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Saturday, January 15, 2011

EDITORIAL 15.01.11

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  media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 15, edition 000730, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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















































































In his first trip to Pakistan as US Vice-President, Mr Joseph Biden has offered Islamabad more financial aid and military assistance in the hope that this would tempt the Pakistani Army to finally undertake a military offensive in Taliban-infested Northern Waziristan. But it is highly improbable that such lollipops will actually produce any significant results at all. Since 2002, Washington, DC has spent an estimated $19 billion on similar aid packages but Islamabad is yet to end its incestuous relationship with the Taliban. In spite of the rising levels of radical Islam, the Pakistani Government has done little to dismantle the Haqqani network or crack down on the Quetta Shura of the Taliban. Moreover, the powerful but delusional Pakistani military continues to flirt with religious fanatics, exploiting them for its own 'strategic' advancement, not just in war-torn Afghanistan but also in Jammu & Kashmir, and refuses to acknowledge that these evil forces are no longer under their presumed control. At this point, it is imperative that the US officials realise that no matter how much money it gives out as aid, Pakistan will not alter its dangerous alliance with jihadis. It may occasionally partake in some token gestures of cooperation, but that has never been enough to transform the relationship from one that is 'transactional' to one that would be a strategic alliance, as Mr Biden hopes. For now, it just seems like the US is so terribly dependent on Pakistani cooperation for any progress in the Afghan war, that it is has trapped itself in a situation where it keeps doling out additional dollars but there is neither any guarantee on strategic returns nor any scope for demanding accountability for the money. The US must acknowledge that Pakistan is a failed state, ruled by a feeble civilian Government that is in effect at the mercy of its military, and overrun by fanatics.

To make matters worse, Washington's fruitless efforts to align Islamabad's interests with its own is likely to produce adverse consequences in the region, specifically with regard to the US's relations with India which will continue to have to deal with Pakistan once the Nato troops leave the region. Of particular concern is the possibility that the Obama Administration might give in to the Pakistani military's demand for more arms and weapons. Already the US Government has provided them with 17 F-16 fighter jets that have limited use in counter-insurgency operations but can be particularly effective during any large scale military operation against India. Such decisions not only hurt regional security interests but also put a dampner on India-US relations. Unfortunately, Mr Biden's proffered initiative during this visit does not reveal any plans for a revision of strategy. Instead it marks the continuance of a policy that not only has little chance of producing success in Afghanistan but will also serve to fan religious fanaticism in Pakistan.







The Supreme Court would have done well to avoid making sweeping comments while seeking the state's response to a petition filed by the widow of Hemchandra Pandey who the police believe was actively involved with Maoists and was killed, along with Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, a member of the Central Committee of the banned CPI(Maoist), in an encounter last year. Sanctimonious self-appointed human rights activists whose hearts beat for those who wage war on India and its law-abiding citizens insist that Azad and Pandey, who used to pose as a 'journalist', were killed in a 'false encounter', a term that has come to be used by jholawallahs to describe the elimination of terrorists, marauders and social malcontent towards whom they feel fiercely protective. It is natural and understandable that Pandey's widow should feel aggrieved; her petition seeking a judicial inquiry is unexceptionable. Nor can the Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Aftab Alam and Justice RM Lodha be faulted for admitting the petition and seeking details from the Union Government as well as the Government of Andhra Pradesh as to what happened during the intervening night of July 1-2, 2010, when Azad and Pandey were killed in Adilabad district near Maharashtra in an area where Maoists are known to operate. Indeed, the observation of the bench that "We hope there will be an answer... There will be a good and convincing answer," which some would interpret as tinged by a menacing tone, can be viewed as no more than the court's justly expressed expectation from the state.

Its subsequent comments, however, are entirely uncalled for. Without even hearing what the state has to say about the encounter and the slain men, the bench appears to have jumped to conclusions. Its gratuitous admonishment of the state, which, unless otherwise conclusively proved to the contrary, is entirely justified in taking stern measures to neutralise Maoist marauders who are engaged in subverting the Republic of India and supplanting it with a totalitarian system founded on their evil ideology that disallows the republican values of democracy, liberty and pluralism, is hence unjustified. The bench has said, "We cannot allow the Republic killing its own children." As a lofty principle, this is indisputable. But while dealing with the Maoist menace, the state is not seeking to discipline naughty 'children' but rid the nation of terrorists who kill, maim, rape and loot. When 'children' go astray and turn into hardcore criminals, responsible parents disown them. A responsible Republic must disown such 'children' too. It would be disastrous for our democracy if those waging war against the state were to be treated with kid gloves and as above the law of the land.

It could be argued that we have not yet heard the final word in this particular case and the Supreme Court is yet to give its verdict. But such obiter dicta can cause enormous damage to the morale of our men in uniform who are in the firing line of Maoists and civilians who, regardless of the consequences, have refused to capitulate before criminals who run extortion rackets, terrorise the masses and mete out summary 'justice' by way of death to those who stand up to them. It is a pity that similar kind words, expressing sympathy for the victims of Maoist savagery, are never heard.









Pakistanis must choose between the founding father and the godfather of their country if they do not wish Pakistan to become a toxic jelly state

That militant, fundamentalist Islam was spreading rapidly in Pakistan was widely known even before the savage assassination of Salman Taseer for his brave public support to the repeal of Pakistan's blasphemy law and visit to Aisa Bibi, a Chrisitian lady sentenced to death under it. The crime has served to underscore the harsh fact that it has almost become an irreversible tidal wave. This has serious implications for the entire world, particularly since Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal of about 100 warheads. To have these at the disposal of a Talibanised Pakistan, in close alliance with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and controlling Afghanistan through a puppet regime, is bad news, and not only for India which will be the first country to feel its brunt in the form of a huge acceleration of cross-border terrorism backed by nuclear blackmail. Russia, which has already suffered at the hands of Islamist terrorists, would also be at the receiving end, as would the United States, which has emerged as the favourite bête noire of Islamists the world over. Even China, Pakistan's principal patron, will be affected. Xinjiang is bound to see an escalation of the violence it has faced in the past.

Many would contest this scenario and argue that the extremists are a small minority which can be defeated. Numerically, this may well be true. But as MJ Akbar points out in his perceptive and eminently readable book, Tinderbox — The Past and Future of Pakistan, the terms minority and majority are "more a measure of empowerment than a function of numbers". He further states that Muslims in the State of Hyderabad, who constituted three million out of a population of 20 million, never felt themselves to be a minority during the rule of the Nizams, including the last one. Nor did the Muslims of India feel themselves to be an insecure minority as long as they ruled the country.

Of course, Mr Akbar was referring to a different context. The position of Pakistani militants is by no means identical to that of Muslims in Hyderabad and India when both were ruled by their co-religionists. There is, however, a major factor in common — power. Armed to the teeth, backed to the hilt by the Directorate-General of Inter-Services-Intelligence and a large section of the Army, they exercise over the country and its policies an influence hugely disproportionate to their number. It is this power, and their capacity to intimidate through assassinations and street violence, that gives them their salience and that will eventually give them control over the whole country.

The majority, as it is in most places, is silent. A despatch in The New York Times by Carlotta Gall ("Assassination Deepens Divide in Pakistan", January 5), quotes noted Pakistani author and journalist Ahmed Rashid as stating, "We have a small minority of extremists and small number of liberals speaking out, but the very large silent majority are people who are not extremist in any way but are not speaking out." They are silent mostly out of fear and Salman Taseer's murder will tend to ensure that they remain so. There will, of course, be courageous people who will speak out even at grave risk to their safety.

One of them is Ms Sherry Rehman, Member of the National Assembly and former Information Minister, who, like Taseer, has been a frequent recipient of threats. Stating that his murder "is a loss to progressive forces", and that the Pakistan People's Party will pursue the issue of the repeal of the blasphemy law as it was central to its liberal politics, she told The New York Times, "You can recoil in fear, or you can have a considered action and regroup sensibly at a time when it is approachable and applicable." The New York Times report by Salman Masood and Carlotta Gall ("Killing of Governor Deepens Crisis in Pakistan", January 4), further quoted her as saying, "You have to understand the gravity of the challenge … Personal safety is at risk, but there is also an existential threat to Pakistan."

While few will question the heroism of Ms Rehman, Ms Asma Jehangir, the highly respected human rights activist, or Ms Sajida Amir, a Provinicial Assembly member, who asserted publicly that the PPP has always made sacrifices and the mission (secularism; repeal of the blasphemy law) "will continue and we will continue to speak out on these things". But they constitute a small — and, worse, a declining — minority. What is more alarming, militant Islamist fundamentalism, which makes for an easy passage to terrorism, is attracting increasingly large sections of young people. Many of them, including young lawyers who had actively participated in the movement for democracy, were seen among crowds vociferously applauding Taseer's killer, 26-year-old Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri. They are among Pakistanis who have grown up since the 1980s when the then General-turned-President, Zia-ul-Haq, began his Islamisation drive, and who are frequently referred to as Zia's generation.

If this is a cause for worry, so is the penetration of Pakistan's military, security and intelligence establishments — to say nothing of the civilian administration and educational institutions — by Islamist elements. Significantly, Qadri, a follower of Dawat-e-Islami, a religious party based in Karachi, had joined the Special Forces branch of the Punjab Police in 2002. Though dubbed a security risk at that time because of his extremist religious views, he not only managed to join the Elite Force of Punjab Police but secured an assignment to guard the Province's modernist Governor receiving regular death threats.

The question is: What now? Mr Akbar, who believes that the "challenge from the Taliban and its present and future allies is not irreversible", adds that "Pakistan cannot face this challenge unless it returns to the precepts and advice of the father of the nation" Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who wanted a modern and secular Muslim-majority nation, "and decisively rejects the man who became (its) godfather, Maulana Maududi". It is a tall order, whose implementation will require a lot of doing. While keeping their fingers crossed, its neighbours also must prepare to face Pakistan lapsing to medievalism and becoming what Mr Akbar describes as a toxic "jelly state" which will neither achieve stability nor disintegrate "in a region that seems condemned to sectarian, fratricidal and international wars".








All pervasive corruption in the world's two fastest growing economies defies marketonomic's bottom-line logic which holds that free play of market forces automatically squeezes out scope for foul play. Is this the lesson from 20 years of liberalisation?

In a dubious landmark and a first for India, Parliament could hardly meet for its winter session, paralysed by an alliance of Opposition parties in protest against a corruption scandal in the allocation of the telecommunication spectrum.

The scathing public auditor report as well as energetic judicial intervention comes close on the heels of other recent scandals involving land and housing schemes and the malfeasance widely reported in the arrangement of the Commonwealth Games. Some of the Opposition parties, of course, throw stones from their own glass and illegal mines in Karnataka.

Are there structural reasons for such pervasive corruption? And does India's corruption differ from that, say, in China?

A common question is why corruption, once associated with the discretionary powers of the earlier "license-permit raj," seems to be on the rise in India, instead of falling with the abolition of that control regime. One can immediately think of at least three reasons to explain this puzzle. First, despite a great deal of deregulatory reforms and trade liberalisation, some major controls, particularly at the level of state governments, remain.

For example, anyone who wants to start a factory needs land, often acquired from the state; water and electricity connections made possible by relevant departments; and then need environmental clearance, putting the applicant at the mercy of factory inspectors and labour-law implementing agencies, and so on. This is not to suggest that some of these regulations do not have rationale based on legitimate social objectives — say, overseeing minimum work conditions in factories or restrictions on pollution — but considerable official discretion is involved and, with that, some scope for corruption.

Secondly, with high economic growth the market value of scarce public resources — land, oil and gas fields; mineral resources; the telecommunication spectrum and more — has gone up enormously, and so has the chance of making money from their favored allocation. For example, in the case of the allocation of 2G spectrum, instead of the standard method of auctions, the Minister concerned allocated them to favoured agents in 2008 at low 2001 prices, resulting in a loss to the treasury of up to $39 billion, according to an estimate, possibly bit of an overestimate, by the public auditor.

Third, over time elections at all levels have become more expensive in terms of advertisement costs, petrol for transport, and alcohol and cash for the large numbers of vote-mobilising youth, particularly as an Indian constituency involves numbers of voters much larger than elsewhere, more than a million in case of parliamentary seats. Without public financing of elections, raising money from all kinds of private sources, often through illegitimate means, is indispensable. Of course, those private sources in turn demand and get quid pro quo from politicians in terms of policy favours.

In comparing India with China, this last reason of election expenses is barred. Yet the other two reasons remain valid in China as well and may explain part of the large corruption there. In fact, with fewer checks and balances either in government institutions or from independent judiciary or media or civil society, the corrupt in China can get away with unscrupulous behaviour much more easily. In rural areas, where households do not have ownership rights on land, Chinese local officials, in collusion with local business, have been much more peremptory in acquiring land without adequate compensation. Nothing like India's recently enacted —though as yet weakly implemented — Right to Information Act deters the corrupt Chinese official.

Of course, those caught in the act face the threat of more severe punishment in China: Corrupt officials are sometimes summarily executed while in contrast, Indian corrupt officials, if punished at all, get off relatively lightly. But in general, Chinese punishment for corruption is often arbitrary and, more often than not, used against political adversaries or small fry.

Of course, public protesters against corruption are also punished sometimes on charges of disrupting public order — a recent case in point is that of the large-scale tainted milk scandal of 2008, which led to the execution of a high official and also imprisonment of protesting parents of some victims.

It is interesting to note that Chinese journalists who were fully aware of the developing story of the tainted milk scandal postponed writing about it until the 2008 Olympic Games —China's moment of international glory —concluded, in order to be harmonious," as one editor explained to a foreign reporter in justification. Meanwhile 300 children fell sick, and dozens died.

In contrast, media fury in India broke out over reports of official ineptitude and corruption in the arrangements for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi this year just before they began.

There are, however, grounds to suggest India has more institutional inducements for corruption than in China. First, in China the lines of authority are more well-defined and streamlined, whereas India operates with an administrative system of multiple veto powers on a given decision — a legacy of colonial times and distrust institutionalised in the administrative process.

An apocryphal story has it that one high official in New Delhi told a friend, "if you want me to move a file faster, I am not sure I can help you, but if you want me to stop a file, I can do it immediately." In this system, even after paying a bribe, one can't be sure if the job will get done, and payment may be required again.

Secondly, in China official rewards and promotions are more directly linked to local economic performance. Stealing so much as to affect local economic growth is affected can seriously hamper an official's chances of promotion.

In Indian civil administration there are a few rewards for enabling good local area economic performance; reputation for administrative efficiency does play some role in promotion, but seniority trumps most other factors in career paths. Staff is posted in a given area for only a short period, plum postings often carry a price that the political boss does not forget to exact, and so the corrupt official often has the incentive to squeeze the maximum out of the posting.

In the recent media splashes and leaks around the corruption scandals in India, showing the sticky fingers of corporate and real estate tycoons, lobbyists and journalists in good measure, the cozy nexus is usually described as crony capitalism.

But such cronyism is actually more acute in China, where successful state-owned companies are often controlled by powerful political families. It's been reported that of the multimillionaire residents of China the overwhelming majority are relatives of high-ranking Communist Party officials. While there are hereditary political bosses and family business empires in India, there's also a more vigorous private corporate sector and quite a bit of churning in the list of top companies. India's crony capitalism does not approach the levels found in China.

The sound and fury around the recent corruption scandals in India will serve some purpose if they strengthen the resolve for eternal vigilance on the part of civil society rather than reinforce the enveloping cynicism.

The writer is author of "Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay: Assessing the Economic Rise of China and India". He is Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley







Manmohan Singh's complicity with corruption through his silence is in marked contrast to China's Hu Jintao's strident proactivism as evident this week

The theme for this week's Saturday Special is multi-dimensional. Many thoughts seize the mind of the concerned Indian at this point in time. We are doubting our politicians, our government, our judges, the myriad institutions of State which we were taught as children to respect. Corruption has eaten into the origin of our nationalism.

On the other hand is a mini economic power now, a far cry from the India of the 1980s when our governments routinely lined up before the doors of multilateral agencies for cheap credit and grants. A lot of people are justified in their pride that USAID and its Swiss, Dutch and counterparts have closed down their India offices in recognition of India's recovery from macro poverty.

Those of us who are old enough to remember that India unfailingly admit that the twin emotions now enveloping our senses have their origin in the great events of 1991. In June 1991, the Narasimha Rao government had little choice but flag off economic reforms and
economic liberalisation because even a child of four could tell at that juncture in India's history that things were not working out under the public sector controlled, Government-supervised, license-control raj dominated system. The economic expansion which began after that weathered the storms of the 1997 East Asian crisis and the more devastating global recession of 2008. India's economic success story was the toast of neo-liberal circles. Until the second half of 2010 when a veritable landslide of scams exposed the dirty underbelly of the post-1991 arrangement.

The success of the liberalisation process generated its own justification. It also imposed a presupposition in people's minds that all the evils of the previous 40 years would be wiped out by the winds of 'freedom' which the open market system promised. Sure enough, the local telephone lineman stopped blackmailing us (your dial tone or fifty bucks). But did it stop the minister for telephones from making shiploads of cash? That is the question reasonable Indians are asking aloud in this 20th year of liberalisation when the word "reforms" has acquired a strange irony.

We had heard that China was a paradigm of liberalisation. The small, influential and articulate band of publicity-savvy intellectuals who emerged in the post-1991 era proclaimed from every available forum (and there were many) that the rulers of India should emulate their counterparts in Beijing on how to shed ideological baggage and cut through received wisdom to establish the writ of St Market — the only apostle. Today, the joke is on them. China, as our frequent contributor (thanks to Yale University) (points out Main article), is not only very big as an economy, but cursed with levels of corruption which our A Rajas and Kalmadis can only aspire to.

Unreported in the Indian press, but a development with profound consequences for the way China is to be 'handled' by world economy players in the second decade of the 21st century occurred this week (January 12) when the Communist Party of China announced the formation of a new anti-corruption regime. Just two days earlier President Hu Jintao, addressing the plenary session of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party, declared that the party and government would wage a "ceaseless fight" against corruption with unprecedented force because the situation was "grave".

In consequence to Hu's landmark speech, China's anti-graft chief, He Guoqiang, announced on January 12 that the interests of the common Chinese would be paramount to those carrying out the cleansing. "The principles of putting people first and governing for the people should be implemented in the education on anti-corruption and clean governance and in building a fine party work style," He said.

In contrast, the response of the Indian government to the gigantic scams that are currently straddling the public imagination has been pathetic. This week the lawyer minister, Kapil Sibal, had the nerve to state that the Comptroller and Auditor General's estimate of revenue loss caused by the 2G scam was an "exaggeration." In doing so, not only did he cock a snook at the Constitutional tradition of maintaining silence on an issue before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, but he effectively insulted national collective pride.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ineffectiveness as a Prime Minister at this low moment constitutes a body blow to our self esteem as Indians. The paradox of "decency" is indeed painful. On the one hand we have a chief executive who is known to be a paragon of virtue. But on the other, the same Manmohan Singh is seen preferring to cling on to the prime ministerial chair rather than confront the corruption of his ministers, his government and indeed the Congress political hierarchy. The ancient saying maunam ardha sammati (silence = complicity) which we Indians uphold as central to our nyaya (logic).

The BJP, being the principal Opposition party, is naturally adopting a determined position to force the government to restore in the Indian people their hurt sense of pride. From Sanjay Kaul's report (The Other Voice) on the National Executive, held this week in Guwahati, it is clear that the BJP is carrying out its role with responsibility. Sadly, the government is responding with increasing arrogance. From the stances taken by its spokesperson on the TV channels, it is apparent that the Grand Old Party considers the people of India to be prize fools.

The time has come for civil society to play a meaningful role. Whatever the BJP says, it is undeniable that the credibility of politicians and political parties have hit rock bottom. It is time right-thinking people stepped out on the streets of our cities and small towns in coordinated fashion to stop the wheels of the corrupt government.

Ultimately, there will be a tendency to blame everything on human nature. The evaluation of 20 years of liberalisation this year would naturally be influenced by the scams and nepotism which the politician-babu nexus has unleashed on the country. It is clear to everybody that insofar as corruption is concerned, nothing has changed in the past two decades, except perhaps in term of degree.

The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer







At this week's national executive the BJP did well to uphold the centrality of corruption. It was a touching moment because it came at a juncture when it seemed that scams and loot fell outside the ambit of voter engagement

The BJP national executive held in Guwahati during the week was a watershed event in that it marked the party's concentration of energies around the corruption of the UPA Government. It also indicated the party's strategy of seeking regime change. It helped that the ruling party was incoherent with its defence. The sharp alignment of views among other members of the NDA was another indicator of the new found focus of the collective.

The consensus on this issue among the larger Opposition bodes well for democracy, as it does for governance. For quite some time the myth was gaining ground that the polity no longer responds to corruption and that it had become a way of life and therefore corruption as a subject fell outside the ambit of engagement with voters. The spiral of cases that have sprung up within the UPA government has suddenly challenged a notion that most rational argument would often fail to pierce.

The manner in which the instances of high corruption have piled up, so strikingly in such a short time almost as if it were the season of white crime, would be highly suspect were it not that it was the same government in the dock that was ruling the roost. For a regime that operated more like a mafiosi operation going after opponents with every instrument of state that existed, this spate of cases has been a miracle made in hell. Even those of us who have considered the Congress a shrine to corruption are gobsmacked at the gush of slush, the sheer volume of vice that is being unearthed. Needless to say, the irony is not lost on anyone, least of all the Congress party who is probably ruing that they did not plug all the holes.

As if it were not enough that the 2G issue and the Adarsh scandal spurted right after the CWG scam, the ghost of Bofors has also returned to haunt its perpetrators in what can only be further evidence that the Congress has not only compromised the CBI but that it has for all purposes subjugated its independence to its political objectives. What else would explain the demand of the IT Appellate Tribunal to settle taxes on retrospective basis for the amounts collected by Quattrocchi for facilitating the Bofors deal even while the CBI chose to terminate the investigations in the matter for lack of evidence?

The mood of the nation has also changed from mild irritation at the time of the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 to vehement anger today as commodity prices touch historical highs and food items and grain indices cross all records. The spectre of an Agriculture Minister who behaves more like a futures trader by signaling two to three weeks of rising prices each time he is pestered for answers only adds fuel to fire. That the junior Gandhi steps in with even more inane statements suggesting coalition politics is the reason for inflationary trends only muddies the waters, if doesn't bring mirth to the math.

The Guwahati executive has succeeded in grasping the innate contradictions of the UPA alignment and laid bare the structural and moral turpitude of the partnership. The catch-22 situation with the DMK, the running feud with the TMC, the festering crisis on the food front with the NCP and the challenges to leadership in Andhra Pradesh are all coming in the way of effective governance, and now the much vaunted integrity of the PM is also finally on breaking point.

The Supreme Court's indictment of the CVC's appointment must then rate as the last straw for this Government and a litmus test for the ability of the PM to stand up to probity.

On the other hand, the leadership of the Congress is also under stress, torn as it is between loyalists who pull in different directions and add to the intrigue. Notice the strategic emphasis on forcing its way into the incident of the Malegaon blasts and trying to link it with RSS at any cost. A BJP leader remarked with alacrity that for an investigative agency that could not conclude the Arushi and Ruchika cases and have Bofors on their hands once again, their zeal on the Malegaon blasts is suspiciously exemplary. Then there is the increasingly misfit PM who is hemmed in between political vested interests with as much elbow room as in a Mumbai local. And finally there is the younger Gandhi whose lateral thinking is in a genre of its own.

For all the dramatic developments we have seen between the end of last year and the start of this new one, it seems clear to anyone with 20/20 vision that the aam-admi government is unraveling with a speed that is seldom seen in political upheavals of most kinds. The Guwahati executive concluded rightly that the enormity of the graft in all the cases that have hit the headlines so far is good enough to establish the culpability of the UPA government and exhibit its incapacity to rule anymore on moral grounds.

Now will the Government repair itself or will it all end in a cataclysmic denouement is all that we wait to see.

The writer is BJP Delhi spokesman.








"Main shayar to nahin..." So sang the hero of the Bollywood blockbuster, Bobby. The gift of "shayari", nonetheless, strikes him like Cupid's sharpest arrow. Love at first sight of the beauteous Bobby morphs him into a poet. Another classic celluloid frame is in Pakeezah, where the film's hero spies the sleeping heroine's petite foot in a train compartment. The sight transports him to eloquent heights as a writer of love letters. Poetry has always been inspired by beauty and romance. It spins stanza after stanza on the beloved's eyes, lips, nose, toes, plucked eyebrows...And it spawns sonnets on hearts beating and meeting, that universal rhyme that keeps on repeating...

Shayari, then, is about sunsets, full moons and starry firmaments, right? Wrong. Meet smalltown India's New Age Ghalibs. Trends show their creative juices don't flow from nightingales' song or Omar Khayyam's flask of wine. The rude, the bad and the ugly in contemporary life guide their quills. Like US rapsters telling it like it is about cop brutality or teen pregnancy, our desi rappers of samaj write of tobacco abuse and dowry harassment! Why, we now have nazms on wrenching rural transition, and even farmers' suicides: "Few cotton buds shine as dusk falls for the day/ Tired birds come to say goodbye to jowar crop..." Filmy or political pastorals have long depicted rural arcadia, happy harvesters extolling "mere desh ki dharti..." Maybe "jai kisan" in SOS mode will welcome gritty realism for a change.

Art as reality show, of course, has a long tradition. English poet William Blake juxtaposed his "songs of innocence" eulogising moral virtues with "songs of experience", dark musings on the miseries of his Muse: the working class. Indian art too has long had its 'Fall' from innocence, depicting painful experience as lyrical ballast or movie melodrama. Countless kavis have penned couplets on rural-urban tensions, elegies for changing values or odes to women's struggles. As for cinema, would censors' scissor-hands go snip-snip with political satire like Kissa Kursi Ka or epic-style Rajneeti, had fiction not cut to the neta's bone? If Peepli is comically live today, flashback to Guru Dutt's melancholic movie, Pyaasa. After a depressing roll-call of society's vices, its poet-hero sings: What do i gain if i gain this world - "duniya" - as it exists? Audiences screamed: Wah, wah! That was a high point of Bollywood shayari as social critique.

So, smalltown or boomtown, poetry can be anatomical exposure. Alcoholism or corruption, nothing's taboo as a subject in the socially conscious literary lanes and bylanes of Maharashtra's Nanded or Bihar's Darbhanga. And who says 'beauty' can't be found in songs sung blue but true about stuff like excessive gutka-chewing, drink-shink or unemotional bhrashtachaar? Garibi, gambling, grain drain and even the garam hawa of global warming can provide creative fodder for the hinterland's ghazal-pelters, city-slick balladeers or Aamir Khan's lyricists. Art, subversive as ever, does bring taare zameen par. For better or for verse.

Call it poetic licence in the land of the Taj Mahal, that poetry in stone









The terror attacks that shook America over 10 years ago left a scar on the face of world diplomacy and an obstacle hampering attempts to bring peace to our ailing planet through a much needed inter-religious dialogue.

9/11, the day on which 3,000 civilians were killed, marked the beginning of a struggle by Muslims to integrate into the world, particularly the West. The brutal attack, carried out by a few misled minds claiming to be fighting in the name of God, tarnished a great deal of the image of Islam. And as Muslims fight to crystallise the differences between radicalism and the noble teachings of Islam, western and eastern officials and commentators are baffled, wondering, "Where are the moderates?"

With only extremism highlighted, thanks to acts perpetuated by a few radicals, many are eager to see moderate representatives of the noble religion of Islam stand out in the Muslim world, and rise as partners for peace.

Reconciling Islam with the modern world has been particularly imperative for Muslims in a set of continuous attempts dating back to the 19th century, when what became known as the Islamic reform movement sprouted within Al Azhar University in Cairo, the chief institution for Islamic learning in the world.

At Dar al Ifta, Egypt's supreme body for Islamic legal edicts over which i preside, we're in a continuous struggle to apply Islam to modern life. That's not because Islam doesn't fit in our modern times, for Islam is universal; the challenge lies in trying to find solutions to modern problems from within the Islamic doctrine, and consequently deriving new rulings from Islamic law pertaining to their application. We issue thousands of fatwas or authoritative legal edicts - for example, ensuring the right of women to dignity, education and employment, and to hold political office, and condemning violence against them.

We have upheld the right of freedom of conscience, and of freedom of expression within the bounds of common decency. We have promoted the common ground that exists between Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and other eastern religions. We unequivocally condemned violence against civilians during Egypt's own struggle against terrorism in the 1980s and the 1990s, and following the heinous crime of 9/11 and, most recently, the horrific church bombing that shook Alexandria a few days ago. We continue to do so in public debates with those who uphold extremist views of Islam; in training students from all over the world at Egypt's theological institutions; and also in our counselling of captured terrorists.

As the head of one of the leading Islamic authorities in the world, let me restate: The murder of civilians is a crime against humanity and God, punishable in this life and the hereafter.

While we must strive to reinforce the common principles that we share, we must also accept differences in our values and in our outlook. Islam and Indian civilisations have distinct value systems. Respect for our differences is a foundation for coexistence, and never for conflict.

Since his historic election more than two years ago, President Barack Obama has made it a point to reach out to the Muslim world. These overtures have been heard and welcomed by many including our Indian partners. But practical steps are needed to turn good intentions into a sustained relationship of mutual trust and respect.

Firstly, for Islam to be an active and moderate player in today's world, certified Muslim clerics must be recognised as the ones who speak for Islam. Too often, the media succumbs to the temptation to treat as Muslims those extremists who are representatives of nobody but themselves. We share the blame. The time has come for Muslim clerics to be more vocal and professional in their approach.

Already, massive headway is being made throughout the Muslim world in educating preachers and students of Islam, helping them engage more productively with the modern world. Meanwhile, Muslim clerics are reaching out internationally to take hold of inter-religious dialogue and improve interfaith relations, such as the Common Word and the C1 World Dialogue initiative.

Secondly, it is necessary for our dialogue to be multifaceted. Beyond the immediate call to improve relations, there is a dire need to make our dialogue comprehensive, including scientific, cultural, economic and technological discourses. There should be stronger ties between Indian and Egyptian universities, research facilities and students.

Thirdly, a wise and balanced foreign policy should be the basis for improved relations. For the Muslim world, and particularly the clerical community, it is important that the rule of law prevail during times of conflict. There should be concerted efforts on both sides to respect international law and UN resolutions. Most immediately, this needs to be applied to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A universal recognition of Israel can only be contingent on the Palestinian refugees' right of return and restoration of the occupied lands.

Even though it is a cliche to say that dialogue is a two-way street, it remains a fundamental point that is at risk of being lost. The responsibility of an improved relationship between the Muslim world and India falls on both sides. I feel that this is not only possible, but also the only hope for a brighter and more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren. With cooperation and respect, no task has been impossible for man.

The writer is the Grand Mufti of Egypt.







Given all the shady financial dealings and the various instances of conflict of interest over the first three years of the IPL, the government has every right - indeed, an obligation - to step in and demand an explanation. The problem is that the parliamentary standing committee on finance has chosen to stray beyond its remit. As long as it confined itself to questioning the BCCI bigwigs about alleged Foreign Exchange Management Act violations and the like, well and good. But it had no business questioning the presence of cheerleaders or asking why players were auctioned like "gladiators".

The IPL is, first and foremost, entertainment. That is true of all televised sport to varying degrees. The IPL's mixture of glamour, big money and cricket played at a frenetic pace has no parallel in Indian sport. It is the brand's USP. And both the auction and the cheerleaders are an essential part of this. The former showcases the business aspect of the entire enterprise; the suspense of watching franchise teams being made and remade as one watches. You won't hear the players complaining either, given how this model has boosted their financial rewards.

And as for the cheerleaders, why not? They provide on-field glamour, they add to the spectacle and they entertain viewers, whether at the ground or on television. Is any other reason needed? And how is it the parliamentary committee's concern when the cheerleaders have absolutely nothing to do with the propriety of the IPL's financial dealings or lack thereof? This sort of spectacle has been part of sport for decades, whether it's the cheerleaders in American sport or the much-photographed 'soccer girls' who seem to turn up in droves for every football World Cup. It won't do the IPL any harm. The committee would do better to leave off pseudo-moralistic commentary and focus on its core task.








The ubiquity of cheerleaders at our national sport must be questioned and not simply because it undermines the game, but to stem the spread of an imported rationality which dehumanises women. Contrary to received opinion, scantily clad women prancing around with bits of fluff is not the norm. Men engaged in organised sport for millennia around the world without cheerleaders. Invented in 1898 at a US university, cheerleading was an all-male activity until women, lacking sporting opportunities, broke through in the 1920s. From these humble beginnings, cheerleading degenerated.

In the IPL, as with other sport, women dance while the men fight. That rarely, if ever, is the reverse seen, suggests cheerleading supports outdated gender roles and in a reprehensible way. Making a display of women, and in a manner intrinsic to which is displaying themselves, and then broadcasting this reduces women to eye-candy for men and strange exemplars for young girls. The multiple roles women fulfil are reduced to one, sexual, and its commodification turns women into sexual commodities.

Which brings us to the other kind of commodification at the IPL - the obscene auctioning of cricketers for equally obscene amounts of money. The 'gladiator' metaphor sums it up - putting cricketers on the auction block, as was done during the IPL, is redolent of slave trading in ancient Rome, sometimes to fight in gladiatorial contests. It is vacuous to argue in a country mad about cricket that cheerleaders or auctions are required to boost the game! Undoubtedly the commercialisation of cricket has benefited players and the viewing public - who doesn't want to see the best slug it out? And that is attraction enough. With cheerleaders and auctions, as with other facets of the IPL, the magic of the market has been warped and this is undermining the game.







An observer of developments in Pakistan risks losing count of the number of 'turning points' in the history of our hapless neighbour. Every military coup and every assassination of a prominent figure in public life bears that cachet. And so does every downfall of a dictator, every return to democratic rule, every war fought and lost, every triumph and defeat in cricket, not to mention natural disasters and major terrorist attacks. The latest to join the list is the murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, by a member of his security guard.

What follows after each such 'turning point' is tediously familiar. Invective, fuelled by righteous delight or wrath, attains epidemic proportions. Politicians and the media, academics and lawyers and, above all, the bearded fathers of the faith engage in verbal duels where words, drowned in the din of ever rising decibel levels, are drained of all meaning. There are no punctuation marks in this public discourse: no comma to enter a caveat; no semi-colon to introduce a subtlety; no colon to finesse an idea and hardly ever a full-stop to develop a theme or air a theory, let alone to allow another opinion to be heard.

In sharp contrast to all this is the silence observed in the one institution that calls the shots in the country: the army. Discretion, the generals operating in GHQ in Rawalpindi appear to have convinced themselves, is the better part of squalor. It allows them to plot their tactical moves and pursue their strategic fantasies to guide the destiny of Pakistan without subjecting their actions to critical scrutiny.

Though circumstances have cast military dictators by the wayside, few challenge the army's conceit that it is the supreme guardian of Pakistan's ideology and of the national interest. The few who dare to raise questions - about the army's complicity with religious extremists and terrorists, its doublespeak in the 'war of terror', its paranoid search for 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan and, above all, 'parity' with India - are reduced to whimpering in the wilderness. Small wonder then that the jihadi narrative finds increasing favour in the media and in certain professional classes like the legal fraternity. More ominous still is the reluctance of the civilian political establishment, otherwise sworn to uphold democracy and tolerance, to take the bigots head on, let alone to cross swords with their mentors in uniform.

It is precisely on these counts that India is different from Pakistan. Our daily life too offers a spectacle of blood and gore, of hopes that soar only to plumb the depths of despair, of pride that borders on narcissism and cynicism that nothing can redeem. We too have our share of bigots, our territories where the writ of the state is defied, our scams. Still, unlike in Pakistan, public discourse in India, regardless of its blemishes, does demonstrate a democratic verve, a degree, however modest, of self-confidence and, all things considered, optimism in the future of India. There is no existential angst. And there are no holy cows - not the clerics, not the generals. Both get a rap on the knuckles when they speak out of turn or act in a manner that lowers the prestige of their calling.

Nothing of the sort happens in Pakistan. Indeed, after Taseer's murder, the politicians have continued to fumble and trip and failed to make common cause to protect a decidedly fragile democracy. As the virus of religious extremism spreads in the body politic, as the economy crumbles and generates mass protests, as ethnic nationalism rears its head, as the situation on the AfPak border remains tense and as the threat of mutiny in its ranks grows, the army could well be tempted to seize absolute power yet again.

That is the time-tested, conventional wisdom. But the army, realising well and truly that the very survival of Pakistan is at stake, may yet pull back from the brink. India must be prepared for both contingencies. Should Pakistan begin to implode, we must not be caught napping. But should the army decide that it is in its overall interest to forge a live-and-let-live policy with India, New Delhi must walk the extra mile. We in India must pray for that denouement.






While navigating online for information, Wiki-pedia is for many the first resort. Whether it is a student seeking to firm up her essays with basic information, an individual trawling the links at the end of a Wiki entry for wider resource, a trivia buff sho-ring up her base or even one seeking material to plagiarise, the paths of all noble and ignoble seekers of information unite here. It explains the popularity of this online encyclopaedia: around 325 million regular visitors, the fifth most-popular site, with displays in around 250 languages — as it completes its tenth year today, marrying the primitive human desire to know with the mores of technology that allows collaborative, real-time editing.

Wikipedia's democratic approach — that "anyone can edit"— remains its biggest enigma. "Anyone" might imply pitting an amateur against a professional, and with entries being filed under assumed monikers, an anonymous IP add-ress, the veracity or reliability of the information remains questionable. 'It only works in practice…in theory it can never work', Wikipedia's founders are known to have commented. But then such is the wonder of its "grand humanitarian mission", it attracts do-gooders who are willing to check for facts, edit and weed out inaccuracies, contribute their own two-bits to develop 'stubs' into full-grown articles — all this for the sake of a common good without a thought for those crass human failings like money or ambition. That is not to say that Wikipedia does not have its own inbuilt system of checks and balances. It stores records of all changes that are made to an article.

Wiki faithfuls in India, too, now have a reason to rejoice, with the organisation planning to open its first overseas office in India this year as part of its emphasis on countries of the South. It remains non-profit, relying on donations, with the latest drive by co-founder Jimmy Wales having notched up $16 million. Mr Wales has also expressed his desire to expand the base of contributors, including more women and others inhibited by the technical know-how. Wikipedia is often credited as an important political and cultural player. If the fact that it has only 3.5 million articles in English out of its total 17 million articles is seen as an index of declining Anglophone dominance in the world of ideas, the day will not be far when you will be checking into a Swahili or Polish Wiki-page to know what the world is thinking.






Does 1954 mean anything special in India? Well, not really. It was a straight-forward kind of year. Nothing sensational happened, nothing that elated or depressed one.

For the vast majority of us, it was another year for wrenching survival out of misery, subsistence out of deprivation, satisfaction with little things out of a miasma of adversities. But for those who had time and conducive conditions to reflect on our nationhood, that year, like that decade itself, was a time of quiet pride and of confidence in our country's direction.

Films reflect prevalent moods. They are a pictorial barometer of the age's dominant rasa.

As a nine-year-old, I saw two films that year that quite bewitched me. The first was Subah Ka Tara. Its  title-song, sung in duet by Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar —  Gaya andhera, hua ujala, chamka chamka subah ka tara — kept resounding in my head for months. Something linked the song's mood to what seemed to me like stardust settling on everyone and everything. The second was Jagriti, with a song meant to spur nationalistic pride in the young — Aao bachcho tumhen dikhaen jhaanki Hindustan ki. Kavi Pradeep's words in Hemant Kumar's voice sung on screen by the earnest, bespectacled Abhi Bhattacharya did more than anything to instil a sense of pride in India.

That was also a season of dizzy firsts. Our first President, Rajendra Prasad, was fresh into his inaugural term in office, sedate and smiling. Our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had completed six years at the helm, loved at home, admired abroad. Our first Parliament, our First Five Year Plan, our first Supreme Court with its eight outstanding members, all had a fragrance to them, the fragrance of spring.

The year saw the scheme of presidential decorations inaugurated, with the first three Bharat Ratnas going to C Rajagopalachari, S Radhakrishnan and CV Raman, pleasing a country proud of its human capital.

And as a new entrant on the world stage, we seemed to be wearing, like our national bird, an iridescent crest and a fan of dazzling plumes. Our relations with China were at a peak, those with the Soviet Union at a high, with the Western world confident, cordial and correct. Both blocs were taking note of non-alignment, seen as India's contribution to international affairs.

We were also levitating in an aerea pura we were almost unaware of. We were scam-free. Our first 'scam' —  the Mundhra deal —  brought to public notice by the intrepid Feroze Gandhi was some five years away.

That era was a season of innocence as well.

It is not as if our leadership was unaware of the possibility of something going wrong. But that 'something' was seen as an aberration that the system could self-correct. Part of the ceremonies of innocence were connected to a prosaic institution, the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. The first CAG Vyakaran Narahari Rao and his successor AK Chanda were redoubtable figures. The highest in the land regarded them and their offices with a respect reserved for first principles.

One such 'ceremony' was held in Madras on June 2, 1954. The former parliamentarian Era Sezhiyan has recently reminded us of an address made by vice-president S Radhakrishnan. He said: "The CAG is responsible not to the government. He must serve as the check on the government. The government may make mistakes. It is wrong to assume that the government can do no wrong. The auditor general is independent of the executive… If I have to give one advice and if I am presumptuous enough to give any advice to the officers of the audit and accounts department, it is this: 'Do not shrink from the truth for fear of offending men in high places.'"

A month later, at the foundation-stone-laying of the  CAG office in New Delhi on July 21, 1954, it was the turn of President Rajendra Prasad to speak on the subject. He said: "In a democratic set-up involving allocation of hundreds of crores of rupees, the importance of this kind of scrutiny and check can never be over-emphasised… The important task — I am afraid, a task not always very pleasant — devolves upon the CAG and his office. In accordance with the powers vested in him, he has to carry on these functions without fear or favour in the larger interests of the nation."

Prasad, chairman of the Constituent Assembly, and Radhakrishnan as a member of that body would have remembered BR Ambedkar's description of the CAG as "the most important officer in the Constitution of India."

Re-reading those texts, I paused over two phrases used by Radhakrishnan. The government may make mistakes. It is wrong to assume that the government can do no wrong. He could say that again. But like a Charaka or a Susruta, the philosopher-statesman is also giving us a medicament. He is saying that unlike in some gross dictatorship or in a kingdom under an inept monarch, we have correctives, the CAG being a paramount one. And for that corrective to work in the only manner it is meant to work, it must not shrink from the truth for fear of offending men in high places.

In the larger interests of the nation, the autonomous stature of the CAG must remain undiminished.

A government that can do wrong is part of a larger edifice where that wrong gets righted by a system of auto-immune counter moves. No good, only deep and dangerous harm can come from that self-redeeming mechanism being devalued.

The system of internal warning systems in the 1950s which the then president and vice-president spoke of, was also 'voiced' in another film that came three years after Subah Ka Tara and Jagriti. This was Guru Dutt's  Pyaasa. I do not know if Pandit Nehru saw it but if he did, that passionate adherent of justice would have hearkened to its unforgettable song in Sahir Ludhianvi's magical words and Mohammed Rafi's immortal voice:

Yeh mehlon, yeh takhton, yeh taajon ki duniya,

Yeh insaan ke dushman samaajon ki duniya,

Yeh daulat ke bhookhey ravajon ki duniya,

Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai.

Har ek jism ghayal, har ek rooh pyaasi,

Nigahon mein uljhan, dilon mein udaasi,

Yeh duniya hai ya aalam-e-badhavasi,

Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai.

Even in those pre-Mundhra days of wise innocence, there was an awareness of the craving for daulat in some, going against the interests of a ghayal insaan. But there was the assumption that insaniyat ki duniya will get the better of dushman samaajon ki duniya.

The year 2011 cannot and need not be 1954. But must today's uljhan and udaasi deepen into an Aalam-e-badhavasi? Not if we remain aware of the fact, an incontrovertible 'given', that a Subah Ka Tara rises each morn, a hope and a challenge, unseen perhaps, but right there, behind the miasma of a deeply polluted sky.

(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor)

*The views expressed by the author are personal.






Yesterday, Kolkata woke up to shocking news. This weekend, the Election Commission will send five senior cops to West Bengal to ensure that before the assembly elections in May, illicit arms are seized, non-bailable warrants executed and political thugs taken into preventive custody. Has famously cultured West Bengal fallen to the status of neighbouring Bihar, with its infamous private armies? An absurd question. The answer, absurdly enough, is yes. So the cops will be accompanied by the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar, who kept the last elections there violence-free. For us cultural supremacist Bengalis, who disparage Biharis as ignorant rustics, this is the unkindest cut.

In absurd times, we must ask absurdly difficult questions. In West Bengal, the ruling party seems to have raised a heavily armed private army, which first came to national attention this month after a massacre in the village of Netai. And the Maoists have thanked Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress for supporting their cause. The CID has confirmed the link.

Binayak Sen was put away for life for receiving a general expression of thanks for his good work, in a letter purportedly sent by Maoists. But it is weak evidence alleged to have been planted, and the nature of the 'work' was not clarified. Since Sen is a rural doctor, it could have been the pursuit of public health. But in the case of Banerjee, currently Union railway minister, Maoist spokesman Bikram has unequivocally thanked her party for its support, right from the movement against land acquisition at Singur and Nandigram.

Now, should Banerjee be slapped with the myriad charges that Sen faces? And should Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee face charges for maintaining a private army, which could not have been raised without his knowledge? These are absurdly difficult questions, but elementary in comparison with the dreadful question facing the electorate — which patron of thugs should they vote to office?

West Bengal is heading for watershed elections which may end more than three decades of Communist rule. But in this crucial election, the voter has no real choice. Both the CM and the CM-in-waiting seem to lean on criminal violence — or at least permit its use — to illegally settle matters which should be decided democratically and electorally.

It appears that the election may cause a change of guard in Kolkata's Writers' Buildings, but change very little on the ground. Whoever is in office, West Bengal politics will remain less than democratic and the state may need electoral oversight as much as its western neighbour. No matter how civilised Bengal considers itself, it must acknowledge its culture of organised violence and dismantle it.

Shopping in a south Kolkata fishmarket recently, I protested loudly at the sticker shock. In these parts, the price of fish is taken as seriously as the GDP or the repo rate, so the fishmongers immediately gathered for a brief conference on the state of the Bengali nation. "Things have come to such a pass that we need a monster in office," they concluded. "A real monster. A daitya." But perhaps West Bengal needs to exorcise its monsters instead of welcoming them to office, and make room for a third alternative to be born.

(Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine)

*The views expressed by the author are personal







The giant Seattle-based coffee chain, Starbucks, announced on Thursday that it was beginning its long-awaited move into India. In what might well be the first of a series of deals, its chairman, Howard Schultz, said in Mumbai that he had come to an agreement with the Tata group whereby the giant chain would source some beans from Tata Coffee's plantations in south India, and open a few stores, most probably in Tata-run Taj hotels. Schultz told reporters that the company had been preoccupied with its advance into China, and that India's regulations controlling multi-brand retail had been a problem, but tackling the Indian market couldn't be postponed for ever.

It will be interesting, of course, to see if this entry comes too late. The two duelling coffee-shop brands, Barista and Café Coffee Day, have had a fairly major head start. And coffee shops aren't quite like colas or shoes; a brand matters more, carrying with it not just the normal sense of exclusivity or lifestyle-consciousness, but a sense of place that's supposed to soothe and comfort. That was how Starbucks made its name in the US, with brown-and-green upholstery, and smooth jazz music, and service that never, ever, expected you to get up. Will that transfer easily to India, to young consumers grown accustomed to orange interiors and the twang of an untuned guitar, or to red-and-white walls, rattan sofas and the buzz of crowded conversation?

What is interesting, perhaps, is that we're having this conversation at all. It's a reminder of how much cheap chain coffee shops have changed the space of urban India, how much they have grown into a part of the memories of its middle class. The ease with which the CCD generation can find a place to hang out is one of the great, unsung benefits of liberalisation.






It is a cry that is often muffled within the walls of a home, and one that cannot find justice easily even when it reaches the hallowed halls of our courts. For marital rape is still not spelt out as an offence in India. Which is why, when the government conveyed to the Supreme Court the necessity to treat forced sex between husband and wife as rape and amend laws accordingly — the proposal was made a couple of years ago by the Law Commission — the sense of urgency with which we have to respond to violence against women calls for reiteration.

Section 375 of the IPC archaically qualifies sexual intercourse between husband and wife as rape only if the wife is less than 15 years old.

Women have to take recourse to 498-A of the IPC to protect themselves against "perverse sexual conduct by the husband", or to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. A serious debate on marital rape, combined with a willingness to change laws, began again last year, when the department of legal affairs drafted the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, based on recommendations of the women and child development ministry and the National Commission for Women. The intention was to amend various sections of the IPC, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Indian Evidence Act to recognise new categories of sexual assault. We can no longer afford to dither on this. We need to debate this as well, without treating marital rape as taboo or resorting to euphemisms, but looking at it as a social, criminal problem.

Along with legal amendments, there's a need to increase the likelihood that abused wives learn of legal remedies available — but the former does not have to wait for the realisation of the latter. Awareness could stem from a judicial acknow-ledgement of women's rights and gender justice. An understanding of marriage as an institution that automatically presupposes sexual consent on the part of the woman is both patriarchal and archaic, and should be treated so. Rape is an act of humiliation. And a No is a No — in a marriage or outside it. It is a right that should be recognised.






The medical bureaucracy in India had jumped in record time to make a high-pitched protest against a study, published in British medical journal The Lancet last August, that named a new bacterium with a drug-resistant gene "New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase" or NDM-1, after some Europeans returning from South Asia were found infected with it. In the first month of the new year, Lancet's editor, Richard Horton, launching The Lancet: India Series, apologised for naming the superbug after the Indian capital. While it may be standard practice to name bacteria after cities, the medical bureaucracy as well as the Indian public should not bask in that apology. There are, instead, things of far greater and real import — of a medical and public health nature — to fix. And India hasn't made much headway.

NDM-1 by any other name would still offer the same lesson in the dangers of profligate prescription and use of antibiotics. NDM-1 itself made bacteria resistant to most commonly used antibiotics. The development of this drug-resistant superbug, found in patients who had come here for surgery and transplant, was almost certainly impelled by antibiotic overuse or misuse. Just as the Indian medical fraternity missed the wood for the trees last August because of that name, now that an apology has been pronounced, it shouldn't be blinded by it. Antibiotic overuse is an entrenched and pervasive problem in India, as it is in Kenya, South Africa, Vietnam and China, according to a WHO study. We can no longer entertain a medical culture in which doctors indiscriminately prescribe antibiotics keeping in mind only their own patients, who might themselves complain their ailments are being ignored otherwise; or under incentives from pharmaceutical firms, forgetting the larger public health picture.

Nor can we tolerate chemists supplying them over the counter and without prescriptions. Post-NDM-1 last year, a guideline was issued by a group of public health experts for state-run hospitals on antibiotic use; it didn't, however, cover private hospitals.

The case remains for tackling antibiotic misuse comprehensively, with foolproof regulations and punishments for violation. At the same time, India's deplorable public health awareness and hygiene standards need an immediate and far-reaching uplift. A surveillance system must be evolved for antimicrobial resistance and hospitals must do more in infection control, cleanliness, hand washing, etc. These details must be attended to, every day, even as awareness is raised about the urgent need for macro health infrastructure or even a fractionally adequate public health policy.







On January 11, people assembled in large numbers in different parts of Nepal, and celebrated the 289th birth anniversary of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the warrior king who until four years ago had the most exalted position in the national calendar as the "Architect of Modern Nepal". Following the success of the April 2006 mass movement that laid the foundation for a republic, the government headed by G.P. Koirala decided Shah's birth anniversary would no longer be celebrated as National Unity Day, nor would it be a public holiday. Euphoria-driven radicals led by Maoists had then broken his statues in many places, even the one in Devighat, around 40 km from the capital, where he died some 238 years ago. His life-size statue was reinstalled on January 11 — Culture Minister Minendra Rizal unveiled it and people paid rich homage.

Citizen groups warned the government and political parties that demolishing history or undermining the role of Shah would not be tolerated any more, and position of pride must be restored to him officially. The government did not host any programme on the occasion, but the vice president, the prime minister and a host of government officials attended a tea party organised by Kamal Thapa, chief of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), who has been campaigning for the revival of monarchy. Thapa was a political pariah until a couple of years ago because of his consistent campaign that "monarchy is a unique symbol of national unity", but a fear of the disintegration of the state along caste and ethnic lines has brought that campaign back into national focus.

Monarchs come and go. History is replete with such events. But in Nepal's context, Prithvi Narayan Shah not only brought caste- and ethnicity-based states under the umbrella of Nepal, but also laid a solid foundation for the modern state. He said Nepal was a "yam between two boulders" suggesting the need for a delicate balance of relationship between its two big neighbours, a fundamental rule of Nepal's foreign policy even now. On the domestic front, he said foreign traders should not be allowed; that all mines and minerals should be kept under our own control as outsiders would make the country bankrupt; that foreign goods, including clothes, must be discarded and home-spinning promoted; that prosperous people alone would make monarchy stronger; that there should be probity in public life; that both "bribe givers and takers are criminals".

Interestingly, when Nepal ushered in an age of radicalism four years ago, the Maoists and some human rights champions advocated going back to the pre-Prithvi Narayan Shah era, saying a federal Nepal should have ethnicity-based provinces, all with the right to self-determination. With Nepal's dwindling image in the international comity, the prediction that it is going to be a failed state, and with no hope entrusted on the current political players, Prithvi Narayan Shah — after a gap of four years — is being looked on as the saviour of Nepal's dignity, independence and growth. Politicians, including the Maoists, are at a receiving end. Shah's warning that "bribe givers and takers are both enemies of the nation" is a quote that many Nepalis repeat today, pointing fingers at their new leaders. Recognised indices put Nepal as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. There is exploitation of mines, minerals and stone quarries and a visible nexus between politicians and mafia traders, adding to fears that there will be drought, flood and food scarcity. Official statistics show in the past four years of free-for-all politics, nearly 100,000 hectares of forest and quarries have been exploited by illicit traders.

The near-nil chances of the constitution being delivered by May 28, speculation about the future of the peace process and the unity and integrity of the nation, and people's frustration and anger that the Nepali Congress, Maoists and the Communist Party of Nepal — Unified Marxist Leninist

(CPN-UML) and the Terai groups are responsible for the current mess, do not augur well for political parties. The return of Prithvi Narayan Shah as a hero shows people have run out of patience.







CONFESSION: The TV show that inspires this edition of the column isn't news-based. What is it that's given the column the courage to veer off course? What momentous non-news TV event has broken down the thematic boundary wall of "Breaking Down News"? This: Sourav Ganguly's "reality" TV show on Zee Bangla. Not a new show? That's true. Isn't the show in Bengali, and therefore linguistically out of reach for large sections of a national newspaper audience? That's true, too. So, why is this column getting excited about a non-news TV show in a regional language? This is why: Ganguly has been much in news — IPL auctions, etc. And only recently a well-wisher of this column suggested that your correspondent watch some episodes of Dadagiri. Upon viewing Ganguly as a TV host, your correspondent felt compelled, absolutely compelled to write about it. My excuse is that, as I said, Ganguly is in news.

So, how's Ganguly on TV, as a host of a quiz show where "he interacts with the masses and talks to celebrity guests", to quote Zee Bangla's description of the show? Dadagiri, Zee Bangla tells us, "aims to find the best talent in Bengal, from various fields".

Who am I to judge whether Ganguly is unearthing Bengal's best talent. But I can tell you this, Ganguly is to charismatic, electric television presence as I am to, say, captaining India's cricket team. Actually, it goes further. Were I in a moment of unmitigated national disaster asked to captain India's cricket team I would sort of know where to place the slip cordon or even the short fine leg, that Zaheer Khan isn't a right-arm off spinner but a left-arm fast bowler. In short, I would know the absolute basics.

But Ganguly on TV! Stunning! It's not just that he touches his ears all the time — if that's him listening to the producer, he must hide it. It's not just that his smile seems like a variation of a grimace. It's not just that his jokes are searingly unfunny. It's not just that even when he's looking at the show's participants he seems to not talk to them. The main thing is — Ganguly is such a staggering un-presence. As a cricketer — a very fine one — his was a presence that was hard to ignore on the field. On the TV set he seems to have less personality than a middle stump. I was absolutely, utterly amazed, as I write this, I am still amazed and not a little sad — did such a live wire cricketer have to appear thus after he hung up his boots? I am just a member of the masses, but I can't help but wonder, is there a lesson here for other celebrities?

PS: How's TV as a medium best used? Anyone and everyone on TV and public life should watch the video of Barack Obama's televised speech at Tucson, Arizona, US; the American president was paying a tribute to those who died and were injured in last week's shooting incident that made world headlines. Obama was, simply put, incredible on TV; incredible. Not one syllable rang false, you couldn't take your eyes off him, you didn't want to miss one word. You can be cynical, jaded and an Obama-sceptic, but you would have been moved by that speech. This was a demonstration of using TV cameras with extraordinary intelligence. And the pity is there's no one, but no one in India's public life who comes anywhere near this level. Obama on TV — now, he's a real dada.








From the highs of Diwali to the blues of the new year, the mood on the market has swung from near-euphoria to pessimism. This in a country that promises to remain the second fastest growing economy in the world for the next few years, and with the chance to become the fastest growing after that. In just a few trading sessions, the markets seem to have lost their charm, losing 10 per cent between early November and now; the same foreign investors who couldn't get enough of Indian stocks last year have suddenly decided they'd rather wait.

Certainly, the Indian market has been expensive for a long time now, trading well above its average historical multiples and at significant premiums to its peers. But while just a couple of months back, the consensus was that the market deserved much of the premium it commanded, given the compelling growth story that was playing out, today investors are not so sure. The India story today, mainly the macroeconomic piece, has suddenly turned weak — so that, instead of hitting double-digit GDP growth in a couple of years, as we should have, we may actually slow down a little, taking some of the sheen off corporate India's profits.

What's threatening to hurt growth is raging inflation which, driven by rapidly rising food prices, came in at 8.43 per cent for December, up from 7.48 per cent in November. Not all of this is completely of our own making: soaring prices of crude oil and other commodities are beyond our control. But we have failed miserably in anticipating the structural changes in food inflation and in reining it in.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has attempted to tame inflation through a series of interest rate hikes in 2010 that add up to 150 basis points, but evidently that hasn't been enough. While the central bank may not have been as proactive as it should have, the bigger culprit has undoubtedly been the government, which has been borrowing increasing amounts every year running up a huge fiscal deficit. It's unpardonable to be picking up about Rs 3 lakh crore at a time when there have been windfall receipts from spectrum auctions and a fair amount of money has also come in from the market through disinvestments.

It was one thing to stimulate the economy during the downturn post-Lehman in late 2008, but to keep borrowing at a time when revenues have been better than expected is irresponsible. Indeed, the same government which pulled industry out of the trough in 2009 seems today to be incapable of tackling even the smallest of problems. What is worrying investors is that policy-making has come to a complete standstill, and the government seems unable to deal with its many challenges, including charges of corruption.

Even with a good growth story, investors first need to be comfortable with the political situation. The fact that Parliament couldn't transact any business in the last session can hardly inspire confidence; it's critical that Parliament functions in the budget session since the Money Bill needs to be passed. As for growth, the latest IIP data for November — an anaemic 2.9 per cent, well below the consensus prediction of 6 per cent — has clearly left investors nervous.

Unfortunately, the RBI has been painted into a corner from where it will be forced to raise interest rates and tighten money supply at a time when money should be freely available and affordable to companies so that they can add new capacity. But the RBI has little choice because if we can't contain inflation we will need to seriously rethink our growth rates. It's no surprise the markets are nervous; after all, investments were made on the premise that India will grow at 9 or 10 per cent. If that doesn't happen, the markets will not attract the kind of money from foreign portfolio investors they did last year — a record $29 billion.

That will pressure the widening current account deficit which is at record highs of 4 per cent of GDP, and which has been funded by strong capital market flows. Moreover, the government will be a loser because it will not be able to mop up money through disinvestments; even in early 2010, when the macroenvironment was far better than it is today, the NTPC and NMDC issues had to be bailed out by government banks and financial institutions. It's a pity that at a time when the world believes India can do it, the government is frittering away such an opportunity.

The writer is Resident Editor, Mumbai, for 'The Financial Express'







A recent bill proposes revolutionary changes to the current Indian copyright scheme. Little wonder then that it has spurred a boisterous debate. A parliamentary standing committee constituted to examine the bill applauded the government for introducing reforms aimed at fostering social justice; however it castigated it for not going far enough. A case in point is a copyright exemption engineered to enable conversion of copyrighted works to accessible formats for the disabled. The committee urged the government to remove critical limitations in this exemption to provide for a more meaningful provision for the disabled.

The most contentious amendment relates to what one might label as the "Bollywood royalty" provision, wherein the government proposes to ban all music composers and lyricists from assigning their rights. The brainchild of noted lyricist Javed Akhtar, this provision aims at redressing an obvious injustice perpetrated for years in Bollywood, where film producers would buy out music composers and lyricists upfront for a pittance — and then rake in the huge moolah that flowed from the success of the music, without sharing any of the proceeds. The standing committee not only endorsed the government proposal, but insisted that any royalties ensuing from the commercialisation of film music had to be split equally between music producers and artists. If this translates to law, it will be the most transformative and socially progressive copyright amendment ever in India. Bollywood producers are obviously upset and have been threatening to strike for many weeks now.

In the midst of all this brouhaha, what has been largely missed is a problematic provision that effectively sanctions an inequitable transfer of wealth from India to the US.

Section 40 of the copyright act urges the Indian government to protect foreign copyrighted works in India only if Indian works of a similar nature are protected in the foreign country. While the Indian government has largely adhered to this principle of reciprocity, it has miserably failed to protect our interests in the context of sound recordings.

It bears noting that the US copyright scheme does not provide any protection for the public performance of Indian sound recordings. However, US sound recordings are protected in India, just as all other sound recordings are.

By way of background, our copyright act provides for the protection of a number of works, including literary works, artistic works and musical works. It also provides separate copyright protection for producers of sound recordings. In the context of a movie, the sound recording is usually owned by the producer of the movie and then assigned to a music mogul such as T-series.

A typical Bollywood number has two set of rights associated with it: the copyright over the sound recording (which vests with the sound recording producer) and the copyright over underlying words (such as the lyrics and musical composition which continue to vest with the lyricist and composer). When a dimly-lit bar in Mumbai belts out raunchy numbers hailing Sheila's Jawani or bemoaning Munni's Badnami, both sets of rights are implicated. Therefore, under our present copyright norms, royalties have to be paid by the bar to both the underlying artist and the sound recording company.

However when this music is played in a US bar, no royalties need to be paid at all, to either the sound recording company or the artists, provided that "home-style" equipment are used to play the music within the bar.

An ideal outcome for many of us who lack respect for the innate sanctity of copyrights would be to simply replicate the US position — amend the law to remove such public performance rights, at least in the context of small outfits that play such music.

Yet, till such time that we evolve to this superior position, the spirit of Section 40 dictates that the government must exclude US sound recordings from the ambit of the international copyright order, an order that lists out the various foreign copyrights recognised under Indian law.

One may argue that the letter of Section 40 permits the government to violate this cardinal principle of reciprocity in some respects. And it is this ambiguity that ought to be rectified immediately through an amendment.

If the US does not protect our interests, there is no reason why we should go out of our way to protect theirs. Charity no doubt begins at home, but has to be curbed when it results in an unfair filling of US coffers at Indian expense. And this is precisely what happens when Phonographic Performances Ltd (PPL), a coercive collecting society, comes knocking on many a hotel or club door to collect moneys for recordings that are played. In its operations, PPL is about as transparent as a coal seam and there is considerable uncertainty about its rights to collect in this regard and whether or not it remits money to its foreign counterparts. But that is the subject of another debate altogether.

One hopes that the government strengthens this reciprocity provision prior to re-introducing the amendment bill in Parliament during this budget session. For, any apathy in this regard will continue to spur the inequitable transfer of wealth from an aspiring super power with appalling levels of squalor to an existing super power tiding over a turbulent economic wave.

The writer is the Ministry of HRD professor at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata







The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government's political crisis has finally come to an end. Daily Times reported on the Pakistan PM's press conference on January 10: "PM Yousaf Raza Gilani... bowed to the opposition's demands and lured PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif to once again come into the fold of 'friendship' by assuring that he had accepted the challenge of implementing the PML-N's ten-point charter of demands." Dawn added: "The demands included that the government investigate corruption scandals, reduce non-development spending by one-third, and set up an independent election body. One of the demands, that a controversial fuel price hike be reversed, was already met by the government on Friday. Sharif accepted the gesture... and termed it as political maturity." Quoting Sharif, Daily Times stated that he said his party does not seek mid-term elections and wants the elected government to complete its full term." The News quoted him saying that "the days of dirty politics are now over".

Supporting the assassin

Former Punjab governor Salman Taseer's assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, received more backing from the Pakistan streets this week. Daily Times reported on January 10: "Hundreds of Sunni Tehreek activists staged a protest demonstration in Rawalpindi... demanding the release of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri... " The News reported another rally in Karachi where "thousands... on Sunday rallied against the attempts to reform the blasphemy law... They vowed to continue their campaign throughout the country till the government announces its 'clear-cut' policy in this regard on the floor of the House. The rallyists... were carrying banners in support of Mumtaz Qadri whom they declared as a hero of Islam."

An interior ministry report, carried in The News on January 11, quoted minister Rehman Malik: "Mumtaz Qadri... is not a religious fanatic having extremist ideologies." The News also stated that the security of Aasia Bibi, accused of blasphemy, has been increased, her family has gone into hiding and is now living with assumed identities after Salman Taseer's murder, fearing they may be killed in the same manner.

The Pope in his New Year's address to ambassadors to the Vatican called upon Pakistan to end its controversial blasphemy law. PM Gilani, reported The News on January 13, sent an "unambiguous and loud message to Pope Benedict XVI that Pakistan would act upon its own law, spurning his call to abrogate the blasphemy law."

Legal eagles preyed upon

A storm is waiting in the wings for Pakistan's judiciary once again, Dawn reported on January 13: "The Supreme Court... rejected the challenge to the constitution of the bench hearing contempt of court charges case against PCO judges... The oath of Justice Dogar, who was named the Supreme Court chief justice soon after former president Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November 2007, was held unconstitutional on July 31 last year. The verdict also held illegal all actions taken by the former president, including the appointment of a number of judges."

A chilling event in the life of Justice Javed Iqbal, one of Pakistan's prominent legal lights of the day, took place this week, reported The News on January 12: "The parents of Supreme Court judge Justice Javed Iqbal were found murdered on Tuesday night at their Lahore residence." Justice Iqbal was heading a panel hearing the missing persons case, which has been going on since Musharraf's days in the presidency. He had submitted the panel's report earlier this week.

Ol' Joe on Kabul

US Vice President Joe Biden, during his short trip to Islamabad, managed to stir up a debate with the government. It was reported that during a meeting between Biden and PM Gilani, the former was told that Pakistan wouldn't "tolerate a new great game in Afghanistan." Biden assuaged Pakistan's fears, reported Dawn on January 12: "The US... assured Pakistan of 'no boots on the ground' and said it fully respects Pakistan's sovereignty. An official source privy to the meeting between PM Gilani and Vice President Biden... said the US... acknowledged as 'legitimate' Pakistan's apprehensions about foreign intervention through Afghanistan."






British Muslims stand up for free speech — and British identity easily expands to include them : Goodbye Jack Smith, hello Mohammed Malik, model British subject. Mohammed, in its various spellings, is now the favourite name for newborn boys in the United Kingdom, edging out Oliver. Those named for the Prophet of Islam ride the Clapham omnibus.

Churn is a wondrous thing, grease in the wheels of vital societies able to adjust their self-images over time. But what to think of the Mohammedisation of this murky isle?

Say Luton or Bradford, and the vision that leaps is that of the alienated Muslim radicalised by jihadist teaching and ready — like the Luton-incubated Stockholm bomber Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly — to blow himself up to kill the Western infidel. The London bombers of July 7, 2005, also set out from Luton.

These are potent images. Exclusion exists; its other face is danger. But so does a particular British elasticity that registers Mohammed and shrugs.

Having lived in France and Germany, I'm struck on returning to Britain after 30 years not by the hard lines hiving off immigrant Muslim communities as in those countries but by the relative fluidity that produces Faisal Islam, economic editor of the influential Channel 4 News, or Sajid Javid, a bus driver's son and Tory MP.

British identity has proved more capacious than French or German, perhaps because, even before the legacy of empire, it had to absorb the English, the Scottish and the Welsh (as well as fail to absorb the majority of the Irish.) The variegated texture of London — projects full of immigrants hard by upscale housing — stands in stark contrast to ghettoized Paris.

I've been listening to a BBC Radio 4 series — how polarised America would benefit from a national broadcaster of this quality! — called "Five Guys named Mohammed," conceived to mark the name's first-place surge. The programs are a good antidote to the simplistic caricature that conflates Muslim with threat, and a useful barometer of an integration that is uneven, certainly, but ongoing.

There was Mohammed Yahya, Mozambique-born rapper and creator of a Muslim-Jewish band. Or Mohammed Anwar, of purring Scottish brogue, the manager of a Glasgow Muslim day care center, waxing lyrical about Damson Jam and the crush he once had on actress Diana Rigg (who didn't?) and his 21-year-old daughter, who could do big things if she was not "so laid-back, it's just unbelievable." And there she was, more Scottish even than he, laughing over his premature hunt for a husband for her.

Or Muhammad Hasan, a bubbly Birmingham real-estate dealer in his mid-30s, explaining his Islamic investment theory: Because under Islam you cannot charge or pay interest, Muslim investors in his property deals have to take equity rather than lend money — and that spurs motivation.

Bent on business, Hasan has had little time to look for a wife who, in his mother's view, "has to be a Muslim and from Pakistan and a Princess Diana clone!" He's now sipping tea with potential spouses while his binocular-armed Mom observes.

Overall, these Mohammeds see themselves as British citizens, not Muslims in the United Kingdom. Their universes may be distinct, as in attitudes to marriage, but distinct in a way that, at best, complements rather than confronts. "There's an upward mobility and optimism that is much higher than in continental Europe," said Muddassar Ahmed, a 27-year-old college dropout and chief executive of Unitas, a public relations firm.

Ahmed is involved in the drafting of a letter by 50 British Muslim scholars denouncing Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the 26-year-old killer of Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor assassinated this month for denouncing Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws that prescribe the death sentence for anyone insulting Islam. Qadri, self-described "slave of the Prophet," has been feted in Islamabad.

In this context, the readiness of European Muslims, many bearing the Prophet's name, to stand up for values of free speech assumes bridge-building importance. It reflects the experience of faith as practiced within a modern secular society.

Those bridges do not come easily. Britain has been riled in recent weeks by the conviction of Mohammed Liaqat, 28, and Abid Saddique, 27, the ringleaders of a gang that raped and sexually abused several white girls aged between 12 and 18 in Derby.

The reaction of Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, was to say a problem exists with "Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way." He said they were "popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically" — so they seek the "easy meat" of white girls.

It was a neat — and explosive — argument. Vigorous debate has ensued. Racial slur? Courageous frankness? I don't think Straw's argument stands up to scrutiny of overall sex-crime patterns, but I do think Britain's Muslim community needs to take a hard look at repressive attitudes toward women. The debate is salutary.

There's a Mohammed — in fact there are many — in Britain's future. Oliver's prospects look more dubious given the ties between the name's popularity and the heady success of the chef Jamie Oliver — but that's another story of positive British change."- (roger cohen>)







Analysts have been critical of the Infosys third quarter results, but they have only themselves to blame for it. Over the past few weeks, they have been building up sky-rocketing expectations. Truth be told, Infosys has done reasonably well by bettering its own guidance. It looks like the Street was expecting too much and this is no indicator of how the needle is ticking over in the global outsourcing world. Even Infosys chairman NR Narayana Murthy looked a little peeved by analyst comments, while talking to FE on Thursday. He said he was quite happy that the company was able to post a net profit rise of 14%, though economic recovery in developed markets was taking longer than expected. He was clear that Infosys did well to better its outlook and indicated that the firm need not worry about what others expect all the time. It is possible that analysts, over the years, have started to expect miracles from Infosys. Aided by better pricing and cross currency gains, Infosys was able to register a revenue growth of 6% in dollar terms. Though the rupee appreciated by around 3.5%, Infosys was still able to maintain margins. But clearly analysts have reasons to be disappointed with the company's Q4 outlook. The revenue growth guidance of 1-2% is not very encouraging. Granted Infosys is a safe player when it comes to providing guidance but such a pessimistic outlook was not expected. Infosys has attributed this outlook to the macroeconomic environment, which, according to management commentary, still has to be viewed with cautious optimism. The company's top brass was of the opinion that there was a lot of uncertainty with regard to customer sentiments. The focus is on short-term projects, and IT budgets for the coming year are likely to be either flat or marginally up.


Meanwhile, both TCS—India's largest software exporter—and Wipro Technologies—Infosys's cross-town rival—are slated to announce their earnings in the coming week. Analysts expect both these companies to turn in better numbers than Infosys. They seem to be particularly bullish about TCS. Trade pundits point to the fact that the company's attrition rate has shrunk considerably to around 12.5%. Hence, it have been able to keep the utilisation rates high, and analysts expect a 7-8% revenue growth from TCS. With regard to Wipro, analysts are counting on the fact that the Azim Premji-led company has started to vie for smaller contracts, which will reflect in its books this time around.







On the face of things, India has every reason to celebrate. Despite global growth projected to slow to 3.3% in 2011 from 3.9% in 2010, the World Bank projects a healthy growth for India—from 9.5% in 2010, growth is projected to move to 8.4%, and from 10% to 8.7% in the case of China. Some part of this dual-growth, of course, is already visible and explains why countries like India and China didn't suffer as much during the crisis and found their growth rates bouncing back much faster. Indeed, the data show India's industrial output exceeded pre-crisis level by 21.1% in October 2010. And among developing countries, which have regained full capacity utilisation, India is on top—its capacity utilisation is 106%; this is 17% below capacity in Europe and the Central Asia region. The growing confidence of developing countries is also reflected in the pick up in FDI outflows to $210 billion in 2010, surpassing the record $207 billion achieved in 2008. In the case of India, the Bharti acquisition of Zain for $10.7 billion is the best example. In the first 10 months of 2010, Brazil received $63 billion in foreign equity inflows and India $50 billion.


There are, however, enough parts of the story that make you feel a little less sanguine. It's difficult to see, right now at least, how the government hopes to be able to get out of the legislative jam it got into following the Raja scam and its refusal to have a JPC investigation on it. There are serious concerns over whether environment clearances are going to derail investment plans, and there is the issue of inflation and the political pressure to get RBI to raise rates in a hurry. Industrial production data shows India is not out of the woods, and so a rapid hike in interest-rates could hit growth—more so if, as now, FIIs continue to pull out money. The Bank has projected that fuel prices will continue to rise and that will stimulate inflation. While the Bank thinks global food prices will fall—by 8% as compared to a hike of 17% in 2010—this may not help since India is hardly a food importer. The issue that faces India is of near-complete stagnation in yields. None of this is insurmountable and in maize and cotton, there has been a very large hike in productivity levels, and states like Gujarat have growth levels not too dissimilar from those of coastal China. But there is enough, in the short run, to be a cause for concern.






The mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan gives annual average real rates of GSDP growth for the states, actual figures for the Tenth Plan (2002-07) and expectations for the Eleventh Plan (2007-12). The table shows these numbers for major states. Since these are Planning Commission figures, they cannot be accused of having been doctored by the state governments. If one ignores small states like Delhi and Goa, Gujarat has shown the fastest rate of growth during the Tenth Plan and one of the two fastest (with Karnataka) during the Eleventh. In the context of the Vibrant Gujarat summit, questions have been raised in the media about whether the Gujarat growth story is real. It clearly is.

Small states like Delhi, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and even Kerala are relatively homogeneous. They do not possess large intra-state disparities. Planning development for them is relatively easier and it is also easier for them to jack up rates of growth. It is also relatively easier for historically backward states to increase rates of growth because there is plenty of slack in the system. If a few things are done right, growth picks up. Bihar, Chhattisgarh, MP and Jharkhand are instances. Between 2003 and 2007, India's growth rates approached 9% and one story there was of relatively backward states catching up, while growth petered out in advanced states like Punjab.

There is a difference between GSDP and GSI (gross state income) of a state, important for states that have remittances. But that's neither here nor there, since we don't have data on GSI. If relatively advanced states like Gujarat, Haryana and Karnataka register 11%, that's truly remarkable. There is a parallel with China, in two senses. First, in China's provinces, too, there is an issue of relatively backward provinces in the north-west catching up.

Second, that 11% doesn't compare unfavourably with some of China's coastal provinces, though in a few of them, real growth chugs along at close to 15%, not 11%. However, there are questions about the quality of Chinese data, not just in the aggregate, but at the level of provinces. Gujarat's is not just an industry, energy or petrochemicals story. At one level, given the fact that Gujarat was India's only state with a manufacturing/GSDP ratio of more than 50%, this is expected. But even there, reduction of procedural hassles and success with development of clusters (special investment regions, not just SEZs) and privatisation of ports are worth mentioning. It is true that many MoUs signed don't translate into actual investments. But that's a general malaise and Gujarat's conversion ratio is better than most.

The more interesting story is the agricultural one. While this has been written about (including in a paper by IFPRI), it doesn't seem to have recognised much. Roads, micro-irrigation and power have boosted agricultural growth, even in dryland areas. Participatory irrigation management and water users' associations have been mentioned by the Planning Commission also in that mid-term appraisal. "One of the most successful examples of PIM in India is being implemented jointly by the Government of Gujarat and Development Support Centre, Ahmedabad, since 1994 on the right bank canal of the Dharoi project on the Sabarmati river covering about 48,000 hectares. 175 WUAs and two Branch Level

Federations have been formed. Each WUA services a command area of about 300 to 500 hectares and has about 200 to 350 members. The Branch Level Federations service an area of 7,000-14,000 hectares. The WUAs in Dharoi are registered as co-operatives. Each farmer within the command area has purchased a share to become a member. There are about 35,000 members. They have carried out canal rehabilitation works worth Rs 55 million wherein the members have contributed about Rs 10 million … They have installed gates at the outlet level with their own funds and devised a system of water distribution wherein no member is given water without a pass. They prepare an annual budget and decide the water charges which are often over and above the Government rate. The office bearers collect the water charges in advance from the farmers and pay them to the Irrigation Department." There is more along similar lines. We don't need the populism. Had we taken care of Indian agriculture without the populism, we wouldn't have needed MGNREGA either.

There is yet another interesting experiment that has been started—Mission Mangalam. With a Gujarat Livelihood Promotion Company, this seeks to integrate women's SHGs with the private corporate sector. While there is no need to be laudatory about everything and districts like Dang are still backward (without being plagued by Naxalism), with Gujarat's social sector outcomes below what it should have achieved, there is no denying that the state is vibrant and there is a strong sense of pride. There are useful developmental lessons for every Indian state. Being dismissive simply because the CM happens to be Narendra Modi gets the country nowhere. On the contrary, the development is probably happening because the CM happens to be Narendra Modi.

—The author is a noted economist







Sometimes the key to a mystery is so obvious as to seem irrelevant. That is the situation with the current confusion about out-of-control food inflation, caused primarily by vegetables and livestock products. Its recent marginal easing up might offer some reprieve to the Delhi Pooh Bahs, as anticipated by Ila Patnaik (The Indian Express, January 13, 2011), but offers no solace to the harried buyer, who has no choice but to fork out ever higher sums for not just daal-chawal but increasingly for aloo-pyaaz and ghee-shakkar.

The usual suspects have been rounded up, but none among them appears to be the perpetrator. The government economic brains trust has talked of cartelisation (Kaushik Basu), market imperfections (MS Ahluwalia), and wholesalers have been raided to unearth stocks, as if you could hide mounds of onions and tomatoes, if they could keep at all! The traders' strike threat could only worsen the situation while onions and tomatoes continue to elude the hawk-eyed policymakers and their eager sleuths.


The reason is simple: they just aren't there, not in quantities near what we want. So, like the IPL franchisees wanting to fill their rosters with at least 70 reliable Indian cricketers from a small pool, the vegetable buyer has to face unheard-of prices. Widespread rains at the end of the monsoon and well beyond it in production areas have led to lost early winter sowing and delay in the arrival of fresh produce all over the country.


Two features characterise the fresh produce market: high price elasticity of supply and high income elasticity of demand. The former implies that even relatively small and temporary disruptions to supply cause disproportionately high increases in price. Given the short production cycle—six to eight weeks—price spikes due to supply constraints could occur several times a year. Lately, we have experienced high intra-year rainfall fluctuations leading to wide variations in prices. We had double-digit food inflation last June-July, also caused by vegetables. Similar bursts of high prices occurred in 2009, 2008 and 2007.


The current situation is more worrisome. It has hit the consumer lulled into believing that all was well following a copious monsoon. It has also come in a sudden spurt: tomatoes were Rs 8/kg in early November; they are Rs 40/kg or more six weeks later. Onions went up similarly, from Rs 12/kg to Rs 60/kg. Even more paradoxical is the distortion in relative prices: fresh peas, only seasonally available and considered an 'upper class' commodity, are selling at the same price (Rs 20/kg) as the lowly brinjal, normally sold at around Rs 5/kg! That is how large and differentiated the short-term production impact has been.


The income effect on vegetable demand and prices has caused the sustained upward trend over the last five years or more. Economics terms vegetables, livestock products and sugar as superior foods, as they all have high positive income elasticities of demand. Their demand rises faster than per capita incomes, as we want more of them as we grow richer. Both Patnaik and Ahluwalia have acknowledged this.


With per capita incomes rising at 7% a year on top of a population growth of 1.5% in the last five years, vegetable supplies needed to grow at 9% annually to meet the demand. Vegetable production grew from 101 million tonnes in 2004-05 to 136 million tonnes in 2009-10. While this growth is faster than that in crop production, it is only at about 5% a year. Hence vegetable shortages have increased as have the prices. A similar story unfolds in the livestock products segments as well.


Market imperfections have contributed little to this situation. In fact, the fresh produce market is far more efficient than those for most commodities. Solutions such as the creation of a cold chain to extend the shelf-life of products and reach of markets are unaffordable; studies indicate that the cost of distribution through such a chain would rise manifold, given their energy intensivity.


The short answer is to increase production faster than the rise in demand. Unit costs and prices have fallen in consumer durables and telephony even as demand has exploded, because the number of suppliers has risen and cost-saving technologies have become available.


This would not be the case for onions, tomatoes and other produce. Seasonal and soil considerations restrict the production base. The generally slow pace of technology dissemination and adoption has been further affected by misguided and perhaps unwarranted ecological zealousness. Brinjal is widely seen as the cotton-equivalent of horticulture, due to its susceptibility to a wide variety of pests. Yet the agriculture ministry clearance to Bt brinjal is held in abeyance (perhaps indefinitely) by the environment minister on the basis of his personal soundings. Norman Borlaug and Dr Swaminathan have pleaded the case of genetically modified crop planting material, albeit carefully evaluated and monitored, as the likeliest way to achieve rapid and sustained productivity increases.


Here lies the rub: our simple story of vegetables, alas, has no happy ending in sight, given the blinkered vision of the policymakers. The finance minister's optimism regarding control of this vegflation is thus whistling in the dark, even in the short run.


—The author is chief executive, Management Analytics Pvt Ltd.






Still a lawyer

It wasn't just his oratory that gave away the fact that telecom minister Kapil Sibal was one of the country's finest lawyers. It was also his timing, the timing of his press conferences to be exact. The minister's press conferences as telecom minister have all been held at 4 pm. No one knows why he chooses 4, but someone pointed out a possible reason. The courts close business by around then, so being a lawyer, he's used to the idea of meeting people after 4.


Still as popular

It may have been a while since Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was rural development minister, but that hasn't dented his popularity any. The lunch hosted by him on the occasion of Makar Sankranti was full of staffers from his erstwhile department, right from the top bureaucrats to ones down the food chain.



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When Wikipedia was launched in 2001, Internet aficionados were reeling from the bursting of the dotcom bubble. Nobody was certain that the experiment involving Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales opening up their free, online encyclopedia Nupedia to strangers would work out. Here we are, exactly 10 years later, and we are looking at a sensational success story. Whether it is everyday objects like shoe polish or obscure ones like transneptunian planets, science topics like the exosome complex or humanities ones like transhumanism, historical forces like the Rashtrakuta dynasty or unfolding developments like the Gabrielle Gifford assassination attempt, Wikipedia has become the default first-reference source thanks to an abundance of contributors who work without a penny. Yesterday's featured article concerned the Calgary Hitmen, a major junior ice hockey team based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Who knew?


But going ahead, challenges are multiplying as fast as users. If you have been lately annoyed at Wales's face popping out at you every time you went to the site, you are already familiar with the big one, which is money. So far, Wikipedia has stuck to the donation model rather than going the advertising or commercial way, which Wales convincingly argues gives it a certain kind of independence. For another, it is grappling with how to get more diverse, which is why plans to open offices in India and Brazil are on the anvil. Accuracy is also an ongoing battle. Wales's stated goal is ambitious: "A free encyclopedia for every single person on the planet in their own language."







At the start of the new year, a number of developments suggest that monetary authorities around the world will have to grapple with the problem of cross-border flows on a priority basis. The International Monetary Fund, in a recent report, has listed it as one of the two key challenges for emerging economies during this year. Many of them, including India, continue to receive large capital inflows that are potentially destabilising. Perhaps, the most deleterious consequence of capital inflows has been the strengthening of domestic currency leading to a loss in export competitiveness. That, in turn, has led to a rash of currency wars — the phenomenon of several countries intervening in the currency markets simultaneously in order to ensure that their currencies will not be the only ones to rise. Such actions, though self-perpetuating and mutually injurious, have continued into 2011. Brazil, one of the countries most affected and whose finance minister was the first to speak of 'currency wars' last year, has taken additional steps to check the rise of the real. Even Chile, which has a record of free market economic policy, followed suit by unveiling its own campaign of intervention. While it is clear that government action to stem the destabilising flows has become the rule, attention has begun to shift towards having some kind of ground rules for such intervention that can be monitored by an institution such as the IMF. A study released by the IMF last week underlined the need for such rules.

However, global coordination, besides being extremely complex, is impractical in the current context of disharmony among the major economic powers. Still, even the very advocacy of such ground rules recognises the considerable distance mainstream opinion on capital inflows has travelled over the past two decades. Both the World Bank and the IMF are now supporting the short-term measures of individual countries in curbing inflows. In the 1990s, the fascination for free market solutions led the U.S. Treasury and the IMF to promote capital account liberalisation. The effort floundered because of opposition from some emerging market countries and the East Asian currency crises that clearly demonstrated the dangers of the speculative capital reversing suddenly. Besides, as Jagdish Bhagwati has pointed out, it is wrong to equate free trade with liberalisation of the capital account. India has followed a measured approach to full convertibility of the rupee but so far desisted from imposing short-term controls on volatile capital. The need to bridge the widening current account deficit seems to be the reason. But then over-dependence on such flows is a matter of serious concern and a threat to macroeconomic stability.





Even as several issues of field testing of genetically modified mosquitoes to fight malaria and dengue are being debated, Oxitec, a British company founded and part-owned by the University of Oxford, carried out the world's first open field trial last year. The trials to test the efficacy of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that cause dengue were conducted without much publicity in the Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean Sea. A bigger trial was conducted this year in 16 hectares in the town of East End. Oxitec had worked with the Mosquito Research and Control Unit of the Cayman Islands for the trial. The results presented recently at a meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Atlanta show that the technology holds great promise. The release of altered and naturally occurring males in a 10:1 ratio resulted in 80 per cent reduction in adult dengue-causing mosquitoes in the study area. The technology is based on the premise that any offspring from the mating of genetically altered male A. aegypti mosquitoes with female mosquitoes would be killed in the larval or pupal stage. As male mosquitoes do not bite humans, the release of GM males will not increase the risk of dengue. Reducing the insect population using sterile male insects is not a new practice and many agricultural pests are controlled by this approach.

Yet there are some concerns about the release of GM mosquitoes. Field testing that was scheduled to start in December in Malaysia in the inland districts of Bentong in the State of Pahang, and Alor Gajah and Melaka in the State of Malacca has been postponed following questions raised by environmental groups. Among them is the possibility of female transgenic mosquitoes also being released when the sex-selection procedure based on pupal size is not strictly and consistently adhered to. According to Malaysia's Genetic Modifications Advisory Committee, laboratory tests showed that three per cent of offspring produced by mating of transgenic male mosquitoes with normal females actually survived into adulthood. This warrants more laboratory studies before undertaking further field trials as the chances of larvae growing into adult mosquitoes are greater in the field as tetracycline, a widely used antibiotic, is common in the environment. Though the mosquitoes would be recaptured and the area fogged once the trials are completed, further evaluation through caged field studies would be needed before open field trials are taken up, given particularly that the areas involved are densely populated.








The truth may never be known whether Malik Mumtaz Qadri acted on his own when he gunned down Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer or he was set up. But in terms of terrorising the nation, Qadri has in a way been more effective than suicide bombers by orchestrating his surrender and using the attention to turn himself into a hero.

Much more than Taseer's assassination in the highly fortified federal capital, it is Qadri's unrepentant face and his subsequent lionisation that are frightening people. Photographs of the crowds that gathered outside his house in Rawalpindi after Friday prayers and lawyers showering petals on him as he was taken to court have been sending a chill down the spines of average Pakistanis who now think twice before speaking on religion in public.

And with the political leadership without exception scurrying for cover after the perfunctory condemnation of the assassination, seldom has Pakistan looked as rudderless as it did appear in the immediate wake of Taseer's murder for describing the blasphemy laws of the country as a "black law."

It was thus left to civil society and hardcore liberals to articulate the voice of reason and prevent the "religious" right-wing from walking away with the mainstream narrative lavishly garnished with threats to anyone mourning Taseer. In the face of clear evidence of the religious right-wing's footprint in the Pakistani mindscape, the scattered voices of liberalism and secularism sought to keep "Jinnah's Pakistan" afloat.

But in the absence of political platforms, there is only so much space such voices have access to. Broadly, the English language newspapers — which are few and city-centric — blogs and social networking websites where, too, the religious right-wingers have made inroads as evidenced from the mushrooming of Facebook pages in support of Qadri within hours of the assassination.

They also took their campaign to the streets — holding peace marches and candlelight vigils — but seldom could they mobilise a crowd bigger than what one liberal voice dismissed in frustration as "walima party" (a post-wedding feast). Karachi on Sunday was a stark reminder of how the odds are stacked up against the liberal voice if proof was still needed after the lionisation of Qadri and the manner in which clerics managed to scare even the government-paid Imam of the Governor House from offering funeral prayers for Taseer.

On the one hand, was the small group of brave hearts who, despite being dissuaded by their families, went to a local police station to file a complaint against an area cleric for inciting violence during his Friday sermon. And, on the other, in the heart of the commercial capital, the M. A. Jinnah Road was choked with participants of the 'Namoos-i-Risalat' (protect the dignity of the Prophet) rally to protest any bid to amend the blasphemy laws.

Still, civil society is battling on in what is clearly a battle of unequals; not because of the evident ability of the religious right-wing to mobilise people on the streets but because civil society is fighting with its hands tied behind its back. Even when some are talking about "fighting fire with fire," the maximum they are contemplating extends to filing cases against fatwa-issuing clerics, calling Qadri and his supporters blasphemers, and clogging courts with blasphemy cases against such people. However angry or provoked, they cannot possibly pick up the gun.

Meanwhile, five days after the assassination, a word of caution has slowly begun gaining currency even within civil society. Slowly but surely a parallel line of thinking has opened, advocating a tactical retreat as a frontal attack on the blasphemy laws could be counter-productive because it helps the right-wingers consolidate.

Of the view that the government is in no position to take the "phalanx of orthodox forces head-on," veteran civil rights activist I.A. Rehman wrote in The News that civil society should adopt a feasible strategy based on a correct assessment of the ground reality to be able to save the democratic experiment in the long run; if not in the short term. "They must realise that matters have gone beyond a rational debate on the blasphemy law and that democrats are in a minority in Pakistan."

What has become a particular cause of concern for Mr. Rehman and other like-minded watchers of Pakistani politics is the narrowing of differences — however shortlived — between rival sects of Islam on the blasphemy law issue. "The unprecedented edict issued by several hundred clerics denying Salmaan Taseer the right to Islamic funeral prayers means that the Ahle Sunnat [essentially the Barelvis] who had been relegated hitherto to a secondary status vis-à-vis the smaller but richer and better armed Deobandi faction now feels strong enough to claim the overall leadership of the faithful," is Mr. Rehman's contention.

Certain that nothing including Taseer's assassination can unite Muslim sects, Arif Jamal, author of the Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, maintained that sectarian divisions are deep and different sects would be at each other's throats as soon as this cause goes away. Elaborating on the dynamics among the various sects, particularly the existential threat posed to Barelvis and Shias following the petro-dollar inspired rise of the Wahhabi and Deobandi schools, he said the Barelvis had since been trying to assert themselves.

"One expression of the Barelvi assertion was the founding of the Sunni Tehreek in the 1990s. A large number of Dawat-e-Islami cadres — Qadri is alleged to be one [of them] — have been joining the avowedly violent Sunni Tehreek. Qadri is just one expression of that Barelvi assertion and not vice versa. While the Barelvis still will not be able to match the Deobandi and Wahhabi capacity for terrorism, this assassination clearly shows the direction in which they are heading."

In fact, according to a Karachi-based researcher, the Pakistan People's Party made a tactical blunder by allowing the blasphemy issue to escalate. Stating that the PPP's implicit tactic has always been to let the various sects fight among themselves to isolate the pro-jihad elements from the mainstream Sunnis, he argues that by allowing the issue to escalate, the party played into the hands of Islamists.

"The best thing will be to cool down things on the blasphemy issue and allow the jihadists to make their own tactical errors like blowing up another shrine somewhere. This is not the right time for the PPP to open a front with the Sunnis. It is important to weaken the coalition that allows such a law to exist in the first place."

Similarly, on the signature campaign to appeal to the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) to take suo motu action against vigilantism and incitement to violence with specific reference to a Peshawar cleric who has announced a reward for anyone killing Aasia Bibi — the Christian woman given the death sentence for alleged blasphemy — there are apprehensions within. "If the CJP does nothing, we will be exposed to further alienation. This will strengthen the other side," is a palpable fear.

Just like international condemnation — the latest being the Vatican's call for repeal of the blasphemy laws. Already it has been interpreted by the Sunni Ittehad as interference and it wants the government to retort. Although the government has for a fortnight now been saying no change is planned in the blasphemy laws, the religious right-wing — having drawn blood — is upping its demands daily. First, it just wanted an assurance from the government. When that came, another demand was raised that this assurance should come from the Prime Minister. That, too, has come and now it wants the Prime Minister to give it in writing as well as pass a resolution in Parliament.

Given the volatile situation on its hands and the visible force of the right-wing that clearly has penetrated every institution of the state and society, the government may concede. The Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa Assembly — led by the secular Awami National Party — has already passed a resolution to this effect.

So, instead of trying to force the government's hand on changing the blasphemy laws right away, the parallel strategies being contemplated include a new law that will prevent their misuse without touching any of the existing provisions, besides the more tedious task of changing the curriculum and addressing the dispossession felt by a large mass of Pakistanis that provides a feeding ground for extremist sentiments.

Curriculum biases, disenchantment with the prevailing order, and disconnect between the elite and the masses are festering issues. The question is whether secular and liberal Pakistan —shaken to its core but still way detached from the teeming millions — has the will and patience to channel its anger and frustration into engaging with the have-nots and force the detoxification of the curriculum which has affected the minds of even the Facebooking generation.







In a sense, the Kiran Kumar Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh has been reduced to a minority in the State Assembly following the latest round of political instability. A vote of confidence alone can determine the actual position, but the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the main Opposition party, is unwilling to table a no-trust motion since it is also struck by paralysis in the wake of the Andhra-Telangana imbroglio.


The premise of loss of majority is based on the parade of two dozen MLAs and two MPs of the Congress that party rebel Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy organised, rather audaciously, in the backyard of 24 Akbar Road in New Delhi, the headquarters of the All India Congress Committee, on January 11. By displaying his muscle and declaring that the Kiran Kumar Reddy government was surviving at his mercy, he threw down the gauntlet to the AICC, daring it to make its political move.


Involved in an equally grim battle on the Telangana front with its own Members of Parliament and MLAs as it was, the Congress could respond only in a subdued fashion to this, although it did assert that nobody can pull down its government in the State.


Its smugness is justified, for now. Before some of its MLAs gravitated towards Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy's camp, the Congress had 155 MLAs in the 294-member Assembly. This constituted a slender margin of seven above the figure of 148, which is the figure marking simple majority.


It is banking on support from MLAs belonging to actor K. Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party (PRP), the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) and independents. These add up to 24. The PRP's effective strength is 14 after two MLAs shook hands with Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy, while the loyalty of two others is suspect. The MIM has seven members, while the three independent members are pro-Congress.


The self-confidence may vanish if more Congress MLAs shift to the side of the former MP, who may have a few aces up his sleeve. Even if Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy stands by his promise not to topple the government since he stands to gain little from that, the Congress has to worry about the eroding of its organisational arrangements at the grassroots level because of his aggressive campaigning.


In Parliament


More questions about the Congress' majority status will arise should its MPs and MLAs from the Telangana region succumb to pressure from Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who is planning a repeat performance by quitting his Mahabubnagar Lok Sabha seat and intensifying the agitation when the budget session of Parliament begins. The Congress leaders are on the same page as Mr. Chandrasekhar Rao in the demand for tabling a Bill in Parliament seeking to carve out a new state.


Clearly, the Congress' political and floor management skills will be put to severe test during that session, not merely in countering the Opposition's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the 2G spectrum scam but also over the Telangana question. The Bharatiya Janata Party will be in the forefront in applying pressure on the United Progressive Alliance government on both these issues.


A mood of drift and diffidence has marked the Congress high command's response to Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy's defiant stand since September 2009 when he got 151 MLAs to sign an affirmation to back his leadership, a day after the death of his father, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.


Observers feel that at some stage the Congress leadership ought to have called his bluff on his real support base. It did not act when his loyalists in the Rosaiah Cabinet openly mocked the Chief Minister for failing to carry forward YSR's legacy. Nor did it rein in partymen inimical to YSR from attacking the late Chief Minister, who was arguably the Congress' poster boy who helped it win 33 Lok Sabha seats and fended off a determined bid by the TDP to wrest power. For an interminable period, it was a free-for-all in the Congress.


One option before the Congress now is to petition the Deputy Speaker (the party has not been able to find a suitable replacement for Mr. Kiran Reddy as Speaker) to disqualify the MLAs who are loyal to Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy. However, unlike the situation in Karnataka recently when there was an apparent basis to seek the disqualification of rebel BJP MLAs, there is nothing on record to justify any such action against Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy's loyalists, beyond their having attended a farmers' rally at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.


If the petition still passes muster, the Congress government will survive. But it will still face the undesirable prospect of having to face byelections and contest against Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy's proposed party. That, however, is a tall order given that YSR's image remains undimmed among the poor: every other family had received one dole or another from his government.


The Congress may have to pay a heavy price in any attempt to settle scores with Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy at this juncture. The PRP and the MIM, which have declared their intent to prop up the Congress government in the event of its losing majority, may extract their pound of flesh. This will be not merely in terms of power-sharing. Both favour a united Andhra Pradesh, a stand that will be opposed by the pro-Telangana lobby in the Congress.


This will leave the Congress with the only option of making amends with Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy. It has never tried, at least not publicly, to do this. He is aggrieved over the brusque refusal of Congress president Sonia Gandhi when he sought permission to undertake 'Odarpu Yatra' during a meeting with her on June 3, 2010. A patch-up is unlikely at this stage as both sides have burnt the bridges through mutual recrimination.


The Congress needs to think out of the box to face the pincer-style attacks from Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy and the Telangana protagonists. It must conclude the war in one theatre and focus its energies on the other. Forging a consensus over the Justice Srikrishna Committee in spite of the sharply polarised views on it may not be an impossible task.


As was the case while dealing with Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy, the Congress seems to lack purpose and direction, leave alone fleet-footedness, in seeking to turn the rapidly-changing political equations to its advantage. At every stage, beginning with its generous offer to an Opposition party to carve out a new state, the Congress allowed the TRS to gain the upper hand.


The TRS called all the shots and Congress MPs and MLAs fell in line, never mind that the two parties had bitterly fought each other in the May 2009 elections. If the Congress high command does not act against Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy's MLAs, the Congress will be left with no moral ground to rein in the rebels in Telangana.


Its only cogent and sensible response so far has been to constitute the Srikrishna Committee, with the motive of defusing tensions and evolving the basis for a solution acceptable to people of all the regions of the State. The Congress must atone for its past mistakes, especially the blatant violation of its promises to address the Telangana people's concerns, reassure people that the safeguards it promises now would stand the test of time, and address issues of overall deprivation and backwardness in the spheres of education and health.


The UPA government will be doing an injustice to itself and the country if its decisions are influenced by considerations that are vastly divergent from the Committee's report, allowing though for flaws in data-gathering and interpretation with respect to some key parameters. It will be called upon to set benchmarks to resolve demands for smaller States and meet the well-founded aspirations of their people. A challenge is emerging in Darjeeling where the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) has just enforced a four-day bandh demanding the carving out of a Gorkhaland state out of West Bengal.


Andhra Pradesh is heading towards a situation where the imposition of President's Rule may become inevitable to bring about a semblance of order. Hard options need to be exercised, never mind if they hurt partisan interests, including those of the Congress. The State needs to be pulled back from the brink.








Over the last decade, I have had the opportunity to visit over 50 museums across India. Whether it is Chennai or Chandigarh, Mumbai or Guwahati, I have seen priceless collections ranging from the Chola period bronzes, in Chennai, to miniature paintings, in New Delhi, which would be the envy of the world. These collections have given me a perspective on India's journey to become the world's largest democracy and serve as a bridge between historic and modern India. However, their current status and the whole experience of visiting these museums seem to leave me with a feeling of unfulfilled potential which is what has prompted me to write this. I have thought this many times: if only they could change the atrium to be friendlier, if only they could make the exhibition storyline understandable, or if only I could locate a particular object in the basement storage. I have also constantly wondered what the busloads of visitors from far away villages take back from their hurried visits to the Government Museum in Chennai or the Indian Museum in Kolkata.


Three aspects


With India poised to become the world's third largest GDP by 2035 and the general population getting an increased sense of national identity and confidence as a world power, it may be time for a planned five-year approach to renew the thousands of museums across this great country. Having pondered many times on how one may approach this, I think there are three key aspects that need to be considered simultaneously if one needs to be successful. These include development of skilled human resource, the renewal of physical infrastructure and the rethinking of management structure.


In all levels within the museum industry, whether it is technical conservation, exhibition preparation or management, there seems to be a shortage of skilled human resource. There are very few diploma and graduate programmes in this area, and the ones that exist need strengthening. The goal for 2020 could be to generate a pool of skilled professionals as well as retrain museum staff. Maybe, it is also time for a new centre at one of the IITs to further research this multidisciplinary area to produce outcomes especially applicable to Indian situations. Any museum redevelopment needs skilled local staff to keep the momentum going and creativity flowing, and will be unsustainable with just contracted international expertise.


In China, Australia


China is an example for the second aspect, and it is currently developing 100 new museums a year. Vast resources are being spent on developing state-of-the-art exhibitions, storage and conservation spaces. Likewise, Australia, with a population of just over 20 million people, has over 2,000 collecting institutions. India has already started a museum renewal programme and probably needs to accelerate both building new museums and renewing the existing ones with contemporary thinking that connects to today's generation. There are many valuable lessons to learn from history. Whether it is through displays or education programmes, museums are probably the only way future generations would connect with our past. Since many of our prominent museums are located in historic buildings, any renewal needs to be sympathetic with the building and not at its expense. A positive case study is how the Chhatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai has approached museum redevelopment with a master plan of the original building as a basis for redevelopment.


Now for the third aspect. Museums in India often seem to be burdened with many levels of bureaucracy which tends to stifle their mission to be safe places for broad and innovative ideas. Many major western museums are based on a model where they have an administration led by a professional reporting either through a board or to a reasonably high level within the government. Maybe, for a start, this new model is something that can be tried with a few major national institutions. The flexibility in decision making and creative leadership will have a flow-on effect across the institution and place it as a neutral and trusted platform for informing and debating in the public arena on issues both traditional and contemporary. As somebody once put it, museums should be "safe places for unsafe ideas" or "trusted neutral platforms for public debate."


The time may be right for a five-year national mission on museums for India to accelerate this. This may provide a stronger connection between the museums and the Indian public and a demonstration of its soft power on the international stage. Maybe, there will be a day not too far away when the cricket tragic finally sees Tendulkar's bat which he used to score his first century in one of our national museums and the science fanatic is at the natural history museum debating on climate change.


( Vinod Daniel is Chairman of AusHeritage (Australia's International Cultural Heritage Network) and Visiting Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney.)





The Australian federal government is looking to cash in on the profitable medical tourism market, which is worth more than $20 billion a year and projected to grow by 35 per cent per annum, the local media reported on January 14.

The Canberra Times said that the government is ready to spend about $50,000 on a scoping study, after a discussion paper concluded that fostering a medical tourism market could prove a boon for the health and tourism sectors.

According to the preliminary analysis produced by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Australia should target "sophisticated, wealthy" patients. "These consumers are likely to include wealthy consumers from developing countries who are seeking to access higher standards of care and procedures that are not available in their home country." It also showed Australia could exploit its proximity to Asia, its capacity in private hospitals, a safe and clean environment, and its expertise with niche medical devices as the attractions.

"These capabilities may present unique medical tourism for implant surgical procedures [such as] hip and knee replacements, hearing and cardiac implants; laser, burns, eye, vascular, sleep disorder treatment; regenerative [and] stem cell treatments and cancer treatments," according to the discussion paper.

But the Australian Medical Association vice-president Steve Hambleton urged caution.

"I'm not sure now is the right time," he said. "We already know that we've got a shortage of practitioners in this country. We've increased our number of medical students. We're having trouble with training of those medical students right now. We need to make sure we don't utilise our expert medical capacity in a way that would impact on training or impact on service delivery for our own country."

— Xinhua






The five state elections coming up in a few months offer us an unprecedented opportunity to initiate steps to check corruption by re-ordering the rules of the game to ensure that criminal elements do not throng our legislatures. The energetic appeal by Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi in this direction can provide the much-needed moment to push for reforms, if we are so inclined. The question is, are we? There has been much debate over the years around these issues, but mostly it has been a question of beating around the bush. The current atmosphere in the country, headlined by ubiquitous corruption, does offer the push to respond to the challenge we face. It is up to the political class to seize it. In the past six months we have been inundated with news of floating muck from all parts of the country. Most of it has had to do with people of influence seeking to leverage their unique position of advantage for self-gain. Top politicians, bureaucrats, the Army brass, members of the higher judiciary, the business community, and senior journalists have had their credentials questioned as investigations have been instituted. The extent of the rot suggests that the whirlpool of sleaze that threatens to submerge our politics, subvert policies, and cast a shadow over the working environment in which ordinary procedures are twisted to serve vested interests, is not a mere aggregation of unhappy episodes. The sorry examples before us suggest that the system set in place to serve the public interest has been thoroughly disabled and re-fashioned to serve the interests of the few — in short to destroy the very idea of democracy. At the base of this is the electoral system — from the Parliament to the panchayat — which has been breached. If our MPs, MLAs, and elected representatives at the level of local self-government were to be no more than ordinary clean, it is hard to see how bent bureaucrats and other crooked folk can thrive.

At a public function a few days ago Mr Quraishi expressed his anguish about those in authority not taking meaningful steps to stop law-breakers from contesting elections. It has also been reported that for the past four years the Election Commission has pointed out that only 200 out of the 1,200 registered political parties in the country are involved in political activities, and that political outfits are being created to launder money and use unaccounted wealth to enter the stock market. This is a surprising state of affairs. Can't dubious parties be struck off the rolls, as the CEC asks? What are the hurdles in the way?

Even as the UPA-II government sets up probes into the various scams that have been widely alleged, it is time it took a political initiative to meet the challenge of cleaning up our legislative chambers. Parliament and the state legislatures may not readily oblige but a public environment can be created to highlight the malaise in the first instance. The Election Commission rose admirably to the challenge of conducting a squeaky clean Assembly election in Bihar a few months ago. It checked the play of money and muscle power through the use of effective administrative methods. But we need a systemic push for clean elections. Otherwise, the same Election Commission may be hard put to deal with simultaneous election in five states. In at least one of them — West Bengal — violence has been seen to be the currency of politics in recent years. By way of response, we have only seen a blame game. It is clear enough that politicians who endorse partisan violence and the pampering of criminals who engage in such violence are, in effect, gestating future legislators and ministers who will be avid participants in corruption scandals.







"If the world is The WordThen metaphor is a midwife".From The Vah Vah

Chronicles of Bachchoo

Now Jack has ventured where the political angels of Britain fear to tread. I speak of Jack Straw, former home secretary in the Labour government and member of Parliament for the northern industrial (or ex-industrial and substantially unemployed) constituency of Blackburn which contains a large population of Muslim voters. Jack

appeared on TV and, uniquely for a national politician, spoke out about gangs of men of Pakistani origin who have for years now preyed upon vulnerable young white girls, raping them, controlling them and subjecting them to prostitution in the cities in which their immigrant communities live.

He chose his words carefully, beginning with a clear statement that most sex offenders in British jails were indeed white or not ethnically Asian but that statistic ought not to induce a delicacy about investigating and preventing the abuse of very vulnerable white women, some as young as 12, who are subjected by British men of Pakistani descent to sexual degradation.
He was speaking in the wake of a trial in which Abid Saddique and Mohammed Liaqat were jailed by

ottingham Crown Court for the rape, sexual abuse and abduction of girls aged between 12 and 18.
The story behind these convictions is ugly. These men and their associates cruised the streets of Derby in BMWs and a Range Rover (which apparently Saddique referred to as the "Rape Rover"), picking up young white girls with the lure of inviting them to a wild party. They targeted poor and vulnerable girls who lived in the care of the state, teenagers without the protection of families who may have at some point in their lives been involved in petty crime.

They would pick them up with offers of a good time, take them to hotel rooms, parks or one or other safe house, ply them with alcohol and cocaine and then, typically, gang rape them and rent them out to other men.
The Derby case is, regretfully, not an isolated incident. The police and researchers who have access to crime statistics have not spoken about it before, but Jack's blatant statement has forced the debate. Since 1997 there have been 17 prosecutions, 14 of them in the last three years involving the on-street grooming of girls aged 11 to 16 by men of Pakistani origin.On this evidence, Jack's conclusions are unavoidable. The cases involved victims from 13 northern cities; 56 en were convicted of rape, child abduction, indecent assault and sex with a child. Three of the 56 were white, 50 were Muslim and of Pakistani origin. A great number of them, as were Saddique and Liaqat, are married by arrangement to women brought from Pakistan for the marriage.
The police issued an official statement saying that their continuing investigations indicated that these 56 convictions were a very small proportion of a "tidal wave" of such gang activity in Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands.

Jack's outspokenness brought the expected accusations of "racism", "stereotyping" and of being unhelpful to community relations. Jack himself, dependent to a large degree on the ethnic vote in his constituency, has not been this candid before. He told the BBC that his reason for speaking out now was that he was aware that it was a specific problem in the Pakistani community whose restrictive sexual traditions were imposed on young men who were "fizzing and popping with testosterone".
He went on to say, "They want some outlet for that, but Pakistani-heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically. So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, who they think are easy meat". His remarks have caused a national investigation to be launched by the Home Office's oddly named Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) into this particular criminal phenomenon.

There has been, since the '70s and the birth of a general awareness that the immigrant populations of Britain have to be assimilated into British life and progress, a sensitivity about exposing or debating the issue of "ethnic crime".
In the late '70s and '80s the crime of street "mugging" was seen by the newspapers as an epidemic. Only the very determined Right-wing papers, in the face of silence from any official police source, were willing to characterise this crime as exclusively carried out by young black men of Caribbean origin. The ethnicity of "mugging" was a blatant fact and a public secret, kept in the interest of race relations.
Similarly, there is now a sensitivity about Jack's intervention. He was careful not to fudge the issue by calling it an "Asian" phenomenon. He pointedly excluded Sikhs, Hindus and Chinese from his characterisation and narrowed it down to Muslim men of Pakistani origin. His observation of young men "fizzing" with testosterone is probably applicable to most males of that age anywhere and everywhere. What makes the gangs who perpetrate this crime different is that they are reared in a strict tradition and in very self-enclosed communities in which the idea of "impurity" and "immorality" of the ways of the host civilisation and its young women is rife.

In an extreme case, the young Islamicist men who were plotting to plant bombs in the centre of London and were caught and convicted of the conspiracy were about to target — not military installations, the British Parliament, the American embassy or other accomplices and shelters of the Great Satan — but nightclubs in Haymarket. This was, they said when apprehended, because white women who were "slags" and "slappers" went dancing and drinking there and deserved the fate their bombs would mete out.

The Muslim community is not blind to this poisonous brew of bigotry. Muhammad Saddiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, an influential Muslim youth organisation, says, "These people think that white girls have fewer morals and are less valuable than our girls".

It is also true that the same communities are extremely protective of their own women. If a Muslim girl were regarded and treated in this way, there would be bloodshed in the community.
Jack has been nimble and quick and has opened up a necessary debate. The debate will, under these circumstances and with the national enquiry being launched by Ceop, go further than the predictable objections from the spokespeople of "race" whose attempts to caution or silence the Jacks can only serve to protect outrageous abuse.






It's official: Mumbai is right up there alongside international cities with heart. You just wait and watch the show tomorrow! I am talking about the Mumbai Marathon which, over the past seven years, has grown into a robust property that does the city proud.

"Run Mumbai Run" will be the most heard chant on Sunday morning as thousands of enthusiasts take over the city and make a run for it! I shall be one of those mad people — creaky knees, pounding heart, painful corns and all. Why do I do it? Read on.

I actively look forward to subjecting myself to this annual ritual/torture because it's worth it. Simple. But much beyond the unbeatable thrill of pounding those roads with other Mumbaikars (for that one, manic, magical morning, every person becomes a Mumbaikar) there is some other, hard to describe prod. I think I got my asli answer at a press conference recently.

The focus was on the philanthropy angle of this strenuous exercise that has now become one of the hottest marketing properties in Asia. One of my co-panelists (ex-banker Sunil Rawlani) broke down at one point when he was asked about his own involvement as a prominent donor. He said the seminal moment came most unexpectedly one day as his car stopped at a traffic light and a young girl, no higher than the car window, tapped on the glass and asked for alms. He ignored her (as most of us do) hoping she'd go away. But she was a pretty persistent kid. Soon, seeing that she wasn't going to get anything out of the guy, she started to doodle on the thick layer of dust covering his window. And what did this child of Mumbai's mean streets draw? Take a guess… go on. What would a homeless street child's ultimate fantasy be? A roof over her head, of course! She drew a house!

Sunil turned his head idly to check whether the "pest" was still there… yes, she was. But her entire concentration was on drawing a tiny house on a rich man's dusty car window! He found himself in tears… from that day on an entirely new spiritual quest took over his life… a quest that continues to this day. He decided to work for underprivileged children and touch as many lives as possible in the most meaningful way. He picked his cause well — he picked Childline. What a coincidence. It was exactly the same NGO (non-governmental organisation) I'll be running for, and have been running for over the past few years. In my case, Childline picked me! And I am so grateful.

We keep reading tiresome homilies on "corporate governance" and "giving back to society". We shrug and move on. Yawn! Who needs those over-used clichés? In reality, we are desperately looking for Indian equivalents of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, as if being anyone or anything less than these two global charity champions is a major crime. We talk about desi corporate honchos and local industrialists being kanjoos… not doing enough for the poor. We feel ashamed of our billionaires and try to send them on guilt trips for not dishing out enough dosh for the needy. Really, we should put an end to this nonsense.

The act of giving is an intensely private matter and we should stop all the huffing and puffing about our rich being callous. Let's get off their backs and ask ourselves what we are doing in our individual capacities? Not everybody can be an Azim Premji and stun the world with mega-scale philanthropy.

Not every tycoon can follow such an example and part with wealth as effortlessly. I am no apologist for our fat cats… but come on guys, our billionaires are not entirely heartless. They have their own ways of sharing wealth… ways that are not obvious or that they may not wish to publicise. Let's not insult them by insisting on grand public gestures. Giving is in every Indian's DNA. Our shastras emphasise that daan is a vital component of self-realisation and moksh. Every religion in the world stresses on charity as a means to redemption.
Our Big Boys and Big Girls are doing their bit — I assure you. Getting corporates to part with money in the old days used to be a pretty humiliating experience. Today, they see it as an opportunity to pump up their own images and do some good as well. I used to abhor making those "It's time to open your purse strings, folks" calls and was certain I'd lose the few friends I had and be declared a persona non-grata in the city. Imagine my delight these days — I have people calling to ask, "How can we contribute?" This is a major shift. It shows our attitude towards supporting worthwhile initiatives has changed significantly. They say, the more you run, the better you feel. Combine that with — the more you give, the mellower you become — and it's a win-win situation for all.

Mumbai needs a makeover desperately. She is like an item girl who requires another "hit and hot" song to get those eyeballs.

The Mumbai Marathon provides just such an opportunity… and Mumbai ki jawaani gets a fresh boost as thousands of energetic runners cross the Worli-Bandra Sealink in search of that magical "aha" moment at the finishing line in front of the historic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

"Bhago Mumbai Bhago" is one naara that gets our people going like no other. I don't mind sounding silly and smarmy boasting like this but Mumbaikars are a special breed. Nothing keeps us down… nothing can, nothing will. Somehow, the Mumbai Marathon encapsulates this indomitable spirit in the most electrifying way.

Soon after the 26/11 terror attacks, the organisers of the marathon weren't sure how Mumbaikars would respond. Would they stay away, too scared to emerge on a Sunday and risk another attack? Not a chance! The show had to go on… and did.

Take that, you guys! While Mumbai… errr… gives!

— Readers can send feedback to








Idle hands are the devil's tools. So goes an old adage. It is not surprising, therefore, that every concerned citizen is delighted on seeing long queues outside recruitment centres. It is better for society as a whole if more and more young persons are gainfully employed. This is something which is universally recognised. Given this backdrop it is easy to understand why there is joy over hundreds of young men turning up for interviews for jobs in the State police in the Summer Capital. It is said to have been the first such recruitment exercise in Srinagar in nearly a decade. Quite a few observers are quick to interpret that it would help bring down street protests and stone pelting --- two of which combined together have scared away the tourists from the Valley for the greater part of the season last year. Claims have been made about sighting stone-pelters in the crowd of interviewees. It is hardly a secret that unemployment is rampant on both sides of the Pir Panjal. As and when a post is advertised there are not scores but thousands of applications. The people have obtained high academic qualifications. One can find any number of double postgraduates especially in the Valley. In the absence of work they keep studying which is not a bad thing but it does not bring in money to run the family or meet day-to-day expenses. Politics, as a result, has become an avocation ceasing to be an instrument of public service. It has emerged as a profitable activity in a milieu marked by national and international intrigues and producing certain amazing rags-to-riches stories in the process. Not all the people are inclined to make a fast buck in this manner. The majority wants to lead a decent existence which is possible if it finds occupation no matter whether or not of its own choice.


How acute is unemployment can be seen from an example. Not very long ago the Service Selection Board (SSB) had sought applications for over 5000 posts which included teachers. It had got about 4 lakh responses, the highest in its history. Our latest Economic Survey has effectively brought into focus the challenge we have on hand. It has noted that unemployment rate is 5.2 per cent (5.4 per cent for males and 3.5 per cent for females) which is on the higher side compared to the all-India figure of 3.1 per cent (3.1 per cent for males and 3 per cent for females). If one goes by the Current Weekly Status (CWS) one will find that the unemployment rates in the State are 5 per cent (rural), 7.1 per cent (urban) and 5.4 per cent (combined) compared to the national statistics of 4 per cent, 6.1 per cent and 4.5 per cent, respectively. The data maintained by employment exchanges puts the entire picture in cold numbers. It has been quoted by the Economic Survey as having recorded the number of registered illiterate unemployed youths having increased to 4167 in 2008 from 4030 in 2007 and that of educated unemployed to 89796 in 2008 from 82619 in the preceding year (a whopping 8.69 per cent rise). It is anybody's guess that these ranks have swelled further. Nothing has happened to suggest that the negative trend has been reversed. To make matters worse the Government remains the biggest employment agency. The youth prefers an assured job and a regular monthly income. This is against the current global scenario in which the emphasis is on holding one good job in a hand and go on snatching more rewarding chances.


To say that there is distinct lack of enterprise on our part may not be a correct assessment. After all, quite a few of us have done well outside the State. Not many may be aware that even in difficult situation in the Valley at least half a dozen entrepreneurs have emerged as billionaires. A journal had some time ago recorded their achievements as well as frustrations. All of them were of the view that they were unable to realise their full potential and wanted to move out. What has happened since then is not known. The reality, however, is unaltered that we have a problem on the ground. The industrialists in the Valley are up against a wall. But this does not mean that their counterparts in this region are better placed. Their discomfiture may be greater. They produce goods but are unable to sell them in the Kashmir region. A consequence is that their stocks pile up and the promised money is held up. Thus the entire scene acts as a deterrent for those seeking to test their personal worth. How can we change it for the better? It is a question to which we must find an answer for our collective good. We should put our heads together. If jointly we develop stakes in our shared peace and prosperity we can take care of a handful of those denying us our due progress. Our unity will also force the Government to act in our best interests







Yet another seizure of fake currency has been reported in this city. Four persons have been arrested including two of them not belonging to the State and the bogus money worth Rs 1.5 lakh has been recovered from them. The quartet has already handed over Rs 12 lakh from their kitty to a person in Srinagar. What has been revealed by them is a circuitous route involving the evil operation. The counterfeit notes were brought in from Pakistan to Bangladesh and then pushed into Bengal from where these were transferred to this State mainly for funding militant activities. This is not the first instance of its kind in the State. On current reckoning it is not going to be the last either. There are forces interested in destabilising our economy and disturbing our peace. At another level the trading in fake currency may possibly have become a lucrative economic activity as well. According to a report quoting the State Home Department some months ago, as many as 8668570 fake currency notes with a face value of Rs 86.86 lakhs have been recovered across the State in the last ten years and 501 persons nabbed in this connection. Besides, 420160 Pakistani, 7951 Afghan and 249982 currency notes of other countries have been seized in this period. About half of the total has been found from the militants. It is a challenge to our unity and integrity. We must deal with it with an iron hand.









From now on there shall be no Hindus, no Muslims, no Sikhs or Christians in this land. We shall all be Pakistanis, free to pray in our temples, mosques, gurudwaras and Churches. Words similar to these, uttered on realisation of his dream of Pakistan by Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. I have the text at Jinnah's broadcast to his nation on the night it was founded but somehow am unable to lay my hands on it now.
I find that inexcusable, losing track of historic documents. But what do you make of an entire people, over 160 million of them, who choose to ignore the inspiring voice raised by the father of their nation at the end of what they had all perceived to be an acknowledgment of the Qaid's call for a separate homeland for Muslims. Ultimately, though, it turns out that India continues to have the world's second largest Muslim population, next only to that of Indonesia. But that's neither here nor there.

The fact is that Jinnah's dream of a secular, tolerant Pakistan stands shattered today. The pygmies who followed him ensured that the dream turns into a nightmare, that Pakistan becomes a land of bigots, with moderates, the civil society that believed in Jinnah's dream, reduced to a dumb, helpless minority.

And the worst part of it is that the bigots, the Jihadists have taken hold of the country with the Armed Forces choosing to standby and the police and other paramilitary forces willing to do the bidding of the Jihaddist mullahs. The politicians, helpless as they seem, are only too busy protecting their fiefs, hopelessly and helpless. Sad but true that the country's military is currently the only other force left which can show the rabid Jihadists their place. Unfortunate though it is for that country that the military for the present is intent only on giving the civilians long enough rope to hang themselves with.

Strange, though, that the Army should stand by when the police attacks its own academies or when the man assigned to the detail protecting the Punjab Governor, Mr, Salman Taseer, should virtually applaud when one of its members turns his gun on the Governor, asking his other uniformed colleagues not to kill him (the murderer) because he would surrender to them after he is done with Taseer the man who perhaps was among the most popular of Benazir Bhutto's immediate friends.

Salman Taseer, by all accounts, was a good man, a hardnosed politician a successful businessman who had seen many ups and downs, survived Gen Ziaul Haq's ire which had seen him jailed. Nearly forgot to explain the opening of this piece: post-partition Jinnah's hope for a secular Pakistan. Salman Taseer it appears committed the ultimate sin of being seen to be sympathetic to a Chiristian woman farmer who had been ordered to be killed for having blasphemed Islam. The Governor had dared to call the ill-starred woman to inquire after her welfare.

This obviously was unacceptable to the Mullahs whose book saw even a sympathizer of the person uttering a blasphemors word as equally guilty and hence the policeman expected to protect who Governor Salman Taseer instead killed him. Imagine the zealot's bigotry : he pumped 27 rounds into the hapless Governor.

According to Taseer's daughter whose moving tribute to her father speared in "Newsweek Pakistan" and the "New York Times " : " It may sound odd, but I can't imagine my father dying any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan giving livelihood to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country's potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honour his memory those who share that belief in Pakistan's future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.

One couldn't agree more with the young Sheharbano, the daughter, reading the paragraph preceding the one above : "To say that there was a security lapse on Tuesday is an understatement. My father was brutally gunned down by a man hired to protect him. Juvenal once asked: Who will guard the guards themselves?. It is a question all Pakistanis should aks themselves today, If the extremists could get the Governor of the largest (Pakistan's) province, is anyone safe?"

My thoughts immediately turn to the safety of Benazir's close friend and a Minister until some months ago in the Zardari's government, Sherry Rahman. She has moved a private member's bill in Pakistan National Assembly to amend (soften) the blasphemy law. A very bright woman I can only pray for her safety given the jihadist fervour in Pakistan. Probably like Taseer, Sherry too believes that the strict blasphemy laws instituted by Gen Zia have been frequently misused and ought to be changed. Taseer's views were widely misrepresented to give the impression that he had spoken against Prophet Mohammad. There are many who in Taseer's daughter's words believe that with his death the final nail in the coffin of a tolerant Pakistan had been stuck. That liberal values in that country would now be silenced. "But we buried a heroic man, not the courage he inspired in others…" The basic problem in Pakistan today is that old one : If you are not with us, you are with them.

Being a liberal in Pakistan does not necessarily mean that you are pro-India. Jinnah by that yard-stick would never have achieved his objective. Those who lived with Jinnah during his times tell you that you would have to run miles to find as liberal a Muslim as Jinnah. It is those that followed him who have altered his vision of Pakistan so drastrically.

The blasphemy law was for instance introduced by Gen Ziaul Haq; the ban on liquor was imposed of all people by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto whose drinking bouts were legend, next only to Gen. Yahya Khan's. When Pakistan altered its weekily off days from Sunday to Friday someone who pointed out that this would mean loss of three business days in commerce, banking etc. internationally; he was probably rushed to the nearest mental hospital.
Salman Taseer by all accounts was a true Pakistani who like most Pakistanis coveted Kashmir singlemindedly. May be his father's time as the Principal of Srinagar's, Sri Pratap College had something to do with it.


Incidentally Dr. Taseer, the father, escorted Ghulam Mohammed Bakshi and Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq to Lahore to help them get across to the Muslim League leadership. The mission did not work and Principal Taseer stayed back in Lahore sending Bakshi and Sadiq back to India. One of Salman's sons is from a non-Muslim Indian woman. Aatish Taseer, who was in India recently, has authored his first book which partially dwells on his upbringing as a Muslim in Pakistan and in a Sikh house in Delhi.








The New Year has not started well and sometimes a series of issues combine to create a sense of uncertainty and in these chaotic situations it is best for both the 'players and the spectators' to take a deep breath and act with utmost restraint both in thought and in action. We have done well in 2010 and we have maintained and improved upon the momentum as we go into 2011 and the top priority has to be effective and good, firm governance both at the Center and in the States. We have seen a change in the voting public and good governance is being rewarded and this is reflected in the Congress performance in 2009 in the Lok Sabha where the party secured 206 seats and if I remember correctly the best estimate was 160-170 seats and we have seen a similar trends in the States and 'incumbency' was a positive for Shiela Dixit, Narender Modi, Naveen Patnaik, Shiv Raj Singh, Raman Singh and in recent months by Nitesh Kumar in Bihar. We have issues today of corruption and fraud in the 2G and the CWG, we have issues of inflation [food prices] but I don't think the political skirmishes on these issues are consolidating trends for political parties in the immediate future in terms of gains and losses.

My assessment is that the Congress march towards a majority status after securing 206 seats has been halted by the chaotic situation in Andhra Pradesh and the uncertain situation in Tamil Nadu and their failure to make a impact on the BJP areas of strength in MP, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, HP and even in Karnataka and the BJP have halted their decline after the 2009 Lok Sabha election but have yet to make any positive advance in Congress states and the likely winners if any are the Regional parties. My estimate is that the BSP can win 30=35 seats , Mamata Banerjee and the TMC can win 30 seats as can Nitesh Kumar and the JD[U]. The BJD, Shiv Sena, NCP, AIDMK, TDP, SP can all win 10-15 seats and I do not see any great change in Coalition structures in the future in 2011 and the election battles in 2011 and early 2012 are not going to give us any additional clues as the Congress should win in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal [TMC major partner], Punjab [tough fight with Akali Dal] and in UP the Congress may lose a little ground as the SP decline continues and Mayawati and the BSP are gaining at their expense. The BJP are not an effective force in most of the elections in 2011 barring Punjab where they are a junior partner of the Akali Dal alliance and in Uttar Pradesh they are a distant fourth and show little signs of revival. The BJP however continue to hold their position in Gujarat, MP,HP, Chattisgarh, Karnataka and can improve in Rajasthan.

The political agenda along with everything else is threatened with political uncertainty as both the Congress and the entire opposition adopt an attitude of mutual confrontation and the theory that might is right threatens to rip apart the fragile fabric of our archaic system of governance. I have said on a hundred occasions that political funding in the current situation common to all the political parties are behind all the chaos we are going through now and issues are getting very complicated as everyone is trying to prove the other dishonest and if we look at the 2G scam does anyone believe that A Raja is the only beneficiary of the thousands of crores that have disappeared over a decade in the Telecom Ministry? The truth is that the DMK is doing what every other party does in raising funds for the party and the political leaders and their families and their support system which includes lawyers, chartered accountants, the loyal media, business tycoons and traders etc along with others in the power structure have become incredibly rich and can 'selective' justice prevail in this situation. The 2G scam is already in the Supreme Court but look at the chaos in the system in the political system and should we be surprised if the CAG is under attack and will other institutions follow as facts emerge through investigations and also through leaks and spills from within the power structure. The tone from those in power is getting shriller by the day and are we returning to the Emergency syndrome and will the rule of law survive in the current conflict?

We have several problems and the most serious is the issue of food inflation and make no mistake that the Aam Aadmi is at war with the system and all the assurances given by the PM and the Economic team have little relevance and this food inflation has nothing to do with either a fall in productivity or a increase in consumption as neither of this has taken place and clearly the forces of supply and demand come into play as artificial shortages are being created and in a free market can we place the entire trading community in jail?
Things are going out of control as we try to 'police' the system and this is never a solution and governments run on credibility and trust and this I am afraid has been severely dented and whilst those in governance are immune to the daily pressures of existence the Aam Aadmi which comprises everyone not in the power circle is at the mercy of 'extortion' and 'corruption' at every level of existence and a cash and carry system exists for every activity and there is little respect for the political system. We can silence institutions and we can silence individuals using the brute power of the State but this will only create greater uncertainty in the mind of those in governance. The CAG report was leaked as were the Niira Radia tapes and several documents from the ED/IT and every day in the media there are leaked documents from the government files and this will only increase with time as uncertainty grips the system.








On November 30, 2010 the Central Statistical Organisation announced that the Indian economy will record economic growth at a rate of 9 percent in 2010-11. So far policy makers have been targeting at 8.5 percent growth. When the world, especially the developed world is going through a worst recession, 9 percent economic growth may be called a happy news. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the Indian economy, rising above the internal and external shocks, not only overcame economic slowdown, it would even record a very fast growth. Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, Prof. Koushik Basu says that although the economy is going to fare better in all the sectors, but if agricultural and services sectors show better growth, the economy can grow even faster.

But a senior leader of Indian National Congress, Mani Shankar Aiyar does not agree with this growth story. He says that when 57 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is concentrated in the hands of only 1 percent of population, increase in GDP means nothing for the poor. He also believes that the this increase in GDP has become enemy of Indian people. As a result of this increase in GDP, national resources are being cornered by a few people. Country's resources are concentrated in the hands of some few rich people. Corporate profits are growing. In manufacturing, production is growing but the wages of workers are not increasing in the same proportion.

Government of the day is selling dream of high economic growth and an effort is being made to create an environment that we shall be able to provide much better quality of life to ordinary people. But in reality there is hardly any change in quality of life of the poor. More recently, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said while addressing an international conference that we have to make such policies, in which redistribution does not cause treasury losses and also not have any impact on the process of economic growth. This means that the Government of the day opines that economic growth i.e. GDP Growth is the most sacred goal. For this goal to achieve the government is ready to sacrifice programmes of poverty eradication or employment generation.
Finance Minister's argument is that today his Government is spending Rupees 2.5 lakh crores on debt servicing, out of total budget of Rupees 11 lakh crores. This pressure of increasing debt servicing is leading to more and more of fiscal deficit. Thus if food subsidies and spending on unemployment is increased then it will increase Government budget deficits even more. Target of the government is to bring this fiscal deficit down to 3 percent from nearly 7 percent now.

This means that the government in the name of fiscal austerity tries to cut down expenditure on health, education, food subsidy and employment generation. Government has also taken its hand off from spending on infrastructure. As a result of this task of building infrastructure has been left to the private sector. Private sector, which obviously works for profit tends to charge heavily from the users of infrastructure. Heavy toll tax on use of roads and bridges is the obvious outcome of private investment in roads and bridges building.
User charge on use of airport is making the air travel costlier. Today, private companies in the name of private investment have been given right to collect heavy user charges on use of roads, bridges and airports. Moreover pull out of Government from health and education in favour of private sector has left the population in the clutches of private institutions. Poor are denied of education, as exorbitant fees are charged by private educational institutions. Health facilities were earlier available to poor from Government institutions free or at nominal cost. Consistently decaying public health facilities as a result of partial withdrawal of the Government from this sector are making poor to depend on private hospitals and nursing homes, which charge heavily for their 'quality health facilities'. Poor has two options in this case, either he loses even his little assets or die in the absence of treatment. According to a report recently published 16 percent families switched to below poverty line as they sold off their property to get their near and dear treated.

In the name of economic growth, Governments of the day are trying to lure the people saying that their standard of living could be improved. But reality is far from that. Delay and changes being made in the proposed food security legislation is giving enough proof of the same. Proposed food security legislation was being talked about with great fun and fare. But dilly dally approach of the government in this direction gives ample proof about lack of seriousness in this direction.

Talk about right to food which was started with much enthusiasm is ultimately meeting the fate, similar to other welfare schemes. It was said that more than 90 per cent of the population would be covered by the schemes initiated under Right to Food Act. It was also said that to start with the schemes would be started in 200 districts. But the National Advisory Council under the chairpersonship of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has actually restricted the same to only 46 per cent in the population of rural areas and 28 per cent of urban areas. This means that only about 40 per cent of the total population and would get the highly subsidised wheat at Rs. 3 per Kilogram and rice at Rs. 2 per kilogram. Another 22 per cent of rural population and 44 per cent of urban population would get this food at half the price at which it is procured from the farmer. Jean Draze, a member of this National Advisory Council objected to this decision by saying that it would amount to doing nothing more than what is being provided by the Government at present.

A debate has started about how to achieve the objective of poverty alleviation in conjunction with reasonably high rate of economic growth. If we fail, it would amount to encouragement to concentration of economic power in the hands of few at the cost of the poor masses. If government is sincere in its efforts in the alleviation of poverty, it must spend for uplifting the standard of living of poor. Paucity of funds is no valid argument in view of rampant corruption in high offices and the extent of loss to the exchequer due to this corruption (as reported by CAG, merely 2-G spectrum scam caused a loss of 1.76 lakhs crores of rupees to the exchequer). Government has to maintain a balance and instead of riding high on growth, should concentrate more on improving the living standard of the poor.








THE level of regard andrespect for the dignityand honour of its womenfolkprovides accurate measureof a ociety's behaviour in civilizationalterms. All other factorsare of less significance. Anda society found wanting in thisparticular area does not deserveto call itself a civilised societyeven if all other indicatorsuphold its claim. Reliablyresearched and scientificallyanalysed details of crimeagainst women in Jammu andKashmir, published in detail inthis newspaper, on Friday,reveal a shocking tale of atrocitiesand excesses being perpetratedupon the womenfolk,year after year, with the connivanceof the state apparatuswhich is supposed to be responsible
for preventing crimeagainst women. More shockingis the revelation that the crimehas gone up even after a sharpfall in the level of militancywhich was held out to be amajor obstacle in safeguardingthe dignity and honour of vulnerablewomen. There is no disputeover the fact that non-stateactors have been responsible fordeterioration in this aspect ofthe situation and that antisocialelements find it more convenientto strike in the disturbedcircumstances thatgripped J&K for over twodecades. Failure of the stateauthority and paralysis of the
state apparatus, including judicialand police systems, aggravatedthe situation. The rangeand intensity of atrocitiesinflicted upon the womenfolkshould shame any society in theworld.The casual manner in whichthe people in high authoritytalk about the plight ofaggrieved womenfolk is outrageous.If there were any sincere
feelings behind the concernbeing exhibited publicly clearcut cases of crime againstwomen would certainly not havegone unattended. Hundreds,even thousands, of womenacross the state are known tohave been victimised during thepast two decades. Many of thehapless victims have beenforced by their unendinganguish and pain to take tostreets. This by itself indicatesthe height of desperation aspublic demonstration by womenfolkis such a rare phenomenonin our society. That theaggrieved women felt compelledto break a traditional social
barrier in order to be heardreflects very poorly on the societyitself and more so on thecharacter and values prevailingwithin the state machinery.Institutions supposed to beresponsible for protectingrights of womenfolk exist inname only. There is nothing onrecord to show their contributiontowards their assigned
objectives. The entire systemhas broken down and there isno sign of its early revival.The rising graph of crime
against women is perhaps thelast thing to shake the conscienceof the state whose primaryresponsibility it is to honourits constitutional and socialcommitments. Although thesociety in general and its vocalsegments in particular, notexcluding our political class,have been equally guilty in thismatter gravity of their failure iscertainly not comparable withtht of the state apparatus. Thestate looks to be overwhelmedby its sense of total neglecttowards the pain and anguishbeing suffered by the society ingeneral and womenfolk in particular.
Although all sorts ofnoises are being made aboutseveral other issues, not a word,much less any action, has been
forthcoming in relation to theindignities and atrocities beingperpetuated upon the society.The society has been reduced toa destitute where it comes toaddressing its genuine concerns.Unfortunately, even the
civil society itself has developeda sort of insensitivity.Occasional gatherings heldhere and there manage only to
pay lip service to the miserableplight of women. Only a handfulof activists from amongstthe aggrieved womenfolk have,however, been keeping thetorch alight. But unless theirinitiative is backed up by the
society and state in generalwith concrete remedial measuresthere is no hope of anyimprovement in the situation.
Perhaps the only course availableunder the circumstances isto let a healthy judicialactivism take shape and providemuch needed remedy.Capitulation of judicial authorityis perhaps the most tragicpart of our story. Plight of womenfolkin J&K is a blot on theface of society and the state.Judiciary cannot afford to keep
itself detached from its widersocial obligations.Constitutional niceties apart,time has come for decisive interventionto stem the rot.






THE report card of theJammu and Kashmir governmentin formulatingplans for providing safe andhygienic drinking water to thepeople in some of the villages ofBudgam district after outbreakof diseases in an epidemic formlast year speaks of official apathytowards its people. On theother hand, surprisingly, othertowns which were equally hit byepidemic diseases in Doda andUdhampur districts due to contaminateddrinking water havebeen ignored by the authorities.All these places besidesKupwara and Baramulla hadbeen adversely affected due tounsafe drinking water but it issurprising that people have towait for a disaster to happenbefore remedial measures areinitiated by the government inJ&K. It is nfortunate that theovernment which claims tohave taken care of social sectorfor providing basic facilities tothe people has utterly failed inthis modern age in providingsafe drinking water. Sadly, thetests which are usually conductedon the water samples for monitoringtheir quality before thesupply is made have never beendone previously ignoring thecommon healthcare. It is surprisingthat various departmentsof the government havebeen indulging in blame gameinstead of ensuring safe drinkingwater supply to the people inthese affected areas. Ironically,the authorities took weeks andmonths together to find out whatwas the real cause of the epidemicoutbreak of different diseasesin urban areas not to speak ofrural and far flung areas wherewater testing and basic healthcarefacilities are totally absent.It will not be out of place to mentionthat there are still manyareas which do not have potabledrinking water facilities andpeople living in these pocketshave to trek long distance forfetching water for their needs.


Incertain areas wherein water supplyschemes were shown to havebeen completed for providingdrinking water to people arenon-existent and enquiries havebeen ordered only after peoplecomplained to the authoritiesabout the misappropriationscommitted by the engineeringdepartments. But as such theseprobes are pending for yearstogether and no remedial measureshave been taken. Unless thegovernment puts in place a ropermechanism for monitoringthese works and hold the concernedengineers and officersaccountable, nothing concreteon the ground can be achieved.The government has also towork on breaking the politiciancontractornexus also for allotmentof such development projectsso that scarce resources ofthe government exchequer arenot siphoned way and gobbledup by few unscrupulous elements

in the society.






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



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





The government knows very well that price rise hits the poor the hardest and that it is politically and

economically damaging. Since coalition compulsions prevent the UPA leadership from sacking a consistently non-performing minister in charge of both agriculture and civil supplies, it should have at least roped in experts to monitor the production and movement of food items and prices so that it could sound the alarm signal well in advance when necessary. But the government almost always starts digging the well when the house is on fire. The problem is familiar, the solutions are known, but political will for sustained action is lacking. Once inflation eases a little, everything is forgotten.


The steps that the government decided on Thursday — nailing hoarders, banning exports and encouraging imports of food items in short supply, etc — could have been taken right at the start of the problem. When it was known that rain had damaged 70 per cent of the onion crop in Maharashtra, why were exports allowed to Pakistan? It is good to have an inter-ministerial group to study the price situation, but will responsibility be fixed and action taken if the minister and the bureaucrats concerned fail to implement its recommendations? Who will ensure that the experts' efforts do not go waste? While consumers pay a hefty price as cartels of middlemen flourish, no one in the government faces any penalty.


It is strange that this government of "original reformers" has initiated no reforms in agriculture, which is rain-dependent and does not grow beyond 3-4 per cent. Dr M.S. Swaminathan's team has given a roadmap for reinventing agriculture. It must be gathering dust in some official cupboard. Experts have argued for encouraging food processing units, better scientific storage to cut waste and strengthening the marketing network by bringing in greater private sector participation, but to no avail. Finally, states take it easy as the Centre gets all the blame for price rise. States like Punjab and Haryana can at least cut taxes on food items, improve soil and water management and ensure an unhindered movement of essential commodities. Political will to control prices is missing at the state level too.









All major and even middle-level defence powers possess a strong military-industrial complex and are also major exporters of weapons. In contrast, India is the only regional power that seeks to be a global power of reckoning but it is almost entirely dependent on foreign imports for high technology weapon systems and platforms and has been an embarrassingly modest exporter.


As such, the Defence Ministry's framing of a first-ever defence production policy (DPP) ought to be welcomed. The ambitious DPP envisages according preference to indigenous design, development and manufacture of defence equipment. Based on the approved Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan, the Defence Ministry's endeavour will be to mostly indigenously develop and build the all defence equipment, weapon systems and platforms required in 10 years and more down the line. The decision to import defence equipment will be dependent on the existing capability and the urgency and criticality of the requirement of a particular weapon system or platform.


Laudable as this policy might be, there is, however, one major problem: It is unrealistic. India's state-owned military industrial complex has repeatedly demonstrated a severe limitation in building high technology defence equipment. In 1995, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, which is entrusted with spearheading India's efforts to attain self-reliance in defence technology, conceived an ambitious 10-year plan to increase self-reliance in defence technology from 30 per cent to 70 per cent by 2005. Instead, a decade-and-a-half after the plan was put into effect and five years after the plan was supposed to have materialised, India's import dependency continues to remain at 70 per cent. Successive reports prepared by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence on the functioning and capabilities of the DRDO and all the nine defence public sector units and 39 ordinance factories have, with monotonous regularity, been pointing to the severe limitations of India's defence research, development and production capability. The government has since taken a series of measures to increase self-reliance – permitted 100 per cent participation of the private industry in the defence sector, allowed up to 26 per cent foreign direct investment, introduced a 30 per cent offset policy for all imports worth over Rs 300 crore and gone in for more joint ventures with foreign companies. India remains a long way away from achieving credible self-reliance in defence. And it will take more than just producing a booklet with loftily expressed ambitions.















The Nepalese Constituent Assembly has ultimately failed to elect a candidate to form a government in the Himalayan nation despite making 16 attempts since June last year. The 17th attempt could not be made as the only remaining claimant to the Prime Minister's post, Mr Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress, withdrew from the contest at the eleventh hour, foreseeing a certain defeat. Now the ball is in the court of the Speaker of the House to look for a consensus candidate before the situation takes a turn for the worse, threatening the peace process that began in 2006. It is not an easy task since the Maoists, who have nearly 40 per cent of the 601 seats in the House, are unlikely to agree to any suggestion unless their main demand for proper rehabilitation of the members of its armed wing, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), is accepted.


Most political players in Nepal are looking towards India to use its influence over the non-Maoist parties, particularly the Nepalese Congress and the Madhesi groups, to help find a leader to run the government. Both sides — the Maoists and those who have been reluctant to share power with them — need to be persuaded to forget their differences in the interest of peace and progress in their country. The new constitution for a republican Nepal must be ready by May, as stipulated by the Constituent Assembly. There is very little time left. Under the circumstances, a broad national unity government appears to be the best alternative with all the major parties being on board.


A definite move towards such a government will allay the fears being expressed owing to the departure of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) — its term ended today. The UNMIN arrangement was basically aimed at settling the issues related to the PLA. However, the caretaker government did not press for extending UNMIN's term, as it had become controversial owing to its alleged tilt towards the Maoists. Now, in frustration, the Maoists may take any extreme step if a consensus candidate is not found soon to take over as the Prime Minister of Nepal.









India can derive legitimate satisfaction in the enhanced interest in its growing strategic significance in Asia and the world, acknowledged by global powers. This acknowledgement came when four nuclear and UN Security Council veto-wielding powers came calling in a span of six weeks between November and December 2010. If British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit in July is added, it would be all the P-5 powers in a span of less than six months. Part of New Delhi's diplomatic traffic congestion was on account of accommodating unscheduled guests like China's Wen Jiabao. Now it is time for a balanced and objective stocktaking on the imperatives and implications of these visits.


India's recognition as a major strategic player in world affairs is primarily a fallout of the power shift from the West to Asia, driven by Asia's phenomenal economic growth. India, therefore, is not alone in attracting global attention. China has been doing so for a much longer time and now fast growing countries like Vietnam are also in limelight. Since the "declining" West needs to engage with the rising Asian economies, they are generous in conceding strategic value to the Asian countries, sometimes more that what countries like India really command.


India's additional advantage is that it is a democratic country. Mark US President Obama's assertions that India is not the "rising" but "risen" power, and an "indispensable" strategic partner of the US. This echoes elements of exaggeration, particularly when viewed in the context of the US traditional approach to India and still lingering challenges of India's economic performance and military modernisation. Tied to such flattering rhetoric is the demand, made by almost all the high-powered visitors to India, to open up its markets for the incoming goods and services, through lowering its tariff barriers and speeding up its economic reforms. Linked to the question of opening up of the Indian markets are also the issues of softening India's Nuclear Liability Bill and opening wide its defence imports which are considered as the two most lucrative sectors of India's market potential for the dwindling economies of the West as well as competing defence and nuclear exports of Russia. To what extent India will be able to accommodate such demands to nurse its strategic aspirations and yet protect its vital economic and foreign policy autonomy remains to be seen.


Even beyond and behind the exaggerated rhetoric, there is certainly a degree of sincerity in the international community's recognition of India's growing strategic significance. More so as a rising China disturbs the existing global balance of power and stirs anxieties and uncertainties all around. If the US and Europe have to keep China away from pushing their dominating presence and influence out of Asia, they need to balance China. India, for its stability, size, capabilities and growth potential, is the obvious candidate to be explored in this respect. That is why the US invited India to join it in a leadership role in the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions. It asked India to "not only look East" but also "engage with the East" and be more active in Africa, where China is fast making deep inroads.


India is, of course, engaged with East Asia, but what the US wants is to prepare India to invest more of its economic, military and diplomatic resources in the East Asian countries to limit the growing Chinese assertiveness. To wards that end, the West now seems willing to lure India with the promise of technology transfers and greater global decision making role. The coming months and years will only show how much of these promises will be delivered and how fast. With an eye on China's growing influence in Central Asia, Russia has invited India to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).


Russian worries in relation to China also arise from the latter's creeping expansion, even through illegal migration and inter-marriages in its remote and scarcely populated Far-east region. One wonders if it is desirable for India and it is willing and prepared to be launched in this role of balancing China at this stage. Is an all-out competition with China a viable and sustainable policy option for India at this juncture? Besides, India is also expected to follow the Western line on other issues of international concerns like Iran and nuclear non-proliferation.


Almost each of the visitors, from the US to France to the UK and Russia, tried to nudge India towards joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty. China is already signalling that it will add to India's costs for being strategically promoted in Asia by the West.


A clear and most uncomfortable message from these visits for India is that the international community is a helpless and unreliable partner to blunt and moderate Pakistan's terror agenda. China and the US refused to hold the Pakistani state responsible for Pakistan's cross-border terrorism against India. Both of them seemed even interested in pushing India into talking to Pakistan on Pakistan's terms. China, in fact, will not hesitate in backing up the Pakistani position on Kashmir as indicated through its involvement in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and refusal to recognise the border with Kashmir as part of the Sino-Indian disputed border. The US and China naturally have their respective constraints and preferences towards Pakistan in refusing to understand India's concerns.


Pakistan is blackmailing the US in Afghanistan and keeping China anxious in Xinjiang. China also sees great strategic value in Pakistan in protecting its interests in South and Central Asia as well as the Indian Ocean. British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Medvedev did sing a song to Indian ears on Pakistan; the former by openly warning Pakistan on the "export of terrorism to India", and the latter by asserting that India was within its rights to militarily retaliate against a state that sponsors terrorism. But neither the UK nor Russia is in a position to prevail over Pakistan to sober its unethical strategy against India. Should India then make a radical departure in its approach to Pakistan, and be prepared for sending an effective message to Islamabad and also to its proclaimed benefactors, that enough is enough.


In handling the high-power visits, India left no one in doubt that it was acutely conscious of its burgeoning market potential and will use this potential in the pursuance of its vital strategic interests. India neither needs to be lured by strategic promises nor be pressured by the undue demands of the international community. There are enough contradictions among the international community's new bidders for association and partnership with India so as to play upon them to its own advantage. This is easier said than done as the challenge will unfold in the coming decade.


The writer is Visiting Research Professor, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore








God created Man, replacing the unique strengths of birds and animals by endowing him with transformed powers collected into the cranium cavity. He turned the power to fly into imagination accompanied by fancy, fantasy, and reverie. It is imagination that has helped man to invent a machine that flies at an incredible speed carrying tons of weight comprising passengers, the crew and the cargo. Imagination creates a new form of reality, even vivid characters that are true to life, such as Hamlet. Fancy dreams up delightful, non-existent beings, such as elves, fairies, and woodland spirits. Fantasy directs vivid day-dreams like a drama by the mind.


God transformed animals' need of chewing the cud into man's capacity for rumination in thought. Using his unique mental powers man has invented the radar a la a bat, and a telescope that can see distant objects millions of times better than the eagle. But perhaps the best use that man has put his newfound mental powers to is the discovery of romance and its development into mesmerising stories. The most effective deployment of romance comes handy when man uses it to deal with the insensate obduracy of reality which, left to itself, would render life impossible by its unrelenting stony stance.


Preceding romance, the game of colourful psycho-emotional antics with unyielding objectivity, man coined thousands of words, phrases, and metaphors to extend his insatiable urge to see beauty where there is none, to discern victory where there is only defeat. The best word for this avocation is 'heart' while man's vocation for survival monitored by his mind keeps him on the edge of life. If this word weren't invented, the undivorceable pair of 'mind' and 'heart' wouldn't be there, leaving life a deadly duration of colourless monotony. Even though the reality that 'heart' is nothing but a muscle which pumps blood cyclically stands scientifically revealed, man hates to give up his romance. He puts 'heart' on the side of poetry, leaving the 'mind' an enigmatic prose.


By the same token, notions like sunrise and sunset persist, despite the stark reality that the sun is stationary, and days and nights are formed by the earth's own rotation. As a matter of fact, even the so-called cardinal points do not exist, because the sun 'rises' at a given point of time on different parts of the globe when that part facing the sun, on its turn, becomes the east!


The creation of romance and the apprehension of reality are functions of mind which is a culturally endowed software of the grey-matter hardware called the brain. But strangely enough, mind prefers romance to reality to stay at peace with itself and the world — giving man the illusion he's having great time!









The forces of the Marathas clashed with those of Ahmed Shah Abdali 250 years ago in a historic encounter. The warring parties had no doubt about the prize to be had by the victor — the throne of Delhi


On the 14th January 1761, with the Third Battle of Panipat, the Maratha effort to rule over India came to an end. It had begun in 1720, when the newly appointed Peshwa Baji Rao, all of 20 years of age, had shown his compatriots the vision for a Maratha conquest of Hindustan. He offered to share all the newly-accrued power with his able military commanders thus earning tremendous loyalty from Holkar, Gaikwar, Bhonsale and Shinde. We can see the remnants of these families in control of large tracts of land in Indore, Baroda, Nagpur and Gwalior respectively even today.


The Marathas set up a new kind of civil administration and effectively began to replace the now defunct Mughal imperial system. Their empire began to touch the borders of Delhi by the time of the death of Baji Rao in 1740. In the meanwhile the Marathas began to set up a system of stable administration much akin to that of the Mughals. This included charging Hindu traders double the transit duty that was charged from Muslim traders. However, the opportunity to expand the Maratha Empire further north into the Punjab came only when the Mughal governors of Punjab were rattled by invasions from Afghanistan and internally weakened by the continuous rebellion of the Sikh peasantry who refused to pay their taxes.


Matching the Maratha desire to control Delhi was a similar desire on the part of Ahmed Shah of the Abdali tribe. Ahmed Shah had been a slave of Shah Nadir of Iran and his chief of palace security. After Nadir's assassination in 1747 Ahmed Shah looted the palace treasures and fled to Kandahar. Here he persuaded other Pakhtun chiefs to join him in setting up an Afghan kingdom in the mountains that would be free from Iranian control. He also changed the name of his tribe from Abdali to Durrani (pearl), using a title that had been bestowed upon him by Shah Nadir.


Historically, the typical way for any Afghan chieftain to make himself popular with the other tribes of the region was to lead them into a military expedition to the plains of Hindustan and bring back loot that would impress everyone back home. Ahmed Shah lost no time in launching a similar attack on Lahore.


In the 20 years of his rule, Ahmed Shah would come down the mountains nine times. Each time he would leave his nominee to rule over some territory within India in the hope that there would be at least a modicum of Afghan control over some parts of India. When that control was challenged, he would come down again, plunder a fresh part of the subcontinent and return with even more loot.


By 1757 it was the turn of the region around Delhi and further south to be looted. Before returning he appointed his son Timur Shah the governor of Punjab. Timur proved incapable of managing the rebellious Punjab. On seeing him weakening the Mughal governor of Jallandhar doab, Adina Beg, invited the Marathas to launch an attack on Lahore. It is said that to help Adina Beg the Marathas charged Rs. 1 lakh for each day's march and Rs. 50,000 for each day's halt.


Raghunath Rao, the Maratha general in-charge of Delhi, defeated Ahmed Shah's son on April 20, 1758, and set up a brief Maratha rule over Punjab with Adina Beg as the Maratha governor. A small contingent of Maratha troops was left at Attock and Multan. An enraged Ahmed Shah once again began to march into the plains of India.


The conflict this time, however, was being couched in religious terms. Ahmed Shah declared that he was on a jihad to India. After all, his son had been kicked out of Punjab. Moreover, Ahmed Shah had been invited by Shah Waliullah (1703-62), one of the leading Islamic clerics in India based at the Rahimiya Madarssa in Delhi. Waliullah, one of the early proponents of a war-like Islam, wrote to Ahmed Shah that it was obligatory upon him "to wage an Indian campaign, break the sway of the unbelieving Marathas and Jats, and rescue the weaknesses of the Muslism who are captive in the land of the unbelievers."


The Marathas on their part stated that it was their holy duty to punish the invading Afghans for having desecrated the Golden Temple at Amritsar.


It was quite usual in those times to call upon differences in religion to justify pre-existing rivalries. It was just as usual for the combatants to call upon support from those of the other religion without bothering about the prima facie contradiction between religious assertion and ground reality. Thus one of the most important military commanders in the Maratha army was a Muslim general who controlled the Maratha artillery. His name was Ibrahim Khan Gardi and he refused to be wooed in the name of religion to side with the Afghans. None of the warring parties had any doubt about the prize to be had by the victor: the throne of Delhi.


Ahmed Shah crossed the Indus at Attock, then moving across north Punjab he crossed the Yamuna near Saharanpur into the territories of the Rohilla Afghans who sought his support against the Marathas.


On the march from Saharanpur to Delhi Ahmed Shah encountered a troop under the command of Dataji Shinde and then another under the command of Malhar Rao Holkar. Both were defeated.


Ahmed Shah over took Delhi, left a small contingent in the town and moved further south with the rest of his forces to Anupshahr, over a 100 kms south.


In the meanwhile the Marathas, under the command of Sadashiv Rao Bhau, having amassed a huge army of 70,000, retook Delhi from the Afghans and moved up north to attack Kunjpura, some 90 km away.


Ahmed Shah tried to save his garrison at Kunjpura but could not. He was on the eastern banks of the Yamuna

and his position was extremely vulnerable. The Marathas, however, confident about their strength and numbers entrenched themselves at Panipat and let the Afghan forces cross the river and settle down facing them across the fields. The Marathas blocked the pathway of Ahmed Shah to Afghanistan just as Ahmed Shah blocked their supply routes from the Deccan.


Thus the two forces remained entrenched for two and a half months. In these two and a half months the two armies snatched provisions from the locals thus destroying the land in and around Panipat almost entirely even before any battle had been fought. It was only when it was not possible to keep the army in camp any longer that the Marathas decided to join battle.


Both sides had almost the same number of soldiers. Half of Ahmed Shah's forces were made up of his Indian allies. Almost half of the Maratha forces were made of mercenaries who were in the war for booty that the victorious Marathas always provided. And the Maratha track record in getting a victory on the battle field was quite good. This battle has been one of the most studied battles of Indian history. It lasted from sunrise to just before sunset.


For most of the day the Marathas had an upper hand and pulverized Ahmed Shah and his allies. But by 4 pm, the tide of battle began to turn. All the Maratha troops had become engaged in battle while Ahmed Shah still had a few troops in reserve. These fresh reserves were brought forth and the Maratha rout began. To make matters worse the prisoners taken at Kunjpura by the Marathas too began to attack the Marathas from behind. By sunset both sides decided to stop the battle. Most of the people on the battle field had either died or lay dying by then.


At night the Marathas decided to leave the battle field and escaped back towards Delhi. Sadashivrao Bhau's wife, who had been in-charge of the camp administration, too managed to flee along with her bodyguards.


The writer is Professor of History and Chairman of the Department of History, Panjab University, Chandigarh.








More than six years ago on July 5, 2004, the Chief Election Commissioner wrote to the Prime Minister seeking his urgent attention to matters of grave concern to the Commission. The fourteenth Lok Sabha had just been voted in after a historic election which saw the NDA being replaced by the UPA. The CEC had asked the PM and his government to undertake legislative changes that would make elections cleaner and more meaningful. His 26 page letter had 15 specific proposals on new electoral reforms, and seven proposals which were pending.

Some of the important proposals were allowing voters to caste a negative vote ("none of the above or NOTA"), disallowing candidates from standing from more than one constituency, compulsory auditing of accounts of political parties and prohibiting surrogate advertising and opinion polls. But the most important reform was to disallow criminals from standing for elections. That is, if someone is charged with criminal offenses like murder, rape and extortion, he should not be allowed to stand. Technically since court cases drag on for years, and can keep getting recycled into appeals in higher courts, no accused ever gets "convicted". So we have the spectacle of candidates who are in prison (undergoing a trial), who cannot vote, but can stand for elections.

Well six years have passed, but the government (which got voted back in 2009) has not found the time to do anything about electoral reforms.


In the meantime the role of money power in politics is out of control. Most MP's and MLA's declare wealth in crores of rupees. But they refuse to disclose the sources of their income. Between 20 to 30 percent of all elected legislators have criminal charges. Any attempt to disclose the details of income and expenditure of political parties is stonewalled. All the political parties enjoy income tax exemption, but do not want to disclose details of where they get the money or how they spend it. Parties think they are not subject to RTI.

Due to the various scams that surfaced in the past few months, attention has turned to political funding and electoral reforms. Some people have also advocated that elections should be funded by the government, as if that would stop all the black money flowing into elections. The CEC has said that parties are being floated simply to do money laundering. Even panchayat and municipal elections have become big money game, since more funds flow through local legislators and their discretionary power has increased. Even the voters now expect to be paid to vote, and stories of distribution of cash and liquor before elections are routine. There are also stories about not only voters, but newspapers and television coverage also has to be "paid for". And yet, funnily, the official expenditure reports filed by the candidates with the EC show that they none of them exceed the limit of spending as per the law.


It is clear that several reforms are needed to improve the quality of elections as well as the working of political parties. The Law Commission in its report of 1999 had given details of what these reforms entail. The letter of the CEC to the PM in 2004 was in the same spirit. Various citizens' groups, activists and even parties themselves have anguished for many years about the state of democracy, and what needs to be done.
    This year the government, specifically the Law Ministry under the Minister Veerappa Moily has initiated a multi-city consultation on electoral reforms culminating in a national meeting on April 2 and 3. There are seven rounds, and the third meeting is in Mumbai on Sunday January 16. This consultation will be a "marathon" session, and if you want the "NOTA" button in the next election, you must attend.
 Regional Consultation on Electoral Reforms, organised by Ministry of Law and Justice, cohosted by University of Mumbai and Election Commission, Fort Campus, 10am, Sunday January 16. All are welcome, admission free.)





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There has been a good deal of debate after the Telecom Minister, Kapil Sibal, came out with his "zero loss" assertion last week, in relation to the pricing of spectrum three years ago. Sieving through the debate, the following seems to be clear:

Mr Sibal's position on spectrum pricing is the same as that of Mr Raja. Indeed, he repeats Mr Raja's claim that his decisions had the approval of the prime minister and other ministers concerned, including the then as well as current finance minister. In substance, the pricing decision was in line with the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, and no different from similar decisions by the government in the past.

 Taking these assertions as true, Mr Sibal's follow-on claims and justifications merit examination. He says that the government's intention has never been to maximise revenue, what it is interested in is increasing tele-density through low-cost services. Indeed, this is what has been achieved, as Mr Raja argued in his defence. The problem is that the link between low spectrum pricing by the government and the claimed result of low telecom charges and, therefore, greater tele-density is non-existent, because those who got the spectrum promptly encashed the gift and made windfall gains — which is when the scandal blew up in everyone's face, not when the Comptroller and Auditor General came with his calculator nearly three years later. If what was intended to be a consumer benefit ended up being an intermediary's windfall gain, the policy obviously backfired. And it is precisely because private parties got the benefit that the taxpayer could have got that there have been charges of large-scale revenue loss.

Mr Sibal said at his press conference that there was no revenue loss, something that his written statement does not say. Perhaps he got carried away while speaking, because even he would accept that an auction would have got the government greater revenue, and that private parties milked the situation to pocket windfall gains. Maintaining the zero-loss claim, therefore, involves justifying the failure to do proper price discovery, as through the spectrum auction in 2010 for 3G services. In a TV interview to Karan Thapar in the wake of the to-do over his zero-loss claim, Mr Sibal argued that the comparison between the two situations is not valid, because 3G is like a Rolls Royce car while 2G is a Maruti 800. This comparison does not hold, because the companies that have bid and got 3G spectrum are using it for the same voice service that they were delivering with their 2G spectrum. And, please note, call rates have remained low even after companies have paid through their nose for 3G spectrum.

If we focus on the reality that the whole country can see, and not the technicalities of government policy-making that Mr Sibal focused on, the issue that remains to be debated is the quantum of loss to the government. Mr Sibal questions the CAG's figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore on the perfectly valid argument that you cannot take a 2010 price and apply it to a 2008 situation. But that is what the government itself did, when it took a 2001 price and applied it in 2008, though the telecom scene had been transformed in between. As it happens, the CAG has more than one figure of revenue loss. Several commentators have also come up with numbers, which run into tens of thousands of crores. And because of the aberrant manner in which Mr Raja handed out these substantial gifts, it became the largest scam in our history. So when Mr Sibal claims zero loss, I'm afraid he carries zero credibility.







There has been much talk since the financial crisis of the decline of the US as a superpower, and of China and India as emerging superpowers. But what is a superpower? Are the current characterisations of the US, China and India correct? What, if any, are the advantages of being a superpower, or is the pursuit of this status an exercise in national vanity at the expense of the common weal as some influential voices in India have claimed? These are the questions I consider in this column.

Superpowers, as the late Hedley Bull reminds us in his magisterial The Anarchical Society, are what were called great powers during the period when the balance of power characterised the international states system. Great powers were "two or more powers that are comparable in status". The term "superpowers" was first applied by W T R Fox in 1944 in his The Superpowers to Britain, the US and the Soviet Union who recognised "the appearance of a new class of power, superior to the traditional European great powers, and alone capable of undertaking the central managerial role in international politics they had played in the past". With the decline of Britain and during the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union were the twin superpowers in the bipolar world.

 But for a brief moment after the Second World War, when the US was seen to have overtaken the USSR in every correlate of power, US analysts like George Liska (Imperial America, 1967) argued that the US with no other rivals was not a mere great or superpower but was like Rome the sole dominant (imperial) power in international politics. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US, in fact, became the sole dominant imperial power in the world, as I argued in my In Praise of Empires. In fact, in terms of the analysis in that book, I would prefer to call superpowers imperial powers. Thus, when Fox devised the term, the three superpowers he identified were, in fact, the custodians of two imperial systems, the Anglo-American one (taken over by the Americans with the postwar decline of Britain) and the Soviet. The bipolar world of the Cold War is thus better seen as the clash and accommodation between two imperial systems. This is similar to the ancient world when there were a number of imperial systems coterminous with Rome, but which did not clash (till the later stages of the Roman empire when it was challenged by the new Arab empire) because of geographical distance.

The question today, therefore, is whether the current world hegemon (a term which has been described as "imperialism with good manners") — the US — will be able to maintain this status. To answer this it is important to recognise the two major correlates of power: population size and relative economic strength. Larger populations can mobilise more warriors and if they are richer, can translate their relative economic strength into a fighting force to protect their own resource base and/or increase it by seizure from others. A rough measure of this relative power is provided by data on relative GDP. From the most recent set of comparable PPP data compiled by the late Angus Maddison, it seems that the US remains way ahead of all possible competitors at the moment, and despite prognostications of its economic decline (as I have argued in earlier columns), it would be foolish to write off the US. The US is and is likely to remain the sole superpower for the foreseeable future.

It should be noted the possession of nuclear weapons is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a superpower or great power, nor is membership of the Security Council either necessary or sufficient: as witness the role of Pakistan, or North Korea for the former, and the UK and France for the latter. China and India are already regional great powers. They are both trying to expand their global influence. But, until they can provide a credible challenge to US naval power, they are unlikely to be able to compete.

In a brilliant book, Walter Russell Mead (God and Gold, Knopf, 2007) has argued that world politics in the last 400 years can best be explained by the maritime system first created by the Dutch in the 17th century, and then adopted by the British and subsequently the US to create their imperia. In each version, sea power was used to build up "global systems of trade and might". The open, dynamic and capitalist society this created "generated innovations in finance, technology, marketing, and communication". The wealth generated provided the basis for military power. "The basic formula of an open society, world trade, and world power was the power secret… and the major driving force in the history of the 400 years".

Both China and India have realised the importance of sea power and are expanding their navies, though India seems to have a current edge. But, in the long run, if and when the US imperium declines as did the British, it is more likely that the Indian rather than the Chinese could replace it (as it did the British). For though the Chinese have adopted some of Russell Mead's "power secret", the essential "open society" element seems to be missing.

This also answers the question of why it matters for India to become a superpower. There is the immediate defensive motive of preventing any implicit or explicit coercion by its Asian rival in effecting its national interests in the current Asian balance of actual and (potential) great powers — which includes them and Japan, and the US as an offshore balancer. But more important in India's long-term interest is the recognition that the continuance of its liberal, democratic, open economy also requires it to support and, if necessary, take over the imperial burden from the US. The Beijing consensus must not be allowed to replace the Washington consensus. This is a truth which both the US and India seem to have grasped at last.






For veterans of mob violence, the events in the Jungpura-Nizamuddin area of South Delhi through Wednesday and Thursday barely merited notice. To quote Lance Klusener in another context, "nobody (has) died" — at least not at the time of writing (early Friday morning).

Some 15-20 people were injured in protests after the demolition of a mosque. The mosque was on a plot claimed by the DDA (Delhi Development Authority). The backstory is so common it's hardly worth repeating. There are reportedly over 350 assorted religious structures illegally located on DDA land. The Delhi Wakf Board claims the mosque in question was actually on Wakf land. So, there may be another dispute in store about ownership of the land itself.

The mosque had been under threat since at least 2006, which was when I moved into a house located about 500 metres from it. The Jungpura RWA (Residents Welfare Association) had then moved the Delhi High Court asking for clearance of that plot. There was also a JJ (jhuggi-jhopdi) colony (as Delhi slums are officially labelled) there.

In 2008, the DDA promised the Delhi HC it would demolish the mosque. It cleared the slum. But it didn't touch the mosque. On January 14, the DDA was due to answer a contempt notice issued by that Delhi HC that asked for a compliance report on demolition. The bulldozers swung into action at around dawn on January 12 in a heavily policed operation.

By that afternoon, there were mobs out in force in Nizamuddin East and West. Mathura Road (aka National Highway 2) was blocked by damaged vehicles along a 3-km stretch. The Nizamuddin Railway Station was cut off and the area was under siege.

The police used teargas and did a couple of lathi charges; the Rapid Action Force was deployed; the mob armed itself with brickbats and set fire to random things. Note, however, that things were the targets of arson, not people, unlike in a "proper" riot.

The number of uniforms may have seemed like overkill. But the police were restrained. They tried to limit the trouble to within a relatively small area in a desi version of the London Kettle. They didn't get into confrontations; they ignored contemptuous speculation about the sex lives of their mothers and sisters.

As in London, much of the mob consisted of kids who are not yet of voting age. For oldtimers, who remember 1984, 1992-93, etc., both the police presence and the restraint were welcome. It's a delicate task to manage a crowd and keep it from turning violent. But if there aren't an adequate number of policemen present when a mob starts gathering steam, violence is guaranteed.

Sporadic incidents continued through Thursday even as Lori was celebrated shaan se by the biradari. Politicians got into the act. Local Muslims were allowed to offer prayers at the demolition site on Thursday. Friday could bring resolution or escalation. You'll know which by the time you read this. The HC's compliance report is due. The Shahi Imam is also due to offer prayers at the demolition site.

The residents wait. Most have stocked up on staples — my cigarette rations should last out the weekend. The prudent have ensured motor insurance premiums are up to date. Some neighbours intend to get away for an early weekend. Foreigners working for various international organisations have been asked to stay away.

So far, there's been just a few items in the print media, though there's been lots of waves on Twitter. The absence of TV coverage is notable, given the number of mediapersons resident in the affected areas. It's due to lack of footage — the vans couldn't get in. By India's standards, this has been a storm in a teacup. So far. I'm not religious, but let's pray it stays that way.






Tom Wolfe in his 1980s best-seller, The Bonfire of the Vanities, described investment bankers as "the masters of the universe". That description was soon outdated in the 1990s because hedge fund managers assumed the mantle. Just consider two simple facts. In 1990, hedge managers managed assets worth $39 billion. At the peak of 2007, the figure had grown to a staggering $3 trillion. Equally staggering is the amount of money successful hedge fund managers earned in 2008, the top 10 more than $10 billion between them. Quite clearly, the returns hedge funds make can be substantial, given the high fees they charge for services rendered. But there was a downside — the losses can be substantial too — as some discovered in the credit crunch market upheaval that started in 2007. But in the swings and roundabouts, hedge funds became the "In" thing if you were looking for a "gravy train" as Sebastian Mallaby tells us in his definitive work drawn from insights into higher mathematics, economics and psychology in More Money than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (Bloomsbury/Penguin India, Special Indian Price, Rs 599).

Begin from the beginning. While most people have heard how much hedge fund managers have made, very few are clear what they are or what they do. To get a hang what the game is about, it is best to start with Philip Goggan's Guide to Hedge Funds: What they are, what they do, their risks, their advantages (Profile Books, Indian reprint 2011, Rs 295). Coggan, who was the economics editor with The Economist and earlier with the Financial Times, has covered the fundamentals in six easy-to-read chapters: Hedge Fund Taxonomy; The Players; Funds-of-funds; Hedge fund regulation; Hedge funds: For or Against; and The Future of Hedge funds. Of course, More Money than God covers the same ground too, but this is an easier read and once you have grasped the rules of the new game, Mallaby's big tome becomes that much simpler and enjoyable.

 Mallaby has written the book for a wide range of readers, from hedge fund managers and finance professors to the intelligent common reader interested in markets, economics and finance.

The story begins with Alfred Winslow Jones, an eccentric who at different times in his life worked on a tramp steamer, studied at the Marxist Workers School in Berlin, a friend of Ernest Hemingway and other outsiders. Like many top hedge fund managers, Mallaby tells us that Jones didn't learn the ropes at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley, did not go to business school, nor did he have a PhD in quantitative finance. What he did have, however, was an unerring instinct for money like all successful fund managers possessed.

Jones launched the fist "hedged fund" meant to use leverage to enhance equity exposure along side short sales to protect one's downside, and he first conceived the concept of "performance fee" whereby his fund would keep for itself 20 per cent of the profits. Mallaby tells us with his fund's returns at 5,000 per cent, investors didn't mind parting with 20 per cent of the profits. Many commentators today feel that 20 per cent is too high a fee to be paid but Jones quite rightly believed that the anticipation of substantial returns would concentrate the minds of portfolio managers. Besides, Jones argued that "performance fee" was an expense and could be written off against the profits; others like Mallaby think it is a tax dodge. Jones' performance-fee innovation still forms the basis for the hefty returns of hedge fund managers.

With Jones as the introduction, Mallaby provides a continuous history of investment vehicles which he calls "loners and contrarians", the very "individualists whose ambitions are too big to fit into established financial institutions". These individuals can't be tied down by regulations and red tape. They defy the conventional wisdom about efficient markets and could be described as "edge funds" for their managers offer investors returns uncorrelated with the markets.

Mallaby explains that markets are efficient only if the liquidity is perfect; and when liquidity is not perfect, markets can be highly dicey or fickle. Mallaby takes the case of Steinhardt who offered liquidity where it didn't exist, especially when it came to a large block of shares. He was able to negotiate discounts in return for liquidity which eventually returned to his original investors 480 times their initial investment. Fund managers can do this but only if they have a large amount of cash to play around with; if they don't have a fall-back strategy, it is simply not possible to achieve such high returns.

Mallaby's story of the Hungarian immigrant George Soros is inspiring, considering that he started off in London as a busboy and once told by the head waiter at a restaurant that if he worked hard he would some day be his assistant. Soros made it to the London School of Economics and although he didn't do well academically, he learnt that markets were anti-efficient and that it was possible to make money by trading on faulty human reasoning.

Hedge funds have sometimes been described as "casino capitalism", that success depends on the luck of the draw. But it is also a play on the vagaries of the human mind which Mallaby's story-telling brings out beautifully.







Friends from Bangalore called to say they were freezing. By the city's standards, 13 degrees minimum temperature will put you in that psychological zone. For the likes of us currently in Kolkata, it created a warm condescending glow in being able to reply that we were managing with sub-10 degrees. But the glow disappeared and made us shiver in turn when we talked to our daughter in Delhi who said she was before the heater warming her hands and feet as much as she could before going to bed to tide over another night of 3 degrees minimum or less. We are all passing through the coldest winter we can remember in a long time and I am loving it the way I have always welcomed the cold.

North Europeans flock to Spain or Italy, depending on who is how well off, to make the best of the summer and the sun, to come back to grey skies and be able to flaunt their tan. The celebration of winter in India is partly determined by how well-heeled you are and how well-stocked is your almirah with woolens. The good thing about being a bit over the hill is that old clothes and woolens sit well on you and nobody bats an eyelid at jackets with lapels cut to styles that were the rage in the sixties or thereabouts and double-breasted blazers.

 I was able to get an early taste of this year's robust winter when we went to spend a weekend at Santiniketan, putting to good use the retreat of a friend. The air was as clear as it was crisp. In the misty half light of the early morning, the little railway station of suburban Prantik made a good picture postcard, and the walk down the embankment of the canal was redolent with the smell of dew on the red Birbhum earth, released by a slowly rising sun. We tried to satisfy our robust appetite with the vegetables that were brought to the kitchen straight from the backyard, even as we spent most of the daylight hours in semi-stupor in the sun amidst the roses and chrysanthemums that created a riot in the front yard.

The great thing about this winter is that both in the east as well as in the north, it has been reasonably free (except for one patch) of dense, numbing fog that throws your travel plans out of gear and lands you in Lucknow instead of Delhi, much as would happen in a modern children's story where a pilot loses his way by taking a wrong turn and brings you to a land with different-looking children. I remember the weekend over a decade ago in Delhi when we wanted to escape the gloom and clamminess of the fog, and took to the highway but couldn't make it to Jaipur the first day, so dense was the fog.

One great prize in winter when one was young was being allowed to stay a little longer in bed, the indulgence heightened by the comfort under the quilt. As I have grown older, I have discovered a new plus in winter. The morning walk has to compulsorily start early most of the year as it gets too hot for comfort once the sun is out. But in winter, you start early to give yourself a prize. The sharp cold tingles those parts of the body that will not be covered and there is a sense of victory over the elements as you warm up with the walking and beat back the cold. The stray dogs wait patiently before the tea stalls for the first customers to throw a few biscuit bits towards them and the only people on the street who look forlorn are the children, bundled in woolens and out of homes, being accompanied by grownups to the bus stop where the pickup for school will come.

Great as the fog-free, sunny daylight hours are, the traditional plus of winter is the added nip it gives to the hours after dark. Quite simply, the liquor tastes more congenial, you are able to hold more of it and there is no reproachful hangover the morning after. If you relish your liquor in normal times, this weather has been tailor-made to give an added zing to it. So, you do not grudge the poor folks who work up little twig fires by the roadside when you cannot have a fireside experience in your apartment. If God made liquor for a bit of superior pleasure for mortals, then He must be in a particularly good mood to send down an above-average winter to heighten that pleasure.

By far the best part of this winter for me has been those few occasions — far too many, says the wife — when I have coaxed a friend to join me on the lawn of the rowing club that has occupied a corner of the Lakes in Kolkata for over a hundred years, with the sun on the back and the draught beer in front. I cannot make up my mind where the flowers are better — at the club or the friend's retreat or the Freedom Park next to the Victoria Memorial. This marvelous winter is a freak, they say, a result of climate change. It will be more than made up by extra hot weather which will be the fallout from the global warming. But right now, the sun through the window that warms my back as I balance the laptop on my knees gives no premonition of hard times to come.  






Prior to succumbing to the inevitable, Ireland told everyone it was Greece. Portugal is now telling everyone it is not Greece or Ireland. Spain insists it is not Greece, Ireland or Portugal. Italy says it is not in "PIGS". Belgium insists there is no "B" in "PIGS" or "PIIGS".

The European Union's (EU's) pressure on Ireland to accept external "help" was to safeguard financial stability in the eurozone, as much as rescue Ireland. However, contagion is proving difficult to prevent.

 The rising cost of borrowing increasingly makes high levels of debt unsustainable owing to the cost of meeting interest payments. Eventually, countries lose access to commercial funding sources, which is what happened to Greece and Ireland. Rising rates result in losses on investor holdings of the debt if the EU/IMF support is not available and the debt is restructured or defaults. Banks have lent over $2.2 trillion to PIGS. French and German banks have lent around $510 billion and $410 billion respectively. British banks have lent $324 billion to Ireland and Spain. The problem is compounded by the fact that Spain, which may need financial support, has a $98.3 billion exposure to Portugal and a $17.7 billion exposure to Ireland.

When the stronger countries move to support the weaker ones, financing bailouts affects the former's credit quality and ability to raise funds. The EU and IMF are hoping that the Greece and Ireland bailouts will restore market confidence, which combined with stronger growth, greater fiscal discipline and domestic structural reforms will reduce the fear of default or restructuring. The chances of this script playing out are minimal.

The support measures are unlikely to work and Portugal and Spain are increasingly finding themselves under siege.

Under such a scenario, options available are greater economic integration of the EU, expansion of existing arrangements or allowing indebted countries to fail.

Greater economic integration would entail adopting a common fiscal policy, encompassing strict controls on fiscal policy including tax and spending. It could also include the issue of eurozone bonds (E-Bonds) to finance member countries, lowering borrowing costs for peripheral economies and facilitating access to markets.

The likelihood of a greater fiscal union in the near term is limited, since nations are unlikely to surrender the required economic powers and autonomy. The E-Bond proposal, for up to 50 per cent of a state's funding requirement, is unworkable given the differences in credit quality and interest rates between eurozone members of around 10 per cent. Germany believes national governments should bear responsibility for their own decisions, and oppose E-Bonds, since they would increase its borrowing costs. France's early enthusiasm for E-Bonds seems to have diminished.

The cost of a full fiscal union is prohibitive, entailing between ¤340 billion and ¤800 billion, depending on the degree of fiscal imbalances. If Portugal and Spain experience problems, in the absence of a full fiscal union, the only options available are further EU support or default.

Though Germany is opposing any expansion of the bailout facilities, it remains an option. Perversely, raising the funding available to support-troubled countries may signal that problems were imminent, resulting in a loss of confidence, making resort to any support mechanism inevitable.

The European Central Bank (ECB) can increase support for the relevant countries, in the form of buying bonds or financing eurozone banks that buy them. Interestingly, the ECB will increase its capital base, from ¤5.76 billion to ¤10.76 billion by end 2012, the first such increase in its 12-year history. The increase in capital allows greater support from the ECB, while providing reserves against potential losses.

In an extreme scenario, the ECB could simply print money, following the US Fed's lead, to support its members, known technically as "unsterlised purchases". Such an action may not be permissible under its existing rules, which require amending EU treaties. This would severely damage the ECB's already tenuous credibility and be resisted by Germany and other conservative EU countries.

The "extend and pretend" measures would allow orderly defaults or debt restructuring by some countries over time. These measures minimise losses, controlling the timing and form of restructuring. They would also minimise disruption to financial markets and solvency issues for investors and banks with large exposures.

If the EU doesn't agree to a fiscal union or continuing support, pressure on Portugal, Spain, Italy and Belgium may reach a tipping point, making default or restructuring the likely endgame. Presumably, existing programmes, such as those for Greece and Ireland, would be suspended. Governments would announce debt moratoriums, defaulting on at least some debts and forcing writedowns. This would be followed by a domino effect of defaulting countries within Europe. The defaults would affect the banks' balance sheets, potentially forcing governments, especially Germany, France and the UK, to inject capital and liquidity into their banks to ensure solvency. The richer nations would still have to pay, but for the recapitalisation of their banks rather than those of foreign countries.

Satyajit Das is the author of "Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives"






The Trinamool would do well to adopt policies that encourage economic regeneration.

Those who fear that West Bengal will jump from the frying pan into the fire in the coming Assembly election might find a solution of sorts in what is widely denounced as money power. I don't mean the illicit crores of rupees that candidates and their sponsors are expected to spend on polling. Nor funds such as rival business houses are said to have lavished on agitators to thwart Tatas in Singur. But Sushma Swaraj's comment the other day about "corporates" deciding how ministries are formed and which portfolio is given to whom suggests a way out of what might turn into a bloody impasse.

 The leader of the Lok Sabha Opposition was speaking disapprovingly and in a different context. But if business houses do choose ministers to further their interests, as she claimed, they can also devise policies that in serving the corporate sector, also serves the community at large. Business and the public interest need not be irreconcilable. They often seem so only because of clandestine pacts between shortsighted politicians and opportunistic businessmen. Singapore's prosperity was founded on the profitability of 3,000 multinationals operating under a watchful government's strictly enforced rules. It's the regulatory framework that makes all the difference between corporate exploitation and corporate contribution to national prosperity.

Enfeebled throughout the country, that framework just withered away during West Bengal's three decades of Marxist rule. Whatever it professed in theory, the CPI(M) was happy to transfer land, licences and institutions to commercial operators who became rich and donated handsomely to the kitty. It's all very well for Biman Basu, the CPI(M) secretary and Left Front chairman, to thunder accusingly today that "those who didn't have bicycles have built houses and are moving in cars." He should know better than anyone else that Left Front patronage turned millionaires into billionaires.

There is sweet irony in Basu's exhortation to these opportunists to gaze in the mirror upon their altered and "blemished face". Nothing has been altered and blemished more drastically by power than the CPI(M). A party of hope now spells despair. West Bengal's Midnapore district would not otherwise be bristling with rebels. Adivasis have turned from Christianity to Maoism as the symbol of protest. Peasant voters in former red strongholds march under the Trinamool flag to attack Marxist camps.

This promises to be the dreadful pattern of the future. Even if the CPI(M) loses votes, its armed cadres will not easily relinquish their control of the countryside. We can expect more pitched battles as Mamata Banerjee and the motley crew of her Trinamool Congress (bloated already by thugs deserting the sinking Marxist ship) try to take charge.

Let there be no mistake, they are largely accidental beneficiaries of public disenchantment with the CPI(M), filling the vacuum left by a virtually defunct Congress. But they don't seem to have two ideas on governance to rub together. No one credits them now with more than the one-point agenda of getting the Marxists out by hook or by crook.

This is where farsighted members of Bengal's business community – and surely they are not all just banias? – must seize their chance. In some ways they gallop faster than the wind. Five years ago when the Left Front's day seemed to be done, Calcutta's tycoons mustered in strength at a chamber of commerce event publicly to pay homage to Banerjee and giggle obsequiously at her jokes at the late Jyoti Basu's expense. The wind blew over, and those same businessmen again flocked more recently to an exhibition of paintings by a prominent CPI(M) functionary's ward, cooing ecstatically over the array of canvases.

Generators of wealth for themselves, they can boost growth and create jobs if only they look beyond sycophancy and profiteering. West Bengal has a precedent in Nalini Ranjan Sarkar's appointment as finance minister. That canny old owl, Deng Xiaoping, knew what he was talking about when he urged as many people as possible to become rich so that others could follow their example.

Businessmen need peace and a stable climate to make a profit. Both are possible only if they insist that in return for financial support, the Trinamool adopts policies to encourage economic regeneration. They might even assist in drawing up a plan of action. Let Banerjee continue with her shrieking rallies, but not at the expense of public order. She will have a better chance of consolidating her position and earning respect if she is identified in the public mind with a constructive alternative programme.  






Given its conflict of interest with Iran and shared stakes in Afghanistan, India will have to make tough choices.

As India takes it seat on the United Nations Security Council as the new non-permanent member after nearly a two-decade hiatus, India's latest move vis-à-vis Iran has signalled New Delhi's desire to be viewed as a responsible rising power and a potential permanent member of the Security Council. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has declared that oil payments to Iran can no longer be settled using the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) mechanism — it is a system run by the central banks of nine countries, including India and Iran. This was a bold move, for India imports 12 million barrels of crude oil every month from Iran, which accounts for 12 per cent of India's supplies. As the two countries try to find ways to solve this problem permanently, India will be paying for Iranian crude oil through a German bank based in Hamburg as an interim measure.

 It was Iran that had asked India to use the ACU to avoid being targeted by the US sanctions. The ACU mechanism made it difficult for third countries to trace transactions and that ambiguity has troubled Washington for some time. The US has complained that the transactions lacked transparency, allowing payments to be made to Iranian companies controlled by groups banned under the sanctions regime. The US was quick to support India's decisions, suggesting the RBI "has made the right decision to carefully scrutinise and reduce its financial dealings with the Central Bank of Iran".

The US has long wanted India to scale down its dealings with Iran. But India continues to view Iran as an important regional player, especially in the context of the evolving security situation in Afghanistan where Iran is seen as a potential bulwark against growing Pakistani influence. Notwithstanding this convergence on Iran, recent months have seen a significant cooling in the Delhi-Tehran ties. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has described Kashmir as a "besieged" region of the world. He has been speaking of Kashmir in the same breath as Pakistan and Afghanistan and asked the Islamic community to assist in the "struggle" against "aggressions" of the "Zionist regime". When Khamenei's diatribe was repeated in November, India made its displeasure known by issuing a demarche and, as a first, abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning the state of human rights in Iran.

The pace of economic and trade cooperation between Delhi and Tehran has slackened. Recent attempts by the two to insulate their oil trade from western sanctions have not been very productive. Indian oil imports from Iran have declined this year in light of the Reliance Industries ceasing to use crude oil from the Persian Gulf State, even abandoning its plans to invest in an oil refinery in Iran. The companies that have invested more than $20 million in Iran find it hard to deal with the western corporate sector given the sanctions regime. The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) project has not moved while the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project has recently got the green light. After 15 years of negotiations, the four states signed the TAPI pipeline deal last December, although it is unclear how quickly the project can move forward given the worsening security situation in Afghanistan and the Pakistani Baluchistan region.

India has continued to affirm its commitment to enforce all sanctions against Iran as mandated by the Security Council since 2006 when the first set of sanctions was imposed. However, like Beijing and Moscow it has argued that such sanctions should not hurt the ordinary populace of Iran. India and Iran have long held significantly different perceptions of the global nuclear order. Iran was not supportive of India's nuclear tests in 1998 and backed the UN Security Council Resolution that asked India and Pakistan to cap their nuclear capabilities by signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Iran has repeatedly called for a universal acceptance of the NPT, much to India's discomfiture. Though Iran has claimed this was directed at Israel, this has far-reaching implications for India too. The conclusion of the Indo-US nuclear deal saw Iran warning that the pact had endangered the NPT and would trigger new "crises" for the international community.

Iran's position on several other issues crucial to India has been against India's interests. India's position on the Iranian nuclear question is relatively straightforward. Though India believes Iran has a right to pursue civilian nuclear energy, it has insisted Iran should clarify the doubts raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) so far as Iran's compliance with the NPT is concerned. India has long maintained that it does not see any further nuclear proliferation as being in its own interests. This position has as much to do with India's desire to project itself as a responsible nuclear state as with the very real dangers that further proliferation in its extended neighbourhood would pose to its own security.

The crucial regional issue on which India and Iran need each other is the evolving security situation in Afghanistan. America's Af-Pak policy in particular has been causing consternation in Delhi and Tehran. Iran is worried about the potential major role for leaders of the almost exclusively Sunni Taliban in the emerging political dispensation in Afghanistan. It has even encouraged India to send more of its assistance to provinces in northern and western Afghanistan that are under the control of those associated with the Northern Alliance. India is now part of a trilateral initiative on Afghanistan and this India-Iran-Afghanistan initiative is aimed at countering Pakistan's attempts to freeze India out of various other regional initiatives. Both New Delhi and Tehran are unlikely to accept a political dispensation in Kabul that serves as a springboard for the projection of Pakistani military's interests. But that can happen only if Iran is also interested in stabilising Afghanistan. If Tehran's interests are primarily driven by its desire to see America's withdrawal, then New Delhi will be forced to re-think its approach towards Iran.

India's ties with Iran will continue to face problems in the comings years and will remain inherently unstable. New Delhi's outreach to Tehran will remain circumscribed by the internal power struggle within Iran, growing tensions between Iran and its Arab neighbours and Iran's continued defiance of the global nuclear order. As a rising global power, India will have to make some tough choices in the months to come and the road ahead will not be an easy one.

The writer is with the Department of Defence Studies,King's College London









POLITICS is the art of the possible. Harsh as it might sound, ensuring food security is also about distinguishing between what is possible (and feasible) and what is not. Yes, it is tragic that more than six decades after independence we are unable to provide food security to all our people and so many Indians should be so woefully undernourished. But it would be even more tragic if we allowed our judgement to be clouded by sentiment and blindly accepted the National Advisory Council's (NAC) proposals without doing the necessary ground work to ensure they get translated into food security on the ground. Given the sorry state of our public distribution system in all but a few states, any attempt to channelise food to the needy without revamping the present system will only result in massive leakages with few of the genuinely needy benefiting. A ready parallel is with the Right to Education Act wherein education has been made a fundamental right; but only on paper, as we have no way of delivering on it. Legal entitlements are meaningless if they remain on paper.


It is, therefore, far wiser to adopt a 'calibrated' approach and limit the scope of the proposed food security bill to the genuinely-needy — those below the poverty line — as suggested by the expert committee headed by Dr Rangarajan, chairman of the PM's Economic Advisory Council. It is better to deliver on a less ambitious scheme than fail abysmally on a hugely ambitious one. The only caveat is that even as we start with the former, we steadily work towards the latter. Not only by speeding up the process of proper identification of the poor through the Unique Identification (UID) programme and revamping the PDS system but also by redirecting subsidies away from sectors like oil and fertiliser towards food so that the government's subsidy burden remains within manageable proportions. Else, much of the good done to the poor by way of cheaper food will be undone by higher taxes consequent on a rising revenue deficit. Cent per cent food security can't happen overnight. What's important is that we must work towards that goal more steadfastly than in the past.







MOST states that have joined the new pension system (NPS) have reportedly failed to transfer their employees' contributions to pension fund managers. This is a blatant violation of their contractual obligation as employers. Benefits are not fixed under the NPS, but equal contributions from the employee and the state government have to be invested actively to build a large corpus for the employee by the time he retires. Retirement incomes could shrink if state governments fail to transfer the money to fund managers on time. Today, there is no legal basis to penalise states that default on their obligations under the NPS. It is necessary, therefore, to provide the pension fund regulator, and the NPS it has put in place, legal backing. The Centre must ensure speedy passage of the Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill to give statutory powers to the authority.

 The NPS was meant to create funded old-age security without eating into government revenues in the future.


While part-funding their employees' future pensions in the present, the state governments' current expenditure would go up, but at a time when they reap India's demographic dividend. When the population ages, pay-asyou-go systems would cripple state finances, while the funded pensions would protect the fisc. Over the last two years, central government employees have earned a weighted average return of about 12.4% under the NPS. However, some states have used the deduction from workers for current spending. This is unpardonable, even if state finances had worsened due to the economic slowdown. However, till 2007-08, the Twelfth Finance Commission's incentives, conditional debt restructuring and interest rate relief, had turned state finances robust, says a recent report by the RBI. Bigger states such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu joined the NPS in 2005. However, they are yet to even ink a pact with the NPS trust, leave alone transferring the money to fund managers. Such defaults by state governments can trigger a spate of litigation. The Centre must act fast, and ensure the passage of the PFRDA Bill in the coming Budget session.







THERE are a few things every now and then which make it seem like the bad guys of the world, epiphanically struck by the folly of their ways, are about to reform themselves. Take the Taliban. We all remember those images of turban-wielding bearded men inculcating the spirit of good behaviour among women with the aid of sticks in the streets of Kabul. Of course, one presumes there were, indeed, women under those tent-like sartorial necessities of life under the Taliban. Now, perchance, having been thrown out of power, and having been engaged in a tussle with the Americans in Afghanistan for years has had some effect on these chaps. Word has it that the Taliban is now ready to drop its ban on schooling for girls in Afghanistan. This, surely, is a massive step forward on the path to achieving gender parity in that land. Granted, it may not sound much, as most girls schools in areas of Pashtun dominance have already been blown up, or that no one from the Taliban itself said this (it was the Afghan education minister who revealed that communications with the Taliban suggest a 'cultural change' may be in the offing). So, it may or may not really be true, but the hypothetical idea of girls and female teachers returning to school is progressive, surely.


Other nations accused of discrimination against women can learn something from this Taliban precedent. Taking heart from this, some nations in west Asia might consider relaxing the practice of women having to walk a few feet behind their husbands in public. Perhaps a foot or two may yet be gained. And if that happens, more might follow. Saudi Arabia, one of the two nations which supported and recognised the Taliban regime, for example, could ponder allowing women to drive. Soon, the day might come when women will also be allowed to walk alone, without having to have an immediate male family-member with them. It's not quite feminism. Progress, sadly, will be slow, but the Taliban may have set off a chain reaction






FIVE years ago, the Prime Minister launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), calling it the single-largest initiative of the government of India for a planned development of our cities. This unique, . 50,000-crore (subsequently enhanced to . 66,000 crore) programme to be implemented over a seven years from 2005 to 2012 focuses mainly on 65 mission cities with provision kept also for other small towns. While the mission, to quote the Prime Minister, has to walk on the two legs of improved urban infrastructure and improved urban basic services, the role of governance reforms should be to catalyse the process that enables both these to move forward.


As the mission has covered five years and only 14 months remain for its completion, it should be worthwhile to take stock as to where we stand with regard to implementation of the 23 reforms, worked out in consultation with the states and committed to by states and cities through memoranda of agreement to be implemented as per periodic milestones agreed. The reform agenda, covering four broad areas like governance, citizen-responsive and process-oriented, land and property-related and financial, was widely welcomed because before the mission, the cities were not in a position to take up these much-needed reforms even if they wanted and it was high time that a push for these came from somewhere. There may not be any other flagship programme that walks on the two legs of reforms and funds for projects. And this stands out as a unique feature of the urban programme.


Governance reforms cover implementation of the 74th Constitution Amendment, transfer of city planning function to the local bodies, administrative as well as structural reforms and encouraging PPP, all to be undertaken by state governments, and revision of municipal bylaws and provision of basic services, to the urban poor to be implemented by the city bodies. The second category of reforms is process-oriented and citizen-responsive such as adoption of double entry system of accounting, introduction of the system of e-governance, both to be taken up by the local bodies, whereas rationalisation of stamp duty to a uniform 5% across the country, enactment of public disclosure and community participation laws are the state mandate. Land- and property-related reforms cover reform of property tax and earmarking at least 20% to 25% of developed land for weaker sections, both to be done at the city level, whereas the state has to take steps to introduce computerised process of registration, repeal of urban land ceiling, amendment of rent control and introduction of property title certification. The fourth category of reforms aim at financial sustainability such as levy of reasonable user charges and city-wide property tax coverage and collection.


 After about five years of implementation and with only little over a year left for the mission's completion, the harsh reality is that while a moderate implementation of reforms has taken place, many states and cities lag behind in completing milestones, thereby raising questions as to how seriously are the states committed to these much needed reforms and with such delays and somewhat lack of seriousness, will our cities be able to move in tune with the huge requirements of today and tomorrow.


OVERALL, while states like West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala seem to have made good progress in keeping up with timelines for reform implementation, progressive states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat do not qualify to be in this list because they lag behind in respect of one reform namely rent control or community participation legislation. A state like Tamil Nadu could not meet the stamp duty rationalisation target and amending the rent control law as well as legislating for community participation. Among reforms, community participation legislation, rent control amendment and transfer of city planning function appear as the most 'complicated' ones for implementation to the states as 18, 15 and 14 states respectively have not been able to meet this reform milestone.


 Among cities, Hyderabad and Vizag in Andhra Pradesh; Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara in Gujarat; Bhopal and Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh; Pune and Nanded in Maharashtra; Chennai and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu; Kolkata and Asansol in West Bengal; and Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh have been able to perform well. At the other end of the scale are cities like Ludhiana, Mathura, Ajmer, Shillong, Jabalpur and Itanagar. What is causing concern is that e-governance, which should have been in the forefront in terms of better service to the citizens, seems to have taken a back seat, with as many as 32 cities failing to adhere to this timeline. It does not seem justified that as many as 12 states including Punjab could not so far legislate on public participation.


Many of the concerns raised by the PM in his launching address may continue to remain so if states and cities do not make a focused effort to implement the huge balance reforms during the remaining part of the mission. If the present pace continues, an enhanced JNNURM allocation during the forthcoming Twelfth Plan could become a casualty. Along with reforms, we also need to keep in mind that out of the 527 infrastructure projects sanctioned so far for the 65 mission cities costing about . 60,000 crore, only 81 have got completed so far, that too in only eight states, maximum being in Gujarat (27 out of 70 projects). Three cities, namely, Panaji, Jamshedpur and Porbunder, have still not been able to come on board as far as getting at least one project approved is concerned.


 It is time for the NDC appointed group of chief ministers to have a hard look at how best to complete the reform agenda by March 2012, for the state CMs to personally guide the process of reform completion and for the city residents to actively get involved to see to it that their cities reform and rise up to the expectations of the path-breaking mission.

(The author is former secretary, urban development, government of India)








 SUMMER is still a few months away, but the country's . 9,400-crore air-conditioning industry has started gearing up to push sales. The overall sales is expected to grow by more than 30% in the coming season. The $13 billion Daikin Industries, one of the world's leading AC makers from Japan, forecast a three-fold increase in residential AC sales alone next year. With the expected surge in demand, the company's Indian managing director A K Jawais not really wary of competition. He believes that the rise in disposable incomes and the drop in prices of air-conditioners augur well for consumers.


"The market is evolving at a rapid pace. I will not be able to hazard any guess on the actual numbers, but there are several factors favouring the Indian air-conditioner market growth. Changing lifestyles, rise in disposable incomes, drop in prices of ACs and above all, the ease of availability will aid this growth. Besides, most people are now using air-conditioned cars, working in air-conditioned environment and becoming conscious about hygiene and pure air," he says.


 Car sales have registered a near 30% rise this December, despite the volatility in the data on industrial production, particularly consumer goods. According to Mr Jawa, several large power projects will be going on stream in the next few months — easing the availability of power — that would also boost demand for ACs. "As far as project business is concerned, there has been pentup demand and one always sees a lag effect coming into the project business. When the economic environment was bleak, Daikin's business continued to do well. But as the economy is on the road to recovery, demand is only getting better", he says.


Air-conditioning penetration is expected to grow from 3% in 2009 to 5% by 2015. The company expects 2010-11 to be a turning point — the last quarter, especially the last quarter. And so would 2011-12.
    "We expect an over 250% jump in residential AC sales this year and more than 300% jump in 2011-12. This growth is not only coming from Tier-I markets, but also from Tier-II cities, clearly showing there is enough potential in the market. The growth has been frenetic, especially in the face of growing price competition. Overall, the category is exploding," says Mr Jawa.


Market observers indicate that Daikin continues to maintain higher prices compared to its competitors. However, Mr Jawa says that high-quality air-conditioning service provider has to deliver a combination of features. For instance, they only have 3-star and above-rated high-wall splits to maintain environment responsiveness and at the same time offer value to consumers.


"Industry AC sales to the tune of 60-70% come from 2-star-rated products. Daikin, however, will only have 3-star, 5- star and inverter series to maintain environmental responsiveness and yet remain affordable," he claims. Daikin has also launched a new series of refrigerant products to provide consumers with a comprehensive service at a premium.


What are Daikin's plans in terms of products? "Our new manufacturing plant at Neemrana in Rajasthan has the capacity to manufacture 20,000 VRV units and 1,800 chillers and will produce only HFC refrigerant (ozone-friendly) based products at the first stage. This is in accordance with the worldwide concern for environment friendliness," says Mr Jawa.


In line with the local demand, Daikin is also getting ready to launch what the company claims as technologically-superior, problem-free and value-for-money products to Indian consumers in 2011-12. A unique feature of the Indian AC industry is that it is currently divided between Indian and multinational players having similar offerings, pricing and services.


In such a scenario, what works as a key differentiator for new customer acquisition for Daikin? "As the world leader in airconditioning from Japan, Daikin has identified three key areas of excellence to differentiate itself. The first is the brand. The second area of excellence is technology and continuous product innovation at an affordable cost. The third differentiator is channel and customer service. With 30 service centers and an in-house call center dealing in 28 languages, Daikin has always delivered on customer expectations on after-sales services in India. Daikin today meets more than 80% of all installation requests within 12-24 hours," says Mr Jawa.







ENERGY is the most important issue that is being discussed throughout the world. The key differentiating factor in the use of energy sources is environment friendliness. Growth of renewable energy (RE) in developed nations is mainly driven by environmental concerns of fossil fuelbased projects. In developing nations, RE projects are adopted to decrease the demand supply-gap and to boost rural electrification and off-grid electrification. But for countries like India, an optimal energy mix of both kinds of energy sources is essential to have a sustainable energy system.


Challenges: One of the biggest challenges in RE development is the high initial cost of installation. While development of a coalbased power plant requires around . 4 crore per MW, the investment required for wind and solar power-based plants is significantly higher. A wind based plant, with capacity utilisation of 25% , requires an investment of . 6 crore per MW. The actual investment, at more efficient capacity utilisation of 80%, works out to . 18 crore per MW. Similarly, the investment in a solar based plant, with a capacity utilisation of 15%, is . 18 crore. The actual investment, at 80% capacity utilisation, is around . 98 crore.


 High cost associated with RE projects necessitates further research and technological developments in this area. A comprehensive policy framework is necessary for accelerated growth of renewable energy in India.

Proper system planning and integration is another important aspect. Knowing the decentralised nature of RE projects, the capacity and type of project is to be decided where availability of the energy source can be ensured. Most RE systems are weather dependent; thus, factors like number of sunny days, wind condition, monsoon, tide level, supply of biomass, etc play an important role in feasibility of the system. Plant availability is not predictable as in case of conventional plants.


 Social acceptance of renewable-based energy system is still not very encouraging in urban India. Despite heavy subsidy being provided by the government for installation of solar water-heaters and lighting systems, its penetration is still very low. Manpower training is another grey area. Currently, the Indian power sector is facing severe trained manpower shortage. Skill upgradation of the existing manpower and training of new professionals are essential to achieve the goal of "power to all" by 2012.


Opportunities: Despite having an installed capacity of over 167 GW, India is facing an energy deficit of 8% and peak deficit of 12%. So far, only 4.5% of renewable energy potential has been explored in India. To reduce the demand-supply gap, the renewable energy development is the need of the hour.


Renewable energy certificate (REC) is also being increasingly used and traded at various power exchanges around the world. RECs are considered as important tool for renewable energy promotion. Indian power exchanges are also going to introduce trading of these certificates very soon.


Electrification of remote areas and inaccessible terrains where grid connectivity is not feasible is only possible through renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources are abundant and inexhaustible and are also import independent. Thus renewables help address energy security concerns better than conventional energy sources.
    Today, climate change is the most serious concern being discussed around the world. Development of renewables is arguably one of the most effective options to mitigate climate changes. Renewable development contributes to overall development of the nation. With access to electricity, the productivity of household industries increases. India's annual per capital electricity consumption as per CEA report is 704 kWh and to achieve set target of 1000 kWh, full-fledged exploration of renewables is necessary.


An interesting research by Political Economy Research Institutes shows that investment in renewable power generation pr vides much more employment opportunities than investment made in conventional sources-based power projects. Besides, renewable project development involves local people and operation and maintenance is carried out with the help of locally available manpower. With renewed focus on renewable and clean energy development, it is a high time for seeking business and entrepreneurship opportunity in this field.


Conclusion: Based on the present global economic growth rates, fossil fuel energy resources may last a generation or two, at the most, before they are exhausted. Therefore, the future of our energy needs lies in renewable energy resources. The use of these resources, rather than an increase in fossil fuel supplies, should be encouraged through new diplomacy that takes into account the needs and resources of all concerned. Given the vast potential of renewables in India, all it needs is comprehensive policies and a investor friendly regime to be global leader in clean and green energy.


(The author is CEO of BSES     Rajadhani Power Ltd)


The high initial cost of installation in renewable energy projects calls for further R&D in this area
The exchange-traded renewable energy certificate is an important tool to promote renewable energy
Given comprehensive policies and an investor friendly regime, India can become a world leader in this field








WHEN Jesus pronounced "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted", he was alluding to deep mystical experience of those suffering pain of separation from the Beloved (Lord). Mourning of soul reflects its deep distress for having lost in the labyrinth of creation, yearning to be one with the Lord. In eastern mysticism such afeeling is called virehand in Urdu/Persian as hijr.


Jesus' disciples who felt fiercely forlorn and lonely after crucifixion witnessed him in his spiritual body after a few days (known as resurrection of Christ) and that was the "blessing of comfort" for relieving stress of their vireh. Lord Rama, ignoring all rishi munis in the jungle, comforted vireh of Shabari (Bhilini) by visiting her cottage and eating her half-bitten fruits.


Sufi Sheikh Farid (1188-1280 AD) defines vireh as Vireh tu Sultan as follows: "Vireh—you are the feeling of Supremacy of Love,/The bravest of the brave/ Body devoid of Vireh is shadow of grave." In Sufism, the beloved is the Murshid/Master. Bulle Shah (1680-1758 AD) was denied his Master's (Shah Inayat Khan) physical presence/meeting for many years due to a lapse on his part. When anguish of isolation became utterly unbearable, he attired as a dancing girl with a small troupe of folk dancers to have a glimpse of his master in the village fair. Shah Inayat, touched by vireh of Bulle Shah, hugged him and blessed him with " totality of Divinity".


One of the Sikh Gurus, in emotional ecstasy, despairs that "luminosity of thousands suns and moons does not dispel darkness (misery of ignorance) of self till I behold my beloved Satguru". At another place, the feeling of desolation for darshan of Satguru equals "period of Kalyug" for each moment of disappearance.


Another anecdote of intensity of Vireh a lover was waiting for his beloved in a depleted hut for umpteen years. One night the beloved appears in pitch darkness and lover is unable to sight him. The lover blazes alight with matchstick his only hut for visibility. The beloved departed after giving a momentary glance to the lover. The quintessence of vireh is, all is gained (spiritually) while all else is immaterial due to transience of phenomenal world.


 Vireh's insatiability brews just before attaining pinnacle of spirituality. The mood in Vireh is of calm desperation, oblivion of time and space, selfabsorption, totality of physical and mental detachment. Blessed are those who are in vireh.









The last few years have, no doubt, seen some big-ticket acquisitions of domestic pharmaceutical companies, such as US drug giant Abbott Laboratories' purchase of Piramal Healthcare or that of Ranbaxy Laboratories by Japanese pharma company Daiichi Sankyo much earlier. But the concerns expressed by the Union Health Minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, at the recent Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Indian Drug Manufacturers Association (IDMA) about drugs becoming more expensive as a consequence, both for local and global consumers, seem vastly exaggerated.


These acquisitions, far from being a case of domestic entrepreneurs throwing in the towel in the face of stiffening overseas competition, actually demonstrate a degree of confidence that it is time to move into the more demanding but value-accretive space of healthcare. Viewed thus, acts of divestiture are a recognition that premium profits can no longer be had from producing drugs, which has become a commodity business — hardly a condition for extracting monopoly profits from hapless consumers. Moreover, the domestic pharma industry has grown from next to nothing to this size in the last six decades or so and, that too in the face of competition from entrenched multinational companies. This is a clear testimony to the intrinsic strengths of the domestic pharma industry, which is unlikely to be dented by the odd acquisition in this space. The emerging industry structure too suggests that risks to consumer welfare from price-gouging are negligible. An increasing number of drugs are coming off patent protection and rich nations, under immense pressure to keep healthcare costs down, are unlikely to go along with cosmetic improvements to existing formulations by drug companies seeking to extend the period of patent protection. It is this realisation that is attracting overseas players into seeking domestic acquisition opportunities to keep costs down. India needs to sustain the growth momentum on the pharmaceutical exports front as the economy is currently confronted by a worrisome phenomenon of high deficits on the external sector.


If the Minister wants to support the growth of domestic small and medium enterprises then he must look for ways to reducing the high transaction costs of doing business in India that a corrupt and whimsical exercise of regulatory powers, both at the State and Central levels, has imposed on these units in the name of patient welfare. A vigorous competitive market is what will keep drugs affordable; placing impediments to merger and acquisition activities through policy intervention cannot achieve that.








At the recently concluded Pravasi Bharatiya, concern was voiced by overseas Indians about the tax treatment for non-resident Indians under the DTC. The Finance Minister had to assure them that things will not change for the worse. He took the unusual step of explaining the law in this regard and promised to make changes if necessary before the DTC is enacted into law.

For non-residents, tax law has two crucial aspects for consideration. One is the basis of taxation. Should income be taxed on accrual basis or on receipt basis in India? The DTC would like to tax the non-residents on the income in respect of accruals and receipts in India including deemed accrual and receipts.

In cases of non-residents working in enterprises belonging to a resident of a foreign country having a tax treaty with India, the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement will not recognise taxation of non-residents on receipt basis.

What has not accrued in India will not be taxable. The DTAA spares receipts and deemed receipts. Section 3(2)(b) of the DTC lays down that the total income of the non-resident in any financial year shall include all income from whatever source derived which is received, or is deemed to be received by him, or on his behalf, in India during the year. It is only natural to expect that every non-resident will take care to avoid receipts in India. Probably, the suggestion that Section 3(2)(b) of the code may be omitted is well taken.

Test of residence

Individuals will be considered as resident in India in any financial year on the basis of stay in India. It is either 182 days or more in the first instance. In the alternative, if the individual stays in India for 60 days or more in the financial year and for 365 days or more within the preceding 4 years, he will be considered resident.

Critics have pointed out that tests based on physical residence in the prescribed period are outdated and out-moded. A person may have family home and even his family in India and can manage to be away for 182 days in a financial year.

Even though he may have vital interest in India, he will be considered a non-resident on the basis of his physical interest outside India. This is not the way our DTAAs operate.

Our DTAAs give importance to the individual's place of vital interest. DTC should consider tests laid down in DTAAs for determining the residential status of individuals. Even the UN and OECD Models proceed only on the basis of vital interest.


The Act of 1961 did not recognise the category of person not resident and not ordinarily resident. But there was the concept non-ordinarily resident in India. If a person has been non-resident in 9 out of 10 previous years or has been in India during the 7 previous years preceding that year for a period of 729 days or less, he will be considered not ordinarily resident.

Do we need to look into the duration of stay in India over a period of 10 years for deciding the status of resident but not ordinarily resident?

The question is vital for considering exemption of foreign income in the two years after repatriation to India. The status of resident but not ordinarily resident does not find a mention in Section 4 of the Code. Strangely Clause 29 of the sixth schedule of the DTC brings in the very same concept and the very same test of 9 out of 10 financial years or 730 days for granting exemption of income accruing outside India from a source other than a business controlled in or a profession set up in India.

The non-resident will have to keep a watch over his movements in and out of India for a period of nine years out of 10 years and also a period of 730 days in the preceding 7 financial years.

This cumbersome requirement can easily be dropped for the sake of simplification. The Sea Customs Law provides concessions for persons coming on permanent repatriation seeking change of residence. This test can easily be adopted under the DTC.

Source vs Residence

There is always a conflict between the Source Rule and Residence Rule. International practice varies from country to country with regard to the nature and extent of the Source Rule. Developing countries rely heavily on Source-based taxation.

Tax jurists have always favoured pure Source-based taxation. This can of course lead to Source-based aggressive tax competition.

In addition to the non-residents, we now have the phenomenon of persons of Indian origin whose parents or grand parents would have been born in undivided India.

They also claim dual citizenship. This will add problems galore in taxation. Fine-tuning is required in the DTC.

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











It is clearly evident that the migration to a market-based model, from the conventional bank-based model where banks used to play a very critical role in intermediation, has not diminished the importance of banks in the financial system. In fact, with higher growth in the financial markets, the responsibilities cast on the banks are on the increase.

Therefore, it would be a fallacy to assume that with the migration to a market-based model, banks' role in the financial system and therefore, the need for regulatory focus is less than critical.

Rather, I would say, the regulatory challenges have grown manifold due to this new evolving relation between banks and financial markets.

It is imperative for any regulatory framework to recognise this close inter-linkage and frame regulations accordingly. The critical focus area, as part of the emerging macro-prudential and systemic risk frameworks, would have to be identification of where the risks lie.

The following are some of the broad issues that would need to be addressed in the Indian context going forward:

How to strengthen capital requirements for market risk when most banks are on Standardised Approach?

The Basel III regulatory initiatives under Market Risk are largely focussed on the Internal Model based approach. Banks in India are currently on the standardised approach and in any case, most of the banks would continue to remain under the standardised approach.

There is, therefore, a need to address the upgradation of the standardised approaches also. We are considering calibrating the capital requirement under standardised approaches with the available data for market risk.

Conflict of interest

How to strike a balance in regard to fee-based revenue streams of banks? While non-interest income does offer diversification benefits, it may not necessarily be less risky than conventional loans.

Apart from the financial risks, there are significant reputational risks, particularly when banks engage in distribution of third party products.

There cannot be rule-based prescriptions in this regard. But it would be imperative for the bank Boards to closely understand the underlying risks, assess whether returns are commensurate with the risks and monitor such businesses of banks.

For the market discipline to work, increased, granular disclosures of fee-based income may have to be looked into.

How to address conflicts of interest in banks' lending relationships and capital market activities? Can the Chinese walls be really effective in ensuring real separation of these activities within a bank?

This issue is also relevant in respect of banks' being allowed to trade on exchanges for clients.

Rating regime

How to strengthen the rating regime? The rating requirements in India are essentially driven by regulatory policies applicable to exposures of the regulated entities to various asset classes. It would therefore be imperative that the rating methodology employed for such activities is looked into by the regulator concerned.

The rating agencies are supposed to adopt a through the cycle approach while assigning ratings. The regulators will need to modulate the risk weights applicable to the external ratings dynamically as per their assessment of systemic risk.

Towards strengthening the framework for CRAs, the system needs to shift away from issue-rating to issuer rating - the rating assigned to a particular instrument cannot be taken as reflective of the credit risk of the issuing entity.

Market development

How to address excessive collateralisation of balance sheets? In view of the SLR requirement, such collateralisation may not, as yet, be posing serious risks to bank balance sheets in India. However, significant reliance of market entities on collateralised overnight funding market (CBLO/market repo) and increasing use of collateralisation for OTC derivatives may still put a strain on banks, particularly in times of systemic crisis.

This aspect may have to be considered in framing leverage requirements for banks.

How to increase the appetite for credit risk among non-bank institutional investors? This would be a big challenge for the development of credit markets.

At the structural level, two things would be critical here: an efficient legal framework to enforce security and a sound bankruptcy regime. Lastly, how to encourage true market development without the support of banks?

This can be a challenging task in a financial system still dependent on banks for financial intermediation. It is really a chicken and egg situation – without banks support, markets may not develop but once having allowed banks to provide support, it becomes impossible to withdraw it. Perhaps a middle ground may have to be explored.

(The author is a Deputy Governor, RBI.

(Extracts from the inaugural address `Centrality of banks in the financial system' at the 12th FIMMDA-PDAI Annual Conference, Udaipur.)









The Direct Taxes Code, 2010 (the DTC) does not significantly depart from the Income-tax Act, 1961 (the extant law) when it comes to taxation of medical facilities provided by employers to their employees. It retains its fixation with hospitalisation, little realizing that adverse health conditions such as blood pressure and diabetes need lifelong medication — popping of pills or administration of insulin shots without requiring hospitalisation. And the expenses on these are considerable especially if one has senior citizens to look after.

The measly exemption of Rs 15,000 a financial year earmarked by the extant law for non-hospitalisation reimbursements is insensitive to the needs of senior citizens in particular, and divorced from realities in general.

It is amazing that the DTC seeks to carry forward this benighted insensitivity. The limit of Rs 15,000 was fixed long ago and should have been liberally increased when the law was not merely amended but wholly rewritten. Ideally, the law should be neutral to hospitalisation and non-hospitalisation expenditure.

To be sure, non-hospitalization bills lends themselves to easy manipulation, but the remedy for that consists in stricter safeguards rather than a short shrift to such expenditure.

It is not only the taxman who has been viewing hospitalizstion as the sine qua non for, and proof of, the genuineness of medical expenditure, but also the insurers.

Foreign treatment

The extant law exempts cost of treatment in a foreign hospital from tax irrespective of the income of the employee. It, however, exempts the related cost of travelling only in respect of employees whose Gross Total Income (GTI) does not exceed Rs 2 lakh. It rightly frowns on more than one escort travelling along with the patient by bringing into the tax net the proportionate cost of travel attributable to the third person and beyond.

In other words, even employees with GTI of less than Rs 2 lakh are not be indulged with a blanket exemption in respect of travel expenditure if they choose the sombre occasion as a pleasure jaunt by the entire family.

The DTC makes a few changes which are by no means significant or seminal. The distinction between hospital expenses abroad and travel expenses is being done away with in the sobering knowledge that just as cost of a machine includes all the related expenses including transportation, cost of medical treatment abroad ought to include travelling expenses as well.

In the event, high paid employees will have to pay tax not only on the related medical expenses as hitherto, but also on the foreign hospitalisation expenses paid by the employer.

And the benchmark for being vested with the status of high paid employee is salary income of more than Rs 5 lakh as opposed to the extant norm of GTI of more than Rs 2 lakh.

While this is a marginal improvement over the extant law, exemption to foreign medical treatment is out of sync with India's preeminent status as a medical tourism destination.

This is a classic example of misplaced and non-merit subsidy, especially when a law is recast which gives rise to the presumption that reforms would be of the roots and branches variety, and not mere tinkering. In short, tax exemption for foreign medical treatment should be given neither to the high paid employees nor to the low paid ones.

And to encourage the notion that the low paid ones can travel for foreign medical treatment with the entire family in tow is patently wrong, though one can count upon the wisdom of the employer in restricting the travel expenses to just two persons. Still, the question remains why the DTC has blithely done away with this requirement that prevents a sombre occasion to be converted into a jaunt by lesser employees.

Indian hospitals and its doctors do not have to blush before their foreign counterparts. Perhaps, the signal should come from the top. It is time we abolished the privilege accorded to the President and the e Minister and others, both while in office and out of it, to seek the illusory safety of foreign hospitals especially when foreigners are vouchsafing Indian hospitals notwithstanding the apocryphal scaremongering by the American healthcare industry as vividly brought out by Robin Cook in his vastly entertaining and informative novel Foreign Body. Alas, those who authored the DTC were not alive to India's potential as a medical tourism destination as well as to the sensitivities of persons in need of constant medication from the comfort of their homes.

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









The Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, speaking about inflation at a function in New Delhi, expressed desperation in not being able to control inflation saying "Inflation is high, food inflation is very high….we are not sure whether we have all the tools in hand to control food inflation".

It has also been said that "inflation is the greatest tax of all". The overall figures relating to general inflation at nearly 8 per cent and food inflation at bordering 20 per cent in 2010 are worrisome. But, there does not seem to be any cause for wringing hands. The situation, though difficult, can be managed with firm determination and proper planning.

The problem can be faced on two fronts, namely (i) inflation affecting taxpayers; and (ii) non-taxpayers.

Inflation affecting taxpayers

Inflation greatly distorts the tax system not only relating to direct taxes such as income-tax, wealth tax, gift tax, estate duty, etc., but other taxes also. Firstly, there is distortion in the traditional measures of the tax base i.e. the income or wealth concepts to which the tax rates are applied.

Secondly, inflation constantly changes the real meaning of the tax rate structure. The basic exemptions, standard deductions, composition of tax brackets and many other features of tax structure are specified in monetary terms. As the income rises, the higher income gets pushed into higher tax brackets even though the rise in income does not keep pace with inflation. Similarly, tax bases for wealth-tax, gift and estate taxes bring within their compass cases which the Legislature never intended to bring within the tax net.


The remedy to counteract inflation concerning taxes is said to be indexation. Tax economists have suggested two types of indexation for this purpose viz. structural indexation and measurement indexation.

Structural indexation is required because taxes are progressive and the way of indexation would convert money components of the rules by which tax liabilities are computed into constant rupee amounts. This can be done by raising them each year by the rate of general price inflation (like wholesale consumer price indexes) in the most recent 12 month-period, for which data are available.

Measurement indexation is used to shift the tax base from nominal money income to price-adjusted or real income base. The measurement of taxable 'real income' during a given period of time has to be based on general price index that covers all consumption goods and services.

Equity, it is said, demands that persons should pay tax on their real incomes, and not enhanced incomes, which do not add to their money power status consequent to inflation.

Recently, the Government has decided to link NREGA wages to inflation. In similar way, tax systems of a country can be linked to inflation by indexation.Non-taxpayers are affected more regressively by inflation because it has the same impact on population, whether it is lower, middle or higher income group people.

Severe impact

In the process, lower and middle income group people feel the impact more severely. To counteract the impact of inflation on such persons, proper planning, management and constant vigilance are necessary. For example, when onion crop was affected by rains in Maharashtra, planning for augmenting the supplies should have been done right from that time. Long-term and short-term measures in an on-going manner have to be taken such as control of hoardings, future markets, watching the trends in world markets, planning production keeping in view the future demands, emergency measures to ease the situation such as freezing of payments for dearness allowances as was done during the 1974-75 crisis, keeping a watch over balance of payments situation, taxing excess profits under the tax system and many such measures. A watchdog body has to be established on a permanent basis with the cooperation of Central and State Governments to monitor and check runaway inflation well in time.

(The author is a former chairman of CBDT.)




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The five state elections coming up in a few months offer us an unprecedented opportunity to initiate steps to check corruption by re-ordering the rules of the game to ensure that criminal elements do not throng our legislatures. The energetic appeal by Chief Election Commissioner, Mr S.Y. Quraishi, in this direction can provide the much-needed moment to push for reforms, if we are so inclined. The question is, are we? There has been much debate over the years around these issues, but mostly it has been a question of beating around the bush. The current atmosphere in the country, headlined by ubiquitous corruption, does offer the push to respond to the challenge we face. It is up to the political class to seize it. In the past six months we have been inundated with news of floating muck from all parts of the country. Most of it has had to do with people of influence seeking to leverage their unique position of advantage for self-gain. Top politicians, bureaucrats, the Army brass, members of the higher judiciary, the business community, and senior journalists have had their credentials questioned as investigations have been instituted. The extent of the rot suggests that the whirlpool of sleaze that threatens to submerge our politics, subvert policies, and cast a shadow over the working environment in which ordinary procedures are twisted to serve vested interests, is not a mere aggregation of unhappy episodes. The sorry examples before us suggest that the system set in place to serve the public interest has been thoroughly disabled and re-fashioned to serve the interests of the few — in short to destroy the very idea of democracy. At the base of this is the electoral system — from Parliamentto the panchayat — which has been breached. If our MPs, MLAs, and elected representatives at the level of local self-government were to be no more than ordinary clean, it is hard to see how bent bureaucrats and other crooked folk can thrive. At a public function a few days ago Mr Quraishi expressed his anguish about those in authority not taking meaningful steps to stop law-breakers from contesting elections. It has also been reported that for the past four years the EC has pointed out that only 200 out of the 1,200 registered political parties in the country are involved in political activities, and that political outfits are being created to launder money and use unaccounted wealth to enter the stock market. This is a surprising state of affairs. Can't dubious parties be struck off the rolls, as the CEC asks? What are the hurdles in the way? Even as the UPA-II government sets up probes into the various scams that have been widely alleged, it is time it took a political initiative to meet the challenge of cleaning up our legislative chambers. Parliament and the state legislatures may not readily oblige but a public environment can be created to highlight the malaise in the first instance.






 "If the world is The WordThen metaphor is a midwife".

From The Vah Vah Chronicles of Bachchoo

Now Jack has ventured where the political angels of Britain fear to tread. I speak of Jack Straw, former home secretary in the Labour government and member of Parliament for the northern industrial (or ex-industrial and substantially unemployed) constituency of Blackburn which contains a large population of Muslim voters. Jack appeared on TV and, uniquely for a national politician, spoke out about gangs of men of Pakistani origin who have for years now preyed upon vulnerable young white girls, raping them, controlling them and subjecting them to prostitution in the cities in which their immigrant communities live.

He chose his words carefully, beginning with a clear statement that most sex offenders in British jails were indeed white or not ethnically Asian but that statistic ought not to induce a delicacy about investigating and preventing the abuse of very vulnerable white women, some as young as 12, who are subjected by British men of Pakistani descent to sexual degradation.

He was speaking in the wake of a trial in which Abid Saddique and Mohammed Liaqat were jailed by Nottingham Crown Court for the rape, sexual abuse and abduction of girls aged between 12 and 18.

The story behind these convictions is ugly. These men and their associates cruised the streets of Derby in BMWs and a Range Rover (which apparently Saddique referred to as the "Rape Rover"), picking up young white girls with the lure of inviting them to a wild party. They targeted poor and vulnerable girls who lived in the care of the state, teenagers without the protection of families who may have at some point in their lives been involved in petty crime.

They would pick them up with offers of a good time, take them to hotel rooms, parks or one or other safe house, ply them with alcohol and cocaine and then, typically, gang rape them and rent them out to other men.

The Derby case is, regretfully, not an isolated incident. The police and researchers who have access to crime statistics have not spoken about it before, but Jack's blatant statement has forced the debate. Since 1997 there have been 17 prosecutions, 14 of them in the last three years involving the on-street grooming of girls aged 11 to 16 by men of Pakistani origin.

On this evidence, Jack's conclusions are unavoidable. The cases involved victims from 13 northern cities; 56 men were convicted of rape, child abduction, indecent assault and sex with a child. Three of the 56 were white, 50 were Muslim and of Pakistani origin. A great number of them, as were Saddique and Liaqat, are married by arrangement to women brought from Pakistan for the marriage.

The police issued an official statement saying that their continuing investigations indicated that these 56 convictions were a very small proportion of a "tidal wave" of such gang activity in Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands.

Jack's outspokenness brought the expected accusations of "racism", "stereotyping" and of being unhelpful to community relations. Jack himself, dependent to a large degree on the ethnic vote in his constituency, has not been this candid before. He told the BBC that his reason for speaking out now was that he was aware that it was a specific problem in the Pakistani community whose restrictive sexual traditions were imposed on young men who were "fizzing and popping with testosterone".

He went on to say, "They want some outlet for that, but Pakistani-heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically. So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, who they think are easy meat". His remarks have caused a national investigation to be launched by the Home Office's oddly named Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) into this particular criminal phenomenon.

There has been, since the '70s and the birth of a general awareness that the immigrant populations of Britain have to be assimilated into British life and progress, a sensitivity about exposing or debating the issue of "ethnic crime".

In the late '70s and '80s the crime of street "mugging" was seen by the newspapers as an epidemic. Only the very determined Right-wing papers, in the face of silence from any official police source, were willing to characterise this crime as exclusively carried out by young black men of Caribbean origin. The ethnicity of "mugging" was a blatant fact and a public secret, kept in the interest of race relations.

Similarly, there is now a sensitivity about Jack's intervention. He was careful not to fudge the issue by calling it an "Asian" phenomenon. He pointedly excluded Sikhs, Hindus and Chinese from his characterisation and narrowed it down to Muslim men of Pakistani origin. His observation of young men "fizzing" with testosterone is probably applicable to most males of that age anywhere and everywhere. What makes the gangs who perpetrate this crime different is that they are reared in a strict tradition and in very self-enclosed communities in which the idea of "impurity" and "immorality" of the ways of the host civilisation and its young women is rife.

In an extreme case, the young Islamicist men who were plotting to plant bombs in the centre of London and were caught and convicted of the conspiracy were about to target — not military installations, the British Parliament, the American embassy or other accomplices and shelters of the Great Satan — but nightclubs in Haymarket. This was, they said when apprehended, because white women who were "slags" and "slappers" went dancing and drinking there and deserved the fate their bombs would mete out.

The Muslim community is not blind to this poisonous brew of bigotry. Muhammad Saddiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, an influential Muslim youth organisation, says, "These people think that white girls have fewer morals and are less valuable than our girls".

It is also true that the same communities are extremely protective of their own women. If a Muslim girl were regarded and treated in this way, there would be bloodshed in the community.

Jack has been nimble and quick and has opened up a necessary debate. The debate will, under these circumstances and with the national enquiry being launched by Ceop, go further than the predictable objections from the spokespeople of "race" whose attempts to caution or silence the Jacks can only serve to protect outrageous abuse.





Ministers are so worried about the fast changing political developments and increasingly volatile political atmosphere in the state that they want to keep themselves constantly updated. To do this, they proposed that they be given LCD television sets with a cable connection so that they get a blow-by-blow account of events 24x7. The general administration department, however, poured cold water on the demand for the costly LCDs, but said the corporations or agencies working under the respective ministries could fund the TV sets up to a limit of `50,000 per piece. Further, it suggested that the mantrijis cut down on their intake of tea and coffee and pay the monthly cable fee from the money thus saved! Moreover, if a minister leaves office, his/her TV set must be handed back to the corporation concerned in working condition. And they must produce an acknowledgement from the government that the TV set has been handed back else the cost will be recovered from their pension benefits. It's good to know that someone is keeping a sharp eye on how the taxpayer's money is being spent.


The endowments minister, Mr Jupalli Krishna Rao, is more vociferous than any other minister from Telangana on the separate statehood issue these days. He was the first to revive the threat of resignations after the Justice Srikrishna Committee submitted its report. Coming out of the first meeting of Congress ministers and MPs post the panel report, Mr Krishna Rao announced that he would abide by the promise he made to Osmania University students last year to sacrifice his position if the need arises. But his ministerial colleagues wonder whether it is the T-sentiment that is behind Mr Krishna Rao's decision or the jinx that is rumoured to surround the endowments ministry. Several ministers who earlier held the portfolio either died or had to exit the ministry prematurely. Mr Krishna Rao has himself been the subject of two inauspicious occurrences: he had an accidental fall in his quarters and later a miraculous escape when a lorry hit his vehicle in Mahbubnagar district. A minister from the same region, known for his wit, wondered whether Mr Krishna Rao would show the same devotion to the T cause if the Chief Minister agreed to change his portfolio!


The Andhra Pradesh Information Commission remained closed from January 3 to 13 on account of Sankranti. However, the Chief Information Commissioner, Mr Jannat Hussain, turned up for work every day. He explained that even during vacations, one commissioner acts as an in-charge to look into and dispose of urgent matters. "As there is nobody to act as an in-charge, I am discharging the responsibility," said the CIC.


The issues of Telangana and Mr Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy have left all political parties in a quandary. While the ruling Congress and the Telugu Desam are the worst hit, the problem has not spared other parties like the Praja Rajyam, and the TRS. Ruling Congress leaders are literally walking on eggshells as the Congress high command has postponed a decision on the Srikrishna Committee report. TD and Congress ministers and other legislators from the Telangana region are unable to move about in their respective constituencies for fear of gheraos by T-agitators. With both the Congress and the TD high commands maintaining silence on the T-issue, it is the local leaders who are facing the wrath of T-activists. As if that is not enough of a headache, all the three major parties — Congress, TD and Praja Rajyam — have caught Jagan fever. A furious Chandrababu Naidu commented, "Only useless leaders from our party are going to him." And, incidentally, the TRS chief is not a particularly happy man either. With Telangana statehood no longer a certainty, the TRS leaders are worried about the future of their party.







It's official: Mumbai is right up there alongside international cities with heart. You just wait and watch the show tomorrow! I am talking about the Mumbai Marathon which, over the past seven years, has grown into a robust property that does the city proud. "Run Mumbai Run" will be the most heard chant on Sunday morning as thousands of enthusiasts take over the city and make a run for it! I shall be one of those mad people — creaky knees, pounding heart, painful corns and all. Why do I do it? Read on.

I actively look forward to subjecting myself to this annual ritual/torture because it's worth it. Simple. But much beyond the unbeatable thrill of pounding those roads with other Mumbaikars (for that one, manic, magical morning, every person becomes a Mumbaikar) there is some other, hard to describe prod. I think I got my asli answer at a press conference recently.

The focus was on the philanthropy angle of this strenuous exercise that has now become one of the hottest marketing properties in Asia. One of my co-panelists (ex-banker Sunil Rawlani) broke down at one point when he was asked about his own involvement as a prominent donor. He said the seminal moment came most unexpectedly one day as his car stopped at a traffic light and a young girl, no higher than the car window, tapped on the glass and asked for alms. He ignored her (as most of us do) hoping she'd go away. But she was a pretty persistent kid. Soon, seeing that she wasn't going to get anything out of the guy, she started to doodle on the thick layer of dust covering his window. And what did this child of Mumbai's mean streets draw? Take a guess… go on. What would a homeless street child's ultimate fantasy be? A roof over her head, of course! She drew a house!

Sunil turned his head idly to check whether the "pest" was still there… yes, she was. But her entire concentration was on drawing a tiny house on a rich man's dusty car window! He found himself in tears… from that day on an entirely new spiritual quest took over his life… a quest that continues to this day. He decided to work for underprivileged children and touch as many lives as possible in the most meaningful way. He picked his cause well — he picked Childline. What a coincidence. It was exactly the same NGO (non-governmental organisation) I'll be running for, and have been running for over the past few years. In my case, Childline picked me! And I am so grateful.

We keep reading tiresome homilies on "corporate governance" and "giving back to society". We shrug and move on. Yawn! Who needs those over-used clichés? In reality, we are desperately looking for Indian equivalents of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, as if being anyone or anything less than these two global charity champions is a major crime.

We talk about desi corporate honchos and local industrialists being kanjoos… not doing enough for the poor. We feel ashamed of our billionaires and try to send them on guilt trips for not dishing out enough dosh for the needy. Really, we should put an end to this nonsense.

The act of giving is an intensely private matter and we should stop all the huffing and puffing about our rich being callous. Let's get off their backs and ask ourselves what we are doing in our individual capacities? Not everybody can be an Azim Premji and stun the world with mega-scale philanthropy.

Not every tycoon can follow such an example and part with wealth as effortlessly. I am no apologist for our fat cats… but come on guys, our billionaires are not entirely heartless. They have their own ways of sharing wealth… ways that are not obvious or that they may not wish to publicise. Let's not insult them by insisting on grand public gestures. Giving is in every Indian's DNA. Our shastras emphasise that daan is a vital component of self-realisation and moksh. Every religion in the world stresses on charity as a means to redemption.

Our Big Boys and Big Girls are doing their bit — I assure you. Getting corporates to part with money in the old days used to be a pretty humiliating experience. Today, they see it as an opportunity to pump up their own images and do some good as well. I used to abhor making those "It's time to open your purse strings, folks" calls and was certain I'd lose the few friends I had and be declared a persona non-grata in the city. Imagine my delight these days — I have people calling to ask, "How can we contribute?" This is a major shift. It shows our attitude towards supporting worthwhile initiatives has changed significantly. They say, the more you run, the better you feel. Combine that with — the more you give, the mellower you become — and it's a win-win situation for all.

Mumbai needs a makeover desperately. She is like an item girl who requires another "hit and hot" song to get those eyeballs.

The Mumbai Marathon provides just such an opportunity… and Mumbai ki jawaani gets a fresh boost as thousands of energetic runners cross the Worli-Bandra Sealink in search of that magical "aha" moment at the finishing line in front of the historic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

"Bhago Mumbai Bhago" is one naara that gets our people going like no other. I don't mind sounding silly and smarmy boasting like this but Mumbaikars are a special breed. Nothing keeps us down… nothing can, nothing will. Somehow, the Mumbai Marathon encapsulates this indomitable spirit in the most electrifying way.

Soon after the 26/11 terror attacks, the organisers of the marathon weren't sure how Mumbaikars would respond. Would they stay away, too scared to emerge on a Sunday and risk another attack? Not a chance! The show had to go on… and did.

Take that, you guys! While Mumbai… errr… gives!

— Readers can send feedback to [1]






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]









CHIEF Election Commissioner SY Quraishi can justly take credit for successfully conducting the Bihar Assembly election. His utterances in the last few days, however, cast serious doubts on whether he too desires to go the way of his predecessor, as someone who puts the interests of the Congress above those of the nation. What else can one make of this statement that Election Commissioner VS Sampath should automatically succeed him as the CEC?  Sampath, an IAS officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre was a favourite of late Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy who reportedly took him to New Delhi for an audience with Sonia Gandhi. And the rest, as in the case of Central Vigilance Commissioner P J Thomas, is history. The CEC occupies a high constitutional post and his selection should not be left to the whims and fancies of politicians. And what do we make of Quraishi's thoughts on reducing the voting age from 18 to 16? The cognoscente interprets it as the CEC's way of ingratiating himself with Rahul Gandhi in the fond hope that teenage voters would prefer the crown prince to the geriatric leadership of the BJP.  It was Rajiv Gandhi who set the ball rolling to bring down the voting age from 21 to 18, aping Western countries where population poses no problems. A populous country like India can ill afford to make its unwieldy electorate even more so by lowering the voting age to 16 from 18.  The government does not consider a 16-year-old mature enough to buy a bottle of wine or to marry. Quraishi does not see anything odd in letting them choose our law-makers and rulers.

If the institution of the Election Commission is to be saved from the agonies of the Central Vigilance Commission, National Human Rights Commission and Prasar Bharati, there must be transparency and accountability in the selection of its head. Laws and rules should be amended to provide for the inclusion of the Chief Justice of India in the selection committee to be chaired by the Vice-President, and including the Prime Minister, Law Minister and the leader of the Opposition. Proceedings of the committee should be made public along with full particulars of the persons considered and the reasons for which the final choice was made. Instead of involving himself in the selection of the next CEC, Quraishi would do well to complete the unfinished task of finding ways to stop criminals from contesting elections. Simply saying that political parties are opposed to it does not suffice. Every fourth member of the present Lok Sabha has a criminal record. This is not something to be proud of. 




PERFECTLY understandable is the overstretched Army's desire to be spared being frequently drafted to aid of generally incompetent civil authority. Similarly, fully justified is its dismay at having to restore law and order when the police would have sufficed had the state government mustered the political will to authorise cops to do the needful. Rightly has the Army sought to be used only selectively. It is not a soldier's job to do anybody else's dirty work. Having endorsed those "basics", it would also be appropriate to caution against rigid interpretation of "selective": particularly when help is sought in tackling man-made or natural calamities, where common folk are "in the line of fire". The reality is that local administrations lack the wherewithal to deal with such situations. Personnel do not have the training, discipline and commitment that military life fosters, nor do they enjoy matching organisation skills ~ not to mention the Army's costly equipment. The national disaster management agency is in its infancy, it will be some time before it comes up to scratch. Thus there often is no alternative to Army assistance ~ it is not that civil authorities always duck responsibility. No stipulation can be made that the Army will act only after all civil capacities have proved inadequate ~ time is critical when dealing with flood, earthquakes, cyclones etc. The Army must also remember it is a national asset: the bill for the development of its human and material resources has been paid by the taxpayer.

It is true that the Army has never said it would not respond to alarm calls. Yet misgivings arise from a couple of the examples cited by "Army sources" (located in South Block's basement?) to bolster their case. Television may have gone berserk over the lad in the borewell, but only the Army could have rescued him. So also, the "emergency" raising of a pedestrian bridge at the JLN stadium for the CWG. One was a humanitarian mission, the other salvaged national prestige. Importantly, both earned for the Army admiration and respect from the people. A few days hence soldiers will bask in glory on Republic Day. The immediate trigger for the applause may be a smart parade, but amplifying that is the faith citizens have in the uniform. While seeking respite from civil duties the Army must avert such goodwill dissipating. The true power behind every bullet it fires is the backing of the Indian people.




IT is with an almost incredible sense of injured innocence that Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Arizona, has reacted to last weekend's blood-letting in Tucson. The political armistice of sorts is in tatters with her simulated lament on Wednesday that squarely accuses her critics of what she calls "blood libel". The phrase is said to be associated with the slander of Jews that they used the blood of Christian children in their rituals. Gabrielle Giffords, the Democratic Representative who was very nearly killed, is Jewish.  The decidedly reckless statement by the leader of the Tea Party might well arouse passions yet again. After several days of  deafening silence, she may be playing to the gallery of her domestic constituency. A week after the mayhem, America as indeed the rest of the world are convinced that Jared Loughner, the assailant, was driven by Ms Palin's sneering rhetoric and as much by the chilling culture of the gun across the USA. It is a culture that is famously ferocious and cuts across political divides. The Tea Party's bluster only added fuel to the fire ~ a "litany of unwanted emotions", in the reckoning of the Democrats.

Ms Palin has been studious no less in posting her video presentation. It was played just hours before President Obama was set to visit Arizona to play the role of healer-in-chief in a country that has witnessed a dramatic transformation of cultural perceptions. It doesn't require a permit to carry a concealed gun in Arizona; its gun laws are said to be among the most permissive in the country. Last Saturday's outrage is unlikely to alter the attitude towards guns; only an amending legislation might make the difference, if at all. Arizona epitomises a crisis of culture marked by hatred and violence and now almost beyond hope, beyond despair. The crisis goes beyond the frontiers of the state. Characteristically rhetorical was Barack Obama's performance in Arizona, notably his appeal to Americans to "usher in a new era of civility and sharpen our instincts for empathy". The challenge is no less forbidding than his health reforms bill.








THE Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan is essentially the fallout of a political promise not kept. Before the 2003 assembly election, the Bharatiya Janata Party had promised this class group that it would be conferred with the Scheduled Tribe status. Indeed, this was the party's campaign plank.

At least 100 years ago the same community had claimed that they were Kshatriyas and had sought recognition as an upper caste. Now that Rajasthan Jats have recently scaled themselves down to the OBC category to reap the benefits of reservation, the Gujjars have been provoked to demand Scheduled Tribe status. Society in Rajasthan, as in certain parts of northern India no less, is being dangerously divided.

Another factor that has provoked the Gujjars is that the landowning Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh are benefiting from quotas as an OBC group. Incidentally, the Mandal Commission had categorised Yadavs as backward in Bihar and UP, but forward in Haryana. In Rajasthan, OBC castes of Raibaries, Rawats and Sahriyas have been inspired by the Gujjars to seek ST status. The Meenas, an influential OBC group, were actually never entitled to the tag.

In 2006, the Gujjars had resorted to violence demanding better education and job prospects. Train services were thrown out of gear in large parts of northern India. Subsequently in July 2009, the Rajasthan government announced 5 per cent reservation for Gujjars and 14 per cent for the economically backward classes, thereby increasing the total reservation for different sections of society to 68 per cent.

In October 2009, however, this quota regime was stayed by the judiciary since the total reservation had exceeded the Supreme Court limit of 50 per cent. The High Court struck down the job quota in a ruling on 22 December 2010. While staying the implementation of 27 per cent quota in educational institutions the court observed on 29 March: "It has to be noted that nowhere else in the world do castes, classes or communities queue up for the sake of gaining backward status. Nowhere else in the world is there competition to assert backwardness and then to claim we are more backward than you."

Though the Mandal Commission was called a "Backward Class Commission", its report does not define the term "caste" and assumes, rather unwittingly, that class means caste. So the principle of reservation based on castes ignores the sweeping changes taking place since the introduction of the Constitution. Even in a state like UP some caste groups, such as Jats, Tyagis and Patels, would get the benefits of reservation in certain parts of the state and yet be denied in other areas. Farmers belonging to the Jat, Kurmi, Patel and Yadav communities in western UP are economically better off than their counterparts in the rest of the state.

The progress made by beneficiaries of reservation is yet to be reviewed; but the number of castes in the OBC list has been increasing. Such provisions were not advocated either by Dr Ambedkar or  the Constitution. It has been stipulated that the aim of the State is to establish an egalitarian social order at the earliest, a system that will do away with differences and enable the erstwhile weaker sections to join the mainstream of national life. Even Jagjivan Ram admitted that permanent privileges "would make people think that it (SC) is a community of incompetent and inferior people".

Though Jawaharlal Nehru had set up the Kelekar Commission in 1953, he had realised the dangers of social fragmentation. The first Prime Minister was conscious of the fact that merit cannot forever be subordinated to the accident of birth. Indeed, he shelved a report that had listed no fewer than 2399 supposedly disadvantaged groups. Numbers were not specified but it was assumed that only 930 of these groups comprised 115 million people nearly 50 years ago. The Commission failed to formulate any objective criterion for identifying backward classes. This is why its recommendations were rejected.

The demographic impact of the Mandal Commission report must be considerably greater. It had identified about 3000 socially and educationally backward castes and communities. The Commission concluded that 52 per cent of the country's population was backward. It, therefore, argued in favour of 52 per cent reservation. True, the quota that was announced didn't violate the Supreme Court's ruling not to exceed 50 per cent.

But it has to be remembered that the court did not quite lay down that half the seats in all educational institutions and half the employment vacancies must be earmarked ~ as a matter of right ~ to those who might rank low by birth in the traditional hierarchy. On the contrary, the Supreme Court had warned that the "supposed zeal" of reformers could destroy "the ideal of supremacy of merit, efficiency of services and absence of discrimination".

As it turned out, both VP Singh and Arjun Singh rushed in where Nehru had feared to treat. It will be recalled that Ramakrishna Hegde's government in Karnataka had rejected the Venkataswamy Commission's report because the Vokaligga community would not be deprived of the backward label. The Chinappa Reddy Commission had applied the economic criteria to remove 32 communities, including both Vokaliggas and Lingayats, from the backward category and scaled down the percentage of reservation from 50 to 38.
Far from becoming irrelevant, it has become part of the Indian psyche. In 1951, Nehru had the caste column deleted from the application forms for employment, admission to educational institutions and so on in order to realise his vision of a casteless society.

There is little doubt that the politics of backwardness has damaged the country's social fabric. It has led to fragmentation on the lines of caste and community ~ "Jathwads within Jathwads", as Rajiv Gandhi once described it. It has also encouraged politicians to exploit the divisiveness at the expense of national integration. The Gujjar movement is another case in point.

The writer is Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata






Yes, I would have been in politics. But I am not sure if I would be occupying this particular position in the party.

Congress general secretary Mr Rahul Gandhi, on whether he would have joined politics if he weren't a Gandhi

Representatives of the EC will go door to door and hand over slips to the voters. All slips will have EC holograms on them.

Chief election commissioner Mr SY Quraishi in Kolkata

Mamata Banerjee's chances of becoming the next chief minister look very good. She is very hardworking, is specific and brings out real issues and stands up for them.

Delhi chief minister Mrs Sheila Dikshit at the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata's annual international business school meet

I have spoken to the Union finance minister, urging him to help the poor and instruct nationalised banks to release more loan for farmers in Bengal. The credit-deposit ratio in Bengal is much higher than Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Yet, the farmers in Bengal get just Rs 8,000 crore annually as loan from banks against Rs 40,000 crore in Andhra Pradesh. I hope you continue your campaign against this discrimination.
West Bengal chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in an address to bank employees

The bloodbath at Netai village and in different parts of Bengal is a very serious issue.

Union finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee

Those elements which are allegedly linked with bomb blasts have nothing to do with RSS outfits.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mr Mohan Bhagwat

Buildings do age but not schools and colleges ... Even when your school is 160 or 260, it will still remain young.

Former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi while attending the diamond jubilee celebrations of Modern High School for Girls in Kolkata

We will not say a word till the government submits its report. You may report anything you want.
Left Front chairman and CPI-M state secretary Mr Biman Bose after a meeting of coalition partners at Alimuddin Street

We all must remember one thing ~ that we all are answerable to Parliament.
Air Chief Marshal PV Nair on being asked to appear before the Public Accounts Committee

Maybe, someone should take all the unsold players and build another team with Gayle, Gibbs, Lara, Ganguly.
Mahesh Bhupathi on Twitter.







The outbreak of plague in England has led the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to issue a leaflet, numbered 244, on the destruction of rats, which contains information that ought to be useful not only to countries affected by plague, but to farmers everywhere and to all who deal in grain. It is pointed out that female rats, both of the black and of the brown or sewer variety, breed at a very early age. They have as a rule several litters in a year, comprising from six to fourteen young. Apart from the role they play in spreading plague among human beings by means of fleas, the damage they do to food and to house property, warrants their destruction by hunting, trapping, or the use of poisons or rat virus. Of the poisons, barium carbonate is said to be the cheapest and most effectual. It causes thirst, and therefore induces the rats to seek water in the open, where they die. It may be employed in the proportion of one part to four parts of meal mixed to a rough with water, or it may be spread on fish or on moist toasted bread. As rats when they find any of their fellows dying after eating any kind of food avoid such food for some time, it is generally necessary to vary the form and appearance of the bait. In England the risk of prosecution under the Poisoned Grain Prohibition Act of 1863 and the Poisoned Flesh Prohibition Act of 1864, has to be kept in mind, and care should be taken that the baits are only laid by responsible and authorised persons, and their whereabouts carefully reported. With regard to rat virus, the results are said to be uncertain, owing partly to the difficulty of securing  a successful infection in all cases, and partly to the fact that if only slightly infected, rats recover and become more or less immune to the disease. When it is proposed to exterminate the rats in a large district all methods should be employed, and the attack made in a circle radiating from a spot in which it is considered that the final work of destruction can be accomplished with the least difficulty. The leaflet may be obtained free from the Secretary to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The New Education Department of India Government under Mr Butler is now reported to be practically in working order. Those who are acquainted with the admirable work done by Dr Denison Ross for the improvement of Mahomedan Education will be glad to learn that the Department desires to secure his services as Adviser in Oriental Studies.






As citizens of a free India, all of us are entitled to some basic amenities. We elect governments so that we can avail of those. Our Constitution begins by proclaiming that we are "a democratic...socialist ...republic". The Constitution was promulgated in 1952. The word socialist was inserted by the 42nd Constitutional amendment in 1976. Our nation state had taken on a great responsibility.

How has it met this responsibility? Is it fair to ask this question in 2011, or is it too early? Even if the time for judgement has not yet come, there is no harm in an informal stocktaking exercise. The responsibilities of governance are divided in our federal set up. The Union of India is responsible for subjects such as defence and external affairs, among others. It spends a lot of money on defence. I only hope we get a fair amount of security for every rupee we spend on it.

People feel that the Centre is more effective than the states. Let us consider the process of issuance of passports for which the ministry of external affairs (MEA) is responsible. Recently, to ensure efficient disbursal and to become citizen-friendly, the process has been geared to be completed though a public-private partnership (PPP), with Tata Consulting Services taking the responsibility of receiving applications. A citizen makes an appointment Online. After a three-week wait, she personally submits all the documents required. She queues up to show MEA officials at the Passport Seva Kendra her school leaving certificate and degree certificates, wherever applicable. After a check, the data is  uploaded. The old passport, if she has one, is then sent to another counter where after due examination, it is cancelled. The new passport is then sent to the applicant by post in a few weeks. When the passport comes, the citizen finds "Emigration Clearance Required (ECR)" stamped on one of the pages. This ECR stamp is not required for some countries such as the USA but necessary to visit others. Since our citizen is a graduate who had shown her original certificates to the passport officials at the time getting them vetted, this stamp should not have been put on her passport. The applicant wants this error corrected but finds out there is no way of approaching the Passport Office, only unnamed officials at the Passport Seva Kendra, where she can get an appointment only after two months, but she has to travel in a week. At the airport, immigration officials see the stamp and object to her travelling. She produces the necessary documents and points out the mistake made by the Passport Office. But the officials are unmoved; she is not permitted to travel period. For an error committed by a government servant ~ in a PPP arrangement ~ a citizen has been seriously inconvenienced. But that's all right.

Education ~ at least basic schooling ~ and health care are two other benefits the state provides. While these are supposed to be free, in fact nothing gets done without bribes. The citizen has to pay up (in Karnataka, it is known as gimbla) and the government servant pockets it. Then there are other services for which the government will charge on a per-use basis.

Electricity that we consume at our homes is one example. Here, the rate we are charged is a progressive one. For the first set of units consumed, the rate is set low, at, say, Rs 2.10 per unit. After, say, 50 units at this rate, the next 100 are charged at Rs 3 per unit. This is followed by another 100 units at Rs 4 per unit. Beyond this level of consumption, the charge is Rs 5 per unit. Meters ensure that the consumption per month is measured accurately.

But how does this work in practice? Since we have dispensed with the option of remote meter reading ~ as in telephones ~ there is a government servant who goes to each house to read the meter. And, this government servant is protected by Article 311 of the Constitution. After the level of consumption is noted, a Bill is generated and sent to the subscriber for due payment. But what if the government servant forgets to read the meter in a given month? When he arrives the next month or the next quarter, whichever is convenient to him, to read the meter, the current system of pricing ensures that an inflated bill is generated. The number of units charged at the lower rate is constant. If the bill is read each month, the consumer pays less. When it is read at the will of the government servant, say, once in every two months, the consumer ends up footing a much bigger bill. The government maximises revenue, and we all know that maximisation is for the general good. What should a citizen take recourse to then? Nothing. Because there is really no reason to.

Consider the other ways in which citizens are inconvenienced. When the Metro was being built in Kolkata, the city's traffic system practically disintegrated. What Kolkata does today, India must do tomorrow. The mess is now being replicated in Bangalore. Digging brings great joy to government servants. Trees are cheerfully cut. That done, there are water and sewage lines to be moved around. This takes a few months. Then the realisation dawns that the particular road that the government covets is not wide enough and so land must be acquired by eating into houses and shops lining it. With a little bit of planning ahead, all this could have been avoided. But why minimise inconvenience to the citizen? The hapless citizen has to part with the land the government has set its eyes upon, even if it means demolishing a wall here or there. What recourse does a citizen have? Effectively none, because, obviously, everything is done for her welfare.  

Power supply is erratic in all of our cities. This has led to the growth of the uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems industry. This is a unique industry that exists only in India ~ in other countries, where grid power is reliable, there is no need for a UPS systems. If the government is seriously considering generating more power or improving its distribution, this industry stands to lose. Jobs will be lost and the unemployed of this country need them desperately. The government, when it is not thinking up the next scheme for inconveniencing people, should ensure that there is power cut for at least two hours every day, if nothing, as a socialist measure. Speaking of UPS manufacturers, how can one forget the candle makers? If power vanishes for long hours every evening, not only the UPS manufacturers will be happy but also the poor candle makers with whom they share a camaraderie suffused with corporate social responsibility.  Power cuts should stay as a matter of policy. What should a citizen do? Feel happy that the hours of darkness that she endures actually lights up the lives of some.
Perhaps the time has come to acknowledge that the government servant only makes things as much difficult for citizens as possible because it will cultivate fortitude in citizens, and strengthen their moral fibre. Out of adversity comes wisdom, and our country desperately needs that too.

Perhaps we misunderstand a government servants. In fact, we should marvel at the efficiency with which they coordinate excavation of roads. To our disbelieving eyes, the maze of one mangled road after another may not constitute more than the mundane. But there is more to it. The incredible proficiency, for example, which pulls off such supreme display of disorder day after day.

It is important that we stop criticising government servants unnecessarily and give them the support they need to work without fear or favour. We are pernickety and they are the true heroes. Let us give them their due!  

Vinod Vyasulu is a consulting economist based in Bangalore









Rumours do not make events. But rumours, authorless by definition and always of unverifiable provenance, often serve as indicators of a mood or the direction of events. There are too many instances, from the past and of more recent vintage, to cite in support of the above generalization. The most important rumour or speculation doing the rounds in New Delhi — a city, like most capitals, that is a churning pot of rumour and gossip — is that the prime minister is poised to reshuffle the Union cabinet. The idea of a reshuffle is not without logic. For one thing, recent events — from the 2G scam to inflation — have caused the prime minister and his government some embarrassment. The outlook does not appear as rosy as it did a couple of months ago. For another, there are some ministries without a minister and some ministers with more than one ministry. And finally, there is the important question of the lack of performance and competence of some ministers. All these reasons lead to the assumption that a change of guard may not be such a bad idea. It will keep ministers on their toes and may even lead to an infusion of fresh and young blood into a body politic that is swiftly acquiring some of the features of a geriatric ward.

In spite of the overwhelming logic and need for a change in the cabinet, a reshuffle cannot be taken as a foregone conclusion. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is not by nature prone to making changes in his team. This is not because he is averse to radical decisions. His record as finance minister and his initiatives as prime minister in the field of foreign policy testify that when he is convinced he can chart completely new territories without fear of consequences. But when it comes to cabinet reshuffles, there is something that holds him back. He may have his own reasons but this is not the time for inhibitions. He needs a new team to bring a new dynamic to the second half of his second term as prime minister. It is clear that in terms of policy-making and implementation, the present cabinet is looking tired and bereft of ideas.

Mr Singh, when he ushers in changes — and he should bring them in — should ensure that he is not just filling in the blank portfolios. To appear effective, he must move/remove ministers holding key jobs. Otherwise, the exercise will be nothing short of an eyewash that will bring no credit to him. Nobody believes that there are no pressures working on the prime minister. But everyone expects Mr Singh to make up his own mind and to be the master of his fate. He heads a coalition and he is also not head of his own party, so pressures are bound to be there. But Mr Singh is also a man of rectitude and firm convictions. These virtues need to be articulated in actions — in appointments and in nation-building. He must slough off his mandarin's cloak to don the mantle of a prime minister. This is what Jawaharlal Nehru would expect him to do.







The United States of America has less than half as many citizens as the republic of India, yet almost twice as many states. The map of that country has been drawn and redrawn very many times in the course of its history. On January 1, 1800, for example, the US had only 16 states; fifty years later, the number had jumped to 30. When the 19th century ended there were 45 states in the union. Oklahoma was added in 1907, while Arizona and New Mexico were incorporated in 1912. Hawaii and Alaska came on board as late as 1959.

To be sure, while some of these states were carved out of existing ones, most were added on as the American colonists expanded their reach and influence to the west and south of the continent. On the other hand, the republic of India is constituted out of territory left behind by the British. After the integration of the princely states was completed in 1948, no new land has been acquired by the Indian Union. Still, the American example is not entirely irrelevant, for it shows that large nations take shape over long periods of time. It may only be after a century or more after a nation's founding that its political geography settles into a stable equilibrium, with its internal divisions and subdivisions finally and firmly established.

When India became independent in 1947, it inherited the provincial divisions of the raj, these a product of accident rather than of historical or social logic. At once, a clamour began to create states based on linguistic communities. The Telugu speakers of the Madras Presidency wanted an Andhra Pradesh. The Marathi speakers of the Bombay Presidency demanded a Maharashtra. The Punjabi, Malayalam and Kannada speakers likewise mounted campaigns for states incorporating their particular interests.

The Congress leadership, represented by Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, was initially opposed to linguistic states. Having just witnessed the division of India on the basis of religion, it now feared a further balkanization on the basis of language. However, the demands grew so insistent that the government finally constituted a states reorganization commission. The commission had three members: a jurist, S. Fazal Ali (who also served as chairman), a historian, K.M. Panikkar, and a social worker, H.N. Kunzru.

The report of the SRC, made public in 1955, recommended that the four major linguistic communities of southern India get states of their own. A consolidated state of Marathi speakers was not granted, principally because the Parsi and Gujarati capitalists of Mumbai were fearful of its consequences. However, this led to a resurgence of the samyukta (united) Maharashtra demand, which acquired such widespread popular support that in 1960 two separate states of Gujarat and Maharashtra were constituted, with Bombay being awarded to the latter.

The SRC did not concede the demand of Punjabi speakers either, because it was led by the Sikhs, and the Congress leadership feared that it might be the precursor of an independent Sikh homeland. But when the Sikhs fought so valiantly for India in the 1965 war with Pakistan, the longstanding demand for a 'Punjabi suba' was finally conceded, with the areas dominated by non-Sikhs being separated to constitute the new states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

Viewed retrospectively, the fears of Nehru and Patel appear to have been misplaced. With the partial exception of Punjab in a particular decade (the 1980s), the new states based on language have not been a threat to national unity. To the contrary, they have consolidated this unity. Whereas Pakistan split into two because the Punjabi and Urdu speakers of the west oppressed the Bengali speakers of the east, and Sri Lanka underwent a 30-year civil war because the Sinhala majority sought to make the minority Tamils second-class citizens, the republic of India has, by creating clearly demarcated territories and autonomous provincial governments, allowed its major linguistic communities the space and place to nourish and renew themselves.

In the context of the challenges of the 1950s and 1960s, the creation of linguistic states was an effective solution. But must it be a permanent one? Do not now the new challenges of inclusive development and good governance call for a further redrawing of the map of the republic? That is the question raised by the movement for a Telangana state, a Vidarbha state, a Gorkhaland state, a Bundelkhand state (and some others). Those who articulate these demands do so on the grounds that they represent populations whose livelihood needs and cultural aspirations are denied dignified expression in the excessively large states in which they now find themselves.

Before the general elections of 2004, the Congress, then out of power, forged an alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. It made one particular promise and one general promise; support for the creation of a Telangana state, and the formation of a new states reorganization commission. After it unexpectedly came to power, the Congress reneged on both promises: the first because it was opposed by the powerful Andhra chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy; the second because it was opposed by the communist parties, whose support was crucial to the new government's survival, and who vetoed a new SRC because the Bengali comrades did not want to give encouragement to the movement for a state of Gorkhaland.

The constraints of realpolitik compelled the Congress to abandon promises made in 2004. Five years later, it came to power without requiring the support of the Left. Surely it was now time to constitute a new SRC with three or more credible members? That it failed to do so was the product of apathy, inertia, indolence, complacency, in a word, status quoism. The consequence was a resurgence of the Telangana movement. The Central government, buying time, set up a commission under B.N. Srikrishna. The report, recently tabled, basically favours the retention of a united Andhra, and is sure to lead to a fresh and costly wave of strikes, bandhs, fasts, and hartals.

The experience of the past few decades suggests that smaller states are, on the whole, conducive to good (or at least less dreadful) governance. After a unified state of Punjab split into three parts, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and the now truncated, Sikh dominated Punjab have all witnessed steady economic growth. The hill states of Uttarakhand and Meghalaya are better off for having left the low-lying large states of which they were previously part, namely Uttar Pradesh and Assam. I do not believe that, for all their difficulties, the residents of Chhattisgarh are nostalgic for the days when it was part of Madhya Pradesh. True, Jharkhand does not appear to have significantly benefited from separation from Bihar, but its major problems — Maoism, the mining mafia, political corruption and so on — predate its creation as a state of the Union.

The commission that I am calling for — and which both reason and emotion mandate —would consider each case for a new state — Telangana, Vidarbha, Gorkhaland, et al — on its merits. Regions that have a cultural, ecological or historical coherence, and are adversely affected by their current status as part of a larger unit, could be granted statehood; for the examples of successful smaller states alluded to above suggest that they may more meaningfully respond to the social and economic needs of the people.

As a political experiment the Indian republic is young, and still finding its equilibrium. A bold government, a government that both understands the nature of the Indian experiment and cares for the future of India, would now constitute a new states reorganization commission. That government is not, alas, this government, which is damaged by a spate of corruption scandals, and headed by a prime minister who is cautious at the best of times. The unrest and discontent will therefore continue in Telangana, and beyond.


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




The package of measures announced by the government to fight inflation is a huge disappointment and it is unlikely that it will have any impact on the rising prices of essential commodities. It took many days to deliberate on a strategy and discussed the causes and solutions at many high-level meetings attended by even the prime minister, but has come out with no targeted action plan. The package is almost an admission of failure, and with the prime minister's office stating that it is difficult to manage the rise in prices of vegetables and fruits, which account for the major part of the food inflation, it is clear that the government has thrown up its hands on price rise. The prime minister has even hinted that the people should be ready to live with high prices in the interest of 'growth.'

Bereft of ideas, an inter-ministerial committee has been formed, in the established government tradition, to review the inflation situation. But are not regular reviews already being undertaken? The ban on export of items like onions, edible oils, pulses and rice will continue. The import of onions from Pakistan dried up after a few days after the Pakistan government banned it. The states have been advised to consider waiving various levies, while the hoarders and black-marketeers have been warned. So the package is only a mixture of continuing policies, which have been found ineffective, and of promises, advice and warnings. The price spirals have to be tackled administratively head-on from day to day with action and there is no sign of that in the package.

If the government is found wanting in taking preventive measures against price rise and immediate steps in the short term to contain it, it also does not have a long-term strategy to contain it. The prime minister is right to point out that faster economic growth creates incomes which generate demand for goods, especially food articles. This can be met only by higher agricultural production.  The government has hardly taken any effective step to boost agricultural productivity and output. It is a complex and difficult task and will take time to yield results. But it has to start some day. Otherwise it will always remain long-term and unattainable.  Meanwhile, rising demand and stagnant or falling output and supplies will keep compounding the problem year after year.







Several countries are reeling under the devastating impact of floods. Relentless rain and floods have left large swathes of Brazil, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Australia looking more like part of the sea rather than land. Several towns in south-eastern Brazil have been engulfed in mudslides resulting in the death of over 500 people. It has been described as the worst natural disaster ever in Brazil. Meanwhile, in Australia, floods continue to cause havoc. The worst appears to be over for Queensland, where flood waters are beginning to recede. However, relief workers say that it will take months for life in towns to return to normal. Tens of thousands of homes have been swamped by mud and a clean-up is expected to take several months. Floodwaters are now moving southwards, which means that the coming week will see New South Wales reeling under floods. As for Sri Lanka, this country which was only just beginning to recover from the impact of the 2004 tsunami is now being battered by rains and floods. Over 325,000 people have been displaced. While flood waters are beginning to recede here, rescue workers are unable to cope with entire villages marooned. Millions are struggling without food or water. Paddy fields have been destroyed. This could manifest in food shortages in the coming months.

Is there a link between these floods? Climate experts say that the floods in Brazil and Australia are the outcome of La Nina, a weather pattern where the cooling of the tropical seas in the Pacific brings enormous rain. This La Nina was reportedly the strongest ever in decades. 

Several scientists have described the floods as an example of the extreme weather events that will become more frequent as climate change takes grip. The past decade experienced nine of the ten warmest years on record. Warm temperatures mean more moisture in the air, which can fall as torrential rain, blizzards, etc. The extremely cold winter in Europe and the floods in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Australia are warning signs, say scientists, a small foretaste of what lies ahead if we do not act to stop global warming and climate change. The impact of even weather patterns like El Nino and La Nina will be much magnified with climate change, which means we can expect hotter summers, and more frequent and intense floods in the coming years.








It is far more important to force the government to constitute special courts to bring the culprits to justice in a time-bound manner.

The legislature is the main arm of the government and one of the important pillars of democracy. Though the party which gains  majority forms the government and the right to rule, there is no distinction among members of the legislature and they enjoy equal rights and responsibilities. Democracy can function smoothly only when ruling as well as opposition members realise their respective roles and act according to well laid out rules and procedures.

This is the framework of the democratic rule we have accepted under an egalitarian Constitution and of which we have been proud all these years. But, in the last few months, the way our parliament, and at the state level, the Karnataka Assembly, have been interminably paralysed without work, indicates that the present generation of politicians has forgotten the art of accommodating each other's points of view and the overall accountability to the people whom they represent.

The 2G spectrum and other scams at the Centre and the controversy surrounding land grabbing in Karnataka are extremely serious issues which expose the culpability of the ruling establishment in looting the wealth of the people. Apart from the public forums, the media and the judiciary, the legislature is by far the most important institution which should discuss and debate the wrong-doings and suggest measures while considering legislation to prevent their recurrence.

Instead, what we have been witnessing in parliament and in the Karnataka legislature is a complete breakdown of communication, adamant posturing, clash of egos and filibustering on either side. So much so, the legislators have abdicated their responsibilities and made the common people more cynical of politicians.

The BJP and other opposition parties stalled the entire winter session of parliament -- to score a dubious first -- and threaten to do the same with the upcoming budget session demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the 2G spectrum and other scandals. There have been occasions when JPCs were formed for much smaller scams – and there was clearly a case for doing so now – but the ruling UPA government is hell-bent on not conceding the demand this time.

 The BJP should have realised that its moral posturing at the Centre has been weakened by its inability to act against its own government in Karnataka facing corruption charges and, in fact, its national president Nitin Gadkari's whole-hearted endorsement of the Yeddyurappa government has given the UPA government a fig leaf to try and brazen out far more serious allegations against it.

But the UPA has a much greater responsibility of heading a government at the Centre and the comparison is extremely childish. It is time both the UPA government and the combined opposition realised that they need to end their stand-off on the constitution of a JPC and arrive at a solution to move forward.

Ammunition available

Instead of merely harping on a JPC probe and not being able to initiate any discussion at all, the opposition should use all the ammunition already available with it and use the parliamentary forum to seek answers from the government on the allegations. As indicated by the Supreme Court, it is far more important to force the government to constitute special courts to bring the culprits to justice in a time-bound manner. The government will also have to put in place a transparent mechanism and less discretion for individual ministers to ensure against the repeat of 2G spectrum-type scandals.

Similarly, in the Karnataka Assembly, the opposition had much to gain by exposing the government of all its shenanigans on the floor of the House than by stalling the proceedings for five full days just because its adjournment motion was rejected.

If the Congress and the JD(S) had worked out their strategies properly, they could have confronted the Yeddyurappa government on the floor of the legislature with all the allegations they have been airing outside and forced his government to come up with replies. It was also important to ensure that through debates, the acts of omissions and commissions of the government became a part of the records of the House and from the opposition's point of view, a permanent black mark on the functioning of the BJP government.

But by sticking to a no-adjournment-no-debate stand, the Congress and the JD(S) achieved nothing and virtually allowed the government off the hook. The recent zilla and taluk panchayat election results revealed that the BJP's stock has come down considerably and here was an opportunity to pull it down further by using the best platform available in a parliamentary democracy. Alas, it was not to be.

The Congress and the JD(S) also must be regretting that they stayed away from the Appachu Ranjan committee which inquired into the incidents that took place during the confidence vote on October 11, last year. It was no doubt one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Karnataka legislature, but one is not sure whether this committee was justified in 'unilaterally' recommending suspension of eight legislators from the membership of the Assembly for one year and seven others for six months for what it has termed as "creating pandemonium, lowering the dignity of the House and curbing the rights of other members."

The 'crime' of these offending members is, unfortunately, as 'routine' as it has become across political parties, but the proposed punishment is extraordinary to say the least. It leaves one with a nasty feeling that the recommendation is part of a 'game plan' to somehow ensure the Yeddyurappa government's majority by means fair or foul.







Since the year gone by is being described as the Year of Scams, I hope 2011 will go down in history as the year of reckoning.


The onus for achieving it rests largely on our judiciary. So far it has allowed scamsters to delay the final verdict for as long as possible in the hope that people will forget what it was all about.

 It can be assumed that those who prolong hearings have something to hide while those who expedite court proceedings are anxious to have their names cleared as soon as possible. It is for the government to issue instructions to bring hearings to an end as expeditiously as possible -- within a month or two -- and I am sure the UPA government and the trinity comprising prime minister Manmohan Singh, the president of the Congress party Sonia Gandhi and secretary of the Congress party Rahul Gandhi will regain much of the respect they lost in 2010.

Uppermost in my mind is the fear that the Opposition parties, particularly the BJP, may succeed in stalling debate in Parliament and force a mid-term general election. We can't afford it. And it will not solve any problems that face us today whatever the outcome. It is time that Members of Parliament realise that they have been elected to perform duties expected of them and not render parliament ineffective by not allowing it to function.

It is a criminal waste of time and money. We may as well admit that the parliamentary democracy does not suit our temperament and try out the Presidential form of democracy by which we elect a President and let him select his Cabinet ministers only answerable to him. It has worked in the United States and France; it may work for us. Give it some thought.

 Joy of giving

When it comes to the joy of giving without expecting anything in return, the name of Gene Smith comes up first in my mind. I met him first when he was a lodger in my friend Prem Kirpal's flat which was across the road from where I live. Prem was then chairman of the governing body of the Delhi Public Schools and as such had a servant Mangaram Kashyap allotted to him.

 Gene was with the Library of Congress collecting books on Tibetan literature. He was born in Utah into a Mormon family. After being involved in Tibetan writings he converted to Buddhism. Evidently he was very well off. He built a house for Mangaram's family. When he was transferred to Indonesia, he took Mangaram with him to Jakarta.

He invited Prem Kirpal, my wife and myself to stay with him. When we got there, he invited many Indonesian authors and poets to meet me. Then he lent his car to us to take us down the entire country from Jakarta to Bali with Mangaram as our guide and mentor.

 After retiring from the Library of Congress he joined Leiden University in the Netherlands to study Pali and Sanskrit. He never bothered about himself. He was a diabetic and had problem with his heart. He died in New York on the December 16 last year. He was only 74. As he had wished, Mangaram flew to New York to perform his last rites. But for Gene Smith's efforts, Tibetan literature would have been lost in the world for ever.
 The guilty doctor

 We have the greatest respect for our judiciary

Not just for the justice done but also its travesty

Hence the butchers of nineteen eighty four roam free

And the murderers of Gujarat have boundless glee

 While a doctor who looks after the health of the tribals and downtrodden,

Whose services make him one in a million

Is a guilty man of the nation.

Against our great nation, he waged a fight

For, whatever the police says must be right

So he should get a taste of this country's might,

While the scamsters and swindlers, for their brilliant record

Should never be held guilty of fraud

And because our judiciary can never fail

Dr Sen will remain in jail.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)


When the husband finally died his wife put the usual death notice in the paper, but added that he died of gonorrhea.

No sooner were the papers delivered when a friend of the family phoned and complained bitterly, 'You know very well that he died of diarrhoea, not gonorrhea'. Replied the widow, 'I nursed him night and day.So of course I know he died of diarrhoea, but I thought it would be better for posterity to remember him as a great lover rather than the big shit he always was'.

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)







Getting around to run small, ordinary errands can be annoying and expensive.


The way a citizen has to run around to get small, ordinary jobs done is really annoying. Here is a small example. The sump, the life line in the IT hub that Bengaluru has exploded into, started behaving erratically. Immediately, the chase for the plumber began. I was scolded for being an alarmist and acting as if there an emergency of mammoth proportions. No, I don't panic that easily. It's just that I know from bitter experience that by the time I caught hold of a plumber, the problem would have got out of hand.

Our plumber is good at his work and charges super specialist rates. He has given me two mobile numbers. ( Most of the time, both numbers are busy. In great demand, our plumber is  a very busy man indeed!) I have to keep trying, like Robert Bruce, till my thumb is sore. My persistence does pay. 'Hello! Who is speaking?' I identify myself. 'Oh, I see.  What is the problem? The corner house on fourth cross?' After  eliciting all this information, the reply is: 'But I am in Chennai now.' Couldn't he have said that earlier? My dismayed silence must have got to him. 'I am returning tomorrow evening,' he added reassuringly. 'I will come first thing day after tomorrow morning.' His first thing was not 8 am but 10 am. Beggars not being choosers, I agreed.

10 am saw me waiting, expectantly, putting everything else on hold. There was no sign of the super specialist. I tried both his mobile numbers. As usual, they were busy. In a moment of weakness, he had given me his landline number. I dialled it. Surprise, surprise! It was picked up on the second ring by the great man himself. 'I will be on my way in ten minutes.' Being left with no other option, I continued to wait.

 Our man turned up, finally, about 1 pm. Masking the relief that swept over me, I asked what had delayed him. 'I stopped at another customer's house on my way here. There was a similar problem.' (One of his traits is consideration for others.) 'The ball valve is gone,' he declared after a brief but deft examination. He offered to go to the hardware store. I was touched. Though I knew that it would advantage him, it would save me the trouble of trotting off to the store. In ten minutes the job was done. Then the perfectionist presented his bill: an inflated cost plus a hefty visiting fee! Meekly, I paid up.







On Sunday, Goans ought to celebrate 'Osmitai Dis'. There is not too much awareness about what a momentous day this was for Goa, and how much of a difference it would have made, had events turned out differently.
On 16 January 1967, the Goa Opinion Poll was held. It was a referendum (the one and only ever held in India) to decide on the future of this territory. The people of Goa had to choose whether they wanted to continue as a union territory or merge with the neighbouring state of Maharashtra.

As things turned out, the people of Goa voted against the merger. Goa continued as a union territory, going on to become a full-fledged state in 1987, after Konkani became its official language. Had they voted the other way, in all probability today Goa would have been one of the most backward districts of Maharashtra, like neighbouring Sindhudurg.

In the first election in Goa on 9 December 1963, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak (MG) party won an outright victory, defeating the United Goans (UG). The Congress – the party of the freedom fighters – did not get a single seat in Goa, and just one in Daman. Was it then that Pandit Nehru made his memorable remark: "Ajeeb hain Goa ke log." (Goa's people are strange)?  The MG was backed by non-Brahmin Hindus, while the UG was supported by the Christians and most Brahmins. Soon after the election, the MG, led by its charismatic leader Dayanand 'Bhau' Bandodkar, claimed that the election mandate was as good as a vote for merger with Maharashtra, as that had been the party's main poll plank. They wanted to merge Goa into Maharashtra by passing a bill in the state legislature.

But the leaders of the UG and the Congress demanded an opinion poll, and took the issue to the central government. The government of Karnataka (then called Mysore), too, opposed the merger. But a decision was delayed, as Pandit Nehru died the next year, followed by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri two years later. Indira Gandhi, who took over from Mr Shastri, finally gave the go-ahead for the Opinion Poll.
The President of India gave assent to the Goa, Daman and Diu (Opinion Poll) Act on 16 December 1966, after it was passed in both houses of Parliament, and 16 January 1967 was declared as D-day. To ensure that the vote was free from any official influence, the MG government resigned on 3 December 1966.
The symbol for merger was the 'flower'. Against merger, it was 'two leaves'. People thought that the Hindus of Goa (minus the numerically insignificant Brahmins) were for merger, while the Christians were against it. But had things been so clear-cut, the mergerists would have won an outright victory. Goans – both Hindus and Christian – obviously had a greater sense of maturity and self-interest.

Campaigning on both sides was vigorous. The pro-merger group was supported by leaders from Maharashtra, across political lines. But the anti-mergerists had their champions too, in Dr Jack Sequeira and his son Erasmo, a veritable army of activists in villages and towns, the tiatrists of Goa, Konkani singers like Ulhas Buyao, and young Konkani writers like Uday Bhembre, Dr Manoharrai Sardesai and Shankar Bhandari. While the Marathi newspaper 'Gomantak' was pro-merger, 'Rashtramat' a new Marathi daily edited by Chandrakant Keni, asked Marathi readers to vote against merger.

There were 388,432 eligible voters. A total of 317,633 votes were polled. Despite a clear Hindu numerical superiority, Goans rejected merger with Maharashtra by 172,191 votes (54.2 per cent) to 138,170 (43.5 per cent). Obviously, a significant section of the MG's Hindu supporters had voted against merger…
The results were greeted by great joy. Bhau Bandodkar of the MG announced that he would respect the will of the people and would never raise the merger issue again. And, inexplicably, the MG swept the next election, just like the last.

Had he been alive, Pandit Nehru would probably have repeated: "Ajeeb hain Goa ke log."







In a few brief lines on last Saturday's 'Herald' (8 January 2011, p6) we reminded our readers that our fortnightly column, 'Historical Explorations', was an exercise in postcolonial studies as applied to Goan historiography. It seeks to follow an orientation provided by D D Kosambi, namely of viewing the past of the region as a process of self-development, not as a string of episodes, however interesting and ornamental they may appear, of the national histories or achievements of its recent colonial masters or others who ruled over it at different times.

Despite reservations and debates, research in postcolonial studies is growing because postcolonial critique allows for a wide-ranging investigation into power relations in various contexts. The formation of empires and their impact on postcolonial history, economy, science, and culture are of particular interest. Contrary to what some have advocated in the form of 'subaltern' history, I consider postcolonial studies deserve and need to be promoted, as more inclusive than 'subalternity' as defined by certain sections of academia in recent times. Identification and roles of different and conflicting elite groups is particularly important.

The expression 'postcolonial' is often used to signify a position against colonialism and Euro-centrism. Western ways of knowledge production and dissemination in the past and present then become objects of study for those seeking alternative means of expression. But the term yokes a diverse range of experiences, cultures, and problems. Moreover, the 'postcolonial' is made to include countries that have yet to achieve independence, or people in First World countries who are minorities, or even independent colonies that now contend with 'neocolonial' forms of subjugation through expanding capitalism and globalization, as we shall see below.
Postcolonial studies stand at the intersection of debates about many issues linked with the politics of identity and development in the wake of post-colonial freedom of expression. It is an unavoidable accompaniment of the process of ongoing re-structuring of political, social, cultural and economic relationships of the people of the region, within and around the present-day state borders. I believe that the importance of present-day borders is often exaggerated in discussions of Goan identity.

Postcolonial studies should not be reduced to defence of any 'alternative' knowledge systems, or as some of those reacting to my 'Historical Explorations' can only view in them Goan reactions to Portuguese colonialism, even though this recent historical layer permits easy illustrations. The range of interest is far greater, and could extend from the paleolithic rock engravings of the pre-historic communities in the Sanguem-Quepem region till the discovery of bacterioform gold deposits of North Goa as recently announced by Dr Nandakumar Kamat.
Post-colonial studies are certainly not about continuing to listen to the former colonial societies and their academic mentors. It refers to an ongoing evaluation by the former colonial peoples in their post-colonial situations. Obviously, this nature of post-colonial studies makes them a source of irritation for western scholarship, which is accustomed to dictate standards and models.

The meaning attributed to postcolonial studies varies greatly, depending upon which side in the debate leads the discussion. The former colonial societies could not ignore the emergence of the post-colonial studies, and have sought to appropriate them, often defensively, presenting colonialism as an historic effort to share the higher values of western civilisation worldwide through western missionary establishments, education and technology, ideas of liberty and democracy, etc. In their view the western-styled modernisation of colonial societies was a positive contribution of the West, and ex-colonised peoples should gratefully acknowledge it as such.
Western formulations of postcolonialism tend to overemphasize hybridity at the expense of material realities, and seek to project decolonisation as an aggressive return to the pre-colonial past. This is at times qualified as '' and as subjection of decolonised people to new forms of supra-regional neocolonial controls. The alleged Delhi-based 'neocolonial' oppression in Goa is part of such projections of some European scholars and their neo-orientalist Goan disciples, as pointed out in my recent 'Historical Explorations'.

The educational system of colonial times started with teaching the language of the colonial masters. The natives were rated and co-opted according to their ability to express themselves in it. That was the starting point of the injustice of the colonial knowledge system. Obviously, even a metropolitan brute who spoke his native language without having to learn it could lord over the colonial natives who had to sweat to learn a foreign language in order to prove their merit. The best and tender years of life were in this way spent in learning the tool of knowledge! The useful knowledge that could be gained later was largely channelled into pushing files for the colonial administration. Education was not aimed at forming critical minds that could question the legitimacy of the system.

The process of political decolonisation had to be followed by decolonisation of minds. This implies a revamping of the colonial learning system, subjecting it to a critical assessment of the methods and pedagogy of the colonial knowledge systems that served to control and exploit the colonial peoples and resources. The decolonisation of minds applies in Goa to the decolonisation of the liturgical calendar of the Church.
Fortunately, the replacement of St Catherine as the patron saint of the archdiocese was a good symbolic move in this direction. But why should, day-in and day-out, Indian Christians still commemorate so many 'saintly' ancestors of the Europeans?

Why is the process of replacing them with Indian saints for the liturgical cult in India still not reviewed enthusiastically, with a view to provide more environmentally (implying cultural environment) friendly models for imitation? Incidentally, I wish and pray that the Indian saints, when they make their presence felt, will pick up private and institutional devotees in Europe. That is, obviously, if any significant numbers of practicing Christians still survive there.

It is curious also how in the recent past many young candidates for priesthood filled the Goan seminaries, often gaining vocation for priesthood as a result of the inability of their parents to provide them an expensive education in private English schools, owing to economic hardship. But many ended losing their vocation, due often to their inability to cope with Latin. That was the language the God of colonial Christianity, as understood in those days. With changed times and with the reforms of Vatican II, God picked up the vernaculars. Konkani gained access in the heavenly abode, and not just in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution







The other day, Rahul Gandhi, Congress general secretary and the party's future prime ministerial candidate by virtue of him being the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, said that the Congress-led government's hands were tied on controlling prices because of coalition politics. Subsequently, the ruling UPA's internal politics turned ugly. At a press conference the next day, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — a partner in the ruling Congress-led UPA — warned the Congress against being ''arrogant'' and advised it to take inspiration from coalition governments across the world, especially Italy, Congress president Sonia Gandhi's land of birth. It reminded the ruling party of ''coalition dharma'' and said that dealing with issues challenging the government was the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. Reminding the Congress of the existence of coalition governments across the world and taking a swipe at the Italy-born Congress president, NCP spokesperson DP Tripathi said, ''The popular verdict of the 2004 and 2009 general elections was a direction by the electorate to follow the coalition course and not collision course. Sixty-five democracies across the world are being governed by coalition governments, 32 of them in Europe alone. Look from Sweden to Switzerland to Italy. I am emphasizing Italy.'' He also advised the Congress to ''take lessons'' from the Bihar election result. ''There is no chance of single-party rule in the near future... They (Congress leaders) should not utter in such a fashion that demonstrates arrogance... Italy has witnessed a coalition government for the past few years, at least they should draw inspiration from there,'' Tripathi said.  Readers would do well to note that the intentional pointer to Italy, from where Sonia Gandhi hails, is a reminder of the fact that the NCP's genesis was based on the foreign origin of the Congress president — now that her son, set to be prime minister in the future, is pointing to coalition compulsions and indirectly blaming the NCP for the uncontrolled rise in the prices of essential commodities, the coalition partner must give a befitting coalition reply. But that is perhaps just part of the so-called coalition dharma.

It is a give-and-take politics that the Congress seems to be reluctant to appreciate, given its long history of single-party rule characterized by obduracy. It is not just sharing of power on a proportionate pattern that forms the basis of a sustainable coalition government. What is equally important is whether the partners are prepared to shoulder collective responsibility. As the NCP leader in question said, ''Instead of blame game, all should apply their mind. All are responsible (for inflation), not a single minister or the Prime Minister. It is the collective responsibility of the Cabinet... Growth and inflation are interrelated. You cannot take the credit for growth and put the blame for inflation on others.'' But the Congress seems to be bent on taking credit for all the good things happening in the country and on putting the blame on others for the worst ragging us all. There is an element of arrogance that still forms a salient feature of the country's oldest political party and that the projected prime ministerial material of the future seems to be just not concerned about; it is as if the people would mandate the Congress just as they used to do at one point of time. That is highly unlikely.





A few days ago, speaking to this newspaper, acclaimed RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, who in 2006 won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for ''emergent leadership'' for activating the country's RTI movement, said that ''this is the right time to protest against corruption'' and that ''if we are unable to put adequate pressure on the government, the existing system will paralyse the nation'', adding: ''Just because we don't have an effective anti-corruption system, no one is going to jail after swindling money''. According to Kejriwal, who was in Guwahati to take part in an anti-corruption programme of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), the biggest deterrent to the war on corruption is the absence of an independent agency to probe corruption charges and prosecute the guilty, be they bureaucrats or politicians. He and concerned individuals like former IPS officer Kiran Bedi and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan have drafted a Bill to effect a Lokayukta in States, including in Assam notorious for corruption, to tackle and defeat that monstrosity.

There is need for civil society activism to rid the society of the evil of corruption. Public-spirited individuals and organizations, as this newspaper has been iterating in recent times, should come up with plans to launch a full-fledged war on corruption. They have the advantage called the RTI Act — such a huge empowerment of the ordinary masses. Let the law be used to expose the corrupt, and then let there be a movement for their exemplary punishment. This is possible. What is required is will and commitment to that democratic cause.





To expect the Army to let democracy take over the country is plain silly but a more accommodating Army surely would invite international attention and hopefully some meaningful aid which Myanmar needs badly

So Daw Aung San Sun Kyi has been released from house arrest and near total isolation from the people. Big deal. It would be wise on the part of her admirers and friends not to feel ever-enthusiastic. The truth is that Suu Kyi has suffered so long and so often, that her current release must be seen in the context of her past incarceration. She was first placed under house arrest in July 1989 and was released six years later, in 1995. That was a phony freedom given to her as she soon found out, because the military forbade her from travelling around the country. Five years later, in September 2000 she was back under house arrest, this time for a period of 20 months. A year later she was arrested for the third time in May 2003, this time on the spurious ground of "her own protection".

In the circumstances it is anybody's guess when she would be arrested again. She is no longer young. She is 65, though still hale and hearty. She does not sound vindictive, which, in any event, would be pointless. She knows that she still retains her popularity, considering the thousands who gathered outside her house the day the announcement of her release was made in a show of defiance against the military government.

Her first reaction indeed was very positive. In her address to the gathering, she called for national reconciliation through talks with the junta and spoke about attaining democracy "the right way". But what is "the right way"? The Army has all the cards. Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is in a precarious condition. The party which won the elections in 1990 stands divided and officially derecognized. The country itself is totally pauperized. Repression and poverty have driven lakhs of people to seek shelter in neighbouring countries like Thailand in the east and Bangladesh and India in the west.

More than 2,000 people are in jail as political prisoners. Among the persecuted are students, monks, minorities suspected of opposing the military, whose voices have long been stilled. The Army held elections on November 7, no doubt to show that it has public support. The military's political front, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), claims to have won 80 per cent of the seats in both the national parliament and 14 national assemblies.

The general belief is that the elections were a fraud. Political parties in several ethnic minority areas were not allowed to contest and the parties that were allowed have complained about fraud and vote-rigging. A Constitution has been approved with the military claiming 92 per cent of support. What is notable is that Article 121 of the constitution bars Suu Kyi from holding any political office because of her marriage to a foreigner (now, alas, dead) and of her two sons being "citizens of a foreign country" and, laughable as it may sound, because she has been "convicted... for having committed an offence". Just as laughable is Article 396 which ensures that elected MPs can be dismissed for ''misbehaviour'' by the Union Election Commission, controlled indirectly, as everyone knows, by the military. The Army is assured of 25 per cent seats in the national legislature, but there are ways to control the remaining 75 per cent. If the "democratic" situation gets really out of hand, says Article 413, then the president can hand over executive powers to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. This is a clear warning for the 75 per cent to behave as told. So Suu Kyi has a big job on her hands. The Army is not going to change overnight. Sanctions have been levied against Myanmar by western powers. The US ban on new investments in Myanmar remains, as also an arms embargo and cessation of trade preferences and suspension of all — except humanitarian —  aid.

This has left Myanmar to depend more and more in China which has been only too glad to extend help. Though India has honoured Suu Kyi with the Jawaharlal Nehru Award, it has been wise not to antagonize the Army which, may it be said to its credit, has never given shelter to rebels from India's northeastern States. India has every strategic reason to appear friendly towards Myanmar. Myanmar is strategically located. It shares a 1,600-km border with India, which is porous. Its north and northeast border straddles the Tibet and Yunnan regions of China for a distance of 2,185 km. All of which makes it necessary for India to have friendly relations with its close neighbour.

According to some estimates, Myanmar has received more than $200 million in military aid from India. Importantly, the country is building a research nuclear reactor near May Myo with help from Russia. India wants transport corridors from its volatile Northeast to some of Myanmar's urban centres, and recently it even asked for shipping routes from Kolkata to Sittwe port from where goods can be moved overland to Mizoram.

Primarily India wants to make it difficult for China to operate in the Indian Ocean and this is where Myanmar's cooperation counts. One would like Myanmar to be a democratic country, but it is not for India to lay down the law on its neighbours, as US President Obama wants it to do. Myanmar's leaders appreciate India's independent stand.

But it has severe problems to handle. Inflation averaged 30.1 per cent between 2005 and 2007. Foreign investment has come primarily from China, India, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore, but that does not suffice. This is where India can help. Myanmar is rich in natural gas, and exported 8.55 billion cubic meters in 2008. The figure has risen in the last two years and India is aware of that. So there are good reasons for India to seem friendly with Myanmar's army leadership. The release of Suu Kyi from imprisonment makes a new beginning. Without seeming to be pressing, India must encourage the Army to release political prisoners in order to establish a more friendly atmosphere in the country. It could be that Suu Kyi wants to make a deal with the Army, which has now given a visa to one of her sons staying abroad to visit Myanmar to meet his mother.

To expect the Army to let democracy take over the country is plain silly but a more accommodating Army surely would invite international attention and hopefully some meaningful aid which Myanmar needs badly. Myanmar has alienated ASEAN. This has to be reversed but this is only possible if the Army relents, for its own sake and for the benefit of its 50 million people, who are waiting patiently for a change of heart among its dictatorial rulers. With India pursuing a new Look East Policy, the prospects of Myanmar coming out of its shell look brighter.

MV Kamath






I n the every first line of his book entitled Business @ Speed of Thought, Bill Gates has predicted that ''Business is going to change more in the next ten years than it has in the last fifty''. Gates introduced the concept of the digital nervous system which he defined as "the corporate, digital equivalent of the human nervous system, providing a well-integrated flow of information to the right part of the organization at the right time". Gates believed that "how you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose". He, therefore, commended the digital nervous system, and the inherent "web work style" and "web lifestyle" for a "change in mindset and culture". He believed that this would be "the key to success in the twenty-first century".

In India, we have a very substantial technical work force. In some respect they are among the best in the world. Bill Gates is convinced that "India is the only country other than the United States where we have done significant software exports business — and that's pretty phenomenal".

The slow and tedious process of change in India, particularly in Assam, and our normally lackadaisical approach to new ideas are probably the outcome of our inability to make a dent on poverty and the dichotomy between the intellectually alert elite and the undernourished masses who naturally sense danger to their very existence by any new ideas.

Poverty has to be tackled urgently and immediately. Poverty is one of the causes of the mindset against change. It is through the elimination of poverty that Southeast Asian countries such as Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Malayasia, Singapore and Hong Kong have made tremendous leaps in the past half-a-century. Their progress in the economic field has been synchronized with a sea change in their strategy of governance. When people have proper creature comforts and can lead relatively hassle-free lifestyle, they become more attuned to accept change. That has happened in the developed countries and some of the developing countries.

The fact that it has not happened at such high speed in India, particularly in Assam, is the result of the prevailing poverty. And Assam has an unemployment ratio of 19.25 per cent which happens to be the highest in the country next only to Kerala's 25.62 per cent. Jobs are available in plenty within the State. These are in construction and in trades such as carpentry, masonry, maintenance of electrical gadgets and pumps, municipal sanitation, heavy transportation vehicles, where hundreds of thousands of people from outside the State and outside the country work. But the indigenous people, both tribal and non-tribal, normally refuse to take up these jobs. They hanker after only the jobs of office assistants, peons and teachers. For these later jobs they are prepared even to sell their ancestral property and bribe politicians, bureaucrats and their cohorts. What is surprising is the fact that they would not compete for high-paying jobs of the Central government.

The strategy of governance has to be adapted to conform with what Bill Gates has prescribed for business in the 21st century. At present the three main drawbacks of government in Assam are corruption, inefficiency and no-work culture. It will need tremendous efforts and dogged political will to tackle these drawbacks. Tripura has practically eliminated corruption due to Chief Minister Manik Sarker's dogged determination.

Corruption, for example, is at the root of all evils. Kickbacks and siphoning off of major portions of fund allocations on different projects, schemes and programmes distort the plan priorities. Corruption can be controlled to some extent by transparency, empowerment of PRIs and ULBs and computerization. Transparency will enable people to know where the money has gone and thus inspire civil society activism. Empowerment will reduce the chances of corruption in the State headquarters and collection of enormous wealth by a few. There might be some corruption at the district, block and village levels, but such occurrences will be limited and the amounts lower. The Constitution has been amended, a new Panchayat Act has been passed, and the necessary rules have been framed long ago. Elections have also been held to PRIs. It is not understood why empowerment and proper distribution of funds have not been made. Due to delay in holding elections and empowerment of PRIs, Assam has lost incentive fund from the Central government in the past.

Computerization can achieve a great deal in reduction of corruption. Once the check gates, tax offices, information about individual and corporate tax payers are computerized, it will be difficult for unscrupulous officials and others to siphon off money and to evade the tax-net. The loopholes in the statutes and rules should be plugged.

Inefficiency also arises when personnel manning the government departments are not qualified. Thousands of primary teachers have been recruited in the past, the majority of whom are not qualified. They should be made to compulsorily go through a regime of rigorous training. Similar steps should be taken in respect of those who have been recruited to the State's highest civil services.

One particular aspect needs special mention. This is about the way revenue records are maintained at present. The age old Chitha, Zamabandi, Touzi etc are still prevalent. These have served their purpose in the past. But revenue records need reform and revision. Already some steps have been taken for computerization of revenue records in some districts. Such computerization should be extended to all districts.

In the report of the Committee on Fiscal Reforms (COFR), it has been emphasized that "the entire content and image of government can be changed and modernized once e-governance is introduced in right earnest. This should be assigned a high priority and measures should be initiated as early as possible. The benefits of e-governance are claimed to be less corruption and increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth and cost reduction".

In regard to the government's policy-making function now executed by the State Secretariat, "COFR's vision of the future Assam Secretariat  is that of a cluster of functionally organized, neat, clean, slim, smart and modern offices with completely computerized facilities where routine work will be got done on-line and most of the information will be available on web sites. It will not be necessary of the general public to visit the secretariat in their hundreds for even small matters as at present. The people manning the secretariat will be smart, intelligent and ready with the relevant information". Gradually all other offices should also be computerised.

It was more than two decades ago that the office of the National Informatic Centre was accommodated in the Dispur Secretariat complex. I had faced vehement criticism and opposition from both ministers and senior officers who were against this. Although I have not seen the centre in the recent past, I understand that it remains in the secretariat for the assistance of all officials concerned and as a model office of the 21st century.

Computerization will help in reversing the no-work culture. There will be correct record of employees' hours of work. Employees will be required to put the inputs at the appropriate times so that they will find it difficult to skip work and play truant. Along with proper hours of work and holidays, computerization will help government offices to run smoothly and efficiently.

A massive programme of training will be necessary to transform the government work force. They are now steeped in easy-going ways and are bereft of intellectual content. To quote from Rajiv Gandhi's broadcast to the nation of January 8, 1985, after becoming Prime Minister following the general election, "training of civil servants of all categories" needs to be "restructured to develop competence and commitment to the values of our society". COFR has also laid emphasis on training so that the employees ''can act as the kingpins in a delivery system which is adequate and competent for the needs of the development process. COFR, therefore, suggested that "in order to accelerate the economic development process in Assam, it will be necessary to refurbish the entire development administration in the State by changing our administration culture and by building the human resources in the delivery system".

To quote Donald Tapscott from his Digital Economy, ''Government are central players in the new economy. They set climate for wealth creation. They can act as a deadening hand to change or be the catalyst for creativity. They can cause economic stagnation or they can set a climate for growth." It is for the Assam Government to decide which role they would prefer.

(The writer was Chief Secretary, Assam, during 1990-1995)








M    ass media is the new religion. That is how people connect. Mass media has grown to such a proportion that in a modern society, people have become addicted and need their daily doses or they feel dead, lose touch with the world and move around without purpose. The primary function of the media is to provide mind-shaping, opinion-forming stories. It can be political, philosophical, ethical and most often commercial.

The recent WikiLeaks dump raised more questions than answers. WikiLeaks is not something new. It had been digging skeletons out of other countries' closets for the last four years. It did not get into any trouble until it stumbled upon a huge stash of American secrets, a staggering 2,50,000 diplomatic cables, and managed to rub the most powerful state the wrong way. But even Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, has said that WikiLeaks is evolving and adopting journalistic principles. In short, it is trying to be become accountable and cutting out the harmful information. But we all were too happy to read the diplomats' undiplomatic comments like "Russian PM Putin the Alpha Dog", "Eccentric Gaddafi and his voluptuous Ukrainian nurse", "Tireless nightlife of Italy's ageing prime minister". All these left  the US red-faced.


Assange's arrest on some mysterious sexual assault charges and subsequent granting of bail by UK courts has been keenly watched by the world. The sanctions imposed on WikiLeaks by PayPal, Mastercard, Amazon and others are interpreted as a product of American governmental bullying rather than a public outcry. The attempt to cut off funding to WikiLeaks has led to sprouting of other similar sites as well as attack on Mastercard and others by hackers.


Did WikiLeaks overreach its limits? May be it did and so did the American authorities. Assange believed that by revealing these, he is doing good as governments have the ugly habit of abusing its power of secrecy. But some secrecy is necessary to all organizations, especially in international relations. The lives of those people who had passed on information to US diplomats out of goodwill or personal interest are now in danger.


The US can put Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old serviceman who is the source of the leak, and Assange on trial but the information is already out there somewhere in cyberspace. The US will not be able to hush WikiLeaks. It is ironical to see the US trying to muzzle WikiLeaks when it always promoted Internet, spoke against censorship in other countries and recently also hosted World Press Freedom Day. The Chinese and Russians must be watching with glee. The best lesson: attack the problem and not the symptoms. The only remedy is to manage secrets better. At least, the cables underscored the point that US diplomats are cool-headed, well-informed and very articulate with a good sense of humour.


What about our own sensational Radia Tape leaks? It showed how corporate lobbying has been juxtaposed with corruption. Nothing new about corruption in India! We all face it every day in every walk of life. But the sheer size of corruption and close link of politicians, businessmen, judges all are simply mind-boggling. All kinds of scams from 2G to land to ministerial berths kept tumbling out. The loss of several lakhs of rupees of revenue to the exchequer will upset us all tax-paying citizens. This even saw veteran journalists like Barkha Dutta and Vir Sangvi trying to defend their actions. Senior ministers, politicians seem to be apologizing for their tactless remarks. The most impressive in all these leaked conversations is Niira Radia herself. She comes across as a very efficient person who knows her job. She has never bad-mouthed anyone (in the tapes leaked till now) but others seem to be pouring their heart out to her. Even senior journalists keep messaging her for information. It raised serious questions about ways of news gathering, phone taping, lobbying and peddling. She surely has supplied the mass media with something to talk about every day. Not that anyone can come out with some broader lessons from those TV panel discussions. With so many panelists, each with their own opinion, an equally biased moderator, a TV audience with many could-have-been panelists and equally opinionated audience at home like me, it is difficult to come to any conclusion.


These tapes even tried to sully iconic Ratan Tata himself. The belief in Tata brand, and particularly in Ratan Tata, borders on superstition. We know that without engaging in lobbying, success in business is difficult. For the other business houses, such behaviour is expected, people can live with it. But for the public, Tata is the most trusted brand. It is like a child's wishful belief in fairy tales or Santa Clause getting crushed.


So, we continue to remain glued to TV screens or newspaper articles as the debate rages over what should be published or not published.








T he New Year 2011 arrived in the city in the right royal style to the great joy of the residents. The arrival of the New Year is an occasion to celebrate, since it is big with hopes and promises. Whether they will be ever fulfilled, time alone will say. But still all we can do is to hope for something good, since hope springs eternal. New Year's Day is the right day for partying, feasting, dancing, picnicking — in short, for enjoying. New Year greetings cards were selling like cakes since the first week of December. It is such a joy to send and receive New Year cards. They brighten your days and bring abundant hope to the mind. As usual, preparations for celebrating New Year's Eve were made weeks ahead. The city shops, restaurants, bars and hotels have been glittering with bright lights, mini-Christmas trees, decorations and all of that lot.

If we look, we do not see any reason to feel grief at the departure of the old year — as discontent loomed large almost everywhere, as had been witnessed in all the years in the last few decades. The whole world has been rocked by violence as never before and we have been hearing about nothing but tragedy. Discontent, violence and frustrations seem to have enveloped the entire world like a cloak — and the voice of the people have been stifled. Innocent people are getting killed for no fault of theirs. It is not only in our country, but it has been happening all over the world. How can we forget all these heinous activities perpetrated by man against man? These crimes are endless, and it seems very strange that a rational human being can kill another human being without the slightest pang of remorse. It is said that God created man in his own image. If it is so, then how can man behave in this inhuman way?

What do the terrorists want to prove? As Mahatma Gandhi said, non-violence can be practised only by strong people and never by the weak. Violence indicates weakness and not strength. What is the point in placing a bomb at a place thronged by only common people?

We have been facing a surfeit of violence through the years. To list all these crimes we will need reams and reams of paper, but what is the use any way? Assam possibly has been facing the largest number of various crimes through all these years. Once Assam was a very peaceful State, and terrorism, violence or corruption were unheard of. But now the situation is entirely different. There was a time when a single case of killing or rape was enough to rock the populace. But now they do not affect us in the least. We swallow all these horrible news without a qualm and turn over to the next page of the newspaper. We do not feel the slightest grief over the plight of innocent people.

In the last year, various issues cropped up in the country. Communalism has raised its ugly head over and over again. Ethnic violence, rallies and processions have become the order of the day. The united Assamese society has been divided into various groups with their various demands. So many people have lost their precious lives, yet nobody bothers! Human life itself has become a dime a dozen.

We are facing innumerable problems and there seems to be no solution. Exorbitant price of essential commodities has broken the backbone of the society. The authority concerned seems to be least concerned about the plight of common people. And fuel prices are soaring upwards by leaps and bounds. They are all essential for our very existence. But who cares?

Then all these scams in high places rocked the entire nation, and till now controversies, allegations, protests are going on. The problem is that corruption has spread in such a dangerous way that you may not find an honest person even if you scour the entire length and breadth of the country. The Northeast too is not lagging behind in this regard. We simply cannot trust anybody. Man seems to have lost his humanity, and the Mahatma's Ramrajya has turned into a Utopian dream. We cannot see even a ray of hope.

In the backdrop of such holocaust, we have been celebrating the arrival of the New Year with hope and optimism. It is amazing really — how swift the year has passed. Last year's celebrations are still vivid in our minds, as if they happened only yesterday. Yet a whole year has passed — a year of shattered hopes for many. Let us hope that this year would be different and send a silent prayer to Providence.

For a while we may forget all these tragedies, which haunted us through the year. A New Year, big with promises, has arrived. But as a sceptical friend remarked caustically, "What is there to rave about the New Year? It is just like any other day — any other year. The only thing special about the New Year is that it has made you older and taken a few steps nearer to the grave." True, but it seems like blasphemy to talk about the New Year so irreverently. Repenting over the past or the inevitable does not help us in the least. We have to take life as it comes.

Let us then count life's blessings, dear reader, and think about tomorrow when the sun will shine brighter and dispel the clouds of darkness, sorrow and ignorance. Life is full of ups and downs, and if for some it is more downs than ups, so what? It is also time to make some New Year resolutions and follow them rigidly. These resolutions, if followed sincerely, would surely make us better human beings. Though we seem to have lost humanity, a little bit of it may still be lingering with us, which we have to bring out by making constant efforts. At least there is no harm in hoping for the best, is there? Let the New Year bring peace to this region of ours.

(The writer is a former Head of the Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)










Since Saddam Hussein attacked Israel 20 years ago, we have seen a significant strategic change in how wars are waged and perceived.


Thinking of the past is like going through a time tunnel. We sit back comfortably, eyes shut and let our minds wander to days gone by. But when it comes to the first Gulf War, travelling through that tunnel takes on an exceptionally fast pace and eventually leads us to an opening. The meaning is clear. That war placed this country in one of the most complex situations it had to face since it was founded. The event is not just a thing of the past; it affects the present situation and will also impact our future.

On January 15, 1991, the American ultimatum to Iraq ended, and within 36 hours, the first missile launched from that country landed in Israel. For 35 days, the Jewish state faced a war of attrition in which, by the end, it could count a total of 17 assaults and 39 missiles. Since then, we have seen another war of attrition in the form of an intifada and two mini-wars in Lebanon and Gaza. All of these security challenges attest to the strategic change that has taken place over the 20 years since Saddam Hussein attacked our country.

Israel's security concept, as established by David Ben-Gurion, maintained that because of its narrow size and its centralized population areas, it could not afford to absorb military strikes on its territory and, where possible, must take preventative action. At every opportunity, it must shift the war promptly to enemy territory. This approach worked perfectly in 1967 and partly in 1973, even though we did not strike preemptively for political reasons.

THIS APPROACH has become a thing of the past. Since the first Gulf War, we have realized that the home front is no longer immune, not to short-range missiles from Lebanon or Gaza, nor to long-range ones from Iraq or Iran.

This understanding was translated into practical terms with the establishment of the Home Front Command, the development of defensive weapons capable of intercepting rockets and missiles, like the Iron Dome and the Arrow, and the setting of new operational priorities.

It is clear that in the event of a future war, Israel would try to destroy any missiles or rockets before they are sent.

The Arabs were quick to correct this by learning the lessons of the first Gulf War. Now, the threat includes tens of thousands of missiles and rockets aimed at every square centimeter of our territory. No piece of land, from Eilat to Metulla, is not subject to this threat.

Moreover, with time, the precision of these missiles and rockets improved, and they are now able to strike strategic and tactical targets, and not just land sporadically across the country.

As an aside, I will note that the Carmel fires teach us that open areas are also not safe, and may indirectly threaten the civilian population.

The first Gulf War not only changed our perception of security but also affected our sense of it. During the war, I used to speak directly to the public, rather like an intimate conversation. In retrospect, it seems to me that I realized then that the term "national security" – the security of the whole country – described the personal safety of each citizen living in it.

People understood that they had to look out for themselves, and that no barrier existed between them and the missiles save for the house walls, the shelter they had built and their gas masks. Otherwise, they were exposed.


The state has since been required to recast the relationship between it and its citizens' security. Is it really possible to deploy an Iron Dome over the entire country? Or at the end of the day, is it every person and family for itself ?

This was a conceptual revolution of thought – completely opposed to what we were brought up to believe and, in a strange way, it corresponds to the process this country has been through, from nationalism and collectivism to privatization and individualism.

The public understands now better than ever that the state cannot provide maximum security. It learned this the hard way, for example during the Second Lebanon War, while residents in the South experience this day and night. This is how an asymmetric war manifests itself, whereby missiles and rockets are pitted against our technological power.

This increases public distrust of the political leadership, the security establishment and even the military, as more people understand that security is a merely relative term.

THIS EQUATION also added a new component to the mix – national cohesion. We need to believe we can win, given the new circumstances. This faith has helped us in the past, and saw us through military crises such as the Yom Kippur War. We can only win if we're socially and economically strong.

Things were not always this way. One of the songs popular in the 1950s was "guns instead of socks, tanks instead of shoes."

Today, we must understand that a weakened society, one in which a third live under the poverty line, where one in five families is in need of welfare services, cannot bear the consequences of a war, especially given that today's conflicts tend to be lengthy and many of the casualties are civilians. Our mental strength as individuals and as a society will only be realized if we close the social gaps; if we succeed in rallying the different "tribes" here around common values and ensure that our human, social and moral values are high quality.

In past wars, a military victory was enough, and on that front we were fortunate. Today's wars, that have no beginning, no end and where victory is relative, are waged on various fronts: the economic front, the political front and even the public diplomacy front. A war plays out not only at the point of physical contact between us and our enemies, our territory and theirs, but has a global impact, in part because of the media.

This new war, rooted in the Gulf War, requires that we internalize the essential difference between it and its predecessors. It's not another war over territory; it's a war of public opinion and public consciousness at home and abroad. The factors affecting this war are not exclusively under our control. We need a comprehensive vision that would connect us and the rest of the world, and would require the collective efforts of the country, the new nongovernmental actors and each and every one of us. Communication on various levels, old and new, is the main means of etching into our minds and the world's the desired result of this war.

Finally, a word about leadership: 20 years after the war, the world around us has changed completely. All of us understand the difference when we look in the mirror; we see that time has not stood still. However, if there is one thing that has not changed since the first Gulf War, it's the need for a leadership that acts wisely, cautiously and responsibly. The "gray-haired" leaders of those times – Yitzhak Shamir, Moshe Arens, Dan Shomron and their colleagues – succeeded in seeing Israel in an international context and concluded that any intervention in the war would only bring harm.

If there's something I wish today's leaders would understand, it's that Jewish wisdom saved us from the Gulf War and provided us with political and security achievements and a new status in international public opinion. I can only hope that this good old Jewish wisdom will also guide us through future challenges.

The writer, a Kadima MK, was IDF spokesman during the first Gulf War.








We should exploit the growing international recognition of a Palestinian state.

Talkbacks (5)

As more and more South American countries – Chile is the latest – proclaim their recognition of a Palestinian state, the clamor grows in Jerusalem to declare a major failure of Israeli diplomacy.

Didn't Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman travel to Latin America some months ago to stem the tide of recognition? Didn't Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu telephone the president of Chile just last week to persuade him not to join the Palestine bandwagon? And if Latin America goes, won't Europe be next and then, God forbid, the United States?

This is not the first time the Palestinians seek international recognition of a nonexistent state. Several decades ago, long before Oslo, there was a global wave of diplomatic recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. PLO legations were set up in European capitals. Official Israel was horrified; the PLO at that time was still linked to terrorism, and the European move was seen, not without reason, as a form of appeasement. But the only substantive outcome was a gradual moderation of PLO positions.

This led to another global wave of recognition after the PLO declared Palestinian statehood in 1988. Again, little of substance emerged from this maneuver. Many who recall it are particularly wary of the outcome of the current Palestinian diplomatic campaign.

This time, however, may be different. The Netanyahu government's apprehension is palpable, presumably because unlike in earlier instances, four circumstances are very different.

For the first time, a Palestinian diplomatic achievement is being registered against a backdrop of growing isolation and delegitimization of Israel.

Perhaps more important, for the first time the Palestinians are successfully putting in place the actual infrastructure of a state, even if only in the West Bank, as part of an integrated strategy of state-building and recognition.

Then, too, for the first time all sides ostensibly agree that there should be a Palestinian state. Lest we forget, neither Israel nor the United States endorsed a two-state solution until recently.

Finally, the world is increasingly aware, more than 15 years after Oslo, that neither Israel nor the PLO is politically capable of negotiating the modalities of a two-state solution and enforcing it.

Hence the growing attraction of the current Palestinian scheme: International recognition is designed to lead not to a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence but to creation of a state within the 1967 lines by the United Nations. It looks increasingly like this is going to happen, particularly in view of the ongoing failure of the current peace "non-process" and the Obama administration's growing frustration with Netanyahu. With or without an American veto, Israel could emerge from this exercise far more isolated than it already is. What should it do?

INSTEAD OF wringing its hands and complaining to the world, Israel should stop, take a deep breath, and sit down with its American partner and ally to assess ways in which the Palestinian initiative can be leveraged for the benefit of both Israel and a two-state solution.

The most positive aspect of the initiative from Israel's standpoint is that it is confined to defining a territorial state within the 1967 lines. It doesn't deal with the right of return or Temple Mount issues, which are automatic deal-breakers in direct bilateral talks because the Palestinian position threatens Israel at the existential level.

Israel can contemplate the UN turning its conflict with the Palestine Liberation Organization, with its heavy representation of 1948 refugees, into a more manageable state-to-state conflict. Israel will hitherto negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas as president of Palestine, not chairman of the PLO. This could be a significant transformation. Israel and the US can discuss acceptable language for a UN resolution that recognizes the need for territorial swaps and special arrangements for settlements, along with Israel's special security requirements, as issues to be negotiated between the two states.

The modalities of placing a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem can also be accommodated, with international recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel's capital stated explicitly for the first time.

Jerusalem and Washington can insist that the UN resolution draw its inspiration from General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, which explicitly recognized a "Jewish state."

Together, they can design wording that anticipates the demands upon Israel of international law once a Palestinian state has been recognized by the UN.

And Israel can leverage its willingness to contemplate such a UN resolution into security reassurances from Washington and normalization concessions from the Arab League.

All this could conceivably be feasible, if Israel stops fighting the Palestinian internationalization drive and starts exploiting it for its own benefit. All this, if Netanyahu is really serious about creating a Palestinian state so Israel can preserve its Jewish identity and integrity.


Unfortunately, however, Netanyahu and his government are blatantly incapable of sustaining such a move. The initiative must come from Washington. And for that to happen, the US has to seriously reassess its current failed peace policy.

This article was first published at and is reprinted by permission. The writer, coeditor of the bitterlemons family of Internet publications, is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.







A Canadian law professor delivered a message from Sadat to Begin that helped precipitate peace negotiations. In the last few days, Irwin Cotler retold this story to both Abbas and Netanyahu, with a key accompanying lesson.

Talkbacks (1)

'And in the course of my conversations with Abbas and Netanyahu, I brought up the message from Sadat to Begin, as I thought it relevant to our discussions," Irwin Cotler remarked to me, fairly nonchalantly, as we talked over coffee this week about his meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

"You gave Begin a message from Sadat? What message?" I asked. And the following story spilled out: In the mid-1970s, Cotler – human rights activist, committed pro-Israel and peace advocate, former Canadian justice minister and current opposition MP – was the head of a group called Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East.

In that role and others, he'd often visit Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbors, and he happened to be in Cairo in May 1977, when Menachem Begin's Likud secured its revolutionary first general election victory. Cotler had been in Egypt in 1975, when the professors' trip had been organized by president Anwar Sadat's bureau chief Tahseen Bashir, and again in '76, by which time he and Bashir had become friends. In '77 he was there giving a series of lectures to the Al-Ahram Center's Institute of Politics and Strategic Studies.

Soon after the election result was declared, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Egyptian foreign minister (and later UN secretary-general), whom he had also befriended, invited Cotler to the ministry for a consultation whose key question was: Could Egypt expect to be able to reach a peace agreement with the new Israeli prime minister and his hawkish government?

Cotler answered in the cautious affirmative, and subsequently found himself being called in to meet with Sadat, and being asked the same question.

The visiting law professor stressed to the Egyptian president that he didn't know Mr. Begin particularly well, but said he believed that Begin, like other political leaders, would look to his place in history, and would want to be remembered as the first Israeli prime minister to make peace with a leading Arab country. And were a deal to be struck, Cotler added, he was certain that the Likud government would be able to carry the country behind it.

Cotler had several more meetings with senior Egyptian figures, and that's how he wound up coming to Jerusalem that June with a message from Sadat to be personally and confidentially delivered to the prime minister.

Sadat's message inquired about the possibility of opening peace talks, with two conditions: the return of Sinai, and Israeli recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Begin asked Cotler whether he thought Sadat's intentions were genuine. Cotler said he did.

Begin responded in the affirmative to Sadat. Cotler, as we would all later see, had given an accurate assessment to the Egyptians about Begin, and to Begin about the Egyptians, with historic consequences.

STILL A frequent visitor to Israel and the Middle East these days, and as well connected as ever, Cotler didn't only tell me his 1977 "message to Begin from Sadat" story in the course of his current trip. He recalled it, too, in (obviously separate) meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

When he was done telling Abbas, Cotler told me, the Palestinian leader asked him the same questions that Sadat and the Egyptians had asked: First, do you think I can make peace with this government? "And I gave him the same answer: This government would carry the country if it made a deal with you."

And what, Abbas asked, about Netanyahu? Could the Palestinians make peace with him? Abbas noted that Cotler may not have known Begin too well, but he certainly does know the incumbent Israeli prime minister.

Cotler again responded with a yes, assessing that Netanyahu, again like other political leaders, would be looking to his place in history and would like to be the Israeli prime minister who made peace with the Palestinians.

"But I added this point to Abbas," Cotler told me. "Begin and Sadat achieved their peace via ongoing direct talks without others. No Europeans. No United States. They came in later, to offer support. The same applies today. The need is to enter direct talks, and to maintain them. That's the Begin-Sadat lesson: Direct talks, building a personal relationship, leading to peace."

Cotler said he stressed to Abbas how that personal relationship "even played out at a joint Begin-Sadat press conference, when Sadat referred to 'Judea and Samaria' rather than the West Bank because he had so internalized some of Begin's language. And Begin, having internalized Sadat's language, spoke of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."

At their Ramallah meeting, Cotler said, Abbas sought to emphasize what he said was his genuine commitment to peace with Israel. Cotler reminded him that the two had first met in Damascus in 1977, on another of Cotler's Middle East law professor trips, and that Abbas had told him then that he regarded the Jews as a "religion," not a "people," and hence as undeserving of self-determination, never mind statehood. Acknowledging that this had been his earlier mindset, Abbas said peoples' views could change, and that his certainly had.

Abbas said the Palestinians had recently made an offer to Israel regarding security and borders, but had yet to hear back. He added that he didn't expect Israel to agree to the offer, but was awaiting a counter- proposal. He said they had focused on those two issues because those were the two Netanyahu speaks most about, and because resolving the border issue would enable an immediate resolution of where Israel could and could not build in the settlements, and would lead to resolution of the other core issues, Jerusalem and the refugees.

Cotler, in conversational rather than confrontational mode, didn't put to Abbas the idea that resolving the border issue first, where Israel would be conceding territory, would be particularly convenient for the Palestinians, but less so for Israel. It would leave Israel with little leverage to press for Palestinian compromise in the area where they will have to concede, namely the "right of return." Nor did he ask Abbas to square his declared commitment to a negotiated peace with his current bid for international endorsement of unilateral moves toward Palestinian statehood.

They did discuss the failure of the direct talks to date, and the complications surrounding the issue of a settlement freeze. "I said that the freeze should not be a precondition for negotiations," Cotler told me. "After all, the two sides had talked for years during periods of much greater settlement building."

Abbas's retort was one he has made in other meetings too over recent months: President Barack Obama made such an issue of the demand for a freeze, and the Palestinians couldn't be less pro- Palestinian than the president of the United States.

Cotler's response was that Obama seemed to have moved away from that position recently. And that the Palestinians should do the same.

Abbas said, "I'm getting old, and I want to make peace."

CALLING IN at the Prime Minister's Office a few days later, Cotler was asked by Netanyahu whether he had seen this new Palestinian proposal on borders and security. Cotler said no; Netanyahu indicated that it wasn't a particularly helpful document.

The prime minister had just got off the phone with Abbas – a condolence call on the death of the Palestinian leader's brother Atta in Damascus. He stressed to Cotler his oft-stated desire to resume the direct talks with the Palestinians. And he was extremely interested to hear that Cotler had told Abbas about the 1977 message from Sadat, and about the importance of direct, personal interaction. "You should make that story public," Netanyahu said.

Both Abbas and PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki had already briefed the Palestinian press about their meetings with Cotler. Plainly, both Israel and the PA were happy to have Cotler's conversations referenced. Which is why the fuller story appears here.

Cotler's meetings featured two leaders who are not making any direct progress toward reconciliation despite their individual professions that substantive progress is precisely what they seek. His conversations also appeared to show two leaders who could really use some more face-to-face time.

Certain concrete initiatives emerged from Cotler's contacts with them. Abbas acknowledged the imperative to deal with anti- Israel incitement in the PA, and said he had suggested reviving the bilateral Israeli-Palestinian committee on the issue. He backed a longstanding idea for Canada to host a meeting of Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian justice ministers. Having met recently with a series of Israeli politicians and American and French Jewish leaders, he also asked Cotler to arrange for him to meet with members of the Canadian Jewish community. Cotler noted that it might be an idea for Netanyahu to do some similar outreach of his own, to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu immediately signaled his support for a resumption of the anti-incitement committee's work and, hearing Cotler's suggestion that he meet with Palestinians, called it a good idea and one he'd like to implement.

Astute and sensitive though he is, Cotler certainly does not see himself as any kind of substantive mediator. But the content of his separate conversations would suggest that there is productive mediation work to be done.

For his own part, Cotler noted to me that the Sadat-Begin breakthrough was "unprecedented – the very first substantive instance of Israel-Arab normalization." So, to some extent, he said, it should have been harder for those leaders then than it should be for their successors today.

Did that mean that Cotler was optimistic about Netanyahu and Abbas actually getting somewhere?

"Optimistic in the sense that both of them have moved forward from their initial positions," he said to me. "Netanyahu has accepted a twostate solution, and Abbas the recognition of Israel. But I'm pessimistic because there is still a large disparity in the threshold positions of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, not only of the two leaders, on the main substantive issues. And some of those disparities are of an existential character, like Jerusalem and the refugees.

"As well, Sadat and Begin did not have the domestic constraints that both Abbas and Netanyahu have. Sadat did not have a Hamas. And Begin did not have an unwieldy coalition. Key figures in Begin's coalition were pushing him forward."


As for the Palestinian leadership's wildly contradictory signals – the moderate Abbas TV interviews and outreach meetings, on the one hand; the incitement, boycott, demonization and unilateralist efforts, on the other – I'm not sure what Cotler would have answered had Netanyahu asked for his assessment of the PA head as peacemaker.

But Netanyahu didn't ask. Interesting, that.


Sadat queried Cotler about Begin's intentions and capabilities. Begin asked Cotler about Sadat's. A third of a century later, Abbas questioned the very same intermediary about Netanyahu's peacemaking bona fides. Netanyahu did not complete the symmetry.

Presumably, the prime minister thinks he already knows the answer.







It is obvious that the public needs to have a full picture of who and what stand behind self-proclaimed human rights groups.

Israel is today in the throes of a powerful backlash against the Knesset's decision last week to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the foreign funding of Israeli NGOs that engage in political warfare against the state.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni claimed on Tuesday that the commission shows that "Israel today is deteriorating and abusing the very values for which we want to fight. The way that Israeli is presented by the belligerent, violent government is hindering Israel's ability to defend itself."

As head of the opposition, over the past two months Livni has angrily opposed every initiative supported by the government as loudly as she can, regardless of its merits. So it isn't surprising that she would condemn the commission. What is more jarring are the statements by Likud ministers condemning the Knesset move.

It has been known for years that European governments finance Israeli anti-Israel pressure groups. The exact amount of funding has never been determined. No one can tell the public whether or not these groups could survive without foreign funding. The Israeli public deserves to know just how Israeli these groups are and what foreign governments require them to do in exchange for receiving money.

Some estimates place foreign funding for Israeli NGOs at NIS 500 million per year. Some estimates have claimed that foreign donations make up the majority of many of the radical-leftist groups' budgets.

Take Ir Amim, for instance. Ir Amim is a group dedicated to undermining Israeli sovereignty in eastern, southern and northern Jerusalem. Last year NGO Monitor reported that Ir Amim receives 67 percent of its budget directly from European governments.

What does this mean about the nature of this group? Can it be reasonably called an Israeli organization? It is hard to understand why exposing this information to the public would be a cause of consternation and worry for the likes of Likud ministers Dan Meridor, Bennie Begin and Michael Eitan, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who have been outspoken in criticizing the formation of the Knesset panel of inquiry.

More likely than not, what really bothered these gentlemen from Likud was that these groups are not simply being called out for the European funding they receive. They are being accused of receiving money from Arabs and assisting terror groups.

In remarks in support of the probe proposed by his Israel Beiteinu party, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not simply accuse the likes of Ir Amim, B'Tselem, Adalah, New Profile, Breaking the Silence, the Public Committee Against Torture, Human Rights Watch, Ittijah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Gisha, HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Yesh Din and Physicians for Human Rights in Israel of being on Europe's payroll. He said that these groups "help terrorists, and their main aim is to weaken the IDF and its ability to protect the citizens of the State of Israel."

The notion that Israeli NGOs may have ties to terrorists is without a doubt political dynamite.

And people get frightened by dynamite. But a new report indicates that Lieberman's accusations are an accurate depiction of reality.

This week Im Tirtzu, the Zionist student movement, released a report that makes a convincing case that foreign Arabs are funding Israeli Jewish and Arab NGOs with the aim of criminalizing Israel and influencing Israel's political discourse in a way that constrains Israel's ability to defend itself.

Im Tirtzu's report is titled, "Support by Arab foundations and states for organizations working against the policies of the State of Israel and the IDF." It focuses on two Palestinian organizations headquartered in Ramallah: The Welfare Association and the NGO Development Center.

The Welfare Association was established in 1983 for the purpose of building a sustainable Palestinian society. It operates in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, Gaza, throughout Israel and in Lebanon. It receives money from the EU and the World Bank and individual European governments.

It also receives money from Arab governments and Arab governmental funds from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and OPEC. Of its 2004 budget of nearly $30m., more than half came from Arab sources.

As the Im Tirtzu report notes, one of those contributors is particularly notable. In 2004, the Welfare Association received $796,606 from the Islamic Development Bank – Al-Aqsa Fund – Saudi Arabia. Im Tirtzu attests that the IDB has continued to fund the Welfare Association since then as well.

According to the IDB's own documents, cited by the Im Tirtzu report, in October 2000 at an Arab League summit in Cairo, Arab leaders decided to establish the IDB's Al-Aqsa Fund and the Al- Quds Intifada Fund "to assert comprehensive Arab support for the Palestinian people in the face of continuous Israeli aggression." Together the two funds received $1 billion to distribute.

According to a report by the American Center for Democracy cited by Im Tirtzu, "In 2001 alone, the IDB transferred $538 million raised publicly by Saudi and Gulf Royal telethons to support the Palestinian intifada and families of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IDB has also channeled UN funds to Hamas, as documented by bank records discovered in the West Bank and Gaza."

In 2001, the Saudi Ain A-Yaqeen newspaper reported that that year the IDB transferred $2,378,072 to the families of Palestinian "martyrs" and prisoners.

Among the many groups it funds, the Welfare Association supports Israeli Arab NGOs. These include Adalah, Balanda, Ahali, Ittijah, Mada al- Carmel and the Galilee Society. The Welfare Association also gives direct support to Israeli Arab municipal governments including Nazareth's municipal government and Kfar Kanna's local council. Its efforts are aimed at breaking the cultural and civic ties between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Among other things, it sponsored a campaign to block Israeli Arabs from volunteering in national service. It also buys properties for Arabs throughout the country.

The Im Tirtzu report shows that in 2006, the Welfare Association was instrumental in forming the NGO Development Center in Ramallah. Five out of 13 members of the NDC's board of directors are also on the Welfare Association's board of directors. The Welfare Association also donates money to the NDC.

The NDC acts as yet another clearinghouse for donor money to Palestinian and Israeli NGOs.

Aside from the money it receives from the Welfare Association, most of its annual budget of $19m. comes from European governments.

According to the NDC's website, to receive funds from the NDC, groups must agree to "monitor, document and report on violations by the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian human rights, as well as undertake campaigning and advocacy activities to address these violations and raise awareness about them."

Between July 2008 and December 2009, the NDC allocated $1.89m. to the following Israeli NGOs: B'Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, the Public Committee Against Torture, HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Bimkom, the Public Committee Against Housing Demolitions, Moussawa, Breaking the Silence, Gisha, Yesh Din and Workers' Hotline. The largest beneficiaries were B'Tselem, which was allocated $450,000 and received $405,000 by the end of the reporting period, and HaMoked, which received $500,000.

While it is true that most of NDC's funds are donated by European countries, it is also true that it is a Palestinian organization. And as its funding requirements make clear, to receive money from the NDC, groups need to actively participate in political warfare against Israel.

Given Im Tirtzu's limited resources, it is more than likely that its findings are merely the tip of the iceberg. And yet, even with its limited scope, the report makes a convincing case that hostile Arab governments and bodies linked with terrorfinance are indirectly funding Israeli Arab groups.

It also makes a convincing case that the NDC is a Palestinian organization founded and largely controlled by another Palestinian organization, the Welfare Association, which is funded by hostile Arab governments and foundations with ties to terror funders. And the NDC in turn is financing Israeli Jewish and Arab organizations that have agreed to conduct political warfare against Israel and the IDF.

THE PROPOSED inquiry has not only raised the hackles of Israeli politicians. It has provoked the ire of European politicians as well. During his visit here this week, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store threw diplomatic niceties to the seven winds. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, he condemned Lieberman for sponsoring the inquiry into foreign funding of Israeli NGOs, hissing, "I think it is a worrying sign" about the state of Israeli democracy.

Norway is a key funder of some of the most radical Israeli and Palestinian NGOs. It is also increasingly a major fount of anti-Semitic blood libels. Store himself endorsed one such blood libel when he wrote a blurb on the back cover of a book about Operation Cast Lead written by two radical physicians named Eric Fosse and Mads Glibert.

The two men spent the mini-war at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City that Hamas used as its command center. There they broadcast Hamas propaganda back to Norway. Then they returned home and wrote a book in which they claimed that the IDF entered Gaza with the express goal of murdering women and children.

And Store endorsed their book.

It is possible that Store's hostile response is just the kneejerk reaction of an anti-Semite. Or it could be that he doesn't want his Norwegian voters and the people of Europe as a whole to know about the anti-Israel political war their governments are waging with their taxes. Either way, his statements are simply more reason for the Knesset to move ahead with the probe.

Then there are the NGOs themselves. Their responses to the probe of their finances have been marked by total hysteria. They have attacked the commission's supporters as McCarthyites and fascists. If nothing else, the Im Tirtzu report makes clear that they have good reason to not want the public to know where their money is coming from.

One of Lieberman's most incendiary claims against the radical groups the Knesset inquiry will investigate was, "We're talking about organizations whose entire goal is to deter Israeli security forces and the IDF. It is clear that these groups are not interested in human rights. These groups disseminate lies. They demonize and incite against the State of Israel and against IDF soldiers. Never have any of these organizations ever said that Israel was right. Of course we are talking about groups that assist terror, and that is all, that their goal is to weaken the IDF."

Against the backdrop of the Im Tirtzu report's finding, Lieberman's allegations seem more or less spot on. At a minimum, backed by the new data, it is obvious that the public needs to have a full picture of who and what stand behind these self-proclaimed human rights groups.

Correction: In last week's column "Agents of Influence," I erroneously claimed that B'Tselem coined the term "The Wall" to refer to Israel's security fence. B'Tselem did not coin the phrase.
It only spearheaded the international campaign to oppose the construction of the security fence.



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



It has been an agonizing year since Haiti's earthquake. Despite all of the pledges of help, and vows to do things differently, there are more than a million displaced people still living in camps and a cholera epidemic rages. An immense relief effort has saved tens of thousands of lives, but reconstruction is only just beginning.

This year must be better. Looking resolutely forward to the next 12 months, here are some of the things Haiti needs to achieve, with the world's help. Some are difficult, but all are possible:

A CREDIBLE NEW GOVERNMENT President René Préval has failed to provide desperately needed leadership. Many basic policy questions, such as where to build new housing, have still not been made. That leadership crisis was made even worse by November's chaotic presidential election and charges that an electoral council, handpicked by Mr. Préval, may have cooked the results.

Observers led by the Organization of American States have just re-examined vote tallies and reported that the second-place finisher, Mr. Préval's protégé Jude Célestin, was, in fact, out of the running, as many Haitians and observers believed. Mr. Préval and Mr. Célestin should accept that result and urge the country forward to a swift, better organized, runoff between the top two candidates: Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly.

ENERGIZE THE RECOVERY COMMISSION The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, set up to unite donors and Haiti's leaders, was also very slow off the mark. It has now approved $3 billion in projects, $1.6 billion of them financed. It needs to develop and implement more comprehensive strategies for housing, health care, government reform and agriculture. Former President Bill Clinton and Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, have provided important direction but need to push harder.

CONTAIN CHOLERA The epidemic is a horrifying reminder of why Haiti so urgently needs clean water and access to medical care — two of the yet-to-be-delivered-on promises. More than 3,000 people have been killed and thousands more are threatened.

Aid has been slow to arrive and the response — despite valiant relief efforts — has been hobbled by poor coordination and overconcentration in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The epidemic must be contained, and relief organizations need to learn from this flawed effort.

CLEAR MORE RUBBLE AND HOUSE THE DISPLACED These are inextricably linked. The country is drowning in its own rubble, and needs space to rebuild. Many main roads in the capital are now clear, and every day the government removes debris that residents gather from local streets. Even with the best coordination, this task may take another year or more.

Building homes for more than one million displaced people could take two or three years. The next president must quickly make important land-use decisions and employ all of his or her legal and persuasive powers against entrenched landowners and the bureaucratic status quo to get construction moving.

PROMOTE JOBS AND INVESTMENT Here, too, there are glimmers of progress. The Haitian government, the United States and Inter-American Development Bank have signed a deal on an industrial park in northern Haiti. A South Korean textile company will be an anchor tenant and expects to hire 20,000 people. The project includes improvements in the port of Cap Haitien and in water supply, sewage treatment and electrification.

Haiti obviously needs more than one showcase project. But this is the kind of sensible planning and long-term commitment that will help build stability and bring more investment. It recognizes that new industrial development also needs houses, roads, schools and services, so that factories do not become surrounded by shantytowns. And that as the economy is rebuilt, it must also be relocated out of badly crowded Port-au-Prince.

While Haiti remains traumatized by the worst urban disaster in history, it has a lot going for it: new structures to promote sustainable development and investment, large pledges of money and the enduring patience and energy of its people. This is no time to give up. Haiti's political leaders, and the world, promised this time would be different. They must deliver.






In an ugly power play against justice and accountability, Hezbollah has withdrawn from Lebanon's cabinet, bringing down the unity government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. It must be resisted by all responsible Lebanese politicians and Arab governments, with strong support from the international community.

Hezbollah says it will give its support only to a Lebanese government that abandons and denounces the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister and Saad Hariri's father. The tribunal is preparing indictments, and Hezbollah members are expected to be among those charged.

The elder Mr. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, was widely respected for helping rebuild Lebanon after its civil war. If Hezbollah, a Shiite militia and political party, is implicated in his murder, it would damage the group's claims to be a champion of broader Lebanese and Arab causes.

The tribunal, backed by the United Nations and partly financed by the Lebanese government, is an important part of a multiyear effort to strengthen Lebanese institutions and re-establish the rule of law. Undermining it risks plunging Lebanon back into the era of assassinations and impunity that nearly destroyed it.

Hezbollah's move was timed to coincide with Mr. Hariri's visit to the White House this week where he sought President Obama's assurance of continued American support for the tribunal's work. He got that assurance, and the president's message was conveyed directly to Arab capitals by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France also declared his strong support. More international support for the tribunal, and Mr. Hariri, is needed, especially from the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, recently stepped back from its efforts to persuade Syria to rein in Hezbollah and help resolve the crisis.

Syria's leaders are no longer prime suspects in the Hariri inquiry. But they need to understand that any further effort to undermine Lebanon's fragile democracy — by Syria or its client Hezbollah — will only lead to more isolation for Syria.

The Syrian government needs to press Hezbollah to end its political extortion and rejoin a national unity government. Hezbollah's huge Lebanese-Shiite electoral constituency makes it hard to ignore. But impunity for assassination is too high a price to pay for its support.

Hezbollah depends on Syrian money and arms and responds to pressure from Damascus. Enlisting Syrian cooperation will be the first challenge facing Robert Ford, the new United States ambassador, who arrives in Damascus next week.





The New York State prison system has greatly improved mental health services since 2007 when it settled a lawsuit that had accused it of mistreating mentally ill inmates. A troubling increase in prison suicides suggests that all of the problems have not been solved.

State records show that there were 20 suicides in 2010, double the number in 2009 and the highest since 1978, the first year for which records were released. The figures inched higher in the 1980s, then even higher in the '90s. The decade that just ended was the worst on record, with more than 125 inmates taking their own lives.

The increase is both troubling and puzzling, especially since the prison population has declined by 20 percent in the last 10 years. In addition, the Department of Corrections has improved conditions for the mentally ill, creating new therapeutic programs and retraining staff. It has also placed fewer severely disturbed inmates in solitary confinement where they were at a much greater risk of taking their own lives. Most important, entering inmates are screened by mental health professionals.

Advocates for the mentally ill say that suicide prevention programs are being poorly implemented. Others have even suggested that prison officials in some locations may be encouraging staff members to misdiagnose the most severely disturbed people since they would be entitled to intensive — and costly — therapy. The fact that some who had committed suicide were not even listed on the mental health caseload as needing close attention is certainly worrying.

The rising suicide rate must be investigated and remedies quickly found. A prison sentence for a mentally ill person should not be a sentence to death.






It was bad enough that Representative Mike Fitzpatrick, a Republican of Pennsylvania, skipped the oath-taking ceremony for the new Congress and still cast votes after he showed up in the chamber. Six of his votes were nullified, as were some from Pete Sessions, a Republican of Texas, who also ducked the swearing-in.

The two lawmakers contended they were legitimate because they watched the swearing-in on television at what was initially described as a simple party for constituents where they chimed in on the oath — much like small children used to when becoming official Mouseketeers before the TV screen.

Then came the ultimate embarrassment: Mr. Fitzpatrick turned out to be absent because he was holding a fund-raising party at the neighboring Capitol visitors' center — a campaign donation event that House rules expressly forbid on Capitol grounds. It did not help that Representative Sessions, the chairman of the House Republicans' campaign committee, was at his side.

Work has barely begun and the new Congress is already stirring fresh business for the House's Office of Congressional Ethics. The incident should be thoroughly investigated and referred to the House ethics committee. It should be an early and clear warning to members that fund-raising, as 24/7 as it is in Washington, must not take precedence over lawmaking, even though too many members behave otherwise.

The finally sworn-in congressmen apologized to the House, with Mr. Fitzpatrick's office maintaining there was no fund-raiser, only a transportation fee of $30 per head for the bus ride from home. But his local newspaper, The Morning Call of Allentown, reported that the invitation to "Mike Fitzpatrick's Swearing In Celebration" solicited contributions of $30, $60, $120 and above. It also included a standard form for making contributions to the overeager congressman.






This is the time when presidential candidates start poking their little noses up through the snow, and making soft, trilling noises. I know you think it's too soon, even though Mitt Romney made his intentions clear on the family Christmas card. But as a public service, I am going to start providing summaries of the latest books from the potential Republican nominees so we'll all be well educated by the time the debates begin.

We need to get going because there's no way I'm going to read more than one a month. Let's begin today with the newest entry out of the chute:

"Courage to Stand: An American Story," by Tim Pawlenty.

Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, helps us to get to know his beloved home state. ("There are a lot of differences from one region to the next. But there are a lot of similarities, too.") And although there are very serious sections about the deficit and the evils of Obamacare, he wants us to know that he's a humorous guy, too.

Examples of Tim Pawlenty's Fun-Loving Side:

¶Introduced to a man who had just been fitted for a new hearing aid, Pawlenty decided to josh him by "moving my lips as if I were talking but without saying anything so he'd think something was wrong."

¶Made fun of a North Dakota hockey team while wearing a Gophers jersey.

¶While walking the family dog on the day McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate, Pawlenty bent down to clean up after his pet and told himself: "Well, this is the only No. 2 I'll be picking up today."

¶Attempted to tell his "No. 2" joke to Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog on the Conan O'Brien show. Dismayed when the joke never aired.

On the very first page of his introduction, Pawlenty tells us: "My family was eating breakfast one morning, discussing Greece and its financial trouble." This is a pretty impressive start, and if you see the man known to his fans as "T-Paw" in a Republican debate this year, I want you to remember that he is the one who eats breakfast with his wife and two daughters, and that the meal does not consist of grunts, snorts and evasive replies to questions about finished homework.

Chapter 1 depicts Pawlenty's Inauguration Day, with a great deal of attention paid to the outgoing governor, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, a former professional wrestler. This is possibly because the guy who helped Pawlenty write "Courage to Stand" previously performed the same chores for Hulk Hogan.

Anyway, Pawlenty asks Ventura if he has any advice for him, and Ventura says: "Nope." This is definitely a book highlight.

One important theme of "Courage to Stand" is Pawlenty's love of hockey. This may not be the best possible sport for a presidential aspirant, since, in my experience, a candidate for high office wearing a hockey helmet and those big shoulder pads looks kind of silly. But actually, I am only going on John Kerry.

Things Tim Pawlenty likes besides hockey:

¶"U.S. News & World Report."

¶John McCain.

¶Bruce Springsteen.

¶Hockey fights. ("Occasionally if I really need a good mental break ... I'll sit at the computer when I'm home at night and pop over to to watch a few of the latest videos.")

Pawlenty met his wife, Mary, in law school. I was really looking forward to this part since he has taken to referring to her at public events as "my red-hot smokin' wife." However, in the book she turns out to be a hard-working district judge who can always supply an appropriate Bible passage in times of crisis.

Before you know it, they're starting a family and he is campaigning door to door for state representative. "One big dog actually lunged at me, and I defended myself by sticking my stack of brochures in his face. He ended up biting the stack and left teeth marks in the pamphlets!" Pawlenty writes. This is the second high point of the book.

Pawlenty was elected and did well in the State Capitol. ("I like people.") Then he decided to run for governor.

We will skip over "the longest endorsing convention in the state's history" and just point out that Pawlenty's campaign theme was no new taxes. For sure. Really, none.

Becoming governor, Pawlenty writes, was like being "pushed into a high-speed turbowasher" and also like "a bullet-train ride on a roller-coaster track." This is the critical nexus of the book where, despite a massive shortfall, he stands up to the big-tax Democrats and figures out how to balance the budget solely by making cuts.

Which he says he did. But he actually doesn't explain how, except to point out that the Democrats were really, really ticked off when he gloated.

Also, that bridge that fell down in Minneapolis? Totally and completely not in any way his fault.






Tragedy in Tucson. Six Dead. Democratic congresswoman shot in the head at rally.

Immediately after the news broke, the air became thick with conjecture, speculation and innuendo. There was a giddy, almost punch-drunk excitement on the left. The prophecy had been fulfilled: "words have consequences." And now, the right's rhetorical chickens had finally come home to roost.

The dots were too close and the temptation to connect them too strong. The target was a Democratic congresswoman. There was the map of her district in the cross hairs. There were her own prescient worries about overheated rhetoric.

Within hours of the shooting, there was a full-fledged witch hunt to link the shooter to the right.

"I saw Goody Proctor with the devil! Oh, I mean Jared Lee Loughner! Yes him. With the devil!"

The only problem is that there was no evidence then, and even now, that overheated rhetoric from the right had anything to do with the shooting. (In fact, a couple of people who said they knew him have described him as either apolitical or "quite liberal.") The picture emerging is of a sad and lonely soul slowly, and publicly, slipping into insanity.

I have written about violent rhetoric before, and I'm convinced that it's poisonous to our politics, that the preponderance of it comes from the right, and that it has the potential to manifest in massacres like the one in Tucson.

But I also know that potential, possibility and even plausibility are not proof.

The American people know it, too. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Wednesday, 42 percent of those asked said that political rhetoric was not a factor at all in the shooting, 22 percent said that it was a minor factor and 20 percent said that it was a major factor. Furthermore, most agreed that focusing on conservative rhetoric as a link in the shooting was "not a legitimate point but mostly an attempt to use the tragedy to make conservatives look bad." And nearly an equal number of people said that Republicans, the Tea Party and Democrats had all "gone too far in using inflammatory language" to criticize their opponents.

Great. So the left overreacts and overreaches and it only accomplishes two things: fostering sympathy for its opponents and nurturing a false equivalence within the body politic. Well done, Democrats.

Now we've settled into the by-any-means-necessary argument: anything that gets us to focus on the rhetoric and tamp it down is a good thing. But a wrong in the service of righteousness is no less wrong, no less corrosive, no less a menace to the very righteousness it's meant to support.

You can't claim the higher ground in a pit of quicksand.

Concocting connections to advance an argument actually weakens it. The argument for tonal moderation has been done a tremendous disservice by those who sought to score political points in the absence of proof.






The second semester French class began a little after 9 on the morning of April 16, 2007. The weather that day was unusually cold for April. A light snow was falling.

One of the students, Colin Goddard, now 25, recalled what happened that morning in a new documentary film, "Living for 32."

"We started hearing loud banging noises outside of our classroom," he said. "The teacher went to the door to look into the hallway to see what was going on. ... As soon as she opened it, she shut it back again and said, 'Everyone get underneath your desk and somebody call 911.' I pulled out my phone and dialed 911, and I said, 'We're in Norris Hall. There's a shooting going on.' And as soon as I basically got that out, we saw bullets coming through the door."

Norris Hall is one of the main academic buildings on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, known as Virginia Tech. The gunman was a crazed student named Seung-Hui Cho, who was armed with a pair of semiautomatic pistols. It was not the first class he had visited that day.

Goddard remembered being shot in his left knee and feeling the blood, warm, seeping down his leg. The gunmen apparently left the panicked classroom momentarily. But the sound of gunfire continued.

"And then," Goddard said, "the bangs just got much louder again, and you could tell he was back in our room. This time he more methodically came down each of the rows, and he was still firing. At one point he was standing at my feet, and that's when I was shot a second time, in my left hip. Then he shot me a third time, in my right shoulder, and it flipped my whole body around and exposed my right side. And I was shot a fourth time, in my right hip."

In case we hadn't noticed, a photo and a headline on the front page of The New York Times this week gave us some insight into just how sick our society has become. The photo showed 11-year-old Dallas Green weeping and using his left arm to wipe his eyes during the funeral for his sister, Christina-Taylor Green, who was 9 years old and was killed in the attack in Tucson that took the lives of five other people and left Representative Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded.

Beneath the photo was the headline: "Sadness Aside, No Shift Seen On Gun Laws."

What is the matter with us? Are we really helpless in the face of the astounding toll that guns take on this society?

More than 30,000 people die from gunfire every year. Another 66,000 or so are wounded, which means that nearly 100,000 men, women and children are shot in the United States annually. Have we really become so impotent as a society, so pathetically fearful in the face of the extremists, that we can't even take the most modest of steps to begin curbing this horror?

Where is the leadership? We know who's on the side of the gun crazies. Where is the leadership on the side of sanity?

For starters, assault weapons should be banned. Their raison d'être is to kill the maximum number of people — people, not animals — in the shortest amount of time.

In "Living for 32," the 32 refers to the 32 students and faculty members who were killed by Cho at Virginia Tech. Goddard, during a filmed visit to the site of the shooting, remembered that when the police showed up, they had to call out to the survivors inside the classroom for help in opening the door, which was blocked by bodies piled in front of it.

He said it was only when the police cried out, "Shooter down!" that he realized that Cho had killed himself. Then came the awful process of triage: "I remember hearing them walk up to people, saying, 'This person's yellow. This person's red.' And then I heard, 'Black tag. Black tag. Black tag.' And that's when I realized that there were other students in here who didn't make it."

The professor, Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, 49, was also killed.

The film, produced by Maria Cuomo Cole and directed by Kevin Breslin, chronicles Goddard's recovery from his wounds, his return to Virginia Tech to get his degree, and his commitment to fight for stricter gun laws. He is now working with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Goddard does not want guns banned and has no desire to deny people their constitutional rights. But he believes there are sensible steps that could be taken that would make the U.S. a safer and better place, a place where college students and their professors do not have to worry about getting shot to death in the classroom.






Dhaka, Bangladesh

IN the 1970s, when I began working here on what would eventually be called "microcredit," one of my goals was to eliminate the presence of loan sharks who grow rich by preying on the poor. In 1983, I founded Grameen Bank to provide small loans that people, especially poor women, could use to bring themselves out of poverty. At that time, I never imagined that one day microcredit would give rise to its own breed of loan sharks.

But it has. And as a result, many borrowers in India have been defaulting on their microloans, which could then result in lenders being driven out of business. India's crisis points to a clear need to get microcredit back on track.

Troubles with microcredit began around 2005, when many lenders started looking for ways to make a profit on the loans by shifting from their status as nonprofit organizations to commercial enterprises. In 2007, Compartamos, a Mexican bank, became Latin America's first microcredit bank to go public. And this past August, SKS Microfinance, the largest bank of its kind in India, raised $358 million in an initial public offering.

To ensure that the small loans would be profitable for their shareholders, such banks needed to raise interest rates and engage in aggressive marketing and loan collection. The kind of empathy that had once been shown toward borrowers when the lenders were nonprofits disappeared. The people whom microcredit was supposed to help were being harmed. In India, borrowers came to believe lenders were taking advantage of them, and stopped repaying their loans.

Commercialization has been a terrible wrong turn for microfinance, and it indicates a worrying "mission drift" in the motivation of those lending to the poor. Poverty should be eradicated, not seen as a money-making opportunity.

There are serious practical problems with treating microcredit as an ordinary profit-maximizing business. Instead of creating wholesale funds dedicated to lending money to microfinance institutions, as Bangladesh has done, these commercial organizations raise larger sums in volatile international financial markets, and then transmit financial risks to the poor.

Furthermore, it means commercial microcredit institutions are subject to demands for ever-increasing profits, which can only come in the form of higher interest rates charged to the poor, defeating the very purpose of the loans.

Some advocates of commercialization say it's the only way to attract the money that's needed to expand the availability of microcredit and to "liberate" the system from dependence on foundations and other charitable donors. But it is possible to harness investment in microcredit — and even make a profit — without working through either charities or global financial markets.

Grameen Bank, where I am managing director, has 2,500 branches in Bangladesh. It lends out more than $100 million a month, from loans of less than $10 for beggars in our "Struggling Members" program, to micro-enterprise loans of about $1,000. Most branches are financially self-reliant, dependent only on deposits from ordinary Bangladeshis. When borrowers join the bank, they open a savings account. All borrowers have savings accounts at the bank, many with balances larger than their loans. And every year, the bank's profits are returned to the borrowers — 97 percent of them poor women — in the form of dividends.

More microcredit institutions should adopt this model. The community needs to reaffirm the original definition of microcredit, abandon commercialization and turn back to serving the poor.

Stricter government regulation could help. The maximum interest rate should not exceed the cost of the fund — meaning the cost that is incurred by the bank to procure the money to lend — plus 15 percent of the fund. That 15 percent goes to cover operational costs and contribute to profit. In the case of Grameen Bank, the cost of fund is 10 percent. So, the maximum interest rate could be 25 percent. However, we charge 20 percent to the borrowers. The ideal "spread" between the cost of the fund and the lending rate should be close to 10 percent.

To enforce such a cap, every country where microloans are made needs a microcredit regulatory authority. Bangladesh, which has the most microcredit borrowers per square mile in the world, has had such an authority for several years, and it is devoted to ensuring transparency in lending and prevented excessive interest rates and collection practices. In the future, it may be able to accredit microfinance banks. India, with its burgeoning microcredit sector, is most in need of a similar agency.

There are always people eager to take advantage of the vulnerable. But credit programs that seek to profit from the suffering of the poor should not be described as "microcredit," and investors who own such programs should not be allowed to benefit from the trust and respect that microcredit banks have rightly earned.

Governments are responsible for preventing such abuse. In 1997, then First Lady Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh met with other world leaders to commit to providing 100 million poor people with microloans and other financial services by 2005. At the time, it looked like an utterly impossible task, but by 2006 we had achieved it. World leaders should come together again to provide the powerful and visionary leadership to help steer microcredit back on course.

Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.









Democrat Gov. Phil Bredesen will be succeeded today by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Meanwhile, the Tennessee General Assembly began its 2011 session this week with Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.


It will be interesting how that works out. There undoubtedly will be much cooperation, but also some differences.


Finances, of course, will be involved in most of the big questions.


The legislators -- for the first time in Tennessee history -- elected a woman as the speaker of the House of Representatives. She is Rep. Beth Harwell.


The House vote, courteously, was unanimous, as all the Democrats, noting the overwhelming Republican majority, joined their Republican colleagues and one independent to pick Harwell. She is the former state Republican Party chairwoman and a former political science professor.


In the Republican-majority Senate, the vote was 20-13, along party lines, to elect Republican Sen. Ron Ramsey for his third time as speaker of the Senate. He defeated Democrat Sen. Joe Haynes.


Tennessee's incoming Republican governor and the Republican-majority General Assembly will face significant financial challenges this year.


Harwell correctly reminded fellow lawmakers that the people of Tennessee "expect us to exercise fiscal restraint and make the necessary cuts to balance our budget without raising taxes, and that's just what we will do."


Her statement was followed by cheers from her fellow representatives. Accomplishing that appropriate goal will be difficult, but it is plainly necessary.







Many Americans remember with anger, distress and sadness the 1950 Communist North Korean invasion of democratic South Korea. The attack led to the U.S. defense of South Korea and the three-year-long Korean War.


After American troops initially hung on to a small South Korean beachhead, U.S. forces advanced under the brilliant leadership of Gen. Douglas MacArthur to force the North Korean invaders into retreat. But Communist Chinese forces backed North Korea.


After three bitter and bloody years, the Korean War ended in a stalemate along the 38th parallel, and a 1953 armistice.


Since then, South Korea happily has become a thriving democratic republic. But Communist North Korea has remained a prison for its own impoverished people — and a continuing military threat.


Now, in 2011, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has felt it necessary to warn that the erratic North Korean Communist dictatorship — now possessing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, but not good judgment or good intentions — poses a direct threat to the United States and the American people.


Do you recall that a Japanese submarine shelled California in World War II? Well, Communist North Korea possesses submarines, nuclear weapons and animosity.


But surely the North Korean Communists would not be so foolish as to attack the United States, many believe.


Unfortunately, the vicious and irrational regime in North Korea cannot be counted upon to be reasonable, even in its own interests.


Militant North Korean Communists constantly threaten renewed war on the Korean Peninsula itself, as well. There are almost constant provocations, including deadly military attacks even on South Korean civilians.


Gates said this week of the current danger, "We consider this a situation of real concern, and we think there is some urgency to proceeding down the track of negotiations and engagement."


Gates, recently in China, credited the Chinese Communists with reining in the North Korean Communists, who depend upon China for much assistance and support.


But as long as the current Communist North Korean leadership is in control, is experiencing dire internal economic problems, and is driven by things other than logic and good will, North Korea will remain a threat that we cannot ignore.







It's not always "good manners" to boast about accomplishments, but we do not want to let some remarkably good news about Hamilton County pass by unnoticed.


You might have spotted an article in the Times Free Press about the county's bond rating. We will quote just a bit of the article:


"[T]he county boasts the best bond rating of any county in Tennessee -- and is among the top 2 percent of all counties nationwide ... ."


That assessment comes courtesy of a new study by Standard & Poor's Ratings Services.


What makes the news even more exhilarating is that Hamilton was one of only 20 counties nationwide that climbed the ranks to Standard & Poor's top level during the recession. In addition to the 47 counties that had previously achieved that AAA rating, only 67 of the total 3,143 counties in the United States enjoy such high status.


The excellent bond rating from Standard & Poor's can translate to lower interest rates when the county borrows money for future projects.


Hamilton County has obviously benefited from wise financial stewardship. The county has only about half of the per-capita debt of most counties, the Times Free Press article noted, and it has comparatively greater reserve funds.


Claude Ramsey, who just left his position as county mayor to become new Gov. Bill Haslam's chief of staff, noted, "Over the past few years, we've tried to put controls on our spending, and I operated under the assumption that the economy wasn't going to get real better very quick, so we need to protect our reserves."


A sensible, conservative approach to the use of taxpayer funds has left Hamilton County in good financial shape.


That's something area residents can be proud of.







It's hard to fault a company or an individual who makes use of some sort of government-provided financial incentive to produce "alternative energy" such as solar power. After all, who doesn't like "free money" from the government?


But a recent Times Free Press article on "going green" highlighted the impracticality of solar power production.

Truck 'N Trailers USA in Chattanooga used federal and state grants to install solar panels and reduce the company's power costs.


"It would have been unaffordable without the grants," Tom Moore, president of the company, told the newspaper.


We do not begrudge the company its energy cost savings. But the "savings" are not "savings" at all to U.S. taxpayers. Taxpayers footed the bill for much of the solar project.


If solar power were truly cost-effective, companies would not need the government to subsidize the expense of producing it. When government does subsidize that type of expense, energy costs have not really been eliminated; they have only been shuffled onto taxpayers.


That's not a wise policy when our federal government is already $14 trillion in debt.








When listening to the objectives set out during the last Conference of Ambassadors, I recalled an application put forward in 1983 by Turkish authorities to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.

The objective was to improve the capacity and skills of middle-level civil servants who worked in key positions of the public administration, to deal with a more internationalized environment, and more specifically, with the European Union. Let me note that the government of Prime Minister Turgut Özal was preparing its formal application for membership to the EU in those days.

Civil servants from 28 to 40 years old from the Office of the Prime Minister, the Finance Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the State Planning Organization with at least six years of work experience attended training sessions. Leading European training institutions organized over 60 seminars both in Turkey and abroad for approximately 1,000 bureaucrats. The job description of the trainers also included the preparation of a report based on their views about weaknesses of the trainees in negotiation capacities and skills in an international environment, compared to their European colleagues. Let's check out the findings:

"Negotiation style: Turks seem to have a conflict-based style during negotiations. In other words, they tend to take a firm position, go into trenches and strongly insist on the line they have chosen, making it felt that they would not give way and fight without changing their position. Although this is a sign of conviction and determination and has its own positive aspect, the EU environment requires a more cooperative approach, open to flexibility leading to consensus building. 

Teambuilding and teamwork: To prefer operating in cohesive teams to one-man shows. Turks tend to be weak in acting together, in creating strong and permanent environments where individuals support each other, rely on each other and stick to each other. 

Analytical capacity: When faced with an issue, Turks tend to be descriptive. They prefer to describe the subject and they do it rather well, in a precise way and without missing the details. However, the analytical quality looks to be weak. The education system in Turkey seems to encourage the descriptive attitude and inhibit the development of the analytical capacity. 

Strategic view: Turks seem to concentrate on short-term priorities and issues in their thinking. Focusing primarily on daily preoccupations leads to missing longer-term perspectives and blocks developing strategic approaches. 

A wider perspective: For many years Turkey has been an inward-looking country. The political environment, the press, the education system and the economy put emphasis on domestic matters, issues and worries. Turkey acted as an island largely cut off from the rest of the world. Although there are historical and geopolitical explanations for this attitude, Turkey did not succeed to get rid of an egocentric attitude and go beyond its frontiers. 

Communication skills: A certain degree of weakness is observed in communications. Turks seem to be afraid of making mistakes in international environments. This may be due to a perfectionist attitude or to difficulties with foreign languages or to a lack of full confidence. Other factors mentioned above may also play a role, such as analytical capacity, self-centered attitude, etc. Whatever the reasons, the lack of effective communications skills endangers the proper transmission of ideas and getting targeted results. 

Turks tend to express themselves not necessarily in a direct way. Generally, they turn around the subject without being to the point and precise; they end up being fuzzy, too general, jumping from one point to another and missing the very substance of the matter under discussions. To some extent, they also lack the capacity of "public speech" in international environments – that is, talking in front of the public, capturing the public's attention, keeping the audience under control and leading them to a desired outcome.

Social skills: Turks tend to feel difficulty in quickly establishing social relations with others in international environments. For them, this takes some time and tends to be difficult. When they finally succeed, Turks prove to be pleasant companions and reliable friends. However, the initial stage is mostly problematic."

Actually Turkey's transformation process started in 1983. And certainly today's Turkey is quite different. Therefore the findings of the report are open to debate. I leave it to readers. However, when it comes to problem solving or negotiating, it is not easy to say that we are not familiar with the descriptions given in the report, be it in bureaucracy or in another work place, abroad or in the country. Wonder why?






At the very end of my high school years, at the age of 18, I attended what Americans call "the prom" — the graduation party where all the students dress up and dance all night long. Alcohol was one of the key attractions of the night. Unfortunately, one of my classmates drank so irresponsibly that he got totally drunk and finally collapsed on the dance floor. He was taken to the hospital, and the doctors, as I learned later, said that he barely survived alcohol poisoning.

Several years later, on a trip to the United States, I noticed that there are very strict rules about not serving any liquor to anyone who is under 21. It made sense, in light of my prom night and in light of the fact that even 15-year-olds can easily walk into a bar in Istanbul and get a drink. We Turks, I thought, are perhaps a bit too lax in regulating alcohol consumption.

Very hidden agenda

I am recalling these in connection to the new regulations the Turkish government has brought to alcohol sales and promotion. Some of the rules make total sense. Alcoholic beverages will not be sold in stores near highways, for example, which might hopefully reduce the number of drunken drivers, of which we have no shortage. The ban on liquor brands advertising at public events for children or youth also makes sense, with regards to "protecting the youth from alcohol."

But there are a few other elements that seem to interfere in the lives of adults as well. Giving out free alcoholic drinks as a gift, prize, sample or promotion, for example, will also be banned. Why? Should the state "protect" adults as well?

Such questions are being hotly debated in the Turkish media. On the one hand, there are those die-hard secularists who see a "hidden Islamist agenda" in every step the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, takes. On the opposite side, there are those who think whatever the AKP does is right. I will try to be in the middle.

Let me begin by noting that reliance on state authority is a doomed tradition that almost every camp in Turkish society is poisoned with. The ultra-secularists (a.k.a. the Kemalists) have been the perfect case study, for they have dominated the state for decades and used it simply to impose their views. Hence came the ban on Sufi orders, headscarves, the Kurdish language and "insults to Atatürk."

Yet the religious conservatives, who have been the main victims of this authoritarianism, were actually not much different from it: They were also intolerant of ideologies and lifestyles other than their own. The Islamist tradition that most AKP folks are rooted in, especially, was clearly illiberal. It just wanted to replace the Kemalistly defined public life with an Islamicly defined one. ("Islamic" as they understood it.)

Yet a small miracle began in the late '90s: The more open-minded wing in the Islamic camp realized that there is a third way, the liberal one, on which a pluralist Turkey that gives space for everyone can be built. That's why the AKP began as a "conservative" yet liberal-leaning party, keen on joining the EU and realizing the EU-induced reforms.

Just two days ago, Bülent Arınç, the AKP's second figure after Erdoğan, spoke candidly about "this transformation in his life." On the issue of alcohol, he said:

"I have not had a drop of alcohol in my life. When I was first elected to Parliament, in 1995, the Manisa Chamber of Trade and Commerce gave a dinner. I saw alcohol at the table, and then I refused to sit there and left. Then I became the Parliament speaker. I saw that we have to be able to sit at these tables. We can have friends who drink. Hence I serve this [alcohol] at the receptions that I now give."

So, the AKP, and its cadres, have indeed changed.

The future risk

Yet there was a risk here: The AKP's transformation was an ad hoc one, brought more by "facts of life" than deep contemplations and discussions about Islamic theology. In fact, there was a particular Islamic ("modernist") theology that would justify liberal democracy, but not everybody in the Islamic camp had accepted or internalized it.

Secondly, the AKP's transformation was mostly driven by its willingness to find a way out of the oppressions of the Kemalist establishment. Their sympathy for liberalism, in other words, came from the troubles they faced from the illiberal secular state.

But what would happen when Kemalism ceased to be dominant, and the religious conservatives became the masters of the state rather than its victims?

These days, we Turks are discussing several issues relevant to this question: Erdoğan's limited tolerance of a controversial statue, the conservatives' intolerance of a soap opera that "insults" Ottomanness and the confusing alcohol regulations that I mentioned.

None of these, in my view, confirm the ultra-secularist conspiracy theory — that the AKP is Taliban-in-disguise. But they show that the transformation of the Islamic camp in Turkey is a work still in progress. It will need more liberal criticism and more "modernist" theological reasoning in the years to come. And I, for my part, will be happy to offer both.







The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, or P5+1, group will meet with an Iran nuclear delegation next week in Istanbul and that rare window of opportunity might let us see what Iran plans to do going forward.

Over the week, I talked to more than half a dozen United States officials and Iran experts and read tens of commentaries about the expectations of the Istanbul talks next week. This week, varying views over the effectiveness of sanctions have been joined by confusing articles, such as that of Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American religious scholar who frequently writes on Iranian politics, in which he asked how much we know about Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and whether he might be the "hidden" but real reformist, based on U.S. diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks.

U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary and spokesman Philip J. Crowley, also known as PJ, spent about 40 minutes with me this week to talk about current and future U.S.-Turkey relations.

I was certainly not expecting our interview to open any new chapters in relations, though neither was I expecting to hear any praise about Turkey's diplomatic role in Iran's nuclear program.

At least twice PJ "welcomed" Turkey's new pro-active role in the region when I told him of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's remarks that the U.S. needs to adapt to changing Turkey. "Turkey is rightfully trying to put itself into a position from which it can strategically affect the events in the 21st century," PJ said.

A retired colonel, like his wife, PJ talked about what he thinks about his job as going out to represent official U.S. foreign affairs policy to the world everyday. "I know that my words have meanings. When I speak about American policies I not only address the American people but also all other world governments. It is a global market and everybody has questions from different sides of the world," he said. To stay on the top of what is going around the world PJ works from 5 a.m. till almost midnight and has found that his addiction to his Blackberry helps him keep up.

In the last several weeks there have been various estimates and reports published suggesting that Iran's nuclear program has been severely hindered. For instance, Israel's newly retired spy chief Meir Dagan reported that Iran would not be able to build a nuclear bomb before 2015 because its nuclear program had been delayed by unspecified "measures" deployed against it, according to Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.

PJ, whether because of these serious and relieving estimations about when Iran could obtain nuclear capability, had a warmer attitude towards Turkey's Iranian diplomacy and argued that Turkey's diplomatic relations with Iran have played an important role in relaying the same message to Iran. "Work together with P5+1 and the IAEA. We may have differing views on how to reach this outcome but eventually there's no difference between the U.S. and Turkey on what Iran should do," PJ said.

While the U.S. and the West insist that sanctions are biting, from the beginning, Turkey said sanctions do not work in principle, and eventually opposed the U.N's resolution 1921, a sanction package against Iran, when it came to the U.N. Security Council.

Reuel March Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute headed by some of the world's leading conservative figures, also said that sanctions have been increasing pressure on Iran during a recent phone interview. Gerecht said the Obama administration does not currently have a military strike option on the table, and is instead rallying around the sanctions to hurt Iran's nuclear industry and its economy.

Gerecht articulated that concerns about Iran's influence over Iraq are exaggerated, and that he also doesn't believe there is any more for Turkey to do besides accommodating the talks. On the contrary, Gerecht expects Iraq to produce considerably more oil in the coming years to compete with Iran and help stabilize the oil market.

Michael Adler, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who is currently writing a book on Iran's nuclear diplomacy, also ruled out any kind of Turkish role for the P5+1 talks in Istanbul in during a recent conversation we had. "It was the Iranians who wanted the talks to be held in Istanbul, and Turkey was happy to do it. Other than hosting, Turkey is not part of the talks at all," Adler said. "Turkey does not want to clash with the US administration again." The final remark was an indirect reference to the Tehran Nuclear Reactor deal which left distaste in Washington, which Obama subsequently told Erdoğan about at a meeting in Canada.

While both experts give no chance to a military option anytime soon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen avoided talking about Iran's influence on Iraq when he was asked during a press conference. Even though I asked admiral, "how worried are you that Iran's influence in Iraq" might be rising as U.S. troops are leaving there, he answered by saying, "I think you express a concern with respect to Iran's influence in Iraq that is widely held in the region. In your country as well as other countries in the region.  That said, I've been very pleased with the outcome of the standup of the new government.  One of the things the United States said is that it had to be inclusive, and it is inclusive."

While the highest U.S. military chief avoided talking about possible Iranian influence in Iraq, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to International Atomic Energy Agency, this week described the Istanbul talks the last chance "because by installing fuel rods produced by Iran in the core of the Tehran Research Reactor, probably parliament will not allow the government to negotiate or send its uranium outside the country and the Istanbul meeting might be the last chance for the West to return to talks."

When I relayed this message on to a senior U.S. State Department official on Wednesday morning, while clearly bothered by the tone of the message, the official stated: "I don't know if it is the last chance, but we certainly expect Iranian officials are prepared to come to the table in a constructive fashion. Iran has to do more to answer our questions and cooperate with the IAEA fully. It is important to reiterate that it is Iran that continues to fail to meet its international obligations. This is not about the West, it is about Iran."

The P5+1 meetings with Iran will be a significant event next week, following the fragile, thrilling political chess game going on in Lebanon. As it has been explained in detail by countless experts, the stakes in Lebanon are high and many state and non-state actors seem to have axes to grind and reasons to show off in this torn country.

I tried to decode Davutoğlu's vision last week, in which I duly summarized what kind of diplomacy he has promised to the world. Ankara so far seems to be very active in the developing events in Lebanon and is surely aware that Lebanon could be a critical opportunity for Ankara to put its "wise" diplomatic skills to the test.






Debate over the "freakish" sculpture will go beyond the borders of Turkey, no doubt about it!

Sculptor Mehmet Aksoy, the man behind the "Monument of Humanity" in the eastern Turkish province of Kars, appeared on a TV program the other night. "If the sculpture is torn down, the world will be infuriated. Turkey will appear similar to the Taliban," he rightly said.

Aksoys says some members of the European Parliament and journalists are set to visit him in the next few days.

The debate, which started when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the sculpture "freakish" and ordered its demolition, has caused many different questions to emerge. Will the sculpture, which weighs 1,500 tons and is 35 meters high, be torn down?

Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay attempted to defuse the tension the prime ministers comments generated by saying that he was referring to the "freakish" shanty houses around the city rather than the sculpture. Will the minister resign, given that Erdoğan fiercely denied what Günay said?

Another question, does the prime minister have the authority to pull the sculpture down?

Regardless of these questions, I actually want you to pay attention to the city of Kars, which is in the middle of the heated debate.

Designed by Aksoy as a monument to friendship and fraternity in response to the massacre monument in Iğdır, the sculpture is, unfortunately, not the only thing to have become the center of tension in Kars.

Four sculptures dumped into storage

Elected at the last vote as mayor of Kars, ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, representative Nevzat Bozkuş earlier asked that four other sculptures be moved into storage. The four Aksoy sculptures were commissioned by former Kars Mayor Naif Alibeyoğlu.

Two sculptures of women in front of the municipality building, a sculpture of a naked woman in the city center and the "goose sculpture" – an iconic Kars symbol – were moved into storage by order of Bozkuş.

This is a scene frequently observed in Turkey. Each new official exerts efforts to destroy all traces of his or her predecessors. In fact, as soon as Bozkuş took over from Alibeyoğlu he canceled the Golden Goose Festival, to which culture and art circles had started paying a good deal of attention. The Caucasus Cultures Festival, which aimed to increase cooperation with neighboring countries, also shared the same fate.

Former Mayor Alibeyoğlu remained in the seat for a decade and broadened the city's vision, making tremendous contributions to the promotion of Kars. However, Bozkuş ruined what Alibeyoğlu had built.

Kars had big dreams during Alibeyoğlu's rule. It had ambitions of becoming the Davos of the Caucasus by maintaining friendships with Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Per capita income of $838 

Although it has a rich historic texture and cultural heritage, Kars has a very low income per capita. I think it was about $838 two years ago.

I do remember that Former Mayor Alibeyoğlu, whom I chanced to meet on various occasions, once stressed that per capita income in the city was even lower than some African cities.

However, the biggest problem Kars faces is that the Armenian border gate is still closed. Most businessmen in the city believe re-opening the border would help Kars overcome its economic difficulties.

The Humanity Monument, described as "freakish" by Erdoğan, was in fact an important part of Alibeyoğlu's vision for the city. If the sculpture had been completed, Kars would be discussed around the world as the site of a monumental, contemporary symbol of peace.

Along with the Ani ruins, upon which restoration works barely continue, this gigantic sculpture would help to generate a boom in tourism.

The conclusion I've come to regarding discussion about Kars' "freakish" sculpture is this: Kars… what a pity!

On top of that, Kars will be remembered as a city that tears down sculptures.







About five years ago I was invited to a conference to deliver a speech on brand marketing. By arriving a bit early I had the chance to watch a few other speakers. One of them was from the United States and was introduced as a retail guru. While earning from us the title "master of show biz," the speaker gave us two messages. By lying on the floor he showed us objects on the floor get more attention in shop windows, and by walking along a street like a consumer stressed how important it was to use signage that sticks out from the shop vertically. That was it! During the break, I saw a successful local retailer. He told me that the speaker was an outcome of excellent retailing in the U.S. and added how amazing the speech was. At the time, I thought this retailer's lack of language skills, combined with his admiration of a culture that has produced many success stories, was overshadowing his rational judgment about the speaker.

Last month, I was having a lunch with the owner of one of the most prestigious malls in Istanbul. He has been interacting with local and international retailers and has started comparing Turkish retailers with some of the top executives of international brands. According to him, the efficiency and effectiveness of local retailers are exceeding their international counterparts because of the conditions they grew up with. In fact if you look at new concept developments, IT structures, MIS systems, merchandising, product replenishment, visual merchandising, central music broadcasting, financial systems and above all the leaders who develop them, you start to see a new and fresh wave is emerging.

Over the last five years an amazing change has been taking place on the local scene. It is the outcome of a master plan initiated 20 years ago when textile production was encouraged by the government through the introduction of a series of subsidies. In the beginning, the quality of the goods did not really meet expectations, but then the machines and labor were quickly upgraded, leading to the "Made in Turkey" logo becoming an appreciated trade mark, especially during the last 10 years. Once the production era settled down, local brands started to emerge. Mostly "admiring" of the concepts of internationally known brands they started to develop their own identities through product and concept diversifications. Local successes were followed by some attempts to open stores in neighboring countries. During the financial crisis, local retail sales have been relatively less affected. While many international brads have been struggling, local brands have continued to finance their own growth. This instilled a great amount of confidence and encouragement in the leaders of these brands. No one is willing to listen to the owners of international brands advising them to wait 100 years to become like them. With today's sourcing and communication possibilities things move a lot faster if you make the right decisions at the right times. However, playing internationally has its own dynamics and skill requirements.

During an interview two months ago, the founder and owner of Mango – originally from Istanbul – was asked what advice he could give Turkish brand owners planning to go global. "Looking at what has been achieved so far, they only need self-confidence," he said. 

It seems to be that the internationally recognized Turkish textile production will soon be joined by internationally known Turkish brands.







The sale of alcohol is limited, and lies follow suit to explain the limits.

One of these lies is that the sale of alcohol is unregistered and that with this regulation they would all be on record. That is to say, tax evasion would be prevented this way.

Official statistics do not say so. For instance, 27 million liters of wine were produced in 2007. Production jumped up to 48 million liters in 2009. Clearly, there was an increase in registered production.

The debate, which started with the regulation attempt, looks like the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals. The minute the court declared that the period of detention on remand was set to 10 years, the law which was brought into force six years ago dawned on us.

There is a similar situation with the alcohol regulation.

Those on trial

The law regulating the tobacco and alcohol market was adopted in 2002, before the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government came to power.

During the AKP period, in 2008, the law was amended calmly, under which:

If an alcoholic beverage production company is sued for any reason, "the distribution license of those on trial shall be canceled."

"Those on trial…"

There is no court ruling yet; it is not certain whether there is an offense or not. However, as long as the trial period continues, the distribution license is cancelled.

The punishment comes in advance of the court decision. This is totally against the logic and implementation of law and the rule of law.

The cancellation of distribution license means the firm in question must stop production, and that means the bankruptcy of the company and firing of employees.

If the offense is fixed, imprisonment and a fine is the punishment. But before all else, there is the cancellation of the distribution license.

What happens if the suspect is acquitted in the court? Who will compensate the company for the bankruptcy and the cost of the unemployed?

There are already 26 wine companies that have been sued and have had to stop production.

To the Constitutional Court

In the meantime, another interesting development has taken place.

The 14th Administrative Court in Ankara, where cases against alcohol companies are heard, acted in parallel with the logic of law and applied to the Constitutional Court in April 2010.

The lower court asked for the annulment of this article on the grounds that it is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The lower court asked for the removal of the phrase "those on trial" from the article, for it is a catalyst for the bankruptcy of on-trial firms and the unemployment of their employees.

This is yet another dimension of the debate over alcohol. Apparently though, a scenario prepared ahead of time is now being played out gradually.

First deal a blow to the alcoholic beverage production companies and then work on alcohol ban regulations.

* Yalçın Doğan is a columnist of daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Friday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






The Turkish public will draft a new constitution following this year's elections, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters Wednesday in Qatar.

"I envision an understandable text that aims for advanced democracy and safeguards freedoms and basic rights. Academics will not make this constitution. Broad sects of society will make it. Following the election, we want to see an election picture indicating that we can do this," said Erdoğan.

The comments indicate that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is targeting 367 seats in the legislature, the threshold for the endorsement of a constitution without a popular vote. If the figure is between 330 and 367, as it was in the last constitutional amendment referendum, that would make it difficult for Erdoğan to achieve his "new constitution" dream and could push him to seek a partial Constitution rather than a new constitution from scratch. Figures around 330 could even force him to stop going for a new supreme charter. For this reason, Erdoğan's election campaign will be based on a "new civilian constitution" and he will ask voters to give him over 367 parliamentary seats.

What kind of election arithmetic could provide these numbers? Whether or not the AKP wins 367 or more votes (400 is being mentioned behind the scenes at the moment), the number will be directly proportionate to the political parties that either enter Parliament or remain outside. Following the June 2011 elections, some parties could play a "key" role in the Parliament arithmetic – the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, being at top of this list.

Let's take a look at 2002 and 2007 election results first. The AKP won 363 seats by winning 34 percent of the total votes cast during the 2002 elections. The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, won 178 seats and 19 percent of votes. Nine candidates entered Parliament as independent representatives. The AKP missed 367 by a hair's breadth. The Young Party, or GP, pulled the MHP below the election threshold by gaining 7 percent of votes. The MHP, on the other hand, dropped to 8 percent. The Motherland Party, or ANAP, was around 5 percent, and the pro-Kurdish DEHAP roughly won 6 percent. The two-party parliamentary structure made it easier for the AKP. However, the conjuncture was not appropriate for a constitutional change.

In the 2007 general elections, the balance changed. The AKP won 341 seats by receiving 46 percent of the votes. The CHP held 112 seats with 20 percent. The MHP, this time, managed to win 71 seats with 14 percent while 21 independent Kurdish deputies joined Parliament.

The AKP wants to repeat in June what they did in the 2002 general elections and create a two-party picture in Parliament.

While the CHP is aiming for the 30 percent level, the MHP will be the AKP's real opponent. In order to surpass 367, the AKP has to push the MHP out of Parliament; a CHP winning 30 percent of the votes and a few independent Kurdish deputies thrown in will not have much of an effect on attaining this number.

If the MHP overcomes the threshold by winning around 10 percent of votes, it will have at least 50 deputies in Parliament, making it very difficult for the AKP to draft a new constitution. If the MHP remains below the threshold, most of the MHP seats will be allocated to the AKP as part of the electoral system.

The calculations are clear; for this reason, the AKP will likely involve itself in tactical battles against the MHP in the run-up to the election, just as it did ahead of the referendum.

Meanwhile, there has been quite interesting news emanating from the MHP lately, as party official Ramiz Ongun is expected to be expelled from the party following reports that he directly targeted MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli and the party administration established by the latter.

There was a similar attempt in advance of the constitutional referendum as former MHP "idealists," a nationalist youth organization with ties to the party, had stood against Bahçeli for leading a "no" campaign and announced that they would vote "yes." Effectively, the MHP consequently split in two and many MHP supporters in Anatolia voted "yes" for the amendment package. Experts said afterward that this played a role in the AKP winning 58 percent of the votes.

It seems that the AKP will target the MHP during the election campaign and will wage a tactical fight to push the MHP below the threshold.

As such, Bahçeli is said to be considering some surprises such as nominating prestigious candidates in regions where the AKP votes stand at the edge or announcing his election manifesto earlier than expected.

Let's see who will be happy come election day after the tactical wars have been fought.

Uras on Parliament duty

Socialist deputy Ufuk Uras has been the figure keeping the BDP together. Some 19 of 20 BDP representatives went to the southeastern province of Diyarbakır for the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, case. Uras, as such, remained on duty in Parliament. A reporter asked Uras, "What will you do if a fight occurs?" Uras said, smiling: "We are leftists. We know very well the language of streets and fights."







We birds have always criticized the construction of walls between countries since we are free, flying creatures. In previous columns we criticized the wall that the United States built on its border with Mexico, the Israeli wall as well as any other wall to be constructed in the future. 

As we learned that Greece is about to construct a 12-kilometer wall on its land border with Turkey, we are obliged to criticize that idea too. According to the Greeks, that wall will make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to cross over from Turkey into Greece. For us the whole concept is stupid for practical and for psychological reasons. The desire of these immigrants to find a new life is so great that nothing will prevent them from stopping their efforts. The construction of the wall will just increase human fatalities as more and more of these immigrants try to cross the borders at more difficult points. But who cares about the loss of human life? Nobody does in human-land. Furthermore, the penetration of Greek territory by illegal immigrants will continue and increase from the islands. And where will Greece find the funds to construct a wall for them? We thought that it was burdened with an enormous budget deficit and that the people of the country were trying to survive the heavy taxes that had been imposed on them. 

The psychological aspects of a wall are also quite negative. We quote from Ryszard Kapuscinski's book entitled "Travels with Herodotus." "The worst aspect of the wall is to turn so many people into its defenders and produce a mental attitude that sees a wall running through everything, imagines the world as being divided into an evil and inferior part, on the outside, and a good and superior part, on the inside."

We totally agree with this point of view that it might also bring negative effects to the relations between Turkey and Greece, in spite of the fact that the two prime ministers in their meeting last week stated their support for such a wall. 

So what is the alternative? It is a long-term one. Stop the wars in the countries of origin of the immigrants (Afghanistan). Develop and reconstruct the destroyed countries. Create job opportunities in them and immigration will stop. The short-term solution is that the people who are guarding the frontiers should do a better job. And then immigration will be reduced. But a wall will only increase human deaths. 

But if you insist on making a wall, then it might make more sense to build it on the frontier between Turkey and Syria, so when Turkey joins the European Union, it will join it with a ready-made wall.

Ponder our thoughts, dear humans, for your benefit.






This week, we have three different emails on three different topics. The first email is from Abbas. He asks:

"Dear Sadettin;

I am an administrative expert in an Iranian foreign investment company and my job is to provide Iranian investors with information regarding doing business in other countries. We need brief information on how investors can opt for business in Turkey.

I am looking forward hearing from you. Sincerely, Abbas."

Dear Abbas, two different establishments study foreign investments in Turkey. The first of them is the Investment Support and Promotion Agency, or ISPAT. The agency is an official institution of government. The official website of the agency is

The second institution about foreign investments is the International Investors Association, or YASED. This association is a civil organization. The official website of the association is You can find information about the investment process from both institutions.

Health insurance

The second question is from Alan. He asks about health insurance and says:

"Merhaba Sadettin Bey, 

I have a war Disablement Pension from the U.K. which entitles me to U.K. National Health Service treatment whenever I return to U.K. without having to wait three months or to become a permanent U.K. resident. Will I still need to pay for UHI in Turkey? Alan."

Dear Alan, compulsory health insurance (Universal Health Insurance, or UHI) for foreigners has been postponed until Jan. 1, 2012. So you do not have to apply for UHI in Turkey. If your U.K. insurance is not valid in Turkey, you will have to apply for UHI after Jan. 1, 2012.

Car insurance problem

The last mail is from Dennis, who shares with us a car insurance problem. He says:

"Dear Sadettin,

I read each week your column, Local Expats Corner. I want to talk about an experience [that I have had].

My wife and I have lived in Turkey for over seven years and have had our car insured with one of the biggest insurance companies in Turkey. It was after reading an article on living in Turkey and driving a car on a U.K. driving license that had stated that if a U.K. person lived in Turkey for more than six months with a resident permit, the U.K. license would be invalid.

They confirmed that if we were involved in an accident which was our fault they would not pay out any money. When I asked why after all these years of taking our yearly premiums they had they not informed us about this, the reply was that it was not their policy to inform customers about Turkish law. We applied for Turkish driving licenses. One does not have to take a test. A simple medical and [application] to the traffic police after completing forms [is enough]. Yours faithfully, Dennis."

I thank Dennis for sharing experiences.

For your questions:






A famous Istanbul-Armenian writer-satirist, Yervant Odian, was deported from Istanbul to the Syrian deserts along with other Armenian intellectuals in 1915. Thank God, he was able to avoid falling victim in Deir ez-Zor by becoming a translator for German officials since he knew French and Turkish. Soon after, he began taking care of orphans left over from deportations in the deserts of Syria, placing them in orphanages. In one of his memoirs he asks: "Why is the truth being raped? Because it is always naked and beautiful."

I remembered this quote recently, reading news headlines on the monument of friendship in the Kars province of Turkey, and asked myself; What message should the people of Armenia, the government and the worldwide diaspora get from Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announcing his intent to destroy a sculpture that symbolizes Armenian-Turkish friendship and reconciliation?

Personally, one may be unwilling to push the "like" button under pictures of the sculpture, but the main difference between artists and policy makers should be maintained. If artists are free to express emotions over the "architectural values," creating and commenting on masterpieces, policy makers should be visionary enough not to spill oil on a recently extinguished fire of hatred, nationalism and ignorance. Prime Minister Erdoğan is certainly of the second type of public figure, not the first, obviously. Entering the year 2011 with such "enthusiasm" predicts fruitless results in the end, just the opposite of the efforts of the international community and leading states in the rapprochement process. The prime minister brands the sculpture of friendship to be an "abomination," "monstrous" and "freakish." Later on, the prime minister pointed out that he didn't want his words to be paraphrased (as the minister of culture did) and ruled that the monument in Kars was inappropriate. At a news conference in Yerevan on Friday, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian expressed his "deepest regrets" to have that news from Ankara.

As a scholar, I admire Prime Minister Erdoğan's policies of rebuilding the influence of Ottoman times in the Balkans and Middle East, but can't get into his policies in the Caucasus. Having said this, perhaps we shouldn't have been so surprised with the stance of the prime minister. The year 2010 was marked with another shocking expression by him in a BBC interview (March 16) in which he suggested expelling "hundreds of thousands of illegal Armenian migrants" from Turkey. If we add the quotes coming from Turkish deputies, both from the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and their colleagues from other parties, suggesting in the pages of Azerbaijani media that Turkey will support Azerbaijan in the case of a new war against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, we might be even more stressed. I would argue that the present policies of Turkey for the Caucasus lack inclusiveness, sustainability, vision and consistency and will leave the door open for my distinguished opponents to question this. 

The monument "Paragon of Humanity," or "Monument of Humanity" as most of the media covered it, was designed by well-known Turkish sculptor Mehmet Aksoy and was erected in 2008. In those glorious times many characterized it as a gesture toward neighboring Armenia in the rapprochement process. As usual, the ultranationalists were on the other side and criticized the matter, labeling it as a "betrayal of Turkishness." I am sure that then-Mayor Naif Alibeyoğlu would not have been able to erect the monument without firm support from the government. But now the priorities of the Turkish government have obviously changed. Amid the fundamental changes in Turkish politics, Reuters agency notes (Jan. 12) a sign of how deep nationalist sentiment is in Iğdır, the neighboring province to Kars: "A monument consisting of five 40-meter-tall swords thrust toward the sky commemorates the killing of Turks by Armenians," the report says.

As Milliyet newspaper quotes, Mayor Cevat Durak of Karşıyaka (İzmir province), who represents the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, has officially offered a new home for the sculpture in his municipality. Yes the initiative is commendable, but looking from Armenia, who was the initial "recipient of the gesture," İzmir province lies at the other end of Turkey, and the sculpture obviously will lose its initial meaning. "I can't imagine why the prime minister opposes a piece of art which symbolizes peace," Aksoy was quoted as saying in the Turkish media.

The same is here in Yerevan, Mr. Aksoy. We don't understand how the symbols of peace and reconciliation can be traded in for re-election, if it is the real matter to be blamed.

P.S. Before submitting this contribution to the Daily News, I had been thinking about the ending and received a message from a good friend in Turkey, ironically enough asking me what I had been thinking of the issue myself. The question was, "Don't you think it would be a great point if Armenia officially buys the monument and puts it right next to the Turkish border?" So, the good news is there are like-minded people on both sides. At least two of us will support this wholeheartedly!

* Hovhannes Nikoghosyan is the director and research fellow at Yerevan-based Public Policy Institute, available at






If there are people who might think nothing is happening in Turkey other than the "freak" discussion over Mehmet Aksoy's half-finished "Peace" sculpture in Kars, which the "enhanced democrat" and "art lover" Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has democratically expressed his distaste and direction for its immediate demolition, they are obviously wrong.

Of course, the discussion is awkward and painful. It demonstrates the enhanced democratic mindset, advanced civilized mentality and the deep affection felt by the present-day politically powerful people of Turkey toward works of art and artists. Also, the odd controversy reflects their preferences and priorities as it became clear with the eloquently worded remarks of the prime minister that he wanted the "freak" sculpture removed because not only is it situated next to an Islamic shrine, but it stands taller than said shrine. But, definitely, that discussion was not the most important development of the past days.

If someone comments that Turkey is taking great strides in becoming a radical Islamic country because of the new regulations tightening governmental grip on alcohol consumption or the order of a local school headmaster in Adana that there must be at least 45 centimeters between boys and girls, obviously he is making a gross exaggeration.

Correct compliance with the constitutional stipulation that the state is responsible of the protection of Turkish youth from alcohol and tobacco and such bad addictions, acting like "savior" of our youngsters and "purely" with health considerations the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority, or TAPDK, has updated its circular on consumption of tobacco products and alcohol in a manner which if applied rigidly may kill countryside weddings, catering companies or the luxury of enjoying a sip of alcoholic drink and watching a splendid sunset at a small fish restaurant on a non-tourist beach, riverside or lakeside.

Who can object to youngsters being prohibited from purchasing tobacco products or alcoholic drinks. If in a country at the age of 18 a young boy or girl can acquire the right to vote and thus help shape the administration and future of the country; can be considered "legally responsible" and thus "accountable" of his/her actions; worse after latest changes being debated by a parliamentary subcommittee might soon be given the right of possessing up to five firearms, but until she or he completes the age of 24 cannot buy [or drink in public] alcoholic products, perhaps some people has the right to look for some ulterior or secret agenda behind such decisions.

Because of the restrictions imposed in the same circular – which indeed looks like an edict of prohibitions – a leading beer company can no longer be able to sponsor the famous annual Blues festival. Companies producing alcoholic beverages are barred from sponsoring youth festivals and such events.

Yet, perhaps there is no need to exaggerate the development that the board and the government have repeatedly explained as "nothing further than updated an old circular" and claim the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has slightly unveiled its secret Islamist agenda.

But, Turkey's agenda is not those restrictions either.

The education minister has flatly denied reports in the media of the claims that a local primary school headmaster in Adana introduced an awkward ban according to which on school premises there must be at least 45 centimeters between boys and girls. Was he aiming to achieve some sort of segregation, or was he trying to prevent boys and girls coming together and staging an "illegal demonstration?" Look what's happening at universities? If kids are taught at that age the need to stay away from each other perhaps they will never ever come together, stage "illegal rallies" and hurl eggs at the heads of politically powerful impotents. No… That's not Turkey's agenda.

Turkey's agenda is also not about the high cost of living, unemployment or the rampant corruption and favoritism not only in municipalities but also in eminent governmental agencies like the customs authority.

Some 10 days ago scores of suspected criminals under arrest but whose trials were not completed yet were released as an article defining maximum arrest periods for suspects – entering into force finally six years after it was enacted. Of those released, there were some 10 defendants of the famous Turkish Hizbullah Islamist terrorist gang, held responsible of the brutal murder of over 180 people in the 1990s. Now, those people were ordered to be arrested again because they did not show up at police stations ever since they were released. They could not be found. Yet, that's not Turkey's prime agenda issue.

Turkey's agenda is Israel bashing, mending fences between Lebanon's troubled coalition and… wondering if Ottoman sultans were having sex with concubines in the harem, wondering if concubines moved about the palace in low-cut dresses…






The year I started in journalism, there were very few female journalists.

What has drastically changed the face of our profession in the past 34 years happens to be a geometric increase in the number of women journalists.

In many newspapers we now have plenty of female editors, section chiefs – some even made it to the level of editor-in-chief.

In the Doğan Burda Magazine Group, of which I am the director, there are half as many men as women. The publishing directors and editors-in-chief of many magazines are women.

Yet for all these years the distribution system remained an area where we have the least number of women.

I've always thought it's because it's very tiresome.

At midnight, or before dawn, opening bulk newspapers or magazines left by trucks, re-packing them for distribution to newsagents, loading them back onto smaller trucks and trying to sell them going around street by street is indeed tiring.

I was at a Yaysat Newsagents, the biggest publication distribution company, meeting the other night.

In the past on such entertainment evenings, where there will be dancing as well, you might not see a single woman on the dance floor, because all the distributors were men.

I would think that I was at a boarding school where everyone was male.

The other night, I looked around and saw that women were among them. Some had taken over a family business from their newsagent fathers. They are proving women can do anything.

And this year, a female newsagent won the "Best Demand Performance" award. She is Serap Sevinç from the Black Sea province of Giresun. Sevinç is one of those who took over the family business from her father as a newsagent.

Unsuccessful managers at newspapers and magazines have a tendency to put the blame on "distribution problems," but in fact we have an almost perfect distribution system.

Newspapers printed at four or five different facilities can have match results published with photos and still manage to be delivered to end-sellers early in the morning.

On top of this, we are able to learn the daily circulation of our newspaper by around 11 a.m. We know how many magazines will be sold monthly. The margin of error is not even plus/minus 1. As we converse with foreign publishers, I see that they are having a hard time believing these results because it takes weeks for them to tabulate their final results.

Doğan Burda magazines generally see an approximately 30 percent return rate. There are even many issues that sell with less than 10 percent return. This is an impossible result in any other country, including the United States. We owe it to our newsagents. For transferring unsold magazines to other points for sales, a daily follow-up is needed.

While I was leaving the Yaysat meeting, I thought that I owe them a big thank you.










It is easy to imagine the sea that laps the shores of Karachi sighing constantly. The city has in recent years seen enough tragedy to warrant the ceaseless sound of mourning. After a brief respite, the spree of killings motivated by ethnic and political rivalry has resumed. This suggests 2011 will bring no better news on this count than the year that has rolled out. At least 17 people have died since Thursday in targeted killings in Karachi – and among them is a reporter for Geo TV. Wali Khan Babar was only 29 years old. His shocking and extremely tragic death adds to the growing number of journalists killed in the line of duty in the country. The promising young reporter could have achieved a great deal in life had he been spared the bullets which ended it. Indeed, behind each of the victims of the latest round of shootings there is a story to tell. In homes across Karachi, wives, parents and children will have waited for loved ones who never return. For some households, a wage-earner will have been snatched away. In almost all cases those who died were ordinary people going about their work or finishing some errand. They could have had no connection with political decision-making or the strife between various forces that has divided Karachi. Every death is, then, a tragedy. So is the constant turmoil in the city, which prevents people from going about their lives with any peace of mind. The threat of violence walks constantly besides them, like a shadow that refuses to fade even after the sun has sunk behind the horizon – indeed, especially then, as in Wali Babar's case.

Karachi has lost far too many people to such mindless killings. The attempts to calm matters down or to persuade political parties to do more to end the frenzied hatred that has taken root in the city have failed. Nothing at all has come out of the repeated assurances from Interior Minister Rehman Malik that those behind such violence will be identified and punished. We still do not know quite who is responsible. But it seems too, from the growing mistrust, that the killings are driven by the resentments and frustrations that grow by the day in Karachi. Poor governance adds to them. We see a total breakdown in law and order; no life is safe and anyone can die at any time as a result of events that are quite beyond their control. The death of Wali Babar has been condemned by political leaders. Calls have been made for peace in Karachi. These are pointless. What is most urgently needed is a way to bring lasting peace to our largest city. The political parties which wield influence in Karachi need to accept that they must do everything possible to achieve this. Mere commitments made at talks can achieve little. The pledges need to be backed up by genuine commitment to stop the reign of death. Karachi must be saved by forging a solution to its multi-faceted problems. This can happen only if the political forces unite in a quest to remove the guns from the hands of their activists.







Pakistan Railways has informed the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Railways that it will need to cut another 39 loss-making passenger trains and raise fares on others to try and bridge the huge gap between revenue and expenditures. The raise in fares has been justified on the basis of the increase in the price of diesel since 2008. The general manager of Pakistan Railways has also said that while revenue collected annually from the trains whose services he believes need to be cancelled is Rs500 million, expenditures are a colossal Rs4 billion. This disclosure is shocking. The manner in which Pakistan Railways has been going steadily downhill over the past few decades is terrifying. Lately, the descent has grown more and more rapid. In a country such as ours, where very few can bear the cost of air travel, the extensive railway network that sprawls out from Karachi to Khyber should be serving a vital need. The fact that this has not happened is entirely the result of continuous mismanagement and the failure to capitalise on the potential of trains to meet vital commuting and freight needs. The fare increases proposed by Pakistan Railways will leave it an unviable option for many who use them. As a result, they will turn to road transport – a sector that has grown rapidly with coaches and buses hurtling down highways – taking away still more revenue from the nearly empty coffers of Pakistan Railways.

Fleeting attempts have been made to save the public entity. Luxury services and more non-stop trains have been offered. But these efforts have brought little real change; in many cases they have fizzled out quickly. The Chinese coaches purchased to carry passengers from Lahore to Rawalpindi are today showing signs of increasing wear and tear. Those who had begun to climb aboard trains have clambered off once more. We need a massive initiative to rescue Pakistan Railways from what seems like certain death, so that trains can, literally, be put back on the tracks again. We also need to examine why so many of our big public-sector organisations have sunk to these depths, draining away resources and adding to our economic woes, at a time when more money is urgently required to keep the ship of state afloat.







The US forgets that the weak have one weapon: the errors of those who think they are strong. It misjudged its own strength in Afghanistan, just as it did that of the Taliban. And, having bitten off far more than it can chew, it is stuck for an explanation for its lack of success. That's essentially the problem that all US emissaries face, including the straight-talking Joseph Biden.


In many respects, Biden resembles his Pakistani counterparts. Like, for instance, his body language, which often belies the words of his carefully-crafted speeches; actually, his discomfiture with written speeches as a whole. But chiefly that, like them, he suffers from dentopedology, which is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it. That said, on this particular visit it was mercifully not evident. In fact, his candour was refreshing and welcome.

A major hurdle in coming to grips with America's Afghan policy is that the US mission statement is forever evolving, depending on what is needed to keep pace with the mood swings of the American electorate or the changing balance of opinion among its distraught decision-makers. It evolves and devolves, from nation-building; to ushering in democracy; to defeating Al-Qaeda; to worsting the Taliban (but only the "bad" Taliban); to stopping their "momentum," to "reversing the trend" – and, sometimes, all of the above. It switches from US combat troops leaving in 2011, to not doing so till 2014, and not even then, according to Biden, if Karzai "were to ask for them to stay." (This latest Biden utterance, which was discounted in Washington, brought his foot dangerously close to his mouth.)

US policies are equally evanescent towards Pakistan. From conducting Special Forces operations within Pakistan, to having boots on the ground, to "not having a single boot tread on Pakistani soil"; to breaking up Pakistan, to not breaking up Pakistan; to being happy with Pakistan, to warning Pakistan that "US patience is wearing thin." Only in one respect has American policy been consistent, and that is demanding of Pakistan to "do more," and more, and more – although one suspects that this too might change from "do more" to "do it all."

Headlines, following Biden's visit, varied from "US patience on North Waziristan wearing thin" to the subject not really being discussed, as the US was "already familiar with Pakistan's stance on the matter." Needless to say, the matter must have been discussed, with Biden making not merely a routine but a passionate reference to the delayed operation in North Waziristan. He would have been gravely remiss had he not done so, because, according to Petraeus, the success of the ongoing and spluttering "surge" depends on it.

At his press conference and in his meetings, Biden also addressed some of the points raised in the paper Gen Kayani handed over to Obama. He had some reassuring words about the US-Pakistani partnership, all of which are welcome. There was the inevitable reference to the need to fight and not nourish terrorists – an impression that has sadly gained wide currency following Taseer's murder – lest Pakistan be consumed by them.

What neither side addressed, however – because neither wants to for its own selfish reasons – is the increasing hold that extremism is acquiring in Pakistan. This is due mostly, but not exclusively, to deteriorating economic conditions at home but also the war in Afghanistan. And this is because some would prefer the American presence in Afghanistan to be endless, because if it were not for the war the attention, the economic largesse and the military assistance being lavished on Pakistan by America would be missing.

As one American commentator said: "Were it not for Afghanistan and the nukes Pakistan could become a Congo, for all we care." Unfortunately, that is what Pakistan will resemble if the Americans remain in Afghanistan, and the war continues to consume as much of our attention and resources to the exclusion of other spheres of life. The fact is that the Americans are as much a part of the problem as the Taliban, with the important difference being that whereas the Taliban have nowhere else to go, the Americans do. And they should go – as soon as possible.

Were they to do so, no "dominoes" would fall, just as they did not after their defeat in Vietnam, despite American forebodings to the contrary; nor would the likes of the Taliban stand a chance of getting within hailing distance of our nukes, the Pakistani army is far too strong for that. In fact, much of the poison would be drained from the current wound that is festering on account of the war; and in the absence of drone attacks or, better still, with the drones in Pakistani hands, the TTP would face a stronger, local, Muslim and no less an implacable foe in Pakistan. The score or so Al-Qaeda leaders remaining in the hills could be handled a lot more easily by US Special Forces operating from bases in the neighbouring Central Asian republics or from carriers at sea. And of course by Pakistan itself, if it came to that.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, power, like water, would find its own level. The Taliban would be hard-pressed to impose their will and Pakistan would be demented if it were to interfere in Afghanistan, having got its fingers burnt as badly as it did earlier when our Napoleons and Bismarcks considered it a launching pad for a similar venture in Central Asia. Of course, provided that other regional powers and India, in particular, did not get up to mischief.

Although the cunning Afghans would likely pit India and Pakistan against each other, in the hope of benefiting from the rivalry, if it ever came to a choice between India and Pakistan only a man as short-sighted as Karzai would prefer to throw in his lot with India, considering the difficulties that Pakistan could create for him; and knowing that, if he did, without the Americans around to save his bacon, it would amount to a death wish.

A similar scenario, with a few variations, such as the retention of two bases in Bagram and Kandhahar by the US, was what Biden had suggested to Obama in September 2009, before it was shot down by the Pentagon-wallas and Biden was made to look like a loose canon. Nevertheless, it is to what the US will probably revert to after the surge fails and the American electorate, already tired of the Afghan war demands an early end to combat operations.

Needless to say, by that time thousands more Americans, Afghans and Pakistanis would have been killed to no avail. Viewed thus, Biden is a far more astute and farsighted a visitor to host than American generals, whose last decisive victory occurred in World War II, not counting the "mother of all battles" that really never occurred in Iraq.


The writer is a former ambassador. Email:








In their visits to India in 2010, the US and French presidents as well as the British prime minister earned the dubious distinction of criticising Pakistan on a third country's soil, in violation of diplomatic norms. The three leaders were so keen to get a share of the growing Indian pie that blaming an old and present ally was considered fair game. Some Pakistanis were so upset by this show of 21st century mercantilism that when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later went to Berlin and got a similar sermon for Pakistan from the German Chancellor, those compatriots started referring to Angela Merkel's anti-Pakistan rhetoric during her "visit to India."

For the sake of accuracy, let us concede that the remarks were made when the chancellor received Mr Singh in her own capital. The Germans also tried to assuage the Pakistanis by clarifying that the chancellor's comments had been distorted by the media. Germany has followed up by sending its foreign minister on a fence mending trip to Islamabad.

How did the other three countries – US, UK and France – whose leaders admonished Pakistan about curbing cross border terrorism, try to make up to Pakistan? Prime Minister Cameron reportedly offered to undertake a quick trip to Islamabad after a pre-Christmas ritual appearance before British troops in Afghanistan but that was politely declined by Pakistan. The Americans, as usual, resorted to telephone diplomacy to soothe Pakistan's hurt feelings about having been omitted from the presidential visit and about going overboard on several issues to placate India for saving jobs back home.

A visit by Obama in 2011 was promised, while proposing to include Pakistan in a visit by Vice President Joe Biden. The big unknown, at least at the public level, is France as we have not heard of any effort to mitigate President Sarkozy's un-statesman like comments about Pakistan. This probably indicates that the French, who made a great contribution to the development of modern diplomacy, have no time for Pakistan's sensitivities.

Blaming the other can be a convenient way of shifting the responsibility for one's own failure or incapacity. In the case of Mumbai attacks of November 2008, India accused that Ajmal Kasab and others travelled from Pakistan by sea to launch their terrorist operation in Mumbai on 26/11. Hence, Pakistan should come down like a ton of bricks on Kasab's handlers. What about India's failure in identifying and punishing perpetrators of the 2007 massacre on Samjhota Express or America's sketchy record of prosecuting hundreds locked up on Guantanamo Bay?

If the Indians or others think that Pakistan could have detected and stopped those slipping out to hit India, how do you explain India's inability to detect the movement of those attackers along its own coast and their stay in Mumbai prior to the attack. The same goes for Taliban fighters moving across the Pak-Afghan border to attack US-led coalition forces or other targets in Afghanistan. Is it not the mission of Afghanistan's own security forces and their foreign allies to intercept the fighters coming through the frontier? India's tendency of blaming Pakistan is well known. What is more hurtful is when Pakistan's old friends and allies led by the super power find it necessary to harangue Pakistan and that too from Indian soil. While Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama were straining backwards to blame Pakistan to please their Indian hosts, not a single word was uttered by them about the lack of progress in bringing the attackers of Samjhota Express to justice by India.

The blame game against Pakistan reflects the desire to use public diplomacy as an instrument of pressure and propaganda against this country and its people. It helps in point scoring while avoiding serious diplomatic negotiation. Giving Pakistan a bad name helps prepare the ground for freezing the dialogue. Having followed this methodology, India can subsequently claim that her public opinion has not yet recovered from the shock of Mumbai to resume the comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan. However, this strategy has run its course. India may be feeling that the policy of no dialogue needs to be revisited. Parliamentarians from the two sides met in early January to give a people's dimension to Pakistan-India dialogue. Some Pakistani members pointed out that while in the past, Pakistan was Kashmir centric for a dialogue, now India has become terrorism centric for restarting the dialogue process. A number of parliamentarians from both sides shared the sentiment that the blame game was leading nowhere and some rethinking was needed to move forward in relations between the two countries.

We may have realised a little late that there is no point in reaching out for a dialogue with those resorting frequently to the blame game rather than conducting business through diplomatic channels. The next step should be to take an equally serious view of 'do more" rhetoric of some who want us to do more so that they have to do less. "Do more" should work both ways. It is understandable to hear from Joe Biden that Pakistan should do more against enemies of her own sovereignty. Must we remind the US vice president that the issue is much more complex. The internal threat to the state has grown proportionately to the government's commitment to facilitating the mission of extra regional forces in Afghanistan.

The writer is a former ambassador to the European Union. Email: saeed.saeedk@







The government and opposition factions appear to be converging on a ten-point agenda focused on eliminating some of the currently prevailing governance distortions in Pakistan. Articulated as a set of "demands" by one particular opposition party, the points have been endorsed by others and have been admirably embraced by the incumbent federal government. The ten-points, per se, are non-controversial and there appears to be a broad consensus that action towards them will contribute positively in an environment where mistrust and malfunction are now deeply ingrained. This comment is aimed at explaining that whilst these points are significant stepping stones, and are important in their own right, they are nevertheless inadequate for addressing deeply rooted systemic issues, which can only be amenable to reform at a more fundamental level. Three points are being highlighted to elaborate this further.

Six of the ten demands centre on eliminating corruption in one way or the other. The demands to dismiss cabinet members and personnel in high offices with tainted credentials, dealing with culprits of the recent Hajj, banking, privatisation and procurement scams, and bringing perpetrators of the recent commodity hoardings to justice fall under this category. Additionally, the demand to implement the supreme courts' verdict in the aftermath of the National Reconciliation Ordinance being regarded null and void also falls within this rubric.

There is a long standing history of attempts to address corruption through disciplinary and penalising action in Pakistan. Whilst it is true that punitive action has its value as it sets an example and acts as a deterrent, it has its limitations. Political governments and decision makers, deeply entrenched in the spirit of camaraderie are reluctant to bring their peers to justice. With many opportunities to abuse discretionary powers, disciplinary efforts often take on politically-motivated overtures. Pakistan has made the mistake of focusing on corruption through the predominant focus on this approach for far too long. As a consequence, other more systemically effective means of garnering a culture of transparency in overall governance, have received little emphasis.

More than punitive action, the key to anti-corruption is to focus attention on building institutions and systems that limit opportunities of collusion, graft and arbitrage in the first place. An important aspect of this is mechanisms of oversight that can check discretionary powers, which create opaqueness in interpretation and variance in application of policies. There is potential within leveraging technology as a barrier against abuse and pilferage.

Promoting market harnessing means of regulation, fostering competition to weaken economic interests and integrity-promoting measures in the bureaucracy are other entry points. The dividends of appropriate disclosure and freedom of information and safeguards against conflict of interest should additionally be brought to bear. Furthermore, one of the most effective anti-corruption strategies has to do with building safeguards against state capture and the legacy of patronage; this can be attempted by upholding democratic principles in governance so that the systemic manipulation by vested interest groups, which has become a governance norm in our country, can be circumvented.

Punitive actions being recommended as part of the agenda, therefore, need to be supplemented with a greater emphasis on strengthening Pakistan's key institutions in general and accountability mechanisms in particular, and implementing the country's National Anti-Corruption Strategy, which seems to have gone into hibernation after its unveiling in 2002 and several successive attempts aimed at reviving it.

The second demand on the agenda calls for the creation of an independent accountability commission. It is widely accepted that impartial and depoliticised accountability bodies can help advance the accountability/transparency agenda. However, the past performance of commissions in Pakistan has not been promising and nothing harvests the hope that the case is likely to be otherwise this time round.

Commissions tend to fall prey to capture and end up behaving quite similar to bureaucratic structures. There are additional issues with the proposed accountability commission. The law under which it is supposed to be created and which has been pending in the parliament/ministry of law for over a year, has been criticised because of its glaring list of exclusions and loopholes, which can enable exploitation. Furthermore, accountability is a broader thread in governance and is not synonymous with anti-corruption. As an attribute, it is also relevant to the performance and financial realms.

If mechanisms to compel accountability existed and if disclosure and freedom of information laws had been implemented in their true spirit to assist with the accountability process, perhaps Pakistan's debt burden would not have accumulated to this scale and its footprint on the lives of the common man in terms of inflationary pressures and scaled back social services would not have been this brutal. The blatant graft, which leads to massive bleeds from the system, may not have been so deeply entrenched crowding out the space for resources, which can touch the lives of a common man.

The Public Sector Development Programme would not have continued to fund public sector enterprises and infrastructure projects with meagre development resources at the cost of health and education, while options to revitalise management and privatisation for the former and private financing for the latter existed. If accountability had been institutionalised, the energy czars would have not prioritised quick turnover thermal power plants over long term sustainable investments in hydel power projects; the common man would not have to bear the weight of massive load-shedding, which is having a domino effect on employment and the economy. There is a long list of illustrative examples to highlight the manner in which lack of accountability at the decision making level has translated into the current mayhem. So, important as the agenda targets may be, it will take more than a commission to set things on the right path.

The third aspect of the agenda I would like to comment on is the call for an independent election commission. Perhaps what the agenda should have stressed on additionally is also to expedite and support what is already in the pipeline. The News on January 12 featured a seemingly non-descript but an important news item regarding the National Database Registration Authority's efforts to install an electronic voting system and a law in the pipeline to enable that. Ideally this should be supplemented with other reforms to make the election process more facilitative for those that neither have the power nor the money to enter the run. Additionally, the illiterate voter, currently beholden to feudal interests and dynamics of 'biradari' will also have to be primed to the need for making the right choice. What Pakistan needs now is human capital in the right policy making roles with the hope that this will set key institutions on the pathway of recovery. The agenda demands need to be augmented to make headway in that direction.

The writer is the founding president of the NGO think-tank, Heartfile.








There are three groups that are usually overlooked in surveys. The first is the suffering of the women, in the form of loss of property, for example. The second is the minority groups, who are blatantly ignored, because nobody bothers about them. The third group is the peasants and poor labourers, who lost everything in the floods of last summer. This could explain the large discrepancy between the estimates of the World Bank/Asian Development Bank and that of civil society organisations.

The salient features of the various reports are:

1. According to the World Bank/Asian Development Bank the damage to property, crops and infrastructure amounted to about $9.5 billion, while the ministry of finance reported a figure of $30 billion for total recovery. The Pakistan government, on the other hand, ignoring the Ministry of Finance estimates, indicated the exorbitant figure of $43 billion (fearing that a lower estimate would mean less aid.

2. Punjab was hardest hit. To a large extent, crops were inundated and lost. On Aug 12, the UN appealed for $459 million in emergency aid for Pakistan.

3. According to a UN estimate, the floods affected and displaced about 20 million people, of which six million are children. Close to 2,000 people lost their lives. About six million people are now homeless and living out in the open, with no proper shelter and without food supplies.

4. According to the government estimate, 724,000 homes have been destroyed

5. The floods in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa washed away 42,000 houses. According to the World Food Programme, a total of 97 villages were affected in the Peshawar area, 105 in the Nowshera area, 80 around Charsadda and 182 in Mardan district.

6. According to agricultural officials quoted in the World Bank report, the floods, which affected 17 million acres of agricultural land, destroyed about half-a-million tons of wheat and two million bales of cotton. The Bloomberg news agency reported the statement of a farmers' group in Pakistan stating that more than a million acres of sugarcane, cotton and ricefields were destroyed, causing a loss of Rs 250 billion. The president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, put this figure at around $1 billion. The chairman of the Pakistan Agricultural Forum reported to Bloomberg that the floodwaters destroyed about 700,000 acres of planted cotton, 200,000 acres each of rice and sugarcane crops and 300,000 acres of animal fodder crops. About 100,000 head of livestock perished. Based on one estimate, half of Pakistan's livestock vanished overnight.

7. The number of people in Pakistan affected by the floods could exceed the combined total of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Kashmir earthquake of October 2005 and the Haiti earthquake of January last year.

8. From all indications, Pakistan is heading for a dangerous drop in strategic food stocks in the coming months. Amid the rising world prices of sugar and wheat, the country might be forced to import these commodities.

9. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani stated that the disaster had pushed the country back by 50 years in terms of infrastructure, electricity and communication. Hundreds of miles of electricity pylons and gas pipelines were destroyed and numerous power stations were flooded. In Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa alone, 112 schools, 210 hotels and 137 bridges were swept away. The whole of Charsadda district and a major portion of Nowshera were swamped. According to the Chief Minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, up to 40 kilometres of the Indus Highway was washed away. Rough estimates indicated that losses in Sindh amounted to around Rs35 billion. The figures does not include the lost crops.

10. A rough estimate put together by a brokerage firm in Pakistan suggests the economy might lose up to 1 per cent of its gross domestic product, or the equivalent of $1.8 billion. Pakistan's ministry of finance put the loss at around $2.9 billion.

11. According to the World Bank/Asian Development Bank report, the total cost of the flood (relief, early recovery, reconstruction, etc.) has been estimated between $8 and $10 billion.

My friend, Dr Farrukh Saleem, has drawn my attention to the following important points:

1. The central issue is that of the credibility of the assessing organisation.

2. The government has no option but to trust the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

3. Disaster-management is a well-developed and complicated science that the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are supposed to have mastered, especially in view of their experience in dealing with calamities.

4. For example, the World Bank had worked on the 1970 Bhola cyclone of the former East Pakistan, the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the Haiti earthquake of last year, Cyclone Nargis, the Kohistan avalanche and many other such disasters, which provided it a lot of practical experience.

5. In order to successfully challenge the World Bank/Asian Development Bank assessment, which is based on scientific methodology, the Pakistani government and NGOs would have to evolve a credible and alternative technology of damage- and need-assessment.


1. The World Bank/Asian Development Bank "Damage and Assessment" report is based on scientific methodology which, due to lack of extensive and detailed information, gave an estimate of $10 billion, which was lower than the realistic actual damage. A causal factor in the lower estimate is probably due to the use of the original values for property and infrastructure, ignoring the inflation that had occurred over the years. A house costing Rs100,000 in the 1980s would now be worth about Rs2 million. A bridge that was built for Rs100 million 20 years ago would now cost about Rs 2 billion to rebuild. For this reason, their estimates appear to be on the low side. A more realistic figure would be around $20 billion.

I believe that involvement of the staff of the land and revenue departments (patwaris, tehsildars, etc.), and of army personnel posted in the area can give a more realistic assessment. They know the area and the people and they usually have the local resources to do the job. 2.







The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

The world believes that the 21st Century will be about Asia's ascendency. Turkey, once the sick man of Europe, is on the rise. This country with a young population comprising over 99 per cent Muslims has begun to have its own doubts about the benefits of joining the European Union. While its economy was a basket case and at the mercy of the IMF less than two decades ago, buoyed by economic growth and success many in Turkey now believe they might be better off outside the EU as opposed to being bogged down by Greece, Portugal and Ireland as part of the Union. While it has had a fling with an overt role of the military, it is democracy, fiscal discipline, secularism and cultural liberties that explain the growing strength of Turkey.

Indonesia that houses the largest number of Muslims around the world is another shining model. Its brilliant Trade Minister speaking recently at a symposium organised by the Asia Society explained that while over 88 per cent of the Indonesian population is Muslim, Indonesia is not an Islamic country. Driving around the country it becomes obvious that mosques, temples and monasteries can coexist happily. You find that the faith and religious sensibilities of the largest Muslim community on the planet is not offended simply because people are afforded the ability to chose their lifestyles and the extent to which they wish to abide by scripture and ritual. The success of Indonesia too can be explained by its sustained economic growth, democracy and religious and cultural liberties.

Amidst the latest global financial crisis that has mired the US and Europe in feeble economic activity, China and India are being viewed as engines of growth for the world economy. When the US president or European leaders visit our estranged neighbor they are visibly in a marketing mode and looking for opportunities to work with India. As part of the process to win India's favor and lend support to its concerns, they jibe at Pakistan as well. Such finger-wagging from across the border makes us all livid. But we haven't even begun to realise that diplomatic demarches, hollow swagger or exhibition of unrestrained anger against a 'conspiring' West is not going to change our fortune or the world's opinion about us. If we keep aside nationalism, self-pride and similar extra-rational influences, our situation does look pretty dismal and scary.

This is not meant to be another self-deprecating rant aimed at adding to the pessimism all around. Pakistanis have tremendous potential. We know that. And the success and industry of Pakistani expatriates across the globe bears witness. But potential is not enough. In practical life it is performance that matters. And if we take a dispassionate measure of our performance as a state and a society, we find ourselves severely wanting. But we need not swing from self-righteous delusionalism to nihilism. We need not blame the West for all our ills or condemn ourselves to perpetual misery due to a faulty gene or unflattering history. In terms of our state of mind, we need to be self-critical and unhappy enough to want change, but not resigned to the extent that we question our ability to instill and embrace it.

There are various myths that we have come to believe that prevent the change that we need. The first being that we all know what our problems are, the question is how to get to the solution. With all due respect, there is no consensus in Pakistan regarding our problems nor do we share a vision for the future that encompasses desired solutions. The second myth is that we are haunted not because of our approach to policy formulation but lack of implementation. Again, nothing can be further from truth. Because we are still confused about our vision for the future of Pakistan, how can we even begin to formulate considered policies? The third (and probably the most disempowering and damaging) myth is that we need a strong leader who knows wherein our true good lies and is consequently able to save us. We don't need a messiah but ordinary people inspired and angry enough to think of themselves as agents of change.

We need to start by building a consensus around a vision for Pakistan that is democratic, fiscally disciplined and welfare-oriented, officially neutral toward religion, ethnically inclusive and protective of civil liberties of all citizens. When we speak of democracy, we are not alluding merely to the formal institutions and processes of democracy, but also the culture and ethos within democratic institutions such as political parties that is imperative to sustain democracy. We need a democracy where political parties are neither personal fiefs nor heirlooms. But let us also not forget that khaki saviors waiting eagerly in the shadows will not help foster the evolution of such democratic culture. The continuing political role of the military will only delay the reform of political parties.

We were all taught early in our childhood that whoever pays the piper names the tune. We seem to have forgotten the lesson growing up. Our indiscriminate hatred for the West, our unsustainable military expenditure or our mouth-frothing mullahs will not bolster our sovereignty or reduce our dependence on the US and the IMF. We need fiscal discipline and get down to balancing our books. We have been living on borrowed cash and have now maxed out the available credit. This party is going to crash very soon. And while tethering on the verge of bankruptcy, instead of putting their heads together to agree on measures to curtail expenditure and generate revenue all our political parties are opting for populism.

We don't need symbolic pro-people populism of the PML-N and the MQM manifested in opposition to the RGST and petrol price hike. Nobody wants to pay taxes or pay extra for petrol. But we need to cough up the funds to sustain ourselves somehow. Our political, agriculture and industrial elites do not wish to pay any taxes, the state is not willing to rationalise its military and other non-developmental expenditure, our generals and bureaucrats wish to continue with their opulent lifestyles sustained by taxes paid by less than ten per cent of the populace and the struggling masses do not have the ability to pay for petrol or commodities anymore. We have allocated no money to educate our kids despite our agreement that education is the panacea to all our ills. We have a large standing army equipped with nuclear weapons but no money to provide food and health security to citizens.

This state of affairs is clearly not sustainable. And let us not wait for any saviors. None will come. We can either allow things to degenerate further to a level where bankruptcy, mal-governance and religious and cultural intolerance lead to violent change or alternatively we can willingly embrace reform. Let us remember that intoxicated by power and privilege, our ruling civil and military elites are not sober enough to take a realistic view of the storm we are caught in and the fast-approaching deluge. The indigent masses have neither the training nor the ability to instill reform. It is the educated middle class of Pakistan that has the most to lose if it doesn't take the initiative to instigate and lead a reform movement. It is this lot that has the potential, the ability and the incentive to provide the required leadership for change. Those of us who plan to continue to live in Pakistan and raise our kids here do not have the luxury of time.








It's really so hard and painful to write posthumously about someone, particularly when that someone was a friend or colleague cut down in his youth: when the terrorists ended his life on Thursday night, Wali Khan Babar was only 29.

I first met Wali about four years ago when I joined Geo. He was a quiet, sensitive young man whose dignity and poise made a deep impression on you. I remember him as someone who wouldn't let the pressures of work get to him, and from his efficient, effortless performance, he had the makings of a fine journalist. This composure shone through in his stories as balanced coverage, one of the surest signs of good reporting.

Wali was shot dead by terrorists while he was returning home from work, after a dangerous beat. Shot five times, he received two bullets to the forehead, one to the jaw and two to his neck. When they sprayed him with bullets, the killers targeted his head and neck to make certain he wouldn't survive.

Wali had spent the day covering the operation conducted by the police and the Rangers against drug-traffickers in Karachi's slummy Pehalwan Goth. He was shot in the vicinity of the office of the TPO (town police officer), in an area where scores of Rangers and police are deployed. The fact that at the time of the attack there was a traffic jam, in which Wali himself was caught, would have made it difficult for his attackers to escape, especially when the place was full of security personnel. That they did manage to escape from the scene makes one wonder what training these security personnel are being given.

In the case of Salmaan Taseer's assassination, his other guards failed to react when guard Malik Mumtaz Qadri pumped bullets into the body of the Punjab governor. Similarly, none of the security personnel reacted in time to make an effort to catch the fleeing culprits after the five shots had felled the promising Geo reporter.

The general impression in Karachi is that the under-trained and poorly financed police force is helpless to deal with violence and crime, that the Rangers have been deployed in Karachi to complement that inability. Unfortunately, even the Rangers have proved incapable of coping with it.

So what is the utility of these ubiquitous armed personnel when persons are targeted and mowed down by terrorists and criminals right in front of those who "guard" our streets.

What is truly frustrating is the feeling that in the unlikely event of Wali's killers being arrested, there is no guarantee they will be brought to justice – not after Mr Taseer's assassination, with his murderer defiant and lionised despite his being in the custody of the authorities.

Back in September 1988, there was the murder of poet, scholar and media icon Rais Amrohvi, who was similarly associated with the Jang Group. Since then, until recent years, violence against media persons was mostly confined to harassment and beatings. But with the rise in tensions in Pakistani society, their murder has become an increasing phenomenon.

Globally, 2010 was a violent year for media persons, with 57 journalists being killed. Twelve of them were Pakistani reporters, like Wali. This depicts the vulnerability of the media people in the performance of their duties, especially when it comes to crime and terrorism.

From the information on Wali Khan Babar's Facebook wall, "bravery" was the quality he most admired. Appropriately, he fell in the line of duty – the duty of conveying truth to his audience, despite the mortal danger he courted.







Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has once again directed his guns towards Pakistan in an apparent bid to pressurize the country to do more even if it means compromising Pakistan's own interests. At a news briefing in Washington, he alleged that Pakistan was 'epicentre' of terrorism and that extremism cannot be defeated without eliminating, what he called, safe havens in the country.

This is classical carrot and stick approach of the United States towards Pakistan. The Admiral made these obnoxious remarks at a time when his civilian counterpart–Vice President Joe Biden was applying his oratory skills to assuage fears among Pakistani people about American designs towards the country. The statement of Mullen has taken away positive gains, if any, Biden had achieved during his short but hectic visit to Islamabad. But this is not the first time that Mullen has talked in such an arrogant manner as during his last trip to Pakistan he also spoke about safe havens in the tribal belt of the country but all this is nothing but just obsession with Haqqani network, which is being viewed by Americans as the major obstacle towards accomplishment of their game in Afghanistan. But without entering into argument and counter argument, we would point out that even if Pakistan, as per his observation, has become 'epicentre' of terrorism then the question arises as to how this happened. Being chief of the US armed forces, Admiral Mullen might have got an insight how his country introduced 'Jehadi' elements in this part of the world to fight against Soviet Union that had carried out aggression in Afghanistan. It incited many Muslim countries and their nationals to join hands against Soviet expansionist designs and the momentum so created not only forced Moscow to withdraw from Afghanistan but also led to its ultimate disintegration. Now the United States has simply replaced Soviet Union and for Afghans this is yet another foreign occupation of their land and those who were brought in this region by the United States itself are just helping Afghans as they did before during the occupation of their country by Soviet Union. The problem in Afghanistan would end the day Americans vacate their aggression and allow Afghans to determine their own fate.








AS the United States is increasing its pressure on Pakistan to go for an all-out military operation in North Waziristan Agency of FATA, Foreign Office on Thursday again maintained that its timings would be decided by Pakistan and the decision would be made in keeping with our national interests. However, the declaration by the spokesman that the country was 'moving methodically and firmly' towards that end is a clear testimony that a decision has already been taken to launch the army action under dictates of the United States.

We believe that this is sheepish attitude that is going to harm the country in the long-run. Reality has dawned upon people in the Foreign Office as well that a great game is being played in Afghanistan and major decisions are being made about the future of our neighbouring country without consultations of Pakistan. The Americans themselves are encouraging Karzai to talk directly or indirectly with Taliban and in fact, a peace council headed by former President Rabbani is busy establishing contacts with different stakeholders. A delegation also visited Pakistan recently for talks with civilian and military leadership of the country during which it sought active cooperation of Pakistan for the process of national reconciliation. In this backdrop, insistence of the United States on Pakistan to launch full-scale operation in NWA smacks of sinister designs aimed at destabilizing the country further and undermining its relevance in the post-withdrawal phase in Afghanistan. Majority of Afghan groups are already hostile to Pakistan because of the role Pakistan played in the downfall of Taliban Government and subsequent role as frontline State in the fight against the so-called terror. Now Americans want Pakistan to antagonize the remaining groups as well so that the country loses all its influence in a country which is rightly considered to be strategic backyard. We have been emphasizing in these columns that Pakistan must not succumb to American pressure at any cost and put across its point of view in categorical terms to the other side. It is regrettable that we have not been able to defend our case despite being on the right side








RAILWAYS is one of those State owned enterprises that have rightly become target of criticism for digesting over 250 billion rupees annually of this poor country. It is slated for restructuring as per Government's own plan and the ten-point agenda given by leader of PML(N) Mian Nawaz Sharif to the Government. It is, perhaps, in this backdrop that a beginning has been made with reports of up to thirty per cent increase in its fares, closure of some more uneconomical routes and firing of about twenty thousand employees.

The measures, if at all implemented, would help cure partially the malaise afflicting this national institution that was once considered lifeline of communication in Pakistan. In fact, a surgical operation is required to bring it back to life and the task is not as daunting as is being portrayed by some vested interests. Apart from doubling of the track and replacement of the existing one with that of international standard to cope with the requirements of modern-day train services, there is a dire need to work on a war footing to root out all-pervasive corruption in the Department that is one of the major factors of its losses. There is massive corruption in ticketing and freight besides purchases and projects, which, if checked effectively, could turn it into a highly profitable entity. There is no dearth of clientele for Pakistan Railways if corrupt practices in scheduling of trains and booking of passengers and freight are eliminated that favour the private sector at the cost of railways. Railways has its own factories and workshops and after over sixty years of its independence it should have developed expertise and capacity to repair and maintain its infrastructure and trains and fabricate much-needed spares and parts but regrettably machines, workshops and factories remain idle and unutilized and thousands of people recruited against skilled jobs are just drawing salaries without contributing anything productive. Majority of engines and wagons have been turned into mere junk because of neglect and priority should be given to bring them back on lines.









With the recent upheavals in the already turbulent environment in the Land of the Pure, one can hardly resist the temptation of jumping into the 'fray' and offering one's two pennies' worth. Why is it, for instance, that despite all the plus points that a benevolent nature has endowed us with we continue to create a mess all around us? Why cannot we put our own act together and behave like a mature and responsible entity for once? Surely, it is not in our genes, or is it?

In one of his well-known writings, the inimitable Charles Lamb divided mankind into two neat little categories – Borrowers and Lenders. All human beings, opined Lamb, fall into either of these categories. One is either a borrower or a lender. One is not in a position to change one's denomination. A person, thus, is saddled with certain characteristics that set him, or her, aside into either of these two categories. In today's scientific jargon, your DNA decides which of these categories you fall into and you have no choice in the matter.

Carrying the thesis of Charles Lamb a bit forward, one would recognize several other characteristics that could help categorize people into distinct and mutually exclusive groups. It merely requires a bit of looking into. Looking inwards a bit, the categories of, say, Team players and Solos would come to mind. Our own national experience exhibits outstanding examples of several individuals playing solo in what is, in effect, a team game.

Team players are ones who fit in neatly into what may be termed as a team outfit. They are, so to speak, like cogs in a wheel. They help in the locomotion as essential ingredients and yet do not presume to hog all the credit for it. Without the cog the machinery would come to a standstill, yet the cog cannot presume to be the hub of the whole juggernaut. The team player, thus, is one part of the whole. He or she makes no attempt to move out at a tangent; while at the same time ensuring that his or her activities strictly conform to the overall pattern of the team plan. When the objective is achieved, the team player shares the credit equally with the other members of the team. There are no 'stars' in a team performance. They are all equal members of the team, even though some members may be more equal than others, as George Orwell would say.

Solos, on the other extreme, are those who like to operate alone. Most are usually brilliant people who can not only hold their own against most competition but also forge ahead. They are fiercely competitive and jealously guard their inherent qualities. Their main weakness lies in their inherent inability to dovetail their activity with that of their collaborators. More often than not, they progress way ahead of their colleagues thereby creating distortions of sorts in the organization that are difficult to reconcile. The foregoing relates mainly to the brilliant solos. There is also another class of solos who are lethargic and have a lackadaisical attitude towards the organization. Rather than forge ahead, this sort normally lags behind, dragging the whole work plan down with them. These solos are total misfits in the organization and work to the detriment of both their colleagues as well as the organization as a whole. But this is not the sort we shall be referring to in this narrative. The question that presents itself begging for an answer is this: who is better for the organization, an above-average team player or a brilliant solo? This is by no means an easy question to answer, since a lot of divers variables come into play and these variables are not susceptible to a precise evaluation. In expressing a definite opinion, one would be running the risk of jumping to an unwarranted conclusion. One would hardly relish such a course of action. A player playing solo in a team game would stick out like a sore thumb.

Looking at the broader picture, one can safely say that an organization would function more smoothly and with greater efficiency if it enjoys the services of more team players than solos. A few solos, however brilliant, may possibly fit into specialist slots but in the overall effort they would be no better than square pegs in round holes. All in all, it is the team players that carry the assignment forward. A surfeit of solos can only lead to a breakdown of the whole organizational structure through lack of coordination. Having reached this stage, the perspicacious reader may wish to apply the aforementioned thesis to evaluate the land of the pure model, particularly after the rather haphazard introduction of experts and consultants in the governmental machinery over the past few years. Experience shows that these experts and/or consultants never become efficient members of the team.

One has no desire to detract from the brilliant solo performances of some of these individuals. In the long run, though, it is invariably teams that come out the winners. Whatever the field of endeavor, no single individual whatever his or her merit can win a battle single-handed. In any organizational structure, what is needed for success is a well-knit team composed of loyal and trusted persons. Enterprising and innovative persons are assets but only as members of a cohesive team. Needless to add, what need to be avoided in particular are groups of yes-men and/or sycophants.

One can hardly resist the temptation of expressing the view that one of the principal reasons for the failure of the strategies of developing countries like ours lies in their signal failure to develop cohesive and well-coordinated teams to carry forward their developmental plans. Most of these countries do not lack either resources or qualified manpower. Some of these countries (ours is an outstanding example!) have produced brilliant individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the developmental efforts of states other than their own. One possible reason may be that in their home countries these individuals, team-players by nature, are at times expected to function as solos and that too in an often unfriendly environment. Let one hasten to clarify that the aforementioned is intended merely as food for thought, nothing more, nothing less!









India has started construction of some of the planned dams on western rivers, thus posing a serious threat to the agriculture and hydel projects of Pakistan. India's think-tanks have been working on river diversion plans with a view to creating acute water shortage in Pakistan, which could lead to acute shortage of wheat and other crops and also stoking inter-provincial conflicts over distribution of water. The Indus River Basin has been an area of conflict between India and Pakistan for about four decades. Spanning 1,800 miles, the river and its tributaries together make up one of the largest irrigation canals in the world. The division of the river basin water has created friction among the countries of South Asia, and among their states and provinces. In Pakistan, accusations of overdrawing of share of water made by each province have arguably resulted in the lack of water supplies to coastal regions of Pakistan. Whereas Pakistan media has been highlighting internal political squabbles, it never paid attention to India's efforts to dry Pakistan and failed to launch a sustained offensive though construction of Indian dams on western rivers, which is posing a direct threat to Pakistan's national interest.

On 1st April 1948, India had stemmed the flow of tributaries to Pakistan and discontinued water to the Dipalpur canal and main branches of Upper Bari Doab Canal. Pakistan wanted an equitable allocation of the flow of Indus River and its tributaries between the India and Pakistan. Negotiations had started from 1951, and the treaty was signed in 1960 that gave Pakistan the right to receive unrestricted flow of the western rivers, and it was obligatory on the part of India to allow the flow of water unimpeded with minor exceptions. It was provided in the treaty that in case of a dispute, the World Bank would appoint a 'neutral expert' whose decision would be final. Pakistan had taken the issue of Baglihar Dam with the United Nations, and verdict was given by the neutral expert suggesting amendments. Had India taken Pakistan's objections to the project seriously and not tried to ride roughshod intransigently, both would have avoided the embarrassment of facing a neutral expert to adjudicate their dispute.

One does not have to be an agricultural scientist to know that water is indispensable to agriculture. It is a critical input into agriculture of a country especially when it is situated in an arid or semi-arid zone. Having all said, if Bhasha dam is not constructed within next five to 10 years, Pakistan will not be able to produce enough food-grains to meet the needs of the growing population. Loss of storage capacity due to sedimentation is causing serious drop even for existing agricultural production. Food shortages and energy shortfall have already blighted Pakistan with the result that industry in all the provinces is only partially running and could come to a grinding halt. Previous governments had not taken timely action and did not take up the matter with the UN or International Court of Justice. The present government and opposition parties seem to be too preoccupied with their power-sharing or power-grabbing plans and do not have time to focus on the problems faced by the nation. It was in this backdrop that Muttehida Kisan Mahaz had blamed the government for its apathy to their problems.

International community must realize that water issue between India and Pakistan could be a source of conflict and war between two nuclear states would not only endanger the region but the world at large. The People of Azad Jammu and Kashmir should also raise their voice against Indian water aggression. The Indus Basin comprises the River Indus and five main rivers, namely Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The total area of the Indus Basin is roughly 450,000 square miles, most of which lies in Pakistan. In Pakistan there exists one of the most highly developed canal irrigation system and approximately 37 million acres of land is dependent on the flow of Indus water. At the time of independence, though major portion of the Indus Basin (31 Million Acres) formed part of Pakistan, however the control of most of existing structures on the rivers of Indus Basin fell into the Indian hands, being upper riparian. The consequences of such an unfair demarcation surfaced soon after when India started interfering with the waters flowing downstream by stopping waters on rivers Ravi and Sutlej (irrigating 1.6 Million Acres in Pakistan) from 1 April 1948.

The stress, which subsequently mounted in the region was felt around the globe, and in 1951 World Bank offered its good offices for resolution of the issue. The efforts ultimately culminated into an agreement between Pakistan and India in the shape of Indus Waters Treaty signed in 1960. As per Indus Waters Treaty, India got the complete rights on the eastern rivers (Ravi, Sutlej, and Beas) whereas Pakistan was given the rights on western rivers (Indus, Jhelum, Chenab) with some specific provisions for use of water by India from these rivers.

The Indus Waters Treaty 1960 is being implemented through and institutional arrangement, that is, Permanent Indus Commission comprising of two Commissioners, one from each country. Currently, the Commission is involved in resolution of three major water disputes, which included Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant, Kishenganga Hydroelectric Plant and Wuller Barrage. As stated above neutral expert gave the verdict and some of Pakistan's concerns were addressed, though Pakistan still has reservations about the verdict. The information about Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant, located on River Chenab, was communicated by India in 1992. Failing to resolve the issue bilaterally at the Commission and government levels, the issue of Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant was referred to the World Bank upon which the determination by a Neutral Expert who upheld Pakistan's objections on freeboard, pondage and level of power intake.

However, the Neutral Expert's determination regarding location of spillway gates and concession to India to draw-down 17 meters below the Dead Storage Level surpassed not only his given mandate, but also was neither an issue nor a question presented to the Neutral Expert. Pakistan thus reserves the right to refer the determination regarding "draw down". The Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant was commissioned in 2008, and during its initial filling, India again violated the clauses of the Treaty by not filling the dam in stipulated timeframe and by not ensuring requisite inflow at Marala Head works of Pakistan causing loss to Pakistani farmers.

India is obliged to provide information of their projects to Pakistan six months before starting construction. In all instances, India started work without providing requisite information. Also, the information, whenever provided, is normally incomplete. India stalls resolution process on the plea of more discussions at the level of the Commission while the construction continues. This leads towards a fait accompli situation when Pakistan approaches for resolution of issues to the institutions (World Bank/Court of Arbitration). India terms the flow of water recorded by Pakistan as under-reported. Without any prejudice to the stand taken, Pakistan has suggested the installation of Telemetric System for measurement of flow of Indus System of Rivers, particularly on the western rivers to ensure the transparency in recording the flow of water. India should bear in mind that it cannot dry Pakistan through water terrorism, and it continued with its sinister designs, Pakistan would not sit just to watch its destruction.









British left United India just after two years of culmination of World War-II but prior to their departure pushed the South Asian countries into number of conflicts due to their defective partition plan. Number of boundary disputes, identities issues, and water conflicts cropped up as result of faulty demarcation. India expectedly has proven to be the hub of all clashes. For examples as result of conspiracy between British rulers, Gandhi and Maharaja Hari Singh, India forcefully has landed her forces in Kashmir against the wishes of masses and later on Junagarh and Hyderabad states have also been captured by India. Similarly Muslims of East Bengal, Maoists of North West of India and the third largest community "Sikh" which is 77% of East (Indian) Punjab's population (now) have been denied from separates states. On the other hand British in 1948 made successful efforts to establish a separate state Israel for Jewish minority whose population was only 713, 000.

Therefore, Sikhs and other deprived communities of India have started their struggles of independence to attain rights of self determination and to save their identities. Out of these, Kashmiri, Maoists and Sikhs are three on going major movements and the freedom fighters of these campaigns are continuously facing brutality of Indian Armed and Security Forces. Sikhs struggle for their independence and sovereign state has came on lime light once they were not given their due share in the legislations and employments and also been forbidden freely to perform their religious obligations. According to Sikh Encyclopedia Barely 13.22 per cent of the population of pre Partition Punjab (1941 census), they were now 38.5 per cent of the combined population of the East Punjab and PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union).

In 1956, PEPSU was amalgamated with East Punjab to from a single state the Punjab. The formation of a Punjabi speaking Punjab in 1966 by separating some territories to form the new state of Haryana and the Union territory of Chandigarh, and transferring some others to Himachal Pradesh, the percentage of the Sikhs in the new state rose to 60.22 in the census of 1971, to 60.75 in 1981 and 62.95 in the 1991 census. The increase in numbers was reflected not only in a higher percentage in the Punjab, but also in India as a whole. The encyclopedia further states that the proportion of Sikh population to that of India which was 1.47 per cent in 1941, rose to 1.72 in 1951, 1.78 in 1961, 1.89 in 1971 and 1.90 in 1981. The bulk of the Sikh population of India (77.9%) lives in the Punjab. Major Sikh concentrations outside Punjab are in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi, in that order. Within the Punjab, the Sikhs, by and large an agricultural community, are mostly settled in villages.

One of my reader Dr Awatar Singh Sekhon has written an article (Sovereignty and administration of the darbar sahib complex: sikhs' Holy and historic homeland) on the Sikh demand which seem to be quite genuine. He also emailed his article to me for my consumption. I decided to share the same with my readers' knowledge that how a third larges community of India thinks.

Dr Awatar writes that, 'The Sikhs have been carrying out their "Struggle to Regain Their Sovereignty, Independence and Political Power, by peaceful means, since 14th March, 1849, and it will continue until the sovereignty is reclaimed successfully and their Sikh Nation, Punjab, liberated from the occupation of the Brahmins' autocracy/Zamhooriat/Zulamhooriat."

Until the Sovereignty is reclaimed, it is proposed that a radius of 30-mile be declared, from the focal point of Darbar Sahib Complex, as an independent zone of the Sikhs' holy and historic homeland, free from any personnel, armed forces, police, intelligence, finance, all sort of communications, administration, free from those agencies which have any connection with the Brahmins and pro-Brahmins of the alleged Indian democracy or those people which had been 'subservient' to the Afghans, Mughals, Sikhs, British, Portuguese and others [for more than 3,500 years] until the day the British India Empire transferred political power to the 'unelected' leadership of these 'subservient' Hindus, the Brahmin-Baniya clique.

The administration, management and control of the 30-mile radius of the Darbar Sahib Complex will be maintained by special forces - civil and armed - created by the Darbar Sahib Complex's force, to be known as the 'Sovereign Khalsa Force (SKF)', which will be working under the directions of the body elected by the Sarbat Khalsa Institution, in accordance with the Sikh Way of Life, Sikh Code of Conduct or Sikh Rahit Maryada. The proposed 30-mile radius of the Darbar Sahib Complex's Khalsa Zone is the pre-requisite of the Sovereignty of the Sikh Nation, Khalistan, Punjab or the Republic of Khalistan.

The proposal is made keeping in mind that a vast majority of the Sikhs, Sikh Diaspora, living in all continents, viz. North America, Europe, Australia, Far East, Africa and elsewhere, will not experience any difficulties and will not have to get the 'Brahmins autocracy's visa to visit the Darbar Sahib Complex and other Gurdwaras of historic significance. The Sikhs would not like to have their passports made available to the agents of the Brahmins autocracy's missions merely for the 'visa' endorsement. Their travelling documents will be made available to only the 'employees of the Sovereign Khalsa Zone Forces (SKZF)'.

Their wellbeing, after entering the SKZ, will be looked after and ensured by the SKZF. The administration of the SKZ will enter into the bilateral agreements to look after the interests of the SKZ as well as to address the international questions relating to the Sovereignty of the Darbar Sahib Complex Zone. The Sarbat Khalsa administration will remove all jathedars/band leaders, employees of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee and Akali Dal (all factions), executives and members and those who collaborated with the Brahmins autocracy in "Operation Bluestar" of June, 1984, and thereafter, from their offices. The new members will be elected/nominated by consensus to the SGPC, Akali Dal and the Mukh-Sewadar of the Supreme Seat of the Sikh Polity, Akal Takht Sahib.

The proposal is made to the Guru Khalsa Panth and the House of Baba Nanak in view of the following: No one will dare to launch a military attack like the 'undeclared' war on the Sikh Nation in the form of a brutal military "Operation Bluestar" of June, 1984, and subsequent operations by the army and armed personnel of the alleged Indian democracy. (1) None of the Sikhs elected representatives has accepted/endorsed/signed the Indian Constitution 1950, which denies the Sikhs their 'Sikh Identity, see Article 25' (International Journal of Sikh Affairs 16(1), 2006©). (2)The Sikhs' struggle for Sovereignty, Independence and Political power include the Punjab of 15th August, 1947, partitioned by the British India Empire and not the one re-divided by Indira Gandhi in 1966.(3). The Sikh Nation's natural resources and their by-products will be the sole property of the Sikh Nation, (4). The western border of the SKZ will be looked after by the 'two' nations only, i. e the SKZF on behalf of the Sikh Nation and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. (5) In view of the 'genocides' of the non-Hindu and non-Brahmin minorities, the Sikhs (1.2 to 3.2 million), Musalmaans (over 500,000), Christians (over 300,000), Dalits (tens of thousands), etc., since 15th August, 1947, and to preserve the sanctity, humiliation and dehumanization [being committed] by the Brahmins autocracy/Zamhooriat/Zulamhooriat alias the alleged Indian democracy is the prime cause to create a 30-mile radius from the focal point of Darbar Sahib Complex, Amritsar, the Sikh Nation, Punjab.(6) No person like Sudarshan, Togadia and anti-Sikh forces man or personnel will dare to carry out their anti-Sikh and Hindu, Hindi, Hindutav propaganda.(7) the Darbar Sahib Complex and the Sikhs' holy and historic homeland are 'not' the property of the Brahmins autocracy. The Sikhs' holy and historic Home land belong to the Guru Khalsa Panth and the House of Baba Nanak Sahib, the founder of the Sikh Faith.(8) The SKZF will ensure the protection of the worshipping institutions of non-Sikhs.

In short, era of democracy and globalization and it's very difficult to keep the masses under one shelter on same piece of land without giving them their rights. In India the minorities are being victimized and dealt ruthlessly by non state actors, RAW and Armed Forces. On 18 December 2010, a team of CBI an elderly Bengali man Naba Kumar Sarkar, 59 — popularly known as Swami Aseemanand — from Tihar confessed in court of Delhi, that he remined in killing of Nine people in Mecca Masjid blast. He also unveiled that how a few Hindutva leaders, including himself, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, Dayanand Pandey, Lt Col Shrikant Purohit and others in 2008 remained involved against the brutality of minorities.

Pakistan very rightly asked India to hand over investigation report of Samjota Express. World community should press India to handover Col Prohit to Pakistan for his trial since victims of the train still waiting for the justice. Sikhs, Kashmiries and Maoists would defiantly be soon successful in getting their independent states. Sikh should go for the road map which is laid down by their own comrades Dr. Awatar Singh for Sikh future sovereign state in East (India) Punjab.








Maybe it is merely a historical coincidence, but the common element in Zionism, Indianism (Hindutvaism) and Westernism is anti-Islamism and genocides of Muslims in Muslim world. Even though GST nations led by US-UK terror twins try to overtake both Israel and India in massacre records of Muslims, Zionism does not let them belittle Israeli terror operations in Palestine in any way and keeps murdering Palestinians on similar fictitious pretexts. Global media, run with cash earned through illegal and immoral means, promote state terror operations for murdering Muslims, still harp on Islamophobia and Osamaphobia to support terror occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, while arms manufacturers in USA push for a quick terror attack on Islamic Iran.

Shielded by the USA, UK and other global state terrorist nations, Israel continues with its expansionist policy and has successfully converted Palestine lands into its illegal settlements to accommodate foreign Jews. This expansion of settlements takes place alongside genocides of defenseless Palestinians for years now, reducing the Palestinian population with a view to disallowing any chance for any future violent or non-violent struggle for an independent Palestine state. Israel has a point to make to GST leader the USA that Zionism is aiding the US efforts to reduce the Islamic populations by rigorous genocides and seeks extra terror goods for more terror operations. .

It looks not every Jew is insane and some of them do think positively in favor of humanity. As a positive development on the impending issue of Palestine state establishment, over 150 Israeli academics have signed a petition on 09 Jan calling for an academic boycott of Ariel University Center, which is located in a West Bank settlement. The signatories said that Ariel was an illegal settlement whose existence contravenes international law and the Geneva Convention.

The signatories include Israel Prize laureates Professors Yehoshua Kolodny of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Benjamin Isaac of Tel Aviv University and Itamar Procaccia of the Weizmann Institute of Science. These academics from a variety of fields and from all the institutions of higher learning in Israel, herein express publicly our opposition to the continued occupation and the establishment of settlement.

These academicians will refuse to participate in any functions, conferences or symposiums held at Ariel University. "Ariel is not part of the sovereign state of Israel, and therefore it is impossible to require us to appear there. Like many other illegal Jewish settlements, Ariel was built by Zionist regime on occupied land. Only a few kilometers away from flourishing Ariel, Palestinians live in villages and refugee camps under unbearably harsh conditions and without basic human rights. Not only do they not have access to higher education, some do not even have running water. These are two different realities that create a policy of apartheid.

Originally, many structures were created to control the Palestinians who seek freedom and independent nation free form Zionist crimes. Ariel was established for the sole purpose of preventing the Palestinians from creating an independent state and thus preventing us, the citizens of Israel, from having the chance to ever live in peace in this region. The issue of settlements is one of the thorniest issues that stall the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Israeli terror PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said on several occasions that Ariel would not be detached from Israel under any circumstances. Israel has long been claiming that major settlement blocs in the West Bank would remain under Israeli control under any possible peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Given the explosive nature of the situation, Israeli regime is trying all out efforts to keep other academics under their control and say bulk of the lecturers is behind the atrocious regime promoting illegal settlement proliferation. Meanwhile, Israeli bulldozers have demolished part of a hotel in East Jerusalem to make way for 20 homes for illegal Jewish settlers, considered illegal under international law. The Shepherd Hotel was built in the 1930s and was once home to Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who became an ally of Adolf Hitler in World War II. Its current ownership is disputed - Israel says it belongs to a Jewish-American property developer but Palestinians say it was seized illegally after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. PLO reminded Israel that the occupier has no right to build in any part of East Jerusalem, or any part of the Palestinian land occupied in 1967.

The Palestinian government said Israel was destroying any chance of returning to peace.. Illegal Israeli officials said the demolition had been carried out legally and defended its decision. Israel says it has every right to build homes in any part of the city, in fact anywhere in Palestine. The destruction of the Shepherd Hotel has angered Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Attempts by the US to revive peace negotiations stalled last year, after Israel refused to end settlement building on occupied Palestinian land. The US called the demolition a "disturbing development." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the demolition "undermines peace efforts to achieve the two state-solution. In particular, this move contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem. Adnan al-Husseini, Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, said it was the latest in a line of demolitions of historic buildings and accused Israel of "trying to erase any Palestinian identity" from the city.

Israel does not seek to make peace with the Arabs earnestly and therefore creates obstacles for the peace "talks" even at the expanse of damaging "historic: terror ties with the only super power USA. Israel seeks to rope as many Arab nations as possible, mainly the Saudi Kingdom by skillfully raking up the Iranian nuclear issue and prolong the illegal occupation and terror genocides in Palestine. Israel has the historic records of Islamic world that Muslims and their nations lack the capacity for united action against any evil and Israel and its illegal regime can survive for years without opposition form Arab world. Since many nations are the customers of Israeli terror goods, Tel-Aviv employs diplomatic strings to make the bulk of nations anti-Islamic or at least unconcerned about Zionist massacres and the GST trends help Israel stay unhurt - just like what India has been doing. When enemy pretends to a friend, weak nations go destabilized. Unfortunately, their traditional ignorance and incompetence prevent Muslim nations from comprehending the hidden agendas of the enemies of Islam. The result is the terror occupation of Islamic nations, murder of Muslims by the enemies with tacit support from some stupid Muslims. That is indeed the prime tragedy of global Muslims. This also the prime reason for the continued US drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.








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 York Times








ANNA Bligh nearly lost it on Thursday. As the Queensland Premier presented her umpteenth briefing on the floods, she came close to tears. But she steadied herself and went on, calmly detailing deaths, identifying areas of danger, explaining what was being done.

It was an image that will endure in Australian memory, and what she said defined how Queenslanders dealt with one of the worse natural disasters in our nation's history. "As we weep for what we have lost, and as we grieve for family and friends, and we confront the challenge that is before us, I want us to remember who we are. We are Queenslanders. We are the people they breed tough north of the border. We're the ones that they knock down and we get up again."

Ms Bligh was facing reality. Queenslanders have no choice but to fight back against the forces of nature; the survival of their capital on a muddy flood plain demands water be managed. And her call to fight on was not bombast -- Ms Bligh did not say everybody in Toowoomba, the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and riverside Brisbane were heroes, although many are. She did not dismiss the disaster as a challenge the state will easily overcome: 16 people are dead, many more are missing. The cost of the catastrophe is measured in billions and it will take years to repair the damage. The Premier simply stated what was obvious all week -- Queenslanders coped. They risked their own lives to help others. They comforted each other when grief was overwhelming. They did not wait for officials to organise the relief effort and start issuing cheques. They knew they needed to get through the disaster themselves. As Linda Weston, from the devastated Lockyer Valley community of Grantham, told ABC TV on Tuesday: "You've got to be strong and keep going -- that's the Australian way." And this week, like Ms Bligh and Ms Weston, the people of southeast Queensland did just that; they stayed strong and kept going. Given what they endured, it is hard to imagine greater praise.

There is a long list of Australian communities that have endured tragedy in our era. The Newcastle earthquake, fires in the Adelaide Hills and the mountains outside Melbourne, Cyclone Tracy in Darwin, the Granville train wreck, the Port Arthur killings all saw lives lost, but others saved, thanks to ordinary men and women who did not flinch in the face of disaster. This week, we add new names to that honour roll. Toowoomba, the mountain-top town that had never seen, nor had any reason to expect, anything like the flash flood that poured through city streets, taking the lives of a mother and son. In Ipswich, a community was submerged as the flood rolled off the mountains. And in Brisbane, the river that has come to define Australia's third city, reduced its can-do culture to a state of nature. A young man was swept to his death on a suburban street on Thursday. For days during the week, food and shelter were at the apex of human need, and the pace of life was governed not by the clock but by water flooding down the river to meet the rising tide. But it is the Lockyer Valley villages, where 12 people are known to have died and scores are still missing, that lead the long list of sorrow. Like Kinglake and Marysville and all the other villages in the mountains behind Melbourne destroyed in the 2009 Black Saturday fires, Grantham, Murphys Creek and other Lockyer Valley communities will always be associated with tragedy. Just as people were overwhelmed by the speed of the Black Saturday fires, so Monday saw individuals and families face an inland tsunami flooding off the mountains, giving them only moments to decide what to do. The difference between life and death for some was a matter of chance, decided by where they were, what they could hold on to, the force of flow. Today, all Australians regret the lives lost, respect the grief and honour the courage of the people of the Lockyer Valley as we stand in solidarity with all in flood-soaked Queensland.

But while the waters will recede much faster than memories will ebb, it is time to look forward, to quickly restore services, repair homes and work out what needs to be done to ensure the next flood will be less catastrophic. Ms Bligh understands this. By yesterday, morning the tone of her briefings had changed. She briskly reported roads re-opened and power restored, detailed areas where work was still to be done. It was evidence government agencies were responding well, putting plans in place. People still away from home or camping without services in a wrecked house will naturally wonder when things will improve for them, but overall it is obvious restoration work is under way. While the circumstances are very different, the systematic approach and good order in Brisbane is a dramatic contrast to the chaos in New Orleans for weeks after Hurricane Katrina. Still, the reduction of much of southeast Queensland to a war zone calls for more than restoration -- it demands consideration of new ways to save people from the fury of flood.

And this means the judicial inquiry Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman is calling for. This disaster far exceeds the scope of a coroner's report. A major judicial inquiry on the scale of the Black Saturday royal commission is needed, not just to explore what happened this week, but also to determine whether more extensive preparations and better planning could have diminished the disaster, and to recommend measures to reduce the ongoing risk. It is all very well to argue that this was a flood of extraordinary size, that for Brisbane at least the Wivenhoe Dam, built after the 1974 deluge, did its job, stopping the river rising to that year's level. But a proposal to upgrade the dam early last decade was not adopted because the danger of it failing was considered remote. This missed the point. A bigger dam might have reduced the need to release vast volumes of water before this week's crisis. Similarly, the policy decision to keep Wivenhoe so full at the start of the wet season must be assessed. Perhaps after years of drought it seemed unnatural to waste water, but if that was a consideration, why was there an announcement last month that the $1.2 billion Tugun desalination plant would be mothballed? To simply say Wivenhoe was full is no answer. A case for judiciously releasing water to keep the dam well below total capacity, so there was room for flood waters, was made in October when the Bureau of Meteorology predicted a La Nina summer and catchment scientists reminded us this phenomenon caused the '74 flood.

An inquiry is also needed to investigate why town planners, developers and home owners did not heed the highwater mark of that year and have spent nearly 40 years building on a flood plain that went under water this week. Nearly a decade back, the Crime and Misconduct Commission investigated whether a 1999 report on potential Brisbane River floods was covered up. Just as important, the way the memory of '74 gradually drifted from community consciousness needs to be examined. Whatever buffer against the river the city had then does not exist now. Brisbane has doubled in population and includes many more homes in low-lying areas, which are not built to keep living space, as opposed to garages and the like, above estimated flood peaks. It is all very well to argue that people resent planners telling them where and what they can build, that they have to live somewhere, that many are willing to risk a one-in-100-year flood. But Brisbane is now cleaning up after a second disaster in a generation, not a century, and thousands of people have ruined homes because they built too low and/or too close to the river. We need an inquiry, not to lay blame but to recommend new ways to protect life and property.

Questions must also be asked about Queensland's climate change plan, which warns of a threat to Brisbane from cyclones, storm surges and seas rising in the east. This week's disaster came from the west. When warm ocean air is pushed inland to the Great Divide, it rains. When this occurs in extraordinary amounts, some of the water rolls west, spreading across the slopes and plains and threatening country towns. But the deluge can also roar down the range, rushing to the coast below. There is nothing we can do to stop this enormous, natural recycling system.

This week, the results of the present La Nina unleashed anything up to 7.5 billion tonnes of water on to the ground below in just 72 hours. But we can work to reduce its impact. Since ancient Egyptian engineers worked to harness the annual Nile flood, the strength of civilisations is marked by their determination not to submit to nature. In southeast Queensland, this may mean restricting riverside development, expanding Wivenhoe Dam or implementing other engineering solutions across the region. But it is 100 per cent accurate and 100 per cent useless to say that because Brisbane is on a flood plain, it will be inundated every now and again.

To argue we are powerless before storm and floods is to admit defeat, and that is not the Australian way. And definitely not the Queensland way.





WE tend to understand that those directly affected by crimes have a visceral need to find a reason for the crime; someone to blame, something to ease the despair.

But the more distant we are from the horror, the easier it should be to balance shock and empathy with a degree of measure and context.

So it is distressing that yet another terrible American shooting tragedy could so swiftly unleash an unpalatable and inflammatory rush to assign blame, even here, half a world away.

It is clear Democrat congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was the main target of last week's attack. However, in the wake of the Tucson mass killing, the bile directed by some, including in Australia, towards Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement and anyone associated with the conservative side of politics has been disturbing.

Without any self-awareness or sense of irony, people at once complained about the tone of political debate, while placing blame for six senseless murders squarely at the feet of their political opponents.

Citing the dangers of an incendiary public discourse, they accused their adversaries of revelling in the murder of a nine-year-old girl.

Bertrand Russell once summarised this sort of behaviour: "We have two kinds of morality side by side; one which we preach but do not practise and another which we practise but seldom preach."

On the weekend, online communities and Twitter swelled with bilious rage against Palin. A Barack Obama supporter, blogging from London, suggested the former vice-presidential candidate or her staff had deliberately failed to remove a sickening comment among the tens of thousands posted on Palin's Facebook page. The anonymous comment mocked the death of Christina Taylor Green. It was removed within a day but the blogger's clear inference was that by failing to remove it as quickly as other obscene posts, Palin's team supported it.

It is hard to imagine that any sane person would seriously accuse even their worst enemy of mocking the slaughter of an innocent child. But many people, including senior journalists in Australia, forwarded this very accusation to their Twitter followers. Tweets in Australia suggested Palin had "endorsed it by default" and that "maybe Palin's people didn't think the post was offensive, so why redact it".

More worrying was that away from the heated debates on Twitter, the mainstream media began to fill with similar, unthinking claims. The ABC's Washington correspondent told viewers that: "Just before the November mid-term election Sarah Palin put a list of candidates on her website with targets over them, basically saying, you know, don't stand back, reload, you can do something about this."

That sounds odious but of course it is not true. The image was not of candidates but a map of the US with the crosshairs depicting 20 target districts. And the language used with the map focused on "taking back the 20" during last November's mid-term elections.

Giffords did complain about this targeting image after her office was vandalised but this was almost a year ago, in an interview which has been constantly re-run as though it were some prescient warning about last week's shooting. Understandably Palin removed the map from her website in the wake of the Tucson shooting, out of common decency.

Both sides of American politics use militaristic or hunting lexicon in their dialogue in a way many Australians find distasteful. Democrats have also used the crosshairs or targeting imagery and during the presidential campaign Obama said of the Republicans: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun."

Unwise and unpalatable this language may be, but its common use demonstrates it is insensitive and plain wrong to blame Palin for Tucson's terror. Particularly when all the evidence so far suggests the misfit who carried out the attack was a disturbed, politically non-partisan man who developed an obsession with his local representative Giffords, before Palin even became a national figure.

Yet blame they did, with American liberals attacking Palin, the Tea Party activists and some media. Closer to home, former NSW premier Bob Carr posted a blog blaming the "diabolical climate of abuse, anger, hatred and paranoia whipped up by Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and their colleagues day after day on Fox".

Labor speechwriter Bob Ellis was given space on the ABC's website to write that Palin "who may be guilty of 'encouraging a terrorist act' is politically finished I would think . . ."

While Giffords fought for her life in hospital, she was co-opted by some to dance on Palin's political grave. In The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland pre-booked Giffords to deliver a knockout political blow: "She would need to do no more than appear on a platform or in a TV ad in the 2012 campaign to indict Palin."

That all this is distasteful hardly warrants saying. That it is hypocritical coming from those calling for an elevated political discourse is patent.

Outside the US, the pathological disdain for Palin is accentuated by a lack of understanding about her political pedigree. Far from representing a new far-right agenda, Palin and the Tea Party give voice to a continuous strand of ultra-libertarian, small-government, anti-authoritarian polity that has characterised the American political success story since, obviously enough, the Boston Tea Party.

The anti-government rhetoric is as old as the union itself, and so too, sadly, is the constitutionally protected right to bear arms.

The magnificent success story of the great republic is littered with, if not built upon, political violence. From the War of Independence, the Texas Revolution and the Alamo, the Mexican War, and the gruesome Civil War, armed militia have founded, expanded and preserved the union in a way that has created a uniquely militaristic culture.

Perhaps in part because of this bloody history, the US has had a tragic history of political assassinations, with more than 30 officials and four presidents killed, sometimes by political zealots and sometimes by confused maniacs.

Some of the wisest messages on last week's tragedy came from The Washington Post which said the lessons here were in gun control legislation and mental health care. It provided this sober assessment: "Politicians should choose their words with care and keep debate civil, but it seems an unsupported leap to blame either the political climate or any particular individual or group for inciting the gunman. The suspect appears to be a disturbed young man with no coherent political philosophy."

The horror of the Tucson shooting should spark action. At the very least we hope that it prompts a reinstatement of the federal law against semi-automatic weapons, as a first step towards stricter gun control. It should also prompt the US to examine better ways to identify and treat mental health cases.

And finally, perhaps it might give all sides of politics, in the US and elsewhere, pause to think about the language and imagery they invoke.

As President Obama said so eloquently in Tucson, we should not use an occasion like this to "turn on each other", rather we should speak about it in a way that "heals, not wounds".

Chris Kenny was an adviser to former foreign minister Alexander Downer.






BY any standards, the past week has been one of the most tumultuous in memory. As Queenslanders dealt bravely with the floods that killed at least 15 of their people, turned thousands into refugees, invaded their capital city and washed away some of their towns, the rest of Australia has been with them in spirit. The battle with nature has made us all Queenslanders now.

In a rare display of media unity, TV networks wiped their schedules and brought the plight of Queenslanders into Australian homes. So, too, the Twitter and blogosphere linked the country as in no other natural disaster. The Lockyer Valley, Murphys Creek and Grantham, once unfamiliar names, are now embedded in the national consciousness. Anna Bligh, the Queensland Premier, was not being overly emotive when she called Brisbane a "war zone" and the looming reconstruction job one of "postwar proportions". If the sandbag is a symbol of war, Brisbane is indeed a wartime city: Brisbane City Council has handed out more than 300,000 sandbags, with 65,000 on standby.

The scenes of last Monday's ''inland tsunami'' sweeping unsuspecting people before it, people clinging to trees and families perched on tops of sinking cars have been harrowing. But Queensland is not alone. Floods are also swamping northern NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. Even worse ones this week have hit Brazil, where resulting landslides have killed about 450 people. In the Philippines and Sri Lanka, floods have displaced 700,000 people.

Are these catastrophes linked? Climate experts tie the floods in Australia and the Philippines to La Nina, a phenomenon involving volatile sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that brings heavy rain to Australia and other places in the western Pacific. It is too early to say, but the flooding in Brazil could also be connected.

Australia is slowly learning more about La Nina: the last one was only three years ago. But this one is the strongest in decades. Outsized monsoons have lashed northern Australia, and some parts of the country have had up to four times their normal rainfall. The floods have helped bring the Murray-Darling Basin back from near-death to 81 per cent capacity this week. But they have played havoc with farm output. Queensland produces large amounts of Australia's grain sorghum, cotton, sugar, fruit and vegetables. Lost harvests and ruined summer plantings will flow through to higher food prices this year.

Even though we cannot predict the frequency of these increasingly bizarre weather patterns, we have now experienced enough of them to ask what lessons we can draw from the Queensland disaster. Queensland itself had been ahead of the game on this. After Victoria's bushfires two years ago killed 173 people towards the end of a 10-year drought, Queensland authorities moved to co-ordinate their own responses to a natural calamity. Helped by Queenslanders' practical instincts, the response has been almost flawless. Beyond that, though, the same fundamental questions that followed Victoria's fires must be faced again. Australians will have to take a tougher approach to the dwellings they build in regions with histories of destruction by fires and floods, especially in rapidly growing cities such as Brisbane. And in some cases, we must ask whether it is wise to allow settlement at all.

There are no easy answers. Australian cities and their hinterlands were founded on rivers and harbours that afforded trading links with the world. Naturally enough, the cities are where most of the immigrants we seek, to help keep our economy buoyant, want to live. And as the cities become clogged, more people want second homes in the bush. Advocates of a smaller Australia will use the Queensland floods to bolster their case for capping migrant numbers and where and how people live.

The pressures breaking out over flood insurance claims partly reflect these dilemmas. According to some reports, more than half the insured homes in Queensland are not covered for floods. Some insurers simply do not offer protection for floods, one of the costliest and most frequent causes of damage. The more cities and towns expand into fire- and flood-prone regions, the higher the financial risks for people will be.

Anna Bligh has called on insurance companies to show compassion; this was not grandstanding. Like Bligh's performance since the disaster began, it was the measured response of a woman who has grasped her responsibilities well: without pretense, deferring to experts, yet reassuring the public with her tireless presence, straight talk and facts that everyone needed to know. In a country often hesitant to award political accolades, Bligh has shown the mark of a true leader.





FOR 8000 marketeers who have shown their expertise at getting their foot in the door and making a sale, getting the state government to shut down traffic on part of the Harbour Bridge to let them walk across would have been a breeze, even if they were speaking Chinese. The Chinese distributors of Amway products - toothpaste, dishwashing liquid, skin creams, vitamins - are a particularly hardy breed of proto-capitalist. They have had to get past all kinds of suspicion among Chinese officials - that they are American agents, members of a cult, and subverting Communist Party authority - which has been difficult to refute because it is all true, sort of. Then they have to convince canny, fen-pinching Chinese consumers that their prices are a bargain. So let us welcome the Amway Chinese who hit Sydney yesterday on their corporate freebie, and will be among us over the next fortnight.

It will be a test for our retailers to see what they can sell to them






THEY were two different public utterances, made on separate sides of the world, but united in their quiet passion and strength of purpose and in drawing inspiration and fortitude from the very worst of devastation, sadness and loss.

One, made on Thursday by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, was at a briefing session on the floods that have drastically affected three-quarters of the state, including 70 towns and cities, as well as many parts of Brisbane. ''As we weep for what we have lost, and as we grieve for family and friends and we confront the challenge that is before us, I want us to remember who we are,'' Ms Bligh said, in tears. ''We are Queenslanders. We're the people that they breed tough, north of the border. We're the ones that they knock down, and we get up again.''

The other address, more formal but no less emotional, was given by US President Barack Obama on Wednesday at the service in Tucson to honour those killed or wounded in last weekend's Arizona shootings. Mr Obama spoke of the necessity to bring order out of chaos; to avoid the political polarisation that has occurred since the shootings, and begin what he called ''the process of reflection … of making sure we align our values with our actions … that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires''.

There are, of course, fundamental differences between the terrible acts of nature that have unleashed floodwaters upon Queensland and northern New South Wales, bringing death and destruction to communities large and small, and the random, senseless act of an individual gunman outside a Tucson supermarket that left six dead and wounded 14, including a US congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. But Ms Bligh and Mr Obama each put things into perspective - one on behalf of her state; the other on behalf of his nation - by accentuating the spirit of renewal above the spectre of recrimination, and how any reflection and debate, however desirable or necessary, should take their rightful place in the process: as Mr Obama put it, ensuring they are ''not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle''.

Anna Bligh's leadership during this dark time in her state's history has been exemplary, as was that of former Victorian premier John Brumby in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires almost two years ago. During such extraordinary times, people who have suffered great misfortune are looking for strong and decisive leadership to help not only themselves but to set an example to others, and perhaps inspire assistance and generosity that might otherwise not happen. Ms Bligh has unfailingly conveyed the right combination of sympathy and determination and, in the process, has helped to begin to raise community morale out of sheer hopelessness and on to a more secure footing to tackle the daunting and expensive challenges that lie ahead. For Queensland, reconstruction will be of truly postwar proportions.

It has been a bad seven days for appalling weather-related incidents, with floods on one side of the continent and bushfires on the other, and a reminder of our vulnerability to acts of God. But, to take a wider view, Australia is not isolated in experiencing such elemental cataclysms and, comparatively speaking, tends to recover more swiftly and efficiently than countries with less robust infrastructure. It is perhaps appropriate to record that this week flash flooding has also occurred in Brazil, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, killing hundreds and displacing more than 1.5 million others.

Within Australia, the public response to the Queensland crisis has been typical of how we have always been at times of crisis: immediate and generous. The myriad acts of spontaneity and selflessness have ranged across the land, across the social and economic spectrum; from friends and neighbours to sporting heroes and business tycoons; from the Brisbane tugboat master who guided a 300-metre stretch of floating walkway away from the pylons of the city's Gateway Bridge, to the supermarket corporations ensuring vital supplies reach the stranded, via military aircraft or by back roads from the south of the continent.

These are early days, and the bulk of the damage and the repair bills have yet to be determined. In human terms, at least 15 people are dead and many are still missing, with fears that some may never be found; the psychological impact will be profound on all those affected by the floods. Yet, as Anna Bligh says, '' … this weather may break our hearts … but it will not break our will''. These words should encourage Queenslanders and all Australians to embrace recovery.







Kate Middleton, it has been disclosed this month, will ride to her wedding with the future King William in a mere motor car, only to be transported away at the end in the shimmering glory of a state coach – symbolising her transformation from commoner to iconic ingredient in the topmost rank of British society. Yet even then she will remain, in the established order of things, a congenitally inferior person. In terms of precedence and succession in our monarchy and nobility, the rights of women still take second place to the rights of men.

In Spain, as in the Netherlands, the right to inherit a title now belongs to the oldest child, whether son or daughter. Though counts may cavil and marquises moan, the Spanish parliament, backed by the Spanish electorate, has now put a stop to this kind of discrimination – a policy powerfully endorsed by the king (though succession in the monarchy remains, for the moment, exempt from reform). In the United Kingdom, however, the indefensible continues to be defended. Two years ago Gordon Brown told a BBC interviewer: "I think in the 21st century people do expect discrimination to be removed, and they do expect us to be looking at all these issues." One genuine obstacle here is the need to seek the consent of other Commonwealth members to any such change. But four months before last year's election the deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, said discussions were under way, and she was "sure that progress will be made".

A coalition government that in other respects so constantly trumpets its commitment to change ought to have reinforced that. Yet six months ago the minister for political and constitutional reform, Mark Harper, announced that there were no plans to reform this or other laws affecting the succession, such as those that discriminate against Roman Catholics. Taking shelter in that much-loved refuge of the procrastinator, the doctrine of unripe time, he said change had not been ruled out: "We are simply saying that if we are to undertake change, we need to do it in a careful and thoughtful way."

In terms of the monarchy, this may for the moment seem academic. The Queen's eldest child is a son; the son of the heir to the throne is a son also. But that is not uniformly the case across the rest of the system. And even with the monarchy, the symbolism persists; witness Princess Anne at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day laying her wreath only after her younger brothers had done so.

On present trends, William's Queen Catherine may one day have to explain to a mid-21st-century daughter that, whatever mummy and daddy may think on this matter, the state still regards her as incurably second-rate.






The newly and deservedly knighted Professor David Butler, dean of all experts on British electoral behaviour, summed up his experience of parliamentary byelections in the following terms: "Politicians have learned to become increasingly blase about byelections, at least until the last year of a parliament. They may offer some guide to the public mood; but who now would dare to give a figure for the likely difference between a byelection result today and what would happen in an immediate general election? It is much more necessary to hesitate before extrapolating to a general election that is two or three years off." While byelections over the years may have lost much of their power to shock, Sir David concluded, "the impact of a byelection depends on how it is interpreted".

Oldham East and Saddleworth conforms to this pattern. As the first electoral test of Britain's first peacetime coalition government in the modern era, this week's byelection attracted unusual media attention and is now being intensively interpreted by parties and commentators eager for clues about the coalition's wider impact and popularity. Yet, a mere eight months into the parliament, a contest that was triggered by a rarely invoked legal challenge against a sitting MP is an uncertain signpost to the future. Thursday's result unsurprisingly produced few watertight clues to either the state of public opinion nationally or to the possible outcome of a general election which may yet be four years, never mind two or three years, distant.

The most important thing about any byelection is winning. By retaining the so-called Old and Sad, by overcoming any voter anger against its former MP, by increasing its vote and, most of all, by putting its share up by 10 points, Labour has confirmed it is back in the game. Debbie Abrahams's victory must, nevertheless, be weighed against the fact that government candidates rarely gain seats at byelections (not since 1982) and that, in the shape of the spending cuts and tax hikes, Labour had potent issues around which to mobilise a protest vote. Nevertheless, Labour put its shoulder into the task and has regained voters whom Gordon Brown (who lost every English byelection he fought) drove away. Ed Miliband, having been initially talked down as a leader, now has fresh authority and momentum. Labour feels vindicated. Its danger now is complacency.

Eight months ago the Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates, both of whom fought this seat again this week, took nearly 26,000 votes – 58% of those cast – between them. On Thursday those figures shrank to less than 16,000 and 44%. Clearly there was tactical voting between the two parties, as often happens in byelections, but possibly now with longer-term implications for the coalition in other contests. Nevertheless the Lib Dems will be the happier of the two parties, easily outpolling their dismal national opinion poll ratings, maintaining their share of the constituency poll at 32%, and disappointing those who had them heading for the abyss. True, in more innocent times the party would have expected to capture Oldham East. But Lib Dem MPs are likely to sleep easier about their own prospects after this byelection, and this will lessen the pressure on Nick Clegg, who may feel more confident that his party can hold its own when the general election comes.

David Cameron will draw some comfort from this fact too. But the Tories were clearly the big losers on Thursday, squeezed down to 13% of the poll by the other two parties, and losing more than half of their vote share in a seat which, on different boundaries, elected a Tory MP in 1992. The Conservative right, angry at the low-key Tory byelection campaign, will now feel even more empowered to make trouble for the government. Things look temporarily easier on the coalition's left wing. But Mr Cameron now faces new threats on his right.









The theory of evolution makes it a reasonable guess that breast milk will be the ideal food for a baby. The same theory, however, would also suggest that mothers will do all they reasonably can to keep their infants healthy, but unending hectoring about rearing children takes little account of that second insight. Feathers were ruffled yesterday when a paper concluded that weaning on to solid food might usefully start a little earlier than is currently advised. It was a modest suggestion grounded in the sort of serious work which scientific progress relies on, and yet on the Today programme a top midwife shrugged it off with half a hint that the formula-milk industry must lie behind any challenge to the view that breast milk alone is always and everywhere best. The industry's advertising is rightly restricted, but beyond that the debate should be free. It is settled fact that breast milk protects babies in some specific ways, but few of the thousands of studies that get hyped up as saying that formula babies will grow up fat, sick or stupid control adequately for the manifold confounding factors that could be at play. Family income can be straightforwardly measured and adjusted for, but not so the attentiveness of the parents. Ingenious methods have been proposed to isolate the nutritional effect, but this remains new science. Wherever it leads, new mothers who struggle to breastfeed because of separation from a sick baby or anything else don't deserve criticism and guilt, but the milk of human kindness.






Nearly six years after the horrific attack, reverberations from the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rakif al-Hariri continue to rock Lebanon. As an international tribunal prepared to hand down indictments against the perpetrators, Cabinet ministers from parties aligned with the suspects resigned, toppling the government of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the son of the target of the 2005 bombing. These politicians want to force Lebanon to choose between justice and stability. They ignore the fact that there cannot be stability without justice.

Rafik al-Hariri died in a massive car bombing in February 2005. The attack claimed 21 lives and wounded 100 others, depriving Lebanon not only of its prime minister and wealthiest citizen, but a virtual dynamo who was committed to the renovation of the country and its re-emergence from decades of bloodshed and violence. The killing triggered the "Cedar Revolution" that helped push Syrian forces, which had virtually annexed Lebanon, out of the country and restored Lebanon's sovereignty.

The Cedar revolutionaries also demanded establishment of an independent tribunal to discover who had killed Hariri. At first, suspicions fell upon Syria and its allies in Lebanon, with the reasoning that Syria wanted the state weak so that it would be unable to counter the extension of Syrian influence to Lebanon as well as claims that Damascus' presence was stabilizing. Syria's opponents claimed that even if Damascus was not officially responsible for the attack, its grip on the state was so tight that no such incident could occur without its knowledge. Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals were held in connection with the incident, but they were eventually released for lack of evidence.

A United Nations tribunal was established in March 2009. Its investigation has proceeded with deliberation and it is reported to be preparing to release its first indictments for the assassination. But the prospect of charges being leveled against members of Hezbollah prompted that group to withdraw from the Unity government of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. The resignation of its 10 Cabinet members, along with the resignation of an 11th member who represented the president of Lebanon (and who is allied with Hezbollah), triggered the collapse of the government.

Hezbollah has been pressing Mr. Hariri to disavow the international investigation. It views the tribunal as either a tool of Western imperialism or the handmaiden of Israeli interests.It also insists that it had no role in the bombing. Mr. Hariri is not convinced. He also knows that if he bows to Hezbollah's demands, he would lose the backing of many of his own supporters.

Meanwhile, representatives from Syria and Saudi Arabia were trying to forge a deal that would defuse the situation. Saudi Arabia backs Mr. Hariri, while Syria is one of Hezbollah's patrons. The two governments had worked for five months to come up with a compromise that would satisfy both sides. Hezbollah's walkout suggests that the effort failed. Hezbollah blamed the United States for scuttling any deal.

Hezbollah leaders have made it clear that they will surrender none of their supporters to the tribunal. The impact of that refusal is magnified by the fact that Hezbollah is also the largest armed force in Lebanon. There are fears now that the collapse of the government could usher in another period of unrest like that of May 2008 when a previous government in Beirut tried to move against Hezbollah. Then, there was street fighting and months of violence. That ended only when Mr. Hariri cobbled together his unity government, but it too has been hobbled by discord and dissent.

Simply put, Hezbollah is demanding that Mr. Hariri and the Lebanese people choose between justice and stability. They are holding out the threat of renewed and prolonged violence to force the government to shelve its efforts to find Rafik al-Hariri's murderers. This threat is part of a larger proxy war being fought over Lebanon's independence. Syria's influence, which was thought to be diminishing in the aftermath of the Cedar Revolution, is on the rise again. This has broader repercussions as Lebanon is used as a proxy for Syrian interests in Damascus' fight with Israel. Hezbollah has instigated clashes between Israeli forces and Lebanese militias and even triggered all-out war in 2006.

Mr. Hariri must not bow to Hezbollah's threats. But his government is weak and he cannot stand up to Hezbollah alone — and certainly not when it is backed by Syria and Iran. Other Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf governments should be the prime minister's chief supporters. They have no desire to see the spread of the radical Shiite version of Islam propagated by Iran and its proxies.

Israel too has a role to play. It cannot be seen as backing a government merely so that it can manipulate it as Damascus does. A Lebanese government that defends Lebanese national interests would be a force for stability and peace in the region. It would be a real buffer between Israel and Syria and offer a genuinely participatory government for the diversity of cultures in Lebanon. Of course, its ability to ensure justice for all its citizens would enhance its legitimacy even more.






LOS ANGELES — Revelations in former U.S. President George W. Bush's recently published memoirs show that he declined an Israeli request to destroy Syria's secret nuclear reactor in the spring of 2007. While the revelation may appear merely to be a historical footnote, more profoundly it raises new uncertainty about whether Israel now thinks that it can rely on the United States to apply military force to stop Iran's nuclear program should diplomacy fail. The Syrian episode suggests that it cannot, which means that Israel may decide to go it alone once again, this time to eliminate Iran's nuclear facilities.

If Israel did so, however, it would confront a conundrum. Unlike the attack on Syria's nuclear plant, Israel's conventional forces do not have the capacity to destroy Iran's suspect installations. Portions of Iran's nuclear program may be too heavily bunkered, dispersed, or concealed. This raises the question of whether Israel's repeated refrain that "all options are on the table" implies that even a nuclear strike is possible. Israel's nuclear history provides no clear answer, but the future may force the issue.

Israel has never acknowledged having nuclear weapons, let alone the size and scope of its arsenal. Israeli policymakers refuse to talk about the subject. Israel's parliament, the Knesset, never discusses the program or appropriates money for it. Military censors quash public discourse about it.

Yet American and other intelligence services and strategic-research institutes around the world all agree that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. They disagree about how many, with estimates ranging broadly, from 40 to more than 400 warheads.

Israel's reluctance to rattle its nuclear saber, even in dire circumstances, adds to the mystery. In the Yom Kippur War, as Syrian forces threatened to break the country's defensive lines, Israeli decision-makers recoiled even from threatening to use nuclear weapons.

While Israel keeps its bomb in the basement, it has a long history of stopping its adversaries. As Iraq moved to complete the Osirak reactor by the early 1980s, Israel applied diplomatic pressure and actions against foreign nuclear vendors, sabotaged atomic exports, and assassinated Iraqi scientists, before finally settling on the June 1981 air strike on the plant. In the Syrian case, with one caveat, Israel decided to dispense with the preliminaries and simply destroy the reactor.

The caveat consists in a plea that Israel made to the U.S. According to Bush's memoir, in the spring of 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a blunt request of the U.S. president regarding Syria's reactor: "George, I am asking you to bomb the facility."

After consultation with his staff, Bush responded that, absent a plutonium extraction facility, U.S. intelligence could not confirm that the plant comprised a nuclear weapons program. "I told him [Olmert] I had decided on a diplomatic option backed by force" to stop Syria, Bush writes. An apprehensive Olmert responded, "I must be honest with you. Your strategy was very disturbing to me."

Within months, Israel struck. One year later, it followed up by assassinating Mohammed Suleiman, the Syrian general in charge of resurrecting the nuclear enterprise.

Given its efforts to fend off an attack, Iran represents a far more difficult target for Israel than Iraq and Syria did. As a result, Israel ceded to the U.S. and others responsibility to move the Iranian regime from its current path.

Since 2002, the U.S. has applied a multipronged approach. It pressed the International Atomic Energy Agency for greater scrutiny. It got the United Nations Security Council to agree to impose increasingly onerous economic sanctions — and roped allies into even stronger sanctions. It adulterated nuclear-related exports from European vendors to perform poorly during operation. It may have inserted computer worms into Iran's atomic infrastructure.

The result of all these efforts has been to slow, but not halt, Iran's nuclear progress. And, even as the U.S. and its allies attempt to restrain Iran, its regime continues to goad Israel, calling for its extinction and exporting military wares to its Lebanese and Gazan adversaries.

In May 2010, Israel responded with a new wrinkle. It leaked to the London Sunday Times that it had placed nuclear-armed submarines off Iran's coast. In the months before and after, it continued to hold war games and practice air strikes on Iran. And it repeatedly uttered threats that "all" options are on the table. Iran remains unmoved.

Concerned that President Barack Obama will be less likely than Bush to use force to stop Iran, Israel must now contemplate its next steps should diplomacy continue to stall. One option would be to pursue a policy of "opacity plus": a further lifting of the veil over its nuclear arsenal in order to caution Iran's rulers about the potential consequences of their actions.

Another option would be to bring the country's nuclear arsenal out of the basement altogether. Israel could then mimic other nuclear-armed states by flexing its capacity through announcement and transparent nuclear deployment on land and sea, thereby promoting deterrence.

But, for a country that has had little faith in deterrence when it comes to existential nuclear threats, relying on it now would mark a new, uncomfortable bet.

That leaves nuclear use as the final option. But nuclear attack carries its own heavy burden. Given Iran's placement of strategic sites in or near population centers, the deaths of many thousands of people would forever tar Israel.

The only worse stain on Israel would be if survivors of an Iranian nuclear strike were to lament that, had their country acted proactively, "the third destruction of the Temple" — the end of the Jewish state — could have been avoided.

These sobering prospects should prompt all involved to seek a peaceful resolution. Time is growing short.

Bennett Ramberg served in the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the George H.W. Bush Administration. He is the author of several books on international security. © 2011 Project Syndicate







The Jakarta city administration's move to distribute new national identity numbers to all Jakarta residents door-to-door is surely commendable. It will be the first concrete step towards the establishment of the long-delayed single identity number system – a vital project to improve the currently messy population registration in this country.

We, Indonesians, have paid a high price for the disorganized registration system for a long time.

Under the current system, those who are put on the police's most wanted list, including terrorists, can easily create a fake identity in order to live – nearly undetected – among everyone else. Meanwhile, election violence in many regions has frequently been sparked by the flawed voter registration system. The most recent example of this chaotic system is the illegally obtained passport that allowed graft suspect Gayus H. Tambunan to travel abroad.

Population and Civil Registration Agency head Franky Mangatas said all national identity numbers in Jakarta are expected to be distributed by the end of the year, followed by the issuance of electronic identity cards containing a microchip and fingerprint scans.  

"We have completed all the steps, from updating our database to publicity, and now we are waiting for the Home Ministry to tell us to replace the identity cards," Franky said Friday.

The idea for national identity numbers was introduced in the mid-1990s, but was never followed up on. Early last year, the government launched a pilot project in five cities: Denpasar, Makassar, Padang, Yogyakarta and Jakarta. The new system will be completed by 2012.

We believe the city administration's efforts deserve appreciation and support from all Jakartans. The identity numbers, which are being distributed to all citizens, will be valid throughout one's life and will be the basis for the issuance of other documents including passports, driver's licenses, land ownership documents, insurance and tax papers.  

As part of the project, the electronic identity card will contain information about its holder including marital status, blood type, parents' names, employment, physical or mental disabilities, one's birth certificate, divorce certificate, place and date of birth, biometric fingerprints of all fingers and a photo.

With the new system, the government is expected to have an official database containing information about every citizen in the archipelago. The system will be important not only for maintaining our national security, but also for establishing a better voter registration system.  

With this information, the government is expected to be able to create better policies in an effort to improve people's welfare. We currently often hear reports about misdirected government programs because they were based on bad information. With the new population registration system, the government has no excuse for similar mistakes.

It is time for Jakartans to help ease the process of establishing the national identity number.

Jakarta's residents will have to provide correct information about themselves so Indonesia can join the other countries that have benefited from such a system.





Aceh's people are well known as a community tough on injustice. These are the same people who fought against the Dutch colonials for 30 years. Founding president Sukarno once said, "Through the struggle of the Acehnese, the entire territory of the Republic of Indonesia could be recaptured."

Aceh once had the superior human resources of Southeast Asia, but wars and conflicts shattered that strength. Long periods of military and political struggles coupled with natural disasters turned Aceh into one of today's poorest provinces in Indonesia.

However, since the tsunami of December 2004, accompanied by the Peace Agreement in August 2005, things have been turning for the better. With support from various countries, organizations and communities around world, the people of Aceh achieved remarkable progress in consolidating peace, healing wounds left by the conflicts and disasters and began rebuilding their human resources.

On Dec. 22, 2010, the Aceh Human Development Report (AHDR) 2010 launched in Banda Aceh. This was the first provincial AHDR in Indonesia, written with the support of the United Nations Development Program. Its main theme is empowering communities, not just through planning but also in their involvement in decision-making processes.

Aceh's Human Development Index (HDI) had moved forward in unison with the national figure until 2007. It declined sharply in 2008. Compared to other regions in Indonesia, Aceh's HDI increase slowed in recent years, ranking 29th of the 33 provinces in 2008.   

The poverty rate fell to 22 percent compared with the national average of 14 percent. Nevertheless, Aceh's HDI rank here improved from 20th out of 26 provinces in 1996 to 17th out of 33 provinces in 2008. In 2005, one in four households was still designated as poor quality with poor basic services.

In education, Aceh showed the best performance among Indonesian provinces. Nevertheless, the quality of teaching and school facilities is still not equitable. In health, despite great progress over the last 40 years, indicators show that Aceh ranks in the lowest quarter of the provinces, due to lower life expectancies, poorly nourished children and higher maternal and infant mortality rates.

Although the GDP per capita indicates Aceh as one of the richest provinces in Indonesia, per capita spending shows that Acehnese people are among the nation's poorest. Huge aid for rehabilitation and reconstruction following the tsunami has provided a temporary boost to the economy, but most of these programs have finished.  

Based on information analyses, the AHDR 2010 recommended six major goals to promote human development in the province.  

First, the most effective instrument for enhancing human development is empowering communities to make decisions independently as to their needs, and what is to be done to meet them. Empowerment is not only a means to promote participation in public meetings discussing priorities and plans, but also to divert fiscal resources for recognized groups and delegate authority in determining how to use the resources.  

Second, although some indicators show progress, the most important is to ensure that all people benefit from the improvements. Government programs should give special attention to handling the needs of particular social groups that may have been overlooked or are unable to get the help they need for some reason.

Third, basic social services can now be accessed directly by most communities throughout Aceh. A major future challenge is improving the quality of these services, particularly in health and education.

Fourth, another goal is to fight high unemployment and lack of employment opportunities to reduce poverty and increase household incomes.

Fifth, natural disasters are common in Aceh and cumulatively cause great loss and difficulty.

Mainstreaming various measures to reduce natural disasters' impacts should be strengthened within government programs and donor agencies, particularly in forestry, agriculture and the fisheries.

Sixth, the huge increase in fiscal resources flowing to Aceh as a result of the peace agreement and the Law on Aceh governance emphasizes the need to minimize misuse and ensure that resources are channeled to various programs and services more effective in advancing human development.

In addition, the Special Autonomy Law gives Aceh three systems which have applied in parallel since 2001, namely the Indonesian State Administration Law, the traditional customary system, and sharia law. This often creates confusion, because the scope of each system's jurisdiction overlaps and can lead to different interpretations. Some of these obstacles discourage people from filing charges and in turn prevent justice.

Sharia courts have become increasingly active with a number of women's rights issues, including granting guardianship of children to women after divorce, granting a same share of the finances (harta gono-gini) after divorce, and protecting women's inheritance rights. Measures to empower community-based organizations will help improve people's access to justice. Campaigns will raise awareness of the rights of the community, and organizations will monitor sharia court decisions and customs regulations, as well as the performance of the shariah police.

Remembering the toughness of the people of Aceh in their fight for justice during the colonial period, we should be optimistic that the various gaps existing today will soon be overcome, in parallel with an HDI increase for the people of Aceh. Hopefully.

The writer is executive director of the Indonesian Democracy Education.






The revolutionary idea of uplifting oral (as opposed to literate) tradition as one source of local wisdom in our education ought to be welcomed with alacrity.

For one thing, amid our fetish with internationally — certified education, the idea shows a growing awareness among local education pundits of the importance of preserving cultural identity or heritage as well as of interrogating any importation of cultural constructs. The idea also offers a refreshing new direction for the development of any educational policy.

More important than all of these is that any educational practice rooted in local wisdom put learners in an advantageous position. This is to say that learners will become the masters of the self.

Education is, after all, an activity which can be metaphorically speaking likened to a game of truth — a phrase used by French philosopher Michael Foucault to describe the various forms of knowledge. As a rule of thumb in the game of truth, learners are granted freedom to construct their own views of the world (i.e., knowledge) emanating from their accumulated experience.   

To engage learners in their oral tradition is a stepping stone toward assisting them in becoming active players in the games of truth. However, the knowledge that learners obtain during the exposure to their tradition is by itself a necessary, but insufficient condition for learning. It serves only as a knowledge base, which is of no insignificant appendage, as this knowledge is a precondition for interrogating other forms of knowledge permeating the learners' traditions.    

For Foucault, to play a game of truth we (teachers) must help learners devise strategies for "problematization", a sort of strategy resembling that of Cartesian doubt, whose well-known credo is to doubt everything of which we cannot be absolutely certain.

The knowledge base — the products of the learners' long interaction with their traditions — manifests itself as a significant "investment", which eventually paves the way for the learners to apply problematization strategies.

Socioculturally, the unveiling of oral tradition, with learners being the master of their traditions, can counter-balance the influx of Western cultural traits, which are responsible for the perpetuation of cultural hegemony.

With learners being active players in the game of truth, not as passive spectators, they are poised to challenge, interrogate and even resist hegemonic forces of any cultural determination.

It should be highlighted that to encourage learners to be active players in a game of truth is not tantamount to teaching them under a critical thinking paradigm. In the game of truth, learners are exhorted to raise their consciousness as critical beings.

Teaching (e.g., teaching critical thinking), unfortunately, presupposes the miscarriage of thoughts, marginalization and powerlessness —  and as such it belittles the complexity of humanity.

It must be admitted, the major significant stumbling block to the acknowledgments of oral tradition as precious local wisdom is our excessive fetish about what constitutes scientism.

S.T. Sulastro wrote recently in Kompas daily that there is an a priori attitude among scientists and researchers alike toward the scientific truth of oral tradition. In essence, they impugn the science-focus of the tradition, seeking instead recognition of universal, pure, and transcendental truth in it, which is hardly possible.    

The spirit of tightly holding a banner bearing the name of "science" shouldn't surprise us, given the strong influence of the positivist tradition that shapes most our scholars' attitudes. In research activities, for example, the perpetuation of positivism has been so strong that it often makes novice and even experienced researchers as well as students feel insecure if they attempt to construct knowledge from the very perspectives of their own contexts, interests, and ideologies.

This feeling of insecurity is further exacerbated by the imposition of rigid empirical lines of inquiry that must be conformed, often to the exclusion of the researchers' own creativity in the process of knowledge construction. Bad and good scholarship is determined by this absolute criterion.

Another obstacle in promoting oral tradition is the tendency of our scholars to exalt the superiority of literate culture. This not only perpetuates an unhealthy dichotomy between oral and literate culture, but also assigns a subservient status to the former.

Oral traditions such as folk tales, legends, and anecdotes, among other things, are clearly the product of our cultural creation rather than any cultural determination, and as such genuinely reflect the way local people live, interact, and behave. They also depict the live experiences of the people who created such a cultural product.

Studying this particular cultural product requires us to adhere to a method used by positivism-oriented scholars. Such a method is simply uncongenial and even stands in sharp contrast to the notion of knowledge as contextual, personal, bias, value-ridden and contested.

As local wisdom, oral tradition does offer a great number of pedagogical benefits for learners as well as for the politics and ideology of national education. Nonetheless, its recognition as a possible school subject to be included in the national curriculum requires not only a political will on the part of education authorities, but also an open mind to the dynamism of knowledge.  

Oral tradition does offer a great number of pedagogical benefits for learners as well as for the politics and ideology of national education.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya University, Jakarta, and chief editor of
the  Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.






The face of cities in Indonesia this year will not change much. They will continue to experience a very rapid process of urbanization. The population residing in urban areas is estimated to increase from 54 percent in 2010 to 68 percent in 2025.

Cities that were expected to create wealth as engines of growth have actually given birth to new pockets of poverty. Indonesia's relatively high level of poverty has led to the nation's relatively poor ranking on the Human Development Index, coming in at 111 of 181 countries - far below neighboring countries such as Singapore (23rd), Malaysia (66th) and Thailand (87th).

Urban slums in Indonesia increased from 54,000 hectares in 2004 to 57,800 hectares in 2009. Infrastructure services are still limited in scope and quality. A large number of households had inadequate access to clean water (21.1 percent, according to the index) or did not have access to latrines (22.86 percent).

Less than half of the population (47.71 percent) had access to safe drinking water and just over half (51.02 percent) had access to decent sanitation.

According to the Millennium Development Goals, 68.8 percent of the people must have access to safe drinking water and 62.4 percent must have access to decent sanitation by 2015.

According to the Vancouver Declaration (1976), the government is responsible for providing decent housing to residents who cannot afford it. To that end, the government has vowed to clear slums in 350 cities by 2015.

A slum is characterized by buildings that are very narrow and do not meet health standards. Their conditions are so squashed that they are fire prone and lack clean water; electricity; drainage; roads; and bathing, washing and toilet facilities.

Green space has declined from about 35 percent to less than 10 percent from 1970-2010 in big cities, as a result of the construction of commercial buildings.

Ideally a city needs to allocate 20 percent of its area for public green space and 10 percent for private green space. Indonesia's cities fall far short of those numbers.

Makassar's green space amounts to 10 percent of the city; Jakarta has 9.79 percent; Surabaya, 9 percent; Bandung, 8.76 percent, Medan, 8 percent; and Palembang, 5 percent.

No wonder our cities are frequently hit by disasters throughout the year such as floods and road inundations in the rainy season, outbreaks of diarrhea and dengue fever in the transitional season and clean water crises, air pollution and fires in the dry season. All this is exacerbated by seawater intrusion and land subsidence in coastal cities, as well as landslides and erosion in mountainous areas.

Cities should be encouraged to become sustainable, green cities. Spatial plans must be friendly and environmentally sensitive and accommodate an adequate proportion of urban green space. Urban infrastructure development must be directed into green urban infrastructure.

Various laws support green city development including the Building Law, the Water Resources Law, the Solid Waste Management Law, the Disaster Management Law and the Environment Protection and Management Law.

There are eight things to consider when making a sustainable green city: urbanization and population, the risk of disasters and climate change, the role of the private sector and local economy, local cultural identity and heritage areas, green open spaces, area management of river basins, urban transportation and housing and settlements.

Those factors involve economic, ecological and social considerations which in practice are related to leadership and institutional urban systems. A sustainable green city should support good governance, actively involve communities in decision making that affects their lives and promote anticorruption.

Any city planning that fails to take those considerations into account will not bear much fruit.

The government and universities, professional associations and NGOs must establish an independent body to draft guidelines for sustainable urban development, validate city and district ratings and determine the appropriate forms of assistance.

Only 22 out of 33 provinces in the nation are in the process of establishing spatial planning (RTRW), with 13 having approved plans. Of 524 cities and regencies, only 260 are serious about drafting RTRW. Obviously, preparations for spatial planning should be in line with efforts to achieve a sustainable green city. They need immediate assistance.

In the future, the development of sustainable green cities should encourage a paradigm shift that leads to visionary, creative and inclusive management.

Cooperation among urban stakeholders in creating a green city, either individually or in groups, is mandatory. Revitalizing waterfront areas, developing integrated urban transport systems to support the accessibility and mobility of citizens, provision of housing and settlements which are livable, affordable, and environmentally friendly are needed.

To realize a sustainable green city, we need concrete actions, not just discourse.

The writer is chairman of the Indonesia Landscape Architecture Study Group in Jakarta.










The dazzling steps China has taken recently to expedite wider and better use of the yuan in cross-border trade and investment mark the country's latest efforts to make its currency truly international.


This accelerated pace to internationalize the yuan was long overdue. But given the complexity and problems with the global financial and currency systems, Chinese policymakers need not go too fast on narrowing the gap between China's huge contribution as the world's second largest economy and the inadequate role its currency plays in the world economy.


On Thursday, China announced that qualified domestic businesses and banks could settle their overseas direct investment in yuan.


The move that could expand the yuan's global reach came just one day after Bank of China began offering yuan-denominated accounts in the United States and two days after residents of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, were allowed to invest abroad as individuals.


After moving at a glacial pace for years, the internationalization of the yuan has suddenly gained faster-than-expected momentum.


The surge of the yuan on Thursday to its highest level against the US dollar since China scrapped the fixed exchange rate in July 2005 might have created the impression that the government is taking stopgap measures to preempt foreign criticism against its currency policy. But the truth is that China's growing need to better manage its ballooning foreign exchange reserves and, more importantly, curb rising inflation demands significant changes in its foreign exchange regime.


On the one hand, with the foreign exchange reserves crossing $2.85 trillion at the end of 2010, concerns have understandably been heightened over their safety and returns, as well as their impact on inflation. Since China's central bank has to issue an equal amount in yuan to offset the massive inflow of foreign currency, accumulation of larger foreign exchange reserves will only make it harder for the government to control inflation.


On the other hand, the increasing urge of Chinese individuals and companies to invest overseas has made the country's strict capital controls increasingly obsolete. China badly needs a more globalized currency to enable its investors to better distribute their businesses across the globe.


The gradual rise of the yuan as a new global currency will facilitate China's rise as a major trade, investment and financial power. It is important to keep the pace of the yuan's internationalization in line with the country's actual need for sustainable growth.


So, had the yuan been substantially undervalued as some of China's trading partners insisted? The answer is obvious. But no one should expect the rise of a new global currency to be that easy and simple.







We tip our hats and raise our glasses in salute to the two winners of the 2010 top scientific and technological award.


Shi Changxu, material expert from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Wang Zhengyi, hematologist from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who won the award on Friday, deserve all the honors showered on them for their outstanding contributions to scientific and technological innovation.


The award ceremony, held at the Great Hall of the People in the presence of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, should be a good occasion for us to review the state of science and technology in the country.


China is ranked 9th, above France, Italy and Canada, in international science and technology publications. Despite not being one of the world's most advanced countries, China has set up a relatively comprehensive system for the promotion and cultivation of science with indigenous research and development in life sciences, nanotechnology, space technology and other globally important fields.


Our pool of about 1 million scientists and engineers are second only to the United States in number.


China began an experiment with the release of the Medium- to Long-term Plan for Development of Science and Technology in 2006. The plan is committed to developing capabilities for "indigenous innovation" and leapfrogging into leading positions in new science-based industries by 2020.


Thanks to the country's remarkable economic achievement its record of innovation in commercial technologies has picked up with recent improvements in patenting performance.


But research results have not lived up to expectations. Brain drain has slowed the development of high-level scientific leadership, with many of the country's best and brightest people seeking career opportunities abroad.


The way China uses overseas-returned scientists and technologists is controversial, too. The high salaries and material incentives paid to recruit them to Chinese institutions could dampen the spirit of the scientists working at home. Broad areas of social needs cannot possibly be managed without increasingly sophisticated technology.


The country's technological capabilities have been failing to meet its needs in many areas, such as energy, water and resource utilization, environmental protection, and public health. Given its breadth and depth, the plan is expected to have a major effect on the development of science and technology in China this decade.


The plan calls for China to become an "innovative society" by 2020 and a world lea