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Friday, January 14, 2011

EDITORIAL 14.01.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 14, edition 000729, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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














































  4. SPAM, A LOT








  2. IN A HOLE

























The flow of bad news has gathered speed and does not augur well for the country as UPA2 nears its second year in office. Food inflation remains abnormally high and, notwithstanding Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's assurances, there is no reason to believe that our daily bread will cost us any less in the coming months. Promises of containing and rolling back inflation have proved to be no more than placebos, mass produced by the Congress to fool all the people all the time. Now we have been informed that growth in industrial production has hit an 18-month low of 2.7 per cent — it might surprise the naïve and shock the faithful, but there really is little cause to be taken aback. The Congress's abysmal failure to check inflation and bring prices of essential commodities, especially food items, to affordable levels was bound to impact the overall economy sooner or later. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is often touted by the Congress as an 'economist', neither has the faintest clue as to which way the national economy is headed nor does he particularly care, as is evident from his banal utterances and utterly indifferent attitude. Paying lip service to the masses and waxing eloquent on the poor are not substitutes for policy and action. If bogus profundity could solve India's problems and stave off the looming crisis, we wouldn't be where we are today. It's sheer bunkum to keep on boasting about high GDP growth and reiterating faith in achieving goals set by the self-serving privileged few who are untouched by either inflation or its consequences. The Prime Minister's chief economist, who also happens to be Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission, would do well to take note of this simple fact. It is shockingly callous of Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia to wave aside statistics that paint a gloomy picture and pompously assert, "I am not bothered."

He wouldn't be bothered, nor would his boss be unduly worried. But the people of this country are both bothered and worried; it's only a matter of time before alarm sets in. While the aam admi's income remains inelastic, expenses continue to soar with a thoroughly incompetent Government failing to do what it is supposed to: Govern. It is only natural that the impact of diminishing purchasing power and increasing interest rates — the RBI persists with the flawed policy of trying to rein in inflation by squeezing out money, a policy that has clearly not worked — will lead to declining growth in industrial production. That's commonsense. Yet, it strangely eludes the UPA regime which displays remarkable contempt towards the plight of those whom it claims to rule. Instead of focussing on how best to deal with the situation and take preemptive measures even at this late stage, it is more obsessed with preening about its 'successes' — the specifics of which we shall never get to know — and pretending all is fine when clearly it is not. More energy is being expended by the Congress in defending the indefensible (Mr Kapil Sibal continues to insist there has been no scam while hawking 2G Spectrum) and blaming its partners in the UPA (dark hints are being thrown at the NCP) for the surge in prices. It is laughable that the Prime Minister presides over meetings where proposals to allow free export of food are discussed when disaster stares us in the face.







The New Year's Day bombing of a major Coptic church in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria that killed 23 worshippers and injured at least 100 others has tragically widened the country's growing sectarian rift and must serve as a wake-up call for authorities in Egypt, where the unchecked growth of radical Islam has led to the persecution of minorities and increased violence. The dreadful attack is the most recent in a series of violent acts against the country's Coptic Christians who comprise about 10 per cent of Egypt's 80 million people. The past year, especially, saw several clashes between the communities, including one when Muslims demonstrated against the Copts for the alleged abduction of two women converts. Camellia Shehata and Wafaa Constantine, originally of the Coptic faith, are reported to have embraced Islam but were allegedly held against their will by the Church. The incident earned the wrath of the Al Qaeda's cadre in Iraq who then called for attacks on Christians and later claimed responsibility for the New Year's Day bombing. On their part, Egyptian authorities have been quick to label the attack as a heinous, foreign assault on national integrity while completely ignoring its roots in homegrown terrorism. This is particularly troubling because it does not acknowledge the growing clout and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood but attempts to sweep the problem under the carpet so that the Government can continue to paint a pretty picture of peace and tolerance. Of course, the clashes that erupted between the Muslims and Christians after the Alexandria bombing make for a very different picture. Additionally, the Government's decision to recall its Ambassador to the Vatican, because it deemed Pope Benedict XVI's urging of Muslim-majority nations to undertake additional security measures to protect its Christian populations, as "unacceptable interference in domestic affairs", only proves how desperate it is to cover up the deteriorating situation at home. Sadly, for those who have been following the developments in Egypt, none of this comes as a surprise.

However, what remains a major concern is the apathetic response of the Government. Apart from condemnation and vacuous calls to action, few concrete steps have been taken. The Government needs to bring the guilty to justice but more importantly, President Hosni Mubarak must stop using his political opponent, the Muslim Brotherhood's tools of intolerance to counter the Islamist group's popularity. It must not engage in religious extremism or indulge radical Islam. Egypt remains the world's last bastion of moderate Islam and it must not fall to the forces of radicalism. Instead, Mr Mubarak should move forward with his unfulfilled promise of political reforms that will help build an economically strong and politically stable Egypt. The presidential election in September is an excellent opportunity for the Government to make good on its promises.







A 'document' says Pakistan's elite is a mirror image of India's elite. But as we know, any mention of Kashmir unites Pakistan's civilian and military elite in jihadi battle.

A point of conversation when Ms Nirupama Rao meets her Pakistani opposite number in Thimphu could be a bizarre document that inadvertently suggests that high society in the two countries are a mirror image of each other. That apart, the clumsily forged "End 2010 summary analysis on Pakistan" exposes the Pakistani military's fear of being ousted by the "incestuous club" of a "mostly secularised and Westernised" pro-Indian elite.

A Pakistani source sent the document to a British writer who forwarded it to me. Its ostensible author, India's High Commissioner, Mr Sharat Sabharwal, seemingly gloats on nearing the fulfilment of the "aim" "to undermine" Pakistan "internally and externally with the intent to weaken it to such an extent, where it does not pose any further threat to India's regional goals". This assessment of New Delhi's foreign policy is only to be expected. For, just as most Indians now see the 'Foreign Hand' — Mrs Indira Gandhi's shorthand for the American Central Intelligence Agency — as Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, anything untoward in Pakistan is immediately put down to Indian machinations.

No one has suggested that the Research & Analysis Wing engineered the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's threat to the ruling coalition, but other allegations are just as fanciful. As Mr Humayun Khan, the urbane Pakistani diplomat who was High Commissioner in New Delhi before becoming his country's Foreign Secretary, once told me after denying every single charge about smuggling, gun-running and terrorism in an Indian White Paper, "And even if they were true, would you blame us after Bangladesh?"

But it's the Pakistani interpretation of how an Indian diplomat views his country that is interesting, suggesting that the authors have copied lock, stock and barrel from some sociological analysis of India's rich and powerful. Shades of Delhi's "brat pack", Pakistan's "privileged" people are said to be so far above the law that "if you are part of this group you are never stopped by the police, if stopped you never have to go to the courts, if indicted you almost never go to prison". With "an army of servants and facilitators", these beneficiaries of "economic apartheid" never have to queue for anything. They enjoy "palatial residential developments, gated communities with private security … access to the best country clubs, hotels, restaurants and golf courses" and "an inside track to lucrative jobs and contracts".

This milieu has no religious commitment or "intrinsic cultural values" even if it observes some religious-cultural rites. Having "lost its moorings and ideological underpinning" and living only for the moment, it shops and entertains more in Western and West Asian capitals than at home. The children attend premier English-medium schools and universities in the West "where they either end up staying or return only to work at the helm of family businesses or to lucrative jobs in the private or public sector".

It sounds familiar though the bigger Indian equivalent of Pakistan's "mercantile classes who want to protect and preserve their commercial and land interests" is expanding rapidly because high growth and electoral politics create more opportunities. In Pakistan, they still haven't ventured too far beyond the 22 elite families listed in 1968.

Qualitatively, however, the two groups seem indistinguishable. The document's mention of "the corruption of the political class and bureaucracy coupled with the extravagant lifestyles of the elite" might refer to the `1.76 lakh crore loss to the exchequer reportedly caused by the 2G Spectrum scam, Mr Mukesh Ambani's $2 billion 27-storey architectural extravaganza or the conspicuous consumption and astronomical emoluments of corporate chiefs that Mr Manmohan Singh laments. Jessica Lall's murder and the Arshad housing scam could have been in Pakistan.

This "culture of dependency" is expected to keep Pakistan "on the brink of bankruptcy and help (India) make significant inroads". But is India itself such a formidable citadel? Even if nine per cent growth means India isn't bankrupt, many Indians are. We might comfort ourselves that China is more intent on destroying Indian manufacturing through dumping than on making inroads ("significant" or otherwise) while Pakistani capability focusses on succouring terrorists, but we are best at undermining ourselves. With tycoons flitting around in private jets while peasants swallow pesticide, we don't need American diplomats to tell us via WikiLeaks of the police's "widespread use of torture in interrogations, rampant corruption, poor training, and general inability to conduct solid forensic investigations". Or that policemen cut corners to avoid a "lagging justice system, which has approximately 13 judges per million people". That was what the Bhagalpur blindings were all about.

Last week's bloodshed in West Bengal again drew attention to what the Prime Minister has called the most serious internal threat to national security. Statistics about the Maoists cannot account for the large number of tribal peasant cultivators in central India who help them with food and shelter, infrastructural support and, above all, with their silence over rebel plans and movements. The 'Red Corridor' may have reversed Gen Gerald Templer's Malayan strategy of poisoning the water in which terrorists swim. At one time Adivasis expressed dissatisfaction with authority by converting to Christianity. Now, they become Maoists.

So, nuclear-armed Pakistan doesn't have much to fear. The forgery is a tactical ploy to discredit Pakistan's "mostly Western and India-centric" civilian elite which is "nostalgic about being part of greater India and reaping the benefits of the economic boom" and is culturally susceptible to Bollywood's appeal. These are tactical charges, like the praise Mr Sabharwal is made to lavish on the Army which has risen above a fragmented polity to become "one of the very few meritocracies in the country with an egalitarian ethic and continues to be mostly well led". He calls Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani a "common soldier's General" who "comes from a non-elite background" but "has transformed the Army in the last three years from its lowest ebb at the end of the Musharraf era, to where it is now again — an elite force commanding respect and veneration of the people".

In short, Indians fear, respect and recognise the Pakistani Army as the only obstacle to their goal of destabilising and destroying Pakistan in order to dominate South Asia. All's fair in love and war, and this is Pakistan's never-ending internal war for power. But even the letter's authors know that any mention of Kashmir always unites the civilian elite, however Bollywood-struck it might be, with the armed forces in jihadi battle.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        THE PIONEER




The malaise runs far deeper than the short supply of onions which are being sold at exorbitant rates: It is to do with the Government's abysmal failure to plug the gaps in the field-to-market chain. As a result, food prices in general have escalated and will continue to rise in coming days

There seem to be two commodities that are all set to face each other in a combat mode. If on the one hand, the bidding at IPL-4 is setting new records by offering otherwise affordable players, almost unaffordable bids and making them out of the reach of smaller teams, then on the other hand, an affordable and staple vegetable, the humble onion, has been breaking all previous records: It is selling at a steep price unaffordable to almost every consumer.

The cost of onions has been exponentially shooting up since December 2010, mercilessly burning holes into the pockets of consumers at large. As per figures released by the Government, while food inflation hovers at 20 per cent, onion prices have shot up by anywhere between 80 to 150 per cent.

What has been intriguing is the manner in which the Government has dealt with the onion crisis. It is not that the Government is unaware that the onion is an integral component of its citizens' food basket, and more so for those living below the poverty line who barely survive. Yet the Government maintains a lackadaisical attitude towards the crisis.

It is also not that the Government was unaware of the fact that excessive rains had played havoc with the onion crop in Maharashtra. Yet the Government chose not to take preventive action. Similarly, the Government is fully aware that hoarders in our country await such opportunities and make a killing by further creating supply bottlenecks. Yet the Government chose not to intervene adequately.

It is equally a fact that the Government knows that onions have a legacy of bringing down Governments. But it chose to remain silent. So much so that in November, when onions were taking more time than normal to reach the market from Nashik (due to unseasonal rain), the Government and authorities didn't put into place any measures to check the expected price rise.

What followed in December was a bloodbath as onion shipments were reduced by almost 270 per cent, thus escalating prices by 150 per cent in a period of seven days. What is most paradoxical is that instead of tracking and acting upon real time information, the Minister for Agriculture was busy issuing export licences, which had to be revoked immediately after the crisis.

Mind you, such illogical issuing — and then cancelling — of export licenses is not new. The same was done for sugar and wheat sometime back.

It is not just about onions — the distortion in the prices of essential food commodities has been at a crisis point for a long time now. There have been numerous reports which document the kind of exponential gaps (at times to the tune of 400 per cent) that exist between the wholesale and the retail prices of essential food commodities. But no concrete action has ever been taken by the Government.

As a knee-jerk reaction this time, what the Ministry of Agriculture did to contain the price rise of onions was to ban exports on the one hand and to permit imports on the other. It did provide temporary relief, but clearly was a hasty and illogical call. Onions that were exported to countries like Pakistan for Rs 20 a kg were imported back at Rs 45 a kg. Eventually, Pakistan imposed a ban on exporting onions to India.

The truth is that the prices of onions will remain high till the time structural changes are made in the agriculture sector. This is no secret, given the yawning gaps that exist between production, storage and distribution. In the given environment, taking advantage of these gaps, retailers and hoarders are making hay at the expense of consumers, particularly the poor.

While people may debate that the production of foodgrains is subject to the vagaries of nature and that nothing much can be done about it, the fact is that even after 63 years of independence, our irrigation infrastructure remains shameful. By now we should have created such an irrigation infrastructure that our dependence on nature should have been negligible. But that has not been done. We have equally failed in streamlining distribution and creating storage facilities.

Middlemen have been exploiting these inadequacies to the fullest to their advantage. Ironically, while the prices of crops like onions are not going up by 150 per cent, farmers nor consumers are benefiting from it. Shamefully, the Government allows this to happen — not once, not twice, but repeatedly.

There are no shortcuts to solving such crises. In the first place, the Government had adequate forewarning that the onion crisis was coming, as is the case with any food crisis, since rains, farming patterns, etc, clearly gives an early warning about production trends. And when the crisis is around something as essential as the onion, and given the fact that the structural changes from irrigation to distribution can't be brought about overnight, the Government should have planned imports on time.

With $300 billion of foreign exchange reserves lying idle with the Government, the least that it could have done was to plan on spending a meager $500 million on giving Indians onions at an affordable rate. And in case even imports were not available, then advance warning systems should have been put in place, informing people about the impending crisis and advising them on planning their food intake accordingly. Of course, nothing like this was done, nor shall it be ever done!

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







That's why Rahul Gandhi thinks dynasties are important!

At 40, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is still cherubic and childish. He is also to the manor born and does not hesitate to endorse dynastic politics. During a recent interaction with Benaras Hindu University students, he stated the importance of political dynasties in India while ignoring their demand for restoring the students' union. The BHU administration had earlier dissolved this body and replaced it by the students' council, which organised Mr Gandhi's visit.

His apparent indifference to this subversion of students' politics suggests that democratic process does not matter to him as much as it should have, given the Indian Constitution's uncompromising adherence to democracy. The scion of the Gandhi-Nehru family possibly considers it his birth right to ascend to kingship, currently ceded to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The fact that the family surrounds itself with pliant courtiers, whose fortunes too hinge on perpetuating dynasty mystique, indicates that the ideals of democracy can be watered down when required.

Having given three Prime Ministers to the nation — Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Mr Rajiv Gandhi — the family cannot entirely be blamed for assuming that India is theirs to govern for all time to come. Past rulers — whether Hindu, Muslim or British — may also have harboured the same illusion. But change is the only constant and the Congress's waning fortunes bear testimony to this. From a pan-Indian party, which earlier won State and general elections on its own, it is now increasingly dependent on other parties, all regional players, to assert its relevance. The latter, too, are willing to play along as this provides them a presence at the Centre and opportunities to shape national policies as part of the ruling coalition, in this case, United Progressive Alliance. This is certainly a tragic come-down for a party that once presumed that it had led India to freedom from colonial rule, though Britain's severe economic decline in the wake of World War II was possibly the real reason for its hurried exit from the subcontinent, then on the brink of explosion.

Mr Gandhi has gone to the extent of ascribing the credit for India attaining independence or greatness of any kind in the modern age to his forbears. At an election rally in April 2007, he proclaimed, "You know that when any member of my family decides to do anything, he does it. Be it the freedom struggle, the division of Pakistan or taking India to the 21st century."

Pakistan reacted immediately, seeing the remark as an admission of India's role in its break up. Clearly, the young Mr Gandhi had put his foot in his mouth. Nothing could have been more vainglorious as the comment ignored the role of other stalwarts, including Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress's most renowned mentor worldwide, in the freedom struggle, as well as the contribution of myriad individuals in the making of modern India. Perhaps, it was immaturity that induced him to speak thus. However, when he had just entered politics, back in early 2004, he declared: "I am here as a sensible, responsible Indian, because I want to help people get on track, from being distracted by dangerous issues like religious and caste hatred".

For any individual, a greenhorn at that, even to think of attempting so much, when others, far more experienced and sincere, had failed to steer the nation in the direction of the noble goals that inspired them, is tacky, to say the least. And considering that his party, the Congress, had helped stir and season the caste and communal brew, as it still does, his simulated ignorance of the truth is ominous. It shows all the makings of a typical politician. And the less said about that breed, the better. His other pronouncements expose an unwillingness to break away from the beaten track, as he harps on his lineage and family mission: "There is a work that my father had started, a dream he had dreamt. I come to you today saying…allow me to turn that dream into reality".

It is all utterly predictable and clichéd, emanating from a time warp that has long been overtaken by the hurtling onward flow of life. The new world order compels individual initiative and achievement. Invoking dynasty as a vote garnering measure will not work in a system that is bound to electoral politics. It is this set up that has promoted the rise of regional parties and leaders to positions of power, with some of them even hoping to lead the nation in the future. Mr Gandhi is pitted against them in the final reckoning..







The twin issues of corruption and inflation will be the focus of the Opposition's campaign during the coming Assembly elections. The Congress will find itself fighting on the back foot

With political parties gearing up to fight a bitter turf war in the coming Assembly elections in half-a-dozen States, the focus is on corruption and price rise. While the Opposition is getting ready with its arsenal, the Congress is preparing its defence. However, it is interesting to note that 'corruption' did not feature in manifestoes of most political parties during the general election in 2009 and the BJP manifesto had it somewhere buried inside.

The Congress, in an effort to dig itself out of corruption hole, took a combative stance against corruption at its Burari plenary session held last month. It has identified corruption and communalism as the most important challenges before the party. While Congress president Sonia Gandhi came up with a five-point programme, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh surprised his own party by offering to appear before the PAC on the 2G-Spectrum scam. Mr Singh is also contemplating pushing the Lokpal Bill — a law that would enable citizens to sue even the most powerful arm of the state for corruption — in the next Budget session.

However, there seems to be no respite for the Congress. The appointment of PJ Thomas the Chief Vigilance Commissioner has become a millstone around its neck. There is no relief to the common man from inflation. And, the Bofors ghost has come back to haunt it. Add to it, attacks from a vigilant media and rap on the knuckles from a proactive judiciary. The circumstances remind one of the 1989 general election when the Bofors issue and the perception of corruption brought Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress down.

The Opposition's strategy to keep the heat on the UPA is gaining momentum. The BJP has taken a resolution on corruption at its recently concluded Working Committee meeting in Guwahati. The party has evolved a two-pronged strategy to attack the Congress: It is targeting the Gandhi family on the Bofors issue and the Prime Minister on the 2G Spectrum and other scams. It has decided to take the corruption issue to the streets and has invited the Opposition to share the platform. The NDA constituents and the Left parties too have joined the chorus against corruption.

However, the seriousness of politicians in tackling corruption is never beyond doubt.

The BJP has failed to deal firmly with Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa, who is facing corruption charges, despite taking a moral high ground. Similarly, the Congress, neck-deep in swindles, is accusing the BJP of corruption. The Congress should understand that the clean image of the Prime Minister is not enough if he fails to act tough on Ministers who are corrupt. The only upshot is that such vigil may keep each other in check and corruptions may ebb.

Can corruption really become an issue in the Assembly polls? It all depends on the ability of the Opposition to take it to the streets. Sure, people are vexed with corruption eating away at the institutions of governance. According to a recent survey, people have ranked corruption as most serious concern facing the nation. The Congress is clearly on the defensive. It has fielded Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal to argue its case on the 2G Spectrum scam. The Government's reluctance to retrieve funds stashed abroad in Swiss banks indicates culpability of some top leaders. Further, its effort to break the Opposition unity by trying to divide the BJP on the PAC issue has backfired.

The solidarity between the Left parties and the NDA is a welcome move, as it would keep the pressure on the Congress-led UPA Government. The Opposition has tasted blood by making the DMK Minister A Raja resign. Its unrelenting attitude saw former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan getting the boot on Adarsh Society scandal and Mr Suresh Kalmadi losing his post as secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party. It seems the Left and the BJP have a secret understanding on several issues inside and outside Parliament. While the Left has not attacked the BJP on the 'saffron terror' issue, the BJP maintains a studied silence on the law and order situation in West Bengal.

However, political parties must understand that voters are not naïve anymore to believe in their rhetoric. They would like to see how politicians walk the talk. So both the Congress and the BJP need an image correction to fit the bill.







With volatile capital inflows and manpower mobility trend impacting international finance, India's economy must move beyond resilience and show real strength to counter repercussions

The Indian economy is known to have certain degrees of resilience and this has been proven time and again, especially during the South-East Asian economic crisis and the more recent global meltdown. This is understandable because from the micro level to the macro level, India has an entire range of different typologies of economies. In essence, it means two things: For one, that nothing can happen which will affect all segments negatively. And second, whatever happens there will be some segment of the Indian economy which would be capable of responding to it and coping with it in a manner to make up for the deficit in other segments.

The average rate of national growth of nine per cent per annum during the period of 2002-08 was remarkable. But the economic crisis of 2009 interrupted that pattern. Now again, India's projected growth rate for 2010-11 is pegged at upward of eight per cent.

A look at the export sector may help to clarify some ideas. The export sector suffered an unduly long descalation in growth during the recent economic crisis. It started around August 2008 and continued for almost 14 months. Again, the export scenario took a positive turn from October 2009. However, this may have been an arithmetic rise, which showed the graph heading north because the growth in the previous year was low. What is good news is that the positive trend has been maintained for last several months. Although the overall growth in the export sector for the financial year 2009-10 was negative but there was a palpable positive trend. Experts believe that the trend is likely to continue during the financial year 2010-11, which means the export target of $200 billion projected by the Government looks achievable.

Indeed, calculations of international growth get affected because different countries follow different financial years. So it is best to stick to the calendar year as the unit of reference. Interestingly, all the BRIC countries, save India, have registered positive growth for the year ending December 31, 2009. Thus, it shows that the resilience is not unique to India but other economies also have their absorptive capacity. In the case of India, what really declined was the services export. And if this goes down then, inward remittances drop.

There are other dimensions of international finance where manpower mobility trend has become relevant. With demographic changes becoming a reality worldwide, its repercussions can be felt in international finance. For instance, if there is a loss of jobs in West Asia then Indian economy will get affected. There may be some debate on the percentage of impact but there will be impact for sure. Earlier, West Asia had its supply of labour from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Now, there is a great draw from African and East European countries. While Ghana and Sudan are in the lead, Albania and Romania are gradually gaining ground. Should this market dry up for Indians, the impact would be significant despite the fact that jobs are in the lower category.

Volatile capital flows have been a major issue during the crisis and continue to be so though the crisis is ebbing. Global deleveraging was bound to impact emerging market and economies because during the crisis EMEs witnessed a reversal of capital flow. However, now that the trend has reversed many emerging market economies are once again experiencing net inflows in a positive direction. It has resulted in excess liquidity availability. This liquidity is still in the system and there is a continued prevalence of low interest rate in many countries. Interestingly, a new phenomenon has emerged encouraging people to park their money in countries other than their own, where it works best for them. Indeed, if the Indian economy shows real strength and moves beyond resilience, it may emerge as the centre to which people from other parts of the world would gravitate when faced with economic crisis.

Yes, excess inflows have their own problems but the systematic imbalance over differentiated markets will continue to be a major factor enhancing the impact of turbulence. In order to cope with that Indian economy will require true health. The future can be only as strong as the inner vitality of the body politic. If that can be ensured, it is growth indeed and managing it will need a script and diligence that we have yet to arrive at.








The news that IndiGo, the country's largest low-cost airline, has signed the global civil aviation industry's biggest airplane supply order ever - a mammoth $15.6 billion deal with Airbus for 180 A320neo and A320 planes - is as emphatic a statement as can be hoped for that the Indian aviation sector is riding out of the 2007-09 slump. Hit by perfect storm conditions at the time with soaring oil prices, the global recession and poor decision-making by airline managements all feeding into each other, air traffic fell by 5% in 2008 compared to a growth of 35.5% just two years previously. The sunrise sector seemed headed for the twilight zone. But from the second half of 2009, it has slowly started to find its feet again. And what the brief slump has illustrated is the need for adequate planning if the industry's massive potential is to be realised.

Within just a decade and a half of opening up Indian skies to allow private airlines, the country's aviation sector has become the ninth largest in the world. This is not surprising. The concurrent process of liberalisation led to an exponential increase in the Indian middle class's purchasing power. The overall economic growth that this heralded has a symbiotic relationship with a robust aviation industry. Free movement of goods and people is essential for creating new domestic markets and providing new economic opportunities, linking areas that may hitherto have been cut off from development hubs.

Managing these dynamics effectively is crucial. The potential might be massive, but the mechanisms to realise it are lacking. There is a large supply-demand gap and the earning potential of air cargo traffic has gone largely untapped, due to weak infrastructure and resultant first- and last-mile connectivity issues. Factor in an inadequate number of airports - as well as the lack of passenger and cargo-handling facilities at existing airports - and the nature of the roadblocks becomes clear.

These are not insurmountable problems. For one, the industry's potential and investment opportunities of $150 billion up till 2020 have attracted significant interest from foreign investors. And with 100% FDI allowed for greenfield airport projects via the automatic route, and similar norms for existing projects (although requiring government approval if FDI is over 74%), the government is adopting sensible policies. Giving a push to the development of Indian airports as global passenger and cargo traffic hubs - as Dubai and Singapore have already done - would not only help the aviation industry soar out of the 2007-09 slump, it would be a force multiplier for the Indian economy as a whole.







With the Nepali Congress (NC) withdrawing from the 17th round of prime ministerial elections, Nepal's Constituent Assembly can now abandon what has become a farcical process to form a new coalition government. The sole remaining candidate, NC's Ram Chandra Poudel, was assured of defeat following a whip issued by ally CPN(UML) to vote in the negative. And with the opposition Maoists already having rejected Poudel's candidature, continuing with the elections would have been meaningless. This provides a good opportunity for all stakeholders to start afresh and build consensus. Nepal has been without an effective government since June last year. Thanks primarily to inflexibility on the part of the NC and the Maoists, 16 rounds of voting couldn't end the impasse.

The resulting political vacuum has been a massive setback to the implementation of the peace process. The drafting of a new Constitution is in limbo. Demobilisation of former Maoist guerrillas is still a long way off. Complicating matters further is the decision of the UN mission in Nepal to wrap up its operations. The mission, which monitored Maoist arms and camps following the 2006 peace agreement, played a crucial role as an intermediary between the Nepali army and the guerrillas. However, frustrated by unfulfilled pledges, it no longer feels the need to stay on. With January 15 set as the date of withdrawal, an alternative mechanism to replace the mission is not going to be in place. All the more reason why Nepal's political parties would do well to set aside ideological differences and work towards a unity government. Consensus, not a return to the pre-2006 situation, is the way forward.








Policy makers have reason to dislike the word 'overheating'. It suggests that an economy has crossed an upper bound of sustainable growth. Any attempt to continue to grow at that rate or rev up further would put prices on the boil. If the current episode of high inflation is indeed characterised as overheating, it would suggest prices would stabilise only if economic growth were to slow down. That would question the government's claims that GDP growth is likely to accelerate further and climb on a sustained double-digit path. The question is: should the 'O' word enter the current discourse on inflation or would that be too alarmist?

There are a number of arguments against the 'overheating' view. For one, the received wisdom about India is that the potential party poopers are shortage of infrastructure and skilled labour. Thus the initial symptoms of rising economic temperature should be found in growing power outages, clogged ports and rising white collar wages, not in high food prices. This is related to another common belief that agricultural price variations typically reflect 'temporary' supply side problems that given a bit of patience, adequate rainfall and a few raids on hoarders would get sorted.

Finally, the litmus test of 'overheating' is whether inflation is broad-based or not. The claim is that since the bulk of current inflation is still driven by food, it fails this litmus test. This view has underpinned the government's anti-inflation strategy over the past year. The policy-corollary of this has been to treat rise in food prices as a series of somewhat independent episodes of temporary supply-shortages in different items.

This strategy has clearly not worked. Food inflation has averaged 16% over the past year and, with the exception of November, stubbornly remained in double digits. A reasonably bountiful monsoon and a relatively good summer crop have failed to provide the relief promised. This suggests two things. First, the government needs to beef up its supply management apparatus. The second is more ominous. Rise in food prices could turn out to be a somewhat unexpected symptom of 'overheating'.

I would argue the following. The very persistence should tell us there's more to it than one-off supply failure. Food prices are clearly getting support from a secular rise in demand. If, instead of treating 'food' as a black-box, one looks at the constituents of the food basket in the price-index, the price build-up appears to be in non-cereal categories - things like milk, fish, poultry and vegetables.

This has to be interpreted carefully. First, there is evidence to show a sustained shift in dietary preference away from cereals to these products for the last few years. Second, the ability of households, especially rural households, to buy these food items appears to have increased as higher procurement prices and better penetration of NREGA have translated into higher incomes. While demand for these commodities has increased, the supply side has remained crippled by a combination of post-harvest distribution infrastructure (an abysmal cold chain network, for instance, that results in roughly 30% wastage in post-production) and archaic marketing laws. The result has been a steady upward trend in prices of food products.

This trend, not the occasional spikes around this trend, is the key concern. How can we arrest it? This involves a complete overhaul of the supply and marketing infrastructure and is unlikely to happen overnight. Thus we must accept the fact if demand for food were to continue at the current rate it would put further pressure on an already overstretched food sector.

The problem is that food prices cannot be locked away in a strong-box - they are bound to transmit to other segments of the economy. The most predictable impact is likely to be on wages. Workers are likely to renegotiate wages up if food prices erode their budget; there is anecdotal evidence to suggest this is happening. If an employer is forced to pay higher wages, he is likely to charge higher prices for the products he sells. Thus there is a cascading effect of food inflation that pulls up prices across the board. This would be overheating in the more classical sense and is a risk that intensifies each passing day.

The challenge is not just to dampen food prices but also to prevent these second-round 'pass-through' effects. This is possible only if demand conditions soften and curtail overall pricing power of producers - that is, if growth slows down considerably from current levels. This is the RBI's remit - it can try to harness growth by pushing up interest rates forcing consumers and firms to borrow and spend less. Higher interest rates are unlikely to bring onion prices down. They can however stymie the complex chain of linkages through which higher onion prices could translate into higher prices for cars.

What's the bottom-line then? For a start, the government has to reconcile to a lower medium-term growth rate than the 9%-plus it currently seems to target. It also has to accept the fact that there is a serious structural imbalance in the food economy and have a long-term strategy in place instead of seeking quick fixes. RBI's role and remit will have to be understood carefully. The government needs to anticipate short-term supply problems a whole lot better to prevent short-term price spikes. Finally, it must use its procurement and distribution muscle to ensure the price of cereals is at least kept in check.

The writer is chief economist, HDFC Bank. Views expressed are personal.








Siddiq Wahid , vice-chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology, situated at Awantipora on the outskirts of Srinagar, spoke to Humra Quraishi about education in the Valley:

How do you make up lost academic months?

We cut the winter vacation to less than half the normal two and a half months. This gives the students the coldest period of the winter off, while keeping them on track academically. We are behind in syllabi and all other aspects of academics. From the vantage point of an educational administrator, i feel that on the one hand the students want to get on with their lives and are dismayed by the uncertainty. And on the other hand, they are seized of the importance of the resolution of the J&K dispute, aware that it affects their lives directly and want it resolved. So you might say that there is a mix of nervous uncertainty and reactive anger amongst students.

What special inputs are now required to reach out to the students in the Valley?

At base level, the most important outreach will be to provide our youth with a modicum of certainty about their futures. This generation was born amidst unprecedented violence and deep anger. Jobs will help. But we have to remember that there are far too many youth who are educated, unemployed and angry. Employment for everyone cannot be generated overnight. So it is the overall atmosphere in Jammu & Kashmir that has to be changed. To begin with Delhi and the state government will have to work hard to remove the political uncertainty that is the bedrock of all the unrest. The state's education sector will need to take the initiative and be innovative both in and out of the classroom. It could, for example, institute forums through which students can socialise, discuss, debate and even protest on issues of various kinds, including politics. Youth will need to be exposed to the revolutionary changes that have taken place in the world in the last 20 years and there will have to be out-of-the-box initiatives amongst corporations in the private sector, government agencies and NGOs to address the rehabilitation of the majority of the youth who have not been able to leave the Valley in pursuit of higher education and jobs.

What hurdles does the Kashmiri student face once he steps out of the Valley?

One imagines that all young people who leave their homes face challenges and discomforts. But the Kashmiri student, or youth in general, face the biggest hurdles. Some of these are character profiling against stereotyped images of Kashmiris as "militants", even terror-prone, and an open distrust of their purpose of intent. These are very debilitating hurdles to face for a young person who is setting out to shape his future. They cannot be equated with not liking the food at a hostel or missing friends with whom one has grown up.

As an academic how frustrating has this phase been for you?

I don't know that either of those sentiments has been a dominant theme in my emotions. We get frustrated, upset and even angry of course. So at one level we feel alternately sad and angry at the many civilian deaths of young men and women, is this what it takes for us to listen to people's needs? At the same time we need to ensure that such sentiment is temporary; it has to be temporary if we want to be constructive. And there is much to do, so one has to fight against the sentiments of frustration and anger.







In the mid-19th century Abraham Lincoln fought a civil war in America to free the slaves. In the 21st century, over 60 years after it gained independence, India continues to be enslaved. To cricket, particularly to IPL cricket. This was forcibly brought home by the IPL auctions. How much for this prize specimen on the block! Ladies and gemmelmen, look at those arms, look at those legs! Look at that batting average, those runs, the wickets he's taken! The ads he's appeared in! The endorsements he's made, for everything, from cars to colas, ganjis to gutka! What am i bid for this prime hunk of cricketing flesh, and bone and muscle? 3 crore? 3.15 crore? 3.38 crore? 4.05, from that lady in the rhinestone sunglasses and chandelier earrings in the back? 6 crore, from the gemmelmen in the day-glo safari suit? Thank you, sir! And it's going, Going, GONE for 6 Big Ones! 


Just like the slave auctions they used to have in the bad old days before slavery got abolished. Except in the case of IPL the slaves are not the ones who are being bid for but the ones who are doing the bidding, the megabuck socialites and tycoons, and the zillion other fans across the country glued to their TV sets to catch the action. 


There was a time, long, long ago, when cricket was a leisurely game played with a bat and a ball and three wickets on something called a village green on a small, wet island called England. Today in India, bats, balls and wickets are still involved in cricket, but only peripherally so. In IPL cricket (is there any other form of the game?), while bats, balls and all that old paraphernalia are still around somewhere the focus has shifted to the razzmatazz around the sport, starting with the auctions: the prime-time TV slots, the ad revenues to be made at a squillion Rs a minute, the cheerleaders, the backdoor deals involving sweat equity, the scams, the accusations of match-fixing, you name it and IPL's got it, in 3D and Surroundsound. Village green? England? Who dat? 


If IPL has enslaved us - and there's no if about it, it has - there have never been slaves happier in their bondage. Onion prices? Inflation? Total logjam in Parliament? Pakistani terror? Saffron terror? Chinese incursions into Ladakh? We swat them away like the pesky machchars that they are. Don't worry, be happy, IPL's here. 


But what about that minuscule - and never has cule been more minus - minority who out of some strange and as yet undiagnosed pathological condition doesn't much care for cricket, not even IPL cricket, and can't tell a Rajasthan Rider from a Royal Knight? What about that wretched bunch of IPL-less no-hopers, to which i confess i belong? Are unfortunates like me free of the magical spell of enchantment that IPL casts over the nation? Not really. In fact not at all. 


The other evening i was at a social get-together, a dinner party. Everyone was busy talking about the IPL auctions, who'd bid how much for whom, and conversely who hadn't bid for whom, and how come not. While everyone was busy talking cricket, i was also busy. Busy polishing off the pre-dinner snacks, plus more than my fair share of the buffet dinner. 


It's not just dinner tables to which IPL obsession enables non-IPLwallas like me easy access. Movie halls, restaurants, markets, malls, shops, my daily evening walk are all pleasantly and conveniently uncrowded as the IPL epidemic sweeps the country. Everyone's too preoccupied with cricket to go anywhere and do anything else, which leaves the field free for me. 


I'm so glad i'm not enslaved like everyone else by IPL. Or aren't i? By becoming so dependent on others' slavery to cricket, haven't i become a slave to their enslavement? A slave of a slave? Boy, how slavish can one get. Yikes. 







Industrial growth caught a chill in November and there are signs the downturn may last most of this winter. Factory output grew a measly 2.7 % in November 2010, down from 11.3 in the same month a year ago. Going forward, the worry is industrial performance may look stunted against the breathtaking pace notched up between December 2009 and March 2010, when the growth rate averaged 16.4 %. In fact, the December 2009 figure is an eye-popping 17.9 %, so the next set of data due on the index of industrial production is poised to look especially anemic. Having said that, India's industrial growth in April-November 2010 at 9.4 % is comfortably higher than the 7.4 % of the year-ago period.


The exceptional dip this November owes much to flagging consumer demand. Rising inflation crimped purchases of clothes and packaged food—production of perishable consumer goods actually shrank by 6 % during the month. And in a month after the Diwali buying frenzy, Indians cut back on big purchases like cars and refrigerators. The weakened consumer demand spilled over into intermediate goods, which grew at an eighth of the pace of November 2009. However, the core of Indian industry—machinery and electric generators that go into the making of the stuff we eventually buy—kept up its momentum. This and the fact that our machinery-intensive imports are rising at a rapid clip should ease some of the worry about an overall industrial downturn. Besides, the service sector is on course to grow at close to 9 % and farm produce ought to clock good numbers in a year after a bad monsoon played havoc with the harvest.


The jumpy factory output data for most of this financial year will influence policymaking in key areas. One, it will temper the central banks' zeal to raise interest rates to cool food inflation, which is stubbornly refusing to come off high double-digits. The Reserve Bank of India is poised to resume its rate-hiking cycle next fortnight, but the actual hike could be lower than what the markets are expecting. Two, the government's plan to pull up tax rates lowered to fight the 2008 credit crisis may get delayed. The inflationary impact of higher taxes is all too apparent, dips in industrial production will lend weight to the naysayers.  Finally, the index of industrial production has been see-sawing wildly, sometimes in direct contradiction to the anecdotal evidence. To be useful as a forecasting tool, the index itself may need an overhaul to capture reality better.







Not yet being the masterful footballers that we hope to be in the future, Indians fans of the Beautiful Game were delighted to find Lionel Messi being anointed as the Fifa Footballer of the Year for the second year running. For those of us who followed the Argentine forward during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, we tend to remember those glorious runs from the 23-year-old rather than the Spanish victory in the finals (never mind the 0-4 rout of Argentina against Germany in the quarter-final). But it is the Messi of Barcelona FC who has taken his art and craft with the football to another level. So it is the sheer mastery at the club level that makes the man from Rosario in Argentina deserving of the Golden Ball award for his continuing excellence.

If desi Barca and Argentina fans are delighted, imagine the monstrous joy of Barcelona Barca fans considering that apart from Messi in the reckoning for the Golden Ball, there were also fellow Barca mates Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Some club fanatics are reportedly upset that a Spaniard didn't get to lift the coveted prize. But for most Barcelona fans, this kind of thinking is poppycock. What mattered was 'one of us' from their club, Barcelona FC, got the title, not whether that player was an Argentine, Spaniard or a Martian.

There is something here that Kolkatans, stapled to their rigid sense of seeing the universe in terms of 'Bengali vs non-Bengali', can learn from. Kolkata club football may be still languishing in the Hooghly, but the reaction to Sourav Ganguly not being chosen as part of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) team in IPL4 has resulted in a collective howling at the 'Moon Moon'. If Barca's joy for Messi's honour teaches them anything, it is that KKR fans should be loyal to their club and those playing for it; not to individuals venerated according to their ethnicity-based iconhood.





I guess you're a family man or woman whose idea of dipping into the spiritual side of things is hanging on to every word uttered by a man dressed in Gandalf White with a wispy beard telling you in a reedy voice how to practise the art of living. I would also venture to guess that your idea of a man of religion is someone who's relinquished all worldly things except the basics that include staying alive.

But Narendranath Datta, born 150 years ago on January 12, 1863, and who gave up on domestic life at the age of 24 to become Swami Vivekananda, not only refused to keep the world at bay but actually went out of his way to celebrate this physical world.

Vivekananda was no Gandhi obsessed with purifying souls. He wanted to maximise life and strengthen lives. At the death of a relative, Vivekananda was found to be in tears. When asked whether it suited a monk to show sorrow, he replied, "A monk has to be even more sensitive and open to emotions than others."

Vivekananda, the snuff-snorting, food-loving, cricket-playing (he played a street version of the game that was simply known as 'batomball') Vedanta scholar and disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, was no mere metaphysical but a champion of the physical world. This was a swami known for cooking American fish chowder, Norwegian fish balls, English boarding house hash and minced pie a la Kashmir.

This man, whose two favourite books were The Bhagwat Gita and Thomas Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, said before his death at the age of 39: "You will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita." No world-rejecting guruji was this.

Aditya Sen is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.







If chain SMSes are a measure of the 'national' mood, then it's clear what the popular opinion has been after every terror attack in recent times. "Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim" was a familiar SMS after every incident. But now, with Swami Aseemanand, who ran an RSS affiliate outfit, reportedly 'confessing' to the involvement of Hindu groups in many terror strikes over the last decade, there could be a twist in the tale. "If every terrorist is a Muslim, has Swami Aseemanand converted to Islam?" is the new counter-SMS.

The SMS wars might be dismissed as trivial if they weren't a pointer to a dangerous polarisation of minds. While Aseemanand's 'confession' per se needs to be corroborated with independent evidence for a successful prosecution, it does indicate a troubling trajectory of terror that goes well beyond the stereotype. So far, terror was seen either as a cross-border phenomenon or part of a larger 'jihadist' mindset. Now, if investigators are to be believed, there are at least a dozen terror incidents, across several states, which have been masterminded by terror groups inspired by Hindutva.

Unfortunately, instead of facing up to the national security implications, the reactions of the political class to the terror revelations have oscillated between denial and demonisation. The Sangh parivar, be it the RSS or the BJP, has chosen to live in denial, labelling the accusations as a Congress 'conspiracy', driven by a government which seeks to deflect public attention from corruption. While questions can be raised over the timing of the 'leaks', a strident defence of the accused is misplaced and only serves to undermine the credibility of the country's investigative agencies in fighting the war on terror.

On the other side of the divide, anti-Sangh groups have used the Aseemanand 'confession' to question the nationalistic credentials of every individual associated with the RSS. Demands have been made to re-investigate every recent blast case and release the accused from the minority community. While in some instances there has been a genuine miscarriage of justice, to suggest that Muslims have been victimised in every case is to reveal a lack of faith in the judicial process, one that can only widen the communal chasm.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan has chosen to exploit our embarrassment for its own propaganda purposes. By seeking more details on the Samjhauta train blasts, Pakistan wants to get its 'revenge' for being charged with failing to act against the 26/11 conspirators. Since the Samjhauta attack was officially described as the handiwork of the Lashkar, indications that it could have been done by Hindutva groups have provided Pakistanis ammunition to question our credentials to prosecute terror in a credible and non-partisan manner.

The truth is that partisanship of any kind must have no place in the war against terror. When a Rajnath Singh as BJP president visits Malegaon blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and claims she is 'innocent' and is being harassed by the state government, he is taking a political stance incompatible with the rule of law. Has he, or any BJP leader for that matter, attempted to empathise with innocent Muslim youth who may also be facing similar charges? Similarly, when senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh attends the release of a book on 26/11 that describes the attack as a RSS-Mossad-CIA 'conspiracy', he is only legitimising the forces that choose to see terror through a prism of religious hatred. Why doesn't he unambiguously reject such elements rather than flirt with them?

By politicising terror, our netas are guilty of doing grave disservice to our anti-terror investigative agencies, which need to desperately function independently of the political class. When a Bal Thackeray launched a scathing criticism of Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare for arresting Sadhvi Pragya, he was only reinforcing his image as an extra-constitutional Hindutva demagogue. Likewise, when a leader of the stature of LK Advani also chose to attack Karkare, he exposed himself to the charge of being a leader of a saffron brotherhood — not of the nation.

The challenge is to rise above religious prejudice when confronting terror. There must be a realisation that there are individual hotheads and organised groupings in both communities who are seeking to settle scores through mindless violence. In many instances, they prey on the fears of their co-religionists, creating a sense of 'victimhood' and a desire for 'revenge'. The worst thing one can do is to tap into these feelings of hatred by provocative acts of any kind. But that is precisely what happens when we seek to defend our 'own' even at the cost of the truth.

Which is why the Aseemanand 'confessions', if backed by scientific evidence, could prove to be a much-needed wake up call. For much too long, we have been defensive in using terms like 'Hindutva terror' even while openly identifying Islam with terror. The hypocrisy underlying these contrasting responses will no longer suffice. There is no point rationalising the activities of groups like Abhinav Bharat by suggesting that they represent 'fringe' elements. Fringe elements don't bomb places of worship or kill innocent civilians.

Equally, we need to recognise that the Indian Mujahideen is not a figment of imagination of the Intelligence Bureau but a dangerous, well-organised terror group that needs to be sternly dealt with. Most important, we need to start revisiting our pre-conceived notion of just who is a terrorist. How about a chain SMS that finally accepts that a terrorist knows no religion but the cult of violence?

Post-script: At a recent TV discussion, I asked terrorism expert, B Raman what advice he would like to give our politicians in combating terror. His no-nonsense response: "They should just shut up and let the investigators do their job!"

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network. The views expressed by the author are personal.





All over the world there is a struggle taking place within and about religion. Sometimes it results merely in  prejudicial words. Too often it erupts in violence and acts of shocking extremism. The essence of the struggle is this: are people of religious faith prepared to regard those of a different faith with respect and dignity and love? Or do they rather regard them as enemies simply because they don't share the same faith or religion as them? In each of the main religions such a struggle is being waged everywhere. The outcome of such a struggle has immense implications for all of us.

Some people naturally want to say that the answer to this lies in the realm of politics. And politics does have a crucial role to play. But since the dimensions of this struggle are inevitably affected by religion itself, people of faith have to step forward and take responsibility. What is more, because those who are passionate about their faith don't want to act in contradiction to it, the argument in favour of the 'open' approach has to go wider and deeper than simply asking people to behave nicely to one another. It has to address full-on, the spiritual and scriptural basis for mutual respect towards those who follow a different religious or spiritual path.

On October 20, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution declaring the first week of February of every year the World Interfaith Harmony Week. The resolution was first proposed a month earlier by King Abdullah II of Jordan. It is unique because it promotes harmonious interfaith relations in a way that specifically draws attention to the scriptural and theological basis for such relations.

Obviously resolutions, no matter how well meaning, do not by themselves alter the world. But this resolution does encourage people who do believe in inter-religious harmony and mutual acceptance to stand up and to challenge those whose narrow view of other religions leads to discord and division. It acknowledges the reality that religious discourse on social behaviour is central to the way the 21st century develops.

The resolution's mention of 'love of God and love of one's neighbour' is also important because without it devout Christians, Muslims and Jews are not likely to sincerely get behind the resolution — and Christians and Muslims alone make up some 55% of the world's population — since Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God… (Luke 4:4 and Matthew 4:4, see also Deuteronomy 8:2-3)... Verily the remembrance of God is of all things the greatest… [the Koran, 29:45]...

Equally, the mention of 'love of the good and love of one's neighbour' is important because while the Good is God for believers, love of the good and the neighbour is the very essence of goodwill for all people. Thus the resolution includes everyone in the world of all religions, faiths and beliefs, and those of no religion at all.

The World Interfaith Harmony Week has an unprecedented potential to globally turn the tide against religious tensions by a) coordinating and uniting the efforts of all the interfaith groups doing positive work with one focused theme at one specific time annually, b) harnessing and utilising the collective might of the world's second-largest infrastructure (places of worship) specifically for harmony in the world, and c) regularly encouraging the silent majority of preachers to declare themselves for peace and harmony and creating a public record of this.

What can you do? If you are a religious figure, a preacher or a teacher, all you have to do is take up the theme of inter-religious harmony during the first week of February every year in your instruction. If you would like to register your event or sermon so that others can be apprised of it, please do so at

As a layperson, there are many things you can do. These may include organising a 'Harmony Breakfast' for neighbours of various faiths; doing joint community work; watching a film together; merely talking to your own families about the need for tolerance and harmony; or even just going out of your way to greet someone or smile at someone who is of a different faith. Meaningful events are already taking place around the world.

The real work of loving one's neighbour starts with the neighbour and, therefore, in local communities. A good deed for interfaith harmony is not like a vote for a candidate that loses: it still counts. It counts first for the soul that did it, and is that much the better for it. And it counts by creating a ripple effect of goodness that has unforeseen positive consequences in the future in an ever-widening circle of goodness. So in the first week of February remember God and the neighbour, or the Good and the neighbour. And remember the World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Tony Blair is a former prime minister of Britain and Ghazi bin Muhammad is a Jordanian prince. The views expressed by the authors are personal.








If there is one place that Kerala Marxists are loathe to tread, even metaphorically, that is Narendra Modi's Gujarat. Theirs is a curious relationship and its uni-dimensional nature is revealed with amusing periodicity. However vibrant Modi may claim his state to be and howsoever many industrialists he may get to vouch for it with proposals worth lakhs of crores

of rupees, "the Gujarat model of development" does not, should not, wash with a Kerala comrade. The latest verbal tiff between Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan is in any case part of the duo's longstanding rivalry.

A week ago, Vijayan pointed out how unfriendly was Kerala's approach to investors as opposed to "a state" that fast-tracks investment proposals. "A state" was left unnamed, but with news of Narendra Modi's annual investment mela in the air, VS pounced on it and said the mangrove-destroying Gujarat model of development was indeed no model for Kerala. Vijayan finally named the unnamed and said "a state" was friendly neighbourhood Tamil Nadu, not Gujarat, for no communist would dare to extol the state ruled by Modi. Ask A.P. Abdullakutty. One of the many sins of omission and commission of this former Marxist MP — he was thrown out of the party exactly two years ago — was that he extolled Modi's "exemplary" approach towards investors in Gujarat.

Modi's credentials apart, what will be closely tracked is VS's and Vijayan's fine art of finding issues to quibble over, especially when assembly elections are just months away. With both factional feud and anti-incumbency looming over the party's future in the coming polls, it may well provide a last-ditch incentive to them to affect some semblance of unity.






There is rightful concern about the narrowing of options available to India at the moment when it comes to engaging with Pakistan. Given Pakistan's internal dynamic at the moment, New Delhi doesn't have much latitude in dealing with Islamabad. For reasons of not just national but also regional interest, India therefore needs to improvise and engage at multiple levels with Pakistani society. Allowing different social groups to interact across the border should be part of

such engagement. In this context, the MEA's clearance to a Punjab government delegation to Pakistan seeking to discuss an all-Punjab sporting event — to be held sometime in the next few months — is welcome. Such confidence-building measures based on people-to-people contact have been tried before and should be kept alive even when — especially when — there appears to be little to hope for from formal, stylised talks at the secretary and ministerial levels.

Although 2004 was the last time such an all-Punjab event was held, there had been a lot of progress in India-Pakistan citizen and political diplomacy in the 2004-2007 period. Right now, that seems a long time ago. Therefore, the utilisation of the personal and familial contacts the two Punjabs have maintained at a sub-national level could be just the handy thing at the moment. The Punjab government should after all be optimistic since an all-Bengal sporting event was successfully held last year, across a border that hasn't traditionally seen the sort of people-to-people interaction between the two Punjabs.

Foreign secretary-level talks are to take place next month. There's no guarantee of further, if any, progress thereafter. Since Pakistan's civilian leadership is unsure and unstable, it's best to be realistic about the outcome. The Musharraf-era pledge about reining in anti-India militants is passé, and the current military leadership in Pakistan will allow talks only on its own terms. That's why India hasn't succeeded in resuming the talks despite its efforts since mid-2009, after New Delhi had suspended them post-26/11. Under the circumstances, the all-Punjab games is an example of windows of opportunity that remain open.






The high-level meeting on inflation convened by the prime minister is considering a slew of measures they wish us to believe represent a determined tackling of the problem. Among them, reportedly, is the banning of exports of a range of agri-products, including wheat derivatives; and also, the removal of a set of "essential commodities" from the list of those in which futures trading can be carried out. Food inflation is, of course, a real and pressing problem. There's little doubt that government policy must react swiftly and sensibly; but there's every fear that, instead of surgery to repair the broken innards of India's food supply, the government is going instead for a Band-aid, and an ineffective one at that, and then patting us and saying we will be fine now.

Export curbs are generally a bad idea, especially in the medium-term. They reduce the prices that farmers receive, thus altering their incentives; this will only exacerbate the supply problem. There's also an essential confusion to government policy here: consider the proposal that wheat exports be banned. India's winter wheat crop is likely to beat estimates, and while drought in Russia and floods in Australia mean the world grain stockpile may be dented this year, there isn't any reason to suppose that India's grain stocks are likely to vanish overseas; because, after all, the problem is

in the supply chain. Yes, there are specific sectoral problems, and those will need state attention. But that attention cannot be in the form of blanket export curbs. It will need a surgeon's scalpel, not a bludgeon. Or, of course, a Band-aid.

And any attempt to further restrict futures trading in agri-commodities will be not only useless, but in all likelihood counter-productive. In 2008, a committee led by economist Abhijit Sen found that price problems tended to be caused by supply shortfalls and seasonal factors, not futures trading. It actually went on to say that futures contracts were needed to stabilise prices — but holes in the system, and insufficient farmer participation, caused by fear that the government would arbitrarily shut trading down, didn't let the futures markets do their price-smoothing job. The government is failing in its duty to respond to a crisis with forward-looking, visionary reform. This is a moment when India's consumers and producers understand the need for a comprehensive overhaul of agricultural supply. Yet the Central government seems to have chosen not only to not carry out reform, but to actually move backward, imposing ever more control. India will continue to pay for this failure.







Stupidity, Albert Einstein once theorised, is about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The current American and Indian approaches to Pakistan, it would seem, are proof of that. The Obama administration thinks offering more incentives will induce the Pakistan army to cooperate in the pursuit of American objectives in Afghanistan. India, for its part, remains hopeful that it can persuade Pakistan, through negotiations, to end its support of cross-border terrorism.

For nearly a decade, Washington has offered carrots of all sorts to get Pakistan to dismantle the insurgent sanctuaries on its soil that have made it difficult for the United States to stabilise Afghanistan. Despite throwing nearly $20 billion at Pakistan since its invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 2001, the US finds itself in a steadily worsening situation.

Three Indian prime ministers — Inder Kumar Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh — invested much political capital and diplomatic energy in constructing a purposeful engagement with Pakistan since the late 1990s. All three hoped that addressing Pakistan's concerns on Kashmir — the so-called core issue for Islamabad — will result in an end to violence and the full normalisation of bilateral relations. Yet, New Delhi remains trapped in a hopeless situation.

On the face of it, then, Washington and Delhi are being stupid in their expectations from Pakistan. On a closer look, however, the condition that engulfs Washington and Delhi is not stupidity but tragedy. Stupidity is about failing to see a pattern in the relationship between actions and outcomes. Tragedy is about having to do the same thing over and over again, despite "knowing" that the results will not be different.

Both Washington and Delhi are acutely aware that their current policies towards Pakistan have not worked. The problem for Washington and Delhi is that they don't have too many other options in dealing with the Pakistan army that defines the nation's policies towards the US and India. Washington, however, continues to see the Pakistan army as part of the solution.

India attempted to cut a deal with the army when Pervez Musharraf was at the peak of his power during 2004-07, but once General Ashfaq Kayani took charge in 2008, the peace process rapidly disintegrated. For India, the Pakistan army is the problem. While India knows the civilian leaders can't really deliver on its concerns, not talking to them is no good either.

In the wake of 9/11, it was Washington that set the terms for the negotiations with Rawalpindi by threatening to bomb Pakistan to stone age, if Musharraf did not cooperate with the US in Afghanistan. Now it is Kayani who sets the agenda for Washington on Afghanistan. In a six-hour visit to Islamabad and Rawalpindi on Wednesday, US Vice-President Joe Biden has reportedly sought to address all the concerns about US regional policy flagged by Kayani in recent months.

Biden's visit was about persuading Kayani to do more in draining the swamp of militancy on Pakistan's western borderlands. In return, the US media reported that the Obama administration was offering to build a long-term partnership with Pakistan.

At the end of Biden's six-hour-long stay in Pakistan, no new package of assistance was announced. That does not mean it is not under negotiation. The fact is that Kayani wants a lot more than money.

He is demanding that the US accept a special role for Pakistan in the proposed "end-state" for Afghanistan, install its proxies in power across the Durand Line, help reduce the Indian role in Afghanistan, get Delhi to make concessions on J&K, and restore a measure of parity between Delhi and Islamabad on a range of areas including nuclear and other high-technology cooperation. If Kayani is bold enough to push his luck,

it is by no means clear where Washington might draw the line.

On Pakistan's eastern frontiers, it was Delhi that suspended the talks after 26/11. Since mid-2009, India's repeated efforts at resuming the dialogue have been unsuccessful, because Kayani is setting the terms. Having reneged on Musharraf's pledge to rein in anti-India militant groups, Kayani is in no mood to give credible commitments on either bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice or eliminating the safe havens for terror in Pakistan.

Kayani wants India to resume the dialogue without any conditions, and then some. When External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna invited Shah Mahmood Qureshi to visit Delhi, the Pakistani foreign minister said he was in no rush. He would rather see the results from a preparatory meeting between the two foreign secretaries, who will now meet in early February.

While many in the US and India believe that Pakistan is hurtling down an abyss and are tempted to save it from itself, Kayani seems to think he is well poised to deliver historic strategic gains for the army's regional policy. It is quite clear that neither India nor the US is in a position to unilaterally change the current strategic calculus of the Pakistan army. In an ideal world, they might have a slim chance by recasting their Pakistan policies and acting together.

Although Obama has avoided pressing India on Pakistan, many in Washington are consumed by the idea that India must find ways to please Pakistan so that Rawalpindi might do more for the US in Afghanistan. As it disabuses Washington of such ideas, India must begin to look beyond the resumption of the composite dialogue to actions that could alter the internal dynamic in Pakistan.

That would involve Delhi thinking in a disaggregated manner about Pakistan, engaging the different political forces across the border, and building a profile in Afghanistan that can survive the impending shifts in US policy. Trying different things might not necessarily end the tragedy of India's relationship with Pakistan; but it is worth finding out.







Bittoo Sharma first meets Shruti Kakkar at a wedding. She's rude to him, but he's quite taken with her. He borrows his friend's video camera to shoot her dancing, turns up in her U-

special the next day to present her with a DVD exclusively devoted to her performance. The opening of Band Baaja Baaraat makes one think you know exactly where it's going. The girl seen by the boy at a shaadi, the wooing that ensues, leading up to the couple's own wedding — it's among the oldest tropes in the Hindi movie universe. And Band Baaja Baaraat's opening scene is a clear tribute to Yash Chopra's own contribution to the genre: Chandni (1989), where Rishi Kapoor first sees Sridevi at a wedding, starts photographing her in secret, and later, in one of the dramatic high points of the 1980s filmi romance, reveals a roomful of pictures he has taken of her.

The Indian wedding has always been a traditional mating ground. It was a rare, socially sanctioned space where young women of marriageable age were on display, for matchmaking aunts — and potential husbands. (Ask around in any north Indian family and you'll find at least one uncle and aunt who got married because he saw her at his brother/ cousin/ friend's wedding and set his heart on her.) The shaadi ka ghar, with its dressing-up and dancing and suggestive songs, was the natural setting for romance, a place where banter between young men and women was laughingly condoned and flirtation was almost traditional. These days, one might think, urban young people don't need the socially sanctioned space of the shaadi to meet a potential partner, either on screen or off it. The CCD-mall-multiplex generation should have no time for wedding movies. The days of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun...! (1994) are over. Yet it seems that the 2000s — after Karan Johar's K3G (2001) —were when the choreographed

Bollywood sangeet really became de regeur, first in movies and then in weddings across the country and the diaspora, and I can think, off the cuff, of three Hindi films in the past few years where the hero first properly sees the heroine at a

wedding: Saathiya (2002), Love Aaj Kal (2009) and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008). And at least three 2010 films derive much of their energy from weddings — Aisha, Do Dooni Chaar and Band Baaja Baaraat.

Do Dooni Chaar is least obviously preoccupied with the

wedding — it serves mainly to kick-start the plot, which is really about the middle-class family's desire for a car. And yet there is a way in which, despite all their travails and tribulations in getting to it — the borrowing of the car, the cost of the wedding present, the potential theft, the potential exposure — the wedding itself has the power to create a generally celebratory mood, successfully drawing in the glum father and the teenage cynic alike.

Aisha — which sets Jane Austen's Emma in contemporary Delhi — is possibly the most traditional of the three, in that it opens with a shaadi where we first see the heroine, Aisha, and ends with Aisha's own wedding. But the hero already knows the heroine, so the wedding is not the setting for their romance. On the other hand, it sets in motion a definite trail of matchmaking — only the matchmaker in question is the heroine herself. Almost the whole of the film is taken up with pairing off young people who appear in the original wedding scene, culminating in the final wedding, where we have the pleasure of seeing them all matched up (in more ways than one, since this is the most alarmingly colour-coordinated wedding you'll ever see).

The film that really takes the wedding movie theme and runs with it, though, is Band Baaja Baaraat. It seems to play by the old rules — introducing the heroine and the hero at a wedding, following their relationship and culminating in their own wedding — but, in fact, it brilliantly subverts both the genre and our expectations by making them wedding planners. Shruti refuses Bittoo's romantic overtures. She accepts his DVD and, later, his partnership, only on condition that he

isn't going to line maaro her. She arranges weddings, and she's going to have an arranged match herself. She has Plans — and love isn't part of them. Yet, as we watch the two of them lean laughingly into each other at wedding after wedding, complementing each other perfectly in the exaggeratedly comic flirtation-rejection of the wedding song, we know that the shaadi movie will have its way. It's as if the well-done north Indian wedding — with its glitter, its banter, and, crucially, the zippy song that gets the whole family on its feet — casts a kind of spell, temporarily erasing the rules of the ordinary world and making romance seem somehow inevitable. Much like the well-done Hindi film.

The writer is a Delhi-based writer and anthropologist







They should have seen it coming. In recent weeks, editors at a respected psychology journal have been taking heat from fellow scientists for deciding to accept a research report that claims to show the existence of extrasensory perception. The report, to be published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is not likely to change minds. And the scientific critiques of the research methods and data analysis of its author are not winning over many hearts.

Yet the episode has inflamed one of the longest-running debates in science. For decades, some statisticians have argued that the standard technique used to analyse data overstates many study findings — often by a lot. As a result, the literature is littered with positive findings that do not pan out: "effective" therapies that are no better than a placebo; slight biases that do not affect behaviour; brain-imaging correlations that are meaningless.

By incorporating statistical techniques that are now widely used in other sciences, social scientists can correct for such problems, saving themselves effort and embarrassment. The approach that has dominated the social sciences for almost a century is called significance testing. The idea is straightforward. A finding is considered "significant" if its probability of occurring by chance is less than 5 per cent.

This arbitrary cutoff makes sense when the effect being studied is a large one . "But if the true effect of what you are measuring is small," said Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University, "then by necessity anything you discover is going to be an overestimate" of that effect.

Consider the following experiment. Suppose there was reason to believe that a coin was slightly weighted toward heads. In a test, the coin comes up heads 527 times out of 1,000. Is this significant evidence that the coin is weighted?

Classical analysis says yes. With a fair coin, the chances of getting 527 or more heads in 1,000 flips is less than 1 in 20, or 5 per cent, the conventional cutoff. To put it another way: the experiment finds evidence of a weighted coin "with 95 per cent confidence." Yet many statisticians do not buy it. One in 20 is the probability of getting any number of heads above 526 in 1,000 throws. That is, it is the sum of the probability of flipping 527, the probability of flipping 528, 529 and so on.

But the experiment did not find all of the numbers in that range; it found just one: 527. It is thus more accurate, these experts say, to calculate the probability of getting that if the coin is weighted, and compare it with the probability of getting the same number if the coin is fair.

Statisticians can show that this ratio cannot be higher than about 4 to 1. The simple experiment represented a rough demonstration of how classical analysis differs from an alternative approach, which emphasises the importance of comparing the odds of a study finding to something that is known. The point here is that 4-to-1 odds just aren't that convincing. And yet classical significance testing "has been saying for at least 80 years that this is strong evidence," said one scientist.

The critics have been crying foul for half that time. In the 1960s, a team of statisticians showed that the approach could overstate the significance of the finding by a factor of 10 or more. By that time, a statisticians were developing methods based on the ideas of the 18th-century mathematician Thomas Bayes.

Bayes devised a way to update the probability for a hypothesis as new evidence comes in. Bayesian analysis incorporates known probabilities from outside the study. It might be called the "Yeah, right" effect. If a study finds that a treatment cures alcohol addiction in a week, that sensitive parents are twice as likely to give birth to a girl as to a boy, the Bayesian response is: Yeah, right. The findings are weighed against what is observable out in the world.

In the same way, experts argue, statistics must find ways to expose and counterbalance all the many factors that can lead to falsely positive results — among them human nature, in its ambition to discover something, and the effects of industry money, biasing researchers to report positive findings for products.

And, of course, the unwritten rule that failed studies, the ones that find no effects, are far less likely to be published. What are the odds, for instance, that the journal would have published the study if it had come to the ho-hum conclusion that ESP still does not exist? BENEDICT CAREY






Jared Loughner was considered too mentally unstable to attend community college. He was rejected by the army. Yet buy a Glock handgun and a 33-round magazine? No problem. To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds. So, simply as a public health matter, shouldn't we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry?

Look, I'm an Oregon farm boy who was given a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday. I still shoot occasionally when visiting the family farm, and I understand one appeal of guns: they're fun. It's also true that city slickers sometimes exaggerate the risk of any one gun. The authors of Freakonomics noted that a home with a swimming pool is considerably more dangerous for small children than a home with a gun. They said that 1 child drowns annually for every 11,000 residential pools, but 1 child is shot dead for every 1 million-plus guns.

All that said, guns are far more deadly in America, not least because there are so many of them. There are about 85 guns per 100 people in the United States, and we are particularly awash in handguns. (The only country I've seen that is more armed than America is Yemen. Near the town of Sadah, I dropped by a gun market where I was offered grenade launchers, machine guns, antitank mines, and even an anti-aircraft weapon. Yep, a National Rifle Association dream! No pesky regulators. Just terrorism and a minor civil war.)

Just since the killings in Tucson, another 320 or so Americans have been killed by guns — anonymously, with barely a whisker of attention. By tomorrow it'll be 400 deaths. Every day, about 80 people die from guns, and several times as many are injured.

Handgun sales in Arizona soared by 60 per cent on Monday, according to Bloomberg News, as buyers sought to beat any beefing up of gun laws. People also often buy guns in hopes of being safer. But the evidence is overwhelming that firearms actually endanger those who own them. One scholar, John Lott Jr., published a book suggesting that more guns lead to less crime , but many studies have now debunked that finding (although it's also true that a boom in concealed weapons didn't lead to the bloodbath that liberals had forecast).

An article forthcoming in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine by David Hemenway, a Harvard professor who wrote a brilliant book a few years ago reframing the gun debate as a public health challenge, makes clear that a gun in the home makes you much more likely to be shot — by accident, by suicide or by homicide. The chances that a gun will be used to deter a home invasion are unbelievably remote, and dialing 911 is more effective in reducing injury than brandishing a weapon, the journal article says. But it adds that American children are 11 times more likely to die in a gun accident than in other developed countries, because of the prevalence of guns.

Likewise, suicide rates are higher in states with more guns, simply because there are more gun suicides. Other kinds of suicide rates are no higher. And because most homicides in the home are by family members or acquaintance — not by an intruder — the presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of a gun murder in that home.

So what can be done? I asked Hemenway how he would oversee a public health approach to reducing gun deaths and injuries. He suggested:

n Limit gun purchases to one per month per person, to reduce gun trafficking. And just as the government has cracked down on retailers who sell cigarettes to minors, get tough on gun dealers who sell to traffickers.

n Push for more gun safes, and make serial numbers harder to erase.

n Improve background checks and follow Canada in requiring a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun. And ban oversize magazines, such as the 33-bullet magazine allegedly used in Tucson. If the shooter had had to reload after firing 10 bullets, he might have been tackled earlier. And invest in new technologies such as "smart guns," which can be fired only when near a separate wristband or after a fingerprint scan.

We can also learn from Australia, which in 1996 banned assault weapons and began buying back 650,000 of them. The impact is controversial and has sometimes been distorted. But the Journal of Public Health Policy notes that after the ban, the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.

Congress on Wednesday echoed with speeches honouring those shot in Tucson. That's great — but hollow. The best memorial would be to regulate firearms every bit as seriously as we regulate automobiles or toys. NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF









I am deeply dismayed to see that a national daily of the standing of The Indian Express should have given so much prominence ('Forces, Jagmohan, Mufti Sayeed drove Pandits out: Farooq's brother', IE, January 10), to an apparently false allegation of Mustafa Kamal, a politician of little standing, about the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in "early 1990". Is it believable that practically all the members of a highly intelligent community like that of Kashmiri Pandits would leave, from every village, town and city, their hearths and homes, without caring for their properties, business, children schooling and their future, merely because some one in government asks them to do so? The concoction is writ large on the face of the allegation itself. And yet, shockingly, it has received wide publicity in your newspaper!

Let me tell your readers, on the basis of concrete facts and contemporaneous records, what the conditions were in the Valley before my arrival on the scene on January 19, 1990, and how a permissive and paralysed coalition government, headed by Dr Farooq Abdullah, had virtually abdicated all authority to the militants and allowed them to establish complete sway over the Valley.

From June 19, 1989 to January 19, 1990, that is, in six months, there were 319 violent incidents in the Valley — 21 armed attacks, 114 bomb blasts, 112 arsons and 72 incidents of mob violence. To demonstrate to the whole world their total hold over the Valley, the militants kidnapped, on December 8, Dr Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of the Union home minister, from the gate of Srinagar's Lal Ded Hospital, and released her only after the state and Central governments capitulated and conceded their demand of freeing five top terrorists. This capitulation left the general public in no doubt about the ultimate victory of the militants. Even the doubting Thomases went over to their side and swelled their ranks.

Under a sinister plan to throw out "infidels" and "agents" of the Union from the Valley, Kashmiri Pandits were especially targeted. Prominent members of the community were picked up for slaughter, one by one. For example, Tikka Lal Tiploo, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was shot dead on September 14, Judge N.K. Ganjoo on November 4 and journalist P.N. Bhatt on December 28.

The terror-stricken Pandit community, in a memorandum dated January 16, 1990, to the then governor, General K.V. Krishna Rao, said: "Instead of the government, it is the militants who are the de facto rulers in the Valley today... Happenings in Anantnag, Sopore, Baramulla, Tral, Nurran, Pulwama, Ishber, Vicharnag, Shopian and other places in the Valley are indicative of the fundamentalists' designs regarding their planned targets of attack on the minorities... The pace of exodus has further accelerated now... Not even a single assailant of the minority leaders and others has either been identified or apprehended by the police."

Soon after I took over, I did my best to stem the exodus. This would be clear from the press note of March 7, 1990, which was given wide publicity at that time. This note, inter alia, said: "Jagmohan appealed to the members of the Pandit community who have temporarily migrated to Jammu to return to the Valley. He offered to set up temporary camps at four places, namely, Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla and Kupwara for those who return from Jammu."

In the meanwhile, treacherous and brutal killings of innocent Kashmiri Pandits continued in the Valley. Those killed included prominent persons like engineer B.K. Ganjoo, poet Sarvanand Premi and his young son Virender Kaul, Professor K.L. Ganjoo and his wife, the teacher C.L. Pandita. Press notices were prominently put out in the widely-read Srinagar dailies Aftab and Alsafa, requiring Kashmiri Pandits to leave within 48 hours, failing which they would run the risk of being exterminated. Photocopies of these notices have been printed by me in my book My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir.

There are many other pieces of hard evidence which show that the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits was caused by relentlessly pursuing the ISI-sponsored plan of "killing one and frightening 1,000." Disinformation was built into this plan. Tragically, for petty political ends, persons like Mustafa Kamal have been committing the crime of disinformation. They have been butchering truth, while the militants have been butchering individuals.

The writer was governor of Jammu and Kashmir between January and May 1990







Nearly two decades ago, an American scholar, George Tanham, published a monograph in which he argued that India was bereft of coherent strategic thinking. Many other scholars have bemoaned the absence of systematic Indian strategic thought. A young Indian scholar, Harsh Pant, asserts that due to a lack of strategic thinking, economic growth serves as a surrogate for national strategy. In a recent article ('Knowing what's good for us', IE, December 24), diplomat and former chairman of the national security advisory board, K. Shankar Bajpai, notes the lack of "a national consensus on our strategic concerns" and asserts that, "even our apparatus for interacting with the world is inadequate, in concepts and in mechanics".

Following the Kargil war, a taskforce on defence reforms had emphasised the vital need for a national security strategy to enable meaningful and long-term defence planning. Yet, even after a decade no such document is in evidence, at least not in the public domain.

Its absence may have two explanations. Either a national security or grand strategy does exist but its disclosure is not considered desirable. Alternatively, there may be a view that an exercise to debate a national security strategy in the public domain is quite unnecessary. It is simply impractical, according to this view, to expect democratic governments of different dispositions to adhere to some master document on national security strategy. They have to take sequential, practical decisions on issues as they arise, and a formal articulation will only restrain their freedom of action.

Since India does not have a grand strategy or a national security strategy or even a white paper, perhaps it is desirable to consider whether we need to have one and what would an exercise to formulate such a strategy entail.

It is not unusual sometimes to hear even some knowledgeable people say that a grand strategy is relevant only for countries indulging in great power politics.

India — a non-aligned country which won its freedom through a non-violent struggle — did not need one. To dispel such notions it needs to be clarified that grand strategy is simply an academic term, referring to plans and policies undertaken to balance national ends and means at the highest possible level. Grand strategy includes strategies dealing with the military, economic and diplomatic resources of a country, as well as trade-offs across those domains. It thus encompasses all elements of national power — military, economic, technological, diplomatic, social, cultural and even psychological.

Influential elements within government, political parties and the strategic elite believe, justifiably, that India's non-alignment, crafted by Jawaharlal Nehru, was itself a grand strategy. In a bipolar world, Nehru had correctly reasoned that India's national interests would be best served through non-alignment and the leadership of the newly independent countries. That strategy gave India a stature and influence well beyond its economic and military weight.

But six decades later, India and the world have transformed in fundamental ways. India's economy has opened up and has seen an unprecedented dynamism; the world economy has been rapidly globalising; Asia is becoming the new theatre of geopolitical and economic action; new powers are rising in a multipolar world; and power is increasingly being diffused among non-state actors. Can a strategy designed for a different era be effective today? Or does the ongoing transformation at least call for a fresh look at our old assumptions? At the very least, a vigorous debate is needed to revalidate the relevance of the non-alignment strategy in a changed world order.

What can one expect from such an exercise to review India's grand strategy? First, it will help us reassess how the global and regional security environment has changed; which emerging strategic trends are shaping the future; and what the principal challenges are to our national interests and objectives. It will also help us determine priorities among competing objectives. As resources are finite, not all goals can be attained simultaneously. Without inter se priority among competing objectives, all interest and threats would be treated as equal. That would be a fundamental flaw in the strategy. As Frederick the Great had aptly observed: "He who attempts to defend too much defends nothing." Once core interests and objectives are determined, a strategy can be formulated to apply to all elements of national resources to secure those interests and achieve those objectives in the most effective manner. The exercise will involve trade-offs between competing ends and available resources.

The process of strategy formulation, especially in a democracy, is not easy but essential. A strategy developed through an open debate will impart legitimacy to the process and its outcomes. It will promote greater awareness of the rationale behind policies and key decisions. The process will help develop a strategic vision, a long-term view on core issues and minimise knee-jerk reactions and ad hoc decisions.

Second, a national security strategy, once placed in the public domain, would facilitate inter-agency coherence in the government and within the Central and state governments in effectively dealing with the country's complex security challenges. Not too long ago, in handling the Naxal problem, discordant voices were heard from the home ministry, the army, the paramilitary forces and the state governments.

Third, the process will help involve India's political parties in debates concerning strategy more actively. National security and foreign policy are not particularly important in determining electoral fortunes. In an era of coalition politics, regional parties may influence foreign-policy making, but so far they have been indifferent to issues of national security and foreign policies. It is vital that they are connected to the process and participate in the debates. Their marginalisation can result in ad hoc approaches when they happen to be in the driving seat.

Fourth, in the theatre of international politics, a state has to interact with many actors, some of them competitors and others potential adversaries. In the absence of a sound strategy, other actors can choose the space on which competition takes place. Those who wait to make decisions may be forced to accept the choices made by others.

Finally, is a grand strategy valid for all times to come? It must be emphasised, especially in the present context, that grand strategy is not a mechanical exercise but a dynamic process, which requires constant adaptation to shifting conditions and circumstances. Strategists should examine assumptions when necessary and modify them, if warranted. Grand strategy debates thus never end, they resurface in different forms and different shapes. In making their strategic decisions leaders may not follow a master document on grand strategy, but their decisions will be made in the backdrop of informed debates.

The writer is director-general of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi






The debate on the food security Bill between the National Advisory Council (NAC) and the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC), at one level, is being seen as a fight between those with a heart and those without one. While the NAC wants to give vastly subsidised foodgrains (Rs 2 per kg of wheat and Rs 3 per kg of rice to the poor, and at half the minimum support price to the rest) to 75% of the population, the PMEAC wants to restrict this to 46% of rural population and 28% of the urban population. In terms of subsidies, while the government spends Rs 56,000 crore right now, the NAC estimates its plan will take this up to Rs 80,000 crore by 2013-14 (the PMEAC reckons the actual NAC bill will be more than Rs 92,000 crore and that its whittled-down scheme will cost Rs 82,000 crore). What is really relevant, however, are two other factors. One, what will this do to inflation since this is at the core of the fight—if the fight was only about food security for the poor, you wouldn't need to have such a large programme. Two, will the scheme work?


Take prices. Since the free-market price is around 8-10 times the price proposed by the NAC, it is clear the NAC scheme will lower inflation. By how much? Since these two grains have a weight of just 3% in the WPI, keeping their price rise at zero or even negative, will not impact the WPI too much—the current WPI of 7.48% will perhaps come down to 7.47%. Obviously, the impact will be greater in the CPI since consumption goods have a greater weight, but even here, the CPI will fall from around 11.2% right now to around 10.7% or so.


The other issue that the NAC does not address is whether a 2.5 time hike in the PDS is even possible—while it wants the creaky PDS to handle 74 million tonnes by 2013-14, just 29.7 million tonnes were lifted by states in 2009-10—as against 45.4 million tonnes allocated for the PDS. Another reason for worry is the larger leakages, especially after the introduction of the lower prices for the BPL category. The NSSO numbers on the purchase and consumption of PDS rice and wheat show that the overall quantity of PDS rice and wheat reaching the beneficiaries has come down from 9.28 kg per person per month in 1999-00 to 8.6 kg in 2004-05, with most of the decline happening in the urban sector. And if the PDS prices to the poorest are further lowered, as suggested by the NAC, the leakages will only increase as the price difference between the open market and the PDS will increase even more. Perhaps having a calculator instead of a heart isn't a bad idea.






When Narendra Modi launched the first Vibrant Gujarat summit in 2003, there was reason to be sceptical, reason to believe that the whole jamboree was meant to just distract from the communal atrocities that had ravaged the state the previous year. But by the time the current edition took off, and never mind the toll taken by the intervening years of the global economic meltdown, not only had Gujarat's governance magic acquired widespread credibility, so had its investment summit. The chief minister announced proudly, investments to the tune of $50 billion had been made within the first hour alone. Now, such announcements have to be treated with scepticism insofar as not all MoUs signed during the summit have yielded actual fruit. But the visionary aspect of the summit is indisputable. Consider that, this year, Modi is pegging it as a knowledge-sharing platform. He has opened it up to other states as well. He has declared, "We want to highlight investment opportunities in the country as a whole, not just Gujarat. If you don't want to invest in Gujarat, you can think of Orissa, or may be Karnataka, but stay in India." Japan and Canada are partner countries; many others are represented. This is, so to say, a vision thing.


Of particular note are the large corporate-government partnerships that have been announced in the social sector, with MoUs worth over Rs 20,000 crore on the anvil alongside some of the biggest names in India Inc like RIL and Tata Motors. We all know that employment generation is going to be one of India's biggest challenges this decade, and the integration of self-help groups with the corporate value chain to create jobs could be a revolutionary solution to this challenge. Success is not guaranteed. But then, it never is with the vision thing. The point is that innovative models are being imagined and executed, with corporates set to fan out into the villages in search of entrepreneurs. And what is giving these models credibility and investor interest is that, broadly speaking, Gujarat has delivered on its promises in recent years. Per capita incomes are up, soil is in good health, girl child education is going strong while infant mortality isn't, infrastructure is booming and so is the state. No wonder the Modi love-fest is finding plenty of takers.






A host of macroeconomic events are converging to make the conduct of monetary policy by RBI a nightmare in the months ahead. The government's projection of benign inflation by March-end is going horribly wrong. Meanwhile, industrial production data for November is showing sudden weakness, with consumer goods showing negative growth. There is a fear that high inflation could, by itself, create demand destruction and eat into growth. All this is bad news, coming as it does against the backdrop of continued instability in the polity on account of various scams.


The political economy of rising food and fuel prices has already begun creating serious distortions in various aspects of policy making. The former RBI governor Venugopal Reddy had first argued in early 2008 that food inflation had ceased to be cyclical in nature and had reached a structurally higher plateau due to a combination of sustained increase in demand and stagnant supply response over the years.


This sentiment was echoed in a somewhat different context recently when the Chief Economic Advisor in the finance ministry said India's long-term average inflation rate may have moved up a couple of percentage points—from about 4.5% to 5% in much of the previous decade to about 6.5% to 7% in the years ahead.


The Prime Minister is personally monitoring food inflation, which surged to over 18% for November. Though primary food articles have only 22% weightage in the wholesale price index basket, it has a disproportionate impact on the conduct of monetary and fiscal policy.


Things will get far more complicated for the central bank this time around as food prices are rising across emerging markets in a menacing way and China too is inclined more towards a tightening cycle to control inflation. This is partially driven by the excess global liquidity driving up prices of food and other commodities to levels seen before the commodities bubble burst in the 2008 financial meltdown.


While increased global liquidity, post the second quantitative easing cycle in the US, has indeed driven commodity prices up worldwide, India is facing a double whammy as it has not managed its domestic food economy, either in terms of enhancing long-term supplies or making the distribution chain more efficient.


This results in a whole lot of unnecessary blame game among Cabinet ministers who hold emergency meetings to tame rising food prices, which often do not yield any positive results. In fact, such meetings only end up producing knee jerk-response such as arbitrary bans on exports of food items.


The panic at the Centre may also force the RBI governor to take a more drastic monetary action—say, increase rates by 50 basis points over the next quarter. The stock markets are already apprehending this and have corrected across the board this week. The markets are expecting RBI to tighten by up to 75 basis points in the next six months or so.


RBI governor D Subbarao will face extremely difficult choices in the months ahead. Industry is already making noises that RBI should not hike rates as it might hurt the investment cycle under way. The banks too are complaining about liquidity drying up in the system. RBI had reduced the Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR) last month in the hope that banks would be able to ease their temporary liquidity crunch by selling securities to the central bank.


The short-term liquidity problem has not eased even now. Banks are now demanding a cut in both SLR and Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR). Of course, it is RBI's job to keep enough liquidity in the system. Consequently, RBI may get caught between a genuine demand to ease short-term liquidity in the banking system and the intense pressure to tighten liquidity to quell inflationary expectations, especially in food items. Marrying these objectives will be a difficult task for the RBI governor.


In the past years or so, the RBI governor had handled monetary policy intelligently by consciously staying a bit behind the curve on the tightening cycle. He had intellectually supported this strategy by arguing that a greater bias towards growth was needed at a time of uncertain recovery in the global economy. Subbarao retained his 'baby steps' towards tightening in the face of rising inflation also because he increased the emphasis on better monetary transmission through narrowing the repo corridor and by introducing the base lending rate mechanism.


All these steps did yield results and banks today are rushing to borrow daily over Rs 70,000 crore from RBI only because the central bank took various steps to improve the transmission of monetary policy.


However, in the current cycle, RBI may come under pressure to think differently. The political situation in New

Delhi, especially against the backdrop of the unexpected rise in food inflation, could force RBI to take some bigger monetary tightening measures.


Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee too may support RBI's shift from a clear pro-growth bias in recent times to controlling inflation in the months ahead, even as the food price situation becomes politically indefensible.


I would, therefore, see GDP growth in 2011-12 slowing down marginally to about 7.5% to 8%. This is a price to be necessarily paid for mismanaging the food economy and to stave off the effects of global commodity price bubble.








Political lobbying has been the subject of intense controversy in our country ever since the leaked Radia tapes first hit the headlines. The prevalence of lobbying is clearly not restricted to India: WikiLeaks alleges that there has been significant lobbying by parties as diverse as BHP Billiton (attempting to block the acquisition of rival Rio Tinto by Chinalco), the US government (encouraging the EU to allow GM vegetables), and the Vatican (encouraging nations to sign climate change accords).


Our government is now mulling the introduction of a legal framework to govern lobbying, which has heretofore been largely unregulated, except when it crosses the line into outright corruption. Most would agree that some form of lobbying serves a useful function, since government would find itself hard-pressed to accumulate all relevant information about complex legislative topics. Decisions taken without the benefit of such information would risk endangering the interests of one or other group of stakeholders without the ability for these groups to influence the decision-making process. So, banning lobbying outright doesn't seem feasible.


In the US, the practice is widely prevalent, with over 12,000 lobbyists spending over $2 billion in 2010 to influence policy outcomes. Of course the US is not precisely the right comparison for a parliamentary democracy with a whip system such as India (in the US, there is no hard 'party line' that Congressmen need to toe, unlike in India). The UK may be a more reasonable comparison, given that a whip system operates there as well. Again, the UK spends significant resources on political lobbying activities—the Chartered Institute for Public Relations estimates that (in the corporate sector) some 14,000 people are engaged in public affairs activities, with a capitalised value of over £2 billion. This figure doesn't include the large commitment of NGOs and charities to lobbying activities.


Despite the large size of lobbying activities in both countries, contrary to popular belief, well-established legal procedures for disclosure of lobbying activities have been instituted only very recently in both the US and the UK. In the US, following the Abramoff scandal, in 2006, 2007 and 2009, legislation and executive orders were instituted to make contacts between lobbyists and government officials more transparent, and disclosures more frequent. In the UK, there are few legal restrictions on lobbying, and no mandatory disclosure by lobbying firms is currently required despite several recent 'cash for influence' scandals. Rather, lobbyists are self-regulated, with an industry body, the UK Public Affairs Council, instituting a code of ethics for its members.


What would be the appropriate design for a system of lobbying in India? Clearly, we need to increase transparency in governance, and ensure that contributions by lobbyists are made available in the public domain as a matter of record. However, other important regulations on lobbying expenditures are trickier to formulate.


First, we might think that there should be caps on total lobbying expenditures by any single institution, firm or individual. In the absence of such caps, there is always a fear that the wealthiest members of society, or firms that dominate their industries, can influence legislature that greatly entrenches their position. However, Che and Gale (American Economic Review, 1998) show that introducing caps on total lobbying expenditures could perversely increase total lobbying expenditures. The intuition for this strange result is that a cap (or indeed anything that equalises the costs faced by different lobbyists) effectively constrains the wealthier lobbyist, thus levelling the playing field. This, in turn, intensifies competition, and raises total lobbying expenditures. This increase in socially wasteful expenditure imposes a cost that is counterbalanced by the benefit of levelling the playing field. So, if we are to have a system of caps, which seems desirable, we need to think hard about the size of such a cap and the likely consequences in terms of socially wasteful expenditures.

Second, where should we look to regulate the influence of lobbyists? Hall and Wayman, (American Political Science Review, 1990), comprehensively review literature that shows that campaign contributions do not seem to affect voting patterns in the US Congress. They posit (and find evidence) that the main effects of lobbying expenditures are felt during the drafting of legislation in committees, and by increasing the involvement of specific legislators. In other words, the actual laws as drafted are the main target of lobbyists, rather than simply voting in one direction or the other—this is even more relevant in a whip system like India where voting is strictly controlled. This makes life even harder for policymakers seeking to regulate political lobbying since this channel is extremely hard to detect.


We need to think carefully about the right framework for regulating lobbying. Whatever system we ultimately devise will have to grapple with these tricky issues, among others.


The author is a financial economist at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford







Blame it on 2G, Adarsh ...

Budget exercises usually start early December every year. But this year, the page after page of memos that Yojana Bhawan exchanges with North Block have gone for a toss. The reason: in the scam season, the finance minister has been so taken up with firefighting, the ministry has not even bothered to get back on the initial figure the Planning Commission put up as the suggested gross budgetary support.


Some demystification


From this month, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has begun publishing the weekly schedule of lectures and public functions that the Governor and Deputy Governors attend. The effort is interesting and RBI has termed the efforts as demystifying the two offices. Wags of course would feel the demystification is needed in the conduct of monetary policy instead.






Healthcare is one of India's largest sectors, in terms of employment as well as revenue, and accounts for nearly 6% of GDP, according to industry estimates. Government's contribution to healthcare, however, is one of the lowest in the world by proportion of GDP—0.9% versus the world average of 5%. No surprises then that a Lancet study found that 78% of medical expenses incurred are paid for by individuals themselves, pushing approximately 39 million people into poverty each year. As a comparator, the populace in Maldives pays 14%, in Sri Lanka pays 53%, and in China, 61% of the expenses are covered privately. So why are Indians paying such a large proportion from their savings?


First off, since only 7% of India's population works in the organised sector, it follows that medical insurance cover in the country is very poor—only 11% has any kind of medical cover and only 1% had private health insurance. Another reason is that a majority of rural Indians rely on non-traditional 'healers' for their healthcare needs—these practitioners usually have no formal education and therefore do not fall within the regulatory framework of insurance coverage. But self-medication that translates into drug-purchase has got to account for a large chunk, a theory that Lancet's study confirms—72% of the out-of-pocket expenditure is on the purchase of medicines. Given that consumption of medical services are growing at a compound annual rate of 9% and accounted for 7% of household expenditure in 2005, India presents a huge market for health insurance companies to grow with this expanding market, while helping achieve health economists' targets of bringing out-of-pocket expenditure down to a more sustainable 20%.








The decision of the Nepali Congress to withdraw Ram Chandra Poudel from the country's prime ministerial election is the first positive development in Nepal's long political deadlock. It is to be hoped that this will pave the way out of an impasse that has otherwise shown little sign of resolution. The withdrawal brings to an end a farcical seven-month long process that saw 16 futile rounds by the Constituent Assembly to elect a Prime Minister. The NC decision was triggered by the realisation that its candidate, the only one left in the race, faced certain defeat. Unlike the earlier rounds in which the United Marxists-Leninists abstained, this time the party took the decision to vote against Mr. Poudel. Along with the opposing votes of the Maoists, whose leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" withdrew after the seventh round, the 17th round would have resulted in 350 votes in a 601-member Assembly against Mr. Poudel. Rather than initiate a fresh election process, the three main parties — the Maoists, UML, and NC — must agree on a consensus national government. Each of the three parties may still hope to form a majority government. But this would be short-sighted and counter-productive. It has to be remembered that the main task of any government now is to enable the Constituent Assembly to frame a new Constitution. The two-thirds majority needed for adoption will be difficult to secure if even one of the three major political parties is marginalised through narrow adversarial politics.


Republican Nepal, which began with so much promise, has lost precious time. The new Constitution was to have been framed by May 2010. The Maoists, the single largest party, clearly have the best claim on the prime ministership but a chain of shabby events saw the exit of the Prachanda government. The consequential political wrangling meant the deadline for the draft Constitution could not be met. The deadline was extended to May 2011, but even this is likely to be missed. An added complication is that the final term of the United Nations Mission in Nepal is set to end on January 15. The mission was mandated with the monitoring of weapons and the rehabilitation of personnel of the Royal Nepal Army and the Maoist People's Liberation Army. Its imminent departure has been a further cause for political squabbling over how the task should now be handled. As the main political players plan their next moves, New Delhi must live down its reputation of playing favourites in Nepal's internal politics. It must limit its role to encouraging the key players to come to an agreement on power-sharing so that the country can advance along a path of democracy and equitable development.







Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is facing the toughest test of his 23-year reign, with severe public unrest over rising food prices and unemployment as focal points. Protests have been intensifying since December 17, when police confiscated fruits and vegetables sold without a permit by a young graduate who had no other means of earning a living. The young man's consequent self-immolation caused his death, provoking disturbances in which public buildings as well as offices of the ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), were attacked. Violent clashes between the police and groups, mainly of students who face high levels of graduate unemployment, have spread across the country from the western town of Sidi Bouzaid, where the self-immolation occurred. All schools and universities are closed, and news clampdowns have only fuelled rumours. As the government controls the press, including privately owned newspapers and broadcasters, reliable details of casualties from police shooting are impossible to obtain. But trade unions and opposition leaders speak of a rising toll, upwards of 20 deaths.


The protests signify much else besides the Tunisian public's anger over prices and jobs. First, they frontally challenge the World Economic Forum claim that Tunisia's growth rate of 4.5 per cent makes it the most competitive economy in Africa. Secondly, the advances in women's rights, including an end to polygamy and the introduction of universal compulsory free education, are largely inheritances from Mr. Ben Ali's predecessor, Habib Bourguiba. Thirdly, Tunisia has been shown up to be one of the most authoritarian states in the world. But the European Union as well as the former colonial power, France, have responded to the latest developments in low key, presumably because Mr. Ben Ali is an important partner for their policy of blocking immigration from North Africa. The main issues, however, are specifically Tunisian. While neighbouring Algeria responded to protests by cutting taxes on sugar and cooking oil, Mr. Ben Ali called the protesters "hooded hooligans" and "hostile elements on foreign payrolls, who have sold their souls to extremism and terrorism." Since then he has shown at least some recognition of the nature of the crisis; he has sacked his Interior Minister and formed a committee to investigate corruption. That, however, could be too little too late. The strongman is caught up in a deep political crisis; if he cannot produce quick and decisive improvement on all fronts, the Tunisian people might well take their state back into their own hands.










With the departure of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) on January 15, Nepali politics will enter a new, uncharted and dangerous territory. UNMIN's exit comes at a time when there is a growing recognition that Nepal may fail to meet its extended deadline of writing the Constitution by May 28. The country has had a caretaker government for seven months, and while a new process to elect a Prime Minister will begin soon, its outcome remains uncertain. All formal structures of the 2006 political framework suddenly appear fragile.


UNMIN has been an integral component of Nepal's peace agreements. For the past four years, it has monitored 19,000-plus combatants and 3,000-plus weapons of the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA) and a limited number of personnel and arms of the Nepal Army (NA); chaired the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee (JMCC) that acts as a mechanism to resolve disputes between the NA and the PLA; and has been a symbolic deterrent against the resumption of violence.


Despite Maoist pressure, the Madhav Nepal-led caretaker government refused to request the U.N. Security Council to extend UNMIN's term once again. But its exit will leave a vacuum, for there are no mutually acceptable, alternative arrangements on a range of issues.


Who will do the monitoring? The government says the statutory all-party special committee will take over UNMIN's responsibilities as per a past agreement. The Maoists, however, are pushing alternative ideas — a joint political mechanism, joint teams of the NA and the PLA, or a civil society mechanism.


Who will be monitored? The government insists that there is no need to monitor the NA anymore as the context has changed, while the Maoists argue that the same arrangement applies to both armies in accordance with the Agreement on the Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies.


What happens to the arms? The government has asked UNMIN to hand over the Maoist weapons, Maoists have said 'no', and UNMIN has taken the position that the arms will be handed over to the party which owns them — in this case, the Maoists.


Who will resolve the disputes on the code of conduct and its violations? UNMIN did so in JMCC quietly and efficiently out of media glare but no alternative neutral mechanism is in place yet.


The impact goes well beyond the technical aspects, about which the parties may well find an agreement at the last minute. UNMIN's absence will increase the possibility of even a small incident spiralling out of control. The Maoists have already said this takes the country back to a 'ceasefire' situation. UNMIN leaves at a time when the most complex task of this process — integration and rehabilitation of the former combatants — has not even started. Its expertise and good offices could have played an important role in guiding the process. Peace has held in Nepal because Nepali actors, including the Nepal Army and the Maoists, have behaved with restraint and responsibility, but UNMIN's exit will make this task more difficult.


'Pressuring' the Maoists


So why was it pushed out?

When it was invited in 2006, UNMIN was an insurance policy for the Maoists. The former rebels saw it as giving the peace process international legitimacy; the leadership also had a sense of personal security with UNMIN around at a time when entering open politics was a big gamble. The other parties saw UNMIN's presence as useful too — it kept a check on the Maoist military apparatus as well as the NA, whose loyalties were suspect given its backing for the royal coup. The U.N.'s credibility was high and its human rights mission played an enabling role in the 2006 people's movement. India was reluctant to allow U.N. presence in the neighbourhood but then gave into the wishes of the Nepali parties after realising that there was no other way to take the peace process forward.


What has changed since then is the balance of power. From working with the Maoists and being wary of the NA, the older parties, especially the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), now see the NA as an ally and are deeply suspicious of the Maoists' intentions and their commitment to democracy. UNMIN began to be viewed as providing a "safety blanket" to the former rebels for, it treated them as a 50 per cent stakeholder in the peace process and recognised their army. The NA has always been furious with UNMIN for "equating the NA and the PLA," and was lobbying hard to be removed from UNMIN's monitoring. India's old suspicion about other international actors in its 'backyard' persisted.


In the beginning, New Delhi worked hard to ensure that UNMIN had a limited and weak mandate but more recently it has been lobbying with other international capitals, and now with fellow members in the Security Council, to wrap up the mission. Washington and London were happy to follow the Indian lead on Nepal, even though the Secretary-General in his report stated conditions for UNMIN's departure were not optimal.


This formidable coalition — of India, the U.S. and the U.K. internationally and the non-Maoist parties and the Nepal Army domestically — argues that UNMIN's presence allows the Maoists to drag on the peace process; its exit will remove a safety valve and bring pressure on them, in turn, forcing them to "reform" and "disarm." But this appears more like wishful thinking which ignores the roots of the present crisis. UNMIN's exit and the larger Indian policy may well end up making the Maoists even more insecure and reluctant to let go of their coercive apparatus.


Counterproductive policy


Pushing UNMIN out is in line with India's broader Nepal policy, the key tenet of which is to isolate the Maoists and exclude them from the formal power structure as the only way of democratising them. Indian officials believe that the Maoists have used the peace process only "tactically;" harbour authoritarian ambitions and cannot be allowed back to power until they undergo a "course correction," which would include giving up the PLA. Otherwise, it is argued, they would consolidate power and subvert all democratic institutions, and it would be impossible to dislodge them.


To this end, India has invested enormous political capital in galvanising the anti-Maoist forces together, and ensuring that Prachanda did not get to the majority mark in the prime ministerial elections. There is a section in both New Delhi and Kathmandu which believes that like UNMIN, the Constituent Assembly, where the Maoists command 40 per cent of the seats, is another "safety blanket" for the former rebels. This school tried hard to ensure that the CA did not get an extension last May. They are now hoping for its dissolution by the May 28 constitutional deadline, in order to "isolate" the Maoists from the only formal state structure in which they have space — the legislature.


The problem with this approach is that it only strengthens the dogmatic branch within the Maoist party, and underestimates the intensity of the conflict Nepal will be engulfed in if the constitutional process fails.


It is true that the Maoists have dragged their feet on the integration and rehabilitation of the former combatants, which makes the other parties insecure about their democratic commitment. At the same time, the Maoists are insecure too for, they are being asked to surrender a major source of power, largely on the Nepal Army's terms, while in the Opposition. The hardliners within the party are quick to point out how "bourgeoisie democracy" is a sham as the largest party cannot form a government, how "Indian expansionists and Nepali reactionaries" have ganged up on them and are conspiring to dissolve the CA, and how the party should not give up the PLA at such a time reminding the cadres of the Mao dictum, "without the army, people have nothing."


The reluctance of the non-Maoist parties to share power, the Maoist dogma, and India's hardline approach — all feed on one another and have contributed to mutual insecurities and belligerence on all sides, limiting the space for compromise. The Nepali Congress' withdrawal from the prime ministerial race, and the imminent initiation of a new process to elect a Prime Minister, have opened up one final opportunity to reengineer the consensus needed to push the peace and constitutional process forward.


Instead of aiding the polarisation, India needs to play a constructive role in enabling a deal on power-sharing and the peace process, in which the Maoists will be accommodated while locking them into handing over their coercive apparatus. This is essential for Constitution-writing. Otherwise, this May could well mark the collapse of Nepal's ambitious experiment in political transformation.








With the passing of K.G. Kannabiran, India has lost a great lawyer, defender of the Constitution and conscience-keeper. When this writer last met him some months ago, he was sitting in his office in West Marredapally in Secunderabad, having a drink, his eyes twinkling. He had given away most of his beloved law books. He said he had had a rich life and there were no regrets. He was right. Kannabiran enriched all those who came his way, he spoke for those who could not tell their own stories, he defended dissenters, and most importantly, practised law gloriously. And by doing so, he illuminated the path for younger lawyers.


He was born in 1929. As a student of economics and then law, perhaps Kannabiran learnt well from the insights that these subjects can provide of the structural causes of the human condition. His own book, appropriately titled Wages of Impunity, highlights the lack of change that has marked this nation as it moved from the colonial phase to the post-colonial phase. But, while doing so, he was not making a case for either Capitalism or Communism: perhaps he was prodding us to have a better appreciation of the devaluation of life that has remained consistent through the pre-Independence and post-Independence eras.


However, it was not just the 'human rights activist' in him that captured my imagination as a 19-year-old when I went to intern with this venerable Senior Counsel and past president of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). It was the fearless yet gracious lawyer who matched a vivid knowledge of the law with a love for literature, and his wit and zest for life, that enthralled. On my first day as an intern, I straggled along, hanging on to the train that is the flowing gown, and the line of eager juniors and interns that trails a Senior Counsel. As I followed him into the Andhra Pradesh High Court, I could not but help notice the curious eyes that followed him, and a palpable air of excitement that soon filled the courtroom. Soon the cause for this anticipation was clear.


With a commanding voice that filled the courtroom, a rigour and craft that unravelled the case of the opposition, a patient temperament that took the judge along and a legal acumen that refused to countenance that a police bullet through the head was anything but execution by the state without trial, he was the lawyer's lawyer. And he epitomised for that young law student everything that her craft should be.


Kanna, as he was affectionately called, identified himself with the institution that is most essential to challenging state impunity through the system of courts — that of defence counsel. In an interview he gave Frontline in 2009, he said: "A major part of my professional life has been spent as counsel for the defence owing to the trust placed in me by the countless people whose freedom I found myself defending." It is this guiding legal philosophy that has lessons for the younger members of the bar. Though most of them might not want to dedicate all their work-time to the causes that may be best categorised as "rights-oriented," many challenges of our time might well be highlighted through aggressive litigation. Such litigation, even if it is engaged in sporadically, utilises the craft, enhances the substantive knowledge of the legal discipline, and most importantly connects us to the issues and people that constitute our communities. And this can be done while maintaining an eclectic legal practice that would be an enduring source of professional fulfilment.


A series of cases

Kannabiran himself had a marvellous treasure trove of cases that he litigated, and a varied selection of interviews and writings on issues that implicate our understanding of the constitutional rights of fellow-citizens. He refused to confuse legality with constitutionality, as when he denounced the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act as being shielded by the "fig-leaf of legality" while it goes against the constitutional commitment of the right to life. The 'encounter' case titled K.G. Kannabiran v Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh, in which he was the petitioner, is a classic. He bought to the notice of the Andhra Pradesh High Court the disappearance of a trade union leader, after an 'encounter' within the jurisdiction of the Mushirabad police. The wife of the trade unionist believed that the police had executed him, allegedly because he was a Naxalite, and that his body was lying in a hospital. The court allowed the wife, along with Kannabiran, to identify the body. And after perusing the papers filed by the State police justifying such killing, and hearing Kannabiran's arguments, the court ordered an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation.


Kannabiran was not puritanical or static in his understanding of human self-determination. Shortly after the Naz Foundation decision by the Delhi High Court that essentially legalised consensual same-sex relations between adults, he wrote an article welcoming the judgment, agreeing with the court and its understanding of the concept of equality under the Constitution. In an elegant review of the judgment he located his appreciation in the prosecution of Oscar Wilde for the offence of practising "the love that dare not speak its name." But he also recognised that the law did not have the power to change the cultural attitudes of the "over-40-year olds" much like attitudes towards violence against women and Dalits that continued to lag behind a change in the legal regime.


With the passing of Kannabiran, soon after the death of K. Balagopal, and the more recent, legally untenable conviction of its general secretary Binayak Sen, the PUCL suffered many a blow in 2010. In democracies it is imperative to have a steady stream of those who dissent, and those who defend those who dissent. Without such critics and their defenders, a culture of constitutionalism is rendered perilous. The essential tribute that could be paid to defenders like Kannabiran is for lawyers (who practise all variations and subsets of the legal discipline, from commercial to constitutional to other hues), law teachers and judges to ask those whom they mentor: why are you a lawyer? It is also the time for younger lawyers, especially those from the matrix of law schools that have flourished over the last few years, to ask themselves the same question.


Kannabiran's life might well illuminate that answer — to advocate for those who cannot tell their own stories, to defend those whose freedom is in peril, to prod a nation to ask of itself: for whom am I, and for what was I created?


( The author practises law in the Supreme Court of India.)







Since they began their onslaught last month, the waters have killed 16 people across Queensland, tearing towns apart, destroying infrastructure and threatening the State's economy.


Alison Rourke and Sam Jones


Jordan Rice was on the way back from a trip to buy a school uniform for the new term when, standing on the roof of his mother's car at a little after two o'clock on the afternoon of January 10, he made his choice.


That he couldn't swim and must have been terrified as floodwaters rose around him, his mother and little brother only made the 13-year-old's decision more exceptional.


By the time a rescuer had swum to the family's car, Jordan's mind was made up. "Save my brother first," he said.


The man did as he was asked, and Jordan's 10-year-old brother, Blake, was hauled to safety. The teenager and his mother, Donna, were not so lucky.


The rope broke as the rescuer tried to tie it around them and the pair were swept through the flooded streets of Toowoomba. They grasped a tree, but the waters were too strong and mother and son were carried downstream to their deaths, becoming two of the 10 people known to have died when an inland tsunami roared through the Queensland town three days ago.


"I can only imagine what was going on inside to give up his life to save his brother, even though he was petrified of water," his father, John Tyson, told the Toowoomba Chronicle. "He is our little hero." As news of the teenager's sacrifice spread around the world yesterday, Jordan Rice became the public face of a growing disaster, with Australia struggling to cope with its worst floods in a century.


Since they began their onslaught last month, the waters have killed 16 people across Queensland, tearing towns apart, destroying infrastructure and threatening the state's economy.


Brisbane, third largest city


Brisbane, the third largest city in the country, is still braced for the worst of the deluge, which is expected to hit soon and bring chaos to tens of thousands of people in the next week.


"We are in the grip of a very serious natural disaster," said Anna Bligh, Queensland's state premier. "Brisbane will go to sleep tonight and wake up to scenes many will never have seen before in their lives." Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, visited Brisbane and described the scale of the devastation as "mind-boggling".


The flood peak hit Ipswich, a satellite town to the west of Brisbane, late on January 12. More than 1,500 residents sheltered in evacuation centres, while others fled their homes with little more than the clothes they wore. The town's mayor, Paul Pisasale, said that about 6,000 homes had been saved from flooding because the water had peaked at 19.4 metres, about a metre below expectations. Those hundred-odd centimetres, he explained, were "the difference between bad news and devastation."


Devastating floods of 1974

There had been fears that the enormous dam built to protect against a repeat of the devastating floods of 1974 was becoming dangerously full and threatening to flood Brisbane with even more water. According to one report, the Wivenhoe dam was close to capacity and was flushing the equivalent of three Sydney Harbours' worth of water into swollen rivers.


However, engineers managed to lower the flow levels enough to start managing the flooded Brisbane river.


A government source said that at its peak the dam had been 190 per cent full, and the water level about 60cm below the point where it would have surged out of control and threatened the entire city.


As the rains moved south, major rivers in New South Wales began flooding or threatening to break their banks, forcing 3,000 people to leave some rural areas. In Victoria state, in the south-east, heavy rain caused flash flooding and landslides.


Brisbane residents were pushing food-laden shopping trolleys through already submerged streets, wading in shoulder-high water to rescue possessions, and watching as boats and pontoons were ripped from their moorings on the Brisbane river.


The city's mayor, Campbell Newman, said he felt "a sense of horror and awe" at the river's power, and warned that the coming waters could take three or four days to subside. "Sadly, in coming hours we will see bits of people's homes float down the river," he said.

Some already knew all too well how that felt. "This is my whole life, everything is gone," said Kim Hung, manager of the Salt 'n' Pepper catering business, as two friends floated a coffee machine toward higher ground. "I never thought it would get this bad." As the waters rose, strangers formed human chains, sometimes in chest-high water, to pass possessions from flooded homes to dry land.


Others had already fled to higher ground or to the evacuation centres that already shelter more than 3,500 people. Those who had not decided what to do were running out of time, said Bligh. Among the numerous tragedies, there were growing fears on January 12 for a Toowoomba-based man who was last seen sitting on the roof of his stranded car with his wife and young son. News footage showed James Perry awaiting rescue after trying to cross a river near the town of Grantham. Perry's wife, Jenny, and his son, Ted, were saved by a helicopter, but when it returned it could not find Perry or his car. Perry, 39, is one of more than 50 people declared missing in the region.


Brisbane's port was closed and the power company Energex cut supplies to some low-lying areas of the city, including parts of the financial district, for fear that power lines could electrify floodwaters. Nearly 80,000 homes in the south-east of Queensland were without electricity.


Threat of disease


The height and force of the water is not the only threat: raw sewage has already spilled into rivers, raising the spectre of disease as floodwaters become contaminated. That did not seem to bother the teenagers paddling on surfboards through the stifling heat of Brisbane's water-logged suburbs, oblivious to debris and disease.


But many who live in Brisbane's water-logged suburbs have been doing what they can to prepare for the surge that is expected to leave up to 30,000 homes under water.


Scott MacKenzie wiped the sweat from his brow as he floated in an inflatable dinghy over the filthy, spider-speckled water towards his house.


Like many of the city's houses, his is built on stilts — a flood protection measure — and the front door is two metres above the ground. Slowly but steadily, the water was engulfing entire suburbs. The traffic lights were out, the phone lines increasingly unreliable, and there was talk of petrol stations running dry and bare supermarket shelves.


MacKenzie, an experienced renovator and qualified electrician, reckoned the kitchen and most of the walls would collapse. It was not the first time he had experienced a flood. In 1974 his father's commercial laundry was swamped.


"I can remember floating around in big tin buckets on the water," he said. "Back then health issues were a real concern. If you ever touched money you had to wash your hands to get rid of the bugs." Outside, Broc Kerr was waiting patiently to ferry MacKenzie back to dry ground.


In a school


Although he usually uses his rubber boat to take the kids fishing, Kerr found himself and his dinghy pressed into service helping MacKenzie — and trying to save the children's primary school.


"We got in there with some of the teachers to try to get stuff like computers and smartboards up a bit higher," he said. "I don't know whether it's going to help. It's just relentless." Milton Public's 400 students won't be back at school any time soon. The school was submerged and the first floor under threat. A basketball hoop, three metres high, poked out of the water covering the playground. A couple of local kids took it in turns to shoot hoops from their kayaks.

Across town in the upmarket riverside suburb of New Farm, residents have been frantically sandbagging their properties, with passersby offering whatever help they can. Such gestures of generosity and solidarity were being repeated all over Brisbane.


A few minutes' drive away at the Merthyr Lawn Bowls club, people were treating their anxiety with cold beers as they watched the water's progress.


The balcony was just a metre or two above the river, where empty boats and loose pontoons and jetties floated by. For the time being it was a spectator sport. But by morning, it would be something quite different.


Andrew and Lisa Joyce were enjoying a quiet cigarette and a drink on the side terrace of the club, a traditional weatherboard building. "There's nothing you can do really," said Andrew, fatalistic about what may happen. "Everyone talks about sandbagging but the fact of the matter is if it gets to a point where it's over the sandbags, you can forget it."


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






Wikipedia, the online trove of assorted facts and trivia, is trying to be more well rounded. As the encyclopedia nears its 10th birthday on January 15, its leaders are seeking a more diverse group of editors, specifically, women, people in developing countries and people with expertise in assorted disciplines. Wikipedia is about to open an office in India and wants to expand further in Brazil, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Today, 20 per cent of the site's pages are written in English, but the organisation expects that to change over the next 10 years.


"Everybody brings their crumbs of knowledge to the table and all those crumbs become a banquet. And we're missing some people from the table," said Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that runs Wikipedia.


Recruiting students


As it is, said Jimmy Wales, the site's founder, the average Wikipedia editor is a well-educated 20-something, and most likely male. Eighty per cent of its editors are men and they include twice as many people with PhDs as the general population. The San Francisco-based non-profit is now recruiting students from 16 college campuses, including Harvard and Georgetown. Wikipedia is trying to teach young people what it takes to curate the website's entries. Cooperating professors, for instance, will assign their classes to write encyclopedia entries about public policy, complete with footnotes.


"Students are the fuel that power Wikipedia because they're engaged in the world of writing, researching, summarising, citing," Gardner said.


In particular, Wales said the site could use help from people well-versed in the humanities, a weaker area for Wikipedia's geeky first editors. It is working to make its editing software easier to use and also reaching out to libraries and other organisations to tap different talents. It's working with museums to develop richer, more informative entries about the arts, including photo galleries of notable works.


While the site's leaders admit it could be more diverse, they insist Wikipedia is comparable in accuracy to other encyclopedias. Gardner, a former journalist, said even under the guise of a respected media outlet, humans make mistakes.


In part, though, the site has had to award special editing privileges to trusted editors while preventing newer contributors from spreading misinformation.


In the wake of the shootings in Arizona recently that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded, the site posted a warning, reminding readers that the story was developing. It also allowed only a select group of experienced editors to make changes. Still, the site initially reported that Giffords had been killed, following unverified reports from outlets such as Reuters, NPR and CNN.






Wikipedia, the online trove of assorted facts and trivia, is trying to be more well rounded. As the encyclopedia nears its 10th birthday on January 15, its leaders are seeking a more diverse group of editors, specifically, women, people in developing countries and people with expertise in assorted disciplines. Wikipedia is about to open an office in India and wants to expand further in Brazil, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Today, 20 per cent of the site's pages are written in English, but the organisation expects that to change over the next 10 years.


"Everybody brings their crumbs of knowledge to the table and all those crumbs become a banquet. And we're missing some people from the table," said Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that runs Wikipedia.


Recruiting students


As it is, said Jimmy Wales, the site's founder, the average Wikipedia editor is a well-educated 20-something, and most likely male. Eighty per cent of its editors are men and they include twice as many people with PhDs as the general population. The San Francisco-based non-profit is now recruiting students from 16 college campuses, including Harvard and Georgetown. Wikipedia is trying to teach young people what it takes to curate the website's entries. Cooperating professors, for instance, will assign their classes to write encyclopedia entries about public policy, complete with footnotes.


"Students are the fuel that power Wikipedia because they're engaged in the world of writing, researching, summarising, citing," Gardner said.


In particular, Wales said the site could use help from people well-versed in the humanities, a weaker area for Wikipedia's geeky first editors. It is working to make its editing software easier to use and also reaching out to libraries and other organisations to tap different talents. It's working with museums to develop richer, more informative entries about the arts, including photo galleries of notable works.


While the site's leaders admit it could be more diverse, they insist Wikipedia is comparable in accuracy to other encyclopedias. Gardner, a former journalist, said even under the guise of a respected media outlet, humans make mistakes.


In part, though, the site has had to award special editing privileges to trusted editors while preventing newer contributors from spreading misinformation.


In the wake of the shootings in Arizona recently that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded, the site posted a warning, reminding readers that the story was developing. It also allowed only a select group of experienced editors to make changes. Still, the site initially reported that Giffords had been killed, following unverified reports from outlets such as Reuters, NPR and CNN.








New government figures for the global climate show that 2010 was the wettest year in the historical record, and it tied 2005 as the hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880.


The new figures confirm that 2010 will go down as one of the more remarkable years in the annals of climatology. It featured prodigious snowstorms that broke seasonal records in the United States and Europe; a record-shattering summer heat wave that scorched Russia; strong floods that drove people from their homes in places like Pakistan, Australia, California and Tennessee; a severe die-off of coral reefs; and a continuation in the global trend of a warming climate.


Two agencies, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reported on January 12 that the global average surface temperature for 2010 had tied the record set in 2005. The analyses differ slightly; in the NOAA version, the 2010 temperature was 1.12° Fahrenheit above the average for the 20th century, which is 57°.


It was the 34th year running that global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average; the last below-average year was 1976. The new figures show that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since the beginning of 2001.


The earth has been warming in fits and starts for decades, and a large majority of climatologists say that is because humans are releasing heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.


The carbon dioxide level has increased about 40 per cent since the Industrial Revolution.


Greenhouse gases a factor


"The climate is continuing to show the influence of greenhouse gases," said David R. Easterling, a scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.


Aside from NASA and NOAA, another agency, a research centre in Britain, compiles a global temperature record. That unit has yet to report its figures for 2010. (The data sets are compiled by slightly different methods, and in the British figures, the previous warmest year on record was 1998.)


The United States was wetter and hotter last year than the average values for the 20th century, but over all the year was not as exceptional in this country as for the world as a whole. In the contiguous United States, for instance, the NOAA figures showed that it was the fourth hottest summer on record and the 23rd hottest year.


Still, some remarkable events occurred at a regional scale, including snowstorms in February 2010 that shattered seasonal records in cities like Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia.


In the summer, a heat wave broke records in the South and along much of the East Coast.


— © New York Times News Service








Speculation about a change of personnel at the level of ministers is not unusual before a session of Parliament. The way things stand, however, it appears unlikely that the government will be reinvigorated by any change of ministerial personnel. In the Cabinet system, a Prime Minister may take recourse to chopping and changingministers or reallocate portfolios within the existing setup in order to inject efficiency, or in response to political compulsions if particular party factions have to be appeased or put in their place, or to fill vacancies if a minister has fallen by the wayside. In the British model of Cabinet governance — which we broadly follow — a Cabinet reshuffle is also an instrument in the hands of the Prime Minister to keep his Cabinet colleagues in line. However, since the dawn of the coalition era in New Delhi, the traditional reasons for the Prime Minister to make changes in his council of ministers do not strictly apply.

Nowadays, the Prime Minister no longer picks his Cabinet colleagues according to his own lights but must accommodate as ministers MPs of parties that are part of the government in line with the wishes of the leaders of those parties. To complicate matters, as the price of support, coalition partners of a major party have even come to dictate what portfolios they want for their nominees in the government. This state of affairs has come about because the electorate of late is not voting any one party in with sufficient numbers to be able to form its own government, as in the past. This is partly the result of the changing social, economic and political dynamics in the country which for long has not permitted any one party to have enough of a nationwide sway to be able to command a parliamentary majority of its own. It is this which makes coalition governments a compulsion of our times, and this severely circumscribes the Prime Minister.

In this scenario, the only real manoeuvrability a government leader may enjoy is primarily with his own party within the framework of a coalition, unless in a given political climate he is also able to dictate terms to an ally. (The latter aspect came into play recently when A. Raja of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was made to resign as communications minister.) In the case of the present Prime Minister, there is a further complication. Even within his own party he is not entirely free to choose his Cabinet colleagues and must pay close attention to the wishes of the Congress leadership.

These days the government is being buffeted on account of inflation and multiple corruption cases. It is unlikely that a change of personnel will help settle issues such as these. No particular Congress minister — whom the party may change at will — is being thought to be grossly inefficient or stung by corruption. So the efficiency argument or the idea of having taint-free ministers are not relevant considerations. Perhaps the government should wait to get over its present difficulties through appropriate policy moves and parliamentary action in relation to the Opposition, regain its composure as a governing entity, and then think of a meaningful Cabinet reshuffle. Of course, some fresh blood can be inducted even now by reducing the burden of some ministers.






Judged purely by the lax standards of short-term politics, it was understandable that the Congress would go to town with the "confessions" of Swami Aseemanand, the militant Hindu activist who is being held as a terror suspect. Having been at the receiving end of an effective Opposition onslaught against corruption and Congress

president Sonia Gandhi's links with the controversial Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, the ruling party was desperately in search of retaliatory fire. Aseemanand's testimony before a magistrate which was conveniently leaked to an obliging media has given the party a half-decent talking point, though it is unlikely to shift popular focus from corruption and economic mismanagement.

The Congress may have also based its decision to focus on "Hindu terror" on the cynical calculation that the Muslim community, which is no less affected by inflation, may be deterred from reposing faith in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance. Certainly, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh is doing his utmost to both exploit legitimate Muslim fears of retributive terror and simultaneously pander to conspiracy theorists who see the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai as a grand global conspiracy to defame Muslims. A book on 26/11 that Mr Singh has been promoting, for example, is replete with incredible theories of a Zionist con in the moral and ethical legitimacy of an eye-for-an-eye approach. He was well aware of the grave legal implications of implicating himself in the larger conspiracy and yet decided to tell the truth, as he saw it. Although there are legitimate questions surrounding the release of his testimony to the media, Aseemanand's version of events cannot be easily dismissed as either fabricated or obtained through coercion.
Read with the reports of the interrogations of Lieutenant Colonel Purohit and others charged with the Malegaon bombings, Aseemanand's testimony offers fascinating insights into the working of ultra-militant Hindu nationalists who felt they were serving the nation by inflicting pain on the Muslim community.
It would appear that there were two distinct conspiracies at work, albeit with some overlaps. First, there was the Abhinav Bharat group, which may well have begun as an intelligence gathering exercise by a section of the military intelligence but ended up as a rogue operation. Second, there was the group of Sunil Joshi which comprised people with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) links. The hand of Abhinav Bharat seems to have been present in the Malegaon blasts and there are reasons to suspect Joshi's involvement in the blasts at Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif Dargah. Although Joshi claimed to Aseemanand that his boys had also bombed the Samjhauta Express, there is no corroborative evidence to suggest the group had the requisite expertise to assemble such sophisticated improvised explosive devices.

Aseemanand was known to both groups and he appears as a common point of ideological inspiration. But apart from this link, the relationship between the two groups was laced with bitterness and rivalry. A bone of contention appears to be Indresh Kumar, a high RSS functionary on whose behalf the organisation went on public dharnas last year. Lt. Col. Purohit and his associates seem to have regarded Mr Kumar as an "Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agent" and Abhinav Bharat didn't seem averse to the idea of assassinating RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Aseemanand's testimony indicates that Indresh had deep connections with the Joshi gang and may have facilitated their activities.

In a speech in Surat last Monday, Mr Bhagwat said that the "extremists" connected to terror had either dissociated themselves from the RSS or had been edged out by the organisation itself. "There is no place for radicals in the RSS", he claimed. Mr Bhagwat's claim appears credible when viewed against the record of the Abhinav Bharat network. Many members of this network are, interestingly, still at large and persisting with their advocacy of aggressive Hindu nationalism. However, Mr Bhagwat's charge of political vindictiveness falters in the case of Mr Indresh Kumar who continues to hold an important post in the RSS. There is enough in the various testimonies to suggest that Mr Kumar was recklessly flirting with those who didn't shirk from using terror.

Without the necessary corroborative evidence, it may be unfair to suggest Mr Kumar was a mastermind or even a facilitator of either of the terror networks. However, there is no disputing the fact that he was mixed up with the most dubious of people. A high functionary of the RSS has to be circumspect about both his activities and his associations. Mr Kumar, it would seem, was reckless. The RSS decision to stand by him may be a measure of its sense of regimental loyalty but is unlikely to be viewed by the larger community with the same degree of generosity and indulgence. It has certainly given the Congress a handy stick with which to beat both the RSS and the BJP.

Yet, there could be some redeeming political fallout from the larger "Hindu terror" controversy. Ever since the general election of 2004, there have been voices in the BJP arguing for a greater RSS detachment from day-to-day politics. Unfortunately, these voices have been subsumed by the RSS' steamroller approach. This over-involvement has led to political distortions and has cost the BJP politically. For its own sake, the RSS needs to first put its own house in order and save the BJP a lot of blushes.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist






I am one of those dreamy political scientists who always makes wishlists and scenarios of "What if". I am always waiting for new conversations of intersecting categories. I believe Hyderabad can be the centre for one major encounter. The Srikrishna Commission report on the possibility of Telangana has been released. It is a500-page report and needs detailed study. While the report is being pursued, a smaller, quieter event will take place in Hyderabad between January 10 and 14. It is the meeting of the International Association for the Study of the Commons. What one hopes is a conversation between the debate for small states and the dream of the new commons.

The debate on small states usually operates in terms of the language of decentralisation, of governance, of the rhetoric of small is beautiful. It usually follows three grids — the economic, the political and the cultural.
The plea for the small state usually stems from a negative sentiment. There is a sense of internal colonialism of economic discrimination. Telangana feels that the benefits of development are going to coastal Andhra Pradesh.
To the sense of economic hegemony and distorted development is added the logic of culture. Culture with the help of media creates imagined communities which organise around language, a past, a collective sense of history. The two together combine to provide the grammar for a particular kind of politics.
The logic of small states operates then through a particular kind of populism and electoralism. The idea of Telangana was seen as a political Camelot. What electoral politics also exposes is the horse-trading, the promissory notes, the negotiations and the betrayals. Political power becomes the only way of creating the envisioned community.

The majority, in the meanwhile, attempts to create or subvert the imagination. Sociologies confront each other, statistics acquires a political colour and every protest becomes a law and order problem.
Watching as an outsider one witnesses a frozen script on both sides. The categories of small confront the categories of larger unified states and what one witnesses are standard scripts on both sides reduced to a report card of grievances.

The question one asks is, is there a way to evade such frozen scripts because the battle of small states versus big states has become a sterile battle. It, no doubt, captures the populist imagination but barely questions the categories of development, progress and globalisation or add any new sense of welfare or justice. The battle is reduced to competition, between grievance and indifference or unity versus disintegration.
The idea of the commons provides a different imagination for such a debate. An idea of the commons goes beyond the common sense of federalism. A commons is a space beyond the formal rules of market and current politics. A commons is a space of refugee, a place where ordinary people can access nature as food, as timber or as medicine. A commons is a community of sharing and sustainability. A commons is a place where each man operates according to his needs. A commons conveys a community of reciprocity and responsibility which goes beyond the logic of individualism. Development and market deny the idea of commons by emphasising restrictive access to production and distribution.

I want to argue that the idea of commons provides a different measure of evaluation. A commons deals with livelihood issues by connecting economics to livelihood, to ways of life of a community. A commons creates an embedded ecology which relates communities to livelihood. The idea of the commons creates an ethics of scale rather than size. It tries to communicate a multiplicity of problem-solving techniques. Plurality rather than power is the new option.

The idea of Telangana and the idea of Andhra Pradesh are not different currently. Both failed to question the current idea of politics, economics and administration. To apply current models, to ignore the problem of farmer suicides does not really regionalise development. A region has to be more than geography as space; it has to be an alternative idea of democracy.

The Srikrishna report, for all its diligence, adds little to the democratic imagination. Sadly, the movement for Telangana while showing the flaws of electoral democracy has added little in terms of the creativity of locality or the power of diversity. I am not saying that we should not grant Telangana. All I am contending is that Telangana as an imagination should have a sense of the commons linked to the globe in a way that locality is not a parochial idea. It has to have a sense of scale not size. It has to embody new notions of problem solving. Ask yourself what new notions of ecology, agriculture, education and power sharing does either side add to the new democratic imagination. Each side by insisting on Hyderabad is showing a common commitment to the standard policies of economics and politics. I want to ask where are the new theories of the informal economy? Where are the new ideas of social audit? Can we name one theory for better livelihoods on one side?
The challenge of Telangana has to challenge more than the current idea of statehood. Merely creating a new power elite for Telangana is not enough. The question we have to ask is what is the social imagination of both movements? The answer now is none.

It is a mirroring of politics and economics where one hoped for a richer imagination of statehood.
The real challenge is can Andhra Pradesh and Telangana offer a new or alternative theories of agriculture, new ways of watershed management, alternative ways to combat forced migrations to the city. Is there a new theory of governance? What is the new theory of the city? Can we link formal and informal economies through a new idea of the commons? Can Hyderabad become a new commons for both the states? To think this way one has to go beyond the current ideas of Union Territories as sanitary corridors of administrative convenience.
I always honour moves to decentralisation but such efforts have to add to real empowerment. The Telangana movement is a student-led movement and as students are a part of the intelligence I hope they make such issues a part of their agenda. Only then will its politics not go the way of Jharkhand and add to a cynical view of life.

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








Most of us would have seen images of the vast universe, with its millions of stars and galaxies. Those images that have seared our mind came from the Palomar Sky Survey in the 1950s.


But in the years ahead, the images that we and our children see will look far deeper into outer space. These images will come from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), whose third and final installment was released recently.


The SDSS images contain 10 times more objects than the earlier Palomar survey, and show half a billion objects, both stars and galaxies in equal measure.


The new pictures will provide more clues to some of the most fundamental questions that we seek to answer. Like, why is the universe expanding at a faster rate, when typically gravity should pull objects closer to each other? This, in turn, might answer the single biggest question: if there was a big bang, why did it occur? Sure it will be many years before all these questions are answered, and many of us may not be around to hear it. But for now, let us look forward to seeing deeper into infinity as the SDSS images are released into the public domain.







Chiefs of the armed forces, who had appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday, to explain the irregularities at the canteens of their units as pointed out in the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report had made curious comments after deposing before the Parliamentary committee.


Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, who is also chief of joint chiefs of staff, said, "It was a good meeting. We put forward our viewpoint, they put forward theirs.". Army chief VK Singh said, "The MPs made some very good suggestions... We will take them into account". It appears that both Naik and Singh do not understand what the PAC is about, and that the armed forces, with the rest of the government machinery, are answerable to the PAC, and through it to Parliament and people. They went before the PAC not to exchange views but to answer queries about irregularities.


One of the points made by Singh that there is an internal audit and therefore the money spent on armed forces' supply of rations should not come under CAG scrutiny is simply unacceptable. Every government expenditure is made from the tax-payers' money and the CAG is the highest auditing authority in the system. There can be no exemption from CAG scrutiny.


It is true that this is the first time that security chiefs have been called before the PAC, and they did not fully grasp the significance of it. As a matter of fact, by now the practice should have been established that service chiefs will appear before the PAC as well as Parliamentary consultative committee to the ministry of defense, and answer queries of the members of Parliament. It is not too late and this practice should be established.


There would be possible objections that the armed forces should not come under too much Parliamentary scrutiny because that might be a temptation for the generals to play the political game, and that it would be better if their interaction is confined to the defence minister, the prime minister and the cabinet committee on security. And that it is for the defence minister and prime minister to speak for the armed forces in Parliament.


While there is need for confidentiality in defense matters, there is a lot of unnecessary secrecy around them as well. The Indian armed forces command both respect and affection for their uprightness and bravery. But Parliamentary scrutiny will not undermine these sterling qualities. It would only improve the standards, and it will also help in nipping trouble in the bud.







It is no secret that the two areas where India has failed its people most are education and health. But a recent report in Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, brings home starkly just how bad that failure is — most Indians pay up to 78% of their medical bills themselves.


The only country worse off as far as private spending on health is concerned is Pakistan, where the figure is 82.5%.


One of the primary authors of the analysis, Dr AK Shiva Kumar, is part of the prime minister's expert group on universal health coverage. He points out that 39 million people are pushed into poverty because of ill-health every year. Almost 30% of rural India cannot afford any kind of treatment at all, up from 15% in 1995. This is a terrible demonstration of how the situation has deteriorated over the years.


Of course, none of this should be a surprise. Even though we boast about our hi-tech speciality hospitals and newspapers are full of cutting age medical procedures carried out in our hospitals, the fact is that we do not even have primary health centres in most villages. People travel for miles to get treatment and can be treated so shoddily at government hospitals that they prefer private treatment. Public spending is 0.94% of our GDP — among the lowest in the world. How bad the situation is can be measured by the fact that India leads in infant and maternal mortality rates — with figures much worse than the poorest region of the world — sub-Saharan Africa.


As we aim to become a major global player, we have to realise how urgently we need to set our own house in order. While our public health system flounders, our private hospitals rake in crores. Most will have some reason why they cannot treat lower income patients and thus cannot be relied upon. The onus has to be on public health. Unfortunately, the landscape between dismal public health and exorbitant private care is usually populated by quacks who provide some sort of affordable treatment.


While we share in the reflected glory of the India story, we need to work hard to make sure that the story is not a nightmare for most of our population.









May I indulge in some philistine carping, dear readers? The India Art Summit 2011 is upon us.


Third year running and growing like young Jack's beanstalk, it is rapidly becoming a must "do" for those in the business of art — both the connoisseurs and the fliterati.


The latter are endowed with antennae that allow them to catch the embryonic sounds of the buzz , and head there pronto, like drones.


So, there's a Buzz (please note the capital B) this time. About twenty foreign galleries are participating. And many more Indian galleries, who were sceptical earlier, have found it worth their while to put up booths. Blue chip international curators, art critics, academics and museum directors will be taking part in the seminars being held during the summit.


Not to forget Anish Kapoor, the British artist of Indian origin, who wowed even the sceptics in the two art exhibitions of his work in India.


This time our proliferating socialite entrepreneurs of art have gone all out to make sure that their on site and off site events dazzle. Champagne will flow; and after hours parties will welcome the weary — stressed out from the day's hard work.


No doubt, the Art Fair will be exciting; though I feel that the wings of hype should be clipped. I even overheard a gallerist boast, without batting an eyelid, "Forget Frieze, Delhi's the place now". We have a long way to go before we can go shoulder to shoulder with London's Frieze Art Fair: it is top drawer.


I am as excited about the India Art Summit as the next art lover. Though I wish the organisers had simply called it the India Art Fair. The seminars are only a small part of it, and limited to a very few. The real action is the Fair — the works exhibited and the thousands (many freshly initiated into the world of contemporary art) who throng there. After all, the Basel, Frieze, and Shanghai Art Fairs also include a series of seminars. But, they don't attach the


hierarchical tag of 'summit' to it.


Perhaps, all this — the patting on the back — is part of the India Shining mantra with which we lull ourselves into complacency. But shine the torch in the corners into which all the dirt has been swept and you will see the poverty and misery piled high: it belies the boast of the soaring economy.


Certainly, a lot is moribund in the world of art in India. Take our National Museum: so many departments were closed down when the person in charge retired. Apparently, many manuscripts, miniatures (and God knows what else) are missing. Our National Gallery of Modern Art is stuck in a time warp, with mandarin-bureaucrats who know next to nothing about contemporary art calling the shots.


And we should not forget our contemporary artists. Some have made a bit of noise internationally — in auctions and in art exhibitions. But these are the tiniest of ripples. The only one to have made a palpable impact globally is

Anish Kapoor — and he is British.


Perhaps, we need to make a contribution to world art. Not for a moment do I advocate copying ancient sculptures and paintings — or even folk and tribal art. But learning from them and moving on from there might just do it.


What set me thinking about this is a remark made by the ebullient artist Manjunath Kamat. A smug curator from Europe recently told him that he admired Indian contemporary art because it was a "branch of Western art".


Time to go back to the caves: Ajanta, anyone?








A report about the police recovering a teenage girl within five hours of her abduction in the north of the Valley is somewhat encouraging. She has been handed over safely to her parents after completing legal formalities. Her tormentor has been arrested. The concerned uniformed men have done a speedy job. Their counterparts in this region too have done well to nab two culprits who made an audacious attempt to drag two unsuspecting girls into their moving vehicle in the heart of the Udhampur town only recently. It is important that our law-enforcing agencies exhibit requisite alertness in enforcing their writ. The loss of a couple of hours may not be enough to ensure the bodily integrity of a woman. But it is hardly a relevant or sensible argument. A member of the fair sex can't be left to the wolves for good. She has to be relieved of her agony as soon as possible. Criminals have to be brought to book. There can't be any difference in opinions about this. The blame lies with abductors or rapists and not their innocent victims. This should be clearly understood. There has been some positive change in our society's outlook in this regard. It is being realised that the wronged women deserve sympathy and support for they are not at fault. They can't be judged by some old perverted yardstick conceived by a male-dominated order. The onus of their adverse plight is on one who has perpetrated it. At the same time it can't be denied that we need to transform ourselves a little more. The law and logic both favour women as equal citizens. By and large the parents have started taking as much interest in the education and upbringing of their daughters as of sons. Nevertheless a grim reality is that in practical life they are still considered weak, vulnerable and virtually unequal. Worse is that at times they can't walk freely as the instances of eve-teasing and abductions prove.


As a result we have to persist with special campaigns to end the obnoxious practice of female foeticide, draw curtains on vicious dowry system and provide more avenues for their professional growth. It is admitted that a girl has a unique position in a family to which she makes a valuable contribution. Why should she then be considered her parents' worry or a burden on society? There is a merit in the advice that she should become an economically independent person. In fact, most of the families these days work in that direction. Our country too has set certain superb examples to inculcate confidence in them. We have one woman as the President and another as the Lok Sabha Speaker and are among the firsts to have a woman Prime Minister. In our State the Leader of the Opposition is the member of the same ilk.


Arguably this world is one of unequal opportunities in which the background, contact and influence do matter. However, this can't be cited as an argument for denying the women as a whole of their due. What is required is the creation of an environment for them to hone their skills according to their taste and temperament. All of us, especially the police, should make our presence effectively felt in their favour.







If onions were not there our life would have been dull. It is one vegetable that brings tears to our eyes. Cooking experts recommend several methods for cutting them in order to ensure that we don't appear to be crying. They will tell us, for instance, that we ought to peel them under cold water. On a lighter side, of course, there is sound advice that we should let someone else do the work for us! Onions can also thus make us laugh. For the present these bulbs are shaking us badly for another reason --- not us alone as individuals but also our governments and their various departments. Their prices have sky-rocketed and nobody seems to know why it has happened. Our personal budgets have gone haywire. We are wary of using what has been one of the most popular ingredients in our dishes. The political and administrative scene has warmed up. No less a person than the Prime Minister has taken matters into his hands. Yet, the situation has not significantly improved. Since hoarding is generally believed to be the reason for such cost escalation the income-tax officials have been put on the job. They have gone after traders who in turn have cried foul and held out strike threats. The Congress has shifted the blame on coalition partners at the Centre only to be told that there is something like collective responsibility. The neighbouring Pakistan has been brought into the picture. It is being asked to help us out. In our eyes it is infamous for different kinds of deadlier exports. For a change it is being invited to be forthright, genuine and generous. The trading community across the Wagah border in Punjab is amused. Often it has brought the product from this country and sold it with profit in Pakistan. How is it that we have been hit so seriously? What is wrong in our mechanism that the officials in charge can't feel the steep rise in prices?


It is all the more intriguing considering that the phenomenon is countrywide: it is being felt in this State on the one end and in Kerala on the other. Onion is one of our most important crops and a must in almost every household. Nonetheless we have been caught napping. A silver lining in this hopeless milieu is that our sense of humour is not deserting us. The middle class in particular, which learns to live with compromises, is using the latest tools of technology to make light of the crisis on hand. Short text messages are doing the rounds on mobiles and the Internet: "In-come tax department is keeping a watch on all high value transactions. Please don't buy onions" and "Hamein kuch nahi chahiye. Lekin baratiyon ka swagat pyaaz se hona chahiye" (We don't expect anything except that our wedding party is welcomed with onions). There is yet another. "What would Guru Dutt, the producer of "Pyaasa" do if he was around? --- He would make "Pyaaza" depicting a poet's struggle to buy a kilogram of onions. Guru Dutt might well turn in his grave on hearing this. However, he is not around to see the tense realities of modern life where onion as a natural tear-jerker has effectively assumed the centre-stage.









On a television show last week, in which I was a guest speaker, I heard one of the best suggestions for cleaning up public life in India. It may never be implemented because no public servant, at least of my acquaintance, is serious about ending corruption but I am going to share it with you anyway. The subject we were discussing on Vikram Chandra's 'Big Fight' was the return of the Bofors ghost and most of the programme sadly became a contest between the BJP's record on catching the thieves and that of the Congress so there was more dust than light. Then, at the very end, when Vikram asked us for final comments came this suggestion. It was Joginder Singh, former director of the CBI (Central Bureau of Intelligence) who came up with it. In his final comments he said (and he should know) that the best way to keep our politicians and officials from feeding at the bottomless trough of public money would be to keep them under the permanent scrutiny of the Income Tax department.

Now let me tell you why I think this is such a good idea. Some years ago I happened to witness an income tax raid at the home of a businessman friend in Mumbai. My friend comes from an old business family and is a fine, upstanding citizen but when the tax raiders came they treated him like a common criminal. He was abroad when the Income Tax Department swooped so when he returned to Mumbai he found that his home, his car, his bank lockers and accounts had all been sealed. After spending a night in a hotel he was allowed to enter his home by income tax inspectors who behaved as if it was their home and not his. They made themselves comfortable in his drawing room, slipping off their shoes and lounging about as if they were at some family event in their own homes. After recording his statement in the tones of an inquisition they went through every drawer and cupboard in the apartment asking him to explain every detail. Where did he buy his pictures? How much did he pay? Where did he buy his carpets? Where were the bills? How much was the jewelry worth? Did he have bills? The same thing happened in his offices and in the homes of all his relations. Nobody was allowed to make a telephone call or leave the premises until the raiders were satisfied that they had asked all their questions.

It was an ugly business but the reason why I recommend it to keep our public officials in check is because I am prepared to guarantee that such surprise raids would reveal unaccounted for assets in the homes of nearly every politician and senior official. As someone who has the dubious distinction of having covered Indian politics for more than thirty years I believe I am in an excellent position to tell you the changes I have seen in the lifestyle of our elected representatives and it could only have changed with the complicity of our civil servants.
In the seventies and eighties when I covered Parliament the MPs I met dressed so humbly that more than ninety percent of them would not have spent more on their attire than your average 'aam aadmi'. The women wore cheap cotton saris, slippers bought for a few rupees on Janpath and almost no jewelry. Their watches were Indian as were their handbags. The men dressed in even humbler fashion usually buying their entire outfit from Khadi Gramodyog in Connaught Place. Now things have changed so dramatically that if you keep your eyes open when the next session of Parliament begins you will yourself be able to see the changes.

Look first at the handbags that our lady MPs carry and you will notice that nearly every one of them is made by some international designer. The more modest MPs carry Louis Vuitton handbags and those who are not ashamed to flaunt their wealth carry handbags by more exclusive brands like Chanel, Bottega Veneta and Hermes. Check the prices of these handbags and you will see that they start at Rs 100,000 and can go up to Rs 10 lakhs per bag. The shoes these ladies wear start at around Rs 40,000. I cannot remember the last time I saw a lady MP who was not wearing an extremely expensive foreign watch. This is true of our male MPs as well and usually out of their humble khadi pockets peep very expensive Mont Blanc pens. Now start doing the math. Anyone who can spend so much money on trifles must have a great deal more to spend on more important things like homes and cars and they do. When I wander about the homes of political leaders these days I find myself dazzled by the crystal and china, the fine carpets and the silverware. So if an income tax raid were to be sprung upon almost any of our elected representatives they would have a lot of explaining to do.
It goes without saying that a measure like this will never be implemented because when it comes to looting public money there is an all party consensus. Not even our communist friends would suggest random income tax raids on public servants as a means of controlling corruption. Then there is the problem that the income tax inspectors are not exactly paragons of virtue. But, I have brought up the matter this week in the hope that you understand what can be done and why it is that every political party now believes in constituencies being passed down in hereditary fashion.

Hereditary democracy is so widespread that according to last week's Outlook magazine every MP under the age of 30 has inherited his seat from some indulgent parent or relative. This information comes from Patrick French's new book which after researching the subject discovered that 2/3rds of Lok Sabha MPs under 40 are hereditary. This is because there is no easier way to make money in India today than through a career in politics. This is why everyone from criminals and mafia dons to movie stars and big industrialists willingly give up their private lives to become public servants. Unfortunately, this is very bad for India. So next time you vote try and find a political party that does not practice hereditary democracy.








A civil right activist and a doctor by profession, was , sentenced to life imprisonment by a Court, in Chattishgarh, in December, 2010 which found him guilty of criminal conspiracy to commit sedition. The two-and-half-year trial, also ended with two others being awarded the same sentence.

A friend of mine used to say, that God save me from my friends. I can take care of my enemies.
The conviction after an open trial, has led to a kind of ceremonial protests from a group, which calls itself the custodian of Civil Rights and believes in making bold, but irresponsible statements, from the safe environments of the National and State or District Capitals, against the judgement. The so called activists, want to have all the benefits and rights of the democracy, and none of the responsibilities to protect it against all those who want to destroy it.

The sole objective of Maoists and Naxalites is, to cow down not only the security forces, but also the civilians population, so that their authority of extortion, kidnapping and protectionism on payment remains unchallenged. They are doing it in the guise of helping and uplifting the tribals.

An estimate puts their extortion empire at Rs, 1500 Crores, which is taken from transporters, moneyed people and even from the Government employees.

Every one expresses full faith in judiciary, but only so long as he or she is acquitted. The moment any criminal including the Maoists are convicted, the judiciary, becomes the fall guy.

Out of a total of 10,268 casualties in violance reported between 2005 and May, 2010, 2,372 were reported in 2009, 1,769 in 2008 and 1,737 in 2007. These deaths include those that of the 76 CRPF personnel at one go in 2010, by the Maoists.

There is not a word of sympathy for the innocents killed in cold blood by the Maoists. But when, one co conspirator is convicted by the Court of Law, all his supporters, including a former Chief Justice, calls the judgement ridiculous and unacceptable, as if his words carry any weight in law.

To add insult to the injury he says that "There can't be a greater nonsensical judgement than this. I am ashamed belonging to the judiciary that such a ridiculous judgement was delivered."

To quote, the Union Finance Minister , the 'root-cause theorists' in civil society, who routinely blame the "lack of development" to justify spread of Naxalism, and said Maoists were engaged in a political project to capture power, by using guns.

He added that "development is needed. Lack of development may swell their (Naxals') cadre. But they do not run charitable institutions... They are political elements and want to capture power."

He added that the issue was simplified when it is said that Maoist violence was due to lack of development and lack of opportunities and basic amenities. This is not the sole reason. "This is more imaginary than actual."
The Union Home Minister has been equally candid and he said, in unambiguous terms, that intellectual and material support, to Maoists from various quarters, is making the government's task, to curb the menace all the more difficult.

He was perturbed, at the liberal media for giving these murderers respectability. According to him, Maoists seduce the media by making false charges in court to draw sympathies. "Maoists believe in violence which has no place in democracy. A strong head, a stronger heart and staying power is required to tackle them."
The so called activists, who do not number more than a few dozens, enjoy all the benefit of democracy and constitution, but are the first to attack and the pillars of democracy, including the judiciary. For them, the country be damned.

Infact Blackmailing the Government and its institutions, has become the order of the day, whether it is people demanding reservations or any other preferential treatment.

So called Right Activists, are not bothered about the innocent killings or large issues of corruption. They only want publicity, which throws doubts about their sincerity or seriousness about any cause.

The Maoist and Naxals have been playing, mayhem on men in uniform, and they account for all 5 of the worst attacks on security forces anywhere in India, including J&K and the North-East. Some of the details are as under; Mar 15, 2007: 55 killed in armed attack and bombings in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh June 29, 2008: 31 policemen, mostly from anti-Naxal Greyhounds force of Andhra Pradesh and 4 paramilitary members killed in attack on motorized boat in Malkangiri, Orissa Apr 8, 2004: 19 Jharkhand Armed Police personnel and 9 CRPF men killed by landmines in Chaibasa, Jharkhand Jul 9, 2007: 16 CRPF men, 8 cops from Chhattisgarh and 1 civilian killed in attack by Maoists in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh Feb 15, 2010:

At least 24 personnel, mostly belonging to Eastern Frontier Rifles, killed in attack on EFR camp at Silda, West Bengal.

In the worst Maoist attack before this one, 55 civilians were killed, 40 injured and 125 kidnapped in Dantewada on Feb 28, 2006.

The Union Home Minister's following prophetic warning needs to be drilled into the so called Civil Right Activists."There can be no half-way approach. Most people still think there could be a compromise or some kind of median approach. This is immature and foolish... This is expected because as long as we did not engage them, they were happy and expanding. They will continue to expand unless we challenge them."

Why don't the so called civil right activists, go to Maoists and Naxalites and advise them the futility of their killings the poor and innocent policemen and help in dealing with what the Prime Minister has called the most serious challenge faced by the Country.

Despite the Prime Minister expressing a deep concern about a "virtual collapse of law and order in view of extortion demands, display of arms, encroachments on public property and the militant rhetoric of Naxal leaders at rallies and meetings", the position in the Maoists area remains unchanged. It is time for every right thinking man to come to the aid for the Government. It is also time for the Government, that in the atmosphere of terrorism and fear psychosis created by such elements, to change the laws, as nobody, except a fool hardy person would come forward to depose in an open court of law. (PTI)








Today every developed nation is striving hard to move away from fossil fuels towards renewable, clean energy. Although people ponder over the viability and practicability of clean coal, everyone is in agreement that solar and wind technology will be at the vanguard of this movement. Solar power technology is inexhaustible and while the world's oil supplies are in decline and we as a civilization are due to run out of fossil fuels soon, the only way left is to have an insight into the solar concept.

Solar energy is being used by man constantly since his existence on this planet. It is still used every day in many different ways. When we hang our laundry outside to dry in the sun, we are using the solar heat to do work. Plants use the solar light to make food and animals in turn depend on plants for food. Although it cannot be utilized at night or on cloudy days, its availability may be generally relied upon day after day. The solar energy supply will last as long as the sun. Oil, on the other hand, is not renewable. It takes millions of years to form. Solar energy is non-polluting. The burning of oil releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. In addition to this, the process of obtaining it may result in damaged ecosystems through dredging or spills. Solar cells are long-lasting and require very little maintenance, although solar panels and their accessories (solar lights, etc.) may be expensive to buy at the onset, money is saved in the long run. This is because energy from the sun is widely available and free. Solar powered lights and other solar powered products are very easy to install.

Nowadays super sensitive solar panels are available that capture energy even during overcast days and have more efficient batteries that can hold more charge for longer periods of time, making them helpful even in traditionally rainy climates. Good News is that the old excuses that we used to hear to marginalize solar power are now obsolete.

The Earth receives 174 petawatts (PW) of incoming solar radiation and approximately 30% of it is reflected back to space while the rest is absorbed by clouds, oceans and land masses. The total solar energy absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land masses is approximately 3,850,000 exajoules (EJ) per year. According to an estimate made in 2002, this was more energy in one hour than the world uses in one year. The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so enormous that in one year it is about twice as much as will ever be attained from all of the Earth's non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas, and mined uranium combined.

India has already put its foot forward in the movement towards accomplishing this welcome mission. Fortunately, India lies in sunny regions of the world. Most parts of India receive 4-7 kWh of solar radiation per square meter per day with 250-300 sunny days in a year. India has plentiful solar resources, as it receives about 3000 hours of sunshine every year which can be easily utilized. A lot of efforts have been made during the past quarter century and a number of devices have been developed and have become commercially viable. These include Solar Water Heaters, Solar Cookers, Solar Lanterns, Solar Street Lights, Solar Water Pumps and many more.

The Government of India has recently approved a solar mission which aims to reduce the cost of electricity produced from solar power; this mission is quite motivated to create 20 GW of solar power by 2020 which would again be increased to 100 GW and 200 GW by 2030 and 2050 respectively.

Even in J&K, a state with massive potential for renewable energy projects, the use of this clean energy is being encouraged. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has set aside Rs.500 Crore to set up solar and small hydro energy projects in Ladakh region which faces exceptionally hard climate. The plan includes the development of micro hydel projects aggregating to 23.5 MW capacity, Solar Photovoltaic Power plants, home lighting systems and solar thermal systems such as water heating, solar cookers, solar passive buildings, and solar green houses. The proposed greenhouses in the region would help in increasing the production of green vegetables in the winter season.

The Ministry has brought electricity to 50 un-electrified villages in districts of Doda and Kupwara in J&K through solar home lighting systems and intends to install more such systems in villages of Gurez Tehsil. The Ministry has further sanctioned close to 70 more villages for electrification and 145 more villages have been identified for electrification through solar PV Systems. The J&K Bank also intends to set up 200-300 solar powered ATMs in J&K.

Solar thermal systems such as solar driers, solar water heaters, steam and dish cookers, and solar green houses have been promoted in the state. The Ministry had sanctioned setting up of 10 Akshay Urja shops in the districts of Jammu, Kishtwar, Srinagar, Anantnag, Bandipora, Baramullah, Ganderbal, Shopian, Kupwara and Budgam. Akshay Urja shops not only sell and repair renewable energy and energy saving devices but also provide information about different renewable energy sources. This energy system is also regarded as an investment which is inflation-protected because it compensates electricity costs at the existing retail rate.

Considering its vast potential the solar power technology is bound to be the energy for the future and must be exploited for the benefit of the future generations. In light of this it is being contemplated that awareness must be created among the general masses about the benefits of the Solar Energy in Jammu and Kashmir so that maximum number of people adopt this alternate source of power. The Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy, Dr. Farooq Abdullah even put forth an idea of introducing the subject regarding conserving the energy in the syllabi of the students at primary and secondary level so that the new generations are acquainted with the latest trends in Science and Technology.

In the words of Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, "We will pool all our scientific, technical and managerial talents, with financial sources, to develop solar energy as a source of abundant energy to power our economy and to transform the lives of our people." Let us hope India in the coming decade witnesses a boost in its economy and has less incidences of electricity shortage and reaps more benefits from this renewable power.








The proposed meeting between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan at Thimphu in Bhutan on the sidelines of the SAARC standing committee meeting on February 6-7 raises hopes of the two countries abandoning their blame game and march forward on the road to peace. According to reports the two foreign secretaries will prepare ground for the proposed meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries likely to be held in New Delhi soon. Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has responded favourable to the invitation from his Indian counterpart S.M.Krishna to visit New Delhi for resuming the composite dialogue. Qureshi wanted the two foreign secretaries to prepare a comprehensive agenda for the ministerial level meeting. Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Geelani too has expressed the hope for the resumption of meaningful dialogue process at different levels soon. The leaders in both the countries must demonstrate their will and ability to rise above petty considerations to not only renew the process of composite dialogue but also to carry it forward to its logical end. For this purpose they must abandon the blame game, which can only add to the tensions and prolong the conflict which can not be in the interest of the people of the two countries. There is no doubt that the people in both the countries desire peace and expect their respective leadership to shun rigidity and carry forward the dialogue process for resolving all the outstanding disputes. The dialogue has to be meaningful, sustained and uninterrupted. There are strong vested interests in the two countries who would make all efforts to subvert any move for the resumption of dialogue. The hawks in the two countries have to be isolated for ensuring early negotiated solutions of all the issues that have remained unresolved for the past several decades. Most of the problems which the two countries are facing are common and call for peace and mutual cooperation between the two neighbouring countries for their solution. The question of terrorism, which New Delhi has been raising off and on, blaming Islamabad for its failure to honour its assurances that its territory will not be allowed to be used for terrorist activities against India, too can be taken up during the meetings at different levels. In fact both the countries are facing the menace of terrorism in one way or the other and in varying degrees and they need to evolve common mechanism in fighting out this menace.

The foremost thing is to overcome the trust deficit that has always hindered the dialogue process or had created roadblocks on the way to peace. For creating a congenial climate for an uninterrupted and uninterruptable dialogue process it is important to open and strengthen all channels of dialogue, not restricting them to the official level. Of these the people-to-people contacts between the two countries is undoubtedly the most important confidence-building measure that had helped in the past to build bridges of understandings and strengthening the peace lobbies in the two countries. Unfortunately the restrictive visa regimes in the two countries has only resulted in subverting this meaningful process for restoring mutual trust. Instead of obstructing the exchange of visits by different professional groups there is need to encourage this process by removing the curbs on the movements of the people from one country to the other. Such exchanges have helped in the past to build the peace lobbies in the two countries which were able to influence their respective governments to initiate the dialogue process at official level. While composite dialogue has to cover all the outstanding issues which have remained unresolved it needs to be understood that without resolving the Kashmir problem no tangible progress is possible in finding a mutually acceptable solution of other issues. For Kashmir solution it is important to provide their due space to the people of Kashmir at the dialogue table. The two governments should take steps for facilitating the hassle-free movements of the political leaders and the people at large across the Line of Control providing an opportunity for intra-Jammu and Kashmir dialogue for evolving a consensus by reconciling the divergent aspirations and views of the people living in different regions and areas of the State. For creating a conducive climate for the peace process some CBMs like the end to violence and all human rights abuses, probe into all cases of such abuses, release of political prisoners, scrapping of draconian laws and restoring people's democratic rights are imperative.







The current logjam between the transporters and Jammu and Kashmir government over the issue of increase in passenger tax exposes the inept working of the ruling coalition which may ultimately force the former to go on strike on January 14 next. In fact, the issue of hike in passenger tax in the recent past has been creeping up in the meetings between the government and transporters during the past few weeks with the government sticking to its guns despite the fact that transport industry has been reeling under economic slow down due to frequent strikes and unrest during the past three consecutive years. At times, the transport operators have been demanding rehabilitation and relief package for this industry for the losses incurred by them due to restive situation in whole of J&K. But these demands have been ignored with the government promising to look into these issues after getting an economic package from the central government but no concrete action appears to have been taken during the past few years. The transport sector in Jammu region was also promised similar package to revive the industry after certain relief measures were taken in respect of transporters of Kashmir valley. These promises have remained unfulfilled because of the apathetic attitude of the government. Under the present circumstances when public transport system particularly in the commuting sector in the urban areas is totally absent, the common masses who are dependent on private sector will be the worst sufferers ultimately. The strike or complete shutdown on the roads will be pinching the daily commuters badly with government already expressing its inability to tackle the situation in the absence of proper infra-structure. Instead of running a parallel and efficient public transport system in the urban areas, the government has been sleeping over the entire issue even to the extent of formulating a policy to cater to the needs of the enhanced urbanization in whole of J&K. The Mass Transit System (MTS), which has been the buzzword in rest of the country in view of the expanded urban colonies and work places, has been totally ignored in J&K. As a result of these drawbacks, the authorities have been making a mess on the roads leaving the commuters high and dry to fend for themselves. Now, instead of resolving the issue with negotiations, the government is again sticking to its rigid attitude and adding the already prevailing confusion on the roads.








The very raison d'etre of the profession I represent, diplomacy, is anchored in cross-cultural engagement. In fact, I would go further and assert that diplomacy is cross-cultural conversation. A diplomat is a "duta" or an envoy. But he is not merely a messenger. He is an interlocutor, whose skills are rooted in an ability to converse in an idiom familiar to his opposite number. This requires a cultivated sensitivity to the cultural particularities of the country to which he is accredited and an ability to sense the changes in moods and expressions, or what is popularly known as body language, for clues to what lies behind formal articulations. There may be occasions when such ability or lack thereof, may spell the difference between war and peace. War, in fact, represents the most dramatic and indeed, most tragic breakdown of cross cultural communication, when nations get caught up inexorably in a cumulatively reinforcing vortex of misunderstanding, misperception and suspicion which leads almost inevitably, to violence.

To me, successful diplomacy is only possible when there is cultural empathy, irrespective of whether one is dealing with a current adversary or an ally. Cultural empathy begins with that ancient urge of curiosity, a perennial eagerness to explore the unfamiliar and the sense of enrichment which comes from appreciating that the human spirit manifests itself in myriad dazzling forms. There is that sense of wonder at how the genius of a people, strangers to us till yesterday, mirrors our own preoccupations with life and its mysteries, but expressed in ways that surprise and delight us with their novelty.

My own experience has been that in the process of exploring and appreciating another culture, I began to feel the need to know more about my own culture in all its bewildering variety. Then came the urge to share, to expose others to our own cultural heritage, while in the midst of the process of understanding the other. After all, projecting the best that India has to offer, to showcase the Indian spirit in its finest expressions, is what an Indian diplomat is expected to do. He may not be a Gandhian in the values he practices as an individual .The country he represents may not be true to its Gandhian heritage. But in projecting this heritage he is representing the best his country has to offer and that is of value in itself. A diplomat is the medium for cross cultural communication, where the best that each has to offer engenders engagement. Each side begins to draw strength and inspiration from the other in a process that may often be invisible and osmotic.

Let me dwell awhile on the power of culture as a facet of diplomacy. The success of Bollywood and the popular culture it represents is, of course, legendary even if it is sniffed at with some disdain by the votaries of high culture. In Indonesia, Shah Rukh Khan is probably better known and certainly more popular than some of the country's top leaders. Indian movie songs are hummed everywhere even if their lyrics are only vaguely understood. When we first arrived in Jakarta in 2001, when I was appointed Ambassador, my wife and I were advised to keep our car doors securely looked when travelling on the city streets. We were warned never to roll down our windows to display our generosity to street children who flocked to the traffic intersections, much like here in Delhi. This would, we were assured, be the surest way to risking life and limb or both to dangerous marauders who fronted as innocent children, or worse, created the opportunity for loot by more lethal highwaymen lurking in the shadows. Not a very happy setting for cross-cultural engagement you would think. At one of our first forays on to the mean streets, we stopped at a traffic signal at a major intersection, and had a swarm of animated children tapping at our car windows, insistent that we reward them for their impromptu acrobatics or off-key musical renditions. We kept looking straight ahead, ignoring the commotion outside, praying that this threatening apparition would soon pass with a change in the traffic signal. But having tried every trick in the trade, the boys soon came up with an ace up their sleeve. They burst into a passable rendering of the then popular Hindi film song, Kuch Kuch hota hai, but with an enthusiasm which melted all resistance and led, inexorably to the rolling down of the glass barrier that separated us. That was our first lesson in the Indonesian version of cross-cultural conversation, courtesy a bunch of street kids, and we never looked back thereafter.

I wish to speak of another experience in nearby Kathmandu. I had invited the well-known vocalist, Pandit Jasraj, to sing before an audience that was allowed to invite itself, by picking up invitation cards from different locations in the city on a first come first served basis. We were delighted to see that the overwhelming majority of the large audience were in fact, young Nepalis from the Kathmandu Valley. After the predictably magical performance, we were in for another surprise. A long line of youngsters had formed spontaneously to greet the great maestro and seek his blessings, touching his feet in a traditional gesture of deep respect. At that moment I felt profoundly humbled. Here was an individual who had effortlessly achieved in a single evening what I could never hope to accomplish in a lifetime of official diplomacy. I felt sad that India so under utilised one of its most powerful assets in the conduct of its diplomacy.

Cross cultural communication for me is not merely tolerance for ways of life or patterns of thinking different from our own. It is, rather, the willingness to understand and to appreciate what lies behind those differences. The exploration of another culture is like reading a book in which each page you turn holds the key to another hundred. Not everyone has the opportunity or the time and patience to do this. Those who do, owe it others to interpret for and guide others on their journeys, dispelling prejudice and fostering understanding. It seems to me, as a layman not as a theorist, that some cultures like ours are aural, where sound and the spoken word are the preferred medium of communication. Others like the Chinese are visual cultures, where the symbolic image and the written character are its defining features. For an Indian learning Chinese characters, which I had to, as a student, it was difficult but at the same time a fascinating and rare opportunity to slowly lay bare the inner sanctums of a civilisation more ancient and perhaps more complex than our own.

Consider some of the Chinese characters. The symbol for well being and the word good is a woman with a child. The word peace is represented by a woman with a roof over her head. A family is symbolised by a sow with several piglets feeding at her udders and they too have a roof to shelter them against the elements. All these symbols are, in one sense strange, but at the same time incredibly universal in the concepts they portray.
And then there is the concept of time. In Chinese, the word for day before yesterday is, literally, "front day", while the day after tomorrow is represented by the symbols, "back-day" or the day to the rear. I would always confuse the two and my teacher would get extremely frustrated. I explained to her that in most parts of the world, people thought of the past as being behind one's back, while the future always lies in the front. What I was being asked to accept, I said, with an air of superior logic, was to reverse this natural ordering. My teacher looked at me with some pity and explained patiently: the past is something we have already experienced, its no longer a closed book, therefore it is in front of us. The future we have not yet seen and hence it lies behind us. Could I dispute this? I could not. And thus was born a healthy respect for a viewpoint different from one's own.
The test for a diplomat often comes when he is dealing with an adversarial situation, where is required to convey an unpleasant message to his interlocutor, unambiguously and firmly and yet remain within the bounds of courtesy and politeness. A diplomat will never exacerbate an already unpleasant situation. His job is to keep temperatures cool even as he seeks to uphold his country's position. A diplomat who plays to the gallery is in the wrong profession. To convey a tough message when required but without raising one's voice, to resist the temptation to answer provocative behaviour with even greater stridency, these are cultivated skills which hopefully become innate over time. And this is where a broader backdrop of cross cultural understanding, the ability to put the present and the current in a civilisational context, is fundamental to the craft of diplomacy.
At one end of the spectrum, the transport and communication revolution has brought humanity much closer than at any time in history. There are vastly greater opportunities to directly experience other cultures or learn about them through virtual media. There is continual exposure to different ways of life, cultural norms and traditions and cuisine. This is leading to the enrichment of different cultures, a growing appreciation of the best which every country and culture has to offer and making us more aware of the cultural particularities of our extended neighbourhood. This is the basis on which we develop sensitivity about and respect for deeply held beliefs and convictions of people different from us. The intensity of this interaction is leading to a burst of creativity and intellectual ferment across the world and this is welcome. However, there is another darker force that has been unleashed by the very same proximity, leading to fears about a loss of identity, a sense of being culturally adrift in a world being transformed with unprecedented rapidity. This retards the process of engagement and dialogue not only between cultures but within cultures and between generations. Instead of celebrating diversity and sharing, we begin to raise walls around us and seek to stifle the very influences that keep our own culture alive and vibrant. A culture that does not share will soon stagnate and die.

I believe that open and liberal societies, in particular, plural democracies like ours, are far better equipped to deal with the increasingly congested world that is emerging, where the ability to deal with diversity and adapt to different cultures will be the hallmark of a great and successful power. India is a classic cross-roads culture, shaped in history by the maritime exchange that its peninsular character made possible both with the eastern as well as western reaches of the Indian Ocean. It is also comfortable with the caravan culture of Central Asia, having influenced and, itself in turn been influenced, by the constant infusion of goods, peoples and ideas across centuries. It is in our genes to be comfortable with a globalized and interconnected world. We have been there before, though the present scale of interaction and the pace of change is admittedly frenetic.

In rising to our destiny we need to be careful that we do not devalue the very strengths we possess as a confident and accommodative culture. We must not encourage a political culture which feeds on division, exploiting fears of the loss of identity and creating a sense of siege. We must reject the intolerance we see towards the expression of views or portrayal in art which diverge from narrowly defined cultural categories or uninformed prejudices .If we are to engage other cultures in a productive dialogue we must reaffirm confidence in our own and learn to accept and celebrate the diversity that lies at the heart of our democracy.
There is another trend that I worry about. The global war on terrorism has spawned a pervasive environment of fear and suspicion which exacerbates the intolerance and prejudice I referred to. Proud and liberal democracies, including our own, have become increasingly complicit in the surrender of precious freedoms in the mistaken belief that this is unavoidable in the interest of keeping us safe from terrorism. Everyone becomes a suspect. An encounter with a stranger is no longer pregnant with the possibility of a new and exciting experience, a valued friendship or a window to a world differently perceived. He could, we fear, be a source of elemental danger. Little by little, slice after slice, our privacy is invaded, our words and actions are monitored, our conversations are tapped and analysed by those who thrive on promoting fear. Very soon we shall have virtually every aspect of our lives peeled open, layer upon layer like an onion. This feeds the coercive power of the state and its innately predatory instincts. We are becoming societies where security agencies increasingly exercise a veto over the choices of elected governments. This is justified by the state and increasingly rationalized by its citizens, as the price we must pay to be safe in a post-Osama bin Laden world. This slide towards authoritarianism is becoming insidiously internalized.

One sees with rising alarm as the most powerful bastion of liberal democracy, individual freedom and constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression, the United States, brings its technological genius to unleash a cumulative process of abridging the very values that have attracted millions to its shores and sustained its intellectual creativity. How quickly has it put in place a most comprehensive and efficient machine to invade the innermost secrets of its own citizens and those who are not, violating their privacy and even their person, all in the name of keeping the homeland secure. And I see the danger that we in India will follow suit. We hear expressions of admiration of how America has successfully prevented terrorist acts by putting in place this surveillance machine and our agencies are eager to learn from its example.

I see another threat to our plural and liberal democratic traditions and this time in the association of high growth rate and economic success with political authoritarianism. China's success is admirable but it is not our way and should never be. The seemingly unbeatable blend of market economics and totalitarian politics is not the wave of the future, certainly not India's future.

The danger is that unless an informed and enlightened citizenry resists such tendencies, the lines between the politics of authoritarianism that we decry in totalitarian states and that which is creeping upon our own free and open societies, may become increasingly blurred. "Big Brother is Watching You" used to be the hallmark of totalitarian societies. It must never become the defining feature of democratic societies. This is not an environment in which cross cultural communication, which we celebrate, will be able to survive let alone thrive. Societies pervaded by fear will fear everything including talking to a friend let alone a stranger. The Chinese writer and activist, Liu Xiaobo who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, warned against this destructive fear which breeds repression. Perhaps one needs a Liu Xiaobo in our own free societies, too, to declare, loud and clear, on our behalf, "I have no enemies".

Shyam Saran (born September 4, 1946) was Foreign Secretary in the Government of India. He is a 1970 batch Indian Foreign Service officer. He served as Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Indonesia and Myanmar, High Commissionerto Mauritius, He was an advisor to the Prime Minister on nuclear issues, as well as Prime Minister's Special Envoy on climate change. He retired on 19th February 2010



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A sharp decline in the industrial growth rate for last November could not have come at a worse time. The government is already battling inflation, which refuses to come down to the level of 5.5 per cent projected by the government and the RBI for the fiscal year-end. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has described the slowdown in industrial growth, which has hit an 18-month trough at 2.7 per cent compared to 11.3 per cent in October, as "worrying". However, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia says that the IIP (index of industrial production) data reflects month-to-month volatility and growth is still on track.


Experts attribute industrial slowdown to a high base effect from the period last year and a slump in purchases after a frenzied shopping in the festival season of Diwali. A steady increase in interest rates by banks following the six rate hikes by the RBI has resulted in tighter money supply. Higher interest rates discourage consumers from buying durable items. Dr Ahluwalia has thrown hints to dissuade the RBI from further raising key rates, saying that food inflation is driven by a spurt in onion prices and money supply has nothing to do with it. Experts are keenly awaiting the RBI's monetary policy review on January 25.


High inflation and rising interest rates have driven foreign institutional investors (FIIs) to dump Indian shares and head for the developed world, where economic recovery is gaining momentum. The New Year has seen FIIs going on a selling spree and on Thursday the BSE Sensex further lost 351 points. The growth slowdown is a matter of concern but it need not cause panic. While governments are known to paint a rosier picture of the economy than is actually so, the over-all situation is still of hope and confidence. Goldman Sachs sticks to its 8.5 per cent growth forecast for India. "The economy is moderating, not collapsing", observes another private analyst. And that is a fair assessment of the ground reality.









Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi has rightly reiterated the need to ban criminals from contesting elections. The Centre would do well to act upon this pressing electoral reform which has been talked of since 1998. Dr Quraishi says that when a person in jail during the pendency of trial cannot exercise his franchise, which is a statutory right, he should be barred from contesting an election too. In the present system, a person can be barred from contesting an election only if he/she is convicted by a court of law. The Election Commission has recommended to the Centre that if an undertrial is facing serious criminal charges like murder, rape and extortion, where punishment on conviction may exceed five years of imprisonment or more, he should be barred from contesting an election during the pendency of trial.


The Centre has not implemented this recommendation, perhaps, because of the political parties' perception that some of the charges framed against politicians are politically motivated. However, there is a general impression that if criminals are kept at bay during elections, it would help cleanse the political establishment of the influence of criminal elements and protect the sanctity of Parliament and state legislatures. The Election Commission's recommendation is just, reasonable and meets the ends of justice because it has suggested an interim ban on undertrials during the pendency of trial.


The commission's other recommendation for vesting in it the power of disqualification of MPs and MLAs under the Third Schedule (and not with the Speakers) also merits due consideration. It is common knowledge how the Speakers of Karnataka, Goa, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh Assemblies had misused their power of disqualification to bail out the ruling party in these states. The commission should also be given the power of deregistering fake political parties. Clearly, when it has the power of registering a political party, it should also have the power to deregister a fake one. Today, a small group of persons, by making a simple declaration under Section 29A (5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, can be registered as a political party. This has resulted in mushrooming of non-serious political parties which, in turn, are causing a huge burden on the commission in electoral management. Moreover, once a party gets registered, it cannot be de-registered. Parliament should add a clause to Section 29A of the RP Act authorising the commission to regulate the registration and de-registration of political parties.















IN an unusual development, the Army and Air Force chiefs along with the Navy vice chief (who represented the Navy chief since the latter is on a scheduled official visit overseas) deposed before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to present their views on a recent Comptroller and Auditor-General report. The report had severely criticised the Services over the functioning of their unit-run canteens, the lack of transparency in the accounting methods, and the issue of supply of dry rations to troops. The decision that the Service chiefs would depose before the parliamentary committee came after the PAC sought answers from the Ministry of Defence, which in turn wrote to the Service chiefs.


This marks a significant departure from the existing practice of only the defence secretary and other senior bureaucrats deposing before parliamentary committees. The armed forces have largely been kept insulated from parliamentary oversight committees since the country's political executive and the defence ministry's bureaucrats maintain complete civilian control and supremacy over the armed forces. But the question arises whether the Service chiefs have been nudged into deposing before the PAC more out of expediency and convenience of the bureaucrat-dominated defence ministry, or whether this is an isolated incident, or, still, whether this is a sign of change in which the Service chiefs will, while being held directly accountable, henceforth also be assigned greater authority and responsibility.


Unlike advanced democracies such as the United States and the United Kingdom where the Services form part of the decision making process and are thus institutionally required to testify before their respective senate and parliamentary committees, the Indian Service chiefs are treated as department heads with limited financial powers and severely curtailed decision making powers. Yesterday's development has rekindled the debate on civil-military relations in the country and on the way the defence ministry is structured. If Service chiefs are to be held accountable to parliamentary committees, then they must also be assigned the requisite authority and powers. It is equally important that the defence ministry is re-structured in a way whereby officers of the armed forces are made part of the decision making process, made aware of the intricacies of civil government functioning, and consequently, be institutionally held accountable.









Even if history is a mere record of important events that happened to a country, it has to be accurate and dispassionate. The official account of the 125-year-old Congress achievements is neither honest nor factual. The Indian nation may forget what the party leaders have said but it can never forget what they did.


The biggest blemish on the Congress is the suspension of the constitution during the 1975-1977 Emergency. I am a witness to the events of those days when the party gagged the Press, smothered effective dissent and detained more than one lakh people without trial. I expected the Congress to seek an apology from the nation for its illegal, authoritarian rule. Instead, the official history of the party has the cheek to say that people welcomed the Emergency when it was imposed. There was so much regret over losing the democratic way of functioning that the nation was initially in a state of shock and then of stupor, unable to realise the full implications of the government's actions.


And how can the party deflect the blame to Sanjay Gandhi? No doubt, he ran the government. But his acts had the approval of his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. R.K.Dhawan, then an aide to both Sanjay Gandhi and Mrs Gandhi, has correctly commented on the Congress history — he is a member of the party's working committee — that Mrs Gandhi possessed such a strong personality that the responsibility should not be put on Sanjay Gandhi.


It is known to everyone that Mrs Gandhi imposed the Emergency because she did not want to be out of power. The Allahabad High Court had unseated her for six years on the charge of misusing official machinery for election purposes. The Congress does not even refer to the judgment in the book it has published. In the recent days one more fact that is now in the public domain is that she did not even sign the letter which advised the President to impose the Emergency due to internal disturbances and insecure conditions obtaining in the country. Even her contention of insecurity has been found incorrect by the Shah Commission which went into the whole gamut of the Emergency.


The commission says: "There was no threat to the well-being of the nation from sources external or internal. The conclusion appears in the absence of any evidence given by Smt Indira Gandhi or anyone else, that the one and the only motivating force for tendering the extraordinary advise to the President to declare an 'internal emergency' was the intense political activity generated in the ruling party and the opposition, by the decision of the Allahabad High Court declaring the election of the Prime Minister of the day invalid on the ground of corrupt election practices. There is no reason to think that if the democratic conventions were followed, the whole political upsurge would in the normal course have not subsided. But Smt Gandhi, in her anxiety to continue in power, brought about instead a situation which directly contributed to her continuance in power and also generated forces which sacrificed the interest of many to serve the ambitions of a few…"


As coincidence has it, the two-judge bench of the Supreme Court has admitted that the 1976 judgment endorsing Indira Gandhi's emergency role violated the fundamental rights of a large number of people. The bench has considered the 4-1 judgment "erroneous". Obviously, the pronouncement by the two cannot supersede the verdict given by the five-judge bench. But it is time the government prepared an appeal for review. Law Minister Veerappa Moily, supposed to be a man of principles, owes it to the nation to have the 1976 judgment quashed to see that nobody, however high and mighty, can play with our democratic traditions in the future.


It was impossible to believe that a detention order tainted by mala fide could not be challenged during the Emergency. Justice H.R. Khanna courageously differed with the majority judgment. He ruled that "even during the Emergency the state has got no power to deprive a person of his life or personal liberty without the authority of law. That is the essential postulate and basic assumption of the rule of law in every civilised society." Mrs Gandhi did not make him the Chief Justice of India when his turn came. The Congress history doesn't mention this.


No doubt, the ruling Congress is under pressure because too many scams of corruption have come to light, one after the other. But initiating a debate on the Emergency, however important, is not going to divert the nation's attention to anything else. The government has to accept the fact that there is no alternative to a probe by the Joint Parliamentary Committee which might unmask the faces which have hidden their identity so far in the 2G spectrum scandal.


In any case, no other demand has had the entire Opposition, from right to left, united since Independence. The more the government resists it, the greater is the doubt of its credentials. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's appeal to the people on New Year's Day not to be cynical and gloomy has had little effect because the country is convinced that the government is hiding something big, something sensational.


The deterioration in public life, in the Congress as well as in other parties and groups, is matched by growing disruptive tendencies, rooted in factors like province, religion, caste and language. People are forgetting major issues and getting excited over minor matters and thereby harming the country's unity, strength and progress. There is need for new thinking, not in terms of slogans and dogmas but of idealism related to both modern conditions and human values.


I vainly looked for such an approach in the history that the Congress has brought out. It is a pity that a party with an experience of 125 years has not risen above petty politics and has not depicted the past as it has taken place. The party has lost a golden opportunity to assure the people that its actions were neither in the interest of the Congress nor the nation as a whole.








IN the past half a year, indifferent health has made sure that I have visited just about every clinic in Chandigarh for every type of test.


One day I got to the clinic for tests. It was early morning, the doctor was standing in the corridor trying to catch the sun as it made a valiant effort to peep through the heavy clouds.


The clinic was being cleaned and set up for the day's onslaught. The doctor invited me in and offered me a coffee. As we were having coffee there was a tick-tock of high heels on the marble floor and a smart young lady, on high heels, painted toe nails, chiffon Patiala salwar, short kurta, designer bag slung over her shoulder glides in. She had a shiny round tin container in her hand.


"I've brought this for a stool test", she said.


The doctor asked her to sit down and summoned his assistant. "Stool test", he said nonchalantly. The assistant picked up the container.


He stuck a sticky label on it and asked the lovely apparition her name and cell phone number. The name I remember and cursed myself for my poor memory of not being able to remember a 10-digits cell phone number.


"That will be Rs 200. Please call after 4 O'clock. The report will be ready", said the doctor's assistant.


Just as we were finishing our coffee, the assistant walked in with a huge smile on his face.

"Madam! I can't carry out a stool test. The container you brought had gajjar-ka-halwa!"


The Pretty Young Thing threw a fit. Except frothing at the mouth, all the other symptoms of extreme panic were there.


The face had turned tomato red, eyeballs rolled, hands trembling she grabbed her fancy shoulder bag. Zip – open one side –zip close it.


Zip – open another cavity – zip- close it !


"Oh my God!" moaned the P.Y.T. "Oh my God!" I can't find my phone!


Doctor! please! please! may I use your phone? This is urgent. Oh God! it's a disaster!


"What wrong?" asked the doctor. "What's the problem?" The doctor was really concerned and why not? One of his patients was throwing a fit in his office, in front of his eyes.


"What's wrong, beta", said the doctor in a soothing, fatherly voice.


"Wrong? Wrong? You want to know what is wrong?" stammered the P.Y.T."I must inform my husband there no gajjar-ka-halwa in his tiffin!" I was really glad that I can't remember 10-digit phone numbers!









THERE is no denying that the current government has been a deep disappointment, even to its devoted supporters, not merely because of its inefficiency but more for its failure to show any interest in governance.


Resultantly, not only is the economy on the point of collapse and national institutions crumbling, but the very fabric of the state appears to be tearing apart. As if this was not enough, the self-appointed guardians of our morals and beliefs have now taken it upon themselves to cleanse society of those that do not conform to their warped concepts.


The suffering of the masses is so extensive that it is prompting many to question the very wisdom and viability of democratic institutions. Even more frightening is that this sense of despair could once again encourage `adventurers` and self-appointed messiahs to fish in troubled waters, as was evident from General Musharraf`s article published recently in Dawn.


As an effort to refurbish his credentials, his argument failed dismally. He comes across as still living in the past, convinced of his infallibility and confident of his indispensability. The fact that he had to flee the country on account of country-wide protests appears not to have registered.


Mr Musharraf refuses to accept that his decade-long authoritarian rule primarily accounts for the many ills currently afflicting this country. Not one major project can be credited to him, nor one worthwhile policy that he could bequeath to his successors.


Though he was the fourth in the line of Generals who violated their oaths as soldiers, he has the distinction of having done this more than once. Having overthrown an elected government, sent parliament packing and causing some political leaders to go into exile, he created an edifice based on duplicity. When it began to collapse, he once again violated the constitution and its laws, muzzling the media, locking up members of civil society and attempting to sack the chief justice.


Mr Musharraf claims that "democracy is an obsession with the West". He ignores reality in not recognising that it is an "obsession" with humans the world over, irrespective of their colour or creed. What else would explain the unceasing struggle, at enormous cost, in the hamlets of Africa and the fair fields of South America?


Closer to home, is it not "obsession" with democracy that has sustained the heroic struggle of the Burmese people, led by a seemingly fragile widow, Aung San Suu Kyi?


The general seeks justification for what he referred to as "tailoring democracy" by bringing up the "existential threat" that he felt Pakistan faces from India and the "centrifugal forces" acting against national security from within. Yet as regards to standing up to the Indian threat, the track record of authoritarian regimes is abysmal. The first military ruler, who had the brilliance to gift to Pakistan a democracy "suited to the genius of the people", initiated a war that sowed the seeds of separatism in the eastern wing. The second ignominiously lost half the country, while the third was unaware of the loss of strategic Siachen, so consumed was he by his passion to make us all good Muslims.


Mr Musharraf, meanwhile, launched the unauthorised adventure in Kargil which not only cost the lives of thousands of soldiers but also left Pakistan ostracised by the international community. With just one phone call, he succumbed to a foreign power`s onerous demands, oblivious to the country`s long-term interests. Most disastrous of all was his continued mollycoddling of extremists and militants.


Though it may have been the American preacher, Theodore Parker, who defined democracy as "a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people", (later made famous by Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address in 1863), the idea of an elected and accountable government is almost as old as mankind itself. Whereas in the animal kingdom, leadership is determined by raw power, humans seek some say in determining who should govern them. It may also be true that democracy can be slow, inefficient, and occasionally even corrupt, but as Winston Churchill remarked that it may be "the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".


The general claims that the state`s security needs should be given precedence over democracy. In fact, there is no contradiction between the two. They are mutually reinforcing, for a state is far stronger when its rulers enjoy a popular mandate.


Mr Musharraf would have been well-served had he recalled that the most dangerous moment in the life of the young American Republic came in March 1783, when the officers of the Revolutionary Army, profoundly unhappy with their elected representatives, gathered to discuss seizing power.


It was the country`s good fortune that its then Commander-in Chief, Gen Washington, used all his powers of pressure and persuasion to dissuade the angry officers, urging them to "give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings".


A multi-ethnic and multi- linguistic state such as Pakistan cannot afford even a unitary system of government, far less an authoritarian regime. In fact, experiments with systems in which power and privilege are maintained by an individual or a class in perpetuity would be utterly disastrous. At such a time as this, when extremism and militancy are striking at the very roots of this country, it is only a democratic polity, responsive to the people and sensitive to their interests, that can create domestic consensus and tolerance. And these are essential to prevent this land from what appears to be its head-long plunge into anarchy.

By arrangement with Dawn









Pakistan's assassinated Governor Salman Taseer's outspokenness led to the polarisation of society between those who wanted the controversial blasphemy law to be changed and the others who stood for its retention as it was. After his cold-blooded killing the situation has worsened. The atmosphere is so surcharged, as can be understood from newspaper reports, that few people can open their mouth even to argue that it should be amended to ensure that it is not misused to punish an innocent person.


PPP leader Sherry Rehman, who has been declared as "wajibul-qatl" (fit to be killed) by the imam (prayer leader) of a Karachi mosque, is the next person who may be targeted by a religiously surcharged person. But today she, too, avoids speaking the language she used to express her viewpoint before the gunning down of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards. Legal luminary Aitzaz Ahsan and many other prominent lawyers have spoken in favour of retaining the controversial law in its present form.


All segments of Pakistani society appear to be in the grip of a fear rarely seen before. President Asif Ali Zardari, who favoured the killed Governor even when the latter's unguarded utterances were eroding the support base of the PPP not only in Punjab but other provinces also, did not attend the burial ceremony of Taseer, as pointed out by various newspapers. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, in desperation, issued a statement that he himself would shoot a person who dared to indulge in an act of blasphemy, forgetting the fact that this amounted to taking the law into his own hands.


As The Nation commented, Salman Taseer's party "distanced itself further and further away from him". This was "reflected in the President's deafening silence after the Governor gave a statement saying he was sure beyond a doubt that the convicted Asiya Bibi would be granted presidential pardon from her sentence". Mr Zardari could not gather courage to speak a word to deny or acknowledge what Taseer had said. Even if there was such a move, Taseer's over-enthusiastic statement would have worked against it.


Those who stand for the rule of law to prevail, whatever the circumstances, are the most worried lot today. It is feared that the hero-worship of Mumtaz Qadri, who killed the Governor, would give birth to more such elements, leaving no scope for a debate on a sensitive issue like the blasphemy law.


However, many newspapers criticised the Interior Minister of Pakistan for his avoidable statement. The News said, "As a man in a position of responsibility, he should surely be speaking for the rule of law, for the judicial process and for fair enquiry rather than promoting vigilante justice."


A former diplomat, Saeed Qureshi, in an article made a very meaningful observation. "Religious extremism"

seems to have "resurfaced with new vigour and vitality". In his opinion, "In the foreseeable future, no government in Pakistan will be in a position to amend the Zia-enacted blasphemy law…."


Under the circumstances, there is no hope for Asiya Bibi to get Presidential pardon. Her troubles began in June 2009 in her village, Ittan Wali, in Punjab. She was picking berries along with some local women when an argument ensued among them, leading to disastrous results. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, and their five children must be ruing the day the verbal duel occurred.








The idea of a computer game simulating town planning seemed absurd till 1989 when Will Wright launched SimCity, an immediate runaway success from its first version onwards.


The game's publisher, Maxis, calls it "the ultimate city simulator" and it actually does simulate, with stunning animation, the process of urban growth and development. It uses urban planning principles – public goods, services and choices, land values, accessibility, gated communities, open cities, spatial interactions and equilibrium – and then complicates matters by adding planning variables: economics and taxation, budget controls, calamity and crime. It requires the user to balance city planning, civil engineering and economic and social issues. You start by creating an appropriate terrain (a coastal city perhaps, or one in the mountains or a lake district); then zone the land for residential, industrial and commercial uses; provide power; lay water and transmission lines; build roads and railways. You can see these being used and changing over time. Areas become crowded and degrade. Power supply falls short. You upgrade the plant – what technology do you choose? Water? Coal? Nuclear? Over time, each has both cost and benefit. You must balance these against your budget. Water supply becomes scarce. People move out. You spend more, and the city rejuvenates with better buildings, roads, public transport.


The premise is that the best (and richest) cities are the ones that are not just best planned but the ones that are best managed with stable economies, adequate infrastructure and most importantly an ear to the citizens' needs. Cities without police stations, fire stations, hospitals, public transport and parks quickly fail. Areas with high densities and poor infrastructure rapidly deteriorate. As the city grows, you need a port, a railhead, an airport.


Clearly, SimCity is more than just a way of passing time. It has a real educational appeal and is inherently a strategy-based game and therefore its deployment as a planning-support tool though that was never its primary intention. At Cardiff University, SimCity has been used as part of its planning courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The University of Milwaukee's introductory material says that the game teaches the basic principles of town planning. SimCity emphasizes one basic postulate: a city that does not care for its citizens will always fail.


By 2006, policy makers and town planners began playing SimCity for real using grid computing to test the effects of their decisions on actual models of British cities. In October 2010 IBM launched its own snazzy version called CityOne. This one is meant precisely for officials, agencies and developers to solve real problems derived from headlines (climate change, power grid use, banking and retail supply chain crises). Unlike SimCity's development model of building a city from nothing, in CityOne you work with a fully developed city. This makes sense because planners almost never get to build a city from the ground up. In a typical CityOne scenario, players are challenged to deliver the highest water quality at the lowest cost in real-time.


Even more ambitious is Betaville, a multiplayer simulation for real cities. Here, a range of experts can tinker with a virtual simulation of an actual city space. In a dramatic illustration, experts are modelling a makeover for Manhattan's southern tip with an expanded park, sustainable mixed-use development and green (parkland) roofing over housing areas below.

SimCity makes some things apparent: you cannot, for example, solve your city's traffic woes by building more roads. More roads mean more congestion, not less. In Critical Mass, Philip Ball quotes Richard Moe, head of the US National Trust for Historic Preservation as saying that building more roads to ease traffic "is kind of like trying to cure obesity by loosening the belt." The only viable solution is public transport, and more cycling, more walking, which in turn means a rezoning with shorter commute distances.


SimCity allows for incompetence but not for the one factor that most affects our cities: corruption. The real India has both. Citizens don't matter. No one asks what they want. No one listens to them. And the consequences are beyond imagination.


Perhaps if the mandarins in Urban Development had spent time on these simulations we might have had better cities. And they might still have had their jobs.


An expanded version of this article, with links and references, is at



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Heavens have not fallen with a sharp fall in the monthly Index of Industrial Production. Relax! As if quarterly data were not difficult enough to generate and interpret, policymakers, investors and analysts have to now grapple with a new slippery customer called monthly data. The widely reported comment that "volatility" of monthly data has increased does not acknowledge the fact that such monthly data are of recent origin and as yet highly unreliable. This is not to deny that the November 2010 numbers for the Index of Industrial Production, that show the IIP growth slowing down to a low of 2.7 per cent, month on month over November 2009, are a cause for concern. Indeed, the seasonally adjusted month-on-month growth rate has also come down. However, cumulative growth during April to November 2010 over the same period in 2009 shows the IIP growth rate improving from 7.4 per cent to 9.5 per cent. The slowdown that is quite clearly occurring is partly due to what economists call the "base effect", the impact of the sharp recovery in the economy's performance in the second half of 2009, post-election, and partly on account of measures taken, especially on the monetary policy front, in response to recent concerns about "over-heating" that may have slowed down demand. However, till better quality data are available, it would be wrong to jump to conclusions about the economy entering a phase of stagflation or growth-tanking.

There are several economic indicators that bear close watching and policy intervention to stimulate growth without further exacerbating inflation is called for. This much has been acknowledged both by the central bank and by macro-economic authorities in New Delhi. However, to jump to the conclusion that a deterioration in the current account deficit, the fiscal deficit, food price inflation and industrial growth data amounts to a stagflationary crisis is not just premature but erroneous. Wrong policy conclusions can easily get drawn on the basis of such hasty and alarmist conclusions that, in turn, may hurt growth or further exacerbate inflation or a balance of payments problem. Hence, not jumping to medium-term policy conclusions based on short-term data is advisable.


Far too many commentators on the economy seem to think that the Indian economy is an island unto itself! Several global trends are impacting the Indian growth process. There is a global resurgence of commodity price inflation even as growth prospects in key economies, including Europe and China, remain uncertain. There is, however, an important lesson that policymakers, investors and analysts must draw from the growth and inflation experience of the past decade. This is that at prevailing rates of capital, land and labour productivity, and given the infrastructure bottlenecks and other inefficiencies, 8 to 9 per cent growth may well push the economy beyond an "inflation barrier growth rate". And, given middle-class sensitivities to "double digit" inflation, policy intervenes to cool down growth with attendant consequences. It is possible the economy is at that point once again. If 2010-11 ends with 8.5 per cent growth and 2011-12 can look to 8 per cent, with inflation closer to 6 per cent, current account deficit closer to 3 per cent and the Centre's fiscal deficit below 5 per cent, there is no need to panic! Given the constraints, 8 to 9 per cent growth is a more realistic long-term growth aspiration than 10 per cent.






It is not surprising that the national committee on forest rights Act, headed by National Advisory Council member N C Saxena, has found the implementation of this landmark tribal welfare legislation "terrible". Even three years after the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act came into force, as many as 11 states have not even begun implementing it. In most other states, execution is woefully poor. As a result, the statute's basic objective of undoing the historic injustice done to the adivasis (tribals) and other forest dwellers under the colonial forest laws is not being served. The new legislation recognises the forest dwellers' right to homestead, cultivable and grazing land and non-timber forest produce. Significantly, it gives the forest communities the right to manage the forestlands traditionally used by them, thus, ending the forest departments' absolute hegemony over forests. This has predictably irked the forest officials as well as conservationists. Several other provisions of the law have also been subject of some controversy. That many states have their own reservations over the law points to the inherent limitation of legislating rights from New Delhi when the responsibility to implement remains with the states.

In this case, moreover, loopholes and ambiguities in the Act have made matters worse, enabling the abuse of the law. In several areas, forest officials forcibly evicted forest dwellers in a bid to keep control over the forests, in many others, outsiders encroached upon forests in the hope of getting land titles on the enforcement of the law. In some cases, land mafias also used forest dwellers as fronts to grab land. The Saxena panel has identified several flaws in the law that are being used to deny the forest residents full benefits of this legislation. One such is the definition of "other traditional forest dwellers" which is open to misinterpretation. Another is the loose description of "community rights" over forest areas, which aims at transferring the management of some forest areas to local communities.

 There is a mismatch of approaches of conservationists, who want zero human interference in forests, and traditional forest dwellers, who rely on forests for their livelihood. This much is evident even from a reading of the Saxena panel report to which many of the panel members have appended their notes of dissent! These notes raise serious questions about the key recommendations of the panel's report, including the suggestion of a three-tier forest management system that will allow some part of forests to be under exclusive control of local communities, some under joint community-government management and the remaining under forest departments. However, the one recommendation that merits serious implementation is the one relating to community awareness. Beneficiaries of the Act must be made aware of their rights and entitlements, and forest officials should be sensitised to their livelihood concerns. In the light of the Saxena report, the statute must now be revisited and suitably amended.






The US and outsiders should nudge China along the path away from mercantilism

Chinese mercantilism will be high on the list of topics that US President Barack Obama will discuss when President Hu Jintao visits the US next week. Solutions galore have been offered to address China's undervalued exchange rate and the global imbalances that it has caused. But it is time to take a long view, backwards and forward, to draw lessons for dealing with China.

 Start first with history and the parallels between Chinese mercantilism today and its counterpart of the early 1800s. Then, like today, China was running large trade surpluses and accumulating reserves, not in the form of dollars but silver. Then, like today, the deficit country was agitated by the imbalance and the resulting outflow of silver and threatened action. Unlike today, the action taken by the United Kingdom was effective and unconscionable. To redress the bilateral imbalance, the UK flooded the Chinese market with opium grown in India.

So successful was the policy that China's surplus turned into a deficit within a short period, the flow of silver was stopped, even reversed, and levels of opium addiction rose alarmingly. The resulting ban on opium by the then "drug czar", Governor Lin Zexu of Canton, led to the opium wars and inaugurated the "century of humiliation" for China that is etched in the collective Chinese DNA.

Sabre-rattling by today's superpower, the US, to redress the imbalance carries echoes of the humiliation inflicted by the then superpower, the United Kingdom. Dealing with China effectively requires a greater sensitivity to that history. That sensitivity should lead to the use of carrots rather than sticks to induce China's cooperation, and to an approach that is energetically multilateral, aimed at designing better rules, rather than aggressively unilateral, aimed at achieving particular outcomes.

A second lesson stems from one crucial difference between the two episodes of Chinese mercantilism. Back in the early 1800s, China was mercantilist and closed. The paradox is that today China is mercantilist but highly open. China's surplus in the earlier episode was a consequence of unquenchable foreign demand for China's tea combined with a closed-door policy that virtually extinguished Chinese demand for foreign products. Put simply, China exported a fair amount and imported very little. Today, China exports a lot, exports a lot more than it imports, but it also imports a lot.

Taking account of China's size and the regularity that large countries tend to trade less than small countries, China is an exceptionally big importer and trader. My calculations suggest that the degree of China's openness, measured in terms of trade outcomes, is far greater than anything achieved by the United States in the post-war period and resembles the levels of openness achieved by the United Kingdom at the height of empire.

Why is the fact of China's openness important? Chinese openness does not absolve Chinese mercantilism or eliminate its beggar-thy-neighbour consequences, especially for poorer countries such as India. But it is quite possible, albeit not inevitable, that Chinese mercantilism will pass. All the signs are that China has embraced the objective of internationalising the renminbi (RMB) and embarked on a process of achieving it.

Internationalisation is proceeding in typically Chinese fashion — micro-managed, discretionary, and selective. One might call it interventionist liberalisation. Not a day passes without some company, some country, some transaction having greater access to the RMB. But RMB internationalisation cannot succeed without chipping away fundamentally at China's domestic financial repression and the undervalued exchange rate which underpin Chinese mercantilism. To be sure, this process will proceed much slower and messier than desired by outsiders and much faster than can be countenanced by some domestic interests within China. But the process has been set in motion and might prove difficult to reverse.

So, one reading, perhaps overly optimistic and naive, is that a China that moves away from mercantilism will be a China that is an exceptionally large and fair trader with strong stakes in maintaining an open trading and financial system. Post-World War II, the United States fashioned such a system out of enlightened self-interest. In contrast, China's stake in openness might be less enlightened but more direct and important because its rise to prosperity, on which is predicated the legitimacy of its government, will depend upon an open system.

In sum, the long view argues in favour of sensitivity about the past and a strategic forbearance about the future. Rather than confronting China and risking conflict, the US and outsiders should nudge China along the path away from mercantilism that it seems to have embarked upon.

The problem, of course, is that the clamorous present and unhelpful Chinese actions on a whole swath of economic and political issues — natural resources, technology, energy, Tibet — demand a vigorous response from the world. The reality is that outsiders have limited recourse. A less lofty reason to embrace the long view is then simply to make virtue out of the cold necessity that the US and others (including India) may no longer have effective means to force cooperation from a dominant China.

Niall Ferguson's "Chimerica" is thought to signify the mutual dependence between China and America. It seems to be as much about how each is beyond the influence of the other.

Senior fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics and Center for Global Development. He is currently writing a book on shifts in global economic dominance







There is a current affairs magazine that comes to me every week. I haven't subscribed to it; I guess the publisher has forgotten to remove me from the initial mailing list. What caught my attention in a recent issue was a full-page advertisement for LML NV four- and two-stroke scooters. The backdrop was yellow, the scooter was painted a vibrant red and the girl on the pillion seat was in a short black dress. There were three bits of information on the page: LML was India's largest exporter of scooters, the four-stroke variant can run up to 86 km on a litre of petrol and the company offers warranty for three years or 30,000 km.

LML had fallen off the radar screen some years ago. There was simply no news from the company. The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers for long didn't publish LML's production numbers. Its promoter, Deepak Kumar Singhania, has kept a low profile for several years now. Rivals haven't bothered to track it. Some months ago, in June and July 2010, the LML share price had climbed over 40 per cent from less than Rs 9 to close to Rs 13 on the buzz that TVS was in talks to acquire its assets — a factory in Kanpur. Trading volumes too had risen sharply. TVS as well as LML had denied the buzz. The share price has since then fallen to Rs 11 now, and the trading volumes too have thinned. The advertisement, done by Brand Curry, clearly shows that the company is trying to claw its way back into reckoning.

 Here's what's happened. LML, till the late 1990s, was the Indian partner of Piaggio. It was the first serious threat to the hegemony of Bajaj Auto at a time when scooters sold more than motorcycles. Tata Motors Director Ravi Kant was the spearhead of its marketing team in Delhi. Piaggio exited in 1999 after an ugly spat with Mr Singhania. LML was now on its own. It diversified into motorcycles with technology bought from Daelim of South Korea. It even developed some models on its own. But the going was rough and the company got mired in losses. It was sent to the operating table of the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR).

Following some labour unrest, LML declared a lockout in March 2006, which was lifted only in January 2007. That is when the company began to take stock of the situation. While its forte was geared scooters, the market had moved en masse to gearless scooters. LML realised that geared scooters were a niche it could fill. As selling in the domestic market entails large marketing budgets, LML decided to restart operations with exports. It appointed distributors who would take care of the marketing. Company executives say 4,000 scooters sell every month under the LML badge in Europe as well as the US.

Two years later, LML decided to re-enter the domestic market. By then it had developed the four-stroke LML NV which gives fuel efficiency not very different from motorcycles. This is not easy. Unlike a motorcycle, the engine in a scooter is covered by a steel plate, which can cause heating. To control the temperature, a fan needs to be added; but this eats up a lot of energy and consequently reduces the fuel efficiency.

The higher fuel efficiency removed one roadblock from the mind of the consumers. The next step was to identify people who would buy a geared scooter. Market research showed that in spite of the trend towards gearless scooters, there were hardcore loyalists who still yearned for a rugged geared scooter which could help them in their work. These were identified as men above 35 who lived in large cities but were not metrosexual. Traders and shopkeepers fitted the bill.

In April 2009, LML launched its scooters in Delhi. The company claims that against the 4,500 gearless scooters sold every month in the city, it sells almost 1,500 geared scooters. Though the two products are strictly not comparable, this would mean it sells more than several leading scooter brands. It has eight dealers in the city, who have together created 14 touch points for the brand. Appointing dealers remains a problem though, because LML has no future glory to sell, thanks to its recent inglorious past.

In 2010, LML expanded to Punjab and some cities of western Uttar Pradesh. All told, the company claims that sales have hit 3,500 per month. Combined with exports, this gives volumes of 7,500 a month which translates to an annual run rate of 90,000. This doesn't mean the company is out of the woods. It is yet to come out of the clutches of BIFR. But the volumes have given LML the confidence to draw up plans for gearless scooters and motorcycles (once again) sometime this year. A national rollout could take a while, though.

The attempts to revive the company show the pugnacious side of Mr Singhania. He had started Lohia Machines Ltd in 1975 with his cousin R K Lohia. When Mr Lohia left in 1984, Mr Singhania's two brothers, Sitaram and Lalit, joined the company. Sitaram walked out in 1990. By then the company had become LML, and its fortunes were on the upswing. Then the fight with with Piaggio erupted. Mr Singhania, in the days after the fight, would often say that one good thing that came out of the spat was that he learned English. The lessons of his second fight, this time for survival, will be no less important








To assess the investment climate that private sector firms face in over 100 countries, the World Bank's Doing Business Indicators and Enterprise Surveys provide useful material for research. The former provides measures of the time and costs associated with complying with a country's regulations like starting a business, trading across borders, dealing with construction permits and so on. In the Enterprise Surveys, firms are asked about their actual experience in doing business. A recent paper* by Mary Hallward-Driemeier of the World Bank and Lant Pritchett of Harvard Kennedy School is an interesting effort to use these surveys to shed light on the policy impact on firms and economic performance.

Using three comparable indicators – these include the time to get an operating permit, time to get a construction permit and time to import goods – the authors observe that Doing Business provides an estimate of the days of compliance for each of these indicators for a country, but firms in that specific country report widely different times to complete the same transaction. So, if it takes 65 days to start a business in Ecuador, the distribution of firms that reported getting an operating licence was between a 10th percentile reporting one day with the 90th percentile reporting 60 days. The variation across firms in a country is of a magnitude similar to the cross-national variation under the Doing Business indicators.

 In an earlier paper**, these authors (along with Gita Khun-Jush) examined the African evidence on the differences between the Doing Business estimates of compliance times and the actual distribution of experienced times from the Enterprise Survey. Even here, large firm-specific variability was observed and they reported actual times that are much less than the Doing Business days. Whether it took a firm a long or short time to get a construction permit or operating licence or have imports clear customs has next to nothing to do with the Doing Business report about that particular country. Its explanatory power for the realised specific policy action for a specific firm was near zero.

The upshot is that the countrywide investment climate indicated by the Doing Business indicators has little association with the experience of firms in a particular country. Although these deviations in compliance times are far from direct evidence of corruption, the authors find them consistent with "environments of policy implementation that are permeable" through deals. In the African example, the authors find that all the firms have accommodated themselves to the existing environment and have made deals to do business. They do find evidence that deals are costlier where the de jure rules are more burdensome and firms cannot fully escape the costs of greater regulatory burdens.

Their work deserves greater attention since it is the first attempt to examine the differences between the Doing Business estimates of compliance times and the experienced times in the Enterprise Surveys. Their findings build on earlier works about the heterogeneity of regulatory compliance in specific countries and sectors. One such example is the research of M S Bertrand, R Djankov, R Hanna and S Mullainathan, who investigated the granting of driver's licences in New Delhi and found that individuals who hired a tout were effectively exempted from one element of regulatory compliance (the driving exam) while those who did not hire a tout did have to take the exam (and often failed).

The authors also relate their work to the large literature on corruption and its relationship to a firm's profitability, regulatory compliance and regulations and thus economic performance. The Indian context deserves greater research attention in this regard since fears are being expressed by no less than Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh regarding crony capitalism. Economists like Raghuram Rajan have called it oligarchic capitalism in which few businessmen have a close nexus with the policy establishment and have made fabulous fortunes in land, real estate and natural resources like iron ore and coal in which proximity to the government obviously helps.

Their paper also provides an insight into the "puzzle" of the differential response of economic growth to reforms of the 1980s and 1990s – while some countries experienced a boom after modest reforms, some others stagnated despite massive reforms. Their hypothesis for this differential response to policy reform is that when de jure and de facto policies diverge, the impact of de jure reforms might have wildly different effects, depending on how it affects a firm's distribution of expectations. Moreover, initiatives that have had a minimal impact on the de jure policy but which signal a decisive shift in policy implementation might have substantial and immediate effects on investor expectations and initiate growth acceleration — the examples they have in mind are China after 1978 and India's shift to pro-business attitudes in the 1980s or in the 1990s with decisively announced but gradualist implementation of reform.







Everyone knows about the "old" threats to sustained rapid growth in India, including poor infrastructure, dysfunctional labour markets, competitive populism, the weak record of human resource development, painfully slow reforms and the reduced dynamism of industrial countries, post-crisis. Despite these genuine handicaps, the resilience and recovery of the Indian economy in the face of the global financial and economic crisis was quite remarkable. At its trough in 2008-09, growth only slowed to 6.7 per cent, recovered to 7.4 per cent in 2009-10 and surged to nearly 9 per cent in the first half of 2010-11, with almost all forecasters now expecting full year growth at or above 8.5 per cent. The latest official estimates indicate that gross domestic investment stayed buoyant at 35 per cent of GDP in the first half of 2010-11, holding out the prospect of continued strong growth in 2011-12. And it has now become conventional wisdom to expect 8 per cent plus growth rates for the next decade or two as globalisation, "catch up" and favourable demographics continue to propel the Indian economy forward.

 All this is true. But developments during 2010 have spawned new threats to sustained rapid growth. First, there is the return of the "twin deficits" problem after almost two decades during which one of them, the current account deficit (CAD) in the balance of payments, was muted. Second, the latter half of 2010 has seen the resurgence worldwide of energy and food inflation. Third, the proliferation of major scams and scandals (telecom 2G spectrum allocation, the Commonwealth Games, the Adarsh Housing Society, the Radia tapes and so on) has further weakened the government's ability to take and execute decisions in all areas, including economic. Fourth, an activist environment ministry has sharpened the conflict between development and the environment, including through a number of high profile retrospective challenges to major investment projects. Last, but not least, economic reforms appear to have stalled completely. Some of these merit elaboration.

Return of twin deficits

The twin deficits of the late 1980s precipitated the external payments crisis of 1991. Since then the CAD has hovered around 1 per cent of GDP, with a three-year foray into positive territory in the early noughties. In the five years prior to the global crisis, 2003-08, the CAD averaged less than 0.5 per cent (Table). The collapse of world trade during 2008-09 saw the CAD rise sharply to 2.4 per cent of GDP and further to 2.9 per cent in 2009-10. Despite the restoration of (new) normalcy and the recovery of exports, the CAD has risen disconcertingly higher to 3.7 per cent of GDP in the first half of 2010-11, prompting RBI to voice significant concerns in its December 2010 Financial Stability Report: "The current account deficit is widening while capital flows continue to be dominated by volatile components. External sector ratios have deteriorated…". The central bank omitted pointing out that the problem has been aggravated by its own 18-month old, unannounced (non-transparent?) switch to a policy of minimal currency market intervention, despite an unprecedentedly steep appreciation of the rupee in real terms. While CADs in the range of 3-4 per cent of GDP can probably be managed for a couple of years, they are unlikely to be sustainable indefinitely, given the predominantly domestic orientation of the India economy. And what can't be sustained, won't be! Something will give and it could well be growth.

Unlike the CAD, we have been used to high fiscal deficits since the mid-1980s. Interestingly, the most successful period of fiscal consolidation occurred during the five years 2003-08, which saw the combined (Centre and states) fiscal deficit reduce by more than half, down to 4 per cent of GDP by 2007-08 (see Figure). It is no coincidence that those were five years of low interest rates, an unprecedented increase in savings and investment, record high growth and low inflation. The populist burst of 2008-09 took the deficit back up to 8.5 per cent of GDP that year and even higher to 10 per cent in 2009-10. Given the global recession, such fiscal profligacy helped cushion India's economic slowdown in the crisis. But the case for renewed consolidation had grown strong by late 2009 and the government announced a gentle three-year path for deficit reduction in the Budget for 2010-11. In fact, the budgeted, modest deficit reduction for the current year is likely to be met only because spectrum auction revenues have been three times higher than budgeted (an extra 1 per cent of GDP). And the revenue deficit (roughly equal to government dissavings) is unlikely to drop significantly below the high level of 2009-10. Absent such enormous one-off bonanzas, further deficit reduction next year (and beyond) will be difficult in the face of expanding entitlement programmes and higher subsidies, implying that interest rates are likely to remain high and act as a dampener to investment and growth. (Click for grapfical view)

Energy and food inflation

For several months now, rising oil prices have been putting pressure on India's external payments, the government budget and the finances of the oil companies, which are obliged to sell most distillates (including diesel, kerosene and LPG) at subsidised prices. Even the recent freeing up of petrol prices is at risk. International institutions (such as the IMF and IEA) indicate that international oil prices are expected to harden further. Food inflation has spiked upwards in the last two months, thanks to a global surge in food prices and the unreformed structural weaknesses of Indian agriculture and marketing/distribution systems. All this threatens the already high levels of general inflation and is expected to trigger further policy interest rate increases by RBI. Higher interest rates will weaken investment and growth.

Other impediments to investment

The numerous scams and scandals that have dominated news media in the recent months have brought Parliament to a standstill and drained the limited capacity of an already weak government. As if this were not enough, a number of high profile rulings by the environment ministry have halted several major mining projects (notably in Orissa) and the Lavasa township project in Maharashtra, while raising significant issues with respect to India's most successful private port, Mundhra, in Gujarat. From an investment/development perspective, the questioning of large, completed projects sends a seriously negative signal to investors at home and abroad. "Animal spirits" are bound to be damped, to the detriment of investment and growth.

Such setbacks would matter less if economic reforms were proceeding smoothly and helping increase the productivity of available resources. Unfortunately, reforms have been on a slow train since 2004. Now, with Parliament stalled and government in a defensive mode on a variety of scams, the train seems to have been shunted to a siding. The political landscape does not augur well for an early resuscitation of economic reforms. The recent history and dim prospects for the induction of the long-heralded Goods and Services Tax are a good example. This continued hiatus in reforms will inevitably take its toll on medium-term growth performance.

So, while it may be comforting to read in reputed foreign publications about India's "transformative growth" to becoming the world's third-largest economy by 2020 or 2025, the actual strengthening of anti-growth forces during 2010 raises some serious doubts about the nation's long-term economic trajectory.

The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India. The views expressed are personal







 THE Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), often chastised by the courts for not doing its homework properly, is never more out of its depth than when it comes to investigating financial crimes, where its limited understanding (ignorance?) of the technicalities involved becomes a serious handicap. All the more reason why it should not rush to extend the scope of its investigation into the telecom scam to cover the role of banks in financing the deals. The telecom scam is about irregularities in the allotment of spectrum. The CBI's role is to investigate whether there was any corruption involved in the process and if yes, nail the guilty. It is not to sit in judgment over banks' lending decisions.


The decision whether to lend or not is a commercial decision taken by individual banks based on a host of factors, including the borrower's business plan, likely revenue stream, financial and technical competence, past track record, etc. And when the size of the loan is huge — banks had reportedly lent little over . 59,000 crore to the telecom sector as at the end of March 2010 — it is invariably a collective decision, usually taken at the board level. Moreover, until the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General set the cat among the pigeons, there was nothing to suggest that banks' loans would be in jeopardy. On the contrary, telecom company revenues had been growing by leaps and bounds. Sure, there were reports about how licences had been granted on questionable grounds by the ministry. But once a company has been granted a licence by the government, the bank is not concerned with the niceties of how it is granted. As long as there is no reason, prima facie, to suspect the licence has been obtained through ill-gotten means, the bank is only concerned with whether its loan can be serviced. As long as it acts in good faith and with proper due diligence, it cannot be faulted for making a loan. Remember, even the best lending decisions can go wrong. But that is a banking risk, not something on which the CBI can sit on judgment. It is not as if there is a shortage of scams in serious need of expert investigation.







 WITH investigations into terror acts in Malegaon, at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, Ajmer Sharif and on the Samjhauta Express revealing the involvement of radical Hindutva groups, it is clear that seeking to gain political capital from the issue would be utterly dangerous. Yet, it is the BJP, even more than the RSS, which seems to be in denial, describing the focus on Hindutva radicals a political conspiracy. It is also clear, with the revelations of characters like Swami Aseemanand and leads drawn after other arrests, that not only were initial investigations into these terror attacks on the wrong track, but that Hindutva terror is an organised phenomenon that must be pursued and uncovered with tenacity and resolve. The BJP's stand, simply, is a deplorable attempt to shift the investigation onto a political terrain. Muslim youths rounded up as suspects in these bomb blasts still languish in jail or have reportedly been detained under other charges. They should immediately be released. Such scarring of young lives is criminal and the government should make an earnest attempt to make amends.

 On a larger scale, it is also clear that countering terror groups isn't just a matter of policing, but also that of challenging a certain political/ideological idiom. There, it will be up to the wider political process in India to envisage and implement a politics that moves away from competitive identity management. Initial investigations into these terror acts immediately blamed Muslim extremist groups, and these assertions went unchallenged for long. This challenges two things, an assumption and a fact: the presumptions around terrorism and Muslims, and the total absence of members of the minority community in the intelligence agencies. A fact which even the Justice Sachar report highlighted. Even in the West, with Muslims mostly being late immigrants, the need to recruit from within the community became an imperative in order to effectively counter Islamist groups. With the sort of enmeshed, shared history between communities, stretching back hundreds of years, such an effort should hardly be a problem in India. The unspoken practice of not recruiting Muslims to 'sensitive' posts should end forthwith.







 BE CAREFUL of your bais these days, as you never know what dirty linen they may wash in public once they are done scrubbing yours in the privacy of your home. It has been commented that we Indians are closet exhibitionists, oxymoronic as that sounds, for we display our innermost things (if not thoughts) on our washing lines every day. But that is something we do of our own volition. It is quite another matter for the household help to come out with all our follies and fripperies. Germany has discovered precisely how damaging that can be now that a Polish cleaning lady — that most ubiquitous evidence of an emerging one-Europe these days — has written a wash-and-tell book about how the high and mighty there live. There is little doubt that several other nations on that continent will be waiting for their Polish cleaning ladies to do the dirty on them, too. Of course, it can happen anywhere, for if there is one person who has free access to any corner of an individual's domestic domain across cultures and continents, it is the cleaning staff. And if that individual is of a literary — and sociological — bent of mind, the book potential of the material gathered on that job is enormous. Not to speak of the even greater glory attainable online, complete with graphic details, should the cleaning lady be cyber savvy, to boot.


 Nannies and personal assistants, cooks and butlers have all had their moments of (vain)glory, spilling the beans about the peculiarities and peccadilloes of their venal, hypocritical, or plain weird employers. Now the cleaning lady, long unsung and unnoticed as a probable social commentator, has come into her own. Confidentiality clauses are the usual armour of the rich and famous, but there is enough excitement in even the average middle class home to make a millionaire out of any bai with a keen eye and a literary bent. Clearly, it's time for everyone to clean up their act!






THE time has come for New Year's resolutions, a moment of reflection. When the last year hasn't gone so well, it is a time for hope that the next year will be better.


For Europe and the United States, 2010 was a year of disappointment. It has been three years since the bubble broke, and more than two since Lehman Brothers' collapse. In 2009, we were pulled back from the brink of depression, and 2010 was supposed to be the year of transition: as the economy got back on its feet, stimulus spending could smoothly be brought down.


Growth, it was thought, might slow slightly in 2011, but it would be a minor bump on the way to robust recovery. We could then look back at the Great Recession as a bad dream; the market economy "supported by prudent government action" would have shown its resilience.


In fact, 2010 was a nightmare. The crises in Ireland and Greece called into question the euro's viability and raised the prospect of a debt default. On both sides of the Atlantic, unemployment remained stubbornly high, at around 10%. Even though 10% of US households with mortgages had already lost their homes, the pace of foreclosures appeared to be increasing — or would have, were it not for legal snafus that raised doubts about America's vaunted "rule of law".


Unfortunately, the New Year's resolutions made in Europe and America were the wrong ones. The response to the private sector failures and profligacy that had caused the crisis was to demand public sector austerity! The consequence will almost surely be a slower recovery and an even longer delay before unemployment falls to acceptable levels.


There will also be a decline in competitiveness. While China has kept its economy going by making investments in education, technology and infrastructure, Europe and America have been cutting back.


It has become fashionable among politicians to preach the virtues of pain and suffering, no doubt because those bearing the brunt of it are those with little voice — the poor and future generations. To get the economy going, some people will, in fact, have to bear some pain, but the increasingly skewed income distribution gives clear guidance to whom this should be: Approximately a quarter of all income in the US now goes to the top 1%, while most Americans' income is lower today than it was a dozen years ago. Simply put, most Americans didn't share in what many called the Great Moderation, but was really the Mother of All Bubbles. So, should innocent victims and those who gained nothing from fake prosperity really be made to pay even more?
    Europe and America have the same talented people, the same resources, and the same capital that they had before the recession. They may have overvalued some of these assets; but the assets are, by and large, still there. Private financial markets misallocated capital on a massive scale in the years before the crisis, and the waste resulting from underutilisation of resources has been even greater since the crisis began. The question is, how do we get these resources back to work?


DEBT restructuring — writing down the debt of homeowners and, in some cases, governments — will be key. It will eventually happen. But delay is very costly — and largely unnecessary.


Banks never wanted to admit to their bad loans, and now they don't want to recognise the losses, at least not until they can adequately recapitalise themselves through their trading profits and the large spread between their high lending rates and rock-bottom borrowing costs. The financial sector will press governments to ensure full repayment, even when it leads to massive social waste, huge unemployment, and high social distress — and even when it is a consequence of their own mistakes in lending.


But, as we know from experience, there is life after debt restructuring. No one would wish the trauma that Argentina went through in 1999-2002 on any other country. But the country also suffered in the years before the crisis — years of IMF bailouts and austerity — from high unemployment and poverty rates and low and negative growth.


Since the debt restructuring and currency devaluation, Argentina has had years of extraordinarily rapid GDP growth, with the annual rate averaging nearly 9% from 2003 to 2007. By 2009, national income was twice what it was at the nadir of the crisis, in 2002, and more than 75% above its pre-crisis peak.


Likewise, Argentina's poverty rate has fallen by some three-quarters from its crisis peak, and the country weathered the global financial crisis far better than the US did —unemployment is high, but still only around 8%. We could only conjecture what would have happened if it had not postponed the day of reckoning for so long — or if it had tried to put it off further.


So this is my hope for the New Year: we stop paying attention to the socalled financial wizards who got us into this mess — and who are now calling for austerity and delayed restructuring — and start using a little common sense. If there is pain to be borne, the brunt of it should be felt by those responsible for the crisis, and those who benefited most from the bubble that preceded it.


(The author is University Professor     at Columbia University and a     Nobel laureate in Economics)
    © Project Syndicate, 2011











CORRUPTION is an inherent part of a capitalist economy. The latter functions on the basis of cut-throat competition which always leads to rivalries and manipulations, and corruption is a part of that. That's why even Adam Smith, who wrote the Wealth of Nations,and David Ricardo, who spoke of land, labour and capital, both of whom are supposed to be outstanding capitalist economists, talked about the ethical aspects of the economy. Even Marx, when he developed the theory of surplus value, brought out the question of ethics and justice, both social and political.


Despite that, capitalist economy had its own trajectory, where there are no ethics. As Marx put it, profit is the only motive in a capitalist economy. And that's why all along we have been witnessing corruption. Now, when capitalism has moved to a neo-liberal phase, we are witnessing a new dimension in the entire gamut of scams.


India, after independence, started as a welfare state, but in the late 1980s we moved to a neo-liberal state. This is the phase when Bofors emerged, when corruption in the form of buying parties to muster a majority emerged, when stock market and security scams emerged. It was a whole new language of the corporate world. This continued even as the NDA came to power. Now, we have the 2G scam, the CWG one, or around land or arms deals. Here, the scale of the scams, the money involved, saw a quantum increase. During this period we have even seen corporates influencing government formation and policy.


A new phase, of a nexus between bureaucrats, corporates and those in power has emerged. This isn't just about economic fraud but political corruption. And this is a serious development. That's why movements like 'save capitalism from capitalists' and 'a human face to capitalism' emerged from within. For, it is apparent that in a place like India, where a large majority lives in poverty, a few corporates have amassed huge wealth. Even the PM has said that what's being built in India is 'crony capitalism'. The larger battle, therefore, must be against neo-liberal philosophy and policy.



Vice Chairman Transparency Int'l

Lack of political will is the key reason

 INDIA'S rank in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 2010 is 87, against 70 in 2006, while there has been a little decline in India's Integrity Score, i.e., 3.3 in 2010 as against 3.5 in 2007, on a scale of 0 (most corrupt) to 10 (least corrupt). It indicates that though the country continues to be perceived as quite corrupt, the recent exposure of scams is a cumulative effect of our corrupt practices. This trend is confirmed by the just-retired CVC Pratyush Sinha's comment that "one in three Indians are utterly corrupt" and the Supreme Court's ruling in May 2010 that "corrupt government servants should be sacked" verdict.


Arecent survey commissioned by the Centre has confirmed that corruption happens only because some bureaucrats collaborate with political leaders. Corrupt officers get the most sought-after postings without being punished and clean officers get harassed through baseless complaints and probes. This suggests that most of our anti-corruption bodies are powerless due to lack of accountability and transparency in our governance.


Good governance in general is a part of electoral promises of all political parties, but when they come to power, they forget that. In fact, they should lay down certain parameters of governance and fulfil their electoral promises, irrespective whether it is a single-party rule or a coalition government. We have no doubt that if there is a political will, corruption can be controlled by improving governance. These can be introduced through: (i) setting up of an effective Lokpal, (ii) confiscation of property illegally acquired by corrupt means, (iii) barring candidates against whom charges have been framed in criminal cases from contesting elections, and (iv) ratification of UNCAC, of which India is a signatory.


Further, corruption in contracting and procurements can be checked through the implementation of an integrity pact, and public service delivery can be smoothened through the Public Services Guarantee Act as introduced by the MP government or the Right to Service Act as being considered by the Bihar government.








ALL is well that ends well, or so the government would have us believe. The $9.6-billion Cairn-Vedanta deal, in which metal tycoon Anil Agarwal has proposed to buy out Cairn Plc's majority stake in Cairn India, is reportedly moving towards closure with the government set to give its nod. But the saga over the last six months has only highlighted how all is not well in the oil sector, or even the public sector in general.


The sudden change of heart at the petroleum ministry smacks of non-transparent policies and inconsistent views. The Prime Minister's office (PMO) had to prod the petroleum ministry to take a decision after Bill Gammel and Anil Agarwal, top bosses at Cairn and Vedanta respectively, met PMO officials to escalate the case that had been stuck in indecision for the last few months.


Petroleum minister Murli Deora, who seldom takes an open stand on his own — be it fuel pricing or setting gas prices — has now come out in the open to confirm that the deal will be judged on its merits and a decision will be taken within a month. Why should it require the PMO to beckon Cabinet ministers to take timely decisions that they are mandated and empowered to do? Or, more importantly, why should companies need to escalate matters with the executive head of the state at all? This shows the grey areas in framing of policies and their implementation.


Transparent and consistent policies should have come into play automatically; that is, whether such a deal is consistent with the law of the land. Else, the petroleum ministry or the regulator (which, in this case, does not exist) should have struck it down, saving both time and money.


Unfortunately, the production-sharing contract (PSC) — which happens to be the Holy Grail in the oil exploration business — remains far too open to interpretations. The Cairn-Vedanta deal is only the latest one to be subjected to such inconsistencies. The changes in the definition and clauses in the PSC under the government's new licensing policy are far too many. While policies do evolve with time and changes are imminent, making significant changes with retrospective effect (like the withdrawal of the tax holiday on gas finds) leaves investors unsure.


It would be interesting to know the significant material changes in the contours of the deal that turned the tide in favour of Cairn and Vedanta. The sticky factor of an unfair policy for ONGC that pays 100% royalty despite holding only 30% share in Cairn, India's richest assets, still remains unchanged.


 Backed by the views of the additional solicitor general, ONGC had written to the Bombay Stock Exchange, the petroleum ministry and Cairn that it had pre-emption rights over the blocks and Cairn would need ONGC's assent to conclude the deal. What happens now? Was that a hollow threat? Where is the legal stand now? What's ironical is that the very parent ministry that insisted on taking care of ONGC's interests all these months is now reportedly asking ONGC to 'stop obstructing the transaction'. ONGC's investments in Cairn's Rajasthan blocks and its royalty burden will feature as a risk factor in the company's prospectus for its forthcoming follow-on public offer. This is a classic example of how public sector companies are forced to take corporate decisions on the advise of their political bosses rather than of their boards.


At one level, one cannot really argue against the government's ownership as it holds over 74% stake in ONGC. So, all investors, including those who wish to invest in the blue-chip mahanavratna company, should question the so-called autonomy of the public sector behemoth.

The government, on its part, can shift the blame to Cairn, saying it was Cairn's initial reluctance, citing clauses within the PSC, to seek separate approvals for each block that led to the delay. But what remains inexplicable is why Cairn Plc should have taken so long when both Cairn Plc and Vedanta were keen to close the deal by year-end. It is also unclear as to why separate approvals were needed to be taken for each block and whether it really was within the spirit laid down by the PSC.


The Cairn-Vedanta deal looked like an open-and-shut transaction as it had precedents in other sectors, such as the Hutch-Vodafone deal, where a foreign holding company sells its stake to another overseas company although the assets or operations are in India. But that was not to be.


Uncertainty about being able to exit after having created value is one killer of an entry barrier when it comes to foreign investment. Ditto for sending out an impression that decisions are taken not on the basis of stated policy or merits of the case but on the basis of which level of the government takes an interest in the matter.


For a public sector company to say one thing and for its administrative ministry to say the opposite, without the company being given even a fig leaf of an excuse, does great disservice to the concept of public sector autonomy. Whichever way you look at it, all the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten the petroleum ministry's hand in the Cairn-Vedanta deal.


The PMO had to prod the petroleum ministry to take a decision after listening to the top bosses of Cairn & Vedanta

Transparent and consistent policies should have come into play automatically
Whichever way you look at it, all the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten the petroleum ministry's hand in the Cairn-Vedanta deal








 THERE'S probably no word in the entirety of religious teachings or spiritual literature which is more looked down upon, considered base or reviled than the word 'ego'. Very quickly we learn that it's the principle cause of all suffering, the fount of human frailty and pride and something that stifles any move towards greater worth. The ego prophesies negative futures, the ego wants to feel superior and special, the ego has to be right all the time and, what's more, the reason it's a continuous hindrance to any spiritual development is because it obscures the true quality of consciousness like a veil. Even evil seems to pale in front of it. How difficult is it to see then that the ego has to be done away with and demolished as soon as possible?


The overwhelming majority of animals, however, have no such problems to contend with because there's no awareness in them of any distinct self; an 'I' that resides and operates independently from somewhere inside. And although a lot of them possess a fair amount of brain, there's little evidence of a mind there that's capable of differentiating one brain from another to cause any particular animal to believe it's unique and separate from another of the same kind. In fact, we like to think they can't even think of such things. Are they the lucky ones who are already on the road to self-salvation?


On the other hand, it has come to light in recent times that there are some species such as bottlenosed dolphins, apes, elephants and the European magpie that also possess a sense of personal identity like we do; who are aware of themselves as separate and exclusive beings. For, unlike other animals who, when confronted by a mirror image, believe the reflection is another animal and become hostile, affectionate or indifferent, these animals start preening and grooming themselves. So, should we think the dolphin, for instance, to be also on the road to perdition unless it starts undertaking the long and arduous process of getting rid of its nascent self — it's emergent ego?


Perhaps we need to revisit the ego and find out how it came to be and what its purpose is, if any. If life is existentially meaningless then this quest is obviously meaningless too but if our being in the world is a directed instance then something must have a reason for allowing such a seriously flawed attribute to permeate us with the potential to impede any self-enhancement.










It can only happen in India that, in this day and age, one of the most important indicators of the economy's good health or otherwise, namely the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), should be presented in the manner that it is. Even if one overlooks the other deficiencies in it, such as the relative weights of different industries, the failure to revise it often enough to make it more representative and, of course, the manner in which the data are collected and reported, how much sense does it make to compare what happened to industrial production in a particular month a year ago to what happens in the current year? Thus, the latest IIP says that compared to November 2009, industrial production in November 2010 grew by only 2.7 per cent. However, during April-November 2010, the index was up by almost 10 per cent. Which of these numbers is more important? This is not a trivial question, whatever the statisticians and econometric puritans may say, because the direction of both monetary policy and fiscal policy depends on it. If the November IIP alone is taken, the case for the RBI not raising interest rates becomes very strong; but if the whole year is taken into account, that case weakens somewhat. Likewise, for fiscal policy; depending on which number one looks at, the case for expansion or contraction becomes strong or weak. In short, there is a strong case to modify the way in which the IIP is presented. The barebones, no-explanations approach adopted by the Industry Ministry may have served a purpose at some point in time but today is pretty much useless for all practical purposes. Indeed, in way, it is like the answers to questions in the Lok Sabha, designed more to hide than reveal.


The dodginess of the IIP has been known for a long time. Several efforts have been made to fix the problem but entrenched powers in the Industry Ministry have refused to budge. And, since in the overall scheme of things in the Government, the IIP is a trivia, no concerted effort has been made. But the time has come to give up this lackadaisical approach. A useful starting point could be the recommendations of the Committee for Financial Sector Assessment, chaired jointly by the Finance Ministry and the RBI. The key recommendation was that the "the CSO should assume direct responsibility for the generation of the IIP. It should create the frame, select the sample and collect the data directly from the units." The Committee had gone on to say that it should reduce its reliance on the administrative machinery and industry associations and "strengthen its own direct capabilities."

There were other recommendations as well, all of which need to be considered in depth by the Government and acted upon quickly. Whether the Government has the energy at this stage to do so is another matter, however.







Nature's recent fury in Andhra Pradesh has brought to the fore a serious but completely neglected problem in Indian agriculture. It is the issue of tenant farmers. Everyone knows they exist in large numbers, but no one acknowledges them on paper.


Their agreements with landowners have no legal sanction. The Government virtually has no record of tenancy farming in the State. It is not because their number is miniscule. They constitute half of the 1.20 crore farmers. About 60-80 per cent of farming in the rice bowl areas of East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur districts is being done by tenant farmers.


Unfortunately, the situation is not confined to Andhra Pradesh alone. This phenomenon holds good for all agriculturally developed States. A recent Government report estimated that the area under informal tenancy in the country varies between 15 per cent and 35 per cent of the total farm area. And 36 per cent of the total rural households leasing land are landless labourers and 47.5 per cent have land below 0.5 hectare.



Notwithstanding the huge numbers, tenant farmers do not exist in revenue records! As a result, they are exposed to several problems. Absence of transparency in tie-ups with landlords makes them pay exorbitant and unreasonable payouts in cash and kind. In most cases, it is 50 per cent of the produce, if it is in kind. Or, they end up paying anywhere near between Rs 10,000 to Rs 60,000 depending on crop and area.


The next problem is financing. Doors of almost all institutional finance are shut on them as they do not carry any Government tag. As a result, they are forced to depend on money lenders, landlords, input sellers and micro-finance institutions. Obviously, this costs them heavily. Add to this, huge rentals, skyrocketing input prices and very high rate of interest (which goes up to 36 per cent) on loans push them to the edge.


When everything goes well, they can hope for repaying debts in order to make them 'eligible' for loans in the following season. Any slight volatility in weather lands them in trouble.



Farmers in Andhra Pradesh were in for, as some of them put it, the worst weather in recent memory. They were hit by three bouts of heavy downpour in the kharif. After each of them they pumped in investments in the hope of salvaging whatever remained. In some other cases, they had to sow afresh in order not to miss the season. As a result, their investments doubled and trebled depending on their location.


Though all farmers had suffered because of this unprecedented calamity, tenant farmers faced an additional burden of very expensive interest component. They get no insurance cover too because they can submit no land document or other supporting evidence to become eligible for insurance.


Not that the Government does not talk about the problems faced by tenant farmers. It always does the talking part very effectively and 'advises' and 'asks' banks to lend copiously to tenant farmers. It never happens because banks have to adhere to their norms. Unless the Government evolves a mechanism and gives them a tenancy card, it is very difficult for tenant farmers to get access to institutional credit and insurance.


This, however, is not an easy task. Land owners dread the very idea of entering into official agreements with tenant farmers. Most of them have moved to towns and cities, realising the futility of being confined to agriculture. They know full well that it is no longer remunerative. On the other hand, tenancy gives them assured returns, no matter whether weather is favourable or not. Old farmers recall a phase 20-30 years ago when reverse tenancy (where the rich landowners used to take land from small and medium farmers) was in vogue.


You ask a Government official and he safely blames it on the victim. "Landowners do not like to enter any official agreement because they are afraid that their land would end in legal problems.


Those who want to take land on rent are not in a position to demand agreement on paper," they would say.


Prof. K R Chowdhary, an agriculture economist, says Governments can take a cue from the West Bengal example and give cards to tenant farmers. "I'm not saying it is working miracles in that State. But at least there is a way to acknowledge the existence of tenant farmers," he points out.



The most disturbing factor about tenancy is that it is impacting farmers belonging to backward classes and dalits most. A good number of tenant farmers belong to these sections.


After the rich landowners moved away from villages in search of other businesses, small and medium farmers and agricultural labourers belonging to the vulnerable sections tried to fill in the gaps.


This new breed of farmers has got nothing to fall back on in times of distress. Unless the Government gets down to work and factor in them while preparing plans we may end up with large tracts of arable land vacant in the next few years. Already neck deep in loans, they are not going to get any credit for next season. Even as it is, land use are going against the interests of agriculture in several States. If the system drives out tenant farmers from agriculture, more land will go out of agriculture.


With the problem of food security staring at us, can we afford this? Is the economy in a position to provide employment to a large number of jobless tenant farmers?











When inflation spins out of control, as at present, there can be a jolt to the financial markets and an inevitable dislocation in credit. The widening current account deficit and the rising external debt are disturbing trends.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Financial Stability Report (December 2010) is an excellent document which provides a veritable tome of information and analysis for formulating policies.

Buoyed by strong domestic demand, India's GDP has rebounded. The Report stresses that inflation in India has some structural basis, particularly in the case of food inflation. Official statements have claimed that the inflation rate would come down, but this has been belied by the latest food inflation rate zooming to 18.5 per cent. Stressed liquidity conditions have resulted in some hardening of interest rates.




The stressed liquidity conditions are attributed to rising currency in circulation and faster growth of advances relative to deposits. With virtually unlimited access under the Liquidity Adjustment Facility (LAF), at extremely low and fixed rates of interest, there is a vicious circle of each injection of liquidity by RBI resulting in a surge in credit. The signals from RBI through Open Market Operations (OMO) purchases and the reduction of the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR), together with the LAF, inevitably lead to permissive credit expansion and self-perpetuating liquidity stress.


There is the moral hazard of accommodation by the central bank. The low interest rate regime leads banks to ignore underlying credit weaknesses of borrowers and fresh credit is granted on the optimistic assumption that the low interest rate regime would continue. There is the question of credit quality of the banks' loan portfolio and the health of balance sheets, especially when there is a possibility of hardening of interest rates. The danger is that the central bank has conveyed to banks that there would be baby steps in any tightening. When inflation spins out of control — as it indeed has at the present time — there can be a jolt to the financial markets and an inevitable dislocation in credit.


The RBI needs to give an unequivocal message to banks, in the inimitable style of the late Dr I.G. Patel who would say, "do not lend the money you do not have". Banks need to be disabused of the view that the present accommodative policy is there to stay indefinitely.


There is a major flaw in the present operation of the LAF. The LAF "auction" is a misnomer, as there is unlimited access at a fixed rate. Since it is the avowed objective of the RBI to move towards a market determined system, the RBI should determine the daily injection it is willing to allow and let the market determine the rate. Of course, there should be a lender of last resort facility at a punitive rate which would ensure that individual banks do not take recourse to imprudent expansion. The Working Group examining these matters should expedite its report forthwith.




The widening balance of payments current account deficit (CAD) and increased capital inflows are a cause for concern. The policy of non-intervention in the forex market, resulting in an appreciation of the rupee, goes against fundamentals. There is the vulnerability of significantly larger portfolio investment as compared with direct investment.


The net international liabilities have risen from $86 billion in June 2009 to $185 billion in June 2010. The external debt to foreign exchange reserves is now close to 100 per cent — the highest for seven years — and the short-term debt to reserves is 21 per cent. After many years, annual imports now far exceed the forex reserves. Surely all this should be flashing the red light.


The RBI, not without justification, stresses the resilience of the Indian financial system, but with increased integration with the global economy, an external shock of large capital outflows and or a sudden spurt in prices of crude petroleum and other sensitive commodity imports could dislocate the system.




The Report refers to the dilemma of deposit insurance. India was the second country after the US to set up a deposit insurance system. The growth of deposit insurance in India has been stunted as it is treated as a fiefdom of the powerful banking operations/supervision wing of the Bank and hence it is bereft of any supervisory powers. Either the RBI top management should give this serious attention or face the consequences of deposit insurance being separated from RBI and be given independent regulatory/supervisory powers. The RBI should not ignore this wake-up call. The Financial Stability Report provides a competent analysis of the state of the financial sector. It is no fault of the Report if the precept (i.e. analysis) is not reflected in practice (i.e. policy). This great divide has to be bridged. After prolonged baby steps the RBI has no option but to step up the accelerator on measures on January 25, 2011.


(The author is an economist.









One cannot still put one's finger on the extent to which India Inc has made use of the business opportunities opened up following liberalisation in 1991. There has always been a gnawing but vague uneasiness felt by observers that India's corporates could have performed much better than has actually been the case.


This applies particularly in respect of rising to world-class standards, bringing big, novel and inventive ideas into play through a vigorous push in research and development, using high-end technology for product development, adhering to commitments regarding quality and delivery schedules, and conforming to the essential criteria of cost-effectiveness and total customer satisfaction.


To the best of my knowledge, there has been no in-depth study and documentation of these and other factors relevant to the theme of Indian corporates' response to liberalisation.


However, an indicator of their cumulative effect is provided by overall competitiveness in which, disappointingly, among 57 major countries, India has been ranked 30th in 2009 (against 33 in 2005 and 27 in 2006 and 2007) in the World Competitiveness Yearbook brought out by the International Institute for Management Development.


There is yet another standpoint from which the performance of India Inc after liberalisation can be viewed — by

positing the question whether it has been conducive to generating and sustaining business dynamism, unleashing the talents and skills for creativity and innovation, or whether it has simply aggravated the inequalities across industries and helped dominant business houses further entrench themselves, and thereby manipulate market forces in unnatural and unwanted directions.


The answer provided for this question by the Working Paper No.11/8 published by the IMF on January 7 is absorbing and thorough. It takes the figures and sources of corporate profits as the yardstick, since they are both "a reward and spur to creative change that, in turn, creates wealth, trade and jobs for society" and "a product of the exercise of market power and influence", while sources of profitability guide "the production, investment, innovation, market and lobbying strategies of firms".


Disturbing feature


I am giving here the gist of only the more salient conclusions, leaving it to economic analysts and the federations of Indian chambers of commerce and industry to make a closer study of the paper.


The core finding is that India's economy, after all these years of liberalisation, is still dominated by the incumbents (state-owned firms and business groups) in terms of share of sales and assets.


A disturbing feature is the virtual cessation of entry of new stand-alone firms after the late 1990s, whereas it was substantial across all industries immediately following liberalisation.


On the other hand, significantly, there has been an increase of firms linked to business houses. There is still a tendency on the latter's part to get ahead, and acquire increased importance, not through competitive ability, but by means of market power and government-business relationships.


The paper warns that this, in turn, can lead to deepening inequality and concentration of personal wealth, reinforced by corporate influence over the state, creating a new corrupt environment and potentially sapping business energy, with adverse consequences for growth in the medium to long term.


In short, "while the overall assessment is … of a dynamic business sector, the results do caution that this process also shows signs that could change the direction of Indian corporate dynamics, especially with respect to the lack of entry in the 2000s and a reversal in the trend of declining concentration for some sectors.


"Further accentuation of these tendencies could create greater incentives for investment in entrenchment and a less dynamic corporate sector…. The striking dynamism in corporate profits and asset formation (after liberalisation) contrasts with a surely slower pace of change in the functioning of the state. How these differential speeds will eventually interact may well fashion the next phase of corporate evolution in India."










Four years ago, when I courted freelance journalism, I realised the value of the small eatery where I usually have dinner. Unlike those five-star hotels, where the staff pamper the customer every time he visits, here you get no pampering. Where is the time for that amid reasonable price points, busy work schedules and the periodic mad rush of its main clientele — truck drivers?


What you get instead is the occasional extra service, as when the cook sees you arrive close to midnight and yet readies some food because he knows that like him, and you too had a tiring day.


The new Rs 10


The small eatery has saved me on many occasions — none more important than the last year and a half, when food inflation bit hard. All around me, prices skyrocketed. At trendy cafes, a cappuccino was close to the Rs 100-mark. At Mumbai's Udupi restaurants, a cup of tea easily warmed up to Rs 10, even Rs 15. Add some food and you wondered why you ate. A fifty-rupee note was the new Rs 10; meals in town left you thinking so.


Yet people don't complain vociferously. Unlike me, they have secure employment and wage inflation, which the present phenomenon has been in part, is a wave they surf and don't fret about. Then a couple of weeks ago, as onion prices soared, my neighbourhood restaurant altered the mix of onion, lemon and chilli, in the kanda-mirch side-plate, which every truck driver worth his salt must get with main course. A freelance journalist in truck-driver domain, my side-plate too changed.


Eventually, the onion totally vanished and two green chillies were all that remained.


Mercifully, the small restaurant still keeps the food affordable. A cup of tea costs five rupees and regular clients get a few perks.


An image of us


I don't know where or how our decision-makers in the State and national capitals dine. But for me, small restaurants like this have been the real heroes of India — one of the world's fastest growing economies. Of what use is GDP growth if it robs you of affordable life?


Sometimes I imagine packing the two chillies and mailing it as a gift to those decision-makers. I don't think it will make a difference to either my food bill or Delhi's view on governance. Hot GDP has a cold heart.


Recently I came across an interesting observation. I should have thought of this before but read on a burning stomach, it seemed to make much sense. India loves gold. There are several accounts in history of foreign invasions to India and campaigns within, that returned home with precious loot.


Yet for all the gold it had, India was never associated with major gold production. The secret behind the accumulated wealth was trade and commerce. We diligently made gold of every opportunity. Just as we make gold from land and food today.


Don't blame inflation alone – it's also us and our alchemy.


(The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)









We are indeed fortunate to live in times of great exposes of amoral conduct, be it financial fudging, looting public money or other crimes. Broadly, it indicates a shift in power equation between the ruling elite and ordinary folks regardless of their station in life.


Anti-social behaviour


Icons are crumbling to dust by the hour and nobody is shedding a tear. Every day, the TV channels project from

all corners of India crimes of various magnitudes from simple house beak-in to financial skullduggery, sophisticated bank frauds, looting of public exchequer, on the one side, and sexual harassment, kidnapping, abduction, rape and murder, on the other.


It almost seems that an avalanche of antisocial behaviour has been let loose all of a sudden, giving an impression that the people have cast off all restraints and gone berserk. This impression may be an outcome of explosion of information and iterative visual presentation of reconstructed crime scenes rather than any sudden decline in standards of behaviour and conduct.


If one takes a critical look at the past, without wallowing in nostalgia of those good old peaceful days of British Raj, one would realise that we have got a legacy of a colonial system based on patronage and discretion. We wanted to change it by dialogue, discourse and democracy without disturbing the underlying foundations of power structures and we have failed.


People have been indoctrinated or brainwashed into believing that the top-most of the administrative authority can do no wrong and, if some transgressions were observed, they can be overlooked. If an ICS officer or diwan of a princely state in pre-Independence India allotted himself some land, nobody would know and even if someone did, he would not care as the people expected the person to live in style. Now, the TV cries foul, 24x7, if an officer or a minister were to help himself to a mere 1,000 square feet flat.


Brain and brawn


While browsing the memoirs of former ICS officers who served in the sprawling districts of India, it is interesting to come across the collector, also serving as magistrate, getting together daily with the Superintendent of Police for an evening drink. Under such convivial ambience, they would sort out all the crimes and disputes that came to their notice, as investigator, prosecutor and judge. The crime rates, reckoned in proportion to population, were less in those days since many did not dare to report against such a formidable combination of brain and brawn. No reporters, No TV, No tweets. No RTI.


Similarly, most of the financial skullduggery would go practically unnoticed except when the gang of thieves fell apart. Sexual offences against poor and low caste were not even considered as crime. If a rich landlord, though married, were to seek pleasure with women from families of landless labourers, it did not bring social ostracism.


Instead of bemoaning the current state of the nation, one should be sanguine that the consciousness of the society is being awakened and hope that this detoxification process has the desired effect all around.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



Speculation about a change of personnel at the level of ministers is not unusual before a session of Parliament. The way things stand, however, it appears unlikely that the government will be reinvigorated by any change of ministerial personnel. In the Cabinet system, a Prime Minister may take recourse to chopping and changing ministers or reallocate portfolios within the existing set-up in order to inject efficiency, or in response to political compulsions if particular party factions have to be appeased or put in their place, or to fill vacancies if a minister has fallen by the wayside. In the British model of Cabinet governance — which we broadly follow — a Cabinet reshuffle is also an instrument in the hands of the Prime Minister to keep his Cabinet colleagues in line. However, since the dawn of the coalition era in New Delhi, the traditional reasons for the PM to make changes in his council of ministers do not strictly apply. Nowadays, the PM no longer picks his Cabinet colleagues according to his own lights but must accommodate as ministers MPs of parties that are part of the government in line with the wishes of the leaders of those parties. To complicate matters, as the price of support, coalition partners of a major party have even come to dictate what portfolios they want for their nominees in the government. This state of affairs has come about because the electorate of late is not voting any one party in with sufficient numbers to be able to form its own government, as in the past. This is partly the result of the changing social, economic and political dynamics in the country which for long has not permitted any one party to have enough of a nationwide sway to be able to command a parliamentary majority of its own. It is this which makes coalition governments a compulsion of our times, and this severely circumscribes the PM. In this scenario, the only real manoeuvrability a government leader may enjoy is primarily with his own party within the framework of a coalition, unless in a given political climate he is also able to dictate terms to an ally. (The latter aspect came into play recently when Mr A. Raja of the DMK was made to resign as telecommunications minister.) In the case of the present Prime Minister, there is a further complication. Even within his own party he is not entirely free to choose his Cabinet colleagues and must pay close attention to the wishes of the Congress leadership. These days the government is being buffeted on account of inflation and multiple corruption cases. It is unlikely that a change of personnel will help settle issues such as these.






Judged purely by the lax standards of short-term politics, it was understandable that the Congress would go to town with the "confessions" of Swami Aseemanand, the militant Hindu activist who is being held as a terror suspect. Having been at the receiving end of an effective Opposition onslaught against corruption and the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi's links with the controversial Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, the ruling party was desperately in search of retaliatory fire. Aseemananda's testimony before a magistrate which was conveniently leaked to an obliging media has given the party a half-decent talking point, though it is unlikely to shift popular focus from corruption and economic mismanagement.

The Congress may have also based its decision to focus on "Hindu terror" on the cynical calculation that the Muslim community, which is no less affected by inflation, may be deterred from reposing faith in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance. Certainly, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh is doing his utmost to both exploit legitimate Muslim fears of retributive terror and simultaneously pander to conspiracy theorists who see the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai as a grand global conspiracy to defame Muslims. A book on 26/11 that Mr Singh has been promoting, for example, is replete with incredible theories of a Zionist con in the moral and ethical legitimacy of an eye-for-an-eye approach. He was well aware of the grave legal implications of implicating himself in the larger conspiracy and yet decided to tell the truth, as he saw it. Although there are legitimate questions surrounding the release of his testimony to the media, Aseemanand's version of events cannot be easily dismissed as either fabricated or obtained through coercion.

Read with the reports of the interrogations of Lieutenant Colonel Purohit and others charged with the Malegaon bombings, Aseemanand's testimony offers fascinating insights into the working of ultra-militant Hindu nationalists who felt they were serving the nation by inflicting pain on the Muslim community.

It would appear that there were two distinct conspiracies at work, albeit with some overlaps. First, there was the Abhinav Bharat group, which may well have begun as an intelligence gathering exercise by a section of the military intelligence but ended up as a rogue operation. Second, there was the group of Sunil Joshi which comprised people with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) links. The hand of Abhinav Bharat seems to have been present in the Malegaon blasts and there are reasons to suspect Joshi's involvement in the blasts at Macca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif Dargah. Although Joshi claimed to Aseemanand that his boys had also bombed the Samjhauta Express, there is no corroborative evidence to suggest the group had the requisite expertise to assemble such sophisticated improvised explosive devices.

Aseemanand was known to both groups and he appears as a common point of ideological inspiration. But apart from this link, the relationship between the two groups was laced with bitterness and rivalry. A bone of contention appears to be Mr Indresh Kumar, a high RSS functionary on whose behalf the organisation went on public dharnas last year. Lt. Col. Purohit and his associates seem to have regarded Mr Kumar as an "Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agent" and Abhinav Bharat didn't seem averse to the idea of assassinating RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Aseemananda's testimony indicates that Indresh had deep connections with the Joshi gang and may have facilitated their activities.

In a speech in Surat last Monday, Mr Bhagwat said that the "extremists" connected to terror had either dissociated themselves from the RSS or had been edged out by the organisation itself. "There is no place for radicals in the RSS", he claimed. Mr Bhagwat's claim appears credible when viewed against the record of the Abhinav Bharat network. Many members of this network are, interestingly, still at large and persisting with their advocacy of aggressive Hindu nationalism. However, Mr Bhagwat's charge of political vindictiveness falters in the case of Mr Kumar who continues to hold an important post in the RSS. There is enough in the various testimonies to suggest that Mr Kumar was recklessly flirting with those who didn't shirk from using terror.

Without the necessary corroborative evidence, it may be unfair to suggest Mr Kumar was a mastermind or even a facilitator of either of the terror networks. However, there is no disputing the fact that he was mixed up with the most dubious of people. A high functionary of the RSS has to be circumspect about both his activities and his associations. Mr Kumar, it would seem, was reckless. The RSS decision to stand by him may be a measure of its sense of regimental loyalty but is unlikely to be viewed by the larger community with the same degree of generosity and indulgence. It has certainly given the Congress a handy stick with which to beat both the RSS and the BJP.

Yet, there could be some redeeming political fallout from the larger "Hindu terror" controversy. Ever since the general election of 2004, there have been voices in the BJP arguing for a greater RSS detachment from day-to-day politics. Unfortunately, these voices have been subsumed by the RSS' steamroller approach. This over-involvement has led to political distortions and has cost the BJP politically. For its own sake, the RSS needs to first put its own house in order and save the BJP a lot of blushes.

* Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist






CONSIDERING the dire straits that India and Pakistan are in today with their respective versions of religious insanity, who can deny the urgent need to sink mutual differences and bail out together before the gathering storm swamps both.

The religious Right in both countries has nurtured a hidden alliance and each half screwdriver turn of madness by one has given vital oxygen to the other. Both need to be rooted out before they take over.

Call it desperation or realism, but there is no denying that the conventional secular leadership on both sides has had its say on approaches to combating terror and they have landed us in an untenable mess. That's reason enough to risk a radical if uncertain change. That's why Rahul Gandhi and Bilawal Bhutto might do well to exchange notes for a badly needed joint approach to fighting religious terror and other barbaric traditions that stalk both countries.

It is not as though their elders did not make any effort to confront the menace of medieval violence. In fact, the last serious effort in this regard was subverted by their respective intelligence agencies. Other entrenched interest groups too feared losing their monopoly over the conduct of bilateral relations to civilian governments on either side.

Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani offered the most promising agreement in July 2009 in Sharm el-Sheikh when both leaders had "agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries". And they had "affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and to cooperate with each other to this end". For daring to make the pledge they were condemned by their respective "systems".

Inevitably, the only significant hope to row back from the Mumbai terror-linked standoff was abandoned. The tail wagged the dog, which it pretty much still continues to do.

There is a compelling logic to the need for Mr Gandhi and Mr Bhutto to undo the damage and move on from there to build a secular, liberal and just society their forebears had promised but, for a variety of reasons — including exigencies of the Cold War — failed to deliver to their people.

On the face of it, the idea to park hopes on two rather young and relatively inexperienced men to step in to plug the haemorrhage may seem preposterous. But time is slipping. And they have spoken with unusual clarity to kindle hope. Both have lost a parent and a grandparent to bigotry, which they had indulged and only later, when it was too late, tried to challenge. The lesson is too obvious to be lost on either of the young scions.

The task at hand is not a straightforward secular versus communal or democratic against extremist confrontation. The problem may be more complex. Still, Mr Gandhi's assessment that Hindu terror is a serious threat to India could form a solid basis to work out a strategy to fight a decisive fight. Extremism nurtured by religious minorities should be similarly dealt with. Mr Bhutto's earnest promise to defend Pakistan's minorities is a good starting point for his country.

How, then, are they going to go about their tasks? The murder of Salman Taseer by a religious zealot has prompted an old question in my mind to surface again. Why are there two teams dominating Pakistan: one that wants to join the Americans to fight the Taliban and the other that seeks to fight the Americans with the help of the Taliban? Why can't there be a third force that deters both? After all, the whole world knows that foreign military presence in Pakistan works to the disadvantage of those who genuinely wish to cast the country in the image of Jinnah's liberal ideals.

Mr Gandhi too needs to share his thoughts with the people of India and not whisper them into the ears of a foreign diplomat. Did he not know that sharing his fear of Hindu terror as a threat at par with Muslim extremism with the American ambassador was potentially self-defeating? Going by the flourishing alliance that has consolidated between India's Hindu Right and Israel's Jewish Right, is there any reason to realistically expect the Americans to sympathise with Mr Gandhi's implicit secularism?

As with Pakistan, where the Taliban's widening terror imprint is used to consolidate America's military presence in the country, the Indian middle class has become accustomed to taking sides between the twin threats of corporate vandalism and religious terrorism without acknowledging that the two go together. There is a tendency to turn a blind eye to the threat callous corporate culture poses to India's democracy. That Ratan Tata and the Ambani brothers, among others, have explicitly endorsed the main suspect in the Gujarat communal carnage as prime ministerial material has been indulged as a workable possibility by the middle classes.

In their hurry to "develop" somehow on the debris of an inclusive society, Indian analysts ignore similarities between the gruesome murder of an Australian Christian missionary and his two sons by the Hindu Right, for example, and the condemned Christian woman that Taseer spoke up for.

Curiously in India extremism of the minorities — the Sikhs and Muslims, for example — is readily described as terrorism, but the illegal demolition of a mosque or a massacre of Sikhs, Dalits, Muslims, Christians or tribespeople by the Hindu Right is explained euphemistically as misplaced nationalist zeal.

The arrest of a group of activists of the Hindu Right in an alleged conspiracy to attack Muslim targets across the country has lent credence to Mr Gandhi's fears. That this group and not any Muslim suspect was responsible for a spate of attacks, including the murder of Pakistanis passengers on the Samjhauta Express, is not the only reason for the two countries to come together. There is already the pending matter of Pakistani terrorists inflicting unspeakable carnage in Mumbai.

Mr Bhutto will not be able to go about defending Pakistan's minorities if the zealots who attacked Mumbai roam free. Mr Gandhi can start looking at ways to tackle the Kashmir dispute frontally. It is an enabling factor in terrorism in India. He should of course do so with a resolve that is not deterred by a Right-wing Hindu backlash. Is it too much to ask of our young leaders?







I am one of those dreamy political scientists who always makes wishlists and scenarios of "What if". I am always waiting for new conversations of intersecting categories. I believe Hyderabad can be the centre for one major encounter. The Srikrishna Commission report on the possibility of Telangana has been released.

It is a 500-page report and needs detailed study. While the report is being pursued, a smaller, quieter event will take place in Hyderabad between January 10 and 14. It is the meeting of the International Association for the Study of the Commons. What one hopes is a conversation between the debate for small states and the dream of the new commons.

The debate on small states usually operates in terms of the language of decentralisation, of governance, of the rhetoric of small is beautiful. It usually follows three grids — the economic, the political and the cultural.

The plea for the small state usually stems from a negative sentiment. There is a sense of internal colonialism of economic discrimination. Telangana feels that the benefits of development are going to coastal Andhra Pradesh.

To the sense of economic hegemony and distorted development is added the logic of culture. Culture with the help of media creates imagined communities which organise around language, a past, a collective sense of history. The two together combine to provide the grammar for a particular kind of politics.

The logic of small states operates then through a particular kind of populism and electoralism. The idea of Telangana was seen as a political Camelot. What electoral politics also exposes is the horse-trading, the promissory notes, the negotiations and the betrayals. Political power becomes the only way of creating the envisioned community.

The majority, in the meanwhile, attempts to create or subvert the imagination. Sociologies confront each other, statistics acquires a political colour and every protest becomes a law and order problem.

Watching as an outsider one witnesses a frozen script on both sides. The categories of small confront the categories of larger unified states and what one witnesses are standard scripts on both sides reduced to a report card of grievances.

The question one asks is, is there a way to evade such frozen scripts because the battle of small states versus big states has become a sterile battle. It, no doubt, captures the populist imagination but barely questions the categories of development, progress and globalisation or add any new sense of welfare or justice. The battle is reduced to competition, between grievance and indifference or unity versus disintegration.

The idea of the commons provides a different imagination for such a debate. An idea of the commons goes beyond the common sense of federalism. A commons is a space beyond the formal rules of market and current politics. A commons is a space of refugee, a place where ordinary people can access nature as food, as timber or as medicine. A commons is a community of sharing and sustainability. A commons is a place where each man operates according to his needs. A commons conveys a community of reciprocity and responsibility which goes beyond the logic of individualism. Development and market deny the idea of commons by emphasising restrictive access to production and distribution.

I want to argue that the idea of commons provides a different measure of evaluation. A commons deals with livelihood issues by connecting economics to livelihood, to ways of life of a community. A commons creates an embedded ecology which relates communities to livelihood. The idea of the commons creates an ethics of scale rather than size. It tries to communicate a multiplicity of problem-solving techniques. Plurality rather than power is the new option.

The idea of Telangana and the idea of Andhra Pradesh are not different currently. Both failed to question the current idea of politics, economics and administration. To apply current models, to ignore the problem of farmer suicides does not really regionalise development. A region has to be more than geography as space; it has to be an alternative idea of democracy.

The Srikrishna report, for all its diligence, adds little to the democratic imagination. Sadly, the movement for Telangana while showing the flaws of electoral democracy has added little in terms of the creativity of locality or the power of diversity. I am not saying that we should not grant Telangana. All I am contending is that Telangana as an imagination should have a sense of the commons linked to the globe in a way that locality is not a parochial idea. It has to have a sense of scale not size. It has to embody new notions of problem solving. Ask yourself what new notions of ecology, agriculture, education and power sharing does either side add to the new democratic imagination. Each side by insisting on Hyderabad is showing a common commitment to the standard policies of economics and politics. I want to ask where are the new theories of the informal economy? Where are the new ideas of social audit? Can we name one theory for better livelihoods on one side?

The challenge of Telangana has to challenge more than the current idea of statehood. Merely creating a new power elite for Telangana is not enough. The question we have to ask is what is the social imagination of both movements? The answer now is none.

It is a mirroring of politics and economics where one hoped for a richer imagination of statehood.

The real challenge is can Andhra Pradesh and Telangana offer a new or alternative theories of agriculture, new ways of watershed management, alternative ways to combat forced migrations to the city. Is there a new theory of governance? What is the new theory of the city? Can we link formal and informal economies through a new idea of the commons? Can Hyderabad become a new commons for both the states? To think this way one has to go beyond the current ideas of Union Territories as sanitary corridors of administrative convenience.

I always honour moves to decentralisation but such efforts have to add to real empowerment. The Telangana movement is a student-led movement and as students are a part of the intelligence I hope they make such issues a part of their agenda. Only then will its politics not go the way of Jharkhand and add to a cynical view of life.

* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist






Having lived for long in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Delhi, January 14 evokes within me an urge to flow, overflow and fly high in rhythmic resonance with today's festivals: Makarasankranti, Uttarayana and Pongal. Overflowing man-made confines of caste and creed, and flying over land-limits like north-south, east-west, these festivals bid us to flower and flow, bubble and boil over, spread out and soar up.

Makarasankranti marks the commencement of the course of the sun northwards to enter the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn. This flow has been considered auspicious since ancient times. In the Mahabharata, Bhisma tells Yudhisthira: "The southern course (of the sun) is blindingly dark, nay, darkness itself. For this reason, the northern course is praised as the gift of light itself". Henceforth, days will become longer and brighter. This is time for optimism, a call to dispel darkness and enter the realm of light and goodness.

A vital ingredient of Makarasankranti celebrations is tila (sesame seed), often served as tila ladoos. In the Mahabharata, when Yudhisthira asks Bhisma about the benefit of giving tila as alms (daan), Bhisma explains that Brahma created tila as the first (prathama) food for departed ancestors. Besides recalling references to tila's nourishing and beauty-enhancing qualities, the sweet stickiness of tila ladoos revives memories of the community-cohesion I felt while celebrating Utraan (popular Gujarati form of Uttarayana) during my college days in Ahmedabad.

In Gujarat's cities, Utraan magically makes one feel high and fly high. January 14 magnetically draws all Ahmedabadis out of their rooms onto the terraces of buildings and bungalows to fly kites. The kaleidoscopic kites colouring the city's skyline symbolise the diversity of its peoples and their dreams to fly high.

The word sankranti can be interpreted as a "going together" or "walking together" from the prefix sam (denoting joint action) and kram (go, walk, step). Makarasankranti challenges us to be in constant samkranti — to journey out of our narrow ghettos and fragmented mindsets to construct creative networks across borders and boundaries which, sadly, divide us.

If Makarasankranti and Uttarayana make us gaze upward and northward, Pongal plants us solidly into southern soil. Throughout Tamil Nadu the cries of "Pongalo Pongal!" ("It is boiling!") will rent the air as earthen pots of milk and newly-harvested rice will bubble and boil over. This is nature-worship at its bubbly best, celebrated over four days (January 13-16): Bhogi Pongal, Surya Pongal, Mattu Pongal and Kaanum (or, Kanni) Pongal.

On Bhogi, houses are cleaned and unwanted goods are burned in a bonfire (also called Bhogi) to signify the destruction of evil. Surya Pongal, dedicated to the Sun God, is the main festival of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. Mattu (cattle) Pongal pays homage to the cattle, our co-workers, without whose help farming is frustrating. Finally, Kaanum (sightseeing) or Kanni (young girls') Pongal is the time to visit friends or simply chill out on Marina Beach or elsewhere.

Negatively, today's festivities can be interpreted in terms of avoiding evil. Positively, they invite us to celebrate life with deep gratitude. A Tamil poet wrote: "Every country is my native land; and, every (wo)man is my kin(wo)sman". May our hands reach out and our hearts overflow to encounter, embrace, empower and enrich all peoples. We seek harmony not only among all peoples, but with Mother Nature, too; for, we're nursed and nourished at her breast, and birthed and buried in her womb. Indeed, life itself is a harvest. In the Bible, the believer prays: "O God, may our barns be filled with produce of every kind; may our sheep increase by thousands, and may our cattle be heavy with young ones".

Pongal pots and Utraan kites remind us, first, that God dwells deep down in the soil and high up in the skies. Second, we need to respect and reward the tillers, as much as the thinkers. Third, Mother Earth needs our care as much as we care for our own ammas. Today, let's join Tamil voices in praying: "May your pot of milk boil over; may your cup of joy overflow; may the sun illumine you and yours; may the joy of this day last forever — Pongalo, Pongal!"

— Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be
contacted at [1]








FAR from surprising was the way in which New Delhi sought to downplay the possibly hyped accounts originating in Srinagar of a Chinese incursion into Ladakh in September/ October, and PLA personnel warning a local contractor to stop work on a "passenger shed". While it may have been "diplomatic" for the external affairs ministry to avert any snowballing, it makes something of a laughing stock of itself in trying to reject the incursion reports as baseless (as Beijing did), and citing the stock alibi of there being "varying perceptions" of the Line of Actual Control.


For the Army confirmed the incident: though it had its own take on the ground realities. This inability of Indian agencies to speak in a single voice must encourage the Chinese to push their "perception" of the LAC as far forward (into Indian territory) as they wish. There is nothing really new to this soft-pedalling. Some two decades ago the then MoS for external affairs (later the President) KR Narayanan had cut a sorry figure in Parliament when a Congress member from Arunachal insisted that the Chinese had built a makeshift helipad in Sumdorong Chu. Incursions are reported repeatedly, New Delhi trots out a bland, apologetic explanation each time.

What marks this incident distinct from others is that it reveals a total lack of coordination between local government agencies and the Army. The defence officials' "advice" to desist from undertaking such work in proximity to the LAC has not gone down well. Certainly the Army deserves to be kept in the loop, but to expect that the little by way of development in the frontier areas is kept on hold till the boundary dispute is resolved appears a trifle ridiculous. Just about every "Chinawatcher" has lamented the imbalance in the infrastructure on either side of the LAC: that apart the state government is duty-bound to try and create some minimal facilities for its frontier folk and not allow a vacuum to persist. It would be exaggeration to say that the Chinese seem to have veto-power over activity along the LAC; but it would be valid to expect that the Army and agencies of the state and Central government operate on the same net. Particularly when stray efforts are being made to bring a little improvement in the quality of life for our generally forgotten frontiersmen.





THE West Bengal government has emerged as a bundle of contradictions in the aftermath of Tuesday's directive of Calcutta High Court on the dismantling of armed camps. Having denied only very recently the presence of such outfits in response to the Union home minister's query, the heads of police administrations of all districts have now been directed to file reports on precisely the existence of such camps.  The government's turnaround, which comes almost immediately after the Division Bench order, strengthens long-held suspicions that such networks do exist not merely in the three Maoist-affected districts but in large parts of the state as well. Indeed, the government has contradicted itself by commissioning statewide reports. It is an open question though whether the SPs will advance objective assessments in the prevailing  political climate. The reality must now go beyond the semantic quibbling over an admittedly crass expression.

 The role of the police at Netai is also under a cloud with the High Court questioning the delay in reacting to the outrage. Here again, the state government's stand has been so contradictory as to be almost ridiculous. The arrival of the police is said to have been delayed because it had to take a circuitous route as a precaution against a possible ambush. On the face of it, the point may be taken. But the official argument falls flat as ~ almost in parallel ~ West Midnapore's SP has shot off a show-cause notice to the OC, Lalgarh police station, seeking an explanation for the delay even after he was alerted about the mob violence. The officer in turn has responded saying he had to inform the joint forces before he could act! But a scapegoat has possibly been found, the district brass is safe for now and the DGP can run around in circles at Writers' Buildings to evade the media. Well and truly is the government at sixes and sevens. And for close to a week, the rest of Bengal has been kept guessing as to what actually happened at Netai. The plot is bound to thicken if armed camps are found to be in existence in the relatively safer districts. Let truth be told.




SINCE chivalry is long dead, there must have been other reasons for a postal clerk at the GPO in New Delhi to ignore an elderly gentleman waiting in the queue meant for senior citizens and prefer to serve a lady half his age. Rightly has the South Delhi Consumer Forum awarded him compensation of Rs 35,000 though it is unclear what irked the gentleman more ~ being bypassed or then passed on to another official who, as we have all experienced, was "not on his seat". It is a sad reality that despite the postal department losing out to private couriers and its young minister claiming to have reinvigorated it, staff at most post offices remain inefficient and indifferent, and exude the "official" attitude that deems them doing every person they serve a huge favour. Now that might always be evident when it comes to buying stamps or sending letters by registered post, it translates into painful experiences for those operating saving accounts, insurance policies and so on.  Specially when some money is to be withdrawn, the clerks create an impression that they are dipping into their own funds to make the payments. It is possible that a member of the forum had an experience similar to what CR Gautam had complained about, for its award is substantial, the complainant could not have hoped for more.
However, the applause for the Consumer Forum cannot be full-blooded. For it has ordered that, "The Department of Post, including the Director General, shall jointly and severally pay Rs 35,000 as compensation to Mr Gautam for causing mental agony, harassment".

What about the offending clerk at the GPO? Unless the perpetrator of the offence is directly penalised the impact of the Forum's order will be limited. It is the absence of such personal accountability in the "system" that makes dealing with sarkari agencies so unpleasant. Yet it is when dealing with the post office, the telephone, electricity, health, municipal authorities etc that the relationship between a citizen and the state are forged. Not surprisingly aam aadmi has limited stakes and less faith in "government".









External Affairs Minister, SM Krishna's first visit in the new year was to Kabul, which came as a reminder of the importance New Delhi attaches to this neighbour. Only a year ago, it had seemed that the decisive year in Afghanistan would be the one that has just dawned, 2011: a surge in US troops was being prepared to bring irresistible pressure on the Taliban and to make the Kabul government more capable of effective governance. Planned parliamentary elections would also make it more representative and widen its support base. But 2011 has dawned with no such hopeful expectations.

Some improvement in the situation on the ground notwithstanding, for the surge has had some effect, the Taliban insurgency has remained active, and has even spread to areas in the northern part of the country where it previously had little impact. It also seems that US and Afghan preferences about the course to adopt and the timing to follow have not been fully integrated. Washington has indicated that a drawing down of its forces could commence from mid-2011 while Kabul has given 2014 as its target date. At the same time, the military contest with the Taliban continues and can be expected to intensify: presently, there is a winter lull but this may soon give way to revived activity.

The military tactics adopted by the combatants seem likely to continue, for no better answers to their problems have yet been found. The most effective weapon in the hands of the US-led international force is reported to be the unmanned aerial vehicles, whose constant surveillance and targeted strikes have taken a toll of the insurgent leadership. These strikes have involved much cross-border activity, with a number of civilian casualties in the border areas of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the strikes being greatly resented both for the collateral damage and as deliberate violations of sovereign territory. The aerial campaign, however effective, cannot be considered decisive, for the more crucial battle must ultimately be fought on the ground. In this, from the point of view of the international forces (ISAF), some successes have been reported: Kandahar is where the Taliban have been under concerted attack and it seems that they have been forced to give ground. But they have not given up the battle, any more than in previous campaigns, and do not appear to have suffered decisive losses. Thus the battlefield perplexities of the pre-'surge' period are far from over.

In this situation, the search for some sort of political solution has become more active. There are many who do not believe that a military solution will ever be attainable and thus advocate political measures to bring about a solution. The US public seems presently quiescent but how long it will tolerate military involvement in Afghanistan is not certain, which adds some urgency to the search for alternative measures. Any political solution would require the Kabul authorities and their foreign backers to come to terms with some of the forces opposing them in the field ~ the so-called "good Taliban" ~ and move towards inducting some presently unfriendly elements into the government. This possibility has been discussed sotto voce for some time, and now seems to be gaining currency. The Kabul authorities have been in contact with some Taliban representatives, with the active assistance of US authorities. What is going on between them is far from clear but something is happening behind the scenes to take matters towards a compromise. It is no surprise that outside players have become involved in the proceedings, especially Pakistan, which, by some accounts, is the critical factor, able to bring acceptable Taliban into the fold as nobody else can. This perception strengthens its leverage in Washington.

As yet, no features of any sort of compromise that would settle matters can be discerned. President Karzai has taken a leading part in trying to find a political solution, and he seems to have started the year in better order than he did 2010 ~ there are less griping and complaints of mismanagement and corruption, and greater readiness by his partners to continue to treat with him. For now, he seems to have weathered the storm directed against him, and his astuteness as a leader is confirmed.

Currently, less is heard of a regional solution to the problems in Afghanistan which would bring in the neighbours in the search for a result. In fact, in economic matters, regional involvement in Afghan affairs is expanding substantially in the wake of reports of the newly discovered mineral wealth of the country. China has entered into an arrangement to develop all the copper deposits, which are believed to be substantial, and only recently India has begun to show interest in the large iron ore and coal deposits, with preliminary consideration being given to the possibility of a steel mill being established with Indian support. Properly managed, such major projects can help bring stability by producing wealth and giving all parties an interest in maintenance of orderly governance. The TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) pipeline bringing Turkmen natural gas all the way to India can be similarly helpful.

As Mr Krishna's visit demonstrated, India's involvement has grown greatly in the last few years. It is a major donor for Afghanistan's reconstruction, and its commitment of about $1.3 billion is more than it has made in similar circumstances to other individual countries. India has become an important and effective partner in Afghanistan's development. But for this reason, it has attracted a suspicious response from Pakistan which sees in India's heightened profile a threat to its own interests and future plans. Nevertheless, President Karzai assured the visiting Indian leader, as he has often done in the past, that India's development assistance was welcome and he would like to see it continue. India is geared up to remain engaged in Afghanistan but it remains mindful of the attack on its embassy in Kabul a few years ago which cost Indian lives and in which, according to reports from many sources, Pakistani agencies were implicated. There have been other serious incidents, too, so that India has to remain wary in Afghanistan. Yet there is no reason why India's assistance should be seen in such a negative light, for it is not offered with hostile strategic intent vis-à-vis Pakistan: only inflexible and unimaginative military thinking ~ the chimerical notion of 'strategic depth' ~ can encourage such a belief. It is necessary for the two countries to expand their dialogue, once it is resumed, to include the situation in Afghanistan and try to build some measure of mutual understanding. Both have considerable stakes there and would do best to remove unwarranted doubt and hostility.


The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary






 In 2005, China signed an agreement with India stating that in resolving the border dispute no settled populations would be exchanged. This was part of the "guiding principles and political parameters" for a final settlement of the border dispute. This written commitment by China was soon trashed through ad hoc comments from Chinese diplomats and through its government-owned media which continued to describe Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese South Tibet. India never seriously took up this brazen violation of a written commitment by the Chinese government. Instead New Delhi continued to expand commercial ties with China creating a substantial adverse balance of trade.

During the recent visit of Premier Mr Wen Jiabao to India the government did raise its concerns about Arunachal Pradesh and the issuing of stapled visas to residents of Kashmir which indicated that China considered Kashmir to be disputed territory. Premier Wen promised to look into these concerns. While in India he took the liberty of criticizing Indian media for spoiling Sino-Indian relations. After bagging more trade deals he returned to Beijing via Pakistan.

After his departure Chinese troops encroached into Indian territory in Ladakh and forcibly prevented Indian workers from performing their tasks. The Indian government through its Army Chief and external affairs officials downplayed the incident. The Army chief said that the matter was not serious but merely reflected the differing perceptions of both governments about where the Line of Control lay. That assurance was heartening. The right of Chinese soldiers to order stoppage of work by Indians on Indian territory also arose from their differing perception about who could boss Indian workers. The dispute about Arunachal Pradesh as well as indeed about the entire border is not worrisome because it reflects merely the differing perceptions of Beijing and New Delhi. Now instead of curtailing the issue of stapled visas to residents of Kashmir, Beijing has also started to issue stapled visas to residents of Arunachal Pradesh. The Indian government said that China should follow "a uniform practice" in issuing visas. So will China now start issuing stapled visas to all Indians?
If the government is cool about Beijing's conduct, the political parties are cooler. The Chinese Communist Party recently established fraternal relations with the Indian National Congress. So next time around when Sonia Gandhi rather than the Indian President or Prime Minister represents India as she did in the Beijing Olympics, it would be more in order. The CPI-M was already a Chinese poodle. Now the BJP has joined it to become another Chinese poodle. BJP president Mr Nitin Gadkari was invited to China by a visiting Chinese delegation last November. Next week, undeterred by Beijing's recent snub through stapled visas for Arunachal, he will embark on his five day goodwill visit to China.

It appears that some faint murmurs of disapproval were raised within the party. But they were quickly overcome by the majority view. The party spokesman Mr Tarun Vijay said: "The Chinese government has been in touch with the BJP and RSS." He proudly added: "In fact, the South Asia Study Centre in the Sichuan University is completing a book on the RSS in Chinese." The Chinese Ambassador to India said: "It is an extremely important visit for us and we will accord Mr Gadkari a very warm welcome in China." That is diplomacy.
Meanwhile, China expands trade with India to its own advantage, encroaches militarily across the border and disputes India's claims to Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. That is strategy.

Mr Gadkari, before his forthcoming visit, said: "I am very keen to visit the local neighbourhood community to learn about party building at grassroots level in China." That is sycophancy.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist






When a government, especially one in a developing society struggling with institution building and defining the extent of free expression, talks about Press freedom, it is usually a cause for concern. Just recently, the Thai Cabinet approved a draft Bill that was designed to protect Press freedom but immediately provoked scepticism. People in the industry aren't too happy because, despite some positive clauses, there are also signs that are not so encouraging.

The draft Bill fashions a supervisory committee that would, among other things, have a say on which organisation can be classified as "media" and which cannot. That alone could deter the willingness of Thailand's diversified media industry to take a leap of faith. Judging from the mindset of the Thai powers-that-be ~ their attitude and understanding of what freedom of expression is and should be ~ alarmists fear the Bill does not represent real change from the belief that a "good Press" is one that praises the people in power.
The stated aim of the draft Bill on "protection of media freedom and liberty and promotion of journalistic standards" is just as its name implies. And the draft was made with media experts and professionals providing key input. As the Bill heads to Parliament, debate will go on about whether this piece of legislation is to be trusted. It is something made out of good intent, but will the seemingly minor shortcomings eventually lead us on a wrong path?

The ambivalence for some is understandable, given the circumstances. The Bill was drafted when two issues were prominent in our turbulent society ~ the political intimidation of journalists and journalists pursuing (allegedly) dubious political agendas. Both issues exist, and which gave birth to which is contentious. Did unethical journalism cause the need for dictatorship, or vice versa?

Because of the clashing ideologies, what we've got is a Bill on "freedom protection" that sparks fears it will end up restricting freedom instead. Apart from having the power to practically determine who are media journalists and who are not, the proposed supervisory committee is to be set up through a largely political process that is funded by government money. This committee is obligated to report to parliament ~ a requirement that is not so comforting because of the possibility of political interference.

What qualifies as a 'media organisation' anyway? One thing that the current political crisis has done is to give rise to a number of media outlets affiliated with political groups. We can say the same thing for the Internet, bloggers and the concept of citizen journalism. What roles will they play under the new law? Will their lives be easier or more difficult?

Some can argue that reality requires some form of criteria to identify media organisations for functional purposes. Within the UN system, such criteria are used to admit media organisations into UN meetings, and for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to be advisers to the world body. Some sort of benchmark is needed, so that people can't just walk into press events having stated opinions in a couple of dozen blog entries.
On the issue of financing, state funding for a media supervisory body is not unique. It's done in several Western countries. Yet where the money comes from here will raise questions about the integrity and independence of such a committee ~ unless, of course, legislators can come up with a way to fund it in a less controversial way. But the reality is that there still must be some form of criteria to identify media organisations.
Where is the middle path, then? How far can we trust this Bill? In a society where fingers are being pointed all over the place ~ at politicians for restricting freedom, at journalists for using half-truths to benefit a biased cause, at some in the public for thinking a good press is one that says what it likes, and at vested interest groups

disguised as journalists - something needs to be done. Is this Bill an answer, or just a start?
In the end, a good system can only help, and more importantly, foster a collective good conscience. There is no absolute winning formula. A number of open societies have developed mechanisms where public spending is channelled to media outlets to produce healthy journalism. Private organisations funding quality journalism is not unusual, either. With conventional sources of financial support for journalists uncertain at best and dwindling at worst, it's perhaps "survival", not "ideology", that will have more influence on media evolution in the long term.

To really help the media industry, everyone involved with, or affected by, the Bill will have to be most realistic and least political. Its strong points must be embraced, while questionable ones must be addressed in an open-minded manner. The Bill's name seems to sum up Thailand's situation ~ how to enhance media freedom and to ensure freedom is exercised with great responsibility. The Bill's own problem is how to convince the people it seeks to protect of its sincerity.

the nation/ann






When a foreign correspondent takes up a new posting, he or she starts by diligently following the national media, going to every press conference that is listed, befriending people who might be in any way useful, and in this way gradually gets going. What takes longer to acquire and is more valuable is the knowledge that comes from the experience of everyday life.

That is what gives depth to the work of John Lichfield, The Independent's Paris correspondent. As Mr Lichfield says in his introduction to his new book, Our Man in Paris (Signal Books), which collects together pieces he has written for the newspaper during the past 13 years, "readers responded far more often to a diary column about how my kids were dealing with the French school system ... or my wife's discovery of a forgotten gallery in the Muse d'Orsay" than to any hard-hitting, ground-breaking news articles. Observing French schools and French kids, Mr Lichfield says, has given him more insight into France and Frenchness than a host of briefings in the world of official politics.

   Which items of French news would readers find interesting this week, for instance? That there were substantially fewer traffic accidents in France during 2010 than the previous year, yes; that the Socialist Party leaders are quarrelling about the merits of the 35-hour week legislation they introduced when they were last in power, no. Yet, wonders Mr Lichfield, wasn't I "breaking the first rule of news journalism by trying to describe the ordinary rather than the extraordinary?" But it is often the ordinary that puzzles most of all. Why, I have often wondered, are the French such dangerous drivers?

   Lichfield doesn't answer this one, but he turns to another interesting question: are the Parisians particularly rude? They are widely said to be so. Lichfield gives a number of examples. As a matter of fact, I think the French get off to a an excellent start, so far as good manners are concerned, with their use of "Monsieur" and "Madame" when addressing people they don't know well. In English discourse, "Sir" and "Madam" have limited use, whereas their equivalents in French are on everybody's tongues. I like this French habit; it is polite, respectful and invariable. We must also take into account the usual tension between very big cities and their neighbours. If Parisians are widely regarded by the rest of their country as rude, then so are Londoners and New Yorkers. A degree of rudeness comes with the territory.

In London I push through groups of tourists on the grounds that the right of way belongs to us who work in the city. This dreadful habit is anaspect of the cult of "fast living" to which capitals and others like them are particularly susceptible. A recent survey showed that in London, 60 per cent of men claim to work a 60-hour week. And women, with family commitments as well as jobs, now have only roughly 50 minutes of "me" time a day, and typically finish the housework at 10.30pm. If Londoners are rude, it is because they are harassed. New York and Paris are the same.

 Lichfield would say, I think, that this clears the Parisians of blame a little too easily. For he and his wife, Margaret, have been observing how the French behave from the age of two years upwards. In a passage in one of Lichfield's reports that has stuck in my mind ever since I first read it 10 years ago, he wrote: "French children, especially upper middle class children, do not know how to play with other children; they are not encouraged to be civilised with other children; they are encouraged to be assertive and rudely independent, except in the home. From the age of two, they are trained in self-advancement, self-assertion and extreme competitiveness."

   The key phrase here is "upper middle class" or educated middle class. In France many of the children of these families go to the so-called grandes Ecoles, provided they can pass demanding written and oral exams. These elite institutions are small, with 3,000 students at the most. When you pass out from one of them, you are publicly ranked in order of excellence one after the other. Graduating from these Ecoles is the high road taken by most of France's high-ranking civil servants, politicians and executives, as well as many of its scientists and philosophers. Critics say this method turns out a nation of literate and argumentative people, full of self-esteem but with little sense of enterprise, except, maybe, as Mr Lichfield remarks, how to get the last seat on the bus.
   One could ask what is so special about France in this respect. Exactly the same phenomenon can be found in the United States and it has helped to engender a much stronger anti-elite feeling than has been the case thus far in France. As Scott Rasmussen, one of the shrewdest observers of the Tea Party movement, puts it: the elites in Washington and affluent communities across America are seen as living in a different world. Not only have they been isolated from the hardship of the Great Recession; many of them have in fact grown richer. They continue to be upwardly mobile, to send their children to expensive and exclusive schools, and to believe that the country is heading generally in the right direction. "They trust government and financial elites to solve America's problems, because they themselves belong to this exclusive social subset."

   Nor is Britain exempt from this elite class system. The educational background of the members of the Coalition Government and of the Labour front bench is identical in every respect. It is overwhelmingly Oxbridge, with a disproportionate reliance on a single degree course taught at Oxford: the famous PPE, philosophy, politics and economics.

Lichfield, however, adds one more element to the mix that is absent from American and British life: an extended family system of social relations. The Protestant, Anglo-Saxon mind has always been uneasy with this concept, preferring as it does a world in which only merit counts. "France operates through overlapping networks of friends, or cronies or clients," he writes "who have known each other for years and take their relationships seriously... There is an attitude of 'look after yourself and your close clan, the state is there to look after the rest'." In all three countries, the ruling class is arrogant and patronising; in France it may also be, if not rude, then at the very least brusque with people outside the magic circle.

the independent








The message that emerges from the latest economic data — those on the index of industrial production — is that the basis of calculating this important economic indicator (mainly the base year and the constituents) needs to be reviewed and changed urgently. On the face of it, the sharp decline in the IIP for the month of November suggests a slowing down in the economy, and perhaps a steeper one than most people had anticipated. The trouble is, other economic data don't seem to be consistent with what the IIP numbers indicate. Growth in agricultural production has been robust, firms report steady hiring increases, and salaries have risen all round. The advance tax payments numbers also reflect solid investment and consumption demand, and business revenues. Export growth has started to outpace import growth, and while there are worries about the current account deficit, capital inflows have remained steady and moving up. True, there is a seasonal slowdown; after the holiday season (mainly Diwali), industrial production does tend to slacken as people have used up spending budgets for cars and consumer durables (which are among the big components of the IIP) and companies pause before rebuilding inventory.


But a fall from 11.3 per cent in October to just 2.7 per cent in November was more than a little shocking. The fall in some of the components looks dramatic: for instance, wood and wood products contracted by over 27 per cent from the previous year, and jute and vegetable fibres by 17.5 per cent. But the weight of these items in the IIP is very small: if anything, as a share of overall manufacturing, the weight of these items in Indian manufacturing is probably minuscule. There are other oddities: pressure cookers, a household item, are classified as capital goods, for example. And that is why there appears to be an inherent volatility in the IIP, which keeps economists and other analysts guessing. The government has for some reason postponed shifting the base year of the IIP to 2004-05; the change would also necessitate a change in the IIP's constituents. The growth in IIP numbers for December is also likely to be flat; some analysts have suggested it could even be zero. As someone said, the product of an arithmetical computation is the answer to an equation, not the solution to a problem. The government should act quickly and update the IIP.







For all their bitter and often bloody rivalries, West Bengal's politicians are united on one thing — they want to collectively destroy the future of the state. Both the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress are engaged in competitive destructiveness. Ms Banerjee scuttled the Tata group's automobile project in Singur two years ago. It is now the CPI(M)'s turn to pay her back in her own coin. A proposed railway coach factory at Sankrail is the latest theatre of this tit-for-tat politics. At Nandigram too, where Ms Banerjee's current battle against the CPI(M) gained momentum, she has now had a taste of her own medicine, with CPI(M)-backed peasant groups opposing land acquisition by the railways. Yet, the two railway projects could change the dreary industrial landscape of West Bengal as much as the stillborn one in Singur could have. The railway venture at Nandigram is part of the ambitious freight corridor project. But all that promise means nothing to the state's politicians who revel in outdoing one another in pulling down the state. Incidentally, Ms Banerjee's decision to shift the Sankrail project came on a day Ratan Tata once again recalled his "sad" decision to move the Nano factory from West Bengal to Gujarat.

However, the Nano story is much more than that of an automobile project's brush with destructive politics. It is essentially a tale of two political cultures. Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, has his critics, especially about his government's role in the communal riots of 2002. But even his worst critics would not think of obstructing his plans to transform the state's economy. There have been instances where his political rivals actually helped him in such matters in the interest of the state. Curiously, politicians in the supposedly enlightened state of West Bengal would do no such thing. All they are good at is saying no. The result is a dismal situation in which the mass popularity of a party is directly proportional to its capacity for destruction. That is the way the CPI(M) came to power in West Bengal 33 years ago. It is the same path that the TMC now seems to follow in its race for the Writers' Building this summer. Adding insult to the state's injury, politicians on both sides claim they are friendly to industries and investors. With such friends, who needs enemies?






Thanks to the plenary session of the Congress, things have got cleaned up; everyone knows, or should know, his or her place. The individual who is the prime minister, for example, should know that he serves a very specific purpose, he — a nobody — is needed to fill nominally the slot the Great Renouncer decided to vacate, even before occupying it, in order that she could be hailed as the Great Renouncer and accorded the same quality of reverence as was once bestowed upon that other cognizable renouncer in the nation's history — what was his name, ah, yes, Mahatma Gandhi.

Renunciation is, however, no liberation from responsibility. Mahatma Gandhi spurned all formal positions in the Congress, but he could not escape the fate of being all powerful in the party. None could remain party president if Gandhi disapproved of him; members of the party's highest decision-making body, the working committee, had to be named by him, resolutions adopted by the party had to be given the final touch by him, each single decision the party took needed the imprimatur of his blessings. This was the state of affairs until the Mountbattens, husband and wife, arrived on the scene.

Renouncers are fated to enjoy such omnipotence. The new renouncer, too, is. She continues as the supreme entity in the party. She decides who will hold which position in the party hierarchy down to the taluka level. She names chief ministers and other ministers in states where the party is able to form governments: she again decides which chief minister has to be removed and when. And, of course, she is chairperson and prime mover of the coalition which forms the administration at the Centre. She has renounced the position of prime minister, but is very much more powerful than the prime minister. If the government scores a major success, all plaudits belong to her. Similarly, if a crisis visits the government, it has to be resolved by her. The burden of renunciation is simply awesome.

Where does all this, though, leave the formally named prime minister? Please consider the circumstances. A private gentleman in retirement can concentrate on tending his garden and not bother to make his wishes for the new year known to the public. One designated formally or the head of the country's government is in no position to choose that option. He therefore sticks to grammar and pronounces two resolutions for the new year: (a) to fight to the hilt corruption in government, and (b) to bring down prices.

The moment the prime minister utters these wishes, he knows it is not within his domain to ensure their fulfilment. Even in the past he had made the appropriate noises against corruption; that has not stopped events from taking their own course. He had promised some six months ago that food prices would come down to the level of five to six per cent by end-December; prices, in fact, have now climbed back to around 15 per cent.

Does not the prime minister realize that he does not really count? Even within the party he formally belongs to, he does not count. Most other prominent leaders in the party have their own groups or factions. When an occasion arises, they can throw their weight about within both the party and the government. The prime minister does not enjoy that luxury since he has no political base of his own. Other leaders, including ministers, are courteous to him because he has been nominated for the part by the Great Renouncer. Crucial decisions within the party as well as within the government, they know, are to be taken by her. It is an awkward, anomalous arrangement; the buck, supposed to stop with the prime minister, does not stop with him: it stops elsewhere.

That such is the nitty-gritty of reality is borne out by the correspondence, now available to the public, between the prime minister and the gentleman who was his minister of communications during the period the curious events of the 2G spectrum scandal assumed shape. On November 2, 2007 the prime minister writes to his minister on the issue of the spectrum allocations, enclosing a note emphasizing points that should be gone into and urging the need for fairness and transparency in the allocations and expressing the hope of being kept informed before any further action is taken. The minister, nonetheless, took the prime minister for granted. On December 26 of the same year, he informs the prime minister about certain decisions already taken in the light of discussions at various levels. The details of these discussions are not mentioned. The prime minister responds to the minister's letter on January 3, 2008 with a polite, single-sentence acknowledgment. He does not say whether he agrees with the contents of the minister's letter, nor does he indicate whether the decisions the minister has referred to are or are not at variance with what he, the prime minister, had indicated in his earlier letter. It is by now widely known — courtesy such sundry things as the Radia tapes — that such formal exchanges of letters between the prime minister and one of his cabinet colleagues do not mean a thing; there are other actors behind the scene and other events, too, unfold behind the scene.

The minister of communications could flout the prime minister not so much because he belonged to a party in the coalition which had enough clout of its own. Even within a coalition regime, certain minimum norms are followed; since a political person of sufficient stature usually assumes the post of prime minister, he or she cannot be treated as a negligible quantity. In the situation currently obtaining in this country, this, however, is not the case. The prime minister, a minister knows, is not the final arbiter of official decisions, the centre of power is situated in a different location, and there is hardly any necessity to be extra-deferential to the designated prime minister.

Whether the government henceforth will or will not fight corruption with somewhat greater seriousness is also a decision which will be reached at the level not of the prime minister but of the Great Renouncer. The prime minister may provide his input; whether that input will be considered worth its weight in gold is a different matter though. Similarly, he may post his proposals concerning ways and means to fight inflation, but the minister of agriculture, or the petroleum minister, for instance, may have other slants on the issue of upwardly moving price levels. The interests of class friends too have to be taken into consideration.

Is it not egregiously irrelevant in such a situation to wax eloquent over the prime minister's integrity? For consider the goings-on during the 2G spectrum episode. Were nothing known of the prime minister's correspondence with his minister as well as of the Radia tapes, two alternative assumptions are still possible: either that the prime minister was aware of the irregularities that were being plotted but was unable to do anything about it, or that he was totally ignorant of what was happening.

In case the prime minister knew that large scale larceny was taking place within the portals of government, the natural question to ask is, why did he not put his foot down instead of accepting the developments philosophically — in other words, why did he agree to go along with corruption? Is he not, technically, an accessory after the fact? Cross over to the second hypothesis: while the prime minister was a man of first-class integrity, he was not aware of the shady things happening within his premises. If a prime minister does not know what is transpiring within the ambit of his authority, does it not reflect on his efficiency and, therefore, his suitability for occupying the position?

It was, after all, the personal decision of the individual who is prime minister to accept the position in full awareness of the overwhelmingly important conditionality attached, namely, that he must abide the preferences, prejudices and inclinations of the Great Renouncer. If the prime minister is feeling humiliated by the snide comments swirling at this moment around his person, he can only lay the blame at the door of the decision he took in 2004 to be a cog in the dynasty's wheel. It is for him to ruminate whether tending his private garden would not have been a superior choice.







A newly-built mosque was demolished in New Delhi yesterday on the grounds that it was illegally built on land owned by the Delhi Development Authority. But the question no one is asking is how and why the DDA allowed its land to be built upon illegally. Is it such an ineffective and inept organization that it cannot protect its property in the heart of India's capital? Or is corruption so rampant in its intestines that allows for such developments to take place? Having allowed the land to be usurped years ago, surely the DDA needs to be roundly punished and the land forfeited. The officer-in-charge at the time of the alleged illegal construction of the mosque needs to be suspended for permitting such illegalities. There is no other way to resume the cleansing of this utterly corrupt system that has overwhelmed and suffocated India.

The DDA owns the land in the national capital. It has at its helm the lieutenant-governor, who represents the president of India. There is no excuse whatsoever for illegalities in this organization and for the facts that land use is changed on whims and fancies, that different rules apply for different people and institutions, that structures come up without clearance and the authorities turn a blind eye, and that there is no accountability. Precious land, which belongs to India and lies in the hands of officers of the government who are mandated to protect the laws of the land, is being misused by those very officers who are in cahoots with other groups with vested interests. Sadly, corruption has stemmed from within and not from anywhere else. It has to be destroyed from within the government first and only then can a true clean-up ensue.

Despite endless revelations of deep-seated corruption in almost every sphere of the government, no correctives are visible because the fountainhead from where the horror emanates remains protected. Each corrupt department is planning a cover-up for the other in a desperate effort to keep the dukaan running. If the people can see the truth for what it is, why cannot the senior officers who are at the helm of the national ministries, institutions and departments? The simple answer is that the men and women who govern India and Bharat are culpable and nothing will change till they cleanse themselves and their operating systems.

Radical change

The damage that is being inflicted on an emerging power, a potential regional leader, is humongous. The general level of intelligence of the leadership and administration is well below the halfway mark on a scale of ten. Old and restrictive colonial laws continue to rule a democratic, secular, federal republic, dwarfing ideas and initiatives, killing energy and vitality, endorsing the unholy interventions of the State where they are not required, protecting and nurturing the corrupt and those wielding money power. The fact is that to ensure growth and development, a complete reformation of such laws and acts is called for. Governments have resisted doing so possibly because it would put the brakes on corruption, extortion and other countless — and innovative — illegal 'income-generating' activities indulged in by the servants of the State at the expense of Indians.

Municipalities and departments mandated to serve the people need a radical and ruthless overhaul. That is where the process of cleaning the system needs to begin. The rules must apply to all, and not only to the few who are brought up to observe them. In a country where divisive disparities rule the public space, personal grievances and envy are bound to surface with every case that could bring in large bribes. A civilized, simple set of laws, duly enforced, could herald change. Who will deliver the renewal?


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




The sharp fall in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) to 2.7 per cent in November from 11.3 per cent in the corresponding month of 2009, is a matter of concern, coming as it does in the context of persistent general price inflation and a double digit rise in food price index. It has marked a long-term low and in the last three months the index has disappointed a second time. When the September figures showed a decline finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had said that it was difficult to understand the reasons for the fall. He has now said that the negative trend may adversely affect the economy, which is expected to grow at over 8.5 per cent during the financial year. The worry is accentuated by the fact while the September decline was mainly the result of non-performance of the capital good sector, the latest slowdown is more wide-based.

The explanation for the slowdown in terms of the high statistical base of November 2009 is of doubtful validity. Seasonal factors like the increase in manufacturing activity in the pre-festival season and the slump later may have had some impact but the fall cannot be entirely attributed to them. The fall of 6 per cent in consumer durables output was a big contributing factor and this could be because of the slack in demand caused by high prices and the pressure on purchasing power. That is an indication of the link between inflation and industrial activity. Industrial production is likely to show a slower growth in the next few months compared to the high growth registered in many months during the last year. A continuous slowdown in industrial activity will also naturally have a ripple effect  on other sectors too. The higher cost of capital arising from liquidity problems and increasing interest rates seems to have affected  capacity expansion and infrastructure project execution. This is likely to hit small and medium industrial units and enterprises more than the bigger players in the coming months.

This makes the Reserve Bank of India's forthcoming monetary policy review both difficult and challenging. It may have to a take a nuanced position which will help to curb inflationary pressures without affecting the availability of credit to sectors that need it to keep the growth momentum intact. The finance minister has also promised correctional measures and these should be taken before the slide becomes severe and goes beyond control.






Stray dogs have mauled to death an 18-month-old child, Prashant, at a construction site in Bangalore's Bagalur layout. The horrific incident throws the spotlight on the implementation of the Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme that the government and NGOs have been implementing to deal with the stray dog problem in the city. Clearly, the ABC programme has not made the city safer from attacks by stray dogs. The incident at Bagalur revives memories of several similar ones in 2007-08 when children were mauled to death by stray dogs. Those incidents had triggered huge public outrage, and an audit that followed, revealed that implementation of the programme by the government and NGOs was poor and at best patchy. The panel made several recommendations to ensure that the stray dog problem in the city would be dealt with humanely but effectively.  Prashant's death suggests that the panel's recommendations remain on paper.

What do NGOs have to show for the crores of rupees they have received to neuter dogs? Are officials monitoring this? Where are the dog shelters that were supposed to come up? And what have authorities done about cleaning up our streets especially near meat shops? It is well known that while getting rid of stray dogs in the heart of the city, authorities let them loose in the outskirts, resulting in a sharp increase in their numbers in the suburbs. It was in one such suburb that Prashant met a gruesome end.

The incident is likely to evoke heated debate on how stray dogs should be dealt with. Some will call for severe solutions. The manner in which a rabid dog was tied recently to a motorbike, then dragged around till it was killed indicates that there are many who will not hesitate to advocate killing stray dogs. Then there are those who refuse to admit that there is a stray dog problem. These generally belong to the more elite sections of society, who travel in cars and are not chased by packs of dogs roaming the streets at night. Their children do not sleep in shanties and are not vulnerable to stray dogs as was poor Prashant. There is a middle-path to deal with the stray dog problem. It involves treating dogs with compassion, even as the ABC programme is implemented assiduously.







The municipal tax revenue is used up to pay for water subsidy, leaving less resources for other services provided by the municipality.

Recently, the deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, made a remark that in the next couple of decades water crisis would be a bigger concern than even energy crisis in the country.

The per capita water availability has come down from 5177 cubic meter (cm) in 1951 to 2209 cm in 1991 and 1820 cm in 2001. The annual extraction of groundwater in India is by far the highest in the world which has lowered the water table to dangerous level. The situation is going to get progressively worse with rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and the pressure of growing population.

Old generation economists spent a great deal of time trying to resolve the so-called 'water-diamond paradox.' They were puzzled by the fact that diamonds, a totally useless commodity from the standpoint of human existence, commands such a high price in the market whereas water -- absolutely essential for human life -- is in most cases available free of charge.

Basically demand and supply provide the explanation. People are willing to pay a high price for diamonds because their availability is so limited. In the economist's terminology, the marginal utility of a diamond (that is the benefit that the buyer derives from an additional piece of diamond in her collection where the available quantity is so limited) is very high.

By contrast, the marginal utility from an extra glass of water is zero or near zero because it is so bountifully available. By the same logic, people would be willing to pay a high price for a glass of  drinking water in a desert or in a ship stranded in the sea.

Does this mean that the city municipalities should provide drinking water free to everybody or that there should be an appropriate water tax? Many people (including social activists) consider it outrageously wrong that anybody can even think of imposing a tax on the supply of such an essential, god-given resource to which all creatures on earth should have free access.

But this line of thinking ignores the most fundamental economic principle that people have to pay for the cost of supplying goods or services - otherwise, there will be undersupply and overuse (including wastage). Resources have alternative uses - there is no such thing as a free lunch. The inexorable logic of economics will ultimately assert in some form or other.

Water subsidy

Even if water may be plentiful in some place as people there may have access to water in the rivers, lakes or ponds, it costs a huge amount of resources to supply purified piped chlorinated water. If the user does not pay, then the cost is borne by the town municipality which is supplying piped water. That means, the municipal tax revenue is being used up to pay the water subsidy, leaving less resources for other essential services provided by the municipality.

Besides, there is a huge scope for wastage, even for an essential commodity like water or electricity if it is available free.  With no price to pay for water use, many people merrily use six buckets of water for a bath or washing clothes where two buckets could be good enough. They also keep running tap water overflowing the bucket.

One may argue that rich people would not care to cut excessive water use unless the price is high enough. But  for poor people, even a low price is a deterrent. Hence, differential pricing (high price for the rich and low price for the poor) may be needed on both efficiency and equity grounds.

If such differential pricing is difficult to implement, then the alternative solution would be to have a high uniform price for all users. The poor users can be compensated (subsidised) by giving back part of the user tax revenue through a lumpsum cash subsidy.  In that case, they would have the incentive to economise on water use but their (low) real income would be protected by the cash subsidy.

We have to keep in mind that unless the cost of providing water is covered through a price there will be no funds for investment in additional water treatment and purification plants for an increasing urban population. Without substantial economising on water use and cutting out wastage, the steadily falling water table problem will reach a crisis point.  Ultimately the poorest would suffer the most.

Even now the poor in Chennai have to pay a large amount of money each month to buy water as the city cannot provide enough water. Free water now would eventually invite a huge water crisis, just as free electricity has led to widespread power shortage in many places. The rich can buy generators/inverters while the poor suffer in darkness.

In a sense, the present generation is stealing water from the future generations by its policy of unregulated use and wastage of an increasingly scarce natural resource.  Which god has given us this right?

(The writer is a former professor of economics at IIM, Calcutta)








Liberals and moderates face double jeopardy, as the governments are unable to take action.

It was no accident that the shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords took place only five days after the assassination in Pakistan of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. In both countries, in their own ways, the political scene is dominated by violent rhetoric, threat and occasional violence. Furthermore, both governments are unable to take strong political action against instigators or contain the spread of weaponry. 

The attempt on Giffords life was, in the view of many commentators, due to her Democratic party's alleged 'socialist' policies on a variety of issues -- health care, bank bail-outs, the environment, and immigration.

Immigration, in particular, has been a hot topic in Giffords' Arizona constituency as it is located on the porous border with Mexico. While the US political right is avowedly secular, it is strongly influenced by Christian evangelicals who have become a serious force on the US scene, particularly in southern and central states. 

Legal controversies

Taseer was killed because he called for the redrafting of Pakistan's vague blasphemy laws which have been misused by radical Muslim clerics and conservatives to persecute members of minorities. Controversy over these laws has sharpened while violent attacks against Shias, Ahmadis, and Sufis have increased.   

US commentators argue that the vitriolic partisan atmosphere in the country either directly or indirectly motivated Giffords' attacker.  On the broader level, they say she was a victim of the Tea Party-right wing Republican campaign to 'get' President Barack Obama, whatever the cost.

This was typified by an add put out by backers of Sarah Palin, the 2008 failed Republican vice presidential candidate. This ad featured a US map marked with disks representing 20 vulnerable Democratic congressional seats. The disks, however, were made out to represent  the cross-hairs of a gunsight. 

The text on the map read, "We've diagnosed the problem...Help us prescribe the solution."  The map was effective: many of the 20 seats fell to Republicans and weakened Obama by depriving him of a Democratic majority in the lower house of Congress.

Such ads appeared against a drum-beat of constant incitement by virulently partisan television and radio stations and newspapers.

Rightist commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck provoke in order to boost the number of viewers. 

The general Pakistani political climate is equally toxic. Taseer's death shocked fellow liberals but was celebrated by those Pakistanis who have lost all sense of political balance, personified by the young lawyers who showered the alleged perpetrator with rose petals during his court appearance. 

In both the US and Pakistan, liberals and moderates face double jeopardy. In the US the powerful gun lobby makes it impossible to prevent firearms from getting into the hands of potentially dangerous individuals like Jared Loughner, who allegedly shot Giffords and 20 others, killing six. Ironically, Giffords, who lived in a state where gun ownership is common and laws lax, opposed restrictions on gun possession.

It is unclear how the alleged shooter managed to purchase a semi-automatic handgun last November. Loughner was suspended last September from a community colleague as he was disruptive in class and in the library. Fellow students interviewed in the press said he appeared unstable and they felt threatened by his presence.

He was told he could return only if he had "a mental health clearance indicating, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the college does not present a danger to himself or others." The military refused to induct him in 2008 because he was found to be a drug user. Nevertheless, he passed the background check for purchasing two weapons, a shotgun and a handgun, and had the right to carry and use them in specific circumstances.

But not to shoot a Congresswoman or to murder innocent bystanders. US state authorities do not keep up-to-date lists of mentally ill people for submission to a national data base meant to be consulted by gun merchants before finalising a sale.           


In Pakistan illegal weapons and explosives are widely available due to the flow of arms across the frontier from Afghanistan and from areas where Taliban insurgents are strong. In Taseer's case, however, the assassin was a legally armed body guard who proudly took responsibility for the killing.

It is ironic that the smuggling of weapons into Pakistan began during the rule of General Zia ul-Haq who also launched the campaign to 'Islamisise' the country and the society, thereby empowering radical elements who preach and practice intolerance.

During her recent tour of the Gulf, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton admitted that incitement is a danger to the US as well as other countries and called for governments to act against it. But she said nothing about the prevalence of guns.






'Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it' -- William A Ward's words sounds true since it is very easy to think of gratitude but very difficult to find ways to express it. As the year has gone by, we have lived our life thanks to so many people around us who have helped us in their own small way.

The boy delivering newspaper braving the cold in the early morning to give us a glimpse of what the world is doing, the milkman responsible for activating us with a hot cuppa in the morning, the sweeper lady with her tiny tot on the garbage cart ensuring us of a clean area, the launderer under the hot sun ironing our clothes, the tailor for making our clothes taking in all the brickbats we have to offer, the vegetable vendor trudging along musically with his vegetable healthy offer to feed our appetite...

Sitting under a make-shift tent the cobbler who has saved many of the trouble of hobbling home with a broken heel, the labourers living in roadside tents engaged in the laying of roads to ensure our smooth journey with no back breaks, the traffic policemen standing  apart  under the sun or braving the rain and the chill to safely ferry us to our destinations.

 These are only a few of those whom we take for granted. Though some may shrug this off by saying that they all come with a price and they are paid for it, it is nowhere comparable for what god has offered us. We must consider ourselves lucky that we are in a position to convey our gratitude to those who have silently made our day. There are so many others who have really made our life but these are ones who came to mind while writing this. I sign off with Marcel Proust:  "Let's be grateful for those who give us happiness, they are the charming gardeners who make our soul bloom."







When a police head constable who is supposed to be on duty at at the 'zatra' of Shree Shantadurga Kunkolekarin at Fatorpa is caught over 150km away, near Belgaum, driving his own Maruti Van, in which are two Nepali women, three North Indian men and over Rs25 lakh worth of 'charas'; is 'nexus' quite the appropriate word to describe the connection between certain policemen in Goa and drug dealers? When a Police Sub Inspector who was earlier attached to the elite Anti-Narcotics Cell (ANC) visits the house of the girlfriend of a known drug dealer who is under arrest and tries to sell her some 'charas', could it be said to be a mere 'nexus'?

What when 24kg of 'charas' go missing from the Police ANC 'muddemal' warehouse for seized drugs – allegedly sold back to drug dealers – and the police and Home Department say shamelessly that it was "eaten by white ants"? 'Nexus' does not even begin to illustrate the intimate connection some members of Goa's police force have with illegal narcotics.

When news weekly, 'India Today', in its 8 November 2010 issue, described Goa as "a state firmly in the grip of drugs and organised crime", there was outrage at what was seen to be a cheap attempt to overly sensationalise a problem that is common to cities all over India and the world. But events before and after are making us wonder whether there might have been a kernel of truth in the portrayal of this state as the 'cocaine coast'.
PSI Sunil Gudlar, the former ANC police officer who was caught on camera in a sting operation by arrested Israeli drug dealer 'Dudu' Driham's sister Ayala, pointed a finger squarely at former Superintendent of Police (SP) in charge of the cell, Veenu Bansal, and accused him of taking a large cut in every rupee of bribe money that he extorted illegally. Gudlar profanely called it 'Mahatma Gandhi', referring to the image of the Father of the Nation on Rs500 notes. If nothing, this testifies to the large sums involved. And if Gudlar's statements, made on candid camera, are true, it would mean that the connections between drug dealers and policemen extend all the way to the very highest echelons of the police hierarchy – the elite Indian Police Service (IPS) officers. Can this be explained adequately by the modest term 'nexus'?

Both Home Minister Ravi Naik and Director General of Police (DGP) Bhimsain Bassi need to revise their rather optimistic earlier assessment that there is no organised drug trade in Goa. In fact, if recent events are any indication, there seems to be an organised group inside the police force itself that is actively engaged in the drug trade. That a number of these elements appear to be from the Anti-Narcotics Cell is a further cause for concern.
Chief Minister Digambar Kamat has done well to demand a detailed report in this matter within 24 hours from DGP Bhim Sain Bassi. But will such a report actually portray the factual situation?

It's no 'nexus'. Popular as it is, that term utterly fails to describe the gravity of the situation. Some sinister criminal elements within the police force are involved not only in aiding and abetting drug dealers, but in peddling the stuff themselves. Can they be allowed to go on? Someone in the government and/or in the higher echelons of the police force has to realise now, at least, that something is deeply wrong, and that there is a need for urgent surgery to excise the rotten elements within the force. Otherwise, the rot will spread and overcome even those good and honest officers who take pride in their work and believe in the force and its ideals.






Are Congressmen so scared of Mickky Pacheco? SANDESH PRABHUDESAI tells us why
Is Mickky Pacheco the most powerful politician in Goa? It appears so. See the bandwagon of politicians opposing his re-entry into the cabinet: Churchill Alemao, Joaquim Alemao, Babush Monserrate, Babu Azgaonkar and seven more; five ministers and five MLAs…!

Are they so scared of just one among three MLAs of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)? Was Mickky so powerful when he was in the cabinet?

One can understand  if Churchill is scared of Mickky. This 'casino-fame' Benaulim MLA made the Saxttikar strongman bite the dust in the 2002 Assembly election. In 2007, Churchill simply moved to another constituency. And now he wants to field his daughter-cum-'social' worker Valanka from Benaulim. Little wonder he opposes Mickky becoming a minister again.

Even brother Joaquim opposing Mickky is understandable. But why the other eight? Are they too concerned about Valanka? Are they 'slaves' of the Alemaos?

Their argument is that Mickky is facing a chargesheet in Nadia Torrado's death. A minister facing a chargesheet, they say, should not be in the cabinet, just like Dayanand Narvekar was dropped after he was chargesheeted. Then why was Pandurang Madkaikar dropped? What chargesheet did he face?
And who cries about the chargesheeted Babush Monserrate? He publicly attacked the Panjim town police station with his supporters (let's not even talk about the 'rape' case on his son Rohit).
Churchill says Mickky is facing a murder charge; Babush is not. Well then, did Narvekar face a murder charge? Or is a cricket-ticket scam a much more serious crime than attacking a police station? Has the Congress prepared a list of crimes categorised as 'to-be-pardoned' and 'not-to-be-pardoned', as far as ministerial berths are concerned?

Does this 'Gang of 10' think that Goans are fools? Or that they can fool all the people all the time?
Definitely not.

Politics is never so straight. Politicians always have hidden agendas. In Mickky's case, Churchill claims that Chief Minister Digambar Kamat and even the Congress High Command opposes his re-entry.
He appears to be right, judging from the way Digambar-bab and High Command observer B K Hariprasad have behaved. It's definitely not because of one Mickky. There is much more than what is openly spoken about.
The rumour in political circles is that Revenue Minister Jose Philip D'Souza and Tourism Minister Nilkanth Halarnkar – both NCP legislators – are planning to join the Congress after the present Legislative Assembly is dissolved and fresh polls are announced.

D'Souza and Halarnkar's behaviour make this rumour seem true. Perhaps it is for the first time that a central high command has 'ordered' its members to quit and they have simply refuse to obey. What gave them the guts to defy party supremo Sharad Pawar?

Of course, even if they don't quit, neither Pawar nor his party can legally touch them. They can simply defy the party directive and continue in their ministerial berths. They constitute a two-thirds majority in the three-member NCP Legislature Party. Though the NCP high command has 'replaced' him, D'Souza continues as the legislature party leader. Even if Pawar throws them out of party, they will continue as MLAs of NCP (Jose or Nilkanth) in the assembly, just as Babush Monserrate continued as a UGDP member even after he was expelled from the party. He was not even 'unattached'; no such category exists in law.

But fresh elections are not that far away. If both of them have to contest again, they cannot do it unless the NCP gives them tickets. Why should Pawar give tickets to D'Souza and Halarnkar, who have publicly defied party directives and put him to public shame?

They can do this only if they are 'well protected'. And both of them are under the protection of the Congress.


After their public defiance of the NCP high command, D'Souza and Halarnkar are de-facto behaving like Congressmen, and not 'loyal soldiers' of their own party.

Obviously the NCP – from Goa to Delhi – is fully aware of this 'political conspiracy' by its senior alliance partner. The Congress plan is simple. Keep its 'own' men as NCP ministers, admit them into the Congress as and when the election approaches, and wipe out the NCP from Goa's political map.

In such a situation, the only hope for the NCP is Mickky Pacheco, whether they like him or not. The way Mickky's re-induction into the cabinet is being opposed, it is crystal clear that the Congress will never admit him. Besides, he  is the only one who could organise a massive party convention in his Benaulim constituency, and mobilise an equally large crowd for his birthday bash recently.

For the NCP, it just does not matter whether Mickky is facing a murder charge, a bigamy case, a police case for cheating while gambling at a casino, or even more serious offences. 'Character' is a non-issue, simply because the NCP itself has no character.

The NCP was born out of opposition to making Sonia Gandhi the prime minister of India, because of her Italian roots. Today, Sonia is more powerful than the prime minister. She is the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), of which the NCP is a constituent party. Pawar surrendered before Sonia long ago, and accepted the Italy-born lady as his supremo.

Except this single issue, on which Pawar has already compromised, the NCP never had any distinct ideology of its own. It exists in Maharashtra because of Pawar, survives in Meghalaya because of P A Sangma and was born in Goa because Dr Wilfred de Souza merged his Goa Rajiv Congress into the party.

Why then should such a party then bother about the 'character' of any person when it desperately needs to keep its identity alive? Today, Mickky is the saviour of the NCP. Tomorrow, disgruntled characters from the Congress could join this 'characterless' party. It could be Dayanand Narvekar, Pandurang Madkaikar, etc… All dissatisfied 'Congressmen/women at heart' have three basic options – the NCP, the UGDP or the MGP.

Even the 'party with a difference', the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is not indifferent to them. In fact, Manohar Parrikar embraced and welcomed opportunists of all hues during his stint as Chief Minister. Mickky Pacheco, Jose Philip D'Souza, Dayanand Narvekar, Babu Azgaonkar – even GPCC Chief Subhash Shirodkar – were all 'loyal soliders' of Hindutva at one time.

It is not just the Alemaos who are opposing Mickky. Rather, it's a well-planned election strategy of the Congress to keep Mickky out and Jose-Nilkanth in. And it is the struggling NCP that is trying to push Mickky in, for its own survival. It is a simple opportunistic power game; it has nothing to do with keeping criminals out, maintaining the credibility of the party or our welfare.

(This article first appeared in







The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, appointed to investigate the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, will soon release its findings, which will reportedly place blame for the murder on Hizbullah. In response, Hizbullah has toppled Lebanon's government, headed by Hariri's son Saad, in an attempt to bully it into denouncing the tribunal before it announces its verdict.

So far, Hariri has refused to cave in to Hizbullah, whose fighting forces are known to be stronger than the Lebanese Armed Forces. Doing so would compromise his own, his family's and his country's honor, though it demands supreme courage on his part – and assurances of Western support.

Just before his government collapsed, Hariri was in Washington seeking US President Barack Obama's backing to stand up to Hizbullah. Undoubtedly, Hizbullah and its allies will attempt to place additional pressure on Hariri in the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile, IDF troops in the North are on alert over concerns the political turmoil in Lebanon might spill over into renewed violence.

As The Jerusalem Post's military correspondent Yaakov Katz noted on Thursday, while Hizbullah is ultimately interested in taking over Lebanon, it hopes to do so not via a violent coup, but in a way that does not undermine its legitimacy. Hizbullah is jealous of Hamas's 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election victory, which set the ostensible groundwork for its violent takeover of Gaza the following year. The Shi'ite terrorist organization to our north hopes for a similar political success, but a UN tribunal indictment for the murder of a popular Sunni politician would make it much harder for Hizbullah to straddle the Sunni-Shi'ite divide. It would also convince the less politically savvy Lebanese who did not already know it that Hizbullah was responsible for the Hariri murder – not Israel, as Hizbullah preposterously claims.

Getting the Lebanese government to discredit the tribunal would mitigate much of the political damage that would be caused to Hizbullah by the the public punishment of its operatives.

Under this state of affairs, it is absolutely essential that America, France – where Hariri went to meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy on his hurried route home from Washington – and other Western countries and moderate Arab nations, in particular Saad Hariri's patron Saudi Arabia, continue to provide Lebanon's prime minister with full support.

Cracks are already forming in the consensus calling to prosecute those responsible for Rafik Hariri's assassination.

Walid Jumblatt, a bellwether of internal Lebanese politics as leader of an embattled Druse minority with well-developed survival instincts, backtracked on his original support for prosecuting those found guilty by the tribunal.

"Madness" was how he described that support in a recent interview with New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who was so impressed by Jumblatt and his arguments that he, too, concluded, "Lebanese stability is precious and tenuous: It trumps justice delayed, flawed and foreign."

CAVING IN to Hizbullah might enable transient short-term stability, but a state of lawlessness will ultimately only lead to more violence. Assassins not held accountable for their crimes will be encouraged to perpetrate additional assassinations.

With the United States at the forefront, the international community should make it absolutely clear how it intends to offer Lebanon's government support in facing down Hizbullah, even if that provokes a renewal of sectarian violence among Sunnis, Christians and Shi'ites. But as Elliot Abrams, former US deputy national security adviser, pointed out in a recent blog entry, the present crisis is less a test of the US, France or any other country than of the Lebanese. It is for them to lead the resistance to Hizbullah. Maronite Catholics, Druse, Sunni and, yes, Shi'ites, too, must demonstrate the will to keep their country from complete domination by an Iranian-controlled terror group that spells nothing but doom for Lebanon.

The Lebanese tasted the beginnings of vibrant democracy after mass demonstrations protesting Hariri's assassination – known as the Cedar Revolution – ousted Syrian occupation forces from Lebanon. This short-lived period of freedom ended traumatically in the spring of 2008 when Hizbullah turned its arms against the Lebanese people to forcibly take control.

Which will hold sway over the Lebanese, the memory of freedom or the trauma of civil war?









Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's buoyant mood, the situation in the country can be summed up in one word: bad. In two words: very bad. With the exception of the economy, the country is on the verge of a breakdown in its politics and values. Or as Middle East expert Ehud Yaari put it: The breakthroughs here lead mainly to a dead end.

The recognition by South American countries of a Palestinian state that doesn't exist is liable to spread like an ink spot on absorbent paper. The South American countries were among the first to recognize Israel in 1948, but that recognition came after the United Nations had declared the establishment of the state. "Recognition" of a country that does not exist is liable to create situations we have no reason to wish for. Bibi lacks the leadership creativity to launch a peace process. As a politician focused on himself, he is counting the years until the end of his term. He is fudging the negotiations with the Palestinians and focusing on the Iranian nuclear threat.

The election campaign, for those who remember, focused on a timetable, comparing the rise of Nazism to the day Iran attains nuclear weapons. Since then, Bibi has set a deadline, a kind of ultimatum to the world that if America doesn't act Israel will strike Iran. The Obama administration doesn't like Netanyahu's warnings and considers them a diversion from the concessions required to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

When former U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq based on erroneous information that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he relied greatly on information from Israel. The administration doesn't like that Israel is pushing for a military operation and sees it as an excuse for the lack of progress on the Palestinian question. It's no coincidence that the U.S. vice president urged Bibi to lower his tone.

There's no vacuum when it comes to running a country. The inaction of Prime Minister Golda Meir gave rise to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The first intifada broke out because of the recalcitrance of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The second intifada was due to Ehud Barak's failure with the half-baked program he proposed to Yasser Arafat at Camp David.

And so, Bibi isn't showing an iota of creativity to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, while he and Barak are dropping macho hints that if America doesn't strike Iran, we will. The very thought of Israel attacking Iran should make us shudder. Even if America takes military action, the Israeli home front will be a target for hundreds of missiles. And in any disaster that takes place, Israel will both bear the brunt and be accused of igniting the war. And if we aren't hated and boycotted enough now, I don't want to guess to what abyss our situation will fall.

And now, on this point, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan surprised us by saying that Iran won't have a nuclear bomb at least until 2015. That's not what Bibi's Israel conveyed to America and its people. Bibi was angry at the words of the man who only a few days earlier had showered him with compliments and embraced him warmly. He even scolded him because his words were weakening Israel's efforts to combat the Iranian nuclear program. In a brilliant caricature by Amos Biderman in Haaretz, Bibi was portrayed as a kindergarten child whose bomb was stolen from his hands; as though Dagan stole the war from Bibi. Bibi was angry because Dagan believes that sanctions are preferable to an Israeli attack.

Dagan is a professional rather than a politician. After eight years on the job his diplomatic assessment carries substantial weight. In addition, his successor in the Mossad, the head of the Shin Bet security service, the chief of staff and other senior army officers are not looking forward to a military attack on Iran.

When Bibi says "I'll surprise you yet," some people hope he intends to focus on the option of a diplomatic agreement with Syria. The price is known and it requires Israel to make a major sacrifice. But what we receive in return would be of dramatic value to Israel's welfare and security. Syria is the only country in the neighborhood that is a secular Arab state. It has the ability to soften the hostility of Hezbollah and Hamas; it has an interest in receiving American support and joining the "good Arabs" in the region. Such a treaty would spur the Palestinians to be more flexible.

We are aware of the price, but it should be mentioned that the person who passed the Golan Heights Law in the 14th Knesset 30 years ago was the one who returned all of Sinai in exchange for peace.

In any case, there's not much left of Lake Kinneret to splash your feet in.







The campaign of intimidation being waged by the right against left-wing organizations - which ranges from arbitrarily arresting activists and throwing them in prison, as in the case of Jonathan Pollak, to establishing parliamentary committees of inquiry - has one clear objective: to identify opposition to the government and its policies with rejecting the legitimacy of the state. The right is trying with all its might to inculcate the public consciousness with the idea that the government is the state and the government's interests are identical to the aims of Zionism.

It is a national duty to denounce this crude lie, both in Israel and abroad. It is a national duty to recite and teach that not every Knesset decision is legitimate. In a democracy, restrictions must be imposed on legislation, because the purpose of a liberal democratic regime is to protect human and civil rights and ensure equality.

When the legislature ignores these basic duties, it undermines the very reason for democracy's existence. Since the 17th century, liberal thought has recognized the right to oppose a government that infringes on fundamental rights, and this is a basic tenet of any free regime.

Similarly, it is a duty to resist legislation that would prevent non-Jewish Israeli citizens from living in Jewish communities. Now the old slogan "Yesha ze kan" [the West Bank and Gaza are here] is coming true: The settlements are taking over Israel. After all, for a regime of ethnic and religious separation to be established within the Green Line would be just a natural continuation of the apartheid regime that has been in effect in the territories for more than 40 years. Once that happens, it will be a mockery to continue to speak of Israeli democracy in the present tense.

Therefore, those who collaborate with this creeping Lieberman-ism, whether actively or passively, will bear responsibility for the real delegitimization of Israel worldwide. And we should not be surprised, or complain of anti-Semitism, when the European Parliament proposes drastic changes in Europe's relations with Israel. In these difficult times, it is only the human rights organizations that are saving Israel's honor.

One immediate conclusion is that when a parliamentary committee of inquiry whose only purpose is to intimidate the left is set up, it would be best to ignore its existence and refuse to appear before it. This committee has neither the moral nor the legal authority to force any citizen to attend its sessions.

If the committee wants to keep up an appearance of objectivity, it will have to open probes into all foreign sources of funding for all Israeli political bodies, including the sources that fund the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu election campaigns. An investigation of left-wing bodies only, due to both its discriminatory, violent nature and the cheap demagoguery that will accompany it, does not deserve any kind of attention.

Finally, since there has been a great deal of talk recently about the analogy to McCarthyism, it is worth stressing that the situation here is worse than it was in the United States in the 1950s. On one hand, the Israeli Supreme Court lacks an entrenched constitutional status and contempt for it is only growing, while in the United States, it was the Supreme Court that eventually put a stop to this phenomenon. On the other hand, unlike McCarthy, Avigdor Lieberman is one of the pillars of the government, and McCarthyism has gained control of the political establishment itself.

Just as was true in Europe in the past, Lieberman-ism will most likely gradually destroy the last vestiges of the liberal right. And Israeli society will pay a heavy price for a political elite that has lost its way.








"The left, just as it always has, depicts its rival as the devil and tries to get rid of him. That is what they are doing to me as well, with the aid of the prosecution and people close to it. They believe I am an obstacle that must be removed in order to gain control. I am afraid they will never change."

These are (almost ) exact quotes from a politician who feels he is being hounded and therefore shoots in every direction - a politician who is convinced his fate has been sealed not by the public, but by a closed leftist elite whose aim is to get rid of him, no matter what.

Who is the one being "persecuted"? We are not referring to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman but rather to Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy. If you translate those sentences into Italian and change the word "left" to the Italian premier's favorite word, "Communists," you will get an exact rendition of Berlusconi's attack on the prosecution, which he believes is trying to finish him off. Berlusconi made these crude remarks a few days before his country's constitutional court handed down its verdict on the sweeping immunity granted him by parliament, where he commands a majority.

Berlusconi needs immunity to ensure that he will not be disturbed by a series of criminal and civil cases that are being conducted against him. In his eyes, these are not proper legal processes, but a crusade that is being waged by his enemies, who failed to get rid of him in the political arena and thus are now trying to do so with the assistance of the judiciary.

Without going into the substance of the cases, it is clear that the conflict in Italy has long since exceeded the narrow boundaries of the political arena. The question is not whether Berlusconi will (once again ) win the elections, but whether the legal imbroglio will bring his term of office to an end. There are many left-wingers in Italy who have despaired of waiting for the voters' decision and prefer a decisive ruling by the court.

In the Israel of 2011, unfortunately, things are not much different. The extensive and prolonged investigation into the foreign minister's affairs is awaiting a decision by the attorney general. A mob is waiting outside Yehuda Weinstein's office and biting their nails - a kind of anti-Lieberman coalition stretching from Likud through the Labor Party to the ranks of the left. They are all waiting to let out a sigh of relief if and when the foreign minister is charged with criminal acts.

But a "conviction ex machina" would be a bad solution to the ugly wave of Lieberman-ism sweeping the country - a miserable solution, and in many senses also an anti-democratic one. This "Italian job" must not be left to Weinstein.

It is clear that if the suspicions against Lieberman are sufficiently well grounded, the attorney general will, following a hearing, have to submit an indictment. Then it will be the court's turn to rule on the basis of the evidence and testimony brought before it.

But the desire to solve the "Lieberman problem" via a legal decision is throwing sand in the public's eyes. The place to confront Lieberman's views is in the political arena.

The prime minister and the other ministers from Likud and Labor, as well as Knesset members from Kadima, have until now failed miserably in this respect. Lieberman makes a proposal, and they vote on it. He speaks, and they stutter. The foreign minister attacks, and they keep quiet.

The vain hope that the attorney general will dismiss Lieberman from the cabinet, and that then Lieberman-ism will disappear, is just one more dangerous illusion on the part of those who wish, yet again, to evade responsibility.






The crisis that Hezbollah sparked in Lebanon this week reflects the impossible situation that prevails in our neighbor to the north.

It is a multiethnic polity that for decades attempted to maintain a false but stabilizing balance among Maronite Christians, Sunnis and Shi'ites (and last but not least, Druze ); it is a protectorate of Syria, which never recognized Lebanon's independence; it is torn by civil wars and fighting among family militias; it has repeatedly been forced to request Western or Arab intervention; and it capitulated to a takeover by the PLO, which established a state within a state - "Fatahland" - in south Lebanon.

The Israel Defense Forces' invasion of Lebanon in 1982, thanks to a scandalous decision by the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, spurred the rise of the Shi'ite militias - first Amal, and later Hezbollah. Revolutionary Iran took Hezbollah under its wing, and Jerusalem insisted on elevating a young, talented and energetic leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to head the organization in place of Abbas Musawi, whom Israel assassinated.

Gradually, Nasrallah and his men effectively took control of Beirut.

The Second Lebanon War of 2006 did not change this fact. Incredibly, neither did the developments that followed the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri: the departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the establishment of a movement headed by Hariri's son, Saad, and the latter's rise to the premiership.

Saad Hariri ruled by leave of his father's murderers and of Syria.

Or at least, he did until this week, when Nasrallah's own interests led him to shuffle the deck in advance of a report by the international tribunal investigating Hariri's murder. The report is expected to incriminate either Hezbollah itself or some of its members. Thus Nasrallah's pretention of being Lebanon's "protector" has crumbled.

In these straits, he opted to prove how essential he is to preventing renewed civil war and thereby seek absolution. It is as if he were saying: Never mind about that murder; what is important now is preventing the massacre of thousands of Lebanese.

Nasrallah might well literally deflect the fire from himself toward Israel. Yet this is precisely the time when the wise should fall silent, follow events from the outside and maintain readiness, but keep the weapons' safety catches locked.

That is the challenge for Israel's government, and also, it seems, a final test of the moderating influence of outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi: to exercise restraint and not to be dragged into another entanglement in Lebanon.







The pravda must be told: The university of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is a hothouse for every repulsive crop. He left Russia, but Russia didn't leave him. His immigration to Israel was our decline. Not all Russian immigrants are molded from the same material as Lieberman, of course not. Many of them are even embarrassed by him. But too many Liebermans come from that same breeding ground.

Russia was never a democracy. The great dictators didn't die, they were only replaced or changed colors. A ruler understands the soul of his nation. The nation itself also understands, and places its neck under the yoke. Sometimes it bellows, longing for the good old days of Stalin and his shepherd's staff.

When the evil empire collapsed, it seemed that Russia was emerging from slavery to freedom. But it soon became clear that it had once again been taken hostage by graduates of the KGB. Democracy once again became terra incognita, Siberia once again became a place of exile. Anyone who wants an opposition is welcome to be exiled.

And he will even be grateful for his good fortune. Others like him - intellectuals, journalists, human rights activists who contracted dissidence - are shot like vagrant dogs, and the traces of the government-sponsored assassins cannot be found.

In the absence of Stalin, they make do with Vladimir Putin. All the world's Bolsheviks are united in their admiration for the iron man and his strong arm; Lieberman, too, is among his admirers. They share a common language, and it's not only Russian, it's conceptual: They know how to read lips and thoughts. Even when Lieberman's patriotic wrath is poured out on the gentiles, to Putin, he speaks softly.

We have also learned from WikiLeaks that the Kremlin treats our foreign minister like one of theirs. Hebrew minister, who can really know your life?

He is planted not only by the streams of Russia; the forests and fields of Belarus also call him to come for a breath of air. Here, too, he will feel at home, far from the Levant and Turkey. The crazy and despotic Aleksandr Lukashenko, in his international isolation, is probably happy to meet with a guest after his own heart, to speak to him like a brother. And Lieberman, who has burned all his bridges, is happy to build a bridge to besieged Minsk.

All in all, he is enjoying life, is Lieberman. "Everything is honey," he'll say to those who are interested. You only have to know how to collect it. Here in Russia we understand that when you chop down trees, coins fly into the air, and they move among secret bank accounts.

You also have to know how to enjoy the best of both worlds - both Russian autocracy and Israeli lawlessness. Had he done to Vladimir and Aleksandr what he did to Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, he would have been silenced in the gulag a long time ago. But their Putin is not our Lilliputian.

As in the Duma, in his Knesset faction too, only those who were sorted through his sifter and found to his liking are members. Most of them are clones of the leader, and the rest won a free ticket to the Knesset by agreeing to sell their souls to Lieberman. If Barak is allowed to sit in the government with him, they are allowed to sleep in bed with him. Only the next day, bitten and itchy, will they discover the bedbugs.

Even in Shas, different voices are now being heard, but not in Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel Our Home" ), which is not a typical Israeli home. It is sad to discover that Russian immigrant MKs from other parties also for the most part support laws encouraging racism and incitement, as though they insist on proving that an MK is always a product of a foreign landscape, as though their political education from the old home must undermine the foundations of the new one. If that is their Mother Russia, it's good to be an orphan.

Lieberman and his serfs have a dream that is a nightmare - to turn the Jewish and democratic state into a Jewish and Soviet state: corrupt judges, bribed policemen, frightened prosecutors, submissive journalists, human rights activists in handcuffs, and an opposition for decoration only.

But if we turn into Russia or become similar to Belarus, we will cease to exist.







Since the collapse of communism more than 20 years ago, one of the unabashed goals of Polish diplomacy has been mending fences with the Jewish world. Even discounting the chilling events that took place on Polish soil during the Shoah or the anti-Semitism that permeated Polish society in the years leading up to it, postwar history had done nothing to convince most Jews of anything except that Poles were implacable and obsessive anti-Semites - or, as former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir once said in an infamous moment of ill-advised candor, that "Poles had absorbed anti-Semitism with their mothers' milk."

Jews forgot that the Germans were responsible for the Holocaust and that, its locale notwithstanding, Auschwitz was a German camp (not a Polish one ). They did not understand that the choice of Poland as the venue for the destruction of much of European Jewry had nothing to do with any Polish attitudes or agenda. The fact that a millennium of Polish-Jewish cohabitation was not a story of unremitting hatred and misery, but also included long chapters in which Jewish life flourished - and that there were times in which Poland was seen as a promised land and a crucible of Jewish creativity and scholarship - was forgotten. In the meantime, Poland was flung into the Soviet orbit (even if it was the freest satellite in the constellation ), and conducting unfettered historical research was impossible.

In the last two decades, the ambiance in Poland has greatly changed, as have Jewish attitudes toward Poland. Polish historians, especially those associated with the Academy of Sciences' Polish Center for Holocaust Research, have played a leading role in bringing about that change, fearlessly confronting the most sinister skeletons in Poland's closet and forever altering the way Poles view their own history. Polish participation in the destruction of Jews, they stress, should not be looked upon as an altogether marginal phenomenon.

The truth is that many Poles saw the removal of the Jews as the only beneficial aspect of an otherwise unbearable occupation. In 1938, following a meeting with Hitler, Poland's ambassador to Germany noted that the Fuehrer had spoken of solving the Jewish problem in Central Europe through mass emigration. "I told him," wrote the Polish diplomat, "that if he finds us such a solution we will erect him a beautiful monument in Warsaw." A short time later the Jewish problem was solved, not through mass emigration, but through mass murder.

Even the story of Polish rescuers of Jews, it turns out, was far more complex than had previously been understood. For alongside the righteous souls who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors were those who exploited the life-or-death predicaments of those who depended upon them. The new generation of historians have documented how for some Poles the suffering of Jews constituted an unimaginable El Dorado.

In November, the influential weekly Polityka carried a chilling account of a Polish eyewitness to the robbery, torture and rape of 18 Jews by local people in the village of Gniewczyna in May 1942. After finishing with their victims, the Polish perpetrators turned them over to the Germans, with all-too-predictable consequences. The witness, 12 years old at the time, had remained silent. Shortly before his recent death, he said that he could no longer keep the excruciating secret to himself.

In the last few weeks, another historical debate has convulsed Poland, again triggered by sociologist Jan Gross. In 2001, his book "Neighbors," which contained harrowing revelations about the slaughter of the Jewish community of Jedwabne by local townsfolk, precipitated an unprecedented national soul-searching that had no parallel in post-Communist Europe. Gross's latest work, entitled "Golden Harvest," details the widespread plunder of Jewish property. It portrays, for example, the hyenas in human form who, in search of gold, ravaged the incinerated remains of Jews murdered in Treblinka.

Concurrent with the efforts to correct the historical record, Polish diplomacy has launched groundbreaking official outreach efforts toward Jews in Israel and elsewhere, even becoming the first country in the world to appoint a plenipotentiary for relations with the Jewish Diaspora. This policy has indeed yielded fruit, as younger Jews now approach Poland with an open mind and without prejudice. Today Poland is one of Israel's staunchest friends in the European Union, a fact that is widely known and greatly appreciated, and bilateral cooperation is flourishing in every field of endeavor. Polish and Israeli diplomats have gone to great lengths to establish and reinforce these ties, and at the beginning of October, the Polish Foreign Ministry hosted a spirited international symposium on "Public Diplomacy and Polish-Jewish Relations," where Poland's image in Israel and the Diaspora was discussed and debated.

But at the end of October, when Princeton University hosted a prestigious international conference devoted to "The Holocaust in Poland: New Findings and New Interpretations," a senior Polish diplomat in the United States actually protested against the parley's title, insisting that one could infer from it that Poles (and not Germans ) were the prime perpetrators of the destruction of Polish Jewry.

The diplomat doth protest too much. Diplomats can and should encourage historical research but nothing - and certainly not any diplomatic agenda or diplomatic niceties - should temper the work of those historians who, to their everlasting credit, seek the truth and stop at nothing until they unearth it.

Laurence Weinbaum, the chief editor of the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, was a participant in the Polish Foreign Ministry's "Public Diplomacy and Polish-Jewish Relations" conference in Warsaw.







Imagine a sophisticated device monitoring access to the Ayalon highway. When it identifies an approaching automobile, such as a 2010 Mercedes, the monitor directs it to the fast lane, whereas a 1980 Subaru is diverted onto a dirt road. When the device registers that the Subaru driver is a paying member of a particular political party, it reroutes the car to the fast lane, while blocking entry to a car driven by an unemployed resident of Ofakim.

Sound unrealistic? Think again.

We are accustomed to imagining a public road - even if it's a privately run toll road - as being an egalitarian thoroughfare open to all, without distinction between vehicle type, the driver's identity, or his or her potential as a consumer.

Yet when we speak about the movement of information, not vehicles, neutrality is an issue. Should communications infrastructure be equally accessible to all, or is it private property to be managed based on the whims of its owner, discriminating between types of uses or users?

Freedom of information activists hail Internet neutrality as a founding principle meant to guide use of the medium. Telecom operators, on the other hand, claim ownership over their networks; making veiled threats, they hint that the growth of communications and information markets will slow should they not be allowed to realize the networks' full economic potential.

In practice, hundreds of millions of people around the globe enjoy fast Internet thanks to the huge investments by communications infrastructure companies, which purchased and installed optical fiber lines and built server clusters. Telecom operators believe the best way of financing this investment involves, among other things, offering differing levels of access, content and service to different users.

This is the background to the dispute that has flared in recent years over what is called net neutrality. The controversy initially pivoted around a U.S. Federal Communications Commission decision to take action against the Internet service provider Comcast for blocking and limiting file sharing.

Though the courts blocked the FCC's authority in that case, by the end of 2010 the commission adopted network neutrality as a regulatory standard. The standard stipulates that consumers are entitled to equal access to all legal content on the Web via any digital device they choose (so long as they do not damage the network ), and can enjoy the benefit of full competition between ISPs.

Given the differential treatment afforded to fixed carriers versus mobile ones, however, the new regulations are bound to have limited impact. Mobile carriers already benefit from a more lenient regulatory approach due to their technological limitations. As a result, the regulator has practically carved out an exemption for the fastest growing market, the mobile Internet. There are also those who downplay the very feasibility of a net neutrality standard, given the difficulty in enforcing compliance and the many regulatory questions that the new standards do not resolve.

In Israel, the subject came to the fore in 2009, when Internet activists claimed that certain ISPs were discriminating against and even throttling access to file-sharing sites, and that cell-phone operators were blocking access to telephone services offered by competitors, such as Skype.

Early last month, the Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee approved an amendment to the communications legislation by means of the Economic Arrangements Bill, stipulating that cell-phone companies must be net neutral. However, the amendment states that the law's provisions "will not apply if a subscriber or group of subscribers requests this [specific service] from the license owner, or from the seller of cell-phone equipment, or if the minister has allowed this under special circumstances, including requests made by the security forces."

Therein lies the problem. For, although the amendment makes neutrality a normative standard, it is laden with enough qualifications to allow cellular suppliers to challenge it. The exceptions are broad enough that we can expect telecom operators to request the minister to allow discriminatory practices on grounds of security needs, network performance, traffic optimization or "premium service" arguments.

Even those who consider the amendment a preliminary step toward setting a vital standard understand that it is incomplete. For this we can blame the lawmakers, who, had they drafted the law with more care, would have anticipated many of the legal disputes that are bound to arise over its vague provisions.

The growth of the Internet as a basic foundation of modern society was possible in large part due to the World Wide Web's open, egalitarian architecture. The Internet relayed each information packet without intervening or monitoring the identity of users, the application being utilized or the content. This open architecture is also the foundation of our substantial technological innovation and entrepreneurship, as each application developer knows that the telecom networks will relay the application's information packets without prejudice.

Realism would suggest that we can expect continued pressure on the lawmakers and courts to compromise on the principle of net neutrality, and for the vague wording of legal measures to result in additional exceptions. However, we must hope that economic interests will not be permitted to abolish the very design principle that has been the anchor of the Internet and contemporary innovation.

Dr. Nimrod Kozlovski is an attorney and an Internet and information security entrepreneur. He is an adjunct professor at Tel Aviv University Law School




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



After two years of threats and attacks, North Korea may be pulling back from the brink. Or not. North Korea's leadership is so erratic — it's not even clear who is in charge right now — that it is impossible to tell.

There are a few hopeful signs. On Monday, the North formally invited South Korea to talks on economic ties. On Wednesday, for the first time in seven months, the North used a diplomatic hot line to call the South.

The North's main patron, China, has also been pushing for a resumption of the six-party talks that the big powers and North Korea's neighbors say are intended to end the North's nuclear program. (The North walked out of the last round in 2008.)

North Korea has a long history of making promises, collecting economic rewards and then failing to deliver — or manufacturing crises and demanding more payoffs in return for calming tensions. The United States, South Korea and Japan are understandably reluctant to get fooled again.

But recent events, including the shelling of a South Korean island, have been so alarming that the Obama administration has now decided to nudge the South back to bilateral talks. American officials are also considering their own bilateral dialogue with the North and an eventual return to six-party talks.

These moves are necessary. But there is also a real danger that the North Korean government will misread any opening as weakness and an invitation to act out even more. The only country with any chance of getting through is China, the North's main supplier of food and fuel. Beijing needs to end its cynical diplomacy-as-usual and use all of its influence to ensure that Pyongyang arrives at the table ready to deal.

Since taking office, President Obama has practiced what aides call "strategic patience" when it comes to the North. He promised engagement, tightened sanctions, strengthened regional alliances and waited for the North to return to serious denuclearization talks.

The North has only gotten more belligerent. It expelled nuclear monitors, conducted a second nuclear test and ginned up production of nuclear fuel. In March, it torpedoed a South Korean navy ship, killing 46 sailors; in November, four South Koreans were killed during the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. Seoul has reacted with extraordinary restraint, but the risk of a wider confrontation grows with each incident.

American officials say that Chinese leaders have recently tried to get North Korea to back away from confrontation. But how much pressure China — which fears a collapse of the North above all else — is prepared to bring is anyone's guess.

When President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China meet next week in Washington, this must be one of the top items on their agenda. Mr. Obama will have to forcefully argue the case that an erratic neighbor armed with nuclear weapons is anything but a recipe for the stability Beijing so prizes, or for an American military drawdown in the region.

The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia need to vigilantly enforce sanctions on North Korea and find new ways to increase the pressure. It also makes sense to test the North's intentions, so long as Washington and its allies go in with their eyes open.

Let's be clear. Getting the North to give up its nuclear program is a very long shot. But two years of stalemate have only made things more dangerous.






Eleven years after gross injustice compelled a moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois, the State Legislature has concluded that the only way to guard against execution of the innocent is to outlaw the death penalty. Gov. Pat Quinn, who has sent mixed signals in the past, should quickly sign the legislation into law.

Former Gov. George Ryan declared the moratorium in 2000 in the face of a running scandal of faulty trials that cost innocent inmates their lives. Three years later, Mr. Ryan stunned the nation by commuting 167 death row felons to life terms and calling for a hard look at the business of state-sanctioned death. (Mr. Ryan subsequently went to prison for statehouse corruption, but the flaws of capital punishment remained clear, as dramatically confirmed now by the Legislature.)

Under prodding from outside investigators, the state has had to free 20 inmates from death row since 1987. It has also enacted some commendable reforms. These included mandatory taping of interviews with homicide suspects — a measure that followed tales of torture in notorious Chicago precinct houses.

But other vital reforms to clean up forensic lab abuses and stage-managed witness identifications were rejected. And for all the official study, caution and reforms of the past decade, the Legislature found the system still riddled with risk and doubt.

Fifteen inmates are now on death row under the open-ended moratorium as prosecutors continue to pursue capital punishment. Most recently, two condemned men convicted on the basis of confessions were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Governor Quinn said last fall that he supported the moratorium as well as capital punishment "applied carefully and fairly." Illinois's own experience has shown why that is not possible. Most modern nations, and 15 states in this country, have rightly abandoned the barbarism of state executions. The sanctity of human life and the honor of the state require Governor Quinn to lead Illinois beyond its wrenching history of wrongful death-row convictions.





After the financial meltdown, is it really possible a company argued at the Supreme Court that too much information for investors is as bad as too little?

That's what Matrixx Initiatives did on Monday in a case about whether it should have disclosed complaints regarding Zicam, its homeopathic cold remedy. Twenty-three people claimed that they took Zicam and lost their sense of smell, a condition known as anosmia.

The case arose after ABC's "Good Morning America" aired a piece questioning Zicam's safety. The price of Matrixx's stock fell 24 percent. Shareholders sued in a class action, saying Matrixx should have warned investors about the problems and related lawsuits.

The company claimed that it didn't have to, arguing that the complaints had no scientific basis, that any loss of smell should be blamed on illness and that the number of complaints was not statistically significant.

Justice Stephen Breyer seemed to surprise himself when he dismissed the "statistical" claim: "Oh, no, it can't be. I'm sorry. I don't mean to take a position yet. But, look, Albert Einstein had the theory of relativity without any empirical evidence, O.K.?"

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled in favor of the shareholders, saying the case should go back to the trial court. The Supreme Court should do the same. The appeals court said a jury should answer these legal questions: Was the information at issue "material"? Would a reasonable shareholder "consider it important"?

In a friend of the court filing, the government argued that the court has long held that if an investor would have viewed a new piece of information as "meaningfully" altering "the total mix" of information available, it has been considered material. Instead, Matrixx is proposing an isolated yes-or-no rule: unless a claim about a product is shown to be statistically significant, there is no reason to tell investors about it.

As some professors put it in a brief supporting the shareholders, requiring that high a standard to shield investors from unproven allegations would treat them as "nitwits" unable to make their own judgments about good and bad information. The information in this case was spot on. Matrixx recalled Zicam in 2009, after the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to use it.

On Monday, Justice Elena Kagan posed this hypothetical: 10 users of a new contact lens solution go blind. "There is no way that anybody would tell you that these 10 cases are statistically significant," she said. Would Matrixx's counsel stop using the product? Would a reasonable investor want to know about the 10 cases?

Matrixx's lawyer, predictably, said he wouldn't want the information. A show of hands in the packed courtroom would likely have yielded enough yeses to feel statistically significant.






For a moment, it seemed as if the new year might just deliver us from spam. Last summer, spam volumes started declining around the world, from about 250 billion messages a day in July — almost 40 for each woman, man and child in the world — to about 100 billion a day in November. Then, on Dec. 25, the Rustock botnet, the biggest spam generator, vanished from the Internet. (Two other smaller ones dropped off, too, a few days later.) Volume plummeted to fewer than 30 billion a day.

We are sorry to shatter your hopes. Rustock kicked back into operation on Monday, bombarding the world with 14 billion pieces of spam, mostly about pharmaceuticals, through a vast network of infected computers that generate spam without their owners knowing.

Internet safety experts caution that the rebound will probably continue. In 2008, spam plunged by three-quarters when McColo, a hosting company in California, was shut down. But the hosting was simply moved to other servers and spam levels recovered quickly. This time security experts don't understand quite what was driving the decline. Some suggested the controllers of Rustock might have just gone on vacation.

Governments are struggling against this nuisance. In December, Canada was the last of the wealthy nations in the Group of 8 to pass legislation that would penalize businesses that distributed unsolicited commercial e-mail in Canada. The problem is that products pitched with spam are often as shady as the networks, and everyone involved is unlikely to fear such fines.

Spam is hard to stamp out because it is so cheap to send. In 2008, researchers estimated that it cost $80 for each million messages. The trick is how to make it more expensive. In April 2002, the South Korean Internet portal Daum created an online stamp system to charge bulk e-mailers up to 0.8 cents per message to send e-mail to its subscribers. Inbound bulk e-mail fell by more than half in the first few months of the fee. Service providers responded by boycotting Daum's service until it dropped the bulk e-mail fee a few years later. And spam returned.






President Obama gave a wonderful speech in Tucson on Wednesday night. He didn't try to explain the rampage that occurred there. Instead, he used the occasion as a national Sabbath — as a chance to step out of the torrent of events and reflect. He did it with an uplifting spirit. He not only expressed the country's sense of loss but also celebrated the lives of the victims and the possibility for renewal.

Of course, even a great speech won't usher in a period of civility. Speeches about civility will be taken to heart most by those people whose good character renders them unnecessary. Meanwhile, those who are inclined to intellectual thuggery and partisan one-sidedness will temporarily resolve to do better but then slip back to old habits the next time their pride feels threatened.

Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can't last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.

Every sensible person involved in politics and public life knows that their work is laced with failure. Every column, every speech, every piece of legislation and every executive decision has its own humiliating shortcomings. There are always arguments you should have made better, implications you should have anticipated, other points of view you should have taken on board.

Moreover, even if you are at your best, your efforts will still be laced with failure. The truth is fragmentary and it's impossible to capture all of it. There are competing goods that can never be fully reconciled. The world is more complicated than any human intelligence can comprehend.

But every sensible person in public life also feels redeemed by others. You may write a mediocre column or make a mediocre speech or propose a mediocre piece of legislation, but others argue with you, correct you and introduce elements you never thought of. Each of these efforts may also be flawed, but together, if the system is working well, they move things gradually forward.

Each individual step may be imbalanced, but in succession they make the social organism better.

As a result, every sensible person feels a sense of gratitude for this process. We all get to live lives better than we deserve because our individual shortcomings are transmuted into communal improvement. We find meaning — and can only find meaning — in the role we play in that larger social enterprise.

So this is where civility comes from — from a sense of personal modesty and from the ensuing gratitude for the political process. Civility is the natural state for people who know how limited their own individual powers are and know, too, that they need the conversation. They are useless without the conversation.

The problem is that over the past 40 years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves. The nation's founders had a modest but realistic opinion of themselves and of the voters. They erected all sorts of institutional and social restraints to protect Americans from themselves. They admired George Washington because of the way he kept himself in check.

But over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness. Children are raised amid a chorus of applause. Politics has become less about institutional restraint and more about giving voters whatever they want at that second. Joe DiMaggio didn't ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process.

So, of course, you get narcissists who believe they or members of their party possess direct access to the truth. Of course you get people who prefer monologue to dialogue. Of course you get people who detest politics because it frustrates their ability to get 100 percent of what they want. Of course you get people who gravitate toward the like-minded and loathe their political opponents. They feel no need for balance and correction.

Beneath all the other things that have contributed to polarization and the loss of civility, the most important is this: The roots of modesty have been carved away.

President Obama's speech in Tucson was a good step, but there will have to be a bipartisan project like comprehensive tax reform to get people conversing again. Most of all, there will have to be a return to modesty.

In a famous passage, Reinhold Niebuhr put it best: "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. ... Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness."






On Wednesday, President Obama called on Americans to "expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together." Those were beautiful words; they spoke to our desire for reconciliation.

But the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time. By all means, let's listen to each other more carefully; but what we'll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are. For the great divide in our politics isn't really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it's about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.

And the real challenge we face is not how to resolve our differences — something that won't happen any time soon — but how to keep the expression of those differences within bounds.

What are the differences I'm talking about?

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society's winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It's only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That's what lies behind the modern right's fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

There's no middle ground between these views. One side saw health reform, with its subsidized extension of coverage to the uninsured, as fulfilling a moral imperative: wealthy nations, it believed, have an obligation to provide all their citizens with essential care. The other side saw the same reform as a moral outrage, an assault on the right of Americans to spend their money as they choose.

This deep divide in American political morality — for that's what it amounts to — is a relatively recent development. Commentators who pine for the days of civility and bipartisanship are, whether they realize it or not, pining for the days when the Republican Party accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state, and was even willing to contemplate expanding it. As many analysts have noted, the Obama health reform — whose passage was met with vandalism and death threats against members of Congress — was modeled on Republican plans from the 1990s.

But that was then. Today's G.O.P. sees much of what the modern federal government does as illegitimate; today's Democratic Party does not. When people talk about partisan differences, they often seem to be implying that these differences are petty, matters that could be resolved with a bit of good will. But what we're talking about here is a fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government.

Regular readers know which side of that divide I'm on. In future columns I will no doubt spend a lot of time pointing out the hypocrisy and logical fallacies of the "I earned it and I have the right to keep it" crowd. And I'll also have a lot to say about how far we really are from being a society of equal opportunity, in which success depends solely on one's own efforts.

But the question for now is what we can agree on given this deep national divide.

In a way, politics as a whole now resembles the longstanding politics of abortion — a subject that puts fundamental values at odds, in which each side believes that the other side is morally in the wrong. Almost 38 years have passed since Roe v. Wade, and this dispute is no closer to resolution.

Yet we have, for the most part, managed to agree on certain ground rules in the abortion controversy: it's acceptable to express your opinion and to criticize the other side, but it's not acceptable either to engage in violence or to encourage others to do so.

What we need now is an extension of those ground rules to the wider national debate.

Right now, each side in that debate passionately believes that the other side is wrong. And it's all right for them to say that. What's not acceptable is the kind of violence and eliminationist rhetoric encouraging violence that has become all too common these past two years.

It's not enough to appeal to the better angels of our nature. We need to have leaders of both parties — or Mr. Obama alone if necessary — declare that both violence and any language hinting at the acceptability of violence are out of bounds. We all want reconciliation, but the road to that goal begins with an agreement that our differences will be settled by the rule of law.






THE new Congress is less than two weeks old, but pundits from across the political spectrum are already urging the newly empowered Republicans to take on Medicare and Social Security.

Conservatives argue it's the only way to make good on the party's limited-government rhetoric. Centrists say it's the only plausible way to bring the budget into sustainable balance. Even some liberals are telling the Republicans to demonstrate the courage of their anti-spending convictions.

Reforming these programs is vital to our nation's long-term fiscal health — which is why Republicans should resist this advice and leave the issue alone. Reform is impossible this year or next unless President Obama takes the lead on it. What's more, Republicans have no mandate for reform, and a failed attempt will only set back the cause.

Some Republicans are understandably eager to take on these entitlements. "The third rail is not the third rail anymore," Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, said in December.

Maybe he's right. But Republicans have gotten a painful shock every time they have decided it's finally safe to take on entitlements. Ronald Reagan suffered a defeat in his first year when he tried cutting Social Security's early retirement benefits. Newt Gingrich's 1995 Republican revolution fizzled when President Bill Clinton fought him over Medicare cuts. President George W. Bush's effort to reform Social Security in 2005 ended any political momentum he brought to his second term.

Would-be reformers should draw two lessons from this history. The first is that reform can't be sprung on the electorate. Reagan hadn't campaigned on cutting Social Security in 1980, nor did the Gingrich Republicans promise to reduce the growth of Medicare.

Today is no different: while some Republican candidates in the last election spoke forthrightly about the need to rein in these programs — notably Representative Ryan himself, but also new Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky — most of them didn't.

As a result, if Republicans spend much of the next two years fighting over these programs, voters who depend on them are going to be unpleasantly surprised. Keep in mind that most voters oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, so they are likely to be very nervous about any proposals to restrain their growth, especially if opponents portray such cuts as excessive. Even worse, most members of Congress are not well informed about these programs, so they'll have a hard time soothing public anxieties.

The second lesson is that presidential support for reform is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for success. As John Boehner, the new speaker of the House, said himself on election night, governing from Capitol Hill doesn't work — the president has to set the agenda.

If Mr. Obama delivers a good-faith proposal for Social Security, for example in this month's State of the Union address, then by all means Republicans should offer a serious counterproposal and, depending on their differences, negotiate. If he doesn't, then Republicans should wait on a new president in 2013.

But they should do more than wait: in the event of presidential inaction, reformers should blame Mr. Obama for the lack of progress and work to make entitlements a litmus-test issue in the Republican presidential primaries. The goal should be to nominate someone willing to make a strong case for reducing entitlement growth as part of a larger strategy to restore American prosperity.

True, reform won't generate the near-term budget savings the federal government needs to avoid a fiscal crisis this decade. Even the boldest plans phase their cuts in gradually, and they exempt people who are at or near retirement.

But that doesn't mean that all action on entitlements can be deferred. Medicaid is wrecking state budgets and is set to expand thanks to the Democrats' new health care law. It is also more politically vulnerable than Social Security or Medicare, which offer benefits to everyone who reaches old age. As they try to undo the health care law, Republicans might also consider capping Medicaid's growth and sending the savings back to the states. It would be a mistake, however, for Republicans to take the same approach to Social Security or Medicare.

Instead, they should show their budget-hawk bona fides by making spending cuts elsewhere.

They should begin by freezing or cutting government payrolls, including in the legislative branch — something Republicans have already started doing. Message: the federal government is not just imposing sacrifices but sharing them. Then they should get control of the discretionary, or non-entitlement, portions of the budget, which are small only in comparison with entitlements. Only after winning those fights, and probably electing a new president, should the old-age entitlements be up for reform.

There are times when it is admirable for a politician to support legislation for the public good even if it will cost him his own re-election. Some of the Democrats who voted for the new health care law and then lost in November probably feel that way. But that tradeoff made sense only because they knew they could actually pass the law.

There is no point to Republicans' endangering their seats for legislation, however worthy, unless they have a good shot at getting a presidential signature on it. They will get their answer in the next State of the Union address.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at National Review.






FOR a long time, I relied on my Brooklyn neighbors' generosity — that is, their unsecured wireless networks — every time I connected to the Web.

So, to linksys of Park Slope, in 2005, for allowing me to do my first freelance work from home; to Netgear 1 and Netgear 2 of the same neighborhood, in 2006, for supporting my electronic application to several graduate schools; to DHoffma, from 2007 to 2008, for letting me pay my taxes online and stream new episodes of "Friday Night Lights" each evening for a whole winter; to belkin54g, Cooley and, above all, to the blessed Belkin_G-Plus_MIMO of Ditmas Park, from 2009 to 2010, for the ability to speedily reply to student e-mails, video-chat with my sister, keep abreast of the latest literary hoo-ha, "like" as many of my friends' Facebook posts as I liked and learn all about lentil-sprouting or Prometheus whenever the mood struck: Thank you. And may you rest in peace.

A few months ago, the Belkin_G-Plus_MIMO network changed its name and gained a padlock icon in my computer's list of available connections. Then — crickets. The era of unintentional, unasked-for or simply unacknowledged Internet sharing, it seemed, had come to an end.

Suddenly disconnected, I realized how lucky I'd been all those years, having that tremendous body of information and awesome communication technology at my fingertips, all basically free. It may have been unfair, but I don't believe I was stealing: the owners' leaving their networks password-free was essentially a gift, an ethereal gesture of kindness. Sometimes I'd imagine my anonymous benefactors, those people behind Netgear 1 or belkin54g, thinking, "Well, I have Internet to spare."

And, really, who doesn't? Home wireless networks can usually support five or more computers, yet there are only about 1.4 computers per American household.

For a few blindered weeks, I debated whether or not to finally "buy" the Internet. The whole system, though, seemed wasteful: paying a company to come wire my apartment, then paying a monthly fee so that I could maintain my own private territory within the cloud of 20 or so wireless networks that were already humming around my apartment. It would be all the more wasteful given the likelihood that, just as cellphones made landlines optional, smartphones and tablets will soon replace the need for home networks at all.

Why couldn't I instead shell out a nominal fee — to someone, anyone — to partake of the riches that were all around me in abundance?

Paying for Internet access, after all, isn't like paying for cable TV, where cable providers pay cable networks in turn. My establishing a new network instead of sharing with neighbors does nothing to benefit the Web sites whose content benefits me and whose value to advertisers is based on views and visits.

Nor is it like paying for phone service, where the physical object that makes and receives calls is inseparable from your unique number. My e-mail address is utterly portable: it's not bound to an I.P. address or one computer — and, like the vast majority of the Internet's services and information, it's free.

Which is part of why getting online free felt so natural. During my Internet-less weeks, in desperate moments, I checked e-mail on my Kindle's wireless connection, which is complimentary (to encourage e-book purchases). But that was a painfully slow experience akin to surfing the Web on an Etch a Sketch.

In an ideal world, the Internet would be universally available to anyone able to receive it. Promisingly, the Federal Communications Commission in September announced that it would open up unused analog airwaves for high-speed public wireless use, which could lead to gratis hotspots spreading across cities and through many rural areas.

But an Internet as freely obtainable as broadcast TV hasn't yet arrived. And so I recently found myself watching as a technician strung a wire from a tall pole in the backyard to my third-floor apartment so I could have my own connection (wired, to ease myself into the world of paid Internet). It was a process that took nearly three hours, and meant the addition of another long cable to the fistful already circling the building.

When he finished, I had to ask: "Shouldn't this all be wireless? Wouldn't that be much easier?"

"Too much interference," he said. "Too many networks affect the signal." I thought again about all the people close by with all their overlapping networks.

Perhaps the solution is a simple, old-fashioned gesture. Just knock on a neighbor's door, and ask if she might be able to spare some wireless.

Helen Rubinstein teaches writing at Brooklyn College.










For much of the week, the shootings in Tucson had seemed an odd amalgam — part assassination plot, part random shooting spree, and part political bone of contention. But by midweek, with a healing nudge from President Obama, attention swung back to the place where it belonged, past the ominous implications of political assassination and toward the simple human tragedy.


At the center, of course, is the striking image of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, struck down and fighting for her life. But pause to consider the other victims. The six people who died at Giffords' meet-and-greet event form a portrait of daily political life that stands in contrast to the contentious cable TV version.


Federal judge John Roll, 63, was known as the hardest-working judge in the Ninth Circuit and " Mr. Smiley" at the YMCA pool where he did laps most mornings. He stopped by to thank Giffords for some help with his court's crowded calendar. Dorwan Stoddard, 76, was a retiree who spent spare time fixing up his church. It's not clear why he was there, but his last act was shielding his wife, Mavy, from the gunfire.


Phyllis Schneck, 79, a Republican who admired Giffords, a Democrat, dropped in to get to know her. Dorothy Morris, 76, stood in line with her high school sweetheart and husband of more than 50 years. Gabe Zimmerman, 30, a Gifford aide, was there to work the magic with constituents that led colleagues to dub him "Prince Charming." And, most poignantly, there was Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old with a curiosity about politicswho had been born on one day of unspeakable violence, 9/11, and died on another.


A tomboy one moment, a ladylike member of the YMCA's "Little Dancers" another, Christina appreciated life in ways beyond her years, telling her mother, "We are so blessed. We have the best life." Her dreams were big. She was the only girl on her Little League team and talked of becoming the first woman in the Major Leagues. She was elected to the Mesa Verde Elementary School student council. Knowing her interests, a neighbor, Susan Hileman, invited her to come along Saturday morning to meet Giffords. Hileman and Christina were holding hands when the gunman struck.


Ghastly events — 9/11, the mass shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech — sometimes make the nation forget momentarily the individual tragedies at their core. The dead are tallied up; the total is compared with previous massacres. The public worries and argues about how to protect our nation or our schoolchildren, about gun control, and about treatment for the mentally disturbed.


That's all helpful, Obama reminded the nation on Wednesday, as long as the "reflection and debate ... are worthy of those we have lost." Particularly Christina, who was just becoming aware of democracy and viewed it through the innocent eyes of a child.


Next week and beyond, there'll be time to take up the knotty problems Saturday's violence revealed. Today is for mourning, for remembering John, Dorwan, Phyllis, Dot, Gabe and Christina.


Don't make the 'People's House' another casualty

The initial outpouring of shock and grief over the Arizona shootings was followed in short order by an outpouring of ill-considered ideas from members of Congress looking to shield themselves from the public.


Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., trotted out an old proposal to erect a Plexiglas barrier around the spectator gallery that overlooks the House floor. Never mind that visitors to the Capitol, long before they reach the gallery, are screened at the entrances by metal detectors, X-ray machines and security officers.


Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., went Burton one better, proposing a moveable cocoon, of sorts. He would make it a crime to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of elected or other high-ranking federal officials at public events. Just how that would be enforced is anyone's guess.


Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., wants to protect lawmakers even from threatening words and symbols — a constitutionally questionable expansion of a law that punishes threats against the president sent by mail.


Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., wants lawmakers whisked through airport security checkpoints. Exactly how this would protect them from harm is unclear, but sparing members of Congress the travails experienced by their constituents has an obvious downside.


Rounding out the roster of bad ideas, Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, vow to start packing heat at public events, a plan so counterproductive the Senate's sergeant-at-arms warned that "putting more guns in the mix is not the answer."


In fact, all of these reactions seem a bit frantic, and they probably wouldn't do much good.


Though threats against lawmakers are not uncommon — there were 49 against senators alone last year — physical violence is blessedly rare. Before Saturday, the last such incident was in 1978, when Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif., was murdered by cult members in Guyana.


Commendably, most lawmakers plan to go about their business pretty much as usual. They are the face of the federal government to their constituents. As Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, told NPR on Monday: "No one forces me to take this job. I do it willingly. ... I understand my responsibility is to be out amongst the people."


In this environment, traveling lawmakers should take reasonable security precautions. But everyone loses if " Congress on Your Corner," as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords called the community outreach event at which she was shot, becomes "Congress Inside a Protective Bubble."


Politics aside, the focus turns to mental illness


Evidence from the past week indicates that the Tucson shootings had little if anything to do with political rhetoric and everything to do with mental illness. Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old suspect, behaved so disturbingly in his community college classes that one student sat next to the door so she could make a quick getaway if he turned violent. A professor was so worried that he requested a guard be posted outside the classroom when Loughner attended class. College authorities eventually required him to leave.


This raises an obvious question: How could someone so seriously disturbed not be in treatment?


About half of the states permit involuntary, court-ordered treatment only for people shown to be a danger to themselves or others, a strict test that someone such as Loughner might not have met because he had apparently never made an overt threat.


But in the rest of the states, including Arizona, standards are broad enough that someone clearly in need of help can be required by a court to get outpatient or inpatient treatment. The key is for someone — a parent, teacher, classmate or friend — to take the first step by petitioning mental health authorities or a court to order an evaluation, says Rosanna Esposito, deputy executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a non-profit group that tries to eliminate barriers to treatment of severe mental illness.


There are, of course, many such barriers in these extraordinarily difficult situations, very often beginning with the person himself. In as many as half of all cases of severe mental illness, people don't think they're sick. They won't voluntarily seek treatment and may resist it if it's offered. Parents might shy away from reporting their children. Other adults, even health professionals, might not be aware of the tools the law gives them. And the bar against involuntary commitment is appropriately high.


Another serious barrier to effective treatment can be the lack of resources. States largely emptied their grossly inhumane mental hospitals after scandals in the 1960s and '70s, but they failed to provide enough alternative facilities to house severely ill people or money to treat them.


The vast majority of severely ill people aren't violent and, if anything, are much more likely to harm themselves than anyone else. But in a small fraction of cases, such as the student who shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, someone with clear signs of illness can turn terrifyingly violent.


After Virginia Tech and Tucson, the challenge is to find better ways to identify such people and keep them away from instruments of mass murder. In more cases than people realize, the mechanisms are there to get the mentally ill into treatment. It just takes one or more responsible adults to act.








Of all the tragedies that befell Tucson last Saturday, the one that seemed to tear most deeply at the heart of our nation was the murder of Christina-Taylor Green. Just 9 years old, Christina was on the student council of her elementary school and had hoped to meet her congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, at the outdoor gathering before a madman ended it all by putting a bullet in her chest. She was buried today.


Others died in the massacre, too, of course; but in countless articles, blogs and tributes, Americans keep returning to the awfulness of Christina's fate — and not just because she had been born on Sept. 11, 2001, or was once designated a national "Face of Hope." More wrenchingly, Christina's murder underscored our failure as a nation to deliver that which has been our country's greatest legacy since its founding: the promise to bestow a better world on our children than the one that had been left for us.


An agenda for children


If there was one splinter of hope that arose from this child's appalling death, it was the unified sense of mourning that followed it — a bipartisan condemnation of the act itself, and a declaration by those of all political stripes that America is, and should be, a place that shields its children from peril.


Which is why, I suppose, I dread the upcoming political season — because despite our leaders' timeworn call to write legislation and enact policy not just for ourselves but also "for our children," much of the upcoming congressional agenda falls short of that promise:


•In their call to dismantle President Obama's health care law, Republican Party members threaten to jeopardize the well-being of hundreds of thousands of children whom the plan was designed to protect, including as many as 72,000 who are uninsured; 90,000 who would no longer have benefits denied to them because of pre-existing conditions; and nearly 2 million uninsured young adults, up to age 26, whom the new law would permit to be covered under their parents' insurance plans. And yet, even with these landmark protections, newly elected Speaker of the House John Boehner calls the plan "a monstrosity." Somehow, the health concerns of children got lost in the process.


•Despite both parties' attempts to repair the country's education system — from the Obama administration's innovative Race to the Top initiative to George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind program — many of the Tea Party faithful resist any kind of government participation in the education of our youth. During the 2010 campaign, no fewer than 10 Tea Party candidates proposed abolishing the Department of Education altogether, while one of those candidates, Rand Paul — now the freshman senator from Kentucky — not only rolls his eyes at the department but also has cozied up to the Christian Home Educators of Kentucky. Its mission: "Protect children from mental, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by secular humanists in a socialist society or governmental system." Where does one even begin with that?


•When the contentious immigration debate inevitably re-erupts in Congress, children are among those who have the most to lose. Having already derailed the proposed "Dream Act" in December — which would have provided a path to citizenship to children illegally brought into this country by requiring them to attend college or serve in the military — Republican leaders have only just begun their assault. Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip Jon Kyl have called for hearings to consider revising the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to all people born on American soil. The not-so-secret secret mission of this effort is rid the nation of illegal immigrant families. So much for the America Dream.


Just politics?


A friend of mine often tells me I shouldn't take these kinds of headlines so personally — it's all just politics, he says. And yet my mind keeps returning to Christina, and all the children like her in America. My own 11-year-old daughter was recently appointed to the student council of her middle school. In her application essay, she wrote, "I feel like I should be in student council because I am a responsible person, and I think it would be great to take part in such an amazing community."


I never had the pleasure of meeting Christina-Taylor Green, but I am almost certain she had similar things to say about the promise and security she felt among her own fellow students. So the notion that such a bright light — such a shining example of what future generations of our nation might look like — should be snuffed indiscriminately is as unfathomable to me as the thought of losing my own little girl.


If there's one thing we need to ask of our leaders now, it is that they not lose that sickening sense of shock they first felt when the news came out of Tucson that a child had been among those lost in the mayhem; nor that they abandon the ensuing sense of moral obligation that we can and must do better by our children.


"I want to live up to her expectations," President Obama said of Christina at a memorial service in Tucson Wednesday night. "I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it."


Let us hope that the cruel and untimely death of a small girl in Arizona might serve as a constant reminder of all the children we can save in her memory. That would be the most fitting tribute of all.


Bruce Kluger is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.








Haiti feels like it's eerily suspended between hope and peril. I've recently returned from a journey there: I volunteered at a medical clinic in Cité Soleil and visited the Lyce Daniel Fignol, named after my grandfather, a public school that lost 700 students and its entire campus to the earthquake one year ago. The school struggles to educate 5,000 kids with no science labs, no library, no Internet access and no electricity.


Even as Haitians dispense their trademark charm, the specter of calamity lingers around the corner. Thousands of non-profit institutions now buzz about the small country. Haitians like to joke that the country has more aid groups than citizens. The uncertain state of life rankles many Haitians, too. Survivors have been shunted to "permanent temporary" housing in squalid tent camps, some quip. Meanwhile, others mock the United Nations presence as a "permanent temporary" force.


Without dismissing the value of international assistance, we must face the pitfalls of this aid. The volume and disorganization of so many international groups undercuts Haitians' long-term ability to solve their own problems. A few Haitian doctors explained to me that the domination of international non-profits during the recent cholera crisis complicated their efforts to rebuild Haiti's medical grid and to make its rapid-response health care more self-reliant.


Moving ahead, only two things will save Haiti: a stable, effective democracy and the Haitians themselves.


Rather than drowning so much hope in cults of personality — Aristide! Wyclef! — Haitians should focus on cultivating widespread leadership skills, on teaching in-demand vocations, on building businesses, and on rearing sturdy democratic institutions. If Haiti doesn't elect a credible president this year, and achieve political stability, local and global morale will evaporate. Who wants to invest in a burning pit?


Next, Haitians are concerned that non-profits are creating a culture of dependence. Forgive the well-worn proverb: The best global assistance teaches Haitians to fish rather than donating the fish. Enduring progress must spring from Haitians. Haiti faces unprecedented challenges. One million homeless. A still-lethal cholera epidemic. A crucial election in political stalemate. Can Haiti turn the page on its worst year ever? Scattered lessons and triumphs, which could lead Haiti to a fount of self-sufficiency, spark my optimism despite reason for despair.


Rich Benjamin is senior fellow at Demos, a non-partisan think tank devoted to domestic and global issues. He is writing a book about Haiti.








WASHINGTON — One thing that Sarah Palin and those who hate her would be advised to understand: It's not all about Palin.


As the shock, sadness and grief of the mass shooting in Tucson were still washing over the country, political talk took an ugly turn, first to the blame that some on the left were trying to pin primarily on Palin; then to her narcissistic, inflammatory "blood libel" response that, consciously intended or not, conjured old traces of anti-Semitism. For centuries, the phrase has been used to justify persecution and violence against Jews.


Palin's invocation of the term escalated a rhetorical conflagration that, sadly, put her in the middle of a tragedy that had taken actual lives, and left real wounds. For a woman who is considering running for president, the whole episode, coming when it did, also raised new questions about her temperament and presidential aptitude.


At the precise moments when the country should have been focusing on the real victims of this tragedy, Palin released an eight-minute video in which she tried to claim victimhood against those who tried to blame her for, among other things, publishing a political flyer that included targets on districts that Republicans wanted to win, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was critically injured in the shooting last Saturday.


Palin might have had a legitimate defense — her detractors tend to blame her for everything — but it was a point that should have waited until after the real victims, including 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, were properly memorialized. Even Mama Grizzlies know when to back off.


Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson told CNN that Palin's video was "seven-and-a-half minutes of Ronald Reagan and 30 seconds of Spiro Agnew," the latter a reference to Richard Nixon's corrupt vice president who complained about "nattering nabobs of negativism."


President Obama tried to shame the finger-pointers on all sides of the political aisle. Speaking Wednesday night in Tucson, the president invoked the hope and innocence of Christina to cajole the adults to act like adults.


"What we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another," Obama said. "As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility."


Describing Christina's wide-eyed optimism, Obama declared: "I want to live up to her expectations." It was the best passage of a 33-minute speech, a powerful admonishment to the chattering political class.


But it may fall on deaf ears. Humility is not a word associated with either Palin or her loudest detractors, and that point has been made loud and clear in the wake of Tucson.


Palin's haters are so obsessed with getting at her that right out of the gate they were willing to shout over the grief and to obscure more mutual concerns, such as how to keep guns out of the hands of disturbed people. Even the politics of blame — especially the politics of blame — should have a decent interval.


As a USA TODAY-Gallup poll showed, a majority of Americans rejected the charge that conservative political rhetoric helped cause Jared Loughner to allegedly kill six and wound more than a dozen others, including Giffords.


Americans get it that mass shootings happen too often in this country, that political rhetoric is too sharp, but that no single individual led Loughner to this horrific act except the shooter himself. Obama re-affirmed that in his speech. Americans understand that because the shooter was not in control of his thoughts in a normal human way, it only adds to the confusion over the why of what he did. People who don't automatically see tragedy as opportunity know this.


Exploiting this moment for partisan political attacks on Palin not only cheapened the grieving, it was tone deaf to public sentiment. It backfired on her left-wing critics. And it looks like Palin saw it as a prime political opening.


She made it far worse by jumping in when she did.


By going public with her charged "blood libel" defense on the very day that the people of Tucson, and many in the nation, were focusing on memorial services for the victims, Palin came across as so thin-skinned, so obsessed with her critics, and so self-involved, that it turned not into the defense she might have intended, but an unsettling glimpse on how she would handle political attacks and crises in the White House. Imagine if Barack Obama were as obsessed with answering the "birthers" who continue to froth on, despite contrary evidence, that he wasn't born in this country.


Pundits and ideologues are one thing. They live to interject. But people who think they can and should be

president can prove it best by not taking the bait of their most rabid accusers, certainly not when it would intercede on more consequential things for the country. For a little while longer, Palin could have conceded the field to the real victims. Instead, she played victim again, further demonstrating why she is the most polarizing figure in American politics.


(Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett. Contact him at, follow him at or join in the conversation at







Angeles Times: "If only we could go back to Monday. Discussions about Saturday's shootings in Tucson, which killed six and wounded 13, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, were so much simpler then: inflamed, righteous and deliciously partisan in a comfort-food kind of way. ... There may never be a satisfactory explanation for all the ways things went wrong in Tucson last weekend. And in a culture that craves around-the-clock dissection of problems, not to mention immediate resolution, not having answers can be terribly frightening. And what do we do when we're hungry? We self-soothe — in this case with the empty calories of all that partisan comfort food. Maybe a weekend fast is in order. Or a hunger strike."


Nicholas Kristof, columnist, in The New York Times: "Jared Loughner was considered too mentally unstable to attend community college. He was rejected by the Army. Yet buy a Glock handgun and a 33-round magazine? No problem. To protect the public, we regulate cars ... medicines and mutual funds. ... As a public health matter, shouldn't we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry? ... Every day, about 80 people die from guns, and several times as many are injured. ... Congress on Wednesday echoed with speeches honoring those shot in Tucson. That's great — but hollow. The best memorial would be to regulate firearms every bit as seriously as we regulate automobiles or toys."


Holman Jenkins, columnist, in The Wall Street Journal: "A cry goes up at such times for stricter gun laws. A gun law that met the test of political passability and also kept a gun out of the hands of a Loughner would be welcome. Then again, a more astute reaction by Pima County might have ensured Loughner was dogged by a record that would have prevented him from buying a gun under existing law. ... Incarceration is not the only solution in such circumstances. Monitoring, mandatory attendance at a treatment center, a record that can be confidentially shared with employers and schools — means exist short of locking up troubled people based on their personalities. These steps might go a long way toward protecting us from the Jared Loughners of the world."


The Dallas Morning News, in an editorial: "President Obama was superb in his comfort of Americans on Wednesday night during a time of mayhem. He did so by solemnly recalling the particularity of each individual slain or wounded Saturday in Tucson while eloquently calling on every American to embrace a larger national purpose. ... By putting a story behind each name, Obama helped the rest of us realize that these victims were more than names in the paper, more than public figures. ... He also pointed a way forward, reminding us that hope doesn't die when we are touched by evil. ... Let us then renew our willingness to debate with dignity, understanding that those who differ from us are our fellow Americans, not our enemies."


The Kansas City Star, in an editorial: "We are an opinionated, clamorous nation, and there is no way to bottle up incendiary rhetoric. But hatred of the federal government, false accusations, rumors and aspersions about people in power shouldn't be promoted by the nation's leaders or their campaigns. ... Leaders of both parties have pledged a more civil debate and, at least on some issues, a unified instead of partisan response. That's the best thing the nation's leaders can do to honor a wounded colleague. But it shouldn't have taken a calamity to bring about a cooling-off period."










President Barack Obama made an appropriately somber speech when he visited the University of Arizona at Tucson on Wednesday, addressing the tragic events that transpired when an obviously deranged gunman last Saturday reportedly killed six people and wounded many others.


The president said: "To the families of those we've lost; to all who called them friends; to the students of this university; the public servants gathered tonight; and the people of Tucson and Arizona: I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneel to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow."


Obama acknowledged, "There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts."


He gave faces to the horror as he recalled by name some of the victims: Judge John Roll, a judge of 40 years; George and Dorothy Morris, "high school sweethearts" who had enjoyed a "50-year honeymoon"; Phyllis Schneck, who had retired from New Jersey to Tucson "to beat the snow"; Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard, who had returned to Tucson after "about 70 years" to "be boyfriend and girlfriend again"; Gabe Zimmerman, who as a congresswoman's aide "made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own"; and Christina Taylor Green, 9, "a student, a dancer, a gymnast and a swimmer."


Obama said, "We add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through."


The president also paid tribute to Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in the congresswoman's office, "who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive."


Obama also said, "We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. We are grateful for a petite 61-year-old Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer's ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives."


And he expressed appreciation for the doctors, nurses and emergency medics "who worked wonders to heal those who'd been hurt."


The president recalled, "Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding." But, he urged, "let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together."


Thus the president sought to uplift all of us who despair in the wake of a great human tragedy.







With Tennessee finances — and those throughout our country — adversely affected by the economic crisis, Gov.-elect Bill Haslam certainly gave some comfort to Tennessee's state government employees when he pledged his intent not to lay off any state employee during his first year as governor.


That goal will be hard to accomplish. But, said Haslam, "What we're first going to do is, there are a lot of unfilled positions that we probably won't be filling."


Many people aspire to high office, but great responsibilities — some unpleasant — go with some positions. Many people like spending. Few like taxing. Making ends meet, especially in difficult financial times, is not exactly the most glamorous part of holding high public (or private) office.


Our new governor will face tough challenges. He should be commended for addressing them positively, constructively, realistically and with humanity.







Do you know that Congress establishes a federal "debt limit"?


Currently, the limit is $14.29 trillion. We are close to the limit now, with debt at about $14 trillion.


That's $14,000,000,000,000!


We, the taxpayers, have to pay taxes to cover interest on the debt. And debt is going higher. We'll reach the limit, set last February, probably by the end of March, but certainly no later than May 16, government officials say.


So what will we do? Unfortunately, we won't significantly cut spending and borrowing. Instead, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has told Congress the Obama administration wants the debt limit raised!


What would happen if we reached the "debt limit" and didn't raise it?


The government would default on some of its debts. People, companies and many countries that we owe throughout the world would be in shock. There would be serious economic consequences.


We should cut spending to avoid economic catastrophe. But oh no! Congress soon will just vote a higher non-limiting "debt limit."


Wouldn't you think the president of the United States, 100 U.S. senators, 535 representatives — and the American people — wouldn't play games like that with such an important matter?







We all know that automobile and other highway dangers exist even in daytime and on dry roads traveled by law-abiding motorists. But dangers increase when it's dark or rainy, or when inattention or excess speed is involved — and especially when it's snowy or icy.


In recent troublesome weather, there have been numerous local accidents, despite reduced traffic. But we are saddened by the death of Donald Sells of Pelham, Tenn., as a result of an ice patch that caused his car to slide off Interstate 24 in nearby Dade County, Ga.


We still have some icy traffic hazards in our area, and more may occur before spring breaks through again. And remember, there can be traffic accidents even in the best of road and weather conditions.

To save lives, let's all be careful on our streets and highways, whatever the conditions. Let's stay alive!







Perhaps you remember the name Michael Newdow. We wish we could forget him, with peace, but he keeps thrusting himself into our national consciousness. He's "at it again."


Newdow is the fellow who has gone to court insistently to try to get the United States Supreme Court to remove the national motto "In God We Trust" from our money and to prevent "So help me God" from being used in the presidential oath. He also wants to abolish from public schools the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.


Our Constitution properly does not "establish a religion" in our nation. But it does not ban expressions of faith and religion.


Newdow, an avowed atheist, is seeking to overturn a March 2010 decision by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the use of "In God We Trust."


Neither Newdow nor anyone else should ever be required to make any involuntary religious expression — nor should any of us be banned from voluntarily expressing himself or herself positively on religious matters.

"Freedom of religion" means the right "to" and the right "not to" — as each of us prefers. There should be no hindrance or compulsion either way.








The proposal by Europe's chief Turkish-focused think tank seeking legislation that would enfranchise the 2.4 million, voting-age Turks living within the European Union to cast ballots from abroad in Turkey's elections is a proposal with merit. We agree with Faruk Şen, chairman of the Turkish-German Education and Scientific Research Foundation, or TAVAK, that this is a subject deserving of consideration.

That said, the matter is complex, tricky and lacking in any international standard. For example, Şen makes the claim that: "Turkey is the only country in the world that is not able to enable its citizens to vote in their home country." This is patently untrue. Denmark's Constitution, for example, specifically prohibits Danes abroad from voting, unless they work for the Danish government or Danish firms. There are lots of other restrictions. Canadians cannot vote from abroad if they have been resident outside of Canada for more than five years. Similar restrictions apply to absentee voters from Germany and the United Kingdom. New Zealand requires nationals voting abroad to come home at least once every three years. 

The Phillipines, with more than 8 million citizens living abroad, is arguably the most generous. But while all are theoretically enfranchised, practical impediments include voting stations limited to embassies and consular facilities. A further patchwork of rules govern local elections. Most countries do not allow their expatriate citizens to vote for mayor in the town they once lived in. But some do, including Finland and the United States.

And while some countries have mechanisms to allow representation from distant territories, such as the New Caledonian deputy in the French National Assembly or the (non-voting) delegate of American Samoa in the U.S. Congress, virtually no country has a block of seats set aside for its diaspora. And such an arrangement for expatriate Turks appears to be among the goals of Şen.

While it is hard to imagine how it might apply to Turkey's case, there are examples of international enfranchisement being abused. Hungary's granting of voting rights to ethnic Hungarians in Romania, is a classic case of fostering irredentism.

And practical matters of preventing voter fraud, if allowed by mail for example, are no small matter. 

Opponents of absentee voting also have some reasonable arguments. Voters outside jurisdictions where their votes will decide governance do not have to bear the consequences of those votes and such voters may lack information enabling an informed choice. 

All that said, we agree with Şen that enfranchisement is a right of citizenship. We believe Turks who have opted to retain that citizenship while living abroad can contribute greatly if allowed to fully participate in our political life. We would support such a proposal, provided it addresses our basic set of concerns.







It is not immediately clear what purpose was served by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's remarks in southern Cyprus earlier this week, where she accused the Turkish side of not responding "to the many positive steps" by the Greek side. But these remarks have confirmed for Turks a notion that is well embedded in their collective psyche: Namely that Europe will (or can) never be objective on Cyprus.

Merkel's remarks will therefore not only add grist to the mill of Turks who are against the EU, but also make it more difficult than it already is for Turkish politicians to suggest anything that may give the impression that they are bowing to EU pressures over Cyprus.

Her remarks have also driving a fresh wedge into already sensitive Turkish-German ties, of course, and it will be interesting to see the diplomatic maneuvering in the coming days and weeks as the two capitals try to overcome this latest spat.

In the meantime Prime Minister Erdoğan, who is never one to mince his words, advised Merkel to refer back to the records because "it is clear that she does not know the history of the Cyprus issue."

Foreign Minister Davutoğlu was more diplomatic in expressing his disappointment. "I hope that in the coming period she also listens to the Turkish side and adopts a fair and objective approach" he said, adding that Germany could play an important role in solving the Cyprus problem, but "this role cannot be played by listening to one side alone."

Not prepared to swallow Erdoğan's remarks, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert was quick to retort that "Chancellor Merkel needed no lesson on Cyprus from anybody." It is hard not to agree with him on this. It would be insulting to suggest that the chancellor of the most important European country was not only ignorant in this case, but also had advisors who did not inform her of the facts pertaining to the Cyprus issue.

We assume, therefore, that Ms. Merkel uttered her remarks intentionally, despite amply recorded facts concerning this issue, especially relating to the 2003-2004 period when the sides came the closest they ever did to solving the Cyprus problem.

She must know fully what happened during and after the negotiations which resulted in the Annan Plan, given the key involvement in that process by the EU's then-Enlargement Commissioner Guenther Verheugen, a well-known German politician. While these facts are known to Ms. Merkel it may be worth revisiting them for the sake of others.

Verheugen had at the time put all the pressure on the Turkish side, assuming that it would be the one rejecting the Annan Plan, which was keenly supported by the U.N., the EU, the Council of Europe and every other relevant international organization. He also assumed – on the basis of signals received – that the Greek side would accept the plan in referenda planned for April 2004.

He was deeply shocked and disappointed, however, when the opposite of what he expected happened. The Turkish side overwhelmingly supported the plan, while the Greek side overwhelmingly rejected it.

"I personally feel that I have been cheated by the government of the Republic of Cyprus," Verheugen was quoted by Reuters as telling members of the European Parliament during a briefing immediately after the separate referenda held on both sides of the island.

"For months on end I have done everything I could in good faith to make it possible for the Greek Cypriot side to accept this plan on the understanding that this is what they intended to do. Now things look very different," he added.

His full remarks are still in the European Parliament's archives records. Much more important for the Turkish side, however, were his remarks months later when he castigated the EU for not fulfilling its promises to the Turkish Cypriots as a reward for having voted the right way on the Annan Plan.

The following excerpt was taken from the Cyprus Mail, the Greek Cypriot English-language paper, on Oct. 27, 2004, and clearly reflects Verheugen's frustration:

"Speaking before the European Parliament yesterday, Verheugen stressed his strong disappointment with the failure of the EU to meet its pledge to the Turkish Cypriots.

'I don't wish to hide my deep disappointment that it has not been possible to keep the promise that this European Parliament, Council and Commission and the entire international community made to the Turkish Cypriots after the April 24 referenda,' he said. 'And this pledge was that the Turkish Cypriots should not suffer because the Greek side of Cyprus rejected the Annan Plan. We promised to take them out of their economic isolation,' added Verheugen."

It is unthinkable that Ms. Merkel should not be aware of these remarks, so it is a matter of speculative guessing as to why she unleashed her premeditated salvo at Turkey. It could be that she is trying to help the Greek Cypriots overcome the stigma of intransigence based on the concrete results of the 2004 referenda.

It could also be that she is trying to strike while the opportunity exists to dampen further what little enthusiasm is left for EU membership among Turks, given her personal opposition to this membership. Furthermore, it could be that despite knowing all the facts, she is simply prejudiced against Turkey and is therefore not prepared to allow bothersome facts spoil a pet prejudice.

But as we said this is just guess-work on our part. Meanwhile Merkel was also quoted as saying, during her working visit to Cyprus, that "Germany's experiences of reunification could be helpful" in terms of the efforts to reunify Cyprus.

Apart from anything else we are not talking about one nation on Cyprus, as was the case in Germany, but about two nations with their separate languages, religions and customs. Two nations, that is, which clearly do not want to live together.

Putting that point aside, though, if Merkel believes that her approach will somehow push the Cyprus problem towards a solution with outside pressure from Germany on the Turkish side, she is to be proven mistaken.

Her lack of objectivity on this score has ensured, if anything, that Germany is the last country the Turkish side would want to see involved in the Cyprus talks. Representing the most important country in the EU, as she does, Merkel's remarks also made it clear to Turks that the more the EU is kept out of the Cyprus issue the better it is for them.

The simple fact is that the prospect of EU membership is no longer a "carrot" for Ankara, and Germany is one of the countries which are responsible for this with its opposition to Turkish membership. Thus Merkel's other argument, namely that Turkey can not be an EU member if the Cyprus issue is not solved, is like water off a duck's back for Turks at this stage.

If the EU is at the same time meant to be some kind of a "stick" to push Turkey into a corner on Cyprus, even the deaf sultan knows by now that this will not work, to quote a Turkish saying. To the contrary it will make Ankara more determined than ever concerning its stance on Cyprus, especially in an election year as this is.

Given this overall picture we return to our initial assertion: It is not clear what purpose was served by Chancellor Merkel's remarks in Cyprus, especially if Germany really wants this problem to be solved.







You may soon walk into a bar-restaurant and see the bar display plenty of bottles – just like in a bar-restaurant – but these bottles could be boasting soft drinks, orange juice and milk. Ask for a shot of rakı, and the enterprise will be happy to serve you one, although your bartender will have to grab a bottle from a closet so that "the Turkish youth won't be encouraged to consume alcohol as these sinful bottles won't be seen around." Because the rules of the game are changing.

Under new directives of the tobacco and alcohol watchdog, or TAPDK, published in the Official Gazette last Friday, catering companies won't be able to cater alcoholic drinks to their guests – hosts are obliged to buy alcoholic drinks themselves since caterers are no longer licensed to supply them. Diplomats are now obliged to make alcohol-free contracts with catering firms if they choose to offer wine to their guests at dinner parties.

Having a picnic by the lake? Avoid having a shot of rakı with your fish. A wedding party by the coast of your choice? Go for sherbet instead of wine, or you'll have to explain to stubborn authorities why you want to drink and face a huge list of bureaucratic requirements for permission. No, alcohol is not banned. But, sorry, you must first produce papers of endorsement for your party from the Bolivian government. That's it!

And don't send your friends/clients a bottle of wine for the New Year – it is an offence under the new directive (I suspect that the TAPDK may have added this one to its new rules particularly after I mentioned in a recent article that the State of Israel pays me in dessert wine for my articles.)

The new rules… Spirits producers or restaurants won't be able to advertise in any way to encourage alcohol consumption, not through promotion campaigns or even by inviting consumers to have rakı with fish or pasta with wine. With the ads people will have to be extra creative and produce slogans like: "You know what goes best with your fish… And it's certainly not milk!" (This piece can go best with an illustration depicting a vomiting diner.) Or, why should a brewer not feature the slogan: "Go for an espresso while sunbathing in 45-degree weather. We know you're not mad!"

Retailers and restaurants can no longer use the visible trademarks of alcohol producers – not even on the tent under which you may wish to enjoy a pint of beer. Graduation balls must now be absolutely sober. And rock festivals too, since the new directive says producers should stay away from events that "have the potential or probability of targeting the youth [the age group between 18 and 24]." The next directive may define the "youth" as the age group between 18 and 55.

Similarly, a 10-square-meter corner store will have to allocate a special shelf for spirits and won't be able to put a bottle on display. A 20 centiliter bottle of rakı won't be available at shops "in order not to encourage the youth to buy one." Great logic! The next step could be to force producers to supply spirits in bottles no smaller than 20 centiliters.

Children who pop into a shop to buy a bar of chocolate won't be tempted to buy also a bottle of wine because "the two products can't be displayed next to each other." That's especially good, as we bad Muslims always went into shops in our childhood to buy gum and left with bottles of wine in our hands. It's a relief to know that the new generations will be better Muslims.

I have written too often that the Sunni Islamist thinking has its traditional choice of symbols to wave and fight: the turban to wave, and pork and alcohol to fight – and not the moral teachings of Islam. I have also written too often that the trouble about alcohol is not about pious Muslims avoiding it themselves for religious reasons but about forcing others to do so – which, ironically, is not a Quranic teaching. Religiously, this is a self-tasked duty. Politically, it is despotism. But it seldom works.

My Turkish businessman friend who lived in Tehran for four years came back with plenty of interesting stories regarding the "Iranian social life" that is, in his narrative, far more "colorful and hedonistic" than the social life in the entire Western hemisphere. When I asked him how he, a regular drinker, had survived the strict alcohol ban, he shrugged, smiled and said: "Easy, you just have to ring you buddy in the Revolutionary Guards, place your order, and in half an hour you get your stock delivered home."

Alcohol restrictions are not an exclusively "Muslim law." There are several – and perhaps more ridiculous – restrictions in non-Muslim, Western countries too. But does that mean that Islamist (OK, replace "Islamist" with "Muslim conservative" if you wish to do so) governments restrict alcohol for the same reasons, with the same motives, as American, British and Swedish governments do? The answer could have been a "yes" if there were not a thousand facts pointing to a "no."

Most recently, an apparently "government-inspired" school headmaster ordered female and male students not to get closer than 45 cm to the opposite sex. Ironically, that happened at a high school for "fine arts and sports" in Mersin. With pure emphatic effort I tried to understand, but cannot help wonder… Why 45 cm? And why not 60 cm, or 28 cm? What does the schoolmaster think would happen if a boy and a girl student spoke at a physical distance of 42 cm? What would not happen if they spoke at a distance of 49 cm? I am sure pious/conservative posters will help us understand.

Finally, I feel obliged to apologize to readers for wasting their time with this article. Your time spent reading this article was a complete waste because the sum of all the preceding lines couldn't possibly have been better expressed than they were in column neighbor Mustafa Akyol's conclusion to his op-ed Wednesday:

"…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."

Cheers, Mustafa!






On Feb. 16, 1992, the news magazine "2000'e Doğru" (Toward 2000) had a cover story titled "Hizbullah trained at the Riot Police Center."

Halit Güngen, the journalist behind the story, was the magazine's Diyarbakır representative, and he claimed that Hizbullah (which is unrelated to the Lebanese Hezbollah) was linked with the National Intelligent Organization, or MİT, and the police. He further added that members of Hizbullah were trained at the Riot Police Center in Diyarbakır.

Güngen was killed at his Diyarbakır office just two days after the magazine article was published.

A year later, Batman's police chief of the period declared to a parliamentary commission for inquiry into murders by unknown assailants that the organization had indeed received state help. "Unfortunately, the military helped out Hizbullah members for sometime. They were trained at several military units here and were provided with logistic support."

According to a news story by Amberin Zaman of daily Habertürk, in 1993 a Hizbullah member sent intelligence to the presidency, but Mehmet Ağar, the police chief of the period, wrote a report asking security services not to catch but rather follow Hizbullah members.

Hayri Kozakçıoğlu, former governor of the state of emergency, or OHAL, region, clarified in an interview to daily Zaman in 2007 the claims that MİT and JİTEM, an alleged illegal intelligence unit, were sharing information with Hizbullah.

"This is normal. If Hizbullah is one step ahead of us about where the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK is located, receiving information from them is not a problem," he said.

In a case into murders by unknown perpetrators that took place in the southeastern province of Şırnak between 1993 and 1997, Col. Cemal Temizöz and former Cizre Mayor Kamil Atak appeared before the judge as culprits. Atak's brother made the following claim:

"The emptied village of Kuştepe in Cizre became the military center of Hizbullah. … Many of our friends, including me, carried munitions and weapons to this village," he said.

MİT Undersecretary Maj. Gen. Teoman Koman of the period, however, responded to reporters asking questions about Hizbullah with "Which Hizbullah? There is one Hizbullah in Iran and one that consists of pious citizens protecting themselves against PKK actions."

During Necmettin Erbakan's time as prime minister, a computer operator working at the Prime Ministry's administrative and financial affairs department was detained for being an alleged Hizbullah member. The incident raised suspicions that Hizbullah might not have had ties with just JİTEM, the police and MİT.

As the partnership comes to an end

The state finally took a stance against Hizbullah right after PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was caught. Hizbullah leader Hüseyin Velioğlu was killed in a villa at Beykoz, Istanbul, during a gunfight with the police, after which the organization supposedly collapsed. Then, it emerged that Hizbullah was apparently burying its victims in walls and beneath buildings. Released last week due to an amendment in the period of detention on remand, the accused in the Hizbullah case were being judged for killing dozens through torture. The decision is still pending an appeal.

However, Hizbullah on its website fiercely refutes the allegations about having links with JİTEM or any other state institution and about being supported by such units against the PKK in the early 1990s. Hizbullah even implies that the PKK together with these units was the one attacking Hizbullah.

We wouldn't know how convincing this is. But I think Hizbullah is more than 15 accused members and most of the individuals that have connections with Hizbullah are most likely still in office or spending peaceful days of retirement at home.

Apparently, on the issue of Hizbullah, the organization is not the only sinful one.

Let's note that before the release of the accused Hizbullah members, Öcalan pointed the finger at the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, for setting-up a "Hamas" organization in the Southeast. Following the release of Hizbullah members, Öcalan said, "If Hizbullah continues as they did in the past, we will defend ourselves."

And Edip Gümüş, one of the released, said, "We fulfilled our task as obedient ones to God in the past and we will surely do it in the future, too." Let's keep these in mind.

How do you like it? We have a wonderful country, don't we?

*Özgür Mumcu is a columnist of daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.







The mood in the financial markets has turned decidedly sour over the last few weeks amid a welter of disappointing economic news from around the world. The U.S. is in the center of this pessimism – first the home sales data and then the non-farm payrolls surprised on the downside and erased hopes for an early recovery in the U.S.

In the EU, weak growth outlook persists, accompanied by debates over the feasibility of a credible post-crisis mechanism. It seems that the volatility in the markets would likely remain high or even get higher due to both global and local developments. Globally, the weak recovery pace in developed markets would likely be of main concern. Locally, the Central Bank of Turkey's new monetary policy toolbox to fulfill the dual mandate of low inflation and financial stability would add to the short-term uncertainty and thus the general volatility. For instance, currently the market is mostly expecting a 50 basis point cut at the next meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee, or MPC, on Jan. 20. However, it doesn't seem to be a done deal, bearing in mind the currency depreciation recently.

As I've mentioned here before, policy rates currently appear to be a function of the short-term fund flows, thus the fluctuations in the level of currency should also be considered. The portfolio inflows have slowed down in December and there seems to be a global risk aversion tendency, which is pushing the currency rates higher in Turkey, beyond some very important technical resistance levels. If this tendency is to be preserved till the next Monetary Policy Committee meeting, then the Central Bank may opt to wait a bit longer before cutting rates further. If really it is the case, the Central Bank may preserve this tool for the times when the portfolio inflows intensify and lead to sharp currency appreciation.

On the other ingredient of policy mix, namely the reserve requirement ratio, the Central Bank relies on this old-fashioned tool to slow down the credit growth, which is considered to be highly correlated with the current account deficit. While the consensus expectation for the deficit points to 6.2 percent of GDP in 2010, the Central Bank says that the credit growth should be limited to 25 percent in order to attain a current account deficit level of 5.4 percent of GDP in 2011. The current trend of credit growth is at 40 percent and it would definitely necessitate more reserve requirement rises in order to attain such a slowdown. So I expect the Central Bank to hike the reserve requirement of foreign exchange liabilities this month (more on short-term liabilities again), but also consider more rises on Turkish Lira liabilities in the following months.

Permanent bears

In November, the current account deficit hit a record $5.9 billion. Also, the 12-month cumulative deficit increased to $44.9 billion, from $40.8 billion in the previous month. I expect that the deficit will continue to expand, reaching $46.6 billion in 2010 (6.2 percent of GDP). In my opinion, for an energy-hungry country the deficit is structural and Turkey is no stranger to large current account deficits. However, although I have been following the Turkish economy for many years, I still do not understand the real cause of concern of some market pundits. Is it the deficit, its financing or the quality of financing? This time they put forward the dominance of short-term portfolio inflows in the financing of the current account deficit as a cause of concern. But I remember very well that the same pundits were worried in 2008 as well when the financing was coming from long-term items such as foreign direct investment and long-term loans. Now I understand that there is no way to dispel all worries of some pundits because they are permanent bears.

Early signs of pre-election spending?

Early indicator of the budget performance, The Treasury's cash-based budget produced a bulky 11.2 billion-lira non-interest deficit in December. The surge in the non-interest expenditures was the key reason behind the weak performance. However, this was not uncommon, as every December points to similar expansion in expenditures. Besides, based on these cash figures, the central government budget deficit to GDP ratio would be slightly above 3 percent in 2010, much below the revised official estimate at 4 percent in the Medium Term Fiscal Program.







Russia has recently experienced multidimensional ethnic violence in the capital. The turmoil began in southern Moscow on Dec. 6 with the death of Yegor Sviridov, a 28-year-old fan of Spartak Moscow's football club who was killed in a brawl with migrants from Russia's North Caucasus region, according to authorities. Five days later, about 5,000 nationalists and "football hooligans" clashed with Moscow police. The confrontation took place in Manezh Square, outside the Kremlin, and led to the arrests of 65 Spartak fans and more than 1,000 people, including members of both groups. Recent data shows that during 2010 there were more than 350 such violent incidents which resulted in the killing of 36 people. The number of incidents and killings indeed suggest that recent violence in Moscow is not coincidental and has nothing to do with sport. It is rather very much linked to the rising nationalistic and racist trend in the country.

As he often does, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once again lashed out at the liberal intelligentsia and blamed corrupt police officers for the release of "a murderous North Caucasian gang for an all-too-obvious bribe," while Medvedev Tweeted that "everything was under control."

The Russian government described the recent clashes in a very simplistic way, but the reality says otherwise; this is because recent, racially motivated violence reflects a real social problem in the country that has the potential to seriously disturb the stability of the Russian Federation in the long, if not short run. 

Russia, with its 140 million people, consists of almost 180 different ethnic communities. The latest "violence" based on ethnic difference draws attention by its extent. Indeed, similar incidents usually happen on a small scale in the forms of a "specific murder" and do not usually turns into protests as in this case.

There are different explanations for the recent incident. For some, the protests reflect popular revolt at the regime's corruption and ineptitude. According to the head of the Moscow police department, migrants are responsible for 70 percent of the crime in the city. From this standpoint, it is said by Russian analysts that "cultural norms and public behavior are quite different between people of Slavic origin and newcomers from the mountains, which leads to the incredible combination of social, legal, ethnic, and cultural conflict."

According to them, "on top of this combination comes the horrifying corruption of Russian governmental and law enforcement officials." From this point of view, "recent protests were a call for security services to take necessary steps to solve the 'Caucasian Problem.'" What all this expresses is that there a fixed view of otherness in Russia toward the people from the Caucasus region, and it seems like the Russian government is having a very difficult time dealing with it.

There is also another argument that "these events are social conflicts rooted in the reality of life in Russian cities where 'money can buy everything' while many young people find themselves without clear prospects for the future," due to poverty and anger. This can make sense especially if we consider that the Russian economy is still unable to provide prosperity for the masses among whom unemployment is rampant. From this standpoint, the basic argument usually used to explain racism and xenophobia in Europe could be the case for Russia as well. With a much more diverse, complex and problematic Russia, this can create much heavier burdens if the people of Slavic origin start facing similar attacks in the regions where they are in a minority.

From 1991 onward, the Russian government had two options to maintain unity in the multiethnic Russian Federation:

The first was the main understanding of the Boris Yeltsin era, which initially offered the regions as much sovereignty as they could swallow. But the Chechen War became the main obstacle for such a policy. Since then, the freedom promised by Yeltsin has been gradually replaced by authoritarian policies which strengthen the Kremlin over the regions, especially during Putin term.

The second was the "governed democracy" understanding that Putin has started to apply. However this policy paved the way for a type of government to the government that controls the country by "force." As a result, the Kremlin has not only failed to bring stability to the country, but also raised the question of whether Kremlin has legitimacy in some parts of the federation. Therefore, the lack of public support for the Kremlin in those republics has raised the perception of threats to Russia's stability in the eyes of policy makers in Moscow. All these mean that Russia, especially under Putin, has created a dilemma in which the more Moscow has sought stability, the more it has become an instable country.

Whatever the reason or the explanation is, it seems that racial and ethnic hate crimes are a growing problem in Russia and have the potential to create more trouble for the multiethnic federation of Russia. This is a new political challenge that the Russian elite and the Kremlin will have to deal with in the foreseeable future. The most crucial part of the problem is the acknowledgement of its gravity because without this, any solution would be insufficient.

Moreover, it is vitally important to control ethnic tensions in Russia, since it has the potential to threaten the unity of the Russian Federation. Furthermore, previous instances of state-society tension, which has continued since the 1990s between the Kremlin and the North Caucasus, could turn into inter-society tension that would then be very difficult to control. It seems that developing a successful policy for a young and multinational Russia is significantly important in controlling the rising nationalism targeting ethnic citizens. 

* Habibe Özdal is an expert at the International Strategic Research Organization, or USAK, Center for Eurasian Studies






Finally, the Turkish republic has left behind the "enhanced democracy" stage, thanks to the great skill and capability of the government of His Royal Highness, and ushered in the "magnificent democracy" phase.

God willing, with the current speed and determination of the benevolent and almighty sultan and his glorious government, soon this country will leave behind as well the "magnificent" stage and proceed into the "squeamish democracy" phase when, besides the most valuable norms of absolute democratic governance of the sultan, everything in the country from brushing one's teeth to going to the toilet, how to tie your shoe or what to put on when going to a date will all be required to conform to ethics and moral values, and of course the commands of religion and religious culture.

In that new era, of course no painter would dare to draw something contradicting the ethics, moral values and expectations of the magnificent society, nor would sculptors attempt to craft "freaky" sculptures or ugly monuments standing taller than nearby religious places or the lodging of the headman of the neighborhood.

Irrespective whether this great country ushers in a new era of morality or continues in the present phase of "magnificent democracy," the benevolent and all-time strict His Royal Highness and his glorious and graceful ancestors should of course always be respected and revered in the fashion explained in state protocol and royal etiquette, as well as most recently by the Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK.

As the RTÜK decree underlined, our sultans don't have and never ever had harems. Both now and in the past, sultans never ever drank alcoholic drinks and probably never ever had sexual intercourse. Did they multiply like amoeba? That's not clear as for now, but definitely even if they had some sexual experience, surely they were doing it differently than ordinary people. Trying to portray sultans as normal people should of course be considered an insolent act. Such acts are so far are punishable with "warnings" only, but perhaps some stiffer penalties like rolling heads must be considered. After all, if insolence to His Royal Highness and the ethic and moral values he represented was to be allowed, what would be the outcome?

Of course whatever is said, written, or implied in writing or with paintings, drawings, sculptures or any sort of audiovisual or plastic arts should conform to the ethic and moral values of the society, teachings of the religious scholars, commands of Islam, definitely the norms of family and the wishes and orders of His Royal Highness and His dedicated and all-capable government.

As it is said, if you leave a girl free, she may get a drummer husband! Nothing can be left on its own, everything must conform to rules, regulations, ethic and moral values and of course the wishes, aspirations and hopes of the Great Leader, the absolute ruler His Royal Highness who loves spitting at distasteful works of art.

In the "democratic governance" period, all the claims on democracy by elements other than His Royal Highness and the Islamist brotherhoods supportive of His most successful Arbitrary Kebab Party or AKP, were eradicated successfully. In the "enhanced democracy" phase the resistance of the higher judiciary to the absolute rule of His Highness was ended and all the top courts were successfully domesticated. Even though there were some elements of incurable nationalists and patriots here and there, particularly in the domesticated military, in this "magnificent democracy" era, of course, no tolerance should be shown to any dissent and the entire nation should develop a uniform mentality on all major issues of the nation and the country, befitting the expectations of His Royal Highness.

"One country, one nation, one language," as His Royal Highness has recently summarized his worldview. He of course forgot to underline a fourth "one" element, the religion: Sunni, Hanefi Islam. Don't worry, soon he will find an opportunity to complement what might be considered as a deficiency. He must have just left it out in listing the other "singularities" in order to make an even stronger emphasis on it.

Turkey has ushered in a magnificent democratic period. This great day must be celebrated with nationwide festivities.







After a along period of political neglect, the European Union is finally responding to its critics by sending the president of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, on a Caspian tour. The choice of countries is especially important – Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Clearly, energy is at the forefront of Barroso's agenda. The European Union is expecting to source a large portion of its future gas imports from the Caspian region, which means relations with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have to excel.

Ever since Russia began applying politics to gas, European energy experts have been advocating greater EU energy diversity. As Europe's own supplies of primary energy are on a decline – namely less and less natural gas – our dependence on imports will grow in the short to medium term. For this reason, how the EU structures its relationships with external energy suppliers matters a great deal. There will always be a way to improve our internal energy market efficiency – better integration of the energy markets of the member states, more competition in areas like production and supply of electricity and more renewable energy. But there is no way Europe will be able to altogether avoid importing energy from third parties, ever.

The EU-Russia energy dialogue, which over the last four years has been burdened by politics, has complicated and compromised Europe's engagement with the countries in the Caspian region.  In the eyes of many EU capitals, it is simply not worth further complicating relations with Moscow in exchange for better political cooperation with the Caspian countries like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

But the fact is Europe needs an independent dialogue with the Caspian energy producers not burdened by relations with Moscow, and Barroso's visit is a step in that direction.

The Caspian region is rich in natural gas and oil. It is said to be one of the biggest untapped reserves of natural gas in the world today. As the EU energy demand increases and the EU shifts its dependence from coal to cleaner fuels like natural gas, the Caspian abundance in natural gas can supply the new EU demand for natural gas. Second, the geographic proximity of the Caspian to the energy markets of Southeastern and Central Europe is double added value for the EU. This part of the old Soviet bloc, now part of the EU club, has a particular problem when it comes to energy diversity: countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and others are almost 100 percent dependent on imports of gas from Russia.

By bringing the Caspian gas to this region, Europe will be better off as a whole, as will each of the central and southeastern EU member states. But there is the other side of the coin to consider as well. What added value is a closer energy partnership with the EU for countries like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan? First of all, Europe is not the only bidder for the Caspian gas. There are others like China, Iran, India, and of course, Russia.

China and India combined are the fastest growing economies in the world – and China will soon be the biggest. Judging by the number of new kilowatt hours of electricity that are added on month-by-month bases in China and India, the energy demand in the east is greater than in Europe. China is offering top dollar for access to Caspian energy. In addition to offering a competitive price for long-term gas contracts, Russia and China are also offering the Caspian countries political partnerships, technology transfers and cooperation in security matters.

So far, the EU has done the energy talk, but has been less than enthusiastic in structuring a genuine political and security partnership with countries like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. In Brussels the debate is either about energy or lack of democracy in the Caspian region. But for Baku and Ashgabat to feel compelled to work with Europe, they need to get a political deal in return for their energy.

For example, Azerbaijan has been pushing the EU to recognize its territorial integrity and sovereignty rights. Armenian military forces still occupy close to 20 percent of Azerbaijan's land 17 years after the two countries fought a war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia won the war, but its position has subsequently weakened due to the country's economic decline, international isolation and dependence on Russia. On the other hand, Azerbaijan's position has strengthened thanks to its growing energy exchange and international links. In the eyes of Baku, Europe's support for its cause has been less than straightforward and helpful. Azeri leadership cannot understand why in the case of Georgia Europe's support for territorial integrity is straightforward, but when it comes to Azerbaijan, the EU Commission prefers to keep silent.

There is also the visa-free travel issue, a policy the EU has been at pains to explain in the Balkan context, and has recently lifted visa restrictions for all Balkan countries except Kosovo. To Azerbaijan, which someday hopes to join the EU, visa restrictions seem unjust, especially in the context of business and student travel.

Barroso has a tall order of issues to address on his Caspian tour and needs to come home with an energy deal. But to score points on the energy front, he will have to offer some political carrots as well to his interlocutors in Baku and Ashgabat.

Borut Grgic is the founder of the transCaspian initiative at the EPC in Brussels, and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C.






I. Ratione Temporis Execution of the Codes of Penal and Criminal Procedure: "The Principle of a Ban on the Retroactive Execution of Law-in-disfavor"

The rule pursuant to the "Principle of a Ban on the Retroactive Execution of Law-in-disfavor" states: "Enforcement of the law in force at the time a crime is committed. Exception: If provisions of a new law which comes into effect following the commission of a crime are: (i) in favor of the perpetrator, the law is enforced retroactively; that is, the law is applied and the perpetrator benefits from these provisions; (ii) in disfavor, the law is not applied."

The 2nd paragraph of Article 7, "Ratione Temporis Execution," in the new Turkish Penal Code, or TCK, (numbered 5237, dated Sept. 26, 2004) states: "If the provisions of a law in force at the time a crime is committed are not identical with those of prospective laws, the law in favor of the perpetrator is to be applied and executed."

II. Old CMUK, new CMK: "Period of Detention"

Article 110, "Period of Detention on Remand," in the old Code of Criminal Procedure, or CMUK, (numbered 1412, dated April 4, 1929) states: "The period of detention on remand is to be a maximum of six months. In case a public lawsuit is filed, this period, including any period of detention on remand that has passed during investigative processes, cannot exceed two (2) years…

…Punishments restricting freedom for seven years or longer, and in cases requiring the death sentence, depending on the reason for arrest, the condition of evidence and the personal attitudes of the perpetrator the court may rule for the continuation of the period of detention or the termination thereof or for the release of the perpetrator on the condition of a proper bail out."

Article 102, "Period of Detention on Remand," in the new Code of Criminal Procedure, or CMK, (numbered 5271, dated Dec. 4, 2004 and effective as of Dec. 31, 2010) states: "… (ii) The maximum period of Detention on Remand in the jurisdiction of the Court of Serious Crimes is two (2) years. In the presence of compelling reasons, this period may be extended when justified. The period of extension cannot be longer than a total of three (3) years. (iii) Decisions concerning the periods of extension according to this article shall be given after consulting the public prosecutor, the suspect or defendant, and the defense lawyer."

III. Ergenekon case and periods of detention

The periods of detention for defendants in the Ergenekon case cannot exceed two years, according to Article 110 of the old CMUK. However, according to the 3rd paragraph, the period of detention may be extended depending on both the personal attitude of the defendant and evidence.

According to Article 102 of the new CMK, the maximum period of detention is two (2) years, which can be extended in the presence of compelling reasons and justification. As it is clearly stated without need for any debate in Vol. 66 of the 26th Session (Dec. 3, 2004) in the 3rd legislative year and 22nd term of the Turkish Parliament, in line with the will of lawmakers, it is apparent that a period of detention cannot exceed 2+1= 3 years in total.

Vol. 66 of the 26th session (Dec. 3, 2004) in the 3rd legislative year and 22nd term of the Turkish Parliament

"On behalf of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), Aydın Deputy Semiha Öyüş – Thank you.

Mr. Speaker and distinguished members of Parliament,

I am speaking to express our opinion in general concerning regulations regarding Article 101 and 156 of the Draft Code of Criminal Procedure numbered 698. I salute the honorable Parliament.

With Article 100 of the Draft Code of Criminal Procedure, reasons for detention have been enlisted and reduced in number as a result of a regulation in the subject matter.

Article 100 states: "In the case of strong suspicion of offense, and of reasons for arrest, a decision to detain a suspect or defendant may be made.

During the investigation process, a person is a suspect. In this case, the public prosecutor conducting an investigation into the suspect resorts to the judge of the Criminal Court of Peace and asks for a decision whether to arrest. During the trial period, the individual is the defendant. In this case, a decision whether to arrest the defendant is made according to the demand of the prosecutor or ex-officio.

Such demands should be justified. Besides, a new regulation in our criminal justice system explains why legal and actual reasons in implementing judicial control remains insufficient.

Regarding the decisions to arrest, continue a suspects arrest or overrule a request for acquittal, the legal and actual reasons on which such decisions are based shall be provided. The suspect or the defendant shall be verbally informed about the content of the ruling and a written copy shall be provided that shall also be mentioned in the ruling.

The suspect or the defendant is entitled to ask for the assistance of a defense counselor to be appointed by the bar or someone chosen at the suspect's or the defendant's discretion.

In case no such decision to detain has been reached, the suspect or defendant shall be released immediately. S/he can appeal the reasons and decision to detain.

In cases not subject to the duty of the Court of Serious Crimes, the maximum period of detention is six months. If needed, the period of detention shall be extended for four months by stating the reason. In cases subject to the duty of the Court of Serious Crimes, the period of detention can be a maximum of two (2) years, but could be extended up to three (3) years.

With this article, the period of detention on remand determines offenses are subject or not subject to the jurisdiction of the High Criminal Court, rather than being contingent upon an abstract period of punishment. Accordingly, the period of detention on remand is regulated as a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years; the six-month period should be extended four more months if needed, and the two-year (2) period for one (1) additional year."

According to Article 121, the rationale of the CMK regarding Article 102 is: "The period of detention should be reasonable according to Article 5 of the European Human Rights Convention, which is a fundamental principle. As seen in some decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, if detention exceeds a reasonable period of time the payment of damages is required.

It is known that ECHR decisions are taken into account by all European countries and amendments in national laws are made accordingly. With these in mind, envisaged in the Article are: 

1. The maximum period of detention for offenses requiring an upper limit of five (5) years punishment, or less, is six months.

2. The maximum period of detention for offenses requiring an upper limit exceeding five (5) years punishment is one year.

With this Article, however, the Draft Code, giving importance to an effective justice system and to the rights of the defendant, maintains a reasonable balance and agrees for up to six months extension in cases requiring potential punishment of over five years. In case the punishment of the crime does not exceed five years, detention can be extended for four months.

In lawsuits subject to the duty of the Court of Serious Crimes, the period of detention is a maximum of two (2) years.

Decisions concerning extending periods of detention shall be made after consulting the views of the public prosecutor and the defense.

In terms of faults, the last paragraph of the article envisages a maximum three-month period of detention.

The article entirely serves to protect the rights of the suspect and the defendant."

IV. Conclusion: "Period of Detention"

According to the third paragraph of Article 110 of the old CMUK, since the continuation of the period of detention seems to be "unlimited" at some point, Article 102 of the new CMK, which states that (2+1) years in total equal the three (3) year maximum period of detention (by reserving that the extension of the period could be debatable, based on the personal attitude of the defendant, evidence or compelling circumstances), is applicable because it seems as a law-in-favor.

However, the double-time implementation of the new TCK on charges relating to crimes of terrorism and organized crimes against the state shall only be valid for offenses committed after the article's date of entry into force. The article, however, cannot be implemented for offenses prior to the article's date of effect, because doing so would amount to law-in-disfavor.

In light of these aforementioned assessments, according to the TCK and the CMK, the maximum period of detention two plus one (2+1=) equals three (3) years.

The said laws are applicable to offenses committed prior to June 1, 2005 if they are law-in-favor.

* Hakan Hanlı is a senior attorney-at-law, a member of the Ankara and Brussels Bars and an international arbitrator at the International Criminal Court. He holds a Ph.D. in international and European law.






The Health Ministry has finally done it.

A great job was done and the ban on smoking was passed by Parliament and the law put in practice. Smoking in enclosed areas was definitely prohibited. Restaurants and coffee shops resisted much and finally filed a complaint at the Constitutional Court but lost their case. Restaurants put heaters out on the sidewalk, trying to maintain their customer base.

For the first few months the ban on smoking was implemented seriously.

Supervision was done by the Health Ministry's tobacco supervision department. The supervision staff was increased to 7,500 people. Reports were written about those who still allowed smoking in their enterprises. And in order to fine these enterprises the reports were sent to the respective commission at the municipality where the business was registered.

This situation did not last very long. For some time now we have been back to Turkish-style approaches.

Municipalities, in a weird way, slowed their pace. Fines were not imposed and reports got lost. Or there were "different" applications for some businesses. The municipality would inspect a business for which they had received a report but would issue a clean bill.

Municipalities have tolerated this course because they want to be on good terms with restaurant owners or because they want to obtain income. Complaints have gradually grown.

The problem has arisen mainly in Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir. As Istanbul's high society has started smoking inside again, restaurant owners have started tolerating it.

In order not to lose customers, taxi drivers, especially in big cities, never obeyed this ban in the first place. They always blamed the customer, saying, "I had to allow smoking." Then there were also those drivers, very low in number though, who had to fight with their customers who insisted on smoking by saying, "Whatever the fine is I will pay." But taxi drivers should remember two things: the police can issue fines by registering the license plate of a taxi when they spot a smoker in their taxi. And more importantly, since in winter time the windows remain closed a taxi in which people smoke smells just like a barn. Which one makes taxis lose more customers, do you think?

In view of all the above, the Health Ministry has realized the danger of losing this war and taken, together with the interior minister, two important steps:

If, despite a report being issued, a municipality commission does not fine the respective enterprise, a complaint and a lawsuit will be filed against the commission. An article recently added to the omnibus bill, which will come to Parliament this week, gives the duty of the collection of fines to the governors' offices instead of the municipalities.

And considering the increase in fines, those who tolerate smoking will have a hard time. This way the reckless behavior by municipalities will also end. To tell the truth, the key is in your and our hands. If we just sit and wait, without warning smokers or restaurant owners, as long as we wait for the officials to do their job we won't get far.

We need to claim our own health.

Let's for once do something the right way.

Topbaş also rolls up his sleeves

Those of you who follow my articles will have read about appeals made by Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş.

The mayor took control of the situation. He must have noticed that the situation is getting out of hand when he wrote a warning to all municipalities.

He requested that reports be converted into fines.

You know that the greatest complaint stirs from reports that have not been converted into a fine.

I'm sure that district municipalities, despite this warning, still won't care.

They wouldn't want to fight with restaurant owners.

Why are we this way?

Why are we so insensitive?

Why do we shoot ourselves in the foot?







US Vice President Joe Biden has given the Pakistani government a fairly clear-cut idea of the way thinking in Washington is moving. Impatience can be sensed in much of what Mr Biden had to say during his six-hour stop in Islamabad. A key focus for the discussions Mr Biden held with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and Gen Kayani was to demand action in North Waziristan, from where the US insists militant groups are operating against troops in Afghanistan. The US-perceived need for an operation in the territory has been a key source of friction between Washington and Islamabad, with allegations surfacing that ties between elements in Pakistan and the Haqqani network in North Waziristan are holding up action in the area. A few little "carrots" were handed out by the American vice president, if they can be called that. Mr Biden made a commitment that there would be no US ground excursions into Pakistani territory, the possibility of which had been discussed in the media. He also agreed that issues of sovereignty would be discussed in the context of the drone attacks, but made it clear during a short press talk held alongside the prime minister that his government believed the real threat to Pakistan came from extremists rather than from any external force. The "misconceptions" in Pakistan about the US role were also discussed in some detail.

At the end of the visit we have a clear picture of the pattern of US thinking. What Mr Biden said will not have pleased everyone. The government did not receive the promise of further economic aid it had perhaps hoped for. There is a great deal to consider here. Islamabad has struggled to dispel the perception that it is promoting terror in the region. The US is clearly reluctant to go along with anything it believes are tactics aimed at winning time. Pakistan's sovereignty is completely non-negotiable, so it must act strictly in accordance with its national interests. Getting rid of militants is something that undoubtedly will benefit the people of Pakistan; too many have already died on the streets or lost loved ones in violence of one kind or another. It is this consideration that should motivate a committed drive against all kinds of militants. Meanwhile, Islamabad should make every effort to get in a far stronger position than it is now for it to be able to bargain with the US, assertively and on an equal footing. Pakistan has a number of security concerns as far as the region goes. These need to be addressed and a strategy put in place through open discussion between all the players. The issues are inter-twined too closely together to be treated in isolation or used as a means to score points.







The Reko Diq mining controversy simply refuses to go away, and gets more complicated and confusing by the day. The story broke in this newspaper in November last year that we may not be getting the best deal for our mineral assets. A three member bench of the Supreme court is now hearing a case against the leasing of the rights to mine gold, copper and uranium in the Reko Dik area of Balochistan. The stakes are high. On the table is the world's biggest goldmine, potentially with reserves estimated at $260 billion. Getting the gold out of the ground, especially in the initial phase, is extremely expensive. Refining it is equally expensive. The company that has hitherto had exploration rights is now seeking to quickly convert those to mining rights, and it is here that is the sticking point.

The company has already invested $400 million in the exploration work and proving the reserves. If given the go-ahead to mine it would invest a further $400 million in the social sector in addition to what might eventually go to the Balochistan government, which could be as much as $2bn annually. This sounds fine in principle, but in practice would mean that the mined ore would go abroad for refining, and any other by-products of the refinement would go to the company. It is being argued that we have the capability to use our own resources to refine the material mined here, and there is no need for it to go anywhere. On the other side of the story, with a projected fiscal deficit of eight per cent in the current financial year, the government does not have the financial resources to put in front of the project that it needs – but the company does. The DG (minerals) of the Petroleum Ministry has told the court that the company is only willing to give a two per cent royalty against the government demand for five per cent. The case was adjourned and will be heard on a day-to-day-basis and is clearly far from resolved. The Reko Diq deposits are one of our most significant national assets, which could provide us an assured income for decades. That they are mired in controversy so early is hardly encouraging, and we would urge all sides towards a speedy solution.








The kind of violence we saw on Wednesday in Bannu is familiar to all of us. A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a police station, killing 12 policemen and eight other people. Just in case we were in any doubt, a spokesman clarified that the security personnel were the target of the bomber, and were being "punished" for their actions against the militants. Hundreds of policemen and those wearing the uniform of other state security outfits have died in the same way in the past, for performing the duties assigned to them.

The suicide bombing, like the others carried out over the past few months, demonstrated the extent to which the terrorists remain able to strike. Bannu has been a focus of security operations for a very long time. The fact that it remains so forces us to ask what is to be done to stop the militants; security at all police stations has already been boosted; in many cases terrorists have been stopped at check-posts. What more can be expected of those entrusted with the job of taking on the militants? It seems clear that security measures alone will not work. A wider-ranging policy is required. Precisely what is should consist of needs to be worked out – but development, education and rehabilitation all form a part of what is required. Steps to put such a plan of action must begin immediately. Otherwise we will have only more deaths and a rise in the sense of terror, which is the key purpose of the militants.








This is not about blasphemy or the honour of the Holy Prophet. This is now all about politics, about the forces of the clergy, routed in the last elections, discovering a cause on whose bandwagon they have mounted with a vengeance.

The blasphemy issue ignited by Aasia Bibi's conviction was virtually over in November, the government making it plain that it had not the slightest intention of amending the blasphemy law, and no government figure of any consequence stepping forward to support Salmaan Taseer on the stand he had taken.

There the matter should have rested if Pakistan's clerical armies were not masters of manipulation and cold-blooded calculation. They whipped up a storm in December, when the issue was no longer an issue, and fanned such an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred that it would have been strange if nothing terrible had happened.

There's a danger of moaning too much. But what with the lionising of Salmaan Taseer's killer and hailing him as a ghazi and defender of the faith, the impression is hard to shake off that what we are witnessing are the last burial rites of what remains of sanity in a Republic not particularly famous for any striking monuments to reason.

No cleric worth the name has refrained from adding fuel to the fires thus lit across the country. But if a prize has to be given to anyone, the honours will go to Pakistan's path-breaking contributor to political gymnastics, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and the Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Professor Munawar Hasan (professor of what? is tempted to ask).

The Professor is a study in contrasts: soft-spoken, even beguilingly so, and possessing a keen sense of humour but, at the same time, a master of virulence and of confusion spread in the name of the faith. The 2008 elections had laid the Jamaat low. It had made the mistake of boycotting those elections and its performance in bye-elections since then has furnished further proof of its dwindling political relevance. The Jamaat's exploitation of the blasphemy issue is an attempt to engineer a political comeback, although there's no altering the fact that its vote-getting ability comes nowhere near its high nuisance value.

But the issue has to be faced squarely. The clerics are on the march not because they are strong but because those on the other side of the divide – the non-clerical forces – are weak, directionless and devoid of vision...without any strategy and plan of battle.

Zardari's vision is to stay in power and further enrich his person and his family. End of story. The common belief is he has enough but, by all accounts, we are dealing with insatiable appetites. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's vision is to enrich his family. If a tenth of the stories doing the rounds are to be even tentatively believed, they are doing pretty well for themselves. Names close to the army high command are also the subject of lurid rumours.

But the problem is greater than a few names. Pakistan's governing class as a whole has earned the distinction of being rotten and corrupt. Everyone rightly-placed is on the take. Those not so fortunate are less emblems of virtue than martyrs to opportunities absent or lost.

A leadership thus tainted, compromised by ineptitude and greed, can neither initiate reform nor reverse the tide of obscurantism now washing against the walls of the Republic.

Lest we forget, the armies of the faithful – with their fearsome beards and shaven moustaches, shalwars pulled up over ankles – have never been in power in Pakistan (the MMA's stint as Musharraf's co-travellers in the Frontier not really counting in this equation). What Pakistan is today, the depths it has plumbed, the failures courted, the follies assiduously pursued, have been the handiwork of its English-speaking elite classes – who wouldn't be caught dead calling themselves secular but who, for all practical purposes, represent a secularist point of view.

The mullahs have not been responsible for our various alliances with the United States; our entry into Cento and Seato; our militarist adventures vis-à-vis India; and the honing of 'jihad' as an instrument of strategic fallacies. This last piece of brilliance came from the army as commanded by Gen Ziaul Haq. Religious elements became willing accessories in this game but were not its inventors.

If the first Constituent Assembly lavished attention on a piece of rhetoric of no practical benefit to anyone, the Objectives Resolution, instead of writing a constitution which was its chief duty, the fault lay not so much with the clerical fathers as with the Muslim League leadership. The phrase 'ideology of Pakistan' was an invention of Gen Yahya Khan's information minister, Maj Gen Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan. The central tenet of our security doctrine which sees India as an implacable foe out to undo Pakistan was woven in no madrassah or mosque but in General Headquarters, and a mindset which has been a distinguishing feature of the Punjabi elite.

Our fractured education system is a gift, paradoxically, of our English-speaking classes which have never felt the slightest need for framing a common education policy – the same books and curriculum, the same medium of education – for the entire country.

The army, a secular institution to begin with, has ruled Pakistan. The mainstream parties have been in power. Pakistan's failures are their failures. The religious parties have been the hyenas and jackals of the hunt, yelping from the sides and helping themselves to the morsels that came their way. Lords of the hunt, lions of the pack, have been Pakistan's generals and politicians, assisted ably at all times by a powerful and equally short-sighted mandarin class.

If the misuse of religion, the exploitation of religion for less-than-holy ends, the yoking of religion to unworthy causes – such as our never-ending adventures in Afghanistan – has poisoned the national atmosphere and narrowed the space for reasoned debate, the principal responsibility for that too lies with those who have held the reins of power in their hands. Why could they not have reversed the course of events, especially when it lay in their power to do so?

True, Gen Zia's rule amounted to a visitation from the outer reaches of purgatory. We say he distorted Pakistan, which of course he did. But it is 22 years since his departure, time enough to have healed the wounds he caused and dismantle his legacy. But if the many temples to hypocrisy he erected survive, who is to blame? The Pakistan of today is Zia's Pakistan not Jinnah's. But if we have been unable to go back to our founding principles the fault lies not with the zealous armies of the bearded but Pakistan's secular rulers, in mufti and khaki.

It is not the mullahs who frighten the ruling classes. These classes are afraid of their own shadows. And they have lost the ability, if they ever had it in the first place, to think for themselves. They live on imported ideas and the power of their own fantasies.

It is not a question of the English-speaking classes – our so-called civil society with its small candle-light vigils, usually in some upscale market – standing up to the clerical armies. This is to get the whole picture wrong. It is a question of the Pakistani state – its various institutions, its defence establishment and the creeds and fallacies held dear as articles of faith by this establishment – getting its direction right and then creating a new consensus enabling it to retreat from the paths of folly.

If the Pakistani establishment continues to see India as the enemy, keeps pouring money into an arms race it cannot afford, is afflicted by delusions of grandeur relative to Afghanistan, and remains unmindful of the economic disaster into which the country is fast slipping, we will never get a grip on the challenges we face.

The raging cleric, frothing at the mouth, is thus not the problem. He is merely a symptom of something larger. Pakistan's problem is the delusional general and the incompetent politician and as long as this is not fixed, the holy armies of bigotry will remain on the march.








The polarisation between rationalist and Islamic literalist forces in Pakistan had never been as sharp and visible in recent years, as it stands following the assassination of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer by a policeman assigned to protect him. With some leading Islamic parties and scores of religious-minded individuals branding the assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a hero for what they perceive as "a justified act" of killing a person opposing the blasphemy law, the very trial of the accused has all ingredients to become an explosive issue that could prove a test case for the state itself.

Top leaders of religious parties, including Maulana Fazlur Rahman, have already upped the ante by announcing at a Karachi rally on January 9 that they plan to defend the killer of Taseer come what may. The country's civil society, led mainly by non-governmental organisations, remains in the forefront in condemning the murder and the killer. Ironically, one side's villain remains a hero for other. An active section of lawyers, supporters of religious parties are showering Qadri with rose petals, underlining the complexity and sensitivity of the issue.

As frenzy and rigidity reigns supreme, there appears no middle ground on which the two ideologically opposing sides could see eye-to-eye. The Islamic forces of all shades and colour appear more aggressive and emboldened following this high-profile murder. As they try to build a campaign on incontestability of the blasphemy law, there are chances that the radicals among them may like to broaden the agenda and set bigger goals. Currently, the active street power appears on their side.

The liberal, secular and rationalist Pakistanis are without an organised political force. The political parties, which should have represented their aspirations on the issue of blasphemy law and Taseer's murder, have been found wanting. Even the ruling Pakistan Peoples' Party appears on the back foot despite the fact that two of its leaders – chairperson Benazir Bhutto and Salmaan Taseer – were murdered by the extremists. Its federal ministers - as they have done on so many other issues – have been issuing contradictory, self-defeating statements aimed at appeasing the religious forces rather than taking a clear and firm position on this sensitive issue.

But political expediency of one side does not mean that the religious groups are in a benign mood. They have become more assertive. No wonder there is pessimism and fear among many liberal and educated Pakistanis about the country's future as they see the space of democratic discourse, moderate views and tolerance shrinking in the society. For many affluent and liberal Pakistanis, today's black humour - which also serves as a grim warning - is when they ask one another whether they checked loyalties and religious leanings of their security guards.

Yes, today's Pakistan stands not only divided but at war with itself. The tidings are ominous. When law-breakers and murderers are hailed as heroes and the state institutions keep mum about it, then something has gone terribly wrong with society. No so-called lofty ideal goal justifies taking the law in one's own hands. If collective conscious of any society allows this, it is a one-way road to anarchy, chaos and lawlessness. It results in the weakening and collapse of the state.

The government's weak reaction on the killing of Governor Taseer has exposed the fragility of this democratic dispensation, surviving on a day-to-day basis. The religious parties can now smell blood and radicals among their ranks can try to expand their boundaries. There is a growing realisation among the religious-minded hardliners that their movement has a potential to gain momentum because of a frail government, state and civil society. The situation can encourage them to go for an adventurous course.

While Pakistan struggles to adjust and get to terms with itself post-Taseer, the international community appears more sceptical about a nuclear-armed Muslim state. The notion of a failing and crumbling state is likely to gain more currency about Pakistan – whether we like it or not. News from here does nothing to change this perception.

Indeed, Pakistan is at the brink of becoming a pariah state because of the unabated rise of extremism and terrorism. It has already become a no-go area for international sports and tourism. Foreign investors and businessmen like to stay away from this country, while even leading local businesses are making fresh investments abroad because of security fears. The government's incapacity to carry-out the much-needed reforms, provide clean governance, fight extremism and militancy from inside Pakistan are fuelling fears of Pakistan's slide into anarchy and strife.

The need of the hour is that the leadership on both sides of the ideological divide makes sustained efforts to bring down the rising temperatures. The government needs to play an active role to make this happen and open channels for dialogue and exchange of ideas on proper platforms. Taking such sensitive matters on the street or trying to decide them in emotional debates on television screens won't help, but add fuel to the fire.

But this does not mean that there should be a compromise on the supremacy of the law or the writ of the state. This needs to be ensured in an emphatic manner by dispensing justice to the killer of Governor Taseer. There are religious scholars and clerics belonging to all the Islamic schools of thought, who stand for the constitution and rule of law.

There is also an urgent need to address concerns of the religious minorities of Pakistan with the participation of Pakistani clerics. Whether regarding procedural issues of the blasphemy law, which is not meant to target innocent people or implicate anyone on false charges. Yes, it is time to assert for supremacy of the law – nothing less than that.

The writer is a staff member. Email: amir.zia







The monsoon rains of the summer of 2010 were extraordinarily heavy in Pakistan and lasted for three months. This resulted in severe floods affecting the country from north to south. The violent floods of 1988, in which the roads to Kahuta were cut off and the water level in the Soan River had almost reached the Kak bridge, pale in comparison to the floods of 2010.

In August, the United Nations stated that the number of people affected by these massive floods could exceed the combined total of the victims of three recent mega-disasters – the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, the October 2005 earthquake in Kashmir and the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Whenever a calamity hits, the practice all over the world is for governments, foreign agencies and NGOs to prepare reports on the actual or anticipated damage to the economy and the loss of human lives and property. Such assessments are usually off the mark. In the case of many governments, there is usually a large discrepancy between the assessments, with government agencies exaggerating losses in an effort to receive large amounts of foreign assistance, while the foreign agencies and NGOs underestimate the damage due to restricted access to the affected areas. The main focus of these reports is on estimates of the damage caused and the costs of long-term rehabilitation.

Two important reports on flood damages and need assessment have been made public.

1. The document titled "Pakistan Floods 2010-Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment," which was produced by the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the government of Pakistan.

2. The document, "Civil Society's Rapid Appraisal of Flood Damage and Need Assessment Process Being Led by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank," is a consolidated report brought out by the Rural Development Policy Institute, the Pakistan Debt Cancellation Campaign and Oxfam.

While the second report is a document of about 10 papers, the first one covers about 184 pages. Significant contributions were made by one UN official and financial and technical support was extended by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. Many other organisations gave invaluable inputs, as did Pakistan's federal, provincial and district governments, including the planning and development departments, the provincial disaster management agencies, the FATA Secretariat and the Azad Jammu and the Kashmir planning and development department.

According to press reports, the United Nations prepared an additional report titled "the Pakistan Floods Emergency Response Plan." The two reports were coordinated for proper assessment.

If we look back to the announcements made after the 2005 earthquake, we note that first there was no mention of casualties. Then came reports of a few hundred, then a few thousand and within a week the numbers rose to scores of thousands. Incidentally, despite massive foreign assistance and contributions by domestic philanthropists, a very large number of victims are still living in tents without a proper roof over their heads, have no electricity or running water and are now facing heavy rains and severe cold. No money has filtered down to many of them.

There was a large variable in damage and rehabilitation assessment and estimates after the 2005 earthquake, ranging from $1 billion to $7 billion. The estimates or assessment of the damages caused by the recent floods also vary greatly – from $8 billion to $20 billion, or even more. The estimates of about $10 billion made by the World Bank and the and Asian Development Bank seem on the lower side due to original costs having been used, rather than the inflated rates prevailing today. They are in a position to provide the required funds and they had the various agencies and organisations in place to do the job through their workers and volunteers and to obtain the most reliable data.

The Pakistani government lacks foresight and the ability to foresee a disaster and plans for urgent response. Everything is done on an ad hoc and day-to-day basis. There are many so-called experts and intellectuals who excel in preparing feasibility reports with lots of suggestions. My own experience is that such thick reports, which contain a lot of data, are hardly ever studied by the government officials responsible and end up in cupboards and ultimately disposed of.

Here I would like to give my own views on the various assessments. In Pakistan army units and local land/revenue officials are always available on the spot. They are in the best position to assess the local damages and needs after a calamity, and to do so quickly and accurately.

I believe that the report prepared by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, though nearer to the mark, still lacks true estimates. This is evident from the report titled "Civil Society's Rapid Appraisal of Flood Damage and Need Assessment Process." The information for this report was collected from flood-affected people, local officials and civil society organisations from affected districts in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. Unfortunately, this report does not give any information about Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The most astonishing fact that emerges from this report is the fact that the majority of the community groups interviewed expressed ignorance about any assessment conducted in their area by government and official agencies to ascertain damage and needs. This casts serious doubts on the authenticity and validity of the comprehensive report prepared by the World Bank/Asian Development Bank. Its estimates of $8-10 billion were considered too low. On the other hand, the estimates of the ministry of finance of about $30 billion were considered too high. If we make an educated guess, the estimate would be in the range of about $20 billion. It was definitely a setback for the government, which had projected the damages at $43 billion.

Extensive research has been done, and information published, on flood damages and rehabilitation expenditures by journalists, NGOs and researchers. Researcher and columnist Dr Farrukh Saleem has written extensively on this subject. His analysis and estimates are usually reliable.

(To be continued)






For some unknown reason, it was only after landing in Jakarata that I felt an "adrenaline rush", although the main event of my trip was held in Kuala Lumpur, where some 300 people had gathered in Mahsa University College's auditorium for the second Abdullah Yusuf Ali Lecture, for which I had chosen the theme, "Between Believers and Disbelievers: Quran in the Contemporary World". The lecture was jointly organised by the Islamic Book Trust and Yayasn Pendidikan Islam in honour of a man whose translation of the Holy Quran has helped millions of human beings since 1938, when it was first published by a Lahore publisher.

The inaugural lecture of the series was delivered by M A Sherif in December 2008. Sherif is the author of Searching for Solace, the only book-length biography of Abduallah Yusuf Ali, who was found sitting on the steps of a house in Westminster on a harsh winter day of 1953. On that Wednesday, December 9, the confused old man was taken by the police to Westminster Hospital. The next day, he was discharged from the hospital and taken to a London County Council home for the elderly situated on Dovehouse Street, Chelsea. The next day, he suffered a heart attack, was rushed to St Stephen's Hospital in Fulham where he died three hours later.

There were no relatives to claim the body and arrange his funeral. However, the deceased was known to the Pakistan High Commission and as soon as the coroner for the County of London had completed the inquest, an Islamic burial was arranged in the Muslim section of Brookwood cemetery, Surrey, where his grave is not visited by many people today.

When he died at the age of 81, his translation of the glorious Quran was hardly known outside a small circle. Today, it is virtually found everywhere in the world. Thus I felt honoured to be in Kuala Lumpur to deliver the second Abdullah Yusuf Ali lecture, named after a man whose life reflected, within its macro-cosmic details, some of the fundamental dilemmas of those muslims who were born in the nineteenth century – a century of deluge, which witnessed the colonisation of almost the entire Muslim world – as well as those who lived in the first half of the twentieth century, torn between the dictates of their faith and loyalties to their colonial rulers.

For those muslims, the world was divided into two neat compartments: there was the dead past with its dim glow which failed to evoke any sense of glamour or glory, especially in comparison to the power of the king-emperor – whose glamorous portraits adorned the high offices of the empire not too long ago. And whose dominion, by 1922, consisted of almost one-quarter of the world's population, covering 34 million square km, which is almost a quarter of the Earth's total land area – an empire over which the sun never set, as they used to say. If they were not the loyal subjects of the British emperor, muslims then likely lived in the vast realm of a French colonial empire which extended over 13 million square kilometres at its height, covering some 8.7 per cent of the total land of Earth, and about five per cent of the world population. Of course, there were muslims who lived outside the territories occupied by the British, French, Dutch, or Russian colonizing powers, but even the 18 million muslims who lived in the declining Ottoman Empire (1299-1923) or the far fewer number who lived in the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925) of Iran during the period under consideration, felt the force of European influence and power more intimately than the force and influence of their own historical past.

For all practical purposes, their own historical past was dead, not because they had ceased to be Muslim. Although forced or coerced abandonment of faith was surely the most humiliating part of the colonial experience of millions of muslims, especially those under Soviet rule in Central Asia but because muslims who lived in occupied lands drew little psychological, emotional, or intellectual inspiration from their own glorious tradition in any meaningful way. It was a time when the imperial European presumption that both Islam and Muslims had become a "spent force" was written large on the wall for everyone to see.

In my lecture, I addressed the situation of the Quran in the contemporary world with respect to those who believe in its Divine origins, as well as those who do not. I mentioned that the verdict passed against Islam and Muslims at the time of colonization was based on brute military force, but it also emerged in the wake of a rich crop of ascending European "isms", which fuelled the European domination of the world in many ways. The most important of these new "isms" was secular humanism that reduced everything to the human plane and rejected all supra-human realms as superstitious dogma; religion was the most important casualty of this new philosophy which based itself exclusively on human reason, from which it extracted a new ethical system purely based on human considerations. It strove to make the here-and-now the pinnacle of all human activity. Human life was to be lived to the utmost limits in fulfilment of a self-constructed meaning and purpose, which had no consideration for the Hereafter and which was based on a total forgetfulness of the sacred origin of all things including human life itself. This new philosophy was fully supported by an ascending science in whose theories people had more faith than they had in God and whose "fruits" everyone could see in the form of newly laid railway tracks, new modes of communication, and numerous other existing and emergent technological innovations which were changing the way life was lived over the world.

(To be continued)

The writer is a freelance columnist.








A sense of gloom pervades the spirit. Another gruesome tragedy, this time in the heart of Lahore. Parents of Justice Javed Iqbal murdered in cold blood. The notion of things falling apart comes to mind repeatedly. The structures of the state are collapsing and yet the shell gives an appearance of normality. There is a government, a prime minister, a cabinet and provincial setups. Civil servants get up every morning and go to office. The superior courts appear to be functioning with reports of high profile cases filling the newspapers. Other institutions such as the Election Commission etc also intrude into our consciousness with a statement or two.

Yet, beneath all this, beneath the self-important apex structures of the state, there is complete chaos. The underpaid police assigned to maintain order is in a total shambles and for a long time has been a predatory institution. The sad part is that it is almost required to survive through corruption, given what is invested in it in terms of salaries, equipment and the general working environment.

The justice system particularly at the local level has become a joke. Corruption is rampant with an unholy alliance between different elements of the legal fraternity. The few honest judges have seen their fate after the lawyers thrashed some and others got booted out under pressure. Why should anyone resist now. It is better to team up with influential elements and go laughing all the way to the bank.

So much for law and the much abused word, order. If a system can neither protect nor give justice, it is a failure. On this bar, we already live in a failed state. Consider yourself lucky if you have so far escaped serious assault or never had to interact with the police or the courts.

If this is the state of affairs for the well to do, imagine how the poor are faring. In the villages, a common saying is that God protects you from a serious illness or a court case. The allusion is that both these things will drive you into poverty. And many have been. It may be a cry in the wilderness but today I want to focus on this, on how to give legal protection to the poor.

There is little doubt that any kind of legal empowerment creates conditions for the security of the poor and has the possibility of increasing upward mobility that 'may' help them to climb the economic ladder. The difficulty is not in envisioning such an outcome. It is in creating the necessary framework – legal, political, social – that allows this to happen.

It is also true that just reforming the legal system, which in itself is not an easy task, only solves one part of the problem. The challenge is to propose mechanisms that allow the poor to have a level playing field while interfacing with the legal system.

This by definition means that any intervention will be based on the assumption that the poor are unable to get justice from the system because they lack financial and social resources to compete with powerful adversaries on equal terms.

It is here that the state has to intervene by creating legal aid mechanisms. While entrenched social hierarchies are impossible to bridge through state interventions, it is hoped that the establishment of a legal aid structure for the poor would go some way towards creating the possibility of a fairer deal for them.

The task of creating such a legal aid mechanism is not easy. It means mobilising individual lawyers or groups of them to provide legal services to the poor. While these would not be pro bono or without payment, the scope of work would necessarily include more than just court appearances on behalf of their clients. It would require interfacing with the police and perhaps with the prison system to ensure that the poor are not short changed.

There are other problems. Conflicts do not arise between the rich and the poor only; quite often, they are among the poor. Any mechanism of legal empowerment would have to differentiate between conflicts that require assistance with the legal system and others that can be resolved through alternate dispute resolution methods.

ADR mechanisms have a long history in our country, particularly in the rural areas. Afraid of the complexities of the legal system, the poor often revert to local landowners or political influentials to resolve their disputes. In some areas, local panchayat's or committees of village elders also help.

The problem with these 'spontaneous' alternate dispute resolution mechanisms is that they function reasonably well when disputes between equals is involved. They are largely ineffective when the dispute is between the poor and the relatively well off.

Since, legal empowerment of the poor essentially means empowering them to compete in near equal terms with the rich; the challenge will be to take into account and possibly overcome social structures and hierarchies that have congealed over a long period of time.

In any conflict between the rich and the poor, the rich have an advantage not only because of their financial resources. The wealth is usually backed up by a generation or two of upward social mobility. This means linkages based on blood, clan or tribal ties and networks based on social status. All of these add up to inroads into the state structure and in particular into its legal system.

These linkages are also carefully nurtured and this behaviour has become a part of the social ethos of the local elites especially in the rural areas. The poor are thus disadvantaged not only because they are poor but also because they do not have the social, clan, or tribal interface with important actors in the legal system. To bring about any change in this dialectic is far from easy.

The political factor also automatically becomes a part of the equation. Representative democracy in general throws up one or the other part of the local elite into positions of political prominence. While adult franchise has made a difference and has empowered the poor somewhat, it is still difficult for them to challenge the elites in an election. They do not have either the resources or the clan and tribal linkages to succeed and seldom become candidates.

The field is thus open only to the local elites and they in turn rely on the support structure of their own peer group. This means that whenever any conflict develops between the rich and the poor, the political representatives would side with people of their own class unless it suits them politically to do otherwise. This adds to the burden that the poor are carrying when interfacing with the legal system.

The task thus of legally empowering the poor means taking on an entrenched social order and that is not easy. While difficult, it is not impossible. It is a challenge worth undertaking because any change that can be brought about in the social equation of power would have a tremendous impact.

The question is how can it be brought about and who will do it?

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.







In the aftermath of Salmaan Taseer's assassination — on the pretext of a transgression he had never made, and at the hands of not one man but fanaticism shared by many, nurtured in this society for long — the whipping up of emotions by religio-political parties continue unabated. It is a political game being played in the name of faith and even after the prime minister, the interior minister, the law minister, etc either capitulating under pressure from the right wing parties or themselves having no commitment to amend, let alone repeal, any laws introduced during General Ziaul Haq's obscurantist rule, these parties continue to agitate.

What irony that rather than the PPP's top leadership organising meetings and reaching out to people, and telling them how unjustified is the killing of their diehard worker and sitting governor, rallies are organised in favour of the perpetrator of the crime by those who provide legitimacy to such acts to further their quest for power. The tragedy of this proportion warranted a concerted response, the prime minister addressing the nation and educating them about what is wrong with these injunctions of the Pakistan Penal Code and why people should not be misled. At least, the able information minister could have been given the task to speak publicly to explain why the governor embraced martyrdom. The passing of a resolution for not even touching these controversial articles of the PPC by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly confirms disappointment in ANP leadership.

As one had expected, the supposedly mainstream religious parties like Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, Fazlur Rahman Group (JUI-F) and Jamaat-i-Islami have taken charge of the movement that includes Sami-ul-Haq's faction of JUI, groups of Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Pakistan, Sunni Tehreek, etc. They are riding the public sentiment that is rooted in pure ignorance of the history of apostasy, renunciation of religion, forgiveness, reconversion, blaspheming against the holy books or prophets, and multiple interpretations offered on these issues by various jurisprudences prevalent among Muslims. People have no idea how these concepts from Judo-Christian theological traditions, guided by the expediencies of their pre-medieval rulers, got permeated into Islamic texts. People are not given an opportunity to hear out why serious religious scholars in Pakistan like Dr Khalid Masood, Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, Khalid Zaheer and the late Dr Farooq Ahmed Khan have been critical of the existence and usage of these laws promulgated through the PPC. Nor are they given an opportunity to learn about other Muslim societies.

It is not true that the majority of Pakistanis are stubborn and are not willing to understand. Whatever rituals they observe and sects they follow, they have revered humanists like Shah Latif Bhittai, Rehman Baba, Bulleh Shah, Khwaja Fareed and Mast Tawakkali for centuries. But today, even the possibility of speaking the simple truth — forget about voicing different opinions — is being snatched away. The space for any dialogue is being occupied by a rhetoric based on falsehood and an utter disregard for basic human values.


It is already late for the civil and military establishment of Pakistan to realise that, besides causing the society to rot from within, religio-political parties are creating conditions for foreign intervention which will devoid us of our already fragile sovereignty, state assets and any remaining power to manoeuvre. With our economy in a shambles, viewed internationally as breeding terrorism and having hostile frontiers, our existence is at stake. We need to curb extremism by reaching out to people at large, drying up sources of support for those doing politics in the name of religion and putting a halt to their appeasement.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy. Email: harris.








ACCORDING to an investigative report appearing in this newspaper, Rawalpindi once again played a decisive role in defusing the political tension arising out of the deadline given by PML(N) Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif to the Government to respond to his 10-point national agenda or face unspecified cycle of reprisals and retaliations. This was reminiscent of the telephonic call by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that saved the day on the occasion of Long March organized by political parties and the civil society to press for restoration of sacked judges of the superior courts.

This is yet another manifestation of the resolve of the Army leadership to support the ongoing democratic process and play its role in stabilizing the situation. It is known to all that the three day deadline given by MNS, which was extended by another three days in view of tragic killing of Governor Salman Taseer, two major Political Parties were pursuing the path of head-on collision, as there were indications from statements of some Ministers and governmental spokesmen that the PPP would respond to the ultimatum after expiry of the deadline, which was a clear signal that the Party had no intention of accepting the agenda proposed by the largest Opposition Party. However, it was a telephonic call from Rawalpindi that made all the difference and forced the two sides to adopt a reconciliatory approach. That is why, Mian Nawaz Sharif took pains in explaining the unexplainable that he did not give any ultimatum and Prime Minister Gilani accepted the agenda without any reservations. The question of personal ego notwithstanding, the ten points suggested by PML(N) have the potential, at least, to halt the process of economic regeneration that is a source of concern not only for Pakistan Army but also the people of this country. Worries of the Army are understandable, as the country was passing through worst kind of recession partly because of external factors and partially due to wrong policies of the Government. A stage has come where there are genuine apprehensions that the economy was on the verge of collapse as the Government finds it difficult even to pay salaries to its employees and meet other day-to-day expenses, with serious consequences for political sovereignty of the State. Under these circumstances, Army is genuinely apprehensive of the consequences and one must appreciate its role calming down the political tension that would allow the Government to concentrate on economy.







THE visit of the US Vice President, Joe Biden is being viewed by analysts and commentators as a gesture of support to Pakistan as it came in the backdrop of important tour of President Barack Obama to India, where he made valuable concessions to New Delhi in its bid to advance its strategic interests. It was in this background that during his brief stay in Islamabad, the US leader tried to assuage fears of Pakistani people about intentions and actions of Washington.

With the exception of the country's nuclear programme about which there are legitimate concerns in Pakistan that the US wants its rollback, the American Vice President dealt at length with what he called misconception about his country, including those pertaining to security and survival of Pakistan, war on terror and violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and US policies towards Islam and its followers. Though Biden gave categorical assurances to send a strong message that the US wants Pakistan to stabilize and prosper yet they say actions speak louder than words and we would suggest to Washington to change its negative, discriminatory and lopsided policies that speak for themselves. He is also reported to have assured Pakistani leadership that there would be no American boots on Pakistani soil. If media reports are to be believed, Pakistani leadership certainly did well by speaking to the guest in plain language, telling him that the country would not tolerate 'great game' in Afghanistan and that operation in North Waziristan would be suicidal. It seems that the US has not learnt any lesson in Afghanistan despite being in occupation of the country for about a decade, as it still insists on more reliance on use of brutal force while Pakistan wants a negotiated settlement to bring this conflict to an end. The US Afghan strategy is ambiguous and lacked cohesion and that is why its own allies are finding excuses to get rid of the 'blanket'. Policy-makers in Washington should remove these ambiguities and work towards a clear-cut exit strategy as the continued war is impacting upon the global as well as US economy.








A Chinese firm AMLONG has shown interest for setting up a steel mill of one million tons capacity at Kalabagh based on local iron ore deposits. A delegation of the Firm has already visited the site of the deposits and was given detailed briefing by officials of the Engineering Development Board.

The proposal to utilize the deposits by setting up a steel mill at Kalabagh had long been under consideration of various governments. It is unclear why the successive governments have not pursued the plan to exploit substantial deposits. According to the Geological Survey of Pakistan, Kalabagh (Mianwali District) holds substantial iron ore reserves of approximate 9,300 million tons. On this basis , the idea of constructing the second largest steel mill at Kalabagh was explored by the Musharraf regime in 2004 but there had been no progress on the ground. It appears that the whole attention of the governments in Pakistan had been on political matters rather than exploiting natural resources for the development of the country which are in abundance in all parts of the country. Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) remains the largest industrial unit in the country with an annual production capacity of 1.1 million tons but it is facing huge losses and the Government had to bail it out several times because it utilizes imported material and is beset with allegations of rampant corruption. As a result, downstream industries are suffering due to PSM's year on year trend of inefficiency and recorded financial losses. The government therefore needs to focus on developing and supporting mini steel mills which require less capital investment and based on supply from local iron ore deposits in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan. In this scenario the offer, particularly by a firm from time tested friendly country China be welcomed and availed on a top priority basis without losing time because investors get disgruntled by the bureaucratic jungle of Islamabad where files move at a snail's pace.









Although romantics stress the "closeness" between India and Pakistan (especially when they go armed with candles to the Wagah border crossing),the reality is that the two countries have evolved on entirely different trajectories. For the people of Pakistan, the special privileges given to those professing themselves to be Muslim are as natural as they are in Saudi Arabia.In India, the laws mandate that all religions should be treated equally. However, because of the effort of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to make Muslims feel secure in India after the bloodbath that followed partition, the minorities have been given privileges denied to the majority (Hindu) community. For example,schools and other educational institutions run by minority owners are exempted from most of the severe laws that are applied on those run by Hindus. And while almost all big Hindu temples are (mis)run by the government, the religious institutions of Christians and Muslims are free of state control.There would be an outcry if the many beautiful mosques and churches of India were to come under bureaucratic control,the way Hindu temples are.Interestingly,even while the so-called "Hindu" BJP was in power ( 1998-2004),it did nothing to free temples from state control.Clearly,the advantages of having wealthy temples firmly in the government grip outweighed the pull of ideology.In India,'Sabse Bada Rupaiya". Money trumps all.

However,the advantages given to the minorities and the equality of status they enjoy in India are a far cry from the privileged position of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two countries that are increasingly being linked together by a common socio-religious culture. When Muslims from India go to locations such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and see the way the faith they love has been given a privileged status in these two countries (as indeed,in Malaysia and in the entire GCC Group), some get upset that a similar high pedestal is not provided for them in India. However, most are happy at being part of a secular society, although this makes them different from the populations of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan,two religious states where a single faith rules. However,the difference between India and Pakistan excludes the economic elite. Those who are super-rich are the same in any part of the globe. They drink the same brands of alchohol and favour London and Paris as holiday destinations rather than Shimla or Murree. When they meet each other,their common values ( centred around their money) ensure smooth interaction. So while there are huge differences between an average Pakistani and an average Indian,there is almost no difference between a super-rich Pakistani and a super-rich Indian. Such closeness gives an illusion that the entire society is similar,when in fact it is not.

A huge difference between India and Pakistan is the difference in treatment given to the Chief of Army Staff in both countries.In Pakistan,where the army flowered at a time when Washington saw those in uniform as better bets than those in civvies (a trend that is still followed by the US in the case of Pakistan), the Chief of Army Staff is given greater attention by the US than the President of Pakistan,whereas in India,it is the civilians that control the Ministry of Defense.Indeed,this has been carried to ridiculous lengths because of the legacy of Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal or""Pappu" as she affectionately called him). Both the Nehrus distrusted the military,and even refused to staff the Ministry of Defense with specialist administrators,the way the ministries of Finance and External Affairs are manned (or more appropriately,"womanned",considering that the Foreign Secretary is the charming Mrs Nirupama Rao ). The conseqence is that Defense is looked after by administrators who do not know the difference between a camera tripod and an AK-47,and yet are asked to decide on weapons systems. Such ignorance is perfect for the international arms merchants and their many sayisfied Indian agents,who regularly palm off substandard equipment on the armed forces at huge cost. The case of Russia is illustrative.In the past,China used to be an important market for Moscow,but since Hu Jintao came to power in 2002, that country has become a technological giant,so that Beijing needs to import less and less from Russia. These days,the Chinese are even on the cusp of producing their own Stealth Fighter Aircraft (which they will surely share with Pakistan),while India is yet to deploy a Light Combat Aircraft that is an amalgam of several foreign concepts.

India is the only major democracy where the armed forces are given next to no voice in key decisions involving their ability to defend the country. While some official can come direct from the Sports or the Food Ministry into the leadership of the Defense Ministry,there is nobody from the Army,Navy or Air Force who has been seconded even as a Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Defense. Indeed,those in uniform are kept far away from the cobweb-filled,monkey-infested corridors of the Ministry of Defense in Delhi, much to the detriment of rational decision-making in the Ministry.Thus far,no one has dared to challenge the Nehru legacy of ignoring the vast expertise of those in unform in matters relating to a ministry that they ought to play the biggest role in. All this is of course in contrast to Pakistan,which has gone to the other extreme of military officers having control of sectors that have no relationship with Defense,including several times control of the entire government,as took place when Pervez Musharraf (who had been legally dismissed by an elected Prime Minister) was in charge of the country.

Although the top rungs of the US military regularly appear before the US Senate and the House of Representatives,in India the armed forces have thus far not appeared before committees of Parliament. Dr Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP,who is Chairman of the powerul Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, has broken this convention by asking the Chief of Army Staff to appear before the PAC to discuss about the functioning of the Canteen Stores Department of the army. There have been several complaints from troops about the supply of dry rations to them,and several have contacted their families,who have in turn got in touch with their MPs about the matter. To the credit of Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh,instead of refusing to appear before the Committee,he immediately agreed,and came before the PAC on January 12,together with the Chief of Air Staff ( Air Marshal P V Naik) and Vice-Chief of Naval Staff V K Deewan. The hearings were marked by cordiality and at the end of the process,the Chiefs went back with a bagful of suggestions from the MPs about the best way of running this important department. For it needs to be remembered that "an army marches on is stomach".

Overall,the armed forces in India are one of the most efficient and honest arms of the government. However,lately thee have been a curious series of negative reports about the army,navy and air force,seeking to paint all three as cesspools of corruption,when in fact it is those out of uniform who are the real wrongdoers.This (apparently organised) campaign against the Indian military is similar to what was seen in Sri Lanka for more than a decade before Mahinda Rajapaksa took over as President in 2005.There too,the army,navy and air force were vilified by several media outlets, so much so that they became demoralozed.It is to Rajapaksa's credit that he got this campaign of slander reversed by highlighting the quality and role of the Sri Lankan military. Indeed,for years afterwards,a favourite jingle for the answering tones of mobile phones was a ditty that celebrated the army! The better morale was instrumental in defeating the LTTE in 2009. India is still in what may be slled the "Ranil Wickremasinghe" phase, where the military is being abused by some NGOs and media outlets in a way that may demoralize the troops. Each country needs a military,and India more than most.

By conforming to traditions that are commonplace in the US but unfamiliar in India,the Service Chiefs have unconsciously brought two future allies - the US and India - closer. Hopefully,the Defense Minister of India, A K Antony,will borrow a leaf from the Pentagon and give those in uniform a greater voice in decision-making than they have have had since the Britush left India in 1947.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








Despite having survived another political storm, which nearly cost its premature demise, the three-year old government of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) appears to have a death wish. Every few weeks, the ruling democratic dispensation shoots itself in the foot and creates tribulations, which have political pundits guessing dates for its collapse. When the PPP assumed the mantle of power, after winning the elections, riding on a sympathy wave for its slain leader, it was cognizant of the fact that it did not have the numbers to form the government in Islamabad or any of the provinces single handedly, so it indulged in the politics of forming coalitions. They say politics makes strange bedfellows and Pakistan is no exception. In Sindh, the PPP teamed up with MQM, while in Punjab, it had to ride on the coattails of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), led by its indomitable leader Mian Nawaz Sharif. In the NWFP, which has since been renamed as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Awami National Party (ANP) of Asfandyar Wali held the sway, while in Balochistan it had to seek the support of Maulana Fazlur Rahman's Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), which also lent a helping hand in the coalition government when Gilgit Baltistan gained autonomous status. As often happens in such marriages of convenience, the coalition became tumultuous whenever clash of interests occurred. The first test came in the matter of the restoration of the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP). Despite his promise to accede to PML (N)'s recommendation, the PPP co-chairperson and President of Pakistan Mr. Asif Ali Zardari showed no signs of letting Chief Justice Iftikhar regain his status. Mian Nawaz Sharif decided to lead a "Long March" from Lahore to the Parliament Building in Islamabad, with the Black Coats in tow. The situation became grim at the possibility of a bloody altercation between the two erstwhile coalition partners that the Army Chief had to use coercive diplomacy to keep Mian Sahib at bay and Asif Ali Zardari to restore the CJP.

PPP's ulterior motives became apparent when they tried to rock the boat in Punjab and dislodge the PML (N) through their handpicked Governor Salman Taseer. Unfortunately, the scheme backfired but the PML (N) became disgruntled. The deposition of the NRO cases by the judiciary, the annulment of the 17th amendment and the price hikes brought the PML (N) and PPP to cross swords again. The passage of the annulment of 17th amendment bill unanimously from the National Assembly did help matters, but the ruling party's ulterior motives soon prevailed again. One clear example is the recent 'coalition politics' where the tussle between different coalition partners grew stronger and the subsequent political unrest in different provinces including Sindh, where target killings have become the order of the day. Dismissal of two ministers of the Hajj scam caused JUI (F) to part ways with the coalition, although the governments of Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan have not been disturbed. The land mafia's advent and target killings in Karachi and the hike in petroleum products prices resulted in the MQM quitting the coalition at the center. It was now a matter of moments before the government at the center would topple. It swallowed a bitter pill and tried to entice PML (Q), but it refused to bite. PML (N), acted finally and presented a ten point agenda for the ruling junta to agree to within three days and implement within forty five days, if agreed upon, otherwise it would mobilize the masses into street agitation. Unfortunately, while the PML (N) Press Conference was in progress, PML (N)'s tormentor in Punjab, Governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his own security guard for his views on the anti-blasphemy law. PPP announced three days mourning but the high level assassination signaled a divide in the country between religious extremists and moderates. PPP meanwhile managed to woo back its erstwhile coalition partner MQM by restoring the original prices of petroleum products. PML (N)'s agenda was also agreed to, bringing some cheer to the masses.

It remains to be seen whether the PPP is sincere in implementing the ten point agenda of PML (N) or has just made another promise to gain more time. However it appears that the PPP has a death wish. Within 48 hours of Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani having acceded to PML (N)'s ten point agenda, the PPP fired the first broadside. Indirect contravention of one of PML (N)'s main points of weeding out corruption and sacking those responsible for it, PPP appointed Sardar Lateef Khosa as the new Governor of Punjab. Sardar Khosa's name is not only tarnished with corruption, but he is also accused of having leveled charges against the CJP. His only qualification is that he is an ally of the Chaudhries of Gujrat and a thorn in the side of PML (N).

Meanwhile the US and IMF are upset by the reduction in petroleum products' prices. The political upheaval and economic morass has caused the US President to rush his deputy, Joe Biden to Pakistan on an unannounced visit.

The current wave of making or breaking alliances appears to be nothing but a bid to build peace on the graves of butchered innocent souls with the ashes. People want change after having bitter experience both at the democratic and military alternating rules. The rampant corruption, high inflation, price hike, injustice and lawlessness are hurting every individual. The suicide bombings and fear of insecurity is adding fuel to fire. If the politicians really want to serve the country, they will have to sink their difference and stop playing the politics of coalition and instead of lining their own nests, do something to uplift the condition of the masses or face a people's revolution. The US too appears to be having second thought regarding the horse it bet upon and Joe Biden was here to feel the pulse of the people and devise corrective actions or perhaps change horses midstream to retrieve a hopeless situation, fulfilling PPP's death wish.







While banks may be flush with cash, it is little comfort to the average customer who is not getting much joy with his loan applications. Perhaps, the absence of trust in the first round of the recession is still having a residual effect. Banks are chary to put out the money but then, again, two factors come into play that should make the mindset change as the worst seems over and the recovery is swift.

The main point is that most borrowers are honest and do pay back the loan amount. Getting loans should, therefore, not become an onerous process. Again, history in the UAE has shown that banks have not lost money per se on either loans or on credit cards and their defaulter quotient is built in to their profits to ensure that the individual borrower never really bruises the financial institutions bottom line. Keeping these factors in mind if offering loans to people is made easier and not predicated on mistrust not only will all these friendly banks actually be friendly but they will also be jumpstarting the economic recovery by encouraging spending. By making the loan so difficult a process and subject to so much scrutiny these finance houses are reducing their own profit margins. What is the point of being flush if you don't make more money out of it. A more forward thinking institution would reinforce its faith in the system and the nation by upping the trust factor and taking what is largely a notional risk by offering easy loans because not only does that percolate money up and down the hierarchy but it also rejuvenates the retail market. The major banks have studied their histories in the so called good days and they must know that honesty is still the key word for the large majority of people and will continue to be the main element even in the future. In a high tech world where there is enough policing there is very little place to hide from a loan default and the combination of social embarrassment, stress, fear and anxiety don't make it worthwhile to be on the run. As any credit card holder who pays minimum payments will confirm he or she has already paid out several times the owed sums of money so why this reluctance to establish a stronger rapport with the base customer.—Khaleej Times







It would be a deadly sin if the Lebanese opposition withdrew from the government. Naturally, the government will fall as the opposition holds a third of the seats. The opposition, led by Hezbollah, General Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, claims that the majority, led by Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri, was behind the collapse of the so-called Saudi-Syrian Settlement Package, which was supposed to address the issue of the United Nations Special Tribunal. The panel, set up by the UN Security Council, is expected to soon issue a charge sheet against members of Hezbollah for the assassination of Sa'ad's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah, obviously the most powerful armed group in Lebanon, warned of "dire consequences" if its members are accused in the 2005 murder and called on the government to withdraw its support to the tribunal. The majority has so far rejected the demand and both sides were counting on a Saudi-Syrian mediation effort to figure a way out of the dilemma. But reports say the Syrians have been told by Saudi officials that Riyadh will not be able to go ahead with the proposed settlement. But is withdrawing the opposition ministers from the cabinet the rational answer? Certainly not. If Lebanon has ever needed a strong and united government to deal with the political and security challenges, it is today. Just imagine if the UN tribunal issued its charge sheet against Hezbollah and there was no government in place. What would happen? The Lebanese factions need to calm down, refrain from provocative unilateral steps and give more time to mediation, also offered yesterday by Qatar and Turkey. And frankly, the people need their political leaders to focus on more pressing issues such as the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, which are fuelling social and political unrest in other countries. Lebanon needs consensus-oriented statesmen more than ever who can bridge the gap and bring the country together.—Gulf News










People say; Good leadership is like prized perfume. Its very first scented waft announces its presence with astonishing freshness. Bad leadership like skunk just stinks. Democracy is not a separate ideology from Islam. In fact democracy is very much there in Islam. There is no concept of dictatorship, popism (mullaiyat) and totalitarianism in Islam. Islam doesn't believe in any kind of Monarchy and Oligarchy. When we analyze what democracy is we come to the conclusion that it is nothing but the sense of Responsibility and Accountability. The absolute system of governing, which Islam presents totally based upon three golden fundamentals i.e. Consultation, Responsibility and Accountability. The political system of Islam totally depends upon Shooraiat (consultation). The significance of consultation in governance proves by this that a complete surah in Quran is named "Al-shoorah" (consultation).

The nectar of good governance and effective administration is enshrined in its leadership's personal integrity and self-accountability; in justice for all, and in people's freedom to speak out. The American Constitution prides itself for incorporating in its preamble the five basic responsibilities of the government – justice for all; ensuring domestic tranquility; providing for common defense; promoting general welfare and lastly, securing the blessings of liberty to people and to their posterity. Hazrat Umer in the 7 th century extolled and applied these principles – already available to him through Islam – in letter and spirit, and without any exceptions during his reign.

"No man is above the law and no man below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor". -Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

"Hazrat Umer (R.A) was courageous, unselfish, and passionately committed to the ideals of justice and equity which had been so lacking in the Meccan polity." – Karen Armstrong, "Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time', pg185 Hazrat Umer, by all accounts, was an "energetic and brilliant" man. He can, of course, be called the forerunner of any, "visionary modern state", in the comity of 192 countries of the world, in which people are prosperous and safe, are treated equally by the law of the state, irrespective of their social or financial status; are habitually law-abiding, and fair in their dealings, are literate and tolerant, and above all, are thoroughly charitable and honest. He, during his tenure of ten years, six months and four days, not only accomplished these ideals in some very difficult times, but also lived to see people willingly live by them.

As described in connection with the life of Hadrat Abu-Bakr, during his illness he consulted the "Shura" about the next "Khalifah" and then gave his decision in favour of Hadrat Umar (R.A.) who took the charge of Caliphate after the death of Hadrat Abu Bakr (R.A.) His caliphate marked the "Golden Age" of Islam. He was a very pious Muslim. His success lay in two things-fear of Allah and his love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH). He never used even oil from the Bait-ul-Mal (Public Treasury) to burn a lamp at night for his personal needs. Whenever he finished the official work he put off the lamp.

He used to patrol in the city at night to find out the needs and requirements, and conditions of the people. He did not hesitate to take his wife to work as a midwife for a poor woman. The salary he got from the Bait-ul-Mal was so low that it was hardly enough for him and his family's needs. When some of the eminent Muslims requested him to increase the amount he, said, "The Holy Prophet (Sallallahu 'alaihi wa Sallam) has left a standard by his personal example. I must follow him". Hadrat Umar was the most just ruler in the Islamic History. All the citizens, including the Caliph himself, were equal before law. Once he appeared before a court at Medina to clarify his position against a complaint. The Qadi (Judge) wanted to stand in his honour, but he did not allow him to do so, so that there would be no distinction between him and an ordinary person before Law. Courts were completely independent and free to give its verdict on any matter that was presented before them even if it was against state or khalifah. The government couldn't interfere in their decisions. He was really the founder of modern democratic system.

As far as Khalifa is concerned, he had no right and power to forgive or condone those who were prosecuted and convicted by the courts. There was complete supremacy and rule oflaw. They were all equal in the eyes of law whether they were rich or poor, ruler or labourer. Nothing was hidden from anyone regarding matters or policies relating to Government and state. Khalifa used to tell participants in Jummah prayer in mosque about important issues. Every citizen could enquire about any thing. Democracy was ruling in its best shape. Khalifa was held responsible and was subject to answer to his people. History is full of different examples that how Khalifa consulted Majlis-e-Shoorah on different issues and how sahabah reacted, criticised and gave their opinions.

Once a Christian complained to Hazrat Umer when he was in the Harem in Makka that he had been doubly taxed on his horse. He submitted this complaint when Umer was delivering the khutba there. Later when he returned to the capital, the same Nasrani (Christian) who had lodged the complaint came to him to remind him of it. Hazrat Umer told him, "I'm the Hanifi, who took care of your complaint there and then". During the famine days in 639 or around and while returning from Syria, he stopped by a lone tent in which there lived an old woman. He asked her, "How is Umer doing?" She replied, "I heard about him coming from Syria. God's curse be on him, I haven't received a single Hibba from him during these hard times." "How should Umer know about you, living so far away?' asked Hazrat Umer. She angrily replied, "What kind of caliph is he if he doesn't know how people are living under him". Hazrat Umer cried bitterly outside her tent. He later fixed a daily allowance for all those who were poor, jobless, or were people with special needs. Anybody leading apparently an easy life, but availing himself of that allowance was personally tested on the caliph whenever possible. If found guilty, he was chided in such words as, "You have belittled yourself in my eyes". During those hard times, Hazrat Umer was often found in a great agonizing state. He would cry and pray, "O God, do not inflict these people with hardships because of my doings".

Hazrat Umer did not believe in the concept of pre-destination as did many of his veteran officials and Sahabis such as Hazrat Abu Obaida, and Hazrat Muaz bin Jabal. During the breakout of an epidemic in 639 in Syria and Egypt. The army had been stationed at a low lying area. Hazrat Umer asked the commander, Hazrat Abu Obaidah, to remove it to the higher lands. He refused to do so contending it was, "Ifrar min Qadrutullah, i.e. it amounted to running from Taqdeer-e-Illahi". Meanwhile about 25 thousand soldiers perished. Hazrat Umer and Hazrat Umro bin al Aas always contented that the epidemic was a curse like the one which once had befallen Bani Israel. It needed to be dealt with "Tadbeer, logic and effort". But Hazrat Obaidullah and later Hazrat Muaz died, sticking to their pre-fated philosophy, contending that it was a blessing in the sense that it was test of their faith in God. In short he was the best example of an ideal character, and was the greatest "Khalifah" of Islam after Abu Bakr (R.A.). He selflessly devoted his whole energy for the cause of Islam. Muslims will always be indebted to him for his great achievements.







WITH the Brisbane and Ipswich floods peaking beneath the expected level, the waters in much of southeast Queensland are slowly retreating, for now at least, and people are starting to think about moving forward. It is hard to overstate the horror of what has happened or the trauma that will take years, perhaps lifetimes, to heal. There are 15 dead, including a young man drowned after being swept into a drain on a suburban street. Let us hope this first death in Brisbane is the last; let us hope that fears for scores of missing people in the Lockyer Valley and Ipswich are unfounded. Let us hope that as the skies clear, so do minds clouded by grief. But let us not forget what the people of southeast Queensland have been through and will continue to confront for days. What Toowoomba, the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and Brisbane have already endured is now being faced by communities to the west of the Great Divide as water spreads across the plains like an unstoppable invading army. Even where the rain that caused the catastrophe has passed, about 70 Queensland communities have been stricken by flooding over the past three weeks. People are dealing with the death of children and parents, relatives and friends. Thousands of Queenslanders have lost their lives' work, with homes demolished and possessions washed away. There are many, many more who are luckier, but who do not have the electricity and potable water they need to clean, let alone, inhabit their houses. Almost 15,000 residential properties and commercial premises are flooded, with an equal number again at least partially affected. Up to 125,000 Brisbane and Ipswich homes have no power and the forecast of when it will be restored is being measured in days and weeks. The time it will take to return flood-affected Brisbane to anything approaching normal life is demonstrated by yesterday's announcement that police will maintain around-the-clock patrols to protect property in deserted suburbs for three weeks. Ms Bligh is right to say the damage done is the equivalent of a war zone, but while the torrent in Toowoomba, the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and Brisbane has subsided, the mopping up is only beginning and plans for the reconstruction effort are not even on the drawing board.

If the past few days have tested the courage of Queenslanders, the months and years ahead will test their patience, determination and competence. The logistical, planning and economic challenge will define politics and community life well into the new decade and the long-term impact of the floods will extend across the nation as it absorbs the impact on mineral exports, the cost of assistance from the federal government and the unavoidable investment in infrastructure, not just to get Queensland back to where it was but to increase capacity, something overdue before this disaster. Already the estimate of the cost of the floods is running at between $10 billion and $20bn, with a potential cut to GDP over the year of 0.3 per cent. These are worrying figures, but the real cost in the time and effort of individuals returning to rescue their flooded homes and businesses will be hard to quantify. Numbers alone cannot convey the overwhelming level of work needed to salvage devastated communities.

It is too early to know whether the authorities could or should have done more to prepare for the deluge, but the good news is that a composed and practical Premier looks competent to oversee the reconstruction. Yesterday, Anna Bligh again struck the right note when she made it clear that notwithstanding the huge symbolism of a hi-tech floating walkway lost in the Brisbane River, replacing this destroyed landmark was not a high priority. Instead, she talked of the need to make the CBD operational quickly, the need to give priority to reopening arterial roads to get food and other resources into stricken regions. She emphasised it would not be possible to restore every road and that some flooded houses would have to be knocked down and rebuilt. There will have to be more of this plain speaking from the Premier in coming weeks. The restoration goes well beyond homes. Local facilities, parks and playing fields, schools and community centres, plus up to 5000 businesses in the capital alone have also been affected by the flood. Tourism will take a hit, with local industry chiefs estimating losses of hundreds of millions of dollars. Earlier floods to the north closed mines and cut rail links, reducing coal exports by $2bn this quarter. Then there is the damage to bridges, sewage lines and electricity and communications networks. The local government association says it will take two years to repair damage to council works. For Queensland, already challenged by inadequate infrastructure and export bottlenecks, the time and costs involved in setting the state to rights is a serious setback.

We struggle to see a silver lining in these particular dark and moisture-laden clouds, but at least the clean-up and reconstruction will kick cash into the economy. As The Australian reports today, the impact of the floods could resemble the global financial crisis -- a short- term hit followed by a stimulus as people replace ruined goods and reinvest in homes, shops, schools and infrastructure. Skilled labour will be in short supply, with business and government competing for engineers and electricians, carpenters, concreters and workers in a host of other trades and professions. These factors are likely to cause capacity constraints in other states and sectors and add to inflationary pressure at a time when policymakers are already juggling the two-speed economy.

All this should give Julia Gillard cause for pause as she makes good the government's promise to do anything necessary to help victims. The government must cover 75 per cent of the cost of natural disaster reconstruction and faces a damages bill of up to $5bn, a figure that will make it harder for Labor to return the federal budget to surplus in two years. Canberra's obligations are clear, and must be honoured. But the government should learn from the mistakes made during the GFC stimulus spending. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said this week the recovery job was "beyond the capacity of a single government". That is true, yet the carriage of the rebuilding project should be left to the state. Canberra should recognise its track record in project delivery is poor, that the federal bureaucracy lacks experience and expertise in managing large programs, demonstrated by the mess of the pink batts program and the endless overruns in defence expenditure. Despite Queensland's far-from-perfect management of the national Building the Education Revolution program, the reconstruction effort will be best left to the state and local government agencies closest to the affected communities. Ms Bligh has proved in the past few days that she knows Queensland and Queenslanders like the back of her hand. She now faces her biggest test. The Prime Minister has been exemplary in her willingness to be close to the victims of the floods. Now she must be sensible and prudent in recognising her role is to support, not direct, the recovery effort. Nor should Canberra adopt an open-ended approach to funding recovery. Inevitably there will be calls for the national government to bail out people who did not have flood insurance and for the taxpayer to purchase homes we now know should never have been built so close to the Brisbane River. People will point to the Victorian royal commission on the Black Saturday disaster, which made an equivalent recommendation for homes especially exposed to bushfire. But the Gillard government must use its resources where they will do the most good, helping the greatest number of people to rebuild their lives. The additional pressure on the public purse also gives Ms Gillard reason to review the $27.5bn it is committing to the National Broadband Network: the cost-benefit case for the NBN may be even harder to make in the face of the billions Queensland will need for basic infrastructure. A bitter irony of the disaster is that planners now have something of a tabula rasa to work with: in theory, they can rectify the mistakes of the past as they rebuild. In practice, they may have to move so quickly there will be little chance of that. Even so, our policymakers and politicians must learn from this extraordinary event. They must stay staunch as they are buffeted by competing demands from communities battered by the loss of life, homes and hope. Competence and clarity, as well as compassion, are needed from our leaders in the aftermath of this disaster.







The devastating floods have revealed both the power -- and the limits -- of the technology that defines modern life. As Australia struggles to absorb the knowledge that the modern city of Brisbane has been brought to a halt by water, it is reminded how easily the infrastructure we take for granted can be rendered impotent. Yesterday, in the nation's third-biggest city, mobile and fixed phones were disrupted, power was cut, and buildings evacuated as the CBD came face to face with the relentless force of nature. We have seen, too, how powerless technology has been to beat these events. What use a mobile phone, even a functioning phone, as the water bore down on Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley? Calling emergency from their cars could not save those caught in this extraordinary deluge.

The innovations of recent years have lulled modern men and women into believing that technology can harness nature and avert any crisis. When we can talk to people on Skype around the globe, see unfolding on our iPad a war on the other side of the world; when we can control human reproduction and transplant livers and lungs; when we can engineer extraordinary buildings and bridges it is hard to imagine we could be humbled by rain. But this week we have witnessed the vulnerability of a technology-dependent society. Indeed, the impact of a similar deluge in Queensland even 50 years ago would have been very different from the fallout this week now that urban life is so interconnected with technology.

Yet technology has also been the saviour in this disaster. As Premier Anna Bligh pointed out yesterday, rescue capability has been bolstered since the 1974 floods through more and better hardware, such as helicopters. The prediction and modelling of the events have been sophisticated and accurate, without doubt a long way ahead of the data available 36 years ago. Technology has also been an important way to communicate information to frightened people confronting serious threat to their lives and property. Television and radio are not new technologies but they have been used efficiently for warnings, alongside websites and mobile phone texting which have been effectively utilised by the authorities. Even Twitter, which has seemed at times to be an over-valued tool, has been a good way to alert people to danger. A mark of how rapidly technology is transforming our world is demonstrated by the way Queensland authorities have been able to quickly correct rumours and innacuracies circulated on Twitter.

So strong is our belief in the power of technology that some will find it hard to come to terms with the random nature of these events. We have become used to controlling our environment but it is not always possible to find a reason for tragedy or allocate blame. That does not remove the need to look at where processes have failed. Doubtless there have been mistakes; certainly we will find better ways to manage the landscape and protect householders. Ms Bligh said yesterday that when the worst was over, her government would look at whether the Wivenhoe dam can be upgraded to offer better flood mitigation. But she also pointed out that "dams do not stop floods" -- a reminder of the limits of technology.

That is something that many Australians are now learning first-hand even as they salute the extent to which societies have learnt to confront natural disasters in a co-ordinated and sophisticated manner.






APART from shock at the death and devastation, there is another reason why the Queensland floods, especially their invasion of Brisbane, have moved Australia. It's to do with Brisbane's transformation over the past 20-odd years from a place that southerners had once branded Australia's redneck capital. Outstripping complacent Sydney and reserved Melbourne, Brisbane turned itself into Australia's enterprising hub, a confident, cultured city looking to its future. With sad irony, one symbol of its reinvention involved embracing into the city's life the Brisbane River that has now laid much of it waste.

The river holds the key to the two Brisbanes. Abutting the business district, a tangle of freeways from the bad old days shuts the city off from its waterway. Directly opposite, South Bank is the new Brisbane. Careful planning has converted an old industrial site into a culture and leisure precinct defined by the river: a beach, a park, walkways, new eat-streets and world-class state art galleries and performance centres open to all. And an efficient CityCat ferry network had (until this week) used the river to link Brisbane with itself.

With almost 2 million people, Brisbane is Australia's fastest-growing city. In the five years to 2009 its growth rate was 2.3 per cent a year, against 2 per cent for Melbourne and 1.3 per cent for Sydney. Several things fed its dynamism. Having one local government for the entire metropolitan area, versus Sydney's 40-odd councils, helped make for efficiency and can-do spirit. Campbell Newman, Brisbane's folksy lord mayor, has been able to reach out to the city's entire population with his practical survival bulletins, in a crisis where a turbulent river does not stop at municipal boundaries.

Then, Brisbane has reaped cachet as the capital of a resource-rich state helping to drive Australia's two-speed economy. Last year Queensland accounted for two-thirds of Australia's black coal exports. New coal-seam gas projects are poised to go ahead. Damage to mines and wreckage to railways from the floods will shake all this, at least for a while.

Questions will be asked about whether the can-do state had done enough to insulate itself after the last big flood swamped Brisbane in 1974. The Wivenhoe Dam, built upstream on the Brisbane River, has been a mixed blessing. Large volumes of water released from the brim-full dam have unavoidably helped to flood the city it was meant to save. The drama has proven once again that forces of nature in Australia respect little, if any, human intervention.

San Francisco, another enterprising city, learnt the same lesson after an earthquake flattened it in 1906, and another ravaged it in 1989. Like San Francisco, Brisbane will rise again. The Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, said as much in one of her tireless briefings yesterday: "We're Queenslanders. We're the people they breed tough north of the border." From down south, Bligh's frontier spirit deserves every support.






SAAD HARIRI, the beleaguered Prime Minister of Lebanon whose government has collapsed, should get the outside world's support for taking the only decision that could possibly be expected of an honourable leader. He was being asked, in effect, to protect the persons likely to be accused of murdering his father and 22 others to stay in office. He declined.

The withdrawal of the Hezbollah party and its allies from the cabinet steps up the bullying it has mounted as prosecutors prepare to indict possibly three party figures for the car-bomb assassination of the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. The investigation behind this, to which Australia contributed police expertise, has been fraught in itself. One of its senior Lebanese officials, Wissam Eid, was himself killed by a car bomb after tracing mobile phones used by Harari's alleged assassins to Hezbollah leaders.

Now Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, as his backer, seek abolition of the United Nations-authorised tribunal set up for a trial. They wanted Hariri to withdraw state funding for the tribunal, get its Lebanese judges to resign and annul the agreement with the UN mandating the court.

The resignations of the ministers, after Saad Hariri refused to call a cabinet meeting to decide on support for the tribunal and a Saudi effort at compromise failed, means the government cannot function under the power-sharing deal that kept a delicate peace, off and on, between the three main (and estranged) communities of Sunni and Shia Muslims and Maronite Christians. All have foreign linkages - the Sunnis to Arab states, the Shias to Syria and Iran, and the Maronites to the West - with the Shia-backed Hezbollah stoking antagonism to Israel to its domestic political advantage.

It's a nasty convergence of all the Middle East's problems, not helped by the stalemate of the Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations. For Iran it's a useful diversion of the world's attention from its nuclear program. Lebanon is heading back into a political limbo, with increased risk of civil war. But surely the people of Lebanon, who came out onto the streets in revulsion at Harari's murder, would still want to see justice pursued and evil exposed?






TED Baillieu said he would act swiftly on the state Coalition's promises. Regrettably, the new government's first moves include some of its most regressive policies: restoration of cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park and the first full duck-hunting season in years. The Age has long objected to both practices because of the environmental harm and, in the case of ducks, cruelty. The covert start to ''scientific'' trials of grazing, without Commonwealth approval as required by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, is doubly objectionable.

The National Parks Association aptly describes the six-year study as ''the terrestrial version of Japan's scientific whaling''. Half a century of research disproves the claim that ''grazing reduces blazing''. That is because the key plants in fire spread are unpalatable to cattle. New South Wales ended grazing in Kosciuszko National Park in the late 1960s and the environmental benefits are plain to see. Research by the CSIRO, La Trobe University and the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation found alpine grazing had no significant influence on bushfires. In his report on the 2003 bushfires, Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin also concluded that decisions on alpine grazing ''should not be based on the argument that grazing prevents blazing''.

When the Bracks government closed the national park to cattle in 2005, its decision drew on 60 years of research. The Alpine Grazing Taskforce was advised by its scientific advisory panel that cattle damaged the alpine environment, which had been degraded for decades. Cattle posed a significant threat to at least 25 floral species and seven faunal species listed as rare, vulnerable or threatened with extinction. Even if grazing later resumed, cattle should be kept out for at least 10 years to allow recovery from the 2003 bushfires. Fragile alpine moss beds would take at least 20 years to recover.

These delicate catchments, which feed the once-pristine headwaters of several major rivers through the seasons, and their unique flora and fauna have noticeably recovered since 2005. The reality, as taskforce member Tony Lupton wrote in The Age last month, is that alpine grazing ''proved to be a lucrative form of public subsidy for a small number of privileged licence holders'' and the ''significant damaging impacts'' greatly outweighed any modest benefits from grazing up to 8000 cattle in the park. Since the ban, the park has achieved National Heritage listing. The federal government should act on its legal obligation to protect this great natural asset.

The issue of grazing should not have been revived once licences were cancelled and graziers compensated. The policy is purely political, as is the licensing of duck hunting long after Western Australia, NSW and Queensland banned it. Even in Victoria, the bastion of duck hunters in Australia, the 95,000 licence holders in 1986 have dwindled to a few thousand active shooters.

A ''clean kill'' is possible with a rifle - hunters help to cull feral animals - but hunting flocks of wildfowl with a shotgun is unavoidably cruel and rare species are killed. Studies show that for every duck retrieved, a wounded bird flies off, often suffering a lingering death. Studies of tens of thousands of wild waterfowl found almost one in five birds of some target species has shot lodged in its body.

Most Victorians oppose duck hunting and its suspension from 2006 to 2009 was an opportunity to make the ban permanent. The Age felt the time had come in the early 1990s. After a 2002 recommendation by the state's animal welfare advisory committee to end duck hunting, this newspaper lamented: ''We did not expect to have to restate the case for a ban in the 21st century.'' Now the season will run for a full 12 weeks and hunting will be allowed in much of the new Murray River Park. The new government has made some well-founded changes in other policy areas, so it is sad to see it make such ill-advised environmental decisions.






EDUCATION and the arts should be as one: an entwining of learning and creativity that strengthens the mind, furthers the will and encourages confidence. It is often assumed culture in the classroom has existed in an almost unbroken line, stretching from antiquity, through the Renaissance and into the 21st century. The reality, alas, especially in this country, is that arts education has been increasingly marginalised - or, in the words of Robyn Ewing of Sydney University, ''an add-on''.

Professor Ewing's long-held passion for embedding the arts into general education is the subject of her paper for the Australian Council for Educational Research, released this week. As The Age reported yesterday, the paper shows that students who are exposed to the arts achieve better academic results, enjoy school more and are inclined to stay there longer, and have better self-esteem than those students who don't have access to the arts. This is timely, as a national curriculum for the arts is being developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which could well afford to incorporate some of Professor Ewing's findings. She cites a few of the many successful national and international examples in which problematic educational processes or social situations have been changed for the better by establishing more direct involvement with the arts.

Improvement has to start somewhere, and, as Professor Ewing argues, two key factors are involved: one, the acknowledgement of the intrinsic role the arts can and should play in people's lives; and, two, the realisation of how the arts can foster creativity and bring about significant social change. But in order for these elements to be realised, the mutual suspicions harboured by the arts and educational bodies have to be recognised and overcome, most effectively by incorporating the arts into school in a more holistic way rather than as separate disciplines. There are financial imperatives, too. As the paper shows, state expenditure on the arts per person in 2008-09 varies widely from state to state - for example, $32 in Victoria against just $17 in NSW - making it difficult to translate rhetoric into action, especially on a national basis.

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That this process has been identified is one important step; now it needs momentum. The arts, far from peripheral, are part of the very DNA of Australian life and society, regardless of where we live or where we learn. They have a crucial role to play in broadening, and bettering, the education system.






It was his finest speech as president, while the Republicans dug themselves even deeper into the hole they have climbed into

Barack Obama has just made the finest speech of his presidency. It is not just that, in performing the role of pastor to the victims of the shootings in Arizona, he shed his professorial reserve and became the empathetic head of state that everyone who crammed the National Mall on his inauguration expected him to be. Nor did his speech contain memorable phrases. It was that, after two bruising years in power, Mr Obama has at last found his voice. He did so by rediscovering the themes that made him an outstanding presidential candidate. If he can set a tone not just for Tucson and the aftermath of Saturday's dreadful events, but nationally and for the rest of his presidency, this will be the change we can believe in.

The Republican camp, by contrast, dug themselves even deeper into the hole they have climbed into. If Mr Obama's tone was inspired, Sarah Palin's was calamitous from the perspective of a party knowing it has to capture the centre ground to return to power. Not only did she sound defensive and angry (undoing the effect of the presidential props on and behind her). In rifling through her pill case for yet another dose of hyperbole, she stumbled over the concept of a blood libel.

Blood libel? Can a Fox News commentator in the 21st century, in any conceivable way, compare her situation as a victim of a slur to that of Jews who were persecuted, forced to convert and massacred in 12th-century England as religious fervour during the Crusades reached its peak? If she did not know what she was talking about, she should have shut up. If she did, she displayed such a lapse of judgment in choosing this particular analogy as to rule out her candidacy as a presidential challenger then and there. At least Ronald Reagan and George W Bush bluffed their way through lacunas in their knowledge. Ms Palin parades them. In doing so, she made Mr Obama look even bigger than he already was. The problems of the Republican party in looking presidential do not stop there. Because if they send the mama grizzlies back to the woods, they are left with a caste of ungainly yeomen unable to impress each other, let alone a modern primetime television audience.

If Mr Obama succeeds in generating a calmer mood in political debate, the nature of Republican opposition has to change too. For example, the debate over healthcare might no longer be set in existential terms. But if Obamacare no longer makes the founding fathers turn in their graves, what does it do? Republicans are left looking like anoraks at best and the mouthpieces of fat medical insurance companies at worst. This is the brilliance of Mr Obama's appeal to rise above the fray. Only one cause benefits. His.






The government needs to learn from the Acpo mess, and acknowledge the need for a through, public and informed debate

Accountability and transparency are the hallmarks of institutions in a democracy. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) fails on both counts. It has become an anomalous hybrid – part top coppers' club, part money-spinning limited company flogging the authority of its name to home security companies, and part sponsor of opaque national policing operations. Under the umbrella of its Terrorism and Allied Matters division, these include the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit – which were being fed information by the undercover officers whose activities in the environmental movement we have exposed this week. An institution that began as a bosses' trade union has been sucked into the vacuum created by political resistance to national policing, and given a legal status as a limited company that undermines its ability to inspire public confidence.

Sir Hugh Orde, the respected former Northern Ireland chief constable who now heads Acpo, is committed to reform. He would like its professional status to be on a par with, say, the Royal College of Nursing. When he was appointed in 2009 he put dispensing with limited-company status at the top of his priorities, insisting it had only been created as a pragmatic response to the need to fund the association's secretariat. He repeated his determination in a letter on these pages yesterday. Today we report more demands for reform from the former director of public prosecutions Ken Macdonald, who calls the handling of undercover officers "opaque" and "alarming".

In truth Acpo is both victim and beneficiary of faint-hearted politicians who have repeatedly avoided the obligation to think about how the country should be policed. Instead, the coalition has followed the tradition of piecemeal reform with a consultation document, Policing in the 21st Century, that is little more than a vehicle allowing it to meet a manifesto pledge on the introduction of elected police commissioners – a reform that is likely to put new burdens on Acpo without addressing its basic reason for existing. These proposals suggest that it will be responsible for establishing national standards for policing in the new order where elected police commissioners set priorities. Its role as policing's professional body will be enhanced; greater accountability is, in some unspecified way, to be introduced. Meanwhile – in another ad hoc development – it seems likely that the Metropolitan police will take ownership of some or all of the responsibilities of Acpo's Terrorism and Allied Matters division. First, though, the reservations of other police services, which fear that their resources will disappear into someone else's budget, have to be overcome.

Politics and policing make bad bedfellows. There is good reason for the historic determination to keep them separate. But the reluctance to consider first principles has led to endless fudged reforms. Neighbourhood safety and the fight against global terror, one-off student protest and the long-running animal rights campaign – all of these involve different approaches, different skills and different geographical areas of operation. No one starting with a blank sheet of paper in 2011 would suppose the smart answer was 44 separate territorial police services, each with near-total autonomy. Economic pressures and the demand for the loss of as many as 40,000 jobs may finally begin to break down this traditional structure (Scotland looks set to merge its police regions into a single unit). But cuts are not a good basis for rational reform. A wise government would learn lessons from the mess Acpo finds itself in this week. It would consider the reasons for its conflicted responsibilities. And it would acknowledge that a thorough, public and informed debate about how the country should be policed is a necessary precondition to any enduring reform.


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A BBC4 programme tonight hails the godmother of the Delta bluesmen, whose act anticipated the supposed rock revolution

Anyone who knows anything about rock'n'roll can tell you about the influence of great Delta bluesmen, the likes of Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon. But if the musical debt of white to black is well understood, that of rocking male to rocking female barely registers. A BBC 4 programme tonight puts that right, by hailing the godmother of them all, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Born in the Arkansas city of Cotton Plant (where else?) by the Mississippi's banks, she moved to Chicago and graduated from gospel church to stardom, along the way indulging in a stadium wedding arranged before the groom had even been chosen. In all these respects her life makes for iconic rockumentary, but the real story comes with her act, which – though it was being developed well before the second world war – anticipated many aspects of the supposed rock revolution. With a quick Google, you can watch her twang out the sort of guitar solo, complete with distortion, which Jimi Hendrix or (at a pinch) Eric Clapton are routinely credited with inventing. She could sing with Franklinesque abandon, or with the dry edge of electric-era Dylan. Her finger picking is said to have inspired Elvis, but so, surely, did her shocking mix of motion and emotion on stage. She could even do raunch, belting out "rock me" with a great growl on the R to make the invitation sound distinctly provocative. But it's not for sex, and still less drugs, that Tharpe should be revered. It is as the founding architect of the rock hall of fame in which she is still denied her rightful top-table seat.







Personal consumption, which accounts for more than half the nation's gross domestic product and is an important locomotive of the economy, has been sluggish. Short-term factors behind the sluggish consumption are the termination of subsidies for the purchase of eco-friendly cars and the scaling down of the eco-point system for electric appliances.


Economists estimate that Japan's GDP in the last quarter of 2010 suffered negative growth. Despite stimulus measures of the fiscal 2010 supplementary budget, the economy is expected to remain stagnant in the first quarter of 2011. It is generally believed that it will start picking up in or after spring.


There is a much more important issue than the short-term economic recovery that must be tackled. Attention must be paid to a problem that cannot be solved by stimulus measures and that causes people to fret about their future, thus negatively affecting the economy. The issue is Japan's weakening social welfare system.


Many years have passed since Japan plunged into a low economic growth period af