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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

EDITORIAL 18.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 18, edition 000732, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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












































  2. A HUGE LOSS  








































The Union Environment and Forests Ministry's direction for the complete demolition of the 31-storey Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society building in tony south Mumbai may appear extreme but it is in keeping with both the letter and the spirit of the law that mandates environmental clearance under the Coastal Regulation Zone norms. The builders cannot get away with the plea that they were unaware of the clearances they were supposed to secure, nor is their defence that the Maharashtra Government had cleared the proposal at several levels tenable. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, for if such ignorance is taken cognizance of, most criminals will go unpunished. As for the State Government's 'clearances', by now it is common knowledge that senior politicians of the Congress and bureaucrats with scant regard for scruples had their fingers in the Adarsh pie. Critics of the decision may argue that the Ministry should have considered a less drastic option, such as the Government taking over the controversial building and using it for public purposes or demolishing those floors that had violated floor space index norms. That's unacceptable for minor violation of building regulations were never the issue. What is of relevance is the fraudulent manner in which the land was grabbed and the building constructed in an environmentally sensitive zone without the appropriate approval of the Environment and Forests Ministry. The project's 'promoters' never thought it necessary to secure this approval as they were confident of not being touched, given their political connections: It is inconceivable that the they were unaware of rules and regulations. Even after the scandal was exposed, the promoters remained smug in their belief that ultimately nothing would happen and all would be fine once the story fell off the front pages. This alone explains why despite three extensions provided by the Ministry to respond to its show-cause notice issued in November 2010, the promoters chose to remain silent. This is callous disregard reflects the true intentions of the promoters. Their enterprise was dubious; they must be deprived of its profits.

Moreover, the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam goes beyond the violation of environmental norms. It is a scandal involving influential people who grabbed land meant for Kargil war widows. While nothing better is expected of venal politicians and bureaucrats, what has come as a shock is that retired senior officers of the defence forces — who should have been in the forefront of protecting the interests of war widows — used their clout to facilitate the project; in return, they got apartments at throwaway prices. That some of them have offered to surrender their apartments following the national outcry and outrage is neither here nor there. They should be proceeded against. And so should those of our elected representatives who played a role in helping secure various State-level clearances. It is a matter of shame that such a scam should be pulled off in the heart of Mumbai without a care for the law of the land; the astonishing display of avarice speaks volumes about those who hold public office in our country. A standard needs to be set so that others are deterred from following in the footsteps of the scamsters. That can be done only by demolishing the building.







More than three decades after the Iranians overthrew their monarch in the world's first Islamic revolution in 1979, another regime in a Muslim country has fallen under popular pressure: This time, the ruler of an Arab state has been displaced. On January 14, after 29 days of violent street demonstrations and rioting, an uprising in Tunisia has toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year-old regime. It all began very suddenly in last December when an unemployed computer science graduate, selling vegetables on the street, set himself on fire to protest against the confiscation of his cart by the local police in the town of Sidi Bouzid. Mohammed Bouazizi's death sparked weeks of rioting in the small north African country that has been plagued by rising levels of unemployment and increasing food prices. Ironically, President Ben Ali's egalitarian policy of compulsory education ultimately led to his ouster: Tunisia has far too many graduates than jobs. As the unrest spread across the country, President Ben Ali tried to regain control by declaring a state of emergency and as an after-thought, promised some political reforms as well. But as power quickly slipped through his fingers, he decided that his time was up and last Friday fled to Saudi Arabia, leaving Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi in charge. On Monday, an interim Government has taken over the affairs of Tunisia, but the situation remains extremely fluid. The Army and the Presidential Guards remain at loggerheads and the absence of any political alternative to the ousted regime is bound to be felt in the coming weeks and months.

There is cheering in other Arab countries with life-long Presidents and hereditary monarchs — people see a possible model of forcing regime change in the manner in which President Ben Ali's rule in Tunisia has been brought to an abrupt end. However, caution is called for. While democracy, freedom and liberty are admirable principles, they cannot take root and flourish in a vacuum. Most Arab countries have known little or no democracy; elections, if at all held, are at best a farce. The incumbent rulers have disallowed, often using strong-arm tactics, any space for the birth and growth of political opposition. As a result, disgruntled masses have looked towards the clergy for leadership and this has strengthened the hands of Islamists. For instance, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has come to occupy the political opposition's space in the absence of any organised political alternative. It is more than likely that closet Islamists in Tunisia will now step into the public domain and seek to seize the leadership. The consequences do not require elaboration. People's power is not to be confused with mullah power. Nor should we mistake theocracy for democracy.







Notwithstanding their bluster, separatists in Kashmir Valley are clearly a demoralised lot. Realisation of their folly seems to be sinking in

Even as serious differences emerge among Kashmiri separatists, there are disturbing signals that hitherto marginalised leaders and groups may be brewing a new confrontation with the Indian nation. Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik has urged the people to converge at Srinagar's Lal Chowk on January 26 to unfurl 'another flag' (read Islamic) to counter the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha's plans to hoist the Tricolour there.

The idea, Mr Malik taunts, is to "convey an appropriate message to appropriate quarters". He is backed by Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq. The BJP youth began marching from Kolkata on January 12; a nervous Chief Minister Omar Abdullah accused the party of using the Tricolour for vote-bank purposes and opposed the march. Sources say the administration may block the entry of BJP workers into the State to foil the ceremony.

The new brinkmanship comes in the wake of a seminar in Srinagar on January 3 on the 'Role of Intellectuals in the Freedom Struggle' (read secessionist movement), where former All-Party Hurriyat Conference chairman Abdul Gani Bhat created a stir by declaring that separatist leaders Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq (father of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq) and People's Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone (father of Sajjad and Bilal Lone) were murdered by "our own people" and not by the Army or police, as hitherto alleged.

Mr Bhat added that his own brother, Mohammed Sultan Bhat, was murdered by the same killers in 1995. Mirwaiz Farooq was shot dead at his residence on May 21, 1990; Abdul Gani Lone was gunned down at a memorial for the senior Mirwaiz on May 21, 2002.

The ruling National Conference has termed it a "late admission" and demanded a probe to fix responsibility for the killings. At the time of the murders the State Government had claimed that Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Mohammed Abdullah Bangroo had killed Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq; Hizb-ul is ideologically close to the hardline Hurriyat faction leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Abdul Gani Lone was reportedly shot by Al-Umar Mujahideen, the militant wing of the Awami Action Committee headed by the Mirwaiz.

After thus lifting the lid off fierce intra-militant rivalries, Mr Bhat declined to name names, "What is the need to identify them ... They are already identified." Caught unawares by the dramatic revelations, Mr Geelani, former chairman of the undivided APHC, opted for silence. It is pertinent that Mr Sajjad Gani Lone, the younger son of AG Lone, had blamed Mr Geelani for his father's murder, but soon retracted the allegations.

That the killers' identities were publicly known was virtually confirmed by Jammu & Kashmir Director-General of Police Kuldeep Khoda: "The person involved in the killing of Mirwaiz Farooq is also buried in the same 'martyrs graveyard' where the senior Mirwaiz was laid to rest." Thus, the "killer and the killed are both declared as martyrs by them," Mr Khoda mused. Actually, Mr Bhat had made the same speech in the Assembly of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir five years ago, but this was the first time he spoke this language in Srinagar.

The public squabbling signals dismay among the militants at the failure of Mr Geelani to achieve any results despite spearheading the protests in the Kashmir Valley throughout the summer of 2010, particularly the tactics of strikes and stone-pelting, in the run-up to the visit of the US President last November. But when Mr Barack Obama failed to utter a word on Jammu & Kashmir, thanks to the deft handling by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the separatists fell into disarray. Other world leaders visiting New Delhi also took care not to needle India on any score.

Thus, at the same seminar, Mr Bhat charged that Kashmiri politicians started the separatist movement by killing Kashmiri intellectuals. Challenging Mr Geelani's leadership, he asked, how many hartals will Kashmiris observe; was there a thought process behind the recent uprising? The separatist struggle will never get recognition and support at the international level, he said, and the only option left was for world powers like China and the US to mediate. Significantly, he did not mention Pakistan as a deciding force.

Mirwaiz Umer Farooq lamented that the separatists could not capitalise on the Amarnath land row in 2008, or even the five months of agitation last year, while India had successfully changed the discourse and projected the movement as the activity of a handful. The United Nations, the Mirwaiz said, was a failure and should be disbanded, and even the 'Musharraf Formula' fell short of 'Kashmiri aspirations'. Mr Yasin Malik agreed that the Kashmiri leaders had failed to project the legitimacy of their cause nationally or internationally; even Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah had failed in this respect.

The APHC split in September 2003 after Mr Geelani accused Mr Bhat and other moderates of not running the anti-election campaign before the 2002 Assembly polls effectively when he was in jail. He also accused the People's Conference headed by Mr Bilal Lone and Mr Sajjad Lone of participating in the election through proxy candidates.

Reacting to Mr Bhat's exposé, Abdul Gani Lone's sons dropped broad hints about the identity of the killers. Mr Sajjad Lone, who unsuccessfully contested the 2008 Assembly polls, said: "I gave enough indications (about the killer) but stopped short of saying it openly. My problem is with the white collar men who order killings. If they are not stopped, there will be more such killings." Prior to his murder in May 2002, Abdul Gani Lone had wanted to oust foreign militants from the Valley while Mr Geelani favoured them.

The bickering among the separatists suggests that men like Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the Lone brothers and Mr Yasin Malik have virtually accepted the fizzling out of militancy and may be privately keen to sue for peace with New Delhi. Given India's rising status, they do not expect the UN to deliver an East Timor-type verdict in their favour. They concede Islamabad has no stature to deliver anything either, hence the dismissal of the 'Musharraf Formula' — demilitarisation, joint mechanism, shared sovereignty, irrelevant Line of Control — as an 'interim arrangement'. Above all, they recognise that intifada is no solution; it has only left over 100 Kashmiris dead and hundreds injured with no objective achieved.

Strangely, Mr Geelani has suddenly turned dovish, telling a bemused nation on January 10 that he is holding the Kashmiri youth back from picking up the gun. Perhaps this indicates an ebbing of ground support for militancy in the Valley. In the circumstances, the Union Government would do well to wind up any half-baked roadmap for azadi.







In the wake of Salman Taseer's assassination there has been an outpouring of lamentation in Pakistan at the passing away of 'liberalism'. Concern has been expressed over the ever-shrinking space for 'liberal discourse'. But how genuine is 'liberalism' in Pakistan or the desire for a 'liberal' state? Will 'liberalism' change the fundamentals of Pakistani policy? Will it neutralise the military-jihadi complex? Rohan Joshi poses some tough questions

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has rightly triggered introspection and discourse in Pakistan on identity — social, religious and national. Articles written by commentators like Raza Rumi, Huma Yusuf, Ayesha Siddiqa, Yaseer Latif Hamdani and Shehryar Taseer on the marginalisation of the liberal narrative in mainstream politics deserve special mention and commendation. There is, however, no dearth of the alternative message in Pakistan.

Almost immediately after the death of Punjab Province Governer Salman Taseer, the Barelvi organisation, Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, issued a statement advising Muslims to neither mourn the assassination nor attend the his funeral. Further, PML(N) spokesperson Siddiq ul-Farooq claimed that Salman Taseer would have been assassinated by someone else had Mumtaz Qadri not done so. Veteran journalist Irfan Siddiqui suggested that while Salman Taseer's assassination cannot be condoned, it was expected, given the Governor's "liberal extremist" views. Another journalist with the Urdu newspaper Jang, Ansar Abbasi, virtually endorsed Salman Taseer's murder by stating that the "court of the people" had the right to kill any "blasphemer".

A parallel discourse is also occurring in the West and in India. In his op-ed in The Guardian, Declan Walsh lamented on the fate of the liberal Pakistani, as did Seema Mustafa in her op-ed in Greater Kashmir. An overarching theme in many commentaries is that a liberal Pakistan is in India's interests; that a liberal Pakistani civilian Government would (not to say 'could') radically alter its worldview, foreign policy objectives and how it seeks to achieve them.

The trouble with this argument, of course, is that a liberal Pakistani civilian Government has never existed. Indeed, civilian Governments themselves have been a rarity, accounting for only 29 of Pakistan's 63-year history (and this is a charitable statistic, given the significantly skewed civil-military power dynamics in Pakistan). Even so, some commentaries point to Benazir Bhutto and her administrations of the late-1980s and 1990s as approximate models for a liberal, democratic Pakistani state.

However liberal though Bhutto may have been, Pakistan's worldview did not undergo material change during her leadership. Bilateral relations with India did not improve. If anything, Bhutto's reign coincided with the height of the Jammu & Kashmir insurgency fomented by Pakistan, which has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and military personnel. On nuclear proliferation, the foundation of Pakistan's clandestine trade with North Korea, exchanging uranium enrichment expertise for missile technology, was established during Bhutto's second term in office.

One account relates to Bhutto's personal involvement in the process, where she carried CDs containing scientific data about uranium in her overcoat pocket and concluded the bomb-for-missile deal with Pyongyang in 1993. In fact, Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme and the motivation to match India to the detriment of all else took shape under the leadership of her charismatic father, the wine-drinking, University of California Berkeley-educated Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (who famously declared "(We) will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry. But we will get (a bomb) of our own." Even Salman Taseer, who is now being praised as a champion of liberal thought in Pakistan for his laudable defence of Asia Bibi (a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy), held rabid anti-India views and did not shy away from any opportunity to advertise them.

It is important, therefore, for us to understand if there is a threshold beyond which liberal opinion in Pakistan (especially on the more contentious of subjects) converges with long-held institutional positions of the conservatives and/or the military-jihadi complex. Answering this will allow India and the US to determine if and to what extent they have a vested interest in the promotion of a liberal narrative in Pakistan and if it is desirable for them to assist in the advancement of this liberal position.

It would, therefore, be a worthy exercise to ponder over five questions on what a model for a liberal Pakistan would look like, and whether a liberal dispensation in Pakistan is a sufficient condition to alter the trajectory of its relationship with India. For us in India,


·  Would the ascendancy of a liberal narrative in Pakistan's internal discourse lessen our own threat perception of our neighbour?

*Could a liberal Government in Islamabad effectively end the hold that the military-jihadi complex has on Pakistan's formulation and implementation of foreign policy objectives?

*Would this liberal Government still maintain that India poses an existential threat to Pakistan?

*What will its position be towards Jammu & Kashmir? Specifically, would this liberal Government continue to believe that it is in Pakistan's interest to continue to employ sub-conventional warfare as an instrument of state policy in Jammu & Kashmir?

*What will its position be on terrorism and terrorist havens in Pakistan? If another Mumbai were to occur, would this liberal regime disavow these groups? Actively confront them? Prosecute them? Extradite them, where permissible, to India? Cooperate with India's own investigation?

*Would it continue to maintain, by extension of #2, continue to promote the idea of 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan, to counter India's 'attempts at encirclement'? Tough questions no doubt, but ones that need to be answered in India, as an internal battle for identity rages on in Pakistan.

--The writer is a security and foreign affairs analyst. He blogs at INI.







Islamic fanaticism, conjoined with military authoritarianism, has ripped Pakistan to shreds and soon will provoke its political disintegration. What alternative is left for the US, Nato and Indian strategic policy in the face of Pakistan's political meltdown?

As Pakistan sinks steadily into the pit of political oblivion, it will inevitably drag the US's Afghan policy down the drain with it, because without the availability of Pakistan's logistical and civil infrastructure, and regardless of Gen David Petraeus's (top US military commander in Afghanistan) vaunted military talents, what remains of America's struggle to wrest Afghanistan from eventual Taliban investiture is almost certainly doomed to failure.

US President Barack Obama's pledge to draw down the American military commitment in Afghanistan may ultimately turn out to be more a Vietnam-like strategic capitulation than a victory lap.

Should this turn out to be the case, in the face of a Pakistani political collapse, what other alternatives will exist which an already war-weary American public will accept?

Viewed in historical perspective, what is gradually taking place before our eyes is the final consequences of flawed political choices which the emergent Pakistani elites made following the nation's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah's death in 1948, which were compounded by subsequent regimes, and further exacerbated by faulty US Cold War policies towards the South Asia region. In this sense, the story of Pakistan is one of "chickens coming home to roost"!

Put succinctly, the subsequent history of Pakistan has been the systematic rejection of the efficacy of Jinnah's vision of a consensual political mode for Pakistan, in keeping with the multi-cultural, politically accommodative model that alone has proved viable in the South Asian context, literally since the Indus Valley Civilisation, and irrespective of whether the regimes in power have been Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. The political contrast between India and Pakistan makes this clear.

One might say that over the years the Pakistani public allowed itself to be hijacked by Islamic fundamentalism, partially as a means of coping with its phobic fears of "Hindu India" and partially because the lack of socio-religious flexibility left religious extremism, and its political extensions, as the sole doctrinal basis for attempting to achieve a politically coherent state.

Islamic fanaticism, conjoined with military authoritarianism, has ripped Pakistan to shreds and soon will provoke its political disintegration. What alternative is left for the US, Nato and Indian strategic policy in the face of a Pakistani political meltdown?

In my opinion, the best option is what I would call strategic consolidation. That is, India, the US and its allies, must "step aside", let the holocaust happen, and try to contain in every way possible its spread beyond Pakistan's borders and the Pashtun region now dominated by the Taliban.

As the dimensions and ramifications of the "implosion" become apparent, the US, Nato and India can deploy their military and diplomatic resources in whatever manner they deem necessary and possible to contain, ameliorate and mediate the undoubtedly pervasive violence that will ensue and must run its course.
With regard to Afghan policy in the face of a Pakistani political meltdown, and an inevitable consequent upsurgence of Taliban militancy in the Pashtun region, former US Ambassador to India Robert D Blackwill has offered a highly imaginative interim solution.

The US, he says, should for the time being consolidate its forces and resources in the non-Pashtun portions of the country where Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras predominate and originally formed the core of the Northern Alliance which in concert with the US after 9/11 defeated the Taliban.

His observations concerning the interim realignment of forces in Afghanistan in the face of the worst-case scenario are highly pertinent.

"Washington should accept," he declares, "that the Taliban will inevitably control most of the Pashtun south and east and that the price of forestalling that outcome is far too high for the US to continue paying."

Even prior to the impending collapse of Pakistan, or indeed if in the end it avoids this terminal fate, Blackwill rightly concludes that "the emergence of a clear division in Pakistan might provide just the sort of shock the Pakistani military apparently needs in order to appreciate the dangers of the game it has been playing for decades."

Leading American commentators, including this one, are now convinced that Pakistan is only a furtive step away from ceasing to be a viable modern state capable of carrying out its responsibilities as a purported "non-Nato ally" of the US in the war against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other jihadi extremists.

Yes, this implies a comprehensive realignment of forces, resources and strategic orientation towards the AfPak theatre. But in the face of a steadily disintegrating, politically pathological Pakistan state, it is only a matter of time until such a realignment takes place anyway. For US-Pakistan relations, as we have known them, it is indeed the end of the affair.

Harold Gould is visiting scholar in the Center for South Asian Studies, University of Virginia. IANS.







Iran has arrested about 70 Christians since Christmas in a crackdown that demonstrates the limits of religious tolerance by Islamic leaders who often boast they provide room for other faiths.

The latest raids have targeted grassroots Christian groups Iran describes as "hard-liners" who pose a threat to the Islamic state. Authorities increasingly view them with suspicions that range from trying to convert Muslims to being possible footholds for foreign influence. Christian activists claim their Iranian brethren are being persecuted simply for worshipping outside officially sanctioned mainstream Churches.

Caught in the middle is the small community of Iranian Christians who get together for prayer and Bible readings in private residences and out of sight of authorities. They are part of a wider "house church" movement that has taken root in other places with tight controls on Christian activities such as China and Indonesia. Iran's Constitution gives protected status to Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, but many religious minorities sense growing pressures from the Islamic state as hard-edged forces such as the powerful Revolutionary Guard exert more influence.

There are few social barriers separating Muslims and Iran's religious minorities such as separate neighbourhoods or universities. But they are effectively blocked from high Government and military posts. Iran has claimed as a point of pride that it makes space for other religions. It reserves Parliament seats for Jewish and Christian lawmakers and permits Churches — Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox and others — as well as synagogues and Zoroastrian temples that are under sporadic watch by authorities. Religious celebrations are allowed, but no political messages or overtones are tolerated. In past years, authorities have staged arrests on Christians and other religious minorities, but the latest sweeps appears to be among the biggest and most coordinated.

In the West, the followers are drawn to house churches because of the intimate sense of religious fellowship and as an alternative to established denominations. In places such as Iran, however, there also is the effort to avoid monitoring of sanctioned Churches from Islamic authorities — who have kept closer watch on religious minorities since the chaos after hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed election in 2009.

Groups monitoring Christian affairs in the Islamic world say Iranian authorities see the unregulated Christian gatherings as both a potential breeding ground for political Opposition and suspect they may try to convert Muslim in violation of Iran's strict apostasy laws — which are common throughout the Muslim world and have, at times, fed extremist violence against Christians and others.

Tehran Governor Morteza Tamadon described the Christians as "hard-line" missionaries who have "inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite," according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. He also suggested that the Christians could have links to Britain — an accusation within Iran that refers to political Opposition groups Tehran claims are backed by the West.

The crackdown by Iran resonates forcefully across the West Asia at a time when other Christian communities feel under siege following deadly attacks against Churches in Egypt and Iraq — bloodshed that was noted on Monday by Pope Benedict XVI in an appeal for protection of religious minorities.

The suicide blast in Egypt's Mediterranean port of Alexandria on January 1, which killed 21 Coptic Christian worshippers, followed threats by Al Qaeda in Iraq over claims that Coptic leaders forced two women who converted to Islam to return to Christianity — allegations that Church leaders deny.

"It's the nature of the house churches that worries Iran. It's all about possible converts," said Fleur Brading, a researcher for West Asia and North Africa at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based group the follows Christian rights issues around the world. "It's a very specific and pinpoint strike by Iran." Iran's religious minorities represent about two per cent of the population and include communities with deep connections to their faiths. Iran's ethnic Armenian minority dates back to early Christianity, and the Jewish celebration of Purim is built around the story of the Persian-born Esther. Even Iran's Islamic Revolution could not stamp out the influence of the pre-Muslim Zoroastrian faith, including its New Year's Holiday, Norooz, in March.

The wave of arrests began Christmas morning and since then, Opposition websites have reported 70 Christians arrested, including those regarded as pastors in the house church movement. Many were later released, but the reports say more than a dozen remain in detention and officials have hinted more raids are possible. It's still unclear what charges could be brought against the jailed Christians. But allegations of trying to convert Muslims could bring a death sentence. Brading, however, expects Iranian authorities could opt for political charges rather than religious-linked allegations to soften a possible international outcry.

"The use of the word missionaries instead of evangelicals is an intentional move by the Government," she said. "As evangelicals, they are a group entitled to their faith. As missionaries, they are enemies of the state seeking to corrupt its people." In recent months, some members of Iran's Armenian community also have been detained on unspecified allegations of working to undermine the state, the Iranian Christian News Agency reported. Iranian officials have not given details of the reported detentions. On Friday, a US watchdog group on religious tolerance expressed concern over the recent arrests.

"What's most troubling about this wave of detentions is the fact that Iran is continuing its recent trend of targeting evangelical Christians, which they've been doing for years, and also leaders from the recognised and protected Armenian Christian community," said Mr Leonard Leo, chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent Government advisory panel. Iranian authorities have come down hard on religious groups seen as threats to Islam, including the Baha'is whose faith was founded in the 19th century by a Persian nobleman considered a prophet by his followers. Baha'is are not recognised as official religious minority in Iran's Constitution.

There are no accurate figures on the number of Christians in the "house church" movement or followers outside established denominations. But the manager of the Iranian Christian News Agency, Mr Saman Kamvar, said authorities likely perceive some kind of challenge to the religious status quo and are "feeling insecure". Mr Kamvar attributes the stepped up raids against Christians to comments last month by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denouncing the growth of private house churches. "This, in my opinion, was a green light to the other authorities to crack down on them," Mr Kamvar said from Canada, where he now lives.








Decision-making isn't a synonym for governance. Even so, it's a good pointer to a ruling dispensation's ability to be on its toes. On that score, data shows UPA-II fared badly in 2010.

The cabinet's record on number of decisions taken in 2010 compared to earlier was below par. Between 2005-08 during the Congress-led coalition's first tenure, the cabinet took an average of 242.5 decisions yearly.

The annual average since 2005 is 183. In 2010, however, the cabinet managed consensus on just 112 decisions, the lowest single-year figure since the UPA came to power.

Amazingly, decision-making actually decelerated post-2009, when the Left was no longer around to ambush it!

This can't but buttress public perceptions of a drift at the top. Some say coalition constraints have been hobbling governance, a view recently aired by Congress apologist Rahul Gandhi.

Others claim governments tend to take it easy in the initial phase of their tenures. Still others point to 2010's string of scams and food price crisis, thanks to which the UPA is down but not necessarily out. If there's some truth in all of this, none of it excuses policy paralysis.

Power-sharing can't be a fig leaf for blockaded governance. In the saddle since 2004, UPA-II surely didn't need time to limber up, more so given 2009's enhanced electoral mandate.

The fact is, the UPA needs to muster far greater resolve to tackle its current challenges. It's yet to nail graft in high places. Nor has spiralling food inflation been checked. If anything, Sharad Pawar has turned out to be the Shivraj Patil of the agriculture ministry.

His breathtaking statement that he monitors supply of only certain categories of farm produce and not others is of a piece with his habit of buck-passing. But the UPA as a whole can't dodge flak either.

Consider recent prime minister-led consultations taking an 'overview' on food prices. They came up with little more than stale thinking on ad hoc 'solutions' like export bans and crackdowns on hoarders. Nowhere is there a strong official commitment on agriculture's reform, to tackle the problem at the root.

Overall, the Manmohan Singh-led regime hasn't delivered as expected on reforms, be it tax rationalisation, financial sector or retail liberalisation, labour reform, the rural sector's modernisation or land acquisition revamp to push rapid industrialisation and infrastructure-building.

Instead, the UPA has increasingly seemed a house divided, with no clear centre of authority. Pulling in different directions, its predicament owes in large part to the spurious distinction between 'government' and 'party' the Congress has tried to erect.

All of this has given a handle to the BJP-led opposition to indulge in its own brand of obstructionism, impacting lawmaking. It's time both sides bucked up. The nation doesn't deserve a political rut. Nor can it afford it.






The wave of popular protests in the north African nation of Tunisia that culminated in the collapse of the 23-year-old presidency of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali could have significant implications for the larger Arab world.

Ben Ali's rule had come to be associated with economic disparities, political repression and widespread corruption within the government.

But as Tunisians look to push their country towards a truly representative democracy through their 'jasmine revolution', there is talk of similar change in other Arab nations which harbour a poor underclass or have otherwise been beset by economic stagnation.

Whether it is the Mubarak family in Egypt or the al-Assad family in Syria, Arab countries have a long history of autocratic governments controlled by political dynasties.

This can work so long as government continues to deliver the economic goods. But if that economic contract founders, the government of the day can be in peril. Continued repression in that context prepares fertile ground for radical Islamist groups to emerge.

It hasn't helped matters that western democracies have on numerous occasions chosen to patronise autocratic Arab regimes for their own vested interests. Crystallised by economic woes, popular resentment in Tunisia was stoked by the youth with the help of modern technology such as mobile phones and social networking websites.

For the mood to translate into similar change in other parts of the Arab world, or even for Tunisia's democratic revolution to consolidate itself, is a long way off. But Tunisia has certainly held out the possibility.

It's important that neighbouring countries as well as western powers permit Tunisians to determine their own destiny, on pain of having a hardline Islamist movement strike root in that country as well.







When President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao meet in Washington DC tomorrow, they should recognise that generally when a new big power rises, war ensues.

The 20th century narrates a bloody tale of the rise and fall of empires. Luckily, 20th century-type wars are unlikely to occur in the 21st. But there are many other types of conflicts that could be just as devastating.

There was a time when it was assumed that things could be different. In 2005, the leading Chinese intellectual and reformer, Zheng Bijian, coined the term "China's peaceful rise".

There was an underlying assumption among international policy makers and thought leaders that globalisation had transformed the paradigm: geopolitics is zero-sum, the new age of global economic interdependence is win-win. Unfortunately, that has never been true.

As the financial crisis of 2008-09 has shaken the confident foundations of a new global economic order and caused considerable havoc, relations between China and the US have deteriorated.

On virtually any issue one can think of - trade, finance, investment, intellectual property rights, security, morality, human rights, climate change - we are seeing what has been termed "escalating reciprocal demonisation."

This combination of economic havoc - especially stubbornly high unemployment - and geopolitical tensions between the rising and the established powers is cause for alarm.

There are mechanisms in place for confidence building - notably the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. While, however, there can be no doubt that Churchill's dictum that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war" is true, there was a lot of jaw-jaw in the past that did not prevent war-war from breaking out.

While war-like conflict between the US and China (in whatever form) is not inevitable, it is better to assume that it may well be possible rather than bask in the complacent illusion that it is impossible. This perspective also focusses the mind on how to prevent the conflict.

We take the view that the most secure means to prevent US-China conflict is to strengthen and upgrade the international rule of law and multilateral institutions. International criminal tribunals, international environmental organisations, the World Trade Organisation, and the UN's human rights and labour organisations are all regimes that need reinforcement.

That, however, is not the current situation. Along with the deteriorating global economy and the escalating Sino-American tension, the international rule of law and the multilateral institutions have either been outright flouted, as was the case when America invaded Iraq - or have been wallowing in paralysis - as is the case with the WTO Doha Round and with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The G20 summits have somewhat attenuated matters, though they still remain mainly talking shops that do not have powers of enforcement.

The weakness of the international institutions and international law necessarily results in a growing number of areas that remain outside the boundaries of law. These in turn are leading to further deterioration in US-China relations and are further escalating reciprocal demonisation.

As President Hu is due to visit Washington, the US secretary of defence has visited Beijing amid reports that China is constructing its first aircraft carrier and a stealth fighter prototype. There are worrying signs of the outbreak of an arms race in the Pacific.

Likewise, China's recent move to cut export quotas on vital rare earth minerals is also a cause for concern and may lead the US to launch its second trade dispute against Chinese export restrictions.

We are not so naive as to believe that strengthening the international rule of law and multilateral institutions is in any way a guarantee against conflict. Yet, we do see this is where lie the greatest chances for long-term peaceful relations between the US and China.

These institutions that, in spite of their many imperfections, have served the world well in the last 60 years were set up after World War II. It seems definitely worthwhile to try strengthening and enhancing them and the rule of law before the breakout of another global cataclysm. There are also, no doubt, reforms and adjustments that need to be made. The revision of IMF quotas is a small yet positive step in the right direction. More reform and more adjustments are necessary.

Since the most probable and imminent escalation of conflict between the US and China is in trade and the possible outbreak of protectionism, we are convinced that the first major step towards strengthening the global legal and institutional framework would be the successful conclusion of the WTO Doha Round.

If Presidents Obama and Hu could commit to concluding, along with the other members of the G20, the Doha Round at the latest by November 2011 (when the Round will reach its 10th anniversary), the world will be a more lawful hence safer place and the prospect of a US-China conflict will have diminished.

The writer is professor of International Political Economy at IMD.







Just when it looked like the brouhaha over the Adarsh housing society scandal was dying down, environment minister Jairam Ramesh has brought the issue front and centre again.

His ministry's demand for the building's demolition has, predictably, drawn criticism from different quarters. But the building has violated any number of regulatory norms.

It does not have a legitimate no-objection certificate from the environment ministry and it has violated floor-space index norms for the coastal regulatory zone ( CRZ) as well.

Given this, the ministry is on strong legal ground. And the larger picture must be considered as well.

Certainly, there are other buildings violating these norms, as some have pointed out. But this is not a reason to go easy on Adarsh; quite the opposite.


Demolishing Adarsh will send a strong, clear signal that such violations will no longer be accepted.

It's an open secret that lucrative land markets in the country such as Mumbai's are rife with illegal dealings.

Yet, buildings catering to the socio-economic class that Adarsh does rarely come under the scanner.

Instead, whenever there is talk of clearing up illegal structures, it is the disadvantaged sections of society that are targeted.

This de facto discrimination must end. The law applies equally to everyone, and Adarsh is the first step in reminding people of this.

The larger problem leading to so many housing scandals is that land markets are distorted and irrational, and that netas and babus have too much discretionary power in determining land use.

While such powers should be curbed and more land should come into the market, laws regarding land use also need to be enforced.

Both steps are equally important to rein in the land mafias who rake in huge profits through illegal dealings such as the Adarsh housing society scandal.








It is a shame that scams like Adarsh occur regularly but to demolish the building adds insult to injury. Originally intended for the families of those who sacrificed themselves at Kargil, Adarsh was hijacked by a band of politicians, senior civil servants and their kin.

Regularising the building and handing it over to those it was intended for is the only way of containing mistakes already committed in a morally responsible way.

We live in a country of scarce resources with a dramatic shortfall in infrastructure. It is unbecoming in such circumstances to raze an apartment building when it could be altered to meet most safety requirements.

Doing so only keeps to precedent and that too for a noble cause. Other land has been built upon without the correct paperwork. In New Delhi, illegal colonies are regularised as a matter of course. Meanwhile, the Jangpura mosque in New Delhi demonstrates that political will trumps the law.

Though demolished because it was illegally constructed, the chief minister pledged that it will be rebuilt given popular demands. Should war widows protest on the streets of Delhi to be heard?

Rather than focus on political symbolism - destroying a building at least 100 metres tall makes headlines - the state ought to ensure such scams do not happen. The environment minister should assess the quality of the vast amounts of land under state jurisdiction.

Those areas that are barren and uncultivated should be developed by the government or, better still, sold in a properly regulated manner to the private sector for development thereby nipping the problem at its source. Adarsh should not be used for political grandstanding. We are much too deprived for such luxuries.




All of us who were promised a Happy New Year by those who matter need not think we have been shortchanged. Didn't the prime minister of the world's most populous democracy promise in his New Year message to the nation "to dispel the air of despondency and cynicism"?

Hasn't the economist-turned-FM-turned-PM assured us that "we will redouble our efforts to deal effectively and credibly with the challenges of inflation, cleansing our governing processes, national security and making our delivery-system work for the aam aadmi"?

So what if the media tells those of us who haven't yet meandered our way to the nearest mandi that the three-week deadline India's agriculture minister Sharad Pawar had set for onion prices to come down got over recently, but the retail rate is still ruling at between Rs 60 and Rs 70 a kg, a 90% hike from the level prevailing a month ago?

The UPA government does not rest content with offering the aam aadmi the freebie of cleansing his eyes with natural tears while weeping over a 16.91% rise in food inflation for the week ended January 1, after zooming to 18.32% in December.

The promised redoubling of efforts to deal with inflation was evident in the fact that another Group of Ministers (GoM) at the highest level (the PM, the FM, the HM and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission) met at 7, Race Course Road, at 11 a.m. on January 11, 2011 (and what could be more numerologically propitious than a morning meeting at 11 on 11-1-11?) to discuss steps to calm prices and bring relief to millions of households.

If 11 a.m. on 11-1-11 was numerologically a great time for babies to be born, think of the ideas conceived through a process of cross-fertilisation of India's most informed and powerful minds, all focussed on the need to cut onion prices to size!

With the PM being a former FM, the FM a former EAM and a former DM (external affairs minister and defence minister), and the HM being a former FM, there must have been enough lateral and cumulative experience in this GoM to peel inflation off the onion and put any spurt in cooking oil and atta prices back on sim on each stove in every home.

It's only the nasty, cynical types - those who shed not just onion-prompted or opposition-style but crocodile tears - who would talk of meetings being a substitute for decision-making or equate a heavyweight GoM on inflation with King Canute asking the waves of the sea to stop. The original Mrs Gandhi once called corruption a universal phenomenon. So is inflation.

And so is cricket. So why pull up our economist PM for not pulling up the minister for agriculture, food and civil supplies for not pulling his considerable weight while tackling rising onion prices which aren't coming down because the current slowdown in exports from Pakistan is inversely proportional to the pace at which Indian onions were earlier shipped out?

Like the PM said in his New-Year missive, "We need to believe in the resilience of our democracy and its capacity to deal with infirmities and shortcomings through course-correction."

So, if Pawar as head of the International Cricket Council can bring the 2011 World Cup to South Asia and India, Pawar the minister for agriculture, food and civil supplies surely has enough globalised skills to correct course and ensure uninterrupted inflow of onions from across the border at Wagah. What price food inflation, when confronted with a GoM led by the PM?

And so what if AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh once quipped on national TV that people tended to underestimate Manmohan Singh the politician and overestimate Manmohan Singh the economist. We could likewise be guilty of overestimating Pawar the global cricket administrator and underestimating Pawar the minister for food, agriculture and civil supplies!






You win some, you lose some. This seems to be environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh's mantra. A week after he was criticised by the green lobby and the fishers' community for not incorporating their views in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011, Mr Ramesh's verdict against the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society might have a soothing effect.

In a strongly-worded directive, Mr Ramesh said that the 31-storey Adarsh must be demolished within three months and the area should be restored to its "original condition". The society had flouted the CRZ Notification, 1991. Though this notification has now been replaced by the 2011 rules, the case will face charges according to the 1991 rules.

The CRZ rules govern the country's 7,000-long coastline. From 1991, there have been more than 25 amendments to the 1991 law thanks to the pressure from builders and politicians, especially in places like Mumbai where the demand for housing outstrips supply. In places like Goa, the pressure comes from the tourism lobby.

It is important to have strong laws protecting the coastal areas because, first, the ecologically sensitive zones work as buffers for coastal cities against natural calamities and, second, they can ensure that those who depend on the seas for their livelihood are not washed away in this race to provide housing and entertainment for the haves. Along with grabbing the no-go areas, builders often flout the Floor Space Index norm, which is the ratio between the built-up and the plot area. By breaking them, as has been the case with Adarsh, more flats are built and sold for huge profits.

The now 31-storey building was originally planned as a six-storey housing project. But despite allegations, the state government had refused to move against it suggesting that links exist among politicians, bureaucrats and the violators (builders). Many are hoping that the Adarsh order will set the stage for the demolition of 13 other projects under construction in Parel and Lower Parel in Mumbai. Though the minister has acknowledged that the Adarsh order will be a precedent, only time will tell whether this is a one-off case or the beginning of a purge.

Since the 1991 CRZ norms were flouted so widely, the question now is whether the 2011 norms have been better designed. Environmentalists are adamant that the government has diluted the provisions but Mr Ramesh feels that the new norms have taken into account the requirements of today. Yet, what can't be discounted is the need to increase monitoring at the ground level and also have a zero-tolerance approach towards violators. In cases of such serious violations, the violators (rightly so) end up at the receiving end. But what happens to the officials who facilitate such activities? No one knows, and post-Adarsh, it would still be business as usual.




The departure of a dictator or an authoritarian ruler is always a happy moment for any country. But it is an especially momentous event if this takes place in the Arab world. The standard notion is that somehow people over there don't mind living without a whiff of democracy as long as daily life potters along.

Well, things are changing. Following the wide-ranging protests and riots triggered by corruption, unemployment, food inflation and curbs on freedom of speech, the 'Jasmine Revolution' in Tunisia is being seen as a new chapter in Arab 'street-up' politics. These are the first popular street protests leading directly to the toppling of an Arab regime in the last 60 years.

In a way, what has happened in Tunisia — and similar protests spreading to Algeria and Egypt — isn't that different from what happened in other countries. Take the case of Iran. The reason for mass protests coalescing into a revolution there was different: the oil boom of the 70s leading to inflation and the Shah and his family accumulating massive wealth while Iranians were made to undertake severe austerity measures.

But the effect and the general social desire remains the same: to replace the political ossification with a genuine sense of movement.

The shake-up in Tunisia and the echoing rumbles in the Arab world do show that people, even far removed from the Westphalian model of the nation-state, have a hankering for removing dictatorships. For the region, Tunisia could very well be the first straw on the doddering camel's back.




Left Hand Drive is entering 2011 with a sense of deep disquiet. For many moons now we have been preoccupied with discussing the immediate. The nuances of music, adventures in the outer space, the progress of the Hadron Collider or the dialectical unity of opposites of zero and infinity have on occasions been the subjects  of this column. The maze of current developments — corruption, inflation, leaks of conversations exposing the nexus among sections of politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and corporate media — compels us to limit our discourse to searching ways out of this maze.

Take the issue of the relentless rise in the prices of essential commodities pushing additionally millions to survive below the poverty line (BPL). The utter callousness of the government is reflected in the fact that instead of providing any tangible relief, it has again permitted the hike in the prices of petrol — the second substantial hike within a month — which is bound to fuel inflation further.

Far from suggesting any measures to provide relief, the statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office following the Cabinet meeting to discuss ways to control this runaway inflation states that the price rise "is the result of fast growth of the economy, leading to rising income levels, combined with the effect of several inclusiveness programmes which put greater income in the hands of the relatively poor whose food consumption increases".

Like George Bush who blamed increased consumption by Indians for the global food price rise in 2007, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India has stated that a 39% rise in income per person in the previous five years has created an extra 220 million regular consumers of essential commodities.

Where the benefits of 'fast growth' go was obnoxiously exposed in the recent auction of cricketers for the Indian Premier League (IPL). IPL India shines while BPL India groans.

It would be wrong to conclude that the cause of the current price rise is a supply-demand mismatch alone.  Take the example of onions in Delhi. Alarmed at the astronomical rise in the prices of onions, its supply was nearly doubled from 730 tonnes on December 20, 2010, at the Azadpur Mandi to 1,144 tonnes on December 21.  The wholesale price fell from R55 to R50 per kg while the retail price increased from R75 to R80 per kg. Clearly, there is more to this price rise than mere supply-demand mismatch.

In the last nine months of 2010, the wholesale price index for vegetables rose by 67%. Retail prices have soared much higher, making chicken cheaper than onions! Marie Antionette, whose apocryphal remark  during the French Revolution about why people couldn't eat cakes if they weren't getting bread, would have been a happy person in today's India.

What happened with sugar prices in the beginning of 2010 is happening with onion prices at the beginning of 2011. Exports were encouraged through incentives despite warnings that there could be shortfall in the supply of these commodities. When prices started to soar, exports were banned and imports were encouraged by eliminating all import duties. Yet the prices didn't climb down. The same traders who benefited from export incentives are now benefiting from duty-free imports. Is this a reflection of the bizarre ways of the government or is there another scam waiting to unfold?

Over the last nine months of 2010, the cumulative value of trade in the commodity exchanges in the country rose by a phenomenal 51.37% to stand at more than R78 lakh crore. The cumulative value of trade in agricultural commodities alone rose by nearly 8% to stand at more than R9 lakh crore. The rise in the value of trade in the forward markets obviously reflects high profitability.

Now, any forward trading can make profits only when the prices of these commodities are higher than what they were when the trading initially took place. People are paying higher prices to feed such profits. It is this speculative trading that is relentlessly pushing up the prices of all essential commodities, particularly food prices.

With the current global food prices breaching 2008 levels, it's important to underline what the UN Special Rapporteur examining the price rise in 2007 and 2008 says:

"A significant portion of the increases in price and volatility of essential food commodities can only be explained by the emergence of a speculative bubble. In particular, there is a reason to believe that a significant role was played by the entry into the markets for derivatives based on food commodities of large, powerful institutional investors such as hedge funds, pension funds and investment banks, all of which are generally unconcerned with agricultural market fundamentals. Such entry was made possible because of deregulation in important commodity derivatives markets beginning in 2000. These factors have yet to be comprehensively addressed, and to that extent, are still capable of fuelling price rises beyond those levels which would be justified by movements in supply and demand fundamentals. Therefore, fundamental reform of the broader global financial sector is urgently required in order to avert another food price crisis."

Unless such speculative trading is banned, the excess foodgrain stocks rotting in central government godowns released to states for sale through the public distribution system, and budgetary hikes in the prices of petroleum products rolled back, no relief for the aam aadmi is possible.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP.

* The views expressed by the author are personal.





A year in office is no big deal for the head of a political party like the BJP. But Nitin Gadkari, who recently completed one year as party president, has reasons to smile.

Beginning as an RSS appointee — BJP seniors couldn't agree on who's the best leader among them after the party's drubbing in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls — Gadkari ventured into unknown territory. Back then there were many, even in the BJP, who wondered 'Why him?' while he set out to answer 'Who's Gadkari?' to the world. His choice of office-bearers left some seniors red-faced and his promise of a big-ticket change after his coronation seemed half-lost.

The RSS bosses, who thought Gadkari was the best bet, also seemed to be irked by the Nagpur 'lad' who began his political 'career' pasting posters during the Emergency. Bumbling through the BJP's organisational mess, an underestimated Gadkari learnt to apply a method that had benefited him while he was highways minister of Maharashtra: first listen and then do what works best.

Through his interactions, Gadkari conveyed that he was not as ambitious as his predecessors and he did not have a personal agenda. His decisions were taken only after consulting the top five — LK Advani, MM Joshi, Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. For the first time since 2004, the BJP's internal atmosphere seemed to have improved. The party's brainstorm sessions were now less about internal bickering and more about getting the BJP back on its feet.

Gadkari didn't mind taking a big risk in tweaking the BJP core group's line of thinking by forging a new deal with a recalcitrant Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. In the face of doubts from seniors, he initiated the Arjun Munda-led BJP rule in Shibu Soren's company in the politically unstable but mine-rich state. Similarly, a beleaguered BS Yeddyurappa, who was supposed to be given marching orders for having failed to draw a line between family and the government, got a fresh lease of life because Gadkari felt the BJP had to win the panchayat polls — the party did.

Gadkari resisted those who backed Gujarat strongman Narendra Modi and ensured that the BJP remained on the side of chief minister Nitish Kumar in an election year in Bihar. Advised by Arun Jaitley, who re-emerged as chief strategist, the BJP shunned aggressive Hindutva tendencies to consolidate itself as the fulcrum of the NDA alliance.

Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, leaders of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha respectively, gave the party the much-needed thrust in Parliament to aid BJP street rallies on various issues like the price rise and the 2G spectrum scam. For the first time, Parliament disruptions by the Opposition were not seen as BJP's disrespect for legislative institutions but as a legitimate weapon to combat the government's attitude towards corruption.

Guided by saner voices pressing for a modernist BJP to emerge and match the slide in the Congress' fortunes, Gadkari did not let pro-RSS elements go overboard over the arrest of swamis blamed for blasts in Malegaon, Ajmer or Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad. The lessons learnt earlier from the BJP's aggressive stance on the arrest of sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur were not lost.


As differences among ministers and between the Congress and the government surfaced, the BJP sensed its own revival — though a longer road still needs to be traversed to emerge as an effective alternative. Gadkari put it in his one-year performance audit, "I would not claim that within a year we have changed the situation. However, I would say, we got the direction." Most BJP leaders could not but agree with him.  n







The ministry of environment and forests, in an order put up on its website on Sunday, ordered the demolition of the building run by the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society, and the restoration of the site to its "original condition". There are many reasons given for this decision: among them, ironically, is the concern that a government takeover would increase its "discretionary powers". While, in many ways, the culture of regularisation has been problematic, it's nevertheless true that in this instance government action will cause more questions to be asked than answered.

Here's one: how did it come up in the first place? Thirty-one stories in the heart of Colaba, with the connivance, apparently, of every conceivable agency, from the local urban development agencies to the environment ministry itself. This order does not address that — but it penalises those that took those regulatory orders at face value. And now, what happens to due process? Demolition, obviously, is not a reversible act. Adarsh was put up following a tangle of permissions, notices and certifications, some of which were contingent on others, and unravelling which is not an instantaneous process. Nevertheless, the ministry expects the building down in three months. Yet, in a civilised society, there is the right to appeal arbitrariness. Or is that precisely why the order has been put out — because it's known it will not be enforced, since due process hasn't been carried out? That last would be a very cynical subversion of how regulation is supposed to operate.

But, then again, this is precisely how regulation is not supposed to operate. Regulation is not supposed to be about making convenient, headline-ready examples, but about the painstaking work of examining and clearing projects. A fast-growing country needs a depoliticised authority that impartially administers the regulations decided on by duly elected policy-makers. Instead, what we seem to have got under UPA 2 is a system where short-cuts are taken by everyone — and then, when politically convenient, some of the offenders are hung out to dry to appease public anger. Nor can a single ministry think itself in hermetic isolation and order the demolition of a building the residents of which are pleading in court that they have the permissions they need. That is not how a mature regulator is run. And having a Delhi Bhavan order an arbitrary demolition of a building it doesn't approve of is painfully reminiscent of licence-raj days. And this order, taking down one building among dozens, meets the definition of arbitrary — based on random choice or personal whim.






Is the right to education merely the right to schooling? That is the question raised by the Annual Status of Education Report 2010, and it comes out of some disturbing statistics. The survey, which covered seven lakh children in 14,000 villages, found that while 96.5 per cent of children in the six to 14 age group in rural India are enrolled in school, the quality of their education left much to be desired. When only half the number of students surveyed in Class V can read a Class II text, when nearly 30 per cent of Class V students can do neither subtraction nor division, it is time to seriously ponder the slow decline in the quality of education in our rural areas and assess why we are going wrong at the very basic level.

It's not that there aren't any positive developments. Thanks to the standards imposed by the Right to Education Act and the far-reaching effects of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, there are more children in school: the percentage of five-year-olds enrolled in schools has increased from 54.6 in 2009 to 62.8 in 2010. The girls in the 11-14 age group still out of school has come down, too. Now, the imperative should be on providing them with the kind of education that is their right.

Infrastructure is essential. Students need classrooms and blackboards. They need drinking water and warm meals. They also require qualified, enthusiastic teachers — for the quality of education a student receives depends on the quality of her teachers. And that's where Punjab, where its children have shown a marked improvement in basic arithmetic, has scored. The survey points out how the state is focusing on teachers as much as it is on students. It has schemes intent on upgrading pedagogy. And that can be a lesson for everyone. Let us start with better pay for schoolteachers, followed by incentivising them to deliver the best and then make them accountable for the results. Only then can children get the kind of education they deserve.






If the task of the public intellectual is to speak truth to power, it's a rather hackneyed definition for an age whence the species has disappeared, and the gods are long past their twilight. But the poet still has an honourably abstract job: the preservation of beauty, especially when tyrannical regimes seek to destroy it — to paraphrase and invoke another poet originally from troubled climes, to explicate the predicament of little-known Aqeel Shatir in Ahmedabad. Shatir is being hounded by the Gujarat Urdu Sahitya Akademi for nearly a month and asked to return (now with interest) the Rs 10,000 he was given as assistance for publishing an anthology of his poems. His ostentatious offence: a few lines in a guest piece in the anthology that were critical of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Shatir claims the offending sentences were removed from the copies available in the market, but the Akademi isn't satisfied. The question for this literary bureaucracy remains unwavering: Are you an artistic and intellectual democracy? While needing prior permission of the powers-that-be (literary or political or both) to print a few words in a critical introduction or in one's verse would be the beginnings of tyranny anywhere, Gujarat has a distinct problem with art and artists. We saw a lot of that in Baroda in 2007. It seems, there is some grand narrative that writers and artists in the state cannot digress from.

Truth and beauty, together they constitute all that the poet need ever know and do. Some at the Akademi say it's the prospect of a prize that brought the piece in Shatir's anthology to light, two years after the book was published. It's also a fact that the Akademi's notice was issued soon after Shatir filed RTI queries about its accounting practices. Urdu poetry has beauty enough, perhaps so does Shatir's. Where lies the truth of this battle? And how should we react when we know it?







There was a rather touching headline in one of the national dailies post-Sabarimala that spoke of a "mystery" about the tragedy on the hills. Mystery about how it happened? The mystery, instead, is how the fine-tuned lessons in crowd control learnt over the years at the four Kumbh Mela sites, has not crossed the Deccan plateau for almost a decade.

It is inconceivable but true that, after the last big goof-up in 2003, the (undivided) Uttar Pradesh police and administration have made the Kumbh Melas organised enough for most to believe they will be stampede-free. Hundreds of closed-circuit cameras, several mile-long, one-way files of pilgrims and the ability to block off routes the moment the crowd swells too much in a sector are crucial to the management of the melas. No surprises that, relative to the size of the surging crowds, the number of policemen who need to be posted at the site is small.

Their next big test comes in 2013 at Allahabad, which is projected to be the largest-ever gathering of human beings.

The biggest help for crowd management is, however, the fact that a large part of the action happens on an open-air riverbank. Thus the police and the district officials can work out every possible detail of an elaborately tented religious town well before the pilgrims arrive.

But within a vast number of living cities, that sort of luxury is not available. Yet the crowds are mounting — and rapidly — at the must-do religious points in these towns, keeping pace with income growth. As a result, many of these centres are morphing into a gridlock of disasters. Each season the crowds mount, and the facilities slip an inch further behind the minimum required. Almost all readers would have experienced this first-hand at their favourite religious festival.

The problem has been classically compounded by urban planning in India, which has atrophied in a supposed "secular" model that takes no cognisance of this ground reality. This means no town authority makes any provision for any religious structure in most areas. In those rare instances when they have, they have shown no understanding of how pilgrim traffic flows. It was even thought that a rush of pilgrims would dissipate once urbanisation crossed a threshold — but, obviously, as the swelling crowds at all venues show, the planners just did not understand the Indian population.

So, for instance, in and around Diwali in northern India and Ganesh Chaturthi in western and southern India, the towns get seized up. It becomes worse in the temple towns, where the easy access provided by fast inter-city highways now quadruples the traffic pouring into them within hours. The problem is that there are no escape routes possible at any of the sites. A disaster on any scale is just therefore round the corner, and can become a reality very fast.

In fact, the gathering crowd phenomenon is not just restricted to religious functions. Most big hotels in Delhi and Mumbai, reserve portions of public road next to them to park the cars of their visitors. On special days, the roads are barred for others.

These events may not be just problems — they could be used as solutions, too. The first thing is to integrate the building of public structures into town planning. No religious structure in any Indian city has ever travelled the full range of sanctions. Sometimes the process doesn't exist; sometimes pieces of notifications are created to justify a structure after it has been built. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a single place where urban Indians converge in large numbers with their families that has run the full gauntlet of clearances. How could it? If it had tried to, it would never have come up in the first place. This short-circuiting results in all sorts of temples, bazaars and others existing cheek-by-jowl. Similarly, there are no agreed procedures for something as basic as parking one's car in public places.

It is these gaps that create the template for an accident or a stampede. To that extent what happened in Sabarimala, despite its forest setting, is an urban Indian story gone wrong.

The solutions have to therefore take the urban milieu into that context. Otherwise the stampede in the Kerala hills will reinforce the impression of an India unable to fix its broken-down infrastructure. Since nothing we do in India will be tucked away in a corner of the global news index any more, it is possibly in our own interest that we make this a national priority and start learning the right lessons fast.

With India already home to about 50 cities with a million-plus population, this will be one of our biggest challenges. While religious bodies have to show a far better understanding of crowd management, it can be a nice opportunity to force the general population into experiencing the virtues of public transport. In cities like Amritsar and Mathura, personal vehicles should be a no-no for long distances.

Just as the Kumbh example shows, the good examples are

often available from within the country. These include building wide roads with a network of slip roads to move people fast to and from the venues, clearing congestion near the temples — and so many others, all of which make for good town sense.

While there are many options available, implementing them will of course require working at the huge egos of competing state-level bureaucracies. This could look insurmountable, but the challenge will only get more difficult as we let it slip. Obviously, harnessed well, these are wonderful opportunities to push investment — but whichever way one looks at it, the classical approach of pushing in more policemen with lathis, will only worsen the problem the next time round.

The writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express'







It was news when a 66-year-old woman delivered her babies in a fertility clinic in Hisar, Haryana, in June last year — Bhateri Devi was called the oldest woman in the world to have given birth to triplets. Amid the celebrations, many warned of the lack of regulations in the use of assisted reproductive technology in India, which has earned its small towns the reputation of Baby Boom towns, where age is no barrier for reproduction, and where doctors defy nature and even offer money-back programmes in case the woman is not able to conceive through their IVF treatment.

Local papers in Haryana are full of advertisements showing what such treatment can achieve — mitigate the "stigma of being barren" at any age. And to keep the promise, the clinics often resort to transferring even three embryos in one cycle, knowing the number of such transfers is directly proportional to a successful pregnancy.

Doctors also know that it may well lead to multiple pregnancy, like in the case of Bhateri Devi who gave birth to premature triplets. When I met her at the hospital where the children were kept in the incubator, Bhateri was dragging her feet to the room to feed them. The family had taken a loan for the expensive IVF treatment, but it did not go easy. One of the babies died.

Given the high rates of infant mortality in India and the lack of facilities in hospitals to take care of premature babies, multiple pregnancies are often a risk. Multiple pregnancy at an advanced age especially so. Medical insurance doesn't cover IVF treatment in India because the sector claims it is not a disease. However, to make success out of their claims, clinics have adopted the practice of transferring more embryos to increase the chances of pregnancy. But what they have often failed to acknowledge or even communicate to the couples going for IVF treatment is the risk of multiple pregnancy.

While European countries are moving to single-embryo transfer in young women, in India, guidelines allow for the transfer of three embryos. Now, the Indian Society of Assisted Reproduction, a body of IVF specialists in the country, is meeting in March to discuss recommendations for limiting the number of embryo transfers to two, besides restricting the age for IVF treatment in women, and regulating the clinics that have mushroomed all over the country. The recommendations on embryo transfer will be submitted to the ICMR.

In the UK, doctors can place a maximum of two embryos in order to reduce the risk of multiple births. Unlike in European countries, in the US and India, in the absence of any laws regulating IVF treatment, clinics go for multiple-embryo transfer not just in young women but also older women in order to boost their success rate. In the US, reports suggest there have been up to six embryo transfers for older women.

One argument in favour of multiple-embryo transfer is that IVF is still in a nascent stage and since the technology is not perfect, it is difficult to predict which embryo will become a baby and so transferring more than one will lead to a better success rate.

But Bhateri Devi's case is hardly ideal. Twice the doctors had transferred two embryos to Bhateri Devi, and both were unsuccessful. The third time the IVF specialists at the National Fertility Clinic in Hisar transferred three embryos and all of them fertilised, leading to a medical emergency, where the mother had to be on the ventilator on the night of the labour and then in the ICU. But the delivery was a success — and that seemed to be all that mattered.

"We only have ICMR guidelines. We need a proper law to regulate such things," says Dr Jaideep Malhotra, an Agra-based IVF specialist. "Without the law, the guidelines are not of much consequence. We have submitted some of our recommendations for the bill on IVF and we are hoping we will soon have a law on this."

Another specialist said limiting the number of embryo transfers would mean better health for the mother and the child, given the issues that plague our healthcare system and the high cost of the treatment. "I think we should go for two-embryo transfer. That's the best bet as multiple pregnancy can lead to many complications," he said.

Therefore, if a law is in the pipeline as the reports say, it must also evaluate the risk of multiple pregnancy and the tendency to transfer multiple embryos in women regardless of their age , and limit the number of transfers to two in one cycle in order to rule out emotional, financial, and physical strain.







After devastating floods, economic downturn and terrorist attacks, Pakistan spiralled into 2011 to face a new set of shockers. The murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer on January 4 and the killing of journalist Wali Khan Babar on January 13 have left artists and performers feeling further stifled.

Shakira Masood, owner of Artchowk Gallery in Karachi says, "Pakistani artists have always expressed themselves politically through their work. However, after the recent incidents, it would be hard and maybe unsafe to express one's feelings." Masood cites an incident which occurred some three years ago, when activists of the Pakistan Peoples Party barged into Karachi's Shanaakht Festival where an artwork featured Benazir Bhutto sitting on dictator Zia-ul-Haq's lap. "Art is subjective and not everyone's cup of tea and hence very easy to misinterpret. The organisers of Shanaakht made the mistake of exhibiting this controversial work at a public forum. The incident was very much like what happened at Art Dubai 2008 where Huma Mulji's Arabian Delight was viewed in a negative light." Mulji's installation featured a stuffed camel crammed into a suitcase that offended the locals and had to be removed. An artist herself, Masood feels it is just easier to be keep a low profile. "In these times, if you have an opinion, it's best not to offend people, given that intolerance is on the rise."

The sentiment is shared by Durriya Kazi, who heads the Visual Studies Department at the University of Karachi and is no stranger to mayhem created by student wings of religious and political parties on campus. "Pakistani art has a lot of political overtones. With the way things are going on in the country, everything has become much more loaded than ever before. However, you can't say that it is more difficult for artists than it is for the common man," she says. However, Kazi is hopeful that things will change. "There are people who feel and will express what is on their mind, maybe not publicly but on private forums. And, yes, there is hope for the future," Kazi says.

Fear and repression of the arts is nothing new, yet when it affects artists of another variety — those who reach out to a larger audience through TV and music — the impact reverberates across society. A few decades ago, state-owned channel PTV toed the government's line with its dupatta policy, enforced during the Zia years (in which a female on TV had to have her head covered at all times, whether she was depicted sleeping or brushing her teeth). Then there were the TV plays on family planning and women empowerment during Benazir Bhutto and General Pervez Musharraf's time.

"Escapist and fantastical shows may be what the audience prefers, but issue-based TV serials have their following also. At one point, PTV ruled the roost, but over the years, the influx of private channels and Indian soaps led to a change in the viewer's attitude. People are opening up to new themes. With the recent incidents and the growing intolerance, things might have to be toned down, but there is no stopping us. I do feel it is my responsibility to educate people and do my bit for improving the society," says Babar Javed, a director who has a varied portfolio of issue-based plays. His daring TV serial Meri Zaat Zara-e-Benishan, based on a novel of the same name, was about how a "pious" antagonist twists religion for personal gains. The serial registered record-level TRPs.

Another TV serial gaining audiences these days is Mein Abdul Qadir Hoon that focuses on the identity-crisis faced by a Pakistani boy who morphs from a spoilt, rich kid into what can be loosely described as a born-again Muslim — a phenomenon many Pakistani families have seen first-hand. Its producer, Asif Raza Mir, feels that it is the general reticence towards protesting against injustice that has brought Pakistani society to a stage where fear rules. Yet "Naaray marnay say farq nahi parta (Chanting slogans doesn't make a difference). Change is possible, but we have to stand up for that. No one will come from outside and change anything for us. We have to take the initiative and bring change," he says.

While Mir is optimistic, Taimur Rehman, frontman of the music band Laal (known for its popular, timely and comment-laden

ditties), thinks otherwise. "The space for open dialogue has shrunk dramatically in Pakistan over the years. Artists and performers will have to be more conscious of what they are doing because recent incidents have shown how close-minded this society has become. Rather than condemn the cold-blooded murder (of Taseer), people hero-worship the killer. In a country, where rights of women and minorities are not protected, where there is no religious tolerance or safety of life, how do you expect creativity to flourish?" Rehman questions.

Artists, even those who present low-brow theatre, with its tacky glamour and suggestiveness, in urban centres, seem to be treading a fine line. Referring to Veena Malik's much-watched, dissected and widely-criticised stay at the house of Bigg Boss, a director of Lahore's low-brow theatre said on condition of anonymity, "I still don't know what sort of a reaction Veena will get once she is back in Pakistan. We have anyway told our dancers to tone down their dressing and avoid suggestive dance moves. Stage dancers have always been blamed for spreading vulgarity but they are just entertainers and people do want to watch them. It's another thing that after watching and enjoying the performances, they do feel the need to be morally upright and condemn the same dance," he said. Nazli, a stage performer from Lahore, recalls an incident, "Last night, after I performed to Munni badnaam, a member of the audience sent me a note praising my beauty and asking me to cover my bosom. I think I will comply, lest I am knocked down for spreading fahashi (vulgarity)!"

Their spirits might seem down, but Pakistani artists are not out. They continue to look for and find their place in an increasingly close-minded society.

The writer is a Karachi -based journalist with 'The News International'








Unrest among the people of Tunisia over the past month culminated in the flight of its president and dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to Saudi Arabia on January 14. This should be marked carefully: it is the first successful Arab overthrow of an authoritarian government, many of which are still ruling countries in Middle East and North Africa.

Ben Ali took over as president after a coup d'etat on November 7, 1987, against the country's founder-president, Habib Bourguiba after he had Bourguiba declared senile by his own doctors. Since then, Ben Ali ruled one of the most well-organised — and surprisingly prosperous — police states in the world. Having once headed the country's intelligence, he presided over one of the most efficient intelligence systems, where citizens were closely watched and any criticism of the regime suppressed. The streets of Tunis and all establishments — even private ones — carried his portraits, lest they be troubled by the secret police. Foreign tourists were welcome to visit the country's beautiful Mediterranean beaches, which brought in good foreign exchange, but were shunted out if they took the slightest public position against the regime. The first time I visited, I was advised not to say anything political even to taxi drivers, as many of them were policemen in plain clothes.

I was living in Tunis during October 2009, when Ben Ali won his most recent five-year term in elections which were widely perceived as rigged. I barely saw anyone on the street voting, but when the results came out, 88 per cent of votes had apparently been cast for the president. Massive fireworks were organised by the government over Lac de Tunis, the large lake that divides the city into two, to celebrate the victory — though ordinary Tunisians were conspicuously absent from these celebrations. An official at the presidential office told me that the president was not quite happy with the margin of victory, as in all past elections he had received more than 95 per cent.

The relatively lavish life of the president and his family, and the omnipresence of his portrait, made him an easily identifiable target of hatred for the middle class and the poor alike. The middle class grew weary of the restrictions imposed on free speech and tired, too, of seeing the president and his wife on the front pages of the government-sponsored French daily La Presse and other newspapers day after day for 23 years. The lower-middle class and the poor begrudged restrictions on religious practice: my cleaning lady would regularly complain that mosques were open only for the precise time of the five daily prayers, as the regime was insecure about mosques becoming sites of political discussion and possible upheaval.

With the recent global economic crisis, the economy suffered and European visits to this Mediterranean tourist haven reduced substantially, setting the stage for an explosion of mass discontent. The immediate catalyst for the recent protests was the public self-immolation of a street vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid after the police forcibly took away his goods.

Late on Friday evening, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi took over the role of the president and on Saturday the Speaker replaced him as interim president. New elections should take place in another 60 days. But while the dictator is gone, it is far too early to predict how politics will pan out in Tunisia — even in the immediate future. In the 23 years of Ben Ali's rule, no real democratic opposition existed, and thus Tunisians will be in a sense building a democracy from the scratch.

While Tunisians have a healthy respect for diverse views amongst themselves, there does exist a rift between the secular urban middle class and the religiously inclined remainder of the population. One can only hope that Tunisians will not embroil themselves in the sort of mindless jockeying of power that can often follow the removal of an authoritarian regime. And let us hope, too, that unlike the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Jasmine Revolution of 2011 — named for Tunisia's national flower — will result in true democracy, and not the mere replacement of one form of authoritarianism by another.

The writer, a Delhi-based lawyer, was legal counsel to the African Development Bank in Tunis till March 2010








In Uttar Pradesh, political parties have started the process of selecting nominees for the next assembly election, scheduled for 2012. The Samajwadi Party, headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, is due to hold a convention early next month. As Mulayam plans his party's comeback, he should look carefully at the undoing of his friend, Lalu Prasad, in Bihar.

While Nitish Kumar's victory, a well-deserved one, has been explained in different ways, what needs explanation — and should be of interest to Mulayam — is the decimation of Bihar's opposition. Lalu's defeat has been explained only as an outcome of Nitish Kumar's victory. So, Nitish's victory is all that needs explanation. Matter ends.

Yet, there was more at work than just Nitish's victory. Consider the statistics: first, the swing towards Nitish-led NDA was only about 2.5 per cent. For comparison, the Congress landslide in 1984, post-Indira, was caused by a swing of about 6.5 per cent. Even with the 6.5 per cent swing — and over 49 per cent of votes — the Congress in 1984 won just about 78 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats, while Nitish bagged 86 per cent of seats in the assembly with just about 39.5 per cent of votes.

Or, consider the other recent pro-incumbency mascots. When Narendra Modi mustered more than 49 per cent votes in the 2002 and 2007 Gujarat assembly elections, the opposition got more than 25 per cent seats in the assembly; in the 2009 assembly elections, Naveen Patnaik mustered about the same votes as that of Nitish in Bihar, but still Patnaik could get only about 70 per cent of assembly seats.

The opposition in Bihar, however, was decimated (a mere 10 per cent of the assembly) despite Nitish mustering less than 40 per cent of the voteshare.

The point that needs to be underscored for those watching from UP is that the mismatch between Nitish's vote share and the opposition's decimation has not been adequately addressed in most of the post-verdict explanations, which take Lalu's and the Congress's defeat as a natural outcome of the victor's victory.

Just as Nitish's victory is rooted in Nitish's politics, the opposition's decimation must be rooted in its politics. Why was the opposition decimated when over 60 per cent votes were polled against Nitish?

The first and most obvious explanation is that it was fragmented, with Lalu-Paswan and the Congress fighting separately. But, given the Congress's dismal performance — 221 of 243 candidates forfeiting their deposits — the fragmented opposition argument doesn't explain enough. With Lalu-Paswan being the lone opposition, the question is: why did they fail to rally the majority of opposition votes (over 60 per cent) behind them? And the answer is simple, and instructive: exclusionary politics.

The 60 per cent votes against Nitish was not of the Muslim-Yadav-Paswan alliance alone. It was much more than them. The task for the opposition should have been to rally all of them together, instead of focussing on rallying just Muslims, Yadavs, and Paswans.

That focus makes the members of other social groups, howsoever small in proportion, feel excluded from the entire effort of opposition. The trick would have been to connect with all of them, both publicly and organisationally. This could have been possible only if the party structure was inclusive — representing all major social groups — with a general enough affinity that could rally them together.

A look at Lalu's party structure would make his exclusionary politics very obvious. Till not very long ago, 30 of 38 districts in the RJD were controlled by Muslims and Yadavs. This domination by a few specific groups of the party organisation breeds over-assertion, and results in the exclusion of natural partners even if they share the cause. That's why, for a party espousing the cause of social justice, there was not a single "Most Backward" leader to flaunt in election rallies.

While Nitish's effort created a perception of inclusionary politics (upper caste-most backward classes-Mahadalits), the effort of the opposition appeared an exercise in exclusion. It was this exclusionary politics that resulted in its decimation.

And that's what the opposition elsewhere should learn — Mulayam first among them. Mulayam, who once thrived on the OBC politics that Mandal unleashed, has also shrunk himself to the exclusionary politics of a Muslim-Yadav combination. The Samajwadi Party chiefs in two-thirds of its district units are Yadavs and Muslims. Almost none of the districts is controlled by the most backward classes or by Scheduled Castes. Muslims have less control over district units than Yadavs, despite there being more Muslims than Yadavs in the electorate. This clearly excludes others and, most significantly for Mulayam's politics, the most backward classes from his support. This, as the Samajwadi Party professes backwards-mobilisation as the organising principle of their social justice politics.

If there is little anti-incumbency mood in the electorate in UP, the opposition needs to practise some kind of inclusionary politics to keep itself afloat. Else it should be prepared to become history.







In a great many fields, researchers would give their eyeteeth to have a direct glimpse of the past. Cosmology, the study of the origin and evolution of the universe, is the one arena in which we can actually witness history.

The pinpoints of starlight we see with the naked eye are photons that have been streaming toward us for a few years or a few thousand. The light from more distant objects, captured by powerful telescopes, has been travelling toward us far longer than that, sometimes for billions of years. When we look at such ancient light, we are seeing — literally — ancient times.

During the past decade ancient light has also, surprisingly, provided deep insight into the nature of the future. And the future that the data suggest is particularly disquieting — because of something called dark energy.

This story of discovery begins a century ago with Albert Einstein, who realised that space is not an immutable stage on which events play out, as Isaac Newton had envisioned. Instead, through his general theory of relativity, Einstein found that space, and time too, can bend, twist and warp, responding much as a trampoline does to a jumping child. For Einstein, this was unacceptable: the notion of an expanding or contracting cosmos seemed blatantly erroneous. It flew in the face of the prevailing wisdom that, over the largest of scales, the universe was fixed and unchanging.

Einstein responded swiftly. He modified the equations of general relativity so that the mathematics would yield an unchanging cosmos. A static situation, like a stalemate in a tug of war, requires equal but opposite forces that cancel each other. Across large distances, the force that shapes the cosmos is the attractive pull of gravity. A simple modification of general relativity's equations entailed something that would have, well, blown Newton's mind: antigravity — a gravitational force that pushes instead of pulls. Ordinary matter, like the Earth or Sun, can generate only attractive gravity, but the math revealed that a more exotic source — an energy that uniformly fills space, much as steam fills a sauna, only invisibly — would generate gravity's repulsive version. Einstein called this space-filling energy the cosmological constant, and he found that by finely adjusting its value, the repulsive gravity it produced would precisely cancel the usual attractive gravity coming from stars and galaxies, yielding a static cosmos. He breathed a sigh of relief.

Fast forward to the 1990s, when we find two teams of astronomers undertaking precise observations of distant supernovae to determine how the expansion rate of space has changed over the history of the universe. These researchers anticipated that the gravitational attraction of matter dotting the night's sky would slow the expansion, much as Earth's gravity slows the speed of a ball tossed upward. Shockingly, however, when the data were analysed, the teams found that the expansion rate has not been slowing down. It's been speeding up.

It's as if that tossed ball shot away from your hand, racing upward faster and faster. You'd conclude that something must be driving the ball away. Similarly, the astronomers concluded that something in space must be pushing galaxies apart ever more quickly. And after scrutinising the situation, they have found that the push is most likely the repulsive gravity produced by a cosmological constant. Were Einstein still with us, his discovery that repulsive gravity lies within nature's repertoire would have likely garnered him another Nobel prize.

As remarkable as it is that even one of Einstein's "bad" ideas has proven prophetic, many puzzles still surround the cosmological constant: If there is a diffuse, invisible energy permeating space, where did it come from? Is this dark energy a permanent fixture of space, or might its strength change over time? Perhaps most perplexing of all is a question of quantitative detail. The most refined attempts to calculate the amount of dark energy suffusing space miss the measured value by a gargantuan factor of 10123 (that is, a 1 followed by 123 zeros) — the single greatest mismatch between theory and observation in the history of science.

And one unassailable conclusion is particularly unnerving. If the dark energy doesn't degrade over time, then the accelerated expansion of space will continue unabated, dragging away distant galaxies ever farther and ever faster. A hundred billion years from now, any galaxy not resident in our neighborhood will have been swept away by swelling space for so long that it will be racing from us at faster than the speed of light. (Although nothing can move through space faster than the speed of light, there's no limit on how fast space itself can expand.)

Light emitted by such galaxies will therefore fight a losing battle to traverse the rapidly widening gulf that separates us. The light will never reach Earth and so the galaxies will slip permanently beyond our capacity to see, regardless of how powerful our telescopes may become. Because of this, when future astronomers look to the sky, they will no longer witness the past. The past will have drifted beyond the cliffs of space.-BRIAN GREENE






Despite Jairam Ramesh's order that the 31-storeyed Adarsh in south Mumbai's Colaba be demolished, since it was unauthorised and violated the Coastal Regulations Zone Notification of 1991, the building isn't going to be razed in a hurry. Even if you leave aside the issue of the environment ministry's habit of shooting first and aiming later, and that several of its orders appear one-sided, there is the process of the law. So, the demolish-Adarsh order will be challenged in the Maharashtra high court, it will then be appealed before the division bench by either Ramesh or the Adarsh owners, before making its way to the Supreme Court. All of this could take anywhere between a few years and a few decades.

Whether the order stands the courts' scrutiny is important, but assuming it does, it raises a more fundamental issue and that's something the country's political-bureaucratic class needs to debate more honestly. So far, in more cases than is good, government after government has legalised wrong-doings on the grounds that there are people involved, facts-on-the-ground, as it were. Sure, the colony is illegal, but where will all the people go if we declare it illegal? Indeed, in most such situations, industry associations, economists and other members of civil society (resident in India as well as abroad!) argue that India is capital-starved and so cannot afford to demolish a structure after it has come up. In the telecom sector, licences have not been cancelled on grounds that the subscribers will be hurt—in one case, the abuse of the licence was legalised on these very grounds. As long as the government of the day is willing to change its opinion in view of the facts-on-the-ground, such 'facts' will always get created.

Equally important is the government's responsibility in such cases. Adarsh came up in front of everyone's nose, banks gave loans to it, and innocents bought into the building, assuming the government wouldn't have allowed it to come up if it wasn't legal. In the Raja scam, similarly, the government allotted the licences the banks lent against and which the Telenors and Etisalats bought into. The government has an obligation to make good the losses suffered by others due to its sleeping on the job. Or does it have no responsibilities?





The government's reported plan to roll out a universal health insurance scheme in the 12th Plan period will be welcomed by all citizens since, at the moment, under a tenth of all Indians are covered by any form of medical insurance, either through their jobs or by buying insurance. And to the extent households move in and out of poverty with each medical emergency, the need for this policy is much more immediate. Even so, it is important to get it right, to ensure we don't get into the kind of trap the US is in, for instance, or the kind of trap India has got into in the case of pensions. The Employees Pension Scheme (EPS) is extremely limited in its coverage, stretching to perhaps a couple of crore persons, but the uncovered gap in it jumped from Rs 22,000 crore in 2004-05 to around Rs 54,000 crore in 2009-10—when it was started in the mid-1990s, the EPS was easily funded with interest rates at around 15%, but with interest rates much lower now, the uncovered gap is ballooning each year.

Keep in mind that even at the upper end of the scale, for the 5-6% of Indian households that buy medical insurance, there is a serious problem of uncovered deficits. Annual insurance payouts are around 120% of premia, which is why insurance firms discontinued their cashless treatment facilities some months ago. While these are being partially restored, attempts are being made to work on treatment and price protocols. If this is being done only now, and there is still no certainty as to how it will turn out, it is a bit of a stretch to try and do something similar for the entire country. Surely, a series of pilots, in different parts of the country, is a better way to go, to evaluate the profitability of insurance firms and the feasibility of offering this to one and all. More so, since this is not the first time that such a plan is being tried. The government introduced Universal Health Insurance in 2003, where it paid Rs 100 per household as a subsidy, with the sum assured of Rs 30,000—the scheme never took off. In 2008, the government launched the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to provide health insurance coverage of Rs 30,000 to BPL families for hospitalisation costs. After three years, only a third of the districts have had enrolments. There is no independent corroboration of how well the scheme is doing in terms of meeting the needs of the poor themselves. So, it's a good idea to develop the scheme carefully, even if that means going slow. And yes, it may do the poor more good than insurance if the government worked on improving the quality of primary healthcare.





If the Raja scam wasn't confusing enough with all its technicalities, it's just got more confusing. As long as it was confined to a CAG versus a Raja, it was obvious who you should be supporting—the CAG has unearthed several scandals in the past and Raja never had any great reputation to begin with, right from his environment ministry days, and his being relatively inarticulate and not being a PLU helped. Things got a bit confusing when a Kapil Sibal—successful, articulate, suave, honest, a Delhiwallah, a PLU if there ever was one—joined the fray in support of Raja. Whom do you support now? If that wasn't enough, the government got in Montek Singh Ahluwalia, its most credible voice when it comes to attacking crony capitalism, given how he's stood in splendid isolation, sometimes publicly, opposing many unsavoury deals in the past.

All of which makes you wonder where the others are now that the CAG is being trashed in the manner it is? The BJP, which made so much of the Raja scam, is completely silent. A few more weeks like this, and the scam will die a natural death, JPC or no JPC. Since, presumably, this is not what the BJP wants, it's difficult to understand what its strategy is. It's equally curious that none of the older telcos are making any statement, since it is they that got hit the most by Raja's decision to hand out the spectrum in the manner he did—Raja's decision to give out 691 MHz of spectrum ensured they had no spectrum for their expansion plans—this is the main reason why they had to pay over a lakh crore rupees in the 3G/BWA auction. Perhaps, it's good business strategy to keep quiet? A big telco like Bharti or Vodafone, for instance, would be more interested in ensuring it gets to pay a lower price for its 'extra' spectrum. The Trai recommendation in 2010 that the government charge them at the 3G rates when their licences come up for renewal—another 6-7 years from now—must also have these companies worried enough not to want to risk taking on the government beyond a point. More so when all indications are that Trai may revise its recommendations on this quite dramatically.

What are we to make of what the good Montek has said? Much of it, of course, is the same argument made by both Raja and Sibal, and is largely just an attempt to distract from the main issues.

Trai said no auctions: Perhaps the easiest argument to dismiss from the Raja-Sibal-Montek stable. Also the most self-serving. In 2003 itself, when the UASL licences were given, the Cabinet agreed that all future licences would be auctioned. So, the 2007 recommendation by Trai, that 2G spectrum should not be auctioned, was bad in law. In any case, Trai very clearly said its recommendations were predicated on there being enough spectrum for all players—how else can you give spectrum/licences on a first-come first-served basis. By October 1, 2007, however, there were 575 applications against 157 licences that could be given. So how could Trai 2007 even be implemented? In any case, not all Trai recommendations are implemented—even in 2007, Raja left out crucial recommendations, which allowed Swan and Unitech to cash out.

Raja-Sibal-Montek use Trai 2007 to justify their lack of auction. But when the CAG's Rs 1,76,000 crore loss figure is based on Trai 2010 recommendations, they trash it!

Auctions hike tariffs: "Revenue maximisation is not the objective. You have to weigh that against the benefits you lose by lesser spread of telecom services at a competitive price," Montek told Karan Thapar on Sunday. Well, when Vodafone paid $10.7 bn for Hutch, it never raised tariffs, and Tata DoCoMo's 3G prices are lower than the current 2G tariffs.

BJP did the same: The CAG said the BJP caused a loss (Sibal put this at Rs 1,43,000 crore in one TV interview) when it moved from fixed licence fees to revenue-share in 1999—so, the argument goes, the CAG was being a petty auditor then, as it is being now. Certainly in 2001, the CAG took the accountant's view, as that is also one of its jobs. In 2010, the industry was mature and not giving these licences would not have hurt the industry—in 1999, however, not moving to revenue-share would have finished off the industry. Indeed, the government has lost revenue in two ways. One, in terms of the auction-based entry fee. Two, if the same spectrum was to be given to a Bharti or a BSNL, who have more subscribers and more revenue than the new telcos, the government would get more annual licence/spectrum fees.

Level playing field needed: "Earlier guys," to quote Montek, "had got it at Rs 1,658 crore … later fellows are at a disadvantage, they haven't got a big subscriber base. Therefore, if you raise the price, you'd be putting these fellows at a disadvantage ..." So when you ask a new steel mill to pay an auction price for coal and iron ore mines, let's keep in mind that Tata Steel got them free decades ago! Also, what of the lack of level playing field for the 343 other applicants who lost out due to Raja's decision to stop processing applications from September 25, 2007, though he said he would process applications till October 1?

Expanded equity not an equity sale: Unitech got Rs 6,120 crore for selling a 67.25% stake to Telenor but this money remained in Uninor, so how did Unitech benefit? This is obfuscating the issue. Uninor took care of Rs 2,000 crore of debt raised by Unitech to pay for the licence, so the company had Rs 4,120 crore of cash left over. If the company is valued at Rs 12,000-odd crore, as it was at that time, this means the pure licence itself was worth around Rs 8,000 crore. And Unitech owns a third of Rs 8,000 crore, just because Raja liked Sanjay Chandra's face!

Which part of this didn't Montek get? And what part of this is so complicated that those like Arun Jaitley in the BJP don't want to take Raja-Sibal-Montek head on?





A friend, a respected retired senior civil servant called to say that she found the analysis of food inflation ('Whistling in the Dark', FE, January 15) very gloomy. Her gloom might turn into a nightmare if she were to study the series of measures the government announced the previous day and the explanation by Kaushik Basu, the chief economic advisor, the spearhead of efforts to rein in prices.

Kaushik Basu maintained that the new approach, far from being a rehash of previously tried, trusted and failed remedies, is 'nuanced'. He also said that the government is focusing on hoarding by its purpose, trying to infuse greater competitiveness and would consider a thorough overhaul of the public distribution system. An analysis of the current status would show that these assertions are either not borne out or relevant to the prevailing situation.

The food wholesale price index is up from 107 in the first week of 2006 to 193 in 2011, or by 80% over five years. Its disaggregation shows that the various commodity subgroups and years involved show considerable differences. Foodgrain prices went up by 12% and 21% in 2008 and 2009, respectively, while they declined by 3% in 2010. The fruit and vegetables price index has spurted ahead of the curve, nearly doubling in the last three years, from 108 to 212 (60% of which occurred in 2010 alone). Vegetable prices have risen even faster—the index has gone up from 109 to 273, or 150%. In fact, vegetables, with a 12% share of the food price index, accounted for nearly one half of the 18% food inflation for the year 2010. The fire today is in the subzi mandi.

And what does the government want to do? It acknowledged that the vegetable price situation is more difficult to manage but plans to review imports and exports of essential commodities, fine-tune tariffs and, in the medium term, set up farmers' mandis, mobile bazaars and rationalise local levies to facilitate smooth movement of commodities. The first part of these relate to non-perishables, which are not part of the problem today (but could be tomorrow). Only the last set and monitoring the weather situation are addressed to vegetable markets.

The mighty government economic think tank has failed to reckon with the single-most distinguishing feature of the vegetable system in India. The vegetable market is as close to the paradigm of perfect competition as we can find in real world. There are numerous buyers and sellers, with no entry or exit barriers. The produce is mostly undifferentiated. Every participant has access to the same information at all times. I shared this perception with Dr IG Patel, who not only agreed with it wholeheartedly but cited this often. My colleagues and I conducted the first-ever systems study of major urban vegetable markets and their hinterland in western India for the National Horticulture Board, the findings of which have been periodically updated.

As early as the 1980s, the western markets had become seamlessly integrated into a grid. This process has further advanced as means of communication have improved. Most supply areas are an overnight journey away from major urban markets, and signals of demand and supply pass back and forth almost instantaneously. For example, if a Vadodara trader buys five truckloads of tomatoes in Wai in Maharashtra, prices in the entire western region undergo a quick iteration and get adjusted. This process of price discovery and equalisation now covers almost the entire mainland. The crucial factor is that it is entirely market-driven and not because of any regulator. The market structures are stable and self-correcting. The quick price corrections following disturbances in the relatively short production cycle show the sensitivity of the market processes. Attempts to meddle in this free market are bound to be counterproductive.

The much-commented on 30% loss of produce is, in fact, mostly value destruction in the form of off-grade or somewhat deteriorating produce. There are markets for these as well. Hence, the institution of the enormously expensive cold-chain would only drive up prices, by five times or more by some estimates, without benefiting the aam aadmi.

What should the government do then? As stated in earlier columns, there is no escape from spikes in vegetable inflation in the short- and medium-term, as in the case of energy inflation. The only solution is faster production growth, which has its own pre-conditions not likely to be met in the immediate future. Basic remedies aimed at sustained productivity increases must start now and obstacles such as unrealistic mindsets of key policymakers must be removed quickly.

State finance ministers are to meet today to review the situation. Let us hope that being more in the local line of fire, they do not take the 'nuanced' approach of addressing vegetable inflation by measures to control grain prices and offering solutions to the problems of 2008 and 2009 for those of 2010!

The author has taught at IIMA and helped set up IRMA






Not omnipresent

The Prime Minister's media advisor Harish Khare went to meet his boss at his residence over the weekend, to find Ahmed Patel, the political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, waiting outside the room where the PM and the party chief were discussing the impending Cabinet reshuffle. Seeing Khare, Patel quipped, "I hope you're now convinced that not everything is discussed with me first!"

Divine help and Rajiv museums

Aviation minister Praful Patel went to the Vaishno Devi shrine to seek the Goddess's blessings last Friday, presumably to ensure all went well in the impending Cabinet reshuffle. Normally, there would be no need to seek cover, but these days his party boss is in bad odour with the powers that be. Perhaps why, at the Centenary Committee meeting—to celebrate a century of Indian aviation—he announced a plan to set up a Rajiv Gandhi museum.

No longer roti, kapda aur makaan

With changing times, age-old sayings are also changing. A new one comes from Assocham's new President, Dilip Modi: "These days, a common man does not need roti, kapda and makaan but he needs roti, kapda and mobile." Oh yes, Modi is the head of Spice Mobility.






Sandwiched between Algeria and Libya, separated from its erstwhile colonial ruler France only by the Mediterranean sea, Tunisia is somewhat of an anomaly amongst its Arab neighbours. Its population is not very radicalised. Polygamy is illegal; women's rights and role in society actually get government support. Since 1970, life expectancy here has grown twice as fast as in China, which Tunisia has also outperformed on the education front. Technology penetration has flourished, too, with 4 million out of the country's 10.5 million people being Internet users and 1.8 million-odd residing on Facebook alone. So what if the country has had only two leaders since gaining independence from France in 1962? So what if President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali had been ruling since 1987 and looked set to hand over power to one of his luxury-loving clan. The scene is similar in Egypt and Libya and people there appear much worse off. Surely, Tunisia wasn't fertile ground for a revolution in the Arab world.

Well, turns out it was. All those young people who were getting educated, they wanted jobs. Without reforms, the globalisation that the French and American governments and the Internet were making so much of was letting them down. And when a computer science graduate who had been reduced to selling vegetables was stopped from doing even this and set himself alight, mobile text messages, Facebook, Twitter et al also caught fire. Ensuing protests have forced Ben Ali to flee the country along with many of his corrupt entourage. Democracy isn't yet guaranteed but it's in the air now. Education, Internet and even WikiLeaks (which publicised how Ben Ali's family was grabbing all while 13% of Tunisians are officially out of work) can take a bow.






It was bad enough that the National Advisory Council in its recommendation of October 2010 proposed a food security Bill that diluted the principle of a universal right to food. It is appalling now that the C. Rangarajan Committee seeks to truncate that proposal, and legally establish a narrowly targeted public distribution system on the grounds of feasibility. Their argument is a false argument for more reasons than one. First, as a matter of fact, current cereal production in India is enough to meet the needs of the entire population. It has been shown repeatedly, including in reports of the National Commission on Farmers, that there is tremendous potential for increases in production. It is a failure of our institutions and policy, be it in the field of agricultural extension or procurement and storage policy, that we have not ensured higher production and better distribution. So the second flaw in the argument is that it denies a right to food because of a failure of institutions, much like denying the right of every child to education on the grounds that there are not already enough school buildings. In a country that holds the world record for malnutrition — both in absolute terms and in terms of the proportion of malnourished persons — there can be few more pressing objectives than ensuring cheap and regular supply of basic foods to all households. As advocated earlier by this newspaper, a commitment to a universal public distribution system can be an effective means to end hunger and malnutrition.

The specific proposal of the Rangarajan Committee is to provide legal entitlements of 35 kg. of cereals (rice and wheat) to 46 per cent of the rural population and 28 per cent of the urban population, based on estimates of poverty by the Tendulkar Committee. The Committee also suggests linking prices of cereals to the rate of inflation, based on the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labourers. In a period of record inflation, instead of ensuring that real prices of basic staples remain low and stable, the Rangarajan Committee launches a further attack on food security by proposing to raise prices of cereals in the public distribution system in line with inflation. This will not only have a direct negative impact on the budget of households receiving PDS rations but also send the wrong signal to market prices. It is shocking that the Committee has further weakened proposals for ensuring food security for the mass of Indians at a time of spiralling food prices in India and the world. Public opinion and Parliament must see to it that a food security Bill mandating a universal public distribution system is enacted without further delay.





The expansion of Turkish economic activity in Iraq is only one element of Ankara's shrewd regional strategy. This could well provide a stabilising influence notwithstanding problematic historical and political legacies, which include the repression of Turkey's Kurdish community as well as an earlier cosy relationship with Israel. Trade between Turkey and Iraq doubled from $3 billion in 2008 to $6 billion in 2010. Around 700 Turkish companies now operate in northern Iraq and newspaper reports suggest that Turkey plans to extend such involvement much further south, with high-profile attractions such as luxury apartments and oil exploration to supplement existing oil interests in the north. Iraqi Kurdistan is an early beneficiary of this intensified activity, and the Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani even visited Turkey in June 2010. That would have been inconceivable even a few years ago. What is more, a Kurdish-language TV channel has been launched in Turkey for the 20 per cent Kurdish minority. Ankara has even started searches for the bodies of sympathisers of the Kurdish separatist PKK party who were killed by Turkish forces over a period of two decades or more. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan deserves much credit for taking these healing steps despite reservations held within the influential military set-up.

In embarking on a new policy path, Turkey is not just seeking to ensure that Iraq's political space will no longer be monopolised by Iran. It may actually cooperate with Iran in the process. By making serious contact with the Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, Ankara also expects to send a clear message to Israel. Turkish-Israeli relations soured quickly over Israel's brutal Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. Ankara withdrew its ambassador from Israel when eight Turkish citizens aboard the Gaza peace flotilla were killed by Israeli troops in 2010. There is an equally strong message for the United States and the European Union. The U.S. State Department, which calls Turkey NATO's "vital eastern anchor," is disappointed that in the U.N. Security Council Turkey voted against a fresh package of sanctions against Iran. The western powers are partly responsible for Turkey's new approach. In 2002, Mr. Erdogan was deeply offended when German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and France's President Jacques Chirac told him that Turkey would have to wait longer than expected for negotiations to begin over entry into the EU. If Turkey's Iraq strategy has caused concern in the western world, the rest of the world, and specifically non-aligned India, should welcome a forward-looking and peace-building involvement in the region.








There are very few people in India who believe that New Delhi, as it is presently organised, is either capable or willing to go the whole distance to bring to book those who are suspected of having committed irregularities in handling state funds. This has particular reference to the scams related to the 2G spectrum and the conduct of the Commonwealth Games. The much-talked-about action plan to tackle corruption on a war footing appears to be a non-starter, going by the fact that there has not been even a whisper about it over the last few days. Even if such a plan is to be grudgingly unveiled soon, it could at best be old wine in a new bottle.

Two officials handpicked by the UPA government are under the scanner. They are the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). There are no direct allegations against the former. But his close relatives are being investigated. Such a probe will first have to prove that they acquired assets in a wrongful manner, and which they cannot account for. Only then can the allegations be taken forward to probe whether their proximity to the NHRC Chairman when he was the Chief Justice of India gave them any advantage in the matter, as has been alleged.

This will be a long-drawn-out process. There is everything in the procedure established by law and convention that can halt swift cognisance being taken of judicial corruption. This fact spells unmitigated danger to the whole polity. You could imagine how a lowly official in the bureaucracy would feel about this travesty. Actually he would be able to rationalise any corrupt conduct thus: if people in high places could indulge in large-scale corruption and get away with it, why could he not emulate them, hoping that he would not get caught either?

Was it not the former CVC, N. Vittal, who said that corruption in India was a low-risk and high-profit activity? How appropriate are those words in the context of the alarming decline in India's public life, where good people shun public office and the rapacious ones swarm around it with great relish!

Another official who is in deep trouble is the present CVC. By all accounts P.J. Thomas was a distinguished civil servant with a good record of service once upon a time — at least till he was made Telecommunications Secretary under Minister A. Raja. He was a candidate with some merit when he was considered for the CVC's position.

But he had two problems. It was widely alleged that while filing an affidavit before the court when the issue became contentious, he had deliberately justified whatever Mr. Raja did in the matter of allotting spectrum. Despite the fact that the allotment took place before Mr. Thomas became Secretary to the Ministry, there was a feeling that he took little note of the wrongful actions and even justified them. The allegation, therefore, is that he was made CVC only to whitewash the monumental scandal. Then there was the palmolein import case in Kerala in which he was cited as an accused.

So, when his name was proposed, surprisingly, by the government for the CVC's job, the BJP smelled a rat and opposed the move tooth and nail. The Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, refused to endorse the choice but, strangely, the government went ahead with the appointment, even ignoring the fact that Mr. Thomas was facing a criminal trial in Kerala.

Now Mr. Thomas is an albatross around the government's neck. There is speculation over why he is sticking on to his post even after the subsequent development of his trial in the palmolein import case being cleared by the Supreme Court of India following the death of the prime accused in the case. The lurking suspicion is that Mr. Thomas' nomination was made under political pressure. It is not illogical to believe that there is again a political hand behind his decision to stay on. If that be so, it is a clear indication that corruption among public servants in India is fostered by political parties. Against this setting, the common man can very well forget the prospect of ever having an honest government.

There are three specific issues that are of utmost relevance to this debate. The first is already engaging the Supreme Court's attention. The so-called Single Directive of the Union government that requires an investigating agency to obtain government approval before proceeding against a civil servant of and above the rank of Joint Secretary has many holes, including a negation of equality before the law. There is also the definite risk of a delinquent civil servant getting advance notice of proposed action, which could facilitate his destroying or secreting out valuable documentary evidence. After this directive was struck down in the 'hawala case,' the National Democratic Alliance government, in a dubious move, revived it and gave it legislative backing — possibly at the instance of some top bureaucrats. It constitutes an untenable fetter put on the Central Bureau of Investigation. The agency is even otherwise weighed down by an unsupportive government and a hostile group of influential bureaucrats who have the ears of the Ministers.

The next issue of importance is the monitoring by courts of investigations in crucial cases such as that concerning the spectrum scandal. There is a point of view — aired with great clarity by the former CBI Director, C.V. Narasimhan, known for his sharp mind and utter integrity — that for such monitoring to be effective, the Supreme Court could consider entrusting the arduous task of overseeing progress to a small group.

This group should comprise a former High Court Judge, a former Joint Director of the CBI and an expert from the area of economic crime belonging to one of the revenue services of the government. This group could report to the Supreme Court from time to time, thereby helping the court to come to its own conclusions without losing valuable time. This experiment can possibly be tried, first in the 2G spectrum case, and its utility evaluated.

Another suggestion from Mr. Narasimhan relates to the framing of a law by the Central government titled the 'Criminal Misconduct of Public Men.' It should incorporate all the offences that come under the ambit of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, but give more powers to the investigating officer. These powers should include competence to record signed statements from witnesses and confessions that are valid in law, both of which are now prohibited by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Indian Evidence Act respectively. This will be on the lines of pieces of legislation such as the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (MOCOCA), which relatively frees the investigator from the curbs imposed by the Evidence Act. These suggestions made by Mr. Narasimhan could go a long way to tackle corruption by public servants with greater speed and certainty.

The third problem relates to how governments could be prevented from misusing the authority to block appeals against acquittals. Instances are legion where a government that is interested in protecting a favourite, applies the guillotine and successfully stalls further proceedings in court. This is done by denying a request from the investigating agency to take an acquittal on appeal. The CrPC arms the government with such power, and it is often blatantly abused. There is a definite need to divest governments of this undeserved power. For this to happen, all political parties need to come together to bring about an amendment to the CrPC.

In the present situation, there is little hope of such a consensus emerging. This is because, at present, there are no saints in politics when it comes to battling corruption, and softness towards corruption cuts across party lines. India's best bet ultimately are its citizens, who will resolve not to submit to demands for illegal gratification on the part of any public servant, or vote for the corrupt leaders of the land in the general elections.

(The author is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.)






Every July 23 for the past 58 years Egypt, my country of birth, has celebrated its "July revolution" that overthrew King Farouk and ended the monarchy and British occupation once and for all. It was no revolution: it was a coup staged by young Army officers.

And so it has been with a series of "revolutions" around the Arab world in which a succession of military men went on to lead us in civilian clothes — some kept the olive drabs on — and rob generations of the real meaning of revolution. For years I looked at the Iranians with envy — not at the outcome of their 1979 revolution, but because it was a popular uprising, not a euphemism for a coup.

So you'll understand why, along with millions of other Arabs, I'll forever cherish January 14, 2011 — the day Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, his 23-year rule toppled by 29 days of a popular uprising. A real revolution for a change.

It's the first time Arabs have toppled one of their dictators, so you'll understand why, despite the reports of chaos, looting and a musical chairs of caretaker leaders, I'm still celebrating. Let's have no whining about how those pesky Tunisians who risked their lives in their thousands to face down a despot ruined the idyllic package-holiday-in-a-police-state for so many European tourists.

The equations circling Tunisia right now are very clear: we have no idea who or what kind of coalition of leaders will emerge but there is no doubt who's rooting for the failure of this revolution: every Arab leader who has spent the past month watching Tunisia in fear. You can be sure the region's dictators are on their knees right now praying for chaos and collapse for Tunisia.

Some Arab countries have simply ignored what happened: no official statement from Algeria or Morocco. Others said they respect the wish of Tunisians but filled their state-owned media with reminders that they weren't anything like Tunisia: Egypt.

Leave it to Muammar Gaddafi, the world's longest-serving dictator, to best portray that panic.

Addressing a nation where thousands had faced down the bullets of Mr. Ben Ali's security to protest at unemployment, police brutality and the corruption of the regime, Mr. Gaddafi told Tunisians they were now suffering bloodshed and lawlessness because they were too hasty in getting rid of Mr. Ben Ali.

If every Arab leader has watched Tunisia in fear, then every Arab citizen has watched in hope because it was neither Islamists — long used by our leaders to scare many into acquiescence — nor foreign troops that toppled the dictator: it was ordinary and very fed up people.

Tunisians must remember that during these days of chaos. We're hearing reports that neighbourhood watch committees have sprung up to protect against looting and violence, which many blame on Mr. Ben Ali's loyalists.

Interestingly, both Western observers and Mr. Gaddafi have been crediting WikiLeaks, but for different reasons. By buying into the idea that leaked U.S. embassy cables about corruption "fuelled" the revolution, commentators smear Tunisians with ignorance of facts and perpetuate the myth that Arabs are incapable of rising up against dictators. Mr. Gaddafi railed against WikiLeaks because he, too, wants to blame something other than the power of the people — and cables from Tripoli portray him as a Botox-using neurotic inseparable from a "voluptuous" Ukrainian nurse.

Mr. Gaddafi's Libya has had its own protests over the past few days. Nothing on the scale of Tunisia, but enough that his speech to Tunisians could be summarised thus: I am scared witless by what happened in your country.

That's why I insist we stop and appreciate Tunisia: relish the revolution that is no longer a euphemism for a coup. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

(Mona Eltahawy is a writer and lecturer on Arab issues.)





Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, a once feared and reviled dictator who was ousted in a popular uprising nearly 25 years ago, has made a stunning return to Haiti, raising concerns he could complicate efforts to solve a political crisis, a cholera outbreak and the stalled reconstruction from last year's devastating earthquake.

Mr. Duvalier's arrival at the airport on Sunday was as mysterious as it was unexpected. He greeted a crowd of several hundred cheering supporters but did not say why he chose this tumultuous period to suddenly reappear from his exile in France — or what he intended to do while back in Haiti.

"I'm not here for politics," Mr. Duvalier told Radio Caraibes. "I'm here for the reconstruction of Haiti."

His long-time companion, Veronique Roy, told reporters at one point that he planned to stay three days, but gave no further details. He planned to hold a news conference Monday.

The 59-year-old Mr. Duvalier apparently faces no criminal charges from the period of his rule. He took power at age 19 as part of a father-and-son dynasty that presided over one of the darkest chapters in Haitian history. — AP





Ahmet Uzumcu, who took over as Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons about six months ago, was recently in India on a familiarisation visit, even as talk of giving a new direction to the OPCW was on. Some countries see an attempt by the West to intrude unnecessarily in its work. Also, the U.S. and Russia, which possess an overwhelming share of the world's stockpile of chemical weapons, have lagged behind in destroying them. Sandeep Dikshit spoke to him in New Delhi.

How do you rate the Chemicals Weapons Convention (CWC) regime, and how would you describe it?

It's a successful organisation. It's non-discriminatory and treats all as equals. It has been able to make progress in the field of disarmament. Though seven states are missing, the CWC regime has seen significant successes. It has also developed its own culture of cooperation among state parties [countries]. Non-state actors have not been taken into account, but this is in a crucial phase.

While making progress in disarmament, we've to think of future priorities. These are being discussed by an advisory panel that consists of retired ambassadors, [representatives of] the chemical industry and scientists. It's going to prepare a report for me. Hopefully this document will constitute a basis for extensive debate to identify future priorities. So far the main focus has been on disarmament and destruction. We've also been verifying. But the question is whether with the decline in some activities, do we use the resources for other purposes? I hope there'll be some decision at the Conference of State Parties (COSPs) by the year-end. It's going to be a hectic year. I see this visit as a timely one. There've been lots of exchanges with senior officials and experts.

The U.S. and Russia had 90 per cent of the chemical stockpiles and they're nowhere near meeting the April 2012 deadline. Only 62 per cent of the world's chemical weapons arsenal has been destroyed so far. Also, 188 countries have ratified the CWC but countries are still wary. What are your views on these issues?

I had the opportunity to visit two industrial destruction factories each in the U.S. and Russia. I'm going to visit one more in the U.S. in February and then in Russia. I believe the [process of] destruction in both countries has been really transparent. They've provided regular reports on the progress of destruction. By February 2012 we expect the U.S. to reach 90 per cent and Russia 75 per cent. For the rest, state parties obviously want them to do it as early as possible. The deadline for the remaining destruction is being discussed in an informal setting at the moment. I hope there will be a satisfactory solution at an early stage so that it doesn't become a political issue.

We also have other issues to focus on. There is the time pressure as we've to prepare the budget for the next year by June and new priorities will have to be reflected. This is going to be the year of transition.

In 2013, I expect a new, adapted Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Chemical Weapons Convention regime. I don't think the CWC is being changed. We've to operate within parameters, but the changes could help us address different concerns and parameters.

The deadline issue is on our agenda. The issue of universal extension is also there and we're trying to contact the seven states. Myanmar and Israel among them have signed but haven't ratified. We'll continue to engage them. I believe the use of chemical weapons is morally unacceptable and strategically meaningless.

How do you see India's role in the past and in the future?

India has been extremely important. India is sitting in all the bodies. These committees are not open to all, but India is the best-represented with 30, all of whom are very qualified. I've seen how competent and professional Indian colleagues are in the implementation of the Convention. We appreciate their commitment and competence.

India should be seen as taking credit for the implementation of the CWC regime. Other shareholders, such as the Indian chemical industry, have grown to be very cooperative. The Indian role has been very constructive, for example with regard to the Declaration. We were able to develop it further due to Indian influence. Some countries are lagging behind in legislating, and India can help in that. Also, some [countries] can't respond in case of an emergency, and India proved its expertise during an exercise in Tunisia. There was a 40-member Indian delegation, and in terms of equipment and action they were very professional.

Some countries, including perhaps India, do not share the perception of the Western countries on the need to expand the OPCW's range of activities. How're you dealing with this?

I don't mean expanding the area of activity. The question is whether we [all the countries] agree on certain activities in [terms of] scope and frequency while some activities such as inspection of chemical weapons would decrease. I don't suggest that we review the mandate or create new tasks. The only question is whether the state parties would agree to refocus our activities in certain areas.

What would you mean by refocussing activities?

By that I mean developing, increasing respect internationally for the Convention, assisting in protecting chemicals and implementing national legislations. We've to build the capacities of some state parties. Then there are export controls and the training of customs officers.

Are you in favour of extending the scope of activities?

Actually there were views expressed in the past to expand or merge the biological aspect with the CWC. But this was not supported by several states. Therefore, it seems unlikely that such a [merged] convention will happen. On the other hand, there are some synergies between different regimes. For instance, while trying to help increase the capacity in export controls to check misuse of toxic chemicals, those doing so in the CWC can help prevent export misuse of dual-use biological and nuclear technologies. Therefore these controls have a certain bearing on other regimes. There's also close cooperation with the U.N. on Resolution 1540.

What will happen if Russia and the U.S. don't manage to eliminate their stockpiles?

For me this is a priority. I don't underestimate the seriousness of the problem in order to preserve the credibility and integrity of the CWC regime. Both [countries] took some time to convince local communities before setting up destruction factories.

The economic crises also affected the flow of necessary resources in Russia, but they assured us that resources would be allocated. In view of their firm commitment, delays will be addressed from a technical point of view and transparency would be fully assured.

Complete destruction of all chemical weapons stockpiles by the possessor-states is a primary objective of the Convention.







Disaster has struck the Sabarimala pilgrimage in Kerala before, and it is clear that lessons were not learnt. Else, more than a hundred devotees to the famous Lord Ayyappa temple may not have died. Unmanageable crowds and clueless authorities combined to cause last week's tragedy. The portents were there all through this pilgrimage season at Sabarimala. A near stampede had occurred only a few days earlier when a surging queue broke rope barricades. The Kerala high court repeatedly asked the Travancore Devaswom Board to put enough personnel in place to prevent people from entering the queues through alternative paths. The Idukki collector had warned that the surge of devotees through the forest path in Pulmedu might become unmanageable on Makar Sankranti. But those in charge refused to be forearmed. This is similar to stampede-related tragedies at other religious centres. Devotees were killed in large numbers at the Mangah Ashram at Kunda in Uttar Pradesh's Pratapgarh district in March last year, and at the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh in August 2008. In circumstances that were near identical, high fatalities were recorded at the Naina Devi shrine in 1978 as well. Minor unpredicted developments caused stampedes that took lives because the authorities had not prepared well.

On the tragic evening of January 14, a crowd of over 2.5 lakh devotees, mostly from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, had reached atop the hill in Pulmedu trudging the narrow forest path from Vandiperiyar through the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Apart from makeshift tents they put up, there were no facilities in the area, not even the necessary illumination. Apparently there were only four policemen to manage the rush of lakhs of devotees and one of them, it is said, had gone away to see the Makarajyothi and Makaravilakku. This is a telling commentary on the state of affairs. While the V.S. Achuthanandan government has ordered a judicial inquiry, it should not be difficult to determine why the police deployment was so pathetic, especially in such difficult terrain. The sequence of events suggests that as dusk fell, devotees and vehicles jostled each other to descend the path. It required the mere overturning of a jeep to trigger the stampede.

Pilgrim numbers visiting Sabarimala have been swelling by crores each year. Clearly, the Kerala government has betrayed no signs of understanding that it needs to upgrade infrastructure and other facilities to cope with the rush of devotees from all parts of the country. After a stampede in 1999 killed 55 people, a judicial panel had asked the authorities to develop infrastructure on all routes used by pilgrims so that crowd management may not become a casualty. Not only was this not heeded, this year the police appears to have allowed lakhs of people to climb to Pulmedu from January 12 onwards. It is said this was to facilitate brisk business for petty traders with whom they were hand in glove. In the chaos following the stampede the state's much-hyped disaster management authority stayed in slumber. The lack of relief work in the initial hours led to a rise in the death toll. In this respect too, the Sabarimala disaster appears little different from previous accidents at other shrines. The unimaginativeness and slow-footedness of the authorities is self-evident. Just contrast this callous treatment of ordinary people with the elaborate arrangements made at the time of VIP visits.
In the wake of the tragedy, experts have urged the government to implement the Sabarimala masterplan. Serious thought must also be given to the Kerala high court's suggestion that the temple be kept open throughout the year, instead of only for three months. This would ensure that lakhs of pilgrims do not arrive at once. Flexibility on the part of priests who oppose this can help save lives.






Those who travelled to the fifth Vibrant Gujarat Summit this past week experienced not just dazzling investment statistics and the fruits of purposeful governance but also, in a sense, social engineering. The figures are well known. Over two days, 7,936 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were announced, committing to invest $462 billion in Gujarat. If all of this money does come in — to be fair, some of the MoUs will remain theoretical — it will create 5.2 million direct and indirect employment opportunities.

Even so, this was not just another business meeting. The Vibrant Gujarat Summits have become the largest such events in India. Delegates from 80 countries turned up this year, as did the cream of Indian business. Forty-five countries and 19 other (non-Gujarat) Indian states made presentations and solicited business opportunities. It was a show that brought together the old world, the new world and the newer world.

Sitting on the dais at the inauguration were Mukesh and Anil Ambani, Ratan Tata and Sir Michael Kadoorie — chairman of the Hong Kong based China Light and Power Company, scion of a Baghdadi Jewish family that cut deals with the Tatas in mid-19th century Bombay — the Prime Minister of Rwanda (who invited Indian/Gujarati capital to exploit his country's resources) and the ambassador of Japan (who put his weight behind Japanese capital coming into Gujarat). Canada and Japan were Vibrant Gujarat's partner countries. The president of the United States-India Business Council promised the Americans would do the honours the next time, in 2013.

The roll-call is less relevant than the larger message: India's premier globalisation event — "Davos in Action", as Gujarat government officials have nicknamed their flagship business show — is organised by a state government. There are two reasons for this. First, in any emerging economy, some states and regions move faster and grow quicker than others. In China, the eastern coast has cities that outdo Manhattan. Individual provinces have gross domestic products that are bigger than those of most countries. In India, Gujarat and, to an extent, Tamil Nadu have galloped ahead of other states. They have adroitly used their coastlines and ports to capture a slice of global trade.

The second reason is the diffidence of the Union government. The Congress, for all the intellect at its command, is a reluctant economic reformer. It has shied away from proactive deregulation and from projecting India as a gung-ho, growth-first economy. This does not suit the mental make-up of its leadership. That is why United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ministers are happier promoting India as a potential economic superpower in faraway locales like Davos — where the "India Inclusive" extravaganza later this month will be the second World Economic Forum event in five years to be dedicated to India — rather than before a domestic audience.
On his part, Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, has no such diffidence. He also differs from successive administrators in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra — the two states that could have seriously challenged Gujarat — in that he is personally incorruptible and runs a government that has minimised (if not eliminated) rent seeking from investors and provides clearances expeditiously. This was a point made by many businessmen at Vibrant Gujarat.

That apart, Mr Modi is also an astute politician who realises economic reform, at the end of the day, has to not only lead to impressive statistics but also generate visible prosperity and be embraced by a critical mass of society. The gap between globalisation's winners and losers has to be rendered smaller and smaller by making the process of global economic integration intelligible to the greatest possible section of stakeholders and giving them the sense that they can optimise its opportunities. He uses Vibrant Gujarat as a mechanism to bring globalisation home to the Gujarati.

As such Vibrant Gujarat has become a combination of a business barons' conference, an investor meet, a trade fair and a general mela. It is a measure of Gujarati society — and this is a gene that arrived millennia before Mr Modi — that a business event of this type has become a mass celebration, almost a secular festival, with a build-up that incorporates accessible seminars on building new cities as well as the state's popular kite-flying tradition. Kolkata has its book fair; New Delhi has its Commonwealth Games or similar taxpayer-subsidised jamborees; Gandhinagar-Ahmedabad has Vibrant Gujarat. Each city has its individual self-image and own idea of getting its citizens to engage with the world. It is telling.

Gujarat has historically been a trading hub. Its early manufacturing forays were in textiles and diamonds/gems and jewellery. In recent years, it has become a force to reckon with in petrochemicals and petroleum refining, and power generation. Mr Modi's decade in office has seen it take the next leap to hi-tech manufacture, establishing it as a base for automobiles (Tata Motors, General Motors, Mahindra and Mahindra) as much as for Bombardier, the Canadian company that makes coaches for the Delhi Metro. Further, 40 per cent of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor passes through Gujarat. Here, Japanese investment will incubate new cities as well as transplant precision-manufacture facilities.

The beneficiaries of this process will not always be current superstars. There is a reservoir of entrepreneurial talent in Gujarat that believes it can shape this future. Dhirubhai Ambani and more recently Gautam Adani are examples of first-generation Gujarati businessmen who have, in one lifetime, evolved from traders to small and medium enterprise (SME) manufacturers to running internationally-benchmarked facilities to investing overseas and going global.

As Gujarat prospers, there will no doubt be more Ambanis and Adanis, a greater conversion rate of SMEs to megacorps and the birth of a new generation of world-class Indian tycoons. Vibrant Gujarat is designed to give this process a leg up. As Mr Modi puts it, it provides the small industrialist in Gujarat — the one who cannot easily travel to the trade fairs of the West — "exposure to available technologies and to the way business is done" by his peers in other countries. It is very different from a self-congratulatory talking shop in Davos, but it leaves a deeper impress on Gujarati society.

The results are showing. Gujarat has five per cent of India's population, but is responsible for 16 per cent of its industrial production. Other states want to be part of the Gujarat story and even Andhra Pradesh — run by the Congress, usually a party hostile to acknowledging Mr Modi does anything worthwhile at all — used Vibrant Gujarat to showcase itself to potential business partners. No wonder, as Chanda Kochhar, chief executive officer of ICICI Bank, suggested, "When the world looks to India for growth, India looks to Gujarat".

Ashok Malik can be contacted at






The list of threats that can derail the India growth story typically includes inflation, a creaking infrastructure, corruption, Maoists and the Kashmir tangle. Rarely is ill health flagged as a major strategic concern within the country. Heartwarmingly, 2011 has kicked off with a host of heavyweight thought leaders reminding us that poor health is not only a problem of the poor. It can eventually scupper our economic and geopolitical aspirations. 

In an interview to a national daily earlier this month, Kishore Mahbubani, academic-author-diplomat and one of the most ardent evangelists of Asia's growing role on the world stage, pointed out that healthcare and education are the basics for "high growth" and that India would have to go "all out" to improve its record in these areas if it wants to maintain the momentum that the world is envious of. It is hard to imagine that Singapore, where Mr Mahbubani lives, was once a mosquito-infested swamp. Today, this city-state of five million people is lauded not only for its spectacular economic success but also for its high standard of healthcare. That Singaporeans, by and large, are healthy and wealthy is no accident. This has happened because of a series of decisions taken by the Singapore government over four decades. 

India is not Singapore and what is best for Singapore is not necessarily best for India, given our size and heterogeneity. But Mr Mahbubani's core message — the urgent need to dramatically improve the health of our people — holds good.

In an article titled Learning from Others published this month in the Lancet, one of the world's most influential medical journals, Prof Amartya Sen makes a comparison between India and China in healthcare that is worth paraphrasing. China went in for a massive expansion of public healthcare shortly after the revolution. By 1979, when China started its economic reforms, it had already raised its life expectancy at birth to the impressive figure of 68 years. China's market-oriented economic reforms led to tremendous successes in many fields such as agriculture and industry. But the mantra of the market was less useful in healthcare, since it led to the replacement of universal health insurance through the states and the communes by private insurance that had to be bought in the market. This, Dr Sen points out, was something "the vast majority of the Chinese did not buy and could not afford, despite rising incomes".

The outcomes are interesting — China's lead over India in life expectancy shrank sharply in the period that followed the Chinese reforms. But Dr Sen, who visits China often, was excited to find that the Chinese authorities "were gradually appreciating what had been lost". As a result, they started reintroducing, through one means or another, health insurance for a larger and larger proportion of its people.
As things stand today, China has a much higher proportion of people with guaranteed healthcare than does India. "The gap in life expectancy is now around nine years (with China at 73.5 years and India still confined only to 64.4 years), and although there are many factors behind this contrast, the issue of healthcare coverage is clearly central to the difference", notes Dr Sen.

The Lancet has just come out with a special series on India. Launched by Dr Richard Horton, the journal's editor-in-chief in Delhi on January 11, the Lancet India series has contributions from some of the country's best-known public health advocates, including the incarcerated Binayak Sen. The series calls on India "to ensure the achievement of a truly universal healthcare system by 2020" and begins with a piece by Horton and his colleague Pam Das who say that "a failing health system is perhaps India's greatest predicament of all". Why is this so?

Consider the facts. In recent years, India has taken several initiatives to improve the health of its people.
Much-talked about innovations include the National Rural Health Mission, Janani Suraksha Yojana which offers cash incentives to women who give birth in a hospital or a clinic and the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana providing health insurance coverage to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. But more than three-quarters of health spending in India is still out-of-pocket and health expenditures push almost 39 million Indians into deep poverty every year.

Why is this a rights issue as well as an economic one? The answer lies in two words we hear often these days: demographic dividend. India's greatest demographic asset is its young people. Almost 650 million out of the billion plus population is below 30. These youngsters will not be able to fully participate in the India growth story and in shaping the country's future unless they are in good health. Never mind if India's economic growth in recent years has been much more rapid than any other country except China and India has weathered the recent recession better than many other countries.

India's poor health system also has ramifications beyond its borders. In today's world, diseases don't respect boundaries. They can spread across borders as in the case of the pandemic influenza H1N1 and tuberculosis. If poor health systems and inadequate surveillance results in India exporting and importing diseases, it could eventually affect trade and tourism.

The Economic Impacts of Inadequate Sanitation in India, a new report from the Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP), a global partnership administered by the World Bank, estimates that inadequate sanitation costs India `2.44 trillion ($53.8 billion) a year — this was the equivalent of 6.4 per cent of India's gross domestic product in 2006. Health-related economic impact of poor sanitation, estimated at `1.75 trillion ($38.5 billion), accounts for the biggest chunk of the total cost. 

I am not overly enthused by figures but these numbers and economic arguments are handy weapons in case someone somewhere starts labelling universal healthcare a jholawala idea and tries to shoot it down just as it is moving up the policy agenda. As an occasional contributor to the Lancet, I attended the day-long symposium where the journal's papers on India were presented. From what I could see, neither Horton nor any of the other authors carried a jhola. As far as I know, neither Mr Mahbubani nor any of the others urging India to improve the health of its people have any particular preference for the cloth satchel either.

n Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at






The attempt by Union minister for communications and information technology Kapil Sibal to trash the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (cag) in the scam relating to under-valuation and misallocation of second generation (2G) electromagnetic spectrum used for telecommunications has been clearly crafted by the Congress party to protect Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is being accused of maintaining a stony silence as the national exchequer was being ripped off. This strategy may, however, backfire on Dr Singh and the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition by hardening the position of their political opponents, consequently paralysing the forthcoming budget session of Parliament.

Why is the government adamant about not acceding to the demand of the Opposition to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate the spectrum scandal? Why has this become such a prestige issue for the incumbent regime? Is it merely to shield the Prime Minister? Or to accede to the wishes of a section of the Congress that is keen on the party continuing its association with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu that are scheduled for April-May?
Or is there another, more conspiratorial, aspect to the government refusing to set up a JPC? As long as the Opposition keeps shouting about the JPC and does not allow Parliament to function, the government does not have to respond to another issue on which it is finding it even more difficult to justify its inaction — namely, its utter failure to control food inflation. In other words, what the conspiracy theorists are arguing is that the ruling coalition is keen on keeping the spectrum pot boiling because it diverts attention from a bigger problem, that is, the government's inability to control food prices.

When the alleged kickbacks on the sale of howitzers by Bofors to the Indian Army blew up into a major political scandal in 1987, the entire controversy had been kicked off by a report of the CAG (then headed by T.N. Chaturvedi who went on to join the Bharatiya Janata Party). On that occasion, the Congress vehemently denied that bribes had been received by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his associates but the party never attacked the institution of the CAG. This time round, why has Mr Sibal chosen to attack a constitutional authority that audits the accounts of the government and its various departments and agencies?
The answer is that the only way Dr Singh can be cleared of the accusation that he was a helpless spectator while the department of telecommunications (DoT), then headed by DMK minister Andimuthu Raja, allocated spectrum to a clutch of private companies — at prices that were one-seventh to one-tenth the market value of this scarce, and hence, precious, resource that belongs to the people of the country — is to contend that the government was not interested in maximising revenue from the allotment of spectrum. This is exactly the position that Mr Raja has held, who has further argued that he did what he did with the full knowledge and consent of Dr Singh.

A number of obvious questions arise. If indeed, Mr Raja was right all along, why then did Dr Singh go through the charade of asking him to put in his papers? Why did the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raid Mr Raja's offices in Sanchar Bhavan and his residences, not to mention the premises of a number of telecom companies as well as former DoT officials who were close to the former minister, if the government had not lost even a single paisa, as Mr Sibal now claims? Why did the officials of the DoT not defend this position when they were given at least three opportunities — the last in October 2010 — by the CAG to do so?
Even as Mr Sibal now contends that the "presumptive" loss to the exchequer of `1,76,000 crore that has been calculated by the CAG (on the basis of certain assumptions) was "utterly erroneous", why is he silent on the procedural irregularities (including the first-come-first-served system) in the manner in which licences were issued in January 2008? Is Mr Sibal so confident that the Supreme Court is barking up the wrong tree since it is monitoring the CBI investigation into the spectrum scam?

The CAG's calculation of the "notional" loss incurred by the exchequer is based on prices the government obtained by publicly auctioning third generation (3G) spectrum in 2010. Mr Sibal is treading on rather thin ice when he repeats Mr Raja's claim that comparing 2G and 3G spectrum is like comparing basmati rice with rice from the public distribution system (PDS). This argument is completely flawed.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has clearly stated that the two kinds of spectrum are indeed comparable. Spectrum is nothing but thin air. It is the technology deployed by a telecom service provider that determines its value. To use an analogy, the value of a prime piece of land is determined by the number of stories of the building that is permitted to be constructed on that land. The minister is seeking to obfuscate the real issue when he attempts to justify the allocation of spectrum in January 2008 at a price that was discovered through a public auction seven years earlier, when the market was a fraction of what it became.
The Congress has taken umbrage at the CAG's contention that Parliamentary norms suggest that nobody (including members of Parliament) should comment on the CAG's findings when these are being deliberated upon by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament. Party spokespersons have said that this is tantamount to gagging MPs and has also criticized the CAG for remaining silent when its draft report was leaked before it was tabled in Parliament on November 16, 2010. These are, at best, peripheral issues.

The danger in the line of attack adopted by the Congress is that, in the process, the party and the government is demeaning an institution which is supposed to act as a watchdog of public finances. That is a rather stiff price to pay to protect a Prime Minister who, his critics allege, was sleeping on the job.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator







It can be no one's case that the people's revolt in Tunisia which led to its president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali fleeing will instantly reform Arab countries or indeed Tunisia itself. But events in the North African nation do suggest that change has made its presence felt. The fact that this was a people's revolution of sorts, led by public dissatisfaction, will give hope to other societies who are struggling with socio-economic disparities or even oppressed by totalitarian regimes.


Expectedly, other regimes in the region are playing down the significance of the events in Tunisia and are claiming that they are free of such a danger. Yet experts expect that sooner rather than later, they will loosen up the purse strings and ease life up for their people. It is also likely that civil rights groups will get more than a little encouragement and become bolder in their demands. Like India, the Arab world is also young and therefore more likely to demolish the shibboleths of the old.


Democracy is best received when it comes from within a society and represents the will of the people. Democracy imposed from above or by an alien force — as in Iraq — will hobble more than it is likely to run. Also, when the voice of the people is heard around the world and is effective, it gives hope to other who have similar aspirations and that is what has happened after Tunisia.


Unfortunately, Tunisia is now suffering from riots and this can often be a fallout of such public outbursts. New leaders will have to formulate strategies to give strength to the Tunisian people so they can build upon their achievements. The ripple that started with the enforced departure of Ben Ali needs space to reach its desired end.


Interestingly, people are blaming Wikileaks for Tunisia's revolution, saying that the people were inflamed by US cables suggesting that they were incapable of standing up for themselves. This is an intriguing suggestion but if true, underlines once again the importance of a free media in building democratic movements. The reasons may be many and progress may be slow, but Tunisia has given many oppressed people the twin hopes of freedom and dignity.








This one brings at least a smile in these bleak times on Wall Street. Apparently, Goldman Sachs, the reputed, or not-so-reputed, depending on whether you are a critic of Wall Street or not, has created a barber niche in its new offices. It was for a simple reason. The regular barber of Sachs' employees, Salvatore Anzalone, needed a place and they provided him a new office space on their own premises.


We are all aware of army barbers who gave officers and soldiers their famous crew-cut. We also know that investment and bank folk are very formal in their dark suits and no-nonsense manner. The only way to reinforce that image is to have a suitably drab hairstyle. Goldman Sachs has survived the financial quake but there are enough people who hate it along with the rest of the Wall Street tricksters.


It might be that their hairstyle, which could be just a harmless accessory to the image of the investor, could dent the reputation of the Italian barber. People are likely to remember Anzalone for the sins of Goldman Sachs and that could really hurt the business interests of the barber.







The government of India has hiked petrol prices once more, by about Rs2.50 per litre. What must surely hurt the customer is that the latest hike comes a month after the hike in December. So from petrol costing around Rs53-56 per litre (depending on your city), it is now in the range of Rs59-63. Not surprisingly, political parties, including allies of the government, have declared that they will protest against the move.


The government claims it had no choice given that crude prices had touched $92 per barrel. Yet, millions of consumers, who use scooters and motorcycles or drive in small cars to get to work, will feel let down. What makes the government's statement about rising crude suspect is that it has simply refused to hike the prices of diesel, kerosene, and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), claiming it will stoke inflation and burden households that use kerosene and LPG. This means that oil marketing companies (OMC) will still incur huge losses because 60% of their products comprise diesel, kerosene, and LPG.


Across thousands of small cities and towns that dot India's landscape, millions go about their daily chores using two-wheelers or three-wheelers, all of which run on petrol. They are forced to depend on their own vehicles simply because there is no public transport worth the name in their cities.


Worse, what is evident is that some the most expensive cars and SUVs that guzzle fuel, run on diesel. This means that politicians and some of India's wealthiest people, who own these fancy cars and oversized SUVs, end up spending less for their travel than the common man. Subsidising the rich at the expense of the poor is not just bad economics, it is bad politics as well.


There is no denying that trucks and tempos transport our food items from the villages to the cities, and hiking the price of diesel will see an immediate rise in food prices. Yet, the government can always come up with an alternative policy on how to subsidise trucks carrying food items directly so that it benefits the common man.


There is another concern. Out of every rupee spent on petrol, much of it goes to the government by way of taxes and levies. This is what makes petrol so expensive in India. Even diesel is taxed, though much less. Over the years, the government has been loath to reduce the taxes and lose an important source of revenue. Yet, revenue can be earned from other areas rather than hitting the common man where it hurts the most: in his daily commute to office or factory.








The myopia of our mandarins continues. Union minister of road transport and highways Kamal Nath, on taking office, grandiosely announced that 'the central government intends to spend Rs100,000 crore on building roads'. He said he wanted to build 20km of roads every day.


One may ask what is wrong with the idea, as these roads will connect villages and make travelling within cities better. But specifically, these are not village or city roads; these are highways and they are not being built, but are being expanded. A four-lane highway is being turned into a six-lane.


The first question is: Why is the government spending so much on national highways when the common man rarely uses them? India has the world's second largest road network at around 33,00,000 km of roads; national highways constitute just 70,548km or around 2%. The government intends to spend Rs100,000 crore on sprucing up 2% of India's roads! Of course, it must be noted that the national highways are important for the movement of goods, since they carry 50% of the country's freight.


But it still doesn't explain why the government is spending such a large sum of money on national highways. If this money was spent on a billion people, each would get Rs1,000; it can fund MNREGA for more than 10 years; it is also several times the amount that the government has spent on city roads under JNNURM.


The reason this is happening is because our bureaucrats and ministers seek importance from how much their ministries can spend.If they don't have the money, they will give the projects to private companies, who will charge every individual who uses these roads.In a way, this money will come out of your pocket as you will either pay the toll every time you use these highways, or in the form of higher prices for commodities that travel on these roads to reach you.


The private companies may or may not rebuild these roads, but they will certainly build toll plazas and the ministry will give them the license to charge toll. And this is the second reason for not fixing an expenditure amount: it will allow the ministry to give out licenses to companies to collect money from the common man.


If the government wanted to address the real problem, which is the movement of freight and passengers, it would have sought a more sustainable solution.


The ministry is called road transportation but its focus is on roads, not transportation. Which is why against the Rs100,000 crore being spent on roads, it is spending just Rs74 crore on public transportation.


It is a fact that vehicles using diesel or petrol are not a viable solution for moving freight or passenger; trains are more efficient. Moreover, oil prices are rising. Most oilfields have been emptied and the daily production is steadily falling; corporates are trying to find new sources of oil like shale oil.


Oil will never be cheap and will never meet the needs of the world. But electricity can be generated by coal produced locally, which will remain available for a longer period of time. Locking such a large part of our capital in building road infrastructure, which is bound to become costlier to use, will only affect India's competitiveness in the coming years.


In such an environment, we should be channelising these funds towards building rail corridors for freight and passengers. Another part of the government is working on such a project. The Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor will have a freight railway line alongside. This entire project requires Rs400,000 crores and is currently starved of funds. Why doesn't the ministry of road transportation divert its resources to support this corridor?


Most passenger traffic on the national highways is concentrated around less than 500km of travel. Here too, electrified rail or metro will prove more efficient. Even cities and state government have realised that metros are the best means for mass transportation. Unfor tunately, the ministry of road transportation seems to be stuck in the 19th century, when roads were the preferred mode of transport.


If a government scam is defined as a loss of public funds due to wrong policies, expanding the national highways should be counted as such. The prime minister needs to step in and set the priority for this ministry, otherwise future generations will never forgive us for creating a colossal mess of merely widening the national highways.








The selection of the Indian team always creates a lot of interest among the cricket lovers not only in India but all over the world.


And, I guess this time around too is no exception though even a paanwala at the corner would tell who were the certainties and who would possibly make it to the team.


It's another matter when the Indian team tours abroad and when the selectors sit to pick the best combination for the World Cup, the biggest ever event.


The selectors can play around with the reserves and they would select players with a vision to groom them on the tour. But, you don't groom anybody during the World Cup. As such, one doesn't need to be an Einstein to select at least the first 12.


I am glad Kris Srikkanth and Co did a very good job in selecting the squad by selecting players who have proved themselves at the international level.


Though there are a few niggles here and there, luckily they are not the major ones and all the players would be available for the final selection of eleven when the match will be played.


However, one feels sorry for Sreesanth and Parthiv Patel. Sreesanth has been in magnificent form as was seen in the recent series in South Africa.


I won't blame him if he is peeved at being ignored for a bowler who prefers to bowl in only ODIs and the T20s. Sreesanth has bowled his heart out in Test cricket, the ultimate form of the game and proved his form and fitness. Well, as they say, one goes for the horses that suit the courses.


Similar is the case of Parthiv Patel. Parthiv played superbly against the Kiwis and kept wickets brilliantly. I feel it would have been wise to select a second wicket-keeper, for there could always be a possibility of the main keeper getting injured.


Unfortunately, there isn't a player in the team who could keep wickets if need be.


The selection of Piyush Chawla and R Ashwin is quite interesting and a welcome move. For, both are young and talented and they would be more than useful in the middle overs. In the absence of Harbhajan, Ashwin bowled very well versus the Kiwis.


Piyush, on the other hand, was surprisingly sidelined for a long time. He is a fine all-rounder as he is a more than a handy batsman and possesses a safe pair of hands too. He would be an important cog in the squad, for he could get wickets in the middle overs.


India's batting looks as solid as ever and capable of


putting up big totals against any opposition. However, the fitness of Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra will be the key factor, for if one goes down the memory lane, India has struggled to either get wickets or curtail the run-rate at the death.


They tend to lose the grip in the last 10 overs or so. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gary Kirsten will have to work overtime to get over this important flaw.


As the matches will be played in the month of March, the wickets will be drier and it won't be a bad idea to keep a few overs of either Harbhajan or Piyush Chawla for the death.








For too long now India has been refusing to re-start composite dialogue with Pakistan with the result that restoration of stable normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir continues to be as elusive as it was when the bilateral process was shattered by the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Normalisation of the ground situation in Kashmir, following the turbulent summer of 2010, continues to be too tenuous in the absence of concrete political backup. Lack of progress on the political front is clearly linked with the stalemate prevailing on the India-Pakistan front. Whatever little progress was achieved in the short 4-year span till November 2008 was the outcome of a set of confidence building measures (CBMs) resulting from the bilateral engagement. If there is a lesson to be learnt, yet again, it is that the overall atmospherics are of crucial importance to consolidation of peace and stability on the domestic front, as much as it is significant for bilateral relationship. For reasons which need not be repeated here any attempt at unravelling political issues relating to J&K can succeed only in conjunction with corresponding initiative on the 'external' front. Even the start of the much talked about dialogue between separatist leaders in Kashmir and the Government of India is nowhere in sight because of the same reason. Nor has any progress been made towards enlarging the scope of existing CBMs which, otherwise, seem to be running dry or dried up already. Getting Pakistan on board is an essential pre-requisite even if one were to acknowledge the logic of widely divergent stated positions of India and Pakistan on the issue of J&K. The progress achieved between 2004 and 2008 could not have been possible without Pakistan's involvement. That brief spell of sunshine has shown that the there is enough scope for both the countries to keep discussing 'Kashmir' without risking their prospects within respective domestic political spheres.

Diplomatic engagements on the cards include a meeting between two foreign secretaries next month during the SAARC conference Bhutan and Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's visit to New Delhi in return of his Indian counterpart SM Krishna's Islamabad visit in July 2010. During the intervening period diplomatic talks have been held in the two capitals at the level of officials. The latest being the meeting between Pakistan foreign secretary and Indian envoy in Pakistan. Unfortunately, a crucial engagement slated for September 2010 at New York failed to come off, ostensibly in the bitterness created by mutually acrimonious encounter on the floor of the UN General Assembly. It is hoped that the secretary-level talks in Bhutan would clear the hurdles and pave way for early resumption of composite dialogue.

Another sad aspect of this story is that there is needless quibbling over semantics. India seems to be allergic to the term 'composite' dialogue and has been averse to return to the old format. Pakistan, on the other hand, feels as if there is no other route to proceed except for resuming the old format. Pakistan foreign minister Qureshi has been saying it on and off that he would travel to New Delhi only when he is assured that there would be 'purposeful, result-oriented' dialogue. Sticking point appears to be India's felling that Pakistan had been dragging its feet over the sensitive issue of prosecuting the accused involved in the Mumbai attacks. There may be some truth in what the two sides have been arguing against each other but it is high time that they both realise the greater dangers involved in letting bilateral engagement remain a hostage to this stalemate.
Pressures of domestic politics appear to be playing their obstructive role as well. Ultra right radical lobbies have been on the offensive. Their resistance to any initiative towards normalisation of bilateral relationship has been growing more and more strident as the principal ruling parties in both the countries are surrounded by all sorts of internal challenges. The quality and stature of the leadership on either side happens to be such that it would be wrong to look for any path-breaking initiative. Even so, there is enough scope within the existing configuration of circumstances for, at least, picking up the threads where they were left in November 2008. Recent experience has shown that it is possible to make progress and strengthen peace even within the given constraints. That is certainly not asking for any great adventure. But failure to even try and do that much is fraught with undesirable implications as has been experienced as late as in the summer of 2010. Mistaking superficial calm for durable stability on the ground is like walking over thin ice.







The "Men in Khaki" have once again shown their "brute face" in the custodial killing of a poor vendor from Barjala village of Raipur Satwari area, dubbed by them as thief. This was repulsive to note that the men upon, whom lies the responsibility to execute the law in its letter and spirit, not only themselves tried to fiddle with it, but, in fact trampled it to cover up their vicious acts. As per the reports published quoting eye-witnesses, the guilty police cops after reportedly committing this horrendous crime, stepping far beyond their brief and jurisdiction, even tried to escape after stealthily dropping the body of poor vendor, who was reportedly given third degree torture in the police custody which resulted into his death, at the mortuary of Government Medical College (GMC) Hospital Jammu. Had this reprehensible act, which itself apparently speaks of their guilt and a cover-up attempt, not been noticed by the cops on duty at the mortuary, who managed to get details of the Flying Squad vehicle of the concerned Police Station, the brutes in Khaki would have almost managed to get away with this reprehensible act yet again. The matter went out of their (police's) control following massive protest by the family and relatives of the victim, who as per their version was picked up by the police on December 22 from his house and was taken in a Gypsy to an unknown location. However the police, after it was exposed, claimed that the deceased was a thief, who was arrested from Katra and while shifting him to Police station Janipur, he consumed intoxicants and died on the way.

Even if one goes by the theory of "Men in Khaki", some nagging questions stare them in disdain as why they made an attempt to leave the body in GMC mortuary stealthily and later why the cops did not bother to get the documents vis-…-vis post-mortem signed by the "blood relations" as per law although the family, relatives were just few meters away from the spot, waiting. Why was the body straightaway taken to the victim's village and not handed over to the family or relatives waiting there? The call for the family including three minor children of the victim for justice is reasonable that even if he had committed some crime, he should be best put behind the bars, why he should be so brutally killed and which law of the land justifies this gory action of the Men in Khaki. The helmsmen, moving beyond their rhetoric, need to answer these questions before this disturbing trend becomes an order of the day which would create Kashmir like situation in Jammu as well. Only announcing SPO's job for the wife, promise to give compensation and announcements to order probe are not enough. Justice should appear to have been done.








In Pakistan the populous is still operating on a pre-partition colonial mindset. Psychologically Pakistanis are in a state of oppression even today. They are thankless for having achieved a nation state where the majority can freely practice their way of life.

The country is nursing the wounds of way back when they were fearful of a Hindu Majority. They have replaced the thinking that they are under the shackles of Hindus with the belief that they are a global Muslim minority oppressed by western powers.

A Muslim majority country has little reason to act with the extremism it does on the issue of the blasphemy law, yet Pakistan still does. But for the sake of Islam's own transformation into a region that can be willfully adopted by future generations, there needs to be a toning down of the misconception that it is under attack.
Far from it, there is an oversupply of religion in the important pillars of the state. Among the many misconceptions developed in the national psyche, one is that, the founder of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, defended a blasphemer, Ghazi Illum Din.

This dubious claim is then used as a defense by some fringe groups against the recent cold blooded murder of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab.ÿ Ghazi Illumdin was an 18 year old who was provoked by a mosque imam to rally against, and even kill, the author of a book called Rangeela Rasool, by a Hindu merchant in Lahore. At this impressionable age, the instigator acted in defense of what was seen as a threat to Islam. The case however was not that simple. The context was a different from what is seen today in Pakistan.

At the time there was a Hindu majority, a tyranny of sorts and a hegemony of ideological space in united India. Much like the way Pakistan is now dominated by Islam, with little free thinking going on even on liberal campuses. In that scenario a Hindu authored a book on the prophet of Islam that was meant not to engage in theological debate, but to insult and demean him. Much like the way a Muslim could easily get an anti-Christ text published from majority of the publishers in Pakistan today.ÿ

Muslims in India were already crying the loss of their glory days and such a publication further instigated their sense of insecurity. Angry and radicalized, less integrated among the economic milieu of the British merchant class, the Muslim religious right brought this up as a cause - to put to an end the marginalization of the Muslim community by right wing Hindus.

Case records show that Illumdin had pleaded not guilty. Case records show that there were four witnesses, two of whom were Hindu and two of whom were Muslim. The Muslim witnesses had testified that Illumdin had not killed Rajpal. Mohammad Ali Jinnah took on Illumdin's appeal in the High Court as he would do of any client whose claim was that he did not commit the crime. Mr. Jinnah's aim was not to get him acquitted but to get him a softer sentence than the death penalty on the grounds that he bought the imam's story and acted in rage not reason.

The killer of Salman Taseer is operating in a Muslim majority country, where the laws are overprotective of the Muslim majority, draconian even in their support of one particular version of Islam - Sunnism. He acted in defense of something that did not needed to be defended - Salman Taseer had not insulted the Prophet of Islam. The killer did not act in rage, but through premeditated murder of a civilian who at the time was defenceless.
Salman Taseer's support for Asia Bibi was one based on the fact that the Blasphemy Law is one where it victimizes minorities, instead of protecting them as is the responsibility of a state in Islam.ÿ Those creating similarities between Illum Din and the killer of Salman Taseer should know that there are more similarities between Illum Din and Asia Bibi- both poor hapless victims of communal bigotry and class strife. The circumstances makes it so - Both are provoking a "ganging up" mentality against a minority community; both are acting out their insecurities despite having the social construct of reality in favor of their own religion; both have insulted the sentiments of humanity and humanism - Asia bibi accused of insulting one of the greatest men in History and Illumdin by virtue of abusing the law though with chaos and anarchy is prevented in the land.
As for the stance of the founding father: This is what Mr. Jinnah said when 295-A - a much more lenient law- was being discussed as a result of the Lahore controversy: "We must also secure this very important and fundamental principle that those who are engaged in historical works, those who are engaged in the ascertainment of truth and those who are engaged in bona fide and honest criticisms of a religion shall be protected."

Far from allowing religion to be a force of attraction though discourse and example, there are those who want to spread it by the sword. No amount of terror can stop rational people from calling an abusive law an abusive law. The blasphemy law as pointed by Sherry Rehman needs to work for the purpose it was intended and hence it should be amended.

It is a pity that lawmakers have to be called courageous and brave just because they do their work and act in the line of duty. Let us not be dictated by the authors of hate or those that shoot at the freedom of speech.ÿ And let us call a spade a spade.







I just read that one of our famous yesteryear actor's plans to write his autobiography!


"Would you allow her to write hers?"


"The wife you married, who bore you three sons, who waits up for you every night as you return after philandering with the woman who's borne you two daughters?"

"You want to read her autobiography?"

"Yes sir! Not just me, but everybody else. We want to hear in her own words, how she felt as you kept her at home, then dallied with the dream girl of yesteryears. What her feelings were, knowing that just because she was uneducated and unskilled, not knowing her rights, she poor woman sat at home, mother to your children as she heard from others that you had fathered two more! We want to hear her words, her whispers of sadness; tiptoeing past the classrooms of her sons, sadly aware of other mothers whispering and saying, 'Poor woman, her husband is busy sleeping with another! And she poor soul pulls her duppatta a little more over her face and when she sees her sons, smiles and puts up brave front; why should their future be broken because their father does not like her looks!"

"But I never said I did not like her looks!"

"You didn't have to sir! What you did to her was telling enough! Did you ever find out how your servants treated her? "

"She had servants at her beck and call!"

"Who must have sniggered, and giggled behind her back, you think she did not hear those laughs?"

"I looked after her well! If she was not happy she could have left me!"

"And gone back where? Poor uneducated woman! Could she have gone back to her father in some Jat village, where neighbours would have pointed and said, 'There that is she, the one whose husband sent her back for another!' Oh no, her private hell in your bungalow was better, she thought than a public hell in her childhood village!"

"That's what I thought!"

"Ah sir, but maybe that's not how it was, and in her autobiography we will know whether she did right, staying by you while you stayed by another? The creaking of the door at nightfall, as you returned home, or did you return home sir?"

"It is none of your business!"

"That's why we don't want to read your autobiography sir, because we don't want to make it our business, but what she felt is something we all would like to know, so that we men will never again do such to a woman we call our wife, and mother of our children! Tell her sir to write..!"








All hearts will go to the families of more than 100 victims in the stampede in the Sabrimala temple in Kerala in another corner of this country. It is a heart-rending tragedy. Nobody goes to a shrine fearing the worst. One and all look forward to paying obeisance to the deity and evoke His or Her blessings. The devotees of Lord Ayyappa in this instance could not have been an exception. Preliminary report has indicated that the commotion was triggered by a minor mishap involving a jeep and an autorickshaw. The two vehicles just did not have enough space between them in a narrow tracking route; they grazed each other as they tried to move ahead. With hardly any room left for them they lost their balance with at least one of them falling and running into the crowd. There was panic which seems to have only grown at the sight of bodies. It can't be denied that quite a few pilgrims see a direct contact between them and the Almighty if they pass away at a religious place whatever the reason ("Blessed are those who die in the Lord," say the scriptures.). Some of their kith and kin too may share the same feeling. Yet, it defies logic that the people should die for no fault of theirs. It can hardly be a cause of comfort if they crush one another under their own weight. A pity nevertheless is that it is a yearly phenomenon. On an average, about a hundred persons die every year in our country in the melees at holy spots. This is if one goes by the figures gathered during the last nine years. The pandemonium at the Mandhar Devi temple in Maharashtra in January 2005 had claimed 340 lives.


On September 30, 2008, more than 200 devotees were killed and over 60 injured in a stampede at Chamunda Devi temple in Rajasthan's Jodhpur city. Last year about 60 people had lost their lives at an ashram in Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh. Why should it happen with such frequency? Why don't we learn from one bitter experience to ensure that it is not repeated? By now the reasons why there should be panic and the resultant bloodshed are well chronicled. There can be a natural disaster like floods, tsunami, lightning, unexpected rains and snowfall. These leave little reaction time but may cause extensive damage. The other reasons can agonisingly prolong suffering before putting an end to it once and for all. These are mostly man-made. The fright can be set off by the collapse of a temporary structure. It can be kicked off by a mere rumour. It may well have its genesis in a real or perceived terrorist threat like a bomb being around in the vicinity. These are the same situations that we face in our daily life. There is a difference though. The spiritual gatherings are invariably large and their sizable numbers should be deterrent to every mischief and its maker. What happens in reality is to the contrary. We become vulnerable instead and spell each other's doom. It pays to be patient is an adage but we fail to remember it at the right moment much like as Karna's memory had deserted him in the hour of the need in the battle at Kurukshetra. We forget that our safety in a crisis lies in the safety of others.


In this State we have been extremely fortunate to have escaped the trauma witnessed elsewhere. Barring one or two incidents of terrorist strikes our pilgrimages in recent years have gone off peacefully. We draw huge crowds. In fact, the millions of disciples trekking to the holy cave of Vaishno Devi in this region far exceed the number of such visitors and tourists put together to any other city in the north of India. We live in the midst of a real threat posed by the militants. There is strong security presence from Katra to the top of the Trikuta hills. Very rightly the uniformed forces keep close watch all over. The Amarnath pilgrimage too is conducted under an eagle-eyed supervision by the police, Army and administrative machinery. The danger is that if we lower our guard the militants may inflict harm much like they had done in Charar-i-Sharif some years ago. That explains why nearly all the shrines on both sides of the Pir Panjal are well protected. It is possible that the presence of security forces makes sure that we observe discipline and don't go astray. It will be a greater help if we discharge our part of the job faithfully. We should make it a habit to adhere to orderly behaviour. This is the message that has emanated from Sabrimala this time. We should take it as a serious reminder; we have to be constantly on our toes.







It is good that the State Cabinet has put an end to the speculation about the next Chief Secretary. It has decided to go by seniority placing trust in Mr Madhav Lal, an IAS officer of the 1977 batch. No useful purpose is served by allowing confusion to persist at the highest level of the administration. There is a well-intentioned suggestion that the key police and administrative functionaries should have fixed tenure at the Centre as well as in states. The advice has been selectively implemented in a few cases. It is based on the presumption that they will go according to the book and strictly follow the path of fair play and justice. Of course, it is expected of them that they would command the respect of their colleagues. The underlying hypothesis is that they should be able to stand up to the whimsical orders of unscrupulous political bosses. It is easier said than done in practical terms. It can't be denied that the bureaucrats look forward to staying put in key positions and with that aim in mind they are not hesitant to kowtow to the people in power. Ordinarily the majority of them don't swim against the current. There are two reasons for this. One is that they don't want to be seen as offending their political boss. The other is that they want to avoid a situation in which they make a suggestion which is immediately accepted and they are asked to implement it forthwith. Delivering homilies is easy. To put them into practice is a challenge. Our State unfortunately is not the best example of efficiency on any score. Our image needs a correction. Like his predecessors the incoming Chief Secretary has his task cut out.









Thomas Hobbes, the most famous English philosopher and the author of the Leviathan, who is read by every student of philosophy, political science and history, describes State of Nature as "Bellum omnium contra omnes," a Latin phrase meaning "War of all against all". Elsewhere in the book, he also describes the life of man (and woman) in the state of nature as "poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Though Hobbes lived during the English Civil War (1642-1651) and his reflections of the state of nature was very much influenced by his own environment, perhaps, his two major pronouncements in the modern day would aptly fit Karachi, as it is burning for n-th time in the recent years.

The current round of violence started during the last week, with the killing of Wali Khan Babar, a young journalist and a reporter of the Geo News, who has been covering the violence in Karachi. He was gunned down in Karachi, when he was going back from his Geo News office to his home; they over took his car, pumped bullets and left. There were only five bullets and it was not an indiscriminate killing; hence without any doubt, a target killing, perhaps killed point blank.

As if waiting for a trigger point, Wali Khan Babar's murder started a wave of target killings in Karachi. More than thirty people have been killed in the last four days; if "history repeats itself", so does violence in Karachi. What is alarming has been the rate of recurrence in the last few years and the number of those who have been killed. Last year alone, there were more than three waves of violence, killing more than 300 people in Karachi alone.

Who kills whom, and for what? Almost the people of Karachi expresse the sentiment and fear, that was expressed in the famous movie - "The Village" directed by Night Shyamalan, where the villagers refer to "those we do not speak of". Unfortunately, both the governments - in the Sindh province and Islamabad know who is killing whom and for what reason, yet, they also wear the same blanket "those we do not speak of" and consider the situation is dark, hence nothing can be seen.

The learned courts, search for evidence in this situation and expect "those we do not speak of" to be not only named, but also identified in black and white. This is nothing but suicidal, since the individual in Karachi is already in a state of "poor, nasty, short and brutish"; so why should he volunteer to get man-slaughtered and identify himself legally and provide the assassin the face and address? The "Law and Order" problem of Karachi, in fact starts with the failure of Law, in the first place. This is bound to happen, when the Courts fail to deliver judgment in time and convict the accused. When there is no fear of courts and legal impunity, there is nothing to stop the killers.

The people of "Order" - the Police force, unfortunately function with their hands tied by their political masters.


Of course, there are others who also criticize the Police for their inefficiency and corruption and conclude, even if they are given a free hand to tackle crime, the Police in Karachi will be unable to perform. As a result, there is neither "law" nor "order" in Karachi.

The primary problem stems from the politicization of a basic question: Whom does Karachi belong to? With roughly estimated to be 14-15 million, the population consists primarily of the Mohajirs, Pashtuns, Sindhis and Balochis, besides substantial amount of Bengalis and Biharis from Bangladesh. From less than a million in 1940, to around 15 million in 2010, Karachi has witnessed a growth of 15 times, in less than six decades. Though primarily Muslims (close to 96 percent), they are deeply divided on sectarian terms - Deobandi, Brelvi and others. Each sect has their own network of madrassas led by their politico-religious organizations. While the MQM, ANP and the PPP attempt to mobilize the votes of Mohajirs, Pashtuns and the Sindhis, Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI factions are trying to rope in the religious sentiments.

While there are other cities, which have also witnessed tremendous growth in South Asia, in the last six decades, what makes Karachi unique and violent, is the failure of leading political parties to reach an understanding and agree to pursue a "live and let live" approach. The MQM and ANP particular should share the primary blame, as both political parties in Karachi are attempting to match the other with more violence and more killings. The Sindh Provincial Assembly, consisting of 166 members is led by the PPP (93 seats), MQM (51 seats) and ANP (2 seats).

While the government of Sindh is led by a coalition consisting of the PPP, MQM and the ANP, in the streets of Karachi, the MQM and the ANP are pursuing a vendetta politics, with the PPP watching it from the background. Though the Interior Minister - Rehman Malik makes numerous trips to Karachi during the situations of violence, trying to mediate between the MQM and the ANP, the reality is, the PPP is unable to negotiate peace between two of its partners - both in Karachi and in Islamabad. Though the ANP has only two seats in the Sindh Provincial Assembly, it has 13 seats in the National Assembly, mostly from Khyber Paktunkwa; for the PPP, the ANP with 13 seats is as important as the MQM with 25 seats in the National Assembly.

For the PPP, the pressure from Sindhis, which is its home turf also plays an important in its political calculations in Karachi. While many criticize the PPP for its policy inaction in Karachi, the truth perhaps may be, Zardari and Gilani are pursuing inaction as a policy. Both the President and the Prime Minister seem to be hoping that somehow, the problem will resolve itself.

However, the MQM and the ANP know exactly what they are doing. Both are trying to protect their turf from being encroached by the other. The MQM wants to remain the Lord of Karachi; it does not want to lose that position, for which it has fought really hard since the 1990s and made enormous sacrifices. It has fought a series of bloody battles with the Army, religious political parties, especially the Jamaat-e-Islami and its own faction - to reach this position today. While the MQM does not see the Sindhis as a threat to their dominance of Karachi, the pashtuns are seen as a emerging threat. What is really scaring the MQM is the pashtun migration into Karachi which is growing at a tremendous pace. With serious problems in the NWFP and FATA, there has been a steady exodus from the pashtun belt of Pakistan into Karachi - which the pashtuns see as a city of opportunity. Today, the transport and construction industries of Karachi are taken over by the pashtuns. According to news reports, more pashtuns live in Karachi, than in Peshawar or Kandahar. In terms of numbers, Karachi then should be the pashtun capital! For the ANP, protecting the pashtun interests in Karachi is important to maintain its influence in Khyber Paktunkwa. If the MQM wants to remain the Lord of Karachi, the ANP wants to ensure, it does not become the Serf of Karachi.

With neither "Law" nor "Order" in Karachi, both political parties are trying to co-exit, by threatening each other through violence and killing. As the Courts, Police and Islamabad are not doing what they are supposed to, the ANP and MQM are doing in what they are not supposed to. As a result, Karachi today is bellum omnium contra omnes.

(The author is Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi and a Visiting Professor, Pakistan Studies Programme, Jamia Milia Islamia)








Trade is the voluntary exchange of goods, services, or both and is also called commerce or transaction. The original form of trade was barter, the direct exchange of goods and services. Later one side of the barter was the metals, precious metals (coins etc.). Modern traders generally negotiate through a medium of exchange, such as money because of which buying can be separated from selling. A commodity is traditionally a bulk, generic good that can be produced by many competitors. This can include things as varied as diamonds, corn, wheat, or oil. A commodity market is a market where the different types of commodities are bought and sold i.e. the commodities like wheat, rice etc are exchanged by the buyer and sellers. Commodity markets have existed for centuries around the world because producers and buyers of foodstuffs and other items have always needed a common place to trade. Cash transactions were most common at that time, but sometimes "forward" agreements were also made - deals to deliver and pay for something in the future at a price agreed upon in the present.
Thus, market commodities can be traded in a variety of ways. One way is on the spot markets, where contracts can be bought and sold on a daily basis in large or small amounts. The physical markets (Spot markets) for commodities deal in either cash or spot contract for ready delivery and payment within 11 days, or forward contracts for delivery of goods and/or payment of price after 11 days. These contracts are essentially party-to-party contracts, and are fulfilled by the seller giving delivery of goods of a specified variety of a commodity as agreed to between the parties. Another option is the futures market; it is designed to allow farmers, who are the sellers, and traders to hedge against the volatile nature of commodity prices. On the futures market, commodity prices for a product, such as grain, are locked in for a future date. The primary distinction between a futures market and a market in which actual commodities are bought and sold, either for immediate or later delivery, is that in the futures market one deals in standardized contractual agreements only. These agreements (more formally called futures contracts) provide for delivery of a specified amount of a particular commodity during a specified future month, but involve no immediate transfer of ownership of the commodity involved. In other words, one can buy and sell commodities in a futures market regardless of whether or not one has, or owns, the particular commodity involved.

The markets in which commodities are exchanged on future dates are known as future commodity markets or future commodity exchanges because both buying and selling is done on-line in these markets. The first national exchange, the National Multi-Commodity Exchange (NMCE) was established in 2003 and two other national exchanges i.e. the Multi-Commodity Exchange (MCX) and National Commodity and Derivative Exchange (NCDEX), started in 2004. At present, there are 23 Regional commodity Exchanges and 4 National level commodity exchanges in India organizing futures trading in various commodities. The working of these exchanges is regulated by Forward Market Commission (FMC). The number of commodities traded at these exchanges has increased from 8 in 1998-1999 to 103 in 2007-08. These include agricultural commodities such as food grains, pulses, oilseeds and plantation crops; bullion such as gold and silver, base metals such as copper, steel and aluminum and energy futures such as crude oil, furnace oil etc. the value of future trading in all the commodity exchanges which was around Rs. 66,531 crores in the year 2002-03 has grown to Rs. 52,48,956 crores in 2008-09.

Prices in these markets are determined solely by supply and demand conditions. If there are more buyers than there are sellers, prices will be forced up. If there are more sellers than buyers, prices will be forced down. Buy and sell orders, which originate trading floor for execution, are actually what determine prices.
The main participants of future markets include genuine buyers and sellers, hedgers, speculators and arbitrageurs. Genuine sellers include mainly the farmers and genuine sellers include exporters, stockiest and processors which need agricultural products as raw materials for their final products. Hedger is the user of the market, who enters into futures contract to manage the risk of adverse price fluctuation in respect of his existing or future asset simply by selling or buying a commodity on a particular date with corresponding buying & selling of same commodity on some future date to offset price risk. Speculators buy or sell commodities in future markets with the aim of making a quick profit keeping in view the prices prevailing in spot markets. Arbitrageurs exploit the price difference at a particular period between two different markets for the same commodity.

Jammu & Kashmir with a small average land holding size of 0.37 ha scattered on vast hilly area faces lot of risks including production risks due to dependence on rains, financial risks and market or price risks due to the problem of marketing the scattered produce of farmers which results in forced sales and large scale wastage.
Future trading takes care of market or price risk faced by the farmers by way of hedging the risk of price loss due to bumper production or unavailability of market facilities. Future market also provides finance against warehouse receipts of produce supplied by the sellers.

The unemployed youths of the state especially agriculture technocrats can act as accumulator of scattered produce and enter future markets as seller. They can also enter these markets as exporters and stockiest of commodities using their knowledge regarding nature of agricultural commodities. Maize is the principal cereal crop of the state with over 300'000 ha area and maize is also one of the important commodity trades at future markets. Dry fruits including almonds, walnut etc. also occupy an important place in these exchanges which increase the scope of participation of the unemployed youths of the state in these markets.
Commodity markets are not very complex and difficult to understand if one can understand the basic facts of the nature of futures markets. First, a commodity futures market (or exchange) is, in simple terms, nothing more or less than a public marketplace where commodities are contracted for purchase or sale at an agreed price for delivery at a specified date. These purchases and sales, which must be made through a broker who is a member of an organized exchange, are made under the terms and conditions of a standardized futures contract.








Sometime in 1998, in a college canteen in Cambridge University, I was introduced to a young economist from Sweden named Peter Svedberg, who had just shown that there was more hunger in India than in all of sub- Saharan Africa. He declared this with certain vehemence, perhaps because he was talking to an Indian and expected to be disbelieved. His tone of voice worked like a charm. I summarily disbelieved him. The fact that he taught at Stockholm University's Institute for International Economic Studies cut no ice.

But as more indicators of the quality of human life are incorporated into UNDP's annual Human Development Report, it appears that Svedberg and other researchers working in the field were right. The 2010 report, which used a Multidimensional Poverty Index, revealed that 844 million Indians are mired in poverty. That's half of the world's poor. Even Delhi has about as much poverty as war ravaged Iraq (14 per cent), while the BIMARU states are at the level of the most unfortunate nations of West Africa.

The outline of this grim picture had already emerged in earlier work based on simpler data. A decade ago, I had published an article by Svedberg in The Little Magazine, titled Hunger in India: Facts and Challenges. There, he had compared India - and South Asia in general with sub- Saharan Africa on the basis of three simple data sets: estimates of under nutrition from the Food and Agricultural Organisation derived from food supply data, anthropomorphic data on children from the World Health Organisation, and data on body weights of women from the Demographic and Health Surveys supported by USAID. Without recourse to the nuanced indices now used in the Human Development Report, this study found under nutrition to be more prevalent in India than in sub- Saharan Africa, or even our smaller neighbours in South Asia. The 2010 Human Development Report confirms the result, establishing that this is an enduring reality.

Svedberg's work presented other disturbing findings, such as a growing urban- rural divide and widening disparities between regions in the Nineties. Huge tracts of land and the populations they bear had been left behind as freshly liberalised India raced to become one of the fastest growing economies. In the new century, these trends have caused mass migration between regions and from the villages to the metros. One of its most disturbing effects is the rapid growth of violent, xenophobic politics in the country.

India needs a new two nation theory which acknowledges the divide between the privileged and the disadvantaged and can warn of civil unrest as the gap between them widens. Here, we are not only looking at an India which has a monopoly on both computer chips and potato chips- versus- another India which has a monopoly only on need. We are looking at the tragic flaw of an India which is externally projected as an incredibly fast growing superpower but is hollow on the inside an urban- centric India whose rural markets cannot support demand for the high value imported products which fuel globalisation. But now, it appears that the market could be the great leveller.

Food prices are rising in waves and as essential commodities like onions become almost as expensive as luxuries like meat and fish, food inflation is being facetiously referred to as a democratising force, even- handedly pinching the rich and the poor. So far, the overriding concern has been the food security of the disadvantaged. In the last price spiral, which was triggered by the global recession, the rural poor in India were deprived of grains and lentils, our basic defence against protein calorie malnutrition. Thereafter, 2010 saw incredible inflation in the prices of vegetables - especially onions - and fruits, which are not essential for keeping body and soul together but contribute significantly to all round nutrition. The public health implications of this phenomenon will be seen decades later, when children who are now on short rations reach middle age.
But until recent months, the systemic aspect of food inflation was missed. The inflationary trend is partly fuelled by growing prosperity. As millions of people emerge from extreme poverty, their demands are expanding beyond basic foodgrains to include lentils, vegetables and condiments, and thereafter animal proteins, bringing unprecedented pressure to bear on these markets. And unfortunately, this is happening in tandem with repeated hikes in fuel prices, which produce inflationary pressures of their own. And so, food- induced inflation has taken on a systemic aspect and will now affect everyone, all the way up to the Tatas and Ambanis. But for the rich people it doesn't matter whether there is inflation or not because they have millions / billions to make their life comfortable.

Early in 2011, the Reserve Bank of India will probably announce new lending rates - both the repo rate at which it lends to retail banks and the reverse repo rate, at which it mops up cash from the economy to staunch inflation caused by increased buying. All loans will become more expensive, from housing and automobile loans to corporate lending, which companies access to increase their business. It will become more daunting to manufacture as well as to consume. As a result, the growth of the economy will slow down. So the implications of the food price spiral extend far beyond the domestic question of how to make do with fewer onions.
However, our political leadership reacted to December's spurt in onion prices in the manner of their ancestors. The only concrete step the government took was to ban the export of onions. Otherwise, it was busy soothing frayed middle class nerves, claiming that prices would plummet in a matter of days-- a barefaced lie, since suppliers milk hikes as long as they can. Meanwhile, the Opposition took to the streets to air the grievances of the common man, who was presumably too malnourished to come out himself. But no one in a position of authority seemed to realise that the uncontrollable price of onions is a symptom of the larger lifestyle diseases that India is catching as it begins to lead the fast life.

We are doomed to suffering all the economic ills that the Western economies have weathered and their effects will be more painful, since we are growing five to ten times faster than they ever did. And we are doing it without the comforting cushion of welfare.

Unless those in positions of authority and power appreciate the magnitude of the problem, the human and social cost of growth will be enormous. But unfortunately, the onion price crisis reveals that they can only see inflation as an issue to be milked for immediate political advantage. (INAV)

(The writer is professor of Economics at King's College, London)



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IN view of the considerable decline in infiltration attempts from across the border, the Union government has been seriously thinking of reducing the strength of the security forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir for some time. Now it has finally made up its mind to withdraw at least 25 per cent of the paramilitary forces within this year as a confidence-building measure. The step will be a part of the eight-point agenda approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security in September last year with a view to normalising the situation in the trouble-torn state, as stated by Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai last week. The agenda was finalised after looking into the demands of different sections of society, including the ruling and opposition politicians in J and K. There have also been complaints that youngsters feel provoked to defy the law when they see pickets of security forces in populated areas.


Viewed against this backdrop, even a limited redeployment of forces in the Valley may lead to a noticeable change in the over-all security climate there. The measure may also send across the message that the situation is becoming normal, boosting the morale of the people. The separatists, who have welcomed the Union Home Secretary's announcement, should do nothing which can force the government to review its decision. The security forces were deployed on a large scale owing to the proxy war launched by Pakistan. The separatists and terrorist outfits were helping Pakistan in implementing its unholy designs. However, the situation seems to have changed for good because of various factors, including the growing international pressure on Pakistan to abandon its policy of using terror to achieve its geo-political objectives.


The Central government is going ahead with various other confidence-building measures also like providing more facilities for people-to-people contacts and promoting trade between the two sides of Kashmir. Efforts are afoot to ensure that more employment avenues are available to the people in the state. But there is need to keep strict vigil on the situation. Complacency on the security front may be exploited by terrorists and their sympathisers. It is not without reason that Army Chief Gen V.K. Singh has expressed his unwillingness about reducing the deployment of the armed forces in the Valley. 









Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has struck in a sledgehammer fashion — ordering the complete demolition of the controversial 31-storey Adarsh Society building in Mumbai, which instead of housing Kargil war heroes and victims had become a gravy ticket for Army brass, bureaucrats and politicians. The other two options — raze that part of the structure which was in excess of the floor space index (FSI) that might have been allowed had the requisite permission been sought from the authority, or take over the building for public use — were rejected because these would have been tantamount to regularisation of a violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991. He apparently wants to send a firm message to all violators that sooner or later, the law will catch up with them. One wishes the government shows such alacrity right when the violation begins instead of waking up when it is a fait accompli.


That does not mean that the building will actually be pulled down within three months as ordained, because Adarsh Society members are set to approach court for relief, where a protracted legal battle may ensue, but at least the government has shown some spine. The rich and powerful will, hopefully, realise that even they are bound by the law of the land.


Such "egregious" violations take place because the big fish are smug in their belief that government nets are only for the minor ones. What strengthens their belief is the fact that there are thousands of illegal structures all over the country right under the nose of the government. Resolute action should not be a one-off expression of punitive determination. The administration needs to apply its monitoring powers uniformly all over. So far, the numerous buildings have been there as a precedent. Now is the time to make their demolition an example. 















THE manner in which an Indian diplomat in London, Anil Verma, is alleged to have been harassing and beating his wife, Paromita, is most unfortunate and needs to be strongly condemned. His conduct is unbecoming of the high office he holds and action must be taken against him under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. As he is a 1989-batch IAS officer of the West Bengal cadre and holds the post of Minister (Economic) in the Indian High Commission, he should be held accountable by the Indian government. Sadly, instead of being role models and ambassadors of goodwill, such people bring shame and disgrace to the country. Anil Verma has now been recalled to India, but the matter should not rest there.


Significantly, Paromita is an Indian Railways officer. The Indian government should take steps to bring her and her son back to India. They need to be given adequate security and protection in the country. If Paromita is convinced of the security at home, she could reconsider seeking humanitarian asylum in London.


It is unfortunate that Anil Verma took protection under diplomatic immunity. Reports suggest that he often boasted of the immunity he enjoyed by being a diplomat while beating his wife. Diplomatic immunity is a principle of international law by which top foreign government officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of local courts and other authorities. Anil Verma's case amounts to a gross misuse of the provision for diplomatic immunity for which the official must be duly punished. 









THE recent speech of a senior Hurriyat leader, Prof Abdul Ghani Bhatt, at a seminar organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) on the role of intellectuals in the separatist movement has come as a breath of fresh air in the murky atmosphere in the Valley.


Professor Bhatt said they should stop living in a state of denial and blame game and instead face the truth. The Mirwaiz senior, Moulvi Mohammad Farooq, and Abdul Ghani Lone, killed in 1990 and 2002, were not gunned down by Indian security forces. They were victims of mutual rivalry and done to death by their own people. The Kashmir movement, in his opinion, had been hurt badly by the assassination of thinkers and people who held an opinion. Professor Bhatt was quite blunt when he said that those associated with the separatist movement in Kashmir should first accept the reality and speak the truth.No one can build a movement on lies.


He went on to say that India did not kill either Moulvi Farooq or Lone, and obliquely hinted at Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the self-proclaimed Hurriyat hawk, consistently speaking in favour of Pakistan.


Professor Bhatt expressed the view that the policy of hartal and martyrdom only damaged the Kashmir cause. A hartal had been on for five months and stone throwing became a persistent way of attacking the security forces in which 102 people died. The Hurriyat leader asked what the people gained at the end of all these deaths and long hartals.



Unity among the Hurriyat factions was elusive particularly since Syed Ali Shah Geelani only wanted dominance over every other faction.


Professor Bhatt particularly criticised Mr Geelani's insistence on his hardline policies and for rejecting a dialogue with the Centre. If his speech indicates that the Hurriyat should unitedly opt for discussions with Central representatives leading to an eventual settlement, it denotes a remarkable step forward towards the solution of the Kashmir problem. Moulvi Farooq had contested elections in alliance with the National Conference in 1982. Sheikh Abdullah was the then President of the National Conference, and this organisation and Moulvi Farooq's party won most of the seats in the Valley.


The Centre's interlocutors, now in Kashmir, will no doubt take note of Professor Bhatt's speech and pursue the matter further.


Professor Bhatt's meaningful speech at the seminar has indicated that the thinking sections in Kashmir want to have a dialogue with the Centre leading to a settlement. A number of agitating groups had spoken in terms of "Azadi", but, as the interlocutors have pointed out, it has a different meaning for different people.  It could well be interpreted as freedom of action and freedom of choice.  At the end of the day, it would hopefully crystallise towards a settlement over the quantum of autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir.


On the quantum of autonomy that J&K may be granted, there are several milestones. These are Article 370 of the Constitution, the Instrument of Accession, the 1974 Accord between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah, etc.  As the Delhi Agreement of 1952 had it, the Union Government agreed that J&K should have its own flag in addition to the Union flag, but the Union flag would have the same status and position in J&K as in the rest of India. The Governor, who was known as Sadar-i-Riyasat, was to be elected by the state legislature, but he had to be recognised by the President of India before his installation as such and he would hold office during the pleasure of the President. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India over J&K was agreed to. 


The 1974 Accord between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah was a major step forward, and it led to the Sheikh becoming the Chief Minister of J&K. However, the accord left three issues undecided: the method of appointment of Governor, the nomenclature of Governor and Chief Minister, and the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of India extending to Kashmir.


BJP leader Arun Jaitley has stated that he has learnt from reliable sources that the Government of India's interlocutors on Kashmir are likely to recommend the acceptance of these provisions while recommending the contours of autonomy for J&K.


With the turbulent history of the constitutional provisions governing the relationship between the Government of India and the Government of J&K, any suggestion to reopen these issues and consider the possibility of conceding the question of Governor and Chief Minister would be regressive. The PDP in particular appears to have made these demands, but it is only hoped that the interlocutors would carefully weigh these issues while making their recommendations.


Meanwhile, the interlocutors have sent an interim report in which recommendations have been made for providing incentives for students, and also consider representation in the government for Muslim Gujjars and Bakerwals.  They have suggested strengthening of the monitoring mechanism to deal with human rights violations in the state through the State Human Rights Commission and the Accountability Commission.


Another important recommendation made by the interlocutors is to demarcate specific areas where peaceful protests can be staged against the government — somewhat along the lines of the Hyde Park in London or Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The Union Home Ministry has indicated that action has been initiated on many of these recommendations. Implementation of the recommendations such as jobs for the unemployed in Kashmir would go a long way in ensuring a peaceful atmosphere.


The Prime Minister had constituted working groups in 2005 and 2009 for speeding up development in J&K, including industrialisation and the creation of jobs for the Kashmiri people. Demarcation of specific areas where the local people could demonstrate without fear would also be a positive step towards normalisation. While a large number of youths in detention have been released, it is not clear whether any compensation has been paid by the J&K Government to the families of those young men who lost their lives in the Valley during the confrontation between the security forces and the agitators.


The J&K Government has also removed a large number of bunkers manned by the security forces dotting Srinagar and other towns in the Valley.


Inevitably, the final report of the interlocutors is the next stage.  Hopefully, it will be followed by a high-level discussion between Cabinet ministers like Mr Pranab Mukherjee, Mr A.K. Antony and Mr P. Chidambaram, and Kashmiri leaders, including representatives of the National Conference, the PDP, the Hurriyat and others. The main aspirations of the people of Kashmir would be known by then.


Fortunately, peace has been prevailing in the Valley for a few weeks, providing an atmosphere conducing to negotiations. There are also reports that a large number of Kashmiri youngsters are queuing up for recruitment in the security forces, and this is indeed a positive sign.


The writer is a former Governor of UP and West Bengal.








There is a road running along the park where I customarily walk. It's at a little height and it has a small parking lot where, usually, strutting turkeys and romancing couples park in fancy cars with dark glasses. I've been walking that park for several years now, without anyone paying the least attention to me (terrible for my self-esteem, coming to think of it).


The other day, however, as I walked by, I noticed eight young men, fit chaps, lounging about an SUV, passing a bottle around, obviously in high spirits. As I passed, they directed loud catcalls in my direction and one boy crooned, "Hai…teri chaal oye!" I also heard distressingly moist sounding smooching sounds (Yuck!). My first reaction was to look around to see if all these attentions were directed towards some pretty young thing. But only matronly I was there at that moment.


Instinctively, I retraced my steps, pulled out my mobile, squinted at the number plate of the car, pretended that I was memorising it and put the mobile to my ear, ostensibly making a call to the authorities. Within seconds, the air was rent by startled curses and quick as a blink, the burly chaps had jumped into their car and screeched out of the parking lot, in a huge hurry to disappear. I may add here that I'm as blind as a bat without my spectacles and in the dusk, there was no way I could see the number. But I scared them away, much to my surprise, and I felt very amused. More than that, I felt powerful.


All my life I've been eve-teased. All Indian girls and women have. It really doesn't matter if they are beautiful or average, sick or healthy, dark, slim, pock marked, fat, dowdy, smart. Catcalls are great equalizers that way. Why, I've even been catcalled at when I was eight months pregnant. It's quite the done thing on the Indian roads. Perhaps it's a part of the gender power play.


And the supremacy gets reinforced when there is absolutely no reaction from the teasees (coining a phrase). Mostly, girls are taught not to take pangas with the teasers, to ignore them and just hope that they go away. But my question is, why not take the panga? Especially when it can be done safely without an ugly confrontation, especially when you have the right to walk on the road without being sexually commented on and especially when you have the wherewithal to take action.


No sensible woman will recommend a face-off with the teasers. But at least we can report them. We can note down the numbers of their vehicles and place a call to the police. If anyone touches us in a crowded market or bus, we can confront them and demand to know why we were touched, can't we?


We can. So, do it! And as you see their "chaal" change as they hotfoot out of the area, feel the power for a change.









Inflation of food items has assumed an alarming rate during the past several months. It reached 18.32 per cent in the week ending December 25, 2010. At present it is symbolised by onion prices, which have risen three times within a few days. Earlier it happened in case of sugar a few months ago when its price doubled before it was stabilised.


The prices of pulses and vegetables have already gone out of the reach of common persons and now are going out of affordability of middle-class people employed in the organized sector. The middle-class employees in the organised sector are compensated for inflation in the form of enhanced dearness allowance with a lag of at least six months but there is no such provision for 92 per cent of the population employed in the unorganised sector. The sufferings of workers in the unorganised sector or workers and employees on contract in the organised sector are much more serious compared to the middle class in the unorganised sector.


Food inflation has hit hard the majority in the country. This is a mechanism of shift in income distribution from the poor marginalised sections to the rich, especially the non-agricultural big producers, middlemen and companies engaged in trade and commerce and especially stock-holders of the commodities. This is the reason that food inflation has hit the poorest of the poor the hardest. In fact, it has the effect of increasing malnutrition among women and children in the poor households.


The beneficiaries of food inflation exercise considerable clout in policy-making and its implementation. They are consulted every year before the finalisation of the budget. Those who lose considerable part of their income due to inflation have no say in policy-making and its implementation. The workers, peasants and small producers are not part of the pre-budget consultations. Therefore, the interests of the common people are not protected as their voice is not heard. There is no one in Parliament/assemblies to effectively represent them.


Contrary to this several corporates are well represented in these Houses along with many who are willing to present their viewpoint in policy-making circles and in Parliament/assemblies. This is the reason that food inflation has been allowed to take a high rate for several months before effective steps are initiated to stabilise food prices at the higher level they have achieved.


In fact, food inflation remained under control in spite of international high prices of food in the world during 2005-07. This was because the government maintained enough stocks of grains under public control through the FCI and also did not allow exports to keep food prices under check. But in November 2009 the government allowed forward trading of agricultural commodities. This led to the involvement of big companies and big traders in forward buying with liberal bank credit facilities. This initiated a process of price rise of grains initiating food inflation based on manipulation and speculation. This was followed by sugar prices doubling in a month or so and then stabilised at that level. The last few months have seen a rise of prices of vegetables symbolised by the prices of onions and pulses.


A significant feature of food inflation is that it has not benefited the producers of food crops. For instance the wheat procurement/supply price in April/May was Rs.1,100 per quintal at which farmers unloaded their crop. But wheat flour is sold in Punjab at Rs.1,600 per quintal and Rs.2,600 a quintal in Delhi.


Similarly, there was a very meager rise in the price of sugarcane but sugar prices have doubled. Farmers sold onions at prices less than Rs.10 per kg now these are available at more than Rs.50 a kg. The same is the story of other crops. This season it has happened with cotton. The farmers sold their crop at Rs.3,000 per quintal, which traders bought and now the price has become Rs.5,000 per quintal.


In forward trading big players buy large quantities in advance, keep them in storage, create artificial scarcity and wait for prices to rise. Then, they unload stored commodities to make quick profits. Forward trading has been permitted under the neo-liberal policy to ensure participation of the private sector in trading and storage of agricultural commodities.


It may be recalled in 2002 the Abhijit Sen Committee recommended the dismantling of the FCI to allow food procurement by private sector companies. But this could not be done because of pressure of farmers' organisations. The philosophy behind such thinking is that public sector parastatals are inefficient and they are to be replaced by the private sector.


Market fundamentalists fail to understand the Indian experience of the 1950s and 1960s when private traders played havoc with both producers and consumers before the establishment of the Agricultural Price Commission in 1965, now designated as Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), and the FCI. It is very well known and recently brought out by the 2G scam that the private sector, especially the bigger players among them, lack ethics of business known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). They are interested in quick profits and profiteering. Food trade in this country is one such area whenever opened to them without controls, they have exploited it and are exploiting it even now.


Already big players (builders) have played havoc both with peasants and potential owners of houses/flats. They got/acquired land from peasants at very low prices, developed colonies and skyrocketed the prices of houses/flats. They have also violated the mandate of the National Housing Policy to develop low-cost housing for the urban poor.


Whether it is food prices or urban land/house prices, the original suppliers (peasants) have not gained. It is the middle operators who benefit at the cost of common people. One lesson of the current food inflation is that neither it is supply-pushed nor demand-pushed but fuelled by cartels of middle operators under forward trading allowed by market fundamentalists who have faith in big players in the private sector and have no faith in government machinery to which they belong.


The persons at the top in charge of policy are also responsible for delayed response to check stock-holding and hoarding of food items. They think it as a measure to interfere with working of the market. They are unable to see the distinction between perfect competition and monopolies as market forms. It is monopolies/cartels which use monopoly power to distort the market to get undue advantage. Therefore, monopolies need regulations to keep their monopoly power in check. Freeing them will create an environment for them to exploit society, especially the poor.


There is an immediate need to withdraw forward trading in agricultural commodities, enforce regulations against hoarding and bring down difference between the farm gate and consumer prices. In all food commodities, especially wheat flour, rice, onion, vegetables, sugar and pulses, the prices charged from consumers should not be more 10 per cent of the price paid to farmers. This is necessary to ensure food to the poor at affordable prices. The alibi of global food price rise or hike in oil prices provide no justification for the current rate of rise in food prices nor for apathy of the government to control it. The government must act swiftly and decisively to contain food inflation. This inflation can be controlled if the government at the national level decides in right earnest.


The writer is the Director General, Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID)


There is an immediate need to withdraw forward trading in agricultural commodities, enforce regulations against hoarding and bring down the difference between the farm gate and consumer prices







THE rise in food inflation was a shocker. Prices jumped 18.3 per cent giving the government and the RBI an uneasy feeling and the stock market a big disappointment. In spite of promises, it looks like headline inflation will not drop below 6 per cent by March.


The return of food inflation was unexpected. Production and prices of cereals were steady and prices of pulses and sugar had actually come down. What kicked up the price index were the prices of vegetables, meat and eggs. These are only about 13 per cent of the consumer basket.


But the price rise was too sharp and too sudden and in a matter of three weeks pushed up the food price index more than 6 per cent. That will jack up headline inflation by more than one per cent in December.


Inflation has affected most of the developing countries. In China, inflation is at 5.1 per cent with food inflation running at 11.7 per cent. In Russia, inflation is at 8 per cent, in Indonesia at 7 per cent and so on. There is a fall in world food production and international food prices have been aggressively moving up. What is unusual about India is that inflation which had receded, with food prices remaining nearly steady since June, suddenly spiked in December.


The reason is that the rains were unusually excessive and irregular and production either dropped or there was exposure to pests. The prices of onions shot up more than 46 per cent in the first three weeks of December and 67 per cent over the year. In contrast, demand for fruits and vegetables increased with the expansion in population and improvement in incomes of urban and rural consumers.


This mismatch between demand and supply is not temporary. Production of fruits and vegetables is in the unorganised sector and the cultivation follows conventional methods. It is time that the vegetable sector receives greater attention. It has to be better organised using modern technology. The ICAR and a number of universities have developed transgenic varieties of crops which are herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant.


There are also non-transgenic biotech approaches for enhancing conventional farming like marker-assisted selection, tissue culture, etc. which can make a tremendous difference to yield and quality. Some of these technologies are still on the shelf when they should have been commercially exploited by farmers.


Apparently, there is neglect or resistance on the part of the government. Brinjal is a case in point. Although it had been scientifically tested and its safety well established by DBT, the Ministry of Environment delayed its implementation.


In future, the demand for fruits and vegetables will increase much faster than the demand for cereals. Food inflation will persist if fruits and vegetable supply does not commensurately increase. Broadly, vegetable production will have to increase at more than 10 per cent per year. The only way that growth can be achieved is by adopting new technologies which are the keys to larger production, higher farm incomes and stable prices. — Reuters








It's a World Cup year. Sports fans know exactly what that sentence means. It's a time when mundanity makes way for obsession, when the daily grind is replaced by a dreamy buoyancy. Students play truant. Professionals manoeuvre to position themselves near TV sets. Couples reach the brink of separation. And sophists are countered rather than shushed when they spout tedious theories.


It doesn't matter where you live, or what your poison is: football, rugby, cricket. The World Cup syndrome is universal in any part of the world. Or, at least in most parts.


Here in India, things have changed rapidly over the last four years. We reached a point on Monday when the announcement of the World Cup squad was met with the same level of uncontrollable excitement whenever any squad – Test, ODI, T20, IPL – is picked these days. Red breaking news banners on TV. Expert voices on the wires. Feel-good jokes on Twitter. Nationalistic proclamations across media that this is the greatest squad ever assembled. And uncontested arguments to support this fairly questionable claim.


This is the dream team, you say; fair enough, I won't even go there. But here's my question: whose dream are we talking about exactly? Surely not of the fan, who we've bombarded into numbness by not filtering cricket through any quality differentiators.


As a cricket journalist for one-third of my life, and a fan for five-sixths, I understand that the most legitimate discussion you can enter in is one about your country's World Cup squad. Not if India is really the No 1 Test team, or if the Rajasthan Royals are a "wellbalanced unit", or if the IPL auction reflects the "true value" of a player; but how your team stacks up against the others -- man to man, bowling to bowling, batting to batting, keeping in mind the conditions and the form sheet.


Being a fan, or an expert, means above all being passionate about the 'big one'. But, unfortunately, there is no one big tournament any more. Instead, the cricket side of our brains is subjected to a relentless attack, making it a crucible where everything is dumped together and set alight to form a black gooey mass in which the IPL, a meaningless triseries, a blink-and-miss T20 tournament, a three-Test series, and the World Cup, are impossible to distinguish.


When you're being screamed at all the time, you eventually stop listening, and stop caring. So is there any point in asking what the selectors were thinking when they picked three spinners when only one will be in the XI, and four injury-prone fast bowlers when three of them will have to play every match? Is there any reason to wonder who will stand behind the stumps if our wicketkeeper-captain picks up a niggle? Or to question why Zaheer Khan is the only genuine pace spearhead in the squad when back-ups such as Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma were available?


No matter what panels are assembled on TV and what special pages are planned by newspapers today to raise these issues, they will not top the twoday cornucopia of the IPL auction, when every buy was being celebrated with the voyeuristic thrill that comes with counting someone else's money. It was demeaning and enticing at the same time – feudalism in its modern avatar, hidden in the garb of free-market capitalism, our favourite new catchphrase. You could either join the bandwagon, which is the popular choice, or turn your eyes away.

 This is not a regular World Cup year. It's a time when the tournament is more like an opening act for the IPL. So what happened to cricket as we knew it? The legacy of the West Indies big cats, Kapil's devils, chubby Arjuna's tigers, and dropping the trophy at Steve Waugh's feet, mate? It got lost on a private jet somewhere between Mohali and Jaipur.



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It is a shame that even a member of the Union Council of Ministers, Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee, has protested against the recent hike in petrol prices. Ms Banerjee is unfortunately engaged in a "race to the bottom" kind of political one-upmanship with the populist Left Front government in West Bengal that she hopes to defeat in this year's assembly elections. But, for even the generally more responsible Bharatiya Janata Party to blame the government for the petrol price hike, when, in fact, the responsibility for petrol pricing has been placed firmly in the hands of oil marketing companies, is unpardonable populism. Indeed, it is precisely because petrol prices have been deregulated that the oil companies are able to increase them in response to rising global crude oil prices. Many other countries have also been forced to increase fuel prices at home in response to global trends. Hopefully, however, the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will show greater resolve resisting opposition to the price hike than has been the case in neighbouring Pakistan where Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has wilted under similar opposition pressure and withdrawn the price hike announced last week.

If there is one criticism that can, in fact, be made of the government's policy, it is a criticism that no political party is willing to make. This is that this weekend's round of petrol price increase could have been avoided if the government had allowed the oil marketing companies to increase diesel prices, which the government still controls and refused to increase the last time petrol prices were hiked. Having failed to touch diesel prices for a second time, the government has allowed the price differential between petrol and diesel to further widen. It would appear that one important reason for the government allowing oil marketing companies to increase petrol prices while not allowing them to increase diesel prices has to do with the varying inflationary impact of the two options. A diesel price hike would have a greater impact on the general price level because of the nature of the product and its market. Higher diesel prices tend to get passed on to consumers by the transport and power sectors, which use this fuel as a raw material. Petrol is more of a final consumption good and the ability of petrol consumers to pass on higher petrol prices to others is limited. Moreover, petrol accounts for only 20 per cent of total fuel consumption in India whereas diesel accounts for over 50 per cent. Thus, a hike in diesel prices has a greater impact on wholesale prices than an equivalent hike in petrol prices.

 While the inflation argument is a credible one to make, no country can afford to keep domestic inflation under the lid ignoring global trends in energy prices. Moreover, the fact that petrol consumption in India is still not getting tempered despite recent price hikes suggests that the Indian consumer is willing to bear the additional burden. India cannot afford to see a runaway increase in petrol consumption at a time when the trade and current account deficits are rising. If the emerging distortions in fuel consumption has to be corrected, the government will have to consider an increase in diesel, kerosene and LPG prices sooner or later.






Instead of lifting, the cloud over the subcontinent's micro-finance sector has got bigger with the Bangladesh government initiating an enquiry into the functioning of the Grameen Bank group. This is most unfortunate as micro-finance represents an enormous opportunity for the poor and faith in its foundations will be shaken if its father figure, Muhammad Yunus, comes under attack. The Awami League government of Bangladesh seems to be opportunistically seizing upon a chance to engage in political vendetta when it should be putting the Nobel laureate on a permanent pedestal for leading the world in innovation in a key socially useful area. The immediate provocation is a documentary by a Norwegian public TV channel alleging diversion of aid funds between different entities within the Grameen family to avoid paying taxes. The allegation was investigated by the Norwegian authorities and Dr Yunus and his organisations were exonerated.

There the matter should have rested. But the Bangladesh government has gone ahead and formed an enquiry committee to go into the financial transactions of Grameen institutions. The motives behind seeking to clear the air on the documentary's allegations are suspect as this has already been done by the donors. The Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has used strong language to decry micro-finance for "sucking the blood from the poor in the name of poverty alleviation". Dr Yunus first fell foul of the Awami League when, just after winning the Nobel prize, he briefly toyed with the idea of forming a political party for national renewal. He soon gave up the idea but the damage was done in making an enemy out of established politicians. The second and more immediate possible cause for the enquiry to be launched is the face-off between Dr Yunus and Dipal Barua, one of his former students and foremost assistants, which led to the latter's resignation from the leadership of a Grameen organisation. Mr Barua has close links with senior personalities in the Awami League government. Apart from Grameen's specific problems, micro-finance in Bangladesh has been in trouble lately over the issue of high interest rates, as in India, and late last year the regulatory authorities imposed a ceiling of 27 per cent on lending rates. The trouble is that, again as in Andhra Pradesh in India, this is probably being used to settle scores in a turf war. Without seeking to determine who is to blame for the fratricidal conflict within the Grameen family, it is necessary to point out that the poor in whose aid micro-finance came into being, does not deserve this. Those running micro-finance organisations also need to realise — this is particularly true of the Indian situation — that they need hand-holding by the government even in the best of times to produce the best results. So, keeping the government of the day in good humour, without, of course, in any way compromising on professionalism, should get a high priority. Senior politicians in Bangladesh, for their part, need to realise that Dr Yunus is a national asset, not otherwise.







Slow growth in Japan over the last decade was due to an unfavourable demographic trend

The first decade of this century started with the so-called dotcom bubble. When it burst, central banks moved aggressively to ease monetary policy in order to prevent a prolonged period of Japanese-style slow growth. But the prolonged period of low interest rates that followed the 2001 recession instead contributed to the emergence of another bubble, this time in real estate and credit. With the collapse of the second bubble in a decade, central banks again acted quickly, lowering rates to zero (or close to it) almost everywhere. Recently, the United States Federal Reserve has even engaged in an unprecedented round of "quantitative easing" in an effort to accelerate the recovery. Again, the key argument was the need to avoid a repeat of Japan's "lost decade".

Policymaking is often dominated by simple "lessons learned" from economic history. But the lesson learned from the case of Japan is largely a myth. The basis for the scare story about Japan is that its GDP has grown over the last decade at an average annual rate of only 0.6 per cent compared to 1.7 per cent for the US. The difference is actually much smaller than often assumed, but at first sight a growth rate of 0.6 per cent qualifies as a lost decade.

According to that standard, one could argue that a good part of Europe also "lost" the last decade, since Germany achieved about the same growth rates as Japan (0.6 per cent) and Italy did even worse (0.2 per cent); only France and Spain performed somewhat better.

But this picture of stagnation in many countries is misleading, because it leaves out an important factor, namely demography.

How should one compare growth records among a group of similar, developed countries? The best measure is not overall GDP growth, but the growth of income per head of the working-age population, or WAP (not per capita). This last element is important because only the working-age population represents an economy's productive potential. If two countries achieve the same growth in average WAP income, one should conclude that both have been equally efficient in using their potential, even if their overall GDP growth rates differ.

When one looks at GDP/WAP (defined as population aged 20-60), one gets a surprising result: Japan has actually done better than the US or most European countries over the last decade. The reason is simple: Japan's overall growth rates have been quite low, but growth was achieved despite a rapidly shrinking working-age population.

The difference between Japan and the US is instructive here: in terms of overall GDP growth, it was about one percentage point, but larger in terms of the annual WAP growth rates — more than 1.5 percentage points, given that the US working-age population grew by 0.8 per cent, whereas Japan's has been shrinking at about the same rate.

Another indication that Japan has fully used its potential is that the unemployment rate has been constant over the last decade. By contrast, the US unemployment rate has almost doubled, now approaching 10 per cent. One might thus conclude that the US should take Japan as an example not of stagnation, but of how to squeeze maximum growth from limited potential.

Demographic differences are relevant not just in comparing Japan and the US, but also in explaining most of the differences in longer-term growth rates across developed economies. A good rule of thumb for the average growth rates of the G7 countries would be to attribute about one percentage point in productivity gains to the growth rate of the working-age population. The US has done slightly worse than suggested by this rough measure; Japan has done a bit better; and most other rich countries have come pretty close.

Looking to the decade ahead, this analysis suggests that one can predict the rich countries' relative growth rates based on the growth pattern of their working-age populations, which one already knows today, given that anybody starting to work over the next two decades has already been born.

On this basis, Japan's relative decline as a major economic power will continue, as its working-age population will continue to shrink by about 1 per cent per year. Germany and Italy increasingly show Japanese patterns of decline in their working-age populations, and are thus likely to grow very little as well.

In the case of Germany, one observes an interesting kink in its demography: from 2005-2015, the working-age population is temporarily stabilised. But this will be followed by accelerating decline, as the working-age population declines even faster than in Japan.

The current strength of the German economy is also partly due to this temporary demographic stabilisation. But a Japanese-style scenario seems inevitable after 2015. By contrast, the US, the United Kingdom and France are likely to grow faster for the simple reason that their working-age populations are continuing to grow, even if at a relatively slow pace.

Two lessons emerge from this consideration of the influence of demographic factors on economic growth. First, the idea of a Japanese-style "lost decade" is misleading — even when applied to Japan. Slow growth in Japan over the last decade was due not to insufficiently aggressive macro-economic policies, but to an unfavourable demographic trend.

Second, a further slowdown in rich countries' growth rates appears inevitable, given that even in the more dynamic countries, the growth rates of the working-age population is declining. In the less dynamic ones, like Japan, Germany and Italy, near-stagnation seems inevitable.

The author is director of the Centre for European Policy Studies







If the blood pressure monitor shows that you have high blood pressure, would you break the monitor or call the doctor? And if TV ratings show that the silliest shows get the best ratings, would you tackle content issues or shoot the rating agency down?

That in essence is what the ministry of information and broadcasting is planning to do. It has persistently maintained that ratings are the reason for the ills of the Rs 30,000 crore television business. After two committees, it felt the need to appoint a third one, under Amit Mitra of Ficci, to focus on the same issue.

 Dr Mitra's earlier reports on media, notably radio, have been good. This one falls flat. It is not Dr Mitra's fault. He just doesn't have a leg to stand on. The 76-page "Review of Existing Television Rating System in India" tries very hard to justify why a committee was formed to examine the currency an industry uses to buy and sell advertising time.

The ostensible reason is falling content standards. Going by that logic, the standards of reportage in many newspapers and magazines have been falling and paid content is a nuisance. But we haven't seen the government trying to fix the blame on readership surveys and their methodology. Nor has the government blamed the film industry's obsession with box-office gross and occupancy ratios, in determining what kind of films will be made. Those metrics too can be called dodgy at times.

The point is even if TV ratings are flawed, it is a commercial matter between the buyer and the seller. If the industry is happy dealing with a flawed metric and paying for it, why should the government bother?

The fundamental premise of this committee, that the race for ratings leads to poor content, is flawed. Therefore, its recommendations too are.

Many of them, such as increasing the sample size, putting the methodology through more rigour have been part of the normal grumblings of an evolving industry. The question always has been who will fund it. Dr Mitra suggests a cess on the industry, to be paid to the somewhat defunct Broadcast Audience Research Council or BARC. The fact, however, remains that as the pressure on margins mounts, television companies and advertisers would have sought a more robust metric in any case. And they would have paid for it voluntarily through increased subscription charges to the two main rating firms — TAM and aMap. Why jumpstart the process?

The enthusiasm with which a government that has made no major policy decision on the media business in five years has been pursuing the whole ratings "issue" is curious. One theory is that this is driven in part by pressure from channels which are owned by politicians or their relatives. Since they don't show up on viewership numbers, they don't make money or get enough influence with constituents in a state or city. The thinking goes that controlling the methodology, process and operations of the data gathering process will help fix the problem.

Some of this gets credence if you read the fine print of the report. For example, there is one recommendation about making BARC a not-for-profit company, the monitoring, steering body for TV metrics. The board would have Indian Broadcasting Federation and Indian Society of Advertisers nominees to start with. So far, so good. But the report suggests having a high-powered committee of "specialists from various fields" that will oversee the board of BARC. That sounds for a recipe for all kinds of people to meddle in the ratings process, over and above the heads of the stakeholders to whom it really matters.

You could argue that if the report is so bad why bother. It will fall under the weight of its own inconsistencies.

It might have in the face of a strong television industry. But till now the men and women running the Indian TV industry have been pathetic at presenting their point of view or speaking in one voice. For an industry that influences 600 million Indians, this inability to communicate with the government is a lethal shortcoming.

Therefore, even as the industry dithers, the report may become policy that sets a dangerous precedent. What next, radio listenership data or Internet traffic figures?








A quick estimate suggests that international crude oil prices for Indian refineries (or what oil industry experts refer to as the Indian crude oil basket) have gone up 22 per cent since the government decontrolled petrol prices in June 2010. Retail petrol prices in the same period have risen only 13 per cent. In the normal course, these simple numbers should shock anyone who believes that oil companies are not in the business of charity. Why should oil marketing companies carry the burden of these losses by selling a product below cost?

Take a closer look and you will find the situation even more shocking. Prices of diesel, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which account for more than 60 per cent of the total sales of Indian oil marketing companies, remain under government control. Thus, the oil-marketing companies continue to incur a loss or under-recovery of Rs 7.65 for every litre of diesel they sell today. The under-recovery, or the difference between the sale price and their refining and marketing costs, is higher at Rs 19.6 a litre for kerosene and Rs 366.28 for every 14.2 kg cylinder of LPG. The total under-recovery on this count would be over Rs 73,000 crore this year. Who will bear this burden?

 Now, consider the government's approach to this basic problem. When he presented the Union Budget for 2010-11 last February, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee valiantly announced that he was not providing for any financial allocations to make good the oil companies' under-recovery for the current fiscal year. This raised the hope that the government would take some bold measures during the year to unshackle the oil industry as recommended by the Kirit Parikh Committee and indeed by many such committees in the past. Those who doubted the government's courage to move ahead with such reforms had to revise their stance in June 2010, when the government raised petroleum product prices and gave the oil companies the freedom to fix petrol prices. What made the prospects rosy was the government indication that the oil marketing companies would soon enjoy similar pricing freedom for other petroleum products and diesel in particular.

However, the script, thereafter, changed quite dramatically, with international oil prices inching up slowly but surely, and domestic inflation continuing to cause concern for policy makers. Worse, rising prices and the scourge of corruption galvanised the opposition political parties into a potent force that virtually derailed all the government's plans on rolling out the next phase of oil pricing reforms. Today, there is a big debate even on the modality of compensating the oil marketing companies for their under-recoveries. While the upstream oil companies, namely ONGC and Oil India, would bear one-third of the burden, the government had not yet given its full commitment on taking care of one-third of the under-recovery since this might strain its finances.

Mind you, oil companies are also worried since the rising international crude oil prices have already increased their total under-recoveries. There are also other associated impacts on the government. ONGC's burden for sharing the under-recovery will go up and this might adversely affect the valuation of the shares that it plans to issue in the next couple of months under the government's disinvestment programme. The government is putting up a brave face by claiming that its disinvestment programmes would remain unaffected since no oil-marketing company was on the disinvestment list this financial year. However, that argument should not hold much water for two reasons. One, there are no immediate signs of the government giving oil marketing companies the freedom to fix prices of diesel, LPG and kerosene. Two, without pricing freedom, the disinvestment programme for these oil marketing companies in the coming fiscal year will be doomed to failure.

The Union finance ministry may well consider a cut in taxes and duties on petroleum products to soften the impact of their price rise on the inflation index. That measure, however, will only be a palliative. Worse, it would once again turn the popular mood against oil pricing reforms and the agitating opposition political parties will stand vindicated. It is time the petroleum and natural gas ministry faced the challenges of oil pricing reforms, instead of hiding behind the oil companies. Instead of appearing defensive, the ministry should come out in support of the pricing decisions the oil marketing companies took in the last few months.

Yes, prices will go up if international crude oil prices keep rising. Not allowing the oil companies to recover their refining costs and make reasonable profit is not a sensible long-term policy. Instead, the government should look at other macro-economic measures to manage inflationary expectations. It is also time to put an end to the distorted pricing policy, in which the price of petrol, accounting for only 10 per cent of the oil industry's sales, is free, while the price of diesel, accounting for 40 per cent of the industry's sales, remains under government control. By allowing the oil companies to face criticism for the recent petrol price increases and remaining quiet itself, the petroleum and natural gas ministry is inflicting the biggest damage to the prospects of oil pricing reforms.






As his travels around India made him more comfortable with the terrain, Fa-Hien's accounts, written in the fourth century AD, move from the general to the particular. The focus shifts from the need to describe and convey the sharp foreignness of the place to his own interest in the way the teachings of the Buddha had spread and were conveyed among the people.

Writing six centuries later, Alberuni starts, famously, with a question about how to record history — from hearsay (unreliable, but inevitable), or as an eyewitness (privy to only a small part of the story, possibly biased, but invaluable). If the early Chinese travellers to India functioned as eyewitnesses, offering snapshots of a region in flux, Alberuni's aim was to explore the Hindu mind, and traditions of what might be called Indian thought.

 To that end, he laid down certain prescriptions: learn the local languages, be aware that "the Indian scribes are careless" and do not blindly trust local histories, acknowledge your own biases and the fact that a "depreciation of foreigners" will cut both ways — the traveller does it as much as the local inhabitants might. Perhaps his most important dictum — which Alberuni, however, often felt free to ignore — was to "relate without criticising", to offer an account without judgment.

In the annals of contemporary Indian travelogues, those who set out to write the big book on India do so at their own risk. V S Naipaul's India: A Wounded Civilization and India: A Million Mutinies Now are classic examples of the "eyewitness" school of writing — the reportage will be honest, the observer's prejudices recorded with scrupulous thoroughness. These accounts are usually controversial, and necessarily thought-provoking; Naipaul's India books have been the pebble in the mattress for all future inquirers, who must measure their responses to him (and to the country) against the nature of the discomfort he causes.

Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi is a monumentally ambitious work, compressing decades of history into a relatively small framework, but offering an overview rather than an argument. Sunil Khilnani, Edward Luce and Amartya Sen blend the two schools, and their books extend the tradition of arguing over what really drives India, and what forms the many and varied ideas of the country.

Patrick French's recently released India: A Portrait is very much a book of its times. A brief summary: the first section is a swift, abridged history of modern India, which includes a telling look at the persistence of inheritance in modern politics. French explores wealth next, moving from the successes and contradictions of the booming new economy to its failures and abscesses, as in his account of a man forced into literal chains in a quarry in Mysore, or his economic analysis of the failures that lie behind and fuel Maoist insurgencies. The third section explores the rise of the generation of Dalits after Ambedkar, modern-day crime and corruption, via the murder of Aarushi Talwar, and the complexities of Muslim religious law, with Pakistan offering a contrasting story.

As with most well-researched India books, French's "intimate biography of 1.2 billion people" offers a wealth of unforgettable anecdotes. Brahmins with their sacred threads bend to touch the feet of a Dalit woman chief minister, an expert on genetics unravels the mysteries of India's caste system, and a vivid gallery of politicians, businessmen, entrepreneurial farmers and eccentrics march through the pages of the book. This year will see several big India books, from Palash Krishna Mehrotra's exploration of Generation X to Siddhartha Deb's attempt to explore the invisible, unmapped nation. And French's book, optimistic despite his awareness, after decades of visiting and living in the country, of India's many areas of darkness, will remain one of the most engaging and useful works of its kind.

Any big India book today has to pay obeisance at the shrine of the much-told story of economic growth (the malls, the software companies, the new millionaires); the stone quarries are beginning to become as emblematic as the trope of an earlier age about children in carpet factories. No India book today can ignore either the slow emergence of the Dalit community, or the spread of Maoist thought; and the wise travel writer or old India hand will avoid the Kumbh Mela in favour of a visit to Deoband seminaries.

French is perhaps better equipped to make sense of the new stereotypes than most, and he also exemplifies another truth about the new wave of writings on India. With Rana Dasgupta researching what promises to be a seminal Delhi biography, and writers like Deb, French or Basharat Peer setting up new excavations into the past, the story of India is no longer being written by its academics and scholars. The generation after Romila Thapar and Bipin Chandra seems to have abdicated that role, passing the torch on to journalists, writers and open-minded travellers of the French persuasion.







IF THE government is indeed serious about combating corruption, it could act on an old idea that is sound in principle but did not find acceptance because of vested interests: transfer the ownership of all public enterprises from the assorted ministries that administer them now to a single holding company whose only job would be to appoint the boards of the enterprises and sack them if they do not deliver. Some administrative ministries like steel, coal and heavy industries exist only to lord over the public enterprises they control. Once ownership and control of these enterprises are transferred to a holding company, these ministries would have no further reason to exist and can instantly be abolished, saving the government oodles of taxpayer money. There would be two kinds of gains, both substantial. One, the opportunity to make money that public enterprises gift netas and babus on a platter would sink without a trace. Two, public enterprises would gain functional autonomy and acquire the speed, agility and talent they need to fulfil the role to meet which they were set up in the first place. Politics would become cleaner and there would be significant gains in economic efficiency that go beyond what would be delivered by the unshackled public enterprises themselves. The sort of bad odour that a stalled Cairn-Vedanta deal sends out, thanks to ministry-inspired obstructionism on the part of Cairn India's minority partner ONGC, suffocates to death many foreign direct investment proposals before they are even born. Deliverance from such abortions is just one of the positive externalities of the proposed reform.


In theory, the nature of ownership of a company should not have a bearing on how it functions. Entrepreneurial talent need not come twinned with ownership as Jack Welch and V Krishnamurthy show. In India, public ownership hobbles companies because of neta-babu interference. Allow public enterprises to function as boardrun, like widely-held companies are run, and there is no reason for some of them not to emerge titans on the world stage. Adoption of such reform in the current context would send entirely the right political message, too.







MORE and more children go to school but they continue to learn a fraction of what they should. Focused leadership by the government and community involvement help to raise the standards of teaching. These are some of the findings from non-government organisation Pratham's 2010 edition of Annual Survey of Education Report. Top-down focus works up to a point, beyond that the quality of pedagogy depends on local empowerment and community involvement in supervising school conduct. With the implementation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the proportion of children in the 6-14 age group in rural areas not attending school has declined to 3.5% in 2010 from 6.6% in 2005, the lowest ever proportion observed. That is welcome. But unfortunately, most of these children are woefully behind on the level of learning they should attain at any standard. For instance, Pratham found only 53.4% of the children in standard V could read at the standard II level. Only 65.8% of the standard I children can recognise numbers 1-9, only 36.5% of standard III children can do two-digit subtraction problems and only 35.9% of standard V students can do simple division. In all probability, all these children will grow into adults with impaired cognitive and processing skills. Given these statistics, it would be difficult to describe the SSA an unqualified success. Learning outcomes, along with improved enrolment numbers, should be the measure of success of any such programme. Similarly, increased outlays are no good if that money is not used effectively to obtain the desired objectives.


The situation can be quickly remedied with appropriate intervention, motivated teachers and regular monitoring — as the experience in states such as Punjab illustrates. Primary education in India cannot improve just by laying down norms. Yes, we need to lower the pupil to teacher ratio, appoint more teachers, improve attendance of students and teachers and provide better facilities at school. But real change will come about only if the teachers are dedicated to the cause of teaching the young, are well trained to educate and the local community oversees their work.







THE appearance of any new star on the horizon is bound to cause consternation among the existing constellations. It will upset a lot of the current favourites simply on account of being new and therefore a mysterious, unquantifiable entity. Experts and sundry soothsayers may aver that they predicted or wrote about its imminent advent years ago — and no one noticed — but that cannot wither the infinite variety of newness. Those who have been used to the limelight and the slavish devotion that celebrity often fosters, will obviously resist being eclipsed by someone who used to be merely a peripheral player. Also, others who may have been hoping for an entrée into exalted circles will feel thwarted. But let's face it, every once in a while people want a change, even when it comes to stars. When even the world wobbles on its axis down the millennia, why would we want the same characteristics and performances from our stars all the time? Besides, stars should realise that they cannot shine in perpetuity; sometimes it is just wiser to voluntarily move aside and watch from the sidelines with a smirk rather than feel offended, rejected or shoved aside. Conceding space on the pantheon need not diminish the lustre of those already there!


Anyway, getting a permanent place in the sun is easier said than done. For a while there will be a hubbub around any newcomer, conjectures will be made about potential, credentials and ability to perform. It is, after all, a universal law that stars are not always born — some are created, some are honed, some are merely rediscovered. And if they do not perform according to expectations, there is every chance that the people would ultimately fall back on their old favourites.






INDIAN governments hate inflation, but inflation seems attached to this government like an irritating limpet. For most of last year, the government battled to bring down the rate at which prices went up and by November its efforts seemed to be working: headline inflation slipped to 7.5%. But the following month, it's roared back up to 8.4%. Worse, the surge is being driven by something that hits people straight in the gut: food prices.


This worried everyone, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh so much, that he spent two days last week meeting his senior Cabinet colleagues to find out exactly what's driving prices up and what to do about it.


Most of the time, prices go up because there's too much money chasing too few things. That sort of inflation is relatively easy to bring to heel, by getting central banks to raise interest rates and suck out the excess cash from the system. That, alas, doesn't seem to be working anymore.


The Reserve Bank has hiked rates half a dozen times in quick succession and might hike some more, but hasn't succeeded in cooling prices. Instead, higher rates seem to be dragging down growth: industrial production grew a measly 2.7% in November compared to more than 11% a year earlier, with growth in manufacturing, which makes up about 80% of the index, slowing dramatically.


Runaway inflation and slowing growth could trigger a particularly nasty condition called stagflation. Its first recorded occurrence was in the US and Europe after the first oil shock of 1973, when the price of crude quadrupled overnight, throwing productivity in oil importing countries into an abyss. Governments pumped money into the system to pull growth back on track, but all that cash just added fuel to inflationary fires.

Is India headed down that slope? At first glance the answer seems to be no. Industry, the sector that's slowing down, hasn't been hit by any major shocks that could dent its efficiency. And instead of pumping in money, the RBI has been busy mopping up liquidity. But look deeper.


The roots of inflation go deep down into food prices. Unlike recent episodes, when the price spurt came from a hike in foodgrain prices, this spiral comes from vegetables, fruits, pulses, milk and cooking oil. And unlike foodgrains like rice and wheat, which are bought and stored by the government to be released at low prices to control inflation, there's little that the government can do about the prices of veggies.


One reason for that is that neither the states nor New Delhi have a policy of buying and storing stuff like vegetables and dal on a large scale. Without any stocks, there's little the government can do to intervene when prices of onions, say, go up. Another reason is the peculiar structure of India's vegetable market.


In September last year, Morgan Stanley carried out a survey to see if there were marked differences between rich and poor farmers. The rich were those who earned an average of . 2,73,000, the poor made an average of .


37,000 every year. Among other things, it found that rich farmers, who have about seven acres of land on average, prefer to grow mostly foodgrains and when they diversify, they get into dairying. Poor farmers, with half the land of their rich cousins, do grow foodgrains like rice, but diversify intensely into vegetables, fruit and oilseeds.


THIS is easy to square with what you see travelling across the country. Most poor farmers in Morgan Stanley's study are from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, and these are also the places where you'll see the most intensive cultivation of everything from chillies to potatoes and other vegetables alongside paddy fields. Punjab, which is where the rich farmers are, is mainly large swathes of rice and paddy.


The study also finds that the richer farmers, probably because they have more bargaining power, choose to deal with private agents while selling their crops. The poorer ones have to make the trek to the local mandi and take whatever price they get. All these things make the vegetable market, with millions of small producers, transactions at local haats and mandis and no central storage, a nightmare for a regulator.
    When you buy oranges that were grown in Meghalaya in Delhi, remember that four out of every 10 that were loaded on to the truck, perished by the time it reached its destination. And that's true of all perishables including onions in our farm economy. Wastage is appallingly high, because storage and transport systems are so rickety. Will organised retail help? Industry bodies claim they will, but there's nothing to prove it will.
    Over the last 20 years, the government has focused on reforms that have transformed sectors like manufacturing, telecom and information services. Today, it's focused on fast forwarding India's physical infrastructure. So today, the one sector it studiously ignored all along has come back to strike us in the gut. Very aspect of farming needs reform and the government has to get down to it now. The market for crops other than foodgrains is notoriously fragile and fragmented and that's where reforms need to begin.


One obvious thing to boost supplies of all kinds of vegetables and fruits would be to get farmers who don't grow them now, to grow them soon. Punjab, for example, was one of the pioneers of commercial tomato harvesting in the 1980s, when PepsiCo gave contracts to buy tomatoes to make ketchup to local farmers. Imagine what could happen if big farmers get out of their apathy and start cultivating vegetables with robust Punjabi gusto.

The best way to do that is for the government to offer a carrot of prices and procurement, a carrot that farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have found irresistible over the years. If the government opens up its procurement to include fruits and vegetables, farmers all over the country would fall over themselves to grow the stuff.


But won't that bloat our food subsidy and create new pressures on the inefficient storage system? Yes, the subsidy could go up in the short run, but the storage and distribution could be hived off to private players who ought to be efficient — or get their contracts scrapped if they aren't. It's just one small step, but it could stem the stagflation in the farm sector.








 THE sudden change in the political fortunes of the DMK, a major Congress ally in the UPA, is all evident on the eve of the Cabinet reshuffle. There was a time when Karunanidhi's wish used to be a command for the Congress in the allocation of protfolios. The 2G spectrum scandal and the heat of the advancing Tamil Nadu poll have now put the DMK on the backfoot. The Tamil Nadu brigade has virtually accepted that the big- ticket telecom ministry will remain with the Congress. It is just hoping to get some portfolio in compensation for agreeing to A Raja's axing. But Sharad Pawar still has a wish — to move Praful Patel from civil aviation ministry to the power ministry — as a condition for bifurcating his own agriculture-cum-food ministry. For Mamata, there is enough scope for upgrading some of the Trinamul junior ministers to cabinet, rank provided Didi doesn't mind having a party colleague on equal status in the Union Cabinet in the run-up to the all-important West Bengal assembly elections.



THE speculations on the Cabinet reshuffle may be focused on Congress bigwigs and major portfolios. Yet, junior Congressman Shashi Tharoor, who tripped on the sweat equity controversy, is also feeling edgy. While Tharoor, so far, has had the consolation of the Congress brass not filling the 'Kerala vacancy' in the UPA ministry, the state party now wants to induct a Nair representative in the ministry with an eye on the assembly polls. PCC chief Ramesh Chennithala is pushing for the induction of his loyalist MP and former Youth Congress state chief K C Venugopal. Can Tharoor retain the vacancy' or end up in no man's land, maybe to the liking of his Twitter fans?



MANY Congress leaders are intrigued by the way senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar, now under the terror scanner, has staged a propaganda coup against them. When a large section of the media has been following Kumar's tryst with investigating agencies, the RSS man surprised many Congresspersons by bagging a prime slot interview space for himself on a TV channel owned by Congress MP Rajiv Shukla. The channel repeatedly telecast a long interview in which Kumar defended himself and charged the Congress leadership and UPA regime with hatching a 'conspiracy to discredit' him and the RSS. While many Congress leaders are speechless at the sight of Kumar launching a counter-attack by using the platform of a news channel owned by a Congressman, some of them say the entire episode might have pleased BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad who is Shukla's brother-in-law. It is not quite a secret that Prasad has become an RSS favourite ever since this politician-cum- lawyer represented 'Lord Ram' and won the Ayodhya land dispute case.



WHEN Andhra Pradesh Congress rebel Jaganmohan Reddy staged a dharna in Delhi last week against the UPA regime, he had chartered a special train to bring his supporters to the national capital from Hyderabad. While Jagan reached Delhi by a morning flight to lead the show, around 3,000 of his supporters could reach the venue only towards the end of the one-day dharna, courtesy the late arrival of their special train. After his release from the nearby police station, where he and his senior colleagues had been taken after they courted arrest, Jagan made it a point to board the special train to return home along with his supporters.







BUSINESS reorganisation is critical to growth process, whether for acquiring technology through joint ventures or for acquiring critical size through mergers or for converting partnership firms into companies so as to raise capital for growth.


The Direct Taxes Code Bill, 2010 has many retrograde provisions, even as compared to the existing law. The bill classifies assets into: a) investment asset; b) business trading asset; and c) business capital asset. Earlier, the transfer of any capital asset, including a business unit, to a 100% subsidiary company was tax-free; now only gains on investment asset transfer will be tax-free. Thus, transfer of business undertaking to a 100% subsidiary will attract tax as business income.


Remission of loan, advance or credit will be business income as against only trade liability at present. Revival of weak companies by any loan write off or interest waiver will suffer.


The new law provides that in a demerger, equity shares only must be issued as against full flexibility today. Why take away this flexibility? Let the business contingencies decide the plan. The valuation will always be checked by regulatory authorities. Issue of preference shares convertible (CCP) to equity will not satisfy this condition. Issue of CCP to be converted as per Sebi formulae of average stock exchange prices leads to fair price discovery.


New trends internationally accepted have not been recognised by the bill. Instead of merging into one company, the contemporary practice is that companies create a holding and subsidiary company structure by issuing their shares to the shareholders of the target company. There is thus a pooling of interest of the shareholders of the acquirer and the target company as in a merger. Migration of registered offices of companies from abroad to India and their tax consequences will incentivise foreign companies to be domiciled here.


In merger or demerger which are now currently tax-exempt, it appears [as per section 45 (e)] that only capital gains on investment assets will be tax-free (and not business assets). This law was in existence from 1961 is being overturned. Both groups of shareholders owning two companies are pooling their interests in one company; there is no sale to the third party and for encouraging business growth, it was not subject to the taxation. Mercifully, the tax exemption for the shareholder of a company has been continued.


Further, the DTC Bill provides "any arrangement entered into by a person may be declared as an Impermissible Avoidance Arrangement (IAA)". The latter is defined as a "step in, or a part or whole of, an arrangement, whose main purpose is to obtain a tax benefit.…" If the ITO holds that there is an IAA, then he gets immense powers: (a) to disregard the transaction or any step therein; b) to reduce thetaxbenefit;c)toreallocatetheincome and expenditure among various parties to the arrangement, etc; and d) or exercise any of the other wide powers which have been given. This is virtually overturning any other exemption provisions of the bill. And the test is at the subjective discretion of the ITO. Will this not hit business reorganisations? It is better to have a system of approval by ITO (as under section 72A currently).


The provisions for assessing foreign companies on the basis of effective place of management, the General Anti Avoidance Rules, the thin capitalisation rules, and the rules for full examination of schemes which transfer asset or income to non-residents are welcome. These should be tempered by well laid-out internal circulars that lay down transparent rules. Approval of higher authority with a reasoned order should be made necessary to ensure judicious use.


The provisions for taxing undistributed income of controlled foreign companies (CFC) controlled by Indian entities should be reconsidered.


The bill also has many draconian provisions which lead to uncertainty regarding taxation. The bill authorises the disallowance of any expenditure to any associated person if it is not at a fair market value (without any margin of error), or is not for the legitimate needs of the business, or the purchaser does not derive adequate benefit. To satisfy these tests will be purely the ITO's judgmental opinion. "Fair market value" justification will require businesses to maintain a host of data and documentation (Sec 115).


Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had stated in his Budget speech: "How of foreign investment is extremely sensitive to a prolonged uncertainty in tax related matters?" Does the DTC Bill 2010 pass this test?


(The author is managing partner,     S S Kothari Mehta & Co)








THE word 'gaze' is sometimes used to mean a little more than to merely look at something intently. In many contexts — such as in deep meditation — it means when the observer begins to actually approximate and experience the object of view, and vice versa. In which connection, Fr Richard Leonard SJ who is also a cinema critic has an interesting take on the gaze as it's exercised in the act of watching a film. He believes the cinema now rivals the previously popular venues of worship such as churches, temples or synagogues as the place where spectators deploy what he calls the mystical gaze. The gaze that is capable of contemplating an Otherness.


Also, that whereas cinema studies is generally used to dissecting films on the basis of gender, class or race, Leonard thinks that a mystical gaze also exists and is used in the secular multiplexes of today. He has a point. Compared to public places of daylight prayer where perhaps the only nod to veneration is the ritualistic closing of eyes, the confined and intimate darkness of an auditorium can become far more conducive instead to a completely wide-eyed suspension of belief in the normal everyday world outside.


Of course not all film viewing leads to an encounter with Otherness. However it's still true that cinema can create a space which, in the hands of a director with an interest in the exploration of the metaphysical, can lead a spectator to report an encounter with Otherness using language previously reserved for religious experience. Films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Picnic at Hanging Rock — both in the genre of speculative fiction — immediately come to mind. People who have seen them usually talk of being struck by their transcendent quality.


It's ironic that such a modern artefact as cinema with its play of light and shade, time and space, visuals and resonance, private and public areas, hierarchies and stars — all of which are rooted in social constructs and technology — can also possess a multicultural mystical consciousness. As Peter Weir the director of Picnic told an interviewer for Sight & Sound, "We worked very hard at creating an hallucinatory, mesmeric rhythm, so that you lost awareness of facts, you stopped adding things up, and got into this enclosed atmosphere. I did everything in my power to hypnotise the audience away from the possibility of solutions." Does that sound like a Zen koan or not?









It is a difficult situation indeed. Global oil prices are, on the one hand, hardening and have increased by $8 a barrel since mid-December, when domestic prices were last revised. On the other, the oil companies are complaining of under-recoveries and it is obvious that retail fuel prices have to go up proportionately. There are just two ways that the situation can be handled: increase domestic fuel prices, which is the most obvious solution and is the call of the oil companies, or tinker with the import duty structure for crude oil and petroleum products, which is the Government's call. While the oil companies have made their decision by raising prices of petrol and aviation turbine fuel, the question is how much will it help them given that the two fuels account for only a small part of the overall fuel consumption in the country. To ease their burden fully, the oil companies ought to have increased prices of diesel, cooking gas and kerosene as well. But then, given the political sensitivities surrounding these products, they have been left alone for the moment. In a way, the oil companies have achieved the distinction of not solving their problem but still earning the ire of consumers.

What is it that the Government could have done? It could have either reduced or abolished import duties on products given that they are not imported but still cause "under-recoveries" of oil companies to rise. It could also have considered a reduction in crude oil duties, given that prices have increased by more than $20 a barrel since the duty was re-imposed in the Budget last year. It would have been a small sacrifice to ensure that higher fuel prices did not add to the burden of the consumer already reeling from high food inflation.

That said, greater transparency is needed in the manner in which oil companies arrive at pricing decisions. Pricing decisions are now driven by "under-recoveries", which are artificial and have nothing to do with the cost structure of the national oil companies. "Under-recoveries" are the difference between the trade-parity price of a fuel, which includes import duties and levies, and the prevailing market price. Why should oil companies assume import duties in their pricing structure when not a litre of petrol or diesel is imported? As we enter what is probably a period of high oil prices in future, we need to eliminate the concept of trade-parity pricing and link pricing to the cost structure and margins of the oil companies. Needless to say, that means oil companies have to pull up their efficiencies and keep costs down to protect their margins. It is also probably time to bring the sector regulator into the pricing process, just as is the case in other critical sectors such as telecom and electricity.







During the long weekend I had the opportunity to watch Aamir Khan Productions' amazing film Peepli Live.  It did more than provide entertainment… in most viewers it must have triggered off a chain of reactions, coming as the film does at this critical time when, more than ever before, India — and more so the UPA Government — seems to be sending out such conflicting signals to the rest of the world.

Are we the India imagined in Nandan Nilekani's book Imagining India, where he forecast such an amazing future for us, provided we find the right way to educate and harness our immense youth power? Or are we the India of the innumerable scams that have been unfolding periodically at both the Centre and in various States? The India where powerful politicians, bureaucrats and corporate dons continue to flout the rule-book or the law of the land with impunity, siphoning away hundreds and thousands of crores of rupees from the exchequer while ordinary mortals get locked up for years for taking a bribe of a few hundred rupees?

Lip service to farmers?

When it comes to the rural landscape, are we the caring India where our rulers have rightly introduced the MNREGA scheme so that every poor family gets at least 100 days of minimum wages so that hunger and starvation don't stalk the homes of the poorest of the poor? Or are we the India depicted in Peepli Live, where politicians play politics with as grim an issue as farmers' suicides, and the media more than matches them through its shenanigans?

First of all, let's take Mr Nilekani's book which takes us through the "cold dark years" of socialist India, where entrepreneurs were looked at with suspicion, to the "arrival" of India at Davos in 2006 (India everywhere campaign) or New York in 2007 (Incredible India@60). But, striking a sombre note, the author says that, even while the world acknowledges "India's new promise, the opportunity of the global economy has highlighted our internal differences — between the educated and illiterate, the public and private sectors, between the well and the poorly governed," and the poor and the rich.

The author is brutally honest when he says: "Never have the external circumstances for India been so fortunate. And never has the need for resolving the internal conflicts been so urgent. The challenge for India is really within — in the decisions that will emerge out of our political struggles, our debate and our tempestuous democracy."

Natha's world

Well, political struggles and tempestuous democracy aside, the frightening image of India that comes through in the brilliant movie is seriously disturbing. The story line is simple; Natha and his brother Budhia, marginal farmers, have mortgaged their land which the bank will auction as they cannot repay their loan. When they go for help to local leaders, they are mockingly told that one of them should commit suicide, as the government helps the families of indebted farmers. Both volunteer to do it, but Natha, the simpleton, finds the onus thrust on him for this "unique honour".

Poor Natha is petrified, and would happily opt out but for the ruckus that follows. A local stringer publishes the story, the Central and the State governments, obviously formed by rival parties, trade malicious charges on who is responsible for the poor plight of farmers and the electronic media makes a beeline for Peepli, the sleepy village of Natha.

As the media and police launch their circus around Natha's little hut, the State government, which has an election coming up, responds by first awarding him a "Lal Bahadur". We are soon told that this scheme gives free hand-pumps to beneficiaries; apart from the hand-pump, which comes without the means and the money to make it operational, Natha and his brother are garlanded by politicians and given a free TV and other gifts.

The State Chief Minister soon visits Natha, sanctions Rs 1 lakh and makes a grand announcement before TV cameras that Natha's suicide plan has been called off. But the Election Commission disallows this as an election sop and TV headlines scream that the suicide is back on track!

Written and directed by Anusha Rizvi, this comic, and yet extremely dark, satire leaves you gasping for breath. After you've done smiling or laughing, the film leaves you wondering if the India that you are so proud of…. the India you dreamt about, and which you were so certain your children would certainly inhabit, will remain in the realm of dreams.

A dark thought chain

The world of Natha, and countless other farmers like him, triggers a dark and grim thought chain… Are the double digit growth in GDP, which is supposed to be just around the corner, the swank airports, the glittering malls, world leaders chasing the India growth story, the ritzy villas in big cities, all just a mirage?

Omkar Das Manikpuri, a theatre personality, who brilliantly plays the simpleton called Natha, succeeds in really shaking you up. Natha's look, whether puzzled, troubled, brooding, dejected or downright sad… demands an answer from rich/upper-middle-class, educated Indians like us — cosily cocooned in a world of success and optimism, dazzling growth and high levels of comfort, if not luxury.

Having taken simpletons like Natha for a ride, how long will it be before the politicians turn upon us? To quote Mr Ratan Tata, one of India's most respected industrialists, even though his comment was made in a different context, are we going down the path of becoming a banana republic?







Each of us has some pet nightmares when it comes to dealing with the Government. Be it getting a tax refund, registering a property purchase, or applying for a passport. If only simplified procedures were available over the Internet! For sure, Indian companies work back-ends and front-ends to deliver IT-enabled services to the world. And yet we are left with rather weak delivery systems within the country. Happily, there is growing consensus that things need tochange fast to achieve the projected growth rates over the next decade.

Of that need to change, we do have a visible manifestation in the shape of a National e-Governance Plan that starts with a refreshing premise. The Plan views Government as a service provider committed to delivering services at certain pre-defined levels. And, across multiple tiers, projects have been identified and woven together as part of a framework (with a leeway to add new projects).

Each individual project report is being drawn up after discussion with the ultimate beneficiaries. A sizeable number of these projects have been formulated, complete with financial approvals. Several others are in pipeline. Will we then be looking at a transformed Government a few years from now?

Yes and no. Yes, because policymakers realise it is vital for the country. Yes, because some departments are already delivering something, with or without the Plan, driven by sheer public pressure.


But then implementation issues don't go away. A few years down, we may well have just a set of half-executed plans that run behind schedule, unless we were to adopt a fundamentally different way to avoid roadblocks.

For instance, each of these projects requires large-scale procurement of information and communication technology equipment and services, such as data centres, servers, routers, firewalls, database servers, storage equipment and network management systems. Do we have sufficient expertise in the Government to do a complex procurement of ICT equipment and services, which will actually mean multiple tenders for each of these hundreds of projects? Let's assume the Government by some sleight of hand enables instant access to outside expertise for complex ICT procurements.

Even then, it is not certain such an army of experts exists in the country today, within government or outside; experts with experience in Government procurement in the ICT domain — people able to support the procurement process within the time frames envisaged.


An alternative approach could be one where each user department plugs into a central platform — one that readily delivers applications and utilities necessary to improve public service delivery. The platform would, on the fly, provide core infrastructure and a spectrum of common utilities such as e-payments, bank interfaces, authentication services, office workflow programmes, etc.

As it takes shape, the Government-wide platform would free officialdom from the tedium of complex technology procurements.

It would also release Government leadership, resources and energy to work on those areas that scream for attention in any transformation initiative. Interestingly, technological developments like cloud computing offer viable paradigms and toolsets to make the platform possible.

Individual offices need no longer bother where their applications and data are stored, so long as they are secure inside a private, closed system controlled by Government. Existing IT resources, wherever they may be, can become part of a Government-wide pool available to other user departments as well.


An issue plaguing e-governance implementations across individual departments is one of inter-operability to facilitate exchange of data. A shared platform gives each department a virtual independent space to operate while ensuring that information is accessible across departments when required. Secondly, applications developed by individual departments /state Governments on open standards can be made available over the platform to other users, cutting costs of re-inventing the wheel.

A third spin-off relates to innovation. The shared platform offers application programming interfaces to help small companies develop innovative services/products for use in the e-governance domain. These will also increasingly be accessed on mobile phones. For a country with 600 million-plus mobile subscriptions (and growing!!), the mobile phone would perhaps be the channel that a vast majority of people will choose to tap into public services.

Fourthly, a platform-based approach will convert huge capital costs on technology equipment into operating expenses spread over the project lifecycle.

As we explore organisational models for the platforms, we have the opportunity to tap the enormous expertise that lies today with the private sector. We have establishments that deliver services based out of India on a global scale. We could bring the best of private and Government sectors together. Some form of a shared ownership of the platform may yield twin benefits of Government control and private agility in service delivery.

For competition, we could visualise three or four 3-4 such interoperable platforms, each with shared ownership. The entities managing the platforms may be termed "National Information Utilities".

Interestingly then, what began as an insurmountable problem now opens up an opportunity. We see emerge the blurred vision of a future where The Government's pressing need to revamp public service delivery can be is married with the industry's skill for a certain national competitive advantage. That we are late-starters may be a blessing. For, we don't need to undo or dismantle, as we leapfrog stages to embrace the latest in technology and service delivery.

(The author works for the National Institute of Smart Government. The views expressed are personal).







It is a pity that loss of lives in stampedes which occur periodically in places of pilgrimage seem to cause no great soul-searching among the middle classes as the shenanigans of politicians, bureaucrats and business tycoons do.

If an actuary were to place a value on the lives lost at Sabarimala on January 14, at the current tally of 102, assuming a demographic profile at an average age of around 32, and compute the loss in terms of minimum wages prescribed by MNREGA , the loss will run easily into hundreds of crores of rupees.

The loss to individual families will defy computation even by the cleverest auditor.

To compound the tragedy all victims were males since only men are allowed to offer worship and consequently, their families consisting of young wives and school-going children were left orphaned. Unforgiveable

What happened in Pulmedu is unforgiveable.

It cannot be explained away as an accident. A newspaper reported that there were only three policemen, two doctors and 30 forest officials in the area to take care of 3 lakh pilgrims. Were there no estimates made of pilgrims expected?

Even if the stampede had not happened, will the small hillock be able to hold such a horde of humans?

What is the damage to ecology and environment in a forest area with such a large sudden influx of predatory humans? Was there no high-level planning for crowd control, days ahead of the event? Or is it too expensive to implement sufficient safeguards?

Laughable questions though, when one considers the number of cars and policemen and Black Cats surrounding ordinary politicians in power on their junkets and road tours. Kerala and West Bengal are two States ruled by non-believers who fully exploit the money-earning potential of the inveterate habit of human beings to undertake perilous journeys to visit shrines.

However, the rulers forget that, if they want to maximise revenue from the devotees, they should also take full responsibility to conduct them safely through their sojourn.


If the celestial event is indeed a stage-managed one, as many sceptics believe, the government should shut it down so that devotees spread their schedule to visit Swami Ayyappa through the year.

The Chief Minister of Kerala has ordered a judicial enquiry into the tragedy.

If the past is any guide, such enquiries will take long and fix responsibility at best on the District Superintendent of Police.

What about the accountability of the Chief Minister himself? The heads of the topmost political rung should roll first to show that we have governments that care for immense human tragedies.

(The author is a former Member, Ordnance Factories Board).




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




My wife and I were thinking of going out for an inexpensive dinner tonight. But John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, says that no matter how cheap the meal may seem, it will cost thousands of dollars once you take our monthly mortgage payments into account.

Wait a minute, you may say. How can our mortgage payments be a cost of going out to eat, when we'll have to make the same payments even if we stay home? But Mr Boehner is adamant: our mortgage is part of the cost of our meal, and to say otherwise is just a budget gimmick.

OK, the Speaker hasn't actually weighed in on our plans for the evening. But he and his Grand Old Party (GOP) colleagues have been making exactly the nonsensical argument I've just described about healthcare reform.

We are, I believe, witnessing something new in American politics. Last year, looking at claims that we can cut taxes, avoid cuts to any popular programme and still balance the budget, I observed that Republicans seemed to have lost interest in the war on terror and shifted focus to the war on arithmetic. But now the GOP has moved on to an even bigger project: the war on logic.

So, about that nonsense: this week the House is expected to pass HR 2, the Repealing the Job-Killing Healthcare Law Act — its actual name. But Republicans have a small problem: they claim to care about budget deficits, yet the Congressional Budget Office says that repealing last year's health reform would increase the deficit. So what, other than dismissing the nonpartisan budget office's verdict as "their opinion" can the GOP do?

The answer is contained in an analysis — or maybe that should be "analysis" — released by the Speaker's office, which purports to show that healthcare reform actually increases the deficit. Why? That's where the war on logic comes in. First of all, says the analysis, the true cost of reform includes the cost of the "doc fix". What's that?

Well, in 1997 Congress enacted a formula to determine Medicare payments to physicians. The formula was, however, flawed; it would lead to payments so low that doctors would stop accepting medicare patients. Instead of changing the formula, however, Congress has consistently enacted one-year fixes. And Republicans claim that the estimated cost of future fixes, $208 billion over the next 10 years, should be considered a cost of healthcare reform.

But the same spending would still be necessary if we were to undo reform. So the GOP argument here is exactly like claiming that my mortgage payments, which I'll have to make no matter what we do tonight, are a cost of going out for dinner.

There's more like that: the GOP also claims that $115 billion of other healthcare spending should be charged to health reform, even though the budget office has tried to explain that most of this spending would have taken place even without reform.

To be sure, the Republican analysis doesn't rely entirely on spurious attributions of cost — it also relies on using three-card monte tricks to make money disappear. Health reform, says the budget office, will increase social security revenues and reduce medicare costs. But the GOP analysis says that these sums don't count, because some people have said that these savings would also extend the life of these programmes' trust funds, so counting these savings as deficit reduction would be "double-counting", because — well, actually it doesn't make any sense, but it sounds impressive.

So, is the Republican leadership unable to see through childish logical fallacies? No.

The key to understanding the GOP analysis of health reform is that the party's leaders are not, in fact, opposed to reform because they believe it will increase the deficit. Nor are they opposed because they seriously believe that it will be "job-killing" (which it won't be). They're against reform because it would cover the uninsured — and that's something they just don't want to do.

And it's not about the money. As I tried to explain in my last column, the modern GOP has been taken over by an ideology in which the suffering of the unfortunate isn't a proper concern of government, and alleviating that suffering at taxpayer expense is immoral, never mind how little it costs.

Given that their minds were made up from the beginning, top Republicans weren't interested in and didn't need any real policy analysis — in fact, they're basically contemptuous of such analysis, something that shines through in their healthcare report. All they ever needed or wanted were some numbers and charts to wave at the press, fooling some people into believing that we're having some kind of rational discussion. We aren't.






Those who travelled to the fifth Vibrant Gujarat Summit this past week experienced not just dazzling investment statistics and the fruits of purposeful governance but also, in a sense, social engineering. The figures are well known. Over two days, 7,936 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were announced, committing to invest $462 billion in Gujarat. If all of this money does come in — to be fair, some of the MoUs will remain theoretical — it will create 5.2 million direct and indirect employment opportunities.

Even so, this was not just another business meeting. The Vibrant Gujarat Summits have become the largest such events in India. Delegates from 80 countries turned up this year, as did the cream of Indian business. Forty-five countries and 19 other (non-Gujarat) Indian states made presentations and solicited business opportunities. It was a show that brought together the old world, the new world and the newer world.

Sitting on the dais at the inauguration were Mukesh and Anil Ambani, Ratan Tata and Sir Michael Kadoorie — chairman of the Hong Kong based China Light and Power Company, scion of a Baghdadi Jewish family that cut deals with the Tatas in mid-19th century Bombay — the Prime Minister of Rwanda (who invited Indian/Gujarati capital to exploit his country's resources) and the ambassador of Japan (who put his weight behind Japanese capital coming into Gujarat). Canada and Japan were Vibrant Gujarat's partner countries. The president of the United States-India Business Council promised the Americans would do the honours the next time, in 2013.

The roll-call is less relevant than the larger message: India's premier globalisation event — "Davos in Action", as Gujarat government officials have nicknamed their flagship business show — is organised by a state government. There are two reasons for this. First, in any emerging economy, some states and regions move faster and grow quicker than others. In China, the eastern coast has cities that outdo Manhattan. Individual provinces have gross domestic products that are bigger than those of most countries. In India, Gujarat and, to an extent, Tamil Nadu have galloped ahead of other states. They have adroitly used their coastlines and ports to capture a slice of global trade.

The second reason is the diffidence of the Union government. The Congress, for all the intellect at its command, is a reluctant economic reformer. It has shied away from proactive deregulation and from projecting India as a gung-ho, growth-first economy. This does not suit the mental make-up of its leadership. That is why United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ministers are happier promoting India as a potential economic superpower in faraway locales like Davos — where the "India Inclusive" extravaganza later this month will be the second World Economic Forum event in five years to be dedicated to India — rather than before a domestic audience.

On his part, Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, has no such diffidence. He also differs from successive administrators in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra — the two states that could have seriously challenged Gujarat — in that he is personally incorruptible and runs a government that has minimised (if not eliminated) rent seeking from investors and provides clearances expeditiously. This was a point made by many businessmen at Vibrant Gujarat.

That apart, Mr Modi is also an astute politician who realises economic reform, at the end of the day, has to not only lead to impressive statistics but also generate visible prosperity and be embraced by a critical mass of society. The gap between globalisation's winners and losers has to be rendered smaller and smaller by making the process of global economic integration intelligible to the greatest possible section of stakeholders and giving them the sense that they can optimise its opportunities. He uses Vibrant Gujarat as a mechanism to bring globalisation home to the Gujarati.

As such Vibrant Gujarat has become a combination of a business barons' conference, an investor meet, a trade fair and a general mela. It is a measure of Gujarati society — and this is a gene that arrived millennia before Mr Modi — that a business event of this type has become a mass celebration, almost a secular festival, with a build-up that incorporates accessible seminars on building new cities as well as the state's popular kite-flying tradition. Kolkata has its book fair; New Delhi has its Commonwealth Games or similar taxpayer-subsidised jamborees; Gandhinagar-Ahmedabad has Vibrant Gujarat. Each city has its individual self-image and own idea of getting its citizens to engage with the world. It is telling.

Gujarat has historically been a trading hub. Its early manufacturing forays were in textiles and diamonds/gems and jewellery. In recent years, it has become a force to reckon with in petrochemicals and petroleum refining, and power generation. Mr Modi's decade in office has seen it take the next leap to hi-tech manufacture, establishing it as a base for automobiles (Tata Motors, General Motors, Mahindra and Mahindra) as much as for Bombardier, the Canadian company that makes coaches for the Delhi Metro. Further, 40 per cent of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor passes through Gujarat. Here, Japanese investment will incubate new cities as well as transplant precision-manufacture facilities.

The beneficiaries of this process will not always be current superstars. There is a reservoir of entrepreneurial talent in Gujarat that believes it can shape this future. Dhirubhai Ambani and more recently Gautam Adani are examples of first-generation Gujarati businessmen who have, in one lifetime, evolved from traders to small and medium enterprise (SME) manufacturers to running internationally-benchmarked facilities to investing overseas and going global.

As Gujarat prospers, there will no doubt be more Ambanis and Adanis, a greater conversion rate of SMEs to megacorps and the birth of a new generation of world-class Indian tycoons. Vibrant Gujarat is designed to give this process a leg up. As Mr Modi puts it, it provides the small industrialist in Gujarat — the one who cannot easily travel to the trade fairs of the West — "exposure to available technologies and to the way business is done" by his peers in other countries. It is very different from a self-congratulatory talking shop in Davos, but it leaves a deeper impress on Gujarati society.

The results are showing. Gujarat has five per cent of India's population, but is responsible for 16 per cent of its industrial production. Other states want to be part of the Gujarat story and even Andhra Pradesh — run by the Congress, usually a party hostile to acknowledging Mr Modi does anything worthwhile at all — used Vibrant Gujarat to showcase itself to potential business partners. No wonder, as Chanda Kochhar, chief executive officer of ICICI Bank, suggested, "When the world looks to India for growth, India looks to Gujarat".

- Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]





Disaster has struck the Sabarimala pilgrimage in Kerala before, and it is clear that lessons were not learnt. Else, more than a 100 devotees to the famous Lord Ayyappa temple may not have died. Unmanageable crowds and clueless authorities combined to cause last week's tragedy. The portents were there all through this pilgrimage season at Sabarimala. A near stampede had occurred only a few days earlier when a surging queue broke rope barricades. The Kerala High Court repeatedly asked the Travancore Devaswom Board to put enough personnel in place to prevent people from entering the queues through alternative paths. The Idukki collector had warned that the surge of devotees through the forest path in Pulmedu might become unmanageable on Makara Sankranti. But those in charge refused to be forearmed. This is similar to stampede-related tragedies at other religious centres. Devotees were killed in large numbers at the Mangah Ashram at Kunda in Uttar Pradesh's Pratapgarh district in March last year, and at the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh in August 2008. In circumstances that were near identical, high fatalities were recorded at the Naina Devi shrine in 1978 as well. Minor unpredicted developments caused stampedes that took lives because the authorities had not prepared well. On the tragic evening of January 14, a crowd of over 2.5 lakh devotees, mostly from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, had reached atop the hill in Pulmedu trudging the narrow forest path from Vandiperiyar through the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Apart from makeshift tents they put up, there were no facilities in the area, not even the necessary illumination. Apparently there were only four policemen to manage the rush of lakhs of devotees and one of them, it is said, had gone away to see the Makarajyothi and Makaravilakku. This is a telling commentary on the state of affairs. While the V.S. Achuthanandan government has ordered a judicial inquiry, it should not be difficult to determine why the police deployment was so pathetic, especially in such difficult terrain. The sequence of events suggests that as dusk fell, devotees and vehicles jostled each other to descend the path. It required the mere overturning of a jeep to trigger the stampede. Pilgrim numbers visiting Sabarimala have been swelling by crores each year. Clearly, the Kerala government has betrayed no signs of understanding that it needs to upgrade infrastructure and other facilities to cope with the rush of devotees from all parts of the country. After a stampede in 1999 killed 55 people, a judicial panel had asked the authorities to develop infrastructure on all routes used by pilgrims so that crowd management may not become a casualty. Not only was this not heeded, this year the police appears to have allowed lakhs of people to climb to Pulmedu from January 12 onwards. It is said this was to facilitate brisk business for petty traders with whom they were hand in glove. In the chaos following the stampede the state's much-hyped disaster management authority stayed in slumber. The lack of relief work in the initial hours led to a rise in the death toll. In this respect too, the Sabarimala disaster appears little different from previous accidents at other shrines.







The list of threats that can derail the India growth story typically includes inflation, a creaking infrastructure, corruption, Maoists and the Kashmir tangle. Rarely is ill health flagged as a major strategic concern within the country. Heartwarmingly, 2011 has kicked off with a host of heavyweight thought leaders reminding us that poor health is not only a problem of the poor. It can eventually scupper our economic and geopolitical aspirations. 

In an interview to a national daily earlier this month, Kishore Mahbu-bani, academic-author-diplomat and one of the most ardent evangelists of Asia's growing role on the world stage, pointed out that healthcare and education are the basics for "high growth" and that India would have to go "all out" to improve its record in these areas if it wants to maintain the momentum that the world is envious of. It is hard to imagine that Singapore, where Mr Mahbubani lives, was once a mosquito-infested swamp. Today, this city-state of five million people is lauded not only for its economic success but also for its high standard of healthcare. That Singaporeans, by and large, are healthy and wealthy is no accident. This has happened because of a series of decisions taken by the Singapore government over four decades. 

India is not Singapore and what is best for Singapore is not necessarily best for India, given our size and heterogeneity. But Mr Mahbubani's core message — the urgent need to dramatically improve the health of our people — holds good.

In an article titled Learning from Others published this month in the Lancet, one of the world's most influential medical journals, Prof Amartya Sen makes a comparison between India and China in healthcare that is worth paraphrasing. China went in for a massive expansion of public healthcare shortly after the revolution. By 1979, when China started its reforms, it had already raised its life expectancy at birth to the impressive figure of 68 years.

The outcomes are interesting — China's lead over India in life expectancy shrank sharply in the period that followed the Chinese reforms. But Dr Sen, who visits China often, was excited to find that the Chinese authorities "were gradually appreciating what had been lost". As a result, they started reintroducing, through one means or another, health insurance for a larger and larger proportion of its people.

The Lancet has just come out with a special series on India. It has contributions from some of the country's best-known public health advocates, including the incarcerated Binayak Sen. The series calls on India "to ensure the achievement of a truly universal healthcare system by 2020" and begins with a piece by Horton and his colleague Pam Das who say that "a failing health system is perhaps India's greatest predicament of all".

Consider the facts. In recent years, India has taken several initiatives to improve the health of its people. Much-talked about innovations include the National Rural Health Mission, Janani Suraksha Yojana which offers cash incentives to women who give birth in a hospital or a clinic and the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana providing health insurance coverage to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. But more than three-quarters of health spending in India is still out-of-pocket and health expenditures push almost 39 million Indians into poverty every year.

Why is this a rights issue as well as an economic one? The answer lies in two words we hear often these days: demographic dividend. India's greatest demographic asset is its young people. Almost 650 million out of the billion plus population is below 30. These youngsters will not be able to fully participate in the India growth story and in shaping the country's future unless they are in good health. Never mind if India's economic growth in recent years has been much more rapid than any other country except China.

India's poor health system also has ramifications beyond its borders. In today's world, diseases don't respect boundaries. They can spread across borders as in the case of the pandemic influenza H1N1 and tuberculosis. If poor health systems and inadequate surveillance results in India exporting and importing diseases, it could eventually affect trade and tourism.

The Economic Impacts of Inadequate Sanitation in India, a new report from the Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP), a global partnership administered by the World Bank, estimates that inadequate sanitation costs India `2.44 trillion ($53.8 billion) a year — this was the equivalent of 6.4 per cent of India's gross domestic product in 2006. Health-related economic impact of poor sanitation, estimated at `1.75 trillion ($38.5 billion), accounts for the biggest chunk of the total cost. 

I am not overly enthused by figures but these numbers and economic arguments are handy weapons in case someone somewhere starts labelling universal health-care a jholawala idea and tries to shoot it down just as it is moving up the policy agenda. As an occasional contributor to the Lancet, I attended the day-long symposium where the journal's papers on India were presented. From what I could see, neither Horton nor any of the other authors carried a jhola. As far as I know, neither Mr Mahbubani nor any of the others urging India to improve the health of its people have any particular preference for the cloth satchel either.

- Patralekha Chat-terjee writes on develop-ment issues and can be reached at [1]







An international study published last month looked at how students in 65 countries performed in maths, science and reading. The winner was: Confucianism!

At the very top of the charts, in all three fields and by a wide margin, was Shanghai. Three of the next top four performers were also societies with a Confucian legacy of reverence for education: Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. The only non-Confucian country in the mix was Finland.

The United States? We came in 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in maths. I've been visiting schools in China and Asia for more than 20 years (and we sent our own kids briefly to schools in Japan, which also bears a Confucian imprint), and I've spent much of that time either envious or dumbfounded. I'll never forget pulling our two-year-old son out of his Tokyo nursery school so we could visit the United States and being handed a form in which we had to list: "reason for proposed vacation".

Education thrives in China and the rest of Asia because it is a top priority — and we've plenty to learn from that.

Granted, Shanghai's rise to the top of the global charts is not representative of all China, for Shanghai has the country's best schools. Yet it's also true that China has made remarkable improvements in the once-awful schools in peasant areas. Just 20 years ago, children often dropped out of elementary school in rural areas. Teachers sometimes could barely speak standard Mandarin, which, in theory, is the language of instruction.

These days, even in backward rural areas, most girls and boys alike attend high school. College isn't unusual. And the teachers are vastly improved. In my Chinese-American wife's ancestral village — a poor community in southern China — the peasant children are a grade ahead in maths compared with my children at an excellent public school in the New York area. That seems broadly true of maths around the country.

For a socialist system that hesitates to fire people, China has also been surprisingly adept — more so than America — at dealing with ineffective teachers. Chinese principals can't easily dismiss teachers, but they can get extra training for less effective teachers, or if that doesn't work, push them into other jobs.

"Bad teachers can always be made gym teachers", a principal in the city of Xian explained to me as she showed me around her kindergarten. In China, school sports and gym just don't matter.

(That kindergarten exemplified another of China's strengths: excellent early childhood education, typically beginning at age two. Indeed, the only element of China's education system that really falters badly is the university system. Colleges are third-rate and should be a national disgrace.)

But this is the paradox: Chinese themselves are far less impressed by their school system. Almost every time I try to interview a Chinese about the system here, I hear grousing rather than praise. Many Chinese complain scathingly that their system kills independent thought and creativity, and they envy the American system for nurturing self-reliance — and for trying to make learning exciting and not just a chore.

In Xian, I visited Gaoxin Yizhong, perhaps the city's best high school, and the students and teachers spoke wistfully of the American emphasis on clubs, arts and independent thought. "We need to encourage more creativity", explained Hua Guohong, a chemistry teacher. "We should learn from American schools."

One friend in Guangdong Province says he will send his children to the United States to study because the local schools are a "creativity-killer". Another sent his son to an international school to escape what he likens to "programmes for trained seals". Private schools are sprouting everywhere, and many boast of a focus on creativity.

For my part, I think the self-criticisms are exactly right, but I also deeply admire the passion for education and the commitment to making the system better. And while William Butler Yeats was right that "education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire", it's also true that it's easier to ignite a bonfire if there's fuel in the bucket.

The larger issue is that the greatest strength of the Chinese system is the Confucian reverence for education that is steeped into the culture. In Chinese schools, teachers are much respected, and the most admired kid is often the brain rather than the jock or class clown.

Americans think of China's strategic challenge in terms of, say, the new Chinese stealth fighter aircraft. But the real challenge is the rise of China's education system and the passion for learning that underlies it. We're not going to become Confucians, but we can elevate education on our list of priorities without relinquishing creativity and independent thought.

That's what we did in 1957 after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. These latest test results should be our 21st-century Sputnik






The mystic and philosopher Shaykh Muhyiddin Ibn al Arabi is amongst my favourite early Sufis. Born in Murcia, Moorish Spain in 1165, he came to be called Shaykh ul Akbar, the great master. One of the most prolific writers in Islamic history, Ibn al Arabi's writings immensely impacted Muslim communities throughout the world. He remains a refreshing voice that throws light on the human condition in any time and any place. Rooted in Islamic sciences, his work is universal, accepting that each person has a unique path to the Truth.

The 19-year-old Ibn al Arabi met the renowned philosopher Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) whom the West knows as Averroes. The philosopher asked the young mystic, "Do the fruits of mystic illumination agree with philosophical speculation?" Ibn al Arabi replied, "Yes and no. Between the yes and no, the spirits take their flight beyond the matter".

Impressed with the answer Ibn Rushd exclaimed, "Glory to Allah. I have lived at a time when there exists a master of this experience, one of those who opens the locks of His doors". Fourteen years later when Ibn Rushd died, Ibn al Arabi attended the funeral and referred to him as a great leader.

Born in the town of Muricia in Spain, Ibn al Arabi moved to Seville where he studied religious sciences. Since his father was a devotee of the renowned Sufi scholar Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad, Ibn al Arabi grew up in Sufi circles. The Master attributed his education to two women, one of them being the mystic Fatima of Cordova.

The Shaykh spent many years in Andalusia and North Africa. Ibn al Arabi finally settled in Damascus where he taught and wrote till his death. A prolific writer, he authored numerous books on Sufi philosophy asserting that perfect knowledge of God needed both the eye of reason and the eye of imagination.

Ibn al Arabi's philosophy and articulation of wahdat ul wujood, Oneness of Being, remains the most celebrated and controversial idea throughout the Muslim world influencing Sufi philosophy forever. Ibn al Arabi explained, "It is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every sign, gazed upon by every eye, worshipped in every object of worship, and pursued in the unseen and the visible. Ibn al Arabi died in 1240, remembered for his contribution in understanding Divine Love in prose and verse:

Wonder, A garden among flames!

My heart has become capable of every form:

A pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,

And a temple for idols, and the pilgrim's Kaaba,

The tables of the Torah and the book of the Koran.

I believe in the religion of Love

Whatever direction its caravans may take,

For love is my religion and my faith.


— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]









ORDERING a strike corps into action would have been less difficult a decision for the Chief of the Army Staff than advocating a vigilance mechanism to deal with increasing corruption. Professional training and experience would have conditioned him to fight a war, but having to institute an internal watchdog would be pioneering a pathfinder mission through a moral minefield never imagined by the illustrious men who laid down the ethical standards as the Army emerged from its colonial past. Sadly, some of General VK Singh's recent predecessors fought shy of tackling corruption (a few are suspected of dipping their hands into the honey pot), and the fauj spun for itself a cocoon of denial that encouraged the cancer to spread. The details of the vigilance unit, the powers it will acquire and so on are yet to be worked out, hopefully that will be done with military efficiency. Yet the announcement itself makes two important points. It blasts the myth upon which serving and retired personnel seek an escape route: that corruption and other unmentionables are "aberrations", that every organisation has a few black sheep. If the wrongdoings were indeed "stray", a vigilance unit would not have been required. The second point is that Gen VK Singh has displayed the "steel" to keep the promise he made when he added a fourth star to his collar-embellishments ~ addressing issues pertaining to "inner health", the most vexatious of the problems he inherited.


The many members of the uniformed community who blame "irresponsible media hype" for the battering of the Army's aura would do well to examine the nature of the cases before the Armed Forces Tribunal ~ the image reflected would be far from flattering. It can be nobody's case that the majority of officers are unethical or corrupt: the same holds true of politicians or policemen, yet how does the public perceive them?
Much will depend upon how the vigilance mechanism evolves. It must be as transparent as efficient, safeguards must be laid down so that it does not get misused into "fixing" someone disliked by his superior. Such a unit, however, can act only "after the event". What is equally necessary is a crusade to restore to the army an ethical regime in which professional and social pressures will not indulge misdemeanour ~ ranging from misusing batmen as domestic help to multi-crore swindles. "Inner health" is all-encompassing.




THE underbelly of the Indian Railways, under an ebullient minister, has been exposed by none other than its executive head. Mr Vivek Sahai, Chairman of the Railway Board, has been forthright enough to admit that the Railways are on the "brink of bankruptcy" chiefly because of the fallout of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations. This is in striking contrast to the Centre's obfuscation over the co-relation between implementing the pay panel bonanza and ballooning inflation. By accident or design, the calculations were not worked out in the anxiety to placate the behemoth staff in the service of the Republic. The impact on the economy, most importantly the food segment, has been virtually unmanageable. On the whole, it reflects bad economics, driven by a populist agenda. The Railways were particularly affected. Unlike other ministries, it had to generate its own resources to foot the pay bill. And for the country's largest employer, this has worked out to a staggering figure of Rs 55,000 crore... only to implement the Pay Commission's package of bands. By the chairman's own admission, it will take "two to three" years to absorb the impact. In a sense, he has highlighted the predicament of the Centre which too may require a similar span of time to contain the inflation and restore the economy on the rails.

The Railways might still claim an operational surplus, but the impact on functioning has been severe. Aside from the enormous pay hike, the Railways now have to contend with problems along the Red Corridor ~ a post-budget red signal as it were. Notably, passenger traffic has been hit since May in the wake of the change in train schedules, earnings have declined in direct proportion to the drop in loading in Orissa and Karnataka following the ban on illegal mining. Which precisely accounts for the loss of Rs 2,500 crore. By its very nature, a budget is not expected to take care of subsequent socio-economic developments and the law and order situation. Mamata Banerjee's political resolve to beef up the strength of Kolkata's Metro will almost certainly deepen the fiscal straits. Personnel management in a manpower-intensive department ought to be in terms of redeployment. Any further increase in the wage bill could be disastrous.




IN a chapter titled Sex on Mars, published in the Journal of Cosmology, an American scientist recently urged the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) of the USA to study sex in space. Dr Rhawn Joseph from Brain Research Laboratory in California thinks such an exploration is in order since Nasa sends astronauts on long space trips. He believes it being always dark outside the spacecraft with very little to do inside and people being people, one thing could, well, lead to another and why not? Armed with such extra-terrestrial knowledge, Dr Joseph doesn't see why Mars can't be colonised, after all, and new anthropological heights conquered. "So if you put an infant on Mars, they would adapt to varying degrees of the new environment. And after several generations, you'd have a new species," he told Fox News. The scientist has even picked a place on earth where trial runs can be conducted ~ Antarctica ~ whose isolation and general state of immersion in darkness, to him, are analogous to conditions in space.

Nasa isn't very enthusiastic. A spokesperson asserted that it was neither running any initiative to colonise Mars nor conducting any research on sex or reproduction in space or on Mars. In fact, the Astronaut Code of Professional Responsibility that the space study pioneer currently has in place doesn't encourage astronauts to do any personal exploration of the procreative kind, even if they should be so inclined. The code expects them to demonstrate "a constant commitment to honourable behaviour".

While Dr Joseph is but thinking of what should be in the best interest of anthropology, the concerns of a cash-strapped Nasa, still smarting from President Barack Obama's unceremonious shelving of the return-to-moon mission and other key cuts, are more mundane. Having been forced to resort to selling off space hardware and historic artifacts in order to make ends meet, it is likely more worried about having enough honourable astronauts to send to space. It seems Sigmund Freud has the last word: "It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct."








THE difficulty is negotiating mountainous terrain from the lack of familiarity that local inhabitants have as also from the type of equipment used by foreign forces. In a typical ambush or hit-and-run operation, a handful of jihadis fire a few rockets and mortar rounds on a US convoy or position. The latter could be a temporary halting place or post occupied by a platoon-sized force. The initiative almost invariably being with the attacker (the regrouped Taliban), the opening shots in the form of various type of Small Arms (SA) would be fired from well-selected positions on the mountain-side overlooking the convoy or the post. By now the retaliation procedure having also been perfected to a fine art by the US forces, the retaliation is swift. There is immediate fire in very heavy volumes by the post or the convoy attacked with integral weapons. Simultaneously the call goes out for armed helicopters and aircraft strikes.

Without going into further details, tabulation can be made of the cost of the exchange to the two sides. In the case of the attackers, surprise being with the attackers, few, if any casualties would be suffered by them, because after letting off their initial volleys the Taliban escape to a more sheltered position or simply melt away. The cost of the attack on US forces to the Taliban would not normally exceed $100. It must be noted here that there is no dearth of arms and ammunition in Afghanistan. Weapons and munitions had been dumped or sent in by the Russians, Americans, Iranians and the Pakistanis in huge quantities over the years. Even now the pipeline in manpower and war-material from Pakistan is intact, Islamabad's frontline status in the war on terrorism notwithstanding. The cost of response to even the most elementary form of attack by a handful of Taliban fighters on a US convoy or post could exceed a million dollars.

The retaliatory US exchange would normally include the following: thousands of rounds of automatic fire, dozens of rounds of rocket and mortar fire, several rounds of tank fire, hundreds of rounds of artillery fire, plus munitions and missiles unleashed from the attack helicopters, and bombs and munitions dropped by aircraft. To this not inconsiderable fire power of all types that would have been expended has to be added the fuel cost for the helicopters and aircraft called in for close support. Even without taking into consideration personnel or vehicle casualties that may have resulted in the US force ~ generally caught off guard, the initiative being with the enemy ~ the cost disparity might work out to about one is to one million. It could become several millions should some persons become casualties or if a tank or helicopter were to be destroyed.

The situation is different in Iraq. First, the terrain and engagement patterns vary considerably. Much of the country is desert-like and flat, especially where the main fighting is concentrated in the Sunni triangle. While ambushes of road convoys and IED explosions can take place almost anywhere, insurgent type attacks on US forces or their allies are mostly in built-up areas. As opposed to Afghanistan the casualties inflicted on US soldiers, in personnel and equipment have generally been much higher. Again, varying greatly from Afghanistan, the retaliatory fire from US forces is often of far greater intensity and longer duration.
The weapons-mix is also different because in Iraq the insurgents often get into buildings from where they are prepared to engage their opponents in prolonged skirmishes. The savage bombing that follows results in massive infrastructure damage. If the infrastructure damage costs were to be included the cost differential for each skirmish between the insurgents and the US forces could work out to well over 10 million to one in US dollar terms. Excluding infrastructure damage, the cost would still go up by an additional factor of three to five compared to Afghanistan.

Suicide missions belong to a separate category for several reasons. To begin with retaliatory fire is neither possible in most cases nor would it be required because the target self-destructs along with whatever other carnage that might have taken place by way of the number of people killed or wounded and the other damage resulting from the detonations caused by the suicide bomber.

This analysis brings out that over a period of time the elements indulging in terror attacks against US or Western forces are able to extract phenomenal costs from their adversaries, which purely in US dollar terms result in adverse ratios varying from one is to one million or one is to several million. Today the number of incidents that were already high in Iraq have increased manifold in Afghanistan as well. Besides manpower losses, which the Western democracies can ill afford, and their opponents afford ad infinitum, the financial bleeding that takes place is something that the US and its allies can ignore only at their peril. It does not mean that technological superiority is given the go-by. It indicates, however, a change in military as well as geopolitical strategy. At the operational level it requires a radical re-think in local level initiatives and the tactics adopted by US forces and their allies in the field.

In examining disproportionality ratios between the dispensers of global terror and the forces deployed to counter it worldwide, added security costs that have gone up considerably in several domains have to be factored. These relate to heightened surveillance at airports, railways and bus terminals, ports and dockyards, nuclear plants, vital bridges and installations, water supplies and so many other areas of enhanced vulnerability for civilian populations.

Around the world, increased security has been provided to persons considered vulnerable to targeting by terrorists or their agents. Many businesses have seen their expenses go up considerably due to increased insurance costs. The case of airlines and shipping lines has been well documented. If all the costs that have gone up due to terror strikes, especially after 9/11, are taken together the total cost worldwide could conceivably run into tens of billions of dollars, possibly exceeding $50 billion annually. These are recurring costs that are likely to continue till well into the future. Putting it all together the adverse ratios that were already very high for governments and security forces dealing with terrorists go up by several orders of magnitude, if the entire spectrum of enhanced global security is taken into account. Terrorists win on two counts: massive damage to civilians and property by the acts of terror plus the disproportionality. Eventually instead of swatting flies in the field a decision might have to be taken to drain the swamps where they breed.







Last Saturday, accused Hindu terrorist Swami Aseemanand repeated before a magistrate his assertion that Hindutva radicals perpetrated the Samjhauta Express bomb blast. His confession made before the magistrate was recorded under Section 164 of the CRPC by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) which is probing the Samjhauta terror attack. That Hindu terrorists were involved in other terror strikes is entirely credible. But surely their involvement in the Samjhauta blast raises contradictions that cannot be swept under the carpet. However, the NIA appears to be proceeding with its probe on the basis of the Swami's confession without a second thought. And most of the national media appears to be equally comfortable with the probe as it unfolds.
Should not at this early stage the findings of the US treasury department as well as the United Nations (UN) be also considered for uncovering the truth? In 2009, the US treasury department imposed sanctions on four Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba (LeT) operatives for organising the Samjhauta blast. The four named were Arif Qasmani, Fazeel-A-Tul Shaykh Abu Mohammed Ameen al-Peshawari, Mohammed Yahya Mujahid and Nasir Javaid. The US treasury stated: "The designated individuals have provided direct support to Al Qaida and LeT and have facilitated terrorist attacks, including the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai."

That is not all. The UN endorsed the US treasury findings on the basis of the evidence collected. On 29 June, the 1267 committee of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which mandated sanctions on the Al Qaida and the Taliban, froze assets, banned travel and imposed an arms embargo on  Arif Qasmani, a Karachi businessman who it described as the "chief coordinator" for the Lashkar's links with outside groups. It claimed that Qasmani provided "significant support for LeT terrorist operations." In its Press release, the 1267 committee stated: "Qasmani has worked with LeT to facilitate terrorist attacks, to include the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai, India, and the February 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing in Panipat, India. Qasmani utilised money that he received from Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian crime figure and terrorist supporter, to facilitate the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai, India…Arif Qasmani has also provided financial and other support to Al Qaida." According to the UN in return for providing support "Al Qaida provided Qasmani with operatives to support the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai, India, and the February 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing in Panipat, India."

The above assertions by the UN seem to be explicit enough.  So what do these assertions make of Aseemanand's confession? One presumes that the NIA and the national media are interested in uncovering the truth about the Samjhauta blast. Then why is so little attention being paid to the earlier assertions of the US treasury and the UN? If Aseemanand is correct, the UN was wrong. If the UN was correct, Aseemanand is wrong. Can such a glaring contradiction be ignored in any credible investigation? Surely the public deserves some explanation right away.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist






It was a wedding gift to me from a titled gentleman, whose budget was unlikely to be dented by the purchase of a mere silver toiletry set. Since he was an old friend of my father-in-law, such an expensive gift to the bride from a well-heeled person was quite understandable.

But the toiletry set, consisting of a brush, a comb and a hand-held mirror seemed too ostentatious for my rather humble dressing table. And I already had a perfectly useable brush and comb. So I decided to put the set away for the time being. Although I kept it tucked safely in the confines of my cupboard, I used to take it out from its blue velvet-lined case from time to time to admire it, and even mentally try to assess its value.
Then, one day, when I had nothing much to do with my time, I decided to find out from a jeweller what the real value of the set was. Since I wasn't using it, maybe I could even sell it to him and buy something more useful for myself with the money I'd get. I had been introduced to a small jewellery shop by my next-door neighbour soon after I had arrived in the big city after my marriage. So I made my way to the shop and showed the set to its owner. "I'd like to sell this silver toiletry set," I began, but he cut me short. "It's not silver ~ only silver plated," he said abruptly.

This pronouncement really threw me back. "Are you sure?" I told him. "I can prove it to you," he replied. He took out a flat black stone from a drawer and rubbed the edge of the brush against it. It left a yellowish mark. Then he produced a lump of shiny white metal, saying pointedly: "This is real silver." He rubbed the metal against the black stone and the impression it left was sparkling white. He had proved his point, but as I looked at my erstwhile treasured possession I felt as if I had been let down by a trusted friend. "So you won't buy the set?" I asked him, rather unnecessarily. "I'd buy it if it was silver, but as you have seen, it's only silver plated."
I returned home with a heavy heart, and the toiletry set which I now knew had little value was demoted from its prized place in my securely locked cupboard to the store room, where it seemed to mock me whenever I went there to look for something. So I decided that I would sell it somewhere else for whatever it was worth. No use cluttering up a small box room with something that would just lie there indefinitely.

I had heard of the Chor Bazaar in the city where almost anything could change hands over the counter. I had even visited it once with my neighbour and was quite intrigued by the place, so that's where I decided to go. As I walked through the narrow cluttered lanes of the bazaar, I came across an assortment of items in all categories. There were plenty of basic household gadgets and tools, some of them quite rusty. There were also crockery sets, with a piece or two missing, and some with chipped edges. I even came across a set of discoloured false teeth! At last I spotted a counter which seemed promising. It stocked decorative items and seemed just the place where my toiletry set belonged.

I approached the counter confidently. "I have a toiletry set here," I told the man in charge of the stall. I opened the case so that he could take a good look at it, and hastily added: "It's not silver ~ only silver plated, but I'd like to sell it. How much can you offer me for it?" But the man barely glanced at it. "It's of no use to me," he said. "No one would buy it." Somewhat taken aback by his confident assertion, I found myself thinking of the set of false teeth that I had just seen, and wondered who would buy those!

Since the toiletry set had been rejected even by the Chor Bazar I'd just have to keep it. In all its ersatz shiny glory, it would look out of place among the items on my dressing table. But by and by, as the silver plating wore off, it would seem more in keeping with its surroundings. And I wouldn't need to worry about it getting stolen. And suppose someone did steal it, thinking it was genuine silver, the joke would be on him ~ or her!





United Nations Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon laid out the UN agenda for 2011 in which he cited sustainable development, mitigating climate change, empowerment of women, keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists as priorities at his year-end Press conference and during an informal briefing of the General Assembly.

"Success in rising to the challenge does not belong to any one of us," he told the Assembly and listed eight priorities for 2011. "It depends on all of us, together. You were crucial to generating the progress that we have achieved in recent years. And your continued engagement, initiative and leadership are essential as we take on this ambitious agenda." "If 2010 was a challenging year for the United Nations, 2011 will be even more so," he cautioned at a Press conference after the meeting.

Mr Ban listed the first goal as promoting inclusive and sustainable development in the face of a global recession that is still being felt in every corner of the world. "People are worried about their jobs, their security, their children's future," he said. The UN will hold a conference in Istanbul in May to promote a 10-year Programme of Action to provide food security, decent work, disaster risk reduction, climate-resilience and clean energy growth in the world's least-developed countries.

On climate change, he noted advances made at a meeting in Cancún on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, forest protection, climate finance, adaptation and technology. "Once again, there is much to build upon," he said. "Let us lead with action."

Empowerment of women is the UN's third strategy goal. Mr Ban pledged to promote full participation and gender equality, combat violence against women and increase their number in senior UN leadership posts. "Take any issue ~ climate change, development, peace and security ~ when women are part of the vision, the world sees better results," he stressed.

He focused on promoting a safer and more secure world, as his fourth priority. Mr Ban cited ongoing UN efforts to ensure democracy in Côte d'Ivoire where the defeated President is refusing to make way for his newly-elected replacement. He also spoke about peacekeeping operations in Sudan.

His fifth and sixth priorities concern advancing human rights and improving the response to major humanitarian crises by taking lessons from the devastating Haiti earthquake and the Pakistani flood of 2010. "We continue to hone our capacities and better coordinate our efforts," Mr Ban said.

"We must do more to ensure the most effective use of resources and the most efficient management of a truly global response to crises." He also said maintaining the momentum in disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation constituted the UN's seventh priority to follow up on last year's review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the new nuclear arms reduction treaty between Russia and the USA. "We will endeavour to ensure ratification of the treaty, completely banning nuclear tests," Mr Ban declared. "And we will redouble our efforts to settles issues concerning nuclear security and nuclear terrorism."

He pledged to strengthen the UN from within by building a more modern, flexible organisation, better able to meet the challenges of the 21st century. "All of us will benefit from a United Nations that is ever more transparent, more accountable, more efficient, effective, and mobile," he said. "As I have often said, in today's complicated and complex world, progress does not always come overnight. It comes in steps ~ some may be bigger than others. But the key is to keep moving forward ~ with unrelenting determination, with dogged diplomacy. You can count on me. There is no doubt that the world needs an ever stronger UN."

Insufficient progress made in Nepal: Ban

Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-moon delivered a strong message to the Nepali government and its people through Mr Tamrat Samuel, director, Asia-Pacific Division, at a ceremony to mark the closure of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) on 15 January midnight.

According to a UN statement, Mr Ban praised his representative to Nepal, Ms Karin Landgren, and her predecessor, Mr Ian Martin, and all UNMIN staff for their contribution to the Nepali-led peace process. He remembered those colleagues who had lost their lives in the service of UNMIN in March 2008 in his message.
The Security Council's decision to end UNMIN's mandate was in line with a September 2010 agreement between the government of Nepal and Maoists in which they pledged to complete the remaining tasks of the peace process by 15 January. Mr Ban said that insufficient progress had been made. "I encourage the parties to redouble their efforts to build the confidence that can bring progress on all fronts of Nepal's peace process." The UNMIN helped the parties to negotiate the agreement that has served as the basis for the monitoring of arms and armies, the message stressed. The mission provided support to the historic elections for a Constituent Assembly in 2008, which was one of its key tasks, along with monitoring the implementation of the arms monitoring agreement and the ceasefire code of conduct.

The UNMIN chaired regular meetings of the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee, the confidence-building mechanism which helped to resolve disputes related to the monitoring. "The parties have shown a high degree of respect for the monitoring regime," Mr Ban noted in his message. Mr Ban assured the people of Nepal that the UN will remain engaged in Nepal's peace process through its UN County Team, and through the continued engagement of the department of political affairs.

"I hope and trust that the parties are committed to finding the way forward to complete the process and realise the aspirations of the Nepali people," Mr Ban said in the conclusion of his message.

anjali sharma







Communists are not known to be great votaries of non-violence. Their holy books tell them about the centrality of violence in any attempt to change the society. It is thus somewhat unusual that Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), should call for an end to "all forms" of violence in West Bengal. On the face of it, it is an attempt to rescue his party's government from the criticism it faces over the current spell of blood-letting in the state. More important, Mr Karat probably thinks that his appeal can control the damage that the violence has been doing to his party's image and popularity. The second reason sounds more plausible as the appeal comes in the wake of the killings in Netai village in West Midnapore district. For all its attempts to pass on the blame to the Maoists and the Trinamul Congress, it is the CPI(M) which stands accused in the case more than anyone else. True, the Marxists too have had the largest share of victims in Maoist violence in the state. But two facts tilt the balance of blame heavily against the CPI(M). First, the party's long rule in the state has had its foundation in its culture of political violence since the 1960s. Second, its government has shown little of the political will and administrative capability that were necessary to stop political violence.

It would still be a good idea if Mr Karat can change, even belatedly, the ways of his party and its government. Rarely since the Naxalite violence of the late 1960s and the early 1970s has West Bengal witnessed such a spurt in political violence as it sees now. But, unlike in those years, the current spell of violence is not the work of the Maoists alone. It has spread like a cancer across the political spectrum, involving both the ruling and the opposition parties. The leftists are used to taking the moral high ground and pointing to other states where caste or communal violence defines politics. Today, West Bengal is known for little else than its political killings. Mr Karat's party and its government have landed the state in a gory mess. Mr Karat's appeal came on a day when the Election Commission sent a team to get a first-hand impression of the state of violence in West Bengal. Mr Karat was right when he called it an "unusual" step. But unusual steps are what the state needs in order to return to civilized ways.






Revolutions are not a thing of the past. But that is not the only lesson the overthrow of the 23-year-old regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia is teaching the world. The upheaval in the north African nation that followed a mass movement against the president shows the potency popular uprisings still retain. It also reaffirms the fact that contrary to the presumption of an increasingly Islamophobic world, religion is not the sole factor motivating a Muslim-majority nation. The reasons behind the downfall of Mr Ben Ali were high unemployment, wide economic disparities, incessant price rise and corruption. These are not factors affecting Tunisia alone. In fact, a combination of these has brought on similar mass movements in many of Tunisia's neighbours in Africa, particularly Algeria, which has witnessed a simultaneous mass aggression on the same issues. The reason why the movement in Tunisia led to a sudden regime change may take some more time to fathom. But there is no doubt that the aspirations Mr Ben Ali had created with his liberal reforms and emphasis on literacy had come up against a wall when faced with the other more repressive and regressive facets of his dictatorial regime. Mr Ben Ali's inability to deal with the contradiction in his policies and the lack of support from the traditional backers of his government, such as France, may have forced him to throw in the towel and seek asylum in Saudi Arabia.

The success of the mass uprising in Tunisia, the first of its kind in the Arab world, should have been greeted with joy. Yet, it is causing a lot of apprehension, both in the West and in Muslim-majority nations. The latter fear that Tunisia's experiment with democracy could have a domino effect on other nations in the Arab world that are undergoing similar economic crises. There are even chances that Mr Ben Ali's failed liberalism may set off these nations on a more regressive path. The fears of the West are even more real. Tunisia, given its place in the Islamic Maghreb, was seen as a bulwark against the religious radicalism of the Levant, and its attendant ills. Mr Ben Ali's willingness to play his part in this was also one reason the West turned a blind eye to his dictatorial style. With him gone, and chaos reigning unabated in Tunisia, it may not be too long before the Islamic radicals, once banned by Mr Ben Ali, seize their chance.






"The Party is like God," one university professor in Beijing told Richard McGregor, a journalist, recently. "He is everywhere. You just can't see him." This was a remarkable statement considering that just over two decades ago, the Chinese Communist Party had a near-death experience when faced with protesters — in Tiananmen Square, in the heart of Beijing — who nearly brought China's authoritarian political system to its knees. Yet today, the CCP is the world's biggest political party, with over 76 million members. Nor is joining it easy: after all, party membership remains the key to advancement in every aspect of Chinese life, from government to business to academic life, and the gatekeepers do not give membership away lightly.

The paradox is that the CCP has become more powerful than ever in Chinese life at the same time that it seems to have disappeared from public view. Major Chinese cities are a mixture of the bland concrete and glass that marks most international metropolises, decorated with brand names that are both Chinese (Haier) and Western (McDonald's, Louis Vuitton). There are few, if any, posters that chronicle the activities of the political elite. But in Chairman Mao's China, more than four decades ago, politics was "in command," to use a phrase of the era. During the Cultural Revolution, angry slogans denouncing the "running dogs of capitalism" were festooned over every boulevard. However, in some ways, the party of Mao's era had an easier task in keeping hold on power. It was very hard for the ordinary Chinese to leave the country, and contact with the Western world or the major non-aligned countries such as India was rare, giving the CCP a monopoly on the information available to China's citizens. But in today's globalized world, Chinese students and visitors stream across the world, a large number of senior CCP members among them. Yet for the most part, they do not defect or disappear: they return to China assured, having seen the outside world, that China's system is superior.

This trend seems to run against global currents. Every continent has been seized by the desire for a multi-party democracy, and Latin America, Asia and Africa are all dominated by political pluralism, however flawed. The CCP seems like an outlier: it is secretive, unpredictable, and entirely convinced that any opposition is subversive and must be eliminated. Only a few countries in the world explicitly reject pluralism in the way China does, and they are not company in which most leaders would care to be seen. Yet this same system has generated economic growth that has broken all records in history, and seems to be attempting political reforms that may tackle some of the country's huge social problems (for instance, lack of a national pension scheme as well as huge income inequality). The one thing that does not seem to drive the party is communism, at least not in the classic sense of the collective ownership of property. So what exactly is the Chinese Communist Party that has unleashed some of the most carnivorous capitalism that the world has ever seen, and in a way that brings to mind the excesses of factories in Victorian England?

One excellent place to start answering this question is Richard McGregor's book, The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers. McGregor spent many years in Beijing as correspondent for the Financial Times, and managed to use contacts and inside knowledge to compile an incisive view of the reality behind the shining new face of Chinese modernity. McGregor makes clear that the techniques of the Leninist party, where one small leadership group directs the rest of society, are still very much at the centre of the CCP's view of how society should operate. This leads to an almost paranoid style of management, something illustrated by the details on the many news stories that the 'Department of Information' (formerly the 'Department of Propaganda', before an Orwellian genius decided to change its name but keep the function the same) has banned from the Chinese media. Stories about contaminated food, corrupt top-level officials, and arbitrary seizure of property are regularly censored to prevent what the party fears most — social dissent that might lead to the destabilization of one-party rule.

One of the longest, and most riveting chapters, in this book describes the ups and downs of China's "Shanghai gang". This group of top leaders, who were groomed in China's most entrepreneurial city, stood at the very top of Chinese politics for more than a decade, pushing forward a neo-liberal economic agenda at fierce odds with anything that Mao could ever have associated with communism. The poster boy for this grouping was Chen Liangyu, party chief of Shanghai, whose period in control was marked by grand gestures such as the building of the world's most advanced motor-racing track. Yet he fell foul of political enemies and, in 2008, was tried and sentenced to jail for corruption. The ups and downs of life in the party still have more to do with who you know than what laws you may or may not have broken. Another area where the CCP continues to exercise its veto is the honest investigation of the party's own history. McGregor tells the fascinating story of Yang Jisheng, a reporter for the official Xinhua news agency who gathered damning data on the Great Leap Forward of 1958-62, an economic plan championed by Mao that led to a famine that killed 30 million people or more. The embarrassment that this data would cause to the CCP's most iconic figure, even decades after his death, meant that Yang's book could only be published in Hong Kong.

McGregor's characterization of the CCP is subtle. He has avoided the trap of describing it as a Cold-War era monolith with totalitarian abilities to control the whole of society. Instead, he shows that it is engaged in a difficult — and perhaps unique — balancing act. The party wants China to develop aspects of what seem to mark a genuinely modern society, including internationally-competitive financial markets, a commercial media, and a globally relevant scientific and research capability. But it also wants to control and have the final say on all those aspects of society as well. The problem is that, ultimately, there is a fundamental incompatibility between these goals. It is hard to argue that there can be meaningful rule of law or academic freedom in a country where the party's ultimate role cannot be questioned without fear of arrest.

McGregor does not venture too far into the realms of prediction, although he does suggest that the "protean" nature of the party and its ability to change pragmatically will keep it going for a long while, particularly while it continues to stamp on any opposition. Another equally sharp analyst who is willing to be much more explicit on the future direction of the party is Kerry Brown in Friends and Enemies: The Past, Present and Future of the Communist Party of China. Brown argues that the party will be "progressively more open and daring in its efforts to reform" not "because it wants to but because it has to", and that this reform may well lead to democratization. McGregor's book is more careful about predicting democratization, but the idea that China might find some way to open up would fit in well with his view about the party's pragmatism.

Certainly, the party will do anything it can to survive, and it may well be that deciding to open up the media and allowing a certain amount of freedom to an opposition may well be its best hope of staying in power. After all, many of the party's defenders point out that its record on social and economic progress is one that they can be pleased about. If they decide that they could put that record before their own people and might get freely elected in consequence, they would solve their legitimacy problem in a way that arresting hundreds of dissidents or censoring thousands of websites could never achieve. However, the party is also determined that its own form of democracy will look nothing like the Western form of that system. This sounds like an impossible square to circle. But then thirty years ago, few would have predicted that the world's largest revolutionary communist power would become the second biggest capitalist economy on the planet.

The author is professor of the history and politics of modern China at Oxford University and has written Modern China: A Very Short Introduction







The political atmosphere of the capital is rather ominous. Here are some of the speculations that are beginning to make a bit of sense, although they are not fully backed by empirical evidence. In a calibrated manner, the Bharatiya Janata Party is picking up every weakness displayed by the ruling party and blowing it into a large balloon that is gradually affecting the perceptions of urban India regarding the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance government. Juxtaposed with that, a negativism about the present regime has begun to set in. The spin doctors of the Congress, if there are any of consequence in the party, have, as usual, failed miserably to turn around the disturbing mood. On cue, senior leaders of the Congress are in supreme denial, which reinforces the fact that they are in rapid decline, unable to listen, lest they have to hear the truth about their failures.

The attack of the National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP leaders, on the ruling coalition and on the prime minister in particular falls just short of a blow below the belt. The recent personal assault on Sonia Gandhi, followed by a verbal dismissal of Rahul Gandhi, accusing him of lack of experience, damning his fresh and upright political positions and mocking him for being an 'heir apparent', all smack of a concerted plan designed with an eye on the midterm poll. As for the shenanigans of the Central Bureau of Investigation — the people of India will tend to agree with the BJP/NDA that the CBI follows the biddings of the government in office. Unfortunately for the Congress, it is its government that is in power today and the UPA is on the backfoot.

The spectrum scam is the mother of all scams, and the ruling party will have to take the brunt of its exposure. The reputation of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the last UPA dispensation and thereafter leaves much to be desired.

Stalled growth

For the Congress, harping on what it did in its first term in office carries no weight at all. What was done was done — the nuclear bill, the national rural employment guarantee scheme, the Right to Information Act — all are seen as work in progress today. Therefore, no extra brownie points for those salutary initiatives, which are being given a miss as the corruption scandals take prime position in the minds of the electorate.

Watching from the sidelines, it is clear that whenever the government in power is on the defensive, politically manipulated inmates from babudom awaken and are nudged by vested interests into delivering selective 'leaks' to the press in an effort to destabilize the government. Delhi is much like a sieve at this moment. Ministry leaks, lobby leaks, corporate leaks — all leaks are flooding the landscape, compelling verbal slinging matches between the two 'sides', deviating from the critical issues that confront us. If the Central government had had serious intentions to overhaul the present configuration of people holding key positions, the BJP assault has made it self-conscious and intent on keeping the status quo, lest a reshuffle be seen as succumbing to the Opposition's pressure. That is the sad truth.

Opposition groups are never in disarray when the ruling dispensation is plagued by scams. There is furious politicking behind the scenes, with contenders dreaming of a short-term 'throne' in the sun. Better be a footnote in the history books than have no mention at all. All this is part of the political racketeering that has besieged India for the last two decades, stalling greater growth. Ideally, this country needs strong states and iconic regional leaders, with a Centre that controls defence, foreign policy and finance, ruled by one of the two national parties.

A truly federal polity.






The term, 'Look East', was coined a few years ago to express India's growing interest in its neighbours as the economy of the region acquires greater prominence. Although India is yet to become a full-time member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, nevertheless, its participation in various southeast Asian bilateral and multilateral fora has grown significantly. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is now recognized as a key platform of growing political and economic significance.

Recently, and for the first time, I visited Myanmar and was struck by how closely it is linked to India (alongside China and Bangladesh) geographically and, yet, how remote it has remained from the minds of the people and the media in this country. My trip, over several days, took me to Yangon, Mandalay and up and down hundreds of kilometres on the redoubtable Irrawaddy river.

The impression of my brief visit is that the people of Myanmar are outwardly not unhappy or agitated as a result of being isolated from the rest of the world (except China) for several decades. It has no international mobile connectivity and since English remains an alien language, satellite television provides the only visual entertainment when electricity is available (Yangon gets electricity for about four hours a day). Among the various programmes, the English Premier League is the most popular. I was thus out of touch with the world for several days.

The country's military leadership has recently moved to a newly built capital — Naypyidaw — from Yangon. The new capital has 20,000 inhabitants, and only officials on business are permitted to visit the city. For the time being, the embassies of China, Russia and North Korea have moved from Yangon to the new capital, and China has built a six-lane highway connecting Naypyidaw with Yangon and Mandalay. Not surprisingly, this road is sparsely used.

Following the recent elections and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, life seems to have settled down to its daily routine. This is what one gathered from talking to the people. There were two uprisings in Myanmar — one by students in 1988 and the other in 2008 by Buddhist monks. Several thousands were killed while the uprisings were put down by the army.

One needs English-speaking guides to get around the country. They act to facilitate conversation with locals, who are willing and eager to talk to foreign visitors. There are only a few overt signs of surveillance or of the presence of law enforcement personnel. The only foreign currency that can be used by visitors is the US dollar. The 'official' conversion rate is six kyats, the local currency to a dollar. But the official blackmarket rate is 860-900 kyats to a dollar.

While the Yangon international airport (built by China) is ultra modern and user-friendly, the city itself, which has remained more or less unchanged since independence from the British on January 4, 1948, reminds one of Calcutta. The common feature across the nation are the numerous Buddhist temples and hundreds of thousands of stupas. Eighty per cent of the population belong to the Buddhist faith, and this is the only publicly acknowledged connection with India.

The famous Shwedagon Pagoda is spectacular and serene, especially when one climbs up the steps on a cool evening and walks around what must be one of the rare wonders of the world.

Mandalay is less built-up compared to Yangon. It has an international airport (built by China), which is solely used by domestic airlines. As one sails up the spectacular Irrawaddy, the journey provides frequent opportunities to stop at and visit small villages and towns (for example, Katha, where George Orwell stayed and conceived of his novel, 1984). Without exception, the people are extremely friendly and welcoming, and the endearing greeting, mingalaba, is fairly common. The homes are tidy wooden structures, the children healthy, smiling and well-dressed and there are no beggars on the streets of the towns or hamlets.

In small towns, the shops are well stocked with consumer products, such as electronic goods and two-wheelers manufactured in China. Shops selling local fast food and handicraft are also common. The most notable and consistent feature is a sense of contentment and dedication to religion and the absence of overt political signals.

As one sails further up the Irrawaddy, and after reaching what is called the 'Second Defile', one comes upon a spot where, suddenly, there appear eight newly-constructed concrete pylons across the river over which the Chinese are building a road. We were told that the road would connect China, Myanmar and India soon to facilitate trade and commerce among the three countries. It was not possible to ascertain whether this was part of the project to connect with what is known as the Stilwell Road. India was supposed to be rebuilding this old 'Burma Road' but a recent article in a British newspaper by Dean Nelson stated that this road is being built by the Yunnan Construction Engineering Company in a joint venture with the Yuzana Group of Myanmar. The road will lead up to Ledo in Arunachal Pradesh.

China has thus become the predominant and growing single window — commercially and strategically — for Myanmar. The only visible India connection is the temples and stupas. Myanmar is a country of critical importance in India's Look East Policy. The visit of the head of Myanmar's military government to New Delhi in 2010 may have re-opened a new chapter in the Indo-Myanmar relationship. Myanmar must be aware of the necessity to achieve a balance between its eastern and western neighbours to safeguard its own interests. But there were no apparent signs of such an initiative.

During his recent visit to India, President Barack Obama reminded us of India's international obligation with respect to Iran and Myanmar. He was, in turn, reminded that India is well aware of its obligations and self-interests, especially as far as its neighbours are concerned. Hopefully, India's presence in Myanmar will become more visible in the coming years since the vast market of 60 million people with significant agricultural output (rice, sugar cane, maize, oil seeds, pulses, and so on) and huge opportunities may want a second, and more benign, window to the world.

Finally, I was left with the thought that a government, which keeps a country reasonably happy and united, might be best suited for it. This seemed to be applicable to Myanmar as it may indeed be the case with China, contrary to the general perception.





Barack Obama's address at the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooting is being hailed as the finest speech of his presidency by a section of the Western media. The oratorical brilliance of the 44th president of the United States of America was never in doubt, although the conspicuous gap between what he promised and what he managed to deliver made his volubility appear somewhat suspect. For the first time now, commentators claim to have been moved by Obama's capacity for empathy. He is suddenly no longer perceived as being a "slightly chilly, aloof figure" who "struggled to connect emotionally", to quote Jonathan Freedland. Rather, he is praised for acting like "a pastor or priest comforting a grieving community".

While there may be more than a grain of truth in this assessment of the president's performance, it is perhaps not entirely fair to describe Obama's evolution in terms of his transformation into a more empathetic man. For a president who had extended a hand of friendship to the Muslim world in an earlier address in Alexandria, Obama cannot be accused of lacking in imagination. In Arizona, too, he invoked the scriptures to pre-empt easy generalizations about the gunman's motives. He spoke of the unknowability of human emotions and urged the people to "use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy". While playing this ostensibly pastoral role, Obama ended up making one of the boldest declarations of his presidential career, one that is bound to influence future evaluations of his foreign policy.

With his call for the expansion of "our moral imaginations", the president tried to illumine a psychic blind spot that few are prepared to confront. There is an inherent moral squeamishness in society about trying to fathom the inner workings of the criminal mind. This is largely because the act of understanding is wrongly equated with an endorsement of the crime --- so empathy, confused with sympathy, becomes a source of pollution, which an upright mind must distance itself from. By asking the people to try imagine themselves into the mind of the Tucson shooter, Obama struck out against the walls that we instinctively erect in our minds in order to protect ourselves from such psychic contamination: we do not readily empathize with the criminal mind for fear of being accused of identifying with it.

Yet, in spite of its daring reach and intensity, Obama's message stops just short of being radical. And this failure pertains not so much to what he said but rather to what he left unsaid. It should be remembered, after all, that the president's speech was delivered in the context of a round of killings perpetrated by a possibly mentally disturbed white American man. What would Obama have said if the villain of the piece were a no less deranged Muslim man? Would the same plea for public empathy been made by the president with an equal force of conviction?

It must be acknowledged, however, that Obama's mature approach to the tragedy, especially the tact with which he used religion to make a powerfully unconventional point, reveals his canny political intelligence. By acting as the spiritual leader of the nation, a role that successive US presidents have fulfilled, Obama has also unsettled the growing Republican opposition against his presidency. Barack Obama has finally found a voice of his own, just as Bill Clinton did when he spoke in Oklahoma City after the 1995 bombings.



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




It is unfortunate that India has refused to waive the diplomatic immunity of senior diplomat Anil Verma posted in its High Commission in London. Verma is reported to have beaten up his wife severely. When police showed up at the couple's home, he is reported to have claimed diplomatic immunity.

The British government asked New Delhi to waive his diplomatic immunity so that it could charge him for wife-beating. But Delhi turned down this request. It has recalled Verma. Verma is an IAS official who was on deputation in the London mission and it is likely that he will be sent back to his home cadre. However, he has committed a crime and should face the legal consequences for it. Why is the Indian government letting him off with a rap on the knuckles?

The ministry of external affairs is reportedly 'deeply embarrassed.' With the unsavoury incident hitting international headlines, officials were reportedly upset with the wife for going public on the matter. However, the government should be ashamed of its response to the incident. Its refusal to waive diplomatic immunity to a wife-beater is untenable.

There is little ambiguity over the fact that wife beating, whether in the UK or India, is a crime and merits punishment. There is simply no justification to go to Verma's rescue. He has violated the law and the Indian government is embarrassing itself by allowing a wife-beater to get off the hook. It is undermining the image of its diplomatic corps overseas. It should be making clear to its diplomats that the highest standards of behaviour are expected of them. By letting Verma off lightly, it is encouraging others to misuse diplomatic immunity too.

Diplomats are provided with immunity from legal action in the country they serve so that they are able to carry out their duties effectively without fear of undue pressure from the host country. It is not meant to be used to protect those who engage in domestic violence, smuggling, drunken driving, human trafficking and so on. Yet several diplomats are misusing this privilege.

It is not diplomatic immunity that we must blame for the criminal actions of diplomats but the reluctance of governments to waive this immunity when their diplomats are found violating the law. India's response has left it looking like it condones wife beating. Stern action against Verma will show that it does not tolerate misuse of diplomatic immunity.







Selectorial vicissitudes were emphatically cast aside as the five wise men of Indian cricket met on Monday to pick the 15 players entrusted with the responsibility of regaining the World Cup the country last won in 1983. It was expected to be an easy, brief and non-contentious meeting, and so it turned out to be, at the end of which K Srikkanth's panel came up with a balanced, most-bases-covered squad that represents the cream of the talent in the country. India play all their matches, except the tournament opener in Mirpur, on home patch, and the 15-man team is perfectly equipped to go the distance. Perhaps, Piyush Chawla's inclusion and the absence of back-up of any kind for wicket-keeper Dhoni are the only points of debate.

The team management's faith in Chawla's leg-spin, untested on the international stage for two and a half years, is a gamble of sorts. The lone purveyor of wrist spin, Chawla is a handy batsman too and might jostle with the hard-hitting Yusuf Pathan for the number seven slot as India strive to strike a balance between batting might and bowling necessities.

India might have discovered a street-smart way to compensate for not picking a second wicket-keeper by getting him to accompany the team in a non-official capacity, though some might view it as defeating the very purpose behind naming a 15-man team. By overlooking the need for a back-up stumper, India have been able to pick the two spinners in Chawla and R Ashwin, who has impressed enormously with his heart and his craft in a brief international career.

A majority of this squad has been together for a while now. There is a wonderful understanding and camaraderie within the group so essential for success in a tournament as drawn-out and as high-profile as the World Cup. Playing on home turf will be a double-edged sword. While familiarity with conditions and the support of a massive fan base will add cricketing and psychological value, the team can so easily be weighed down by the burden of expectations from a populace that has recently grown accustomed to the success of the national team. India has no doubt given itself the best chance to win the World Cup on home soil.








Influential lobbies in Delhi are coming up with a specious plea that India needs to redefine its concept of self-reliance in defence.

Iraq has come from behind and is kicking the Indian defence ministry on its backside, while storming past it. This might sound an incredible feat for a badly-broken country, but it is true. Reports quoting the defence ministry spokesman in Baghdad Major General Mohammed al-Askari says Iraq will buy armaments worth $13 billion from the US by 2013 and will spend an equivalent amount on American weapons later.

Askari revealed that contracts have already been concluded for weapons that include aircraft, helicopters, tanks, other armoured vehicles, warships and missiles. In brief, an 'oil-for-weapons' programme has just begun in Mesopotamia.

A big power like the US steps up the pedal or applies brake on its foreign policies in orchestrated manner. The left hand more or less knows what the right hand is doing. The US priority is to establish a long-term military presence in Iraq so as to influence the regional politics in West Asia and control the flow of Arab oil ('our resources,' as George Kennan once famously described).

The 'Washington Post' recently reported that despite the end-2011 deadline for complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, "the contours of a large and lasting American presence here (Baghdad) are starting to take shape." Washington has found an ingenious method whereby American bases in Iraq can be put under the US embassy rubric so that the US 'military infrastructure could also remain in Iraq.'

Thus, the statement by the US secretary of commerce Gary Locke merits great attention. He is leading a jumbo trade mission to India early February and is on record that the US government "views high technology defence deals as a cornerstone of the US-India strategic partnership." Locke is candid enough that he intends to robustly campaign for securing for American arms manufacturers India's $10 billion deal for purchase of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA).

Simultaneously, influential lobbies in Delhi are coming up with a specious plea that India needs to redefine the entire concept of self-reliance in defence that surrounds deals such as the MRCA. In short, why can't our defence ministry be as 'pragmatic' as its Iraqi counterpart? They argue that India should rather aspire to be part of the 'global defence supply chains' (whatever the idiom means).

This thought-process aims to take a hit at the norms of technological transfer that the tender for the MRCA deal stipulates. The tender stipulates that India will outright buy only 18 aircraft from the foreign supplier while the remaining 108 should be indigenously produced through technology transfer. But the catch is, unlike Russia, US is notoriously averse to 'co-production' with its foreign clients — even for spare parts.


As it is, MRCA deal, which provides for fourth-generation aircraft, may have already become redundant. Conceived before Russia offered and India accepted the joint venture for development of a Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), even if MRCA timeline is held, realistically speaking, those 108 aircraft to be 'co-produced' simply cannot come out before 2022 or so and, ironically, the cutting-edge FGFA will by then have been inducted into the IAF. (Russian air force intends to deploy FGFA by 2015.). Again, it is not as if MRCA fills in a vacant niche, either.

The IAF is getting enormous versatility thanks to the large-scale procurement-cum-assembly (by HAL) of Russian Su-30MKI, which combined with BraMos offers India unrivalled combat performance. Experts describe Su-30MKI as the 'engineering zenith' in design among fourth-generation heavy-duty fighters. With the IAF's acquisition of Su-30MKI and Tejas (plus FGFA), it virtually acquires the capability to undertake any conceivable range of combat missions.

Unsurprisingly, American companies that were virtually certain of wrapping up MRCA in the wake of the nuclear deal, are getting desperate to clinch the deal under the current political dispensation in Delhi, which of course is showing withering signs of fatigue lately.

The MRCA guarantees the US with not only lucrative business over a 30-40 year period but it forms a strategic vector of the US regional policies. Conversely, there is panic that if the MRCA door gets closed, US may have to wait for another 40 years to get another similar breakthrough. The glitch is over technology transfer and co-production. The Indian dalals are burning midnight oil to orchestrate a campaign that self-reliance in defence is 'passé'.

Well, is it passé? Is India's defence equipment capability to be measured in terms of the quality of its machine tools industry? Self-reliance is vital to India's medium and long-term capacity to optimally navigate the waters of an increasingly polycentric world. In the defence sphere, India should ditto emulate China's exemplary efforts to develop self-reliance no matter what it takes.

Our discourses on crucial issues of defence policy are lacking intellectual content. Our defence experts prefer to opinionate on geopolitics. As for political parties, they are disinterested unless la affair can be somehow fitted into their feeder chain for electoral politics.

Meanwhile, a tiny cluster of 'dalals', lobbyists and fat cats monopolise the centre stage. They viciously campaign that the "ministry of defence is seen as among New Delhi's more fossilised bureaucracies." Put simply, they want Raksha Mantri A K Antony to be as efficient and innovative as his outgoing Iraqi counterpart, Lt Gen Abd al-Qadr Muhammed Jassim al-Obaidi proved to be.

(The writer is a former diplomat)








A fresh crisis could risk Israeli military intervention that could threaten Indian UN peacekeepers.

On Monday rival Lebanese political blocs retreated from all-out confrontation when President Michel Suleiman postponed for a week consultations for the formation of a new cabinet to replace the unity government dissolved last week. This precipitated a potentially explosive crisis in this crisis-prone country. A fresh crisis could risk Israeli military intervention that could threaten Indian UN peacekeepers in the south.

Ten ministers affiliated with the Hizbollah-led 'opposition' bloc and one loyal to the president submitted their resignations on Jan 12. They took this action to protest prime minister Saad Hariri's refusal to convene an urgent cabinet meeting to deal with disputes arising from a UN-backed investigation into the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri, the ousted prime minister's father. The opposition accused the US of torpedoing Saudi-Syrian efforts to reach an accommodation  which would prevent an explosion if the UN Security Council mandated international tribunal indicts senior Hizbollah fighters.

Hizbollah's demands

Hizbollah denies involvement and demands that Hariri disassociate himself from the court, halt funding, and withdraw three Lebanese judges. Hizbollah regards the investigation and tribunal as an 'Israeli and US project' and insists that the government prosecute 'false witnesses' who originally blamed Syria for the murder. Having failed to secure solid evidence against Damascus, the UN team shifted its focus to Hizbollah which, in the view of observers, had no motive to kill Rafiq Hariri.

Saad Hariri says he cannot disavow the tribunal but has pledged not to blame the Hizbollah movement as a whole even if certain members are indicted. Hizbollah fears that this would create a rift between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon, denigrate its role as Lebanon's resistance to Israeli occupation, and undermine its standing in the Muslim world.

The opposition argues that Hariri decided not to accept a Saudi-Syrian compromise after consultations with US officials, including President Barack Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton who argued that the culture of impunity concerning political murders should not continue.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said Hariri had been 'on the brink of making a major concession as concerns the tribunal but dark forces prevented him from doing so'. The opposition argues that Hariri cannot return. The Hariri bloc insists he must be reapointed.

Some commentators suggest Hariri may be persuaded to the Syrian-Saudi deal as the price of reappointment. It could take time for him to do so although Syria, Turkey and Qatar are trying to work out a fresh formula to preserve a semblance of Lebanese political unity.

Until the ongoing political crisis is resolved, Lebanon faces two main dangers. The first is violence perpetrated against the opposition to provoke clashes. There has already been an incident. Grenades were thrown at an office of Hizbollah's chief Christian ally. The perpetrators were almost certainly Israeli-allied right-wing Christian elements who want direct Israeli intervention.

Hizbollah seeks to avoid clashes with gunmen loyal to Hariri or his allies and, above all, an Israeli military campaign which, Israeli commanders warned, could be far more punitive than the 2006 war which devastated the south and the country's infrastructure and killed 1,100 Lebanese.

The second danger is Israel itself. Its military command longs for a pretext to wage a new campaign against Hizbollah and wreck Lebanon.  Hizbollah drove Israeli forces out of Lebanon in 2000 and rebuffed the Israeli army in 2006. Israel simply cannot stand by and allow Hizbollah to undermine its deterrent power or play a determining political role in its northern neighbour.

If Israel launches a new war on Lebanon, India's battalion of peacekeepers, at Ibl al-Saqi in the eastern sector of the UN zone of operations in the south, could be caught in cross-fire.

Following the 2006 war, the UN expanded its south Lebanon deployment from two battalions of Indian and Ghanaian troops to 12,000 peacekeepers. The UN aim was to prevent the sort of Hizbollah cross-border raid that precipitated that conflict and make it more difficult for Israeli forces to invade Lebanon.

In any new war, Israel is likely to over-fly the UN zone to target a wide range of sites in Lebanon. But Hizbollah fighters could respond with rocket and missile fire from the UN zone and, perhaps, make incursions into northern Israel. Israeli military commentators predict that Hizbollah rockets could strike as far south as Tel Aviv. If this happens Israel will wage a particularly destructive war on Lebanon and, for a third time, clear the south, a Hizbollah stronghold, of its inhabitants, risking the lives of UN troops.







It was a rather bizarre agreement. One that, I should not have contemplated at all by any means. But when two or more housewives get together, all hell does break loose and as our better halves would vouch, 'anything could happen!'

Something strange thing did happen the day before I left for Chennai for the year-end holiday season. I was on cloud nine, looking forward to the much awaited December vacation.

Like every strange incident that has its roots to a simple origin, the trap that I fell into started off as an innocent discussion in the lobby of the yoga centre I visit daily as part of my rejuvenate-at-forty-programme. At the end of the hour-long yoga work-out, the tete-a-tete amongst the ladies is something that comes as the icing on the cake. It is the time we conduct our 'zero-hour' where various current issues are thrown open for deliberation and efforts to arrive at a solution are made.

"I paid Rs 60 per kg at the super market," said the most perturbed friend. "That is cheap compared to the Rs 72 I paid at hopcoms", retorted the wise lady of the group. "Looks like Russell market was the most expensive at Rs 74," confirmed the recent entrant to the gang.  It was now my turn and all eyes turned to me. "You know I'm leaving for Chennai tomorrow?  So no buying onions," I said laughing.


My perturbed friend not finding any humour in it, blurted out, "Why don't you get a few kgs of onions for us from Chennai?" "Oh, yes! You always say that Chennai prices are cheaper than our city," continued the wise one. "I don't know, my boot will be full with luggage," I said now, getting a little jittery at the way this onion affair was heading! The ladies however were beginning to feel the excitement in their bones. As I was one against three, my protests were relegated to the background. The deal was thus struck.

I had to import onions from our friendly neighbourhood state to a group of home-makers doing all in their power to tap the economies of trade.  But sadly we 'home ministers' were strategically mistaken. For, upon reaching Chennai, I learnt that onion prices had touched the Rs 100 per kg. mark. Thus the supposedly intelligent contingency plan to tide through the atrocious onion prices had to be called off.

Like I mentioned upfront, when two or more housewives get together 'anything could happen,' including making and breaking 'falthu' strategies!








No sooner had we got over the gut-wrenching blow of onions going up to Rs90 per kilogram, blowing the 'aam admi's' household budget to bits, when we suffered the unkindest cut of them all – a substantial increase in the price of petrol, for the second time in less than a month. Since the beginning of December 2010, the price of the fuel that common Goans rely on to power their two-wheelers has increased by nearly 10 per cent.

That this comes at a time when wholesale price index inflation had shot up to well over 8 per cent and – more relevant and realistic – that food inflation is hovering over the 20 per cent mark, seems to have been all but lost on the central government. Ruling in the name of the 'aam admi' ought to mean more than merely taking his name in vain.

Union Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has disowned the recent petrol price hike. She says her party – the single largest constituent of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre after the Congress – was neither consulted nor informed about the decision. The government has chosen not to react to her outburst, but at most it would say that decisions on petrol prices are taken by the oil marketing companies, not by the government.

But if that is the case, then why have diesel and cooking gas prices not been hiked simultaneously? Obviously, this was a considered, debated, political decision. The government has just shown its indifference to the 'aam admi' by piling petrol-price-hike misery on onion-price-hike hurt.

If there was really no option before the government, one could understand its position. But this is not really the case. Taxes on petrol in India aggregate nearly half its price. It was perfectly possible for the government to temporarily reduce taxes and spare the 'aam admi' a double whammy of rocketing prices of both food and fuels.

It has chosen not to do so.

The price of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF), used for passenger aircraft, was simultaneously increased along with petrol prices. But these went up by Rs0.95 per litre, or about 2 per cent. Petrol went up by more than twice as much. Both aviation fuel and petrol comes from crude oil, which we are told now costs around $92 per barrel (Rs28 per litre). But aviation fuel costs Rs49 per litre. Then why are two-wheeler drivers paying over Rs60 per litre for petrol? It's simple – they pay more taxes on fuel than those who fly by air!
Is that the commitment of the UPA government to the 'aam admi'?

The central government has shown that it is unable to exercise any check over inflation. All the promises it has made over the years in this regard have been broken, just as its last promise on onions has fallen flat. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar promised to bring down onion prices in three weeks. It is now over a month, and despite Chinese and Pakistani onions flooding our markets, prices still rule at a distressingly high Rs30 per kilogram.

This wanton petrol price hike is the last straw. It must be rolled back promptly, as the sufferers are the common masses of salaried people and professionals in field jobs. Otherwise, the government will lose all credibility in the eyes of the very 'aam admi' in whose name it rules. The Congress needs to remember that it was the prices of onions that once lost the opposition BJP its iron grip over the Delhi government, which the latter has never since been able to regain. Does the Congress want a reversal of that scenario nationwide?








Indian humanity has been divided communally and trivialised ideologically. Economically, it is dollar-dominated. It is pathologically politicised. It has been priced-out mega-litigatively from judicial justice. It has devalued 'swaraj' and tended to oblige lame-duck President George Bush to serve the interests of America Inc. In the process, it has lost self-respect and self-reliance, going so far as to sign an obviable and obnoxious nuclear treaty.

The masses plead with the protem, but inflexibly firm, Prime Minister: 'Do defend US, not the U.S. Do compassionately consider the Panch Sheel commandments of 'swaraj' since the masses are sinking under asphyxiant inflation. Do break and banish the Iron Curtain between the political parties and the people, do feel for the have-nots and win them back. Do this for the sake of Bharat, 'swadeshi' and 'swaraj.'

The fatal crisis suffocating Indian humanity right now is higher-than-ever inflation. Never has people's survival been in such peril and so poignant, as it is today. Why should the prime minister of a great country be so utterly committed to the U.S.? Let us recall the country's first prime minister telling an earlier U.S. president that India was no international mendicant. This nuclear deal submission is unbecoming and unfortunate: it is a bizarre secret. And to think that it comes from Dr Manmohan Singh – an otherwise clean, fine, humane statesman. My patriotic plea is straight: do jettison this surrender to the Yankee.

These words were written in July 2008. Today, they sound prophetic. That is to be expected. These are the words of one of India's Living Sages. V R Krishna Iyer. The big difference is that the French have come earlier-off the starting-blocks compared to the Yanks who did all the ground work and the wooing. We simply refuse to learn the lessons of history. A history that is less than 20 years old.

In 1992, Sharad Pawar as CM of Maharashtra brought along an American energy company called Enron to build a 2,000 MW gas (LNG) based power-plant in Ratnagiri. It was called the Dabhol Power Project. Since Enron was not a utility company, it roped in Bechtel and General Electric to build the plant. Enron retained an 80% share in the project. Bechtel and General Electric got 10% each.

At that early stage, the World Bank produced a report which said that Ratnagiri was a bad location for a baseline power station. They went on to say that a 600 MW station would be an ideal choice. Sharad Pawar, P Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Manmohan Singh insisted on going ahead with the project, in the face of all the evidence pointing to an unmitigated financial disaster, in the making. The rest, as they say, is tragedy.

Enron became the biggest bankruptcy in the history of corporate America. Big enough to take Arthur Andersen down along with $40 billion dollars of non-existent wealth. The Chief Executive, Chairman Kenneth Lay, went to jail and an early grave. Hundreds of employees and thousands of shareholders were driven into penury.
India got the worst of it. In 1998, when the power-plant was 'commissioned', they used naptha as a fuel, since the LNG facilities were incomplete. The cost had already gone-up to Rs10,000 crore for the incomplete project as against an estimated cost of Rs9,065 crore for the complete project. The electrical energy, generated a cost of Rs8 per unit, as against the estimated Rs1.74 per unit. It was a complete fiasco. Today, the cost of money has raised the cost of the project to Rs20,000 crore and still counting.

The project generated electricity for less than 6 months at a tremendous loss and it has mothballed for the last dozen years. In its latest 'avatar', of The Ratnagiri Gas and Power Ltd., it is like the proverbial bride all dressed-up and waiting for a wedding to come along. The new project proponents NTPC and GAIL have abandoned half the installation; viz., regasification plant, cryogenic LNG storage/reticulation, deep-water anchorage for LNG tankers and the service wharf.

NTPC and GAIL are looking at commissioning and then operating only the power plant, but they need the fuel since they are no longer equipped/capable of receiving the original LNG fuel from Qatar. So now, they are building a pipeline from Gujarat to the power-plant in Ratnagiri's Guhagar taluka to convey natural gas to fuel their power plant. The real cost of this entire fiasco to the people of this country, will not be less than Rs30,000 crore. This is assuming that the power plant will generate power in the next year or so. The abandoned half of the project will be a financial windfall for some of India's top scrap dealers.

Today, the two shameless Sardars Manmohan and Montek are busy digging, a much bigger hole for us in Ratnagiri. It is called the Jaitapur nuclear power park. It will have 6 reactors/units with a combined capacity of 9,900 MW against Enron's 2,100 MW. Enron's estimated cost was Rs9,065 crores. Jaitapur is estimated to cost Rs120,000 crore. Enron used up 1,200 acres of land, Jaitapur needs 2,500 acres. So if Enron power costs Rs8 per unit, what will Jaitapur power cost?

Today, India has an installed capacity of 180,000 MW. One-third of the energy generated in this country is lost due to transmission, distribution and transformation limitations along with some theft – with or without collusion of the authorities and their political patrons. Which means that 60,000 MW of installed capacity, is being rendered unproductive.

At least half of this 60,000 MW can be salvaged by improving transmission, distribution, transformation and security by spending Rs one crore per MW. In other words, if the National Power Transmission Corporation and Power Grid Corporation spend Rs30,000 crores over the next 5 years, India's power availability will go up by 30,000 MW without having to build any power generation plants.

Instead, we are going to spend Rs120,000 crores over the next 20 years to build a nuclear power facility that will generate a mere 9,900 MW while gobbling up ten square kilometres of land. Not to mention all the safety, radiation and environmental concerns of millions of people, which are being ignored by our Sardar comedians, Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Maybe we should call them Santa Singh and Banta Singh, like the guys in the erstwhile Sardarji jokes.

As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin would've said, 'Jairam Ramesh is so busy counting the trees, he has missed the forest!'

Now I would like to end on a very serious note, by once again quoting V R Krishna Iyer:

"To wipe very tear from every eye, is our tryst with destiny of the current generation – cricket scores, beauty contests and reality shows are not the priorities. The rule of law shall sustain the rule of life. A wall of separation, an Iron Curtain between politicians in power and people in privation, is the cruel social malignancy."

Dear prime minister: you are clean, green, simple and straight. Do save and not drown, the billion-plus lives whose trustee you, parliament and the judiciary are. We must and we can win our long march to victory, given the will. Therefore, every party and every social, religious and regional organisation, shall struggle patriotically to tear to pieces the political – communal – economic Iron Curtain that is divisive.








As time goes by, it unwittingly takes its toll on us. And more so, after the three-score-and-ten years allotted. The hairline recedes, the midriff bulges, energy diminishes and there's a switch in our daily routine. Like, you no longer look into the mirror, or rush from pillar to post. We are in the slow lane, and have to keep out of the path of the charging bulls.

We must learn how to operate a walking stick, and not pause too long at a vertical point, or it will be snapped by those behind in the fast lane. Avoid peak hours and crowded areas. Say bye-bye public transport and hello cabbie. The stick may or may not add to one's dignity, but the one plus point is that, it can be used as a weapon of defence. Should have done this much earlier, but me and my middle-class thrift. Yet can one ignore the wide gulf between pre and post-open market salaries.

Every generation has its list of what was available, in their time. What one anna was to one generation, became one rupee in the next, and will become Rs 10 or more, in the next. But everyone is sure that theirs were the best years. It's a clear sign of ageing.

The advantage of cab travel is speed, more comfort and often good cabbie talk. The world over, they say, it is through these cabbies that one can feel the pulse of the people. But you get all types.

This morning, on the Princess Street fly-over, I remarked on the unique 90 degree left turn not seen anywhere, but he just remained mum, chewing his paan. Another whom I tried soothing for bringing him into the crowed lane saying "I'm an old man." Pat came the reply "how old, 84?"

But it is funny. Nariman Point is buzzing, four or five times busier than when we were, in our salad days. It's teeming with offices as is Cuffe Parade both replacing the Ballard Estate of old. It's the laptop generation and young executives, women in suits, as they scamper as if though there is no tomorrow. Returning home it is at half pace and weary. Poor things, wonder what their burn-out age will be? Lambs to life's slaughter.
But were we not in the same boat? Now reaping the rewards ha ! ha !and jumping over puddles again. The biggest killjoy is the little things that have to be done on the home front. The process of domestication has been slow, but sure. The kitchen has become a regular haunt.

Now one realises why the women have always been harping on "the work never gets over." When the milk is boiling, either the telephone or the door bell rings. Then it is the task of getting the groceries and odd jobs on the morning walk, because the next outing will be in the evening.

It is a question of planning a day's schedule. The helps, their timings, food and the nitty-gritty. The most trying aspect is the helps, because with automation, they are a dying tribe and therefore, demand is greater than supply, so you can't be too harsh on them, or they'll quit for another job. Besides, they have their demands like TV and cable, and why not?


They too are human, and want upward mobility. Possessing a psychological background is necessary, which will help in dealing with them. It therefore helps in striking a balance between strictness and lenience.
And speaking about balance, we have to do the same as far as physical and mental wear out is concerned. Stress must be avoided. To avoid forgetfulness, resort to the "things to do today" list. It calls for new solutions to old problems, and special managerial skills. So, we already have psychology, psychiatry and management. In good time, one might well be sitting for an MBA!









India's most authoritative annual report on the state of education in the country titled ''Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2010'', prepared by the NGO Pratham and released by Vice-President Hamid Ansari last week, is a grim reminder of what is seriously lacking in the country on the education front and the miles it must traverse towards being a knowledge economy, the much-vaunted goal in view of its economic trajectory. The reality is disturbing: every second child in Class V cannot read a Class II text; less than one child in five can recognize numbers from 1 to 99; and more than three out of five children cannot solve simple division problems. The report says that after five years of schooling, close to 50 per cent of children are at a level lower than what is expected after two years in school. The survey has covered 7 lakh children in 14,000 villages across 522 districts and reported a substantial increase in school enrolment figures, but the tragedy is that there has been no visible improvement in the quality of education. What is most disturbing is that the ability of children across the country to deal with elementary arithmetic has declined, and a large number of middle-school children struggle in their everyday dealings with numbers, such as reading a calendar, estimating volume or calculating area. Look at these figures: only 65.8 per cent of children in Class I can recognize numbers from 1 to 9, down from 69.3 per cent in 2009; the percentage of students in Class III who can solve two-digit subtraction problems has fallen from 39 per cent in 2009 to 36.5 per cent in 2010; and the percentage of Class V children who can solve simple division problems has fallen from 38 per cent in 2009 to 35.9 per cent in 2010. The good news comes from Punjab where the ability of children to solve arithmetical problems has improved consistently over the past few years, while in the Nitish Kumar-ruled Bihar too there are encouraging signs as the percentage of out-of-school boys in the 11-14 age group has come down to 4.4 and of girls to 4.6, down from 12.3 per cent and 17.6 per cent respectively four years back.


Why are things educational going so terribly wrong in the country's rural areas? The answer is simple: the ruling politician is not at all interested in the education sector because there is no vote bank entailed in it and also because a meaningful dealing with education requires a very serious intellectual engagement that the politician in general is not capable of. The politician from the opposition is also not bothered because education is not a politically profitable plank, and of course he too in general has limitations when it comes to a serious intellectual engagement. Have you ever heard any political party call for a debate on the education scenario in the country? Even within a party have you ever heard its leaders deliberate on ways and means to effect an education course correction? No wonder, a whole lot of schools in rural areas are mere structures where children 'learn' from their teachers (who are teachers because they are misfits elsewhere) as part of the mere ritual called education that cannot be called education in the 21st century. It is with such a system of education, where both the communities of teachers and students are merely performing a ritual, that one talks of setting up a knowledge economy! Or must the schools and education system our leaders have in mind be located only in urban areas, especially the metros?


If an increasing number of children are faring so poorly in a core subject like mathematics whose importance has increased manifold in this high-tech world and which has now entered many humanities domains too, apart from economics, it is reflective of a system that has failed the younger generation, thanks to the general disinterest of politicians in the business of education. That is surely not a way to becoming an advanced nation?







According to the Public Cause Research Foundation, a leading civil society group, and acclaimed RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, information commissioners across the country have caused a cumulative loss of Rs 86 crore to the exchequer by having failed to penalize officials for delayed responses to RTI queries. ''According to the RTI Act, when a CPIO delays the process of granting information beyond 30 days, information commissioners are required to penalize them up to a maximum of Rs 25,000, provided the official does not offer reasonable grounds,'' Kejriwal says, adding: ''However, information commissioners are not following that provision. If they had collected the penalties for all the cases that were delayed beyond 30 days in 2009-10, the total would have come up to Rs 86 crore.'' This is a very discouraging commentary on the RTI regime. The loss in question is huge not because of the figure involved but due to the fact that it is an RTI loss that translates into the loss that the culture of an evolving democracy has incurred.







It's neither the strongest nor the most intelligent of the species that survive; it is the one most adaptable to change, said Charles Darwin. The new year has arrived with much fanfare but coupled with deep-rooted problems. In short, a new year with old challenges.

Whose adaptability will be the best this year? What about the facts and circumstances globally? Are we not now living in a chaotic transition period to a new age defined by global competition, rampant change, faster flow of information and communication, increasing business complexity, and pervasive globalization? The pace of change has become so rapid that it took different types of firms to be dominant and marked an entirely new era of business. This new environment is also characterized by ''more far-reaching technological advances and a consumer who has adjusted to this quicker pace and whose fickle preferences are revised with the speed of a television commercial''. Thanks to the world trade, economy is growing at more than five times the rate of world gross domestic product. But the reality is that the ongoing business scenario has turned more complex than ever before. Competition is now based more on capabilities than assets. A new competitive dynamics has led to greater instability in the profitability of companies. One technology is being speedily replaced by another, and new products, services, and competitors are emerging with blinding speed. Competitive pressure has been intensifying.

Jet-fast changes in competition, technology and workforce values are compelling organizations to search for new and more human ways of increasing productivity and competitiveness. The biggest changes have been due to the impact of information and communication technology. The ability to access vast information resources within a matter of minutes and to communicate across huge distances at ever lowering costs and improving quality and convenience is transforming the way people and companies interact. Virtually, it is becoming harder to achieve market leadership and to stay on top.

Complexities galore. Business space, technologies, processes and business models as well have turned out to be more complex — new characteristics are added frequently (subtracted infrequently). The dimensions of business space keep increasing, adding to the complexity, while at the same time furnishing attractive new opportunities for those who can successfully navigate in the new environment. This complexity, in turn, also inhibits greater size and greater value creation.

At the same time, in the emerging era of over-communication and hyper-competition, people are overwhelmed by choice — choice of information, ideas, products and services. Information is becoming readily available around the globe at an unprecedented pace. Customers, competitors and innovators have instant access to each other. The result is technological change, especially change in information and communication technology.

The road to success is topsy-turvy; there is no question of preparing omelette without breaking the egg. Target success in business and stay ahead of the competition, constantly expanding the network — seamless connections to others parts of the world via your hubs.

The question remains: how to move ahead over time? Is there any short-cut?

In this age of ''innovention'' (innovation plus invention), the structure of trade vis-à-vis competition has been changing at a fast and consistent rate, where one technology is being replaced by another, treating the globe as an extended village. Intense competition has become a way of life, simultaneously with the implicit and explicit risk factors. On the one hand the challenge is there to retain the customer, while on the other the fears of unexpected loss arising out of the complex risk factors loom large. That is why any scanning of international business environment is crucial on the part of an upcoming business venture.

The time has arrived when we note that even the best of professionals need a team of effective information managers for ensuring an optimal productivity, an effective system of internal control skills to provide inputs to quicken the process of decision making. An attitudinal change is a must in such a context as the nature of business has become more and more complex. Today's business means becoming an international player as nothing of such kind could succeed if the same remains restricted to a frog-in-the-well form. Business without risk is virtually preparing an omelette without breaking the egg.

It is undoubtedly a well-known fact that success comes out of constant endeavour. It depends on the ability to learn from the past and on good anticipation as to what is going to happen.

It is now a customer-driven economy; customer power has surged as a result of the convergence of several long-developing trends. First, product and service scarcity gave way to abundance, the key reason being that advancing technology has dramatically increased manufacturing productivity and thereby reduced costs of entry to and expansion of many industries.

In fact, globalization has led to more companies pursuing the same customers, while at the same time customers have become more sophisticated and informed buyers. No doubt, customers have discovered that they have options and the power to exploit them. Accordingly, customers now aggressively seek alternatives, compare offers, and hold out for the best option. Further, many products became virtual commodities and rapid changes in technology have dramatically shortened product life cycles.

Retaining the market share in the international arena, coupled with efforts directed towards a higher niche in the ever-changing market environment, is an area where skills added to strategy formulation play a dominant role. That is why the economic or marketing policy formulation and the implementation process go together. The international business scenario, thus, requires a deeper look, as segregated from the outward show, judging from the point of view of strengthening the market competitiveness, which in turn calls for intensive scanning of the emerging trends backed by analytical abilities and anticipation.

Business processes must become more mature and the institution must be able to deliver higher performance — spatially, temporally, hierarchically and functionally. Obviously, to achieve it, the starting point is designing (the comprehensiveness of the specifications as to how the process is to be executed); followed by performers (people executing the process based on skills and knowledge); owner (persons shouldering the responsibility for the process as well as the results); infrastructure (information/MIS that supports the process); and then the metrics (the measures the company uses to track the process' performance).

That is why enterprise capabilities are the crucial factors for the ultimate achievement. For developing high performance processes, institutions need to offer very supportive environments.

Dr BK Mukhopadhyay

(The writer, a management economist, is an Associate Professor, NERIM, Guwahati )






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)







Ehud Barak's announcement Monday that he and four additional Labor MKs were breaking off from their party to form the "Independence" faction and remain in the coalition has left a once illustrious political party – indeed, the governing party for 29 of modern Israel's first 30 years – in shambles.

It has also strengthened Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's hand – by eliminating fears that all of Labor's 13 MKs would leave the coalition in protest against the lack of headway being made in talks with the Palestinians – though the coalition, reduced to 66 members, is now unprecedentedly vulnerable to potential extortion by one or other of its constituent parties.

Ex-commando Barak's characteristically cunning and secretive action – which ensures he retains the defense portfolio, and which pre-empted an imminent move by Labor colleague-rivals to force the party out of the partnership with the Likud – leaves Labor in critical condition.

Barak and the quartet who followed him may ultimately join the Likud. They may honor Barak's pledge to form yet another centrist party. They may simply disappear in the next elections. The remaining Labor legislators might overcome their myriad personal differences and apparent lack of ideological coherence, refocus and become a potent opposition force. But they, too, might splinter into more factions and sub-factions like so much political detritus.

Barak has been a divisive, haughty party chairman, but it was unfair of Labor veterans such as Uzi Baram and Moshe Shahal, as well as current Labor legislators like Eitan Cabel, to assert that he was personally responsible for "completely destroying" the party. Barak's defection is a hammer blow, but it is also emblematic of a deeper ideological crisis on the Left, and not just in Israel.

After the financial meltdown of 2008, there was a resurgence of socio-democratic economic policies to counter what was perceived as the shortcomings of unbridled capitalism. But the pendulum has quickly moved back, with the Tea Party's gains in November's US mid-terms and Britain's Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties ousting Gordon Brown's Labor. The push to slash expenditures on social welfare programs has swept Europe as well, as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Ireland and others grapple with ballooning debt.

In Israel the neo-liberal economic policies implemented under Ariel Sharon's government by then-finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu have proven themselves, helping Israel weather the financial storm while maintaining growth and relatively high employment levels. In the process, old socialist ideals once represented by Labor, which were unsuccessfully championed by former Histadrut head Amir Peretz, have been delegitimized.

Barak's conspicuous consumption, exemplified in his purchase of a multimillion dollar high-rise apartment in north Tel Aviv's prestigious Akirov Towers, illustrates the ideological divide that distanced his Labor from the Mapai of David Ben-Gurion, who chose a modest house in the Negev's Kibbutz Sde Boker when he was sent into political exile.

But it is also a sign of the times, which makes talk of creating a new socio-democratic party that would bring together Labor, Meretz and others on the economic Left unrealistic.

NOR HAVE Labor and other Left-wing parties managed to muster a significant constituency for more pro-actively generous diplomatic policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. A majority of Israelis might well support a two-state solution that includes painful territorial concessions. But the ongoing sense of Palestinian leadership intransigence means that Israelis are wary.

Kadima's current strong standing in the polls – taking much of Labor's support – has been built on its ability to put forward a diplomatic approach perceived as being just to the left of Likud. Tzipi Livni has argued articulately that attaining a two-state solution, ensuring a Jewish majority in a more modestly sized Israel, is essential to ensuring that Israel remains both Jewish and democratic.

The Israeli center-right to center-left mainstream divides between those who believe Netanyahu, now a declared advocate of a two-state solution, is balancing that imperative with the necessary caution, and those who feel he should be making a greater effort. But there is precious little room in that crowded middle ground for what is left of Labor.

To distinguish itself, Labor may choose to move farther to the Left, but that would take it close to the ideological hinterland occupied by Meretz, which managed to garner just three Knesset seats in the last elections on a platform that offers to replace a "Jewish and democratic state" with a "state for all its citizens."

Labor in recent years presented itself as more moderate than the Likud on peacemaking, and more empathetic to the have-nots economically. But the bitter truth underlined by Monday's political drama is that it has ceded much of that ground to Kadima.









If at the height of the anti-government protests in Tunisia last week, Israel and the Palestinians had signed a final peace deal, would the protesters have packed up their placards and gone home? Of course not.

So what does it tell us the nature of US Middle East policy that at the height of the anti-regime protests in Tunisia, the White House was consumed with the question of how to jump start the mordant peace process between the Palestinians and Israel?

According to Politico, as the first popular revolution in modern Arab history was in full swing, last week the White House organized two "task forces" to produce "new ideas" for getting the Palestinians to agree to sit down with Israeli negotiators. The first task force is comprised of former Clinton and Bush national security advisers Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley.

The second is led by former US ambassador to Israel under the Clinton administration Martin Indyk.

And as these experts were getting in gear, US President Barak Obama dispatched his advisor and former Middle East peace envoy under the Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2 administrations Dennis Ross to Israel to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to ask them to put out "new ideas." Amazingly, none of these task forces or meetings has come up with anything new.

Again, according to Politico, these task forces and consultations generated three possible moves for the Obama White House. First, it can put more pressure on Israel by announcing US support for a "peace plan" that would require Israel to surrender its capital city and defensible borders.

Second, the US can pressure Israel by seeking to destabilize Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government.

And third, the US can pressure Israel by pumping still more money into the coffers of the unelected Palestinian government and so raise expectations that the US supports the unelected Palestinian government's plan to declare independence without agreeing to live at peace with Israel.

So much for new ideas.

THEN THERE is the unfolding drama in Lebanon. It is hard to think of a greater slap on the face than the one Hizbullah and Syria delivered to Obama last Wednesday. Hizbullah brought down Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's government with the open and active support of Syria while Obama was meeting with Hariri in the Oval Office.

And how did Obama respond to this slap in the face? By dispatching Ambassador Robert Ford to Damascus to take up his new post as the first US ambassador in Syria since Syria and Hizbullah colluded to assassinate Hariri's father, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri six years ago.

Reality is crashing in on the Obama administration. But rather than face the challenges presented by reality, the Obama administration is burying its head in the sand. And it is burying it head in the sand with the firm support of the inbred US foreign policy elite.

The overthrow of Tunisian President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali last Friday is a watershed event in the Arab world. It is far too early to even venture a guess about how Tunisia will look a year from now. But it is not too early to understand that Ben Ali's regime was not the only thing destroyed last Friday. The two main foundations of "expert" Western analysis of the Middle East have also been undone.

The first foundation of what has passed as Western wisdom about the region is that the only that thing that motivates the proverbial "Arab street" to act is hatred of Israel.

For nearly a generation, successive US administrations have based their Middle East policies on the collective wisdom of the likes of Ross, Hadley, Berger, Indyk, George Mitchell, Dan Kurtzer, and Tony Blair. And for nearly a generation, these wise men have argued that Arab reform, democracy, human rights, women's rights, minority rights, religious freedom, economic development and the rule of law can only be addressed after a peace treaty is signed between Israel and the Palestinians. In their "expert" view, Arab autocrats and their repressed subjects alike are so upset by the plight of the Palestinians that they can't be bothered with their own lives.

Tunisia's revolution exposes this "wisdom," as complete and utter piffle. Like people everywhere, what most interests Arabs is their own standard of living, their relative freedom or lack thereof, and their prospects for the future.

Mohammed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian college graduate who set himself on fire last month after regime security forces destroyed his unlicensed produce cart did not act as he did because of Israel.

The Egyptian man who set himself on fire in Cairo on Monday outside the Egyptian parliament, and the Algerian man who set himself on fire in Tebessa on Sunday, did not choose to self-immolate in the public square because of their concern for the Palestinians. So too, the anti-regime demonstrators in Jordan are not demonstrating because there is no Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.

The Tunisian revolution demonstrates that "Arab unity" and commitment to "Palestinian rights," is little more than a sop for Western "experts."

The chief concern of Arab dictators is not Israel, but the prolongation of their grip on power. From their perspective, one of the keys to maintaining their iron grip on power is neutralizing US support for freedom.

By arguing that Israel is the root cause of all Arab pathologies, Arab despots put the US on the defensive. Having to defend its support for the hated Jews, the US feels less comfortable criticizing the dictators for their repression of their own people. And without the Americans breathing down their backs, Arab dictators can sleep more or less easily. Since Europe doesn't mind that they trample human rights, only the US constitutes a threat to the legitimacy of these Arab autocrats' iron fisted repression of their people.

And this brings us to the second fallacious foundation of "expert" Western analysis of the Middle East destroyed by the recent events in Tunisia. That foundation is the belief that it is possible and desirable to build a stable alliance structure on the back of dictatorships.

Tunisia's revolution exposed two basic truths about relationships with dictatorships. First, they cannot outlast the regime. Since dictators represent no one but themselves, when the dictator leaves the scene, no one will feel bound by his decisions.

The second fundamental truth exposed by Ben Ali's overthrow is that all power is fleeting. Ben Ali's day came last Friday. The day of his Arab despot brethren will also arrive. And when they are overthrown, their alliances will be overthrown with them. To a significant degree, the Obama administration's failure to understand the chronic instability of dictatorships explains its obsession with appeasing Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Because the US wrongly assumes that Assad's regime is inherently stable, it misunderstands Assad's rationale for preferring Iran and Hizbullah to the US.

Assad is a member of the Alawite minority community. He fears his people not only because he represses them through state terror, but because given his Alawite identity, most Syrians do not view him as one of them.

As dictators and murderers themselves, Iran's ayatollahs and Hizbullah's terror masters support Assad's regime in a way that the US never could, even if it wished to. Indeed, as Assad sees things, given the nature of his regime, there is no chance that an alliance with the US would do anything but weaken his regime's grip on power.

US attempts to build relations with Assad tell this dictator two seemingly contradictory things at the same time. First they signal to him that his alliance with Iran and Hizbullah strengthen his regional stature. Without those alliances, the US would not be interested in appeasing him.

Second, due to the chronic instability of his tyrannical terror state, and his consequent utter fear of democracy, Assad views American attempts to draw him into the Western alliance as bids to overthrow his regime. The more the likes of Obama and Clinton seek to draw him in, the more convinced he will become that they are in league with Israel to bring him down.

ON THE face of it, the Tunisian revolution vindicates former president George W. Bush's policy of pushing democratization of the Arab world. As Bush recognized in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US is poorly served by relying on dictators who maintain their power on the backs of their people.

Bush got into trouble however by seeing a straight line between the problem and his chosen solution of elections. As the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Authority and the Muslim Brotherhood's victories in Egypt's parliamentary elections on the one hand, and the undermining of pro- Western democratically elected governments in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq on the other hand made clear, elections are not the solution to authoritarianism.

The Tunisian revolution provides several lessons for US policymakers. First, by reminding us of the inherent frailty of alliances with dictatorships, Tunisia demonstrates the strategic imperative of a strong Israel. As the only stable democracy in the region, Israel is the US's only reliable ally in the Middle East. A strong, secure Israel is the only permanent guarantor of US strategic interests in the Middle East.

Second, the US should proceed with great caution as it considers its ties with the Arab world. All bets must be hedged. This means that the US must maintain close ties with as many regimes as possible so that none are viewed as irreplaceable.

Saudi Arabia has to be balanced with Iraq, and support for a new regime in Iran. Support for Egypt needs to be balanced with close relations with South Sudan, and other North African states.

As for engendering democratic alternatives, the US must ensure that it does not make any promises it has no intention of keeping. The current tragedy in Lebanon is a blow to US prestige because Washington broke its promise to stand by the March 14 movement against Hizbullah.

At the same time, the US should fund and publicly support liberal democratic movements when those emerge. It should also fund less liberal democratic movements when they emerge. So too, given the strength of Islamist media, the US should make judicious use of its Arabic-language media outlets to sell its own message of liberal democracy to the Arab world.

Tunisia's revolution is an extraordinary event. And like other extraordinary events, its repercussions are being felt far beyond its borders. Unfortunately, the behavior of the Obama administration signals that it is unwilling to acknowledge the importance of what is happening.

If the Obama administration persists in ignoring the fundamental truths exposed by the popular overthrow of Tunisia's dictator, it will not simply marginalize US power in the Middle East. It will imperil US interests in the Middle East.








No Holds Barred: The expression may be used for any amorphous, faceless population collectively accused of being accessories to murder.

The term "blood libel" is fraught with perilous meaning in Jewish history. It connotes the earliest accusations against Jews, that they killed Jesus and embraced responsibility for his murder, telling Pontius Pilate: "His blood be upon us and our children." (Matthew 27:25). Thus was born the legend of Jewish blood lust, and of ritual requirements of Christian blood for Jewish sacramental purposes. The term was later used more specifically to describe accusations against Jews – primarily in Europe – said to sacrifice kidnapped Christian children and use their blood in Passover matzot.

Benedictine monk Thomas of Monmouth is generally credited with popularizing the blood libel in his Life of the Martyr William from Norwich, written in 1173, about a young boy who was found stabbed to death. Thomas quoted a servant woman, who said she witnessed the Jews lacerating the boy's head with thorns, crucifying him and piercing his side. While William was canonized and miracles were attributed to him, the Jews of Norwich fared less well. On February 6, 1190 they were all found slaughtered in their homes, save those who escaped to the local tower, where they committed mass suicide.

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, a child of eight who disappeared in July 1255, is mentioned by Chaucer. A Jew named Copin owned a pit where the boy's brutalized body was found, and is said to have confessed that the boy had been crucified by the Jews, leading King Henry III to execute 19 Jews of Lincoln.

SO CONSIDERING the strong association of the term with charges of collective Jewish guilt and concomitant slaughter, Sarah Palin has every right to use it. Indeed, the expression may be used for any amorphous, faceless population collectively accused of being accessories to murder.

It is important to note that the abominable nature of the blood libel is not the fact that it was used in accusing Jews, but that it was used in accusing innocent Jews. Had the Jews been guilty of any of these heinous acts, the charge would not have been a libel.

Jews did not kill Jesus. He was murdered by Roman troops under Pontius Pilate, whose reign of terror in ancient Judea was so excessive even by ruthless Roman standards that Josephus, writing in Antiquities, relates that he was recalled by Rome in the year 36 because of his sadism.

King Herod Agrippa I, writing to the Emperor Caligula, noted Pilate's "acts of violence, plunderings... and continual murder of persons untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending, endless and unbelievable cruelties, gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity."

Likewise, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus writes: "Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pernicious superstition [Christianity] was checked for the moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, home of the disease, but in the capital itself."

As for the ritual slaughter of Christian children and the use of their blood in matzot, the Hebrew Bible repeatedly labels human sacrifice something that God categorically "hates," and it absolutely forbids the consumption of blood.

Murder is humanity's most severe sin, and it must not be trivialized by being attributed to any innocent party, especially when the accusation is against a collective too numerous to be defended individually. If the Jews have learned anything in their long and tragic history, it is that a false indictment of murder against any group ultimately threatens every group. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Indeed, a belief that the term "blood libel" pertains only to Jews is itself a form of reverse discrimination.

Judaism utterly rejects the idea of collective responsibility for murder – the charge that was used to foment anti-Semitism throughout the ages by blaming all Jewish generations for the murder of Jesus – and the Hebrew Bible condemns accusations of collective guilt against Jew and non-Jew alike.

"The soul who sins is the one who will die... The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him." (Ezekiel 18:20)

How sad that some have chosen to compound a national tragedy by politicizing the murder of six innocents and the attempted assassination of a Jewish congresswoman, using the event to divide rather than unite.

To be sure, America should embrace civil political discourse for its own sake, and no political faction should engage in demonizing rhetoric. But claiming to promote this high principle while simultaneously violating it and engaging in a blood libel against innocent parties is both irresponsible and immoral.

The writer will shortly publish a book on the Jewishness of Jesus, and his murder at Roman hands.









What should have happened many months ago, the decision by Labor Ministers Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman to resign from the right-wing government of Binyamin Netanyahu, has finally happened. The fact that they should never have agreed to have gone into this government in the first place is another matter. But they took the bait dangled by Ehud Barak, arguing that it is better to have some influence from the inside rather than to have none from the outside. In reality they have had no influence even on the inside but have, at the same time, accorded the present government a legitimacy it should never have had.

Braverman and Herzog have been doing the rounds of the Labor Party branches over the past year, preparing themselves for the election of a new party leader when that time arrives. Braverman may be the more charismatic, but by all accounts it is Herzog who has had greater success in attracting support from the party grassroots, not least because of his much longer membership in the party and his acquaintance with its backrooms and power brokers.

Both of them have skills which are lacking in many of today's leading politicians. Braverman is an economist who, during 16 years as its president, transformed Ben-Gurion University from a peripheral backwater into a leading international institute of higher education. The present campus, ironically called Braverman City by some, is a tribute to his ability to raise funds and spread his vision of the role of the university in developing the Negev. In my dealings with Braverman during his tenure as president, he never failed to take up large-scale ideas and projects. And in his own bulldozer style, he succeeded in realizing many of them.

Herzog is a skilled lawyer, whose political pedigree is second to none. Son of former president Chaim Herzog, and grandson of the state's first chief rabbi, Isaac Halevy Herzog (after whom he is named), he has contacts in diverse sectors of society. His time as welfare and social services minister has attuned him to many of the problems faced by grassroots Israelis, and he has developed a reputation for listening to and solving problems.

The law office founded by his father, whose senior partners have included both Herzog and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, a close confidant of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has often been described as the place where governments are put together and where real power is located.

THERE ARE other skilled potential Labor Party leaders among those who remained true to their beliefs and refused to be part of the Netanyahu government. Not least are Shelly Yacimovich, who has proved to be a tough campaigner for greater transparency and for civil rights, and Ophir Paz-Pines who has stepped down from active politics, but is seen by many party members as a person who could lead them into the future.

The four of them could, if they were to reach a miraculous agreement , collectively create a new leadership which could potentially kick start a comeback from the almost total oblivion in which the party has been existing for the past few years.

What the party does not need is another ex-army commander to be imposed upon it as its latest savior. Labor has a rich recent history of false messiahs, from Amram Mitzna to Ami Ayalon and, for all too long, Ehud Barak. It was even thought that the capture of Braverman from the clutches of Kadima just five years ago would herald a new era and that he would shortly take over the leadership.

At least in his case it was someone from civilian society and not another general who has been unable to translate military leadership into one which is governed by the rules of democracy.

Military leaders, who are experts in defense and security policy, are still needed given the continuation of the conflict, but the people with these specific skills should limit themselves to their areas of expertise rather than assume they can automatically take over the running of the country.

IF LABOR is to have a last chance of regaining power, it must understand that it has not been in power for much of the past 30 years, and that no group has an automatic right to rule. It also has to accept that the old Ashkenazi secular elites promoting values of liberal democracy can, at best, have influence only if they know how to share power with the many new groups which have become enfranchised over the past two decades – not least the haredi, Russian and Mizrahi populations. Governing is all about power-sharing and the establishment of coalitions which, despite internal differences, have some critical common agendas and policies.

A common agenda for a real opposition, the sort of opposition which is lacking today, is a real commitment to the peace process – not a commitment through words, but through actions. It requires leaders prepared to go that extra step and move toward the creation of two states, necessitating some really difficult concessions and compromises, because they understand that the long-term future and security of the country as a truly democratic state can only be ensured in this way.

There are those who would argue that neither Braverman or Herzog should get another chance given their agreement to be part of one of the most right-wing and intransigent governments in Israel's history. But there aren't many alternatives – had there been, they would have sprung up during the past few years.

Is this now the last chance for the Labor Party to recreate itself as a true party of opposition which can regain the reins of government a few years down the road? To do so, it must first show that it can restructure itself in an inclusive fashion, put forward a true opposition agenda and stick it out in opposition without too many internal feuds. In a country of miracles, it may yet happen.

The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University.








The present political environment makes 1989 look like child's play.

From the age of 14 until making aliya at 22 I was an activist and leader in the Zionist youth movement Young Judaea. Aliya, as we were taught and as we imparted to many others who we inspired to follow in our footsteps, was not simply a change of address. "Moving up" to Israel had to involve a qualitative change of life based on the most important of values – tikkun olam, repairing the world, or more specifically, making our world a better place. These are the most fundamental principles on which I have become the person that I am today.

During my first 10 years here I devoted myself to trying to improve relations between Jewish and Arab citizens. I volunteered for two years and lived in Kafr Kara in the framework of Interns for Peace. I then convinced the government under Menachem Begin to hire me to become the first civil servant responsible for advancing Jewish-Arab relations.

Working with Aluf Hareven from the Van Leer institute, the first State Commission on Democracy and Coexistence Education was formed in the Education Ministry. With the assistance of the German Hans Seidel Foundation and with the support of Begin and education minister Zevulun Hammer, I established the Institute for Education for Jewish-Arab Coexistence, which I directed for seven years.

Throughout those 10 years, I thought that as long as the wider conflict with the Palestinians existed there was a very clear limit to the extent we could improve Jewish-Arab relations. This was frustrating (and remains so), but in 1976 as a student in New York, I attempted to launch dialogue with Palestinians only to discover, as the PLO ambassador in the UN said to me when I appealed to him to recognize Israel and support the two-state solution: "Over my dead body."

I understood then that there was no point of entry for a real dialogue with Palestinians until they expressed, readiness to recognize our right as Jews to live in our land under our own sovereignty. That is why, during those years I decided to work on the issues of democracy and coexistence inside the country.

IN NOVEMBER 1987, things began to change. The first intifada broke out and mass demonstrations erupted all over Gaza, and then throughout east Jerusalem and the West Bank. These demonstrations were different from what had been seen until then. Thousands of people, led by women and youths, confronted soldiers all over the occupied territories. After several days of such unrest, defense minister Yitzhak Rabin was asked by a journalist if perhaps he should return immediately from his visit in Washington to put down the uprising, to which he replied that the situation would return to normal in a couple of days. But it did not. Some Palestinian leaders in the territories, perceiving the future, began to link the mass uprising with new, clear and coherent political statements.

The United Command of the Intifada began issuing political statements in which not only the tone was new, but the substance as well. Gone was the idea of the "secular democratic state" on all Palestinian lands; in came the message "end the occupation of the territories occupied in 1967! Two states living side-by-side in peace!"

After several months of reading these new statements I decided to see the new reality for myself. So one morning in early March 1988 I went to the Dehaishe refugee camp south of Bethlehem. Approached by some young people, I explained that I was an Israeli who wanted to understand what the intifada was about. After about 20 minutes of talking, I was invited to someone's home. About 25 people came along. I spent six hours in dialogue about peace. They told me that the occupation of 1967 must end and they must be allowed to establish their own independent state. They were prepared to recognize Israel and live in peace. The moment I had waited for had arrived.

I resigned as director of the Institute for Education for Jewish Arab Coexistence and began to establish the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information – an institution dedicated to advancing the two-state solution.

In December 1988 I planned my first speaking tour to the US to advance the ideas of IPCRI and to raise money. My plan was to take my two-year-old daughter with me, drop her off with her grandparents and do my work. To my surprise, shock and horror, when I reached passport control in Ben-Gurion airport my passport was confiscated together with my daughter's. I was told that I was forbidden to leave the country. No explanation. I was in tears. I felt humiliated. I was confused, I had done nothing wrong, why was I being treated like this? Every 20 minutes I tried to inquire about my status, and was told to sit down.

Ten minutes before takeoff , we were taken to the plane. No one ever explained why I was detained.

For the next four years, each time I left the country and when I returned, I was detained. Sometimes I was questioned about where I had been and what I had done, sometimes my belongings were checked. I was stripped and left naked in a small booth. I was never told why I was on "security list."

I was never accused of any wrongdoing. I was never charged or arrested for committing a crime.

I was guilty of speaking to our enemies and of getting other Israelis and Palestinians to speak to each other. The people I brought together included senior government officials, retired senior officers from the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Mossad, water experts, economists, business people and more. A terrible crime, I admit. In 1994, one month after being removed from the "security list," I became an advisor to prime minister Rabin's "peace team" in the Prime Minister's Office.

I was a victim of the political environment of the time. The present political environment makes 1989 look like child's play. Avigdor Lieberman and his academic allies, like NGO Monitor, are playing with fire and our democracy is at stake, along with the many innocent citizens whose 'crime' is working for this to be a truly democratic state living in peace with its neighbors.

The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information ( and is in the process of founding the Center for Israeli Progress (








If his performance with students at a recent shabbaton is any indication, the political wunderkind's rehabilitation in public eye is already under way.

The press has been awash with speculation the past few weeks that Arye Deri, one-time interior minister, former head of the religious Sephardi party Shas, and one of the most simultaneously loved and hated figures in the country – and indeed the larger Jewish world – is planning to launch a new "big-tent" religious party. A Deri-led party with Sephardi and Ashkenazi support, which would also seek to attract support from secular Israelis charmed by his rather idiosyncratic approach to political and social questions, could cause a major political realignment.

Deri's return has been a long time coming. He was released from a three-year jail sentence on corruption charges in 2002. But upon his release, he was banned from all political activity, only recently emerging from this period of "shame."

But the legend of his political skill and capacity for intrigue remained strong, and it was widely expected that politics had not yet seen the last of him. On Sunday night, Deri gave an interview to Channel 10 on his future plans.

I SAW Deri at one of his first public appearances since news broke of his renewed political intentions, and it's not hard to see what the fuss is about. The venue was a shabbaton in the Old City of Jerusalem put on by the educational organization Nefesh Yehudi, which seeks to "deepen the Jewish identity" of university students. Many haredi notables from the music and media world were guest speakers, but Deri's Oneg Shabbat "question and answer" session with the students was clearly intended to be the coup de grace.

Deri took the floor later than I expected – around 11 p.m. While now portly, and with often exaggerated, lumbering motions, he nonetheless met questions with articulate, sharp responses. Anyone who has attended a question and answer session (especially with Israeli students) knows that they can get hostile. Deri was able, better than any other politician I have seen, to neutralize his questioners without resorting to shouting, usually getting by on the yeshiva student-style rapid shake of the head and a quick twitch of the fingers.

Why doesn't the haredi community serve in the army, attend university, get professions or, most broadly, integrate into Israeli life? There were many other questions for Deri, but this one, repeated in many different forms, was the most urgent. Deri's best response was in the form of a perhaps mythical story: "After the war, the learning of Torah was in danger of disappearing from the face of the Earth," he said. "There was a decision made by the community to devote itself totally to the learning of Torah – man's highest mission."

But there now must be a recognition, Deri said, that times have changed and that the original mission of saving the Torah has been largely fulfilled; now is the time for greater integration. "I can say without hesitation," he said, "that if a young man will not learn Torah he should serve in the army – it will make him a man, teach him how to get up in the morning."

Those who believe that the haredi welfare state has the same bad effects as welfare states everywhere should also pay attention to his very politique epilogue, however: "In a Jewish state, those who truly and thoroughly devote themselves to the study of Torah should receive the state's full support."

This strange political two-step struck a chord with the audience, which showed its strong approval with applause. Even if Deri's historical account of the haredi community's universal Torah learning was a fraud, it was a harmless, perhaps even pious, one. It painted the community's way of life in a sympathetic context, vindicating its actions while at the same time bowing to the idea of service and, one might add, to the obvious fact that while Jewish learning may be a meaningful endeavor, not every Jewish male is suited for it.

And of course, politically speaking it was a very grey response, neither for nor against either side of the debate regarding the state's subvention of the haredim, but rather seeking a compromise between killing and expanding the haredi welfare state. All substance and very bipartisan, as they say on Capitol Hill. And very atypical in the hyper-ideological world of Israeli politics.

Pre- and post-Q&A, and for the rest of the weekend, Deri happily ate and talked with his family and others. Over his years in the political wilderness, he seems to have developed a taste for the finest kosher Bordeaux, and he took great relish in pouring wine into nearby glasses, many of which had seconds earlier been filled with orange juice or Coca-Cola. Seeing him move his portly frame around the room in a jovial manner, it was difficult for those around him not be charmed by his greeting "Hey, tzadik."

The man, as the political scientists used to say, has charisma.

It is widely believed that Deri's long-term rival, current Shas chairman Eli Yishai, will use all available means to stop his former colleague. He is supported by Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef, who between his two pupils seems to prefer the plodding, predictable and seemingly controllable Yishai to the irascible and wayward Deri. Also, Deri has already been in jail once. Still, he seems to have learned the Machiavellian lesson that a clever pupil just might free himself from his previous masters. If Deri's performance with the university students is any indication, his rehabilitation in the public eye is already under way.

Coming soon to a wedding, bar mitzva or union meeting near you.

The writer is a PhD candidate and teaching fellow at Georgetown University.








The more a nation grows, the more the tyrants must pilfer from the public chest to remain dictator du jour.

Last year I published essays from Tunisia, Kuwait and Singapore, screaming about the human rights abuses in each, particularly their muzzling of free expression. After writing each of these commentaries, I received feedback along these lines: "Since these countries are, to varying degrees, economic success stories, does it really matter that political speech is roped off? Perhaps there is something ungovernable about these societies, and they need a ruler with a ceaseless grip."

For years, Tunisia was perceived by many observers as a nation ruled by a truncheon, but which functioned just fine because it was somehow benevolent.

Rotting, putrid nonsense. Dictatorships are, by definition, self-serving and nonbenevolent; some dictatorships are just noisier than others. I spent 2005-2006 in Jordan – also a country that is an economic success story and deemed innocuous. Without significant natural resources, and with a massive refugee population, Jordan has nonetheless demonstrated impressive economic growth over the past 15 years, and boasts a large and growing middle class. Jordan, though, is a police state if ever there was one, and its secret security force is a dark, cold institution. There is no benevolence when the Jordanian mukhabarat whisks a political dissident away before dawn to extract information.

Anyone who argues that a would-be group of rowdy people cannot govern themselves need only look to India. It is one of the loudest, most bustling, frenetic places on the planet, and also the world's most populous democracy. And anyone who claims Islam is incompatible with democracy should recall that India has hundreds of millions of Muslim democrats.

TUNISIA IS the most recent and vivid example of the myth of benevolent autocracy. Despotism is what's untenable; self-governance is not. For decades, the world humored Tunisia's overlords, and because the country is small, it's been relatively quiet. It demonstrated impressive economic growth, and it's a damn fine place to visit. My wife and I were in Tunisia in November for 10 days, and struggle to think of a country we find more delightful. Tunisia's beauty took my breath away, and I grew up on the Gulf coast of Florida.

Among the millions of pictures of Tunisia's now-hiding despot is the slogan of a government PR campaign: "Tunisia: A country that works."

Tunisia is one of the most prosperous states among the non-oil-rich nations in North Africa and the Middle East. But even dictatorships that seem to work do not work forever. Not when a swelling middle class demands more influence over its own political future. Not in an age when webizens get a digital taste of the freedoms in countries that actually do work. As far as free speech and political rights are concerned, Tunisia has for years been one of the most rotten places on the planet.

Singapore, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and other economically functional dictatorships, be warned: You're not benevolent and your people know it, even if the world ignores your quiet brutality.

Americans and Europeans, of all people, should recognize the canard of the benevolent dictator, as it was the debunking of this myth that formed modern democracies in the West. Britain's King George III viewed himself as a benevolent dictator in the late 1700s. "There's economic progress in the colonies," George no doubt observed. "What more do these brigands want?"

The reality is that illegitimate tyrants are despised regardless of whether the economy is growing or not, because the more a nation grows, the more the tyrants must pilfer from the public chest to remain dictator du jour.

Like George, Tunisia's fleeing hack is a creaking, unelected, unjustly enriched, out-of- touch sack of wrinkles. The world would be better off if the 74-year-old stays in Saudi Arabia and dies in obscurity. But whatever plays out, the uprising in Tunisia is helping lay bare the lie that autocrats can be cuddly.

The words "benevolent dictator" aren't humorously oxymoronic yet occasionally true, like "honest politician" or "sober Irishman." Benevolent dictators just don't exist. Many words describe erstwhile Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but "benevolent" isn't among them.

The writer teaches journalism at The American University in Cairo, and is a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review.







Sixty-six years after his disappearance, Israel has a moral obligation to find out why the Swedish diplomat was detained and what really happened to him.

January 17, 2011 marks 66 years since a historic injustice was done to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, a man designated by Israel as a Righteous among the Nations.

The Russian government maintains that Soviet troops, who liberated Hungary from Nazi Germany, detained and then transferred Wallenberg to the Soviet secret police (NKVD) in 1945. The Russians claim further that Wallenberg was executed in the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the NKVD in Moscow, in 1947. The Kremlin, however, does not offer any proof of this. The account of his execution is based entirely on hearsay. What's more, several former prisoners in the gulag claimed to have met Wallenberg years after 1947. If alive, Wallenberg would now be 98.

Wallenberg is famous for saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from extermination. He was a diplomat but his methods were the opposite of diplomacy. Inside Nazi-occupied Hungary, Wallenberg ran an enterprise that distributed Swedish schutz-pass – a document that protected its bearers from Nazi detention – and harbored Jews in buildings marked as a Swedish territory.

He accomplished the unimaginable by befriending, bribing and threatening Gestapo and Arrow Cross (Hungarian Nazi Party) bosses with inevitable prosecution, promising to put a good word for them. "The Wallenberg Effect," an article in The Journal of Leadership Studies, cites Sandor Ardai, one of Wallenberg's drivers, who recalled how he intercepted a trainload of Jews about to leave for Auschwitz: "He climbed up on the roof of the train and began handing in protective passes through the doors which were not yet sealed. He ignored orders from the Germans for him to get down, then the Arrow Cross men began shooting and shouting at him to go away. He ignored them and calmly continued handing out passports to the hands that were reaching out for them. I believe the Arrow Cross men deliberately aimed over his head, as not one shot hit him, which would have been impossible otherwise. I think this is what they did because they were so impressed by his courage. After Wallenberg had handed over the last of the passports he ordered all those who had one to leave the train and walk to the caravan of cars parked nearby, all marked in Swedish colors. I don't remember exactly how many, but he saved dozens off that train, and the Germans and Arrow Cross were so dumbfounded they let him get away with it."

WHAT WALLENBERG did for the Jewish people went beyond humanitarian, nonviolent resistance. This was an open war on fascism fought from within by him and his team. Then, shortly after the Red Army liberated Budapest, Wallenberg vanished forever.

The world has not forgotten Wallenberg. For decades Swedish governments quizzed the Kremlin about him.

Simon Wiesenthal, a Nazi hunter, collected testimonies about him. Prof. Guy von Dardel – Raoul Wallenberg's brother – searched for him until his final days. The efforts of Von Dardel and other researchers are documented on The US and Hungary, having named public spaces in his honor, are not indifferent to the fate of their honorary citizen.

Yet there is only one nation in the whole world that has a motivation to search for Raoul Wallenberg. The only nation that tracked down Adolf Eichmann years after his crimes. The only nation that keeps sending school children on a trip to the death camps of Poland every year. The only nation that should ask itself what is more important, flying warplanes over Auschwitz half a century later, or finding a man who faced Eichmann at the height of the Holocaust? Wallenberg is just one person out of millions of other innocents, the vast majority of them Soviet citizens, whose life was destroyed by the NKVD and whose fate remains unknown. There is, however, only one more well-known case where, after 72 years, people are still looking for answers and, judging by the recent developments, they are about to receive them. This is the case of what is known as the Katyn massacre – the wipeout of Polish officer corps by the NKVD in forest of Katyn in 1939.

Progress in Wallenberg and Katyn cases comes in tidal waves caused by the gravitational pool of the Kremlin. At times, when it moved toward the West, the high tides carried in bits and pieces of shipwrecked lives onto Western shores.

• 1989 – The Soviets returned Wallenberg's personal belongings to his family, including his passport and cigarette case.

• 1990 – The first and last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, admitted that the NKVD had executed the Polish officers at Katyn.

• 1991 – A Swedish-Russian working group was created to search for Wallenberg.

• 1991 – After an internal investigation, the Russian government announced that Wallenberg was executed inside NKVD headquarters in 1947.

• 1991 and 1992 – Russian president Boris Yeltsin ordered top secret documents about Katyn transferred to Poland.

• 2007 – A number of files pertinent to Wallenberg were turned over to the chief rabbi of Russia by the Russian government.

• 2008 – In an interview with a Polish newspaper, Vladimir Putin called Katyn a political crime.

On May 8, 2010, Russia handed over to Poland documents from the criminal case launched in the 1990s to investigate Katyn massacre.

THE PROGRESS in the Wallenberg case is impossible without Putin's direct intervention and today, more than ever before, Israel has a very good chance to get it. Twenty years ago, when 15 Soviet republics turned into 15 independent countries, no analyst would have predicted that today Russians wouldn't need visas to visit Israel, that a Russian army would procure Israeli arms and that Russia would show more understanding for Israel's selfdefense than some countries in Western Europe. Annual trade between Russia and Israel stands in billions of dollars from just a few millions in 1991. This vodka glass is only half full but, undisputedly, the Kremlin no longer treats Israel as a hostile proxy of the US.

Russian-Israeli ties are supported by Putin whose views are somewhat surprisingly more pro-Israel than those seen at a Russian grassroots level. Unlike his predecessor, Putin also enjoys full control of Russian Security Service (FSB), the ultimate successor to the NKVD. If Putin decides to help Israel, the search for Raoul Wallenberg, just like in Katyn case, can finally go beyond lip service.

Israel has a moral obligation to find out why Wallenberg was detained and what really happened thereafter.

This is an opportunity for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who purportedly has good relations with the Kremlin, to use his native Russian to bring a closure to the Wallenberg family and to the millions of people who care about Raoul Wallenberg. Unfortunately, Russian anti-Semitism, though officially suppressed, is still in the mainstream. Factors like the economic downturn in Russia may also affect the Kremlin's attitude toward Israel.

As the abrupt deterioration of Israeli-Turkish ties indicates, relations like these can't be taken for granted.

Today, at the peak of the high tide, the Jewish state can issue an Israeli schutz-pass for Raoul Wallenberg.

The writer, originally from the former Soviet Union, now lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.










The Labor Party's disintegration was an unavoidable consequence of the standstill in the peace process, which created a gap between the party's declared positions and the policies of the government it was partner to. Ehud Barak preferred the political association with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even as a junior coalition partner, as long as he could have the defense portfolio.

By resigning with four stalwarts from the Knesset's Labor faction, Barak has preempted his rivals, who were striving to remove him from the cabinet or the party. Taking the initiative gives him a momentary tactical advantage. But it does not change the result - Israel is ruled today by an extreme rightist government that objects to any compromise in the peace process, is preoccupied with diplomatic holding operations against "the world" and passes its days oppressing the Arab community and persecuting human rights organizations.

Barak, who entered politics as a shining star, maneuvered himself into the position of collaborator with Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai. The new Atzmaut faction will be the government's resuscitation machine.

But the split in Labor, including the departure of eight Labor MKs from the coalition, holds a big opportunity for the left wing, which until yesterday was hardly represented in the Knesset. A bloc will now form around three banners - social justice, advancing peace and saving democracy. Such a bloc will provide an alternative to the ideology of hatred. Its very existence will force opposition party Kadima, too, to take a firmer position against Netanyahu and his government, and present an alternative to Netanyahu and Barak's policy of entrenchment and stagnation.

It's too early to predict how politics will crystalize before the next elections and whether Labor will survive in its current form or continue to split, with some of its members joining Kadima or Meretz. The only clear thing is that Barak's departure and the resignation from the government of ministers Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman highlight the differences between Israel's two political wings. These differences have been blurred in the past two years, in the shadow of Labor's partnership in Netanyahu's coalition. Now, as Barak likes to say, the masks have been taken off.







This is the number of votes the Atzmaut party received in the Knesset election - 4,887, or 0.2 percent of the total, barely a tad more than the National Organization for the Protection of the Tenant, but double that of Has Mas ("Don't Talk about Taxes" ). No, that isn't a prediction for the next election, but actual results from the election for the 11th Knesset, in 1984. Then, the name Atzmaut was already claimed. Today, if legal advisors for Ehud Barak - who also created and headed the One Israel list in 1999 - have done their work properly, the name is up for grabs.

Until yesterday Barak had hoped to imitate Yitzhak Rabin's path of downfall and resurrection: first prime minister, then the seven lean years, then defense minister, and finally prime minister and defense minister once again. Almost seven years after his defeat by Ariel Sharon, Barak indeed returned to the defense minister's office. Just one more step, and he would once again be prime minister.

Hitting this moving target of a dream would now require an almost impossible set of circumstances. For instance, if his party held the kingmaker's role between the two large parties, and each of them refused to cede the prime minister's job to the other, or if he became Benjamin Netanyahu's number-two and designated heir in Likud. (Netanyahu would agree, but his party wouldn't. ) The dream of Rabin in Barak's clothing will have to be shelved.

As a stand-in for Rabin, Barak pulled out three surprising precedents: Sharon, David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres. Sharon was presumably chosen because he abandoned Likud to form Kadima: His previous departure from Likud - to set up Shlomtzion, on whose ticket only Sharon himself and one Yitzhak Yitzhaki made it into the Knesset - has evidently been forgotten.

Ben-Gurion, who quit Mapai to establish Rafi, refused to return to Mapai's successor, the Labor Party. He remained on the sidelines with his new party, which liked Labor claimed to put state above party. Peres was with Ben-Gurion in Rafi, and 40 years later he joined Sharon in Kadima.

But how do any of these cases justify Barak's move? Ben-Gurion, even though he reconciled toward the end of his life with Menachem Begin, whom he loathed, to present a united front against their mutual rival, Levi Eshkol, would not agree to actually join up with Begin and serve as his deputy prime minister.

Had Barak made an effort, he could also have recalled David Levy (who quit Likud to found Gesher ) and Amir Peretz (from Labor to One Nation and back ). But his real model was and remains Moshe Dayan.

Both were charming and highly political Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff, proteges of a security-minded leader (Ben-Gurion in the case of Dayan, Rabin for Barak ), young men who aroused great expectations only to have them crumble into disappointment. Dayan - who helped found Rafi, albeit without enthusiasm - also found Telem, yet another movement that claimed to place state above party, toward the end of his life. And, like Sharon with Shlomtzion, he managed to win enough votes for only two Knesset seats.

Yet Dayan's true downfall was not the political sphere, but rather the military and foreign-policy spheres. As defense minister under both Eshkol and Golda Meir, he often - though not always - adopted progressive positions but was never willing to risk his job for them. The result was the 1973 Yom Kippur War, for which Dayan sought to atone by abandoning the Alignment (as Labor was then called ) without abandoning his job: He kept that by joining Begin's government.

He did help to make peace with Egypt. But afterward, in the talks on Palestinian autonomy, Begin turned against him and pushed him into resigning.

Barak volunteered to serve as Sharon's defense minister, but was blocked from doing so. He did hold this job under Ehud Olmert, then outflanked Kadima from the right in the role of Netanyahu's defense minister. But his contribution to the peace process in recent years was zero: Netanyahu trod water, and Barak was merely a hired gun, a sham leader with no followers other than the two men vying to become head of the Jewish National Fund.

Barak did not give up leadership yesterday of the large party that he helped to shrink. Rather, his voters gave up on him because they grew disgusted with his tricks. In the history of Israeli politics he will earn a place below even that of Dayan. Ben-Gurion he certainly is not.







Israel Military Industries' years-long, painful decline should serve as a sign for any neo-Socialist who opposes privatization and favors nationalization. In another two weeks, IMI's fate will be sealed. Will it be closed? Will it be sold? Will it be merged with another government company?

This is a government company that manufactures in the defense industry, but it specializes in losing money. It has lost money for 11 straight years! In the private sector, a company in a similar plight would have gone bankrupt, but IMI survives due to the taxpayers' deep pockets, out of which come billions of shekels. But the taxpayers know nothing about this.

IMI suffers from a chronic bloated workforce and exorbitant salaries that have nothing to do with productivity or profit. In 1987, it employed a surrealistic number of workers - 14,000. Since then, the government has financed various "recovery plans" that come to nothing other than the allocation of billions of shekels to excessive retirement and pension plans. The state has allotted NIS 7 billion to IMI. Even though its payroll has been pared down to 3,200 workers, it still loses money; it made a huge loss of NIS 250 million in 2009.

In August 2005, the government decided to get rid of IMI once and for all. The decision was to merge some of its activities with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (a government company ), and privatize other activities. Around 10 private entities showed interest in the plan for a revamped IMI, but Israel Aerospace Industries (a government company ) opposed the deal with Rafael, and IMI workers were against any form of privatization. Histadrut chief Ofer Eini supported the workers, as did Ehud Barak, and that sufficed to scuttle the deal. IMI continued to bleed.

In 2005, the company was estimated to be worth $300 million, but today, as its losses mount, it's worth tens of millions, in the best case. Such a bleak outlook fails to make much of an impression on IMI workers. They're demanding NIS 1 billion from the government to finance pension payments for 950 workers, as well as a security net to finance the possible retirement of several hundred more workers if a new employer (private or government ) streamlines and lays off employees.

The argument now is whether IMI is to be merged into Rafael or Israel Aerospace Industries, or privatized. It's worth mentioning that government companies are, in the best scenario, poorly managed. Their managers don't seek to economize and make profits. Instead, such companies focus on increasing sales, enlarging the workforce and improving wage conditions. Management knows that as the number of workers increases, the company's power grows, making it harder to shut down the operation. So profit recorded by a government company will always be symbolic - and that's when it's not losing money.

In contrast, managements of private companies focus on profit. Executives know that without profit, they won't be able to raise capital, they won't be able to take loans. So they won't be able to invest, expand and grow. For this reason, managers of private companies constantly streamline, save and search for new markets. The result benefits the whole economy.

So the price of IMI's sale makes no difference. The price is just a small part of the benefit in privatization. The main thing is privatization's benefit to the economy over the years. Take, for example, the huge growth in exports and the employment of several thousand workers that resulted from the privatization of Israel Chemicals.

That's exactly what will happen to IMI if, instead of spreading its ailments to another government company (Rafael or Israel Aerospace Industries ), it is privatized in a transparent tender process. In such a case, we would all profit, and the public would enjoy increased employment and economic growth. Only the neo-Socialists will be bitter and angry - for them, privatization is evil incarnate.








Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar expressed a courageous position at the last Sderot Conference on Social Issues. "What will happen if we continue to use state funds to beef up private education? The gaps will widen," he said (TheMarker, November 10, 2010; in Hebrew ). This was the correct sentiment in the face of a problematic situation rooted in the State Education Law (passed in 1953 ) - which allows for the collection of money from parents to enrich the curriculum, thereby enabling the gaps between various population groups to widen as well.

But the spirit of Sa'ar's words in Sderot stand in contrast to legislative processes initiated by the ministry for which he is responsible. One example is the ministry's decision to adopt the 2008 ruling of the Tel Aviv District Court, which accepted a petition by parents demanding the publication of the percentage of students eligible for matriculation certificates at each school. Prior to the ruling, only percentages of eligibility per community were published.

Although this policy was described as being experimental only, it is likely to serve as a precedent for ranking schools according to their achievements. It is also liable to lead to ranking elementary schools on the basis of students' performance on the Meitzav standardized tests; and in that case, why not rank kindergartens on the basis of exams that determine their students' preparedness for primary school?

The ministry decision directly affects such issues as mainstreaming special education students into regular schools; integrating immigrant students, particularly from the weaker populations, even into well-to-do schools; and implementing the relatively new law mandating studies up to age 18.

The publication of matriculation eligibility figures for each individual school is liable to embolden the schools' tendency to do everything in their power to avoid accepting students from certain population groups, who are liable to adversely affect the certificate eligibility percentage achieved by the school.

Another legislative process that contradicts the views expressed by the education minister is the 2010 bill that anchors the powers of the National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education, without creating balances that empower the schools. The Israeli authority was modeled on a similar body in the United States. But in America, the assessment mechanisms have become the primary focus, and a culture has been created that places an emphasis on preparing for standardized exams instead of on the experience of learning itself.

The 2010 Economic Arrangements Law, which includes a controlled opening of registration in a manner that enables parents of students attending state schools to select the school where their children will study, follows this trend. Existing studies reveal that some local councils will do everything in their power to satisfy the wishes of the well-to-do, while blatantly ignoring regulations and laws in the field of education. Schools also set themselves apart by developing supplemental services, based on parental payments that can reach upwards of NIS 10,000 annually.

If the Education Ministry did not succeed in enforcing its policy before opening up registration, how will it enable a controlled choice of schools after? Many studies point to the fact that a controlled choice between schools that do not have identical means at their disposal accelerates polarity within society.

All of these processes are now taking place, unaccompanied by any public or professional discussion. The policy being instituted through the legislative processes described here will serve to encourage the labeling and classifying of students and will lead to a greater sense of failure among thousands of Israeli schoolchildren.

Concepts that led to an outcry in many other countries are accepted here with surprising apathy. If there is no profound discussion of the consequences, the Israeli school system will advance with eyes closed toward a fate against which the education minister warned in Sderot.


The writer is a lecturer in the School of Education at Tel Aviv University.







On November 29, 2011 the UN General Assembly decided by a large majority to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. This scenario, despite American efforts (as of now ) to prevent it, is becoming increasingly real.

It is even possible that the vote at the UN will take place earlier, and it is not impossible that it will include elements that are problematic for Israel, such as the return of refugees and decisions regarding Jerusalem and the timetable for implementation.

The decision of the General Assembly will create a new strategic reality. After the international community has its say, the anti-Israel wave will become stronger and there will be legitimacy for sanctions against Israel by organizations and countries. International public opinion is even liable to show understanding for violent acts against us.

The Israeli government, we can assume, will react with partial annexation and military action. Meanwhile the split within Israeli society will grow, so that parallel to the external distress this time there is liable to be an internal rift as well.

This is a realistic scenario. Responsible leadership must prevent it. In his Bar-Ilan speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in effect accepted the principle of dividing the Land of Israel into two states. Implementation of this principle, even in the framework of the 1967 borders, is a complex matter.

Security issues such as Israeli control of airspace, demilitarization and supervision; borders and territorial exchanges; timetables for evacuation (this is a step that will take years ); financial assistance to refugees and evacuees; the question of the arrangement in Jerusalem; the Gaza Strip; the nature of the relations between the states in the future, etc., require localized solutions. A sweeping decision by the UN General Assembly is liable to distance us from an agreement and only heighten the conflict.

It is doubtful whether direct negotiations will produce an agreement. The Israeli coalition structure, the weakness of the Palestinian leadership, the complexity of the issue and the shrinking timetable before possible recognition by the UN of a Palestinian state will make it very difficult to achieve an agreement by consensus. At most we will see an exchange of accusations between the parties, whose objective is to support the vote of the General Assembly or to prevent it.

One significant route is still likely to lead to an agreement. Due to political constraints there is a gap between what the sides are capable of offering and receiving and what they would be willing to compromise about. Bridging this gap is possible only through an American initiative, which begins in a trilateral discussion and ends in an American proposal for an agreement.

There is no question that the success of the move is conditional on a profound understanding of Israel's vital and existential interests, along with providing a fair solution to the refugee problem, including assistance with rehabilitation. Backing for the move on the part of the moderate Arab countries and the European leadership is likely to be of great significance.

Israeli rejection of a fair American proposal is liable to accelerate a decision by the UN General Assembly and to exacerbate the internal conflict in Israel. Rejection on the part of the Palestinians will undermine their international support, will apparently hasten the disappearance of Fatah and will lead to unilateral Israeli moves.

The next 100 days will be significant. The challenge is placed at the door of the Israeli prime minister, the Palestinian Authority and the moderate Arab countries, but equally important is wise American navigation. In the coming months the actors will decide whether there will be a positive change in the region or whether we will lapse into violence.








In the year since Chris Christie was sworn in as governor of New Jersey, he has become something of a celebrity, thanks to his frequent clashes with unionized public employees immortalized on YouTube. Now Christie's star might be fading — not because he's about to make a misstep, but because his routine is beginning to look a little more, well, routine.


In the past two weeks numerous other governors, many of them newly elected, have looked at their states' books and begun to act and sound a lot like Christie. Some are Republicans, such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio. But Democrats are singing a similar tune. Andrew Cuomo of New York has already frozen government pay and talks of extensive spending cuts. California's Jerry Brown has proposed slashing a variety of government spending programs.


The fact is, the financial situation for many states is dire. Like the federal government, they are getting clobbered by rising health costs. Unlike the federal government, they have a massive problem of lavish retirement benefits for public employees. The Pew Center on the States estimates that state and local governments have promised $3.35 trillion in benefit plans and have underfunded these plans by $1 trillion.


In some states and localities, it is not uncommon to see pensions of 2.5%-3% of a worker's final salary, times the number of years worked. At 3%, a worker can retire in his or her 50s, after 33 years of service, and continue drawing the same income. With deals like this, plus retiree health benefits, New York City now spends $144,000 a year for a sanitation worker, according to the Manhattan Institute think tank.


These lavish deals are draining money from core services, including teachers in the classroom, cops on the beat, prison beds, libraries and parks. In some states, even cuts in these programs, plus tax hikes, aren't enough to balance their budgets.


It is time for a major rethinking. An obvious solution is one that most Americans know well — 401(k)-type savings plans. Their widespread usage would make it harder to hide liabilities from taxpayers while reducing "pension envy" between private and public sector workers. At the least, such plans should be universal for new state and local hires.


A prime reason that pension costs have spiraled out of control is that spineless public officials can satisfy an important constituency by creating liabilities that won't come due until well after they leave office. When that important constituency is organized labor, which can apply political pressure and, in most states, bargain collectively, this possibility soon becomes an imperative.


Some governors are considering joining the 12 states that do not recognize collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. That such a drastic option is on the table should be a signal to the unions that overreaching in hard times has put their rights at risk.


Public sector unions argue that they are being made scapegoats. They point out that they didn't cause the economic downturn, and that if people want someone to blame they should look to Wall Street.


The unions are right that they did not cause the recession. But the financial travails of most states go well beyond economy-related drops in revenue. The recession merely forced the reckoning to come sooner.


It's time to start listening to a lot of these strapped governors. The truth is that even the more confrontational ones such as Christie are just beginning to touch on many of the adjustments that will need to be made.









With revenues plummeting during the economic crisis, states and cities across the country face real budget challenges. It is simply wrong, however, to suggest that modest retirement benefits paid to public service retirees are a cause, or even a part, of the budget problems facing governments.


Pension payments account for less than 4% of the average state's spending, while the annual pension for AFSCME retirees averages $19,000. Critics of the pension system conveniently ignore the fact that our members contribute to their pensions with every paycheck, and that more than 85% of their pension benefit is a result of those contributions and investment income.


Current challenges are not a result of excessive benefits. For every story about someone who gamed the system to obtain an unfair payout, there are tens of thousands of workers whose annual pensions are $10,000 or less.


Let's be clear: Underfunded pension systems resulted from unprecedented losses of asset values caused by reckless behavior on Wall Street and the refusal of some politicians to make their required payments. As recently as 2007, pension funds had, collectively, 96% of the assets required to meet future expenditures. But Wall Street drove America's economy and retirement security into a ditch. And now both pension and 401(k) accounts alike must be rebuilt.


Pension funds can be replenished over time at a modest cost. It is projected that states must increase pension spending from about 4% of their budgets to just 5% in the future. Surely, this is manageable.


The "401(k) solution" promises cost-savings that just don't materialize. A recent study in Nevada concluded that conversion to a 401(k)-style system would cost $1.2 billion more over the next two fiscal years. 401(k) plans are not less expensive, just less efficient and less secure than traditional pensions.


Most public pension systems have been in existence for 60 years or more. They have persevered during market downturns and enjoyed surpluses when the good times rolled. They predated public employee bargaining rights, and few plans are subject to the bargaining process today. They have traditionally enjoyed broad support as a cost-effective compensation and retirement security policy.


That support deserves to continue.


Gerald W. McEntee is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.








As deficit reduction returns to the forefront of the American political agenda, the question of whether the Pentagon should contribute proportionately to any major budget-reduction exercise has rattled the cages of official Washington.


The issue is not what should happen this year so much as in 2013 and beyond, once the recession ends and the wars abroad decline in scale. The case for selective defense reductions is in fact strong — but not, as many defense critics argue, due to Pentagon waste or imperial overreach. Cutting defense will in fact add modest risk to our short-term security. But to shore up the economic foundations of our long-term security, such cuts deserve serious consideration for the simple reason that the alternatives are worse.


The resistance


Defense Secretary Robert Gates has again moved in this direction with his recent suggestions for military spending reductions, particularly in the 2014-15 timeframe. But his proposal, while sound, is only an opening salvo in this debate.


Hawks, however, are already digging in. Several conservative scholars and some Republican members of Congress have responded to the recent deficit commissions by arguing that defense is among the federal government's prime constitutional responsibilities, and that any cuts to the military leaving us less secure would be false economies. They suggest that military costs — or at least those not associated with the ongoing wars — should be treated differently from other parts of the budget. In effect, these folks are arguing for sanctuary from the inevitable budgetary austerity.


These views have a certain persuasiveness. If by cutting defense too deeply, we gave leaders in Beijing the wrong idea about our willingness to defend our interests in the Western Pacific, for example, we could embolden China. If a key U.S. ally was attacked as a result, we would have little choice but to respond. The conflicts of the past decade have cost us more than $1 trillion to date; it is almost unimaginable what war against a rising China would entail. Any proposed defense cutbacks must be rigorously tested against the possibility that they could increase the chances of such outcomes — and rejected if deemed imprudent.


Nonetheless, hawks who are unwilling even to have the conversation about cuts go too far. After all, without even counting war costs from Iraq and Afghanistan, our real-dollar defense budget rivals the Cold War peak and is about a third greater than a decade ago. This level might not be necessary.


No responsible person is suggesting that current overseas operations should be prematurely terminated, or the military budget raided, or the armed forces asked to provide the lion's share of deficit reduction. But 10% real cutbacks — roughly the military's proportionate share of any serious deficit reduction effort — should be within the realm of serious consideration.


These cuts could be made, for example, by reducing our standing Army and Marine Corps back to 1990s levels once the Afghanistan operation begins to wind down, and by curbing weapons acquisition programs in areas such as fighter aircraft modernization, in which multiple programs overlap. Done carefully, we could make such budget cuts while sustaining current deployments and other capabilities in the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf regions, among other places. To be sure, potential dangers arise in this approach. Yet current policy comes with its own considerable risks.


Nothing is off-limits


Austerity measures are never pleasant, yet if entrenched interests are allowed to protect their preferred government priorities — be it Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, college aid and science research, preschool programs and grade school education, or the tax code — deficit reduction efforts will surely founder. And the country's long-term well-being will follow.


The most probable consequence will then be an outcome toward which we are already headed. Public debt levels will exceed our annual GDP, making us like Japan or, worse yet, Greece or Portugal or Italy. With health care costs rapidly escalating, there would be no natural end to this deteriorating fiscal spiral. Federal interest costs alone would be projected to approach $1 trillion a year within a decade. A country with trillion dollar interest payments and growing debt cannot afford a strong military over the long term. Nor can it make the scientific, educational and infrastructural investments needed for long-term economic vitality.


Yet in the weeks and months ahead, politicians will be making the "hands off" argument. Those who argue for reasonable military cuts will be called "weak on defense."


The public shouldn't buy it. After all, a failure to avert the oncoming fiscal calamity could cripple the U.S. economically over time. With that, the people will be loath to provide the political underpinning for the global economic and military engagement that has been at the heart of America's defense strategy since World War II.


Thus, we might need to take some prudent strategic risks now to protect our fundamental strength over the longer term. To dismiss careful defense budget cutbacks categorically is false hawkishness, for it fails to address the economic challenge posed to the long-term foundations of U.S. national power.


Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings, is author of Defense Budgets and American Power as well as The Science of War.









It was late on Friday, before the nation's capital shut down for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when the White House signaled a long-awaited change in this country's Cuba policy. This move has a lot of people cheering on both sides of the Florida Straits.


President Obama ordered administration officials "to take a series of steps to continue efforts to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country's future," the White House news release declared.


The steps, which relax restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba, moves this nation closer to a rational foreign policy toward the communist state, which a succession of U.S. governments have tried to topple since 1959.


Cuba is the last Cold War battleground where the United States is not just at loggerheads with an old Soviet client state but is actively trying to undermine the government. Our obsession with regime change in Havana has been fueled more by domestic politics (pandering for votes among anti-Castro Cubans in south Florida) than a well-reasoned foreign policy.


What it means


Obama's decision to relax the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba is an act of political courage and good sense. Under the new rules, it will be easier for academics, students, religious groups and journalists to travel to Cuba. Also, when this change takes effect in a couple of weeks, Americans can send up to $2,000 a year to someone in Cuba as long as that person is not a senior member of the Cuban government or the Communist Party.


Under the old rules, Cuban Americans had unlimited freedom to travel to Cuba and send money to people there. Other Americans were prohibited from sending money and severely restricted from visiting.


The travel ban, its supporters have long argued, is necessary to keep dollars out of the coffers of the Castro regime. That's laughable given the exception made for Cuban Americans. But what the ban effectively has done is reward the families of the white Cubans who disproportionately immigrate to the USA while punishing the families of black Cubans who have largely remained in Cuba, said Tomás Fernandez Robaina, a senior researcher at Cuba's national library and cultural historian. Without American relatives to send them money, black families suffer most from Cuba's economic problems, he said.


A better path toward change


Obama's new policy makes it possible for financial aid to find its way into the homes of many more black Cubans than before. And that's a good thing.


The president understands that, as with Vietnam and China, U.S. engagement — open travel and trade — is the best way to usher in democratic change to Cuba.


Not surprisingly, there is little support in Cuba for the trade embargo and travel ban that have defined America's relationship with Cuba for five decades.


The vast majority of Cubans whom I've met during my many reporting trips to Cuba — including those who oppose the Castro regime — dislike the travel ban and trade embargo. Keeping Cuba sealed off from the American people and U.S. businesses does little to alter the politics of that nation. What it does do is keep Cuba and the United States locked into a foolish Cold War standoff.


Wisely, albeit deliberately, Barack Obama is rolling back this bad policy.


DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.








By now, mental health experts have performed extensive post-mortems on whether Arizona had adequate involuntary treatment laws for people like Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged gunman in the recent shootings.


The answer is yes.


Arizona, it turns out, has admirably progressive mental health statutes that permit involuntary evaluation and treatment of someone who desperately needs it. Loughner, 22, whose delusions of mind control, agitated outbursts, bizarre preoccupations, and paranoia are highly consistent with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, fit that description.


In fact, under Arizona law, any concerned party can petition the court for an Order for Treatment. If Loughner had been found "persistently and acutely disabled" by severe mental illness and "likely to benefit from treatment" — regardless of whether he had a weapon or was suicidal — an evaluation and subsequent care could have been court mandated.


Of course, hindsight is perfect. As incidents unfold in real time, most people are rightly skittish about infringing on a person's freedom. But given Loughner's troubling track record — the number of times the campus police were called to intervene; the pressing concerns of his teacher and of other students; and the very fact that the college would not re-admit him after his suspension without psychiatric clearance — it seems that a court petition could have been justified.


Good laws only work when applied, of course. And when Loughner did not return to school, Pima Community College was rid of a very troubled young man and his problems. It did what so many colleges, universities and businesses have done before: passed the problem along.


No-man's land


This brings us to a no-man's land where even strong commitment laws, when they mercifully exist, are not enough. What responsibility does an institution have to the wider community when it has identified a deeply disturbed individual?


Mental health organizations are no place to look for solutions. Their job includes raising public awareness of mental illness; championing the virtue of treatment and implementation of commitment laws; and lobbying for more desperately needed treatment resources. Excellent causes all. As for psychiatric facilities, they can only treat those who have already come through their doors.


Even commitment statutes are, in a sense, permissive — that is they give concerned parties and the courts the authority to do something but do not require anyone to do anything.


Perhaps it is time to require action. When a school or business feels the need to protect itself from someone who is mentally ill, perhaps it should be required to try to protect others, too.


Thus, if a school or a business ejects or otherwise removes a student or employee out of concern about behavior and dangerousness, the principal, dean, or head of the Human Resources department would be required, under a mandatory reporting law, to inform the medical director of the appropriate public health jurisdiction. This public official would then have to initiate an evaluation which might lead to a face-to-face evaluation and, depending upon its outcome, possibly involuntary treatment.


When to break confidentiality


Precedents exist. There are mandatory reporting laws for child abuse. Teachers and medical professionals cannot just look the other way when they see a child with multiple, suspicious bruises. The same logic applies here: a severely ill person battered by psychosis should not be left at the mercy of a condition that causes others to be worried for their safety.


As for the legality of breaking professional confidentiality, a 1976 Supreme Court decision (Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California) allows a doctor to warn intended victims of a patient's planned attack with no fear of breaking confidentiality. A school or business could be similarly insulated, especially since there is no clearly defined right to confidentiality in these situations.


Weighing individual rights against protection of the general population invokes a vexing social calculus, indeed. Preventing extremely low base rate behavior like the Tucson tragedy is always difficult — many people seem at risk for violence toward others, but so few actually are. And once a reporting requirement exists, will newly accountable institutions inevitably become more cautious and conservative than they need to be?


Then again, if a school or business community is so fearful for its safety that it evicts one of its own, it is clear that a serious threshold of concern has already been reached. A requirement for mandatory reporting at that stage might prevent some tragedies with only minimally greater intrusion on an individual's rights than is now permitted.


Jeffrey Geller is Director of Public Sector Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Sally Satel, a psychiatrist, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.





******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



There has been a lot of hype, for a long time, about a rising China. There is now no question about China's growing economic power or its military ambition. Over the past year, relations between Washington and Beijing have become increasingly tense and mistrustful.

When President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China meet at the White House on Wednesday, they must try to set a new course in which competition is carefully managed and a premium is placed on cooperation. That will require a commitment to sustained discussion of the many issues dividing them — and an agreement to keep talking even in difficult times.

For Mr. Obama, the top items include: China's currency manipulation; its enabling of North Korea and Iran; its abuse of human rights; and its recent challenge to American naval supremacy in the western Pacific.

For Mr. Hu, the top item is winning acknowledgment of its global stature. He will likely goad the president to get America's fiscal house in order to ensure the safety of China's large investment.

For a long time we weren't sure if President Obama had a China strategy. (Beyond muting criticism and hoping for cooperation.) We are increasingly reassured.

Officials acknowledge that China must have a bigger say in the world and believe there are common interests to build on — but they are rightly not ceding anything. Mr. Obama has made clear that he won't stand by while China tries to bully its neighbors. The United States has embraced India and Southeast Asia more closely and shored up alliances with South Korea and Japan.

We know less about China's strategy. Its overconfidence is clear. It has been aggressively pressing its claims to disputed islands in the East and South China Seas. The military's rising influence is troubling.

For a country that claims to be a global power, it is still shirking its responsibilities. China is North Korea's main supplier of food and fuel, but it has resisted using that leverage to rein in Pyongyang's erratic and dangerous behavior. For a major player, it can also be remarkably petulant. Even as China pumps huge sums into sophisticated new weapons, it retaliated against American arms sales to Taiwan by suspending military talks with the United States for a year.

China has recently slowed energy investments in Iran and promised to support the southern Sudan referendum. American officials say it has begun to urge North Korea to tone down its belligerence. The Chinese military played host to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week, although its leaders couldn't resist test flying their new stealth fighter during the visit.

What we don't know is if these are tactical concessions to ensure a good meeting with Mr. Obama, who offered the pomp China craves — a state dinner and a 21-gun salute — or a serious rethinking on Beijing's part.

Mr. Obama was far too deferential to Mr. Hu during their Beijing summit. He will need to do better this week. He will have to press Mr. Hu for a convincing pledge that China is committed to a peaceful rise, that it will engage in substantive talks about its military plans and will push North Korea hard to give up its nuclear program.

We also firmly believe that China will never be a great nation if it keeps censoring and imprisoning its people, including the pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize and has been unfairly jailed.

State dinners and 21-gun salutes are ephemeral. What will earn China respect as a major power is if it behaves responsibly. That must be Mr. Obama's fundamental message.





For states that are serious about trimming deficits, out-of-control prison costs are a good place to start cutting. The expenses of housing and caring for more than one million state prison inmates has quadrupled in the last decade from about $12 billion a year to more $52 billion a year. This, in turn, has squeezed budgets for essential programs like education.

Governors seeking wisdom on how to proceed could start by looking at what Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, is trying to accomplish in Indiana.

The centerpiece of Mr. Daniels's approach is a set of reforms governing sentencing and parole. Judges would be allowed to fit sentences to crimes and have the flexibility to impose shorter sentences for nonviolent offenses. A poorly structured parole system would be reorganized to focus on offenders who actually present a risk to public safety.

Addicts would be given drug treatment to try to make them less likely to be rearrested. And there would be incentives for towns to handle low-level offenders instead of sending them into more costly state prisons.

Mr. Daniels devoted the last year to building a wide political consensus behind these ideas, beginning with a study from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a prison policy group that has helped several states revise their corrections strategies.

In partnership with the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, the council discovered that Indiana's prison count had grown by 41 percent between 2000 and 2009 — an increase three times that of neighboring states. It also found that the increase had been caused not by violent criminals but by drug addicts — who needed treatment, not jail — and by low-level, nonviolent criminals. Indiana, the study found, was punishing both groups much more severely than neighboring states.

Unless current policies were changed, the study said, the state prison population would rise by another 21 percent by 2017, forcing lawmakers to come up with an estimated $1.2 billion for new prisons. Indiana could cut its inmate count significantly and save almost all of that money if it invested a modest sum — about $28 million — in the kinds of changes that Mr. Daniels has now included in his reform package.

A legislative package containing these reforms has been introduced in the Indiana Legislature. If it passes, as it should, Indiana will show the nation what good things can happen when leaders apply good sense.





The long suffering, and underrepresented, taxpayers of the District of Columbia are properly worried about their shrinking role in the new Republican-controlled House. Tucked into the changes enacted by Speaker John Boehner is a rule depriving the district of its one bit of token voting power in Congress.

Washington's 600,000 residents are allowed by law to elect only a watchful delegate. In 2007, the Democratic leadership allowed that delegate to cast some limited committee votes. Now even that has been killed by Republicans, leaving the delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and the city fathers questioning whether they are heading back to the "plantation mentality" days when Congressional committees routinely undermined home rule.

The city came closer to democracy last year until a measure that would have given it a full voting representative was scuttled after the gun lobby attached noxious amendments gutting gun controls in the district. This has long been the fate of Congress's host city under the pendulum swipes of politics. Democrats enacted limited voting powers for the delegate in 1993, but Republicans killed them two years later only to see them revived when Democrats reclaimed the gavel four years ago.

The District of Columbia isn't the only target for the Republican leadership. Four territories and Puerto Rico will also lose their committee votes. The District of Columbia's rallying cry for full Congressional powers — "Taxation Without Representation" — is painfully apt. It is one we thought the self-proclaimed patriots galvanizing the House majority would instantly recognize. Apparently partisan politics, and the district's large number of registered Democrats, trumps principle every time.







As the country struggles to find meaning in the horrific Tucson shooting, another heated national debate over gun violence comes to mind: the furious reaction to the acquittal, by reason of insanity, of John Hinckley Jr., the man who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan.

Nearly 30 years later, Mr. Hinckley remains in a psychiatric ward, with permission in recent years to leave in his mother's custody for limited visits. After the acquittal, politicians across the country blamed the insanity defense for excusing a detestable and miserable young man from imprisonment. Vowing that it would boost public safety and ensure another Hinckley would not "get off," the federal government and 38 states rewrote their laws, establishing a much more difficult standard of proof.

The most common test had been that a person could be found insane if the defendant "lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law." Most of the new restrictions reduced the test to a simple question: Did the defendant not know what he or she was doing?

A generation later, we know this retrenchment was based on misconceptions, above all that the defense was commonly, and successfully, used. A study of eight states from 1976 to 1987 documented that the defense was employed in less than 1 percent of criminal cases and only a quarter of those defendants were acquitted by reason of insanity.

While the Supreme Court declared in 1983 that such an acquittal was certain proof of dangerousness, that was largely wrong as well. Half the pleas and 35 percent of the acquittals came in cases involving nonviolent offenses; 15 percent of the acquittees were accused of murder. As for insanity acquittees going free, it rarely happened. Nine of 10, whatever the offense, ended up in mental hospitals, some for much longer than they would have been imprisoned.

John Hinckley Jr., suicidal and haunted by violent stories from movies and novels, said he shot President Reagan to win the attention of the actress Jodie Foster and become famous. The prosecution and defense agreed that he was seriously mentally ill at the time of the shooting. The trial was about whether he was sick enough to be found insane.

Medicine defines illness, the law, responsibility. The fields long tried to resolve their differences scientifically. After the Hinckley verdict, politics undermined that quest.






On April 22, 2008, almost exactly one year after 32 students and faculty members were slain in the massacre at Virginia Tech, the dealer who had sold one of the weapons used by the gunman delivered a public lecture on the school's campus. His point: that people at Virginia Tech should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Eric Thompson, owner of the online firearms store that sold a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun to the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, did not think that his appearance at Virginia Tech was disrespectful or that his position was extreme. He felt so strongly that college students should be allowed to be armed while engaged in their campus activities that he offered discounts to any students who wanted to buy guns from him.

Thompson spun the discounts as altruistic. He told, "This offers students and people who might not have otherwise been able to afford a weapon to purchase one at a hefty discount and at a significant expense to myself."

The sale to Cho was not Thompson's only unfortunate link to a mass killer. His firm sold a pair of 9-millimeter Glock magazines and a holster to Steven Kazmierczak, a 27-year-old graduate student in DeKalb, Ill., who, on the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2008, went heavily armed into an auditorium-type lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. Kazmierczak walked onto the stage in front of a crowd of students and opened fire. He killed five people and wounded 18 others before killing himself.

We've allowed the extremists to carry the day when it comes to guns in the United States, and it's the dead and the wounded and their families who have had to pay the awful price. The idea of having large numbers of college students packing heat in their classrooms and at their parties and sporting events, or at the local pub or frat house or gymnasium, or wherever, is too stupid for words.

Thompson did not get a warm welcome at Virginia Tech. A spokesman for the school, Larry Hincker, said the fact that he "would set foot on this campus" was "terribly offensive" and "incredibly insensitive to the families of the victims."

Just last week, a sophomore at Florida State University, Ashley Cowie, was shot to death accidentally by a 20-year-old student who, according to authorities, was showing off his rifle to a group of friends in an off-campus apartment complex favored by fraternity members. A second student was shot in the wrist. This occurred as state legislators in Florida are considering a proposal to allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons on campuses. The National Rifle Association thinks that's a dandy idea.

The slaughter of college students — or anyone else — has never served as a deterrent to the gun fetishists. They want guns on campuses, in bars and taverns and churches, in parks and in the workplace, in cars and in the home. Ammunition everywhere — the deadlier, the better. A couple of years ago, a state legislator in Arizona, Karen Johnson, argued that adults needed to be able to carry guns in all schools, from elementary on up. "I feel like our kindergartners are sitting there like sitting ducks," she said.

Can we get a grip?

The contention of those who would like college kids and just about everybody else to be armed to the teeth is that the good guys can shoot back whenever the bad guys show up to do harm. An important study published in 2009 by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine estimated that people in possession of a gun at the time of an assault were 4.5 times more likely to be shot during the assault than someone in a comparable situation without a gun.

"On average," the researchers said, "guns did not seem to protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. Although successful defensive gun uses can and do occur, the findings of this study do not support the perception that such successes are likely."

Approximately 100,000 shootings occur in the United States every year. The number of people killed by guns should be enough to make our knees go weak. Monday was a national holiday celebrating the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While the gun crazies are telling us that ever more Americans need to be walking around armed, we should keep in mind that more than a million people have died from gun violence — in murders, accidents and suicides — since Dr. King was shot to death in 1968.

We need fewer homicides, fewer accidental deaths and fewer suicides. That means fewer guns. That means stricter licensing and registration, more vigorous background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Start with that. Don't tell me it's too hard to achieve. Just get started.






Sometime early last week, a large slice of educated America decided that Amy Chua is a menace to society. Chua, as you probably know, is the Yale professor who has written a bracing critique of what she considers the weak, cuddling American parenting style.

Chua didn't let her own girls go out on play dates or sleepovers. She didn't let them watch TV or play video games or take part in garbage activities like crafts. Once, one of her daughters came in second to a Korean kid in a math competition, so Chua made the girl do 2,000 math problems a night until she regained her supremacy. Once, her daughters gave her birthday cards of insufficient quality. Chua rejected them and demanded new cards. Once, she threatened to burn all of one of her daughter's stuffed animals unless she played a piece of music perfectly.

As a result, Chua's daughters get straight As and have won a series of musical competitions.

In her book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," Chua delivers a broadside against American parenting even as she mocks herself for her own extreme "Chinese" style. She says American parents lack authority and produce entitled children who aren't forced to live up to their abilities.

The furious denunciations began flooding my in-box a week ago. Chua plays into America's fear of national decline. Here's a Chinese parent working really hard (and, by the way, there are a billion more of her) and her kids are going to crush ours. Furthermore (and this Chua doesn't appreciate), she is not really rebelling against American-style parenting; she is the logical extension of the prevailing elite practices. She does everything over-pressuring upper-middle-class parents are doing. She's just hard core.

Her critics echoed the familiar themes. Her kids can't possibly be happy or truly creative. They'll grow up skilled and compliant but without the audacity to be great. She's destroying their love for music. There's a reason Asian-American women between the ages of 15 and 24 have such high suicide rates.

I have the opposite problem with Chua. I believe she's coddling her children. She's protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn't understand what's cognitively difficult and what isn't.

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.

Yet mastering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement. Most people work in groups. We do this because groups are much more efficient at solving problems than individuals (swimmers are often motivated to have their best times as part of relay teams, not in individual events). Moreover, the performance of a group does not correlate well with the average I.Q. of the group or even with the I.Q.'s of the smartest members.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon have found that groups have a high collective intelligence when members of a group are good at reading each others' emotions — when they take turns speaking, when the inputs from each member are managed fluidly, when they detect each others' inclinations and strengths.

Participating in a well-functioning group is really hard. It requires the ability to trust people outside your kinship circle, read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings to the room can and cannot fit together.

This skill set is not taught formally, but it is imparted through arduous experiences. These are exactly the kinds of difficult experiences Chua shelters her children from by making them rush home to hit the homework table.

Chua would do better to see the classroom as a cognitive break from the truly arduous tests of childhood. Where do they learn how to manage people? Where do they learn to construct and manipulate metaphors? Where do they learn to perceive details of a scene the way a hunter reads a landscape? Where do they learn how to detect their own shortcomings? Where do they learn how to put themselves in others' minds and anticipate others' reactions?

These and a million other skills are imparted by the informal maturity process and are not developed if formal learning monopolizes a child's time.

So I'm not against the way Chua pushes her daughters. And I loved her book as a courageous and thought-provoking read. It's also more supple than her critics let on. I just wish she wasn't so soft and indulgent. I wish she recognized that in some important ways the school cafeteria is more intellectually demanding than the library. And I hope her daughters grow up to write their own books, and maybe learn the skills to better anticipate how theirs will be received.






Cambridge, Mass.

WHEN President Hu Jintao of China visits Washington this week, many Americans will clamor for Beijing to stop manipulating its currency. We think we are being cheated on a huge scale, but we should reconsider. When it comes to lost jobs, the negative impact of China's currency, the renminbi, is less than one might think. Adjusting the exchange rate should not take priority over more vexing issues like North Korea, Iran and bilateral trade.

Since China agreed to a more flexible exchange rate last summer, its currency has appreciated a measly 3.6 percent against the dollar. This is because China, just like the United States, is also worried about jobs. In going slowly on appreciation, China is giving its exporters time to adjust, thereby limiting job losses and containing social unrest.

Many Americans believe that the Chinese jobs being preserved by an artificially low currency come at the expense of American jobs. There are three common explanations behind this theory.

First, a stronger currency would increase the purchasing power of Chinese consumers and decrease the relative cost of American goods in China, spurring more Chinese to buy more American products. Second, a stronger currency increases the relative cost of Chinese goods in third markets, like Europe or Latin America. So if the renminbi appreciates, consumers in other countries will shy away from Chinese products in favor of American products. Third, a stronger currency would increase labor costs in China, making it less attractive for American companies to move jobs to China and thus keeping more people employed at home.

These claims, however, are more wishful thinking than actual truths. Consider the first idea, that a strengthened Chinese currency would increase the growth rate of American exports to China. From 2005 to 2008, the renminbi appreciated nearly 20 percent against the dollar. Yet, American exports to China over those three years grew at a slightly slower pace than in the previous three-year period when the renminbi did not appreciate at all (71 percent versus 89 percent).

This is because many of America's top exports to China are for capital-intensive goods like aerospace and power-generation equipment. Price is but one of several factors for these purchases, along with technology, quality and service. In addition, American companies in those industries are usually competing against European and Japanese firms rather than Chinese manufacturers. Ultimately, the dollar-euro and dollar-yen exchange rates may play more important roles in Chinese demand for American goods than the renminbi rate.

Second, I recently did an analysis of the top American exports to our 20 leading foreign markets, and found little evidence that an undervalued Chinese currency hurts American exports to third countries. This is mostly because there is little head-to-head competition between America and China. In less than 15 percent of top export products — for example, network routers and solar panels — are American and Chinese corporations competing directly against one another. By and large, we are going after entirely different product markets; we market things like airplanes and pharmaceuticals while China sells electronics and textiles.

Finally, it is unlikely that a stronger renminbi would bring many jobs back home. Instead, companies would most likely shift labor-intensive production to Vietnam, Indonesia and other low-wage countries. And in any case many high-skilled jobs will continue to flow overseas, as long as cheaper talent can be found in India and elsewhere. Only in a few industries, like biomedical devices, would a stronger Chinese currency combined with quality issues tempt American companies to keep more manufacturing at home.

Don't get me wrong: China's currency policies have led to unhealthy artificial distortions in the Chinese and world economy. They also fuel currency wars that threaten to undermine the cooperation needed to sustain a global recovery. And while the effect on American workers is far less than imagined, workers in the developing world stand much to gain from a faster renminbi appreciation.

We should discuss currency issues with China, but the exchange rate should not be at the top of the bilateral agenda. The issue is best left to the Group of 20, for this is as much the rest of the world's problem as it is ours. Resolving our economic troubles will depend much more on reinvesting in education, transportation and other government services, basic science and applied research than on forcing China to yield on its currency.

Mark Wu is an assistant professor at Harvard Law School.






Los Angeles

ALGORITHMS, as you probably know, are the computer programs that infer from your profile (in the case of Facebook) and from the content of your e-mails (in the case of Gmail) your interests and preferences, enabling ads to be displayed to the customers most likely to be interested in specific products. This feature is prized by advertisers and accounts for the multibillion-dollar value of the most successful Web networks.

The algorithms are programmed, I believe, to get to know us better over time, and rather than resent the invasion of privacy I have come to feel a grudging respect for, and even a growing sense of intimacy with, my own personal algorithm. You have to admire, for example, the inventive audacity of a program that would read an e-mail someone sent me about "Holocaust deniers" and think that I might be shopping for a Holistic Dentist.

And when I conceded in an e-mail that something "was cheeky of me ..." I found it rather endearing that the algorithm tried to sell me a New Razor from Gillette ®. I had a similar reaction when a reference to the fine actor Christopher Plummer produced: Get a Plumbing Quote Now. Find a local Plumber.

Of course, these slightly off-base pitches have a certain logic that is easy to discern, revealing, more than anything else, the program's digital dyslexia.

The algorithm seemed more insightful when the board of a nonprofit foundation on which I serve began discussing the possibilities for their first-ever fund-raising event in an exchange of thoughtful and creative e-mails and, from its depths of knowledge and experience, the program offered: "Beverly Hills Psychologist: Dr. Ryan specializes in types of self-destructive behavior." You have to appreciate an algorithm that has your back.

I sometimes find myself wondering what the algorithm knows that I don't. This was particularly true, and disconcerting, when a recent e-mail about earthquake coverage for my home, several miles inland from the ocean in California, prompted an ad for Clearance Swimwear.

Or what deep insights, it would be fascinating to learn, inspired an ad for Maria Sharapova Photo — Get Incredible Bargains on Maria Sharapova Photo from a reference to former Secretary of State Warren Christopher? I know Mr. Christopher negotiated with the Russians, but does the algorithm have inside information about the diplomat's friskier side and a relationship to the beautiful tennis player that was missed by "Entertainment Tonight" — and by everybody else who knows him?

An e-mail about a performance of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" had three ads for Cadillacs along the side. What's that about? I was also offered Baseball Swing Trainers — not a sport I play. I was pitched a chance for the 2010 CuteKid of the Year — Do you have a CuteKid? Cutest Baby takes home $25,000 — although my daughter is in her 20s. And while they are not something I wear, I could have gotten a good deal on Personalized Kippots, which are yarmulkes, and it did occur to me that it might be cool to have one with the Nike swoosh.

If this is a case of my algorithm, my cyber personal shopper, coach, guardian angel and avatar, knowing me better than I know myself, I really do need to figure out why I, a guy, get repeated offers — tied to a e-mails on vastly different subjects — for mastectomy bras and for something called a vaginal ring. Is the idea that these items make lovely gifts?

Since articles I have written have circulated through the Internet by e-mail, it could easily turn out that my algorithm will soon get the opportunity to read what I have had to say about it here. What, I wonder, will it think?

Seth Freeman is a writer for television.








It is pleasant to look forward to generous pension payments at the end of a long period of faithful employment. But problems arise if promised pensions outstrip the provisions made to fund them.


The city of Chattanooga is having to begin to face such a problem now, and the U.S. Social Security system has even more serious challenges to confront in the not-distant future.


Sadly, realistic taxes and unrealistic promised payments have not always been considered together in advance. The painful solution may be higher taxes or reduced promises, or some of each.


We do not like to cut pensions, and we do not like to have to pay more to meet the promises.


But we are being told by Chattanooga officials that the annual cost of paying pension benefits to employees who retire will soon be far higher than expected.


The problem is that the city was anticipating costs of about $9 million. But the true figure is coming in millions of dollars higher. The city has "scrounged around" to find the $2.5 million to $3 million more that will be needed for this budget year. But city officials -- and ultimately all city taxpayers -- soon must face the problem of finding that extra money for future years. The money will have to come from taxpayers.


Sometimes generous pension plans are offered because workers' pay is not so generous as might be desired. But when the time to pay retirees comes, the money to meet the promises may by difficult to provide.


Financial facts cannot be permanently ignored. It is hard to face such realities, but it is far better to look at them honestly, well in advance, to make the necessary tax and spending adjustments easier over a longer term.


Such problems are not new, and they are not welcome, either. Nevertheless, Chattanooga officials, taxpayers and prospective retirees surely should face the problems now, to prevent the difficulties from becoming worse.







Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives postponed a vote recently on repealing ObamaCare socialized medicine. Knowing the debate would be divisive, they put it off in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and the killing of six others at an event the congresswoman was attending. But difficult issues cannot be put off forever, so Republicans have rescheduled the debate for this week.

As you might imagine, President Barack Obama is dismissive of any further discussion of ObamaCare in Congress.


"What we can't do is re-fight the battles of the past two years that distract us from the hard work of moving our economy forward," he said in one of his weekly addresses.


But concern for our economy is one of the very reasons why we must "re-fight" ObamaCare.


Only by using a series of accounting tricks to hide the program's true cost have Democrats been able to claim that ObamaCare will somehow cut spending. For instance, many billions of dollars in ObamaCare's costs were hidden by simply putting them into a different bill. That money is most assuredly going to be spent, but it's not "technically" counted as part of ObamaCare's expense. Plus, history shows time and again that major federal entitlements end up costing far more than their original estimates. We don't have the money for yet another big-ticket debacle!


Fortunately, the American people have not been fooled. Poll after poll finds public disapproval of ObamaCare, even now, nearly a year after Democrats passed it with zero Republican support. The latest Rasmussen Reports survey shows 54 percent of likely voters in favor of repeal, compared with only 40 percent opposed.


The reasons for the unpopularity of the "reforms" are clear. ObamaCare will force virtually everyone to buy government-approved insurance -- which one federal judge has already ruled unconstitutional. And it defies reason to claim, as the administration does, that Washington can add tens of millions of people to government-run health care without massive spending increases. Existing programs such as Medicare are already going broke. With our nation saddled with a $14 trillion debt, the last thing we need is trillion-dollar ObamaCare to bust the budget further.


That is not to say that Congress actually will be able to repeal ObamaCare -- at least not right now. The new GOP majority in the House will very likely vote to repeal the costly law -- over fierce objections by Democrats. But the Senate is still narrowly under Democrat control. So the Senate is unlikely even to allow thorough debate of repeal, much less an up-or-down, simple-majority vote. And even if the Senate somehow joined the House in voting for repeal, Obama certainly would veto any attempt to reject ObamaCare.


Nevertheless, a House vote on repeal is clearly in line with public sentiment, the Constitution and economic common sense. So even if the effort is doomed in the Democrat-controlled Senate, the House should indeed vote for repeal. Meanwhile, efforts should also be undertaken in the House to de-fund Obama-Care wherever possible.


The president may not want to "re-fight the battles" over health-care reform, but our country cannot afford not to confront ObamaCare's budget-busting provisions.


.           ***************************************





Many Chattanoogans enjoyed the excitement and beauty of the recent big snowfall. But many today are rejoicing that the snow and its inconveniences are mostly gone, at least for now.


We still see some snow remnants. But we are happy there were not more tragic accidents. We hope that most cases of personal privation were not serious. Of course, we still have to face higher heating bills when they come due. And our governmental officials have to deal with the higher costs that were involved in the very good service they gave in clearing our streets and highways.


But this is still January. We can't be sure there won't be repeat snow thrills and problems in February and March.


Maybe it would be a good idea to stock up with fuel and food in case we have to face some future extreme days of winter weather before spring breaks through again.







The subject just keeps coming up: Will there, or should there, ever be a "real" Chattanooga Choo-Choo between Chattanooga and Atlanta (in addition to the famed but fictional "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" that Glenn Miller's orchestra made popular decades ago)?


The Georgia Department of Transportation guesstimates a high-speed Atlanta-Chattanooga train could attract between 2.6 million and 4 million passengers a year.


No doubt it would be convenient for some. But would it pay? Ah, that's the question. Transportation authorities, political leaders -- and some dreamers -- keep asking that intriguing question.


We'll keep singing the song and asking the question. But an answer may come when some adventurous people more thoroughly calculate the financial prospects over the next few years as population and highway traffic grow.


Still, wouldn't a "real" Chattanooga Choo-Choo be fun?








Unconditionally, without reservation and with a large dose of empathy, we agree with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on this much-discussed matter of the protest with which he was greeted at the opening ceremony for the new Galatasaray stadium. The booing he endured was the work of childish pranksters; it never should have happened.


But after that, his and the reaction of others was something less than adult. We have three central concerns.


First, Erdoğan's remarks that "Galatasaray did not spend even a kuruş," and that the new Türk Telekom Arena was built entirely by the Housing Development Administration, or TOKİ, misses the point. We have never been terribly comfortable with the fact that TOKİ, the largest issuer of public tenders in Turkey, answers directly and solely to the Prime Ministry. But perhaps that can explain Erdoğan's proprietary tone, the implicit message that this was somehow an act of governmental largesse made with "his" money. No, we are talking of public funds, of which he is surely the steward but hardly the owner.


Our second concern was his implicit threat to deny transfer of the stadium's control and ownership as envisaged in its planning. In amplifying his dismay, Erdoğan pointed out the "documents have not been completed." Perhaps there should not be a title transfer in any event. But that is a policy issue, not one to be decided in a fit of pique. Public works projects are not a game, where the offended party can "take my ball and go home." This was not a mature response from a mature leader.


Thirdly, maturity was equally absent in the reaction of Galatasary executives. No stones were thrown. No property was destroyed. No violence ensued in the protest. Just a lot of arguably silly people booing. And the tapes of 200 security cameras were impounded to identify culprits? Some of those booing have already been charged with insulting state officials? And the remainder, as identified, will be barred from ever entering the stadium again?


Certainly the crowd's reaction was inappropriate and offensive. Erdoğan's initial reaction, and that of his entourage, was reasoned and appropriate. They got up and left. We think that is enough.


But the subsequent reactions and implicit threats are authoritarian in their nature, disproportionate in measure and reflective of an immaturity that mirrors that of the protesters. Turkey's social and political agenda is full of real and demanding challenges. Police have better things to do than scan videos for those who might have said, "boo." The prime minister has better things to do than waste energy on foolish football fans.


And Turkey, a growing regional power, a candidate for membership in the European Union, a vast nation struggling to join the ranks of advanced and leading democracies, simply should not have to witness such an unfortunate display of official wrath.








Eyes will be on Turkey again this week for the second round of talks between the P5+1 group of countries – comprising the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany – due to be held in Istanbul on Friday. Turkey will not be taking part in the negotiations but will merely be acting host by providing the venue for the talks.


Foreign Minister Davutoğlu would of course want Ankara to be an active participant in the talks since this would tie in with his vision of Turkey as an active arbitrator and peacemaker in the Middle East. 


He made this clear after meeting the EU's Catherine Ashton in Istanbul last week when he indicated that Turkey was ready to do what was necessary for a settlement between the P5+1 and Iran, provided the sides asked it to act.


It was made amply clear by the member of the P5+1 group, however, that Turkey would not be part of the negotiations but would only be hosting. Diplomatic speculation has it that the Western members of the group are determined to corner Tehran with even more sanctions if it refuses to cooperate in Istanbul, and are worried that Ankara may try to water down these efforts if it were a part of the talks.


Such speculation aside though, Ankara is clearly seen to be acting cautiously this time and there is not doubt that this is because of the negative fallout from its efforts – together with Brazil – last year to broker a deal between Iran and the P5+1, which resulted in the controversial "Tehran Declaration."


Not only was that deal rejected by the P5+1, but it forced Turkey into isolation at the Security Council, where it was a non-permanent member at the time, when it voted – together with Brazil – against sanctions for Iran.


The whole event also added fuel to the ongoing debate as to whether Turkey is still with the Western camp, or has moved closer to the Islamic camp of nations in term of such foreign policy issues.


The clearest indication of Turkey's caution this time was the refusal by Ankara to accept an invitation extended by Tehran for the Turkish ambassador to Iran to visit Iranian nuclear facilities.


While some counties that are not central to the diplomacy relating to Iran accepted invitations, Turkey in the end acted along with Russia and China, the two non-western members of the P5+1 that also declined the invitation. The Western members of the group were not invited by Tehran.


Turkish diplomats were suspicious from the start and questioned the rationale of this invitation, given that none of the envoys invited were nuclear physicists who would be able to inspect a nuclear facility the way an expert would even if they were well-read amateurs on the topic.


Ankara rationalized its refusal to send its envoy by saying it would have compromised its neutral position prior to the Istanbul meeting. Put another way it seems from such developments, and the fact that Turkey is treading cautiously on Iran this time, that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration is attempting to pull itself to the middle ground again as far as this topic is concerned.


U.S. cables leaked to the media by WikiLeaks also showed that Ankara's Iran policy was not well received by the established Sunni regimes of the Middle East who are also looking on Tehran's nuclear pretensions with consternation. This might be another reason why Ankara is trying to pull itself to the middle ground now.


The recent high-level diplomatic traffic between Turkey and the region has shown that Ankara is determined to develop ties with countries such as Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and this clearly increases the need for Ankara to appear more neutral on Iran.


As for the Istanbul talks later this week, the signals emanating from Tehran are not extremely promising. Maintaining its defiant stance Iran notified the West, through its ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, last week that the Istanbul talks "could be the West's last chance" to negotiate a deal with Tehran.


Soltanieh said Iran's progress in enriching uranium, and its plans to make its own fuel rods for a reactor, meant it might lose interest in negotiations if the talks in Istanbul fail. European diplomats were quoted by the British daily Guardian describing Soltanieh's remarks as "a bluff" aimed at diverting attention from pressure on Iran to comply with Security Council resolutions to suspend uranium enrichment.


Whatever the reason for the Iranian ambassador's remarks may be, it is clear that Tehran is not approaching these talks with a spirit that would suggest to an outside observer that it is ready to consider IAEA demands concerning its nuclear program in order to arrive at a settlement.


Given that Turkey is not in a position to arbitrate anything with Iran, or to propose new ideas for a settlement, there is really only one role left for Ankara vis a vis the Istanbul talks under these conditions.


With this set of circumstances all the Erdoğan government can do is try to use what influence it has to convince Tehran that this is not the time and place for defiance given the delicate and dangerous situation in the Middle East.


We know from press reports that Foreign Minister Davutoğlu was in contact with senior Iranian officials last week and the assumption is that he transmitted this message to Tehran. Other than this there is little Turkey can do at the moment but hope for a successful outcome in Istanbul, even though the prospects do not look promising.


What is for sure, however, is that after burning its mouth on trying to broker a deal between Tehran and the P5+1, Ankara is now blowing on its milk even when its served cold, to quote a Turkish saying.








Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has adopted an intolerant attitude reinforcing his authority and even making pro-government liberals angry. Why?

His style is usually considered as an election ploy. Some say he is trying to dynamite the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, seats in Parliament in the June 2011 elections in order to change the Constitution all by himself. Some are really getting angry because the prime minister is acting recklessly. Yet some others are either happy or sad because the "clandestine program" is finally being defended openly. Several are concerned that this is all an exercise for a presidential system to be instituted in the country.

The prime minister certainly has a way of doing politics that has been determined in his mind.

With this, however, he never targets a liberal-democratic administration. This understanding, which I call "civilian politics," is in line with the philosophy of infallible authority which shapes his mindset.

However, he is also human. And like everyone, he has some urges by which he is overcome. His position is definitely dizzying. It is impossible to think otherwise. Especially in a country, like ours, where obedience to authority transforms into currying favor, or where patriarchal tradition is still strong. The leaders of such countries can give into their drives.

After a while, it is quite difficult to control the drives of the "id," to quote Freudian theory.

The prime minister is a real leader, a strategic genius, an incredible orator. He is hardworking, straight-forward and courageous. His authority is completely patriarchal, but it is his uncontrollable drive that makes him human.

Since the prime minister feels that he was put down in the past quite often, his drive always urges him to take revenge. It is obvious that he was definitely put down in the past. I do remember how he was excluded by the insolent Istanbul bourgeoisie even when he was the mayor of Istanbul. I personally witnessed how deeply he was harmed by the hardship of the Feb. 28 process.

The prime minister is an angry person!

The more his self-confidence develops, the more he turns famous both among conservative groups and in the Middle East and the more he seems to have imperialist dreams of Neo-Ottomanism, a new foreign policy scenario envisioned by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

(The imperial) President Erdoğan and the (Secretary General) Prime Minister Davutoğlu!

And the more he sees everyday that the conservative grassroots even believe in such a dream, while the international community just sits and watches, or even complies with everything, Erdoğan thinks his anger has occasioned some sort of political gains.

But I think he has made two mistakes:

1) Authority includes weaknesses as much as power.

2) The social segment that he is angry at (42 percent) still forms the most dynamic part of human capital in the country. They represent the minority in politics, but they have the majority when it comes to qualified human capital. The prime minister says:

"If obstacles are overcome, 57 Islamic countries can become self-sufficient, with production, technology and brain power."

And in order to accomplish this, Erdoğan needs this 42 percent in a big way!

I wish the prime minister would read this as a warning of an old friend, not as an article by an opponent.






The modern Turkish Republic was founded as a secular democracy. As we are approaching the centennial of the founding of the Republic we can see how far we've come and how far we have yet to go. 

We still face significant issues regarding human rights, particularly in relation to minorities and women. Turkey still struggles with defining what a "minority" is, and falls short in offering equal rights and opportunities to individuals who are not part of the mainstream but are no less deserving of respect—particularly its Kurdish, Armenian, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. 

Even for "mainstream" Turks, vital rights like freedom of expression, media and religion are withheld from individuals in the slippery interests of concepts like "insulting Turkishness." And although women are not absent from the top ranks of Turkish businesses, schools, and government, Turkey still suffers from a widening gender gap. The female participation rate in the work force is actually lower than it was twenty years ago, despite the fact that more women are going to school.

The long arc of our Republic's history has tended not toward being a "European" country merely in name, but toward being a democratic country in form and spirit. As we know, gender equality, the driving force behind development, is one of the main missions of Europe. Although Turkey's legal code is now largely in accordance with the EU acquis communitaire, unfortunately, the influence of more traditional cultures, particularly along ethnic and religious lines, is a large obstacle to women's empowerment in general. 

Ultimately, to unleash Turkey's true potential, we must aggressively pursue gender equity in all aspects of Turkish society. Doing this requires a comprehensive strategy that includes strengthening women's education and employment rights and performance, removing discrimination in society through culturally sensitive initiatives, incubating gender equality by developing visible role models and adapting actions to closely monitored and measured progress. Success stories in achieving gender equality around the world point to promising models that can be employed immediately. Empowering women is the best way to enable development.

To understand the challenges facing women in Turkey, an examination of the gender gap in education and employment is an essential starting point. Despite vast improvements, Turkey still suffers from a large gender gap in education. Although the adult female literacy rate has risen from 66 percent to 80 percent in the last twenty years, adult male literacy is still 16 points higher. The gender gap is 4 percentage points for primary school enrollment rates, and twice that for secondary school enrollment. And the gap widens in rural areas where traditional gender discrimination is at its strongest. Furthermore, although 45 percent of university degrees were awarded to women in 2005, this number is projected to drop to 37 percent by 2025.

When inequality starts with education it continues for a lifetime, as exemplified by Turkey's gender gap in employment. Over the last two decades, the rate has dropped from 34 percent to 26.4 percent, which is much less than the OECD average of 43.6 percent. Turkey ranks last in the OECD, trailing Mexico whose rate is 37.6 percent. It also trails the Middle Eastern and North African average of 32 percent.

Detrimentally, like education and employment, women's entrepreneurship lags in Turkey. Women entrepreneurs in Turkey share many of the same motivations as their counterparts elsewhere: to create solutions to problems in their markets, societies and lives. They aspire to exploit innovative ideas, to get out of "no point" jobs, to become independent or self-employed, to work flexible hours, to increase their mobility and to leverage their skills.

However, Turkish women are more likely than their foreign counterparts to pursue entrepreneurship out of boredom or, more importantly, economic necessity. In one study, one in six said entrepreneurship was a means to escape the boredom of being housewives. And the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that one third of female entrepreneurs in Turkey are motivated by necessity (rather than opportunity), a rate far higher than every other country studied except Serbia.

Various factors in Turkey impede women's entrepreneurship (and women's employment in general), including a lack of adequate political representation, a lack of adequate access to markets and marketing, to credit and financing and control of resources and property, discrimination in recruiting and in the workplace, insufficient social services like childcare, and the ill-preparation of girls entering the workforce as a result of the education gap. But the last reason may be the most elusive: the failure to cultivate a spirit of equal rights among women. Cultivating a "spirit" is truly a cultural question.

Unfortunately, Turkey has no overarching strategy for developing female empowerment. However, from this brief discussion we can see what might be good pillars for such a strategy. In order to strengthen women's education and employment rights and performance, we should invest in a broad range of women's education, training, and social services.

In order to remove discrimination in society through culturally sensitive initiatives we should continuously investigate issues in women's empowerment, including the interplay of culture, religion, and ethnicity. Furthermore, major stakeholders, such as family men, business associations, unions, political parties, and universities, must be included as a part of the solution. Finally, interventions are needed to fight negative discrimination and employ positive discrimination by enacting and enforcing appropriate laws.

In order to incubate women's employment and develop visible role models, we should start by encouraging women's employment at all levels, creating support networks and removing as many obstacles as possible; in addition to inspiring women's employment by creating more visibility for successful female business leaders. And in order to adapt our actions to closely monitored and measured progress we should review progress regarding women's empowerment through thorough, regular reporting and key indicators.

Achieving gender equality, given all the challenges facing women, is no easy task.  But by developing a visible, comprehensive, culturally sensitive, locally executed, and adaptable strategy that supports women at all stages of the lifecycle we can achieve a goal far loftier than equal pay for equal work: we can enable women to empower themselves.

Achieving understanding and cooperation is no easy task as it requires a set of common, consistently applied liberal democratic principles that transcend the boundaries that threaten to divide us – general, geographic, cultural, economic, educational, linguistic and sectarian.

It also requires not merely tolerating differences between people and peoples, but respecting and appreciating those differences. And finally, it requires committed domestic and international initiatives. 

At home, Turkey needs to work much harder to unify its people, not around an ethno-religious notion of "Turkishness," but around the values, rights, responsibilities and privileges of being a citizen of Turkey. 

Abroad, Turkey must work harder to drive common understandings and to support common principles and values, particularly with the West, rather than simply boasting of stronger ties with the Middle East.

In the end, how we achieve gender equity, one of the basic tenets of unity within diversity, is much less about passing the necessary laws in compliance with EU acquis than it is about transforming society. 

Turkey will not only develop greatly, but will also be a strong force for development elsewhere, if it can achieve gender equity around these shared values. In so doing, we can hope for a Turkey that is democratic, secular, strong, peaceful and creative and that works toward harmony and peace in the international arena.

* Zeynep Dereli, director of the Atlantic Council's Black Sea Energy and Economic Forum, is also a senior research associate at the United Kingdom-based Foreign Policy Centre, which published the full version of this article, as part of the series 'Exploring Turkishness.'








What's past is past. An unexpected accident happened. Scenes that do not befit Galatasaray's fans were witnessed.

All rational fans, the club president, the team captain … all apologized. Some Fenerbahçe fans used this incident to start smear campaigns against Galatasaray. I think it's time to leave this issue aside. Enough now.

There are some points though, that still occupy the minds of observers and columnists. The first point is that the prime minister said on Sunday that "an agreement regarding user rights is not signed as yet," which was perceived as a "threat" by many. People said the prime minister would "make them pay" for protesting against him by postponing the agreement. Whereas he openly displayed his attitude by using the words "to be signed." However, it looks like it was misunderstood. I don't think signing the agreement will be unnecessarily postponed because doing so would not befit the prime minister. And he wouldn't deign to do something like this.

The other point is that the stadium was provided for "free." That is very wrong. In exchange for this stadium, Galatasaray gave up its very precious property in Mecidiyeköy. Galatasaray owned the operation rights at Ali Sami Yen stadium which was worth gold. If Galatasaray wanted to, it could have sold the rights or built another stadium on the same property.

Besides, let's not forget that none of the stadiums in Turkey were paid for by any football club. All stadiums are state-owned property and allocated to the clubs. It is not fair to say Galatasaray is feeding on state property. This policy has been applied to all clubs and Galatasaray's new home is no different. Despite all the unpleasantness, let's not exaggerate this incident.

Politicians like Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who serve their terms, who have precious charisma, who are persistent in what they do, who keep their words no matter what, always face the risk of being protested.

Society protests at each opportunity. There is nothing extraordinary about that. I repeat, however, that neither the time nor the place was suitable for such unpleasantness. It was unpleasant, but please remember, 50,000 people gathered and acted out of social-psychological imperatives.

One last warning I'd like to make to Galatasaray's managers. It would be wrong to go on a hunt for protestors in the tribune. It would be too extreme to go through camera recordings, arrest people and ban them from future football matches. To tell the truth, I was present at the match but I did not perceive any "organized" protest. That is why I think we should put an end to this.

Each Turk is born guilty

In democratic polities, society has basic, concrete beliefs. It is a principle accepted by everybody and summarized in the principle "people are innocent until proven guilty by the judiciary."

This principle protects people's honor. It prevents a human from being lost in the existing state mechanism. It is the greatest protective mechanism of all and an inseparable part of civilized society.

As a matter of fact, it is used frequently. Because we like cliches and slogans we keep repeating: "innocent until proven guilty." We write it all over the place in the country. We teach it in schools and remind the authorities: "until proven guilty."

We always hear that we are under the rule of law and we defend the judiciary. But no one believes these words. They merely remain words. People only say them.

Leaving the concept of trust aside, we as a society tend to perceive everybody who has been arrested by the police as guilty. The police display defendants harshly and then the media executes without hesitation and you find yourself displayed on television or in the papers. There is no need to wait for a court decision.

Right there you are labeled guilty. Then you may be acquitted or found innocent as much as you want; no one would care. In the eyes of our state, every Turk is born a potential criminal. It arrests and imprisons us without any hesitation. Am I wrong? Let's think about that.

We are surrounded by examples of this attitude from the past. Remember our experiences during the Cold War? Just think about those who were labeled left wing, left to rot in prison, or what was done to those who did not accept the official ideology, or the treatment of those who had business with the state.

One day the situation will change: we will live in a Turkey where no Turk is automatically considered a criminal. I wish I could see this happen.







The Turkish Statistical Institute, or TurkStat, has revealed the results of a survey it conducted on poverty in Turkey in the year 2009.

According to the survey, although income distribution has improved over the last few years, poverty levels increased in 2009, compared to 2008, with the ratio of people living below the poverty line jumping from 17.79 percent to 18.08 percent.

The survey shows that nearly 12 million people in Turkey are considered poor.

The widened gap in income distribution in 2009 can partly be explained by the global financial crisis, but the survey also indicated that there are other, deep-rooted, reasons for poverty.

When figures on poverty in other countries, even in those that are rich, are examined, it is easily understood that poverty is a common problem. This is not a consolation for Turkey, of course. However, it is still surprising to learn that the ratio of people in the United States living below the poverty line in 2009 was 17 percent. And this ratio changes from one region to another, varying between 5 percent and even 40 percent.

According to a recent survey, 58.5 percent of Americans spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point during their lifetimes. In addition, 15 percent of American households were "food-insecure" in 2008, meaning that those families could not buy enough food during some periods of the year.

The situation is a little better in some parts of Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries, Germany, Netherlands, France, etc., despite the presence of migrant workers. However, even in those countries, a large number of families are living below the poverty line. The average is estimated to be between 10 percent and 15 percent.

From all this information, it must be accepted that poverty is a serious social problem that also has some important economic and even political repercussions. Even if the richest countries cannot deal with their poverty problems properly there must be some barriers preventing a more just income distribution.

First of all, it must be understood that there is not a short-cut solution to the problem of poverty. For example, past experience in Turkey has shown that some simple remedies in the macroeconomic sense, such as increasing wages, were not effective in balancing income distribution. As the total labor force is rather small compared to the total working-age population, and the number of workers employed informally is quite big, it is not possible to assess a definite judgment regarding the direction of change in income distribution after wage increases for those formally employed.

Another set of problems are the "unknowns" of the agricultural sector. The TurkStat survey indicated that the rural population is poorer than most urban citizens. The percentage of poor people in rural Turkey was near 40 percent in 2008, whereas the figure was only 9.5 percent in urban areas. The reason was not only the weaker income generation of the agricultural sector but also the link between poverty and family size. As the survey showed, crowded families tend to be poorer. Big families are part of a strong tradition in some parts of the country for reasons such as cheap labor, security, solidarity, etc. It is not easy to change this tradition by implementing macroeconomic policies only.

In some western countries, including the United States, new approaches are being experimented. One of them is reaching poor families directly, one-by-one. The problem is the difficulty to reach a decision on whether this method is feasible, even if it looks reasonable. The biggest problem is finding proper and effective measures to prevent the abuse of this method that might create a different form of corruption.

There are several cases of this kind of abuse in different parts of the world, including Turkey. However, these examples in the negative sense must not prevent seeking proper ways to fight poverty. This is not only necessary in the sense of its humanitarian impact, but also for worldwide social peace.






Was what happened in Tunisia a "jasmine revolution" planned and provoked by some "Soros-intellectuals" like the "orange" or "velvet" revolutions seen elsewhere, or was it a "genuine popular revolution" – whatever that description might mean – as alleged by some "Middle East experts"? 

It is perhaps not at all important to try to explain what has happened in Tunisia through some series of cliches, or to try to describe the developments with some prejudices or phobias. Why, for example, is there an effort to attribute, whenever and wherever, people or groups of people in a country revolting against the administration of that country to the provocation of a network of international conspiracy, financed and shaped by international speculator George Soros? I do not have the slightest intention, of course, to say Soros or other speculators (intelligence services or some other dark figures that might benefit from geopolitical restructuring of the globe for some reason) might not be behind the overthrow of Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

What's obvious for now is the fact that after 23 years the Tunisian president installed after a "medical" coup has gone with a "popular" coup, but the process has not yet completed because so far, the coup has not managed to take power from the political elite created by the Ben Ali couple. The interim president and the prime minister – who declared himself acting president but conceded after the constitutional court preferred to install the parliament speaker as caretaker chief executive until polls are held in six months time – were handpicked by the overthrown president or by his predecessor Habib Bourgiba.

Of course, if what happened in Tunisia was nothing more than achieving what electors could not achieve – because of the nature of the police state disguised as a secular democracy – once in every 30 years or so and change the top of the state, Tunisia will soon have a new dictator of some sort, a new presidential family and a new circle of wealth and happiness around that family – while the rest of the country returns to business as usual. If so, the spreading fear among the dictators of all sorts in the vast Muslim neighborhood might lack reason.

Naturally, without ignoring the shaky Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt, it might be said that Algeria and Morocco are two countries that might experience some spillover effect of what has been lived, and probably will be experienced in the weeks ahead, in Tunisia. There are already comments about similarities between the former Tunisian first lady – currently in Dubai – and Princess Laila Salma, the wife of King Mohammad of Morocco, as regards the similarity of the two ladies in having an excessively extravagant lifestyle and allowing their relatives turning into fat and wealthy parasites.

So far, the "secular" Ben Ali has found refuge in Saudi Arabia.

For Turkey, Tunisia has always been a special country since late Bourgiba, who very much admired modern Turkish republic and its founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, established a secular democracy there in 1957. In the entire Muslim neighborhood, Tunisia was the only other country, despite all the differences, which like Turkey had in its constitution a clear statement that the state is secular. Even though the present political elites of Turkey might not like to read such a comparison, both for Bourgiba and Ben Ali administrations Turkey was a role model for Tunisia with its strides to establish a working democracy – despite all the difficulties and failures in practice – and institutionalizing democratic principles and norms.

Tunisia, hopefully, will not suffice in the current "revolution mood" with the change at the top but move to eradicate some acute anomalies produced by the past five decades that prevented consolidation of democracy in the friendly and brotherly country. Perhaps, as the opposition parties have already started complaining, the interim administration of the country should provide sufficient time for the much-oppressed opposition groups to get prepared for "free" elections which may bring real change, a change further than the name of the leader in the seat of the president.

Despite all the trouble lived so far an eventual peaceful transition of power through elections will not just help Tunisia to come closer to democratic governance but will also consolidate belief among peoples of the vast Muslim geography that change is indeed possible.

Then, life may become difficult for tyrants who survive on a culture of allegiance, irrespective whether their title might be king, president, sheikh or prime minister.







The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been festering now for over 60 years. Despite a strong American commitment to resolve the conflict, little progress has been made on the core issues: Jerusalem, refuges and borders.

However, lost in much of the discussion about this issue is the fact that all parties (the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Americans) know the answers to these core problems. It is clear that any future settlement will entail a Palestinian state congruent with the pre-1967 border, with carve outs for some of the bigger Israeli settlements, and land swaps in the Negev to compensate the Palestinians for these Israeli carve outs. Israel will accept some Palestinian refuges and make arrangements to internationalize or partition Jerusalem. The capital of Israel will be in west Jerusalem, while the capital of Palestine will be in east Jerusalem.

These answers are not radical, but simply a re-hash of the Israeli and Palestinian positions that have been widely discussed in the past. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, should know these solutions well, having been the Palestinian's lead negotiator during the Oslo peace process. Thus from an intellectual standpoint the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now boring, monotonous, and repetitive.

Accepting these solutions is geopolitically advantageous for both sides. The Israelis would gain recognition from other Arab states and take a huge step toward de-legitimizing Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, while gaining security. Obviously, the Palestinians would finally achieve their goal of an independent Palestinian state.

Despite the answers having been figured out years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas do not yet have the political fortitude to implement these solutions. The problem en vogue is settlements. Netanyahu, who is under pressure from Israeli nationalists and the religious right, refuses to tackle this issue. Instead, he has implemented a number of half-hearted, short moratoriums meant only to appease the Americans. Not even President Barack Obama's substantial arm-twisting and offer for increased military aid and more F-35 fighter jets could entice Netanyahu to seriously crack down on the settlements.

It is clear that Netanyahu has made a political decision to appeal to his domestic base, rather than make a bold move toward peace. He has rightly concluded that during earlier peace negotiations it was the right wing that was able to bring down the government, not the Israeli left. So Netanyahu has made a political decision to "stay right" in order to maintain his grip on power.

On the other side, you have Abbas, the beleaguered president of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. While often trumpeted as the leader of all Palestinians, Abbas is only in control of the West Bank and had to be convinced by the Americans to begin direct talks with Israel again. The reality is that after the domestic elections in 2006 and the June takeover of Gaza by Hamas, the Palestinian leadership is split. After the ensuing chaos in 2007, Abbas has had to tack to the right to maintain his tenuous control of the Palestinian government in the West Bank in order to fend off Hamas' growing political and military power in Gaza.

Both sides, despite knowing roughly what the solution to the conflict will look like, are both unwilling and unable to make the necessary political concessions to end the conflict. So the world finds itself mired in endless cycles of American-imposed peace meetings and grandiose proclamations about peace with little movement on the ground. However, when one delves a little more deeply into this topic it becomes readily apparent that despite knowing roughly what a peace agreement will look like, both sides are hamstrung by domestic politics and their tenuous grip on power.

However, the current political deadlock presents a unique opportunity, namely, the need for the Americans to move away from their long-held belief in direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, in favor of an imposed solution.

The solution need not be radical and should only reflect the long held and oft discussed solutions to the conflict. It could encapsulate many of the widely recognized solutions to this problem. The first step could be an international conference to showcase the imposed solution's broad international support. It would be critical for the Americans to address the solutions put forward in the Arab peace initiative to win the backing of the Arab League, thus providing Abbas with the necessary political cover to make certain concessions.

It would also have the added benefit of marginalizing Hamas, whose strong anti-peace position would be pushed out of the mainstream by the bold steps of the international community. In the end, the Americans would have to follow through on its commitments and stay actively involved in the days and months following the conference.

It is hoped that this bold gesture would result in the resolution of the conflict and bring about conditions that are beneficial for all of the parties involved. It won't be easy, but acknowledging that many of the core issues have been resolved is a necessary first step.

*Aaron Stein is a foreign policy researcher and freelance journalist based in Istanbul.






The dramatic fall of Mexican oil production, and its largest field Cantarell, is often cited as a signature example of the problems facing supply from non-Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, members. But as accelerated as the declines have been in Mexico, there's another oil producing region has seen even quicker declines. The North Sea, which comprises "United Kingdom Offshore, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands Offshore, and Germany Offshore" has just lost 20 percent of its production in 24 months. Daily production is down 600,000 barrels per day in that period.

I mention this because as 2010 closed, it appears that for the fifth year in a row the peak production year of 2005 – in which the world produced oil at an average, annual rate of 73.718 mbpd – will once again not be exceeded. This is truly an astonishing result given that a new pricing era for oil began in 2004 as oil rose above $40 a barrel. For over five years national oil companies and publicly traded oil companies have been free to sell oil into an ever-rising price environment. But no increase in global crude oil production has been forthcoming.

Another region in the non-OPEC region that has disappointed is Canada. While Canadian oil production soared coming into the last decade, its production halted starting in 2006 and since then has oscillated around 2.6 mbpd. There is much hope for future increases from Canada and there is even a kind of mini-myth taking place in the United States right now that Canada will be a strong source of future supply to the U.S. However, what has happened in Canada the past decade is that cheap conventional barrels of oil have been replaced with expensive tar sands barrels of oil. The result? It is running in place in terms of supply, but at a much higher cost structure.

Canada is worthy of discussion for another reason, however, and that's the creeping tendency of the public energy-data agencies to engage in some channel stuffing. In the case of Canada, the high-cost tar sands production has now been aggregated into that country's measures of "crude oil." While not as egregious as including ethanol into publicly released data measures of oil, the alchemy and energy inputs required to turn oily dirt into usable petroleum can hardly be deemed as conventional crude oil production. To this point, one of the core methods authorities in Washington and Paris have increasingly relied on in recent years is to include biofuels and natural gas liquids in the accounting of global oil production. The technique that both agencies use to conduct this obfuscation is a familiar one, in which the key information is aggregated (buried) into a much larger barrage of data and presentations.

In order to rebut this secrecy by complexity it's the obligation of responsible energy analysts to explain the falsehood of adding biofuels and natural gas liquids (NGLs) to measures of oil production. The reason is simple: natural gas liquids are not oil. They are not oil in any sense and most important of all NGLs contain only 65 percent of the BTU of oil. Worse, biofuels are barely an energy source themselves and are the product of a conversion process of other energy inputs. Accordingly, the world is not producing 84, or 85, or 86 million barrels of oil per day. The world is instead producing 73.436 million barrels of crude oil per day. The depletion of oil will not be solved by either by the production of biofuels and NGLs, nor their inclusion into oil data as the world economy moves into the future.

When U.S. authorities falsely composes such forecasts, aggregating future natural gas liquids and ethanol into a supply picture for "oil" as they do each year in their various projections, this disables the public's ability to accurately understand the true outlook for global oil supply. While it's still the case that EIA Washington produces data each month for crude oil production only, the predominant reporting and forecasting is now weighted toward "liquids," the unhelpful aggregation of oil with NGLs and biofuels. But most unhelpful of all is that, in forecasts, the EIA has essentially dropped projections for global crude oil supply. For example, at the International Energy Outlook, or IEO, 2010 public press conference in May 2010 the EIA released to the press a document with no oil forecasts.

Little information of any use is actually provided by the projection shown above for one simple reason: the chart does not tell us about the actual energy that will available to society. More egregious is that even in the main body of the IEO 2010 report, more false aggregation occurs with a yet another term of complexity: conventional liquids.

The loss of cheap energy and the loss of the cheap BTU that oil has provided to OECD nations for the past century is a crucial factor in the dilemma the West now faces: a newly chronic economic restraint that refuses to go away.

*This article was originally published by, which offers free information and analysis on energy and commodities. To find out more, visit the website at







The continued killings in Karachi mean many parts of the city remain in chaos. In this environment it is difficult to know what can be done to calm things down. But it is significant that the federal and provincial governments have failed to bring about any change in the situation – even after several attempts in 2010. This would seem to suggest an altered plan of action is needed – but so far we have not seen one go into place. The "partial curfew" announced by Rehman Malik, after a meeting to review law and order seems unlikely to have any real impact on the violence in Karachi. There seems also to be some ambiguity as to quite what is intended, but the general understanding is that movement in specific areas will be restricted, at least during times when those areas are being searched.

There are fears that, much like the ban on pillion-riding (which has now been put in place again) the measures requiring residents of areas under curfew to produce CNICs while returning home, will give police a new means to extort money from people. The decision to once more ban pillion-riding indicates the authorities really have very little to offer. Such bans have in the past done nothing to stop the killings. The heightened security, with aerial monitoring of troubled localities planned and the FIA called in to assist police and the Rangers, could have some short-term impact on the violence. It is unlikely to bring about any long-term change in the ground situation in Karachi. For this to happen, it would be necessary to identify who is behind the unrest and to take action against any such groups or individuals. The interior minister has once more suggested a conspiracy is afoot against the government. President Zardari is given to making similar assertions from time to time. If they know anything about who is behind these sinister plots they refer to, it is essential that they share this information with the rest of us. Citizens have a right to know who may be working against their interests. Merely making suggestions of a broader game plan can only add to the uncertainty which is already running high in the country. The tensions in Karachi contribute to the unease, as does the failure to bring the violence to an end.







There are reports that as many as 30 policemen, including some of those detailed to guard the president and the prime minister, have been removed from their duties because they may present a security threat. The only surprise about this is that it has taken so long for the responsible authorities to wake up to the possibility of there being a threat from within as well as from without. This activity has been triggered by the murder of Salmaan Taseer – but it begs a host of questions. The man who killed Taseer had already been identified as a security risk, yet was still detailed to protect him. The screening system failed Taseer because of a manifest failure to implement its own checks and balances. Small wonder that many public figures now rely on privately recruited security personnel rather than the state to give them protection. This reliance raises its own set of questions – seemingly anybody with a full complement of limbs and both eyes more-or-less in the right place can be given a shotgun and appointed as a 'guard'. Who screens them? Do those who recruit private security have the competencies to screen their employees? Probably not – and herein lays the deeper difficulty.

All institutions, whether they be the military, paramilitary or police – or the intelligence agencies – will be composed of men and women who are a cross section of society. If that society is predominantly radicalised or dominated by extreme elements, then their membership will reflect that. Of course, some agencies will be aware of this and make efforts to filter out those who present an internal threat and doubtless they are successful in many cases. Yet at the lower end of their hierarchies, or in far-flung areas where recruitment may be difficult, laxity in screening could creep in. And it is at that level, at the bottom of organisations tasked with security, in which the greatest threat lies. It is not going to be the inspector or the lieutenant or the grade 20 bureaucrat who shoots the man or woman he is tasked to protect – it will be the man at the bottom of the pile, on low pay, with poor prospects and doing a job that few would want. Our security agencies – and private security companies – may be riddled with those who sympathise with Taseer's killer. Dealing with this problem is going to be no easier than de-radicalising wider society.







  Last Saturday the chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue said the government was in a state of 'fiscal emergency.' This view was not shared by the prime minister who on the same day declared that the national economy 'was improving.' Those who manage government finances have been attempting to gain the attention of the PM for many months – to no apparent effect. That we are economic meltdown is obvious to the weakest student of economics. It has been obvious for more than a year. Senior members of the government, the prime minister included, have been told that in language of crystal clarity, bereft of any possibility of misunderstanding. They have been told what needs to be done to save our staggering economy and, thus far, have chosen to ignore their financial managers and advisers. The reasons why they have chosen to ignore them boil down to one simple fact – saving the nation means the sacrifice of power and privilege and this government has not the slightest intention of doing anything of the sort.

Now a government committee is to take into confidence all the political parties in order to arrive at solutions – a move which has never produced a solution in the past and is no more likely to produce one on Thursday when the Economic Advisory Council meets. The only grain of comfort to be discerned is that even the terminally-myopic PPP government may finally have realised that it has painted itself into a corner and run out of places to hide. Suddenly, the PML-N 10-point agenda begins to look like a distillation of common sense. Whether its application in the near-term is enough to prevent us being abandoned by the Americans – who are clearly losing patience – the IMF which has already lost its patience, and our other donors who have been 'stood back' for months, we have days or weeks at best, to tell.








Pakistan is in the firm grip of killers who target their victims. Perhaps in no other period of its blood-stained 63-year history has the country experienced so much lawlessness.

For sometime now, not a day goes by without a targeted killing taking place in Karachi. In the first 16 days of January, as many as 90 Karachiites lost their lives in violence perpetrated by killers who are members of mafias allegedly protected by political parties and even custodians of the law. According to media reports, the 90 who were subjected to targeted killings included 16 political activists, one policeman and one journalist, our very own Wali Khan Babar. While we were able to publicly mourn the young reporter in the media, most of the rest who were slain were commoners, dying unknown and mourned only by the bereaved families.

Balochistan too is at the mercy of those who carry out targeted killings. Five such killings were reported in one day on Jan 16. The daily scorecard goes up and down, depending on the circumstances, but it is seldom that there are no killings in a day. We are told that there is a low-intensity insurgency in Balochistan and that no military operation is taking place in that vast and sparsely-populated but resource-rich province. If there is an insurgency and foreign countries and their secret agencies are behind it, as it is often alleged by our rulers, then there must be reinforcement of security forces to cope with the challenge and occasionally carry out military action. It would be better if the government took the nation into confidence about the severity of the problem, instead of downplaying the threat.

The sad part of the situation, however, is the targeted killings of political activists peacefully working for a cause and the common people who are non-political and largely concerned about finding means of livelihood. The Baloch separatist campaign has sometimes degenerated into targeted killings of settlers and labourers from other provinces. Poor migrant workers trying to earn an honest living far away from home in the harsh terrain of Balochistan are gunned down apparently in retaliation for the assassination of Baloch nationalists, who are seized and then have their bodies dumped on the roadside. The wrong people are killed in these revenge killings and families are deprived of breadwinners, women are widowed and children are orphaned.

When the bodies of two men shot dead somewhere near Turbat were recently returned for burial to their villages in Bajaur and Malakand tribal agencies, everyone in that area personally became aware of the danger facing migrant workers and contractors in Balochistan. Not many except even the most desperate to venture to Balochistan to earn a livingm and that is what the killers want to ensure. It seems the same tactics are being tried in Karachi to stop the endless flow of mostly destitute people from the north to Pakistan's biggest and richest city in search of jobs.

For almost seven years now, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been facing a militancy that turned into a stubborn insurgency. The military operations have made a difference and restored the government's writ in places like Swat, but the situation is still not normal. The security forces have become a permanent feature of the landscape in most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, and nobody knows for how long the troops would have to remain deployed in the trouble-spots where revival of the political institutions, the judiciary and the civil administration has been slow.

Targeted killings are part and parcel of the insurgency. The militants initially target tribal elders standing in their way and are now eliminating anyone siding with the government and the military. In fact, many targeted killings take place in Peshawar where pro-government elders have sought refuge. The militants and their supporters, too, are subjected to targeted and extra-judicial killings.

Punjab and the federal capital, Islamabad, cannot be immune from targeted killings when the rest of the country is suffering the menace. The numbers may be fewer, but such incidents do take place. Salmaan Taseer's assassination was also a case of targeted killing, though in his case the assassin is known and has proudly made a confession.

There are problems and challenges everywhere in Pakistan, but it is the lawlessness in Karachi that is, and should be, the biggest worry for every Pakistani. Not long ago we all took pride in describing Karachi as "mini-Pakistan" where everyone was welcomed from all corners of the country. Karachi offered means of livelihood and a place to live to everyone. It embraced the Mohajirs who migrated to the new state of Pakistan from places that became part of India at the time of independence. Subsequently, it welcomed Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Baloch, Kashmiris, Gilgit-Baltistanis and even foreigners from many countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh and Burma. As for the Sindhis, Karachi was their city and is still their capital, even though they have become a minority there.

It is hard to believe that those who carry out targeted killings in Karachi cannot be traced. They are mostly known or, to be precise, their sponsors are easily identifiable, but politics is hindering action against them. It is possible that the fear of the collapse of the government is holding the hands of the rulers to order tough action against these killers and their godfathers. Political survival is, therefore, more important than protection of innocent Karachiites from targeted killings.

When Sindh home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza claimed that 60 men accused of involvement in targeted killings were in government custody, one wondered about the next step, that of bringing these people and their sponsors to justice. Dr Mirza also mentioned that 26 of those in government custody belonged to Karachi's biggest political party, and that some were affiliated with the ANP and certain religious groups. The biggest political party was obviously the MQM, which was so outraged by Dr Mirza's utterances that it quit the federal cabinet. Having lost its majority in parliament due to the withdrawal of first the JUI-F and then the MQM from the coalition government, the ruling PPP bent over backwards to bring Altaf Hussain and his men back into the alliance. Predictably, the MQM has returned to the ruling coalition and apparently it will now have a more decisive say in running the affairs of the Sindh government. No wonder, then, that Dr Mirza has gone quiet and nothing has been heard about bringing the captured target killers to book.

To a lesser extent, the ANP and the religious groups also have political clout that could be used it to protect target killers linked to their organisations. In such a situation, clamping limited curfews in parts of Karachi, carrying out surveillance from the air or undertaking search operations in selected areas won't achieve much in terms of cleansing the city of targeted killings. Political governments, more so, weak coalitions, cannot do a thorough job in terms of policing and fighting crime when coalition partners are accused of involvement in acts of violence. Interior Minister Rahman Malik has been talking about a "third force" that is plotting to destabilise the democratically elected government by fuelling violence in Karachi and elsewhere. He and others in the government need to do some soul-searching to set their own house in order if they are sincere in bringing Karachi back to normalcy.

Expecting the police to set things right in Karachi is wishful thinking. Police officers who took part in previous crackdowns in Karachi were eliminated in later years. No police officer would put himself at risk after having seen the fate of slain colleagues. The Rangers could do a better job if they are properly used and given wide powers. There have been calls by the ANP, the PML-Q and other parties for handing over the city to the army for an across-the-board search operation. In fact, many people feel that in terms of priorities, military action in Karachi should take precedence even over North Waziristan as they believe saving Karachi is like saving

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim







Three years of mis-governance have regressed the economy of Pakistan back to the fag end of the 1990s, when the country was confronted with the challenges of improving the country's macroeconomic environment; bringing debt situation under control; restoring investor's confidence; reviving economic growth; and restoring the country's financial sovereignty. Many economists within and outside the country referred to the decade as the lost decade for Pakistan.

Today the country is facing similar challenges, of course, of greater intensity and magnitude. In other words, the efforts made during 2000-2007 to revive economic activity, reduce the country's burden and restore financial sovereignty have been wasted. Yet another decade has been lost. Can a developing country like Pakistan afford to lose two decades from its six decades of existence?

Why have we lost another decade of growth and development? Because the economy has remained off the government's radar screen for the last three years. Consequently, economic growth has slowed, poverty and unemployment have risen; higher double-digit inflation is persisting and putting enormous burden on the poor and fixed income group; the country's debt burden has reached unsustainable level; the dependence on donors for financial support has grown and financial indiscipline is widespread.

Pakistan is facing the immediate problem of insolvency. Its revenue-expenditure gap is widening and may reach 7.5 – 8.0 per cent of GDP, if correct measures are not taken immediately. How to finance revenue-expenditure gap to the tune of Rs1300 billion on the back of dwindling external inflows is therefore the real immediate challenge. The only option available to the government is to borrow from the State Bank of Pakistan with all its adverse consequences for the economy and the people.

The government is weak and the prime minister is afraid of taking tough economic decisions. The recent withdrawal of the hike in fuel prices over the pressure of opposition and disgruntled allies and backing away from implementing the RGST simply underscores the vulnerability of the government. A weak and vulnerable government is the greatest threat to the economy and national security.

Inaction towards taking tough economic decisions is adding to inflation, hurting the poor, sapping the confidence of the private sector which is already low, reducing investment, and affecting economic growth and much-needed job creation. Until last month, the external economic environment has been relatively benign. This environment is now becoming inhospitable for all of us. Pakistan is expected to confront yet another challenge of rising fuel and food prices.

The international price of oil is fast approaching $100 per barrel mark. Stronger-than-anticipated recovery in the US and European economies, along with the worst winter are fuelling energy demands. The deliberate US policy to weaken its currency through Quantitative Easing is also likely to increase the price of oil in the international market. Dollar-euro parity and international price of oil move very closely (correlation between these two variables is 0.92). Is the government ready to pass on the rising cost of fuel to domestic consumers? Or, is it ready to repeat the same mistakes of 2007-08 by adopting the policy of inaction? Not passing the higher cost of oil to domestic consumers is not an option.

Political consensus among the major political parties is absolutely essential for salvaging the economy. There would be no politics without a viable economy. It is, therefore, in the interest of the major political parties to build consensus on key economic issues. The consensus should be built around mobilising resources and rationalising and improving the quality of expenditure. In other words, the consensus should be built on maintaining financial discipline in the country.

On the revenue side, the consensus must be reached in broadening the tax bases that include the implementation of RGST, bringing agricultural income under direct tax net; imposing capital gain tax on stock markets and real estate; improving the withholding tax regime; improving and strengthening the tax administration; binding the provincial governments to improve their fiscal efforts; and develop some binding constraints for provinces to generate surpluses in provincial budgets with a view to saving the NFC Award.

On the expenditure side, the consensus must be reached in rationalising and improving the quality of expenditure. In particular, the issue of energy (fuel and electricity) subsidy must be addressed. Should we subsidise the rich by keeping oil prices low or devise some mechanism to protect the poor and vulnerable sections of the society. Should we rely on increasing power tariff alone to address the issue of circular debt or should we look at eliminating free electricity to WAPDA employees; undertaking energy audit to identify fuel guzzler power plant; giving line losses targets to different DISCOs; and strengthening WAPDA's finance departments?

Consensus must also be built on bleeding PSEs. Should we go for outright privatisation in a transparent manner or should we go for restructuring of these PSEs with efficient management from the private sector? A consensus must also be built on the size of the cabinet as well.

Pakistan's economy has reached its lowest ebb. The current government and its economic team are weak. Without building consensus on economic issues, no government can run the country and the economy. It is in the interest of all the political parties to evolve consensus for the sake of Pakistan. Economics must override politics.

The writer is principal and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan







Imagine a largely unlettered man that carries a loaded weapon has maxed out his credit cards, lost more than half his assets in a messy divorce, and now dances about the streets celebrating the murder of unarmed people. Then imagine this man stopping for a moment every few minutes to ask for help. "Help me", the man says. "Help me pay my bills". The man then closes his eyes momentarily. Scratches his head, and suddenly reaches for his weapon. "I have a gun you know". "Stop trying to take it from me". "I know you all hate me". And then, just as suddenly, he remembers his unpaid credit card bills. "Spare some change, will you?"

Could you take this man seriously? I am sure we would all be scared of this man. But could we possibly take this man seriously? Could we be real friends with this guy? I suspect, perhaps we'd shake hands nervously, half in fear, and half in awe. We'd even try to help the guy out, at least a little bit.

After some time perhaps we would get to know this man, and understand why he acts so strangely. We'd really come to appreciate that the divorce really screwed up how this guy thinks about others. We'd try to offer solace, and a little bit of advice too. "Stop spending so much money," and "put in some extra hours of work, to earn a little more". "Also, please stop intoxicating yourself," we would say to him.

It sounds like a dialogue between sane people and an insane person. Surely, there's only one party with whom we can relate. This is just a fictional account. No one is as irrational and unapologetic about failure as the caricature I've described here. The point however is important. Given the description, there's only one possible side you can take.

How we define the debate is critical to our chances of winning. This is a theme that I don't think any serious Pakistani can tire of in the near future. Fiscal insolvency and Salmaan Taseer's assassination have both conspired to highlight the depth and potency of the crisis facing Pakistan. This crisis can be solved. But it can't be solved the way the debate is currently framed. Most of the debate in Pakistan should be between the sane option, and the insane option, a debate between reasonable people and the unreasonable. Anytime we get away from this formula, we will lose.

On fiscal insolvency, we are miles from this formula. The national political consensus is that more revenue is not required, less expenditure is not required, but somehow more money shall be spent. In short, insane. This is not an over-simplification. It represents exactly the stated positions of the PPP and the MQM, the two lead partners in the coalition government. The PPP has withdrawn an attempt to increase revenue. The MQM has forced the PPP to do this. Neither party has spoken about or addressed the need for alternative measures to reduce the gap between the money earned by government, and the money spent by it. This is not an episode of the Twilight Zone. It is the Islamic Republic. The only pity is that sane voices are either too scared, or too ill-informed to speak boldly in the face of this insanity.

On the Salmaan Taseer assassination, there is an opportunity for reasonable Pakistanis to wrest the initiative from the unreasonable and dangerous people that comprise this country's radical right (indeed, since the 1970s is there any part of the right wing that isn't radical and unreasonable?). Yet for too many reasonable Pakistanis, the allure of an ideological debate is too much to resist. Liberals versus mullahs. Secularists versus traditionalists. This is a losing proposition. It will, as always, transform into "Islam versus laadeeniyat". This plays directly to the advantage of the unreasonable people that have already stacked the deck in their favour. Here the pity will be if sane voices are goaded into a culture and class war that they've no chance of winning on ideological grounds. To stick to the formula, and to win the debate, reasonable Pakistanis need to keep their eye on the prize. The argument has to be framed around reason. Murder is unreasonable, and unacceptable. Celebrating murder is unreasonable and unacceptable. Anything to the contrary is insane.

Perhaps one day, Pakistan will evolve into a country where a diverse array of ideas and ideologies can co-exist. That may even be something to aspire to. But these have to be couched in the current reality. Right now, the objective has to be to a spot in the time and space continuum where attempts to engage in a rational discourse do not end up in graves, victimised by 27 bullets having exploded into a human body.

The big issues in Pakistan are debated on the basis of ideology (liberal vs mullah) or on the basis of broken conventional wisdom (the solution to fiscal problems is to borrow more money). Both reflect a fundamental absence of reason. The debate that needs to happen in Pakistan is a debate between unreasonable positions, and reasonable ones.

It is unreasonable to accept murder – no ifs, ands or buts about it. If most condemnations of the Taseer assassination are followed by a long, drawn-out "but", then the immediate place we are looking to go is the removal of this morally equivocating "but" from Pakistan's mainstream opinion.

Of course, this is a knife that cuts in all directions. More than 2,000 people are estimated to have been killed in drone attacks. The number of civilian casualties is unknown, but no one denies that they exist. Countless Pakistanis who have been programmed to morally equivocate around issues of perceived blasphemy have asked me, "Where is the conversation about drones and legal recourse and compensation for the people of FATA?" It is a legitimate question. Only unreasonable people would deny its rightfulness.

More urgent than talk of death of course, is talk of taxes.

It is unreasonable to spend more money than you earn. It is really unreasonable to spend more money than you earn, when you've already fully exhausted the patience and wallets of lenders. It is really, really unreasonable to spend more money than you earn, when you've exhausted lenders, on items that are unnecessary and meant only to address one's sense of vanity.

Right now, with one of the world's lowest tax to GDP ratios, Pakistan is buying F-16 planes and testing long-range missiles. It is approving roads and buildings that seem to serve little purpose other than to keep contractors at work. It is subsidising businesses like Pakistan Railways and PIA that have been sucking the lifeblood of its finances for decades.

This is unreasonable and to continue to do so is insane. Pakistani society and the economy are being rend asunder by a lack of reason. This insanity has to stop. It will stop as soon as reason comes to be employed as the primary instrument of addressing the country's most immediate concerns.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.







It is not the murder of Salmaan Taseer that has shocked the urban majority in Pakistan and scared it into apparent silence or indifference. It is the celebrations following the tragedy and the threats hurled by the right that have produced the hush.

For the first time, even the PPP's workers, the fearless Jiyalas, have been scared into political hibernation. Thousands attended Governor Salmaan Taseer's funeral and Jiyalas in Lahore initially took to the streets in a defiant mood, chanting anti-clerical slogans. But the PPP government capitulated, unsurprisingly. The leadership's expected capitulation has resulted in the religious right getting a field day.

Such field days recur every ten years or so. The religious right, helped by Washington, ruled the roost for a while during the anti-Bhutto agitation in 1977. The First Iraq War on the heels of the Rushdie affair offered another chance to the right. The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was followed by streets being taken over by rightwing mobs.

On the contrary, the Pakistani masses get a chance to vote in an elections far more rarely: 1970, 1988, 2002, 2008 – not counting Ziaul Haq's "party-less" election of 1985 and the mid-term elections following government dismissals. In every fair election, the clerics have been trounced by the voters.

The religious right and dictators are on the same side every time democracy is attacked. Even though apparently secular politicians have betrayed their constituencies, the masses have never placed their trust in the clerics. They are not likely to do so either in the future. The leadership of the religious right understands this.

Hence, the bullets pumped into Salmaan Taseer on Jan 4 were not merely meant to silence "blasphemous" dissent. They were the launch of a veritable coup. The repeatedly rejected minority has set in motion efforts for a power grab. This minority is not defending the blasphemy laws enacted a century-and-a-half ago by the British colonial administration. The stakes are much higher. This first message in the bullets that ended Taseer's life was that following such a "coup," even a democratically elected party will be unable to rule.

There are roughly 80,000 lawyers in the country. It was the struggle led by the lawyers' fraternity that that humbled Gen Musharraf. Ever since the 1970s, pro-PPP or like-minded leaderships sweep the elections in the lawyers' professional bodies. It is an annual pattern. The pattern holds true from the district to the national level.

Only recently, Asma Jahangir, justifiably considered liberalism's conscience in the country, won a majority to become president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. But the two hundred or so lawyers from Rawalpindi who rooted for the killer of Salmaan Taseer have been presented by some as the conscience of a whole legal fraternity. Hence, the second message is that any reality can be manipulated.

Luckily, a coup in Pakistan has never gone unchallenged for long. Isolated but important voices of dissident have emerged in the mainstream media. Not everybody is ready to go with the rightwing tide. Activists always recover after the initial shocks.

A case has been registered against the cleric who issued the fatwa against Sherry Rehman. Despite the threats, demonstrations have taken place in her favour. More protest actions are in the offing. The fear will ultimately subside. Even though it is not impossible for an even bloodier act to take place for the perpetuation of the atmosphere of fear, fear cannot be sustained indefinitely. Dissent may be silenced in the immediate term, but it cannot be silenced forever.

Mumtaz Qadri is a self-confessed killer, and this fact cannot be changed by his being given titles of "ghazi" and "mujahid". Even if a judge cannot send him to the gallows in accordance with the Pakistani penal code, no judge will be able to set him free either.

The majority in the country that is inspired by Sufis like Bulleh Shah and Shah Abdul Lateef Bhitai will recover its vigour. It will not tolerate attacks on shrines, villages and neighbourhoods. The Taliban dictatorship imposed in FATA has begin to find a fierce armed opposition in the shape of tribal lashkars (armed militias).

Therefore, those singing swansongs for the dream of a liberal Pakistan are displaying impatience and pessimism. Let us not forget that Salmaan Taseer was not the first person to die on the issue of the blasphemy laws. Bishop John Joseph committed suicide in protest against them. Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti was murdered for his daring act as judge of the Lahore High Court to acquit an innocent Christians sentenced in a fake blasphemy case.

As a matter of fact, not a single person has been hanged on the charge of blasphemy. Death sentences handed down by lower courts have every time been overturned by superior courts. The 37 people accused of blasphemy who lost their lives were killed by fanatical zealots. Of course, a sustained struggle, aimed at the transformation of Pakistan, can rid the society of discrimination and suppression.

But with the dangerous precedent set by the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, a Frankenstein has been unleashed, even for clerics. After Taseer's murder, a cleric from Dera Ghazi Khan and his son have been convicted in a blasphemy case. The Deobandi cleric and his son were booked on the complaint of their Barelvi opponents. This is just a beginning. However, for the first time a lower court handed down life sentences to the two in a blasphemy case, instead of the prescribed death sentence. This too is significant.


The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:







The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.

After months in diplomatic limbo talks between Pakistan and India are set to resume next month in a fresh bid to put the peace process back on the rails.

The foreign secretaries of the two countries will meet on the sidelines of a standing committee meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) due in Thimpu on 6-7 February. This is expected to pave the way for a meeting between the foreign ministers for which S M Krishna recently renewed his invitation to Shah Mahmood Qureshi to visit Delhi in the first quarter of 2011.

The diplomatic encounters ahead offer an opportunity to resuscitate the broad based peace process that was derailed after the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. Since then formal talks between the two countries have been hobbled by contending visions of a future dialogue, reflecting the differing priorities of the two sides – and mutual mistrust.

Last year's prolonged diplomatic minuet resulted in a familiar stalemate when officials of the two countries disagreed on the modalities and agenda to define the terms of their re-engagement. Delhi insisted that Islamabad take prior action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks before the renewal of formal talks. Pakistan called for a return to the eight-issue composite dialogue of 2004-08. Delhi refused to revive this format, seeking instead to focus on the terrorism issue and argue that confidence building should precede any substantive discussions.

Encouraged by the international community, the two countries however kept talking and this helped to narrow the chasm over how to transition to full-fledged talks. In September 2010 officials from the two countries agreed to what was called on outcome document, that was to be announced after a meeting between the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The meeting fell through when Delhi insisted that Pakistan make no reference to Kashmir during the General Assembly session – a demand that was impossible to accept not least because of intensified protests in Indian-held Kashmir against Delhi's rule. Last summer alone over a hundred civilians were killed in the Valley by security forces.

The outcome document set out a road map of meetings on all the issues that had previously figured in the composite dialogue. If, and when, implemented this will effectively reinstall the comprehensive peace process that Islamabad has been seeking in the past two years.

The question now is whether next month's meeting in Bhutan between Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao will reaffirm the September 2010 understanding on this document and set the stage for its announcement following the foreign ministers' meeting in Delhi.

Also in question is whether the two officials will be able to revive the July 2010 agreement on a set of confidence building measures that were to be unveiled after the Islamabad meeting of the foreign ministers. When the July talks collapsed amid mutual recriminations, so did the planned announcement of the CBMs. Although modest in nature – covering humanitarian issues and reviving the working group on cross-Line of Control travel and trade – they are not insignificant and might help to ease the fraught climate that casts such a long shadow on bilateral relations.

An immediate irritant that needs to be removed to improve the atmosphere for the Thimpu talks relates to the position India has taken at the World Trade Organisation to effectively block a time-bound trade concession deal for Pakistan approved in September 2010 by the European Union. The deal under the Generalized System of Preferences needs a country-specific WTO 'waiver' to be operational. In November, India's envoy to the Council on Trade in Goods, which works by consensus, raised multiple objections and stalled the process.

With another meeting of the council due on 31 January, Islamabad should ask Delhi to drop its opposition and create a propitious climate for the talks ahead. Reciprocity is in any case warranted by Pakistan's gesture to allow onion exports to India at Delhi's urgent request.

Delhi's willingness to move towards a comprehensive dialogue process may be the result of several factors including sustained international pressure and quiet urgings by President Barack Obama during his November 2010 visit to India.

Four other factors may also have urged a change in Delhi's stance. One, India having just started its term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council may see restarting talks with Pakistan as a way to enhance its credentials to play a larger role on the international stage. This is especially so as Delhi regards its current Security Council membership as a stepping stone to galvanize more support and legitimacy for its bid for permanent membership.

Two, Delhi's failure to manage the situation in Kashmir may also be urging it to revive peace talks with Pakistan as a means to pacify Kashmiri sentiments as well as deflect the international focus and urgings to address the causes of the unrest in the Valley.

Three, Delhi may have concluded that its conditions-based approach to broader talks had run out of steam and begun to yield diminishing returns. Meanwhile the recent disclosures about the 2007 terrorist attack on the Samjhota Express – in which 42 Pakistanis were killed in a bombing by Hindu extremists – have put Delhi on the defensive. From this perspective, resumption of dialogue with Pakistan also helps Delhi defuse this messy situation.

And four, the approaching Afghan endgame is an important factor in India's calculus to talk to Islamabad out of the concern not to be marginalised from a diplomatic process that may eventually give Pakistan a key role in Afghan-led and US-backed reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. Dialogue also serves as a means to soften Islamabad's stance on an Indian role in post-war Afghanistan.

Whatever the mix of motives behind the shift in Delhi's approach, the diplomatic interaction ahead will offer Islamabad the opportunity to test and evaluate whether this shift is tactical or represents a change of heart to make negotiations meaningful.

Islamabad also gains from renewed engagement. Attaining a modicum of stability in bilateral ties can enable Pakistan to focus on pressing internal challenges without being distracted by frequent flare-up in tensions with India. Engagement can also help address immediate irritants and offers an avenue for conversations on Afghanistan, which the two countries, distrustful of the other's strategic intentions, have never had.

Afghanistan, Pakistan's concerns over India's role in fomenting destabilisation in Balochistan and the issue of water rights have poisoned relations in recent years and added new layers of mutual suspicion, all of which need to be addressed.

The resurrection of a comprehensive peace process can be a vehicle to manage differences even as efforts are launched to resolve them and prevent tensions from spinning out of control. If 'management' of relations is a near term goal, conflict resolution will have to be the centrepiece of a purposeful, result-oriented dialogue.

This means a determined effort to achieve a strategic equilibrium by adopting a problem-solving approach to the disputes that divide the two countries and lie at the heart of longstanding tensions while identifying areas of mutual benefit where movement can be made.

Unless the dialogue is also able to address Kashmir, relations between the nuclear neighbours will remain vulnerable to a relapse, even breakdown. Those who argue that the issue be put aside, overlook the fact that when adopted in the past this approach produced little and did not make the issue go away. Nor will the effort to miscast the issue in terms of terrorism extinguish the Kashmiri yearning for freedom. This is evident from the continuing peaceful protests there.

The immediate challenge for Pakistani and Indian officials is to find a mutually agreed road map for re-engagement that accommodates both countries' concerns and priorities but avoids fashioning a process at the expense of substance. It is the substance of engagement that will determine whether the latest diplomatic efforts herald a new beginning or another false start.







Over the last few days we have seen some of the bravest people facing down some of the worst. Armed with nothing more than a revolutionary heart and hopes of a better future they gathered and protested as government forces aimed their weapons and fired live rounds in to the crowds. But the ammunition and the underlying threats of arrest and torture meant absolutely nothing to the masses – for they had simply lost their fear.

It was the final testament to the brutality of a dictator who has had the support of European leaders and various presidents of the United States.

And that the Tunisian President Zine El-Abedine Ben Ali fled from his country like a rat up a drainpipe after 23 brutal years spoke volumes about the character of the man himself.

If he had one ounce of the courage his own people displayed, he too would have stayed but most of these tyrants are gutless with the moral fibre of a dung beetle. The demise of Ben Ali came when police prevented an unemployed 26-year-old graduate from selling fruit without a licence. Mohammad Bouazizi turned himself in to a human torch on December 17 and died of the horrific burns in Sidi Bouzid, in central Tunisia. It was the final straw, a defining moment which ignited rallies, marches and demonstrations across Tunisia.

And revelations from Wikileaks cables exposing the corrupt and extravagant lifestyle of Ben Ali and his grasping wife fanned the flames of unbridled anger from a people who were also in the grip of poverty.

Our convoy witnessed the menacing secret police intimidate the crowds to stop them from gathering to cheer us on. This vast army of spies, thugs and enforcers even tried to stop us from praying in a local mosque.

That they stood their ground to cheer us on prompted me to leave my vehicle and hug all the women who had turned out. We exchanged cards and small gifts and then, to my horror, I discovered 24 hours later that every woman I had embraced in the streets of Gafsa had been taken away and questioned.

Human rights organisations have constantly condemned and exposed the brutality of the Ben Ali regime but that has not stopped America and European leaders from intervening or putting on pressure to stop the brutality. Sadly, it serves western interests to have a people brutalised and subjugated.

Now Tunisia is minus one dictator but it is still in a state of emergency. The next few days and weeks are going to be crucial for the Tunisian people who deserve freedom and liberty. My God, they've paid for it with their own blood and we must always remember their martyrs.

None of the politicians, secret police or other odious government forces will emerge from this period with any honour and quite a few are already cowering in the shadows.

Not one word of condemnation, not one word of criticism, not one word urging restraint came from Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton as live ammunition was fired into crowds of unarmed men, women and children in recent weeks.

But, as the injustices and atrocities continued there was not one squeak from the most powerful nation on earth … until America's dear friend, Ben Ali had scuttled from the country.

US has made a comment on the situation in Tunisia ... but only when Ben Ali was 30,000 feet in the air did White House spokesman Mike Hammer issue a statement which read: "We condemn the ongoing violence against civilians in Tunisia, and call on the Tunisian authorities to fulfil the important commitments … including respect for basic human rights and a process of much-needed political reform."

When US condemnation finally came though the tyrant had fled leaving behind more than 60 civilian martyrs and countless more injured.


The writer is a British journalist and a patron of the London-based NGO Cageprisoners. Email: yvonne@yvonneridley. Org







SOON after Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced Sunday to impose partial curfew in selected areas to weed out the elements involved in target killings in Karachi, citizens have expressed scepticism if it would deliver the desired results. According to the Minister certain troubled areas have been declared sensitive where partial curfew will be imposed and search operation carried out to nab the culprits who have taken the city of the Quaid hostage through indiscriminate firing and killings.

Though the objective is good yet it must be kept in view that the subversive elements move from one place to the other to avoid their arrest. After the announcement by the Interior Minister, one is sure that those behind the target killings would have moved out from the areas declared sensitive. Search operations are only productive when action is taken without loss of time. It was because of this reason that people including the leadership of the ANP have expressed reservations over the plan. While the MQM was consulted at an extended meeting on Saturday night to address Muttahida's concerns and demands, we are of the opinion that it would have been better if ANP too was taken on board as the issue is very complicated. Snap search operation in certain areas could help arrest the troublemakers and recover arms but the situation in Karachi has cancerous dimensions and many contours. In addition to political differences, arms and drug mafias, gangs of criminals and foreign interference have made the situation very complicated and there could be no piecemeal solution like partial curfews for search operations. That is why the target killings erupt after every few days. While the Interior Minister, through his good rapport with the MQM, ANP and religious parties is doing his level best to restore peace, Premier Gilani may consider calling a multi-party meeting in Islamabad and even President Zardari could join it. The political leadership may be briefed by the intelligence agencies about reasons behind the alarming situation and then the meeting after thorough deliberations may come up with a comprehensive strategy to restore order because we fear the situation is worsening and could go out of control leaving no other choice but to go for extra constitutional measures.








PRIME MINISTER Yousuf Raza Gilani has declared that a free and robust media was the main pillar of Government's media policy. Talking to a group of journalists from electronic and print media at his residence in Lahore on Sunday, he observed that free media was a deterrent against dictatorial and authoritarian tendencies. The Prime Minister was necessarily talking in terms of media's role in strengthening the democratic culture and checking extremists and militant tendencies.

With its unprecedented proliferation in the country, media has, indeed, assumed a position of make and break in different contexts. We have seen on numerous occasions that it definitely played a crucial role in building or demolishing image of the Government and presenting things and developments in right or wrong perspective. Media is doing a great service by exposing instances of corruption, misuse of power and authority and misdeeds of government functionaries and leaders and thereby contributing towards the cherished goal of good governance and merit. Similarly, media is also helping significantly in exposing designs of those who are harbouring acts of terrorism and extremism in a bid to destabilize the country. But it is also a fact that media is focusing too much on negative aspects with serious implications for the society and the country. The way media is behaving these days often gives an impression as if nothing good is happening in the country and we were on the verge of collapse. This sends negative signals not only abroad but also to our younger generations that have to shoulder future responsibilities. Unfortunately, some media owners have either bogged down in trivial political issues or they are knowingly or unknowingly promoting alien culture and thereby undermining our own identity. There is also tendency of either glorifying crime or presenting it with minute and loathsome details that bruise psyche of the people especially women and children. We hope media would also help forge unity, promote good values and traditions and build a forward-looking Pakistan.








CHIEF Executive of Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) Tariq Iqbal Puri, who initiated a number of initiatives soon after assumption of his responsibility to boost exports, has expressed the confidence that export target of $20 billion for the current financial year would be achieved even before June despite significant energy shortages during winter. Addressing a news conference in Islamabad, he also shared his plans and ideas to increase exports and encourage the private sector for the purpose.

We fully share the optimism expressed by Mr Puri in the country's export potential, which hitherto was not explored properly despite claims by the successive governments. This is also encouraging in the backdrop of worst type of economic recession, which has hit hard almost every sector of the economy, and proves that with commitment, dedication and innovation we can still achieve our targets and resolve financial woes of the country. In addition to the TDAP, the credit for this goes to our vibrant private sector that has worked so diligently despite numerous odds. The sector understands intricacies of the international trade and has developed necessary linkages with the global market. According to surveys carried out by various trade bodies and organizations, there is potential to double our exports in few years provided the Government fulfils its responsibilities as facilitator. Apart from facilitation in reaching out to different markets and getting more access, it is also the duty of the authorities concerned to ensure that domestic environment is congenial for production to increase and that our products are competitive in the world market. The Government has been urging the United States and European Union to give more market access to Pakistani goods and the latter has indeed responded positively but there are legitimate concerns that the country might not be able to get full advantage of the concessions granted by the EU as industry is facing serious challenges because of crippling shortage of gas and electricity, forcing hundreds of them to close down partially or completely; double digit interest rate; rising cost of inputs and precarious law and order situation. Therefore, the Government should consult all stakeholders and formulate a clear-cut policy to remove impediments in the way of industrial growth. We also fully endorse the decision of Mr Puri to reward those who contribute significantly in enhancing the exports of the country.








Pakistan is up against a brewing storm along its western border on account of the projected 2014 US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Indian determination to stay put in the landlocked country. It may be different from the turmoil of the post Soviet withdrawal, but its impact on the region in general and Pakistan in particular is bound to be serious and enormous. What transpired during the visits of the US Vice President Joe Biden to Islamabad and Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna to Kabul last week have revealed the potentials of the impending situation. Pakistan obviously has genuine concern that regional powers especially India should refrain from meddling in Afghanistan's affairs and should not vitiate the atmosphere to destroy regional peace, after US withdrawal. That's why Pakistan has been emphasizing that all regional countries need to adhere to the principle of non-interference and non-intervention in Afghanistan as power play in Afghanistan over the decades has hurt both Kabul and Islamabad.

Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has said that Washington has no intent of leaving Afghanistan and that Pakistan will be involved in the Afghan-led reconciliation process, but US Vice President focused mainly on the endgame in war ravaged country during his deliberations with Pakistan's civil and military leadership. Meanwhile, the visit of Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani-led delegation of the Afghan High Peace Council (Loi Jirga) to Islamabad to discuss how to move forward with the efforts to bring Taliban on the negotiating table has created stir in the Indian camp. Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna rushed to Kabul to tell Afghan President Hamid Karzai that his country cannot be driven out of Afghanistan on any pretext. 'His country is committed to stay in Afghanistan', he said after meeting Mr Karzai in Kabul. He also asserted that the peace process in Afghanistan should be 'Afghan led, inclusive and transparent'.

It's imperative that the US should not leave Afghanistan abruptly so as to avoid a power vacuum in Afghanistan similar to the post Soviet withdrawal era. It's in the interest of all and sundry that the region in general and Afghanistan in particular is not drifted into regional tug of war. Understandably, Washington is desperate over the situation in Afghanistan, where US and NATO troops are vainly struggling to tame the Taliban for over a decade. With the US Presidential election staring in his face, President Obama is expectedly desperate for a dignified exit from Afghanistan lest the military failure there might affect the poll adversely. Besides, Pakistan has long suffered due to the US failure to mop up the gains/spoils of the Afghan war against erstwhile Soviet Union.

Pakistan obviously doesn't want to face a similar situation again, since India is bracing to revive its influence in Afghanistan. It will have to be ensured by the United States that both the internal strife and regional powers' interference is not allowed to destroy peace in the war torn country. Washington owes the fundamental responsibility in this connection. Let there be no turmoil in Afghanistan after its exit. The Afghan people, who have already endured ravages of war for about three decades, must not be denied peace, security and development any more. And the prime responsibility to this effect devolves on the United States that has brought nothing but death, destruction and misery to the Afghan people during the decade of its occupation of the land locked country.

Ironically, India has the blessings and support of the United States and Russia in its intrusive role in Afghanistan that is obviously irritating Pakistan due to its legitimate interest in peace and security in its neighbouring country. Pakistan cannot obviously afford to remain silent spectator to the India's desperate attempt to sneak into Afghanistan and seek a role in the post-US withdrawal era since it's affected the most by the violence and terrorism and counter terrorism in Afghanistan. India has been seeking a foothold in Afghanistan to pursue its motive of interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan. It has already established a number of consulates in the cities along the Durand Line, which are being used by RAW to train, equip and push terrorists into Balochisdtan to destabilize Pakistan. Islamabad and Kabul have social, religious and cultural affinity while India has no such commonality with Kabul. Pakistan is the only country that is always affected by any development in Afghanistan.

Besides, it has long suffered at the hands of the terrorists. It has sacrificed thousands of its soldiers and civilians alike in the war against terror. No other country has suffered so much as Pakistan as due to the US occupation of Afghanistan that has generated terrorism and suicide bombings. Pakistan also offered sacrifices during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as it provided shelter and succor to millions of Afghan refugees with all the negative bearing on its security, law and order as well as demographic environment. The influx of Afghan refugees was also instrumental in the weaponisation and drug pedaling in Pakistan. As a matter of fact, India roosted in comfort while people of Pakistan and Afghanistan endured death and destruction at the hands of terrorists. Joe Biden has once again insisted upon Pakistan's civil and military leadership for military operations in North Waziristan, which the US feels is 'launching pad' for attacks on US/NATO troops in Afghanistan. 'The US patience is running out with Pakistan's indecision on military action in North Waziristan', Biden is reported to have threatened, while expressing concern over the alleged existence of militant sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas. Of late, the issue of military operations in North Waziristan has become a bone of contention in the US-Pakistan relations.

By whipping up its demand to this effect, Washington is displaying its total insensitivity to the objective realities of Pakistan's internal situation. Pak Army cannot obviously commit itself to another front without consolidating the gains in Swat and South Waziristan. It's ironic that the United States is neither providing necessary tools to Pakistan to fight against terrorists in North Waziristan, nor is appreciating the mood of the Pakistani people, who are bitterly opposed to any new military offensive in our own territory. It's, in fact, unable to understand the dynamics of the Pakistani society or is deliberately ignoring the objective situation in the country.

The US has also evoked Pakistani peoples' hatred due to its unabated drone attacks on Pak territory. There is also a strong feeling in Pakistan that US is more tilted towards India although it's Pakistan that has rendered sacrifices in the US led war against terror, which are acknowledged by the US leadership itself. Washington is providing civil nuclear technology to India but it is being denied to Pakistan. The US is also not making any concrete effort to help resolve the Kashmir issue lest it's intervention might antagonize India. The US ought not be oblivious to the ground realities in the region. It's not a one way affair. It's a quagmire that needs to be viewed with all its implications and complexities.








The doctrine of the Indian secret agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is based on the principle of waging continuous secret battles through its agents. Since its creation in 1968, RAW has assumed a significant status in formulation of Indian foreign policy. While waging their secret battles, RAW's agents have their presence in almost all regional countries, implementing various tactics of psychological warfare. In this context, M. K Dhar in his book, "Open Secrets, India's Intelligence Unveiled" points out, "RAW's operations against the regional countries are conducted with great professional skill and expertise, which include the establishment of a huge network inside the target countries. It has used propaganda, political dissent, ethnic divisions, economic backwardness and criminal elements to foment subversion and terrorism to weaken these states in conssonance with Indian regional ambitions." However, application of these nefarios designs vary from country to country as RAW's secret batlles in the following countries proves.

Sikkim was the easiest prey for RAW and India annexed it in mid-1970s. The King of Bhutan has been reduced to the nominal position by acting upon Indian dictates. Under a well-orchestrated plan of RAW, on November 30 1988, 400 well-trained mercenaries infiltrated and stormed the capital of Maldives. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reacted promptly by sending about 1600 combat troops who flushed out the attackers from the streets. In this way, Maldives was totally brought under Indian influence.

Sri Lanka offers an unprecedented example of incursion by RAW's agents as violence kept on going in the country for a long time. In this regard, Jain Commission revealed that since 1981, RAW established 30 training bases in India for clandestine support to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), some of whom were already on the payroll of this agency. In the recent past, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa that rights and safety of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka should be upheld.

For many years, India has openly been meddling in Nepal's internal affairs by contriving internal strife through RAW in order to destabilize the successive governments and prop up puppet regimes. In 2001, RAW had played a key role in the massacre of nine members of the Royal family of Nepal, when the former King tried to drift away from Indian hold. In the recent past, Indian-backed monarchy in Nepal was abolished after a long struggle of the Maoists who won the elections in April 2008. Now Nepal's leadership has forsaken India and has tilted towards China whom New Delhi considers its strategic rival in Asia. But despite the victory of the Maoists, Nepali Congress and the former had been unable to reach a deal on power-sharing. Availing the opportunity, RAW's agents who were well-penetrated in Nepali Congress and various government departments have been manipulating the situation so as to create lawlessness to bring Nepal back to Indian influence.

In the recent past, RAW-supported Tibetans in Nepal have held protests against China's rule over Tibet. In this regard, on March 10, 2008 when anti-government protests by Buddhist monks had erupted in Tibet, flaring in nearby provinces. Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet who has lived in exile in India along with his 120,000 followers has been tacitly encouraged by RAW's secret warriors—enabling him to mobilize armed groups and international support to create instability in Tibetan regions of China. As regards Bagladesh, surprisingly, RAW had also created insurgency force: The Shanti Bahini (Fighters for Peace). The agency has been involved in training rebels of Chakma tribes (Hindu and Buddhists tribesmen) and Shanti Bahini to carry out subversive activities in Bangladesh. In August 17, 2005, RAW's elusive masterminds rocked various districts of Bangladesh with 370 explosions. Indian security agencies and media advised the central government to force Khaleda Zia to clamp down on Islamic fundamentalist outfits. A study of the post-blast behaviour of New Delhi indicated that those blasts were conducted by Indian intelligence agency, RAW to destablize a pro-China Bangladesh.

So far as Pakistan is concerned, the country has become a special target of RAW's secret battles. In this connection, fundamentalist Hindus give credit to Indira Gandhi who in the late 1970s gave RAW a new role to suit her Indira Doctrine specifically asking it to undertake covert operations in Pakistan. RAW mobilised all its resources by exploiting political turmoil in East Pakistan in 1971 which it had created through its agents. Nevertheless, its intrigues culminated in the dismembermet of Pakistan. At present, New Delhi has established more than 200 foreign offices and training camps in Afghanistan where RAW's intelligence officials with the help of Khad and tactical support of CIA are doing their utmost to weaken Pakistan by sending weapons to the separatist elements in Balochistan and particularly to the insurgents of FATA regions. In Wakhan, a religious Madrassa of the Indian Muslim clerics is functioning under the patronage of RAW and Mossad. Very young boys including Afghans, recruits are mostly from Central Asia, bordering Afghanistan. Thus more than 20,000 ideologically motivated terrorists are intermittently being infiltrated into troubled spots of Pakistan. Posing as volunteers, they join the Taliban militants to fight against Pakistan's security forces. These miscreants also conducted a number of suicide attacks, bomb blasts and targeted killings in Pakistan, killing a number of innocent persons and personnel of the security forces. In Kurram Agency, RAW's Afghan agents were also actively involved in the sectarian conflict. However, their main plot is to create chaos in our country.

Even in Afghanistan, acting upon the old policy of divide and rule, it is owing to the tactics of RAW that Muslims are killing the Muslims either they belong to Afghan forces or Taliban. The campaign of RAW's battles sharpens as violence takes some other dimensions in case of Kashmir. As regards the current phase of Indian state terrorism, it began on August 12, 2008 when Indian forces killed Hurriyat Conference leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz in the occupied Kashmir. At present, indefinite curfews, crackdowns and killings by the Indian security forces keep on going against the non-violent mass uprising of Kashmiris. More than 1000 innocent people have been killed by the Indian forces so far. Nevertheless, since 1989, Indian military troops backed by RAW's clandestine moves have been using all inhuman methods of ethnic cleansing to disturb the majority population of the Kashmiris. In the recent years, hundreds of unidentified graves with at least 2000 bodies have been discovered in the Indian-held Kashmir. These Kashmiris were tortured to death by RAW.

One of the important roles of RAW is to thwart Sino-Pak strategic relations. In this context, fast growing economic power of China coupled with her rising strategic relationship with the Third World has irked the eyes of Americans and Indians. Owing to this jealousy, support of the US to India for a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council and US-India nuclear agreement are part of American desire to make India a major power to counterbalance China in Asia.

Nevertheless, Beijing and Islamabad cannot neglect their common defence when their adversaries are following a covert strategy. In this respect, Pakistan and China have signed a number of agreements to enhance bilateral cooperation in diverse sectors including energy, telecommunication, trade and space technology. China also agreed to supply nuclear reactors to Pakistan. China will also be able to use the Karakoram Highway and ports of Gwadar (which links C. Asia) and Karachi for transporting its goods to the Middle East and Africa. It is mentionable that on April 18, 2008, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had openly claimed that "some external forces were trying to weaken Pak-China strategic ties by creating misunderstandings."

Nonetheless, in New Delhi, it does not matter who is at the helm of affairs, policy of manipulation and subversion in neighbouring states through RAW's secret battles in order to extend Indian regional hegemony, continues unabated.








Recently, Waseem Altaf has written an article under the title 'Accession at gunpoint', which was carried among others by Viewpoint Online. And as the title suggests the author was convinced that Balochistan's accession was sought by Pakistan under duress. The treatise is informative in many ways, but it is an amalgam of facts and fiction. He wrote: "During British Raj Balochistan did not enjoy the status of a province but comprised four princely states namely: Makran, Kharan, Lasbela and Kalat. The Khan of Kalat was the Head of the Confederacy. The northern areas of Balochistan including Bolan Pass, Quetta, Nushki and Naseerabad were leased out to Britain, which were later, named as British Balochistan. However, more importantly, the Khan had agreed with Jinnah that an understanding must be reached between Kalat and Pakistan on Defense, Foreign Affairs and Communications". It has to be mentioned that Khan of Kalat was head of a small tribe namely Brohi, who had assured that nobody would create problems for the British. Thus he was made head of the Confederacy by the British, which was more of a norm to extend its influence in the region and elsewhere.

There are many myths about Balochistan and the one of them is that Balochistan was never part of undivided India. Secondly, that it had a special status vis-à-vis other princely states of undivided India. The fact remains that at the time of partition, Viceroy Lord Mountbatten addressing the Durbar of princely states had declared that suzerainty of the Crown had ended and advised them to joint India or Pakistan keeping in view the interests of the people and geographical contiguity. Though in the Partition Plan of 3rd June 1947, the principle of the division of the subcontinent was laid down that Muslim majority areas were to become Pakistan and Hindu majority would form India, yet Lord Mountbatten ignored this principle with regard to accession of more than 550 Princely States. Anyhow, it was nowhere mentioned that the princely states would sign treaties leaving Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communications only with the dominion. The author went on to state: "On 15th of July 1947 Sir Geoffrey Prior wrote letters to Jam Sahab Lasbela and Nawab Sahab of Kharan communicating their subordinate status to the Khan of Kalat". Once suzerainty had ended, Sir Geoffrey Prior had no business to tell Jam Sahab of Lasbela and Nawab of Kharan that they were under Khan of Kalat.

On August 15, 1947 when the British withdrew from India, the Khan of Kalat said in his speech: "I thank God that one aspiration, that is independence, has been achieved, but the other two, the enforcement of Shariah-i-Muhammadi and unification of Baloch people, remain to be fulfilled". It is not difficult to infer from this statement that Baloch people were not supportive of Khan of Kalat and had a different perception, which was evidenced by Mekran, Kharan and Lasbela's decision of acceding to Pakistan. Khan of Kalat being an intelligent man could visualize that with the coastal line states joining Pakistan, Kalat would become landlocked. He, therefore, perforce signed the accession, It is therefore wrong to say that Khan of Kalat was forced to sign the accession at gunpoint. Secondly, Khan of Kalat had no influence over the Pakhtun belt or British Balochistan, where the British had appointed commissioners and were running the areas under their administrative system. We once again wish to correct the perception of the author who wrote: "On 17th March 1948 the Government of Pakistan announced accession of Kharan and Lasbela. Similarly, Makran which was part of Kalat for 300 years was declared a separate state and annexed".

The fact is well-documented that Kharan, Lasbela and Mekran had applied for accession to Pakistan. Mir Habibullah Khan Ruler of Kharan had written to the Quaid that he had repudiated supremacy of Kalat, and vowed to accede to Pakistan. He said that before the British, Kharan was under the influence of Afghanistan. British had to pay Rs. 6000 per year until 15th August 1947 in lieu of the allowance it used to get from Afghanistan. It is an irrefragable fact that the British used to give stipends to sardars, but a major portion was given to the chieftains of the tribes. However, after independence, sardars wanted to pocket all perks and privileges and became owners of the resources without sharing them with their chieftains and tribals.

Sardar Akbar Bugti was one of the glaring examples of sardars who ruled roost in their areas; he wanted more than his share and wanted that all appointments in Sui Gas field be made on his behest. But Balochistan is a divided polity where Bugtis, Mengals and Marris dominate their areas, whereas in Pushtun belt they have no influence. This is borne out by the fact there is no insurgency in Pushtun and even Baloch areas under Magsis, Raisanis and some other Baloch denominations. Nevertheless, tribalism is firmly rooted in Balochistan, as ethnic and tribal identity is a potent force for both individuals and groups in Balochistan with the result that there exists deep polarization among different groups. Each of these groups is based on different rules of social organization, which has left the province inexorably fragmented. But those who have not weaned off the poison of sham nationalism should take a look at the history of the Balkans, and the fate they met. A couple of times Sardar Ataullah Mengal appeared in a television interview and to a question he said that America does not pay any attention, and if it helps Baloch can win independence. In fact, big powers and even countries of the region eye Balochistan because it is mineral-rich and strategically-located province. But it needs peace for creating climate conducive to investment and development, which would help improve the living conditions of the people of Balochistan. Through Balochistan package, the government has tried to address the concerns of people of Balochistan. Army's role in Balochistan's development is commendable.

There have been targeted killings of Punjabi settlers in Balochistan. Ethnic and Shia-Sunni fracas has shaken the erstwhile ethnic and sectarian harmony, as criminal gangs are stoking ethnic and sectarian divisions. Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri and scions of late Akbar Bugti should try to safeguard the interests of Balochis but through democratic struggle, and help stop bloodshed. We also strongly urge the government that measures should be taken to address the grievances of the smaller provinces, and in this regard Punjab and Sindh should sacrifice for giving more than their share of Balochistan and NWFP with a view to improving their lives.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior jounalist.







In the name of democracy, US has destabilized at least three Muslim nations in recent years. In reality, Iraq remains a destabilized nation, a large prison managed by US-UK bosses through a string of Iraqi puppets, whereas Baghdad is still a city in a state of emergency. The Iraqi government earmarked $300 million to transform Baghdad's hotels into luxury establishments. The Arab League wants to meet in the city in March 2011, the first such get-together in Baghdad since the summer before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait 20 years ago.

Over years of US terrorism and genocides, several secret torture cells - a symbol of US as well as western democracy — came into secret existence and any Iraqi brought there on mere suspicion would not return home, if at all he returns, would not return home in normal form. Bucca was one of the toughest US prisons in Iraq, and closed in 2009 following a variety of scandals. But according to the Iraqi regime, everyone, not just the Americans, has withdrawn from terror genocide operations. Young people have withdrawn to their online chat rooms, businessmen are focusing on their company profits, and college/university teachers are looking after their institutes. Everyone is concentrating on what's most important to them, expecting nothing from the government, and hoping there will not be a civil war. A few nightclubs have opened up.

Even though the US-UK state terrorists have murdered more than 2-3 million Muslims in Iraq alone, they are still undecided about quitting that nation once for all. The same case applies to the puppet regimes imposed and the terror wars unleashed by the NATO terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The presence of forty odd al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan, does not justify the presence of 150,000 foreign troops and an eq