Indo-Aryans speakers the Dravidian languages predominated both in Northern and in Southern India; but, as we have seen, older elements are discoverable in the populations of both regions, and therefore the assumption that the Dravidians are aboriginal is no longer tenable. Is there any evidence to show whence they came into India?


"No theory of their origin can be maintained which does not account for the existence of Brahui, the large island of Dravidian speech in the mountainous regions of distant Baluchistan which lie near the western routes into India. Is Brahui a surviving trace of the immigration of Dravidian-speaking peoples into India from the West? Or does it mark the limits of an overflow form India into Baluchistan? Both theories have been held; but as all the great movements of peoples have been into India and not out of India, and as a remote mountainous district may be expected to retain the survivals of ancient races while it is not likely to have been colonised, the former view would a priori seem to be by far the more probable."


Thus the generally accepted view now is that the original inhabitants of India were not the Dravidians but the pre-Dravidian Munda aborigines whose descendants now live in parts of Chotanagpur (Jharkhand), Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, etc., the Todas of the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, the tribals in the Andaman Islands, the Adivasis in various parts of India (especially in the forests and hills), for example the Gonds, Santhals, Bhils, etc.


These facts lend support to the view that about 92 per cent of the people living in India are descendants of immigrants (though more research is required).


It is for this reason that there is such tremendous diversity in India. This diversity is a significant feature of our country, and the only way to explain it is to accept that India is largely a country of immigrants.


There are a large number of religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, cultures etc., in our country, which is due to the fact that India is a country of immigrants. Somebody is tall, somebody is short, some are dark, some are fair complexioned, with all kinds of shades in between, someone has Caucasian features, someone has Mongoloid features, someone has Negroid features, etc. There are differences in dress, food habits and various other matters.


We may compare India with China, which is larger both in population and in land area than India. China has a population of about 1.3 billion whereas our population is roughly 1.1 billion. Also, China has more than twice our land area. However, all Chinese have Mongoloid features; they have a common written script (Mandarin Chinese), and 95 per cent of them belong to one ethnic group, called the Han Chinese. Hence there is a broad (though not absolute) homogeneity in China.


On the other hand, India has tremendous diversity and this is due to the large-scale migrations and invasions into India over thousands of years. The various immigrants/invaders who came into India brought with them their different cultures, languages, religions, etc., which accounts for the tremendous diversity in India.


Since India is a country of great diversity, it is absolutely essential if we wish to keep our country united to have tolerance and equal respect for all communities and sects. It was due to the wisdom of our founding fathers that we have a Constitution which is secular in character, and which caters to the tremendous diversity in our country.


Thus it is the Constitution of India which is keeping us together despite all our tremendous diversity, because the Constitution gives equal respect to all communities, sects, lingual and ethnic groups, etc. The Constitution guarantees to all citizens freedom of speech (Article 19), freedom of religion (Article 25), equality (Articles 14 to 17), liberty (Article 21), etc.


However, giving formal equality to all groups or communities in India would not result in genuine equality. The historically disadvantaged groups must be given special protection and help so that they can be uplifted from their poverty and low social status. It is for this reason that special provisions have been made in our Constitution in Articles 15(4), 15(5), 16(4), 16(4A), 46, etc., for the uplift of these groups. Among these disadvantaged groups, the most disadvantaged and marginalised in India are the Adivasis (STs), who, as already mentioned, are the descendants of the original inhabitants of India, and are the most marginalised and living in terrible poverty with high rates of illiteracy, disease, early mortality etc. Their plight has been described by this Court in Samatha vs. State of Andhra Pradesh and Ors. (AIR 1997 SC 3297, Para 12 to 15). Hence, it is the duty of all people who love our country to see that no harm is done to the Scheduled Tribes and that they are given all help to bring them up in their economic and social status, since they have been victimised for thousands of years by terrible oppression and atrocities. The mentality of our countrymen towards these tribals must change, and they must be given the respect they deserve as the original inhabitants of India.


The bravery of the Bhils was accepted by that great Indian warrior Rana Pratap, who held a high opinion of Bhils as part of his army.


The injustice done to the tribal people of India is a shameful chapter in our country's history. The tribals were called 'rakshas' (demons), 'asuras', and what not. They were slaughtered in large numbers, and the survivors and their descendants were degraded, humiliated, and all kinds of atrocities inflicted on them for centuries. They were deprived of their lands, and pushed into forests and hills where they eke out a miserable existence of poverty, illiteracy, disease, etc. And now efforts are being made by some people to deprive them even of their forest and hill land where they are living, and the forest produce on which they survive.


The well-known example of injustice to tribals is the story of Eklavya in the Adiparva of the Mahabharata. Eklavya wanted to learn archery, but Dronacharya refused to teach him, regarding him as lowborn. Eklavya then built a statue of Dronacharya and practised archery before the statue. He would have perhaps become a better archer than Arjun, but since Arjun was Dronacharya's favourite pupil Dronacharya told Eklavya to cut off his right thumb and give it to him as guru dakshina (gift to the teacher given traditionally by the student after his study is complete). In his simplicity Eklavya did what he was told.


This was a shameful act on the part of Dronacharya. He had not even taught Eklavya, so what right had he to demand guru dakshina, and that too of the right thumb of Eklavya so that the latter may not become a better archer than his favourite pupil Arjun?


Despite this horrible oppression on them, the tribals of India have generally (though not invariably) retained a higher level of ethics than the non-tribals. They normally do not cheat or tell lies, or commit other misdeeds, which many non-tribals do. They are generally superior in character to non-tribals.


It is time now to undo the historical injustice to them.


Instances like the one with which we are concerned in this case deserve total condemnation and harsh punishment.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              THE HINDU





The next time you happen to be in Arizona drinking a cool beer with some time on your hands, ask the person along the bar to describe for you the Glock 19. Likelihood is he will know what you're talking about, as gun ownership rates in Arizona are among the highest in the world. He might even be packing himself, as it's legal in the State to carry concealed weapons into bars.


It was this model of killing machine that Seung-Hui Cho deployed when he went on his rampage through Virginia Tech on 16 April 2007, massacring 32 people. It was precisely the same gun that Jared Lee Loughner branded last Saturday morning outside Safeway in Tucson, Arizona, shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords through the head and killing six others.


Mr. Loughner had bought the gun on 30 November from a Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson. Which, when you think about it, was kind of odd.


A month previously, he had been suspended from the local community college because of his erratic and disruptive behaviour in class and told he could only return if he passed a mental health check that confirmed he was not a danger to himself or others.


By November, he had begun posting weird YouTube videos that talked of brainwashing and dream manipulation, in which he referred to himself as a political terrorist. A few years previously, he had got in trouble with the police over drugs.


A few minutes tapping his name into Google would have thrown up such worrying material, but Mr. Loughner was handed the Glock 19 nonetheless, no questions asked. It's a puzzling discrepancy — that a young man who was clearly suffering mental health problems and displayed threatening behaviour should be sold a powerful semi-automatic weapon without so much as a by-your-leave. But then Arizona has recently passed a law allowing anybody to carry a concealed weapon in public, without a permit. The only stipulation is that they must be over 21 (Mr. Loughner is 22).


What is it with America and guns? Why does the most advanced democracy, which prides itself on being a bastion of reason and civilisation in a brutal and ugly world, put up with this carnage in its own back yard? Why does it tolerate the sea of blood that flows from gun incidents, with about 100,000 people killed or injured every year? Why does it accept an annual murder rate by guns that is 13 times that of Germany and 44 times that of England and Wales? People tend to remember the low points, such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968. But do they know that since those two men hit the floor, more than a million people have been killed in the U.S. from the barrel of a gun? Every time a gun massacre happens in America, the pattern seems to be the same: initial bewilderment is followed by outrage, calls are made for a renewed look at the country's almost uniquely loose gun laws, and then . . . nothing. If anything, says Josh Sugarmann, head of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, U.S. regulations have become even more relaxed since Virginia Tech.


"Each time we have a truly horrible incident involving firearms in this country like Virginia Tech, it merely raises the bar in terms of what shocks us as a nation. Now we can have what happened in Tucson on Saturday, and we will have moved on within a week." On a federal level, since Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009 the U.S. has moved backwards on gun control. His election prompted a sudden surge in sales of guns and ammunition as gun owners panicked that he would clamp down on their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms. As time has shown, they needn't have worried.


The President has made no attempt to revive the ban on assault weapons that Bill Clinton introduced and George Bush allowed to lapse in 2004. If he had, Mr. Loughner wouldn't have been able to carry his Glock 19 loaded with 30 bullets, all of which he fired within a matter of seconds. He probably still would have shot his target, Ms Giffords, but he wouldn't have taken the life of six others and wounded 14 more.


The love of guns runs deep with Arizonans. Ms Giffords herself was opposed to further gun control and reportedly owns a Glock 19 of the sort that propelled a bullet through the back of her head and out the side. She calls gun ownership an "Arizona tradition".Gun fanatics and lobbyists will tell you that carrying a lump of metal in your hand is as American as cooking baked beans and sausages around a campfire. Invocations of the golden age of the Wild West are often heard at times like these, when people need reassurance that the cost of so much death and maiming is worth it.


But there is a flaw in the argument. Yes, the gun was ubiquitous in the days of the westward migration, when the courage and ingenuity of the early settlers flourished. But then, so was scurvy, syphilis, snake bites, mining accidents and amputations. You don't hear people lauding those hazards as noble American traditions.


"The endurance of the gun in America is not about nostalgia for a golden past," says Mr. Sugarmann. "It's about political fear. Politicians have abandoned their moral responsibility to ensure public safety because of the perceived power of the gun lobby." The National Rifle Association, the giant of the gun rights lobby, has put up a statement on its website on the Tucson shooting. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this senseless tragedy," it says. Yet such honourable sentiments are strangely detached from the organisation's actions, which include the $10 million it spent during the 2008 presidential election (drawn from its annual income of more than $200 million) to forward the cause of the right to bear arms.


"Don't blame the gun, blame the person who pulls the trigger," is one of the NRA's favourite mantras. Or to contextualise it: "Don't blame the Glock 19, blame Loughner." But Mr. Loughner's execution by lethal injection, almost certain at some unspecified future date, will not heal Ms Giffords's head wounds or bring those six residents of Tucson back from the dead. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011









ANYONE INCLINED to believe that the assassination of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, in Islamabad, the nation's capital, by a member of the elite police security force was a dastardly but usual act of terrorism in that country would be in grievous error. For it is no such thing but a clear signal that Pakistan state and society seem to be on the verge of surrendering to the tide of bigotry and global jihad. In other words, our western neighbour is on the verge of abyss.


What has happened could easily turn into a watershed unless the liberal elements in the country's civil society, backed by at least some sections of the ruling establishment, determinedly try to stem the avalanche of bigotry, religious extremism and global jihad at this very late stage. Of this, unfortunately, there is yet no sign.
On the contrary, the stark chain of events before and after the murder in broad daylight points to the contrary direction. In the first place, what was Salman Taseer's fault? Moved by the tragic plight of a poor, illiterate Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy law, he had pleaded for commuting her sentence and an amendment to the egregiously harsh blasphemy law. This, in the eyes of his killer, Mumtaz Qadri, and the hordes now busy lionising him, was nothing short of blasphemy itself for which the obvious punishment is death.

It is noteworthy that the slain governor — a lifelong member of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and a close associate of President Asif Ali Zardari — was not alone in seeking leniency for Aasia Bibi and a change in the blasphemy law. Sherry Rahman, a PPP member in the National Assembly, a former federal minister and a confidante of Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in December 2007, has introduced a private member's bill to amend the blasphemy law. Not a single PPP member of National Assembly, leave alone those owing allegiance to other parties, dared endorse her endeavour. Now she is the "next target" of the horrendously powerful religious Right. Babar Awan, federal law minister, has declared that the blasphemy law would not be amended under any circumstances.

Secondly, the federal authorities knew that Qadri was a religious extremist and had therefore decided never to assign to him the duty of protecting VIPs. Yet he had not the slightest difficulty in getting himself included in the security detail of Salman Taseer for the duration of his short visit to Islamabad.
The third element in the situation is chilling. Qadri told his colleagues responsible for protecting the governor that he was going to kill the "blasphemer" and that they must not arrest him until after he had completed his post-assassination statement. They fully obeyed him, and let him announce that Taseer had got what he richly deserved.

What followed was even more horrific. Not a single cleric — not even from among the Barlevis who are supposed to be moderates compared with the Deobandis — agreed to preside over Taseer's funeral in Lahore the next day. Instead, the clerics ordained that no good Muslim should attend the funeral. Whether any members of the slain governor's family or friends dropped any flowers into his grave is not known. But the wide world watched the lawyers shower rose petals on Qadri when the beaming accused was brought to the court. Most lawyers are competing briskly with one another to be Qadri's defence counsel. These are the very members of the legal fraternity who had agitated valiantly to force out the military ruler Pervez Musharraf and get the dismissed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court reinstated.

The strong support for Qadri and the likes of him by religious parties, whose views are heard every night on television talk shows, was only to be expected. But the reaction of the two mainstream parties has been disappointing because it is little more than the shrugging of shoulders that greeted the dastardly attacks on Sufi and Ahmediya shrines in Lahore and on a Shia procession in Karachi in which more than 100 persons were killed and nearly twice that number wounded.

To be sure, the PPP has "condemned" Taseer's assassination. But whom as it condemned? Not the forces of religious bigotry and intolerance, but the leader of the Opposition, Nawaz Sharif, and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N). It has accused them of political murder because of the known and long-standing differences between the provincial government, headed by Mr Sharif's younger brother Shahbaz, and the late governor. Mr Sharif, who has always had good relations with religious parties, has described the murder as "unfortunate" and blamed Taseer of not being "balanced" and "moderate".

Against this bleak backdrop anything said by an Indian commentator, no matter how sincere in wishing well of Pakistan, would be trashed in that country as the voice of its "eternal enemy" and the "greatest existential threat".

Even that of other foreigners, including those belonging to the United States that is pouring billions of dollars into economically strained Pakistan, would be suspect. However, what Pakistan's highly respected columnists and commentators are saying is worthy of serious attention.

For instance, writing under the headline "Signs of a state capitulating to extremism" ,Najam Sethi has said: "The modern nation-state is crumbling in the face of a sever onslaught by extremist religious ideology and passion. The tragedy is that some elements of the state are co-sponsors while others are hopeless accessories after the event".

According to Ayaz Amir, the religious parties "will always do what they do… It is up to the other sections of Pakistani society to stop the rot and reverse the tide. But it is the political parties and the Army that should have done it. And they did nothing".

Ayesha Siddiqa argues: "If the ruling elite does not realise the high cost of feeding the religious Right, Pakistan will cede bits of its territory and social space to religious fanatics". She also gives six persuasive reasons why it is unrealistic to expect a "roll back of radicalism" in Pakistan.








The forthcoming visit of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono as the chief guest on Republic Day, January 26, 2011, should go beyond the ceremonial state-level visits of other dignitaries. Given that two decades have progressed since the initiation of India's "Look East" policy in the early 1990s, our bilateral ties with the most


significant player in the region remain at a lower level than they should be. This visit by President Yodhoyono, the second since 2005, will have to move forward from the previous one during which the strategic partnership agreement was signed between India and Indonesia.

The commonalities that link India and Indonesia together are plenty — geographically, Indonesia is India's closest maritime neighbour, just 90 nautical miles. The western most tip of the Sumatran island, Banda Aceh, is the closest to India's eastern most outpost of Andaman and Nicobar islands.

While this geographical link is critical, there is a shared history as well. Both emerged in the post-colonial period as independent nation-states, though the early period of democratic politics in Indonesia gave way to a military rule, which lasted from 1965 to 1998, while India adopted a democratic polity which has sustained till date.

India and Indonesia also share ethnic, religious and racial diversity. India's motto of "unity in diversity" finds resonance in the "binneka tunggal ika" philosophy enshrined as a principle of Indonesian state policy in its approach towards managing diversity and ethnic plurality.

The 2005 visit by Mr Yodhoyono initiated the strategic partnership agreement between the two countries, with a focus on increasing bilateral trade and cultural exchanges. In fact, the agreement targeted trade to the tune of $10 billion by 2010.

In 2006, the volume of trade between the two was $5.5 billion, while our current economic ties have expanded to the tune of $11.7 billion. In October 2010, the two countries finalised the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in goods. Indonesia is the sixth country among the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) with whom India has signed a bilateral FTA.

Given the energy demands that India is facing in order to sustain its economic growth, Indonesia could become a vital ally. Approximately 47 per cent of India's coal import comes from Indonesia. India is looking to offset this with imports in crude oil and natural gas. Under the India-Asean FTA, palm oil has been a major import for India. In the services sector, Indonesia looks to India for assistance in the fields of IT, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, even education. While the FTA in trade in goods will be beneficial to Indonesia, an agreement in services will be to India's advantage given that India is ranked 9th in the global services sector.
On the political front Indonesia has become especially important since its transition to democracy in 1999, which is now in the process of consolidation.

The setback in Thailand and the opaqueness of Burma will continue to challenge the Asia-Pacific region, and it is in this context that Indonesia and the Philippines are going to be credible players as democratic allies in the region. For India, whose neighbourhood remains challenged with issues of democracy, there is need to look for political partners outside the South Asia region and in this context developing political ties with Indonesia will remain a key objective of our bilateral ties.

It is important to remember that the crux of India's "Look East" policy remains economic relations, not so much political, strategic and security related aspects. While India is a player in several multilateral groupings within the region, the real depth of political and security level ties is lacking. For both India and Indonesia this will become a critical factor given the rise of China.

While currently the relations between Beijing and Jakarta are cordial, there is concern how China's rise will impact the region. There is also fear that Beijing will play one regional power against the other, in its attempt to stay ahead. And this is a view that India shares.

India is being seen as a regional player and an emerging power whose economic rise will shape the region in the years to come. Indonesia, too, is once again being seen as a potential regional leader and it will be vital for India and Indonesia to further the promise of partnership between one another. As regional players in a changing Asian matrix, it will be imperative for these two states to partner with each other to ensure long-term political and security-related stability in the region.

At the global level there is an interesting development. The United States is simultaneously strengthening its ties with India in South Asia and with Indonesia in the Asean region. The pivot of the US' integration with Asean is once again focusing on Indonesia, with increased military ties and also looking at Indonesian democracy within the context of the rise of Islamic politics. In fact, one of the debates that currently affect the India-Indonesia ties is the question of a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Both countries remain keen stakeholders in the reform and restructuring of the UNSC. There has been speculation that the US backing for India may cause strains in India's bilateral ties with Indonesia. However, if there is political will on both sides, the realisation of the benefits of partnership will far outweigh the realpolitik debate.
Unlike the 2005 visit by President Yodhoyono, this visit needs to take place with a greater promise of
commitment to strengthening the bilateral ties. The strategic partnership needs to be enriched with more at the political and security levels.

India has looked at the Asia-Pacific region as a significant part of its foreign policy. In that, Indonesia should be the most critical player. As emerging powers in the uncertain future of a region that is in transition, India and Indonesia need to enhance their integration with each other.


Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU








Television rating points (TRPs) have marked the rat race among hundreds of television news and entertainment channels in the country. They were taken as the last word to settle the success of a programme or of the channel every week.


This became crucial for attracting the advertisement revenue, the lifeline of money-guzzling channels. But the TRP was operated by only two organisations and the number of meters used to compute the numbers of viewers for a programme were a mere three thousand confined to just the metropolises. For a decade now, TV channels did not bother to do anything about the blatantly inadequate and frail baseline that distorted the market profile of the electronic media sector.


Things would have continued as they were but for the public outrage against some of the programmes on the entertainment channels. But such is the disproportionate power of the electronic media that the Congress-led UPA government did not want to be seen as the hated regulator. So, the information and broadcasting ministry (I&B) had appointed an independent committee headed by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) secretary general Amit Mitra, which has submitted its recommendations.


It has suggested that the sample size of the meagre 3000 to be increased to first 15,000 and then to 30,000, and that it should include rural households as well as small towns. This is indeed the basic correction that was badly needed. There was also a suggestion that the methodology of the TRPs should be made more transparent. The electronic media has to accept the self-regulatory mechanism for the sake increasing its own marketing credibility.


It is true that every industry has to go through its period of ungoverned infancy, but it cannot choose to remain in it longer than necessary. There should also be a place in it for representatives of television viewers as well as the advertisers because self-regulation should not be taken to mean that it should remain an in-house body. Media is an interactive medium, and there is need for a positive cross-connectedness.







The famed Shaolin temple in China, where Zen Buddhism had originated, has decided to open 40 centres to meet the rising demand for kung fu and, by a stretch, for Zen Buddhism. The man who is spearheading the expansion programme is the abbot of the temple. Interestingly, in the ostensibly atheistic communist China, there is outrage that Zen Buddhism is being commercialised. The abbot has rebutted the criticism saying that there was no profit motive, and it was just a design to meet the kung fu desires of people spread across the world.


There is plenty of irony embedded in all this, but this could be turned into a delightful Zen koan, the pithy riddle that carries contradiction as the kernel of its truth. Business is good as long as it is not meant to generate profits, which is indeed crass. At a more mundane level, all that it means is that even as China is under the deluge of change, the esoteric Buddhist temple is also being swept by it. And it also meets with the essential Buddhist tenet that change is the only permanent thing. The Shaolin cult's market success is then no anomaly.







The light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas, developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), received its initial operational clearance certificate. This means the aircraft is now considered worthy of induction into the Indian air force, and a few aircraft will be inducted by June and more by the end of the year. The Indian navy, too, is expected to purchase few of the aircraft.


This initial success of Tejas can give us a reason to smile, but not to jump with joy. The IAF and the navy have both said they intend to carry out some more tests and it remains doubtful if the Tejas will actually fulfil the role it was built for: to replace the ageing MiGs.


A reality check reveals some sobering facts. For instance, the LCA has been in the making for some 27 years. The initial budget was Rs560 crore; this spiralled to over Rs15,000 crore. Moreover, 40% of the components are imported, including the all-important engine. The Indian engine, named Kaveri, was a failure.


Ironically, even as India struggles to make the Tejas a state-of-the-art fighter aircraft, few would have missed the fact that just a few days ago, China unveiled its futuristic stealth bomber. India's defence production is still in its infancy. We need a paradigm shift if we are to make defence equipment comparable to the best in the world.


Also, truth be told, India doesn't have a choice: our defence import bill for 2012 is expected to touch $30 billion, according to Assocham. There is no reason why some of that huge amount cannot be spent on Indian firms making defence equipment. The development of a viable and vibrant defense production sector will have tremendous spin-off, especially in terms of innovative technology, for the economy. This is evident from the examples of the US and former Soviet Union. Defence technology need not always be geared towards fighting destructive wars.


While what exactly needs to be done to create a viable defence production sector requires much debate and planning, two aspects are clear: our public enterprises need to be set definite time-lines, made accountable, and given proper budgets (did India really believe we could make a fighter aircraft from scratch for just Rs560 crore?). Second, the private sector has to be involved. Competition between different firms might just be the trigger to make the defense manufacturing sector more productive and cost effective. It is time to think of defense as a key sector, which is capable of boosting the general economy.









Some journalists get confused and start believing that they make the news, rather than just reporting it. This, and journalistic groupthink, has led to a skewed discourse: India's supposed 'centrists' would be considered 'far Left' elsewhere. Their conventional wisdom is curiously anti-national as well.


"All the news that is fit to print" simply isn't printed in India; only that news is printed which supports a particular viewpoint. Besides, those who do not toe the line are blackballed: you cannot get published. Several people have told me their personal experience of being excluded for their views.


This perverted system engenders a persistent anti-India bias in international media, too. When in India, foreign correspondents interact primarily with Delhi's insular, incestuous sling-bag-wallah-journalist nexus that sneers at middle India; their endemic prejudices infect the foreigners too.


At least the Western media pays lip service to being non-judgmental. In India, there is an obvious industrialist-politician-journalist axis. They 'manufacture consent'. But they were caught red-handed, Watergate-style, in the Radia tapes incident. Thereupon, the entire media closed ranks, and buried the story, hoping it would go away: this tactic has always worked in the past. Unfortunately for them, this time it didn't work, because Internet readers, especially Twitterati (those using the Twitter social network), kept the issue alive.


Self-important scribes became concerned about their image on Twitter. When they were not given fawning adulation, they began abusing the Twitterati as cave-dwelling illiterates or "Internet Hindus", showing their habitual scorn for the 'little people'. One even threatened people with IPC 509, "insulting the modesty of a woman", simply for questioning her dogmas.


But the Twitterati, mostly middle-class, urban, young, tech-savvy Indians, both in India and abroad, were not browbeaten, and responded in kind — and in this level-playing-field medium, they had exactly the same access as any high-and-mighty journalist. The latter, accustomed to being little tin-pot dictators and censoring any opinions they didn't like in their media, were quickly put on the defensive.


And this developed into a sort of dependency: the scribes desperately wanted respect from the Twitterati! Not surprisingly, Twitterati have utter contempt for the journos, and said so in no uncertain terms. The Twitterati — some influential commentators include @atanudey, @barbarindian, @sandeepweb, @swathipradeep2 —clearly did not buy the same old anodyne


Kool-Aid that was being dished out.


And then the western media picked up what bloggers and Twitterati were saying. This hit the uppity journos where it hurt the most. They fulfilled their greatest ambition — getting their coveted fifteen minutes of fame in the New York Times or Washington Post; but, alas, it was via a commentary on their (lack of) journalistic ethics and on the harsh judgment of the Internet readers.


As a result, Vir Sanghvi, for all practical purposes, fell on his sword, shutting down his impugned column. Barkha Dutt tried the opposite tack: brazening it out and proclaiming innocence. This did not work; NDTV's credibility is damaged and her ratings have plummeted (according to TAM data for December). An attempt at self-defense on TV boomeranged: she appeared shifty and guilty as charged, Nixon-like.


Furthermore, the IBN network, also viewed with derision as #IBNlies, was caught by @preeti86, ham-handedly fabricating fake tweets (messages) from non-existent identities in an effort to inflate support for its positions.


Pathetically, the scribes and their sock-puppets (planted supporters) are attempting to paint themselves as victims of a conspiracy among Twitterati. But this is not selling. One of the sock-puppets, some minor Bollywood type screeching #stopabuseontwitter, showed himself to be a hypocrite by making crude sexual suggestions to a woman online, and then running for cover when someone brought up IPC 509.


Fed-up Internet mavens have long complained that the media in India is corrupt, sold out (#paidmedia and #dalalmedia are popular terms) and anti-national. It appears that the Twitterati have finally created an alternative, uncensored, independent channel for news and commentary which is as subversive as the samizdat underground press in the erstwhile Soviet Union was. Even more ominously for the powerful, there is the example of OhmyNews in Korea. This paper, initially a one-man effort, became so popular that eventually it was instrumental in toppling an elected regime in 2002.


Will the emergent people's media in India play a similar role? That would be poetic justice — he who corrupts the media falls to its new, web-enabled incarnation. The establishment, naturally, will fight this: a new push to monitor Internet usage may lead to a great firewall of India, stifling the new medium.








Once again we have been rocked by the report of yet another Chinese intrusion into our Leh district. Although the incident is said to be about two to three months' old it is shocking. According to widely circulated news, endorsed by an official version, the motor-cycle borne personnel of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) entered Gombir area in Demchok region in Jammu and Kashmir and forced the work to be stopped on a passenger shed. This is not the first time that such an amazing development has taken place in the State's trans-Himalayan territory. There is a history of these incidents: (a) first of all the latest happening --- it centres on a passenger shed approved at an estimated cost of Rs two lakh at 'T' point in Gombir village under the Border Area Development Programme (BADP) of the Union Home Ministry; the Chinese army came to the spot and scared away the workers; (b) in a much-publicised occurrence the Chinese troops had stopped the construction of a road under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the Demchok sector in October-November 2009; (c) again in 2009 the Chinese army had violated the international border near Mount Gya by painting boulders and rocks in red colour inscribing the name of its country (the 22420-feet Mount Gya, also known as "fair princess of snow", is located at the tri-junction of Ladakh in this State, Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, and Tibet; its boundary was marked during the British era and regarded as international border by the two countries); and (d) the Chinese have been threatening the "nomadic people who had been using Dokung area for grazing since decades ago in a way to snatch our land in inches. A Chinese proverb is famous in the world 'better do in inches than in yards." It is reported that the Chinese have gone on to raise constructions on our side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). At least once they are stated to have violated the air space as well. We have in these columns carried extensive details of the mischief being indulged by the Chinese army on our side of the LAC.
We had referred in this regard to the reports submitted by the concerned sub-divisional magistrate and the Deputy Commissioner. It is our people --- their small number should hardly be a matter of debate --- who are being harassed and kicked out of the territory they have used for grazing for generations. It is again our nomads who suddenly find that they can't go everywhere in what they believe is their homeland managed by the State Government and defended by the country's security forces especially the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Army. On the other hand, one is surprised by the response of the Army to the latest episode; it is no different from what has been spoken in the past although the men at its helm have changed. No less a person than the Army chief, Gen V.K. Singh, has sought to clarify: "In this particular case, the so-called 'T' Point which is being mentioned is an area (which the) Chinese over a period of time have felt, that the LAC passes through that area and the Army and the Ministry of External Affair's advice to all the people concerned, has been instead of putting this problem to our head, let us wait till it is resolved." He has gone on to allege: "Unfortunately, some people for various local gains have pushed construction activity in that area…So, obviously somebody (who) has got a perception that the border passes through a particular area is going to come and stop, like we would do if it was our perception." Gen Singh has echoed, perhaps with greater clarity, what his predecessor has also said. He has put it to a matter of perception of the two countries about their boundary: "I only see it as a problem of perception. We patrol up to our perception of the LAC which is further east of this and the Chinese come to the LAC as perceived by them…When they do that and it is beyond our line, it is called transgression. I am quite sure on the Chinese side also they would call it a transgression when our patrols go up to our line of perception."
It is said that our people have been advised not to indulge in any construction activity within 50 kilometres of the LAC. They are being told to wait till the on-going but protracted boundary talks between India and China lead to the removal of all irritants. How can an argument like this convince the inhabitants who think that they are State subjects and Indian citizens? How can they be deprived of their right to live according to their choice? For centuries they have been following a certain lifestyle which they are being denied now by an alien power. It is not a matter only of building a road or a passenger shed but living in the manner they have been doing. If the Army and the External Affairs Ministry have indeed declared a certain area close to the LAC "out of bounds" why is it that they have not conveyed their decision or advice, whatever it may be, to the State Government which is in charge of implementing the Central projects like the NAREGA and the BADP? It is the local officials who are perpetually exposed to risk for honestly discharging their duties. Of course, the ordinary citizens are constantly coming to grief. It needs to be asserted that the "perceptions" born of half-knowledge and contingencies should not matter in the face of known historical facts. And, how we can permit any other country to get hold over a certain piece of land which not merely in perception but in reality belongs to us. It is in the interest of all that the Union Government should come clear on this issue. It is not correct to leave it for the Army to explain; it unnecessarily damages the reputation of our elite force. If the External Affairs Ministry has taken certain stance during the talks with its Chinese counterpart it should also be within the domain of public knowledge. The State officials should know the limits to which they can go. Certainly the measures must be taken to make sure that our people are not thrown to wolves. The danger otherwise is that a feeling may gain further ground that a part of Ladakh may be sacrificed in return of unopposed control over the Tawang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh.








With Iran having attained self-sufficiency in uranium production, enrichment and fabrication, its Arab neighbours are nervous because they feel that their security is threatened as never before. Their relations with the clerical regime in Tehran have always been uneasy, more so after the revolutionary regime change in that country, which has adopted anti-US and anti-West policies, questioned Israel's right to exist as a state and has supported and sustained several extremist groups operating in the entire region. The Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising oil-rich Arab countries in its neighbourhood, devoted the bulk of the proceedings of its meeting in Abu Dhabi last month to Iran's nuclear programme, fearing that a nuclear bomb in Tehran's hands would prove catastrophic for regional peace and security.

Perhaps, Wikileaks, apart from pressure from the United Nations, which recently put another set of sanctions against Iran, forced the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Government to agree to resumption of six-party talks that took place in Geneva but yielded no results. The participating countries -- US, Russia, China. United Kingdom and France -- too feel frustrated because Iran keeps dodging substantive talks on its nuclear programme. It also refuses to answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (AIEA) about documents, experiments, development work and tell-tale imports that make sense only as part of a weapons-building effort. The Wikileaks too must have convinced Tehran that all its neighbours want destruction of its nuclear programme and will cooperate in efforts to denuclearize that country.

The Gulf Arab countries in particular feel their security would be threatened if a nuclear-armed Iran were to crash into the world scene with a bomb to intimidate its neighbours. Some of them with considerable oil and gas resources, have been warning the United States and other western countries that they too would be forced to go nuclear if Iran succeeded in producing a nuclear weapon. Apart from sanctions, they have been stressing the need for more punishing punitive measures in order to halt Tehran in the tracks. They seem convinced that Iran has acquired all the know-how and machinery for uranium enrichment and bomb making from Pakistan.
With its enrichment programme in full swing by operationalising thousands of centrifuges. Nothing should come in the way of Iran producing bomb –grade uranium and have an explosive device within a short period of time. Shiite Iran is accused by Sunni Arab nations of interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq as well, Palestine and Lebanon by promoting terrorism and providing support and weapons to Hamas, Hezbolla and other organizations to fight Israel and also create trouble in the neighbouring Arab countries, which have Shia minorities. Therefore, the very thought of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons gives nightmares to these countries.
As differences persist among western countries on the one hand and Russia and China on the other, over intensification of sanctions, Iran has operationalised its first nuclear reactor at Bushehr by fueling it with enriched uranium rods supplied by Russia. The plant was built by Moscow after German firm Siemens abandoned the project years ago. For the next ten years, its uranium fuel will come from Russia and spent fuel will go back there and will not be available to Iran for any purpose. Bushehr is thus a source of national pride for Iran and culmination of 35 years determination to get the reactor completed, come what may. Instead of suspending its own enrichment programme, Tehran insists it will press ahead with all speed even though it has no other nuclear reactors that need to be fuelled. Work on another nuclear plant, in addition to the one at Natanz and another nearing completion in Qom, will also get under way.

Thus Iran is now in a position to build stockpiles of enriched uranium from its own facilities, having installed thousands of centrifuges to accomplish the task. Last year, the US had tried to persuade Iran to send much of its stockpile of low enriched uranium to Russia to enrich the stuff to 20 per cent and to France to fabricate it into rods for reactor use, but Iran refused. Another arrangement proposed later by Turkey and Brazil to take charge of low enriched uranium and return it to Tehran after enrichment also has not yet been implemented due to Iran's reluctance to part with the stuff, or its having developed sufficient enrichment capacity.
Tehran's announcement that it has begun enrichment to 20 per cent at its own facility has poured cold water on efforts to slow down its nuclear programme. This is a big step forward further enrichment to bomb grade. Divergence of opinion among the big five over what they do with Iran had helped the country to tide over the sanctions and pursue its nuclear programme unhindered. Iran has set up dozens of companies in third countries in different names to procure materials, components etc for its weapons programme. The bomb design drawings etc and some components had already been supplied to it by Pakistan through A.Q. Khan's clandestine nuclear proliferation network in connivance with Pakistan Army.

The Arab states thus remain gravely concerned about Iran and do not hesitate to suggest that diplomacy, covert action or force are the three alternatives to be considered; otherwise Tehran would have a nuclear bomb in the near future. Diplomacy does not seem to be working and there are serious doubts about the US backing direct action, or allowing Israel to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities (thought the options are not yet closed). To some extent the sectarian division in the Muslim world too has aggravated the threat. Shiites rule Iran, while Sunnins dominate most of the region. These strains have been aggravated with the invasion of Iraq, which brought about transfer of control of the country from Sunni to Shia leaders, most of them close to Iran and taking advice and help from the clerical regime.

All this has raised serious questions about US diplomacy in West Asia and the value of Washington's security guarantees to most of these countries, which would become worthless in case Iran emerges as nuclear weapon state. For the present, US is encouraging these countries to buy more and more of American-made weaponry -- the latest jet fighters, including the F16s and F-15s, tanks, radars interceptor missiles, transport aircraft to mention a few items. Whether these acquisitions will enhance the security of the importing countries, which feel more and more threatened by Iran, is a question only they can answer. (NPA)



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                DAILY EXCELSIOR





During militancy in early nineties the black glasses were not allowed in the vehicles. Even now, the black or tainted windows in the vehicles stand banned but it was better implemented by Army during the days when the black clouds of terrorism were hovering on the horizons of our state. Whosoever would be caught with black sheeted glasses in vehicles, was reprimanded disgracefully, interrogated, suspected to be in league with some anti-national agencies or the defence forces used to be led to various apprehensions depending on the on-spot situation. During those days, an Army troop stopped a private car at Kud near Patni-top and flanked it all around with the fear to come across something fishy in it because the car was completely black-windowed. We were, by chance, travelling in a bus following this hunted car. The driver of this flanked vehicle opened the window, said something to the Army Jawans and went away. It was something astonishing for me and all my fellow travelers. In the meantime, the bus, we were sitting in, was halted for mass security search. When my turn came for being searched, I asked one of the Army Jawans, "Why did you spare that Car-wala despite the fact that he had perpetrated an act of crime." He replied to my utter surprise, "He was a teacher (Adhyapak). How can his integrity be doubted and how can he be stopped?" This degree of respect for a teacher in the heart and mind of a person who ever understood the language of gun and grenade, off-course, left me in a state of extreme pride but at the same time the de-facto plight of today's teacher puts me out of countenance. I watched an innocence on the face of that Jawan, mused a while, and left with many complaining thoughts in mind for the modern teacher but boundless love and affection for that Jawan in my heart. That Jawan, saddled with the ammunition, compelled me to challenge the viewpoint of G. B. Shaw about Army people and proved that all Army Jawans are neither Don Quixotes nor Chocolate-cream soldiers. Our society does not know that the originality of our teacher is out-rightly opposite to what it looks to the naked eyes now-a-days. It stands diluted. That one experience made me realise how rewarding and socially respectable my profession is but simultaneously my fore-head bleeds when I look at a teacher stooping down to any level for petty gains. No doubt we have some teachers still breathing somewhere in one corner of this materialistic society who have actually done their job honestly, displayed praiseworthy competence and have remained accountable throughout life to their conscience and a kind of innate voice and they have brought forth enough good sense and sensitivity that indicate that there is still some hope in the system.

Somewhere behind the entire process of multi-dimensional progress brought about by science and technology, the world also has the share of Gurus holding old fescue in hands, walking miles on foot to villages to teach their disciples with an infallible dedication to their duty, parching dreams in the eyes and a few words of blessings on the quivering lips- the Gurus (not modern teacher) who would not change their jobs for anything at all. Recounting his experiences of so many years ago, one of the teachers talked with professional pride about the class of science students that was handed over to him once in the College."They were a bunch of hot-brained, uninterested students who had taken up the subject because they had no idea of what they wanted to do in life. It was not a matter to worry for me because my preference was ever to teach my students with total motivation. The students were very tough to be dealt with but I did not give up. Instead I started motivating them, telling them of how they would benefit even socially, to the point of getting a better lifestyle, if they listened to what I was telling them." I could see the signs of satisfaction on the face of this teacher as if he had won the war of Troy, and off-course, to be a consummate teacher is no less than winning an invincible war. There are certain qualities which make a teacher complete and acceptable to the heart and mind of the students and a precious gift to the classrooms. Subject competence blended with an awakening to the routine happenings in and around the society is very important for a teacher. It is not the time to stuff our students with cut-and-dried lessons to be committed to the memory; rather by cutting across this stereo-typed and obsolete style of teaching, we are supposed to transform them into well-chiseled citizens.

Hence a teacher in school, College or University must be sufficiently equipped with a subject-orientation as well as an eye on the world in general. The knowledge we impart to our students must be co-related with the demand of the present-day-society. But the tragedy with most of our teachers at present is that they do not have a desirable knowledge of even the subject of their bread and butter, what to speak of something else. Most of them have somehow managed to break into the world of this pious profession but they never look to be teachers. Even most of the teachers who are proficient at their trade and can do well if they want, are doing more harm to the society by being extremely non serious. They have been blessed with all the traits of an ideal teacher and can motivate the course of students' future if they display even a small amount of interest in their job. But the tragedy with them is that they have never bothered about the future of their innocent disciples. Regularity, punctuality and a rapport with students is absolutely extinct from the professional life. Such teachers, despite being the classic commanders of their profession do show not even a single sign of seriousness for their students showing no mercy even to the poor parents who have to bear many hardships to send their children to schools and colleges so that they can be enabled to look after them when they are at old and ailing stage of their life. How cruel a teacher proves when he does not teach his taughts properly! I have come across a bunch of students who remain absent from their classes because they have to do the manual labour on the roadside to fulfill certain conditions of the institution.

In suburban Colleges, the plight of the students is even worse. They have to gulp down the bitter droughts of their abject predicament at the hands of such callous teachers who never have a heart pulsating in them. How nice a teacher looks getting hold of a projector, capturing the attention of the students by showing them slides, using chalk-boards to make his students understand minute details, showing personal concern to their problems, building a congenial rapport with them to encourage them to express their doubts and queries but it can be possible only when a teacher's intention is clear; when his mind is free from parochial considerations and his heart is cleansed of all canine jealousy. When a friendly and healthy atmosphere is provided to the students in the Class-room, the students, who were initially not interested in the subject, begin to ask questions because their curiosity has been roused to that point. This is the real contribution of a teacher. Mere knowledge does not make one a good teacher unless one has an art of extending it to others. Pure character, loyalty to the profession, genuine attachment with the students' lot, command over subject and a sweat language-all coupled together culminate into the birth of a good and effective teacher. The positive response of the students, respect by the society and inflating demand in the class is the ultimate reward of a teacher. And a teacher who could not achieve all these things in his career has wasted the precious years of his life. Handsome salaries, social status, attractive appeal, high stature-everything a teacher has gained but has lost respect and moral stance in the current society. He has lost his path and is heading towards the valley of death-in-life. May God infuse in him a slight compunction of conscience so that he can, at least, realise, what he is doing!








The Union Health Ministry appointed a new board of governors to the Medical Council of India (MCI) last May to clean up a corruption ridden council and revamp medical education.

The new board came up with a big idea to replace the multiple medical entrance tests prevalent across the country with one nation-wide exam, the National Eligibility-Cum-Entrance Test (NEET). Ironically, seven months later, the same board has locked horns with the ministry over the implementation of the proposal.
While announcing its proposal, the board stated that NEET would make life easy for aspiring doctors who typically appear for five to six entrance exams to secure an MBBS seat. At present, there are as many as 17 undergraduate medical entrance tests conducted by various states, private medical colleges and deemed universities.

The proposed exam was not meant to take away the management and minority quotas. The quota seats, however, would be filled up from a national merit list prepared on the basis of NEET. In other words, nobody outside the NEET list would find a place in the MBBS programme. A similar nation wide entrance test was proposed for the post-graduate programme as well. Close to 35,000 MBBS seats and 13,000 PG seats were proposed to be filled up by these two examinations.

The board also proposed exit examinations to ensure doctors receiving MBBS or MD or MS degrees meet minimum standards.

While the MCI notified the two entrance examinations on December 21, it kept the exit exam at bay for the time being. But a vision paper for 2015 suggests that exit exams are very much in the MCI's scheme of things and it is a matter of time, before these tests come into being.

On the NEET, the MCI kept its initial promise. The notification ---- says, "The reservation of seats in medical colleges for respective categories shall be as per applicable laws prevailing in states/union territories. An all India merit list as well as state-wise merit list of the eligible candidates shall be prepared on the basis of the marks obtained in the NEET and candidates shall be admitted to MBBS course from the said lists only."
Many board members including Devi Shetty and chairman S. K. Sarin repeatedly said NEET would reduce the testing hassles of private medical colleges and hence had the support of many institutions.

But with medical colleges preferring to maintain a stiff upper lip, the most vociferous objection to NEET came from Tamil Nadu, which admits students in MBBS based solely on the 10+2 results and not on the basis of any entrance. The Tamil Nadu chief minister K. Karunanidhi took up the issue strongly with the prime minister Manmohan Singh following which the health ministry decided to go slow on the NEET.

Meanwhile, the NEET was challenged in the Supreme Court with petitioners opposing its application in private medical colleges. Tamil Nadu government too intervened in the court detailing its objections. But on December 13, an apex court bench comprising Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice A. K. Patnaik refused to interfere making it clear that MCI could go ahead with NEET for both Government and private medical colleges.
But with political opposition from a key ally of the UPA government, the health ministry developed cold feet over NEET and decided to hold another round of consultations with the states.

Further, the private colleges, deemed universities and minority institutions are not legally bound to implement the NEET. To make that happen, an act of the Parliament is required as complex issues related to domicile and reservation are involved.

As the MCI notifications apparently came as a surprise, the ministry termed them "invalid" and pressed the cancel button. It argued that the MCI should have taken prior approval from the ministry before going ahead. While the MCI has refused to withdraw the notifications, the ministry has taken the stand that it has overriding authority.

The ministry officials clarified that even though the two notifications published in the gazette stand invalid, they could be revived later as and when the government wished. The ministry also provided an honourable exit route for the board members -- academics and doctors with little administrative background -- by arguing that their stubbornness for not withdrawing the two notifications might have arisen because of their poor knowledge of "official processes."

The future of the NEET would depend on the views received from states and the Congress-DMK relations in the poll bound Tamil Nadu. Whether it would come into effect from 2011 is anybody's guess but odds seem to be against it. (INAV)




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        THE TRIBUNE





The confessions of Swami Aseemanand have put a stamp of authentication on the widespread allegations of Hindutva terror made by the Congress and others. It is not only him but many others like RSS national executive member Indresh Kumar who are now in the dock for the blasts in Mecca Masjid, Malegoan, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express. What is all the more shocking is that many innocent persons have been incarcerated all this while for the crime which they never committed. Even the investigating agencies had "proved" their guilt. That shows how undependable official versions can be in such conspiracies. It is now coming to light that there were clues galore about saffron radicals being behind the blasts, but these were conveniently ignored and all the blame heaped at the doors of innocent persons. Even the ISI hand was "clearly seen" behind the blasts.


Swami Aseemanand alias Jotin Chatterjee has made his confessions before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code and is thus admissible as evidence. However, the BJP and others are plugging the line that these were extracted under duress and was only a clever ploy of the Congress to divert attention from its numerous scams and scandals. The problem is that the whole body politic has been muddied so badly that it is impossible to distinguish between the right and the wrong.


In such a surcharged atmosphere, the statement of RSS head Mohan Bhagwat that there were some members in the Sangh who showed signs of extremism and were told to leave the outfit, has only added grist to the rumour mill. In a way, it is a roundabout admission that there were such persons in the RSS ranks. By saying that they left on their own or were made to leave, he might be only trying to insulate the others from their ever-lengthening shadow. Charges may or may not stick in a court of law but suspicions will remain. In the process, a perfect weapon has been gifted to Pakistan to beat India with.









With militancy in Kashmir on the wane, those who preferred to keep quiet on the killings of inconvenient leaders have begun to speak out. Gone are the days when anyone speaking against militants or their "white collar" patrons would be finished off. The lead in telling the "truth" has been given by Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, a former Hurriyat Conference chairman. He stunned everybody over a week ago when he stated at a seminar in Srinagar that the killers of People's Conference leader Abdul Ghani Lone and Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq were "our own people". This was contrary to what the people in the Valley had been fed with so far, accusing the security forces. What professor Bhat has said has been seconded by the two sons of the late Lone — Bilal and Sajjad — who, too, have emerged as well-known leaders. Mr Sajjad Lone has specifically raised his finger at "white collar men who order killings". Professor Bhat's brother, Mohammad Sultan Bhat, was also done to death in 1995.


Moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has been maintaining diplomatic silence. But his silence is being interpreted as approval of what Professor Bhat and the Lone brothers have said. The hard-line Hurriyat leadership has reacted on expected lines. Mr Ayaz Akber, a spokesman of hawkish leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has dismissed Mr Bhat's statement as "deserving no response". However, what Mr Akber could not say has been expressed by the hardcore separatist outfit of women, Asiya Andarabi-led Dokhtaran-e-Millat. It has branded Mr Bhat an "Indian agent".


Whatever Mr Geelani and his camp followers may say, they appear to be in the dock. The time has come to expose those who played the politics of killings by patronising terrorist groups. Interestingly, separatists of all shades appear to be disenchanted with Pakistan. Mr Geelani is no longer referred to as "Buzurg Rehnuma" in Pakistan. He has been reduced to being called the Hurriyat chairman. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, too, no longer gets the treatment he got during the days of Gen Pervez Musharraf. Whether there is some policy shift or not in Islamabad may be known in the days to come.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         THE TRIBUNE





In Sanskrit, tejas, the name given to India's indigenously developed light combat aircraft (LCA), means brilliance. On Monday, the Tejas was finally accorded an initial operational clearance, but this tells only part of the story. The otherwise landmark event is the culmination of almost 27 years of work marked, however, more by unacceptable time and cost overruns – from an initial ` 560 crore to a staggering ` 17,269 crore.


The Tejas, which is meant to replace the antiquated Soviet-origin MiG-21 fleet, is still far from induction into the Indian Air Force, which most disconcertingly has been grappling with declining fighter squadron strength. As of now, weapon systems have not been fully integrated into this aircraft and, so, its operational induction into the air force is not expected until end-2013. Like most other high-end technology projects, the LCA too is a microcosm of all that is wrong with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) along with the nature of constraints and challenges in which it functions. The Tejas may have been built in India, but its key components are mostly either American or built with US assistance. It is powered by the US supplied General Electric 404 engine while the flight control system has been developed by Lockheed Martin, which again is an American company. India's plan to develop the indigenous Kaveri aero-engine for the Tejas has, after spending 20 years and ` 2,830 crore, been an effort in vain. As a consequence, the DRDO is now looking for foreign partners to jointly develop an aero-engine. As of now Mk-II of the Tejas is to be powered by the American GE-414 engine, which again, is expected to fructify only by December 2014.


By the time the Tejas enters squadron service, it is expected to end up being, at best, a medium-end fighter and somewhat behind the times. As the air chief uncomplimentingly put it, the Tejas will be a "MiG-21 plus-plus". Surely there is need for the DRDO to exercise greater tejas in executing their projects if India, an aspiring power, has to attain a credible degree of self-reliance in weapon technology.










With the Lisbon summit of the NATO countries (in November 2010) and the Afghanistan Review by President Barack Obama (in December 2010) over, it is time for New Delhi to take stock of the situation in Afghanistan, and rework its strategy to achieve those primary objectives. And as Robert Blackwill has done for the US ("Plan B in Afghanistan: Why de facto partition is the least bad option," Foreign Affairs, January/February 2011), perhaps India should also prepare a Plan B if the present strategy is unlikely to yield the desired results.


First, what is our own assessment of the situation in Afghanistan? And what are our alternatives? The Lisbon summit makes it clear that NATO would be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan by 2014. President Hamid Karzai's statement at the Lisbon summit that the Afghans should take ownership of their security and governance was more an ultimatum than a request. For the US and NATO, this serves their purpose and they should be glad to exit as early as possible.


Will Mr Karzai be able to secure Afghanistan on his own? The Afghan security forces — the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan Police — are far from ready, both in terms of training and equipment. In terms of recent history, there is no single operation that the ANA has undertaken successfully on its own against the Taliban. More importantly, in terms of military leadership, there is no leader who has the charisma to attract the loyalty of diverse components. The command and control structure of the ANA is far from complete. Once the international troops leave, the ANA will not be able to secure even Kabul and protect their President.


There is no doubt that Mr Karzai will not be able to convince the Afghans that his government will deliver and provide safety and security to the common people vis-à-vis the Taliban. His government is seen as corrupt and opportunist even by most Pashtuns, people of his own tribe. Neither the Afghan educational institutions nor the legal structures will be able to provide education and justice, the two most important demands that would ultimately force most of the Pashtuns to go back to the Taliban.


On its part, the Taliban infrastructure remains intact. Though the CIA and the US take pride in telling that they have disrupted (if not completely dismantled) the Al-Qaeda network, the Taliban network led by the Quetta Shura and the Nangarhar Shura (popularly known as the Haqqani network) are intact. It will not take more than six months or one year for both these networks to overrun the Karzai government. The Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omar is strongly positioned in Balochistan with regular inputs from Southern Afghanistan. The Haqqani network, according to recent reports, has shifted its base to FATA in Pakistan. The drone attacks have targeted Al-Qaeda, but top and second-rung leaders of these networks are alive and receive constant support from both sides of the Durand Line.


Finally, the umbilical cord between Pakistan and the Taliban remains uncut. Available reports do not suggest that the ISI and the military in Pakistan have totally distanced themselves from the above-mentioned groups. Besides, Islamabad has succeeded in pressurising Mr Karzai to reach an understanding on trade and transit between the two countries, and signing the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline agreement. The ISI has also succeeded in removing the anti-Pakistani elements in Mr Karzai's Interior Ministry — Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Afghan Intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh were removed due to pressure from Pakistan.


Equally importantly, Islamabad also seems to have succeeded in convincing the international community (read the US and Europe) that the road to any moderate success in Kabul runs via Islamabad and the Khyber Pass. Today the US and other major powers, including the UK, (perhaps reluctantly) agree that there is no alternative in Kabul other than to concede an increased role for Pakistan in what they consider as "Endgame Afghanistan".


How should India secure its interests against this backdrop? What are the alternatives? India has invested more than a billion US dollars in Afghanistan. How should it protect them and continue to maintain a presence in Afghanistan? More importantly, what should be done to negate the growing influence of Pakistan?


The first alternative is to work with whichever regime that remains in Kabul. But what if that regime, under Islamabad's influence, is unwilling to work with India? The hard truth is that Mr Karzai has started looking outside already; the chances of his support to New Delhi's enlarged engagement in Afghanistan are minimal. If the Taliban factions come back to power, in one form or the other, even this minimal space will get completely shut. The possibility of the Northern Alliance — which could provide a larger role to India — getting back to power is slim.


The second alternative is to form a coalition of regional powers — including Iran, Pakistan, Russia and some Central Asian countries — to ensure that Afghanistan remains neutral and no single country/ actor makes it as its backyard and allows it to be the centre of radical Islam.


The third alternative is to ensure a small presence, perhaps along with the US. It is widely expected that the US would leave a small force primarily to operate the drones for attacking Al-Qaeda. This is where India should seriously reconsider its obsession in negating the Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. Instead of India trying to obstruct the Pakistani presence, New Delhi should attempt to trap Pakistan in Afghanistan. Any historical analysis of Afghanistan-Pakistan relations would reveal that Pakistan has not succeeded in establishing a positive relationship with the Afghan nation, including the Taliban. There is hardly a section that will appreciate Pakistan's role in Afghanistan.


Pakistan, on the other hand, has not gained anything substantial from Afghanistan. Most of Pakistan's recent problems actually originate from across the Durand Line. In fact, Afghanistan does not provide strategic depth any more to Pakistan. India should have a symbolic presence in Afghanistan, adequate enough to annoy Pakistan and involve more, and get trapped.


The last alternative is to cut its losses and get out of Afghanistan. This is where India will have to relook its strategic objectives in Afghanistan. There is so much of an intellectual discussion, without much of an understanding of geography, saying that Afghanistan is India's gateway to Central Asia. Is there a secret passage or grand tunnel which makes Afghanistan a gateway to Central Asia, jump-starting Pakistan from the Wagah border?


Plan B for India would be to cut its losses and leave Afghanistan, perhaps with a minimal presence, adequate enough to trap Pakistan. Let Pakistan consider Afghanistan as its strategic depth and remain embroiled.


The writer is Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.








During a recent conversation with a professor of literature, I commented that the poetry of San Francisco-based singer/ songwriter Matt Nathanson was marked with profound anxiety and solitude and was in many ways hugely evocative of the great German poet, Rilke. And even though the professor found the thought at best "refreshing", he was amused. And because in any given situation, a person sees only what he chooses to see, I could explain the professor's amusement as his inability to see what he had chosen not to see – a 30 something year old popular singer/songwriter who crooned on the radio and on the MTV being compared in any way to Rilke, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. 


Perhaps the claims of a Pulitzer-winning poet to the legacy of Rilke could have been better justified because the truth is that we are unable to perceive or appreciate art in unexpected places. This truth could not be better reflected than in the episode below.


A while back, on a winter morning, one of the world's greatest violinists, Joshua Bell, performed incognito at a metro station in Washington D.C. His performance was part of a social experiment on perception. The question being – Are we able to perceive and appreciate art springing from an unexpected source?


As Joshua Bell played six of the most intricate Bach pieces for about an hour on a handcrafted 18th century historic violin, thousands of people passed through the station on their way to work. With the exception of about 20 who stopped to tip the man, others hurried past. In all, Joshua Bell collected $32. And when the performance drew to a close, there was no applause.


The passing crowd had completely failed to notice that the fiddler was the great Joshua Bell. In the busy morning rush, the young Bell was confused for an average to below average music student trying to earn some quick cash. In the given context, the brilliance that flowed from his violin made a fleeting impression, if any. As perception springs from the interaction between one's past experiences, cultural background and one's individual interpretation of the incident in question, the social experiment concluded that most people are unable to appreciate art in unexpected situations.


And coming back to Matt Nathanson, the same is true for him.  As a popular singer/songwriter, he is not a likely candidate for discussion in a literature class and it may not be anytime soon that his poetry will be picked up for publication by The New Yorker. However, he will continue to write and sing platinum selling songs. He will also continue to have his own audience, who perceive his writing and music outside the context of poetry that is taught as part of curricula.  To Nathanson's fans, Rilke, whoever he may be, may as well be consigned to oblivion.


As for me, because I like them both and because I believe that somewhere outside of their designated realm and time in history, the writings of Rilke and Nathanson at once converge and melt, I will continue to think outside the box. And yes, on any given day, I will be sure to watch out for that street musician!









If good governance is the ultimate goal of the civil services, efforts should be stepped up in 2011 to make them dynamic, result-oriented and corruption-free at the Centre and in the states.


Special attention should be given to the district administration which is the cutting edge of governance. There is a lot of disconnect between the officers and the people at present. This hiatus should be bridged. Governance can improve if special emphasis is laid on developing an effective interface between the people and the civil servants. The focus should be on a face-to-face administration rather than a file-to-file administration.


The delivery mechanism needs to be streamlined with clearer delineation of roles and functions between the district administration and the local bodies. Strong accountability mechanisms — both hierarchical and downward forms including social accountability mechanisms such as report cards, social audit, people's budgeting, people's estimates, participatory planning and appraisal, etc. — must be put in place.


The Right to Information Act has helped in bringing about transparency and efficiency in government services to some extent. Yet, there is need for a suitable legislation that will force civil servants to deliver on time. The work ethic in government offices must improve. The Centre and the states can usher in a new culture of administration if the principle of the right person for the right job is followed.


The Centre and the states should wage a war against corrupt civil servants. There is a need to expedite the proceedings against them and bring them to book in 2011. Over 25 of them in the rank of Secretary to the Government of India are facing charges of corruption. Is there no timeframe for the Group of Secretaries to decide and order investigation against them? The departmental proceedings against the IAS officers move at a snail's pace. And when it comes to the crunch, the officer under a cloud retires and goes scot free. Ironically, though IAS officers are said to be rule-bound, when it comes to their own conduct, they don't seem to bother about the rules. Moreover, there is no fear of the law. If the corrupt are punished expeditiously, it will send the right message down the line. The Bihar legislation to confiscate the property of the corrupt bureaucrats and politicians should be replicated by the Centre and all states.


There is an imperative need to review Article 311 of the Constitution which gives undue protection to civil servants against arbitrary dismissal and punishment. No other country gives this kind of protection to them. It has become a big hurdle in the fight against corruption. The eight-member Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee should take steps to get Article 311 repealed.The Single Directive clause which gives protection to officers of the rank of Joint Secretary and above should also go.


The GoM, set up in the backdrop of Congress President and National Advisory Council Chairperson Sonia Gandhi's action plan to tackle corruption "head-on", is timely and well-intended. However, it remains to be seen whether its recommendations (to be ready in two months) would remain on paper or implemented in toto.


What happened to the UPA government's Civil Services Bill (2009) which sought to fine-tune the 2007 Bill to create an enforceable code of conduct for civil servants? Parliament would do well to debate the Bill and enact it fast. The Bill imposes many sanctions against civil servants found wanting: censure; withhold of promotions; recovery from pay of the whole or part of pecuniary loss caused to the government; withholding of increments; reduction to a lower stage in the time scale of pay; compulsory retirement; removal of and dismissal from service.


More important, the legislation will help IAS and IPS officers get a fixed tenure of three years in every posting. If an officer is transferred before three years, he or she will have to be compensated for the inconvenience and harassment caused due to such a move. As most transfers are whimsical and arbitrary, they will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny to remove the element of discretion in such orders. It will especially help those working in the states because the officers will not be at the mercy of the Chief Ministers, ministers and powerful MLAs.


Institutions such as the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission, the state vigilance and anti-corruption departments seem to be failing in their fight against corruption. While these institutions are regarded as handmaidens of the government, they also suffer from a number of inherent limitations for effectively responding to corruption.


The selection of officers for the CBI, the CVC and other anti-corruption organisations at the Centre and in the states should be made more stringent (particularly in view of the P.J. Thomas episode and the CBI's shoddy performance chart) with accent on the officers' impeccable integrity and good track record.


Effective implementation of the Supreme Court's four-year-old directives on police reforms brooks no delay. If implemented, these reforms are expected to insulate the police administration from political and other influences. Unfortunately, most states have implemented only a watered down version of the reforms which will not serve the intended purpose.


The Supreme Court and its monitoring committee should bestow special attention on the time-bound implementation of police reforms by the state governments in areas like the state security commission, the selection of DGPs through a panel and a fixed tenure for the DGP, IGPs and SSPs.


There is a crying need for administrative reforms. There is no dearth of committees and recommendations. But there is no political will to implement them on the ground. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Mr M. Veerappa Moily had done a good job. Some of its suggestions such as developing specialisation and domain competency among civil servants are worthy of implementation.


Above all, to improve the quality of governance at the Centre and in the states, the civil servants should be given adequate opportunities to perform with freedom, efficacy and accountability. The focus should be on reaching out to tackling the core problems and not tinkering with peripheral issues.








 Raj Kumar Gupta's new film has the sexiest opening credits in years. Newspaper headlines slice along basic cityshots, rejuvenated by Amit Trivedi's thudding, primal instant-anthem: D-d-d-dd-Dilli Dilli, the singers nearly stammer, the beat itself enthralled by the city's impossible contradictions. Scene one — Vidya Balan's sleeping face lit only intermittently with a green light, accompanied by the regularly-spaced buzz of a vibrating cellphone — is perfect. As she ignores the mobile only to mumble into the more tenacious landline, we viewers know the film isn't wasting time. That Jessica has already been shot.


Many a film piggybacks on rare fact: an inspirational newspaper article, say, or the life of an unjustly forgotten hero. Indians only make biopics of people long dead, for fears legal and tangible. Our fact-meets-fiction genre usually explores either the unknown or the unremembered. Gupta commendably tackles a story from what-seems-likeyesterday. We remember Kargil, we remember the turn of the century, and we remember Jessica Lall, that pretty Delhi model shot down by Manu Sharma in broad nightlight, in front of numerous, eventually forgetful witnesses. It became one of 'those' trials, one of those mockeries of the justice system by the moneyed and the manipulative, a verdict that left us sarcastic. And then we shook our heads and changed the channels.


Except, in this extraordinary case, the channels themselves wanted to change. The media refused to accept the Manu Sharma verdict and let him off as our O J Simpson, and journalists attacked the story and its turncoat witnesses. As they soldiered on and uncovered evidence, an Aamir Khan film slapped us out of our apathy, making the youth of the country realise the true power of text-messaging. The case was reopened, the verdict was upturned, and we rightfully hailed, well, ourselves. A difference was made, and this was indeed a sequence of events well worthy of celluloid.


However, we now seem only to be finding the right stories, instead of telling them right. Weeks ago, Ashutosh Gowarikar highlighted neglected freedom fighter Surjya Sen, but only through his nigh-unwatchable Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se. Gupta works more cunningly, but falls into as filmi a trap: in his urge to take the story to the maximum people, he paints exclusively in broadstrokes. No One Killed Jessica is let down by masala-movie ambitions, by its determined crowdpleasing. It's a plate of two-hour Maggi Noodles, and that watershed event deserved better.


Rani Mukerji's character never falters. She doesn't spot the story at first, but once she does, she's everyone: from Barkha hawking an SMS number to Sagarika interviewing a geriatric lawyer to a Tehelka team sting-ing a cowardly actor. A fine gambit to create a crusading hero, but without any opposition, without any mistakes, her eventual victory seems like a pushover. Like she knew exactly what to do and did it perfectly. Except cursing, that is. Rani swears once-a-line on average, and while I have nothing against women tossing f-bombs casually — heck, I live in Bombay — in the film it jars. Cursing used as a character trait to underline aggressiveness is a bad move to begin with, but coupled with how self-consciously Rani swears, it exposes the character's artificiality.


Rajesh Sharma, playing a tough, relatively less-corrupt cop, provides a bravura performance — that interrogation room scene is a goosepimply thing of joy — and Vidya Balan is superbly understated, staying credible and evocative even after her character has long turned into a melancholic piece of cardboard. But the rest of the film is drowned in the broadstrokes, in the cheap-laugh gimmick of the politician's wife demanding her son's safety, in RGV-like phone conversations and Bhandarkar-like parties. Heck, in one scene the Bina Ramani figure sits across from Sabrina, sobs a bit about Jessica, and bites into gooey chocolate cake, before offering her some. That is plain pathetic. As is the fact that people a decade ago are seen talking on rotarydial phones, presumably to emphasise just how middle class they are.


What surprises me most of all, however, is how UTV didn't slap its own back harder. Various journalists all took massive steps to uncover the lies, but the only reason the masses snapped out of their reverie was Rang De Basanti. Say of it what you will, Rakeysh Mehra's film genuinely roused the people to action. This one just makes that action seem a little easier, a little less cool.


No One Killed Jessicais let down by masala-movie ambitions






                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          BUSINESS STANDARD





There is no magic bullet to kill the stubbornly high food price inflation, which jumped to an year's peak of 18.32 per cent in the last week of December 2010. This much was clear at the end of a high-level review of food price inflation chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday. It has now been clear for some time that unlike in the past, when high-value, protein-rich foods like pulses and livestock products drove up food prices, this time round non-protein items and perishables like vegetables are driving up the prices, which have gone up by a whopping 58.8 per cent in recent weeks. Some livestock products have also seen prices rising sharply. Prices of cereals have remained more or less stable and that of pulses, the most-consumed protein source, have dropped by 10 per cent compared to last year's peak. Though analysts tend to blame the recent unseasonal and, at places, heavy rains for the sudden price spurt, this can only be partly true. Hoarding, too, cannot be the main reason, especially for perishables like fruits and vegetables. Commodities like cereals, edible oils and pulses, which can be stored for some time, have not joined the price race, reaffirming that hoarding is not the main culprit. Of course, some structural factors, such as demographic and income changes which have pushed demand for high-value foods, seem to have contributed to food price inflation more recently. But this factor alone cannot sustain high inflation for long because production usually tends to respond to demand and prices.


So, who or what is the villain of the piece? Clearly, persisting market imperfections that enable traders to manipulate prices seem to have played a vital role this winter season. Imperfections in agricultural marketing and lack of post-harvest food management infrastructure, such as efficient transport, cold chains, agro-processing units — in short, the farm-to-fork chain — have largely contributed to the problem. This deficiency is apparent also from the huge difference between farm-gate prices and consumer prices. Besides, poor post-harvest handling of farm produce leads to substantial, albeit avoidable, losses, estimated at over 30 per cent in the case of perishables like fruits and vegetables. Moreover, needless and often mistimed government intervention in the commodities markets, by way of curbs on stockholding, movement, domestic trading, import and export of goods, usually sends wrong signals to the producers. At the time of sowing, farmers are seldom sure of what will be the fate of the season's output. Such flawed and knee-jerk policy reactions seem to stem partly from a lack of a reliable mechanism for foreseeing production and hence likely prices of crops. Both the Union agriculture ministry and several state governments have failed to act. Better market intelligence along with reform and liberalisation of agricultural produce and marketing committees would be one step forward. Here the responsibility devolves upon the Centre and state governments. Improved supply management appears to be the key to the current spurt in prices, though in the medium term, both fiscal and monetary policy must work in tandem to arrest price rise.








At a time when energy security has become critical and environmental concerns emanating from the use of conventional fossil fuels are also growing, it is ironical that the bulk of India's huge hydropower production potential, deemed as the world's fifth largest, remains untapped. Hydroelectricity, being clean, renewable, inflation-neutral and cost-effective in the longer run, is considered a preferred form of energy in most countries. But India has come to neglect this source. Consider the facts. Hydroelectricity accounts for as much as 90 per cent of the total power production in over 20 countries and more than 50 per cent in over 65 others. In India, on the other hand, the hydropower's share in total electricity output has plummeted to a meagre 22 per cent from 44 per cent in the 1970s. Worse, the actual power generation (in terms of number of units) from the installed capacity is gradually dwindling due chiefly to unabated siltation of reservoirs and poor maintenance. It is reckoned to have tumbled by about 30 per cent in past 15 years — from 3.97million units per every Mw installed capacity in 1994-95 to 2.87 million units in 2009-10. Yet, no new major or medium hydropower-cum-irrigation project has been launched since the 8th Plan. Many of the projects planned and approved earlier are either still languishing or have taken much longer to come up than originally scheduled, resulting in substantial cost overruns. Besides, the fate of some of the projects under implementation faces uncertainty. The 600-Mw Loharinag Pala project has recently been shelved because a large stretch of river Bhagirathi in Uttarakhand has, in a first move of its kind, been declared as a dam-free zone. This has been done largely on religious grounds, though ecological reasons have also been cited. The Kol dam project in Himachal Pradesh is beset with delays due to design problems.


Resistance from local people, especially those facing evacuation from dam sites and submergence zones, apart from a handful of anti-dam activists, is the main bane of the large and medium hydropower projects. What is disregarded in the process is the fact that these projects ultimately lead to the development of the region by providing power, irrigation and drinking water. Of course, it cannot be denied that there have been instances where the evacuees have not been suitably compensated and rehabilitated, but these are really administrative glitches that can and, in fact, should be removed. Small and micro hydropower projects provide another opportunity for augmenting power production and deriving other advantages like irrigation and drinking water to cater to local area needs. Such projects, many of which can be run-of-the-river projects, generally do not run into the kind of problems that the large projects face. Besides, they do not require huge investments. Nor do they interfere, in most cases, with the fragile ecology of hills. Unfortunately, no more than 20 per cent of their total assessed power production potential of about 15,000 Mw has actually been harnessed as of now. This level can easily be raised to 50 per cent in short period. One way of doing so is to allow development of such projects with full or partial private investment and community participation. A proper policy regime needs to be put in place for this purpose.







Amitabh Bachchan has fuelled a tourism boom, but Gir's lions need a second homeThe sharp decline in India's tiger population has been, quite rightly, the focus of much media attention in the last few years. It is now estimated that barely 1,400 of them survive in the wild compared to around 40,000 a century ago. While this is very depressing, we hear very little about how India's other big cat, the Asiatic Lion, has been brought back from near extinction. At the beginning of the 20th century, India's lion population had dropped to a few dozen in the Gir forests of Junagarh (now in Gujarat). This is still the only place where the animal is found in the wild but the 2010 survey suggests that the population has grown to 411. Meanwhile, encouraged by Amitabh Bachchan's ad-campaign, the lions have become the lynchpin of Gujarat's aggressive tourism strategy with a 96 per cent year-on-year jump in tourists visiting Gir National Park during October-December 2010. Perhaps it's time to pay a bit more attention to India's other big cat.


Every culture that encounters the lion has tended to give the animal a special status. We know that lions were considered royal game in Mesopotamia from the 2nd millennium BC and only the king could hunt them. The animal is represented in a multitude of sculptures, friezes and paintings in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. At Beital-Wali in Lower Nubia, a tame lioness is shown near the throne of Rameses II (1290-1224 BC) with an inscription: "Slayer of his Enemies".

Strangely, there is very little evidence to show that Indians of the Harappan period were aware of the lion. Harappan seals are full of tigers and other wild animals, but no lions. Why were the early Indians so lukewarm to an animal with such obvious charms?

The most likely reason is that the lion was not common in the subcontinent at that time. Till the 3rd millennium BC, north-west India was much wetter than it is today with higher rainfall and the Saraswati river in full flow. The lion is an animal that hunts in open grasslands and could not penetrate the tiger-infested jungles that existed in the region. However, the balance shifted as the climate became drier and the Saraswati dwindled. There would have been a savannah phase when lions from Iran could have made their way through Balochistan and then into the tiger territory. This explains why the earliest artifact depicting a lion in the subcontinent, a golden goblet, was found in Balochistan. As Harappan urban centres were abandoned and populations migrated to the Gangetic plains, the lions would have taken over the newly dry wilderness. Over time, they would penetrate as far east as Bihar, coexisting in many places with tigers.

Once the lion became a familiar animal, it was quickly appropriated by Indian culture. As in the Middle-East, it became the symbol of bravery and of the power of the state. The Mauryans carved them on their columns and the Mughal emperors hunted them near Agra and Ropar. So, when India became Independent, lions became the national emblem.

The last lions

Despite all the prestige associated with it, the Asiatic Lion nearly went extinct. The last reported sighting of a lion in Iran was in 1942. In Iraq, the magnificent Assyrian friezes are all that remain of a beast last sighted in 1917. British records show that there were lions in Haryana and Punjab till the 1820s. In Rajasthan and central India, they survived in the wild till the 1860s. Then they suddenly all but disappeared. What happened in the 19th century?

The popular view is that they were killed for sport but the real culprit was a loss of habitat to agriculture. A growing human population needed more food even as the newly built railways encouraged cash crops like cotton. All forms of wildlife were affected but the lions and cheetahs lost the flatlands they need to survive. The tiger did relatively better for the moment because it could survive in hilly and swampy terrain that is less conducive to faming.

By the late 19th century, there were reports that perhaps only a dozen Asiatic Lions were left in the wild in Gir. The actual number was probably somewhat larger, but at last alarm bells began to ring. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, heard of this and refused to go on a lion hunt in Gir during his state visit to Junagarh in November 1900. The Nawabs of Junagarh, with the support of the colonial government, now became the guardians of the endangered species for the next half-century. Note how the Indian cheetah did not attract similar patronage and went extinct.

Back from the brink

Thanks to the Nawabs, the number of lions had drifted up to around 230 by the time India became Independent. However, after some growth in the 1950s, the population plunged to just 177 in 1970. Faced with this crisis, the Gir Lion Sanctuary Project was born in 1972, a year before the better-known Project Tiger. At this stage, there were less than 200 lions and 1,827 tigers in the wild. Four decades later, the number of lions has risen to over 400 while the tiger population is down to 1,400. This is not to suggest that Asiatic Lions are out of danger. There was a spate of poaching incidents in 2007 and, just a few weeks ago, in mid-December 2010, the authorities arrested 25 members of a gang from Karnataka with lion body-parts. The lions of Gir also suffer from a very narrow genetic base and are susceptible to epidemics. Nevertheless, the overall effort is paying off.

Gir now has a problem of plenty as the lion population is too large for the existing sanctuary and the animals are drifting into the surrounding countryside. Lions are being seen along the coast near Kodinar and even as far away as Palitana. For years, Kuno in Madhya Pradesh has been proposed as a second home but, for a number of reasons, the authorities in Gujarat have resisted this. Meanwhile, Amitabh Bachchan's advertisement campaign has fuelled a tourism boom that will soon exhaust the visitor-carrying capacity of Gir. The Asiatic Lion had barely escaped extinction but it now desperately needs space to flourish. Perhaps tourist dollars will encourage the creation of a new sanctuary within Gujarat. Perhaps Mr Bachchan will use his extraordinary charm to find a second home for India's other big cat.

The author is president of the Sustainable Planet Institute and honorary senior fellow of WWF







HOW serious was Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia when he said that India was not after Non Resident Indian (NRI) funds or NRI money? At the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, organised by the government ostensibly to celebrate the country's connection with the 27-million-strong Indian diaspora living in 150 countries, Mr Ahluwalia said last Sunday that India was reaching out to NRIs not for their money, but because it valued the long, socio-cultural footprint all Indians living in India and abroad shared.

Elaborating further, Mr Ahluwalia said more than 95 per cent of investments in the country came from domestic sources and added that NRIs were, of course, welcome to invest in India if they felt that their money was well-spent in this country. As a way of connecting with the large NRI community living in different countries, Mr Ahluwalia's attempt may well work. However, there is a larger disconnect in the manner in which he tried to contextualise the relationship between the NRI community and India.

 It is, of course, true that NRI investments in projects in India have remained quite small over the years. Since 1991, when the country liberalised its foreign investment policy, NRIs have accounted for a total foreign direct investment (FDI) of $179 billion, which is less than 2 per cent of the total such investment India has received from different countries. However, irrespective of whether Mr Ahluwalia likes it or not, India's dependence on NRI money has increased over the last few years. And to gauge that dependence, a simple measurement of the NRI share in India's total FDI is clearly not the appropriate tool.

Consider, for instance, the rising level of remittances by the NRIs, expressed largely as private transfers in the government's balance of payments data. In 1990-91, NRI remittances were about $2 billion. In 2009-10, they were $52 billion and in the first six months of 2010-11, they had reached a level of $26 billion, maintaining the tempo witnessed in the last few years. The criticality of the remittances becomes evident in two ways.

One, NRI remittances in 1990-91 accounted for a little less than 1 per cent of India's gross domestic product or GDP. Last year, these remittances became close to 4 per cent of GDP. India is still far from being a remittances-dependent economy like Bangladesh, but the rise is unmistakable. Remittances are also a function of the attractiveness of the domestic economy and ease of policies that facilitate such transfers. If the government reverses these policies or the Indian economy becomes weak, the flow of remittances too may slow down.

Two, India's balance of payments has reached a level where a decline in remittances can cause a problem. In 2009-10, for instance, the net surplus on the external account was only $13 billion. If the remittances that year, estimated at $52 billion, had been lower by 25 per cent, that surplus would have simply vanished. The short point is India's balance of payments is now dependent more on capital flows from foreign institutional investors and NRI remittances than ever before.

Therefore, notwithstanding what Mr Ahluwalia said, the reality was that the Indian economy was becoming more dependent on NRI remittances. And if NRIs decided not to remit their savings, for whatever reasons, the Indian government would have something more serious to worry about.

It would also appear that even the NRI community does not equally share Mr Ahluwalia's euphoria over the socio-cultural connect that, according to him, drives the relationship between the Indian diaspora and India. The NRI community has no illusions about making investments in India. If they are sending billions of dollars back home through remittances, it is because there is need to do so. Moreover, the environment and stability in India make such remittances attractive and even remunerative in every way.

That this commercial sense drives them becomes obvious through the pattern of NRI deposits — the other route through which the Indian diaspora can keep their savings in India and earn a reasonable rate of interest. NRI deposits in India have shrunk whenever there has been a crisis domestically or globally. NRI deposits dropped from $1.5 billion in 1990-91 to $290 million in 1991-92 in the wake of India's worst balance of payments crisis. Again in 1998-99, NRI deposits shrunk to $961 million, compared to $1.1 billion in 1997-98 and $3.3 billion in 1996-97 — all because of the East Asian crisis and India's economic crisis in the wake of Pokhran-II.

What is clear from this is that the NRI community always invests in India purely on commercial considerations, which is perhaps what it should be. The problem will arise if we allow the euphoria over building socio-cultural bondage with the NRI community cloud the practical economic logic that drives that relationship. The chief ministers, present at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, understood it quite well. They made no secret of their open invitation to the NRIs to invest in India and earn attractive returns. Given the current state of the Indian economy, we do need NRI money and we should make sure through sound and prudent economic policies that they find it worthwhile to remit their money to India or keep their money invested in India. They should need India as much as India should need them. There is neither any scope nor any need to gloat over building this relationship based on socio-cultural bondages.








Motor vehicle insurers will read with shock and awe a Supreme Court judgment delivered last week. The judgment made an insurance company pay for those who lost their lives while allegedly pilfering petrol from a truck that turned turtle. The case had come to the court twice in the last ten years, and each time the insurer lost.

According to the Motor Vehicles Act, there are two kinds of compensation for death or injury suffered in a road accident. The first is no-fault liability, which has to be paid even if the victim was at fault. The object of the rule is to provide immediate relief to the injured or the dependents of the deceased since it takes time to determine fault. A just and fair compensation after determining who caused the accident and whether the victim contributed to it will come later. Since a motor vehicle is compulsorily insured, the liability to pay the compensation falls on the insurance company. In the present case, the insurer had to pay on both counts.

 A collision occurred between a petrol tanker and a truck on the Pune-Bangalore highway in the small hours. The tanker went off the road and fell in a ditch below at some distance from the highway. As a result, petrol started leaking from the tanker. In the morning, some villagers started pilfering petrol despite the warning given by the driver and the cleaner. This was followed by an explosion in which 46 people died. The dependents of the deceased moved the accident claims tribunal seeking compensation from the owner and the insurance company. The tribunal did not see any connection between the road accident and the deaths owing to the theft. But the Bombay High Court overruled the order and granted a no-fault liability in the case, Shivaji Dayanu Patil vs Smt Vatschala. The Supreme Court upheld it.

The latest judgment of the Supreme Court was the second round in which New India Assurance Co Ltd appealed against the high court order directing the insurer to pay compensation to some victims after analysing the facts. The tribunal ruled that the vehicle was not in use at the time of the fire; there was no connection between the road accident earlier and the explosion; and the victims who wanted to steal petrol were responsible for the disaster. The police report also blamed the victims for carrying lit beedis that caused the fire. But the high court reversed the finding and asked the insurer to pay all the claimants.

The owner and the insurer appealed against this order in the Supreme Court. They insisted the petrol tanker was not a motor vehicle as defined in law because it was "not in use" and was lying upturned in a ditch below and was not capable of movement on the road; and there was no causal relationship between the collision on the road above and the explosion that took place five hours later. The Supreme Court did not accept these arguments and ruled that even if a vehicle is not moving, if it is capable of moving, it was "in use".

In the case Oriental Fire & General Insurance Co Ltd vs Suman Navnath Rajguru, a petrol tanker parked near a footpath on the road in front of a petrol pump exploded, causing a passerby fatal injuries. The Bombay High Court rejected the insurer's contention that at the material time, the petrol tanker was not in "use". Citing similar decisions, the Supreme Court held the insurance company liable to pay in the present case.

In compensation cases, the victim's negligence is a hot issue. Insurance companies vehemently argue that road accident victims contribute to the accident (by jay-walking, for instance). If it is proved, the liability of the owner and the insurer would be reduced according to the proportion of contributory negligence. But in this case, neither of the Supreme Court judgments accepted the argument that the victims were doing anything unlawful. It did not accept the evidence. In any case, all those in the crowd may not have indulged in theft. Perhaps the court took a liberal view considering the fact that the victims were villagers and the provisions of the law were meant to be a welfare measure in the case of accidents. The court also might have judicially accepted the behaviour of some crowds at accident sites who first rob the victims of their cash, credit cards and jewellery and then start rescue operations. In any case, these judgments put a heavy burden on insurance companies, leaving them short of arguments when similar mishaps occur





The question raises fundamental issues about the MGNREGA's centralised template and poor delivery mechanism, but it is important to provide a legal basis to its wage structure to protect it against inflation. We need to remember that the way the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was originally conceived, wages were never meant to be equal to the minimum wages; they should have been lower. This is because the MGNREGA is not meant to be a job guarantee scheme in the classical sense, it is meant for people who do not temporarily have any other job.

In this context, the other important issue is that there is a great deal of variation in wage rates across the country and the minimum wage also varies across the states — as they should. There are states where the market rate is actually higher than the minimum wages and there are states where it is lower. So there are big questions of whether we should have a system of minimum wages at all or not, whether it serves any purpose. But the pertinent issue to this debate is that we cannot and should not decree a national-level minimum wage. This is a fundamental issue that goes beyond the minimum wages debate. The reason this is pertinent is that in the MGNREGA, we have a central template. The moment we accept that MGNREGA wages should be linked to minimum wages, we also need to accept that these wages can no longer be centrally determined — whether it should be Rs 100 or Rs X a day. In fact, this issue has also cropped up in the recent debate on inflation-indexing because the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour (CPI-AL) also varies from state to state. So more fundamentally, assuming we need a rural employment guarantee scheme, we need to consider whether we need a more central template and that also has implications for what you can and cannot do.

The other point to be considered is that the MGNREGA is already distorting the labour market. The way it has been constructed, it was probably deliberately intended to do so. But let me flag something else: the issue is not whether it is Rs 100 a day on paper or whatever it is going to be now. The problem is that there are huge delivery issues with this scheme. There are studies that show even if the wage is Rs 100 on paper, on average people are getting paid Rs 45 because the scheme has not been able to weed out the system of middlemen. So much more relevant to whether the MGNREGA should be linked to the CPI-AL or minimum wages is a debate on the delivery mechanism. Sure, we have said payments will henceforth be made only through post offices and savings bank accounts, but we do know that there are villages where the nearest post office or bank branch is miles away. The Reserve Bank of India has a financial inclusion agenda that says India will have a bank branch in every village with a population of more than 2,000. But there are probably 200,000 villages or more with a population less than this.

Overall, I think the more constructive debate would not be this one, but how we improve the delivery mechanism, to ensure that we can deviate from the centralised template so that we can tailor the MGNREGA to local conditions and use it to create, in some sense, productive assets. Given the present structure in terms of wages and materials, it cannot really be used in this way. If you consider, say, something like water harvesting, there are many options. Right now, the central template says you can construct a check dam or dig a well; now, whether these are relevant or whether something else – like de-siltation – is relevant is a function of local conditions, so the central template should allow for this. I also think the central menu should have enough flexibility to use the scheme to create human capital. Suppose, for example, I want to opt for some short-duration training and I need a stipend. If you said let me use the scheme to part-fund that stipend, why should the MGNREGA not have the flexibility to allow that?

As told to Business Standard

Aruna Roy

Mazdoor Kisan

Shakti Sangathan

The minimum wage issue encompasses two fundamental considerations: linking minimum wages to inflation and paying minimum wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). That minimum wages must be paid under the MGNREGA cannot be questioned. In 1948 India passed the Minimum Wages Act, which categorically stated that no worker could be paid less than the statutory minimum wage for a day's work. The norm related to the barest minimum for a family to survive. The Supreme Court has ruled that compromise on minimum wages is unacceptable and that no public works programme can pay less than the statutory minimum wage. Paying less would amount to forced labour and a violation of workers' fundamental rights. MGNREGA wages are currently below the minimum wage in at least 19 states and the Government of India is in contempt in the Andhra Pradesh High Court in a PIL filed by workers.

But why does paying the barest minimum in the MGNREGA raise such fears? The Minimum Wages Act has been an important, if tattered, bit of protection that the unorganised sector has retained as a fallback to fight exploitation. The MGNREGA made minimum wages tangible, increased the bargaining power of workers and offered a benchmark to fight severely depressed wages. Recognised for providing work, though this varies from state to state, the MGNREGA has also been the single-most effective state intervention in the wage market. The whining and complaining about costs to industry, big farmers and the lack of availability of cheap migratory labour is proof that the MGNREGA has partially succeeded.

This also explains this sudden attack on minimum wages, and an attempt to dilute it at all costs so that inflation drowns out its protective cover. We are not willing to make essential correctives in the agricultural policy, but want cheap labour to subsidise the crisis in this sector. The government as employer pleads financial constraints while justifying non-payment of wages under the MGNREGA, but provides for the commonwealth of corrupt practices. The most appalling aspect is the brazen role of the state in undermining the fundamental rights of its poorest citizens. The only way to protect the standard of a minimum wage from the cannibalistic effects of inflation is to index the wage. In fact, the rational and effectively implemented minimum wages is also good macroeconomic policy and explains how and why rural India has dealt better with the economic downturn, and the drought. The MGNREGA was often cited as a source of maintaining levels of consumption in rural areas which played a role in stimulating the rural supply chain. Now, because of extraordinary levels of food inflation, workers are demanding that the wage be indexed.

Platitudes like "growth with a human face", while paying sub-minimum wages to MGNREGA workers, are against basic concerns of the aam aadmi, and proof of the hypocrisy of political promises.

In fact, the government has partly addressed the issue in indexing MGNREGA wages to inflation. But indexing the wage to inflation is a subset of the minimum wage concept and the Act. The only way to protect the minimum wage as prices go up is to index the wage. The very fact that even this took so long to do so is telling. The thought of questioning the dearness allowance of salaried employees never crosses one's mind. But why then should linking wages to inflation in the MGNREGA have been contested? Compare MPs' recently tripled emoluments; bureaucrats doubled incomes courtesy the Pay Commission, and raised salaries of the judiciary with the passing of an order!

Thus, to index the wages without the protection of the Minimum Wages Act, is providing immediate succour while removing the fundamental, legal basis for any minimum standard. The implications go far beyond MGNREGA workers. The government will not have any moral authority to implement the Minimum Wages Act when it is itself a defaulter. It also opens the door to any other legislation over-riding the minimum wage and creating conditions of forced labour.







THAT key members of the Union Cabinet met to discuss prices would normally be hailed as a sign of responsive action on the government's part. But Tuesday's meeting was greeted more with cynicism than with appreciation. It did not help that the meeting was inconclusive and will convene again Wedesday, but more germane is the perception that meetings and debates lead only to yet more meetings and debate. What is missing in public perception is the will to act. This gap must be filled, and no amount of spin or media management can achieve that — only purposive action can. The monetary policy part of what requires to be done can be left to the RBI. The government's focus must be on what it alone can do. A current account deficit in excess of 3% of GDP is a sign of excess demand in the system, to which the fiscal deficit is a contributor. Reducing the fiscal deficit will ease the macroeconomic contribution to inflation. Slashing fuel subsidies, paradoxical though this may sound, is the easiest way to achieve this. Sections of the vocal middle class will howl, with the Left as their most vociferous champion yowlers, transporters will threaten to go on strike, as if they bear the additional cost of fuel and don't pass it on to consigners and the BJP will live up to its role as the Opposition. But the government should do what is right and not take the path of least resistance. The government must also act to augment supplies, particularly of farm produce. To this end, action must follow on both short-term measures and long-term ones. Expanding and empowering the cooperative sector in growing fruits and vegetables and promoting farmer companies are key organisational challenges. In this, the primary initiative must be nonstate, like Amul's was, under Verghese Kurien. For that, key individuals must be identified and empowered.
    Political parties and farmers' organisations must mobilise rural producers into purposive, collaborative action. Investment in storage and supply chain management must be precipitated in a time-bound fashion. If all this is not done, political stock will fall, even as prices soar.







 INDIA'S club of $1 billion-plus information technology and IT-enabled services companies got a new member, with iGate's $1.2 billion acquisition of Patni Computer Systems. iGate, less than half Patni's size, has offered to pay . 503.5 per share to buy a 63% stake in Patni, backed by equity from private equity and loans from foreign lenders. This marks a personal triumph for Mr Phaneesh Murthy, first and foremost, a remarkable recovery from disgraced defeat. The acquisition will end ownership woes in Patni and help the company build its pipeline in the banking and financial services vertical, in which iGate earns a large chunk of its revenues. The combined entity, around $1 billion in size, will help customers access more service lines and improved domain expertise. It can also bid for large projects competing against IT behemoths including TCS, Infy, Wipro and HCL. And with a high revenue per employee count, it will mount pressure on the entire industry to upgrade. Clearly, deals such as these bring value across the board and not just to small and mid-size companies that have struggled to grow and make profits over the last three years.


Consolidation in the mid-size IT space began in 2008, when MindTree acquired Aztecsoft to boost its outsourced product development. In 2009, the IT sector reportedly saw close to 92 M&A deals largely in the small and mid-sized IT space. The number rose to 115 in 2010. The trend will intensify in the post recession period as financial mergers and acquisitions in the West have resulted in substantial additional business in the financial software vertical. The demand from retailers has also been strong, though demand from manufacturing is still weak. The lagging sector will catch up as the global recovery gathers momentum. IT biggies and specialised companies are expected to bag more orders, with forecasts of an annual growth of 20-25% in this fiscal. The corresponding growth rates of mid-sized IT companies is forecast at around 10-15%. Consolidation is the way forward for small and mid-sized companies to move up the value chain and stay in business.








IN AN age when virtually everything can be marketed and sold off, making amorous affairs a commodity is perhaps a natural occurrence. Now, that doesn't mean there isn't a case for all those dating and matrimonial sites that are proliferating by the dozen. It is, in fact, a mere move onto a better platform, where one can have better insight into a prospective partner's suitability, from the matrimonial columns of newspapers which are of considerable service and utility in our part of the world. But, at the risk of sounding somewhat politically incorrect, we can't help but feel a twinge of unease at the eruption of specialised sites that seem to cater to, or actually be only open for, specific sections of people. Thus, we now have dating sites where only millionaires can join as members, presumably to first check out the lucre before moving on to other mundane details needed for a relationship. There is also reportedly a site for only 'beautiful' people, or characters who think of themselves as being above the ordinary in the looks department. And now, we are informed about the dating site that exists only for 'larger than life' people, or, to wit, people of greater girth and body weight. Slim ones are apparently a strict no-no for the UK-based site which, reportedly, asks people with 'natural curves' to join in for some 'big love'. This follows in the footsteps of the earlier dating site for the 'aesthetically challenged', which, it seems, deems the relative notion of ugliness an ascertainable fact.


The quibble, however, with such things is that this somehow militates against the idea of both beauty, desirability, and feelings thereof, arising either in the eye of the beholder or being a function of the mind, or both. That, indeed, we now have a pre-determined idea of what is attractive. As the world globalises, oddly, ghettoised pockets of various sorts seem to attend on the process. What, indeed, has love got to do with it? Does the noble passion have no place in the binary logic of bits and bytes?






IT IS said that one of most damaging virtues of George W Bush was his steadiness; he believed the same thing on Wednesday that he believed on Monday — no matter what happened on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the well-meaning or self-interested people — these are the only two kinds pushing for swifter implementation of the Right to Education Act (RTE) — seem to share this dangerous steadiness despite new information. As state governments start codifying the details or plumbing of RTE, I'd like to make the case that the RTE must be scrapped or substantially modified before it causes permanent damage because of five reasons; capacity, cost, competition, corruption and confusion. As a company at the exit gate of the education system — we have hired somebody every five minutes for five years but only 5% of the kids who came to us for a job — we see and suffer the tragic consequences of India's education emergency. True impact in public policy — unlike election campaigns — does not lie in poetry but in plumbing. So let's look at the plumbing of RTE through its consequences:

Lower capacity: RTE timetables the extinction of 25% of India's 15 lakh schools that are 'unrecognised'. These mostly low-cost schools have been an entrepreneurial response to parental choice — the antibiotic reaction to dysfunctional government schools chronicled in The Beautiful Tree by James Tooley. Our demographic dividend — 10 lakh people will join the labour force every month for the next 20 years — would have been a bigger nightmare if these private schools had not substituted for the missing state in the last 20 years. And while it is a lie that all these schools deliver quality, it is true that a bad school is better than no school. To paraphrase a beheaded French queen, this provision of RTE effectively says "if you can't have cake, don't eat bread". Higher cost: RTE essentially mandates a huge rise in school fees. It micro-specifies salaries, qualifications and infrastructure. Delhi schools that don't pay a minimum of . 23,000 per month to teachers will not receive recognition and specifies that primary teachers must have a two-year education diploma; this means that 33% of teachers have to be fired. RTE specifies that every school must have a playground; Delhi specifies 900 sq yards but I know a state that is considering 1,500 sq yards. The 25% children from disadvantaged groups will require massive cross-subsidisation because state governments propose to reimburse way below cost, e.g. Karnataka caps it at . 7,000 per student per year. All this micromanaging of schools — to the delight of teachers and the real estate mafia — hits middle class parents with higher prices for essentially the same quality product.
Lower competition: A big driver of higher quality and lower costs in higher education has been competition. The 50% vacant seats of 1 lakh capacity UP Technical University are forcing engineering colleges to offer free hostels, English training, only MTech faculty, and much else. About 15,000 of the 45,000 Karnataka MBA seats are vacant; these colleges are reducing fees, guaranteeing internships and embedding soft skills in their curriculum.


RTE makes it impossible for education entrepreneurs to compete on price since many states propose to regulate fees and uncertainty has paused the Cambrian explosion of energy in school entrepreneurship. This means lower capacity and lower competition. And that means schools don't have clients, but hostages.


HIGHER corruption: RTE mandates schools to take 25% students from 'poor' backgrounds. Some states are going overboard — Karnataka requires schools to conduct household surveys to create and maintain records of all children in a 1-3 km area from birth till 14 years of age to identify the poor. But who is poor? If the Indian government can't decide whether 24% or 42% of India is poor, how will a BEO (block education officer)? In reality, he or she won't; they will auction their certification of poor to the highest bidder. What constitutes appropriate efforts to bring back dropouts? How will teacher student-ratios be calculated? The BEO, long a thorn in the flesh, now has powers to be a dagger in the heart. RTE provides the BEO's the ability to convert every school into a personal ATM. Not all, but most will.


More confusion: Does changed evaluation mean no exams? What does immunity for government bureaucrats mean? Is incompetence good faith? How will mid-day meals be handled for the 25% in private schools? Where will these 25% go after Grade VIII? Will the 75% parent-populated government school management committees have the power to hire and fire teachers?


RTE prohibits schools from admission procedures and forces them to select students on a random basis within a policy that "includes criteria for the categorisation of applicants in terms of the objectives of the school on a rational, reasonable and just basis". By definition, don't random, rational, reasonable and just mean different things to different people? Why take away the right to detain or expel till Class VIII? Can we be equal and excellent?


RTE does not pass the Hippocratic Oath of every doctor , 'above all, cause no harm', and has three birth defects. First the doctors in this case — civil servants — are unwilling to take the medicine they prescribe as they shamelessly and explicitly exempt the government schools they run (70% of all schools) and the walled gardens where their children study (Kendriya Vidyalas and the elite Sanskriti that is now going national) from RTE. Second RTE values hardware over software but what can easily be measured may not matter. Third as enrolment ratios cross 100% it fights yesterday's war of quantity and fails to focus on quality and learning outcomes. We don't need more cooks in the kitchen but a different recipe. RTE not only fails this test but poisons the ecosystem by sabotaging other ways to get India educated.


(The author is chairman,     Teamlease Services)










Implement it at the central level

THOSE who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, said philosopher George Santayana. The goods and services tax reform, like the value-added tax reform that took over 10 years to complete, is stalled like a bullock cart stuck in mud. Restarting the reform is a challenge but an opportunity for the finance minister to secure a place in history as a statesman.


A two pronged strategy is needed to re-start the reform process. First, the FM can simply implement GST at the manufacturing stage at the central level in the forthcoming Budget itself and this does not require a constitutional amendment. It only requires the Centre to revisit the exemption list, unify the Cenvat rates and extend the tax to all services. With a common threshold and rate on both goods and services, the GST at the manufacturing stage becomes a reality. The threshold for both goods and services could be fixed at . 50 lakh of the manufacturing turnover and sales turnover respectively, and the tax may be levied at a uniform rate of 10%. A separate sumptuary tax can be levied on cigarettes.


The second strategy comprises motivating the states to restart the reform process. This implies making compromises on the design and implementation. In fact, even some bad features may be included in the design to get the reform process moving. Thus, the states could tax at two rates instead of one and levy the tax at floor rates instead of fixed rates. Broadly, they may start with the floor rates of 5% and 10%, which is broadly the revenue-neutral rate. On sumptuary items, tobacco products, motor spirit, high speed diesel and a few items of luxury consumption, in addition to GST, the states may levy a special excise at the floor rates decided collectively.


The Centre should fully compensate any shortfall in revenue estimated at the floor rates, includeng revenue from central sales tax, for the first three years. The reform could be implemented from April 2012. The progress in revenue collections should be monitored and in 2015, the rate structure could be realigned, if necessary.






ACONSENSUS on the goods and services tax continues to be elusive, despite the first discussion paper on the new regime. But the scope for any incremental change or transitional measures such as a GST at the central level is limited. At present, goods and services are taxed at 10%. Input credit is also available across goods and services. A tax on all services at this stage without any corresponding relief will only increase the tax incidence on goods. Lowering the small-scale threshold exemption from . 1.5 crore will hurt the small scale sector.


The scope for incorporating GST features at the state level has become limited after the implementation of VAT. Many states, though, are agreeable to subsuming a number of state levies and harmonising tax rates and procedures. States may have some psychological comfort to move forward if they have the option to raise the floor rate within an agreed band. A flexible approach on exemptions may also be needed to start with.

What is feasible at this stage is the adoption of procedural changes that are required for a national-level GST.

Common registration, electronic filing of returns, e-payment, electronic monitoring of inter-state movement of goods, standard classification and so on should be done in the near term. A consensus is also needed on a common IT platform and the infrastructure should be in place ahead of the transition. The revenue impact of GST also needs to be assessed properly. Definite numbers are a must to convince stakeholders to switch to GST. This exercise has to be done in a transparent way in coordination with states and experts in the field. An assessment of the revenue implications will also be helpful.


The Centre must keep the process of dialogue on with the states and respond to their concerns including apprehensions over the infringement of their autonomy. New Zealand, for instance, announced a relief package for sectors that would be impacted by GST, ahead of its introduction. Identifying and finding agreeable responses to issues through a dialogue is the only way forward.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       THE ECONOMIC TIMES




 THEshape of politics in the beginning of the New Year has surprised both the Congress and the BJP. The manner in which the UPA-2 regime is convulsed on political, administrative and coalition fronts even before it completes two years in office, has jolted the Congress brass out of its 2009 victory high. For the Opposition, especially the BJP, this dramatic meltdown in the UPA's sense of feel-good has come as pleasant surprise, given the saffron party has been, otherwise, groping in the dark on how to get back to business on its own part after that moralewrecking defeat at the hustings. Since politics does not stand frozen in times of fortune or misfortune, its skilled practitioners will try their best to either wriggle out of the limbo or consolidate the upper hand. The coming weeks and months, therefore, pose a challenge to both the Congress and BJP leaderships to display effective and imaginative resolve to consolidate their respective goals.


For the BJP, that test will be on how it can sustain its anti-corruption campaign against the UPA without showing the courage to act against the bad apples in its own ranks, both already visible and those likely to be exposed in this high-voltage political war. Similarly, the BJP will also have to come clean on the issue of right-wing terror — by resisting its RSS instincts — crucial to its goal of expanding opposition unity. But being in Opposition, the BJP has the comparative advantage, at least for now, of trying to camouflage its fault-lines by trying to put the spotlight entirely on the ruling front. And that is also the tactical challenge the ruling Congress faces in dealing with the politics of perception.


The discomforting developments in the UPA-2 camp in the form of serial scams, spiralling prices, the visible paralysis of governance and the deafening noises of discord between various ministries/arms of the establishment have clearly eroded the Congress' enviable reputation of being 'the natural party of governance'. Equally, the growing discord among UPA partners, the visible accumulative burden of mediocrity/inaction at 24, Akbar Road, the Congress headquarters, the brewing troubles in Andhra Pradesh and the glaring lack of direction and dynamism in big political states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Bihar have fully exposed the huge deficiency in the Congress' political/organisation management.


And as the government-organisational wings are getting bogged down to ineffectiveness or, being kept as prisoner of inbuilt conflicts and lethargy, what is being tested from within and outside, more than anything else, is the effectiveness of the very unique system of shared responsibility/trust that Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have been successfully practising since 2004. And no attempt on damage control, often tried on the unproductive status-quoist or patchwork manner, could work this time. The demand is on the very top to do an honest and ruthless admission that the spate of crises and mismanagement have been allowed to grow to an extent that they hit the very foundation of the Congress/UPA functioning, the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi axis based on the credibility and power of leadership. Any effort on checking the slide has to begin by effectively addressing the factors that marred that axis of power and the steps required to restore its sense of invincibility.


Perhaps, the first steps towards damagecontrol will have to start by a dispassionate review by the Congress president and the Prime Minister on whether there can be any other alternative to make the government function and face the rough weather more effectively than reinforcing the Manmohan-Sonia working arrangement? If their answer is a 'no', which one thinks it is, then they better acknowledge the best way ahead is to make the Prime Minister prime ministerial. For that Sonia should use her political authority to either neutralise or clean up those inbuilt actors who thrive in being perennial needles and spoilers. On his part, Manmohan Singh should also acknowledge he has allowed his leadership to be questioned to an extent that even Prakash Karat had not ventured to during the famous nuclear deal days'. Therefore, he should not wait for any more 'inspiration/frustration' to show he can assert himself, finally, especially when he and Mrs Gandhi are fully aware that not even the Opposition want a mi-term poll.


The content of the upcoming cabinet reshuffle should, therefore, send a clear signal on the level of preparedness of Sonia-Manmohan Singh to go in for the much needed clean-up. They have the option of ushering in sweeping changes by dumping the inhouse burden of corruption, non-performance, non-cooperation, indifference and frustration or, display dither, yet again, only to get themselves sucked into bigger mess. Similarly, the imminent revamp of the Congress organisational wing will show whether Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi will show the courage of conviction to bring in a line of dynamic and popular leaders to replace the nexus of glorified clerks and self-serving loyalists that serves in the current leadership.


The present crisis in UPA-2 has hit the Congress' reputation as the natural party of governance and has exposed its shoddy political management

The unique Sonia-Manmohan working arrangement is on test to check the slide

The upcoming cabinet/AICC rejig will show whether the leadership has the capacity for firm clean-up action








IN GEOFFREY Chaucer's rather risqué Merchant's Tale, January, a grizzled old knight, marries the ravishingly fresh maiden May. Before tying the knot the hoar-haired knight takes advice from his two brothers. The first, Justinus ('The Just One') is fair. The second, Placebo (which literally stands for 'I shall please'), is a sycophant.

Justinus opposes the marriage, given the disparity between the prospective partners' ages and considering his own experience. But January, a vain man, hears only the flattery of his obsequious brother Placebo.


In modern times, the name is used only to describe the phenomenon of an inert substance causing medical improvement. This seems to be rooted in patients' perceptions even at the unconscious level.


Paradoxically if the substance is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative reactions. That's when you get the Nocebo effect. So what should be the human equivalent of the Nocebo? Should it be a black-tongued voodoo priest putting the hex on an extremely gullible subject?


The mystery of Nocebo is rooted in mechanisms of the mind. "Our beliefs impact the effectiveness of the Placebo effect as well as that of the Nocebo effect," writes Corey Sondrup in Reclaiming Your Power. "Besides our beliefs and perceptions, the primary power source to the effectiveness of the Nocebo effect is doctors."


Thus every time a doctor says, "You have terminal cancer; you have eight months to live" he is unknowingly planting the seed of a self-fulfilling prophecy! "If a patient puts all of his faith, trust and belief in what the doctor says and does, then that patient will be dead in eight months," Sondrup adds. "That is the power of the Nocebo effect."


One alternative is to reclaim your power to say 'No' (or 'Boo!') to Nocebo. As James Allen wrote at the turn of the 20th century, "The aphorism 'As a man thinketh in his heart so is he' not only embraces the whole of the man's being but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts."


As a plant springs from and could not be without the seed so every act of ours springs from hidden seeds of thought; it could not have appeared without them, Allen explains. This applies to 'spontaneous' acts as to those that are deliberate ones. So can't we plant good seeds and reap good deeds?









Higher input costs and the prospect of lower corporate profits are reason enough for the RBI to stop leaning on the 'rate hike' button.


For the last three quarters, sentiment about the economy's fortunes has been upbeat, fuelled by growing sales in key manufacturing sectors and a bouncy real estate sector. The very fact that the Reserve Bank of India has had to tweak its monetary interventions to tone down exuberance in the sector bears testimony to the surging confidence in purchasing power. Now a report tells us that the third quarter may not be all that rosy for the corporate sector; while sales have been brisk, profits may take a beating on account of higher input costs and interest rates. If quarterly results do show lower profit growth, industrial expansion may be impacted.


Demand for products such as autos, FMCGs and consumer durables was evident right through 2010 despite the RBI's tight money policy. But the expansion in sales hid the rising trend in input costs of steel, aluminium, copper and packaging goods. Global input prices have been on the uptick; domestic prices have followed. Late last year the RBI had warned of such escalation and "supply constraints". For a while, producers shifted the burden on to consumers and auto prices, for instance, rose somewhat over the last two months, just as those of consumer durables did recently. But with the continuous rise in input costs, companies could find it difficult to do that indefinitely. At this stage it would be tempting to point a finger at policy lapses for these price increases. Global events, however, have added their bit: the American economy is in recovery mode, leading to demand for both oil and metals. Also, the US Federal Reserve Board's "quantitative easing" has been persistently weakening the dollar, causing oil prices to rise. Indian exporters might jump with joy at the idea of American growth but must stay cautious. Mr Obama hopes to boost American exports and, to that end, the US Fed will want to keep the dollar low, even as the sentiment for protectionism remains high. The Fed's monetary moves are causing a messy currency tussle as many exporting nations eager to retain export market share keep their own currencies cheap. For India this means an added competitiveness in the coming months as it tries to elbow into a market stacked with more exporters than there are buyers.


Higher input costs and the prospects of lower corporate profits could impact investments in the coming months — reasons enough for the RBI to stop leaning on the 'rate hike' button; in its wisdom to dampen prices (over which it has no control) the apex bank should not, in fact, smother the economy.








NBFCs, offshore banking units and the predominant share of portfolio investment in capital flows are potential threats to financial stability.

The Second Financial Stability Report released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is reassuring on many grounds. As the Governor says in his foreword: "India's financial sector has by and large remained resilient save for some strains in the money market on account of tight liquidity. Banks continue to be well capitalised and the asset quality at the aggregate level does not cause serious concerns. The Reserve Bank will continue to monitor and address sectoral exposures as in the past."


But the nature of the task ahead is not underestimated. The RBI Governor says: "Pursuit of financial stability is a continuing endeavour — much like the Greek mythological character Sisyphus, who has been likened to central bankers in a recent bestseller 'Lords of Finance'.


Sisyphus was condemned by the Gods to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll down again and having to repeat the task. The challenge for central bankers is still bigger – they have to manage multiple boulders at a time."


The analogy is somewhat disconcerting. Sisyphus never succeeded in his efforts. Is it appropriate to use the expression? In a sense, "yes".




Right from the Tulip Bubble, the world has seen innumerable financial crises, followed by regulatory measures which did not prevent new ones from developing. Is it an unending and hopeless battle? Financial stability has to be seen in the context of the larger picture of economic stability. Individuals and institutions seem to find new ways of circumventing every regulatory or prudential measure introduced by the authorities.


Take the instance of non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). For several decades efforts have been made to discipline them.


Yet, we are told that setting up an NBFC is a more attractive option as an entry point, as the stipulation of net owned funds of Rs 2 crore is low compared with that for banks (Rs 300 crore). There are no restrictions on their activities in the capital market, leading to enhanced market risk, and there are avenues for regulatory arbitrage which they can exploit.


Were these limitations waiting to be discovered by the Second Financial Stability Report before action could be taken, even though they were fairly obvious for so many years?




No one can fault the report for its comprehensiveness and analytical rigour. Still there are a few points that need to be highlighted. In the first place, there is no reference to the Offshore Banking Units (OBUs) that were set up a few years ago. Interestingly, even the Annual Report and the Report on Trend and Progress of Banking in India brought by the RBI are silent on this subject.


It seems as if OBUs don't exist. In the context of the recycling of unaccounted wealth from India to other countries and back, the importance of monitoring the transactions in OBUs can hardly be overemphasised. OBUs are offshore only in a conceptual sense. They are very much onshore in India.


Despite the advances in communication technology that has rendered distance meaningless, for a scamster it is more convenient to carry on his activities through OBUs in the country than those abroad, especially where collusion with the bank staff at a personal level is needed. The investigative agencies that go to tax havens and offshore financial centres like the Isle of Man to ferret out unaccounted transactions do not seem to be aware of OBUs in India. It is time that the RBI prepares and publishes a status report on OBUs in the country.




On the external side, the Report notes the disturbing features as revealed by the proportion of short-term debt to total external debt, and the predominance of reversible inflows of capital. The comfort drawn from the absorptive capacity for foreign inflows through the expansion of current account deficit is misplaced. One can say that if there is a spurt in foreign direct investment, which is not the case now. Portfolio investment is predominant among capital flows. It serves no purpose except introducing volatility in the stock markets. When in the secondary market, portfolio investment does not add to capital formation, but results only in change of ownership of stocks.


The Report says: "…the comfortable capital adequacy position of the banks in India vis-à-vis Basel II norms means that the Basel III requirements, once fully calibrated, are not likely to be very much higher than the current position."


As Samuleson said, the fractional reserve system is a fair weather system. Many financial institutions with strong prudential standards failed in the past due to imprudent banking practices. There is nothing to save the system from collapse if it loses public confidence. Eternal vigilance is the price that the central bank has to pay for maintaining economic stability.


(The author is a Mumbai-based economic consultant.












Reforms in agricultural marketing should include providing information on stocks held by distribution intermediaries. Fair and competitive practices should be regarded as the norm for all times, and not only in abnormal conditions.

The dramatic rise in onion prices and the recent raids on onion traders serve to highlight the imperfections of agricultural markets. Although raids are not an option for governments in many of the perishable commodities, a sharp rise in the prices of mass consumption products leads to actions of last resort.

Fair market competition is expected to have emerged as a matter of course in the case of agricultural commodities, as these markets have had years and years to evolve along with the economy and become links to millions of producers and an even larger number of consumers. However, they have been the cause of unhappy producers and consumers, when prices rise sharply or when they drop.

Although there have been a variety of attempts to smoothen the flow of commodities from producers to the consumers, there has also been a set of ad-hoc reactions by the government. Some of these reactions should not have been knee-jerk but part of good governance — such as enforcing compliance with stocking regulations — and some, part of a long-term strategy, as in the case of foreign trade measures.

Sporadic and isolated spikes in prices of commodities are unavoidable. But the persistence of high prices of several commodities makes substitution difficult for the consumers, and makes greater demands on the agricultural marketing system.


The general argument from the consumer is that when there is a sudden decline in supply, the stock which is already with the trader or in the distribution belt should be sold at the old price. The producer looks for stable prices in the retail market even when there is a bumper crop leading to a decline in the wholesale market where he sells his produce. Nevertheless, when the supply declines in reality, as we have learnt even in the case of onions, there is no quick way to replenish it in a hurry and the prices do rise sharply.

The volatility in prices of agricultural commodities is not new. The perishable nature of the commodities generally makes the impact of sudden supply or demand shocks unbearable to the producer or the consumer. The consumers do not stock the commodities, nor do the producers, except for the large producers.

The distribution is therefore left to the traders. The distinguishing feature of a lot of this trade is that it is largely unregulated and in the unorganised sector.

There are no regulations that put a ceiling or a floor on the price at which the commodities are traded except when the government agencies operate. There are no effective MRPs on fruit, vegetables, milk, fish or meat. Quality of the produce is a matter of trust. Although there are a few large aggregators of these intermediation services, particularly from the organised sector, the price shocks have not gone away.


It would be ideal if there were no uncertainties in farm production not only within the country but also outside, so that there are no price shocks. It is not clear if the marketing system has enough incentives to minimise price shocks: is the system deterred by the impact on consumers? Obviously, the consumers have nowhere else to go but to impress on politicians to act. The policy reaction would have to be in the form of more of fair practices and competition in the markets as a normal feature and not only during the abnormal price conditions.

The periodic raids on the private sector stockists show that the deficiencies in the marketing system are well known. There is not enough market competition. By the very nature of the relationship of the intermediary with the two ends of the market, there are bound to be market imperfections and regulatory measures have been necessary to ensure market competition.

However, the problem is not limited to the private sector operators. Holding of large stocks of grains by the government when the prices had shot up in the market was hard to defend. It may have been difficult to defend a specific price band in the face of severe shortages.

Traders, or in fact any agencies, in the distribution chain, are likely to build stocking facilities to meet the normal requirements of trade. This stocking function breaks down when there are severe disruptions. Who should carry or own the additional stocks to meet the cases of severe supply shortfalls? The missing links in the market infrastructure system have to do with information on available stocks and a Plan B in the case of a crisis.

The agricultural marketing sector reforms, whether in the form of more organised retail or revamping of regulation in agricultural markets, would have to include dissemination of information on stocks held by various distribution intermediaries and compliance with best practices to ensure competitive price and product quality; all of this to achieve a vibrant supply-side.

(The author is a Senior Research Counsellor, NCAER. The views are personal.










The Finance Minister was scheduled to hold pre-Budget discussions with the stakeholders in agriculture on January 7.


This is the first time that the agriculture sector got precedence over all other sectors in the annual round of pre-Budget discussions, showing perhaps that the Finance Minister is concerned about inflation, particularly the upward spiral in commodity prices.


Mr Pranab Mukherjee is not an economist by profession. However, his experience in Finance and Commerce and other economic Ministries is so extensive that he could well shed the air of injured innocence at the unprecedented inflation, particularly in farm produce.


Inflation is not exclusively an Indian phenomenon. China is reeling under inflation of over 18 per cent. The continuous rise in petroleum prices is enough to make inflation a global phenomenon.


The UPA government has sown the seeds of the present crisis since 2004, and drawn a bonanza of political benefit in two successive general elections. Why should the UPA leaders now feign surprise at the crop they are harvesting now?


The President of the Republic , in her address to Parliament last year, had admitted that the aam aadmi policies were causing inflation. She is no economist either; but has the uncanny astuteness of a housewife to see what could come out of pump-priming in the form of the flagship schemes of her Government.


Disincentives to farming


Putting more money in the hands of the consumer is by itself not a bad thing if it is accompanied by other measures that promote productivity. Industry is booming. Understandably, there is no public outcry on tertiary goods inflation.


Till the end of 2010, agriculture showed a negative rate of growth, and the Government has been trying to disincentivise farming.


The farmer continues to be burdened by debts, both from banks and other institutions. The number of suicides in 2009 at 1,200 was higher than in 2008 and just about on par with the average of the post-1997 period.


The Debt Relief and Loan Waiver (DRLW) Scheme 2008 has clearly been a scam comparable with the 2G spectrum imbroglio. Electricity is the largest single item of farm expenditure; the DRLW Scheme ignored power dues altogether.


The farmers continue to be defaulters on this account. The State Electricity Boards are carrying out a ruthless campaign of cutting off supply of defaulters as also non-defaulters. .


This is happening even as rising fuel prices make a return to diesel pump sets difficult. . The UPA government has failed to delink the economy from the global rise in petroleum prices by encouraging Brazil-like farm production of bio-fuels.


The situation of the farmers has become even more precarious because wage costs have gone up 60 times since 1980 when we had the first onion crisis. Further, the free lunch schemes of the UPA government are fostering an ethos of indolence.


Climate frailty is proving far more dangerous to agricultural production than presumed. Last year, we had devastation by drought; this year, unseasonal precipitations and cloudbursts are causing mass destruction of crops and unprecedented supply crunch.




The most significant factor contributing to high inflation is mismanagement by the administration.


First, is the colossal failure of intelligence in respect of crop estimates. The precise consequences of the unseasonal rains on onion crops should have been clear at least three months earlier.


It is common knowledge that the Nashik varieties ' Rangda' and ' Pol' do not lend themselves to storage. The entire bulb starts deteriorating within a week or so. Too much time was wasted in chasing the wild geese because of the entrenched bias against a class that does trading, processing and storage. Petty stocks of kilos were seized and brought out with exaggerated publicity and fanfare.


Lastly, there was a systemic failure. If futures markets were the default marketing channel rather than the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMC), most of the stocks would have been in the warehouses of the commodity exchanges, not requiring any wild goose chase.


Last but not the least was the failure of market intelligence. It is common knowledge that prices of onions the world over are much higher than what Indians consider as exorbitant. The only exception is Pakistan which produces more or less the same varieties and offers competition to Indian onion in the West Asian and South East Asian markets. It was quite obvious that the ban on export and facilitating imports could be to the advantage of Pakistan. Fortunately, so far consignments of onion containers have not been used by Al Qaeda contingents.


There is considerable unrest in the farming community at the news that the government intends to complete the incomplete agenda on land reforms and reduce agricultural land ceilings to two acres of irrigated land and five acres of dry land. The chronic economic predicament of the farmers along with inimical State policies and vagaries of climate will soon create a situation where it will be difficult to have stocks necessary for the food security plans of the government.


The Finance Minister will have to take the lead and initiate policies that will make agriculture turn the crucial corner.


(The author is Founder, Shetkari Sanghatana and a former Rajya Sabha MP).








The Minister of Human Resources Development, Mr Kapil Sibal, doubling as Minister of Telecommunications, has drawn a lot of flak for coming out with his take on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) on the allotment of 2G spectrum during his predecessor, Mr A. Raja's tenure.

It is certainly necessary to go into the substantive and procedural lapses dealt with in the CAG's report pertaining to the allotment of a scarce and precious resource such as spectrum.

However shocking the expose may appear to be, the intelligentsia, with its claim to be more discerning and rational than the rest, needs to adopt a cool-headed and fair-minded approach to the issue without succumbing to knee-jerk reflexes and resorting to witch-hunting.

This means not only resisting stoutly the temptation to let preconceived notions dominate its judgment, but also being tolerant to opinions different from its own and ready and willing to look into the merits or otherwise of those opinions.

In short, the controversy surrounding the allocation of 2G spectrum should not be allowed to become a victim of a mass psychosis simply because, in popular perception, there is a widespread failure on the part of the country's ruling establishment and Constitutional and institutional underpinnings to safeguard the nation's interest.

In the present malodorous state of public discourse on l'affaire spectrum, I feel constrained to make a disclaimer and disclosure. I am not out, by means of this column, to let any crook off the hook. I am second to none in my strong opposition to corruption and in my unshakeable conviction that it must be fought to the finish, and whoever is guilty of it should be thrown behind bars.

At the same time, I think Mr Kapil Sibal has the right to express the opinion he did, on the basis of the reasoning adduced by him, without motives being imputed to him.

Plain truth

Of course, I am not going into the legal, parliamentary and political implications here, as I am sure Mr Sibal knew what he was doing and how to protect his flanks.

The plain truth is that spectrum allotment has many grey areas and it has been deemed to be a complex exercise worldwide, requiring the balancing of a number of mutually contradictory considerations.

The highly nuanced practices governing its allocation adopted by various other countries, such as the US, the European Union and Japan, lend support to Mr Sibal's statement that the Government policy cannot be divorced from maximising public welfare, and cannot merely be fixated on maximising Government revenues, and that the pricing of different natural resources should be done in a manner that meets this objective.

One cannot also quarrel with his view that the CAG's calculations have to be discounted for various factors, including time value of money and difference between 3G and 2G spectral efficiency.

It is the common experience of all countries that valuations of telecom spectrum are prone to huge margins of error, and depend on a variety of factors including the general economic climate, the extent to which markets for telecom services develop and the ability of individual companies to maximise opportunities.

The three recent US spectrum auctions raised a combined $55 billion, while even the most conservative estimates put the valuation ten times higher, at $500 billion.

Several bidders in the US auctions had also created dummy small companies to take advantage of incentives for small bidders, including price discounts.

An attempt to enforce a long enough lock-in on spectrum allocations to help smaller players stay in the business, only resulted in many eventually turning over their bandwidth to the larger companies.

Also, the bigger companies tended to bid on lots of frequencies where they really had no interest as a way of elbowing out the smaller players.

Spectrum management is beset with enormous complexities and closely intertwined with public policy objectives. It is not amenable to a dogmatic or simplistic black-or-white approach.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



With the top Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, Mr Mohan Bhagwat, now acknowledging that some members of the outfit had radical views but were asked to leave as extremism wouldn't do, the doors have opened for the Hindutva-inclined to accept — even if only for analytical purposes — that in India a Hindu can be a terrorist. When the first hint appeared some two years ago of Pragya Thakur and her associates and were linked with the Malegaon detonation, senior RSS functionaries, leading BJP figures such as Mr L.K. Advani, and many in the so-called Sangh Parivar had sought to be strident in their defence. Their argument was that a Hindu, by definition, cannot be a terrorist. This sounded absurd to anyone who did not look upon individuals or perpetrators of crimes in terms of their religion. Come to think of it, was the logic bizarre?

Hindutva suggests that only members of a faith that did not originate in India (Christianity and Islam in our context) can engage in traitorous activity such as terrorism, and that a Hindu is a patriot, a priori. Since the Malegaon blast, investigators' clues in a series of incidents — at the Ajmer Sharif dargah, the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, and the Samjhauta Express bombing — resting heavily on statements of accused persons, point to a network of Hindu fanatics which aims at extracting revenge from ordinary, innocent Muslims for acts of "jihadi terrorism" emanating and inspired mostly from Pakistan. These so-called "Hindu terror" — as blind a description as "Islamic terrorism" — cases are in the investigation or trial process. Nevertheless, the apparent involvement of Hindus in event after terrorist event has worn thin the defence of these criminals on the basis of first principles. Thus, Hindutva proponents are now no longer adopting the path of outright denial. They now say that the accused belong to "fringe" outfits and are not connected with the RSS and associated organisations. We shall know the plausibility of this only when the criminal cases against Indresh Kumar, a top RSS member, and Swami Aseemanand, are settled in court.

Not surprisingly, Hindutva votaries had no difficulty jubilating when names of scores of Muslim individuals were splashed in the media in countless terrorist cases. This even gave rise to the mindless notion that only Muslims can be terrorists. Media reports were invariably based on official sources and can be called leaks. But today the RSS and top shots in the BJP are crying foul because the confessional statement of Aseemanand has been leaked to the media. This is being touted as the government's way to hound "nationalist forces" (in this reading only Hindus and their extremist outfits answer to that description) under a "political conspiracy". It is interesting to see that leaks by the government are being sought to be made the focus of attention, not the terrorist acts of likely Hindu perpetrators. It is time we paid serious attention to the fact that the crime of terrorism — especially when executed in communal identity terms — is a crime against our democracy, and the integral elements of our entity.






ANYONE INCLINED to believe that the assassination of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, in Islamabad, by a member of the elite police security force was a dastardly but usual act of terrorism in that country would be in grievous error. For it is no such thing but a clear signal that Pakistan state and society seem to be on the verge of surrendering to the tide of bigotry and global jihad. In other words, our western neighbour is on the verge of abyss.

What has happened could easily turn into a watershed unless the liberal elements in the country's civil society, backed by at least some sections of the ruling establishment, determinedly try to stem the avalanche of bigotry, religious extremism and global jihad at this very late stage. Of this, unfortunately, there is yet no sign.

On the contrary, the stark chain of events before and after the murder in broad daylight points to the contrary direction. In the first place, what was Salman Taseer's fault? Moved by the tragic plight of a poor, illiterate Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy law, he had pleaded for commuting her sentence and an amendment to the egregiously harsh blasphemy law. This, in the eyes of his killer, Mumtaz Qadri, and the hordes now busy lionising him, was nothing short of blasphemy itself for which the obvious punishment is death.

It is noteworthy that the slain governor — a lifelong member of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and a close associate of President Asif Ali Zardari — was not alone in seeking leniency for Aasia Bibi and a change in the blasphemy law. Sherry Rahman, a PPP member in the National Assembly, a former federal minister and a confidante of Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in December 2007, has introduced a private member's bill to amend the blasphemy law. Not a single PPP member of National Assembly, leave alone those owing allegiance to other parties, dared endorse her endeavour. Now she is the "next target" of the horrendously powerful religious Right. Babar Awan, federal law minister, has declared that the blasphemy law would not be amended under any circumstances.

Secondly, the federal authorities knew that Qadri was a religious extremist and had therefore decided never to assign to him the duty of protecting VIPs. Yet he had not the slightest difficulty in getting himself included in the security detail of Salman Taseer for the duration of his short visit to Islamabad.

The third element in the situation is chilling. Qadri told his colleagues responsible for protecting the governor that he was going to kill the "blasphemer" and that they must not arrest him until after he had completed his post-assassination statement. They fully obeyed him, and let him announce that Taseer had got what he richly deserved.

What followed was even more horrific. Not a single cleric — not even from among the Barlevis who are supposed to be moderates compared with the Deobandis — agreed to preside over Taseer's funeral in Lahore the next day. Instead, the clerics ordained that no good Muslim should attend the funeral. Whether any members of the slain governor's family or friends dropped any flowers into his grave is not known. But the wide world watched the lawyers shower rose petals on Qadri when the beaming accused was brought to the court. Most lawyers are competing briskly with one another to be Qadri's defence counsel. These are the very members of the legal fraternity who had agitated valiantly to force out the military ruler Pervez Musharraf and get the dismissed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court reinstated.

The strong support for Qadri and the likes of him by religious parties, whose views are heard every night on television talk shows, was only to be expected. But the reaction of the two mainstream parties has been disappointing because it is little more than the shrugging of shoulders that greeted the dastardly attacks on Sufi and Ahmediya shrines in Lahore and on a Shia procession in Karachi in which more than 100 persons were killed and nearly twice that number wounded.

To be sure, the PPP has "condemned" Taseer's assassination. But whom as it condemned? Not the forces of religious bigotry and intolerance, but the leader of the Opposition, Nawaz Sharif, and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N). It has accused them of political murder because of the known and long-standing differences between the provincial government, headed by Mr Sharif's younger brother Shahbaz, and the late governor. Mr Sharif, who has always had good relations with religious parties, has described the murder as "unfortunate" and blamed Taseer of not being "balanced" and "moderate".

Against this bleak backdrop anything said by an Indian commentator, no matter how sincere in wishing well of Pakistan, would be trashed in that country as the voice of its "eternal enemy" and the "greatest existential threat".

Even that of other foreigners, including those belonging to the United States that is pouring billions of dollars into economically strained Pakistan, would be suspect. However, what Pakistan's highly respected columnists and commentators are saying is worthy of serious attention.

For instance, writing under the headline "Signs of a state capitulating to extremism", Najam Sethi has said: "The modern nation-state is crumbling in the face of a sever onslaught by extremist religious ideology and passion. The tragedy is that some elements of the state are co-sponsors while others are hopeless accessories after the event".

According to Mr Ayaz Amir, the religious parties "will always do what they do… It is up to the other sections of Pakistani society to stop the rot and reverse the tide. But it is the political parties and the Army that should have done it. And they did nothing".

Ms Ayesha Siddiqa argues: "If the ruling elite does not realise the high cost of feeding the religious Right, Pakistan will cede bits of its territory and social space to religious fanatics". She also gives six persuasive reasons why it is unrealistic to expect a "roll back of radicalism" in Pakistan.






I SPENT early Saturday morning writing a short story set in Tucson. I've lived here for a decade, but it's only recently that I've felt I can claim the place as a subject. The impetus for writing about it hasn't been love so much as anxiety, a sense that it's in danger somehow — on many fronts.

That feeling of danger hit hard when I slouched out of my office to get another cup of coffee and my husband, mid-chat, looked up from his computer to tell me Representative Gabrielle Giffords had been shot, as had several other people. At a Safeway, of all places.

We stared at the local news website, trying to understand this new reality. A headline for an earlier article describing a lesser calamity still dominated the page: "BB Gun killed 80 bats found under east-side bridge, G & F concludes," with a picture of a frail bat clinging to an embankment. To the right of this, the stark words of a breaking news bulletin: "Gabrielle Giffords, 40, shot point-blank in the head".

Our 11-year-old daughter came out of her bedroom. She was wrapped in her fuzzy blanket, ready to listen to Taylor Swift or play Fruit Ninja on her iPod. Instead she listened to her mother tell of the shooting of our Congresswoman and, as the news came in, the killing of her aide, a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl and three elderly citizens. She watched her mother cry.

My daughter knew Gabby Giffords as a politician, as someone we'd supported in the last election. We talk a lot about politics at our house, and she's an attentive listener, fierce about what she thinks is wrong and right. But her response that morning wasn't politically motivated, nor was ours. It was the shock of violence, the fear and anger and sorrow that comes from hearing about deaths close to home. We know that safeway; we know the bakery where people ran to safety. The shopping centre is both pleasant and mundane: an adobe and brick building with the Santa Catalina Mountains rising up behind it, an easy place to get groceries on a weekend morning. Given a modest shift in circumstance, we might have been there.

Earlier, over breakfast, my husband and I had shaken our heads to see our adopted city as the dateline of an article on the front page of the Times under the headline "Citing brainwashing, Arizona declares a Latino class illegal". Arizona has been in the national news a lot lately, and never for the right reasons. Now, as we senselessly hit refresh on our computers, we felt more than ever caught in a place where the tenor of America's political discourse was spinning out of control. The state felt as if it was closing in on us.

Over the weekend, that slowly changed.

Saturday night we had signed on to go to a benefit concert for a small organisation that develops music programs for at-risk children in the Southwest. It was organised by a talented 12-year-old boy who took guitar lessons alongside our daughter, and we had been looking forward to it. Now no one really wanted to go — we were all too beaten down by the day. But we went anyway, to support the young guitarist and the non-profit group. We sat down in the school auditorium, restless, scattered in our thoughts. About 200 people were there. The lights went down and Mr Brad Richter, the non-profit's co-founder, took the stage.

He talked quietly about what had happened that morning. He had played guitar at Gabrielle Giffords's wedding, in 2007. And that evening he played an original composition for us, something she had requested he play then: Elation, the song was called. The feeling of community in the room was palpable, and if elation was beyond our reach, we were at least consoled.

The next night, my daughter and I stopped in front of Giffords's office on the corner of Pima and Swan. Hundreds of candles and flowers, many teddy bears, peace signs, handwritten notes and a dreamcatcher — vast, radiant displays of support and hope — were arrayed at our feet. A television newscaster was putting on lip balm, readying for another round of pronouncements. A group of college students huddled in their hoodies, awkward and silent and sad, and a lone young woman sat by the edge, in prayer.

It's been a tough couple of years here since the presidential election, and our friendships with some Republicans have grown strained. In the wake of this attack, I don't know if we will be able to talk to each other more now, if we will reach out across the political divide, or if the sides will become further entrenched, if this is the harbinger of more divisiveness.

But experiencing the steadfast and determined ways so many people of this city are trying to keep it together, trying to reach out and make this a better place — Gabrielle Giffords being one of them — has made me understand how much this flawed, complex desert town means to me, how much it feels like home.

Aurelie Sheehan is director of the creative writing program, University of Arizona, and the author of History Lesson for Girls

By arrangement with the New York Times






The forthcoming visit of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono as the chief guest on Republic Day, January 26, 2011, should go beyond the ceremonial state-level visits of other dignitaries. Given that two decades have progressed since the initiation of India's "Look East" policy in the early 1990s, our bilateral ties with the most significant player in the region remain at a lower level than they should be. This visit by President Yodhoyono, the second since 2005, will have to move forward from the previous one during which the strategic partnership agreement was signed between India and Indonesia.

The commonalities that link India and Indonesia together are plenty — geographically, Indonesia is India's closest maritime neighbour, just 90 nautical miles. The western most tip of the Sumatran island, Banda Aceh, is the closest to India's eastern most outpost of Andaman and Nicobar islands.

While this geographical link is critical, there is a shared history as well. Both emerged in the post-colonial period as independent nation-states, though the early period of democratic politics in Indonesia gave way to a military rule, which lasted from 1965 to 1998, while India adopted a democratic polity which has sustained till date.

India and Indonesia also share ethnic, religious and racial diversity. India's motto of "unity in diversity" finds resonance in the "binneka tunggal ika" philosophy enshrined as a principle of Indonesian state policy in its approach towards managing diversity and ethnic plurality.

The 2005 visit by Mr Yodhoyono initiated the strategic partnership agreement between the two countries, with a focus on increasing bilateral trade and cultural exchanges. In fact, the agreement targeted trade to the tune of $10 billion by 2010.

In 2006, the volume of trade between the two was $5.5 billion, while our current economic ties have expanded to the tune of $11.7 billion. In October 2010, the two countries finalised the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in goods. Indonesia is the sixth country among the Asean with whom India has signed a bilateral FTA.

Given the energy demands that India is facing in order to sustain its economic growth, Indonesia could become a vital ally. Approximately 47 per cent of India's coal import comes from Indonesia. India is looking to offset this with imports in crude oil and natural gas. Under the India-Asean FTA, palm oil has been a major import for India. In the services sector, Indonesia looks to India for assistance in the fields of IT, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, even education. While the FTA in trade in goods will be beneficial to Indonesia, an agreement in services will be to India's advantage given that India is ranked 9th in the global services sector. On the political front Indonesia has become especially important since its transition to democracy in 1999, which is now in the process of consolidation.

The setback in Thailand and the opaqueness of Burma will continue to challenge the Asia-Pacific region, and it is in this context that Indonesia and the Philippines are going to be credible players as democratic allies in the region. For India, whose neighbourhood remains challenged with issues of democracy, there is need to look for political partners outside the South Asia region and in this context developing political ties with Indonesia will remain a key objective of our bilateral ties. It is important to remember that the crux of India's "Look East" policy remains economic relations, not so much political, strategic and security related aspects.

While India is a player in several multilateral groupings within the region, the real depth of political and security level ties is lacking. For both India and Indonesia this will become a critical factor given the rise of China.

While currently the relations between Beijing and Jakarta are cordial, there is concern how China's rise will impact the region. There is also fear that Beijing will play one regional power against the other, in its attempt to stay ahead. And this is a view that India shares.

India is being seen as a regional player and an emerging power whose economic rise will shape the region in the years to come. Indonesia, too, is once again being seen as a potential regional leader and it will be vital for India and Indonesia to further the promise of partnership between one another.

At the global level there is an interesting development. The United States is simultaneously strengthening its ties with India in South Asia and with Indonesia in the Asean region.

Unlike the 2005 visit by President Yodhoyono, this visit needs to take place with a greater promise of commitment to strengthening the bilateral ties. India has looked at the Asia-Pacific region as a significant part of its foreign policy. In that, Indonesia should be the most critical player.

* Dr Shankari Sundararaman is anassociate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU







Silence is broken by needs, with the act of asking, with the urge of wanting...
Betalab vo de raha hai chup raho

kuchh kaha to baat khaali jayegi

(Without asking, you are being given,

if you ask, your words may go blank) mumbled a Sufi faqir calligrapher, who was challenged by his speech.


The Indian-Eastern wisdom was a subtle way of achieving the impossible without visible effort. It was a way of making the unimaginable happen. Many a times this phenomenon could not be explained so it was called a "miracle".

Bhika baat agham ki, kahan sunan ki nahi

Jo jaane so kahe nahi, jo kahe so jaane nahi

(Bhika, the truth is, not said or heard. Those who know, do not say, and those who say, know not...)


The art of silence is the act of not asking. It is the state of knowing. A state of Ching-jing Wu-wei, sitting and doing nothing. It is the acuteness of perception without the bitterness of not achieving it in a given time scale.
But is it possible today?


The Industrial Revolution changed the perception of reality by subjugating societies to their needs. The notion of fulfilling these needs was a false sense of freedom, a way of expressing oneself without truly getting what one wants.


Instead, objects of desire began to distract one from truth, from inner wisdom.

Modern marketing explored needs. Made them dynamic and aligned them with a mass production and mass consumption process. The Hidden Persuaders (Vance Packard) and the Subliminal Seduction (Wilson Bryan Key) took their art to perfection on a global scale. "The Medium became the Message" and this became the truth for the modern civilisation. A truth that materially made the impossible possible.


Today, modern communication has achieved a way of entering the "no entry" zone of the human psyche.


But along with it, the one thing that the commercialised and industrialised cultures and societies have done is to create blockages, traffic jams, congestions and a high rate of obsolescence of ideas and concepts.


In the Eastern sense, the relationship between human dependence and human independence is the area that can be truly understood through the art of silence.


From the art of silence we evolve the etiquette of listening... hearing... of samaat. From hearing, we open the passage to the soul.


Mechanical sounds do not allow the opening of the soul passage, but only the body passage.
The art of silence leads to many art forms as it opens the door to the soul.

— Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter.

He is the executive director and secretary ofthe Rumi Foundation. He can be contacted at [1]









WHENEVER a "milestone" in the development of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft is under focus it is worth recalling PV Narasimha Rao's quip at its "roll-out": he likened the jet to a rustic bride who lifted her ghunghat just a little at a time. Over a decade has elapsed since the erudite Prime Minister's left-handed compliment, but the aircraft ~ since designated Tejas ~ is still some distance away from operational deployment. Therefore, only a skewed sense of patriotism would have endorsed the contrived euphoria on display when the defence minister chose to bask in dubious glory by handing over the Initial Operation Clearance Certificate to the air force. Significantly, no firm date was announced for when the fighter would become a full-fledged member of the force, integrated into the battle doctrine. There is limited cause for cheer over expectations that two squadrons would be flying by 2015: that they would be based at Sulur (Coimbatore) is "telling". They would be just a "circuit and bumps" away from the production centre should teething troubles occur; the "threat" to be countered from Sulur would hardly compare with what might arise from across the Pakistan and Chinese frontiers. So clearly the LCA ~ like the Arjun tank ~ is yet to be deemed a frontline weapon.


Even as he joined the fanfare at Bangalore the Air Chief  honestly declared that improvements were still required, in its present configuration the LCA was not quite a fourth-generation fighter. Thus questions arise if plans for ordering 400 jets are based on professional, cost-effective considerations. True the LCA will be the base (lowest level) of the combat profile, but how long will it take to produce the "numbers" to form that base? It is understandable that the DRDO reacts strongly to criticism of the LCA. Yet while it makes much of successes on the way ~ use of composites, sophisticated technologies etc ~ there is virtual silence on resurrecting the Kaveri gas-turbine. Without which the LCA story will remain incomplete. The reality is that a "Catch-22" situation obtains: the LCA is unlikely to live up to expectations, but it cannot be abandoned. Not only because money will have been totally wasted, but scrapping it would be turning the clock back. Indeed had the HF-24 (Marut) production not been aborted, Tejas might have encountered less turbulence.




THE Prime Minister has studiously effected a balancing act, one that mirrors judicious economics and yet doesn't play to the political gallery of the states and the Minimum Wages Act that can vary from region to region. Wages of workers under NREGS are to be linked to the rate of inflation, a remarkably rational move. If the second facet of the  decision doesn't defer to the wishes of Sonia Gandhi, one must give it to Dr Manmohan Singh that he seems to have taken an independent and bold decision. Wages for a scheme, that has a nationwide application, simply cannot vary from state to state. This would have only added to the complications that have hobbled the scheme from the start. Specifically, it would have created as many groups of workers as there are states and with as many pay structures.


To follow the variant Minimum Wages Act would have flown in the face of uniformity, a prerequisite for a scheme that has been re-christened in the name of Mahatma Gandhi. State wages, such as are applicable in the various states, are of no relevance. The NREGS, by its very nature, lends no scope for a multiplicity of wage structures. In several states, the minimum wages may be higher than what the NREGS offers; but there can be no ground for discrimination.

In his interactions with Mrs Gandhi, Dr Singh is said to have driven home the crucial point that NREGS and the Minimum Wages Act are "two different dispensations". His decision will rule out differences in wages and, to an extent, ought to beat the inflation rate provided the entitlements of those in the BPL category are taken care of. Which makes it still more compelling for the government and the National Advisory Council, headed by Mrs Gandhi, to introduce the Food Security Bill. A social welfare scheme has been spared an absurdity. Lest there be rumblings within the Congress, the rural development minister, Mr CP Joshi, has promptly advanced a clarification: "There is no snub or anything like that from the Prime Minister." Suffice it to register that Dr Singh has been guided by the certitudes of economics and not the party's political agenda. Amidst the turmoil over a range of other issues, the Prime Minister has had his way.




THE Kolkata Book Fair long ago ceased to be a bibliophile's delight. With due regard to environmental concerns, we must record that it lost its flavour ever since it was shifted from the Maidan and to the disastrously conceived Milon Mela ground. And the risk that it might lose its spirit on its 35th anniversary is substantial not least because of the intensely commercial considerations that appear to have driven the Publishers and Booksellers Guild. Of course, free entry will ensure higher footfalls in a relatively out-of-the-way venue. On a moderate estimate, the organisers are set to lose Rs 40 lakh on account of free entry. Could this be the underpinning for the increased impost on the publisher? But the two-pronged strategy to generate revenue is disingenuous, even self-centred. It thus comes about that while the Guild is set to obtain a huge rent discount from the government as its 35th birthday gift, as it were, it is no less determined to substantially hike the impost on publishers. An increase of Rs 71,904 is proposed for the largest stall. Small wonder that the contradiction inherent in organising the fair has provoked the commerce and industries minister to remark that "they do business here". A substantial discount for itself need not have been matched by compelling the publishers to shell out more. The concession obtained from the government ought ideally to have been shared with the publishers ~ who constitute the Guild, supposedly a non-profit organisation engaged in spreading knowledge. The Guild will have only itself to blame if the new rent rate chart dissuades some of the relatively obscure publishers that, nonetheless, have important and virtually out-of-print titles on offer and as often as not at throwaway prices.

Of course, commercial considerations are important. But on its 35th anniversary, the Guild ought to have been focused on the literary value of the fair and the scope of offering new titles from the international market. The next consideration should be facilities inside the fair ground, for the visitors as much as the publishers. There appears to be little or no concern for the basics. The Guild has become just another trading organisation.








IT was recently reported in the press (through Wikileaks) that Rahul Gandhi had told the US Ambassador to India that he considered Hindu terror in this country more dangerous than the Islamist variety. Rahul is a fairly popular leader in North India and many, specially those who usually vote for the Congress, consider him as the future Prime Minister. His statements, therefore, are important even if they are casual in nature. It is difficult to guess as to what was in his mind or what he exactly meant, but he has left many people surprised and puzzled. India has been struggling for the last three or four decades with Muslim terrorists. People cannot forget easily the 26/11 Mumbai attacks by Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists, the attack on Parliament of 13 December 2001, the innumerable blasts triggered by these terrorists in Mumbai, Delhi, Jammu and Srinagar. Compared to that terror, attacks by Hindu fanatics are few in number. The people usually do not consider it a serious issue because these saffron terrorists do not threaten the integrity of  the country.

The general perception is that these Hindu terrorists are trying to emulate the Islamist terrorists, precisely to take revenge against the death and destruction caused by the Muslim extremists. The two groups cannot be compared in any way as far as the sheer dimension and destructive capacities are concerned. The Islamic network is spread throughout the globe and their terrorists like Al Qaida, Taliban, LeT, Jaish-e-Muhammad are far more dangerous, sinister, and well-trained compared to the inept cadres  in Nav Bharat and other organisations. The Hindu terrorists are a nuisance for India only, whereas the Islamic terrorists are a grave threat to the whole world.

Terrorism of any kind anywhere is bad enough and it is difficult to say which one is worse. We have to understand why and how terrorism is born. Human beings when tremendously cornered and isolated tend to develop terrorist tendencies when they realise that they cannot fight the adversary in a straight battle. In the olden days people used to curse (make buddua or shraap) their powerful adversaries. These are now considered ineffective and poetic justice handed down by God is not convincing enough. People, when totally dejected and cornered by their superiors, feel like lifting a paperweight to smash the head of the big bully of a boss! This is how terrorism is born everywhere. Both Christianity and Islam are very powerful religions born in the same geographical area within a short span of 500  years and both feel they are superior to the other.
However, the Christian nations have progressed considerably on the material front and they are today the leaders of the world. The United Nations is totally dominated by them but the Muslim world, which constitues one-fifth of humanity, has no representation at all in the United Nations. The Muslim countries are usually poor. The Christians had forcibly evicted Muslims from Palestine to accommodate their Jewish friends. These facts make the Muslims frustrated and restless and that is how Al Qaida and  its allies were born.
The Hindus, too, form one-sixth of humanity, but their religion is not a global religion and they are not competitors of the West. Of late, they are making attempts to enter the Security Council but their approach is always non-violent and they want to achieve their goals by pleasing and cajoling the Western powers. They are more happy and reconciled with their status of playing second fiddle to the West and they do not seethe in rage. There is a popular belief among the Hindus of India that terrorism is ingrained in the religion of Islam itself since Islam preaches jihad. This belief is, however, totally wrong. Islam is a peace- loving religion  and the Prophet (peace be upon Him) always preached kindness and tolerance towards non-Muslims. He never accused or abused a non-Muslim woman despite her offences. But when she was dying of smallpox, the holy prophet was the only one to nurse her and eventually the woman embraced Islam on her death-bed.
The Quran mentions that Allah advises people to be tolerant about religion and that there is no compulsion in religion (lokum deen walia deen) ~ which means 'let your religion be yours and let my religion be mine.'
The great Bengali poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, echoed these sentiments when he said: Bhin dharmir puja mandir bhangitey aadesh dao ni hey beer/Aajikey aamra shojjho korite paarina ko paromat? Khoma koro Hazarat"... (You had never asked us to demolish temples of other communities. Nowadays we cannot tolerate different religions or opinions.....forgive us O Prophet of Islam.")

How I wish the intolerant Bengalis who drove out Taslima Nasreen or the intolerant Kashmiris, who drove out the Kashmiri Hindus, had recalled these lines of the great poet.

The Hindus never had any track record of terrorism in their history. They have always been meek, humble, submissive and non-violent. Yet they have sustained the caste system, heaping indignities on other Hindus and shunning people of other religions with contempt.

It is in this context that Rahul Gandhi's remarks need to be understood although his statements appear to be bizarre.

The writer is former Financial Commissioner of J&K





Swami Vivekananda's humanism is but derived from Vedantic pragmatism, writes swami sandarshanananda

With a catholic vision, a large heart, sharp intellect, burning spirit and divine perception Swami Vivekananda is a complete personality worth emulating. His guru, calling it utterly selfish, nipped at the bud his desire for exclusive joy of unbroken samadhi. So, struggle became the tenor of Vivekananda's life. And in it he discovered that the true meaning of human existence was composed of  "a series of struggles". Swamiji said: "The secret of life is not enjoyment, but education through experience." Therefore, his gospel is the gospel of suffering. He would say that he measured one's greatness by the amount of suffering one had weathered. His exhortation in this regard was: "Brought up in the lap of luxury, lying on a bed of roses, and never shedding a tear, who has ever become great? Why do you fear to weep? Weep! Tears clear the eyes and hones intuition." He believed, by sincerely grappling with the problems of the world, one cleansed one's heart, paving the way to emancipation while trying to avoid problems only invited more.

The idea of another world full of material comforts wasn't interesting to him. He dismissed the idea of such an Utopia saying that it had to be full of imperfections. This world, he held, was the only one where we are born to work towards our destiny. Struggle unto death here leads us to unsurpassed blessedness. Death, therefore, never appeared to him depressing and fearful. He thought of it as something positive, a love for which inspired inner powers. Vivekananda described how this approach had benefited him: "I never really had a brush with death, but death, in a sense brought about a tremendous upheaval. One such brought me to Ramakrishna, another sent me to the USA."

Vivekananda's humanism is based on Vedantic pragmatism. "I only preach what is good for humanity," he said. It was, accordingly, all inclusive. He said: "It is action with desire that leads to action without desire. Is the renunciation of desire possible, if desire did not exist in the first place? And what could it mean? Can light have any meaning if there is no darkness? There is no glory in the renunciation of a beggar. There is no virtue in the self-control of one devoid of sense-power." He wonders: "What again is the self-sacrifice of one devoid of idea, devoid of heart, devoid of high ambition, and devoid of the conception of what constitutes society?" In order to emerge finally victorious, one ought to weather trials and tribulations first ~ "as the seed must die underground to come up as the tree".

He knew, that in order to release man from the grip of torpidity, work was the only way out but such that it shouldn't be considered as a burden. Yoked to a job, bereft of the ability to wriggle out of its shackles is nothing but slavery. In view of such a hindrance, Vivekananda wrote: "We concentrate our energies on getting attached to something; but on the other hand we hardly take trouble to develop the faculty of detaching ourselves at a moment's notice from anything. Both attachment and detachment perfectly developed make a man great and happy."

The importance of incessant work has been upheld in the Gita. Sri Krishna himself underlines its importance, noting how the world would come to a standstill should he chose to rest even for a moment. Vivekananda describes Lord Krishna as the perfect karmayogi. He thus put an absolute seal on the indispensability of work, by stressing: "Work is my only safety valve."

Vivekananda's world view is applicable in every sphere of life. He goes to the roots of maladies and offers remedies. People guided like lifeless machines, he thinks, are shorn of "flux of hope" and "stimulation of the will". There is no "inventive genus" as well as "no desire for novelty" in them. Their vision remains always clouded. It never even occurs to them "if there is any better state than this". Living by rules alone doesn't ensure excellence. Hence, he wants people to endure pain and pleasure, all the while exercising will and harbouring enthusiasm for a bright future. He explained: "There is no manifestation of will in the machine, the machine never wishes to transgress law; the work wants to oppose law ~ rises against law whether it succeeds or not; therefore it is intelligent. Greater the happiness, higher the Jiva... The will of God is perfectly fruitful; therefore He is the highest."

As the question of will and freedom are inseparable, he studies them intently, keeping society in the perspective. What should be the measure of individual freedom? Should one completely sacrifice one's will and happiness for the sake of the collective? Reflecting on such issues, he shows how the modern world sees socialism vis-a-vis individualism. "The doctrine which demands the sacrifice of individual freedom to social supremacy is called socialism, while that which advocates the cause of the individual is called individualism." Our country is an example of the results of "subjection of the individual to society and forced self-sacrifice by dint of institution and discipline". We live according to scriptural injunctions. But the net result isn't good since over the centuries, we have developed into machines, not knowing how to adapt ourselves to the waves of changes from time to time. And as machines, we do things which we wouldn't have done otherwise. "The delicious rice and curry which a cook of this country prepares with the aid of three lumps of earth and a few sticks can be had nowhere else. With the simple mechanism of an antediluvian loom, worth Re 1, and feet wedged in a pit, it is possible to make kincobs worth Rs 20 a yard, in this country alone. A torn mat, an earthen lamp fed by castor oil ~ are all monks in this country need to practise devotion. An all-forbearing attachment to an ailing wife, and a lifelong devotion to a worthless and villainous husband are possible in this country alone. Thus far is the bright side."

His way is a crusade against all sorts of evil designs that "make people do virtuous deeds by teaching superstition". Therefore, he makes education crucial to his message. That what gradually turns man into a machine is not education for him. He said: "It is more blessed, in my opinion, even to go wrong, impelled by one's free will and intelligence than to be good as an automation." He wasn't ready to call an amalgamation that was formed by an aggregate of such automated men and women society. "How can such society fare well? Consider the situation of Indians who chose to remain slaves for hundreds of years when we could have been the greatest nation on earth, and the soil of India, instead of ending up a mine of stupidity, could have been the eternal fountainhead of learning." He looked upon education as a powerful weapon able to crush stout resistance that obstructed the manifestation of knowledge and cultivation of inherent wisdom. In no way should it interfere with the originality and intrinsic growth of man, Vivekananda said. It becomes clear to one that life has a higher purpose in this world which can be attained when one lives selflessly. In this sense, education is a liberating process. But if it only multiplies bondage, killing one's natural capacity to think and work freely, it is indeed harmful. Vivekananda's greatest regret was that such Vedantic ideas, in spite of being enormously flexible and cathartic, weren't adopted by society. He firmly believed, because of its universal appeal and constructive suggestions, Vedanta could have been acceptable to the people at large as a scientific way of life, aiding in the creation of a perfectly harmonious human society. So, he made it a mission to take Vedanta to the masses. He tried to impress upon us Vedanta's essential idea that life is a continuous journey of "being and becoming", ending with spiritual enlightenment. Everything ~ good or bad, right or wrong, mirth or melancholiness, rift or friendship ~ has a specific role to play in the cycle. Vivekananda observes: "The man who really takes the burden blesses the world. He has not a word of condemnation or criticism, not because there isn't anything to condemn to criticise but because he has willingly, voluntarily agreed to shoulder the burden."

Vivekananda is a true embodiment of his own teachings. His "disciple and friend" Josephine Macleod rightly says: "It  is the 'truth' that I saw in Swamiji that has set me 'free'. One's faults seem so insignificant. Why remember them, when one has the ocean of truth to be one's playground?" She feels that he is "a rock for us to stand upon". Vivekananda wrote to Mary Hale a couple of years before his demise: "Now I am going to be truly Vivekananda. Did you ever enjoy evil? Ha! Ha! you silly girl, you think all is good! Nonsense. There is some good and some evil. I enjoy the good and I enjoy the evil. I was Jesus and I was Judas Iscariot; Be brave and face everything ~ come good, come evil. I have no good to attain, no ideal to cling to, no ambition to fulfil... If the universe creaks around, what is that to me? I am peace incarnate..."

Vivekananda is a repository of limitless thoughts and ideas useful to mankind. An admirer once said: "The thing about Swami Vivekananda that transfixed me was his depth! I never could even begin to plumb it!" Vivekananda had been offered prestigious chairs in institutions of learning during his lifetime. He refused them all since he was a monk. Now it seems the Indian government hopes to set up a chair at the University of Chicago to spread the ideals of Swami Vivekananda, 117 years after the monk delivered his landmark address in the US city. If this really happens, it would be a fitting tribute to Vivekananda's haloed memory on the eve of his 150th birth anniversary.

The writer is with the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith, Jharkhand





Last Saturday, Swami Aseemanand's lawyer alleged that his client had confessed to his role in the Samjhauta Express bomb blast under police duress. Is this believable? Can our civilised police actually put a devout Hindu swami under duress? Swami Aseemanand himself had a different version to explain his confession. Aseemanand in prison was befriended by a young Muslim, Kaleem, who was wrongfully arrested for his involvement in the Mecca Masjid blast case. But Aseemanand knew that Hindu extremists were behind the blasts. Kaleem's plight made Aseemanand very remorseful. Overnight he was converted from a rabid Hindu communalist into a loving secularist. Overcome by secular emotion, he confessed. Doesn't this version appear to be more believable?

However, there is a slight complication. It transpires that the US Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent David Coleman Headley's wife, Faiza Outalha, reported to US investigators in Islamabad that Headley had a hand in the Samjhauta Express bombings. The New York Times reported these warnings from Outalha that were passed on to US officials in Islamabad in December 2007. This detail is now part of the US National Intelligence review ordered by its director. According to an American official Outalha "felt she had been innocently used in an express train bombing". She connected Headley and Lashkar to the Samjhauta attack. This indicates that Pakistan and Lashkar carried out the Samjhauta attack. The UN banned Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba for attacking the Samjhauta Express.  

So who is speaking the truth and who is lying? Was the Samjhauta Express attack carried out by Lashkar or by Hindu terrorists? Perhaps both speak the truth! In that event Jihadi and Hindu terrorists jointly attacked the Samjhauta Express. That would mean that CIA and FBI which controlled Headley, ISI which controls Lashkar, and RSS which controls Hindu terrorists, are jointly spreading terrorism in India . Fortunately the razor sharp mind of Mr Digvijay Singh seems to be already probing this angle. Ironically, where circumstantial evidence clearly suggested Hindu terrorists the authorities remained silent, such as the Godhra train fire.
 Mr Digvijay Singh recently endorsed at a book launch RSS ka Shadyantra, written by Mr Aziz Burney. The book states that 26/11 was a conspiracy hatched jointly by the RSS, Mossad and CIA. Mr Burney described Mr Singh to the media as a "like-minded person". He reportedly said: "When two like-minded people talk, you can't say who has influenced whom, but yes, we both benefit from each other." Doubtless Mr Singh will get to the bottom of the truth about terrorism in India. There is still a long way to go of course. As yet the roles of MI6, remnants of the defunct KGB and Chinese Intelligence in the Samjhauta Express blast have not been uncovered. But the plot thickens. Watch this space.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







The Founder Of The Amrita Bazar Patrika

We regret to announce the death of Mr Sishir Kumar Ghose (elder brother of Mr Moti Lal Ghose), founder and for many years Editor of the Amrita Bazar Patrika, who passed away on Tuesday afternoon at the age of seventy-one. He retired some ten years ago from the active control of the paper and was leading the life of a religious recluse. In his retirement he published man books on the Vaishnava religion both in English and Bengalee and edited the Spiritual Magazine. He was identified with all political movements in the past decade and took a leading part in the inauguration of local self-government during Lord Ripon's viceroyalty.


Annual Conversazione In Calcutta

The annual conversazione of the Oxford University Mission was held on Friday afternoon in the mission house, in Cornwalis Street, and proved, as usual, a highly successful function. The brothers of the Mission, including the Superior, received the guests, who were entertained to tea and light refreshments. Among the guests were the Lord Bishop of Calcutta and Mrs Coplestone, Sir Lawrence Jenkins and Lady Jenkins, the Rev Mr Cogan, the Hon Mr J Andrew and Mrs Andrew, Miss Cornelia Sorabji, Mr GC Sircar, and representative of the different Indian Christian communities in Calcutta.

It has been ascertained that stones were thrown at the up-Darjeeling Mail on two successive days, on the 4th and 5th instant, almost at the same hour and from the same spot between Kankinara and Naihati stations. The railway police are making inquiries.







An electricity connection in 30 days or a new ration card in 60 is the stuff of dreams for the common man in India. Bihar's chief minister, Nitish Kumar, thinks his government should — and can — make such small dreams come true. He promises to give the people 16 time-bound services. These include police verifications for passports, arms licences and caste certificates, vehicle registration or transfer certificates and licences for new ration shops or medical stores. The Right to Service Bill that the Bihar government proposes to introduce in the state assembly next month also fixes a daily penalty on the departments failing to provide the services within the time frame. The spirit behind the proposal is typical of Mr Kumar's style of governance. He shuns pompous programmes and the rhetoric that goes with them. Instead, he seems to know how small changes can make a big difference in the administration and in the people's lives. If he won a spectacular second mandate in the last assembly polls, it was not because he had brought about any radical changes in his first term. It was more in his sincerity of purpose that the people saw their hope of a better Bihar. The first major step that his new government took — the scrapping of the legislators' quota of development funds — showed that Mr Kumar was right on track. The quota raj has been a byword for corruption in Bihar as much as elsewhere in India.

It would be a revolution of sorts if a right to service law works in Bihar. Madhya Pradesh was the first state in the country to try out a similar law to change governance on the ground. Bihar can learn from the experiences of the Madhya Pradesh government with such a law. Delays in executing government schemes or giving the people some basic services are not just matters of wasted time. They are at the heart of corrupt and sluggish administrations everywhere. It is not so much the lack of funds as the absence of political and administrative will that makes governments so insensitive to the people's needs. It is not enough for the people to have a vote in order to try and change a government every five years. But a government may change without changing anything for the people. Given the old order's refusal to change, Bihar's experiment could show the way to other states. It is no easy promise to keep, but Mr Kumar deserves praise for daring to dream.





A few days into a brand new year, and the United States of America has already recorded its first shooting spree that has claimed the lives of six people, a federal judge among them. The list of the 13 wounded includes a Democrat Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, who has taken bullet shots to her head and may have been the direct target of the attack. It is perhaps this high-profile list of casualty that has made the recent shooting such a sensational talking point in the US. It has thrown the spotlight on two things: the inflammatory, and "toxic", public rhetoric used by rival politicians that is supposed to have influenced the lawless behaviour of the assassin, and the liberal gun policy that made this shooting, and several others before it, possible. Attention to the first was drawn by the self-righteous sheriff of Pima County, Clarence Dupnik — who is also Ms Giffords's close friend — when he indirectly pointed to the vitriolic public discourse employed by Republican politicians, particularly by the adherents of the anti-Washington Tea Party movement. Sarah Palin, who encouraged her supporters to take on Ms Giffords's constituency by marking it with crosshairs in an election poster, suddenly finds herself the sitting duck of the pro-Giffords sentiment.

Mr Dupnik's association with Ms Giffords and his rather simplistic argument, which makes the Republicans responsible for the attack on Ms Giffords, may draw sneering comments for the time being. But it is impossible to deny that the political right in the US has majorly contributed to the decreasing civility in political exchange. For people like the assassin, Jared Loughner, sitting on the edge of sanity and bred in the severely charged atmosphere of Arizona — which shares its border with Mexico and spites immigrants — the growing social and political intolerance may have served as a red rag. It is incredible that Ms Palin should be asked to take the blame for the killings, but it would not be unreasonable to ask her, as also her brethren from across the political line in the left, to take a look at the way they are conducting their political battles and how that is affecting the psyche of the nation. Also, if the US preaches political sense to its vassal state of Pakistan, it should practice that itself. It would also be wise for it to take another look at its gun laws that allow deranged men like Loughner unhindered access to weapons of mass destruction.






As I write this, only a few hours of 2010 are left. This time last year, I ended my column for The Telegraph by observing that the finance minister had predicted a growth rate of over 8 per cent for the Indian economy, and that the pronounced improvement in the global environment was likely to ensure that the finance minister's forecast for 2010 would come to be true.

Everything has not quite worked out according to this script, as far as the international scenario is concerned. In particular, several European economies, such as Greece and Ireland, have been in the throes of a deep financial crisis, and only generous help from the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund have enabled these countries to avoid total collapse of their economies. The crises in these countries, as well as the precarious state of some other European economies, have been so severe that there was indeed talk of giving up the euro as a single currency.

Fortunately, despite the somewhat uncertain external environment, Pranab Mukherjee's forecast has proved to be true. The Indian economy has been thriving, and we have had a year of close to double-digit growth. Moreover, the year has witnessed balanced growth with virtually all sectors contributing to the growth process. Some sectors have reached truly stratospheric rates of growth. For instance, both the capital and consumer goods sectors grew at over 20 per cent. Even the agricultural sector, which has often constrained the overall rate of growth, performed much better than expected.

There is no doubt that India is now an important player in the world economy. In terms of gross domestic product, it is now the 11th largest in the world. Our growth rate during 2010 and future prospects of sustaining this high growth path are sure to consolidate this position. Of course, the absolute size of the economy is somewhat misleading because this ignores the size of our population — we fare far poorer in terms of per capita incomes.

Nevertheless, we do provide a very large market for other countries. It is not surprising that leaders of the five permanent members of the United Nations security council have visited India this year, accompanied by large numbers of officials dealing with economics ministries. "Economics" occupied centre stage in the bilateral talks, with trade and investment agreements capturing newspaper headlines. We have truly travelled a long distance from the days when our finance ministry officials would travel to the World Bank and IMF headquarters with begging bowls in hand, pleading for foreign aid on concessional terms.

But we should not let this newfound respect from international leaders lead us into a false sense of complacency. To what extent is the high aggregate growth rate an illusion of success? On several counts, chief amongst them being the very high rate of inflation throughout the year and the rampant corruption, there is little reason to award the government anything more than a passing grade.

For much of the year, foodgrain prices have been galloping upwards. In the last couple of months, prices of several vegetables have also been increasing very fast. The government has seemed completely clueless about how to control the rise in prices — all that it has offered are assurances from various finance ministry officials that the rate of inflation would fall "in the near future". Despite holding on to huge stocks of both rice and wheat, it has not been able to evolve a viable mechanism to release the grains into the market so as to augment supply. This failure to release government stocks has actually aggravated the problem because its procurement policy sucks away such a large fraction of the annual production every year, thus leaving a correspondingly smaller amount for the market.

To some extent, the government is less culpable for the rise in vegetable prices. Rising incomes have caused a shift in demand patterns. Indians are now consuming more vegetables and dairy products. There has been no corresponding increase in supply, and so there is very little the government can do about the rise in prices of vegetables which are not traded in international markets.

But consider the recent skyrocketing of onion prices. This has been the result of unseasonal rains which destroyed a part of the onion production. It did not require any rocket science to predict that this would create a strong upward pressure on prices. The government should have acted immediately by banning onion exports and arranging for imports from neighbouring countries, thereby neutralizing the demand-supply imbalance. Unfortunately, these are actions that the government undertook long after the sharp rise in prices. Unfortunately, this sluggishness in government response has not been a one-off event — it has come to symbolize the public decision-making apparatus in recent times.

Consider, for instance, the Central government's response to tackling corruption in public affairs. The corruption involved in the Commonwealth Games and the awarding of 2G licences is too well-known to require elaboration. There seems to be little doubt that the public exchequer has been deprived of truly gigantic sums of money. And there is no doubt that this was common knowledge within the highest circles of the Central government. And yet, the government refused to take any action until pressure from the media and a determined Opposition left it with no other option. This is certainly a chapter that the United Progressive Alliance ministry will want to erase from the record books.

This leaves us with the obvious follow-up question. What have been the positive achievements of the current government during the current year? It is perhaps fair to give the government some credit for the very commendable performance in so far as the rate of growth is concerned since this is in part due to the package of stimulus measures implemented by it. But the overwhelming bulk of these measures were adopted last year.

During the current year, there has not been any step taken by the government in initiating reforms, big or small. In fact, if one is to judge from the noticeable lack of any discussion in the media, reforms have vanished from the government's agenda. If anything, we seem to have moved backwards on this score since the deadline for the implementation of the unified goods and services tax has been pushed back. The seeming paralysis affecting the government does not augur well either for the economy or for the electoral prospects of the Congress party, the principal party in the UPA coalition.

THIS PIECE WAS WRITTEN AT THE END OF LAST YEAR The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick







Supporters and members of the United Liberation Front of Asom made a big show on the occasion of Arabinda Rajkhowa's release from prison and his return to his native village in Sibsagar. Television footage reminded one of the day when the then leaders of the anti-foreigner agitation in Assam had returned to Guwahati from New Delhi on a triumphant note after signing the 'Assam Accord'. The motorcade had taken about four hours to complete the journey from the airport to Judges' Field. There was jubilation everywhere as the Assamese felt that they would be rid of the unwanted 'foreigners' from Bangladesh and face no further threats to their identity. Rajkhowa's release, albeit on bail, has kindled hopes of peace at last in the Brahmaputra Valley.

But will peace return? The Assam Accord had brought the former students' leaders to power and nothing more. In fact, it was followed by the rise of Ulfa, which took violence to a new height in the valley. The foreigner issue has not been resolved completely. Moreover, Rajkhowa has only said that he is willing to talk peace with New Delhi, but there is no suggestion as yet that he and the organization will cease to talk of sovereignty. At this stage, perhaps he cannot act in that manner as other leaders are still behind bars, including Anup Chetia, who is in Bangladesh. Paresh Barua is still at large, and it is doubtful whether any peace initiative will have much meaning without his participation. Rajkhowa and a few others may arrange for their personal rehabilitation, but the state as a whole may have to keep its fingers crossed unless every insurgent agrees to give up arms.

Too early

Rajkhowa's supporters are creating a lot of hype about a new future for Assam. But what about the countless victims of Ulfa's mindless violence over the decades? The president of Ulfa has apologized for these killings, but that can be of no consolation to the bereaved families. The murderers must be brought to book, or so says the law of the land. But the law also accommodates larger considerations when the killings are organized on a massive scale, and when the State feels that the violence can be avoided through appeasement only. Hence 'talks' are held with the killers. But can the victims' families accept the fact that the law of the land is given the short shrift when the issue is considered to be much 'larger'?

The Centre or the state government has not yet indicated its response to the Ulfa chief's demand that his colleagues be also released. But it is unlikely that his demand will not be met. It should be kept in mind that Assam goes to the polls this year and the Congress-led ministry would like to tell the people that it has tried to bring peace to the valley. If the support of Ulfa cadre can be ensured during the polls, that will be a bonus which no political party can ignore.

There are other factors as well. Over the last many years, Ulfa men and women who had surrendered quietly have been mobilized as Sulfa. What will be the relationship between the two groups? Any concession to Rajkhowa and his men will surely be resented by the others, and the outcome of such resentment can only be speculated upon. It would have been nice to view the developments concerning Rajkhowa as the markers of the beginning of a new era. Given the many complexities, it will, however, be premature to draw such a conclusion. For one thing, there are insurgent groups all over the region, particularly in Nagaland. They are quiet now because of the ceasefire agreements but are showing signs of restlessness. Those signs can only become stronger if, at any stage, it is perceived that the government is being too accommodating to Ulfa or National Socialist Council of Nagaland (I-M). The situation is extremely tricky for the beleaguered home ministry.



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The initial operational clearance (IOC), given to India's first indigenously designed light combat aircraft (LCA), is an achievement for the country's defence research establishment and industry. The development of Tejas, which took 27 years to move from an idea to a near reality, has been riddled with setbacks and obstacles, some caused by internal problems and others by factors beyond the control of planners and those in charge of execution of the project.

But now it is at a stage where the full development of the aircraft is within sight. The role of an indigenous LCA is vital for India's defence needs, especially when the country has to assert the power of its forces in line with the change in strategic requirements in a new geo-political environment. The project was conceived in 1983 to enhance combat force levels to replace the ageing MiG-21 fleet.

Tejas has a number of features that make it contemporary and world class and many of them were designed and developed within the country. But it is not 100 per cent indigenous, as the engine and some other elements are not developed in the country. As the chief of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Dr V K Saraswat, said complete indigenisation may make the LCA financially unattractive or unviable. But maximum indigenisation is planned in the coming months and years.

The final operational clearance is still many months way and may be granted only in a couple of years, as Tejas has to undergo more tests and incorporate many more correctional proposals from the armed forces. It should have been inducted in the forces at least five years ago but the embargo on technologies in the wake of India's nuclear experiment in 1998 did much to set it back. This did some good also because the Indian scientists developed many elements of vital technology out of necessity.

However the resulting cost overruns and delays mark the negative side of the project. There is criticism that DRDO should have been more efficient and a better work culture than what is seen in public sector enterprises would have produced better results. The country can still be proud of the achievement, as it had to start from scratch in developing the aircraft. It is also important that the basic infrastructure and expertise for design and manufacture of fighter aircraft has been created, which can now be built upon.







The major changes proposed by the Central government in the field of technical education are in line with the requirements of the country in the coming years. They also seek to fill up the gaps and remove inadequacies in an area which is crucial for development.

Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal has unveiled an ambitious agenda to improve technical education facilities,  setting up of new institutes with new management structures. These are expected to liberalise the field and increase access to disciplines like engineering and management. Land norms for colleges have been relaxed, student intake will be increased and ownership norms changed so that corporate entities which have so far been barred from the field will be able to set up technical institutions. Till now only registered societies and trusts could do so.

This is expected to encourage the entry of industry in a big way in the field. But administrative and other problems are likely to arise because these institutions will be under the control of the ministry of corporate affairs and not under the ministries in charge of education or science and technology.

Even though education is in the concurrent list state governments will not have any control over them. Companies which set up institutions under this scheme will not be allowed to take profits away from them. Still there will be many corporate bodies which will be interested in making investments in the field. There are also plans to set up colleges under a BoT arrangement and reserve five per cent of the seats for economically backward students.

Polytechnics are proposed to be taken away from the control of state governments and put under the care of AICTE. This might impart uniformity to education but AICTE needs to be made more efficient. It is not known what happened to the idea of creating a new regulatory body. The plan now is to create two lakh new engineering seats in various disciplines and 80,000 management seats. Quantitative expansion should also be accompanied by improvements in the quality and standards of education.

A large number of students who graduate from technical institutes now are not employable. Infrastructural facilities and the strength of teaching staff will have to be improved. This is not easy but has to be done.








Even as Federal prosecutors in Washington are looking for evidence that would enable them to charge Julian Assange with helping an army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking the information, it is clear that Assange and his WikiLeaks gamble has changed the face of foreign policy forever.


While many may not have realised it even yet, WikiLeaks is the biggest story of the year gone by in terms of the policy impact it will have on the future conduct of global politics.


Even in the best of times conducting an effective foreign policy is one of the most challenging tasks facing a nation's decision-makers. Foreign policy is different from domestic policy as nations operate in an anarchical structural environment where there is no higher authority to mediate differences among the nations. So, countries have to rely on themselves to further their national interests and in so doing they have to take recourse to all kinds of means.


Secrecy is a vital instrument in the armoury of states without which long term decision-making would be virtually impossible. This is especially true of liberal democracies where transparency is essential in the domestic sphere, making the conduct of diplomacy even more challenging.

An ability to communicate under a cloak of secrecy so essential for diplomacy took a major hit when WikiLeaks, a self described 'whistle blower' site, began publishing more than 2,50,000 leaked US embassy cables last November. This disclosure of a cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables has sent shudders through the diplomatic establishment, endangering American operations abroad and even putting the lives of confidential sources of American diplomacy at risk. The US secretary of state has made it clear that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the material but the global reaction so far has also been universally condemnatory.

It is a sad sight to see the world's sole superpower losing control over so much of its classified information in one go. No doubt the leaks have exposed American vulnerabilities and have put the spotlight back on the American handling of sensitive information. It is baffling how a 22-year-old army private, Bradley Manning, at a remote Iraqi base could have got access to 2,50,000 State Department cables, as well as tens of thousands more military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, and how he could have downloaded them onto CDs without being detected.

Traditionally, the US used to bemoan lax standards of secrecy in other countries. It turns out that it was Washington that has not been smart enough in handling such information. The balance of power has now shifted between the US and its allies on this issue.

Another troubling aspect of the leak is the policy of directing American diplomats to collect personal data of foreign officials. This dangerously blurs the distinction between diplomats and spies and perhaps is best left to the spooks. American diplomats will now be suspected more as they go about dealing with other nations.

Portrait of the world

What is also revealed in the diplomatic traffic is a portrait of the world that is much more disturbing than many had envisioned — the devastating stuff about the Iranian nuclear programme and the Arab panic about it; the vulnerability of Pakistan's nuclear stockpile to rogue Islamist; anarchy and corruption writ large in Afghanistan; growing presence of al-Qaeda in Yemen; the tight grip of organised crime groups in the Russian state.

The world today is a dangerous place and as the US decline continues, the role of the US as the guarantor of global stability is increasingly coming under question. The released documents do nothing to assuage growing concerns about the ability and/or willingness of Washington to tackle the global challenges effectively despite the hopes of several states. In these documents, we witness an America unable to deal with Iranian nuclear ambitions and unable to convince Islamabad that using terrorism as an instrument of state policy is a bad idea.

But there is a larger issue here that comes to the fore. In releasing US diplomatic documents, WikiLeaks has underlined that statecraft itself was imperilled by a reality in which no secret is safe if it is written. It is indeed a difficult case for leaders in democracies to make that there is a limit to what the people should know, or at least when they should know.

The art of diplomacy is crucial if conflicts are to be mitigated and wars are to be avoided and that art is now being viewed by many as under attack. The vulnerability of diplomatic correspondence damages the ability of the diplomat to engage in frank, confidential discussions not just with government officials but with all kinds of other actors.

What really matters for the successful conduct of a nation's foreign policy is the confidence — a word that denotes trust and secrecy. When private conversations become public, it is more than mere embarrassing. It leads to a loss of trust in the interlocutor making it difficult to gather reliable information in the future. WikiLeaks has been rightly accused of 'information vandalism' with no regard for privacy or social usefulness.

No doubt as a consequence of these revelations, traditional diplomatic cables will now be
phased out and that will be a serious loss not only to the policymakers but also to the scholars and historians who rely on this archival material to get a fuller portrait of the larger environment shaping policies at a particular point in time. Most diplomatic cables remain secret for decades and work as raw material for historians, long after the participants have bowed out from the scene.

It is certainly the case that this unprecedented violation will strategically weaken the US in ways that are currently difficult to predict. But more damagingly, it will make effective foreign policy making even more difficult for all nations. And that would be a tragedy given the times we live in.

(The writer teaches at the King's College, London)








I love siestas. Home on vacations all through my school and college years I have great memories of soporific afternoons, spent snoozing on my mother's deep rosewood and rattan sofa. Strategically placed away from the line of sight of the main entrance in the drawing room, it also helped me assuage a pesky guilty conscience by virtuously maintaining that I was not one of those slothful, dead-to-the-world afternoon sleepers. Only a cautious 'catnapper'!


Siestas come in many shapes. My vote for the Decadent Luxury Siesta goes to the ladies at The Lido at Venice. The tents and deck chairs on the beach are rented out for the day at rates costing an arm and a leg, and then some. Pampered young socialites, with toddlers and nannies in tow, rub shoulders with dowager dragons. Striking languid poses, they get down to the serious business of acquiring a tan, seeing and being seen and just by the way, catching a convenient 40 winks.

My father realised the value of the siesta all through his round-the-clock police career. Whenever possible, he made it a point to come home for lunch and hunker down after a wholesome home-cooked meal for a good 20 minute siesta. Nothing more, and usually nothing less. Siesta over, he donned another set of crisp khakis and set out for the police HQ. That is my idea of a Power Siesta.

At my alma mater, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmadabad the siesta was quite an institution. After a busy morning of class and a wholesome Gujju lunch, the whole campus wound down in the heat of the afternoon to doze.

To an outsider it would seem like the lull before the storm because the afternoon somnolence soon transforms into frenetic all-night activity, as preppy first years pore over their Operations Management and Accounting notes, and seniors 'gup-shup' with friends over endless cups of tea on the velvety lawns of the famous Louis Kahn Plaza. It is believed that this Institutional Siesta was a mandatory requirement to prevent acute sleep deprivation.

The weekends can be siesta-packed wonders. My husband loves his Sunday post-breakfast pre-lunch snooze. But my favourite is the Saturday afternoon siesta. Unlike the Sunday one, the Saturday siesta does not bring with it the fear of staying awake that night and getting a bad case of Monday morning blues. It is the Queen of Siestas, one I jealously protect. I am such an avid worshipper of it that my family says I look completely sleep-washed when I wake up.

Shakespeare's, eloquent ode in Macbeth, "Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care… Chief nourisher in life's feast" was of course for the nocturnal one. But spare a thought for the magical powers of its afternoon cousin, the siesta!








India fears that Karzai is being influenced by Pakistan in decision-making on strategic issues.

The war-torn Afghanistan witnessed a terror attack near Kandahar, killing nearly 20 people, a day before external affairs minister S M Krishna was to make his third visit last week.

The attack did not receive much publicity perhaps because the suicide bombers continue to strike at regular intervals while reminding that their supply lines in Afghanistan continue unabated. It is also a chilling reminder that the Taliban days are not over, nine years after they retreated leading to an elected government in the country. It is also a reminder that Afghanistan has a long distance to cover in its drive towards normalisation.

Krishna's two-day visit was significant because of the interest India is showing in consolidating its presence in Afghanistan through humanitarian aid. During his meetings with president Hamid Karzai and other leaders, Krishna conveyed New Delhi's concern at terror threats to Indian missions in the country (the embassy in Kabul and four consulates).

He assured his hosts of continued aid flow, although India has no major infrastructure projects left except the ongoing construction of Afghanistan parliament building and Salma dam power plant which are to be completed next year.

Security concerns

India, which is the sixth largest donor to Afghanistan, has shown keen interest and has taken up several projects in education, agriculture, capacity building, women empowerment, etc. Karzai assured Krishna that adequate security would be provided to Indian missions as well as Indian projects.

India also wants its private sector to take up projects in Afghanistan. Sewa (Self Employed Women's Association), an NGO has built a women's vocational training centre in Kabul to train Afghan women, especially war widows and orphans, in garment-making, nursery plantation, food processing and marketing. With Kabul opening up its mining sector, India wants its companies to set up shop.

India has pledged its full support to Karzai, who has been re-elected as president amidst charges of rigging in the 2009 polls, but India also nurses a doubt that he is increasingly being influenced by Pakistan in governance and decision-making on strategic issues.

Having established some sort of presence through aid and reconstruction activity in the strategically situated Afghanistan — which shares borders with Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China — India wants to increase its say.

India is looking with interest how the Afghan Peace Council headed by former prime minister Bahranuddin Rabbani will shape up. Rabbani agreed for an unscheduled meeting with Krishna and gave details of the roadmap for his panel. Apart from Karzai and Rabbani, Krishna extracted an assurance from foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul that the Council would be an Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled body.

India suspects that the council would be greatly influenced by Pakistan — which is one of the prime movers of starting a body like this. That Rabbani was in Islamabad for more than two days discussing the issues with Pakistani leaders even as Krishna landed in Kabul.

The council has been formed to open a dialogue with insurgents including the Taliban which are trying to bring down the Karzai government. Krishna informed Karzai that the 'red lines' laid out in the London Declaration need to be adhered to and that the council must be Afghan-led and as long as they were honoured, India had no issues on this score.

India sees an opportunity in firmly establishing its presence in the proposed 1,689 km Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline which will initially draw gas from the Daulatabad gasfield and convey it to India through Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline all but shelved, TAPI will become a regionally important project having huge military and political significance. It will also help Afghanistan by way of hefty transit fee — the government may get annual fee of around $1.4 b from India and Pakistan each once the $7.6 b pipeline is laid.

India knows that the security concerns that surrounded the IPI project will also apply to TAPI but the gains are so high that it is keen that the multi-nation project should go through. Informed sources say that the consortium which will be formed to implement the project will take care of any logistic or security concerns.

The proposed phased withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan from July 2011 has also become a matter of concern for India. If this becomes a reality, India feels that there will be a serious threat to its projects in Afghanistan.

However, the increased uncertainty over the US pullout along with the Obama administration's announcement that India and US will take up joint projects has brought some relief to New Delhi. India wants a credible national security force which can defend Afghanistan by 2014 when the US is supposed to completely withdraw from the country it has been sending forces to since 2001.







Why is it that Goa Police refuse to register First Information Reports (FIRs)? The most common form of grievance before the Goa Police Complaints Authority is of policemen refusing to register cases. We had an example of this on Tuesday, when a court directed police to file within 24 hours an FIR against Tourism and Housing Minister Nilkanth Halarnkar, who has been accused of fraudulently allotting Housing Board land to a trust controlled by him. The fact is that in case of a cognisable offence, refusal to register an FIR is against the law.

An FIR is merely a report of the information that the police get first. It can be lodged in the form of a complaint by the victim, or by someone on his/her behalf. Even a telephone call telling police about a crime can be treated as an FIR. If the complaint is given orally, the police must write it down, read it to the complainant, and get his/her signature on it. The police must also give a copy of the FIR to the complainant free of cost.
If the police refuse to register an FIR, the complainant should meet the Superintendent of Police (SP) or a higher officer. If even after this the FIR is not recorded, (s)he can complain to the State Human Rights Commission or the National Human Rights

Commission. Or, as in the Tourism Minister's case, the complainant can file a case in a court of law.

After an FIR is filed, the police investigate the case. They can refuse to proceed if they feel that the case is not serious in nature, or that there is not enough ground to investigate further. However, the police must record the reasons for not conducting an investigation, and inform the complainant accordingly.

All these provisions are clearly laid out in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which every policeman has to learn as part of their training. But, despite knowing that it is unlawful to refuse to register an FIR if the alleged offence is cognisable, Goa's policemen often do exactly that. It tends to undermine the confidence of the people in the police.

Those who file a false complaint or give wrong information to the police can be prosecuted under the law for misleading the police under Section 203 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a similar penal provision applicable to policemen who deliberately refuse to register an FIR.
Regardless of the provisions in the law, the top brass of the Goa police can make it clear to its personnel that blatant refusal to register an FIR will be viewed unfavourably and will have consequences in their service record. This will, to a small extent, prevent the protectors of the law from becoming its violaters.






Last Thursday's tremors in Sanguem seem to be a classic case of a dam-triggered earthquake, known as 'reservoir-induced seismicity'. The Selaulim dam is located barely 5km from Sanguem town. The quake, though, did not affect the dam, on which South Goa depends for its water supply.
When a dam is built and the reservoir fills with water, the amount of pressure exerted on the earth in that area increases dramatically. It changes as the water level reduces with use, and then increases, stressing the delicate balance between tectonic plates deep in the Earth's crust, and possibly causing them to shift.
In 1967, three years after completion of the Koyna Dam in Maharashtra, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake killed 180 people in the area, and caused tremors as far as in Mumbai. That is unlikely to happen here, however, as Selaulim is not a large dam.







After ushering the New Year 2011, mayhap with euphoria, the first question that hovers on our minds is: what is going to be our near future, taking into consideration  the haphazard condition that we are left in, and there is no holistic wisdom that we will ever get out from the rot, that has already engulfed us? There are a plethora of vicissitudes, which are churning within our hearts, minds and soul, although our 'Aam Admi government' is, as per the newspapers goes, trying to beam into our distraught existence in co-inconsequential measures, by administering a slew of 'options' which are perhaps relevant to their contexts. This cuts no ice amongst us, the poor populace, who are perennially at the mercy of those 'ultra-saviours' (which should also be read as clowns), with not even a sliver of hope, to visualise a glimmer of silver lining, amongst the darkest of clouds.
I am expressing about silver lining (sic), which as per the latest market survey, the price of vegetables has gone far beyond the reaches of 'common man' with no quantum of comfort zone, to ever reach the level of affordability. Could be that the government employees, with new implemented and revised pay-scale, in addition to what they get surreptitiously and underhandedly, not forgetting the mining barons who are devastating our pristine land and the outsiders who have arrived in Goa with baggage of currency, garner courage to venture into the vegetable market. What about the rest of the Goan populace, who are dependent on vegetables? Can they sacrifice their religious proclivity, to commence in eating the forbidden meat, just because of Government's desire?

It is dead sure that the vegetables market has become the monopoly of outsiders, expressly Muslims from neighbouring Karnataka, who care a damn about the natives (whether they are Goan Muslims, Christians or Hindus), for they keep on indulging in fulfilling their whims. But yet, the government is following the diktat of avuncularism, as can be seen from the recent outburst which took place at Moti Dongor, with unwanted elements playing to the galleries. What is Government doing to curb the menace? In my reply, I can categorically state that the Government will do nothing, as that is the vote bank of Digambar Kamat, who had the gall to state, that it is not a political issue. I personally feel that those elements should be deported to their own state, leaving Goans to have a life of their own.

Some questions do deserve unabashed answers, and I am confident that the government will furbish to the public, in general, their ever evasive response, as only they can afford. In a nutshell, generally, it is not only the 'common man' who is suffering about the spiralling prices, but the ministers as well. Although, it can be said that they can overlook these matters, as mere trivia, with no future consequences, for their coffers are stashed with ill-gotten gains, or at least, if they do not want to disclose their surplus cash acquired through various chicaneries and mal-doings, the government can always bear the expenses at the cost of exchequers who, in spite of their own tribulations, bear valiantly (except with forlorn tears) the additional burden imposed upon them, and not forgetting the speculators, who will come to their rescue by offering them free 'goodies' which will be well appreciated, and rewarded, with further consent over irregularities.

Goans, in general, (irrespective of their caste and creed) have big and welcoming hearts. However, about their brains, the less said the better. Thus, they accord an embracing cordiality to the idiosyncrasies of all and sundry, by even tolerating the use of 'burka' amidst the civilised, although it should be emphasised, the western world has strictly banned the usage of that costume, citing security reasons. But here in Goa, our unique distinctiveness and culture is undergoing a hypocritical turnabout, with our Chief Minister Digambar Kamat uttering canards and spewing utter nonsense.

Goa had large tracts of arable land, adequate to procure its own vegetables, for their own consumption, with the remaining to be sold to further their incomes. Goans, however, have sold their patrimony for a pittance to the so called outsider, not forgetting that the government usurped the properties belonging to the age old 'Comunidades' to enhance its status over the land, which could never be theirs.

As an example from my childhood days, I remember the fertile land of Taleigao village, where we could procure the choicest of Goan vegetables. However, with the change of time, the placid village is taking different hues, with concrete monstrosities gaining a foothold over its serene skyline, and the roads as broad as ever. People, in general, who know nothing of the hardships facing the villagers, are talking of development, but what about their daily necessities? Are they all government employees to gain that extra amount?
I personally feel that it is not my right to defend the idlers and the lazy, who think nothing about doing for themselves, but migrating to far away continents, to better their existence, never even realising that happiness can be found in one's own backyard, and with a little hardship, the patrimony can be converted into an virtual paradise, where self-sufficiency rules, and the progress is the reality. However, what are Goans doing about their self-inflicting paradox, besides crying in one corner dejectedly, over their twist of faith? The answer is vehement, and it is blowing in the winds.

Taking a stock over the malfeasances perpetrated over great onion hoardings, it is reported that the speculative traders, are pocketing over 140% on sales. The government seems to have woken, at last, to counteract against that inhuman hoarding by encouraging outlets of State Horticultural Corporation Limited (SHCL) to help the people at Rs40 per kilo (as of now, the price has come down to Rs25 per kilo). Once again, the horrible joke prevails, as the customers are the same traders, who want to escalate the price range still higher by cornering the vegetable stock held by the outlets of (SHLC), and what the poor purchaser can do when powers are at play? Indulgently, the BJP was trying to steal the thunder from the government to maximize their vote margin by decreasing the tariff to Rs30 per kilo. It was an exercise in futility, as it ran only for a day. Personally, I feel if the BJP wants the support of the people, they should continue for at least a month, which might garner them some "brownies" however, as of now, they can avail of 'brickbats' come next election, as the electorate found out that it is all a election gimmick.

Rationally, I do concur that the price rise occurred due to excessive rains, which pounded India during just the concluded monsoons, but not to that abnormal excess where the traders are making hay, while the sun shines. What does our 'benign' government have to say about the same, besides ushering baloneys to fool the people? Could they not they usher in preventive measures to halt the speculative factor? I still have come to terms that our future, is in the hands of God, for if we are facing the quandary over vegetables, which is our staple diet, can the remaining be left far behind?








The haredi community has benefited greatly from the Jewish state; the time has come to help share the burdens.

In an ideal world the conscience of all able-bodied Jewish men would impel them to share in the ongoing burden of defending Israel from its many enemies. In the absence of such an idyllic reality this week's cabinet decision to make major reforms in IDF draft policy should be praised. Its main fault is, that as a cabinet decision not anchored in legislation, it can easily be reversed.

In the first decades after the establishment of the State of Israel, when the armed forces served as David Ben- Gurion's Zionist melting pot for re-socialization, haredi leaders' complaint about secular coercion in the IDF was credible.

However, in recent decades, cultivating a robust multiculturalism within the ranks of the IDF has become essential to maintaining the "people's army" ethos. That some IDF soldiers swear an oath of loyalty on the New Testament, gender equality, the ascendancy of "peripheral" groups to command ranks once dominated by kibbutzniks are all signs of this change.

The IDF has also reached out to haredi soldiers. Via frameworks such as the Nahal Haredi, a strictly gendersegregated environment that provides regular Torah classes, access to spiritual guidance and glatt kosher food, the IDF has gone out of its way to accommodate haredi needs. A parallel process has taken place in National Service, which allows haredi young men to serve one or two years within their communities.

Despite these efforts, however, the results have so far been disappointing. The haredi population is growing, and with it the number of haredi 18-year-olds every year who choose to defer being drafted. Indeed, the growth of that latter number seems to be outpacing efforts by the IDF and National Service authorities to draw them away from the yeshiva and into service.

In 2010, about 5,500 18-year-olds received IDF deferments to learn in yeshiva, compared to an average of 3,400 in the past five years. At the same time, just 900 haredi men served in IDF programs tailored to their needs, and another 1,000 did national service.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, speaking in Holon recently to parents of drafted soldiers, warned that if the present trend of haredi and other service-avoiders continues unabated, half of all eligible 18-year-olds will be opting out of the IDF within a decade, resulting in the collapse of the people's army ethos.

In light of Israel's looming security challenges, the ramifications of this trend for an IDF increasingly strapped for quality manpower are ominous. But the damage to the economy is no less critical.

Since they can't work until they perform mandatory military service or until they are old enough to receive an exemption, just 40% of able-bodied haredi men are gainfully employed or searching for work, compared to 82% in the non-haredi Israeli population and an OECD average of 83%. It is no surprise that 55% of haredi families live under the poverty line.

This makes for a nasty combination of low GDP per capita and ever rising per-capita expenditure on welfare transfers. It is no wonder that Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer warned in July that the high rates of haredi unemployment are "unsustainable" from an economic perspective.

ON THIS gloomy backdrop, the government's approval this week in a 23-1 vote of a plan backed by Ashkenazi and Maj.-Gen. Avi Zamir, head of the IDF's personnel division, as well as the haredi political leadership, is a long-awaited realistic compromise to the ongoing stalemate.

If everything goes as intended, the plan will bring 65% of haredim turning 18 in coming years into military or national service by 2015.


Critics say even this proposal undermines the people's army ethos by making it easier to receive exemptions or to get away with just one year of national service instead of three years of army service without paying the price of extended unemployment. However, maintaining the status quo is untenable. And attempting to force haredim to serve full military service will only lead to a haredi backlash and further postponements that Israel cannot afford.

In traditional Jewish philosophy it is believed that emotions are influenced by one's actions. Performing positive acts, such as mitzvot, have an ameliorating affect on the psyche. Perhaps as more haredi men don uniforms and serve their country, or perform some kind of national service, this will have a ripple effect on the collective haredi conscience.

After all, the haredi community has benefited greatly from the Jewish state. Many of the old ideological battles are over. The time has come to help share the burdens.








From face veiling to female circumcision, many practices are said to have nothing to do with religion, but why, after 1,300 years, are they still practiced?

From face veiling to female circumcision, one hears that many practices perceived as negative in the West have nothing to do with Islam, the religion, the culture or the famed civilization.

Babak Darvish argued on his blog in June that "Islamic law teaches that the face and hands should be uncovered. Meaning that if somebody follows the traditional Sunni school of thought in Islam, they should not practice the pre- Islamic tradition of face veiling or Niqab."

Another blogger notes "the wearing of a veil predates all the Abrahamic religions." A website called informs believers that "cultural dress is referred to in the ancient pre-Islamic era (Jahiliyah). Yet it is the veil from the 'pre-Islamic' era that is considered 'traditional,' and which stops women from contributing in society."

The writer argues that the activities of the Taliban were typical of this un-Islamic society.

Greek writers about Persia described many upper-class women as veiled. There is no mention in the Koran of a new institution regarding female dress. But if the veil and all its permutations – niqab, hijab, chador, abbaya, burka, purdah – are pre- Islamic, then why has Islamic society been so good at cementing their appearance? In fact, despite the spread of Islamic piety from Bosnia to Cambodia, one finds a startling similarity in the veil.

Where once some Central Asian Muslim women were garbed in horrid long horsehair burkas that made movement all but impossible (they were banned by the Soviets), now one finds those same women wearing the same head scarf so common throughout the Middle East and Europe.

Another controversial concept widespread in the Muslim world is "honor killing."

On the website islamonline.

net, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, is quoted as saying; "There is no such concept in Islam."

An esteemed writer on the website reiterates "so-called honor killing is based on ignorance and disregard of morals and laws, which cannot be abolished except by disciplinary punishments."

John Esposito and Sheila Lalwani, the former a well known American writer and defender of Islam, note that "these [honor] murders occur in the Islamic world, but they also take place in other countries such as India, and victims can be Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Sikh."

Yotam Feldner, writing in Middle East Forum, notes that "the religious establishment in Jordan views honor killing as a remnant of pre-Islamic Arab tribalism."

MK Ahmed Tibi has even proposed passing a law that would ban the use of the term by officials or the media. So here again a crime prevalent among modern Muslims becomes a "pre-Islamic" crime, or even one whose name should be abolished, lest it stigmatize Muslims. In fact, it turns out other communities are probably just as guilty as Muslims. When non-Muslims are victims of honor killings in the Middle East it receives widespread coverage. This was the case with Mariam Atef Khilla, a Coptic Christian girl who converted to Islam and was subsequently murdered.


BUT THE numbers and stories betray a deeper truth.

Robert Fisk, the usually anti- Israel writer at the Independent, wrote in September that 20,000 women are murdered a year, and that while it is a crime which Hindus and Christians also commit, it is all too common throughout the Muslim Middle East.

Honor killings have now come to shock the Western world when Muslim immigrant communities are implicated.

As with the veil, the question is the same – if it's not part of Islam, why is it so common among Muslims? Fisk, Esposito and others like them might be right; women are murdered throughout the world. But are they drowned, strangled, shot, beaten, raped and sprayed with acid by their own relatives? Do the men express pride when confronted by police? It seems the answer is generally no.

Take Arab Christians, for example. Sometimes Arab Christian women who convert to Islam or run off with Muslim men are murdered by relatives. Until recently some families took out death notices in papers rather than actually murdering them. But Arab Christian women, to my knowledge, are never murdered for being "immodest" or because of "rumors."

Arab Christian women often never wore a veil in the first place, not in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria or Jordan.

The last subject labelled a "pre-Islamic" tradition is female circumcision. Suffice it to say that this practice indeed predated Islam in Egypt, Africa and parts of Arabia.

According to one hadith (Islamic tradition), "circumcision is obligated for men, and an honorable thing for women."

All four Islamic schools of jurisprudence agree that the practice is honorable for women. Dr. Adb' al-Rahman ibn Hasan al-Nafisah, an editor of an Islamic jurisprudence journal in Saudi Arabia, notes, "We conclude that female circumcision is merely a cultural practice."

But here again we have traditions that are pre-Islamic and yet which Islam helped cement.

The same is true of other unsavory practices, from wife-beating to slavery – all pre-Islamic –which were not eradicated by Islam. The same is not generally true of the Christian relationship with pre-Christian practices.

Christianity helped suppress slavery, after many centuries of tolerating it.

Drunkenness – surely a pre- Christian practice – has been semi-enshrined on St.

Patrick's Day, but temperance movements were largely Christian in origin. The Mafia revenge culture of Sicily is intertwined with the Catholic faith, but priests have condemned it.

Without being a shill for Christianity, it seems obvious that "traditional" practices that receive little purchase in modern Western society thrive under Islam.

Excusing them as "pre- Islamic" is a misnomer; after 1,300 years, they are "Islamic," and only Islamic jurisprudence can change them.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.








When a white man shoots 17 people and kills six, he's 'crazy,' but if the killer were Arab or Muslim, we would be having a very different conversation.

When news reports broke that an unidentified man had fired a gun at a meeting organized by a local congresswoman in Tucson, Arizona, I immediately wondered if it was an act of terrorism or just meaningless violence.

Among the 17 people wounded and six killed was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who had been the target of much hate rhetoric that has come to dominate the political debate in America, not just about the Middle East but about domestic politics.

The gunman turned out to be a 22-year-old white male named Jared L. Loughner. And immediately, media pundits started to say that he was just a "crazed loner."

It made me think about what might have been said if the killer had been Arab or Muslim.

You know the debate would be different and people would be screaming that the Arab killer was clearly a part of some international jihad network, even if he (or she) had committed the crime on his own.

Yes. When a white man shoots 17 people and kills six, including a nine-year-old girl, he's a "crazy person."

But when an Arab or Muslim kills people, like military officer Nidal Hassan for example, he's part of some vast Islamic conspiracy.

I was about to complain.

But then I actually thought about it; when you are white, you are crazy, when you are Arab, you're part of some conspiracy, which I guess is better than being a crazy person.

Arabs are never "crazy" in events like this. Even though Loughner refers to himself as a terrorist on one of YouTube videos, no one else is. They just call him a killer.

You see, the fact that some innocent persons were killed doesn't seem to be as important as the attempts to define why the murders took place.

ONE BRAVE American, Clarence W. Dupnik, has declared that the Loughner shooting is the result of an increase in the strident hate rhetoric that is overcoming America over the past few years, especially since September 11, 2001 and the election seven years later of President Barack Obama.

Dupnik is not just some pundit.

He is the sheriff in Tucson, Arizona, where the killings took place.


Immediately, the right-wing nut jobs started to come out from under their rocks denouncing Dupnik, especially after many media started wondering if some politicians may have been helping to raise the level of hate. They pointed to the website of Sarah Palin and members of the extremist Tea Party movement, who have put "telescopic crosshairs" on graphics to target members of Congress who have been "too liberal."

A crosshair is a symbol of a rifle's scope and is associated with guns, so the symbolism is not lost on many observers.

I know that the majority of Americans are good people. In fact, the majority of Palestinians and Israelis are good people, too.

But sometimes the good people don't speak out enough to challenge the voices of stridency and hatred. We avoid confrontation yet we're outraged when the stridency results in killings as it did in Arizona.

Moderates need to do more.

We need to speak out against strident voices whether they are here in the US or in Israel and Palestine.

If we want a good future, we need to start showing some compassion, not hostility for those with whom we might disagree.

There is a way to disagree without being disagreeable.

And while we need a lot more of that in the US, Palestinians and Israelis could some too.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.










Israelis should reflect on the harshness of their political culture which makes American politics look like a tea party – in the old-fashioned sense.

The Tucson, Arizona rampage left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded, six citizens dead and millions of Americans jumping to the right conclusions for the wrong reasons. Yes, American politics should be more civil. But no, one crazy gunman's random fixations and horrific violence should not trigger the kind of reform modern political culture needs.

I confess, having written a book, Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, calling for centrism and civility, I am tempted to flow with the conventional wisdom this time. Right after this mass shooting outside a supermarket at one of Giffords' "Congress on Your Corner" meet-and- greets, preaching pundits began blaming the vitriol, particularly from the Right. The fact that Sarah Palin's website featured Giffords and other politicians targeted for political defeat in 2010 with crosshairs on their faces supposedly symbolized everything wrong with politics today.

Human beings love stories, we crave causality. We rubberneck at traffic accidents trying to divine the triggering chain of events, hoping to avoid that fate ourselves. After president John Kennedy's assassination in 1963, its seeming randomness magnified the national trauma. Back then, many Texans vilified Kennedy, but no evidence linked those critics with his murder.

Politics is a domesticated form of verbal, ideological and personal warfare, frequently explained with fighting words. The word "campaign" originated in the 1600s from the French word for the open fields where soldiers fought their long battles, campagne.

Campaign became part of the barrage of military terms describing electioneering.

In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt "rallied" his Democratic "troops," saying, "I am an old campaigner, and I love a good fight."

In 2008, America's modern Gandhi, Barack Obama, telegraphed toughness by threatening his Republican rivals: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun."

"Targeting" opponents and even drawing crosshairs on rivals is not the problem. As candidates, both Roosevelt and Obama also spoke creatively and constructively. Political civility comes from tempering toughness with openness, seeking consensus, acknowledging complexity, varying tone and periodically agreeing to disagree agreeably.

Politics sours when the tone is constantly shrill, when enemies are demonized, positions polarized.

There is too much shouting in American politics today, from Left and Right, against George W. Bush and Obama, on MSNBC and Fox, by reporters seeking sensation and by bloggers stirring the pot. Politics becomes scary when dozens of complex crosscutting issues are reduced to one with-me-or-againstme worldview. As a Democrat who supports gun control, Giffords refuses to be doctrinaire. New York's former mayor Ed Koch once said: "If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist."

ISRAELIS SHOULD reflect on the harshness of their political culture which makes American politics look like a tea party – in the old-fashioned, gentlemanly sense, of course. Most Americans understand when to holster partisan anger – even righteous indignation.

Screaming mourners do not disrupt official American ceremonies, as was done in the Carmel last week. And Americans excel at mounting the patriotic tableaux we witnessed on 9/11 when Democrats and Republicans spontaneously sang "God Bless America" on the Capitol steps, on election night 2008 when John McCain and Obama spoke so graciously of each other and this Monday when the nation stopped for a moment of silence.

In Israel, leftists and rightists are capable of demagoguery, demonization and incitement to violence, yet each camp only sees the other's guilt. And while America's most extreme voices usually fester on the margins, tempered by the civility of the McCains and Obamas, too many shrill voices emanate from the Knesset. Israeli politicians seem to scream "die traitor" as often as Arizonans say "howdy pardner."

Shas rabbis and other haredim should admit that not all internal critics are heretics. Rightists should acknowledge that not all leftists are unpatriotic. Leftists should concede that not every criticism of them is McCarthyism.

No one needs a rampaging maniac to deliver a wake-up call. We can see it night after night on the news; we must judge it and change it day by day by ourselves.

Israelis, too, know how to rally together, when necessary. Harvard Prof.

Ruth Wiesse calls Israelis "reverse hypocrites," whose deeds are frequently more patriotic than their words. And anyone who has stood at attention when the mourning siren sounds on Remembrance Day knows that Israelis too understand that national loyalties transcend partisanship.

"Democracy begins in conversation," the great American educator John Dewey taught. The conversation should be passionate but tempered with a touch of humility, an acknowledgment of complexity and an appreciation for the enduring values, common history and shared fate that bind fellow citizens together.

POLITICAL PARTIES work when they help individuals solve problems together; coalition building works best when people have a range of conflicting loyalties, when people might pray together in the morning yet attend competing political meetings that night. Political parties become destructive when they demonize and polarize, becoming one of a series of reinforcing elements fragmenting the country.

Recently, in Tucson, Arizona, a sweet nine-year-old girl named Christina Taylor Green was elected to her student council. Born on September 11, 2001, Christina was always a particularly welcome symbol of hope to her friends and family. Last Saturday, a neighbor invited Christina to meet Giffords and "see how democracy works."

Christina ended up murdered, shot in the chest.

Americans and Israelis should cultivate a politics of civility, not because of the insane murderer but because we all want to show "how democracy works," in Christina's memory, to honor Giffords' lifework and for our common good.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.








The country's recognition as a nuclear state demands greater responsibility on matters of nuclear proliferation in the region.

India's recent electoral victory in winning a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council will bring greater international scrutiny vis-à-vis its response to the Iranian nuclear program.

For India, Iran is a vital country – a traditional counterweight to Saudi influence in the region. With Saudi-backed Wahhabism being the backbone of Islamic terrorism against India, and with increasing reliance on Saudi oil, India was basically pushed toward Iran. International dynamics, however, increasingly favor alignment with the Arab states against Iran. An element of this would be the nuclear dynamics.

Iran's nuclear program brings Pakistani duplicity to the fore in terms of engaging two rival camps.

For instance, it is reported that Pakistan's disgraced A.Q. Khan helped develop the Iranian nuclear program, with support from Chinese companies. This occurred while Pakistan is purported to have offered Saudi Arabia nuclear technology in exchange for financial support to overcome the sanctions it faced in 1998.

Speculations of an extended Pakistani nuclear deterrence involving West Asia have therefore added to Indian fears of growing Pakistani influence. India will seek to use its greater international standing in bridging the differences with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, not only as a means of slowing Pakistan's influence but also of gaining energy security in the event of a military attack on Iran by the US or Israel.

India's neighbors, China and Pakistan, have played a role in furthering Iran's nuclear ambitions, and adding to regional volatility. India would be deeply concerned over the possibility of this nuclear diplomacy becoming an alliance, especially when seen in context of Chinese proliferation to Pakistan.

Pakistan has publicly declared its intention to support an Iran-Pakistan-China energy alliance, even though it has publicly opposed Iran's nuclear program; its intentions on nonproliferation are suspect. Meanwhile, Iran's march toward nuclear weaponization has seen strident statements against India and in support of Pakistan.

INDIA'S DE facto recognition as a nuclear state demands greater responsibility on matters such as nuclear proliferation, given its desire to seek membership of export control groups such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group. With documented evidence of proliferation between Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, the role of India in advancing nonproliferation in South Asia becomes greater. Acceptance into export control regimes will require strong posturing, and the Iranian nuclear program offers India such an opportunity.


India's opposition to Iran would be to return the favor in kind, since Iran has repeatedly condemned India and condoned Pakistan's nuclear program. For example, India's 1998 nuclear tests were condemned by Iran as contributing to regional instability, while Iran justified Pakistan's retaliatory tests on grounds of national security.

Furthermore, India's pointed arguments against the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and the Indo- US nuclear agreement were opposed by Iran. India's opposition to Iran is, however, also based on documented Iranian violations of the NPT, which Iran purports to defend.


India's relationship with the US would also be a significant factor in its dealings with Iran. While India has repeatedly claimed complete autonomy in its foreign policy, its burgeoning relationship with the US, with intimations of a strategic alliance, would definitely play a role in India's opposition to Iran.

As a significant other, Israel (now India's second largest defense supplier) faces an existential threat from Iran, and would therefore also seek to influence India's view of West Asian geopolitics. Previous fears of being openly allied with the West against Iran would not be a hindering factor, especially in light of the widespread Arab opposition to Iran.

Iran's nuclear program requires India to revamp its role in West Asia; however, it cannot push for stringent options on Iran, because of its dependence on it for energy requirements and geostrategic relations, which includes, importantly, access to Central Asia and Afghanistan. Thus, India's opposition to Iran's nuclear program will likely not be strident, and its efforts to be nuanced will dictate tying it to the Asian roots of nonproliferation. Proactive measures by India would also indicate its active interest in a region where its interests are significant and growing.

The writer is a research officer at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi.



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The State Comptroller's Office and the Ministry of Justice should determine if Katz's decision to increase speed limits was criminally negligent.

I call on Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz to cancel his decision to raise speed limits to 110 kph (with an enforcement threshold of 120 kph).

This decision will certainly result in more dead, maimed, paralyzed and disabled drivers, passengers and pedestrians of all ages. Based on past experience, there will be more victims of blunt and penetrating trauma, skull and brain injuries and more dead kids. If Katz persists, the government should fire him for what I call administrative carnage.

Unlike the deaths from the Carmel fire, which resulted from long-term negligence and many errors of wanton omission, the deaths resulting from Katz's decision will result from a willful error of commission. I call on the State Comptroller's Office and Ministry of Justice to determine if this decision was criminally negligent; it is certainly reckless, shocking and dangerous.

Many senior experts in trauma, injury prevention and public health have joined me in this call to cancel the raised speed limit: Prof. Avi Rivkind, chief of surgery; Prof. Charles Milgrom, chief of orthopedics; and Dr. Uzi Zohar, a surgeon, of Hadassah-University Medical Center; Dr. Ya'acov Adler, former deputy surgeon-general of the IDF and a past chief of the Shaare Zedek emergency room; Prof. Gerald Ben- David and Zvi Weinberger, the physicists who pioneered the introduction of speed cameras in Israel; Prof. Ted Tulchinsky, formerly directorgeneral of preventive services in the Ministry of Health; Dr. Amnon Lahad, head of family medicine and former head of Community Preventive Health Services of the Ministry of Health; Dr.

Yael Stein, a colleague in occupational medicine at Hebrew University; Profs.

Elliot Berry and Charles Greenblatt, two former directors of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine; and Dr. Henry Hashkes, a family doctor just designated as a Yakir Yerushalayim.

Add to this list Yehuda Meshi-Zahav of Zaka, the man who has to confront the carnage head on.

TO DATE, Katz has ignored the requests of The Jerusalem Post's transportation reporter Ron Friedman and I to produce the report allegedly endorsed by 30 experts that would raise the speed limit.

Katz's decision appears to be based on a set of arguments recycled from 1992- 1993, when so-called experts wrongly predicted that a rise in speed limits would not increase road deaths. Research by my colleagues and I at Hebrew University has shown that the higher speed limits resulted in an additional 40 to 60 deaths per year. The move to raise speed levels even more carries the almost certain risk of similar results .

Everywhere, speed kills, and more speed kills more. A 10 percent increase in speeds of impact results in a 45% rise in fatalities among passengers and pedestrians. Raised speed limits induce even higher speeds, and produce speed addiction and speed spillover to other roads. The raised limits will cancel the benefits of speed cameras in reducing deaths.

Katz seems indifferent to the fact that since he has become transportation minister, road deaths have increased by 10% or more, after a large drop in 2009 to 354 from 455 in 2008. After the speed limit was raised in 1993, one of its professional lobbyists was arrested for driving at 140 kph. Just now, another lobbyist for higher speeds, Dr. Moshe Becker, was caught doing 170 kph.

These speed addicts are among the intellectual fathers of the decision to play with the lives of our citizens.

And the dangers will only increase if the minimum age for a driver's license is lowered to 16.

TO MAKE matters worse, Katz and other ministers appear to have put the brakes on the single most important step to protect the public from road carnage: a national network of speed cameras. Katz has scaled back an initial program to introduce 60 cameras to allow for a mere 20.

During the 1990s there were reductions of some 45 to 50% in death tolls in the UK, the state of Victoria in Australia, and in France. These countries applied the axiom that because speed kills, they have to kill speed. The fig leaf for Katz's decision to downsize the national speed camera network is a poorly defined campaign to "enforce" prevention of a list of vaguely defined high-risk behaviors including everything except speed.

I compare this approach to a campaign that would prevent lung cancer by teaching people how to smoke safely.

We can make some educated guesses concerning the motives behind Katz's decision to accept more road carnage.

Here, as elsewhere, road builders, car importers and gasoline companies are alarmed by the ever-increasing popularity of faster public transportation between cities. As in Italy, where Fiat lobbied for higher speed limits on the freeway to compete with the high speeds of the Eurostar fast trains, so it is here, where a similar set of interests promote more speed and more roads – what I call Asphalt Zionism.

The result is a cash-for-carnage scenario. The late Simon Woolf, a toxicologist, once wrote that the arguments transportation experts advance for more roads and higher speeds are examples of the "lying, thieving, cheating and fraud" that corrupt so much of what is called science.

But let's get back to the personal responsibility of Katz, and that of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who also happens to be health minister.

Imagine a hospital doctor deciding to prescribe a medicine which he believes will make patients feel better. But the same medication, when previously used in the hospital, killed many.

Furthermore, the same medication killed many patients in every other hospital in which it was used. In the medical world, this doctor would be prosecuted for medical negligence and sent to jail.

A government's first responsibility is to protect the life and safety of its citizens. It is now considered a norm of transportation policy to aim for large reductions in the absolute number of those killed and paralyzed on our roads.

Speed cameras achieve this, and produce large, immediate and costeffective solutions. Vision Zero – no road deaths – is an achievable goal. But Katz has already declared that his policies are no longer guided by the goal of reducing road deaths and injuries.

What is shocking about this statement is the fact that no one is shocked by it.

I propose that the prime minister cancel Katz's wantonly negligent decisions and immediately restore the budget for many more speed cameras.

Netanyahu bears direct personal responsibility for the consequences of Katz's exercise in administrative carnage.

The writer was formerly head of the Injury Prevention Center at Hebrew University- Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine.








The FM enjoys role of boy who exposed sham behind the emperor's new clothes; in contrast to naïve child in fable, Lieberman is a shrewd politician.

We are inundated with critical reports of the strident statements made by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He is, reportedly, damaging the country's international image. Obviously, political correctness is not one of his main concerns. It has to be acknowledged, however, that Lieberman's not-very-diplomatic style, while uncomfortable, also involves more than a little truth-telling.

To a certain extent, Lieberman is playing domestic politics, trying to position himself as leader of the Right. Issues he has raised, such as the loyalty oath, the conversion bill and the attack on human rights NGOs, indeed smack of populism and are simplistic remedies to complex problems. And his bluntness has repeatedly forced Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, an eloquent representative of the Jewish state, to issue clarifications to distance himself from the enfant terrible of Israeli politics. Netanyahu prefers the image of a statesman and a responsible politician.

Yet Lieberman is often telling the naked truth. Let's consider his "provocative" and "irresponsible" statements about the Palestinians and the Turks.

The chances for reaching a comprehensive agreement in the near future with the Palestinians, within 12 or 36 months, are indeed nil, as Lieberman has pointed out. The Palestinian Authority is not willing to make any concessions on Jerusalem or on refugees. It rejects recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Lieberman is correct also in pointing out that the PA lacks the legitimacy needed to close a deal with Israel. PA President Mahmoud Abbas's corrupt regime relies on Israeli bayonets to defend it from Hamas. This is what Lieberman has said, and he is correct.

Moreover, his reflects the sober assessment of a large majority of Israelis. Even swaths of the Left agree that there is no Palestinian partner for a full peace. So why is it so terrible to tell the truth? SIMILARLY, LIEBERMAN'S evaluation of the behavior of the current government in Turkey is right on the mark. Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not missed an opportunity to pick a fight with Israel over the past two years, so there is nothing Jerusalem can do but wait for better times. Erdogan-led Turkey is not interested in good relations, primarily because under his helm it is distancing itself from the West and displaying a greater Islamic coloration.

Anti-Semitic sentiments also fuel the hostility.

Israelis agree with Lieberman's refusal to be a "punching bag for Turkey," as explained in his recent op-ed in this paper.

Thus, it makes no sense to apologize and pay compensation to those who were sent by the IHH, an organization with proven terror links, to help Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Actually, Lieberman's assertion that it is Turkey which owes Israel an apology seems the more logical. This probably makes sense to most Israelis, who witnessed the brutal treatment of the naval commandos on the Turkish ship at the hands of "peace activists."

So why is it so terrible to tell the truth? Similarly, Lieberman's promotion of a loyalty oath is in sync with majority opinion. Israeli Arab leaders have become increasingly vocal in their support for Palestinian irredentism – and Jews want to see them checked. Most Israelis also instinctively feel that the haredicontrolled Chief Rabbinate is much too narrow and unwelcoming in its approach to Russian- Israelis who want to convert.

Another bingo for Lieberman.

His attack on some left-wing NGOs being fifth columns is also striking a responsive chord among many Israelis that are fed up with Israel's use of force being portrayed systematically as violating human rights. After all, the IDF is making consistently great efforts to behave admirably moral.

THE TRUTH is often unpleasant.

As a result, the seemingly noble and relentless search for an unavailable peace formula is preferred by many to acceptance of the bad news that there is no way to end the conflict any time soon. Incredibly generous concessions by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert did not bring about peace because of the Palestinians' insatiable appetite.

Nevertheless, entrenched formulas are difficult to discard.

The inertia of the "peace process" and the time, energy and money already invested are not conducive to taking a fresh look at a 17-year failure to bridge the differences.

Similarly, the realization that clever formulas can't fix relations with a Turkey that has chosen to side with radical Islam goes against the popular but unfounded optimism. The possibility that ignoring reality is more dangerous than pursuing unrealistic policies does not always register.

Lieberman is also not off the mark in pointing out that the flow of foreign money to local NGOs is a serious issue that needs to be squarely dealt with.


This is necessary particularly because some of these NGOs are blatantly biased with a clear Israel-demonization agenda hidden behind a human rights discourse.

This government understands the depressing reality, though a cool assessment will probably dictate going along with falsehoods to please the world.

After all, daring to tell the truth might push Israel into even greater isolation. Lying is what the world expects of Jerusalem, and in the short run probably best serves its interests. In the longer run, however, it may prove extremely costly.

Lieberman is having none of this. He is enjoying the role of the boy who exposed the sham behind the emperor's new clothes. But in contrast to the naïve boy in that wellknown fable, Lieberman is a shrewd politician. The emphasis on naked truth suits his search for votes. After all, truth has a certain appeal among voters.

This is Israel's dilemma. Who represents the wiser diplomatic course: Netanyahu or Lieberman?

The writer is is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.







In response to a video clip that urged the murder of Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador said it represented a new nadir in an ongoing trend of vicious incitement against civil servants who do their jobs professionally and properly. And indeed, calling for the murder of a lawman who decided to try to stop the incitement against Israel's Arab citizens violently crosses the line that separates freedom of expression from freedom of incitement.

Public figures on the right have dismissed the issue with the tired claim that those responsible are "wild weeds." But nowadays, these "weeds" are in fact sprouting in the garden of the cabinet and being enthusiastically cultivated by the Knesset.

Scarcely a day goes by in without the coalition joining hands with the extreme right in order to depict non-Jews as hostile elements. From here, the distance is short to inciting against Jews who strive to prevent harm to minority rights, and also to delegitimizing rightists who display sensitivity toward human rights.

The video clip "accuses" Nitzan of "protecting Arabs" and even of "collaborating with them against Jews." But it's hard to find the difference between these inflammatory statements and those of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who accused organizations that defend human and civil rights of abetting terror and undermining the Israel Defense Forces.

Lieberman, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, even claimed that "the terror being waged against us from within is more dangerous than the terror being waged against us from without." And at best, people who abet terror belong behind bars.

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to Lieberman's assault on Likud members who object to persecuting human rights organizations, "in a democratic country, it's important to maintain a spectrum of opinion." But the unbridled incitement by his senior coalition partner against Israeli citizens is outside the legitimate spectrum of opinion.

It's a pity that Netanyahu does not see fit to get rid of his foreign minister. But at the very least, the prime minister, like the justice minister and the attorney general, must denounce his inflammatory statements loudly and clearly.






The statements upon leaving office by former Mossad head Meir Dagan, which were interpreted as a warning against an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear installations, point to an intense debate in the top ranks of the political-military leadership: to strike or not to strike?

Embark on a pre-emptive war, which will result in serious damage to Israel's home front, or rely on the international community to foil the threat? It would appear that the disagreement has still not been decided and a military option remains "on the table."

Should the history of Israel during the past two years be read differently, as a struggle between the activists who sought the bombing of Iran and the moderates who asked the action be thwarted? The temptation is great. The Iranian story merges together diplomacy, strategy and politics, foreign relations and friction at the top.

On the aggressive side of the equation one can find, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Netanyahu considers an Iranian nuclear bomb an existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people. Barak is concerned that Israel will find itself in a strategically inferior position. The political alliance between them has been based since its first day on the joint vision of foiling Iran's nuclear efforts, which would provide Israel with several more years of regional superiority.

On the sides of the moderates were the heads of the defense and intelligence branches: IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Mossad head Dagan, Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin and the head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin.

To all is attributed the view that the Iranian threat is serious but a military strike is not the right way to foil it. In their view, initiating a war will only bring disaster upon Israel.

The home front will suffer, many will be killed, the economy will be paralyzed and Iran will gain international legitimacy to rebuild its destroyed installations and gallop on toward nuclear capability.

The U.S. administration is on the side of the moderates. Since the day he took office, President Barack Obama has suspected that Netanyahu would surprise him with a strike against Iran. Therefore he made sure to put Israel under close supervision.

Last spring the debate heated up. Ashkenazi got President Shimon Peres and the has-beens Amnon Lipkin-Shakak and Uri Sagi on his side, and got the prime minister's promise that his view would be heard.

This had a fatal impact on his relationship with the defense minister, who embarked on efforts in the media to appoint Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as Ashkenazi's successor. The impression is that Galant is more aggressive on Iran and will not block Netanyahu and Barak, who are eager to go into battle.

In the eyes of the politicians, the generals fear committees of inquiry. All large-scale wars since the Six-Day War led to the replacement of the military top brass, if not to the outright change in government.

Thus Ashkenazi is taking sure steps and covering himself, just like Eli Yishai after the Carmel fire. After all, the army and intelligence are not warning of what may happen in Iran, but of the damage that may befall Tel Aviv, which will stir public anger and demands to investigate, remove and dismiss.

Barak believes that the public wants video games and operations like at Entebbe, and is not ready for a long and painful war. On the other hand, as far as the generals and the intelligence chiefs are concerned, Netanyahu and Barak are trying to appear "nationalist" and aggressive, knowing full well that nothing will happen and that they can blame the lack of action on the military brass.

2010 went by without a war with Iran. In the winter no one goes to war because the clouds limit air force operations. But in 2011, a conflict is brewing. The new Mossad head, Tamir Pardo, like his predecessor, prefers economy of force. But his standing in these matters is one of adviser.

Yadlin is working on a book and Ashkenazi will retire next month and has still not said a thing in public on Iran.

Meanwhile there is a political problem. Labor is slipping out of the coalition and Netanyahu fears losing Barak from his side. Barak's expected successor in a narrow right wing government will be Moshe Ya'alon, who is considered to be a moderate on Iran. This is why the prime minister is working so hard to keep Labor in the coalition.

The Iranian nuclear program continues despite the sanctions. And in Israel the debate continues, as the heads of the defense establishment remind us. What is clear is that to date Iran has managed to deter Israel against military action, through its rockets and missiles deployed in places outside its borders. In that way, the enemy achieved strategic balance without a single nuclear bomb.







The seizure of public land, unauthorized road paving, misleading testimony, double standards in land allocation - all under the cover of an army uniform. Is this a precis of the history of Israeli colonialism? Not at all. These claims are the basis of the High Court of Justice petition by the Green Movement political party against Yoav Galant's appointment as the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, accusations that Maariv journalist Kalman Liebeskind has made repeatedly in investigative reports over the past two years.

In the meantime, the High Court has asked the attorney general on Monday to explain how complaints lodged against Galant have been handled. Here is an explanation that has already been written, but in invisible ink:

The IDF, the greenhouse that has nurtured Galant, is the major land broker in Palestinian areas that were occupied in 1967. All the land that private speculators have managed to purchase by cunning and stealth does not come close to the vast territory stolen on military orders signed by our finest commanders. The army's seizure of land "for military and security purposes" quickly turned into large-scale appropriation for the exclusive benefit of Israel's super-citizens, at the expense of the subpar species.

The IDF is simultaneously the representative and the defender of a campaign to peddle the Bible as a real estate deed. Public land, private land, rocky ground, springs, unregistered land, irrigated land, unirrigated land, built-up land, precious artifacts of agricultural and architectural traditions - it's all the same. Military and civilian jurists alike, ensconced in the robes of knowledge and boasting degrees conferred by the finest universities, have concocted infinite stratagems and machinations to plunder all types of land.

The jurists and the military commanders, like the soldiers who tack land seizure orders or demolition orders on olive trees, are the representatives, the emissaries, of the campaign. But in a state in which military service constitutes an admissions test for a successful political career, any lines that distinguish between those who devise policy and those who implement it become blurred.

Lest there be a misunderstanding, let me state that the settlers also play the role of emissary. Even when the puppet rises against its maker and protector, it is still an instrument, and it is implementing the consistent policy of undermining the prospect of a viable Palestinian state (as compared to a state of Bantustans, of the sort that Kadima and Labor are advocating.

Generations of soldiers and commanding officers owe to the settlement enterprise their social capital - their prestige - and their livelihood in the army, politics or business. As the settlement enterprise grows, so does the number of Israeli Jews who profit from it, whether directly or indirectly. And as that dual expansion takes place, the dispossession of those who aren't Israeli Jews also increases, as does the need for more security techniques. Israelis serving in the army - whether recent recruits, career soldiers or reservists - are depicted as altruistic, as having no agenda of their own, as the prime human material behind these security techniques.

The synergy between settlers and soldiers derives from the intimate relationship between defender and defended, and from the basic fact that this is a people's army. In a state in which the social welfare component has long since become watered down, it is the settlements that have become the best prospect for a socioeconomic upgrade for Israeli Jews.

For Galant, the synergy appears to have gone awry; according to the complaints, his actions were a scaled-down version of what his employer, the IDF, has been doing on a macro level.

If he lived in the West Bank settlement of Ofra and he took over land in the neighboring villages of Silwad and Ein Yabrud - just as he is accused of doing to his Jewish neighbors in Moshav Amikam - those who compile a report or file a complaint about it might be subject to a parliamentary investigation.

It would be pointless to file an altogether different kind of petition: one that protests Galant's appointment as chief of staff not because of his private actions but because of the direct responsibility that he, as GOC Southern Command, bears for the killing of hundreds of civilians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, in non-combat circumstances.

The nation is behind you, Galant.






Academics from many fields, mainly from the exact sciences, signed a declaration last week to the effect that they are unwilling to take part in any academic activity taking place at the college in Ariel, known as the Ariel University Center of Samaria. The reason: Ariel is an illegal settlement in occupied territory, which is flourishing alongside Palestinian communities that are suffering intolerable living conditions and are denied basic human rights.

It's true that the college in Ariel was conceived and born in sin. Like the entire settlement enterprise, it bypassed the law, and in its case the Council for Higher Education, which opposed its establishment for clear academic reasons - it was done at the expense of shrinking the academic pie. With the help of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a unique status was invented for it: "a university center."

The right rushed to label the signers of the declaration with the usual epithets: delusionary, alienated, extremist. However, a perusal of the list reveals that although some of them do sit in the scientific ivory tower and deal with abstract theories (not something to be condemned, of course ), most of them are familiar with Israeli society from up close - and work within it out of profound involvement and commitment.

Still, the declaration arouses unease. Unlike the actors, who were forced by the theaters to perform in Ariel, nobody forces these academics, who are among the most respected scientists and intellectuals in Israel, to teach there. Those who are forced to do so are doctoral students, researchers and assistants; in the absence of job slots at Bar-Ilan University they go to Ariel, as did others who desperately needed a job and were given attractive offers.

These junior academics are like the young couples who moved to the "non-ideological" settlements, because only there one could find apartments and convenient mortgages, plus better and cheaper services than those disintegrating within the Green Line. They are victims of Israel's policy. We can understand that they are unable to sign the declaration.

For that reason, this is a verbal declaration without a price tag, and therein lies its weakness. And this weakness stems from another, which is more regrettable. The signatories are also those who are more exposed than others to the threats of a boycott against Israeli academics by their colleagues abroad. Their declaration seems directed less at the Israeli public and more abroad, at the boycotters, as if to say: We have nothing to do with the settlements. In other words, we are the "good guys," not the "bad guys."

That's a shame. They of all people are very familiar with the nature of the boycott from meeting at international conferences the BDS activists - those urging boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. For the boycotters, the very existence of Israel on what they see as Palestinian territory is illegitimate, and therefore the "university center" in Ariel is a petty matter, which is no different from the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, just as there's no difference between the colonialism of the late 19th century and the occupation of 1948 and that of 1967.

On the other side of the coin, the settlers are, in effect, making the same claim: Ariel is the "spearhead" of Zionism, like the wall and stockade of the hastily built kibbutzim under the British Mandate, and anyone who claims that the settlers are not legitimate is necessarily including Hanita and Ramat Aviv as well. This dangerous obfuscation, which has turned into government policy, is one of the main causes for the rejection of Israel in recent years.

It is doubtful whether most of the signatories to the declaration are interested in the fact that it pulls the ground from under the feet of Israel in general, including themselves and their work. But the voice that calls from their declaration is the voice of bitter despair - of those who no longer believe that Israel can recover and change, and are turning outward, to the world. That is the source of the unease aroused by the declaration. We can and must expect of these academics, of all people, who are genuinely anxious about the fate and image of Israel, not to despair; not to stop channeling efforts inward, to the society in which they live. Despite the very gloomy present, change, if and when it occurs, can come only from within this society and with their help.






Jawaher Abu Rahma is dead. She was 37 years old, a young woman. Most Israeli citizens were not saddened by her death; they had to suspend their sorrow until the cause of her death was discovered.

For them, the question was simple: Did Jawaher Abu Rahma die from a tear gas grenade fired by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, or from leukemia? Lurking behind the question is the political structure of the region. When examined through a political lens, the question becomes: Did she die because of the occupation or was her death unconnected to it?

To answer that question, the political equivalent of contractors and laborers immediately went into action. Medical documents were analyzed in Machiavellian ways, partial witness accounts were presented, biased information was publicized. These are familiar, almost cliched, activities, which are carried out after every tragic incident entailing angles that can potentially be denied or enhanced in some way.

One thing is already self-evident: Neither side will be able to prove to the other that it is right. In other words, a magnificent, rigid, indestructible rhetorical and bureaucratic structure - a monument - has been built.

The monument, the tear gas or cancer question, is killing Jawaher Abu Rahma a second time. Or at least, it is killing the memory of her. How? By becoming Jawaher Abu Rahma. The moment she turned into a question, into a political monument, into tear gas or cancer, she ceased to exist as a human being. A 37-year-old woman died and instantly turned into a statue.

What exactly does that statue, that political structure, look like in the minds of Israelis? From now on, when the name Jawaher Abu Rahma is heard, the following association will come to mind: "That's the one they said died of tear gas, but in the end we discovered that it was actually cancer." To put it more abstractly: "They said it was this, but it was actually that." And simpler still: "They said, but actually." In one word: "But." Jawaher Abu Rahma is a "but." "But" is the raw form of the conflict, its structure.

So here are the results of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The human being has disappeared and been replaced by a structure. People die and in their place comes "but." With the appearance of the "but" - that is, with the disappearance of the human being - permission has been granted for denial, or at least for the suspension of emotion. Emotions are now considered luxuries, something liable to weaken the structure, to undermine its foundations.

Jawaher Abu Rahma has, in effect, lost the right to be mourned. A woman of 37 died and there is no sorrow. There is, of course, the artificial sorrow that can be found in the statements of the IDF Spokesman's Office and whose job is to enable continued activity without pangs of conscience. But true sorrow - the kind for which emotion is required and which living creatures are supposed to experience when one of their kind dies young - is no longer our lot.

The political structure that was originally meant to serve human beings now stands and breathes on its own. It no longer needs human beings, except as raw material sacrificed to it. In that way the structure grows, becomes more sophisticated, becomes the thing itself. Any emotion that threatens to penetrate it is denied, repressed, becomes illegitimate. The structure insists on strengthening in form only, and at the same time insists on consistently being emptied of content, primarily emotional content. Once there were human beings who quarreled; now there is a "conflict." And human beings who worship it.








The most important new message contained in the final report of the presidential commission investigating the gulf oil spill is aimed squarely at Congress: If lawmakers hope to win popular support for ramped-up oil drilling in America's coastal waters then they must make sure that every possible precaution is taken to reduce the chances of another catastrophe like the spill.

The question is whether the newly constituted Congress is in a mood to listen. What the commission is asking for are tough new rules and money to strengthen federal oversight at a time when the House is controlled by politicians who broadly oppose new spending and seem hostile to regulation of any sort.

Yet Congress must act, and President Obama should use some of what leverage he has in this new political alignment to see that it does. As the commission co-chairman, Bob Graham, noted, without dramatic action another deep-water disaster will inevitably occur, leaving the public to "wonder why Congress, the administration and industry stood by and did nothing."

The commission's 380-page report is the most exhaustive accounting so far of what happened on the Deepwater Horizon. As it forecast in a preliminary summary, the commission blames the accident largely on poor decisions and other "management failures" by three companies involved: BP, Transocean and Halliburton.

It also strongly reinforces its earlier indictments of industry for failing to prepare adequate response plans and of government regulators for allowing themselves to be captured by an industry they were meant to oversee.

What's new are the recommendations. All are sound, and most will require Congressional help.

SAFETY The commission recommended much tougher rules governing basic drilling issues like well design and vital equipment like blowout preventers. Some of these have already been put in place by the Interior Department. More broadly, it urged Congress to create an independent safety agency within the department free of any political influence and with enforcement authority to oversee all aspects of offshore drilling.

FINANCING Though it did not specify a figure, the commission implored Congress to provide "adequate and predictable" financing for regulatory oversight. It noted that money for federal regulators had remained static for 20 years while the risks associated with drilling increased dramatically as rigs moved into deeper and deeper waters.

LIABILITY The commission noted that the present $75 million liability cap for individual accidents is hardly enough to deter sloppy behavior. It recommended a much higher figure, without identifying one.

SCIENCE The Deepwater Horizon explosion revealed that both industry and federal regulators had given environmental reviews short shrift. The commission recommends that Congress amend the various laws governing offshore drilling to make sure that government scientists and fish and wildlife experts are consulted at every step of the process — from the leasing of areas for exploration to the actual drilling of individual wells.

RESTORATION Congress is urged to dedicate 80 percent of the penalties assessed under the Clean Water Act — they could be as high as $20 billion — to restoring the fragile Mississippi Delta ecosystem. The commission's other co-chairman, William Reilly, noted that the delta had been badly degraded over the years and "is likely to continue silently washing away unless decisive action is taken."

This by no means exhausts the commission's list of useful ideas. The House of Representatives endorsed several of them in an oil bill it passed last year (the Senate did nothing). Representative Edward Markey, a Democrat of Massachusetts, said that he would hold hearings and introduce an even stronger bill this year. We wish him well — and urge Mr. Obama to support him


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Representative Peter King, a Republican of Long Island, has proposed a bill that would prohibit the carrying of a gun within 1,000 feet of a member of Congress or other high-profile government official. That's a worthy notion, so far as it goes. But how about going a step further and prohibiting the carrying of a semiautomatic weapon around 9-year-old girls? Or 79-year-old women? Or any of the other victims who were shot down in the Tucson parking lot on Saturday?

Members of Congress are understandably worried about their own safety in the wake of the shooting rampage that was centered around Representative Gabrielle Giffords. It makes sense for the Capitol Police to work more closely with local law enforcement agencies to enhance security at lawmakers' public events. But some of the ideas being proposed would have the effect of further distancing lawmakers from the people they represent — and elevate their safety above the 100,000 Americans who are shot or killed with a gun every year.

Representative James Clyburn, a Democrat of South Carolina, said that lawmakers should no longer be treated like everyone else at airport security checkpoints, though that inconvenience seems to have nothing to do with the shooting. Representative Robert Brady, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, has proposed making it a federal crime to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening violence against all federal officials, an idea dangerously full of potential First Amendment violations. Representative Dan Burton, a Republican of Indiana, even wants to enclose the public gallery above the House chamber in Plexiglas. These ideas are unlikely to make lawmakers or the public any safer. But if members are concerned that some of the 283 million guns now in the hands of American civilians might one day be turned on them — and they should be — there are many things they can do.

They can follow the advice given on Tuesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, along with 10 other mayors, and begin restoring the nation's gun control laws to sanity — for the protection of everyone. The most obvious first steps are to ban the extended-round magazines used in the Arizona shooting and tighten a nearly useless system of background checks.

They also can ensure that federal and state financing for outreach to the mentally ill is increased, not cut, in the budget battles to come. Jared Loughner, the man accused of the Arizona shootings, apparently received no mental health treatment, even though officials at his college were very concerned about his mental state.

Instead of hiding, lawmakers must reach out to their constituents and help calm a troubled political environment without





After a strong and well-financed campaign by socially conservative groups, voters in Iowa in November removed three sitting State Supreme Court justices who had participated in 2009's unanimous ruling permitting same-sex marriage. Now several freshman Republican members of the Iowa House are readying a bill calling for the impeachment of the court's four other justices whose terms were not up for renewal.

For more than 200 years, no state or federal judge has been impeached to punish a judicial opinion — a record that has helped preserve the fair functioning of the courts. That isn't stopping these politicians, nor is the fact that issuing a controversial ruling does not amount to the "misdemeanor or malfeasance in office" required for impeachment under the Iowa Constitution.

Iowa's new Republican governor, Terry Branstad, has voiced opposition to the impeachment effort. Although he disagrees with the court's marriage decision, he says the appropriate remedy is to defeat the justices in a retention vote. The Republican leader of the Iowa House, Kraig Paulsen, is bobbing and weaving, suggesting that impeachment is not one of his priorities, but that he will not stand in the way. The Democratic minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, has made clear his determination to tie up the chamber with dozens of amendments if necessary to block a vote on impeachment.

Meantime, a leader of the November ouster campaign, Bob Vander Plaats, plans to travel throughout Iowa in coming weeks to rally support for his call for the resignation of the four remaining justices. His group, the Family Leader, has already begun raising money to carry on the fight.

It is unlikely that Iowa's Democratic-controlled Senate would go along with removing the judges, but an impeachment trial would be disruptive and intentionally intimidating. The nation's democracy and cherished rights rely on keeping court decision-making above the fickle tugs of ordinary politics. Ousting judges to register disagreement with a particular court decision is a dangerous road to go down.





We welcome the announcement of a permanent cease-fire by the Basque separatist group ETA. After taking more than 800 lives since the late-1960s, ETA's senseless violence cannot end one day too soon. But what should have been an unequivocal renunciation of terrorism fell far short of what the Spanish, and Basque, people were entitled to expect.

The announcement was implicitly linked to political concessions, and it contained no commitment to dispose of ETA's lethal arsenal. The government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain rightly declared the announcement inadequate and demanded an unconditional cease-fire and disarmament.

ETA has announced "permanent" cease-fires before, notably in March 2006. Mr. Zapatero opened peace talks, but nine months later ETA claimed that political progress had been too slow and returned to its murderous violence. Mr. Zapatero's tougher stand this time means that, for now, there will be no easing of the legal ban that prevents ETA's political allies from running for office and no slackening of the police pressure that has put top ETA leaders in jail or on the run.

During the Franco dictatorship, ETA's separatist goals, though not its terrorist methods, enjoyed support among Basques who had suffered decades of oppression. Those days are long past. The Basque region is now one of Spain's most affluent and enjoys substantial autonomy. ETA's killing sprees have turned former sympathizers into bitter enemies.

Spanish leaders have to wrestle with wrenching economic problems and cannot afford to tie themselves in knots over equivocally worded cease-fire declarations. If ETA is serious about peace, it must prove it by dropping all political conditions and verifiably disarming.







New Haven

THE announcement that Representatives Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Jason Chaffetz of Utah are planning to wear guns in their home districts has surprised many, but in fact the United States has had armed congressmen before. In the rough-and-tumble Congress of the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s, politicians regularly wore weapons on the House and Senate floors, and sometimes used them.

During one 1836 melee in the House, a witness observed representatives with "pistols in hand." In a committee hearing that same year, one House member became so enraged at the testimony of a witness that he reached for his gun; when the terrified witness refused to return, he was brought before the House on a charge of contempt.

Perhaps most dramatic of all, during a debate in 1850, Senator Henry Foote of Mississippi pulled a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. (Someone eventually took it from his hand.) Foote had decided in advance that if he felt threatened, he would grab his gun and run for the aisle in the hope that stray shots wouldn't hit bystanders.

Most famously, in 1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina caned Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor so brutally that Sumner had to be virtually carried from the chamber — and did not retake his seat for three years. Clearly, wielded with brute force, a cane could be a potent weapon.

By the 1850s, violence was common in Washington. Not long after Sumner's caning, a magazine told the story of a Michigan judge who traveled by train to the nation's capital: "As he entered the main hall of the depot, he saw a man engaged in caning another ferociously, all over the room. 'When I saw this,' says the judge, 'I knew I was in Washington.'"

In Congress, violence was often deployed strategically. Representatives and senators who were willing to back up their words with their weapons had an advantage, particularly in the debate over slavery. Generally speaking, Northerners were least likely to be armed, and thus most likely to back down. Congressional bullies pressed their advantage, using threats and violence to steer debate, silence opposition and influence votes.

In 1842, Representative Thomas Arnold of Tennessee, a member of the Whig Party, learned the hard way that these bullies meant business. After he reprimanded a pro-slavery member of his own party, two Southern Democrats stalked toward him, at least one of whom was armed with a bowie knife — a 6- to 12-inch blade often worn strapped to the back. Calling Arnold a "damned coward," his angry colleagues threatened to cut his throat "from ear to ear." But Arnold wasn't a man to back down. Ten years earlier, he had subdued an armed assassin on the Capitol steps.

As alarming as these outbursts were, until the 1840s, reporters played them down, in part to avoid becoming embroiled in fights themselves. (A good many reporters received beatings from outraged congressmen; one nearly had his finger bitten off.) So Americans knew relatively little of congressional violence.

That changed with the arrival of the telegraph. Congressmen suddenly had to confront the threat — or temptation — of "instant" nationwide publicity. As Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire reminded his colleagues within minutes of the Foote-Benton clash, reports were "already traveling with lightning speed over the telegraph wires to the remotest borders of the Republic." He added, "It is not impossible that even now it may have been rumored in the city of St. Louis that several senators are dead and weltering in their blood on the floor of the Senate."

Violence was news, and news could spawn violence. Something had to be done, but what? To many, the answer was obvious: watch your words. As one onlooker wrote to the speaker of the House shortly after Sumner's caning, "gentlemen" who took part in the debate over slavery should "scrupulously avoid the utterance of unnecessarily harsh language." There was no other way to prevent the "almost murderous feeling" that could lead to "demonstrations upon the floor, which in the present state of excitement, would almost certainly lead to a general melee and perhaps a dozen deaths in the twinkling of an eye."

Unfortunately, such admonitions had little effect. The violence in Congress continued to build until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Today, in the wake of an episode of violence against a member of Congress, we're again lamenting the state of political rhetoric, now spread faster than ever via Twitter, Web sites, text messaging and e-mail. Once again, politicians are considering bearing arms — not to use against one another, but potentially against an angry public.

And once again we're reminded that words matter. Communication is the heart and soul of American democratic governance, but there hasn't been much fruitful discourse of late — among members of Congress, between the people and their representatives or in the public sphere. We need to get better at communicating not only quickly, but civilly.

Joanne B. Freeman, a professor of history at Yale, is at work on a book about violence in Congress.


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AS millions of us try to lose the weight we gained over the holidays, the Food and Drug Administration is due to make a decision with implications for those tipping the scales into obesity: whether to approve gastric lap bands for people who are just slightly obese. These devices are now approved only for dangerously obese adults, with a body mass index of at least 35.

Like gastric bypass surgery, a lap band reduces the size of the stomach so that eating a large meal is impossible. As a result, patients sometimes lose 100 pounds or more within a year, and that weight often stays off at least another year.

The surgery is more effective for most people than diet, exercise or diet pills. And since lap bands are less invasive, expensive and risky than gastric bypass, it is reasonable to ask whether the F.D.A. should approve the product for people seeking less drastic weight loss. Last month, an advisory panel said it should.

If the agency bases its decision on science rather than sympathy, however, it will reject the recommendation — because there is no research proving that a lap band provides slightly obese patients with long-term health benefits that are greater than its risks.

Some experts, including most bariatric surgeons, say the benefits are obvious even if the research is skimpy. And although most of them have financial ties to the lap-band industry, they also have an important fact on their side: weight loss during the first year after the procedure is often impressive.

But what matters for most patients is whether a lap band is more effective than diet and exercise for years and years after the surgery — and unfortunately we don't know if it is.

Under the proposed change, lap bands would be approved, for example, for a 5-foot-6-inch woman weighing 186 pounds (a body mass index of 30) who does not have diabetes or heart disease but does have joint pain that might be relieved by weight loss. Under the current rules, this woman could get a lap band only if she was willing to pay $12,000 to $30,000 for the 30-minute surgery. Because the procedure does not have F.D.A. approval, insurance plans and Medicare usually do not cover it.

Theoretically, lap bands could save lives and billions of health care dollars that would otherwise be spent to treat diabetes or heart disease, replace hip or knee joints or pay for often-ineffective weight loss strategies. But potential benefits are not the same as proven ones. And the reality is, we don't know how safe and effective lap-band surgery is for most people, whether they are 30 or 300 pounds overweight.

How could we lack such basic information? The F.D.A. approved Inamed's Lap-Band for the dangerously obese almost 10 years ago. But it did so based on the company's study of fewer than 200 very obese patients who had lap bands for three years. As a condition of approval, the agency required a follow-up study, but in 2006 Inamed was bought by Allergan, and the study was not completed. Last year, when Allergan asked the F.D.A. to expand approval to the not-so-obese (essentially doubling the potential patient pool), the request was based on a clinical trial of only 149 patients who had lap bands for one to two years.

In this study, the operations were done by carefully selected surgeons on relatively healthy patients, all under the age of 55 — which gave the study its best chance of producing favorable results. Even so, there were many adverse reactions. The most common were vomiting, difficulty swallowing, pain and gastroesophageal reflux. Five percent of subjects required additional surgery one to nine months after getting their lap bands, and in most cases this meant permanent removal. One of the devices that was removed had already eroded — raising concern about how long lap bands last. And unlike the initial surgery, often an outpatient procedure, the revisions and removals meant hospitalizations lasting up to a week.

The men in the Allergan study had worse outcomes than the women; 20 percent had their devices removed in the first year. This is not surprising, given an earlier report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that men were almost three times as likely as women to die from bariatric surgery. But the poor outcome for men needs further investigation, because the Allergan trial included only 14 men.

What's more, there were only two Asians, 14 African-Americans and 16 Hispanics among all the men and women in the study. Clearly, more research is needed on more people of both sexes and all ages and races.

Most important, we need studies of people who have had lap bands for longer than a few years to learn if the weight loss is lasting, if patients will tolerate the devices in the long run and what risks may accrue from living with one inside the body. The earlier three-year study of very obese patients found that one in four had their lap bands removed and not replaced.

The F.D.A.'s job is to make sure that the lap band is safe and effective, but it cannot do this without long-term data on a more diverse group of patients. Moreover, if the F.D.A. approves the lap band for people who are only 30 or 40 pounds overweight, taxpayers may soon be paying billions of Medicare dollars for these procedures, and for fixing the potential complications. Health insurance companies would be pressured to follow Medicare's lead, which could add to the cost of insurance for all of us.

Obesity can kill, but when people are not at immediate risk of fatal illness, the F.D.A. does them no favors by giving its approval to an implanted medical device before it has been adequately tested.

Diana Zuckerman is the president of the National Research Center for Women and Families and its Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund. Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman are off today.







Picture a country that calls itself a democracy but where those in charge blatantly conspire to give themselves and their buddies a near-permanent hold on political power by custom-designing the districts where they run for office.


That country is the United States.


The ugly process in which the politicians get to pick their voters is cranking up again across the land. It's called "reapportionment," but that innocuous and bureaucratic-sounding word masks what in many states is a vicious game of political hardball largely played out behind closed doors. The aim is to twist the system to enhance the position of whichever party is at the moment in charge of state government — and often to protect incumbents generally from serious challenge.


This week's poster child for such manipulation is former House majority leader Tom DeLay, who was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for a money-laundering scheme that helped Republicans capture control of the Texas Legislature in 2002. With that power, they were able to draw districts that helped consolidate GOP dominance in Austin and Washington.


In the next few weeks, each state's government will be getting from Washington the detailed, block-by-block results of the 2010 Census and will be required to adjust the boundaries of congressional districts and state legislative districts to make them as nearly equal in population as possible.


But that's where the civics-book ideal ends and where the dirty work of protecting allies and punishing enemies begins.


In most states, there are few constraints on what the legislature can do in redrawing political boundaries for partisan advantage. California has one congressional district that's 200 miles long and at places only a few hundred yards wide. In Illinois, the 17th district has so many twists and turns that it has been described as looking like " a rabbit on a skateboard."


Custom-designed districts are an effective protection racket for incumbents, more so as computers have made the game more sophisticated. But they add to the political polarization that the public so disdains, preventing compromise on divisive issues. Candidates who face no general election threat cater instead to the extremes of their own party to deter any primary challenge.


If there's any good news on the redistricting front, it's that a handful of states are moving toward better systems.


In California, where former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger once said the state's lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington were so safe " there's more turnover in the Kremlin," voters have turned redistricting over to a bipartisan citizens' commission. That's worth trying, although experience in other states suggests such commissions aren't immune to manipulation. Florida voters, meanwhile, gave courts power to toss out blatantly partisan redistricting.


Perhaps the best system is in Iowa, which for decades has entrusted redistricting to nonpartisan technocrats on the legislative staff. Their instructions are simple: keep districts compact and contiguous, as measured by specific formulas, and avoid dividing counties, cities and other political units. They are prohibited from considering any information about the addresses of current legislators or any information about party affiliation.


Those are standards worth copying elsewhere. They make sense if you're serious about democracy, not just politics as usual.








Redistricting is inescapably political. It is better to acknowledge this by having the people involved in drawing lines answer to voters than to evade reality by vainly trying to "take redistricting out of politics."


Those drawing district lines balance several competing objectives. They seek:


•Representation of public opinion and to secure sufficient diversity so that the elected are not beholden to one group.


•Competitiveness and to maintain "compactness" and community interest.


•To ensure a stable political system, while registering changes in public opinion.


Balancing these goods requires political judgment and political accountability that comes with elections.


The effort to "take redistricting out of politics" really means taking accountability out of inherently political decisions. Many legislators would probably be happy to evade their responsibility and kick the question to a commission. Democracies should allow no such evasion.


The high rate of incumbent-party re-election is not due simply to effective gerrymandering, nor is gerrymandering the main cause of political polarization. Incumbents win because they make sure to represent their districts. If our politics has been unusually polarized in recent years, the blame sits with a divided electorate and at the feet of our chief executives who have undertaken bold policy initiatives, not to an excessive number of "safe seats."


Nor is it clear that legislators elected by commission-drawn lines are more effective than those drawn by legislatures. Is Wisconsin, where the lines are drawn by the legislature, governed worse than New Jersey or California, which had a commission for 1992? There is much more to effective legislation and quality legislators than nominally apolitical districts.


The idea that commissions should draw district lines is the latest effort to find the silver bullet for America's political ills. What advocates of commissions are frustrated with is really the fact that our representatives are beholden to localities instead of a great national spirit. What they really want is to change the nature of American representation toward a more parliamentary and programmatic government. What they are really after is, in the final analysis, much worse than what we have now.


Professor Scott Yenor, author of Family Politics (forthcoming), is chairman of political science at Boise State University and a fellow with the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America's Founding Principles and History.








This year, January shouldn't be the month of the post-holiday doldrums. That's because starting this week, across America, people will notice that, thanks to the payroll tax cut included in the tax package signed by the president in December, their paychecks will be bigger.


The tax cut decreases the federal payroll tax by 2 percentage points, increasing the take-home pay for American workers everywhere. That is real money for real people. For a couple making $60,000 each, their take-home pay will climb $2,400 in 2011. That is $2,400 more in their pockets, and $2,400 more that could go into our economy creating jobs and growth. That's extra money they can use to help with bills and groceries, or even to upgrade appliances or make their home more energy efficient. All told, this tax cut will put $112 billion into the pockets of 155 million workers, who will then inject it back into the economy, spurring growth and creating jobs.


All of that spending, of course, will lead to an increase in demand for products made right here in the U.S., creating more manufacturing jobs and leading to more customers going into local businesses. Businesses across the country will get the extra economic push they need to expand and bring workers back on the payroll. Economists, experts and commentators from across the political spectrum agree that the payroll tax holiday is one of the most effective ways to spark real, lasting economic growth.


No effect on deficit


As an extra holiday bonus, because this is a temporary measure, the cuts will grow our economy now without adding to our deficit in the future. In fact, the payroll tax cut was recommended by both the president's fiscal commission and the Bipartisan Policy Center's Debt Reduction Task Force as one of the most economically efficient ways to create jobs and grow the economy.


Critics have been spreading misinformation that the payroll tax cut will threaten the solvency of Social Security. That's just plain wrong. The legislation creating the tax cut requires that any money the payroll tax would have provided to Social Security be replaced by other U.S. general revenue funds, protecting Social Security without an additional burden on taxpayers. The Social Security Trust Fund's chief actuary as well as the executive vice president of the AARP have both spoken out, saying that the payroll tax cut will have no financial impact on Social Security.


Creating jobs


This payroll tax cut — which is showing up in workers' first paychecks this month — represents just the kind of sound economic policy this administration has pursued from the get-go. Money will immediately get into the hands of those who need it most — middle class families — and economic history has time and again shown that they will go out and spend it, spurring demand and creating jobs. Combined with the other elements of the tax package signed by the president, the plan is estimated to create more than 1.5 million jobs, with some analysts predicting even more.


Like the rest of the tax package, cutting the payroll tax helps millions of American families keep their jobs, keep a roof over their heads, keep food on the table, and keep their kids in school, all while keeping our economic recovery moving in the right direction. It gives millions of Americans help where they need it most — in their wallets. And it puts us all more quickly on the road to a strong, robust, enduring economic recovery. A happy holiday, indeed.


Joe Biden is vice president of the United States.








Every year on the national holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday on Jan. 15, my cousin Brenda pulls out her tattered copy of King's classic "Letter From Birmingham Jail" — downloaded from the Internet — and reads it word for word. To her, the enduring message of the nearly 7,000-word essay is never outdated.


For those who aren't familiar with King's 1963 open letter to white clergymen in Birmingham, Ala., here's a bit of background.


On April 1, King arrived in the southern city from Atlanta to lead non-violent protests against racial segregation in local government and businesses. On Good Friday, he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in the Birmingham jail. As he sat in the closet-sized cell, eight of Birmingham's white clergy issued a statement calling King's protests "unwise" and "untimely." Racial segregation, they said, was a battle best fought in the courts, not in the streets.


Using a smuggled pen, writing in the margins of The Birmingham News and on several sheets of toilet paper, King responded on April 16, 1963:


"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. ... Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ... Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial 'outside agitator' idea. Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country. ... We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."


As the nation celebrates King's 82nd birthday, I wonder whether his essay would have made such a lasting impression or had as powerful an impact if today's instant communication devices existed, and if someone smuggled a BlackBerry or a mobile phone into his cell. What would have happened if he texted the famous letter or used Twitter — in 140 characters or fewer? Instead of a legacy, he most likely would have started a conversation, which I imagine would have gone something like this:


johnqpublic: @mlkinjail in jail on good friday? not good! im stuck in line at kroger


civiltung: wuz there once. not a good place 2b


johnqpublic: @civiltung kroger or jail?


civiltung: @johnqpublic jail


mlkinjail: I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit.


johnqpublic: @mlkinjail parade? thot it wuz a protest


mlkinjail: Now there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation


mlkinjail: and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.


mlkinjail: Never before have I written a letter this long. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a


mlkinjail: comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts,


mlkinjail: and pray long prayers?


johnqpublic: @mlkinjail sleep zzz. u need better platform for ur words rev.


You get the drift — or do you? There are about 6,900 words to go.


I am certainly not knocking Twitter or any other technology that allows for instant communication. In fact, I applaud it. If camera phones and social networks had been available back then, Jim Crow's murderous tyranny would have been brought to light much sooner.


Nevertheless, there is something to be said about powerful words written by old-fashioned pen on toilet paper. A text message just wouldn't have the same ring of desperation to it as sentences in the margins of newsprint. King's voice — so poignant and crystal-clear in print — simply would lose its resonance in cyber ink.


A text wouldn't have the same urgency or convey the pain, hardship, discipline and sacrifices that the struggle for civil rights required. A tweet would have faded into the ether minutes after it was released, drowned out by a thousand other disparate musings.


King's letter is currently available in a 35-page book — another fading, low-tech relic — which also can be downloaded on a Kindle, Nook or iPad, or read as an e-book. Brenda, a child of the '50s and '60s, now has her very own printout to read every year. Given all her options, she'll gladly leave it at that.


Sharon Shahid is a senior editor at the Newseum and a writer who lives in suburban Washington, D.C. She is a former member of USA TODAY's Editorial Board.








Scientists say the last major warm period of the Earth's climate began about 5 million years ago. They call it the "Pliocene epoch."


There were no coal-fired power plants, nor SUVs, nor heavy industry of any sort during the Pliocene epoch. Nobody, in short, was engaging in the activities that environmental activists claim are catastrophically heating the Earth's atmosphere today with "greenhouse gases."


And yet, what do scientists tell us about the Pliocene epoch?


According to a new study of sediment from the floor of the Bering Sea, off the western coast of Alaska, "the region was ice-free all year [during the Pliocene] and ... there was a high level of biological activity," McClatchy Newspapers reported.


By contrast, McClatchy noted, "Today, the Bering Sea is only ice-free during the summer."


In other words, it's a lot colder in and around the Bering Sea today than it was in the distant past, long before man could have been doing anything to warm the atmosphere.


That should make it clear to all but the most diehard advocates of the theory of "global warming" that there are complicated natural forces at work that can increase or decrease temperatures quite naturally — and in spite of what man does or doesn't do.


Those issues are important because of President Barack Obama's plans to regulate "greenhouse gases" in the coming months and years. He wants to use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to slap harsh emissions controls on industry.


Why is he relying on the EPA to do that? It's simple: Even when both houses of Congress were under overwhelming Democratic control up through last month, Congress did not pass the radical, economy-crushing "anti-global-warming" legislation that the president wanted.


So he is trying to do an end run around Congress and impose burdensome environmental regulations through the EPA instead.


Twelve states have already sued to keep the mandates from taking effect, and Congress can at least partially block them with legislation. It should do so.


In a time of economic crisis and 9.4 percent unemployment, the last thing businesses need is a new set of regulations that threaten further harm to our economy and would do little or no good for our environment.



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It is hard to know which is more alarming: that our national debt has now exceeded the $14 trillion mark, or that such an awful milestone passed barely unnoticed by the news media and the public.


Remember: It was only a short seven months ago when the debt level hit $13 trillion. Can you believe that we have increased our debt load by $1 trillion in just seven months?


We are plainly on a path to fiscal ruin if we don't reverse course.


Yet almost every call for cuts in unconstitutional spending, for reform of budget-busting entitlements and for repeal of costly ObamaCare is met with a torrent of criticism by liberal lawmakers who somehow think we can maintain the big-spending status quo without bankrupting the nation.


Of course, they never realistically explain how we can avoid financial disaster by continuing on our current path. They simply ignore such "details."


But the time to pay the piper is coming.


You can live the "high life" on credit cards for only so long before your creditors start to realize you have no means to repay them. Then they stop lending you money, the gravy train leaves the station, and the party is most definitely over.


If staring at a $14 trillion national debt does not convince Congress of the need for major economic reform and a return to the constitutional principle of limited government, we are not sure what it will take.







After December's disappointing jobs figures came out recently, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke issued an unhappy prediction.


He said the United States is in for a long period of high unemployment.

Does he think it will take a year or two to get back to a somewhat more normal unemployment rate of about 6 percent?


No. We wish his estimate were that "good."


Bernanke predicts, instead, that it will take four or five years before joblessness drops to about 6 percent. And even 6 percent is not ideal.


That long-term joblessness for many millions of Americans will affect not only them but the financial circumstances of even those who do have jobs.


"Persistently high unemployment, by damping household income and confidence, could threaten the strength and sustainability of the recovery," Bernanke told the Senate Budget Committee.


Shouldn't it be obvious to everyone by now that massive government "stimulus" spending has not helped reduce unemployment?


Remember: The president said that if passed, the $862 billion "stimulus" would keep unemployment below 8 percent. Yet today, the nation's official unemployment rate is an alarming 9.4 percent. And millions more Americans are not counted in that "official" figure because they have given up the attempt to find jobs. So true unemployment is much worse than 9.4 percent.


Government spending is not the solution to joblessness. The path to job creation is free enterprise unhindered by the twin threats of excessive taxes and undue regulation.


That is worth remembering as the federal government's spending-fueled debt continues to rise beyond any reasonable level.







Multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies of the ethanol industry have produced a laundry list of negative consequences. Among them are smog, damaged engines in lawnmowers and other equipment, reduced gas mileage, and higher food prices as lots of corn is diverted from food production to ethanol production.


In addition to those harmful effects, the subsidies for ethanol mean ethanol manufacturers get 45 cents from taxpayers for each of the billions of gallons of the costly, inefficient "alternative fuel" they produce.


But the ethanol boondoggle is getting worse. Previously, ethanol was allowed to be blended into gasoline at a maximum rate of only 10 percent. But the Obama administration has declared that ethanol can make up 15 percent of a gallon of gasoline.


And that's only the beginning. Under federal regulations, there have to be 14 billion gallons of ethanol and other "biofuels" in the nation's fuel supply this year. But by 2022, America's fuel supply has to include 36 billion gallons of those fuels.


That means lots more damage to engines, worse gas mileage and other bad effects.


The giveaway to ethanol interests helps farm state lawmakers, who use their support of unconstitutional ethanol subsidies to buy votes from farmers. And it benefits farmers and ethanol manufacturers. But it's a raw deal for the country.


This is not a liberal-vs.-conservative issue, either. Even liberal former Vice President Al Gore recently renounced his own support for ethanol, saying it was harmful.


Rather than expanding government support for ethanol, the Obama administration should be reducing it.







Since its founding in 1996, Istanbul Bilgi University has held a high place in our esteem. Its many innovations have included its urban campuses, a pioneering program in Greek-Turkish studies, a life-long learning outreach project to non-traditional students, Turkey's first "E-MBA" and many other educational firsts. Its alumni people our newsroom and a number of our editors and reporters have been adjunct faculty there.

But as the official script for the sacking of three academics continues to drift to many a subplot unrelated to the core allegation that the teachers approved a student thesis involving a pornographic movie, we think its time for the director's line: "Cut!"

Let's back the reel up a bit. For starters, Turkey does not have "private" universities despite use of the term. They are in fact illegal. What Turkey has is a system of "foundation universities," an innovative concept that was the brainchild of the late Dr. İhsan Doğramacı, founder of the first such institution, Bilkent University, in 1984. 

The 30-plus institutions that have been nurtured in this educational garden are philanthropically endowed, publicly chartered, explicitly non-profit and are required to maintain robust – generally 25 percent of enrollment – scholarship programs. Critically, students also must pass the same state-approved testing criteria used for admission to public universities. We think this is a good system, deserving of emulation in other countries.

But there is something new on the educational block. These are "for profit" universities, a sector centered in the United States but now spreading globally. Defenders argue they meet an unmet need. But they are controversial for the obvious reason that they turn education into a commodity. These universities now comprise a global, $29 billion-a-year sector. South America, Australia and the United Kingdom were early targets for this model. Turkey is now too an appealing "market." 

Among the largest "for profit" education companies is Laureate Universities, once a publicly traded company until a $3.1 billion management buyout took it private. Former President Bill Clinton is the "honorary chancellor" but make no mistake at the title. Clinton is paid handsomely for this service, although Laureate has never revealed the terms of a contract made exclusively for marketing purposes. And since 2006, Laureate has been the driver of policy at Bilgi, effectively the owner through an innovative partnership deal. 

We'll wait until the final scene unfolds in this drama upon which we reported yesterday. But the background of Laureate's takeover minimally suggests the claims of Bilgi faculty and unions, that the "porn movie" charge masks union-busting and commercial calculation, needs investigation. Maximally, it suggests Bilgi may be in violation of "foundation university" law.







The big, angry men wanted to protest. They wanted to condemn, shout at the injustice. They wanted to boycott the newspaper they had been reading everyday for many years. All because a secular journalist had produced a documentary, "Mustafa," portraying the founder of the Republic as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk "the man," not Mustafa Kemal Atatürk "the flawless icon."

The protestors were secularist Turks (not to be confused with secular Turks) who thought "Mustafa" could not be portrayed as a human being, with his merits and demerits, like every other human being. They probably thought "Mustafa" was not a human being; he never was a child, he never fell sick, never fell in love, never failed in love.

That was last year. But the new year brought similar scenes to a country that is always "changing." Big, angry people gathered in protest to read passages from the Quran, blocked highways, egged the building of a TV station, threatened to boycott the corporation which owned that TV station, tore down public ads and sang the tunes of the Ottoman military band.

Just like the people who wanted to protest the documentary "Mustafa," they were angry. They wanted to condemn, shout at the injustice. They wanted to punish the evil men. All because a TV station would (but has not yet) broadcast a soap they claim would portray the Ottoman dynasty as both "indecent" and "hedonistic." The same protestors, a few weeks earlier, had stabbed a Santa Claus doll in protest of New Year celebrations in EU candidate Turkey.

The protestors, this time, were Islamist Turks (not to be confused with Muslim Turks) – who might brand themselves as "conservative" Turks; they were outraged especially because the not-yet-aired soap would feature the reign of Süleyman I, also known as Süleyman the Magnificent (hence the title of the soap, "The Magnificent Century") as a period full of alcohol, women of the harem and other "hedonistic" flavors. The "conservative" Turks assumed that the cups the dynasty members drank from as seen on the trailer contained alcohol.

So far, there are discernable parallels between the two sets of public reactions against two different showbiz products, one featuring the founder of the Republic, the other a specific period (and sultan) of the Ottomans. We may say zealots are zealots on both extremes of the secularist-Islamist spectrum and shrug it off. Depending on our ideological leaning, we can either argue that Atatürk can be portrayed as a human being but Ottoman sultans cannot, or vice versa.

If we asked either camp, each would powerfully argue that they would tolerate Atatürk or the sultan being portrayed as anything or being criticized for human failings, but, in their case, the documentary or the soap was not about portraying or criticizing, but about "insulting." In the first case, a poor "Mustafa" falling helplessly in love or failing to maintain a good marriage would be "insulting;" and in the second case a sultan drinking alcohol or enjoying his harem would have the same effect. This is the "zealots are zealots" part. But there is more.

The general line of reaction against "Süleyman the hedonist" has quickly become a matter involving governance. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç obviously threatened the broadcaster when he said that, "Those who try to humiliate the important people of our history…should face retribution. What is necessary will be done." Then the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, deputy parliamentary group chairman, Suat Kılıç, said, "600 years of Ottoman history was not built on the harem."

In a similar indication of governmental bias, the police, who have the habit of using extreme violence against student protestors, did not raise a finger to interfere in the crowds who had gathered to protest "The Magnificent Century" – the decent thing to do is not to use violence in either case. But the double standard principle was too visibly at work.

The AKP chaps and their conservative supporters should be able to understand the difference between documentary and fiction. The alarming fact is that "conservative" Turks do not have tolerance even for fiction when their "ancestors" are at stake – let alone religious figures.

They probably would not do as columnist İsmet Berkan suggested: For God's sake, can you not just change the channel airing the soap you dislike?!

If they feel too annoyed at what the harem featured in Ottoman times, they can always argue that the harem was an academic institution. They can argue that sultans did not kill their own sons and brothers for power, or that they never had Christian mothers. They can even claim that history books are wrong when they say the Ottoman Empire had actually collapsed. No problem, all of that would give others generous reason to smile. But when "conservative" Turks flex their governmental muscles because someone portrays their "ancestors" a little less sacredly than they believe they should be – even in fiction – "public reaction" turns into first-class "governmental despotism." That's not "neighborhood pressure" – it is governmental pressure. 

The producers of "The Magnificent Century" made a crucial mistake. Instead of portraying the Ottoman dynasty as alcohol drinkers and harem addicts, they should have featured more real events in history such as the burning of monk Nikolaos in 1554; the beheading of Constantinople Patriarch Cyrillos Loukaris by Sultan Murat IV in 1638; the strangling of Patriarch Cyrillos Kontares in 1639 and of Patriarch Parthenios in 1650; the beheading of Patriarch Parthenios III in 1657; and, most tragically, a scene featuring Patriarch Gregorius being hung at the middle gate of the Fener Patriarchate in 1821.

I am sure many fewer Turks would then object to such dramaturgy as "insulting their ancestors." What's all the bloodshed, after all, compared to drinking alcohol and going to the harem?








Two interesting controversies have swamped the Turkish media in the past few days, and both have tested the tolerance of the conservative camp.

The first one was about a new TV series named "The Magnificent Century." It is a drama about the inner life of Süleyman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century, the zenith of its power. The drama's trailer included scenes showing the sultan drinking wine and having intimate moments with his significant other, the all-attractive Hürrem. (Some even took a hint of a homosexual relationship, which did not turn out to be the case.)

As normal as these can be for a tacky, rating-seeking soap opera, they were enough to enrage some religious conservatives, who see an Islamic golden age in the Ottoman Empire. With a strong conviction in the incorruptible piety of the Ottoman dynasty, these Islamic groups marched in Istanbul to protest the drama, even before its release. Meanwhile, tens of thousands called the Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, to ban this "mockery on our Ottoman ancestors." Even worse, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç made a public remark criticizing the film and saying, "Whatever needs to be done will be done."


Luckily, the series' first episode was aired last Wednesday, and the tension calmed down a bit. Turks will probably be able to see the rest of it as well. Yet the conservative reaction to this drama marked problems worth pondering.

The first problem is the over-idealization of the Ottoman Empire. The readers of this column know that I, too, have great respect for that bygone state – mostly for its pluralism. But a realistic respect is different than romantic adoration. From a Muslim perspective, the Ottomans might be good "servants of Islam," but they were also humans with sins and temptations. Quite a few Ottoman sultans, for example, were indeed wine drinkers. And while their harem was not the orgy-ground that filled the fantasies of some early Orientalists, it was not a sexless monastery either.

The more important problem is some of the conservatives' willingness to ban things that they don't like. They certainly had the right to criticize the film, or even organize public protests against it. But asking its removal from the screens by a state institution crosses the line. It becomes a clear manifestation of an authoritarian mindset.

Several commentators in the Turkish press noted the similarity the conservatives have shown to the Kemalists. The latter does the exact same thing with regards to Atatürk: They depict him as a perfect, supra-human leader devoid of any mistakes and weaknesses. And when they see a film or a book that differs from that surreal narrative, they open court cases to have it banned. The law that criminalizes "insulting Atatürk" stands exactly for that kind of thought-policing. 

That's why my objection to the conservative hype here is not weaker than to the Kemalist ones: Those within the former camp who try to advance their values by relying on state authority are wrong, damn wrong. They rather should start to learn to play by the rules of a liberal democracy. If they want to honor the Ottoman Empire, and any other aspect of the Islamic civilization, for example, they should try producing their own films – and produce them in a way which will appeal to the unconverted as well.


The second public controversy of these days is the "Monument of Humanity" that has stood near the city of Kars since 2009. Made by prominent Turkish artist Mehmet Aksoy, it is supposed to carry a reconciliatory message to Armenia, from which the 35-meter high huge statue can be seen.

Yet in a recent visit to Kars, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the monument "bizarre" and said it would be removed. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu supported him in a more explanatory note, arguing, "the monument does not fit in with the architectural texture of Kars."

Well, I concede Erdoğan's and Davutoğlu's right to dislike the monument – I haven't fallen in love with it, either – but I don't think that they should call for its removal. Only the citizens of Kars should have the right to decide whether they want to keep the monument or not. The aesthetic preferences of politicians can just not be a national criterion.

Besides that political aspect, the Kars controversy seems to shed light on the cultural aversion some Muslims conservatives have against the art of sculpture. An Islamic film director recently made this obvious on the TV by saying, "any form of sculpture is simply banned in Islam."

I beg to differ. What is banned in Islam is idolatry, and the early Muslim tradition, like Judaism, extended this to all "graven images" and statues, fearing that they would encourage idol-worship. But we live in a different age now, in which people build statues not to worship them, but for artistic and cultural purposes, such as the peaceful messages the Monument of Humanity stands for.

That's why Erdoğan should let it stay. And the conservatives should start to understand that they cannot impose their values via state authority. They can only propose them within a medium of liberty.







In my article yesterday, I mentioned Professor Hayrettin Karaman's opinion on understanding today's Turkey (daily Yeni Şafak, Jan. 9)

Professor Karaman makes the following classification:

1) People interpreting religion mull over how secular and liberal democracy can go hand in hand with Islam. Some of them say: "No harmony and conciliation is possible between the two – if one exists, the other cannot – at least in full practice." (Islamic traditionalists, C.Ü.)

2) If the pious are obliged to live in such an obligatory order (not completely Islamic, C.Ü.) they will maintain their faith and viewpoint and will conduct their practices within the bounds of possibility.

3) Another group (Islamic modernists) says, "Islam is nothing but faith, religious practices and ethics. In other areas, religious principles (explanations in the Quran, the sayings and practices of the prophet Mohammed) are not binding all the time. The pious in politics, law, economic, social, internal and civil areas follow the requirements of modern times (rules of liberal secular democracy) and Islam is not an obstacle to this."

I believe we can develop an opinion about where the country is heading to, via this classification considering the segments voting for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and influential officials within the party.

Let me say it at the very beginning though, the Islam we are talking here is the living one. The Quran falls outside of this discussion. The article only analyzes the segments voting for the AKP. And it is never about those that do not vote for the AKP.

It is obvious that both traditional Muslims (who claim Islam is not compatible with liberal democracy) and modernist Muslims (who claim Islam goes hand in hand with democracy) do exist in Turkey.

And these masses give body to a conservative majority which has paved for the AKP to become the government.

When they are asked, as is the case anywhere in the world, almost all will say they want democracy.

However, if we examine whether they have internalized democracy, we see among a big part of our people, including those living a modern lifestyle, that they have yet to internalize democracy.

As perception paradigms of Turkish people about the world and culture are examined, we see intolerance toward the rights of others, democracy, and acceptance of others.

For conservatives, their culture is mostly formed around their perception of Islam and since they want to live and understand things in the frame of an Islamic paradigm, democracy is experienced as freedom to live one's own lifestyle as far as conservatives are concerned.

"If the pious are obliged to live in such an obligatory order [an order not completely described by Islam- C.Ü.] they will maintain their faith and viewpoint and will do practices within the bounds of possibility." (Hayrettin Karaman)

People adopting a modern lifestyle in Turkey have for a long time considered that they represent the majority and tried to permute conservatives for this reason. Their culture, however, has at least been closed to democracy as much as that of the other.

However, my claim is that Islamic traditionalists represent the majority among the conservatives feeding life into the AKP and that the AKP has to do politics by finding a middle-way on which traditionalist Muslims can maintain their faith and do practices as much as possible.







As Parliament is set to accept new Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, regulations the responsibility and function of this institution will increase in our daily lives as we enter a brand new period. If the general perception of the institution doesn't change it will be a difficult period.

I'd like to draw attention to a weird tendency. It seems as if the ruling party and conservative segments of Turkey that identify themselves with the administration have started a campaign against television broadcasts.

For some, RTÜK is at their command, representing police with sticks, for some, it maintains Turkey's chastity and for others it is the defender of conservatism and religion. But, generally, RTÜK appears to be an institution that censors everything this segment of society does not approve of.

One day it's a parliamentarian calling the chief to complain about a broadcast yelling, "How could you air something like that. Do your job and put a ban on it." He advises how to report news. Parliamentarians are even preparing to pass regulations in order to eliminate news that RTÜK doesn't deem worthy of reporting.

The other day RTÜK received hundreds of thousands complaints about various issues, ranging from the Kurdish issue to two people kissing in a series which was then labeled "pornographic."

I read letters and listen to discussions and all of them make me very upset. And unfortunately not a single authority has stepped forward to say: "This is all fictional. It has nothing to do with real life. Why are you so upset? If you don't like it, just push the little red button on your remote control to turn your TV off."

On the contrary, RTÜK is putting out the message that it takes such complaints seriously. Have you ever heard of an attempt anywhere else in the world to prohibit television content because "it does not reflect the truth and it makes our ancestors look bad"?

Maybe I'd like to make a movie about Süleyman the Magnificent and his relationship with women. Why would you care? The most you could do is not watch the movie, or take a step further by protesting the filmmaker. That's all you could do.

You can't make RTÜK prohibit it.

More responsibilities for RTÜK

The real responsibility rests with the members of RTÜK. They need to make sure they don't become mired in such situations. If they continue to listen to parliamentarians and complaints, trying to be "sensitive" and attempt to "take action" by prohibiting and punishing TV programs, their credibility will diminish, or even vanish totally.

In case they don't stop this course, they may even face absurd requests like "shorten this series" not knowing what to do. They should abandon such inquiries and understand that they cannot suit everyone's needs. Their basic duty is conducting broadcast according to international criteria, not censoring.

I also happen to know very well under what kind of pressure RTÜK works. I am also aware that they try and resist pressure from government, bureaucrats, and politicians and conduct their business the best way they can.

But that does not do it any good either. In the period ahead of us, at the expense of being the bad guy, they need to stop this course.

RTÜK as an institution should rid itself of being enslaved by what the political administration, the military, parliamentarians or anyone else for that matter, says about it.

May God help Chief Davut Dursun and all the senior members of this institution.







While Turkey and Haiti are two countries that seem worlds apart, both have been traumatized by large-scale earthquakes in the past. Survivors of the 1999 İzmit earthquake in Turkey can relate to the struggles of the Haitian people forced to rebuild their homes and their lives in the aftermath of disaster. Jan. 12 marks the one year anniversary of the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that devastated the island of Haiti.

Haiti was the first country in the Western hemisphere to gain its independence from France in 1804, yet continuous destructive interventions from Western nations as well as a history of unfortunate governance has kept it one of the poorest countries in the world.

During August, I worked with a team of volunteers from the Sri Sathya Sai World Relief Foundation. Our team consisted of doctors, medical students and young adults with various backgrounds. Since before the earthquake, the organization has been active in sending teams of doctors and volunteers to Haiti to provide free healthcare and medicine to the Haitian people. 

Throughout my stay in Port-au-Prince I was disappointed to see that many of the promises made to Haiti have not been kept. Destroyed foundations of buildings hung suspended in the air, threatening to submit to gravity at any moment. Open fields, parking lots, and grassy parks where Haitian children used to play have been taken over by an endless amount of tent cities. Every day I passed by a makeshift sign reading "We need a doctor, food, and water." I was reminded that over one million people are still displaced from their homes. If there was a competition for who provided the best tents, the sturdy, blue tents provided by the People's Republic of China would come in first place. Second place would go to UNICEF's durable white tents, and the simple grey tarps weathered after seven months of wear and tear provided by USAID would come in last.

On our first day we visited a small orphanage with substandard conditions. Twenty small children shared twelve mats and there was no roof on the building. Attached to the living quarters was a small school made of concrete and it was in a small classroom that we saw the patients. I assisted Dr. Brahma Sharma, a professor of cardiology at the University of Pittsburgh, in the United States, in his examination of the orphans. These poor children suffered from scabies, headaches, respiratory infections, malnutrition and other ailments. The doctor pointed out that these children were starved from a basic necessity: the loving touch that only a mother can provide. It broke my heart when the doctor deemed one despondent four-year-old boy with depression, but there was nothing we could give to alleviate that suffering. 

The rest of our time was spent at a Catholic Church ran by a Dominican Friar from Chile, another country that experienced the trauma of an earthquake earlier in 2010. Before dawn, Haitians from the nearby community would arrive at the church for medical attention. By the time our team arrived at 8:30 a.m., over 70 people would be sitting in chairs, patiently waiting to be seen. We continually saw patients with high blood pressure, skin rashes, and newly developed allergies to the dust and asbestos in the air from the debris of the earthquake. The psychological effects were prevalent as well, but with such limited resources, how was it possible to help cure post traumatic stress from surviving the earthquake? How could we stop the persistent depression that develops from losing one's family members and friends? 

The Haitian translators were instrumental in the process of curing patients. They were paid only $5 a day, when they would normally be making about $100 a week for the same job. They were all young men who were either currently attending, or had graduated from a university with degrees in computer science, management, or literature, many of whom taught themselves how to speak English. Unfortunately, the larger effects of unemployment in Haiti since the earthquake have hindered their careers from developing any further. Emmanuel, a translator, described how his life was saved on Jan. 19, "I was attending a class taught by a professor that I had been having problems with. He said something I didn't like so I got up and went outside during the middle of class. I felt the ground shake and heard a big boom. I turned around and the five story building had collapsed. In two minutes, all of my classmates were gone. The professor I couldn't stand was gone." 

During that month, the presidential primaries were taking place. When asked about Wyclef Jean running for president, Samuel, a translator said, "I love Jean's music and his style, but he is a musician, and he cannot fix my country." The following Monday Wyclef Jean had been eliminated as a candidate because he had not lived in the country for more than five years. An essential requirement I believe, for any one leader to effectively help a country and know its people's needs inside out. 

While in Haiti, I was still happy to see a number of positive things. Many young people have created their own community building efforts. A 21-year-old young man named Ecclesias is starting his own primary school for Haitian children at an affordable cost, yet is in dire need of donations of school supplies. From Monday through Saturday, we worked with a group of local Haitians in the Delmas 83 neighborhood that cook and distribute food to feed over 800 orphans. The dedication of the Haitian people to their local communities made me evaluate my own role in helping those in need back in my hometown. Engaging in meaningful activities alongside the Haitian people helped me develop genuine relationships with those around me. While Westerners tend to look at countries like Haiti as needing various types of "development," I felt that it was me instead who received a form of personal development from the Haitian people that I met.

*Melissa J.L. Crawford studies International Relations at Michigan State University. She is currently an exchange student at Boğaziçi University and works as an intern with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.






Years ago, at the height of the "I spit at such a sculpture" culture of Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, I came across Mehmet Aksoy at the office of an architect friend. My friend was an expert in "static calculations" and despite the controversy that brought him and Gökçek to loggerheads, Aksoy was still living the dream of constructing a gigantic monument at the entrance of Ankara from the Eskişehir direction.

"Kybele… My friend, Kybele… The mother goddess… The goddess of fertility… The mother goddess of the land of gods, the land of fertility, Anatolia…" he told me in explaining why he was so passionate about "constructing" such a huge project…

Yes, a huge project because Aksoy was talking about a gigantic monument of Kybele featuring broad park space, a huge shopping mall with restaurants and some cultural facilities.

My first impression about him was that he was a really strange and crazy man. When he asked me what I thought of what he said, I just couldn't stop myself and exclaimed, "You are a crazy man!" and he, with shining looks, "My friend, I am not required to be an average personality. Of course I'm a crazy man with extraordinary ideas and projects. Why should I be an average person?"

My architect friend Danyal was shocked seeing me talking in such a "disrespectful" manner with Aksoy, a man he almost worshipped as an idol.

Aksoy was sure that the day would come when Gökçek would be replaced as Ankara mayor with someone with a wider vision and better taste in the arts and humanities and the projects in his files would have a better chance to decorate the city. At the time Gökçek had just removed a sculpture of a dancing girl and a man "created" by Aksoy from the Kuğulu Park in Ankara's Kavaklıdere district saying he would "spit at such a sculpture" because the work of Aksoy was "indecent." Around the same time Gökçek relocated to municipal depots many sculptures from across Ankara.

Aksoy, naturally, took the issue to court and after years in a legal struggle Gökçek was "sentenced" to a fine because of the disrespectful and insulting attitude he exhibited. Since then, of course, nothing has changed except that Gökçek no longer speaks publicly about his true feelings but demonstrates a high skill of deception.

Freak sculpture!

The latest controversy is regarding a half-finished sculpture – again by Aksoy – in Kars, which was described by the prime minister as a "freak" which "must be done with immediately."

Neo-liberals and others who have been assuming that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has been working for the "democratization" of Turkey must have been astonished to see how wrong they have been by seeing this latest manifestation of the dangerous mentality that is not at all restricted to the prime minister but indeed is embedded in the genes of their political Islamist movement.

According to the prime minister, the sculpture was a "freak" because it was standing taller than a nearby shrine hosting the remains of Islamist scholar Hasan Karakani. The sculpture, however, was erected by the former mayor of Kars – also from the AKP – as a contribution to the efforts of Turkey to mend troubled relations with Armenia. That was why it was called the "Peace and friendship monument."

Now, under orders of the prime minister, the mayor of Kars is stating that the sculpture was erected without authorization anyhow and the historical artifacts commission of the city has ordered it be removed.

Another manifestation of this "spitting at art" culture last week was the massive protests by Islamists and ultra-nationalists against a soap opera on the life and times of Ottoman Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who is in charge of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, or TRT, and the television watchdog Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, joined the protestors demanding RTÜK ban the soap. Why? The soap claimed to have portrayed the Ottoman sultan as a sex addict! Was it a documentary? No. Why all this fuss? Just a matter of culture!

The spitting-at-art culture in Turkey, thank God, is not yet comparable to other, wilder manifestations in other political Islamic cultures; let's say the in Taliban of Afghanistan. Remember how the Taliban bombarded the gigantic Buddha sculptures? Thank God, the art-loving administrators of Turkey so far prefer to spit at art rather than resort to violent methods of destruction.








 We have a new phase of reconciliatory language from Mian Nawaz Sharif. Speaking at Raiwind, he has denied that any ultimatum was given to the government and said he has no problem with his party being termed a 'friendly opposition' and that his list of 'demands' was in fact merely a set of proposals aimed to improve the running of the country. Sharif has also declared that the days of dirty politics are over and that a four-member PML-N team will work with the government to implement suggestions made by his party. This change of tone is, to put it mildly, rather intriguing. Just days ago Sharif had indicated he was ready to launch a full-scale offensive against a government with which he seemed to be losing patience. Reconciliation is often desirable, and of course we do not relish the messy exchange of jibes between parties that marked the ugly politics of the 1990s. On the other hand, putting up resistance to those government actions that are unjustifiable, vocally condemning mismanagement and speaking for the people are things we need rather badly. Let us hope the PML-N will not completely abandon its efforts to demand reform where and when it is needed. The turn-around could also be an indication that many things on the political arena still take place behind the scenes, with the full facts not coming to light. This is unfortunate. Voters need to know what is going on and what factors influence decisions made by major parties.

Now that we have a more cordial political milieu, the government must make greater efforts to put things in order. With both the PML-N and the MQM behind it, there is no excuse not to give full attention to the task of effectively running the state. The PML-N's willingness to cooperate in this effort could also open up the way for many improvements. These will need to be drastic if they are to have any significant impact. The prime minister, who also seems to have rediscovered a lost friend, should keep in mind the urgency of the situation. If the people's many grievances are not solved, we could see greater unrest and a change in line once again from opposition parties which cannot afford to alienate people who look towards them for leadership in pressing times. For now these people remain despondent. We must, then, hope that the new optimism expressed by the PML-N can genuinely bring in the change Nawaz Sharif believes lies not very far away.







 The three-member Supreme Court bench hearing the case of missing persons has said these individuals will be recovered during 2011. We certainly hope this will happen. The husbands, fathers and sons who rank among the missing have been separated from their families for too long. The families, at the very least, need to know what became of them and why they were "picked up". The report put together by the judicial commission on the matter set up by the SC might have some details. The government has been asked to submit a reply on the report, though the court has agreed the contents will not be made public.

It is high time the issue of the missing was settled. The court has been told the process continues with 100 more taken away since April 2010. There are families that have spoken out; others are reportedly unwilling to appear before the court due to fear. A state under which such fear exists can never be a successful one. It is also extraordinary that the illegal detention of people should continue under a democratic government. The PPP, after all, had openly criticised the Musharraf regime in this respect. It is possible of course that it feels it has only limited control over the agencies which, the court has noted, hold the missing people. But as a responsible administration it must play a part in the task of ensuring that abductions of people end. For this it is also necessary to improve the existing system of police investigation, and to make it more likely that justice will be meted out to all and that those involved in illegal acts of any kind will be tracked down and duly penalised in accordance with laws.






 What they may lack in academic qualifications (genuine academic qualifications, that is) many of our elected representatives have a (spurious) PhD in procrastination, evasiveness and opacity. The Higher Education Commission has told the Election Commission that it does not recognise the graduation degrees of 330 parliamentarians. They have failed to provide originals of their matriculate and intermediate certificates, and without these whatever documents they have submitted as a qualification in higher education is invalid. There are a total of 1,170 members of the National Assembly, the Senate, and the provincial assemblies and about 600 of them were given a clean bill of health at the beginning of the process of verification – slightly more than 50 per cent. Eight are before the courts accused of fakery and 330 who are still unverified – and others 'in process' – are looking increasingly like they will be able to sit it out for the duration of parliament and then get themselves re-elected next time around.

How so? By process of file-shuffling, bureaucratic lethargy and a gutless lack of practical action being taken against our elected cheats – is how so. What the failure to submit their documentation may be hiding is that a significant number of our elected representatives not only failed to pass any examination of their abilities in a higher education test, but failed at matriculation and intermediate as well. All of which adds up to a very large number of men and women who in educational terms are not far removed from the kindergarten. Small wonder then that our parliament and provincial assemblies occasionally resemble children's playgrounds. But children can be cunning, devious and wilful, highly manipulative and skilled at hiding that which they do not want to be seen. The HEC does not have the authority of statutory requirement for the submission of documents – it can only request, request again and send 'reminders'. These can safely be ignored in the knowledge that the EC is not going to move decisively against the potential fakers, and the whole matter can be batted around the system until the next election. At least we have achieved one thing – we have institutionalised mediocrity.








None in the government and not many in the ruling PPP were willing to stand by Salmaan Taseer as he faced criticism and even threats after having spoken in support of Aasia Bibi and described the blasphemy law as a 'black law.'

But after his assassination at the hands of his own police guard, his party is describing it as a political murder and glorifying him as a martyr. The PPP already has quite a few martyrs with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto leading the distinguished list and efforts are now underway to make a martyr out of the slain Punjab governor.

Sadly enough, no other death of a politician in Pakistan has stoked so much positive and negative emotions as that of the 66-year old Taseer. There cannot be a more painful sight for Taseer's family and well-wishers than seeing his killer Malik Mumtaz Qadri being showered with rose petals at the court, not only by ordinary people but also lawyers. Qadri's supporters have been visiting his Rawalpindi home to pay homage to him and his family and participants of the recent Karachi rally in support of the blasphemy law carried his garlanded portraits. In this particular picture snapped soon after he had surrendered to the police once he had pumped unchallenged 27 bullets into Taseer's body, the smile on Qadri's face is that of a contented man. Shehrbano Taseer, the grieving daughter of the late governor in her recent article used the word 'sinister' to describe his smile.

Sometime before his death, Taseer had complained that his party's government was "not willing to face religious fanaticism head on." Neither President Asif Ali Zardari nor Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani gathered courage to come to his rescue. The president kept quiet while the prime minister stressed it was the governor's personal point of view. Reminding everyone that he was a syed, he said his government had no intention to change the blasphemy law.

Law Minister Babar Awan at that stage was declaring that he would not countenance amendments to the blasphemy law. Interior Minister Rahman Malik, the man who talks too much causing problems and sometimes embarrassment for his government, later boasted that he would personally shoot anyone committing blasphemy.

The situation has changed after Taseer's tragic assassination. The country is more polarized than before and a dispassionate discussion on any issue, particularly those concerning religion, has become difficult and even dangerous. We were already not a very tolerant nation, but it seems the plethora of challenges facing our people and ranging from political instability to corruption and economic problems to energy crisis, lawlessness and militancy have sapped our energies and made us even more intolerant.

In such a volatile situation, amending the blasphemy law or removing procedural lacuna to prevent its misuse is now out of question. Those in favour of not touching the blasphemy law have taken the lead and held public rallies to warn against any amendments. The religious parties have closed ranks and shown their street power. They may not have much of a vote-bank, but organising public meetings and protests on religious and even political issues has always been their strength. The provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the secular and progressive ANP and PPP have an absolute majority and are in power since the 2008 general election, has unanimously adopted a resolution against changes in the blasphemy law. With one important, militancy-hit unit of the federation against amendments in the blasphemy law, the federal government's hands are now tied. Even otherwise, this government is known more for stepping back than standing firm on decisions that it often takes without much homework.

In comparison, the liberal and secular forces have managed small gatherings only and indulged in symbolic displays of solidarity with Taseer. Theirs is a feeble voice, though the editorial pages of the English press would make one think as if they have a powerful presence. Besides, those in favour of an open society where debate and introspection is allowed are now on the defensive and somewhat scared of taking a stand. It cannot be safe to talk publicly about sensitive issues in a country where Taseer was killed not for blaspheming the Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), but for questioning the provisions of the blasphemy law.

It isn't easy getting authentic figures in Pakistan, but it is commonly alleged by civil society activists that the blasphemy law is misused and that members of the minority communities are its major victims. This doesn't mean that Muslims haven't been accused of blasphemy. In fact, more Muslims have faced such accusations, followed by Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus. More than 70 per cent cases were reported in Punjab and some of the accused (32 according to one figure) were extrajudicially killed while under-trial or after acquittal. Judges hearing blasphemy cases are under pressure and some are known to have faced threats.

Supporters of the blasphemy law argue that miscarriage of justice also takes place due to other laws, but attention is focused on the blasphemy law for ulterior motives. Some of the hardliners among the religious circles have described blasphemy law as a divine law and, therefore, untouchable. As the punishment for blaspheming the Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) is death, they have been arguing and publicly declaring that Taseer deserved his fate and that nobody should feel sorrow for him. This explains the fact that some clerics declined or offered excuses when asked to lead Taseer's funeral prayers. And mind you, the more extreme positions in this instance have been taken by Barelvi clerics, who were being praised as moderate compared to the Deobandis and even seen as allies of the government in the fight against the militancy inspired by Deobandi preachers. Not long ago, government functionaries were courting Barelvi and Sufi clerics, who were issuing fatwas (decrees) against suicide bombing and Taliban militants.

A new element has been inserted in the debate following the allegation by Maulana Fazlur Rahman and leaders of other Islamic parties that it was part of the US agenda to amend the blasphemy law as the Western powers wanted to change and dilute Islamic laws. This would make it even more difficult to consider any changes in the blasphemy law because anything that is associated with the US and the West in Pakistan triggers controversy and evokes strong opposition. The US, on its part, would do well to stay away from this debate because its support for changes in the blasphemy law would damage the cause of those who genuinely and honestly feel that it needs to be amended to prevent its misuse.

Aasia Bibi, the 45-year old Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges by a lower court, has been in the Sheikhupura jail located near her village for over a year and her legal battle isn't over. This is the prison where Taseer visited her last November along with his wife and daughter and publicly declared that there had been a miscarriage of justice in her case and that he would request President Zardari to pardon her. It was indeed strange for a governor to go to the jail, question the legal system, describe the blasphemy law as a black law and then deride the mullahs publicly and on his Tweeter site. But Taseer was different and defiant, never afraid of saying all that he considered right. He was also somewhat careless and unmindful of the consequences of his words and actions. Still he hadn't committed a sin that deserved a death sentence. In the heat of the moment when emotions are running high, one's words could be misconstrued as it seems to have happened in his case. The ultra-liberal Taseer tried to interfere with the law of the land and paid a heavy price. The ultra-religious Qadri, only 26 and influenced by the emotional debate on an issue as sensitive and combustible as blasphemy, took the law into his hand and committed murder.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim






Pukhtuns are caught in the crossfire among various players in the war ostensibly waged for eliminating Al-Qaeda and extremists forces in this region. The civil administration of FATA and the military and civil armed forces have been pushing Pukhtuns to offer the ultimate sacrifices for vague and contradictory objectives of the state. On the contrary, the extremists too expect Pukhtuns to support causes they champion. Since an overwhelming majority of tribesmen has been resisting taking sides in this war, unfortunately, they are put through trials and tribulations by competing forces on both sides.

Since the inception of this war, Pukhtun lands have been contested grounds between the government and the extremist elements. When the extremist take hold of an area, they start purging the area of people who are suspected of being loyal to the government and they are either killed or displaced. There are people within the Pukhtun community who use the extremists for personal gain. Such areas under the extremists' control get affected as collateral damage because of the extremists' activities to gain firm control of the area and the military's counter-push to reclaim lost territory.


In tribal areas under government control, the security establishment in concurrence with the civil administration coerces the tribal Pukhtuns through administrative, judicial and financial leverages for raising public lashkars against outlaws and extremists. The tribal chieftains obliged the administration many times at heavy loss to life and hearth, but such lashkars have failed to be a credible bulwark against extremist forces. After raising lashkars, the government has been a silent spectator once the extremists target organisers and leaders of such lashkar.

Due to the government's unwillingness or inability to protect Pukhtuns, the majority of tribesmen migrated to cities like Islamabad, Karachi and Rawalpindi and even went abroad. But the government chased them into the cities and arrested them and sent them back to their respective agencies. Their lives are of no value in this war. The pillars of Pukhtun social and cultural structures have been irreparably destroyed.

This ambience of coercion, confusion and cluelessness reigns supreme in Pukhtun lands. The cherished social values of trust and dependability have become extinct thus reinforcing suspicion and aversion even to initiatives for genuine amelioration. This aversion and distrust is not entirely Pukhtuns' fault, as the evils in our midst today first introduced genuine religious and political recipes for hope and development. They had trusted the anti-US mullahs of the MMA in the hope of heavenly peace, not knowing that these elements would strengthen the forces of destruction in Pukhtun lands. Betrayed, they voted for the nationalists and pro-US politicos (ANP & PPP) at the centre and the province in the hope of peace. This bet did not pay off either, as liberals and nationalists are indulged in unprecedented corruption and bad governance.

The real power centres in Islamabad and Rawalpindi don't care less about Pukhtuns' 'useless' problems. Stopping blood and destruction in Pukhtun lands has not been their priority. For example the governor of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa had established a "Strategic Oversight Council" two years ago to monitor the military operations and reconstructions in Malakand Division and adjacent tribal areas. PM Gilani was quick to grab chairmanship of the committee, but not quick enough to hold a single meeting of this important body in the past two years. After repeated requests of the governor and Corp Commander Peshawar, the PM was kind enough to spare sometime for meeting of the council. This all important meeting was suspended due to political activities of the PM in the wake of the MQM's and JUI (F)'s decision to quit the coalition government. Is this not an indication how serious the government is about the issues of war and peace in Pukhtun lands?

Tragically the war waged on Pukhtun lands is far from over. A few successes against the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan have boosted General David Petraeus's moral to continue with unabated military pursuit of the Afghan problem. Pakistani security mandarins are convinced of their victory while the Taliban are certain of the US military defeat in Afghanistan. Thus all three players are up in arms to enlarge the theatre of war in Pukhtun lands. But our rulers have no time to think about the consequences of these developments.

Pukhtuns lives and hearth are being consumed as a stock of the war on terror by the Taliban, US and Pakistan. They have earned the unfortunate distinction of being extremists the world over. In cities like Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore, including other towns and cities, Pukhtuns are asuumed responsible for all terror acts. They are indiscriminately patted down at security check points in cities throughout the country. Their mere appearance raises suspicion among the security personnel including police patrols that waste no time to surround all cars with Khyber Pukhtunkhwa registration numbers as suspected.

Discrimination, rejection and destruction by the 'national institutions' have not dented Pukhtuns' loyalty to this country. No movement or idea for mutiny against the state has gained currency in their lands; neither the extremists nor other destructive forces in Pukhtun lands talk of creating a separate entity. The Pakistani flag has never been disrespected or lowered in Waziristan nor can anyone dare to do so in Mohmand agency. Butcan this one-sided love continue indefinitely? How long will Pukhtuns remain a subject of humiliation and their lands serve as a laboratory for experiments by the Pakistani establishment and world powers?


The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem.







When delivering speeches to Muslim audiences in pre-Partition India our leaders would have seen eyes full of hope. But they would have also realised that, with the limited resources available to the new country, bringing the Pakistani masses to the point at which they were equal to the task of taking the reins of their own destiny in their hands would be an enormous challenge. They would have hoped that those few who were wealthy and educated would carry forward the task of nation-building, and with a sense of duty.

It seems to me that 62 years after the death of our Founding Father, there has not been a greater stem in the realisation of that sense of duty among the privileged lot as there is today, particularly the young. This trend makes itself most obvious in the discussions of the Facebook Generation of Pakistanis, each with his or her own take on the latest political happenings in the country. The views exchanged, at least among those on my "friends" list, included wave upon wave of comments on the assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer.

Much like a scrapbook, Facebook provides the opportunity to its users to create their own electronic versions of the same. Classmates or colleagues can add to this "scrapbook" online filling it up with details, hobbies, latest gossip, photos, etc. With time, the number of online friends grows, and so does the amount of social activity on the online scrapbook. The owner of the scrapbook, or Facebook page, can appraise Facebook friends about the latest happenings in his or her life. The information can range from the most banal: "...burnt my chicken karhai today," to the flaunting: " Wimbledon, watching Federer destroy Roddick...," to more serious matters which would include statements made up of a combination of the following phrases: "...Govn Taseer gunned down...toleration...our society...mullahs...liberals," etc.

These "wall posts," as they are called, also provide the opportunity for friends to comment on them. The karhai message would see messages of mock sympathy, the Wimbledon message would be acknowledged by comments sharing similar experiences matching the original with yet greater ostentation or complete indifference. But the discussions on Salmaan Taseer's assassination reveal the huge disparity and dangerous disconnect from one segment of an entire generation of Pakistanis to that of another.

And while the thoughts of this Facebook Generation will be increasingly reflected by their comments on these social networks, they will undoubtedly become the trendsetters of the types of advertisements we see on TV, content of discussions on the talk shows, influencing all other types of media bombardment on the print, radio and TV audience of Pakistan. This, obviously, because of the concentration of wealth in this segment and for its revenue generating potential from advertising.


But the Facebook Generation of Pakistan is only a certain segment of the present population of 180 million Pakistanis. First and foremost, these Facebook users have a computer in their homes. Out of the 180 million, and according to, as of June 2009, Pakistan had 18,500,000 active internet users. A few million of these will be the Facebook Generation, and assuming all of them actively participated in the discussions on the assassination, we find that 10 per cent of the population were discussing the the act's merits (and lack thereof), intention, motivation and consequence of a person – the perpetrator – who is obviously from the remaining 90 per cent of the population.

It is sometimes amusing to read the contents of these discussions which expect, from the likes of Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the same level of tolerance, moderation, goodwill, liberal spirit, good manners, civic sense, decency and the "true" spirit and teachings of Islam, when so many of these qualities are left wanting in themselves. And they hold such expectations of the majority, not realising the extreme difference in the quality of education, access to sources of knowledge, and access to the basic amenities of life. Having been schooled with kids from roughly similar standards of living for all their academic lives, in Pakistan and abroad, they tend to think that life is all honky dory for the majority of Pakistanis.

I carry the burden of being from this 10 per cent of the Pakistani population. And, if there exists a Day of Judgement, then to be from this 10 per cent surrounded by a sea of poverty is truly a burden that a believing person must recognise. And, sure, a lot of good is also coming from this minority: I, for one, came back to Pakistan solely for the purpose of serving my country in my humble capacity.

But please hold your applause. Frankly, the good work and patriotic intentions of people coming back to this country, and especially their philanthropic work, is severely overrated. If one has come back to serve this country, one has merely done one's duty the same way a soldier would do his duty during a war. That such acts by the privileged have become a celebration is a sad reflection of our times where hard work, effort and minimal sacrifice for our country, without the expectation of a financial reward or a promotion or acknowledgement through fame, has become an odd commodity.

There are more and a lot more Pakistanis from the less privileged majority helping the poor than people from the privileged minority. Unfortunately, the patriotic or public-minded circles within the 10 per cent tend to end up seeing themselves and their charity work as the "be all and end all" of our country. There is no doubt about the role this minority can play in steering its destiny, but it must first begin with a recognition of the extreme difference that exists in the standards of living between its inhabitants; and our luck being one of those who were discussing Britney Spears during lunchtime at school, or playing "Counterstrike" in gaming dens while others our age were laying bricks or recycling trash to make a living for their family.

From this realisation should stem our sense of duty to the masses. Philanthropy and works of charity should not be the primary consequence of this realisation. From the 10 per cent should come the new political ideas and activities, business risks and courageous entrepreneurship, scientific and social research work, civil and judicial administration; all within the framework and context of the issues that confront Pakistan today, and in years to come.

Rather than solely criticising the acts emanating from the 90 per cent, the Facebook segment of the Pakistani generation must live up to their Quaid's expectations. This burden falls directly on our shoulders. And if the Quaid-e-Azam, with his few men of talent gave us a new country, imagine, then, what the present lot can do for the masses and for ourselves if we simply get going. Surely, only then will we have less to criticise about.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:







While delivering a lecture in Islamabad, US Ambassador Cameron Munter unfurled a few tricks from his mission statement: "We appear to be intrusive (in financial and governance matters of the host country) because we care (!). We are the largest donor. Our aid comes as outright grant of assistance which is different from loans". He went on to say ,"Yes, we are demanding", adding that although Washington might have been bluntly saying what it believed should have been done, but it came with a "measure of respect" (thank you my lord!). He insisted: "We will continue to be this way".

One fails to come across a parallel case of foreign intrusiveness in the affairs of another country to an extent and bluntness of such magnitude. If aid were to be made the basis of interference, would the US ambassador accredited to Israel say this to its Middle Eastern client that is the largest recipient of their financial assistance? The diplomatic faux pas that it may be, it goes well beyond the permissible parameters in interstate relations which are always handled with a fair amount of candour. No such decency could be deciphered in the ambassador's audacious critique. He spoke like a viceroy would to a conquered state. Any country, with even a modicum of honour and integrity, would have immediately summoned the errant ambassador and asked for an explanation, better still, given him the marching orders.

At a different level, this convoluted confession is a reflection of the respect, or a lack of it, that the US holds for the host government. It is a relationship that could only exist between a master and his slave, or between a feudal and his serf. It is not a relationship that would exist between two sovereign states. It also reflects the extent to which the incumbent leadership made depraved compromises to facilitate their ascent. Let's not forget that, alongside General Musharraf, the US was the principal sponsor of the criminal National Reconciliation Ordinance that facilitated the writing off of numerous cases of alleged crimes and paved the way for the PPP leadership to come into power. While the US has already got its pound of flesh a million times over, there is no satiating its lust for more. This lust has often found indiscriminate expression in inhuman and brutal actions across the landscapes of Vietnam, Cambodia, South America, Iraq and Afghanistan; but these countries refused to submit. While many of them fought the aggressor, the others are in the process of doing so. The US dare not lecture any of these countries. It does so only in Pakistan because it knows that we'll not fight back. We have sold out soul to the devil itself.

Enveloped in this disgraceful environment, the domestic political scene continued to unfurl as predicted. To get the Mutthida Qaumi Movement (MQM) back, the prime minister went to their citadel in Karachi. To further shore up his position, he called up leaders of all parliamentary parties and solicited their support. He ended up by phoning the PML-N Chief Mian Nawaz Sharif and undertaking to work for his charter of demands. A four-member committee has since been constituted to oversee the implementation process and outcome.

One simply fails to understand how that would be possible. Having claimed that he is an impregnable defence for the president, will the prime minister agree to improve his governance? Will he agree to sack his corrupt ministers and other officials and undertake initiatives to eliminate corruption, visible marks of which can be traced to his office and that of the president of the country? Will he proceed with implementing all Supreme Court injunctions including the one on NRO and write a letter to the Swiss courts to reopen the cases against Mr Zardari? Will he initiate steps to get the looted billions back into the national coffers? Will he order a transparent enquiry into numerous scandals that have hit the national scene since the PPP-led coalition assumed charge? Will he replace the corrupt heads of the national institutions with people of honour and integrity? Will he appoint a new chairman for the National Accountability Bureau and introduce an effective and transparent accountability mechanism? Will he constitute an independent Election Commission? One strongly believes that he has neither the will nor the power to undertake any of the promised steps. He has not done it in the past three years. He is not likely to do it in the future.

The nation is being led up the alley of darkness yet again – all in the name of sustaining a system that has effectively lost all its promise and transparency. This system is a misnomer for democracy. No matter how one looks at it, it does not pass the test of being democratic even in its most rudimentary form. It is a dictatorship of the corrupt that is being perpetuated through acts that are lacking in any good intention for the honour of the country or the welfare of its people.

The increasing US intrusiveness and its venomous tentacles, a corrupt, inefficient and ineffective government and an opposition smitten with disunity and a misplaced paranoia of intervention by the army – all make for a continuation of the incumbent circus. Amidst the imbroglio of rising prices, deteriorating law and order situation, rising ethnic and religious strife and a government that has abdicated its writ to the wolves, the prospects of a change through peaceful means are fast diminishing and there appears no alternative to a testament in red.

The writer is a political analyst. Email: raoof







Salmaan Taseer's assassination and the response it elicited across the country, especially from our mullahs, exposes a state and a society that has made its peace with being intolerant and bigoted. Most humans do not rejoice death. But our mullah is a breed apart. It doesn't matter whether Salmaan Taseer was a good man or not. It doesn't matter whether his stance on Pakistan's blasphemy law was correct or not. It doesn't matter what role he played in the politics of the country. It doesn't matter whether the brand of religion that inspired the governor's assassin is a true reflection of Islam or not. What matters is that the constitutional head of Punjab was violently killed for holding on to his personal beliefs and for expressing them (both rights deemed fundamental by the Constitution of Pakistan) and self-proclaimed flag-bearers of Islam in our country rejoice over the brutal killing of a fellow citizen.

What matters is that a majority of Pakistanis are comfortable with the idea that the state should be responsible for enforcing religion (as opposed to facilitating religion or staying neutral). What matters is that a conformist consensus exists within this 'land of the pure' that makes it acceptable for some to impose personal religious beliefs on others by persuasion, intimidation or violence. What matters is that crossing the boundaries of law and indulging in criminal activity, including brutalising a fellow Pakistani, has minimal culpability attached to it in public eye, so long as it is done in the good name of religion. What matters is that tolerance for divergent religious views is virtually absent and a violent response to any perceived offence to one's religious sentiment caused by another's speech or actions is either viewed as a mark of religious distinction or at least something expected and natural.

What matters is that the state and its law-enforcement agencies have a go-slow policy when it comes to hate crimes committed in the name of religion. What matters is that the manner in which the law is interpreted and enforced provides no deterrence to those holding extremist views and freely engaging in criminal incitement. What matters is that through our tolerance of bigotry, prejudice and criminality we are complicit in creating a society where public representatives condemning the governor's murder are cautious or fearful and those callously celebrating it are blatant.

The phenomenon of contraction and expansion of religion has been brilliantly articulated by Abdolkarim Saroush. Pakistan's misfortune has been that the brand of religion that expanded during Ziaul Haq's regime was ritualistic, regressive and intolerant, and consequently expansion of religiosity went hand-in-glove with entrenchment of self-righteous intolerance. Hate crimes will continue to be perpetrated in the name of religion because our state feels legally obliged to enforce religion and our society fails to distinguish religion, as divinely ordained, from religious knowledge, which is produced by humans. How does reiteration of the claim that Mumtaz Qadri's crime is also a sin in view of true Islam and that the mullahs celebrating murder do not understand the genuine teachings of Islam help things?

What comprises the true form of Islam will always remain a subjective assessment. So long as we believe that faith can and should be forced upon a populace and that the state has the right and the obligation to do so, we will continue to nurture a vigilante culture where individuals feels encouraged to play God's hand if the state is seen faltering at discharging its legal and moral obligation. Such socio-legal context cultivates and fuels the-victim-deserved-it thinking that is all too prevalent within our society. Why should the expected threshold of religious sensitivity be so low that any provocation immediately incenses citizens into physical violence and criminal behaviour?

How have we come to internalise this degenerate conception of rule of law wherein the defence of temporary insanity and minimal personal responsibility automatically comes to the rescue of anyone indulging in criminality and violence in the name of religion? Have we collectively slumbered into an extremist society without even realising our downslide into extremism? Can we honestly claim that the mullah brigade has no significant influence in Pakistan merely on the basis of the votes it polls during the electoral process? The manner in which it has hijacked and controlled the debate over reform of our flawed blasphemy law is a clear manifestation of its socio-political and policy relevance.

The state and our security agencies might have patronised the mullah because he has been providing cannon fodder for the jihadi project. The mainstream political parties happily work with the mullah because his vote and support is the most easily purchasable commodity within the political arena. But such patronage and support for the mullah has come at a huge cost to the society. In this bargain we have handed over the corrupt, decadent, ignorant and visionless mullah complete monopoly over the purpose and role of religion within the state and the society. Consequently we have extinguished the vital public space required to have a healthy and open debate about the role of religion in our country as well as the meaning, intent and purpose of divine scripture.

While Pakistan has seen significant evolution of political consciousness, especially due to the civil society's struggle against Musharraf's dictatorship and support for the rule of law movement, we have not had a simultaneous development of social consciousness. We have not even begun to acknowledge that many of the ills within our state and our polity could not have crept in or continued to proliferate without our individual and collective encouragement, acquiescence or apathy. The argument that the violence and terror that we witness around us has nothing to do with Islam might help us sleep better at night, but such self-deception doesn't help our understanding of the problem at hand and consequently doesn't even take us in the direction of finding solutions.

The intolerance that we witness around us is supported by a certain vision of our religion articulated and propagated by our mullah brigade. The contraction of intolerance that we need will not happen without a contraction of the intolerant brand of religiosity being preached and practiced in Pakistan. Just as ordinary people rallied behind the conception of constitutionalism, democracy and rule of law to make the first phase of the lawyers' movement succeed, ordinary people will need to support and strengthen a movement for social tolerance and liberty in Pakistan. In the absence of such mass demand for tolerance and liberty, our politicos (even the self-defined liberals) will continue to chicken out when confronted with tidal waves of bigotry. Our mainstream political parties will not lead us to such social change. They will only join in once it is popular.

As a first step we need to wrestle back the public space for debate that we voluntarily surrendered. And for this we will require our thought leaders to exhibit courage. If we choose to be bullied into silence we will be doing so at our own peril. Then we need to demand that the state enforce the law without considerations of fear or favour. Unless those appalled by those showering petals at Qadri outside the court house show up in greater numbers than the bigots and demand that the killer be treated as a killer and seek justice for Salmaan Taseer, the state and its functionaries might not exhibit the courage and the resolve to stand up to the bigots. And ultimately we will need to reconsider Articles 2, 2A and 227 of the Constitution and the interaction between state and religion that they stipulate.








Few people realise how critical education is for discouragement of terrorism and militancy, though there is been some soul searching of late as to what is lacking in our present education system which has made Pakistani society more intolerant and violent. The liberal intelligentsia puts the onus on the religious seminaries for the present violence in our society. But this attitude ignores elements of otherwise secular education which are capable of creating a militant mentality.

Among the various institutions providing education in Pakistan are the cadet colleges. In Pakistan, the cadet colleges typically cater to education to children of the elite and the more affluent members of society. In addition, the doors of these colleges are closed to female students.

According to a study of Centre for Peace and Development Initiative, Rs1.5 billion out of Rs8.1 billion of the total development allocation for the Federal Education Division in 2009-10 was earmarked for building 24 cadet colleges across the country. One cadet college costs around Rs500 millions. The aim of a cadet college is to produce young men who can go on to lead the army and the country. Needless to say, the students in these institutions are trained not for the pursuit of peace but in the science of war.

Another factor creating hurdles in the creation of a peaceful society is the way we set our priorities in our education system. During the last ten years Pakistan has witnessed the mushrooming of new universities in the private and government sectors. Most of these institutions offer courses which enable students to get lucrative jobs in the market. There is no denying the fact that we need professionals in the field of engineering, medicine, Information technology and trade and commerce, but it should not be at the expense of the social sciences and the humanities.

Most of the newly established institutions of higher education do not offer courses on sociology, anthropology, philosophy, literature and other disciplines. This is one reason why we are witnessing lack of direction and moral anarchy in our society. This has dire repercussions on democracy and society.

Unfortunately, this trend of decreasing emphasis on the humanistic aspects of education is not confined to Pakistan. Martha Nussbaum, in her book, "Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities", laments: "Nations all over the world will soon be producing generations of useful machines, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticise tradition, and understand the significance of another person's sufferings and achievements. The future of the world's democracies hangs in the balance."

Professionals – like doctors, engineers, businessmen, software engineers – play a crucial role in the development of society, but it is the people trained in the social sciences and the humanities who help diagnose the ailments of society and show us direction. Our society is in turmoil because our education system produces either potential soldiers or automatons for the market economy. In the absence of the loadstar of the humanities our society is a rudderless ship floundering in the tumultuous ocean of globalisation. It is therefore important to curb the herd mentality of producing cogs for the machinery of war and the market, and to invest in creation of minds that can help establish a peaceful and pluralistic society.

The writer is associated with a rights-based organization in Islamabad. Email: azizalidad








A REPORT appearing in this newspaper gives an idea of how hard earned taxpayers' money is being wasted due to lack of vision and foresight. According to the report, the national exchequer loses over Rs 205 million per annum due to overlapping of just four departments in energy sector ie Alternative Energy Development Board, Pakistan council of Renewable Energy, Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan and National Energy Conservation Centre.

This is just a tip of an iceberg, as there are scores of departments both at Federal and provincial levels where duplicate work is involved and their merger could save billions of rupees of this poor country. Creation of this and that department and body has been going on ever since the creation of Pakistan and the incumbent Government too lavishly resorted to this practice by creating new ministries and divisions just to accommodate demands of more berths by its own members and that of the coalition parties. But it seems the thinking of all parties is just the same as quota was fixed for appointment of Cabinet Members at Federal and Provincial levels under the 18th Amendment but its application was deferred till after the next general elections despite the fact that the country was passing through a difficult period economically and financially, requiring all-encompassing measures to effect economy. Of late, PML(N) Quaid Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has proposed a 10-point agenda to the Government, which includes among other things, a suggestion to cut down the number of ministers and bring down government expenditure by at least thirty per cent through restructuring of white elephants that digest over 250 billion rupees annually. There is, therefore, legitimacy in the demand of MNS to undertake restructuring of these state-owned entities on a priority basis but we would urge the authorities concerned that the restructuring should not mean grant of more resources to these organisations to spend on questionable purchases and so-called modernisation that is going on for decades without any improvement on ground. WAPDA, PIA, Civil Aviation Authority, Pakistan Steel, Utility Stores and many other organisations have become unmanageable despite huge potential to become profitable ventures only because of political interference, overstaffing, corruption, theft and lack of vision to run them on commercial lines. We would, therefore, expect the Government and the Opposition to join hands in hammering out a viable strategy that enables these national assets to become gainful enterprises.








AFTER Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Ltd (SNGPL), the Sui Southern Gas Pipeline Ltd (SSGC) too has started resorting to load management to cope with the growing gap between demand and supply of gas during winter. Managing Director of the company told newsmen in Karachi that in view of the shortage, power sector has being asked to reduce its load to help cope with the situation.

Situation in areas fed by SSGC network is much better as not to speak of domestic consumers, the industry and CNG sector too are getting regular supplies and there are no protest demonstrations and agitation as we have been witnessing in the Punjab where even domestic consumers and house wives have been forced to come out on roads because of unprecedented shortfall in supply of gas. However, reduction in supplies to KESC means that the situation in that region too would aggravate with the passage of time if timely measures were not taken to address the problem. We believe that the present crisis has erupted merely because of bad planning as the planners and policy-makers failed to visualise the growing demand and take steps to increase supplies. Apart from rapid growth in home distribution network, the successive governments encouraged transport to convert to CNG and provided incentives for the purpose without realising whether or not the country has the necessary supplies to cope with the resultant increased demand. Similarly, CNG stations were allowed to open here and there without giving consideration to the availability of the required quantities of gas and as a consequence they are now playing havoc with the domestic consumers. Industries have been getting gas for nine months and under the contract they are obliged to make alternative arrangements for three months of winter but this time vested interests did not allow this to happen and as a consequence the common man is suffering. We would therefore urge the authorities concerned that apart from initiating measures to economise the use of gas work should be undertaken on a war footing to complete the projects for import of gas from Iran and Turkmenistan.








INDIA'S political and military leadership and media continue to raise the bogey of a threat from China and the latest allegation has come from the Indian Army Chief General V K Singh who told reporters that Chinese troops had threatened Indian workers in an area of the Himalayas claimed by both countries.

General Singh's statement is full of contradictions as he stated that the incident took place in September or October while as Army Chief he must have been in the knowledge about the timings of any such incident if it had actually happened. It is not the first accusation of its kind as New Delhi periodically plays this type of stories for highlighting them in Western media to curry favour with the US, which itself is worried about the rising Chinese economic and military power. The Indian perception of China as a security threat has been for quite long an important element of its security doctrine, although Chinese leaders have repeatedly asserted that China neither sees India as a threat nor does it pose any threat to India. India relates its nuclear weapons and other military development programmes to the perceived threat from China, despite the fact that China never resorted to nuclear sabre-rattling against India. In fact the Indian military build-up is aimed at pressurising the neighbouring countries with whom New Delhi has unresolved disputes. On the other hand the Chinese have interacted with smaller countries of South Asia by helping them and never used their presence to influence the security and foreign policies of these countries. That is the reason why trade, investment and economic cooperation relations occupy top priority in China's approach towards its neighbouring countries. In this background, there is no real threat to India from China, yet as part of its well considered strategy, New Delhi continues to play up Beijing's military strength and so-called incursions to generate sympathy and fleece the US and other Western countries. We are sure that no saner elements in the West would pay heed to Indian propaganda as China's priority is economic development.








Theoretically governance is defined as the manner in which political and administrative power is exercised in the management of a country's social and economic resources for development. In the case of Pakistan this need not be the case as political and administrative power can be and is in fact utilized for the economic and financial well being of the leadership in power. Good governance requires a vision and an executive and administrative understanding and capacity to utilize public revenues for human development such as education and health. Measured on this yardstick the government of President Zardari does not get even a passing grade. Good governance is held to be an essential pre-condition for pro-poor growth as it establishes the regulatory and legal framework essential for the sound functioning of land, labor, capital and other factor markets. This agenda is missing from President Zardari's radar screen.

The overthrow of an elected government in 1999, the scrapping of the Constitution and the adoption of other unlawful actions clearly established that governance including adherence to the rule of law was the country's foremost problem. The discontinuity in the democratic process accelerated corruption. Political instability resulted in disastrous consequences for the economy. For the first time in Pakistan's chequered history, poverty reared its ugly head. Notwithstanding the import of private banker Shaukat Aziz as the country's Finance Minister, and the installation of another World Bank import as the Governor, State Bank of Pakistan business confidence continued to wane, economic growth continued to worsen, and the country's debt profile continued rising despite major debt relief granted by the donors in the wake of 9/11. The rich began to grow richer. Nearly one third of the country's population fell below the poverty line.

The right to education and health is a basic entitlement. Development allocations in these sectors showed no improvement. With the introduction of devolution, there was a visible decline in the governance abilities. The deterioration is evident from the fact that funds allocated for education and health could not be fully utilized. The surrender of scarce funds at the end of the financial year was not treated as criminal negligence. No action was ever taken against those failing to fully perform this nation building task. Corruption flourished in the delivery of public services. There were hospitals and basic health units without medicines. Medicines meant for these health facilities were regularly sold in the market. The existence of ghost schools was endemic. Salaries were drawn regularly. The teachers never showed up for work. Artificial enrollment reports were sent to those who cared to receive them. Women and girls were the worst to suffer in this situation. The rich could afford to send their children for studies abroad or in expensive English medium private institutions at home. Children of the poor had nowhere to go. Those who have somehow managed to go on to colleges and universities are ill-motivated and abhor the acquisition of knowledge. Pakistan has rapidly fallen behind in the human development index.

Poverty is considered intolerable where strong state institutions exist. There was a serious undermining of state institutions when in the name of devolution, the age old and well established institution of the Deputy Commissioner and the Divisional Commissioner was abolished. Governance took a nose dive. The familiar and functional police system was also tinkered with in the name of reforms. The lack of public confidence in state institutions, including the police and judiciary, eroded their legitimacy and directly contributed to worsening conditions of poverty, public security and law and order. The present Government has been unable to carry thorough reforms to restore the legitimacy and performance of many institutions that are in desperate need of rehabilitation. These include the executive, administrative, and magisterial organs of the state. Its focus of attention is in promoting cronyism and ignoring their rapacious tendencies.

Investment helps generate employment and alleviate poverty. A stable and well functioning democratic system and an independent judiciary is fundamental to the creation of an enabling environment for domestic and foreign investment to take place.. The lack of transparency in public sector planning, budgeting and allocation of resources in Pakistan has ensured that those who do not constitute the political elite (read the poor and the vulnerable) are unable to make political leaders and the Government responsive to their needs or accountable to promises. This has led to a supply driven approach to service provision, with development priorities being determined not by potential beneficiaries but by an inefficient, dishonest and incompetent bureaucracy and a political elite which appears to be completely out of touch with reality.

In order to tackle the rising trend of poverty, the government of President Zardari should re-arrange its priorities and assign improvement in governance as the foremost task. This is a key determinant of long term poverty. Poor governance tends to exacerbate the vulnerability of the lowest income groups in times such as those that have been ushered in by President Zardari"s government.

—The writer is a member of the former Civil Service of Pakistan.








US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter has been reported saying that the United States has a right to interfere in Pakistan's economic and governance affairs as the US is the main fund provider to Pakistan. Ambassador Munter is not alone with this opinion. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has displayed the same attitude when she was criticizing the Pakistani government for going back on the raise of petrol prices – an entirely internal affair of Pakistan. And there have been many more such occasions where representatives of the US have criticized or even interfered into different aspects of the economic, foreign or defense policies of Pakistan. Why this is done just because our rulers and opposition have subjugated them before US functionaries. In justifying his interference and that of Ms. Clinton which had drawn quite some negative comments in Pakistan Ambassador Munter said that the United States was providing the largest amount of aid to Pakistan, therefore, it has right to interfere in economic and governance affairs.

This argument of Ambassador Munter is a very telling one and it should be analyzed carefully by our policy makers. What he is actually saying is that by giving aid to you we are purchasing your sovereignty and thus acquire the right of deciding how and where it should be spent. Now the US is not giving any aid with regard to keeping petrol prices at a certain level. That again means that by giving aid to Pakistan in one sector of economy, education or wherever else they reserve the right for themselves to comment and interfere in any other field of economic, political or military decision making of the government.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned from this: First, hundreds of states in Europe or elsewhere give aid to countries in the third world but none would venture to take over the government or decision making like the US does. Secondly, surely the US does give some kind of aid to India also. Would they dare to refer to India in the same way? When the Obama government decided to send Ambassador Holbrook as special representative for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, India protested and immediately the name of India was taken out from Holbrook's assignment. Thirdly, this case clearly shows what the intention of the US is in Pakistan: to make it a launching pad for their loosing war in Afghanistan and when the time comes that they will withdraw because they can't afford the war effort any more, they will then blame Pakistan for it. Because they think they have purchased us so now they can do with us what ever they want. This attitude amply proves that power not only corrupts, but it also goes into the head of wielders, and in their intoxication they then try to spread their tentacles to bring in more nations into their suzerainty and sphere of influence as slaves, and that is what the United States is desperately trying with a looming challenge threatening their financial and economic system because credibility of dollar as world currency has been challenged by China and others and a war of currencies is in the offing. In an effort to reduce the US budget deficit it has been recently declared by Secretary Defense Robert Gates that American troops will leave Afghanistan by 2014 to control the financial recession looming over their head.

The world at the moment is in the grip of policy of isolation, America has succeeded to some extent in isolating Pakistan with allegations of harbouring terrorism and fundamentalists in the West, they are at the same time trying to divide our nation into secular and religious groups so as to pitch them against each other in the times to come to serve the American vested interest. Blasphemy law in Pakistan has been made a bone of contention for the West while they have completely forgotten that Law of Blasphemy was first introduced in UK to protect Christian faith, from the 16th century to the mid-19th century, blasphemy against Christianity applied mainly to the Church of England where it was held as an offence against common law. Blasphemy was also used as a legal instrument to persecute atheists, Unitarians, and others. All blasphemies against God, including denying His being or providence, all contumelious reproaches about Jesus Christ, all profane scoffing at the Holy Scriptures, and exposing any part thereof to contempt or ridicule, were punishable by the temporal courts with death, imprisonment, corporal punishment and fine. In 1656, the Quaker James Naylor suffered flogging, branding and the piercing of his tongue by a red-hot poker. Perhaps then there was no concept of human rights in the West, while Islam had laid stress on dignity of man and respect for humanity 1400 years ago.

The Blasphemy Act 1698 in the West enacted that if any person, educated in or having made profession of the Christian religion, should by writing, preaching, teaching or advised speaking, deny that the members of the Holy Trinity were God, or should assert that there is more than one god, or deny the Christian religion to be true, or the Holy Scriptures to be of divine authority, he should, upon the first offence, be rendered incapable of holding any office or place of trust, and for the second incapable of bringing any action, of being guardian or executor, or of taking a legacy or deed of gift, and should suffer three years imprisonment without bail. In 1927, the British colonial rulers of the sub-continent made it a criminal offence to commit "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious belief".

In 1947 when Pakistan came into being our national motto was " Appney Watan Mein apna heiy Subkuch Piyare." This slogan with our becoming frontline ally of America has been turned into " Appney Watan mein apna kuch bhi Nahi heiy Piyare". In 2001when the War against Terror was thrust on Pakistan, our export earning was $ 9 Billion and we were receiving $ 7 Billion as remittance. Our Import bill was $11 Billion still $5 Billion were left in the national kitty. Since 2002 the cost of Pakistan involvement in War on terror is estimated around $ 100 Billion out of which only 6 to 8 billion dollars have been re-imbursed to us in five to six years during Musharraf regime, while the 3 year old Kerry-Lugar-Bremen package has spread into thin air and our sovereignty has been compromised for nothing. These are unexplainable facts, which make the readers think as to how our leaders have digested this out burst of Americans, when Prime Minister has declared to take back the recent increase in petroleum prices. There was an in house struggle going on JUI has parted ways, MQM ministers had tendered resignation, announced to sit on opposition benches in parliament and PML (N) gave an ultimatum with 11 point agenda for reforms to be accepted in 72 hours to tackle corruption, nepotism and mis-management in government expenditure. Prime Minister Gillani announced he will focus on those points given by PML (N) and as in the past Nawaz league decided to join hands with the government knowing fully the past experience of betrayals as alleged by PML (N) leadership under a well planned game of musical chairs. Miseries of common men in the street are hardly of any importance for all and sundry.

This American policy of adventurism is going to damage much more the world community than Pakistan. Little do they realize that the affects of this will be more startling then the outcome of Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which have strangulated their own economy worst? In 64 years that Pakistan has come into existence, if America thinks that we can not bear the brunt of their explosive proxy war policy and we will start acting like a timed puppet, our deluged leaders may do so but the nation will not until and unless concrete steps are taken in this direction.

There are two alternatives arising from this scenario. One, the US should decide to include Pakistan as the fifty first state into the US and Mr. Munter can be made Viceroy of Pakistan and all his US embassy staff and the different 'specialists' working in the country can be made into the vice regal council and Pakistan can be US-Pakistan as it has been British-India before. This would certainly ruin the anyway tottering American economy!! But, on a more realistic note, they actually can't afford us. The second option is, and this has been proposed by us many a time before, that our government finally decides to break the begging bowl, to send the IMF and the rest of the US to hell even if we have to eat grass as late Mr. Bhutto had said we will struggle with determination for liberation of Kashmir even if we have to eat grass for a thousand years. We should finally realize that all that aid given to us including the so-called 'humanitarian' one has a price tag on it; the price being our sovereignty. Is the nation willing to compromise its sovereignty? Certainly, Not. It is time to realize this simple truth and act accordingly.








MQM, may and probably will, draw criticism for going back on its words, but its decision to revert to government benches, although based on realism, was a bitter pill to swallow, for a party, founded, and surviving on principles for almost over 28 years, knew very well that its reputation and credibility will be at stake. The cost was heavy. Yet it agreed to sacrifice, but in doing so it helped avert a storm which was about to overtake the country. It was lurking and could have become ominous, sooner than anticipated. The fall of the government, headed by Yusuf Reza Gilani, looking imminent, may not have been as dangerous as was being generally perceived. It was the aftermath that could have been disastrous. Almost everyone in the country, from specialist to the ordinary, knew that the number game in the Assembly, was not only crucial, but also tricky.

The government lacking majority, with 127 seats in a house of 342, may have survived for some time. it had already lost the moral authority and was in no position to get its decisions carried when it needed a minimum 172 votes to do that. Then arose the question of successor. PPP was without an answer. Almost every other party in the lower house of the parliament, depended on Nawaz Sharif's PML-N who with his 92 members in the House, held the key to the tangle. His warnings to the government, first phase of which, expiring tomorrow, will see PPP thrown out of the Punjab coalition, and then after February 20, Nawaz wants to pursue protest marches, and mount pressure within the Assembly, after which it has phase-wise programme to take on Zardari and his colleagues.

Whether the PML-N is aiming at mid-term elections, is still unclear. Some of its stalwarts have dropped hints at that, but the former prime minister is still to disclose his cards. I think Nawaz does not wish to do anything which might provide a chance to the military to intervene in the wake of a possible chaos. He is right. Once bitten twice shy. Nawaz twice had been dealt a raw deal by army chiefs, General Waheed Kakar tried to dislodge him, but had to agree to remove late Ghulam Ishaq Khan also from the Presidency. Musharraf took over control of the country, treating an elected prime minister like a serve. Such incidents had made him doubly cautious. But simultaneously Nawaz is a much changed politician than he was in the 90s. He has learnt to speak now and articulate his thinking by actions and deeds.That has been a healthy change in him.

But even if he agrees to go for a change of government, it would depend on the head count in the new Assembly, thrown by the elections, if held half way through. If he fails to muster enough majority, he will have to do with a coalition arrangements of which he is scared because of likely blackmails from smaller partners. He also does not have a very good opinion about MQM. In fact, his close associate senator Pervez Rashid and Khawaja Saad Rafiq have been spitting venom against MQM, giving it all sorts of name. Whether election results would force Nawaz to change his mind towards MQM, like he did in 1997 when he allowed MQM to work under Liaquat Jatoi as chief minister who he dismissed later to impose governors' rule in Sindh. That was a bad decision of Nawaz Sharif to believe in a fake report from the then inspector general of Sindh police Rana Maqbool about Hakim Saeed murder. Rana Maqbool is now facing charges in the Punjab and is wanted in Sindh. So where was the logic about governor's rule in Sindh. Nawaz was misled about the whole situation. Whether he is willing to forget all that, is still not very clear.

Also, how many other partners will he have in his coalition would depend on number of seats he wins in the national assembly. Yet another major question is whether the resultant coalition will be able to work smoothly and deliver or get entangled in bickering etc. There will be no solution then either. The ultimatum Nawaz has served on the prime minister is being interpreted by some experts as a mere put up show. They opine that Nawaz was trying to mark time, and since he was under pressure after the MQM decision to sit on opposition benches, and also because of the crisis in the Punjab over inflation, prices, gas and CNG shortages, he tried to depend on ultimatum only so that he gets a breather till February 25.

Under these circumstances, when the situation was so fluid, and future uncertain, Altaf Hussain, after virtual begging from the prime minister and prolonged negotiations through Governor Ishratul Ebad, found that it was left with little options but to reverse decision about turning on to opposition benches but the fact that it has refrained from joining the federal government, shows that it has reservations about the government, and has warned the prime minister after his meeting at 90 that corruption remains the major menace about which something has to be done by the government. But MQM too has taken a weak stand. It served no deadline, no preconditions for the prime minister for its support to him, which means that it too is not clear about coming possibilities. MQM negotiation team does not let the people now what were the compulsions under which it bailed the premier out from a weakened position without any pre conditions. So let us see who is playing the gamble and who succeeds in coming weeks. Till then keep the fingers crossed.








It is a matter of international shame that Western powers have not yet initiated any serious step to contain the Zionist fascism destroying the Palestine. Despite the internal differences between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinians are still committed to a negotiated peace deal, they have grown increasingly frustrated and have started taking alternative actions to put Israel on the defensive. As part of that campaign, they have been seeking unilateral recognition of an independent Palestinian state, even in the absence of a peace deal. The European powers in connivance with USA and Israel just play "security" gimmicks only to provoke the Israeli military to attack defenseless Palestinians. So far, many European countries have ensured safe passage in UN for Zionist crimes but they are yet to recognize Palestine. However, there seems to be a shift in the focus of bulk of European states on Israel. Upon failures by UN, Quartet, Arab nations, now the 26 EU group has taken some steps in peace deal direct.

USA and its European allies keep offering sumptuous aid, including arms and other terror goods. The most important binding factor among them is sharing of intelligence and collaborative operations, including secret terror actions. The latest snag concerned a pledge that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made to provide Israel 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion free of charge. Israel says USA would also help in UN with Israeli holocaust issue. Many even thought this push for a "borders first" deal on a three-month deadline works, and then galvanizes a more comprehensive drive for a comprehensive, just final status peace agreement. If it doesn't, then perhaps it will be time to consider a new approach rather than just trying harder at the same things. After a break of almost two years, the so-called direct talks resumed in Washington in September, only to collapse over Israel's refusal to stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank. The US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed after Israel refused to extend a 10-month moratorium over freezing settlement constructions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Abbas and other Palestinian officials had threatened to use other diplomatic options, including dissolving the Palestinian Authority, in case Israel keeps insisting not to freeze building settlements. Fatah Leader Salam Fayyad said recognition by many countries would "enshrine" the Palestinians' right to a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel captured along with East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

Bulk of Zionists is opposed to the proposed US deal for freeze , warning that Washington was setting a trap to extract major concessions later down the line. Israeli Terror PM Netanyahu unveiled the U.S. inducements to his cabinet last weekend and appeared hopeful the ministers would back plans for a "temporary halt" to building in the occupied West Bank to overcome a hurdle to the peace talks. However, Israel official said on Nov 19 Friday that the USA had not yet provided the guarantees that Israel wanted, with Washington reluctant to commit to paper all the promises Netanyahu says he was offered verbally last week.

Politicians said Washington was backtracking and now wanted some sort of payment for the coveted fighter aircraft. Possibly expecting, as before, more US carrots without a stick, Zionist Israel has rejected Obama administration's "special packages" for a possible slow downing of fascist trends of Israel. The incentives include 20 free advanced F-35 fighter jets and assorted promises to defend Israel at the U.N. and other international forums on sustained holocausts of innocent Palestinians which allays Israeli false fears. This new offer is in exchange for a 90-day extension of a settlement freeze. During 90 days, the Israelis and Palestinians are to go back to the bargaining table as decided by Tel-Aviv bosses and concentrate on sketching out an agreement on borders, which would generate progress and reduce the risk of future battles over settlements. Israel has learnt the tricks of terror trade and knows how to make the talks bogus. Since the USA promises not to ask for another extension, the 90-day deadline gives all kinds of incentives for those who don't really want a deal to stall. But Israel can betray all hopes.

Following a briefing from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting in Cairo, Arab foreign ministers have rejected further Palestinian-Israeli peace talks without a "serious offer" from the US on ending the Middle East conflict. The Arab League ministers said they would seek a UN Security Council resolution against settlement building. "Resuming the negotiations will be conditioned on receiving a serious offer that guarantees an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict," the ministers said in a statement read by Arab League chief Amr Moussa. The group follow-up committee on the Middle East peace process "sees that the direction of talks has become ineffective and it has decided against the resumption of negotiations. The ministers also decided "to bring up the issue of Israeli settlements again to the Security Council", wanting the UN body to adopt a resolution "that confirms... the illegal nature of this activity and that would oblige Israel to stop it". They called on the US, which has vetoed resolutions against Israel in the past, not to obstruct such a move.

Israel keeps harping on fictitious security concerns while Palestinians are butchered and mutilated by Israeli military terrorists. Last month, the Israeli government was forced to reveal that the blockade was imposed not for security reasons. After a freedom of information request by the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, the Israeli government released documents saying the blockade was originally tightened as part of a policy of "deliberately reducing" basic goods for people in Gaza in order to put pressure on Hamas. Instead of considering security concerns, on the one hand, and the rights and needs of civilians living in Gaza, on the other, Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity - paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel.

With Israel continuing genocides and settlement proliferation in Palestine, Mediators for Mideast crisis seem to have lost hopes, notwithstanding some, vaguely positive signals for the White House. Last year, Obama and Mrs Clinton said a solution to the core problems could be found within a year. Direct talks were set up with great fanfare by President Barack Obama. But earlier this week the US abandoned efforts to persuade Israel to stop new construction of Jewish settlements. US terror Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed frustration at the latest setback to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but insisted that the US would continue to push for progress. She vowed to promote indirect talks on "core issues" including borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. Her speech, the first Middle East policy address following the US's abandoning its efforts to persuade Israel to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, laid bare the frustrations of the Obama administration about peace making in the Middle East.

As usual, the Zionist fascists play with words and an Israeli foreign terror ministry official said the proposal represented "a giant leap of bad faith". Possibly Israel knows the Europeans cannot be serious and they play usual dirty politics just for the sake of it. The EU has staved off Palestinian pressure in favor of waiting until an "appropriate" time, while the US House of Representatives passed a resolution this month saying only peace talks could set such a process in motion. Israel says that the US and Europe might stray from the idea of unilaterally establishing a Palestinian State.


—The writer is India-based journalist.








This week, Joe Biden will make his most important foreign trip since he became vice president. He will visit Pakistan, a country that is in crisis at every level - military, political, economic and societal. Pakistan has long been troubled, but last week's assassination of Salman Taseer, has shone a new and harsh light on those troubles. I had always believed that ultimately, Pakistan's governing elite was in charge, its military would not allow the country to crumble, and its nuclear arsenal was safe. After last week, I am not so sure.

The most frightening aspect of Taseer's assassination was that it was carried out by one of his bodyguards, who belonged to an elite unit of the Punjab police trained specifically to fight terrorists. Mumtaz Qadri told his colleagues that he was going to gun down the governor. Not one of them stopped him or informed anyone. The other guards watched as Qadri riddled Taseer's body with more than 20 bullets and then calmly put down his gun. Reports have emerged that Qadri's extremist views were known by his superiors and had been reported to higher authorities, but he remained in his job.

Just as troubling is that in the wake of the assassination, Pakistan's liberals and moderates have been silent and scared. Taseer's only ally in parliament, Sherry Rehman, has gone underground. While mullahs, politicians and even some journalists openly declare that Taseer's murder was justified because of his liberal views, few speak out in support of him. That is the dilemma of Pakistan's society: Islamic extremist parties have never gotten more than a few percent of the public's votes, yet elites bow to the bigots. Ever since early 1980s, when then-dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq decided that the military gained credibility by allying with Islamic radicals, the country's political institutions have been deeply compromised by extremism.

And there is the challenge for Biden. He must tell Pakistan's rulers that this is their moment of truth. They have to go on the offensive and rid their country of the cancer of religious fanaticism. Biden should make clear that the United States supports the democratically elected government, those who urge moderation and peace and those who are willing to fight terrorism. American influence in Islamabad is considerable and played a constructive role in shoring up support for the civilian government last week.

Pakistan's generals protest that they are fighting terrorists and that the best proof is that they are taking casualties. True. At the highest levels, the military understands that it has to fight Islamic militants. But it continues to try to make distinctions among the terrorists, wavers in its determination and remains obsessed with gaining strategic depth abroad - while its country is going up in flames. Consider the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership is entirely in the North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani army has refused to attack any groups associated with it, claiming to be stretched thin. In fact, Pakistan's generals still believe that the only way to have influence in Afghanistan is through the Taliban, with which they have had a 20-year partnership.


If Pakistan cannot reverse its downward spiral, the US effort in Afghanistan is doomed. As long as the Taliban and al-Qaeda remain secure and supported in their sanctuaries in Pakistan, progress in Afghanistan will always be temporary. The Taliban could easily withdraw into its Pakistani bases, allow US troops to draw down later this year and then return, rested and rearmed, to renew the battle against the Kabul government. At that point, the United States will face the choice of being forced into another "surge" or continuing the drawdown in the face of a rising Taliban.— The Washington Post








Bob Brown is a smart politician and he just might convince some that the $1.6 million donation from founder Graeme Wood is different from the corporate donations the Greens leader has criticised in the past. Senator Brown has been busy justifying the gift, which bankrolled a major advertising campaign ahead of the August election. Mr Wood is a very rich man and this is a personal donation, but Senator Brown's rhetoric is simply ludicrous when set alongside his attacks on corporate donations and his bid to replace them with public funding of elections. The Greens leader has made a moral crusade out of banning corporate money, ratcheting up his language over the years. In 2009, for example, he suggested that "democracy is being eroded by money" and warned that those who could not afford to donate were increasingly powerless in our political system.

Mr Wood's gift is the largest single political donation in the nation's history, far outstripping the previous highest -- the $1m given to the Liberals in 2004 by the British politician Michael Ashcroft. Mr Wood wanted action on climate change; Lord Ashcroft shared John Howard's broad political beliefs; and both gifts arguably made a difference to the success of the respective recipients at the ballot box. The Australian has absolutely no problem with either gift, nor with corporate donations in general, as long as shareholders are satisfied. The only reason the money has become an issue is because Senator Brown has made it so. With stunning disregard for his own words, the Greens leader has absorbed this money into the party's political operations, arguing that it is within the existing rules. It is an accommodation that reeks of opportunism rather than the high principles espoused by the senator. It seems donations are bad when they support your rivals but fine when they come your way. The Greens' gains at the last election cemented them as the third party. That means increased scrutiny of their operations and the gaps between rhetoric and action. Senator Brown needs to do better if he is to avoid the charge of hypocrisy.






Every summer, Australians nervously scan the horizon, looking for the smoke that signals the approach of deadly fires, but this year water is our greatest enemy. Across southeast Queensland yesterday, people saw rainclouds that signalled floods of a ferocity not seen for a generation. In Rockhampton, Bundaberg and their hinterlands, residents know it will be weeks before the water drains away. On the sodden Sunshine Coast, people coped as best they could with a torrent capable of killing anybody foolish enough to face it. In Brisbane's CBD, offices were evacuated and families in the suburbs prepared for the flood that will, not might, come as the vast amount of water surging down the river spreads into their communities. In Toowoomba, citizens struggled to comprehend what they saw on Monday, a river in fierce flood racing through streets where no one imagined wild water would ever flow. In Lockyer Valley towns, locals, inured to drought, are struggling to grasp that their world is suddenly awash. And now areas of northern NSW are in flood, and in west and central Victoria men and women are looking to the skies wondering whether forecast heavy rain will mean they are about to face something like the tribulation Queenslanders are enduring. The economic impact of these disasters is yet to be felt, but the human cost is already being paid as families mourn the nine known dead and fear for the 65 or so who are missing. Julia Gillard warns that we must be ready for news of more deaths. We can only hope she is wrong, that we have seen the last images of people clinging to trees and precariously perched on roofs as the floods swirl around them, that the worst the weather can inflict on us this summer has passed. But if it has not, The Australian knows courage and calm will prevail, that people will not flinch in the face of floods of an almost unimaginable extent.

As with the Black Saturday fires outside Melbourne in 2009, Cyclone Tracy that destroyed Darwin and the last great Brisbane flood, both in 1974, natural disasters are especially traumatic. Even for people who love the landscape around their homes, who respect the bush and recognise that we have not tamed it, this summer's events are hard to grasp. The idea that nature can kill people on the suburban streets or country lanes they use every day is all but inconceivable until it occurs. Brisbane residents had assumed the city was better placed to cope with flooding, thanks to the construction of the Wivenhoe Dam following the 1974 flood, but last night it seemed they faced a worse inundation than that year.

It is also hard to see how anybody in Toowoomba could have prepared for a rainstorm as intense as it was unusual. It was beyond the capacity of the Bureau of Meteorology to predict its impact in time to warn people. And while small plains towns can build levees to keep out the water, the sheer speed and scale of the disaster exceeded anything that could be quickly done in sprawling Queensland coast communities. It would be a mistake to jump to quick conclusions and attribute this disaster to climate change, inadequate urban planning or emergency service shortcomings: the brutal truth is that on days this summer, we have been overwhelmed by nature. Across eastern Australia, operations are still under way; in Western Australia, the Carnarvon flood clean-up continues. Now is not the time for debriefings on what could have been done better. That will come when the dead are buried, the water drains away, services are restored and people have access to the resources they need to rebuild their homes and offices, shops and schools, factories and farms.

But on the evidence before us, it seems the response to what became increasingly apparent yesterday might be one of Australia's worse natural disasters is being well managed. And although the casualty list was rising last night, this is an important difference from Black Saturday. There is ample information at a local level in Brisbane and southeast Queensland, with warnings of where the floodwaters will reach and areas to avoid. The ABC is at its best, meeting its core obligation to inform local communities, with radio stations and websites updating the state of the crisis. Police and emergency services staff appear to be calmly working to plan. While they might appear to be too few and far between to people worrying about missing loved ones, it would be unfair to argue they are not doing all they can. The military is also integrating into the rescue effort. Above all, there is a sense of calm emanating from those in charge, Premier Anna Bligh, Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, senior police and emergency service commanders and community leaders of towns and cities in trouble. Yesterday afternoon, the contrast between Queensland in flood and Victoria on Black Saturday, when aspects of the high command of the firefighting effort collapsed under the strain, seemed stark. Ms Bligh earned Australia's admiration when she said, "We have a grim and desperate situation. It is testing our emergency resources and it will test us as a community and as people. It might be breaking our hearts at the moment, but it will not break our will."

It won't. As the situation deteriorated in Brisbane and Ipswich last evening, people were tense, worried about loved ones they could not locate, concerned about the damage the floods could do to their homes, frightened for what the next few days would bring. But as in 1974, people helped each other cope with the present threat and deal with the trauma where the floods had passed. This is not the time for congratulations -- there are lives still at risk and an enormous amount of work to do, but everybody concerned for the fate of flood victims can take comfort from the fact that the Australian way is to stick together in disaster. And unity is what we need now. Money and materiel from Canberra must be deployed according to the Prime Minister's generous and correct open-ended offer of federal resources. The police and emergency services, the workers restoring water, phones and electricity, the council employees repairing roads where the flood levels have fallen have a right to all the resources they require. Government welfare agencies and insurance companies should recognise their maximum effort will be needed now. There can be no excuse for the delays that accompanied the early recovery effort after Cyclone Larry, which demolished Innisfail in 2006. Above all, Australians should replicate the support the country provided for people in trouble after Black Saturday -- the $10 million raised in Sunday's flood relief TV appeal is a start. This is not a state-specific tragedy -- it is a disaster we must face as a nation.






IF THERE is one word that encapsulates the feelings of people hit by the flash flooding in Queensland it is humbling. It has been used by flood survivors to describe the mix of awe and powerlessness they felt at the force of water so suddenly unleashed on towns such as Toowoomba that seemed so big and safe. The feelings were similar when the other extreme of weather hit the towns of the Victorian hills in the Black Saturday bushfires nearly two years ago.

We can talk of drought-proofing our farmlands and inland towns, of flood-proofing our coastal cities. We will look at the effectiveness of the dam built after the great flood of 1974 in Brisbane to see how it mitigates this deluge. But even if all the dams and levies ever mooted had been built it is questionable whether all the contingencies of this land can be outguessed. Just as it seemed Queensland was through the worst, and a stoic grind of clean-up and recovery lay ahead, Queenslanders have been hit with new dangers and calls on their heroism.

The floods and heavy rains in Australia are already having national and even possibly international impact. Southern Queensland is a foodbowl for the entire country and we can expect rises in the prices of fruit and vegetables. Major exporters with flooded open-cut coal mines have already invoked clauses in their contracts to suspend deliveries in Asia and elsewhere. Mines will have to be pumped out, railway beds rebuilt, and roads repaired in a recovery that will take months at least. Let us hope the inflationary impact in Australia will be a short-lived blip that does not require a sharp response.

For governments outside Australia our weather is one more cloud in a gloomy picture of food supply in 2011, with some facing inflation and food riots. Rain has spoiled much of what promised to be a bumper wheat crop, reducing it to cattle-feed quality. This will further tighten world grain supplies, after drought caused Russia to turn from exporter to importer, and adverse weather and floods hit wheat and rice production in several other grain-exporting countries.

For now, as the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, have warned, there are grim days ahead, and the toll of drownings and destruction is likely to climb. Apart from the spread of flooding into NSW, the Queensland floods have become a national disaster. Just as Australians expected the export bonanzas from this resource-rich state to be spread across the nation, national resources must be spent on helping the recovery. In appeals for the flood-stricken, Australians will no doubt show their traditional generosity.





READERS would be familiar with problems involving private security guards at public events. Many readers have written about incidents of overzealous or inflexible behaviour by guards hired for various entertainments. What seems to be missing in the thinking of event organisers who subcontract security firms is that hiring security guards can invite problems, not just solutions.

Some of the intrusions are mind-boggling in their pettiness and pedantic behaviour, from banning blankets to confiscating cutlery to generally micro-managing people's personal behaviour. The most recent flashpoint was provided by Sean Price, who provoked the intervention of numerous guards when he put his young son on his shoulders to watch the opening night of the Sydney Festival in Martin Place. Had the guards told Price that he was being selfish, blocking the view of patrons behind, their intervention would have been sensible. We do not know if Price was being thoughtless to others as the guards had insisted he put his son down because he was endangering the welfare of his son. This is nanny-state pettifogging at its worst.

The anger that people feel about the accumulating number of incidents involving security guards has been bluntly expressed in our letters pages by readers railing against being bossed around needlessly by people in the uniforms of private companies. Some of the language about ''goons'' is harsh, but it reflects the reality of how many people feel, especially when they pay high prices for tickets to events that are spoiled by excessive officiousness. The security industry is both a growth industry and a low-paying industry. Giving people uniforms and some delegated authority is not going to be healthy if they are not properly trained to deal with excited, curious people crammed together with the right mix of firmness and good humour, as the police mostly are.

We also note the gradual strangulation of another signature Sydney tradition, the New Year's Eve fireworks. Each year more fencing is placed around more public space, and more private security guards patrol these public areas. In 10 vantage points around the harbour on public land people are being charged entry fees on New Year's Eve. The common is being annexed and commercialised.

All this is a symptom of a more pervasive problem: the growing litigiousness of society, and the accumulating weight of regulations, which are constantly being added to but rarely repealed. Most perniciously, there exists a widespread fearfulness of legal liability. These are not just social irritants, but unhealthy social indicators.





QUEENSLANDERS knew this summer's storms would be severe and bad flooding was likely. The weather bureau warned state cabinet of the dangers in a briefing last October. But no one was ready for the horror of floods that have claimed so many lives, including those caught in an ''inland tsunami'' that hit Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley.

Scores are still missing, so the toll is likely to rise. ''This is without doubt our darkest hour in the past fortnight,'' Premier Anna Bligh said.

Search and rescue operations are the immediate priority. As Toowoomba mayor Peter Taylor said: ''Lives lost can't be replaced, but there's no damage that we won't fix.'' The damage, though, will not easily be fixed and the impact will be felt nationwide for months. Victoria had its own experience of being overwhelmed by a natural disaster in the 2009 bushfires. Queenslanders must go through the same processes of shock, grief, recovery and, in time, review of a host of policies.

In October, Ms Bligh had been almost apologetic in relaying the warnings of potentially the worst storm season in almost four decades. ''The last thing we want to do is create panic, but with these types of predictions forewarned is forearmed,'' she said. Yet, as Victorians found, the warnings did not protect them from such a disaster. Ms Bligh's plan to establish a protocol ''to get accurate and timely warnings out to any community under potential threat of cyclone or flood'' failed the people of Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley. It may be that the intensity of the localised deluge that created an eight-metre flash flood defied prediction, in contrast to steadily rising waters elsewhere.

There is much to be learnt from these floods, with implications for local planning and national policies. Some building in flood-prone areas appears to have been ill-advised and buybacks may be necessary. And just as the public has been educated about the need to assess the defensibility of properties and avoid last-minute bushfire evacuations, people must learn to avoid crossing rising floodwaters by vehicle or foot, which has led to several deaths.

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has also started a debate about new dams to mitigate floods. The costs and benefits of such projects will have to be weighed carefully and simplistic solutions resisted despite pressure on governments to do something. Last week Mr Abbott said the building of Brisbane's Wivenhoe dam had protected the city from a repeat of the 1974 floods. He may have spoken too soon.

A disturbing aspect of the floods is that they are consistent with (although not proof of) climate change predictions for northern Australia. Meteorologists accurately forecast that intense monsoonal rains would hit Queensland this season, under the influence of a strong La Nina event in the Pacific Ocean. They also warned that up to six cyclones could hit the state (the most ever to cross the coast in a season is three).

The wet season has just begun and the impact on communities and the economy is already huge. Agriculture has suffered crop and equipment losses of at least $1.5 billion. The road damage bill is another $1.5 billion, which does not include other transport infrastructure. The flooding of mines and rail lines that supply half the world's metallurgical coal could double the cost of steel production. If recent extreme weather events are part of climate change, arguments against taking action on greenhouse emissions on the grounds of cost look less persuasive, if not downright short-sighted.

Policymakers have much to consider for a long time to come. For now, the plight of Queenslanders is simply heart-rending. Australians must unite to help flood victims and offer them continuing support as they try to recover from this disaster. Victorians know that overcoming such painful losses takes time. An essential aspect of that recovery involves learning from the experience so that the whole community is confident of being better prepared the next time the forces of nature are unleashed.





THE decision to set up an independent inquiry into the problems at the Office of Public Prosecutions is welcome. The new state government has done well to move so quickly on an issue that has become a running sore, with serious implications for the effectiveness of a crucial public function. It is unclear, however, whether the inquiry has been set up in a way that will achieve its main aim: the restoration of public confidence in the team that runs criminal prosecutions on behalf of the community.

It was in July last year that The Age first reported on bitter divisions in the Office of Public Prosecutions after its director, Jeremy Rapke, appointed three young lawyers to more senior roles as associate Crown prosecutors - a role that involves running complex trials and attracts a salary of around $140,000 a year - ahead of others with more experience. Mr Rapke was also said to have had an inappropriate relationship with one of the solicitors, Diana Karamicov. Mr Rapke has strenuously denied a sexual relationship or any other kind of impropriety. So strong were the feelings of those outraged by the appointments, however, that one solicitor resigned from the OPP in protest.

It is also believed that Mr Rapke and his deputy, Gavin Silbert, were so at odds with each other over the controversy that they were barely on speaking terms. Mr Silbert wrote to Mr Rapke last July saying he was worried that Mr Rapke's relationship with Ms Karamicov would become public knowledge and cause her appointment to be viewed with ''significant disquiet''. It did, and it has.

All this might well be unfair to Ms Karamicov and the other two appointees; if so, the inquiry should establish that. But the inquiry is necessary to address grave concerns over what is claimed to be a serious breach of the merit principle, with underqualified people appointed to run complex jury trials. The execution of justice must not be imperilled. The Law Institute of Victoria yesterday welcomed the investigation, to be headed by retired Supreme Court justice Frank Vincent, QC. ''It is very important that the public and the legal profession have confidence in the prosecution process,'' president Caroline Counsel said.

But the inquiry has unfortunate limitations. Witnesses will not have to testify on oath. Is it assumed that lawyers never fudge the truth? Nor has the government promised that the final report will be made public. It is hard to see how a private report could restore public confidence.






The weekend announcement is not the first time the Basque separatist group Eta has declared a permanent ceasefire

It is a conflict in which movement towards a resolution is to be measured in inches. The weekend announcement is not the first time the Basque separatist group Eta has declared a permanent ceasefire. It called one in 2006. The government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero came under intense domestic pressure merely for trying to negotiate with the group. Eta continued to rearm during the talks, but the government finally lost faith in Eta's commitment to peace after a van bomb exploded at Madrid's international airport, killing two people. In 2006 permanent meant the nine months that had elapsed between the declaration and the bombing. Mr Zapatero's reluctance to accept Eta's statement as its last word is understandable, as is his insistence that Eta rejects violence as a means of attaining political objectives.

Such a statement has already been made by a key negotiator in past talks, Arnaldo Otegi, in a written interview with the Wall Street Journal given from jail, where he is awaiting trial on charges of illegally attempting to reconstitute Eta's political wing. There is, however, daylight between the positions of Mr Otegi, who represents the banned party Batasuna, and Eta itself. Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, who has been heavily involved in pushing Eta towards a ceasefire, says in an article for the Guardian that a strategy committing Basques to exclusively political and democratic means finds its echo in the weekend statement by Eta. True, but it has yet to find the exact words. In its statement, Eta said the solution to the conflict would come through the democratic process, with negotiation and dialogue as its tools. Eta did not commit itself to renouncing those other heavier items in its toolkit, although it opened the doors to verification of a ceasefire by international observers.

Much comment yesterday was devoted to Eta's military and political weakness. France is no longer a safe haven. Eta's ranks are depleted by frequent arrests – there were two more yesterday – and Basque nationalists no longer hold the balance of power in the national parliament, nor do they control any town halls. There are two options for the way ahead. Either Eta abandons violence or Batasuna abandons Eta, before both die a slow death.

Banned by law, Batasuna's leaders are in jail and its members barred from taking part in elections. Batasuna's return to the mainstream, and a deal on prisoners, are the two incentives still on offer, despite the cynicism from Madrid, but only if Eta goes the extra distance. If Sinn Féin's experience is needed anywhere, it is in healing the rift between Batasuna and Eta, and in unifying Basque nationalists behind exclusively political action.





An opinion poll found voters veering towards a view of the cuts as being unfair

Sex sells, and so does simplicity. A homespun account of Britain's malaise has done for George Osborne what snaps of taut jodhpurs have done for Jilly Cooper's sales. By likening the country to a family facing an outsize credit card bill, he gets his analysis across to the public, pens a prescription for cutbacks and – best of all – heaps blame for the mess on the profligacy of the last administration. No matter that the public finances the coalition inherited were somewhat stronger than the published forecasts of a year ago, and no matter that governments can set their own income in a way that no family can, Labour failed to settle on anything simple to say in response, and credit card economics reigned unchallenged throughout 2010.

Ed Miliband has made it his new year's resolution to do something about this, using an article in the Times this week to try to shift the blame for the deficit away from Gordon Brown, and back towards the bankers. The surrender of the government over bonuses, which became starker with Mr Osborne's hand-wringing turn in the Commons yesterday, makes it a propitious time to make this case. An opinion poll yesterday found voters turning against the coalition on the economy, and veering towards a view of the cuts as being unfair, personally painful and – most seriously – ineffective. Mistrust of the government, however, is not the same thing as trust in the opposition, and the latter is still in seriously short supply. A second poll yesterday, which was grim for the government in general, found that – by a chunky margin of 18 percentage points – voters dispute Labour's claim that it could handle the economy better.

One part of the credibility problem is adjusting to life without expert briefings from civil servants – the shadow chancellor Alan Johnson's lack of command of the facts about national insurance on weekend television was one embarrassing result. A second aspect is that middle Britain retains an instinctive doubt about Labour's willingness to take tough financial decisions. Mr Miliband can argue with impeccable Keynesian logic, as he did in his press conference this week, that a VAT rise at this time will jeopardise a decidedly fragile recovery, but the suspicion will linger that a sophisticated smoke screen has been summoned up to duck hard calls and avoid unseemly arguments with the trade unions.

Mr Miliband senses this vulnerability, and seeks to respond to it by giving a sense of what he would do once the recovery is secure. Some of the individual pointers were sensible. Much of Britain's overdraft is, as he insists, attributable to the drying-up of revenue rather than any great spending splurge, and the unspoken upshot is that general rises in taxation will ultimately have to help restore the books. Other hints were less attractive, such as apparent acquiescence in the coalition's truly savage reductions in legal aid, and its cold-hearted plan to cut off incapacity benefits from seriously sick people after a year. Taken together, it all felt rather bitty. The most attentive citizen might get a sense of where Labour would cut and where it would stay the blade, but the majority will just be confused.

Labour's next trick must be to boil down its economic message without surrendering all subtlety. Pulling that off does not require spin, but a clear guiding principle – namely that the deficit is better tackled by planning rather than panic. Fiscal panic does not merely risk the recovery, it ends with half-rebuilt schools being abandoned, and myriad other madnesses. Fiscal planning involves concentrating on those great changes – such the ageing of society and Britain's evolving role in the world – that will set the course for public expenditure over the decades ahead. The cuts to consider are those – such as a higher state pension age or the axing of Trident – which replot that course. That approach is the right one for the economy, and it is simple enough to get across to the voters as well.








A series of programmes on Channel 4 this week is worth paying attention to

The last thing television needs is a gang of celebrity chefs telling us what to eat. But if you can forgive the focus on personality and listen to the message instead, then a series of programmes on Channel 4 this week is worth paying attention to. Led by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the Big Fish Fight champions a neglected cause: the sustainable use of fish from the seas. Last night's opening episode targeted the practice of catching and then discarding fish. Around half the fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back, either because they do not meet criteria and quotas set by Europe's common fisheries policy or because they have no market value. Almost all of these fish die – a terrible destruction and waste which could be limited by more sensible rules. Tonight the series turns its attention to fish farming and tomorrow to the practice known as purse seining, which involves lowering a huge circular net into the sea and drawing the bottom closed, before pulling everything out. Often used to catch tuna, it can obliterate all sorts of species. Greenpeace – which is backing the Big Fish Fight season – has been campaigning to persuade British stores to sell only tuna caught with a pole and line: this week Tesco announced that it would join those that do this, a success for conservationists. More broadly, the campaign aims to persuade people to eat a wider range of fish species, to reduce pressure on stocks. For cod's sake, if nothing else, it is a message worth heeding.







The results of coming local elections in Osaka and Aichi prefectures could have a great impact on the shape of Japan's local government. The people concerned need to carefully watch and consider the moves of two men — Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto and Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura.

Mr. Hashimoto has the idea of dissolving the Osaka city and integrating the Osaka city and prefectural governments into a metropolitan government similar to Tokyo's. He hopes to create a top-down system with power concentrated on the head of such a metropolitan government in order to eradicate overlapping administrative actions between the Osaka city and prefectural governments and to buoy the local economy. Osaka Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu vehemently opposes his idea.

In April 2010, Mr. Hashimoto launched a local party called Osaka Ishin-no Kai (Osaka Restoration Association), which will concentrate on local politics within Osaka Prefecture and will refrain from seeking seats in the Diet. As a first step to establish a political foundation to follow through with his idea, he plans to control both the Osaka city and prefectural assemblies. His party will run more than 100 candidates in local elections in April to elect members of the Osaka city and prefectural assemblies and the city assembly of Sakai in Osaka Prefecture.

Mr. Hashimoto hopes that at least 55 candidates from the party will be elected to the Osaka prefectural assembly and 44 candidates from the party to the Osaka city assembly so that the party will secure more than a majority in both assemblies.

Mr. Hashimoto even hinted that he may step down from the governorship and run in the Osaka city mayoral election, which is likely to be held in November. In that case, he will make efforts so that both the gubernatorial and mayoral elections will be held on the same day and that a candidate who supports his idea will run in the gubernatorial election. He may be trying to change the mind of Osaka Mayor Hiramastsu by hinting that he will run in the mayoral election.

In Nagoya, Mayor Kawamura led a signature collection for a referendum to recall the city assembly, which opposes his proposal for making permanent a 10 percent cut in Nagoya citizens' residential tax and halving the number of city assembly members and their pay. On Dec. 15, the city's election management commission decided that a sufficient number of signatures had been collected, enabling the holding of a referendum.

Mr. Kawamura will step down as Nagoya mayor and run again in a mayoral election in February to be held simultaneously with an election to elect a new governor of Aichi Prefecture. The referendum is also expected to be held on the same day. In the elections, Mr. Kawamura will act in concert with Mr. Hideaki Omura, a Liberal Democratic Party member of the Lower House, who will run in the gubernatorial election. Mr. Omura calls for instituting a 10 percent cut in Aichi Prefecture residents' residential tax — a copy of Mr. Kawamura's idea for Nagoya — and creating a Chukyo metropolitan government by integrating the Nagoya city and Aichi prefectural governments.

In preparation for local assembly elections in April, Mr. Kawamura has established his own local party called Genzei Nippon (Tax Reduction Japan) with the aim of gaining control of the 70-member Nagoya city assembly. Mr. Omura plans to launch his own local party Nippon Aichi-no Kai (Japan Aichi Association) to field candidates for the Aichi prefectural assembly election and in municipal assembly elections outside Nagoya.

If Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Kawamura succeed in their attempt, the strength of the existing national parties like the Democratic Party of Japan and the LDP in Osaka and Aichi prefectures will be weakened. These parties have to devise policy proposals and field candidates attractive to voters.

Since the ideas put forward by Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Kawamura are fresh, their moves may be appealing to voters. But it is necessary for them to seriously consider whether their moves will enhance their well-being. The resident tax cut as proposed by Mr. Kawamura gives no benefit to low-income people because they are already exempt from the payment of the tax. Such a tax cut will reduce the size of the budget, which could in turn translate into worsening of administrative services and reduction of social welfare spending.

Under the Local Autonomy Law that governs Japan's local governments, local assemblies have a vital function of scrutinizing the behavior of local government heads and have constructive discussions on policy matters. They first must strive to live up to the expectations.

But the attempt by Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Kawamura to control the assemblies concerned will deprive them of their important function. Once this happens, it will be difficult for local residents to control the heads of their local governments. It is also undeniable that the two politicians' moves smack of populism. The voters in Osaka and Aichi prefectures need to think deeply before they cast their votes.






RAMALLAH — The United States should stop pushing for the resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Doing so might be the best way to achieve peace — a paradox that reflects the huge gap between a peace process and achieving genuine peace.

Make no mistake: This is not a call to arms or an appeal for a violent uprising. Peace between the conflicting parties east of the Mediterranean and west of the Jordan river can and must be achieved through negotiations. But if one party is more interested in a process than in the need for peace, something must be wrong.

For Israel, an occupying power whose people enjoy democratic civilian authority and a GDP tens of times greater than that of the people to whom it is denying basic rights of freedom and independence, photo opportunities provided by meeting and greeting Palestinian leaders has replaced achieving peace.

A serious look back at the 17 years since Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn is revealing. The number of illegal Jewish settlements and settlers has more than doubled in the areas Israel occupied in 1967. Negotiators have parsed every possible solution to the permanent-status issues of Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, and economic relations. Leaders of the world's superpowers, United Nations officials, the Elders and tens of people of good will have offered their good will offices and their services to bring about peace. All to no avail.

The U.S. efforts, led by Special Envoy George Mitchell, have shown clearly that the current ruling coalition in Israel is incapable of doing the minimum required for peace. The Obama administration staked its reputation on getting Israelis and Palestinians to agree at least on security and borders. The results are mixed, at best.

Palestinians complied with all Israeli and international requirements for security, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Israeli government, which gives lip service to the two-state solution, has yet to elucidate where Israel's borders will be. Meanwhile, the Israeli government wants to continue building settlements in occupied areas, in total violation of international law and the minimum requirements for peace detailed in the "road map" sponsored by the Quartet (the U.S., U.N., European Union, and Russia).

The U.S. tried to bribe the Israelis — with $3 billion in fighter jets and political support at the U.N. — into suspending settlement activities for three months. Instead, Netanyahu stuck his fingers in America's eyes, counting on the Republicans' midterm election victory to help him afterward. Not only did Israel's leaders reject the world community's requests, but they also had the chutzpah to claim that they had convinced the U.S. to drop this requirement for the resumption of talks.

Withdrawal by the U.S. from the current push to restart negotiations would send a clear message that bad behavior will not be tolerated, and would encourage Israelis, who overwhelmingly want peace, to force a change in their own government's position. Israel's Labor Party has consistently said that it would bolt from the current coalition if peace talks were halted. This would force at least a change in the coalition's makeup (possibly the replacement of the rightwing Yisrael Beitenu, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, with the more moderate Kadima, headed by Tzipi Livni, Lieberman's predecessor as foreign minister).

Public opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace (not a peace process) based on a two-state solution. Almost every learned pundit, expert, or politician in the Middle East and around the world knows pretty much what a solution to the conflict would look like — a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with slight land swaps and an equitable negotiated solution of the Palestinian refugee issue.

One group of respected Israelis and Palestinians, the Geneva Group, even drew up a peace plan that tackles every possible negotiating point honestly and fairly. So what is needed is not negotiations, but political will.

The Palestinians, for their part, have the necessary will. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's latest chapter in his two-year plan — the "home stretch to freedom" — will be complete in August 2011. In Fayyad's vision, Palestinians, who bear the brunt of the occupation and are in a greater hurry than the Israelis, are to accept a peace strategy that aims at realizing statehood.

Once the institutions of the Palestinian state are in place, the will of the people, coupled with world support, will nonviolently overcome all efforts at denying Palestinians their right to self-determination. In the meantime, there is no need for a process that has no chance of accomplishing peace.

Daoud Kuttab is general manager of the Community Media Network Palestine/Jordan, and a former professor of journalism at Princeton University. © 2011 Project Syndicate







WASHINGTON — Throughout 2010, the pattern for negotiations over Iran's nuclear program held to form. With just about every diplomatic effort failing to yield results, international efforts had increasingly given way to discussions about sanctions — and what mix of them would be needed to bring Iran to heel. In 2011, a renewed focus on comprehensive economic sanctions could turn out to be the bad idea whose time has arrived.

Sanctions, of course, have a dismal historical record in achieving their aims. Indeed, they have often been more useful in proving the law of unintended consequences. So it might be useful to step back and take one more look at our disagreeable negotiating partner — Iran — to see what should, and should not, be emphasized diplomatically.

There is nothing easy about negotiating with Iran. It is one of the oldest states in the broader Middle East, with a deep culture. Despite its leaders' grim public image, Iran has a sense of humanism, as any Kurd who fled from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's chemical-warfare attacks along the Iranian border can attest. Bending, much less breaking, will not come naturally to such a prideful country.

Iran also doesn't "play well with others." Most Americans remember it as the country that abducted U.S. diplomats soon after its Islamic revolution in 1979, holding them for no apparent purpose for 444 days. No American diplomat has been stationed in Tehran since. American attitudes toward Iran are probably far more conditioned by that episode than people realize.

Iran is also internally divided. Its mullahs bicker constantly, seeming to reflect the country's broader cleavages. Iran's civilian authorities apparently have limited control over the military and the dreaded security services, which seem to answer to no one but themselves.

Iran's Islamic Revolution, moreover, has run into a familiar contradiction: it cannot further its aims without accepting Westernization and modernization. Iran's youthful population — a product of the massive postrevolution baby boom — is increasingly frustrated and depressed; not surprisingly, young Iranians are having fewer children than ever. As the June 2009 election protests showed, Iran's urban youth desperately want to end the country's isolation, but they have increasingly found that the only way out of isolation is to study or work abroad — and never return.

Iran does not live in a great neighborhood, either. Turkey can be a good neighbor, but otherwise Iran is bordered by inhospitable states to the east and the north. And, while its western neighbor Iraq is a fellow Shiite-majority state, Iraq's Arab Shiites make no secret of their distaste for the Persians and their claim to Shiites prominence. While most of the world may have missed it, there is an ongoing competition between Iraq's Najaf and Iran's Qom over which city is holier.

Iran has virtually no friends among the Sunni Arab states. As the world learned from the WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables, Sunni Arab leaders are no more tolerant of an Iranian nuclear bomb than is the U.S. or its allies. The Sunni reaction to Iran may reflect deep suspicions about the Shiite (witness the cold shoulder given by most Sunnis to Shiite rule in Iraq). Iran's only friends, it seems, are those — like the Chinese — who are more interested in its natural resources than its people.

While sanctions may deepen Iran's predicament, they are unlikely to break the diplomatic impasse on nuclear weapons. But, given the Iranian government's increasingly unhelpful reactions to diplomatic overtures, there is unlikely to be any interest in toning down sanctions. Indeed, just the opposite response is likely — efforts to tighten sanctions still further.

Yet, just as the U.S. adopted a "bomb and talk" approach with the Serbs during the denouement of the Bosnian war, America must be willing to "sanction and talk" when it comes to Iran, thereby creating greater space for an eventual diplomatic strategy.

First, the U.S. should consider establishing diplomatic relations with Iran and putting diplomats on the ground. This would not be an easy process, and could well meet considerable Iranian resistance. But the Iranians have diplomatic relations with other members of its main interlocutor in talks on its nuclear program, the sanctions-minded P-5+1 Group (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.), and restoring Iran-U.S. diplomatic ties would shorten lines of communications and close the 444-day chapter of 1979-1981.

Second, even if a stronger bilateral mechanism is forged, it should not be allowed to displace the P-5 approach. The ability of this group to work together is critical to resolving this and future crises.

Third, the U.S. should continue its efforts to encourage action by Iran's neighbors. While Turkey's lurch into the fray in 2010 may have been unwelcome, its interest in calming a situation involving an immediate neighbor is understandable. More problematically, the Sunni Arab states should also give more serious thought to addressing the situation, and should seek to reconcile their private and public postures.

Iran, after all, is not building an Islamic bomb. It is building an Iranian bomb, or, worse yet, a Shiite bomb that Arab leaders must be more resolute in trying to stop. Private expressions of deep concern do not compensate for public nonchalance (or changing the topic to Israel), and are hardly a basis for a successful policy toward a country whose nuclear ambitions could have a catastrophic impact on the region.

Finally, the Chinese and the Russians have been brought along principally by the U.S. to a more robust policy, yet they remain reluctant. They need to convey through their own bilateral approaches to Iran a sense of urgency — and perhaps even express a little anger — at Iran's unwillingness to negotiate seriously.

Sanctions should be a tool of diplomacy, not the other way around. Even as we look to tighten sanctions on Iran in 2011, we must strengthen our efforts to establish a strong political and diplomatic track.

Christopher R. Hill, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, was U.S. ambassador to Iraq, South Korea, Macedonia, and Poland, U.S. special envoy for Kosovo, a negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords and chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea from 2005 to 2009. He is now dean of the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. © 2011 Project Syndicate







CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In a time of tight budgets and financial crisis, politicians nowadays look to economic growth as the centerpiece of their domestic policy programs. Gross domestic product is taken to be the leading indicator of national well-being. But, as we look ahead to 2011 and beyond, we should ask ourselves: Is it really wise to accord such importance to growth?

Granted, many studies have confirmed that wealthier nations tend to be happier than poor ones, and that rich people are generally more satisfied than their less affluent fellow citizens.

Yet other findings from several relatively well-to-do countries, such as South Korea and the United States, suggest that people there are essentially no happier today than they were 50 years ago, despite a doubling or quadrupling of average per capita income.

Moreover, in a recent Canadian study, the happiest people turned out to reside in the poorest provinces, such as Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, while citizens in the richest provinces, notably Ontario and British Columbia, were among the least happy. Since happiness is ultimately what people want the most, while wealth is only a means to that end, the primacy now accorded to economic growth would appear to be a mistake.

What seems clear from such research is that people do quite poorly at predicting what will make them happy or sad. They focus too much on their initial responses to changes in their lives and overlook how quickly the pleasure of a new car, a pay increase, or a move to sunnier climes will fade, leaving them no happier than before. It is hazardous, therefore, for politicians simply to rely on opinion polls and focus groups to discover what will truly enhance people's happiness.

In the findings to date, however, two conclusions have emerged that seem especially useful for policymakers to ponder. First, most of the things that do bring enduring satisfaction for individuals are also good for other people — strong marriages and close relationships of all kinds, helping others, engaging in civic affairs, and effective, honest, democratic government. Thus, policies that promote individual well-being tend to benefit society as well.

Second, experiences that bring lasting pleasure or unhappiness do not always command a high priority in government circles. For example, three medical afflictions that create especially acute and enduring distress - clinical depression, chronic pain, and sleep disorders - are all conditions that can often be treated successfully, to the vast relief of sufferers. But such people are frequently underserved by health care systems.

The natural response to all this is to ask whether happiness research is really reliable enough to be used by policymakers. Researchers have paid close attention to this issue, and, after much testing, have found that the answers people give to questions about their well-being seem to correspond fairly well to more objective evidence.

People who claim to be happy tend to live longer, commit suicide and abuse drugs and alcohol less often, get promoted more frequently by their employers, and enjoy more good friends and lasting marriages. Their assessments of their own well-being also align quite closely with the opinions of friends and family members.

So, overall, statistics about happiness seem to be as accurate as many of the statistics regularly used by politicians, such as public-opinion polls, poverty rates, or, for that matter, GDP growth — all of which are riddled with imperfections.

Of course, happiness research is still new. Many questions remain unexplored, some studies lack sufficient confirmatory evidence, and still others, like those involving the effects of economic growth, have yielded conflicting results.

Thus, it would be premature to base bold new policies on happiness research alone, or to follow the example of tiny Bhutan by adopting Gross National Happiness as the nation's principal goal. Yet the findings may be useful to lawmakers even today — for example, in assigning priorities among several plausible initiatives, or in identifying new possibilities for policy interventions that deserve further study.

At the very least, governments should follow Britain and France and consider publishing regular statistics on trends in the well-being of their citizens. Such findings will surely stimulate useful public discussion while yielding valuable data for investigators to use.

Beyond that, who knows? Further research will doubtless provide more detailed and reliable information about the kinds of policies that add to people's happiness. Someday, perhaps, public officials may even use the research to inform their decisions. After all, what could matter more to their constituents than happiness? In a democracy, at least, that should surely count for something.

Derek Bok, president of Harvard University from 1971-1991 and from 2006-2007, is the author of "The Politics of Happiness" (Princeton University Press, 2010). © 2011 Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences







The stock market stabilized again on Tuesday after a 4.21 percent decline in the Jakarta Composite Index on Monday.

This development simply reflects the risk of market volatility inherent within the torrent of short-term, foreign capital inflows into the financial market, which were credited in part for the 46 percent growth in the Indonesian stock exchange last year.

Those who have poured tens of billions of dollars in short-term or "hot" money into the financial market here since last August are mostly skittish investors who could fly out of the country at the slightest sign of a problem.

The main trigger of the steep fall that brought down the index to 3,478.55 on Monday was the concern among foreign investors over the strong inflationary pressures over the past three months. Traders said foreign investors sold a net Rp 1.63 trillion (US$181 million) worth of shares during the day, bringing their cumulative unloading to Rp 3.16 trillion over the last three days.

Analysts blamed the investor jittery on Bank Indonesia's decision last week to maintain its policy rate at 6.5 percent, the level maintained since August 2009, despite the 6.96 percent inflation throughout last year or 100 basis points above its inflation target.

The central bank argued since the inflation was caused mainly by sharp food price-rises due to supply disruptions — hence not related to the demand side — it did not see any urgent need to raise its benchmark interest rate.

However, the market, shocked by the high inflation, had expected at least a slight rate increase, also in anticipation of stronger inflationary pressures from planned fuel-price increases within the next few weeks and the upward trend in rice prices until the next harvest begins in March.

The central bank is really in a dilemma. Raising rates can further encourage hot capital inflows to take benefit of the higher interest rate differentials and to make currency bets.

Analysts argue that hiking the rate early in an inflation cycle indicates fewer rate increases later on. Moreover, the risk of a sudden, massive capital flight has been decreased after the central bank put in place a set of new rules to ensure a more orderly outflow. Banks also have been obliged to hold more foreign exchange in reserves.

These measures and the fact that quite a portion of the short-term foreign funds have been invested in medium- and long-term government bonds  should have made the central bank confident in raising its rate by 25 basis points as  a strong signal to the market.

But Bank Indonesia's persistent reluctance to raise rates against the money tightening in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, has made foreign investors jittery about upcoming developments in Indonesia's economy.

The falling stock prices are a crude expression of investors' concern about our future economic outlook, though subject to reversal the next day if the news turns positive.

The market perception now is that the government fiscal policy and the central bank's policy management have not adequately addressed the increasingly strong inflationary pressures.  

Investors may determine each day how much their holdings are worth from the market prices and it is this basic elasticity in the value of financial assets that allows financial markets sometimes to become uncoupled from the economic fundamentals.

Certainly, the government should address the market concern by demonstrating a stronger commitment and better policy coordination to check inflation.

But to a certain extent, the price fall on Monday was good for long-term stability because the skyrocketing prices during the second half of last year were partly fueled by speculative sentiment.

These prices are now seeking their new equilibrium level.





I spent Christmas and New Year in my Australian hometown with my husband Tim. I was looking forward to indulging again in Australia's wonderful fruits — peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, cherries and grapes — but when I got there I was disappointed.

The usually sugar-sweet cherries tasted insipid and the grapes... well, at A$18 per kilo (rather than the usual $5-6), they were so expensive, I didn't even buy them.

When I asked Tim why the prices were so high, he told me recent heavy rains were responsible. Hmm, I thought, "the grapes of wrath"? Ten years of drought followed this year by heavy rains and floods
have devastated Australian farmers, with entire grain crops washed away. In desperation, some farmers have killed themselves and the rural suicide rate is now twice the national average.

How tragic that the farmers have to pay so high a price to produce the superb Australian grains, fruits and veggies that I love so much. Next time, I'll cough up for the (expensive) price of the grapes!

But the truth is that farmers have it tough everywhere. Returning to Indonesia, I found a similar situation. Unusually heavy rains and the eruptions of Mt. Merapi destroyed vegetable crops, causing the price of chili to increase fivefold. Imagine the suffering this causes hundreds of millions of Indonesians, for whom a meal without chili is not a meal at all!

The government's response? "Let them plant chilis," said Agriculture Minister Suswono. He was presumably inspired by the arrogance of Queen Marie-Antoinette of France, who, when told that famine had caused a shortage of bread among her people, famously said, "Let them eat cake."
Suswono's national campaign to plant chilis — with free seeds distributed by the government — was just another paltry and pathetic response to the immensely complex problem of food security.

Perhaps he forgot that Marie-Antoinette ended up losing her head — literally.

Admittedly it's not an easy job putting food on the plates (not all of them have tables) of almost 240 million people, scattered across the world's largest archipelagic nation of diverse geographical conditions and resource levels. And our run of natural disasters doesn't help either. Indonesia isn't yet facing food shortages yet, but the consistently rising prices are unsettling enough.

In an attempt to overcome these problems, the Agriculture Ministry has floated the idea of a giant 1.6-million-hectare food estate in Merauke, Papua, as a national "bread basket".

Hang on, did I miss something? Isn't this a giant leap from planting chilis in backyards to a giant food estate way out there in Papua? Wouldn't food security be better obtained by having consumers close to the source of production?

While Indonesia is no longer an agrarian nation, the rural populace still constitutes 51.65 percent of the population. Why not make sure that most of them have plots of land large enough to cultivate crops for their own food needs, with enough left over to sell?

It's not a new idea.  our founding father Sukarno called it "Marhaenism", a name he took from a peasant he claimed to have met in the 1930s. While poor, Marhaen had a plot of land on which he could grow enough for his family's survival. This was Sukarno's own brand of rural socialism.

A nice idea, except that Indonesia's been out-and-out capitalist since Soeharto took power, hence the idea of a giant industrial food estate where investors can compete and middlemen and government bureaucrats can get kickbacks. None of this "Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered" nonsense!

And Papua? Doesn't it have enough problems already, what with separatist movements, military torture, ecological destruction and cultural identity diluted by migration? A coalition of activists says that the Merauke Food Estate will only damage the environment (devastating virgin forests and water catchment areas), reduce social equity (mainly benefiting giant private companies), displace local peoples (land grabs by big companies) and cause social conflict (between locals and newcomers working on the estates).

So if we're looking for long-term solutions to food security and poverty, why doesn't the government finally do something about agrarian reform, neglected since the 1960s?

Disparities in land ownership have existed for decades, and the expansion of plantations and estates by the government has exacerbated this, increasing land conflict levels. Some 25.6 million of our farmers now own an average of only 0.4 hectares of land, so landlessness remains a huge problem.

Experts say there are 9.6 million hectares of unclaimed land ready for distribution to the people, but the government only focuses on "market-led agrarian reform", without addressing issues of food security, human rights, land rights and, naturally, social justice and equity.

At the beginning of 2007, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that agrarian reform would be a priority for his administration. Yeah right. Looks like the 20,000 peasants who demonstrated for agrarian reform in front of the Presidential Palace on the 50th anniversary of National Farmers' Day last year are sick of waiting. Perhaps more people will understand why when the food shortages really start to (ahem) bite, and chili-rage gets political.

The government says it will create a "food basket" for Indonesia in Papua. How about doing something about our basket case agrarian system instead, before it's too late?

Julia Suryakusuma ( is the author of Jihad Julia (Mizan).






The threat of high inflation is now looming large on the horizon not only for Indonesia but also for other countries. After being hit by a most severe recession in 2008-2009, the world economy is now already on the path to recovery, although the pace of that recovery differs from country to country.

The damages caused by the global financial crisis have not been entirely repaired, but there is growing confidence among policymakers, businesses and consumers that the world economy is regaining its feet, albeit slowly.

The mending of the economy is not fully complete, yet many countries have to deal with another threat: The re-emergence of an inflationary spiral, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, could produce more painful economic and social impacts.

During the 1970s, the world economy was gripped by high inflation after oil prices quadrupled in the aftermath of the war in the Middle East and the Iranian revolution. Inflation ran at double-digit levels in many countries.

For the developed countries, double digit inflation was something unprecedented since World War II.

The policy responses by the developed countries were too harsh, pushing the world economy into recession and stagnation.

The world economy was faced with a new kind of phenomenon called "stagflation", a situation where economic stagnation runs in concurrence with high inflation.

But for the last two decades inflation rates have come down substantially. In the US inflation dropped from 15 percent in 1980 to 3-4 percent since 2000.

In the developing countries, inflation averaged 50 percent annually in 1989-1998. By 2006, inflation was 5 percent. This has brought economic stability in the world, producing sustained economic growth, higher income and prosperity.

During this period most countries only experienced mild inflation, and the incidence of double-digit inflation — previously the hallmark of many developing countries — was very rare.

The only exception was probably in Zimbabwe, where the inflation rate hit 1,000 percent recently at the peak of its political crisis.

Economists attributed the decline in global inflation to two significant forces: the fall of trade barriers and the fall of the Berlin wall.

As free trade was adopted by more and more countries, trade barriers — both tariff and non-tariff — fell all over the world, bringing down the price of goods and services.

In the meantime, rapid technological developments in transport and communications in the last decade helped drive down the cost of transportation of goods and services.

The fall of the Berlin wall in the late 1980s accelerated the downfall of the Soviet Union, giving birth to several new states. Millions of people from these new countries emigrated to Western Europe and the United States.

These immigrants flooded the labor market, bringing down labor costs in those countries. But the impact of these two great developments on inflation is declining, as the move to further free trade is facing many hurdles and the influx of migration from the former Soviet republic subsided. Forces that hold down inflationary pressures are losing their strength.

Meanwhile, as the impacts of the financial crisis drove the threat of inflation far away, the concerns of the impacted countries turned to how to avert deflation. At this stage, deflation is perceived as a threat that contains more perils than inflation.

The experience of Japan provided painful lessons on how hard it is for an economy to get back on its feet once it has been strangled by deflation. No country wants to suffer the lost decade that Japan endured.

But policy responses by the developed economies during the recent crisis have planted the seeds of inflationary pressures.  

Huge liquidity that has been pumped into the financial system, coupled with fiscal deficits, would be inflationary, once economic recovery takes hold. Higher commodity prices would exacerbate these inflationary pressures.

The price of oil price is nearing US$100 per barrel, and in the short-term there seems to be no force that can reverse the trend.

Emerging economies have also started experiencing inflationary pressures. Unlike developed economies where overly loose monetary conditions set the stage for inflationary pressures, in emerging economies inflation is more the result of rises of food and commodity prices.

As more and more people in these countries enjoy higher standards of living, their demand for food escalates and becomes more varied, pushing upward pressure on food prices. Unfortunately, the increase in food production lags behind the growing demand.

Worse, food production has been subject to disruptions from weather anomalies. Drought, dry weather, and floods have either delayed or damaged grain harvest in the US, Russia, Australia and other grain producing countries.

The price of rice, wheat, corn and edible oils have surged by 50 percent in recent months. Whether this weather related supply disruption is temporary or not, nobody can predict.

But the surge in demand for foods would stretch the available supply to its limit, and it would take some time to fix it.

So all signs indicate that a reemergence of inflation is imminent.

The era of declining global inflation is coming to an end. For the middle class this price surge has little impact on their cost of living. But for millions of poor people who live on US$1 or $2 a day, and who have to spend two thirds or more of their income on foods the impact would be devastating.

The response of policymakers to these impending inflationary pressures has been varied. China and India have employed a pre-emptive strike method by raising interest rates early on to staunch the inflationary threat.

The market has been given firm signals from the authorities in their resolve to contain inflation, thus ending uncertainties.

Meanwhile, Bank Indonesia, the Indonesian central bank, prefers to use a more cautionary approach, by delaying any interest rate increase on the grounds that core inflation is still within the tolerable limits. It has used a non-interest policy, by absorbing excess liquidity.

For the policymakers the immediate question is whether tightening monetary policies would be the appropriate response for the kind of inflation that is caused by supply shocks and disruptions.  

Tightening monetary policy could stem inflationary expectations, but the economic slowdown that would result would also hurt the poor more than others.

The writer is an economist.





Tifatul Sembiring, the communications and information technology minister and former president of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), continues to spark controversy.

The public appears to recognize him more for his controversial behavior than his achievements as a Cabinet minister.

One example of this came in June 2010 at the height of the controversy surrounding the sex video scandal of Peter Pan frontman Ariel, when Tifatul "accidentally" equated the debate of the resemblance of the images in the video to the historical-religious debate between Muslims and Christians about Jesus.

In November 2010, after his long-standing public claims of being a good Muslim man who restricts himself from touching women, he "accidentally" shook, not to mention with enthusiasm, the hand of US First Lady Michelle Obama.

Despite that his struggle to present himself with a more political image of public morality over substance has born little if any fruit, the minister is still not giving up.

He started the year 2011 with yet another controversy by threatening to block BlackBerry Internet browsing services in Indonesia by the end of January over a claim that Research In Motion (RIM), the company who invented and sells the telecommunication services, had not done enough to block access to porn sites.

Only, as with his previous controversies, this time Tifatul has also tried to defend his stance, following public outcries, by providing a clarification that again shows his wishy washy attitude as a public official.
After failing to convince the public with his morality argument, he defended his move with a nationalistic line.

Minister Tifatul provided an eight-point argument, which included jobs creation, improvement of local services, and tracking of corrupt people.

As with any other user of these so-called smartphones, I subscribe to this service because of its convenient features of providing instant messaging and push mail and allowing real-time access to long text communication with other users across the globe, at a very low cost.

While it is true that the device can show video images, including pornographic content, it is just hard to imagine that average users like me would have the time to "enjoy" such content while using this device at work.

The minister should be careful in using this argument as it may suggest that state officials like him do have a fair bit of free time to watch porn videos on their BlackBerry devices.

As a true Indonesian and a nationalist, I would love to have a smartphone called Durian or Rambutan, made entirely in Indonesia by our engineers and that runs from a server in Indonesia (although I would be concerned with the latter since we often have power shortages).

Minister Tifatul and his office should devote their energy and the public funds that we entrust upon them to provide training to our engineers and to encourage national hardware and software developers to compete and produce better and cheaper services.

So far, the second-hand cell phone store and my cellular provider are doing just fine maintaining the
services of my BlackBerry device, even without a local service center and server.

Last but not least, the argument of establishing a server/repeater in Indonesia to track the corrupt certainly constitutes a long-shot considering that detained corruption suspect Gayus H. Tambunan, aka Sony Laksono, was able to roam freely in Macau, Malaysia and Singapore, thanks to Indonesia's special invention called the original-but-fake document.

Again, Minister Tifatul and his office should use their energy to create online immigration servers and computers that work, a service that the joint automatic teller machines (ATM Bersama) inventors, who are all Indonesian engineers, were able to successfully provide a long time ago.

There are many good Indonesian scientists and engineers who have made great inventions and products that are globally competitive without having to resort to phony nationalism (i.e., protectionism), much less resort to false grounds of morality. Well Mr. Minister, if they can spend their time producing something useful, why can't you? Enough is enough!

The writer teaches regional development studies at the University of Indonesia and the Bogor Institute of Agriculture.








China's jaw-dropping auto sales in 2010 are a clear manifestation of the rapidly growing clout of Chinese consumers.


However, while enthusiastically unleashing the purchasing power of domestic consumers, Chinese policymakers should also pay close attention to the looming cost of such an auto-consumption binge.


The explosive growth in car ownership has forced a number of major Chinese cities to tackle worsening traffic jams with various restrictive measures.


Unfortunately, few have taken the trouble to raise the issue of the affordability of such a huge army of gas-guzzlers in a country that has to import more than half of the crude oil that it consumes every year.


Latest statistics show that Chinese auto sales jumped by nearly one third to 18.06 million vehicles in 2010 marking the highest annual sales in the history of the global automobile industry, far surpassing those of the United States for a second consecutive year.