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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

EDITORIAL 19.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 19, edition 000733, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

























































































The Union Government's defence of tainted PJ Thomas's appointment as Chief Vigilance Commissioner on the ground that existing appointment procedures call for 'suitability' as a criterion for a person to be appointed to this post and that the issue of integrity is a mere matter of suitability, is so brazenly shameless that it deserves to be unequivocally condemned. A suitable candidate is not one who meets the tangible guidelines neatly written down in rules and procedures of appointment, but one who also has a clean track record and whose integrity is perceived to be above suspicion. While this is applicable to all Government appointments, it is more so for the post of CVC who heads the country's premier anti-corruption watchdog. The Government could not have been unaware of the fact that Mr Thomas is an accused in the Kerala palmolein oil import scandal; the matter was brought to its notice by the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Ms Sushma Swaraj, when the appointment was discussed by a selection panel comprising, besides her, the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister. Since they ignored her written objection and went ahead with the appointment, it is obvious the Government desperately wanted Mr Thomas in the post for reasons which still remain unexplained. In any case, if there is a blot on the integrity of a person to be appointed to a constitutional post — from where his removal is a cumbersome, if not impossible, task — how then can that candidate be 'suitable'? The Government, which has been staunchly defending Mr Thomas, should enlighten the people of India on his 'suitability'. Just insisting that deciding the suitability factor should be left to the wisdom of the appointing authority is neither tenable nor acceptable. Interestingly, the discovery by the Government that integrity is some kind of a subordinate byproduct of suitability has done more harm than the intended good to Mr Thomas's already tarred image. Perhaps it can now be safely assumed that while he is surely suitable for the post, his integrity — not endorsed as a stand-alone strength by the Government — is debatable. Shockingly, the Union Government, in an affidavit filed with the Supreme Court in which it has defended Mr Thomas's questionable appointment, has sought to repudiate conventional wisdom that integrity is an inalienable part of eligibility for any public office.

The Government has sought refuge in technicalities to defend the indefensible. The UPA regime would want us to believe that while the law of the land does not permit promotion of Government officers in case they are listed as accused in a case, such officers can be appointed to constitutional positions! This is a laughable proposition, but has been asserted as a fact in the affidavit. The Government has pointed out that according to an office memorandum, ongoing court proceedings against an official being considered for promotion should be placed before the Departmental Promotion Committee, but that such an office memo is "not applicable as this is a case of appointment to the post of CVC... and not a promotion". This is disingenuousness at its best — or worst, depending on the perspective that one chooses to take on what is clearly a case of a desperate regime trying to white-wash its sins of omission and commission.







Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak's decision to split from the Labour Party and form a new faction has surely provided Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a strong hand but has also significantly weakened the Left. On Monday, Mr Barak and four other Members of Knesset announced their split with Labour, which was followed by the Knesset House Committee's approval for the formation of their new faction called 'Independence' and Mr Netanyahu's request to begin coalition negotiations with the newly-formed party. A former leader of Labour, Mr Barak's sudden decision to defect from his home turf has come as a surprise to many but is really in anticipation of an impending move by Labour to walk out of its partnership with the ruling Likud to protest against a freeze in the peace process since the coalition Government came to power in March 2009. The move has obviously paid off well for Mr Barak — he and another fellow defector have retained their portfolios, while two others were given new Cabinet posts and a fifth was appointed the head of a parliamentary committee — but it may just prove to be the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the erstwhile grand old party of Israeli politics. However, it is unfair to put the entire blame on Mr Barak. Yes, he was unpopular as party chairman and his decision to join Mr Netanyahu's Right-wing coalition Government in 2009 had alienated many a staunch Labour member, but there is no denying that popular support for the Left has eroded because the peace process initiated by earlier Labour leaders like Yitzhak Rabin and Mr Shimon Peres has failed to deliver. Additionally, Mr Netanyahu's economic policies that went into effect during his term as Finance Minister in Mr Ariel Sharon's Government have now borne fruit, allowing Israel to get through the financial crisis while still retaining its high growth and employment levels while Labour ideals have failed. To make matters worse, Labour has been unable to garner popular support for its policies towards Palestine while the Kadima has gained much ground by advocating a two-state solution that ensures Israel retains its identity as a democratic, Jewish nation.

The sad state of Labour apart, the good news is Mr Barak's decision may have strengthened the ruling coalition. It is now entirely possible that it will actually complete its four-year term, a rarity in Israel. Mr Netanyahu no longer has to worry about losing all 13 Labour Ministers. By keeping Mr Barak and his new party in the fold, he may have lost the other eight Labour Ministers, reducing his coalition to 66 members, but it still gives him a comfortable majority in the 120-seat Knesset. More important, it allows the Prime Minister to have Mr Barak in his team which gives him the dual advantage of his counsel while crucial decisions are made and also his endorsement which portrays him as the leader of a wider range of Israelis who is capable of forging a peace agreement.







The six-month-old political logjam in Kathmandu continues to persist with no solution in sight. Where does Nepal go from here?

Typically 'Nepali', an agreement to replace the United Nations Mission in Nepal by an indigenous mechanism was reached just hours before its flag was lowered in Kathmandu last Saturday. The Maoists were keen on a further eighth extension of the UNMIN's term but as the peace process is deadlocked, other Nepali stake-holders and the international community opposed it. India, which was never in favour of the UN mission in the first place, is known to have worked towards the UNMIN's term lapsing on the same day it took over a semi-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. A prescient Nepali journalist observed that India will doubtless celebrate getting the UN out of its backyard.

Following a three-point agreement between the Government and the Maoists, a joint team of 64 monitors, consisting of security forces and Maoist PLA cadre, was deployed to supervise arms and armies of the two sides. One crisis was averted but the Nepali peace process is in a gridlock over so many other issues: Failure to elect a Prime Minister despite 16 rounds of voting; a caretaker Government in place now for six months; zero progress on integration and rehabilitation of 19,000 Maoist PLA cadre; nominal movement in drafting the new Constitution; and a Budget delayed by six months and passed only by ordinance which must be ratified by the Constituent Assembly in the next two months.

The economy is on a downturn and the growth rate has paradoxically dipped to three per cent after the Peace Accord when it was higher during the Maoist insurgency. Uncertainty due to political instability explains the absence of a peace dividend.

During a Doordarshan panel discussion last week on "Nepali Peace Process — Breaking down?" there was rare unanimity among the participants — a Nepali Congress law-maker, a Nepali journalist and a former Indian Ambassador to Nepal — over the likely outcomes of the prevailing deadlock. All three said the Constitution would not be written by the extended deadline of May 28, 2011.

The famous package deal of Maoists being allowed to lead the next Government contingent upon their honouring commitments to the peace accord — upholding multi-party democracy and human rights, disbanding their paramilitary Young Communist League, returning property confiscated during the war and integrating Maoist PLA cadre with the security forces — would never happen. This is primarily because there is no guarantor to ensure the Maoists implement their pledges. In other words, it's Maoist actions that are speaking and not the usual Prachanda double-talk.

The panellists also confirmed that India had played a 'negative' role — using words like 'polarising', 'counter-productive' and 'not letting the peace process play out'. After the Maoists this is about the strongest indictment of New Delhi's failure of thinking through the peace process which it conceived without contingencies to deal with the unexpected: Like the Maoists emerging as the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly election.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is in Kathmandu at a time when Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav has called for a national unity consensus Government under Article 38 (1) of the interim Constitution by this Friday after 16 exhaustive attempts have failed to produce a Prime Minister. The last time an Indian dignitary made breaking news in Nepal was when Mr Shyam Saran, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Nepal, visited Kathmandu. He arrived around the same time the Maoists were horse-trading to form a Government. His presence was seen as having scuttled Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal's attempts for a second term in office. The Maoist-instigated anti-India vitriol which flowed that visit was unprecedented; it must be hoped that Ms Rao's visit is not similarly jinxed.

Who will be the next Prime Minister? There are many hopefuls for the occupancy of Baluwatar, the most frugal Prime Minister's official residence in the world. The Maoists are playing the card of the single largest party to claim the office. This time around, the name of their vice chairman, Mr Baburam Bhattarai, who made two trips to India in the last three weeks, is doing the rounds.

Opinion polls have singled him out as the most deserving candidate for the Prime Minister's office but he has a problem within his own party where he has opposed the majority line of a people's revolt in favour of consolidating democratic gains. Worse, the Jawaharlal Nehru University-trained economist is seen as pro-India and a soft revolutionary. Additionally, Mr Dahal, the Maoist supremo, is unlikely to cede ground to him. Hence, Nepal's caretaker Government is unlikely to go any time soon.

The options that accrue from the political impasse are overwhelmingly dismal. Ms Karen Landgren, the former head of the UNMIN, in her final briefing to the UN Security Council reported that while the dramatic political gains in Nepal are irreversible, risks to the peace process unravelling have increased. She cited fears of a Maoist people's revolt, President's rule and an Army-backed coup d'etat— scenarios rejected by the Government and the Maoists.

Nepal's peace process is on the verge of collapse. Only India or an India-approved interlocutor has any hope of salvaging it on some compromise terms. Ms Rao will do well to explain the possibility of facilitation/ mediation to break the deadlock. Indian strategists regard Nepal's Army as the only stable institution to act as a bulwark against Maoist threats of a people's revolt.

New Delhi's decision to resume critical arms and ammunition supplies has been taken to coincide with the exit of the UNMIN which had disingenuously put the two armies on a par and prohibited any enhancement of military capacity on either side. The 93,000-strong Nepal Army is a functioning state institution with national and international obligations like UN peace-keeping operations. Were India not to revive active defence relations, China and Pakistan could step in as they have done in Sri Lanka.

Ms Rao will also gauge the intensity of the anti-India mood in Nepal, not entirely generated by the Maoists. A damage-limiting exercise should include political engagement of Maoists, confidence-building measures, a package to shore up the economy and, not the least, an evaluation of the risks and gains of acting as a possible guarantor, the ghosts of IPKF-Sri Lanka notwithstanding. Breaking the logjam is essential.

The alternative view of Nepal reverting to the 1990 Constitution instead of chasing the chimera of a new one is fraught with danger. There are those who ask, what's the hurry in advancing the peace process? They need to be told that 19,000 restless Maoist PLA combatants and 28 million frustrated Nepalis yearning for the peace dividend form a combustible mixture that must be defused at the earliest.








Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal strangely insists that the Government has lost no revenue through A Raja's questionable allocation of 2G Spectrum. This flies in the face of the CAG's assessment that the public exchequer lost a whopping Rs 1.76 lakh crore, a figure arrived at after careful computation. Who is Kapil Siba trying to fool?

We know that a new broom sweeps clean. But what is to be done if the person wielding the broom, surrounded by heaps of dirt, declares there is not a speck seen to be cleaned? Mr Kapil Sibal came into the Telecom Ministry to address the 2G Spectrum scam that led to a massive estimated revenue loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the public exchequer, but he has slammed the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India for this "erroneous figure".

To err is human, but if one were to believe Mr Sibal the error is monumental because the new Telecom Minister's own calculation is "zero loss". If officials trained to conduct Government audit cannot distinguish between zero and Rs 1.76 lakh crore, they have no business to exist. Indeed, the CAG itself should be disbanded for this outrageous computation. Or maybe, more sensibly, Mr Sibal should revisit his ridiculous calculation and trust the experts in the matter.

Had the issue been one of differing figures, it would be understandable. After all, not all people on the earth believe two plus two make four. Children who have yet to be introduced to basic mathematics will offer several options. Mr Sibal is not a child, nor does one expect his calculating prowess to be as weak, though his forte, as we all know, is law. Yet, if he has chosen to ridicule the CAG, it is with a larger purpose, and that is to denigrate a constitutional body in the eyes of the public simply because it has shown a mirror to the Government.

He is not alone in this campaign; others like the Congress spokesperson, Mr Manish Tewari, have been contributing their bit by questioning the institution's defence in the face of attacks. What the Congressmen want is that the CAG should silently bear the pummeling it has been subjected to. Unfortunately for them, that is not happening. The CAG has hit back, not only justifying its report that has so enraged the Congress but also wondering on the propriety of Ministers questioning the institution's findings even as they are being studied by Parliament's Public Accounts Committee.

The Minister appears to have forgotten that recently the Supreme Court told the CBI probing the scam that it should thoroughly and impartially investigate on the basis of the CAG's report that, prima facie, is worth inquiring into.

Of course, for a party that has a history of short-changing constitutional institutions, the current posturing comes naturally. From Mrs Indira Gandhi's time the Congress has attempted to subvert the judiciary, convert the Election Commission of India into a rubber stamp organisation and manipulate high positions like that of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. So much so that even the Constitution was sought to be customised to rob people of their fundamental rights (during the Emergency) and set aside judicial verdicts (in the Shah Bano case). That Congress leaders could not destroy the institutions is not for lack of trying; the resilience of our democratic system survived the assaults. And, like the others then did, the CAG has now emerged stronger and more relevant following the attacks.

We do not know on what basis Mr Sibal has concluded the loss to be precisely 'zero', because even his hi-tech presentation did not provide an answer. The CAG calculated the "presumptive loss" — revenue that did not come in because the Telecom Department refused to exploit the market demand for 2G services — using four parameters. The one that projected the largest revenue loss and which is much disputed by Congress leaders (of Rs 1.76 lakh crore) used the 3G Spectrum auction success as the criterion. The 3G auction fetched more than Rs 1 lakh crore a year ago when market forces were allowed impartial play.

Since Mr Sibal has a problem equating the 3G revenue flow with the lost 2G revenue (he probably believes it is a case of comparing apples and oranges), it is pertinent to note that the CAG has referred to a Telecom Regularity Authority of India report of 2010, where the latter had observed that 2G services were in effect offering 2.75G Spectrum services. The CAG then went on to conclude, "While comparing spectral efficiency and other factors, it is fair to compare existing 2.75G systems with 3G systems."

Interestingly, while the Telecom Minister has taken umbrage at the very comparison between the two systems in revenue generation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had, in a 2010 media interaction, expressed "concern" over the variance in rates fetched by 2G and 3G Spectrum licences. Does that not show that the two are comparable?

Even the three other methods that the CAG has employed to determine the extent of revenue that has not accrued do not arrive at Mr Sibal's 'zero' sum. The lowest estimate is a loss of Rs 57,666 crore, while two other determinants provide the figures of Rs 67,364 crore and Rs 69,626 crore. Incidentally, when the CBI took over the case it pegged the loss at a lowly Rs 23,000 crore, though soon enough it added that it was in touch with the CAG to arrive at a proper figure bearing in mind the 3G auction.

Referring to criticism that the audit was "hypothetical" and incorrect, the CAG has noted, "The attempt by Audit is only to highlight that the price discovery of spectrum through a market mechanism would have fetched a much higher value and thus increased receipts for Government."

On the same note, in the same performance audit report, the CAG has stated at the very beginning of Chapter Five, titled "Financial Impact", which deals with the presumptive losses, "The bidding pattern of 2001 would clearly indicate that the 2001 price was discovered in a nascent market and considering the revolutionary changes in the Indian telecom market since then, there is no doubt in concluding that the same 2001 price did not reflect the true economic value of a licence and the spectrum bundled with it in 2008."

It is strange that the Telecom Minister and others should be belittling an organisation that the Prime Minister only recently said has been playing a crucial role. Speaking at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the CAG, Mr Singh said, "The reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General are taken very seriously by the media, by the public, by the Government and by our Parliament. This casts a huge responsibility on the institution." He added, "There is a case for allocating limited time and resources in a manner that big and systemic issues get due attention and we get much greater value for money spent."

The CAG audit of the 2G Spectrum issue is a fit case for the Prime Minister to be satisfied with, since the audit body has indeed produced a report that focuses on the "big and systemic changes" he referred to.

-- Visual courtesy Satish Acharya. On the Net:







The ruling CPI(M)-Left Front and the main Opposition, the Trinamool Congress, are caught in a vicious blame-game that has resulted in denigration of agencies of the state and led to a situation where neither institutions nor individuals wield authority

It is true. Bad things do happen. People are slaughtered. In West Bengal about 104, or perhaps 111, or perhaps 118 people have died in political conflict; another 170 people have died in Maoist killings and 1,435 have been injured. Since conflicts break out every few days, the numbers have probably increased since the week before last.

For the past three-and-a-half-years, the spiral of violence has risen dramatically. The response of the Indian state, which includes under its protection the Government of West Bengal and the Union Government, to this has been incompetent. The conflicts being political in character, the response has been calibrated to match the compulsions of the political parties rather than the requirements of restoring normalcy and maintaining law and order.

Whereas the CPI(M) Government has been asked by the Union Minister for Home, Mr P Chidambaram, to explain the "Harmad Vahinis" the party allegedly nurtures to attack and kill Trinamool Congress supporters, the same Minister has not asked the Trinamool Congress to explain the alleged connection between Karmu Mahato, a Jhargram leader of the party, and the Maoists, or about the disclosures of Kanchan, a captured Maoist leader.

The abnormal has become the new normal. Political competition has been reduced to armed conflict. Verbal exchanges have been reduced to crude attacks — obsolete and politically incorrect descriptions like harmad (18th century Portugese pirates) and jallad (executioners) — have denied to political action the dignity it commands in a democracy. Discourse has been derailed. The Trinamool Congress is not available for talking; the invitation for a discussion is belated, coming as a last resort rather than a serious initiative to bring the volatility under control. The Opposition has been reduced to the worst sort of clash of opinions, marked by incendiary statements. In the overheated political situation, words have acted as triggers to more violence.

By debilitating the institutions, denying them authority, autonomy and so undermining their credibility and crippling operational efficiencies, the political class as much as individual actors have created a situation where there is no mechanism for authoritative action. Investigations by the state police agency, the CID, have been declared invalid on the charge that it is an extension or an organisation of the CPI(M). After the Gyaneswari Express was attacked by the Maoists in which 150 people died, the blame was transferred to the CPI(M) by the Opposition. The CID's report was dismissed as a cover-up and the CBI was brought in to discover the truth, that is to confirm the allegations against the CPI(M). When the CBI report confirmed the CID's findings, that too was disregarded.

Given that all political parties indulge in this game of undermining the authority of the state, with the CBI being routinely accused of operating on instructions from the Congress, the West Bengal situation is only an extension of the same sort of politics that has invalidated the legitimacy of institutions and stripped them of authority.

Therefore, the seven persons slaughtered in Jhalda by the Maoists were ignored as yet another tragedy. The seven persons just happened to belong to the Forward Bloc. The death of 170 people in Maoist attacks has been politically ignored, even though the central security forces were mobilised and deployed to fight off the Maoist menace. When seven people were slaughtered in Netai allegedly by CPI(M) militia, that becomes the reason for high pressure politics. Not only the Opposition, but even the Governor of West Bengal jumps into the act and Mr P Chidambaram renews his summons.

It is a pity that neither the Governor nor the Home Minister considered it necessary to ask for an explanation from the Trinamool Congress about statements from captured Maoist leader Kanchan on the political connection between a parliamentary party and the banned organisation. The reports of Kanchan's confessions, the report of the Odisha police on the connections between Karmu Mahato, a Trinamool leader in Jhargram in West Midnapore, have been studiously are in the public domain.

Even Maoist killings have been whitewashed and presented as killings by the CPI(M). For in West Bengal's politics, there is only one party with the capability of killing.

Inevitably, the next stage is finger-pointing and the start of yet another round of the politician's favourite, the blame game. West Bengal is now used to the routine of one slaughter followed by the finger pointing, followed by the blame game. Since killings are frequent, the game is always on.

The response to all this at the political level has been an escalation of tensions through more finger-pointing and harsher blame games. The response of the administration has been to follow protocols established a long time ago — of enquiry and investigation, arrests and charge sheets. Included in the usual protocols of management after yet another incident of slaughter are arrangements for visits by avenging political leaders. After Netai, another dimension will be added by the proposed visit of the West Bengal Governor, Mr MK Narayanan, to Netai and as an after thought to Jhalda.

Whatever be the administration's response, it is denied credibility by the political class. The Trinamool Congress, for instance insists that the State's CID is not a part of the police administration at all. According to the Opposition, the CID is an arm of the CPI(M). In other words, there is no administration at all. Everyone in the administration is 'CPI(M)'. The argument is exactly the same as the argument used by the Opposition at the Centre to dismiss the CBI as the arm of the Congress and, therefore, minus all credibility.

In such a situation, the demand that "murderous Buddha should be hanged" becomes the obvious response rather than an extreme and intemperate reaction.








Though there is an outburst of sheer exasperation with the corruption and incompetence of the Ben Ali regime, it's not clear whether the street demonstrations that have driven the Tunisian ruler into exile will lead to a genuine democracy

The analogy might be with the chain of non-violent revolutions that drove the sclerotic Communist regimes of Eastern Europe from power in 1989. Or then again, it might not.

Many people in the Arab world hope that the popular revolt in Tunisia will become a genuine democratic revolution that inspires people in other Arab countries to do the same thing. Other people, notably most of the existing regimes in the Arab world and their foreign allies, hope fervently that it will not. But the current situation is certainly fraught with possibilities.

It's not yet clear whether the street demonstrations that drove the Tunisian dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, into exile after 23 years in power will lead to a genuine democracy. The Prime Minister he left behind, Mohammed Ghannouchi, is promising free elections soon, but it's still the old regime, minus its leader, that is making the promises. They may not be trustworthy.

This was a spontaneous uprising, an outburst of sheer exasperation with the corruption and incompetence of the Ben Ali regime. The rebels have no plan for what happens next, and several hundred thousand people with guns and good communications facilities have a lot to lose if the old regime just vanishes. It is estimated, for example, that one in 40 adult Tunisians works for the secret police.

On the other hand, miracles sometimes do happen. The East German Communist regime in 1989, after 44 years in power, controlled not only the Army but also a well-armed Communist militia several hundred thousand strong. Yet when the Berlin Wall came down, they just decided not to start killing their own people. No matter how loyal they were to Communist ideals, they understood that their time was up.

Many of those who served Ben Ali's dictatorship will not want to start killing their own people on a large scale either, and no ideology underpinned the Tunisian regime. Those who gave it their loyalty did so only out of self-interest, and their perception of where their interests lie could change quite fast. So the question arises: If

the Tunisian revolt turns into a real democratic revolution, could its example spread?

The neighbours certainly think so. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's ruler for the past 41 years, was almost comical in his public dismay at Ben Ali's fall. "You (Tunisians) have suffered a great loss," he said in a speech broadcast on Libyan state television. "There is none better than Zine (Ben Ali) to govern Tunisia." Or more precisely, none better to keep Colonel Gaddafi safe from his own people.

Tunisia's neighbour to the west, Algeria, is even more vulnerable to popular revolt than Libya. The President, Mr Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has only been in office since 1999, but he was put there by the Army, whose senior Generals have really run the country from behind the scenes since the mid-1960s. Algerians have already begun demonstrating publicly against the high price of food, and the regime's response has already turned violent.

The social and economic conditions that made Tunisia such a tinderbox also prevail in many other Arab countries: Widespread poverty, huge unemployment (about 30 per cent of the under-30s in Tunisia, and even higher among those with a post-secondary education), and great popular anger (usually carefully hidden) at the brutal authoritarianism and endemic corruption of the regimes.

Egypt, Syria, Morocco — in fact, almost all the Arab countries except the oil-rich Gulf states — are potentially vulnerable to a Tunisian-style revolt. Not all or even most of them are likely to have one, nor will every attempted revolt succeed: Some of the regimes are much more capable of using massive force than Ben Ali's ramshackle dictatorship. But some revolts may succeed.

So the big question is: What would the successor regimes look like? In Tunisia, if all goes well, it could be a secular democracy, but in many other places a strict Islamic regime would be a much likelier outcome. The old leftist and secular liberal parties, beaten and bribed into submission, have long since lost credibility in most Arab countries. Only the Islamic parties have not been coopted.

There are as many flavours of Islamic politics as there are of ice cream. Some are retrograde and hostile to all opinions other than their own; others are as open and reasonable as the "Christian Democratic" parties of Europe. In the coming years we may well have the opportunity to observe all of those varieties in action.

Assuming that all or much of this comes to pass, the most important thing that non-Arabs can do, especially in the West, is not to panic. Knee-jerk assumptions that such regimes would be implacably hostile to non-Muslims would operate as self-fulfilling prophecies, but it ain't necessarily so.

-- Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.








AFTER giving the impression for some time that it was in favour of Central Vigilance Commissioner P J Thomas stepping down, the United Progressive Alliance government is back to brazening it out over his controversial appointment. The arguments it made before the Supreme Court on Monday defending the appointment are specious and unbecoming of the Union government.


Nothing that the government says can take away from the fact that it has ignored the directives that the Supreme Court of India gave regarding the appointment of the CVC in the Vineet Narain case. That judgment and the CVC legislation, talk of the CVC being appointed by a panel that includes the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.


This provision, as we know, was reduced to a farce by the Union government when it appointed Mr Thomas overruling the objections of the Leader of the Opposition Mrs Sushma Swaraj. The government says it acted ' in accordance with democratic principles' but what purpose would the provision serve if the appointment was to be made by a majority decision — which would see the government always having its way — and not consensus? As for ' impeccable integrity' being a criterion laid down in the SC verdict, the Union government has in the past wondered what it means and is hiding behind the technicality that the CVC Act doesn' speak of it to hold that it can appoint anyone if it is satisfied with his candidature.


This is a perverse stand which betrays the government's scant regard for the state's institutions. What ' impeccable integrity' implies may not be definite but what it doesn't imply certainly is — making the controversial Mr Thomas' appointment malafide.


Last, for the government to state that just and equitable public opinion is of no concern to it, is to set itself on a perilous course.



KARNATAKA chief minister B S Yeddyurappa appears to have become for the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) what A Raja and Suresh Kalmadi are for the United Progressive Alliance ( UPA). The never- ending charges of graft and nepotism against Mr Yeddyurappa are an embarrassment to the party, especially given its tirade against the UPA at the Centre on the issue of corruption.


By elevating his daughter's mother- in- law Vinoda Nataraj who is the head of the Karnataka State Social Welfare Board to cabinet rank, the chief minister appears to be thumbing his nose at the Opposition as well as his own party members who have been criticising his nepotistic ways.


As it is Mr Yeddyurappa had been in the dock for misusing the CM's discretionary quota and favouring his kin in the allotment of land by the state government.


Actually, more than Mr Yeddyurappa, it is the central leadership of the BJP that is to blame. The party's weak- kneed approach and its failure to take action against the Karnataka chief minister when his involvement in a land scam had come to light in November, has clearly emboldened him into believing that he can get away with anything. The party cannot have different yardsticks for corruption in Bangalore and New Delhi.


WHEN the five wise men of the BCCI selection committee came together on Monday to select India's cricket World Cup squad, their collective wisdom seems to have run straight into an old mathematical conundrum — was the whole greater than the sum of its parts? We are not sure.


For one, the team lacks a back- up wicketkeeper.


If the captain M. S. Dhoni is injured during the tournament and rendered unfit to play, it would be a disaster. Second, the inclusion of Piyush Chawla, who last played a One- Day International in July 2008, is, strange to say the least. Even if we buy the argument that India has seamer- unfriendly wickets, no captain is likely to play three spinners in the side.


At most, Mr Chawla is a back- up for a possible injury to the frontline spinners. Mr Srikkanth's argument, therefore, that India should look beyond injuries and think positive, falls flat. While India still has a strong side, the top 15 may lack the services of fast bowler S. Sreesanth and a wicketkeeper- batsman in Parthiv Patel.



            MAIL TODAY





OUR grief at Salman Taseer's assassination has a schadenfreude aspect to it. We are sad that a brave man died unjustly, but we are happy this happened to our neighbour next door. True, Taseer was part of the establishment, but he had a change of heart when it came to the blasphemy law.


It takes a lot to leave your barber halfway through a haircut, but he did that, and paid for it.


The broad band endorsement of Taseer's death is clearly more horrifying than the act itself. While rejoicing that we are lucky to be born here and not there, let us remember that Khap Panchayats in Haryana and UP are against women wearing jeans, Ram Sene does not want couples to date in coffee shops, and honour killings take lives of young women. We are that close to being like Pakistan; but we could have been closer.




Secularism, with all its faults, has helped to distance us from Pakistan in more ways than we imagine. It is not just that we are secular and Pakistan is not, but that we are thinking development and they are not.


Secularism takes our minds off whether our wives and sisters are behaving, or whether our gods are being upstaged by other gods.


In place of such ungovernable passions, it positions issues of economic growth and development instead.


Pakistan's near total obsession with identity politics has disabled it on a number of fronts. Its theocratic character has kept it from bringing about land reforms, curbing the military, setting up institutions of higher learning, and establishing steel mills. That we have been able to do all that— from engineering units to IT giants— is because secularism gave us the space to grow. We had energy in stock to think of poverty removal, economic sovereignty, export promotion, and so on.


In politics a kind of zero sum game is at work. Either we exhaust our reserves asserting identity politics or get ahead with developmental programmes. The two cannot be combined. Is it surprising then that theocratic states are nearly always the least developed? Once we open the door to ethnicity, out goes progress and economic well being.


Those who snigger at India's secularism should perhaps take a step back from the fence that separates us from Pakistan. Only then will they realise how fortunate we actually are. All the forces of primeval passion, let loose by the Partition, were baying for a Hindu state mirroring that of Pakistan; blood for blood, and so on. Pakistan has not made matters easier either.


Every time it gets too hot and crowded in their kitchen, they open the window and throw junk in our backyard. There have been more times than we would like to remember when we have given in to ethnic passions.


That we did not go all the way is because secular values are still with us, courtesy, the founders of our Constitution.


When the UPA came to power in 2004, we were more relieved than elated. We could now switch off the ethnic engines ( they were over heated anyway) and think development instead. Today, that promise the UPA held out is without real legs. It is not because this government has yielded to Muslim and minority baiters, but because it has done little to improve the everyday life of everyday people— majority and minorities included. This is why ethnic parties are getting their tails up once again. There is no point in condemning Narendra Modi for being communal if Congress- run states elsewhere cannot out- perform Gujarat on the economic front. Secularism has a double burden: it must not only be good, it has to be better than the rest.




This is a lesson that is often hard to drive home. Secularism is not just about minority protection, it is about majority promotion too. Secularism draws our attention away from medieval concerns so that we can think about economic progress. History is a testament to this. When the western world came out of the religious trap, they experienced economic growth like never before. By not emphasising this aspect, the promoters of secularism have under served their cause.


In the period 1820 till today, the per capita income in Europe and America grew anywhere between fifteen fold to twenty fold. Till that time, for centuries, nobody knew about anything called growth. It never rang anybody's door bell. John Maynard Keynes made this point emphatically in his 1930 essay, " Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren." He argued there that from the beginning of the Christian era right up to the 18th century " there was no real change in the standard of living of the average man…." Life expectancy till then was extremely low; people died of natural causes that are easily controllable now; epidemics swept the world— even in today's developed countries.


How did it all change? There are many reasons for this, but the most important one is that politics changed. It now espoused industrialisation, freedom of movement, rights of children and workers as free citizens.


Religion was put in its place.


Round the corner we have the example of Singapore where once ethnic tensions were dominant and the economy stagnant.


After Lee Kuan Yew banished religious politics Singapore became a poster- state and a model worth emulating. There are negative examples too.


Hitler's promise of full employment was backed by his unrepentant anti- Semitism. It took him some distance, but where is fascism now in Germany? On the other hand, there are continuous success stories that read like fairy tales. Quebec, in Canada, and the Basque province of Spain, made huge strides after they shook off the hold of the Catholic Church.


France realised the importance of this very early when in 1906 it clipped the wings of the Catholic clergy and forced them to behave. It is only after that that the vision of the Third Republic got a fighting chance of realising itself.




David Brooks, one of America's renowned Conservative journalists, made a similar point recently. He argued that when secular ideologies come to the fore, ethnic passions must recede. This is an interesting insight, made more remarkable by the fact that it comes from Conservative quarters. Yet, because he is a Conservative he termed political ideologies the new ethnicity, and spoilt it all.


If we want to believe like our forefathers did, if we want to tremble at the sound of thunder, if we want to be helpless in the face of avoidable diseases, we should go back to religious passions.


If, on the other hand, we want to enjoy the comforts of today, the sciences of today, then we better get secular.


There is much more to secularism than mere religious tolerance, religious equidistance, or even religious goodwill. Without secularism there is no development, and that is the hard truth.


The choice is clear. We can either think like our grandparents and go ethnic, or think of our grandchildren, as Keynes did, and become secular. There is no other option!


The writer is a senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library








With the BCCI selection committee announcing its 15-man squad for the 2011 cricket World Cup, Team India can gear up for the mega quadrennial event. On the face of it, the side appears to be well balanced. Comprising a good mix of experience and youth, it has several game-changers who can take away a match from any opposition. Factor in that most of India's matches will be played at home, and we are looking at a team that has the potential to go one better than 2003. Like the 1983 World Cup winning squad this team too has the characteristics of a cohesive unit and has had a fair amount of success playing together.

Skipper M S Dhoni is endowed with an enviable batting line-up that boasts of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh. Though there is no specialist all-rounder - someone like Jacques Kallis - Sehwag, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh can all double up as useful bowlers. And on slow, spinning tracks they should be a handful for even the likes of South Africa, England and Australia. Similarly, the core bowling attack has been picked keeping in mind local conditions and batting depth. Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar and Zaheer Khan can all contribute valuable runs. This is also the reason why surprise-pick Piyush Chawla got the call ahead of Sreesanth or Pragyan Ojha.

There is concern about not having a back-up wicket-keeper in the squad. But with Dhoni showing no signs of injury and the team having the luxury of flying in a replacement at short notice, this shouldn't be an issue. However, Dhoni's captaincy is crucial to India going all the way. As the No.1 Test team in the world and the No. 2 ODI side, a World Cup win will be a real vindication of Dhoni's men comprising the best Indian squad in history. Besides, for players like Tendulkar this will most probably be the last throw of the dice to attain World Cup glory.

On the preparation front, there are some concerns regarding the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai and the Eden Gardens in Kolkata having missed their renovation deadlines. However, with another 30 days to go, this is manageable and nowhere close to the chaos that the Commonwealth Games had seen last year. If anything, the organisers are on track for a grand show. Rs 1,500 crore is what advertisers are estimated to be pumping into the World Cup and the subsequent IPL IV. This being the sub-continent and India's best chance to repeat 1983, cricket mania is set to reach fever pitch. The countdown begins now.







Montek Singh Ahluwalia's suggestion that farmers be freed from having to sell their produce to a handful of wholesalers is welcome. At the crux of the matter is the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act. It must be abolished because though supposed to contain farm-produce price volatility, it has degenerated into a cartel system. The APMC decree insists farmers sell agricultural produce to a few licensed wholesalers at mandis at prices that are dictated by the latter, typically abysmally low in relation to what consumers pay. The price differential occurs because mandis sell to a plethora of small traders, and with the luxury of a captive market comes the temptation to increase prices dramatically. Traders pass on mandi price hikes, along with their cut, to the public. In short, the system operates around a choke point, mandis, open to exploitation by middlemen at the expense of producers and consumers.

Pune farmers tried to short-circuit a complicated and levy burdened supply route to deliver, direct to consumers, fresher products at lower prices. However, attacks - by farmers enmeshed in the traditional system - on this new breed of farmer-traders meant the police had to protect them. Laws restricting agricultural sales encourage unfairness and need to be overhauled. Shortages in many sectors of the economy were overcome by overhauling the licence-permit-quota regime and encouraging private investment. It can't be a coincidence that the two over-regulated sectors where a licence raj mentality still prevails - agriculture and education - are also the ones facing the most acute crises. While agricultural productivity stagnates leading to a supply-side crisis, the education system contributes to a national skills shortage. Both are areas crying out for reform.






Are the European Union and its multinational pharmaceutical companies now pressuring the Indian prime minister's office? In recent months, as negotiators from India and Europe have been thrashing out the details of a free trade agreement to be signed within months, people living with HIV have been hitting the streets. From New Delhi to Nairobi and Brussels to Bangkok, they have been protesting against the very real threat posed to India's ability to supply life-saving generic medicines to people across the developing world.

Publicly, both sides have assured that the trade deal will not harm access to the affordable generic medicines, and have reiterated, as if by rote, the primacy of people's health over economic interests. But the Indian press now reports that the PMO, under pressure to conclude the deal, has asked the concerned government department to reconsider intellectual property (IP) provisions it had earlier rejected.

What is at stake? India became the 'pharmacy of the developing world' because its generic manufacturers are able to produce medicines that are patented elsewhere. This has made it a safe haven for affordable medicines. Medecins Sans Frontieres now purchases more than 80% of the medicines it uses to treat 1,60,000 people living with HIV/AIDS around the world from producers in India. But this safe haven has been under constant attack.

Six years ago, the first attack came when India was obliged under international trade rules to introduce patents on medicines. Already, patents have been granted on cancer, AIDS and hepatitis medicines. But crucially, India's parliamentarians sought to balance patents with public health, and designed a strict patent law that would stand up to trade rules and protect access to affordable generic medicines.

One core provision of the law stops pharmaceutical companies from abusing the patents system. Section 3d says no patent shall be granted for a minor change to an existing medicine, if it shows no significant therapeutic efficacy over one which already exists. This prevents "evergreening", when companies seek monopolies to block out generic competition for as long as possible, simply by making minor changes to a drug.

This has irked multinational pharmaceutical companies, which launched a second attack on the pharmacy of the developing world. As patent applications for several big-ticket drugs - oseltamivir for avian and swine flu, imatinib for leukaemia and, very recently, lopinavir/ritonavir and atazanavir for AIDS - failed to pass the patentability test in India, companies sought to overturn the law, or empty it of any substance. Novartis notoriously took the government of India to court in 2006, but lost. Other companies like Bayer have taken a stab, but have yet to succeed.

Enter the free trade agreement negotiations, as the European trade agenda becomes the latest mouthpiece for the multinational pharmaceutical companies. Until now, much of the debate on generic production in India has focussed on patents. Now, the EU has changed track and is pushing hard for India to sign up to another means of blocking off generic production: data exclusivity.

With data exclusivity, India would be agreeing to grant a period of exclusivity over the clinical trial data submitted by a pharmaceutical company. This in turn would prevent the Drugs Controller General of India - the body responsible for approving medicines for market - from registering a generic medicine until that time was over. The multinational pharmaceutical industry has asked for that time to be 10 years.

Data exclusivity is a backdoor to monopoly protection. It also sweeps away the attempts by India's parliamentarians to balance health and profits. It makes a mockery of India's patent offices' work to apply rigorous standards and ensure only innovative medicines are granted a monopoly. Now, a pharmaceutical company would merely have to submit clinical trial data to obtain several years of monopoly, whether the drug was patented or not, whether it was old or new, whether it showed inventive step or not, or gave added therapeutic benefits or not.

The effect on access to affordable medicines is clear. India can learn from the countries that have preceded it down this path. Jordan brought in data exclusivity as part of a trade deal with the US. A study by Oxfam found that of 103 medicines registered and launched since 2001 that had no patent protection in Jordan, at least 79% had no competition from a generic equivalent as a consequence of data exclusivity. The study also found that prices of these medicines under data exclusivity were up to 800% higher than in neighbouring Egypt.

India should not repeat others' mistakes, or the effect would be felt far beyond India's borders. The country is the source of the vast majority of drugs used to treat AIDS in developing countries. Affordable medicines produced in India have played a major part in reaching the more than five million people receiving HIV/AIDS treatment across the developing world today.

In 2000, treating one HIV positive person for a year cost more than Rs 4,00,000. Thanks to competition among generics from India, this same treatment today costs Rs 3,000. Any measure in the free trade agreement that would have the effect of blocking competition would effectively be turning the clock back on access to medicines. India needs to stand strong and resist European demands.

The writer is international president, Medecins Sans Frontieres







As India plans entire new cities, Darshan Hiranandani , who has participated in groundbreaking projects, from the nation's first integrated town to a gas-powered power plant, spoke to Deep K Datta-Ray :

How are you tackling India's infrastructure needs?

More and more Indians want what for the developed are run-of-the-mill facilities. We offer infrastructure in terms of integrated towns - an entire city with schools, hospitals, offices and of course housing, providing everything a community wants. We began in Powai where we didn't destroy the environment as the land was absolutely barren. There were just 20 trees there. Powai has been transformed. We constructed 10.6 million square feet and created a flourishing suburb of Mumbai. Our baseline is quality. It attracts major multinationals, generates jobs and a whole new economic dynamic takes off! Bayer, British Gas and Prudential are just some of the leading MNCs headquartered in our developments.


If a new economic dynamic takes off because of good facilities, then how can it be sustained?

No economy survives without power and India cannot put all its energy requirements in a nuclear basket. A country's security, any type of security, demands diversity. Just as internationally we cannot rely on one partner, we cannot rely on one source of energy within. Right now, with energy i saw another opportunity to transform Indian lives. Now India generates one quarter of China's power, which puts us at Somalian rates of power consumption per capita. At least four times is needed to ensure a decent quality of life, eliminating load-shedding which hinders normal life and economic growth. The problem, as everyone knows, is massive. In Maharashtra, there is a shortfall in both base power - what is required at all times of the day - and peak power. The former is being met by the state with unclean coal stations, most of which would not be permitted in a developed country.

So, the great question of the times is how to end energy poverty without harming the environment?

In terms of power, one environmentally friendly answer is gas and i've nearly finished building a gas-powered power plant. Undoubtedly gas costs a bit more per unit, but it is cheaper when used for peak power because unlike a coal plant, a gas plant can be shut down and started up several times a day and is therefore available only as and when power is required. This is a massive saving to the utilities since power consumption is not uniform throughout the day, at night people use less. India should go for an energy basket with a good mix, use gas plants not for base energy, but only peak energy. A gas-powered plant can be located much closer to a city since it isn't belching noxious fumes, which also makes for savings on the cost of transmitting power and almost eliminates the loss of power in transmission as well.


All these projects require huge amounts of land, how can developers negotiate what is often a thorny process?
It is our policy to acquire land privately and avoid government allotment. For the power plant we acquired 255 acres from 1,000 people. Lots of farmers live in nice bungalows because of what i paid for their land. Their prosperity enabled me to get this project done without any of the land acquisition problems that plague big projects. The government, however, has to help us. After acquiring land, there are another 40 steps. Environment clearance for a clean energy project takes close to a year. Just getting the plant plans approved took almost 4-5 months. So even after buying the land litigation-free, and at more than market prices, we are still being forced through a long-winded regulation process. This can all be done away with.






Hard on the heels of the Commonwealth Games scandal came Adarsh, followed bythe 2G spectrum rip-off followed in turn by the Citibank-based fraud. And as if all that were not enough, the mother of all scams - or should that be stepmother? - has resurfaced yet again to haunt us: Bofors.


Scams have become so much a part of our daily lives that they've become almost like household pets: we give them names, like Spectrumgate and Coffingate (remember that one?), and exchange anecdotes about them. As each new swindle is unearthed outrage seems to give way to wry resignation.


How and why did this state of affairs come about, and what does it say about us, both as a polity and as individuals? Giving its ruling on the 24-year-old Bofors kickbacks case, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) warned that "inaction in this regard may lead to ...a detrimental notion that India is a soft state and one can meddle with its tax laws with impunity". No kidding. ITAT's concern is commendable but more than a little belated, referring as it does to an alleged scam that took place almost a quarter of a century ago and the smokescreen around which has yet to be dispersed.


Just how antiquated Bofors is, like an archaeological find from a long-lost era, can be gauged by the amount of the loot involved in the arms deal, which is said to be R 64 crore. Thanks to inflation and the consumer price index - which might more appropriately be called the scam price index - Bofors' R 64 crore is chickenfeed compared to Spectrumgate's reported R 1.7 lakh crore. How many Bofors would fit into one Spectrumgate? Perhaps maths exam papers for schoolchildren will feature such questions in the not too distant future.


As scams get scammier - both in quantitative as well as qualitative terms (an arms deal scam seems less scammy, for instance, than the Games scam or the cricket match-fixing scam, both of which involved the supposedly clean and wholesome world of sport) - the inevitable question that arises is whether it is our system, our 'soft state', that is conducive to corruption or if it's us as individuals who are peculiarly susceptible to graft of all kinds.


According to medical science, South Asians are genetically predisposed to health problems like diabetes and coronary disease. Are we similarly predisposed by our genetic make-up to corruption? DNA forbid.


Corruption is fostered by greed, the causative factor of which is not nature but nurture. Greed, and the corruption it breeds, is rooted in culture, not in genetics. One of the side-effects of India's slow and painful transition from a socialist economy to an emerging free-market system has been the growth of not just conspicuous but competitive consumption. It is not enough to do well economically. Equally, if not more important, is to be seen to be doing better than the person next door. A well-known ad for a brand of television set said it all: Neighbour's envy, owner's pride. Buy the TV for twin benefits: pride of ownership, and the envy of others.


Such competitive consumption - the desire to buy things not so much for themselves but in order to keep up with the Joneses and Joshis - is not a direct result of the free market. Rather, it is the result of decades of suppressed consumer aspirations forced upon the country by an outmoded and economically repressive socialist system. Though the desire for status symbols is universal, it seems to be most keenly felt in emerging economies, like India's and China's, where goods and services, including luxury products, show the steepest growth curves, thanks to the stimulus of competitive consumption.


But does competitive consumption also stimulate competitive corruption? Are scams becoming status symbols as much as TV sets or the latest models of cars? Is each successive scam, highlighted and headlined by the media, an alluring ad for the next, bigger and better scam? Neighbour's envy, perpetrator's pride. The ultimate sales line for all scams. 







Thirteen men and a woman have taken it upon themselves to articulate the angst of a nation against corruption. Collectively they happen to represent an elite that a scam-tainted 'system' has thrown up - corporate chieftains, bankers, judges - although individually their integrity is beyond reproach. Having seen the beast up close, their suggestions for cleaning up merit a consideration beyond what would normally be available to those of a bunch of boy scouts. The first, and most telling point, in their charter is institution building. The consistent corrosion of the judiciary and the executive by the legislature is a foregone conclusion; we all wish it wouldn't happen, but it does. The League of Extraordinary Citizens, alas, does not tell us how to ensure the independence of institutions our Constituent Assembly equipped the nation with at Independence. For a country that has neatly side-stepped the checks and balances proposed in the Constitution more checks may not lead to greater balance.

The other, interlinked, issue raised by Messrs Premji, Parekh and Variava is ad hoc decision-making. Again something we wish didn't happen, but it does. Discretion is at the core of democracy, asking for structures that curb it will be suppressing plurality. Admittedly, some decisions - like taxes - are common across capitalist democracies and can be codified, but there is no one-size-fits-all style to governance overall. For a country that has turned to capitalism barely two decades ago, India still has large patches of its economy - like agriculture - where markets will not work without causing grave harm to millions of people. We must first sign up for capitalism in its widest terms before we can transplant rules of economic behaviour from advanced economies.

The rest of the charter reads a bit like a pre-budget memorandum to the government with thinly veiled references to industrial projects being delayed on environmental grounds rubbing shoulders with a call to break the stalemate in Parliament over allegations of corruption in the award of radio frequencies to telecommunications companies. While every voice raised against graft is welcome, the signatories to and the timing of this particular citizen's charter will undoubtedly raise quite a few eyebrows in political and corporate circles. The subtext of this message - greater economic reform - should not be ignored. However, Indians seem more prone to jumping queues because there are so many of them around. Take out the queue, and the need to bribe one's way to the front disappears.






Julian Assange of Wikileaks is in news again, a month after he was bailed out of prison facing allegations of sexual assault. This time around, the venue is central London, where Assange, messiah of the nerds, has picked up two yellow and blue discs from one Rudolf Elmer, a former employee of Swiss bank Julius Baer who ran its Cayman Island wealth management operations for the last eight years. The discs supposedly contain information on 2,000 of the bank's clients, Elmer's aim being to 'educate society' about money-laundering and tax evasion that the super rich routinely indulge in.

We might leave the super rich aside for a while, quaking as they are in their beachfront villas and luxury yachts, waiting for secrets about the filthy lucre they had stashed away to come tumbling out of the cupboard. Assange is the redoubtable epic hero of our times, our Achilles and Gilgamesh, an extra-sovereign conscience keeper who has taken it upon his shoulders to champion the cause of information and bring vile, anachronistic institutions like governments to their knees. He inspires people: in faraway Calgary, a political party has been launched to champion Assange, online games increasingly use him as an icon.

The world and its vices are, of course, too vast to be disciplined by one Assange, who might not allow too much deviation except an occasional tumble of 'surprise sex'. But the future looks promising: a Chinese magazine has prophesied that "everybody could be an Assange". The list of mischief can also be widened to include mundane but more widespread ones like playing hooky from school, cheating on spouses, or spending vacuous hours at work. Every morning, we can hear the roll call of those who had erred the previous day. With Assange on the prowl, wrongdoing will never be the same again.







On the first day of the Ranji Trophy final between Baroda and Rajasthan in Vadodara last week, Rajasthan opener Vineet Saxena miscued a cover drive. The fielder at mid-on, Bhargav Bhatt, noticed that the batsman was outside the crease. Prompted by wicketkeeper-skipper Pinal Singh, Bhatt knocked down the stumps. After deliberation between the umpires, the batsman was declared run out.

Last year in the Mumbai-Karnataka Ranji encounter at Mysore, Ajit Agarkar missed a shot, started practising the stroke and strolled out of the crease while the ball was still in play. The ball becomes 'dead' only when it reaches the bowler. Agarkar paid the price for venturing out too soon.

According to the latest laws passed by the Marylebone Cricket Club's (MCC) annual general meeting in May 2010, there are ten ways in which a batsman can get out: caught, bowled, leg before wicket, run out, stumped, handling the ball, obstructing the field, hitting the ball twice, hit wicket and timed out. England's Len Hutton is the only man to be given out 'obstructing the field' in Test cricket (in the England-South Africa series in 1951). 

There are seven instances in Test cricket of batsmen handling the ball. Pakistani pacer Sarfraz Nawaz was involved in the dismissal of Australian Andrew Hilditch in the second Test in Perth in 1978-79. Hilditch was at the non-striker's end when a fielder returned the ball. Hilditch picked it up and politely gave it to Sarfraz, who appealed and Hilditch was given out.

A batsman can be timed out under Law 31 if he isn't ready to take strike within three minutes of the fall of the previous wicket. It's never happened in Test cricket but there are four instances in first-class cricket. In 1997-98, Hemulal Yadav of Tripura was given out against Orissa in a Ranji Trophy match at Cuttack after showing no inclination to start his innings after a drinks break.

In the 1935-36 Quadrangular final between the Hindus and the Muslims, the former required 366 runs win. The going was rough for the Hindus. CS Nayudu, who had earlier claimed nine wickets, was down with fever. As Hindu wickets started falling, skipper CK Nayudu sent urgent summons to his younger brother CS to rush to the Bombay Gymkhana and bat as the last batsman. CS rushed to the grounds but couldn't make it in time and was declared 'timed out' with the Muslims going on to win its third Quadrangular title.

The running out of a batsman at the non-striker's end by the bowler while delivering the ball is known as 'doing a Mankad'. In Sydney, 1947-48 series, while delivering the ball, Mankad held on to it and whipped off the bails with batsman WR Brown well out of the crease.

Watch out for more unusual dismissals. They form a special part of cricket's mythology.

(Ravi Chaturvedi is a cricket commentator and the author of Legendary Indian Cricketers. The views expressed by the author are personal.)







New Delhi's favourite all-season sport is speculating on the next Cabinet reshuffle. This month, to go with the foggy winter mornings perhaps, it has become a particularly confusing and mind-numbing pastime for those in the Congress. Inevitably, there are the rumours. Some are decidedly bizarre: the finance minister, this government's Cardinal Richelieu, will be moved out a month before the budget. Some are almost comic: replacing A Raja with TR Baalu as a DMK nominee in the Cabinet constitutes an image makeover.

In the end, how much of this matters? Is the average age of the Union ministry - the subject of such agonised commentary - really more relevant than a hard look at the government's idea of its political legacy and policy priorities? If the names change but the essential philosophy remains the same, will UPA 2 be any better off?

In late February, the budget session of Parliament begins and nobody - not in the treasury benches, not in the Opposition - has a clue as to how it will go. Will the Opposition's demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) inquiry into the telecom scandal stall Parliament, as it did in the winter session? Should this happen, will governance continue to be paralysed and will India meander towards an early election?

These are not idle thoughts; they are being discussed by members of Parliament. Those elected to the Lok Sabha a mere 18 months ago, and some of them have only just moved into their official houses, are terrified that a series of accidents could force them back to their voters three years before time. The opportunity cost for India - which had given the Congress a fairly robust mandate in May 2009 and expected stable and purposeful governance - would be incalculable.

Should this nightmare scenario play itself out, there may be no obvious winners. However, there will be one obvious loser: the Congress, which would have squandered the gains of 2009. As such, it is in the interest of the ruling party to break the deadlock and ensure the budget session proceeds along normal lines. It has to give its opponents room to walk away from an extreme position. Perhaps this requires conceding a joint parliamentary committee, perhaps it does not. That is a matter of detail.

It is here that the government's political wisdom has come under serious scrutiny. First, in defending Raja, contending there had been no revenue loss from his escapades and, in a sense, no telecom scandal at all - and in suggesting the Comptroller and Auditor General was imagining things - the telecom minister put the government on the warpath with a key constitutional institution. More important, he put the weight of the Congress and the government behind Raja and in effect said the former minister would be defended to the last.

There is disquiet over this maximalist approach even within the Congress. Should the telecom minister's quixotic belligerence be embraced by the entire government, the Opposition will have no option but to persist with its filibustering.

Second, it is easy for ministers and public officials to lose themselves in New Delhi's bubble. Arguing for Raja's innocence with convoluted logic may make for a great television debate. Similarly, claiming food prices are rising because Indians are now richer and can pay more - a point made by the deputy chair of the Planning Commission, among others - may seem accurate in a textbook sort of way. Yet, they are extremely impolitic. It is one thing for technocrats to look at legal minutiae or long-term economic numbers and conclude that in the broader framework all is well. Clumsily articulated, this sounds insensitive, brazen and completely out of touch with the prevailing public mood.

Third, the Congress has been so caught up in planning for Rahul Gandhi's sooner-or-later ascension, in believing the BJP has been decimated forever and in doing dress rehearsals of a comeback for itself in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, wherever, that it has forgotten the thrust of the 2009 election. It won a mandate from specific sections to fulfil specific expectations. In particular, the wide spectrum of the Indian middle classes and Indian business backed it to trigger the politics of growth, further economic opportunities, narrow India's infrastructure gap, make land acquisition rational and transparent, bring in agriculture reforms, take steps to address the food economy's supply-side distortions. The Congress has not moved on any of these. In some cases, it has blamed coalition partners; in most cases, it simply hasn't bothered.

In Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars, there is a description of what confronts Robert Gates as he becomes United States secretary of defence in the midst of the Iraq war, and finds soldiers being denied critical equipment: "Many of the Pentagon's endless meetings, schedules and intense debates seemed to be about some distant, theoretical war. Those officers were busy designing and buying the new ships, jets, tanks, radars, missiles and the latest high-technology equipment in their modernisation programmes. They were gearing up to fight the wars of 2015 or 2020, while ignoring the wars of 2008."

Gates brought the Pentagon down to reality, back to the tasks of the moment. Somebody with a political instinct has to do it for the Congress and its sleepwalking government.

(Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal)






It is seldom realised that the nexus between venal politicians and their obliging bureaucrats allows corruption to flourish successfully in India. Without pliant bureaucrats, politicians would be utterly powerless and unable to amass their fortunes. Until the nexus is broken, corruption cannot be eliminated.

The BJP's success in the recent Karnataka municipal elections, despite the corruption charges against chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and his clan, proves that corruption is not a big issue with voters even though it is a highly volatile subject among political parties who remain jealous of the spoils harvested by their rivals. For the common man, corruption is as commonplace as the polluted air they breathe and their dealings with the local thanedars, tehsildars, patwaris, court clerks, electricity departments, PWD or other government officials have usually involved an exchange of currency notes. They may be awed by the huge sums that politicians squeeze out of businessmen or the exchequer but mostly see these as games 'gods' play.

In India's complicated bureaucratic system, it is impossible to get any paper moving without some 'lubrication'. A typical industrial application will go from a receiving clerk to a dealing assistant, a section officer, an under secretary, deputy secretary, joint secretary, additional secretary, secretary and minister, each of whom will make their notes and recommendations. The file will then go back that  long chain until orders are issued many months later. One adverse note, like the serpent in the 'snakes and ladders' game, will set the file back many steps.

In these circumstances, every applicant has to use 'middlemen' to follow the tortuous passage of their files and ease its passage whenever it meets a hostile official or obstacle. It would have been impossible for Bofors, or any other corporate entity, to have been able to move their files past several army officers followed by numerous officials in the ministries of defence, finance, home, energy among other departments without middlemen. Even state governments have large liaison staff in the capital to move their own files through the corridors of government.

If such corporate entities employing their own liaison officers is not considered corruption, why should outsourcing that liaison work to professional consultants or paying them fees for their services be considered corrupt?

It may have been naive of Rajiv Gandhi to have declared in Parliament that there were no middlemen in the Bofors deal but if Win Chaddha and others had been pushing their files, it was not a crime under Indian law. There is a paper trail of payments received but no credible case of corruption when 17 years of investigation, with the cooperation of Swiss and other authorities, have produced no evidence that any Indian politician or government official had received payments in exchange for favours. The company and its officials, though, have been so thoroughly condemned in Parliament and in the media that their guilt has become an accepted fact.

It is the enormously profitable but relatively safe spoils of office that attracts so many to politics. One desires to become a legislator not to make laws but to be in a position to manipulate the laws for sectarian or personal benefit.

The numerous scams involving armaments, land, fodder, games, mining, buildings and telecom could not have occurred if the government's numerous regulatory officials had been doing their duty. Investigators and the media hound the beneficiaries and their political allies in corruption cases but very few government officials have ever been penalised. If the officers who had allowed the irregularities were held accountable, they would not be so obliging and politicians would find it much more difficult to bend the law.

As senior government officials are more difficult to manipulate, politicians routinely bypass them and give direct orders to junior staff to do their dirty work. This malpractice can be curbed if the government were to make it a punishable offence for any official to take direct orders from any legislator. If all orders to junior officials came in writing through proper channels, politicians would be handicapped.

India inherited its bureaucratic system from the British and did not follow the examples of Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and Britain who drastically reduced the number of rules and officials needed to regulate them, speeding up the process of approvals. In an age of electronic communication, paperwork can be hugely reduced, leading to transparency. But such necessary administrative reform will not suit our legislators and so India's corruption  will endure despite brave avowals of intent.

(Murad Ali Baig is a Delhi-based automobiles analyst. The views expressed by the author are personal)








A month to the cricket World Cup, we are slowly beginning to realise much rides on this iteration of the championship. It isn't just that the Australian stranglehold looks breakable for the first time since Steve Waugh's men, backs to the wall halfway through the group stage in 1999, had to win every match to lift the Cup — and did. It isn't just that it will be Sachin Tendulkar's sixth and last attempt to push India to the title. It is more than that: it is a last chance for the 50-over format to demonstrate to its 20-over upstart cousin that real cricket requires at least a day to play. In order to do that, the Cup will have to hold interest — and what a hard task that will be, given that the ICC has chosen to reprise the failed format from four years ago, with a month of near-meaningless group games against doughty opponents like Canada, before 11 days of real action, when the knock-out stages begin.

Not that the group games are always near-meaningless, as Team India, 2007 Edition, could have told you, after Bangladesh knocked them out. Or Team Pakistan the same year, who simultaneously were unceremoniously dumped out by an inspired team of Irish part-timers. Which brings us to the second way in which the Cup could retain interest: by ensuring that the home team, for once, does well. Unlike the football World Cup, which has a decided home advantage — nine of the 15 nations that have hosted or co-hosted the FIFA World Cup have gone furthest on home soil, most notably South Korea in its amazing 2002 run — the ICC World Cup has only once been won by a co-host, Sri Lanka's upset in 1996. An odd record for a sport more dependent on local conditions than most. India's team have been, for a while, tough to beat at home. The 15 that the selectors have picked contain practically no surprises — except for the decision to go with an extra reserve spinner instead ofa reserve pacer — and each one of those picked will have a certain confidence about his abilities on India's tracks. Still, it might be useful for them to look at previous confident hosts and wonder what went wrong.







If the perception gains ground hereafter that the dignity and credibility of the country's top anti-corruption watchdog has been irreparably eroded, the UPA government must take the blame for ensuring that perception with its screaming defence of the appointment of P.J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and the eligibility of the man. The office of the CVC has been besmirched, perhaps beyond immediate retrieval, by not just Thomas's refusal to step down but also the government's continuing attempt at brazening it out. The government's response to the Supreme Court's doubting of Thomas may yet be the final nail.

Things didn't come to this pass overnight. The UPA first of all erred in appointing an individual already crossed by the shadow of controversy, whom the law has since begun scrutinising once more, with the resumption of the 1991 Kerala palmolein import case wherein Thomas is an accused. There is no reason to presuppose Thomas guilty. However, his career was obviously a problematic qualification for the job: he was also A. Raja's telecom secretary and had to infamously recuse himself from overseeing the investigation into the 2G spectrum allocation — perhaps the biggest case the CVC would have confronted. The UPA has presided over these gigantic dimensions of the unprecedented. In the interest of the nation, the CVC's post, and the national political climate, the UPA should immediately step back and stop defending Thomas' appointment. The government has, instead, gone on the offensive, harping on the adequacy of the "majority" view in the appointment, insisting the leader of the opposition's dissenting doesn't count. When did "consensus" come to mean "majority"? It's to be suspected this arrogance too stems from the UPA's blindness to the existence of an opposition and its inability to recognise it. Therefore, it has matched its refusal to budge on the JPC with its intransigence on the CVC, making a spectacular and dangerous mess.

While the opposition is equally to blame for the washed-out winter session in Parliament and the uncertain fate of the budget session, the executive cannot evade full responsibility for the Thomas impasse. How will the UPA's proposed clean-up operation raise enthusiasm now? Just one monumental paradox of the CVC saga should serve to illustrate how untenable the government's position is: even as the UPA tells the SC not to worry about Thomas, it knows that this CVC cannot preside over the 2G probe, and thus urges the apex court to monitor it. If that doesn't burn a hole in its defence of Thomas' appointment, what will?







When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described some time ago that the US-China relationship is "the most important" in the world, there was much anxiety in New Delhi. There were two reasons for Delhi's heartburn. One, for decades, India had seen itself as an equal to China. It was difficult for Delhi to acknowledge that not only had China overtaken India, but it had also

become a consequential global power, thanks to three decades of double-digit economic growth. China's gross domestic product is now more than three times that of India; and that gap is likely to widen in the coming years even if Delhi produces outstanding economic performance. The other was an apprehension that a Democratic administration in Washington might replace President George W. Bush's

special warmth for India with an emphasis on cultivating a privileged partnership with China.

The pomp and ceremony that will mark Chinese President Hu Jintao's reception at the White House this week and the intensity of the American debate on China underline one inescapable reality: Sino-US ties are the most important in the world today.

Sixty-odd years ago, independent India's attempts to craft a foreign policy were shaped by the nature of the relationship between Washington and Moscow. After the global financial crisis, which has brought into sharp relief the relative decline of the US and the rapid rise of China, the Sino-US relationship has become the principal external factor in India's engagement with the world.

Some predictions put 2027 as the date when the Chinese economy will overtake that of the US. Others suggest it could happen sooner, maybe by the end of this decade. While individual Americans will be richer than Chinese, the balance of power between the two is bound to evolve in China's favour in many areas.

Whether Delhi likes it or not, most big issues confronting the world — from rebalancing the world economy to managing

climate change and the maintenance of international peace

and security — will be shaped by the policies of Washington

and Beijing.

As India begins to recognise the centrality of the Sino-US relationship for world politics, it will confront what we might call the "Goldilocks Problem". Like the girl in the fable who went into the house of bears in the forest, India does not want relations between Washington and Beijing to turn either too warm or too cold.

Recall how Delhi went into a tizzy, when a joint statement was issued by US President Barack Obama and Hu at the end of their summit in Beijing in

November 2009. The suggestion that Washington and Beijing might work together to stabilise the subcontinent saw Delhi froth at the mouth. For India, the idea of a Sino-US condominium or more broadly the notion of the "Group of Two" is utterly unacceptable. At the same time, India also recoils at the notion of aligning with one against the other.

Proposals from Washington for deeper security cooperation in East Asia and the Pacific make many in India nervous. Delhi is equally wary about relentless pressures from Moscow and Beijing to join a countervailing block against the US. Some in India would be tempted to think of "non-alignment" between Washington and Beijing. Delhi must resist that temptation, for the Sino-US dynamic is very different from that between Washington and Moscow in the past. During the Cold War, India had the luxury of demanding peaceful coexistence between the two superpowers when they threatened each other and of

denouncing their collusion when they acted together.

Emerging India's political and economic fortunes today are inextricably intertwined with the future of Sino-US relations and Delhi can't detach itself from what happens between Washington and Beijing.

Unlike the Soviet-American dynamic which was centred around Europe and the Atlantic, the Sino-US power-play occurs right around us in Asia, in the shared periphery between Delhi and Beijing. Without a border with either protagonist in the Cold War, India was spared the direct impact of the rivalry although it had to deal with secondary consequences. With a long and contested border with China, India will be on the very frontlines of a potential Sino-American conflict.

Unlike Soviet Russia, Communist China is part of the world

economic system. Reordering the extraordinary financial interdependence between the world's two largest economies — the US and China — is one of the main themes of Hu's summit with Obama. How they deal with

that issue will have a profound bearing on India.

As India's relative weight in the international system increases, though slower than that of China, Delhi can't return to non-alignment. It must develop a very different approach. India's emphasis must be on becoming an indispensable element in the future balance of power in Asia and acquiring a decisive say in the construction of a new international order amid the rise of China and the weakening of the US. This in turn would demand a deeper engagement with both Washington and Beijing in order to influence the outcomes from the rapidly changing Sino-US


On the face of it, the danger of a "G-2" between China and the US has passed amid the mounting tension between the two last year. Nevertheless, Obama and Hu must be expected to moderate their potential rivalry and find ways to cooperate.

Delhi needs to develop strong political and economic leverage with both if it wants to avoid the negative effects of either collaboration or conflict between Washington and Beijing. Innovative diplomacy from Delhi in the last few years has generated a new level of political comfort with the US as seen during Obama's visit to India last November. The relationship with China, however, has stalled amidst many new problems that remained unresolved in the talks with Premier Wen

Jiabao last month.

As it builds on the new opportunities with the United States, Delhi must also make some bold moves towards Beijing in the coming months. Delhi must ensure that its ties with Beijing do not fall too far behind the Sino-US relationship or the Indo-US partnership.







The Indian team for the cricket World Cup was announced on Monday afternoon, after what is believed to be an intense session of teleconferencing between Chennai and Cape Town, as chairman of selectors Krishnamachari Srikkanth and skipper M.S. Dhoni tested their reasoning skills against each other. There are just two contentious choices in the 15-member squad — Piyush Chawla and R. Ashwin.

It's an open secret that Chawla is Dhoni's pick (as was evident in the 2008 Commonwealth Bank Series and the current South Africa series), but the selectors' choice of Ashwin is a luxury that the team may not be able to afford during a crunch World Cup match.

Three spinners are needless cushion for a team that derives its basic strength and balance from a plethora of spin-bowling all-rounders. Leg-spinner Chawla can provide variation to the attack if required, but Ashwin fails on that count too. In a playing XI, which has Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and Yusuf Pathan to bowl off-spin of various kinds — flat, fastish, loopy or miserly — and has even Yuvraj Singh with his left-arm spin,

Ashwin will have no scope to ply his special carom ball.

Statistics show something interesting. Ashwin has played just seven ODIs in his career, and only one under Dhoni. Then again, he played because there was no Harbhajan in the side. He was made to carry drinks even when there was no Harbhajan in two Sri Lanka series and in two matches against Australia when Dhoni was leading the side. Ashwin, clearly, isn't Dhoni's first or second choice during international matches. When the captain's pick for the World Cup happens to be a second spinner in Chawla, and he is the deciding authority in the final XI, selectors seem to have picked Ashwin just to take care of their bruised egos.

Clearly, this isn't the best foundation to bring back the trophy that Kapil Dev won 28 years ago and M. Azharuddin, Sourav

Ganguly and Rahul Dravid missed during their turns once in four years. India's worries have been primarily injuries to Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir — the entire top-order — who missed more matches than they played in the last season. Then again, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel have also been susceptible to injuries during the same period.

S. Sreesanth and Rohit Sharma have a right to feel aggrieved in missing the bus in such a scenario. India's two previous World Cup campaigns — the ICC World Twenty20 in England in 2009 and in the West Indies in 2010 — have both been derailed by injury problems to pacers and frontline batsmen. Logically, India need extra cushion when it comes to pace and batting departments; but what they have got is an extra spinner which they might never need.

India have just one back-up batsman in Virat Kohli and one back-up seam bowler in Munaf in the six slots that regularly occupy the final XI while Chawla and Ashwin both sit in waiting for Harbhajan to get injured. There's no back-up for Dhoni. But since India's fixtures are well spaced to get the ICC technical committee's clearance and a flight, maybe such an eventuality could be ignored.

The selectors might get away with their choice because there's little scope of tweaking the XI in the six games that India will need to play before the quarter-finals begin. Like Dhoni said ahead of the one-day series in South Africa, every member of the XI knows his exact role ahead of the World Cup. Even the twelfth man is fixed, taking into account Virat Kohli's excellent fielding abilities. The rest need to just carry the towels and the water bottles. In every World Cup squad, there's one surprise element. It was Sunil Valson in 1983, Sanjay Bangar and Parthiv Patel in 2003, maybe it is Ashwin in 2011.








There comes a moment in the life of a nation when small differences of opinion are responsible for missing a historic opportunity that the nation may come to regret forever. The regret is greater when realisation strikes later that what seemed like irreconcilable differences could have been easily bridged with a little foresight. We are in such a moment now.

The Food Security Bill is a bold measure of historic importance and the present differences between the National Advisory Council (NAC) that has recommended the specifics of the proposal, and the prime minister's Expert Committee (EC) that has rejected them, have the potential to squander a great opportunity. We would like to argue here that the issues raised by the EC could be addressed by changing the means of distributing the food subsidy from the public distribution system (PDS) to a distribution based on smartcards. It would be a great folly to legislate an act that lowers the commitment on part of the government only because the government feels powerless to replace the public distribution system.

The major recommendation of the NAC is that food subsidies should cover at least 75 per cent of the population. This has a sound basis. First, even though poverty has declined over the years, nearly 80 per cent of the population still subsists on a daily expenditure of Rs 20 or less (measured in 2004-05 rupees). Therefore, much of the population is vulnerable and in need of food security.

Second, attempts to identify the most needy groups and to target subsidies to them alone are fraught with hazards. In 2004-05, as many as 50 per cent of those deemed poor by the official definition (who subsist on a daily expenditure of Rs 12 or less) did not possess the below-poverty line ration cards that would allow them to access food subsidies. Such massive "exclusion errors" defeat the very purpose of food subsidies.

The fact is that there is simply no accurate enough way of identifying the poor. Therefore, there is little to object in this attempt of NAC to ensure that food subsidies reach the truly needy. Indeed even the EC says that it "understands the logic of this view".

Where then does the EC part company with the NAC? The gist of the arguments made by the EC is as follows. First, the amount of grain that needs to be procured to carry out the NAC recommendation exceeds what would be available in the initial years of 2011-14. Second, additional procurement would raise open market prices, hurting the most vulnerable sections of the population, who continue to depend on the open market for a significant part of their purchases. Third, the subsidy burden would be too high.

Let us consider these points one by one. First, the procurement constraint is real enough, and the implications even more serious than admitted by the EC report. Procurement-based universal coverage will lead the government to acquire 60-70 per cent of market surplus. The near-monopoly of government agencies will inflate prices and costs through the marketing chain.

However, as one member of the NAC, Jean Dreze, has pointed out in a recent article, difficulties in procurement are irrelevant if smartcards are used to disburse the subsidy. Under such a system, the food subsidy is directly transferred to the beneficiaries. Normal market channels cope with the demand for foodgrains from such subsidies and procurement is no longer a constraint.

To the second point, open market prices could indeed rise if there is additional demand from those who receive higher subsidies. A more plausible mechanism is that additional procurement lends more bargaining power to the farm-surplus states, and that will lead to higher procurement prices than warranted. Currently, about 70 per cent of the poor (BPL) are excluded from PDS coverage and they will indeed be hurt by such a price rise. But if the coverage is extended to a larger segment of the population, and if smartcards can further reduce the exclusion error, fewer vulnerable people will have to buy on the open market and we need to be less anxious on this account.

And to the third point, as the Expert Committee report acknowledges, the subsidy burden would be lower with smartcards than under the present system. According to a recent estimate by Shikha Jha and Bharat Ramaswami, about 55 per cent of supplies to the PDS are diverted to the open market; there would be thus considerable saving if the PDS is replaced with smartcards.

Furthermore, even if coverage is near-universal, not everybody would want to buy subsidised food. The well-off would rather avoid the inconvenience of standing in line at a ration shop and this self-selection would lower the subsidy burden. Smartcards would eliminate ration shops and queues, but since under the scheme the subsidised items would be sold only to those identified by biometric methods, the off-take would be even lower than under the present scheme; the rich would not be able to just send domestic servants to the ration shops to stand in line. The subsidy burden would be correspondingly lower.

Thus none of the objections raised by the Expert Committee would hold if the food subsidy was delivered through smartcards rather than the PDS. Is the Expert Committee opposed to smartcards? No. In fact, they recommend them as a longer-term alternative to the PDS.

So how should the NAC react to the EC report? We hope the NAC would continue to insist on the moral imperative of near-universal coverage. The NAC should also recognise the impossibility of this worthy goal through a procurement-based public distribution alone. While a PDS-based system can be initially deployed (at the cost of lower coverage), this should be supplemented and possibly substituted by a smartcard system in a second phase.

Such a system would not be not as untested as sceptics might think. Haryana has already started experimenting with the substitution of smartcards for the PDS. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) covers 60 million people in 22 states. These experiments give us more hope than the relative success of one state — Chhattisgarh — in making PDS work. The argument against smartcards is especially unpersuasive when we know that the PDS has been tested thoroughly and has been found to be a disastrous failure in all but one state.

Smartcards are the future. Why delay it if it ensures that most of those in need of food security can be covered? If the government waters down the bill, a historic opportunity would be lost. How long must we wait "to redeem our pledge, if not in full measure, but very substantially"?

Kotwal is a professor at the University of British Columbia. Ramaswami is a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi. Murugkar is a Nashik-based food and agriculture policy economist







The World Cup probables are lined up. As of now, "this is India's best team" of former players who'll be representing the country over the next few months on news channels. Of course, the final team of commentators has not yet been picked, but on Monday they had a long practice session with a lengthy spell of discussions on the 15 Indian players selected for the Cup.

There's a mix of caution and flamboyance here, a blend of experience and experience — the youth is still out there playing the game. The commentary team is led by former captains Kapil Dev and Sourav Ganguly (Aaj Tak, Headlines Today), both of whom thought Team India "had a very good chance to win" the Cup. Others who padded up for the debate included opening batsmen Chetan Chauhan (Zee News), Aakash Chopra (Star News) and the middle order's Dilip Vengsarkar (News 24) and Vinod Kambli (Star News). Unlike the Indian cricket team, this one fielded two wicketkeepers — Kiran More (Zee News) and Saba Karim (Times Now). There were medium fast bowlers Madan Lal (News 24) and Manoj Prabhakar (Star News) who can more than bat a bit, and then a fast bowler who cannot bat, Atul Wassan (Times Now, News 24). Unlike Team India, and in a move surprising for a team that will comment on a competition in the subcontinent, there is only one spinner — Bishen Singh Bedi (Zee News, Times Now). But so prodigious is his ability to spin a discussion out of control that maybe you don't need more?

On Monday night, he suggested that Amit Mishra should have been selected for the World Cup —

nobody else mentioned him. Barring selector caprice, seen in choosing Team India (according to India TV, Zee News and Star News which did boardroom stings), and barring vocal chord injuries to those chosen who can then be replaced (unless the injuries are sustained before they begin commentating in which case the ICC may deny them replacements!), this is the team we'll hear much too much from in the next few months.

The manager for this team picks himself. But, of course, it K. Srikkanth, the chief selector — "the great PR" as he was called (by Times Now) who made the rounds of all the news channels. He is the ideal person for the job because his attitude is just so, what shall we say, positive. Didn't you notice how he stepped out and swatted every uncomfortable question out of the debate? Why Piyush Chawla and not Rohit Sharma? "I cannot talk about individuals." What if M.S. Dhoni is injured? "Don't worry, Rahul (of Headlines Today), we will find an amicable solution (?)." Yes, but what about niggling injuries to players such as Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Praveen Kumar? "Sab theek ho jayega, bahut time hai, aap log bahut negative ho, ifs and buts..." (NDTV India). And to anyone, thereafter, who bowled him a bouncer, he was the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of cricket: "Create positive energy around you, be positive, we have done the best job. This is the best


That leaves us with Mandira Bedi, who could perhaps take over Srikkanth's job as both chief selector and PR chief. She is the best (looking) advertisement for the game. You see her and you want to break into a smile, no matter what. As a selector, she has her own game plan: we need a leg spinner, she announced on Times Now. We thought we had one in Piyush Chawla, but no matter, smile.

It is not going to be a cakewalk for these commentators — in each match, their hearts will beat for India but not so that we can hear them. They have to be impartial yet always highlight India's chances — otherwise who will want to watch or listen to them? That's a spot of tightrope-walking the likes of which you see in the World Cup commercial now playing on your TV screens. 14 teams. 1 Cup. February 19. Be there.






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 specialises in types of self-destructive behaviour." 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 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 Trainer — 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 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







The RSS' terror taint

Swami Aseemanand's alleged confession has once again pitched the Left against the right. Following the revelations, the CPI (ML) says there is now "unarguable evidence" of the existence of the "Sanghi terror web" even though the BJP and the RSS may have gone into

denial mode. The lead editorial in its journal, ML Update argues the RSS and the BJP cannot evade the "terror taint" since material evidence independent of Aseemanand's confession also points to close linkages

between top RSS leaders like Indresh Kumar, BJP leaders like former MP B. L. Sharma "Prem", as well as senior army officials, with Hindutva terror groups like Abhinav Bharat.

It alleges groups like Abhinav Bharat share ideological moorings with the RSS and BJP and their acts serve the political agenda of the BJP which use bomb blasts and terror as fodder to foster communal prejudices. "By themselves orchestrating acts of terror and then implicating Muslims in these blasts, groups like Abhinav Bharat and other shadowy outfits of the RSS helped to feed fear and prejudice against the Muslim minorities — while the BJP reaped this fear and hatred

in the political arena, by posing as the champion of nationalism against 'Islamic' terrorism,"

it says.

It also points out that had Aseemanand not confessed, "the communal profiling and scapegoating of minorities by the investigative agencies and a pliant media would have continued unquestioned." What

Aseemanand's confession laid bare, it argues, is the "dangerous extent to which terror investigations are tainted by majoritarian communal prejudice." Raising questions about the credibility of our investigative and judicial process," it calls for a judicial probe into the "enormous miscarriage" of justice which resulted in scores of

Muslim youth being jailed, tortured and branded as terrorists for crimes to which

Aseemanand has confessed.

The article is heavily critical of the media too. It says the media in its responses to Aseemanand's revelations has displayed uncharacteristic hesitation, that contrasts rather starkly with its irresponsible and emotive coverage of the very same cases when Muslims were accused of terror without sufficient evidence.

Debunking Kapil

An article in the CPM's People's Democracy tries to debunk

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal's argument that there was no real loss to the exchequer in allocation of 2G spectrum licences. Noting that some of Sibal's

arguments are not new, as A. Raja had been advancing them ad nauseum, it says some of his claims are novel and call for new refutation.

Sibal's argument that the prices 3G auction fetched in 2010 cannot be used for 2008 when the 2G licences were awarded as the value of money has changed in these two years as also the subscriber base and the annual revenue is interesting. "However, he seems to have no such problem in arguing that 2001 licence prices be used for 2008. This is, in spite of there being only four million cellular subscribers in 2001 as against a 75 times increase in subscriber base by 2008 — and a seven year gap!" it notes.

"The reason that CAG did not differentiate between 2010 and 2008 prices is quite simple — the market prices in 2007 and early 2008 would have been higher than 2010 as the financial crash took place later and the markets had not fully recovered even in 2010," it argues. To debunk Sibal's argument that the efficiency of 3G spectrum is more than 2G and since the former will be used for high value-added services it should have a different price, it quotes the Trai recommendation on spectrum management and licensing framework which it said had analysed why the efficiency of the 2G and 3G spectrum is not very different. Trai had also pointed out that "it is not just efficiency of the spectrum but also the size of the market and supply-demand position that determines the price," it argues.

Price words

In an article in New Age, CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan slams the government in the context of rising food prices. He says none of the ministers has a clue about what is happening and what is to be done. In a sarcastic tone, he adds, "Some smart guy like Kapil Sibal may get up tomorrow and declare that all these stories of high prices, job loss, corruption and revenue loss are illusions spread by the opposition."

Occasionally the PM, he says, expresses concern. "But expressing concern is not a solution. Nor does it give comfort to the aam aadmi. The best some of them can do is to reassure the people that prices will eventually come down within the next two months, and if not, then at least by the next season,"

he says.

Bardhan also raises questions about the fate of the Food Security Act. "How long are we to see the PMO and the National Advisory Council (NAC) lobbing the ball back and forth into each other's court, discussing how many are the poor and how much the budget can afford? The point about food security for all, about universalising food security has already been lost in the din," he says.






The 2G scam is getting a lot more interesting, with the government coming out with a new formulation with each passing day. When he was still minister, A Raja and the law ministry said CAG was not entitled to examine 'policy decisions'—the act of giving licences in 2008 at 2001 prices was 'government policy'. The same 'policy decision' argument was also made by Raja, again after being cleared by the law ministry, to the courts, to argue that they had no locus standi. The courts rejected this argument when telecom firm STel appealed against Raja's decisions in the Delhi high court and won the case; the government unsuccessfully repeated the argument before the division bench of the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court. This never stopped telecom minister Kapil Sibal from repeating the same point, that the CAG couldn't examine 'policy decisions'.

And now the government has come out with another argument, on the related case of the CVC, PJ Thomas. Thomas has been in the eye of the storm since the Supreme Court asked how he could possibly monitor the CBI probe into the 2G scam since he was a former telecom secretary and also as the Kerala government wanted to prosecute him in the palmolein import case. Instead of letting Thomas defend himself, as he has to file a reply as to why he should be allowed to remain in the post, the government has told the Court that the "question of suitability of a candidate is squarely the domain of the appointing authority … the argument about suitability of a candidate cannot be raised in judicial proceedings"—in other words, it's a 'policy decision', so back off.


It remains to be seen how the Court feels about this, but there can be little doubt Thomas has a problem as the Court has asked the CBI to investigate the role of DoT officials—in the year Thomas was in the ministry, he took no action against companies that did not, as per the licence, roll out their networks; he even moved the note to tell the CAG to back off. Whether the government is technically right that its 'policy decisions' can't be questioned will be decided by the Court, but surely it realises the inconsistency in what it is saying. The CAG can't question 'policy decisions', nor can the courts—indeed, the Court can't even question the suitability of candidates. So who can monitor the government's actions? The government has already said there's no need for a JPC since the Court was monitoring things—the same Court that can't examine 'policy decisions'! Rex (the king) is truly Lex (the law).







What Senator Charles Schumer wasn't able to do to India's software industry when he called Infosys a chop shop (he later clarified this to mean it was a body-shop or simply an exporter of cheap labour), India's own income tax department has done. Tax officials have asked Infosys to pay Rs 400 crore as taxes on its software exports, except the taxman says these aren't software exports—which are not taxed under the STPI/SEZ rules—but are revenues from body-shopping. Since roughly half the revenues of India's IT industry come from software exports, the impact could potentially be huge.


It will, of course, be very tough to prove that what Infosys does is body-shopping. Body-shopping refers to a situation in which a firm simply hires people in India and sends them to work overseas, at a hugely higher salary—since the employee works for the foreign firm, the Indian firm does not monitor the employee's work nor does it do any project management. So, to prove Infosys is indulging in body-shopping, it will have to examine its contracts to show that this is the case. If Infosys is, however, sending its staffers to work on the clients' premises (on-site work) and this is a part of the work done for the client from India, and the on-site work is monitored from the Indian firm, this cannot be classified as body-shopping.


At times, large tier-1 firms do take people from certain body-shopping companies, mostly when they need to ramp up a project fast. It typically takes two months to recruit people for a project and they are taken on board on a sub-contractual basis and are paid sub-contractor fees. However, the delivery is still managed by the large tier-1 firms, and once that happens it does not amount to just body-shopping. The large companies are accountable for delivery. All customer contracts have penalty clauses and there may be repercussions if the customer is not happy in terms of invoices getting rejected. It will be now interesting to see how the tax authorities proceed in the case of other leading IT firms. Infosys has gone on record that it will appeal against the order, which it has termed as 'arbitrary'. The next few weeks could throw up some interesting drama on this front.








The time has come to abolish physical share certificates completely and dematerialise all shares by eliminating the option that is currently given to the owner to hold shares either in physical form or in dematerialised form. Dematerialisation should be mandatory even if the owner has no immediate intention to trade the shares on the exchange.


When depositories were first created in India, it was well known that physical share certificates were prone to fraud and malpractices. However, since dematerialisation was a new concept in the country, it was thought that the ability to convert back and forth between paper and dematerialised form would give investors greater comfort and confidence. Today, after more than a decade, the depositories have established themselves as reliable and secure. There is now nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by eliminating paper completely.


Many of us believed that the risk of fraud and theft of physical certificates would induce a voluntary dematerialisation of large holdings, particularly after the exchanges shifted to trading exclusively in dematerialised mode. However, some large investors (including, unfortunately, some government entities) ignore these risks and hold on to paper certificates. More troublingly, one hears disconcerting (hopefully false) rumours of physical certificates being used to backdate or postdate transactions with the collusion of companies and their registrars.


Such alteration of dates may produce advantages under the takeover code and under the tax laws. For example, inter se transfer of shares between promoters is exempted from the requirements of the takeover code if the transferor and transferee have held the shares for at least three years. Similarly, purchases of shares during the previous six months are taken into account while deciding the open offer price. Under the tax laws, the lower tax rate on capital gains applies if the shares are held for a year.


All these could be facilitated by backdating or postdating transaction dates—something that would be impossible in the dematerialised environment. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that some promoters and large operators hold on to paper certificates for unsavoury reasons.


Even if this were not so, there would still be reason to worry about these holdouts of paper certificates. As old timers retire, registrars are gradually losing the skill set required to verify the authenticity of physical certificates. I have seen airline check-in staff (and sometimes even their supervisors) fumble when they encounter the increasingly rare physical air tickets because they are all familiar only with e-tickets. Over a period of time, this lack of familiarity with the vestiges of a paper era will become a serious problem for registrars, and will provide a fertile opportunity for fraudsters.


It is, therefore, imperative to launch a time-bound action plan to achieve 100% dematerialisation. I think such a plan should have three elements.


First, we should stop creation of new paper certificates forthwith. The Depositories Act should be amended to prohibit rematerialisation of physical certificates. Furthermore, it must be mandatory to make all new allotments of shares in dematerialised form. Transfer or transmission of shares (even if it takes place outside the exchange) should be permitted only in dematerialised form.


Second, we must set a cutoff date (say, January 1, 2012), by which large and critical holdings must be dematerialised. This date should apply to:


l Holdings of shares by all bodies—corporate, governments and other artificial personsl Holdings of shares by promo-ters, directors and key managerial personnell Holdings of shares by a single individual in a single stock exceeding, say, Rs 1 million by face value as well as, say, Rs 25 million by market value.


An extended cutoff date (say, January 1, 2015) can be set for dematerialisation of other shares—small shareholdings by individual investors.


After the cutoff date (or the extended cutoff date for small holdings), physical shares that have not been dematerialised would become almost useless. However, in exceptional cases where genuine reasons can be demonstrated, dematerialisation of these shares may be permitted after issuing a public notice in a newspaper giving sufficient time for other claimants to dispute the claims of the holder. For tax purposes and for takeover code purposes, the date of dematerialisation would be deemed to be the date of acquisition of the shares.


Finally, we must set a cancellation date (say, January 1, 2020) on which all remaining physical share certificates would be deemed to be cancelled and forfeited, and the issuers would be required to record the forfeiture of shares in their books.


During this process of elimination of paper certificates, it would be useful to preserve samples of the old paper certificates for the historical record in an appropriate archive or museum. Regulations require dematerialised share certificates to be mutilated and cancelled, and in the absence of a conscious archival effort, these mutilated certificates are likely to be destroyed as a matter of course.


The author is a professor of finance at IIM, Ahmedabad








From my cottage close to a nature park, far away from Delhi, the happenings in our Republic in recent weeks appear to reflect the Roman circus. Hapless victims, including one officer whose integrity I certified and will do so again if ever called to, are thrown before the hungry lions as the media gladiators guard the show. Sometimes the Spartacus gladiators are also the victims. Reasoned arguments are casualties. Institutional responses to some of the real problems we face, however, are not on anybody's agenda.


As the dust settles, it is likely that it will be accepted that we have enough persons of integrity such that the rot can be contained but that amongst them there is unease and the ability to strongly contest wrongdoing is weakening. This, then, is a problem and we must strengthen systems to counter it. We also need to appreciate that we are no longer in the era of strong central leadership and must develop rules for more effective coalition regimes. A zero-corruption tolerance rule has to be the centrepiece but a lot can be done around it to allow those who want to be honest to continue to be able to do so.


On a narrower plane, rule-based economic policies and frameworks of accountability in this context may help. The transition to a market economy, initially reasonably smooth, was a rule-based phenomenon. The Narasimhan Committee, set up in Mrs Gandhi's time, laid down the framework. It turns out, now that the period documents are being declassified, that this was much to the chagrin of the Bretton Woods institutions, which had their own rules. The rules were first to bring about domestic reform and prepare Indian industry for the more general reform expected in the early 1990s. Output, import, investment and price control was to be abolished and substituted by tariff, dual pricing and tax policies. As a member of the Narasimhan Committee and chairing the BICP, we prepared the ground rules for the decontrol of major industries, steel, cement, aluminium and so on. Machinery industries were placed on tariff protection instead of import controls. Efficient Indian industries with negative protection, since their inputs were inefficient, required tariff protection in a harmonised manner in what were called inverted tariff structures, popular with developed countries in the stimulus packages after meltdowns. For example, if components got 60% protection and machine tools needed 30% protection, the nominal rate would be 90%. Apart from harmonisation, phasing rules were in place since Indian industry was expected to face greater competition globally in three to five years. In a well known paper, Raja Chelliah estimated that around 60% of Indian industry was deregulated by 1989. Dual pricing for some industries like cement was practised as an interim measure but industry was ensured a reasonable rate of return on long-run marginal-cost principles, which led to the modernisation or weeding out of inefficient units. The desired price was aimed at by experimenting with the share of output in the free market and the control price. Some extraordinarily competent economists, later high flyers and big names worked as consultants to devise detailed structures. The processes were transparent and reports published. When contested, the courts upheld the process.


The reforms now are far more general and, in principle, should be more accepted since they should be following market-based rules. There are two flies in the ointment. First, in many non-tradables and controlled industries, the system of regulators, which replaced the earlier mechanisms, consists of retired bureaucrats, in many cases somewhat innocent of economic principles and also not always very competent (as a number of studies have shown). There is also the anomaly of the earlier controllers later becoming regulators, who tend to be secretive, and sitting in judgement on what they were themselves doing.


There is the more damaging phenomenon of reform being systematically scuttled, either by bureaucratic inertia, political meddling (on account of unsavoury pressures) or just incompetence. So, the preferred variants of fertiliser pricing reform suggestions were jettisoned and alternatives accepted. Again, the market rules suggested newer products; balancing investments and the expansion of capacity were put on the back burner for years. This protected inefficient units or input suppliers but cost the country dearly. For example, the preferred policy of a single producer price or at the most two prices, one for gas-based units and the second for the others (Report of Working Group on Urea Policy, page 64) was jettisoned, even though the savings in energy costs on account of powerful incentives for cost reduction were estimated at thousands of crores. Stop-go in fertiliser pricing is bewildering to put it mildly. Similarly, the advantages of moving to a market-based policy for energy, with some exceptions for equity considerations, is well known from the time of the R Group's report but is systematically set aside and periodical changes are without any explanation. The damage to investment and operating climates is incalculable.


A degree of transparency, consistency in policy rules and a design of reform with established guide posts would help clear the air and lead to the required level of confidence for higher growth.


The author is a former Union minister







Ok guys, stop the illegal taps


If you can't stop them, warn them. The telecom ministry has been unable to stop unauthorised phone taps using equipment, it appears, whose imports may have been cleared by the government itself. A public notice issued by the ministry says companies are "importing (phone tap) equipment for demonstration purpose to Law Enforcing Agencies for short duration". Having admitted some arm of the government cleared the imports, the government has asked those with the illegal equipment to disclose them to the government within 60 days, failing which up to three years of imprisonment awaits them. There's the small issue of catching them, of course.







Tell us what privilege you are claiming...What is the big deal about disclosing the names?'


Opposition stalwarts like BJP's LK Advani have been claiming for some time that there is about Rs 70 lakh crore worth of Indian slush money stashed away in secret Swiss bank accounts and other tax havens across the world. In response to a petition filed by senior advocate Ram Jethmalani and five others in the Supreme Court, contending that the government has not been taking adequate action against such slush money, the government has found itself on the back foot. Because the petitioners point out that even on an account holders' list received by the Indian authorities between 2007 and 2008 from the German government, our government doesn't appear to have taken adequate action. Nor does it seem very accommodating over sharing the concerned list, sometimes suggesting that this would be tackled bilaterally and sometimes claiming that full disclosure would take a toll on the investigations. Either way, WikiLeaks developments prove that the government's reticence could end up amounting to squat all over time.


When Julian Assange posed alongside Rudolf Elmer—someone who used to work with Julius Baer and who now appears to have offered up 2,000 confidential documents concerning secret bank accounts of everyone from politicians to organised criminals, simply in the interest of transparency—it only reinforced a trend that strengthened during the global financial crisis. The more western economies felt the need to rein in yawning trade deficits, the more they found offshore accounts unacceptable. The slower such accounts have been prosecuted, the faster the attraction to Elmer-type revelations has grown. While the Indian government remains inexplicably committed to secrecy over offshore accounts, it should consider that an Elmer may emerge to destroy its 'safe haven'.







India has a staggering burden of chronic disease arising from a variety of causes, but there is encouraging evidence to show that it can reduce both death and disability through effective low-cost measures. The key to successful intervention lies in learning from good pilot programmes and making them integral to health-care protocols in both public and private sector institutions. A new series of articles published by The Lancet on universalising health coverage in India highlights the challenge that lies ahead. In the next two decades, chronic diseases resulting from cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, respiratory conditions, mental illness, and cancer are expected to cast a long shadow over national ambitions for economic growth in terms of healthy life-years lost. The section of the population that is likely to suffer the most will be those over 45. They may find the threat of infectious and parasitic diseases reducing with better standards of living but the threat of chronic diseases will increase. This is because the incidence of hypertension, poor control of blood glucose, tobacco use, and abuse of alcohol is expected to rise. The imperative therefore is to scale up the pilot programmes that have shown good results at prevention.

Last year the central government approved two key measures — the testing of adults for chronic diseases, and an awareness campaign on healthy behaviour — as part of an integrated national programme for prevention and control of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. A lot more needs to be done structurally to align policies with disease reduction goals. Regulation of unhealthy foods to reduce high calorie and salt content can mitigate the risk of diabetes and hypertension but this agenda is not making speed. Also, the unhealthy effects of energy-dense foods are compounded by negative changes in the urban environment. This experience shows that an assessment of the health effects of macroeconomic policies must be made mandatory. Achieving a drastic reduction in tobacco use must be made a national priority in the fight against cancer. The State health ministers, who met recently in Hyderabad, have done well to recognise the need to curb both smoking and smokeless forms of tobacco. But even with modified lifestyles, a medicalised approach to prevention will be needed. There are examples in this area to show that population-level testing for impaired blood glucose and hypertension, followed by a protocol of lifestyle modification and low-cost drug therapy, can stop disease progression. Given such clear evidence, the campaign against chronic disease must move into high gear.






A global report card on poverty eradication prepared by the U.N. Secretary-General shows glaring disparities in performance both across and within regions. Economic growth is one evident reason for the progress in East Asia, particularly China, in reducing extreme poverty and raising living standards, in contrast to sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which continue to remain laggards. Yet, large sections of the world's population risk being left out. For instance, of the 900 million who are predicted to be in extreme poverty in 2015, India is expected to be home to more than 300 million, and sub-Saharan Africa would have more than a third of its population in poverty. Not to be forgotten, in the midst of the encouraging global data that point to a world largely on track to meet the Millennium Declaration's target of halving the proportion of people living on less than a dollar-a-day between 1990 and 2015, is that there is a large section that remains vulnerable. Applying the World Bank's $2-a-day poverty line, for instance, would lead to a dramatic rise in the figures of the poor in developing countries.

While income poverty is a crucial measure, eradicating poverty effectively requires methods that factor in multiple deprivations. Inadequate access to health care services and education are two important factors that work against the poor. The move by the United Nations Development Programme to introduce a multidimensional poverty index is a welcome intervention, as it seeks to fix the paradox of poverty despite rising incomes. That the incidence of multidimensional poverty is higher than that of income poverty in 60 per cent of the countries covered highlights the need for governments to put in place supportive systems. Of the three policy challenges identified in the report prepared as a document for the 49th session of the Commission for Social Development in early February — economic growth and development, social protection and social policy, and structural transformation — priority should be given to social protection policies, particularly in countries like India that are on a positive economic growth trajectory. Studies by International Labour Organisation in 12 Asian and sub-Saharan countries show that the initial gross annual cost of a basic social protection package would be between 2.2 per cent and 5.7 per cent of GDP, which should be a manageable level of spending. Creating and implementing a basic universal social protection floor will mark a new phase in the world's fight against persistent poverty.








The killing of Salmaan Taseer has once again raised fears about Pakistan's future. More than the killing itself, the wide support for the killer among ordinary people has shown that religious extremism is not confined to the lunatic fringe. If a "silent majority" of moderate Pakistanis exist at all, they have gone even more silent and thus carry little or no value when the chips are down. On the other hand, over 50,000 people attended a rally called by Islamist parties in Karachi, at which Taseer's killer was hailed, and Sherry Rehman, a parliamentarian of the Pakistan People's Party, was declared wajib ul qatl (fit to be killed) for demanding changes to the draconian blasphemy law.

The few Pakistanis who are still not afraid to stand up and be counted as liberal, progressive, rational and modern agonise about what must be done to reclaim Jinnah's vision of Pakistan, which they believe was modernist. But their helplessness is only too painfully apparent as they rage on the Facebook, Twitter, SmS and blogs, and in Pakistan's English language newspapers. Should we hold a rally, one Facebooker asks. Candlelight vigil, invites another. Yet another talks about taking on extremism through a "lateral assault." But everyone knows that tweets and newspaper columns do not a revolution make.

The elected government is too weak to take on such a huge challenge and the judiciary's record in the matter is mixed, at best. As one commentator pointed out, when it comes to deciding cases that have to do with religious extremism, militancy and terrorism, judges look for every loophole to let off the suspect; on the other hand, when it comes to blasphemy cases, suspects get no benefit of doubt at all.

There is now perhaps only one force that can push back the poison that has taken hold of Pakistan's vitals, and it is the same one that is responsible for spreading it in the first place — the Pakistan Army. At the outset, let it be clear that this is a case not for a military takeover in Pakistan but for strengthening its democracy.

That Pakistan's national security establishment and the Islamists are fellow travellers is well known. The military sought and obtained predominance in national affairs with the help of the Islamists. It used them in the pursuit of regional strategic goals, in Afghanistan and against India in Kashmir. In turn, the Islamists have managed to gain influence over a good section of the military and the security establishment to push their vision of Pakistan.

Everyone agrees that the military's jihad enterprise since the time of General Zia-ul-Haq's dictatorship is squarely responsible for much that is wrong in Pakistan today — the fundamentalist madrassas; the hate-filled school curriculum that has misinformed two generations of Pakistanis; its rejection of its South Asian heritage and embrace of Arabisation; the anti-people measures in the name of religion such as the Hudood ordinance and the blasphemy laws.

The intolerance that was behind the killing of Taseer must be seen as part of the same continuum, and Barelvis are apparently no exception to this. The Barelvis are seen as practising an Islam that is closer to Sufi traditions and a majority of Pakistanis adhere to this sect. In the summer of 2009, the PPP government took upon itself the task of promoting Barelvism as a counter to the Deobandi-Wahabist schools that are the well-spring of radical Islam.

At the time, a Barelvi cleric was killed by a suicide bomber for participating in government-organised conferences that condemned suicide bombings. But those who thought the Barelvi stand against suicide bombings and jihad made them less extremist are disappointed. That Taseer's killer, a policeman who was deputed to be part of the Punjab Governor's security detail, is a Barelvi, and Barelvi clerics played a prominent role in condemning Taseer before and after his death only goes to show how deep the poison has spread in all the experimentation with religion by the military-dominated Pakistani state.

Today, the Pakistani military says it has no truck with militants or extremist organisations. It points to the death toll of 3,000 Pakistani security personnel killed in the line of duty as Pakistan plays a frontline role in the U.S.-led "war on terror." It points to the retaliation against it by militants. Suicide bombers and snipers have targeted generals, there was an attack on the GHQ, even on a mosque used by senior army officials.

Pressured by the United States following 9/11, the Pakistan Army under General Pervez Musharraf, who was also heading the country at the time, did roll back the state's links to militants and radicals. But questions about the sincerity of this effort remain. Gen. Musharraf spoke about building an "enlightened moderate" nation but when it came to implementing this vision, he hedged his bets. Islamist parties made unprecedented electoral gains during his time, and ran a provincial government in the North-West Frontier Province that looked upon the radicalisation of the region with a benevolent gaze. It was ultimately with the help of these parties that Gen. Musharraf won parliamentary legitimacy and was able to enhance his powers as President.

He banned some militant groups, and then watched as they resurfaced under other names. The Kashmir jihadists were never reined in fully. The Afghan Taliban remained intact. Hate-spewing madrassas and mosques remained untouched. The continuing tolerance for these activities by the state, even though Gen. Musharraf himself was the target of two assassination bids by militants, hardly created the climate for the much touted vision of enlightened moderation. He backed down on a promise to change the blasphemy law in the face of protests by Islamists. To his credit, he went through with amendments to the Hudood ordinance but watered them down to make the changes acceptable to the religious right-wing.

Extremism grew, invading the national capital as never before, witness the Lal Masjid episode. When commandos took control of the mosque and the radical Jamia Hafsa seminary next door to flush out the militants holed up inside, ordinary Pakistanis were convinced that Gen. Musharraf had killed "thousands of Koran-reading girls." No one accepted the official death toll of around 100 dead including the commandos who were killed in action. The Lal Masjid incident also brought on bloody retaliation from militants in the form of more suicide bombings and terror attacks.

Around this time, the movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice gave the impression that Pakistan was finally reconnecting with Jinnah's vision. But alongside moderate sections of lawyers and civil activists demanding rule of law and democracy, religious conservatives and Islamists played a prominent role in it, using it as a vehicle to rail against Gen. Musharraf for taking even the half-hearted steps that he had taken against militancy.

It is now argued that the situation has spun so out of control of the military that it is helpless against its own poison. In any case, it is rightly argued, extremism in people's minds cannot be removed by a military operation.

But as the primary arbiter of national affairs in Pakistan, it is the army alone that is equipped to put up an effective political challenge to extremism. For one, it could come out with a strong condemnation of the killing of Salman Taseer, which it has not done so far. It could declare its whole-hearted backing to any attempt by the political government to make changes to laws that encourage extremism and religious intolerance. It could also openly come out in favour of changing the school curriculum and for reforms in the madrassa education systems.

Such steps would send strong signals through the establishment for a clean-up, and to the rest of the nation. Of course, it would mean several changes in the Army's own thinking. It would mean that the Pakistan Army stops looking at the Islamists as an ally. That, in turn, would mean a serious rethink by the army on its own role in Pakistan and, by extension, it would imply a rethink of its India-centric worldview.

Back in 2009, it was a tremendous build-up of national opinion that forced the army to go after the Taliban in Swat. As Pakistan's progressives once again mull over how to save the country, they must consider putting the kind of pressure they brought to bear on their army two years ago.







The global squeeze on the finances of Laurent Gbagbo, the strongman who refuses to cede power after losing a presidential election here, has included sanctions, asset freezes and financial interdictions, all in the hope of dislodging him without military force.

But Mr. Gbagbo, a political survivor accustomed to staying in office well beyond his legal term, has a financial plan of his own: pushing the banks and companies around him to continue supplying him with cash, diplomats and local businessmen say.

Mr. Gbagbo increasingly appears to be on the lookout for money to pay two constituencies — the military and civil servants — vital to his hold on power.

Tapping cocoa industry

So last week, his officials met representatives from the country's cocoa industry to press them to pay advances on export taxes, according to a cocoa businessman in Abidjan. Ivory Coast is the world's leading producer, and the crop is worth about $1.6 billion to the government.

"He's looking for $90 million, from here to the end of the month," the cocoa businessman said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because more than 200 people had been killed since the election and attacks on civilians are frequent.

Diplomats and businessmen here say Mr. Gbagbo's government is also pressing banks to continue lending to him, in some cases with the threat of force. "He's been strong-arming all the local banks to keep credit lines open," said a Western diplomat here who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Many banks have continued working with the government, and a senior banker in Abidjan denied that force had been used to intimidate them. But he agreed that the state was now "chasing all over the place" for cash, repeatedly urging banks to keep credit flowing.

"It's tight," he said. And "given the sanctions pressure here and there, it's tighter."

The pressure is putting businessmen in an unusually difficult spot. Alassane Ouattara, the former Prime Minister who has been recognised by the United Nations, the African Union and governments around the world as the legitimate president, has already started putting together a list of treasury, banking and cocoa officials who support Mr. Gbagbo, threatening to prosecute them and impose sanctions once he assumes office.

"Some of the bankers are out of the country because they don't want to deal with this situation," said a leading Ivorian business official. He said at least one cocoa businessman was "being visited every day" with demands to "pay cash advances on cocoa exports," while bankers were under pressure to buy government bonds — and to pay for them with cash.

"Lately, banks have been refusing," the business leader said. Regional leaders hope the financial pressures will allow them to avoid taking a step they are planning but also dreading: sending troops to remove Mr. Gbagbo.

But their strategy has been undermined by Mr. Gbagbo's continued access to the country's accounts at the regional central bank, which were supposed to have been cut off. Last month, West African finance ministers recognised Mr. Ouattara as the legitimate president and ordered the bank not to release funds to Mr. Gbagbo's government.

But state anti-riot troops are posted outside the bank's local branch, and Mr. Gbagbo continues to withdraw money from it, according to the senior banker and Mr. Ouattara's officials.

The bank "is not respecting the decision," said Toikeusse Mabri, Mr. Ouattara's Planning and Development Minister. "We think they are complicitous with Gbagbo."

In public, Mr. Gbagbo's officials appear serene about his ability to weather the financial isolation. Asked if Mr. Gbagbo risked economic suffocation, his Foreign Minister, Alcide Djédjé, said: "Never. No, not at all."

EU, World Bank moves

But the costs seem to be rising. Ivory Coast failed to make a $29 million interest payment on government bonds at the end of last month. On January 14, the European Union approved a new round of sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo, 84 of his supporters and 11 economic entities tied to his government, including the ports, news agencies reported, adding to similar measures by the United States.

The World Bank has also stopped disbursing hundreds of millions of dollars to the country, saying it wants to send "the message to President Gbagbo that he lost the elections and he needs to step down."

As long as Mr. Gbagbo can pay his security forces and a core group of civil servants — a tab of $50 million to $100 million a month, depending on the accounting — he is relatively secure in the short term, diplomats and business officials here say.

No one here, outside perhaps Mr. Gbagbo's inner circle, can say for certain how long he can meet the payroll. He was able to pay government salaries in December, diplomats and businessmen say, but barely. Mr. Ouattara's camp claims the government paid less than half of the wages that were due in December.

"We were paid in December, but we weren't paid right away," said a teacher here. "I believe that in January it will be very difficult, very difficult. Really, I'm frightened. Everyone here is scared."

Mr. Gbagbo has a proven ability to remain in the presidential palace. His term expired five years ago, long before the recent election that was "stolen" by him, as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, put it.

Oil exports

Even with the financial pressures he faces, Mr. Gbagbo can look to resources like oil and cocoa. Ivory Coast remains the second biggest economy in the region, after Nigeria.

But the economy here, once so vibrant, continues to wind down, and the impact of the election crisis seems evident. Businesses are laying off workers, food prices have doubled and tripled in some local markets, foreign companies are scaling back and activity has fallen at one of the continent's major ports.

The cocoa harvest has been exceptional this season, and some cocoa exporters, particularly the smaller ones, are complying with demands to pay taxes in cash. But others are resisting, said the leading Ivorian business official.

Oil exports, worth potentially even more than cocoa at about $2 billion, according to diplomats here, are perhaps an even more readily accessible source of cash because the main player, Petroci, is state controlled.

"Today, Gbagbo has some extra cash," the leading business official said. "He's not paying debt," he noted. "Many things like that, he's not paying. If he focusses on paying the military, the police, the gendarmerie and important civil servants, he can hang on." ( Loucoumane Coulibaly contributed reporting.) — © New York Times News Service







The smashed remains of Kapernick's Bridge — with its bent guardrails and a hanging concrete slab where road once was — are as sure a sign as any that the Lockyer Valley's decade-long drought is finished.

Next door, at the vegetable farm of Steve Kluck, the same inland tsunami that last week smashed apart towns and killed more than a dozen people in the northeast Australian state of Queensland left a deep gouge in the earth covering nearly a hectare, or two acres. Water is now plentiful; soil, unfortunately, no longer is.

The cost of rebuilding and future losses is hard to calculate, Mr. Kluck said, but will probably be hundreds of thousands of dollars — still a pittance compared with the losses of some nearby farmers. And there is always the risk of more flooding as Australia's tropical wet season drags on.

"We're picking up all these sticks and rubbish **** up there, and she could all be ******back there in a week," Mr. Kluck said. "We can't give you a figure" for losses, he said, "but it's just going to be a pain in the *** for the next 10 years."

Intensive agriculture

Farmers like Mr. Kluck are among the worst hit in the multibillion-dollar economic toll of Australia's continuing flood crisis, which has affected a combined region of more than a million hectares in five states; in the worst-hit state, Queensland, flooding in regions with a land area more than double that of California has killed at least 28 people.

Even as victims in southern Queensland regions cleaned up in the wake of receding waters over the weekend, fresh floods struck in other areas of the country; in the state of Victoria, homes were inundated and more than 3,500 people were forced to evacuate, The Associated Press reported.

Buffeted by a cycle of dispiriting dry followed by overwhelming wet, the farmers are experiencing a fate highlighting the vagaries of Australia's extreme weather. At the same time, it is also adding fuel to a continuing debate over the future of intensive agriculture on a continent drier than all the others save Antarctica.

"Oh, mate, it's going to hurt us financially," said Derek Schulz, who owns land downstream near the town of Grantham, which was largely destroyed in the flood. Where more than a week ago fields were ready for a fresh vegetable crop, there is now a plane of cracked mud and the scattered debris of crushed cars, tractors and torn homes.

"We're carrying a huge amount of debt, we're talking my wife and I carrying millions of dollars in debt. And to have a complete wipe-out, that's gonna hurt us," he said.

Australian farming is a business of high expenditures and thin margins, and Mr. Schulz said he expected many from the town would give up.

Insurance will not cover many losses, and government assistance, including disaster grants of up to $25,000 and low-interest loans of up to $2,50,000, is a fraction of what is required to cover losses and start anew. But Mr. Schulz said he would probably take on fresh debt and return to the land.

"I've got this little saying, 'I've got dirt under the fingernails.' And it's gonna be hard to get rid of that," he said.

Issue of water availability

While some farmers may leave the land because of the floods, the bigger threat in the longer term is still likely to be a lack of water, said Chris Cocklin, an environmental scientist who is the deputy vice-chancellor of James Cook University in Queensland. Prior to the start of heavy rains late last year, a drought had gone on for more than a decade across the Murray-Darling basin, a massive irrigated river system in eastern Australia that is the country's most important agricultural area. In many areas, it would take years of significant rain to bring underground aquifers up to healthy levels, Mr. Cocklin said.

Mr. Cocklin warned that it was impossible to easily blame the latest floods on climate change. Rather, the immediate culprit is La Niña,+/- a Pacific weather pattern that has caused havoc from Brazil to Sri Lanka. But he said it was indisputable that, as a result of climate change, "these extremes are becoming more intensified" — meaning more severe, and longer, droughts.

As a result, Australia must consider a less water-intensive agricultural future, Mr. Cocklin said. "People have to accept that the game's changed," he said, particularly in the case of water-hogging crops like rice and cotton.

"They're literally flooding the continent; you know, they're trying to copy monsoon Asia. You'd have to wonder if that's really a smart thing to be doing," he said.

In response to the long drought, the government authority responsible for the Murray-Darling released a proposal in October to drastically reduce water consumption by irrigators; some outraged farmers burned copies of the plan in protest.

Amid heavy floods at the start of this year, the National Farmers Federation called on the centre-left minority Labour government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard to delay its water reform process. The government has rejected the calls.— © New York Times News Service





When the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott arrived at the South Pole only to find that he had been beaten there by Roald Amundsen and his team of Norwegians, he was despondent. "Great God! This is an awful place," he lamented in his diary.

Awful as it may be, it is about to get a lot of foot traffic. Hundreds of people — tourists, adventurers and history buffs — are lining up to visit the South Pole in honour of the 100th anniversaries of Amundsen's arrival (on December 14, 1911) and Scott's (January 17, 1912). The preparations are already speeding along.

Some people intend to ski the exact routes of Amundsen and Scott, reading the explorers' diaries daily and blogging about the experience. Others will drive to the pole by truck. For those seeking less exertion, there will be catered flights to the pole, including several that will let passengers off a few miles away so they can ski the remaining stretch and feel the thrill of victory.

One of the many tour operators trying to cash in on the fervour is Polar Explorers, a company in suburban Chicago that is charging $40,500 for a flight to the pole on either anniversary (weather permitting). People who want to be dropped off a degree or two away so they can ski in will pay up to $57,500.

"We're going to have lots of Champagne toasts and take a lot of pictures, and you can call home to your loved ones from the pole," said Annie Aggens of Polar Explorers. "It's super exciting just to walk in the footsteps of these early explorers."

Needless to say, people will not want to replicate Scott's entire expedition. He and his men died in a blizzard during the 800-mile trek back from the pole, huddled in a tent that was, famously, just 11 miles from a vital cache of supplies.

Instead, many people plan to ski to the pole, then fly back. Davis Nelsen, who is 52 and runs a steel manufacturing company in Chicago, will have a less stressful trip. He plans to be on one of the Amundsen flights run by Polar Explorers, in honour of his Norwegian heritage. This will be his second polar adventure: in 2009, he flew to the North Pole to mark the centenary of Robert Peary's expedition.

In polar travel, "you have to be prepared to be uncomfortable," said Mr. Nelsen, who plans to ski the last 30 or so miles.

The crowds going to the South Pole are not expected to amount to more than a blip in overall tourism numbers to Antarctica, which peaked at 46,000 in the 2007-08 season and have dropped off because of the global recession. But because most people who visit Antarctica go by cruise ship and do not venture beyond the coast, a spike in tourism to the pole itself is expected.

NSF reaction

The National Science Foundation, which runs the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole, is not amused. It has a message for all these potential visitors: do not expect a warm welcome.

"Those people who do arrive, we don't really have a process for them other than letting them know that they are at the pole, that this is a U.S. station, and we're not able to provide them with any amenities," said Peter West of the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs.

Yes, there is a small gift shop — make that, "commissary" — where people can buy T-shirts and the like, and visitors can drop off letters that will get a South Pole postmark. But the research station is "really not set up for tourism," said Evan Bloom of the State Department. "We want other governments to get the word out that people should not simply show up at the South Pole."

Ski race

Most of the time, visitors will be spread across Antarctica. The biggest ski race, the one set up by Extreme World Races, will take place far away from the routes taken by Scott and Amundsen, approaching from the opposite side of the continent. Fifty-one competitors, in teams of three, will ski to the pole, said Tony Martin, founder of the company. Training for the race, which includes jumping into ice holes and learning to negotiate crevasses, will take place at a camp in Norway; space is still available.

"We don't give cash prizes or cars," said Mr. Martin, in an interview by satellite phone from Antarctica, where he was in a truck setting a course for the race. He described his clients as "just ordinary people" who wanted to "push themselves psychologically and physically." Each will wear a GPS device, and aeroplanes will be on call in case someone needs to be evacuated.

Among other adventure travellers, Henry Worsley, a lieutenant colonel in the British Army, may have the best historical pedigree. He is distantly related to Frank Worsley, the captain of Ernest Shackleton's ship, the Endurance. He is staging his own race to the pole in two teams of three men. "The intention is to rerun the Scott-Amundsen race from the two start points," he said. "I'm leading the Norwegian route up the Axel Heiberg glacier from the Bay of Whales, and a friend of mine is going to do the Scott route, which I did a few years ago."

History trail

Some people are trying to play down the competitive angle and play up the historical one. Jan-Gunnar Winther, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, plans to be at the pole the day Amundsen reached it, part of a four-man team that will re-enact Amundsen's journey then fly home in time for Christmas. On the British side, Ben Saunders, a 33-year-old London resident, who is a long-distance skier and motivational speaker, plans to follow in the footsteps of Scott — and to complete the return trip that Scott could not finish.

David Wilson, a great-nephew of Edward Wilson, the naturalist and sketch artist who marched to the pole with Scott and died beside him, will join other descendants of Scott's polar party in Antarctica next January 17 in the vicinity of the tent, where they will hold a memorial service.

He echoes the Scott party line: that the British expedition went to Antarctica to do science, not to race to the pole. The people planning competitions are "completely misunderstanding what happened 100 years ago," Dr. Wilson said.

Despite the potential circus atmosphere, some veterans insist that Antarctica is not for novices.

"It's a place that wants you dead," said Robert Swan, an environmentalist who walked Scott's route to the South Pole in 1985. "Scott found that out 100 years ago."— © New York Times News Service






A culture of impunity is the factor that stands out in the recent scandals — Adarsh and 2G among them — that have made us squirm as a nation, exposed the high and mighty, cast a shadow on India as a place to do honest business in, infused political uncertainty in the system, and made us introspect as a society. It is quite clear that the culture of impunity is now deeply embedded in every aspect of our life. This, arguably more than anything else, is something the country will agree on. Powerful, influential or wealthy people who seek to bend rules at their will for purposes of self-aggrandisement are able to do so because they know they won't be interrogated for their actions. Mostly this is on account of the fact that too few people who operate the system — party affiliations are immaterial — are above board, and therefore too many may be expected to look away even when they know that wilful wrong is being done. There is no knowing how many skeletons are rattling in the cupboards of the powerful while they pretend to be going about in pursuit of the national interest. It is for this reason that environment minister Jairam Ramesh's order to bring down the Adarsh Society flats in Colaba, Mumbai, within three months makes sense. The order is dramatic, it is overwhelming, but it has come not a day too soon. It also makes us breathe a sigh of relief. At last there is a no-nonsense order from high levels that signals that will be zero tolerance for wilful disregard of regulations. Since at the formal level we remain a democracy, those whose malign interests take a hit on account of the environment ministry's order will take recourse to the law courts to fight off demolition. The kleptocrats cannot be denied due process although it is well known that in India due process often permits the devil to cite scripture.

The Adarsh complex treated the Coastal Regulation Zone Rules of 1991 as though these did not exist. We may be certain that many are waiting in the wings to make a mockery of this regulation. It is just possible that the environment ministry order will give them pause. It will also alert public opinion and exert pressure on politicians, bureaucrats, bent businessmen and other high-fliers to step back. Not so long ago, it was commonly supposed that minor officials in government departments took advantage of a shortage economy to line their pockets, giving rise to the idea of the "inspector raj". Today we can be certain that it is the elite who are twisting the rules out of shape to milk the system. They will stop at nothing unless the political executive stands up to be counted. But for the scandals that have lately come to light, the UPA-II government appeared to be on a steady-state path. Now the Manmohan Singh government and the Congress party, the core of the ruling coalition, has to fight its way out of the corner. It can do so only if it is able to demonstrate that it means business in dealing with the crooks. It will not do for it to point fingers at its opponents. Rules and procedures need to be tightened, investigations hastened without compromising quality, and examples made of wrong-doers. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi noted recently that our moral universe had shrunk even as growth rates had expanded. She must now move to show that her party has the will and the capacity to go beyond words.






The assassination of governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad on January 4 roused the world not only because the assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was his own protector but that he was a Barelvi. Why was the follower of a relatively moderate denomination so exercised over the governor's critique of the anti-blasphemy laws? Equally shocking was the silence of civil society and the showering of rose petals by lawyers when Qadri was produced in court. Clearly Pakistan's 10 years of anti-terror dalliance with the United States was beginning to radicalise the middle of Pakistani society.

Many have studied Pakistan's angst, the impulses that mould its nationalism and the role that it wishes to play in a resurgent Asia. What is often forgotten is that running through the history of post-Islam India have been the twin impulses of accommodation between Islam and the majority community's faith which was diverse, civilisational and deeply grounded, as well as confrontation. Even at the pinnacle of Mughal power, the population of Muslims in India was well below one-third. The accommodative streak, symbolised by the rule of Akbar, ran in parallel to the rule of the Safavids in Iran, who after seizing power established the first Shia Islamic government. As Iran persecuted its Sufis, the Mughal court at Agra drew them, triggering an intellectual and spiritual renaissance in India.

The seeds of rebellion against such syncretism had been shown in the 13th century by Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya, born in Damascus five years after the Mongols overthrew the Baghdad Caliphate in 1258. On its ruins the Mongols developed a brilliant, inclusive civilisation rooted in Sufism and basically Shia. Ibn Tamiyya, generally considered the spiritual predecessor of the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim brotherhood of Egypt, as a follower of the Hanbali code ,declared this civilisation as an offence to God. He argued that a true Muslim state needed the amir (ruler) to be guided by the imam (religious leader).

Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal ruler, brought the same restrictive vision of Islam to the throne. His elder brother, Dara Shikoh, who should have ascended the throne, was a Sanskrit scholar who translated the Upanishads into Persian and befriended Sufis and saints, including the Sikh gurus. The turning point in the history of Islam in South Asia was the tussle for the throne between these two princes, representing two different readings of Islam. The image of US President Barack Obama and his wife visiting Humayun's tomb with their escort, K.K. Muhammed, superintending archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, was seen by all. What is not known is that K.K. Muhammed pointed out that in a corner grave lay the headless body of Dara Shikoh, whose translated Upanishads influenced American transcendental thinkers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, via Latin and then German retranslations. President Obama was dissuaded from making a detour on security grounds, bowing his head in obeisance to the prince of peace, ironically while his forces battle the demons born from the actions of Aurangzeb, who had his brother slain.

In a globalised and inter-dependent world, modernity and growth have left large swathes of the Islamic world either poor or marginalised, exploited by autocrats, the latest having just fled Tunis with two tonnes of gold. Could Pakistan have grown to espouse the inclusive vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah or was its Islamisation inevitable? Had Jinnah not died so soon after Pakistan's birth he may have been able to guide a compromise between his vision and the relentless logic of a state created on the basis of religion ending only as an Islamic republic. The descent of Pakistan into a quagmire has been both a result of choices made by their elite and an external environment they inherited or opportunistically exploited. The wars of 1948 and 1965 were of choice, to seize Kashmir by force. The one of 1971 they brought upon themselves by mishandling Bengali aspirations and subverting an electoral verdict. Post-1979, with the Islamic revolution in Iran, Soviet incursion into Afghanistan and a Saudi ruling family shaken by the seizure of the Grand Mosque at Mecca by Mahdi's followers, Pakistan volunteered to be a frontline state in the battle to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. The consequence was a witch's brew of Wahabi ideology, US weapons and Saudi rials. Pakistan today reaps the crop it then sowed.

The time to make choices is ending. The Pakistani ruling elite must close ranks. The US should have a frank non-transactional chat with them, co-opting two of the other three countries that are a bulwark to Pakistan i.e. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That leaves out China, which also must end arming Pakistan to stymie India. The forces of radical Islam need to be rolled back. The 13th century Persian poet Saadi put it well:
A spring at its source can be turned with a twig,

But when grown into a river, even an elephant can't traverse.

The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry








As an astronomer, I am often asked why anyone should study astronomy and bother about the nature of distant stars, planets and the remote galaxies in the sky above. The questioner implies that such an activity is of little practical value and that we astronomers are really parasites on the society by siphoning precious funds for its pursuit.

This question, of course, can be answered at different levels. At the deepest level, the motivation to study astronomy is the same as the motivation for any intellectual activity. Over the years human civilisations have supported creative activities in the arts, literature and the more abstract variety of science. So, at this level, we can argue that astronomy should be practised in order to satisfy our innate curiosity about the cosmos and to understand our place in this universe. And, as the following example illustrates, an intellectual activity can lead to useful results.


The 16th century astronomer, Tycho Brahe, had made meticulous observations of the sky and in particular the motion of planets. He felt that Copernicus was wrong and hoped that his data would prove his conjecture. To extract the facts from his data, Tycho needed an assistant proficient in mathematics and he got Johannes Kepler for the job. Kepler spent several years to codify the essence into three specific laws for planetary motion. These laws describe how the planets move round the Sun in elliptical orbits.


Kepler's laws raised the question as to why the planets move in this fashion and the answer came from Isaac Newton who had the genius to postulate the existence of a universal gravitational force between any two objects. From then on, study of gravity has played a crucial role in understanding the structure of our universe.
At the next level, one can list several technological offshoots which have come about from the application of the law of gravitation and these have benefited mankind. Indeed, most of the benefits of space technology, which we enjoy today, can be directly traced to the better understanding of how gravity works which, in turn, was prompted by purely astronomical considerations. That we can launch satellites around the Earth or can send spacecrafts to the Moon, all in highly precise trajectories is because of our understanding of Newton's law of gravitation. The benefits we enjoy today from space technology, be it remote sensing of Earth resources, or sending a fax or an email message or watching the World Cup live on television, all owe their existence to the law of gravitation; and the law of gravitation itself owes its genesis to the data from astronomy that was painstakingly collected by Tycho.

We can actually go one level further and argue that astronomy is essential for our continued survival on this planet. We are aware of the history of the Jurassic age when huge beasts like dinosaurs used to dominate this planet. What catastrophe took place that wiped them entirely from the face of the Earth?

There is much speculation. But one serious possibility is that the Earth may have been hit by an extraterrestrial body of appreciable mass and the impact caused a huge turmoil wiping out all, or at least most, life forms from the Earth. What could the impacting body be? Can we trace the impacters through the craters they leave?
The surface of the Moon is pock-marked with craters, showing evidence that outside bodies have hit it on several occasions. The Earth has also such craters; only many of them are filled with water and appear as lakes. Two examples of craters believed to have arisen from impacts are the Meteor Crater in Arizona, the US, and the Lonar Crater Lake in Buldhana district of Maharashtra in India. A meteor is a piece of stone passing through the atmosphere which heats up by friction and shines.

Such material comes in all sizes, ranging from less than a millimetre to several metres and the larger ones can be devastating in their impact. For example, the meteorite whose impact caused the "hole" at Lonar was about 60 metres in diameter, weighing about 20 million tonnes. The hole so caused has a diameter of around 1,830 metres and a depth of 150 metres. Tom Gehrels from the University of Arizona has used a graphic way to describe the energy released in such celestial impacts: through a comparison with the energy released in a nuclear bomb. The energy released in the Lonar catastrophe was equivalent to that coming from a six megaton H-bomb, about 500 times the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Of course, no nuclear energy is released in a meteoric impact, but the heat released is sufficient to initiate combustion that could significantly deplete the oxygen in the atmosphere.

There are even bigger entities than such rocks going around in the Solar System. In July 1994, Comet Shoemaker Levy had impacted on Jupiter. The event was witnessed by telescopes on the Earth. On the huge planet the impact of a comet had, of course, a transient and relatively mild effect. But what if a comet strikes the Earth? Indeed, such a possibility was raised in 1992 in connection with Comet Swift Tuttle. This comet passed by in 1992. At the time it was predicted that in its next visit on August 14, 2126, it will come very close to the Earth. Although it cannot be definitely calculated, the probability of its actually hitting the Earth is not negligible. A better estimate can only be made when the comet is sighted again in the 22nd century.
In the 1970s I had written a science fiction story in which a comet like this was headed for a collision with the Earth. How did the scientists avert the catastrophe? The solution used in the story involved sending an unmanned spacecraft to rendezvous with the comet; with the provision that close to the comet it would carry out a nuclear explosion generating shock waves that would divert the comet from its original path. The same solution is now being proposed for saving the Earth from any impending impact by a comet or a meteorite, or, an asteroid. Keeping such possibilities in view, astronomers in the US have initiated a Spacewatch programme, in which a dedicated 1.8 metre telescope is looking for all solar system bodies of such appreciable sizes in our neighbourhood. With their trajectories charted out we can predict if any of them will come dangerously close to the Earth in the future, and take preventive action as needed.

This example again reminds us that sky-gazing is not a mere idle activity: it can help human survival.

Jayant V. Narlikar is a professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist






The relations between civil servants and politicians in a parliamentary system of democracy has been the subject of many articles and books in India ever since Independence. After the spate of scams last year many issues relevant to the relations between civil servants and politicians and particularly between the civil servants and their ministers have come up for public discussion through the media. I propose to deal with some of these issues in this article.

Taking the general question of laying down guidelines on relations between the civil servants and the ministers, I should point out the example of Britain where such relations are mostly governed by certain unwritten rules and conventions, which have worked satisfactorily without any hitch for several years now. The parliamentary system of government works on the principle that the final decision on all matters in a particular ministry is that of the minister and where there is difference of opinion between one ministry and another on any issue it is settled at the level of Prime Minister and if found necessary, in the Cabinet. Unfortunately, in the 2G spectrum case this has not been followed and the minister concerned chose to take all decisions himself.
The secretary of the ministry had brought to the notice of the minister through a note the errors and dangers involved in implementing the minister's proposal regarding allocation of 2G spectrum and the price. But he was overruled. His retirement from service was due a few days later and his successor as secretary chose not to express any reservations, on those proposals. He is reported to have told the Public Accounts Committee that all decisions were taken by the minister and he just carried out orders. This was undoubtedly a clear case of gross dereliction of duty on the part of the new secretary. Even if he knew that the minister would stand firm by his proposals it was his duty to place his views before the minister for his consideration.

It appears the new secretary had worked with the minister in the latter's previous assignment as minister for environment and forests. A golden principle followed by Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister was that posting of secretaries in various ministries should be done according to the suitability of the candidate for the ministry and that requests for the services of particular persons as secretary from the minister should not be entertained. It would be advisable if this principle is revived now and the ministers make a choice of secretaries for the ministry strictly from the panel of three names submitted to them by the Cabinet secretary from the list of persons eligible for appointment as secretaries.

As regards, totally disregarding the views of the previous secretary by the minister it should be accepted beyond any doubt that the final say in decision-making is that of the political executive and the civil servant cannot complain if his opinion is overruled by the minister. However, a wise minister always carefully assesses the merits of the opinions of the civil servant before deciding to over rule him.

In a parliamentary system of democracy a minister is selected for his job by the Prime Minister not necessarily because he is an expert on the subject assigned to his charge, but because he possesses the required political background and qualities of sound judgment. In this context, the famous and often repeated words of Sydney Low is worth quoting. He said that while an aspirant for a clerk's job may have to pass an examination in arithmetic, the Chancellor of Exchequer can be one who may not even understand the place of decimals in a Budget document. Edward Carson expressed similar sentiments when he was appointed as the first Lord of the Admiralty in England in 1916. He told the senior officers in a half joking, half serious tone that his only qualification to head the ministry of navy was that he was very much at sea.

Both Carson and Low were indulging in exaggeration to make a point, but their presumption was that a person selected for appointment as a minister is intelligent and industrious enough to acquire in-depth knowledge of the subject in his ministry even after his taking charge of the minister. The will and humility to learn from others is an essential qualification for a successful minister.

A civil servant newly appointed to a ministry has to acquire knowledge and expertise in the subject handled by him by his own personal efforts. A secretary who says that he did not give any advice to the minister but just carried out his orders is certainly unfit to hold this high office.

The suggestion to draw a line of division between policy formulation and its implementation has often been made by people who do not understand fully the intricacies of policymaking at top levels. Such clear-cut division never existed in India before, neither is such a formal division possible in our system of government. From the early years of Independence, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet ministers had never kept civil servants out of the responsibility for framing policies. Of course, it is the duty of the minister to pilot the bills through Parliament, but policy formulation has always been the joint effort of the political executive and the civil servant.

There have been instances where the civil servants have been "helpful and cooperative" to the corrupt ministers by "cooking up" the notes on the file, though they may not get a share of the benefits of corruption. But such cooperation is as bad as direct act of corruption by the officer. In the scam on the Adarsh Cooperative Housing project in Maharashtra, preliminary investigations have shown that some senior civil servants have connived with politicians for changing the rules regarding allotment of houses to permit certain categories who were not entitled for such allotment to get houses in this complex. A senior officer who had been a party to this venture has been suspended as he has reportedly gained personal advantages in the allotment of houses.
In the scam about allotment of land in Karnataka under the discretionary powers of the chief minister, no information is available whether the civil servants had, at any levels, advised the chief minister that his discretionary powers cannot be used by him to benefit himself or his relatives. If this has not been pointed out by the civil servant, he is as much to blame as the chief minister for dishonesty.

One can only hope that the investigations about the 2010 scams would lead to a clearer understanding of the relative responsibilities of the civil servants and the ministers and that the interests of the nation would always be kept strictly in view in exercising their power.

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra







The zeitgeist of our times is clearly concern about corruption and lack of governance. And when the corporate sector makes the effort to bring these matters up with the government, then the seriousness of our problems gets further emphasised.


This "Open Letter to Our Leaders", whose signatories include Azim Premji, Keshub Mahindra, Jamshyd Godrej, Anu Aga and even Justice BN Srikrishna among others, talks about the "governance deficit" in "government, business and urgent situations", and the "malaise of corruption which is corroding the fabric of our nation".


Premji has just set aside a portion of his fortune to improve education in India — a rare gesture— and just before that wrote an open letter to the government suggesting that the money over-spent on the Commonwealth Games would have been better spent improving education and sports facilities in Bihar, for instance. Many of the other signatories have also been involved in development works.


Their demands include making investigative agencies independent of the executive, a need for independent regulatory authorities to check decisions that have been "routinely subjected to extraneous influences" and empowered Lok Ayuktas in every state.


The fact is that corruption does affect everyone, no matter how rich or poor. And is what is a nuisance at the lower level can be a major threat as you climb higher up the power chain. Indian business has usually played along with the demands of India's politicians and bureaucrats but perhaps even it has had enough.


The revelations of the past few months have exposed the connections between some industries and government and also shown us the shocking amounts of money that we have been cheated of. When this is tagged with the lack of development in some parts of India and our shoddy record in health and education, the India Story suddenly becomes far less glamourous.


India has, by most estimates, 300 million people who live below the poverty line. As they starve and the exchequer loses Rs1.76 lakh crore and more, it is perhaps about time that the rest of the nation wakes up and demands action. It is heartening that these big names have jumped into the fray. More voices need to make themselves heard if we want things to change.







The soaring prices of onions and vegetables have triggered responses from economists like Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and industry and business bodies like Assocham. Ahluwalia thinks that vegetables should be freed from the local committees and that they should be allowed to sell it to a good intermediary — some private sector player, who will give the farmer a fair price and also sell the horticulture product at a reasonable rate to the consumer. That is an economist working out a problem in an elaborately rational way.


Assocham, on the other hand, emphasises the need for improving the cold storage chain so that perishable vegetable and fruit products can be sold across an extended supply line.


These are not bad ideas and they need to be thought through, not just at the ideational level but at the level of implementing decisions. A slightly urgent response came from the national co-operative of farmers which had urged the government to suspend the import of onions, mainly from Pakistan, for 10 days because the fresh crop of onions is due and the supply crunch will ease.


The prices are quite likely to stabilise sooner than later due to the availability of vegetables, onions and fruits, and people — consumers as well as policy heads— will soon forget the irritant that the high prices were. But it reveals, in full measure, the real problem plaguing the country. We look at a problem when it erupts and the problem resolves itself much before the decision-makers are able to find the answers. Of course, the problem recurs and so do the responses.


For example, Ahluwalia's suggestion that the horticulture produce should not be tied down to local market committees should have become policy by now. There is, of course, the basic issue of increasing productivity because of the exponential increase in


demand. But the measures are not taken.


Restrictive laws from the bad old days of the licence-permit raj is only part of the story. The old order has been dismantled in a piecemeal fashion, no doubt, and it could have happened in this segment of perishable goods as well. The simple fact is that no one — from the farmer to the intermediary to the retailer — has thought of the issue and pressurised the authorities to take necessary action. It is this unwillingness to solve problems that is the heart of the matter.








Ahead of a black-tie state banquet being hosted in his honour by US President Barack Obama later today, Chinese President Hu Jintao has 'thanked' his host by dropping a rhetorical low-yield thermonuclear device on the front lawns of the White House.


In comments to the US media ahead of his visit, Hu called the dollar-based world order a "product of the past", and suggested that US dollar liquidity, which is a result of ongoing US efforts to prop up a sagging economy, but which is devaluing the currency, should be reined in. It was the highest level of the Chinese leadership at which disquiet over the dollar's standing as a global reserve currency has been articulated.


Hu's comments were rather more moderate than earlier pronouncements on the subject by other Chinese policymakers: one over-the-top hawkish military general publicly 'warned' the US last year that China would 'dump' its large hoard of US Treasuries, which some economists have likened to "dropping a nuclear bomb" on financial markets. Even so, given the popular (but incorrect) perception of China as a 'banker' to the US, Hu's thoughts revived commentariat chatter about an imminent end to the dollar's status as the preferred currency of global trade and investment flows.


On the flip side, some analysts cite China's baby-steps efforts to "internationalise" its currency, the renminbi, as a preamble to a time in the near future when the renminbi will rule the world. Yet, both of these arguments are wildly exaggerated and low on economic wisdom; they also overlook the political agenda underlying them, which accounts for why they find recurrent amplification.


As economist and political scientist Barry Eichengreen notes in his recent book Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System, China has no interest in dethroning the dollar as the global reserve currency; in fact, it has so much invested in dollar-denominated assets that were the dollar to fade away overnight, China would have to book a huge loss on its foreign exchange reserves portfolio.


Even during the past two years, when Chinese policymakers were 'talking down the dollar', China was actually increasing its dollar hoard. Its feeble efforts to diversify a portion of its reserves away from the dollar and into the euro have proved less than successful, given the sovereign debt crisis that grips the eurozone.


The reason why Chinese leaders roll out the 'nuclear bomb' threat to the dollar from time to time is to beat back the (primarily) US criticism of persistent Chinese undervaluation of the renminbi and of China's record of human rights abuse. As anyone who's played xiangqi, the Chinese variant of chess, knows, pre-emptive offence is often the best form of defence.


That strategy is working splendidly: Obama began by walking on eggshells to avoid displeasing China, and is today hosting Hu to a state banquet. In that sense, China's 'dollar bark' is considerably more effective than its bite.


And although the use of the renminbi for trade settlement and cross-border investment will gradually gain greater traction, its time as a preferred reserve currency is at least two decades away.


There's a reason why Somali pirates today demand that their ransom be paid in US dollars, and why even gangsters in Hollywood flicks get their payoffs in suitcases stuffed with greenbacks. Likewise, it will be a while before henchmen in Bollywood flicks too start mouthing 'renmin-mumbo-jumbo'.









Genetically modified (GM) crops are once again in the eye of a storm. With the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPM] taking a complete U-turn in its stated policy approach and now publicly supporting GM crops, the debate is heating up. National president of the All India Kisan Sabha, the farmers' wing of the CPM, SR Pillai, has recently called those who oppose GM crops as being 'superstitious'.


At the recently concluded 98th Indian Science Congress, industry lobbyists had made a strong pitch for GM crops. Ironically, while the Indian Science Congress has always refrained from discussing farmer suicides, it offered a platform to the biotech industry for promoting a risky and unstable technology.


This, however, doesn't come as a surprise. In Europe, as the BBC reports, the GM controversy is back on the political radar. Politically incorrect efforts have been on for quite some time to re-energise the debate. Wikileaks tells us how the US embassy in Paris had, in 2007, urged Washington to start a military-style trade war against EU for opposing GM crops.


A year later, in 2008, the US and Spain had plotted to raise food prices in Europe to justify the need for introducing GM foods. With Europe still not accepting GM crops, India remains the prime target. Wikileaks informs that even India's National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, talked about the possibility of opening up to GM crops.


After Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a moratorium on the commercialisation of Bt brinjal in early 2010, diplomatic and political pressure from the US has been increasing relentlessly. The multinational seed industry moved fast, first by taking a large number of journalists on an 'educational' trip to the US, and also within India, thereby shifting some of the media's opinion in favour of GM crops.


At the same time, American multinational giants began the exercise to sway political opinion in favour of GM crops. The turnaround by CPM seems to be an outcome of one such approach. Nevertheless, it is important to explain some of the hotly debated aspects, which is lost in the hype being generated to push GM crops.


The first and foremost argument is that GM crops are important for a country that has more than 1 billion people to feed. It will ensure food security. The fact is there is no GM crop in the world that increases productivity. In fact, most of the GM crops under cultivation actually reduce productivity. The US Department of Agriculture admits that the productivity of GM corn and GM soya is less than that of normal varieties, and that makes me wonder how our politicians are suggesting GM crops for ensuring food security.


Furthermore, there is no shortage of food in the world. We have 6.5 billion people on Earth, and we produce food for 11.5 billion people. If more than 1 billion people go to bed hungry globally, it is because of the faulty distribution process rather than the unavailability of food. The same holds true for India, where one-third of the population cannot afford to buy food, but huge quantities of food is allowed to rot.


Almost all the GM crops that have been developed so far are for killing insects. Bt cotton, for instance, is supposed to kill sucking pests like pink bollworm, thereby reducing pesticides consumption. This, however, does not hold true for long. In China, cotton farmers growing Bt cotton are now reported to be spraying 10% more pesticides and thereby incurring losses.


In India too, as far as pesticides consumption on Bt cotton is concerned, its cultivation has, in reality, increased the application of pesticides. The Central Cotton Research Institute estimates that in 2006, pesticides worth Rs640 crore were sprayed on cotton. In 2008, it had increased to over Rs800 crore. Even in the US, where GM crops are widely cultivated, the usage of


herbicides has increased by $300 million.


GM crops also create super weeds, which cannot be controlled by any chemicals so far. In the US, almost 15 million acres have become infested with super weeds. Georgia, for instance, has been turned into a wasteland due to infestation of super weeds. So far, at least 30 super weeds have been indentified in North America.


Numerous experiments all over the world have shown that GM crops pose tremendous health risks. Even Monsanto's own studies on rats in Europe have demonstrated that the animals have problems with their body organs, and use of GM crops can also result in serious diseases and allergies. Some studies in Austria have shown that GM crops also lead to infertility.


Interestingly, all the scientists who dared to question the human safety aspect were hounded out of their jobs.


Already farmers are committing suicide because of the faulty technologies imposed on them. How many more farmers do we








It is perfectly in order for ordinary citizens to cry foul as and when they suspect skeletons in police and administrative cupboards. By doing so they simply exercise their democratic right to give vent to their feelings. What they have done, therefore, in the wake of the alleged death of a 30-year old person in police custody in this city itself is largely justified. From the available details, it appears that the concerned individual was arrested for being wanted in a few theft cases and was kept at the Janipura police station. He is supposed to have inhaled a few intoxicant capsules the moment he was nabbed in Katra. Some capsules were reported to have been snatched by the policemen. It is said that he had his food in the lock-up after being brought to Janipura. In the wee hours of the following morning he complained of pain in the stomach and turned unconscious. He was rushed to the Government Medical College Hospital where he was declared brought dead. The only missing link in this entire narration, assuming that it is true, is why he was not subjected to a medical examination soon after he was found to be consuming something that was fishy. It was but natural for the people to flare up at the sight of his body when it was brought to his village Bajwal in Raipur Satwari at the other end of the city. That they organised a massive demonstration is understandable. However, they should have resisted their anger and refrained from violence of any kind including setting fire to tyres and other material. For their part the police, administration and the political leadership have done very well to move swiftly in the matter, in their different capacities, to control damage and find out the truth.


Together they have taken the following measures: (a) the Station House Officer (SHO) of the Janipura police station has been attached pending inquiry; (b) post-mortem has been conducted in the presence of an executive magistrate and while there is no external injury the viscera has been sent for chemical analysis; (c) Additional Deputy Commissioner has been appointed inquiry officer of the case; (d) a personal assurance has been held out by the Inspector-General Police of the Jammu region that there will be justice; and (e) a minister, who is also a local legislator, has announced the appointment of the wife of the alleged victim as the special police officer in the police department. These steps are apart from a magisterial inquiry which has been instituted as a matter of routine.


All these are comprehensive actions and should inspire confidence. It is absolutely necessary for the men at the helm to be not only fair but also seen to be fair. It is not a matter of showing sympathy with a thief assuming that there is one. It is an issue involving the treatment to an individual after he is taken over by the law-enforcing agencies in order to reform or punish him. If a death having the connotation of a murder can take place in police custody in the Capital city the signal it will send can simply be damaging for the governing apparatus as a whole. What should involve the official machinery, therefore, is truth and nothing but its search.







The scenes of jubilant tourists revelling in snow in the meadows of Patnitop and Gulmarg lift our spirits. We should be grateful to the visitors as well as the nature's generous bounty for doubly blessing us. By coming all the way from different parts of the country and the world the sightseers give a boost to our image and economy. There is no doubt about it. There are reasons to believe that they would like to come in huge numbers. Why don't they do so hardly bears any elaboration? The militancy and the impression it sends around is our bane. Till we eliminate the threat completely we have to content ourselves with whatever is on hand. It is a battle between the good and the evil and, as it appears, may continue for some more time. Viewed in that context as well the popular response our snow-capped hills get is a positive feature. It does create a feeling that all's well. Scottish poet William Sharp has nicely put it more than a century ago: "There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance." Snow has its admirers all over. The reality, however, is that there is life beyond it. If it exceeds a limit it can upset our applecart. We don't have to go far to understand this. Flight schedules to and from the State have gone haywire. The national highway linking the two Capital cities is closed off and on. As a result hundreds of vehicles are stranded along with their occupants and essential commodities. Several areas in the higher reaches of this province and across the Pir Panjal have been cut off. It is a regular feature as and when it snows heavily or there are snowstorms. Over the years our facilities have improved. We have better roads and more snow-clearing machines than ever before. Our stocks of food and fodder in affected territories are well maintained. We have a lot of heating devices --- traditional as well as modern. Put together these aspects provide hope and warmth in a virtually frozen milieu. But even these don't turn out to be good enough to fight the snow's onslaught if it is merciless.


Life in the affluent Europe and the United States too is paralysed during winters. The best airports across the globe are reporting flight failures in the wake of extremely heavy snowfall. For the inhabitants of those parts of the world the relief is provided by their efficient and round-the-clock central heating. What happens thousands of kilometres away can hardly be a matter of consolation for us. Indeed, there is a benefit if we draw proper lessons and upgrade our own systems accordingly. Why can't we be among the best maintained states during snowfall as well as in summers? Why should we shiver? Admittedly, we suffer from resource crunch and our priorities persuade us to consider certain necessities of life as luxuries. Only if we mend our approach we may find that by taking a few precautions we have actually enhanced our production and thereby prosperity.








Where does J&K stand in the globalised world? The answer is: no where! Despite the recession economy of many countries is now showing signs of recovery. In Asia on the other hand countries like India and China not only remained unaffected by the recession, there has been unprecedented growth of their economies during the last twenty years. Even South East Asian countries like Thailand, Hong Cong, Singapore and South Korea have done extremely well during this period.

While most of the Indian states too have shown remarkable upsurge of their industry and commerce J & K has been left behind by several decades. Over twenty years of insecurity due to militancy and violence is the main reason for this. All the three regions have lost the most precious period of the state's history. The loss suffered by people is so great that it will take many years to recover it. The recovery time will depend upon the fact as to when peace returns. If the strife continues the recovery is bound to be delayed further.
In any given situation prosperity of a state depends upon three main factors. Peace, education (both academic and technical) and sound economic policies. Jammu & Kashmir had none of these while other parts of the country have prospered by leaps and bounds on account of presence of all these three factors. The losses suffered by the state are colossal. In fact the successive state governments despite their best intentions and efforts failed to achieve any noticeable success in the developmental works due to continuing violence that has disrupted peace in the state for the last so many years.

It is worthwhile to briefly recall the chronology of the militancy that began with a bomb blast on Exchange Road, Srinagar in 1989. Once started there has been no end to the violent strife that latter spread to Jammu region as well. It is a well known fact that the militancy was meticulously planned by Pakistan through its ISI wing of the Army. However, it has been the Valley that has borne the brunt of violent occurrences; although thousands of lives and many more in number have been injured in all the three regions. At this point we should not forget the loss of lives and limbs of thousands of valiant men of the Indian security forces who defended J&K in four wars with Pakistan (including the one in KargiL). They have made sacrifices facing the enemy for the last 63 years; not only on the LOC but also while trying to maintain peace in the Valley and rest of the state. Loss of life and limbs is the biggest loss that the country has suffered in J&K. Because of absence of peace the other losses too are no less in their import.

First let us count the other vital factors of which the state, particularly the Kashmir region, has been deprived due to absence of a peaceful atmosphere. The education there has been another big casualty. The youth in the Valley have received the academic education by fits and starts due to unending bandhs , curfews and the resulting violence. The worst period has been the recent violence that started on June 11 2010 and. Having said that just think of the enormous deprivation of Information Technology (IT) sector for the youth of the state. While in rest of India excellent job opportunities are available in this sector for young persons, since the Globalisation era began, those in the state could not take advantage of this vast employment field because of the continuous disturbed conditions.

A large number of big, medium or small industrial units that existed in the valley before the start of militancy have been closed. Units like HMT and Union Carbide have been closed and persons employed there have been rendered jobless. Presently no new large or medium scale industry is prepared to invest not only in Kashmir but also in Jammu region because of continuing insecurity and threat to life. Even small scale industry is finding it difficult to run smoothly. A considerably large number of young boys and girls from Jammu region had to leave their families, seeking higher technical education in other states and to get employment there. The tourism industry that is the mainstay of thousands of Kashmiris has been badly hit all these years. Most of the tourist seasons were disrupted at their peak by the militants. It should be remembered that the government has its limitation in providing jobs. It is the industry alone that can provide employment to several lakh young educated and trained persons.

While this is the scene in respect of industry and employment the developmental side too is dismal. The work on hydroelectric projects was held up several times due to threats and coercion by the militants. Even the railway line connecting north and south Kashmir, that was laid against so many odds, is being damaged regularly by the 'miscreants'. The work on railway line from Udhampur to Qazikund is moving on a snail's pace. Recent reports say that work on Mughal Road may be delayed by many years as the labour working there has run away due to the threats from the militants.


In the foregoing paragraphs I have attempted to provide a graphic view of the tremendous losses suffered by the people of the state. The uncertainty grew by the day. There is a wide gulf of objectives aimed at by the political leaders of the Valley (the separatists, the NC and the PDP) on the one hand and on the other the majority of leaders from Jammu do not see eye to eye with those of the Valley on the issues like autonomy, and greater integration with the rest of the country. Such a critical situation, if allowed to worsen, may lead to a permanent divide between the three regions. It is high time that the leaders of all the political parties put their heads together to save the unity of the state. At the same time New Delhi must not remain a silent witness to the serious developments and act fast to resolve the issues that are at stake.








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.
(The author working with Krishi Vigyan Kendra, SKUAST-J, Poonch)







It is easy enough to say that Sweden is different from Sri Lanka or that Canada is more prosperous than Cambodia. But how do we compare, say, Kuwait and Korea? By GDP i.e. the total national income and per capita income? Man does not live by bread alone, as the cliché goes. What about education, health, technology, equality, not to speak of even more intangible attributes?

Such questions led to thinking about a new measure -- the Human Development Index (HDI). A few months ago, the 20th Human Development Report (HDR) was released. Behind its conceptual development and eventual acceptance lies a story of not only innovative thinking but also an extraordinary intellectual collaboration between two thought-giants from Pakistan and India -- Mahbub-ul-Haq and Amartya Sen. Today, it is worth recalling how a new thought evolved and came to be recognised as a result of the brilliance of these two and, of course, some other development economists.

Economic orthodoxy traditionally is focused on numbers: Gross domestic product, savings and investment rates in a country, the rate of economic growth and that vital figure, the per capita income. All this was no doubt important, but Haq, a thinking international economist from Pakistan had a nagging doubt. As he told his life long friend Sen, if Pakistan grew at a high rate for 40 years, it could possibly match Egypt in terms of per capita income. Is that all that they should aim at? What about the quality of life, of choices and opportunities for people, of satisfaction at homes even if incomes were low? Incomes are important and are the answer to many problems, especially for the poor such as food, some form of housing and meeting other basic necessities. But could they think of another index to measure the well-being and not wealth alone, which was more people-centric? Sen was sensitive to the argument, but was sceptical about finding a single number to capture the state of a community's well being. As he has since reminiscenced, he told his old friend that it would be too "vulgar" to try to capture such complexity in one number, but Haq insisted that this was precisely what was required, a 'vulgar number' which would capture the public imagination and media attention, in the way of the classical per capita GDP.

What the team of economists under the umbrella of the UN gradually have tried is to capture a complex reality in a number. They could not and hence did not focus on nebulous and immeasurable concepts like happiness or contentment or similar quasi psychological states of mind. On the other hand, it had to be something quantitative. What helps human development apart from material goods or income? There can be no doubt that health, nutrition, education, longevity, and at a different order social, categories such as class or gender equality are factors which enhance human capacity. "Capabilities and not only commodities" differentiate the approach of HDI as distinct form GDP, in Sen's words.

Today, the HDR has evolved as a sophisticated and rigorous undertaking. The reports every year are like a mini scorecard to what is happening in a community, in a region and in a nation. At one level, one can compare a country's progress or decline over a period of time, say, India in 2010 as compared to 2000, not only in terms of per capita income, but other requirements for the well being of people. At another level one can indulge in international comparisons and see a country or a region and how it fares in comparison to another. Human nature being what it is, we all want to know which country has done best, who is at the bottom and where your own country stands. Economists are wary of such rankings as the countries that lose their rankings or have done 'worse' question the methodology, but it is this 'vulgar' aspect of a single number and a rank that Haq knew would give HDI some visibility and publicity. And so it is.

What are some of the interesting insights from the latest report? The best country in the world? Norway, with $58,000 per capita income, 81- years' life expectancy, 13- years of average education for each individual. Some of the other high ranking countries? No surprises there. All the Scandinavian countries, New Zealand, Canada etc. Qatar has a per capita income of nearly $80,000, one of the highest in the world, but is today at number 38 in the rankings, quite high but still lower on HDI compared to much of Europe, thus demonstrating that factors apart from wealth influence this index. The countries at the bottom. Not surprising again: Zimbabwe, Congo, Niger.

But what about India? We know intuitively that the number cannot be very good with our deficiencies in education, public health and nutrition apart from low per capita income. We are at position 119 among 169 nations and the only good news is that we moved up one rank compared to last year. China is at 89 gaining eight places with its strides, and Pakistan is at 125, having dropped two places. The best in our region is Sri Lanka.

But the UN report like human development itself is always work in progress. New aspects are being explored on a continuing basis to add to the diversity of the package of measures, to capture aspects of societies. We cannot expect to improve our rankings in a hurry, but at the same time, should we not take some satisfaction that we have contributed to the intellectual process culminating in this rich and meaningful measure? (INAV)
(The writer is professor of Economics at King's College, London)









With the assembly elections due in five states, political opposition to the latest hike in petrol prices is understandable. The loudest noises emanate from Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who was a party to the government decision to decontrol petrol prices in June last year. So was the NCP. But its opposition may have been provoked by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's barely veiled attempt to blame price rise on Sharad Pawar. If the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP really care for petrol consumers, they should first abolish the steep taxes levied on petrol by their governments in states. Petrol can be sold at half the current price if the state levies are scrapped.


The oil marketing companies have misused the freedom given to them to align petrol prices with global trends. While the global crude prices hovered at $92 a barrel in 2008, petrol cost Rs 45 a litre in Delhi. Now when the global price is almost at the same level, the petrol price in Delhi and elsewhere has shot up by 28 per cent. This is because the oil firms are partly covering up the losses caused on account of selling diesel, kerosene and LPG at below-cost prices. The government still controls the prices of non-petrol products. In view of the high rate of inflation, the prices of these items have been left untouched. Besides, the economy runs on diesel. A costlier diesel raises the cost of transportation and manufacturing. But why should the government let the luxury cars, SUVs and AC buses enjoy the benefit of highly subsidised diesel?


The hefty increase in petrol prices hurts the middle-class vehicle-owners the most. Given the crazy sales of cars and two-wheelers resulting in greater congestion on roads and higher vehicular pollution, the petrol price hike is in order. Stiff government taxes on petrol and vehicles can be justified if the money raised is ploughed back into reducing pollution levels and making growth environment-friendly. The increased burden on the petrol-users would be less painful if the government too chips in by scrapping or slashing the import and excise duty imposed on oil and oil products in the last budget.









Top rankings in CAT (Common Admission Test) 2010 for entry into elite Indian Institutes of Management have been bagged by IIT graduates. Not long ago, brand IIT was touted as "the Biggest Indian brand after Taj Mahal". Lately, on an average 55 per cent of students who are offered a seat in different IIMs are from IITs, and the rest from other engineering colleges. This leaves one wondering if IIT is not good enough on a CV to get a good placement.


For 2009-11 batch of two year PGP (post graduate programme), of the total 377 seats, 347 were taken up by engineers at IIM, Banglore. On an average, government spends Rs 2 lakh per annum on the training of an individual IITian, which is supposed to translate into knowledge creation rather than knowledge consumption alone.


India Inc produced 23 billionaires who featured in the Forbes list of the richest in the year of recession (it had two Indians among the top 10 in the world), whereas it continues to contribute less than 2 per cent of world publication in science and technology. In terms of inspiration offered, the chasm is evident. With just a fraction of annual budget allocation for research, it is obvious that not much inspires a technocrat for advanced research. Statistics show that over 50 per cent of the Intellectual Properties in the U.S. have Indian names behind them, of which 70 per cent are IITians. The reason why the same IITians rush to add one more degree rather than pursue innovative ideas in new technologies, lies in the fact that availability of venture capital is abysmally low in India and is tied in red- tapism. If our elite planners are taking a cue from the Silicon Valley, which has been a cradle for top innovation based companies like Yahoo, Google, Bose Electronics etc, where physical and intellectual proximity to MIT ( Massachusetts institute of technology) and HBS( Harvard Business School) facilitated a stream of supply of entrepreneurship and innovation, they must also recognize the fact that these organizations are headed by the young ( aged between 35-45). We must remember, if India Inc, 50 per cent of which comes from IIMs, wants to move into next level of economy, it must see to it that IITs remain breeding grounds for new innovations in technology and seniority in these institutions should be defined by innovation rather than age.









The cricketing fraternity worldwide has its eyes set firmly on the Indian sub-continent as the region prepares for the biggest extravaganza in the sport. The ICC World Cup which begins in Bangladesh on February 19 and then traverses through India and Sri Lanka before culminating in Mumbai is keeping all those interested in the game on tenterhooks. As is usual with cricket for the past decade and more, most of the noise and attention surrounds the Indian team. Since international cricket draws most of its life blood from India, naturally the side generates maximum headlines.


So the announcement of the Indian squad for the World Cup became a fodder for discussion, media mileage and debate all across the nation. This time, however, there was little in terms of controversy although the team selection saw some intricate negotiations and diplomacy. Nevertheless, the team that was selected, barring a couple of names, was not a surprise. Given the condition of the pitches at home and in the neighbourhood, it was always going to be a good mix of slow bowling and batsmen who could chip in with the ball that would make for a good combination, and that is how it ultimately emerged. Considering the home conditions and the choice of players, India are strong favourites for the title, though history tells us that no host nation has ever won the World Cup. But this time around, with the added possibility of this being the last major tournament for Sachin Tendulkar, the World Cup has become even more important. The batsman himself would be keen to sign off with a flourish and the team would like to give him a grand farewell gift.


While the nation would naturally love to see its team win, there are however a couple of other sides that can create some serious opposition for India. Among them are Sri Lanka, who have always done well in these conditions. England too are now looking formidable. India would most probably have to overcome one, or possibly both, these sides to make history. But on current form, this may well be time for the Cup to return to India.










Yet another Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the ninth such event, concluded in Delhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh exhorting the Indian diaspora to deepen their engagement with the socio-economic development of the country. At a time when India has arrived at the global centrestage, there is need to look closely at how the Chinese have engaged their diaspora for speeding up economic growth. Although comparing the Indian diaspora with the Chinese abroad is like comparing apples with oranges, there are certain issues which must be discussed like the way China has been able to fully involve the overseas Chinese in its development-related programmes.


Like the Indian diaspora, the overseas Chinese constitute one of the largest diasporas in the world. The US, Canada and Australia now receive more migrants of Chinese origin than from anywhere else in the world. Indian-Americans and Chinese-Americans are one of the most successful ethnic groups in the Silicon Valley.


China's policy and attitude towards the overseas Chinese have been more inclusive and aimed at unification with what the Chinese call the "compatriots" abroad. India does not have this kind of an agenda.


Overseas Chinese traditionally consider themselves to be temporary absentees. It is also believed that the Chinese are sojourners who will eventually return to China. Indeed, Chinese leaders in the 1950s referred to the Chinese abroad as either Chinese people or Chinese nationals. That is why the National People's Congress is composed of deputies elected by provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the central authority, the armed forces and the Chinese abroad.


The Chinese make a distinction between those abroad and those who have given up their citizenship, which roughly corresponds with the NRI and PIO terminology used in India. The overseas Chinese who have invested in the country of their origin or contributed in some way to China's growth are also called returned overseas Chinese. Currently, the major arms of the State, the legislature and the party, have high-level offices dealing with the overseas Chinese through which preferential treatment is accorded to the latter.


The Chinese constitution (Articles 50, 70 and 89) protects the legitimate rights of the Chinese nationals residing abroad and the rights and interests of the returned overseas Chinese. It also mandates the Cabinet of the Chinese Government to exercise the above-mentioned powers and functions. The result is the setting up of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee of the Chinese Parliament.


The National People's Congress (NPC) has passed certain laws having a bearing on the well-being of the overseas Chinese. For example, the 1990 "Law of Protecting Rights and Interests of Overseas Chinese and their Relatives" safeguards their legal rights with a focus on political and civil rights. Of considerable interest are the provisions like Article 3 which specifically mandates the State to accord appropriate preferential treatment to returned overseas Chinese and their family members.


A comparison with China, however, should not be on its face value because theirs is a different political system in which the party is supreme, whereas we in India have a democratic system with compulsions of electoral politics.


With the economic reforms and liberalisation which India initiated during the 1990s, the government also came out with a proactive policy towards the Indian expatriates, particularly towards the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) with the goal to associate them with the process of development at home.


There is generally a tendency to compare the role of the Chinese and Indian diasporas in the economic development of their respective countries. There are glaring differences between the approach of the two countries and their populace. About 70 per cent of the FDI inflow into China since the early 1990s has been from overseas Chinese, mostly in labour-intensive export processing sectors. Entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, South Korea and Southeast Asia shifted significant but initially low-technology manufacturing, assembly and export processing operations to mainland China — about 80 per cent of Hong Kong's labour-intensive industry had migrated to Southern China. This was followed by large investments in the infrastructure and real estate sectors by big conglomerates.


The Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong continues to be the main financial conduit for the People's Republic of China. The overseas Chinese communities' preference for investment reflects each group's roots and physical proximity to the neighbouring provinces in mainland China.


As contrasted with China, investment by the Indian diaspora constitutes mainly the remittances from the Indians in the Gulf region. Yet another important aspect of the fund inflow from the NRIs is that they have emerged as one of the largest overseas lenders to India. It is only recently that the NRIs have started making contributions to their alma mater like the IITs. They should also invest in other sectors in a big way like infrastructure.


It is against this backdrop that the Prime Minister's announcement to merge two categories of overseas Indians — the Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) and the Overseas Indian Citizens (OICs) — to create a single category is expected to make some impact. This will enable the Indian diaspora a hassle-free (visa-free) entry to the country, strengthening their bond with the motherland. Giving voting rights to NRIs will also inspire them to actively involve themselves in the process of national development. But the government must sort out as to how they will be able to cast their vote. If the Army personnel and diplomats who are not physically present in their constituency can vote, there is no reason why a similar provision cannot be made in the case of the NRIs as well.


After granting voting rights to the members of the Indian diaspora, the government should now think of honouring their political aspiration of entering the legislatures also. Some of them certainly would like to enter the electoral arena. The government should think of ways and means to nominate some member(s) of the diaspora to Parliament like the existing provision of nominating two members from the Anglo-Indian community to the Lok Sabha. It is a ticklish issue, fraught with legal and procedural complexities. Nothing, therefore, should be done impulsively.


The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.








Bheem, the great warrior of Mahabharata, boasted arrogantly to his brothers in the presence of his mother Kunti, "There is no enemy whom I cannot fight, there is no force I am afraid of!".  Kunti, as all good mothers do, thought of teaching her brawny son a lesson in humiliation.  'Son', she said, "There is still one formidable foe whom you fear and are sure to run away when in an encounter".  "Who is he, mother, tell me and I will take the challenge," Bheem questioned, agitated at the thought of who this foe could be.  "Go to the river bank tomorrow at dawn.  You'll find him. I hope you don't show your back,"  Kunti said concealing a smile.


It was the month of Paush.  As Bheem marched to the river bank in the dark dawn the place was covered in a thick fog.  Bheem shivered as icy winds pierced his heavy clothing.  His teeth clattered, he kept waiting for what seemed to be a long time as he grew numb with each passing moment. The frost cut into his skin and his blood almost froze. Not able to wait any longer he returned home. 


Later in the day Bheem told Kunti, "Mother, I went to the river bank today as you had asked me to but I could find no formidable foe there.  I waited for some time but it was so cold that I was forced to come back."  Kunti smiled, "My son, you have actually met the formidable foe whom you could not endure, who froze your blood, cut through your skin, numbed your body and made you run home showing your back. Now, never ever boast about being invincible."


I recall this lovely story everyday nowadays as the cold weather refuses to go away past Lohri. Like a guest who has overstayed it is now unwelcome, we curse it every morning peering through the thick fog, put on layers of clothing and go about our work knowing full well that the day will go shivering.


There is no other discussion save of the weather. One of our speakers in the seminar addressed delegates as "Hello, fellow Eskimos". Newspapers are full of mercury-dipping reports, and records of the longest and the coldest winter. The prevailing mood is that of depression but this parable brings a smile as it reminds us of how nature still holds the reins of our heart and mind and why because of this we must always revere her.









An encyclopaedia that anybody can help to write — whether a pupil or a professor? Encyclopaedia entries which are updated from one minute to the next? And all of that financed by reader donations?

Ten years ago when online companies vanished almost as quickly as they appeared, nobody thought that a reliable encyclopaedia could go online — without going bankrupt within a few months.


And yet, Wikipedia went online in January 2001 and not only became a success, it became an indispensable tool for millions of users.


It is the story of success over conventional wisdom.


The two guys who founded the encyclopaedia were an unconventional duo to start with. Jimmy Wales, born in 1966, ran the online portal, which got its revenues through men's entertainment such as sport, gossip — and naked babes.


From those revenues, he steered start-up capital to Wikipedia. Otherwise, he gave Larry Sanger a free hand. The two men had become acquainted via online philosophical discussions.


Sanger, a philosopher born in 1968, became editor of Nupedia, from which emerged Wikipedia.


Even Sanger did not believe that thousands of users could write an encyclopaedia. Strict standards applied to Nupedia, Wikipedia's predecessor. In principle, anybody could contribute. But they had to be qualified experts in their field. And the editors generally had advanced degrees in those fields, Sanger stressed in those days.


Each entry underwent seven checks — more than with a scientific journal. The first entry — on atonality — was only uploaded after seven long months of preparation. Just over 20 entries were available that first year.


"There must be a way to make it easier for users to participate," Sanger said later. Wiki software came to the rescue by providing a free-accessible system which allowed the user to access and edit web pages. All that was needed was a browser.


So that the entries would not get mixed into Nupedia, Wales got a separate domain name. Thus, Jan 15, 2001, Wikipedia was born.


It was only supposed to be a test. But within a month, there were already 600 entries, which was more than Nupedia had. Within a year it was 20,000 — to the astonishment of the founders.


Increasingly, Wikipedia entries topped Google search lists for any given subject. Increasingly, people were turning to it for information. It was not always reliable, not always well-written. But it was there, instantly, at the click of 
a return button.


Conventional encyclopaedias could not compete. By that time, Sanger was no longer editor. He had left Wikipedia in 2002 in a dispute over quality control.


Wales remained — and since then is viewed as sole founder of the encyclopaedia. But his company Bomis pulled out.


In 2003 Wales founded the Wikimedia Foundation, moving all intellectual property rights and domain names pertaining to Wikipedia to the new foundation, whose purpose is to establish general policy for the encyclopaedia and its sister projects on a donor-funded basis.


The big question then and now is why thousands of authors spend their own time crafting entries which do not bear their own names and which later on may be totally rewritten by someone else — or deleted with a mouse click.


"There is a certain appeal in compiling knowledge without the limitations of copyrights," says Christian Stegbauer, a German sociologist who has written a book on the phenomenon called "Raetsel der Kooperation" (The Riddle of Cooperation).


Wikipedia authors are not so much interested in fame in the conventional sense as they are in achieving a certain degree of renown and respect within the Wikipedia community, says Stegbauer, a professor of empirical social research at the University of Erfurt. — DPA








Jimmy Wales is constantly on the go. Most of the year he travels round the globe. His mission? To make all human knowledge accessible to everyone.


"Wikipedia is going to be increasingly global in the future," the 44-year-old American says. "We will have enormous growth in the developing world."


It was 10 years ago, in January 2001, that he launched the online encyclopaedia. Now, 10 years later, it offers 17 million entries in more than 260 languages. Wales was born in 1966 in Alabama. His father was a grocery store manager and his mother an educator. Even as a boy he had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and "spent lots of hours" reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica and World Book Encyclopaedia.


His earliest education was at home from his own mother, who ran a small private school on the Montessori method. Later Jimbo, as friends call him, got a master's degree in finance and worked as the research director of a Chicago futures and options firm for several years.


His driving passion is computers. Since the earliest days of personal computing he has been an Internet addict and even wrote computer codes as a hobby, according to his own biographical entry on Wikipedia.


In 1996, he and two partners founded Bomis, a men's web portal featuring entertainment and adult content. This website provided the initial funding for the peer-reviewed encyclopaedia Nupedia in 2000.


Thanks to the Wiki software, which enables each user immediate access — as author or as editor — Wikipedia was founded the following year.


Today Wikipedia resembles pretty much what he originally envisioned, he said.


"But of course it's a lot larger and more popular than I had ever imagined," he said.


So can we say that Wikipedia has made the world different and has made Wales a rich man?


"I hope that the world has become a little better." And as for the financial side. "The pages are non-commercial and they will stay that way," Wales explained. But his for-profit Internet company Wikia is doing well and shows a profit.


"That may make me rich!" he said.


Wales is a self-avowed "Objectivist to the core", Objectivism being an individualist philosophy developed by writer Ayn Rand. And he is an avid chess player.


He is separated from his second wife, with whom he has a daughter. Although 10-year-old Kira consults Wikipedia on occasion, her father favours traditional education.


"Anybody who says you don't need to know anything these days, just know where to look it up, is mistaken, in my opinion," he said. And Wales himself still loves to pore over books just as he did when he was a boy.


"Books are great. They're inexpensive and the batteries never run down," he said. —DPA








The brutal custodial killing of a vendor in Jammu brings into focus not just the brute face of the khakhi, it also highlights the dangerously flawed policy of arming the police personnel with extra judicial powers through the organ of Special Operations Group. This is not for the first time that in the comparatively peaceful zone of Jammu police officers who have served in SOG are found to be involved in cases of torture and custodial death. Though acts of omission and commission as well as brutality including fake encounter killings by police personnel are spiraling throughout the country, the increasing spate of such incidents in Jammu and Kashmir is shocking, both in the intensely militarised areas as well as the moderately militarised ones. The reason is not just indiscipline within the police force and its corruption riddled system. The flawed system under which the SOG within the police force has witnessed an expansion both in terms of number of personnel involved as well as the powers they enjoy is what adds to the scale of brutalities. The SOG more or less operates without a system of accountability and its personnel become habitual of loot, plunder and murders because of the political and official patronage they enjoy. A flawed system of promotions, perks and other benefits based on the quantum of blood spill and not on the quantum of normality achieved has further added to the brutalization of the force. Majority of the cops serving in SOG have got out of turn promotions not on basis of efficiency but on basis of the killings they effect, irrespective of whether it is a militant who gets slain or an innocent whose blood is spilled. The Special Operations Group enjoy unbridled freedom for unleashing terror in their respective areas and have been most notorious for their crimes of human rights in view of an absence of an appropriate mechanism of accountability. They obviously carry their brutal methods of operating to the areas even as the graph of militancy has come to a naught as well as in the areas that have been free of militancy. Recent years have shown more number of fake encounter killings and custodial deaths at the hands of the SOG both in the militancy impacted and non-impacted areas of Jammu and Kashmir, betraying the dangerous repercussions of allowing the monstrous growth of SOG, which needs to be curbed in tandem with beginning a fresh exercise on scaling down the troops to pave way for normal activity.

Sight cannot be lost of the ridiculous report filed by the police to defend its personnel and other security wings in the 17 killings during the summer agitation in the Valley. The official idiocy of calling for probe in only 17 of the 112 killings is matched by a lopsided report that tends to defend the accused men even when sufficient video footage has already been circulating in some of the cases that are under investigation. Public memory is not too short lived to recall that for a week after the killing of Tufail Mattoo, the first of the 112 persons to have fallen prey to brutality of the men in uniform, the police was trying to fudge up investigations through circulation of rumours that it was a case of murder by civilians even though medical reports pointed out that the boy had been hit by a tear-gas shell. Equally illustrious is the Shopian case, where all out efforts were made by one investigating panel after another, to prove that two women, one with severe injury marks, had drowned in ankle deep water, only to save the skin of some police personnel. The policy of empowering the men in uniform including the local police, particularly the SOG with unlimited powers and then shielding them for all their acts of brutalities will have long term dangerous repercussions, as is well demonstrated by Sunday's custodial death in Jammu. Attempts are being made for a cover-up by simply offering monetary benefits to the family. For the cause of justice and for restoring some discipline in the police force and reining in the genie called SOG, much more needs to be done. To begin with, the cases needed to be fairly investigated and culprits brought to book.







Due to disturbed conditions coupled with lack of awareness and official apathy, preservation of monumental buildings, ancient and medieval artifacts has taken a backseat in Jammu and Kashmir during the past two decades in particular. Apart from this, petty politicking among the politicians due to their narrow mindedness and vision has taken a heavy toll in the selection of the monumental structures to be preserved on priority basis. This very reason has unfortunately reduced some of the precious artifacts to rubble during the past few years. Official apathy has also played the same role in damaging some of the important fossils which were explored in different parts of the state during transportation from one place to the other. Though new museum buildings are coming up in the two capital cities of J&K, work on their completion has been awfully slow and tardy, the question of relocating safely the finds arises much later. So far as the monuments are concerned, in majority of the cases the construction material was taken away by the people for raising their houses and other structures in the vicinity of the protected buildings due to lack of awareness among the people and officials concerned. It was much later that the government agencies charged with the responsibility of preserving these buildings came to know these factual positions on the ground as these structures had remained neglected for decades and centuries together. For the reasons best known to the government, fund allocation to the archives and archaeology department has been minimal from the government sector because these issues never figured in the priority list of dos and don'ts of the authorities concerned. Despite the fact that there has been liberal funding available from the centre for this sector, lack of knowledge among the bureaucrats has played with the fate of the important structures and artifacts. It was only in the recent years that it dawned upon the government agencies that liberal funding from the centre could be sought and utilized for this important sector for preservation of the heritage in J&K. The exploration of fossils in various parts of Kashmir valley and higher reaches of Jammu which serve as an important tool for conduct of research on the tectonic activities of the south-east Asian plate has been fiddled with due to unimaginative mining and quarrying by the contractors and big industrial houses till some publications in the international research magazines brought the misdoings to the notice of the government. It was at this stage that mining activities were banned in these important areas so that the sites could be preserved for posterity and research activities. The government has to formulate a comprehensive policy and accord priority for preservation of such important monuments and fossils before the situation takes a turn for the worse and could be included in the lost of monumental blunders of the authorities concerned.







Investigating acts of terrorism have multiple complex issues as things are mired in secrecy. To add to the problem is the mindset of investigating authorities and those in power. The acts of terror, which have been inflicted on the country, have been mainly attributed to the "Jehadi Terror" and mostly the theory which has been guiding the police authorities has been to work on this understanding. The result has been; immediately after the attacks of terror the investigating authorities, right from day one, have been naming some Muslim groups, situated across the border, the infamous word of 'cross border terrorism' became a sort of buzz word. The link of those from across the border were easy enough to be sewed up with the local Muslim youth and according to the police some Muslims have been caught, arrested, 'they have confessed' to their crime, and the puzzle is solved, has been the oft repeated line from last few years.

Contrary to the common sense even when the terror attack took place in Muslim majority area, at times when Muslims congregate at particular times, the police very 'competently' would go in to arrest few Muslim youth and start building up their case implicating them in the act of terror. Those in political power, even in non-BJP states, and at center kept quietly approving this biased investigation and any doubts raised by social activists, victims of the police arrests were brushed aside.

The first major crack in this pattern occurred when in the aftermath of Malegaon blast, Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare meticulously showed the connection of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and many others from the Hindutva combine, associated with one or the other offshoot of RSS or inspired by the RSS ideology of Hindu nation, trained in the communal ideology of looking at people through the prism of their religion, and religion alone. Karkare's efforts brought out enough skeletons from the cupboard of Hindutva stable and somewhere the stubborn police and the political authorities also started looking the other way leading to the plethora of organizations, broadly known as Sangh parivar. It is also a matter of great concern that same Hemant Karkare started being abused by Hindutva elements, intimidation and threat to his life began.
Incidentally Karkare was killed on the fateful night of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.

Karkar's efforts did initiate a process of bringing the terror investigation on proper track. There were many a top RSS functionaries like Indresh Kumar, many an associates, the major one being Swami Aseemanand of VHP, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram who started being investigated. Swami Aseemanand was known for his work in Adivasi areas in Dangs, where he whipped up the anti-Christian hysteria leading to anti Christian violence in the district. Same Aseemanand went on to organize a Shabri Kumbh in the area, for this Kumbh intimidation of Adivasis was in the air, they were terrorized to attend Kumbh and some were subjected to 'Ghar Vapasi', (return home, conversion to Hinduism). The highlight of the Kumbh was that the top RSS and associates leadership attended it along with the Swami. This Kumbh was also a sign of times, the part of anti Minority agenda of the Sangh.

Swami Aseemanand is in news again for having confessed to the metropolitan magistrate on 18th December 2010 about his and his colleague's involvement in the acts of terror. As per him while the Jihad attack on Akshardham temple in 2002 created the feeling of revenge, this got crystallsed after the terrorist attack on Sankat mochan temple in Varanasi in 2006. After this tragic incident the Swami contacted the others from associated organizations and in a well planned move organized the terror attacks. Swami stated "We held a meeting at the Valsad residence of Bharat Bhai (Bharat Riteshwar) in June 2006. We planned to carry out blasts at places of worship for Muslims. Sandeep Dange, Bharat Bhai, Sadhvi Pragya, Sunil Joshi, Lokesh Sharma (arrested for Ajmer dargah blast), Ramji Kalsangra and one Amit attended the meeting. We decided to bomb Malegaon, Ajmer dargah, Mecca Masjid and the Samjhauta Express train. Joshi took the responsibility of doing areconnaissance of all these place." (Times of India, 13 Jan 2011)


Now the detailed police investigation showed the involvement of Hindutva combine from Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur (ex- ABVP activist), Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, and Ret. Major. Upadhyay (was chief of BJPs ex-serviceman's cell In Mumbai),, Swami Dayanand Pandey (RSS connection, mentor of Abhinav Bharat), Indresh Kumar (Member of RSS National executive) Sunil Joshi (RSS Prachark(later killed), Devender Gupta (RSS pracharak with Abhinav Bharat), Ramchndra Kalsangra and Sandeep Pandey and many others.
The confessions of swami have made many a points very clear. The first is that, right from the Nanded blast which took place in the house of RSS worker Rajkondawar, in which two Bajrang Dal workers died, the social activist raised the issue of involvement of Hindutva elements. On Nanded issue, a citizens committee also investigated the blast and raised serious issues related to the direction of investigation. Later in most of the blasts in Pabhani, Beed, Jalna another places in Maharashtra same pattern was observed. Social activists kept drawing the attention of Government and media, but their voices remained unheard for a long time. In addition to the attitude of police, the political leadership, even in non BJP states and at Center refused to take cognizance of the pattern of the blasts and the glaring fallacies in the line of investigation.

Large section of media kept quiet and underplayed the involvement of Hindutva elements. While most of the incidents did find the front page banner headlines about the involvement of Muslims, so called Jihadi groups, the voices of victims challenging the police version, and the findings of social activists were hardly any news, tucked in the back pages, presented in a subdued manner, if at all. During the whole process a large section of Muslim youth were tortured and many of them had to give up their education and professional carriers due to the line of investigation and the treatment from the state which was meted out to them.

On the top of this whole process the social thinking was cultivated to believe in the theory of 'All Terrorists are Muslims'. Even today many a Muslim youth are behind the bars for the acts of terror, which as per Swami's confession were planned and executed by Hindutva elements. Will Government take urgent steps to set right the ongoing injustice to the innocent youth who have been implicated due to the non professional and biased conduct of the state? The demand for their release and suitable compensation being given to them has to be taken up by the government in the right earnest.

What is to be done with the fountainhead of this ideology of Hate, the organization to which most of the groups owe allegiance, to which some of these are directly associated. the RSS? Many of those involved have been directly associated with RSS, others indirectly and RSS can very conveniently say that it has nothing to do with them. For RSS disowning any of its activists is a very easy job. It is not legally responsible for the associated organizations, as they are autonomous on paper. Those who have been directly a part of RSS have been expelled and disowned. RSS chief has said that RSS has no place for those indulging in violence. Legally RSS cannot be and should not be taken to task as RSS has kept its structure so fluid that it can get all the violence done, while keeping its shirt clean from the blood stains.

The demand for banning RSS has no meaning. It was banned in the wake of Gandhi murder, during the emergency and after the demolition of Babri Masjid. Banning organizations does not help. The point is to take up the battle at ideological plane, at social and political level. And that is a challenging task as RSS has been consistently spreading its ideology through various conduits and lately school books and large section of media has been the major vehicle of spread of its ideology. Its ideology is being given the religious veneer by the ilk of Swami Aseemanand, Laxmananand and other saints who are using the language of religion to propagate their political ideology and agenda.

All those who stand for a democratic society with the concept of Human rights need to come together and take multiple programs to combat the religion based nationalism, and politics laced in the language of religion, which is the major cause of the terrorism, as practiced by the likes of Osama bin laden or Swami Aseemanand.






With all the scams taking place I can imagine this little
scenario: The successful heart surgeon looked lovingly at his son as they sat to eat.
"Yeah dad?"
"What do you want to become son?"
"Rich and famous like you dad!"
"Way to go son, way to go. Come on lets do a hi five."
"Gee dad, glad you agree with me."
"You need to work hard my son,"
"I'm already doing that dad."
"Doing what my son?"
"Working hard at being rich and famous."
"What's your rank in class my son?"
"What class dad?"
"School son!"
"But I've stopped going to school, I'm a drop out dad."
"Then what are you working hard at son?"
"At being rich and famous dad."
"But all that money I give for tuition fees, school expenses?"
"Is being used for my education dad."
"What education?"
"Gee dad, drugs and women! Don't you want me to be rich and famous?"
"Gee yes my son, but how?"
"I'm going to be a scamster dad!"
"Does it pay, my son?"
"More than what you'll ever earn dad!"
"Who inspired you my son?"
"You dad,"
"Me? When?"
"You paid the traffic cop for jumping the signal?"
"I didn't know you were watching son."
"He let you go dad, and then the municipality for building your illegal extension, the income tax man for all the cash from patients, the judge when you divorced mummy. You bribed. You got your way. That's the way to get big dad."
"But its wrong my son,"
"You don't think so dad."
"What are you doing my son?"
"Have to hit you with this hammer dad."
"Why my son?"
"To enter college dad."
"Take the money but don't hit me."
"Only when I hit you, will they put me in college dad."
"What college son?"
"Prison dad. Two years with criminals, some months with the dons and I will come out trained to be a scamster..!" shouted the son.
"Eeeeeghhh..!" screamed the successful heart surgeon.
"Two years in jail!" shouted the judge.
"Yipppeee!" shouted the new scamster apprentice, "Once I'm out I can even join politics..!"









Johnny Depp's mother was a waitress. Steven Spielberg's father was an electrical engineer, George Clooney's dad hosted gameshows, and Robert De Niro's parents were artists. As you look around the tuxedoed ranks of Hollywood royalty, you realise that while a few of them do indeed come from film families, most of them started out very far removed. Most of their A-list is populated by everyman heroes and heroines, those who rise up from the ranks based on talent, drive, fortune and, yes, good looks.


 We, in India, are all about family – but not in a blockbuster-tagline sort of way. We are all about those who have already made it, passing on the baton to their children, and their children's children. We treasure legacy, revere genealogy, and – perhaps because a nation of so many needs figureheads to define itself – are happy pledging our allegiances to a few surnames, for life. And so the brunt of our actors are to the screen born, piggybacking on familial success after a youth spent in preparing themselves for their star-turns: riding, dancing, gymming… What else is there for an actor's son to do?


Yet, fear not, this isn't another oftrepeated rant against star-kids. This is instead an indictment, of a society and an industry so obsessed with existing celebrities that we make the same mistake while assessing our cousins from the West. So ridiculously, so absolutely do we revere the American stars, that we expect even their children to bestow us with miracles, as if magic rubbed off from their luminous, talented parents.

So Robert De Niro's daughter making a film with Sushmita Sen is frontpage news, as is David Lynch's daughter turning Mallika Sherawat into a serpent, or even Shahid Kapoor getting to spend time with Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter. Two stunning, selfmade heroines with talent, screen-presence and spunk kicked their own careers hard in the hope that the 'starkids' from out West will have more to offer than anecdotes featuring their fabulous parents. Based on evidence we've seen thus far, they don't.


Those who can create, do – and it doesn't matter whom with. An Irishman came here a couple of years ago, cast a young boy from a British television show and a Mumbai girl we'd never heard of, or were likely to notice, and made an incredible film that took world cinema – and those omnipotent Oscars we fawn over – completely by storm, changing several lives forever in the process.


We, however, sit and wait for the surnames.


We wait for an actor to like our story, and – as scripts pile up in their rooms and they procrastinate, pretend or are just genuinely too busy – opportunities are lost, passed on, nullified. Stories with potential are fatally reworked, sometimes beyond recognition, to make our stars look better, to fit in with their image. Better stories are bought by studios and remain unmade. And then our filmmakers decry the lack of scripts in India, even as the inability to look beyond those ten famous, poster-friendly faces is the real reason for stalemate.


 But hey, perhaps we can get Danny Boyle's son or Tom Cruise's daughter or Brad Pitt's niece to star in something. Hurrah.


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The need for ensuring food security for the poor is indisputable. However, the means to do so have to be practical and fiscally sustainable. That is what the prime minister's economic advisory council Chairman C Rangarajan and a group headed by him, which looked into the proposed food security law, seem to think. Most of the points raised by this panel about the recommendations of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) in this regard seem well founded. For one, it is doubtful whether enough foodgrains can be arranged locally to provide 35 kg subsidised foodgrains per family per month to 75 per cent of the population (90 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban). The Rangarajan Committee reckons the annual grain requirement for implementing this norm would be close to 74 million tonnes, and not 64 million tonnes as estimated by the NAC. Increasing grain procurement to that level would require not only more production but also a big hike in minimum support prices, creation of more transportation and storage capacity and substantial expansion of grain distribution network. In fact, part of the requirement may even have to be met through imports. Consequently, food subsidy will swell to over Rs 92,000 crore, worsening the fiscal deficit. With the subsidies on oil, fertilisers and several social sector schemes also rising steadily, it may become difficult for the government to contain overall subsidy outgo to below 3 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2015.

Such fiscal concerns aside, foodgrain procurement of this order would distort the availability and prices of foodgrains in the open market. This will impact even the poor who, despite getting their food quota under the food security law, will have to rely on the market for meeting the rest of their needs. This suggests that the Rangarajan panel's recommendation scaling down the coverage under the food security law to 41 per cent of total population (46 per cent rural and 28 per cent urban) sounds more practical. This will lower the foodgrain requirement to around 52 million tonnes which can easily be met, given the present annual grain procurement of over 56 million tonnes. However, a better idea mooted by the Rangarajan panel is to revamp and fine-tune the present public distribution system (PDS) itself to serve as an effective mechanism for ensuring food security. In its present form, the PDS is neither comprehensive nor efficient and hardly an instrument of equity. But the idea of a well-functioning PDS is a good one and worth pursuing. Several state governments have managed to reform the PDS and there is much that most states can learn from the example of the few that have done so. Tamil Nadu, for instance, has begun using the Global Positioning System (GPS) for tracking the movement of PDS grains to prevent leakages and diversion. Gujarat is using bar-coded grain bags and some other states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are experimenting with a system of issuing SMS alerts about the PDS supplies. Computerisation of PDS operations and the use of smart card, instead of paper ration cards, are the other options being tried out in different states. All this lends credence to the Rangarajan Committee's recommendation that focus should really be on boosting foodgrain production, creating a stable procurement regime and reforming the PDS, which state governments must do. This would help ensure food security for all.







It is entirely understandable that a group of 14 distinguished and highly respected senior citizens, including business leaders, eminent economists and legal luminaries, chose to write an "open letter to our leaders" on the issues of a deficit in governance and the urgent need for a proper response to it. Many concerned citizens have expressed similar views in recent months. It would be wrong to assume that all of this concern is directed merely at the central government in New Delhi. The fact is that most citizens of this vast country experience mainly the governance deficit that they feel at their neighbourhood level. It is the lack of transparency, responsiveness and accountability in the functioning of so many governmental authorities and institutions and public services delivery systems that more often than not affects the ordinary citizen. The statement issued by these concerned citizens does not point only to the central government, it does refer, for example, to the situation in Karnataka. However, it does not also explicitly make the point that the task at hand is a challenge to all political parties since most of them are in government in one part of the country or another. That is the way in which this statement ought to be read. Unfortunately, India's centralised media, located mainly in New Delhi, tends to take a "Delhi-centric" view of things. Of course, given the scale of some recent examples of misgovernance, be it the organisation of the Commonwealth Games or the sale of telecom spectrum, it is natural that there is more focus on the governance deficit at the Centre than in the states and at lower levels of governance. The governance deficit in India is more at the bottom of the governance pyramid than at the top.

But the top has a role to play in correcting the situation. It must set an example for others to follow. New Delhi has to show the rest of the country how to bridge the governance deficit. Administrative reform and legislative revitalisation must begin at the top. The Centre must set an example in good governance for states and panchayats to follow, even though the larger problem of governance deficit is, in fact, at the level of the states. The statement of eminent citizens very correctly pleads for the end of the disruption of Parliament. Unless Parliament functions well, state legislatures and municipalities will not do so. Dissent is one thing, disruption another. It has been reported that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is considering a reshuffle of his Council of Ministers. He would gain public support and enhance his government's governance credentials if corrupt and inefficient ministers were to be dropped and competent and honest ones promoted. Such a drastic action may initially destabilise the government and unsettle his party, but it would benefit both in the end and set an example for other parties and state governments to follow.








India confronts a large number of cross-cutting challenges which can be dealt with successfully only through multi-sectoral and inter-disciplinary approaches. It is no longer possible to use specialisation or expertise in one discipline to resolve issues that have multiple dimensions. This is as true of government as it is of the corporate sector. Breaking the firewalls between line ministries or agencies and between functional and hierarchical corporate divisions has now become a critical administrative and managerial challenge.

There is, additionally, need to put in place mechanisms to adapt and scale up the very large number of innovative solutions to difficult challenges being generated at the local, community or company levels. There are real life examples to illustrate these issues.

 In Uttarakhand, north of Kathgodam, there is a vast acreage of closely planted pine enveloping an entire range of mountains. There is, however, a 20-km stretch right in the middle which is dense and much darker in shade. The vegetation here is extremely variegated. While there are clusters of villages and cultivated plots below this darker zone, there is hardly any sign of farming in the plains below the pine forests. Afforestation with rapidly growing pine species is a success story for the forestry department but a disaster for farmers in the plains below. Pine needles become a thick carpet on the forest floor, preventing any other vegetation from growing. They also prevent rain from penetrating the soil below, to recharge the water courses and underground springs. Instead, the water mostly runs waste off the surface. The fields at lower altitudes are soon starved of water. The village economy can no longer survive. In the 20-km zone of original surviving forest, trees of the most incredible variety flourish. The forest floor is alive with all kinds of grasses, ferns and bushes as well as worms, insects and small animals and birds. One can almost feel the sub-soil water pulsating through this precious moisture-rich zone. This is what sustains productive agriculture in the lower reaches.

If in drawing up this afforestation scheme, the ministries of agriculture and water resources had also participated, this negative impact on agriculture, water and food security could have been avoided. The replanting of the denuded hillsides with local endemic varieties may have taken longer to mature than the fast-growing pine, but this would have been well worth it in the long run.

Let us now take an example of cross-cutting synergy. India may be adding at least 75,000 Mw of coal-based thermal power over the next 20 years. Some of the units will use modern super-critical technology, with efficiency levels near 33-35 per cent compared to 29-30 per cent for sub-critical units. Technology and equipment for these plants will mostly be imported. Meanwhile, the world is already moving towards ultra-supercritical plants, which will have efficiency levels of over 40 per cent. These plants would thus produce more energy per tonne of coal and their carbon emissions would be significantly lower, an important consideration in view of rising climate change concerns. Under the leadership of the principal scientific adviser, several brainstorming sessions were held with participants cutting across various disciplines, from public and private sectors, to see if we could indigenously develop ultra-supercritical technology. Success would mean huge benefits given the scale of the proposed thermal capacity addition.

When thermal power producers were asked to identify the key constraints in this regard, they listed two: One, ultra-supercritical plants would have to handle very high temperatures, in excess of 800º C to 900º C. This imposes requirements for equipment and materials very different from sub-critical plants that normally operate at 300º C to 350º C.

Two, the boilers have to handle much higher pressures and withstand corrosion at high temperatures. The special alloys and sophisticated metallurgy required were not available in the country. The assembled experts were asked if they had any solutions to offer. A representative of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), responsible for developing India's fast breeder reactor programme, said his Centre had mastered the advanced technologies required for ultra-supercritical operations since they were similar as those needed for the breeder programme. This was despite long-standing international sanctions and technology denial. It was agreed that a prototype plant should be set up to adapt and to test these technologies in a thermal power setting. Thereafter, these technologies could be made available to industry, saving huge resources and developing critical local skills. This is now being implemented through an MoU among IGCAR, NTPC and Bhel but other partners are welcome. This is one concrete accomplishment of a silo-breaking exercise. I am convinced there are many more.

While implementing India's National Action Plan on Climate Change, one came across a very large number of innovations in different fields from every nook and corner of our country. In Andhra, a few visionary young bureaucrats, agricultural scientists and NGOs have put in place a highly successful Sustainable Agriculture model. Instead of the prevalent crop yield-based strategy, here the farmer is the focal point for raising productivity and promoting resilient livelihood. Diversification of the farmer's economy through crop rotation and integrating animal husbandry, horticulture and forestry, is one aspect. The other is to use traditional as well as advanced bio-chemical materials to wean the farmer off toxic chemical pesticides whose prolonged use gives diminishing returns while creating immense health problems for farmers who rarely use protective gear while spraying or applying pesticides. These health costs go unaccounted but can ruin a farmer's livelihood. Chemical fertiliser use is also being minimised while alternative techniques of promoting soil fertility, including through organic nutrients, are being popularised. Much of this is being done through women self-help groups organised by local NGOs. They have now become the extension workers for spreading the new techniques to other farming communities. What began on an experimental basis on about 10,000 hectares three years ago has now expanded to over 100,000 hectares, increasing farm incomes and productivity.

One could cite many similar success stories. The challenge lies in scaling them up to the national level. This requires a national platform where such experiences can be shared and pulled together and can help in evolving policies that deliver a bigger punch. Overcoming the silos in our minds and in our institutions, and creating dynamic synergies among a wide range of stakeholders is what we need to script an alternative, more productive and more sustainable narrative for India's social and economic development.

The author is a former foreign secretary and is currently a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research








A brief news report in a leading daily says that the government is contemplating introducing in the new Five-Year Plan beginning next year a health insurance scheme for all. People will pay for it depending on their income, with the government paying for those below the poverty line. The big thing is that it will cover not just hospitalisation expenses but also OPD treatment at listed (presume approved) hospitals.

 An opinion cannot be formed on the basis of such a sketchy report but there is enough in it to pose a few questions. First, isn't there supposed to be a public, that is publicly funded, health-care system under which anybody can walk into such a facility, be it a district hospital or a primary health centre (PHC), and get treated? To beef it up where it is the weakest, the National Rural Health Mission has been launched. For a long time, the poor villager will have no choice but to go to the PHC. In terms of funding and delivery, the two systems (existing and proposed) will be similar as far as treatment for poor people (those below the poverty line) is concerned. Those at the top of the income heap already go in for fully privately funded health insurance to cover hospitalisation. They are unlikely to go in for the new system which will really be looking at the income groups in the middle.

Significant, those in the middle will pay premium according to their income. So, this will be a system in which the government subsidy will taper off as individual incomes rise. The second question is, don't we have something called the income tax which is payable depending on what you earn and is progressive? Will it be simpler and save a lot of paperwork for the government to pay a single premium for all, which is equal to the entire cost of the scheme, and introduce a health insurance surcharge on the income tax payable?

I presume a universal health insurance scheme of the type being contemplated will cover pre-existing illnesses. It is not clear, but I also presume this scheme will have defined benefits, that is you can get care only up to a certain value, more only if you opt to pay a higher premium. The third question is, assuming there is a modest cost of care ceiling for the poor who pay no premium, what happens when an individual exceeds it? Does she then take herself out of the approved hospital (maybe private) and shift into a full-fledged government hospital where free health care is provided under the traditional government-supported system without a ceiling? If she is already in a government hospital approved for the universal insurance scheme, will it mean shifting from one ward (paying) to another (free)?

The whole point is, there is no substitute for the broad European system under which a strong public health-care system, paid for out of the taxes people pay, lives alongside private health cover which can be bought only by the well off who are unwilling to wait in the queue for an appointment with a consultant or for non-emergency hospitalisation. It is futile to think that to get over the inadequacy of the public health-care system in India, you need to adopt the American system under which the can is carried mainly by a health insurance system. The mess the American system is in and the additional costs imposed by the existence of health insurance companies should indicate which way the solution lies.

The system should save the amount a health insurance company spends on calculating premiums and selecting those who do not qualify (pre-existing illness). But we do need a way out of the current Indian situation where provision of public health care is either nonexistent (governments simply don't have enough money) or of appalling quality (courtesy the nature of management and the work culture of the staff). An intermediate position (between the European and American) is to have, along with the public health system, private hospitals, built with private investment, treating patients under a national health insurance scheme (funded by a lumpsum premium paid by the government to cover costs) and getting reimbursed. The key institutional layer that can make this work is strong third party administrators who use extensive treatment protocols and indicative costs to keep track of spending.

It is important to note that this will be an additionality. The backbone of the system must, repeat must, be a well run and funded old-fashioned public health system that offers competition to privately provided health care and thereby keeps costs down. It is not that it cannot be done. The quality of the public health system in Kerala and Tamil Nadu is far different from the rest of the country, with Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka falling in between. In Kerala, the cost of private health care is kept low because of competition from public health care.

One way of dividing responsibility is to keep primary health care, both in the countryside and urban slums, in the hands of the public health system, with secondary health care in urban and semi-urban cares being provided in good part by the new national health insurance system. The tertiary (research and referral) health-care responsibility has also to be largely borne by the public health system. With adequate government funding, these should become strong centres of research for dedicated academics (several AIIMSs around the country). This can be a practical hybrid to try out.








Compelling the government and its agencies to comply with court orders is a tricky issue. The judiciary has no army, police force or an extensive machinery to enforce its orders. It has to depend upon the executive to implement its orders. Very often, the orders are against the executive itself. So the judiciary has to rely on its moral authority and prod the executive to abide by its directions. The problem becomes more complex when courts deal with financial, development or social issues, as often as they do now.

 Several cases drag on for years because of the non-cooperative attitude of the executive, represented by bureaucrats. In the Supreme Court, matters like public distribution system, genetically modified food, cleaning of the Ganga and Yamuna, judicial infrastructure and police reforms have been pending for years. When the courts ask the central and state governments for information on these vital national issues, they do not provide the required data on time and seek adjournments repeatedly. The cases drag on.

Though the courts have the power to punish laggards for contempt of court, such action would be stuck in legalistic quagmire, as many recent cases have shown. It can impose a penalty, but it is the taxpayer who will bear the burden. A common method is calling the top officials to the court to explain personally the negligence of their departments. Even chief secretaries have been called. Recently, some state chief secretaries were found eating humble pie in the Supreme Court in a police reforms case.

Some high courts also call chief secretaries to attend the court when the judges lose patience with their slack response or disguised defiance of court orders. In a recent judgment, State of UP vs Jasvir Singh, the Supreme Court asked the high courts to go easy while taking such drastic steps. The case involved a dispute over the rate of compensation for land acquired in 1981. A bench of the Allahabad High Court was dissatisfied with the foot-dragging of the state government. At one stage, it asked the principal secretary in the Public Works Department to attend the court personally to answer the show cause notice.

Since the high court was still not satisfied with the authorities' response, it summoned the principal secretaries of finance and revenue departments to answer a tougher show cause notice. According to the new notice, they should explain why the delayed payments should not be recovered from their salaries with 9 per cent interest. This provoked the state government to move the Supreme Court challenging such drastic steps.

The Supreme Court stated that the high court orders calling the high dignitaries to the court on different occasions were "improper". It also asked the Chief Justice of that high court to place the case before another bench to obviate wrong impressions or prejudice in the matter. The Supreme Court expressed concern over a "growing trend among the judges of the high court to routinely require the presence of senior government officers for perceived non-compliance with its suggestions or to seek insignificant clarifications". Summoning top officers should be the last resort "in rare and exceptional cases when it is absolutely necessary, as for example, where it is necessary to explain complex policy or technical issues which counsel is not able to explain properly".

Advocating restraint, the Supreme Court stated: "The real power of courts is not in passing decrees nor in punishing offenders nor in summoning the presence of senior officers, but in the trust, faith and confidence of the common man in the judiciary. It should not be frittered away by unwarranted show of power."

Three years ago, the court found a large number of cases in which judges of various high courts had been summoning chief secretaries and other top officials like Central Bureau of Investigation directors and Director Generals of Police. In the case, State of Gujarat vs Turabali, the court pointed out that judges should have "modesty and humility". These officials are extremely busy people and calling them to the courts would be expensive and counterproductive.

When the courts take up public interest cases and the government, acting through bureaucrats, appears to be defiant, there is an additional question of separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. In such cases, neither the contempt power nor financial burden in the form of penalty is practicable. One way out for the courts is to raise the political cost of non-compliance, as in the recent 2G scam. The government can be more effectively shaken by headlines in the media, followed by rallies and expressions of public disapproval. This is an area where the judiciary and the media should work in partnership. After all, both of them depend on their moral authority to influence events rather than on corporal muscles.







Shubhashis Gangopadhyay

Research Director,

India Development Foundation

My simple answer is "no". Let me explain why. Reducing tax rates to beat inflation is a solution left over from pre-1990 days when prices of basic intermediate goods and primary articles were administered by the government. In those days, producers were allowed a pre-specified return on the cost of production, including capital cost. The market price was this figure plus the added taxes. In that scenario, a tax reduction had an immediate impact on inflation since it reduced the cost to downstream producers. This was based on the assumption that upstream producers passed on the tax cuts to the users and consumers. Since most of the basic intermediates were highly government controlled, this last assumption was somewhat plausible. Today, there is no such pressure on producers to pass on tax cuts to the consumers, regardless of what the finance minister may say.

The real problem with the current inflation is that food prices are increasing rapidly. If one were to look closely at this, one would immediately observe that the food items for which prices have risen the most are precisely those for which demands increase with a rise in income. So the inflation on food items is largely due to increased demand. Those who are claiming that growth is leading to the poor becoming poorer will find it hard to consistently argue their case since the rich do not increase their consumption of basic food items when their incomes grow, but the poor do, fuelling higher prices. And, most of these items do not attract any taxes.

The real problem with food is the plethora of controls that producers face. This is not a central government issue but is largely driven by state-level policies. All that the finance minister or the central government can do is coax the state governments to open up agricultural trade. Of course, no single state will do this but if all the states implement agricultural trade reforms in a coordinated manner, much of the within-country trade restrictions can be relaxed. The central government can play this coordinating role, which will require a strong leadership on this front.

If the finance minister were to reduce taxes, and assuming the producers reduce prices as a result of that, it would reduce the overall inflation but not inflation on food items. And, if taxes are reduced, it would certainly not help the government coffers or fiscal deficit. Investment is seldom made because taxes have been temporarily reduced. And, since investment is largely responsible for our growth, it would not help growth either. Remember that investment has a much longer perspective than a temporary tax reduction.

Indirect taxes should be rationalised and reduced in accordance with our overall tax policy. Here, the Goods and Services Tax should be implemented and this schedule has already been revised several times, while international trade-related taxes should follow our trade tax policies. As for direct taxes, the Direct Taxes Code is expected to be implemented next year and there is no reason to jump the gun this year. Also, most of the people suffering at the hands of rising food prices are outside the income tax bracket.

It is not entirely clear whether food inflation is hurting the rural poor as much as the urban poor. During the 2008 inflation episode, food price increases were overtaken by nominal rural wage increases, implying a slight growth in real income in rural India. One does not have current data but the pattern this year is very similar to what was happening then. For the urban poor, fixed prices and more commodities through the public distribution system are much better than a reduction in taxes. Both will negatively affect the fiscal deficit. But public distribution subsidies will directly solve the problem, while reduced taxes will have a much more dispersed effect, if at all.

In short, tax cuts may or may not reduce food price inflation, may or may not stimulate growth, and will have an adverse effect on fiscal deficit. Often the best way to contain inflation is to convince people that prices will soon come down, which encourages people to delay purchases. This reduces current demand, thus arresting runaway prices. Unfortunately, reducing taxes that worsen an already bad fiscal situation does not give that much confidence to people.

Vikas Vasal

Executive Director,KPMG

The macro revenue system is based on two premises. First, to collect taxes from a person depending upon his earning capacity or potential to pay. Second, to garner resources to meet the larger macro-economic and socio-development objectives like infrastructure development, creating employment opportunities for the masses, education and so on. In this process, the government takes upon itself the role of a welfare state, in which it endeavours to achieve a more equitable distribution of resources, by collecting taxes from those who can contribute, and then distributing the resources to those who need them. Further, it is generally observed that as the economy matures and human society develops, more choice is left in the hands of the individual constituents of society, which has a consequential effect in the form of a simple tax structure and lower rates of taxes.

In the case of income taxes, this is evident from the way the tax slab rates are structured for individual taxpayers, in which a basic exemption limit of Rs 1.6 lakh is provided (higher limits for women and senior citizens). Further, different tax slab rates – these are 10 per cent, 20 per cent and 30 per cent – have been prescribed for different income levels.

In the current economic situation in which prices of basic goods and services are literally going out of bounds and the common man is finding it difficult to manage his average household budget, it is necessary that some relief is provided to him by lowering the overall tax burden, leaving some additional money in his hands. This would help him combat the overarching impact of inflation, which is a cause for concern for a majority of the population.

Of course, it could be argued that one step alone would yield little and a multi-pronged approach is required for taming this beast of inflation. These measures, inter alia, include monetary policy intervention, relief on the indirect taxes front in goods and services of daily consumption, larger policy level interventions to remove supply-side constraints and strengthening logistics to avoid the wastage of essential commodities from farm to kitchen, opening up foreign direct investment in the retail sector and so on. But many of these are long-term initiatives. The issue at hand requires some immediate intervention including on the tax front.

Therefore, three points merit attention. One, increase the basic exemption limit. Two, widen the range of the existing tax slab rates. And three, reduce the tax rates per se. In other words, the minimum threshold limit to levy taxes may be increased to, say, Rs 2.5 lakh and the first tax slab rate of 10 per cent may be introduced for income between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 5 lakh. A combination of these measures would help leave some extra money in the hands of the taxpayer. In fact, this is also the underling intent of the Direct Taxes Code proposed to be effective from April 1, 2012, under which some rationalisation is proposed in the tax rates.

It is generally observed that leaving more disposable income in the hands of individuals could result in two possible actions. It is either saved or invested or it is spent to meet consumption needs. So if the basic exemption limit is increased and benefits of lower tax rates are passed on to the low- and middle-level income earners, it is likely that the additional disposable income would primarily be used to meet consumption requirements, which, at present, is being curtailed due to high inflationary prices. This would have a beneficial impact on the overall economy given the India growth story is primarily based on domestic consumption.

Thus, the common man rightfully expects the finance minister to help him manage his kitchen budget, since it is ultimately the man on the ground who shoulders the burden with the finance minister, helping him manage his budget by paying taxes every year.









 FOURTEEN eminent men and women of business, economics and public life have written a letter to our leaders bemoaning the widespread governance deficit and urging a concerted war against corruption. This is welcome — not in the sense that the missive offers any blinding new insight or a pathbreaking solution but because it shows the right concern. Only agglomeration of such concern in sufficiently large quantities can trigger some corrective action. It is worth noting that only one among the 14, Azim Premji, is an active businessman. Either our captains of industry are not sufficiently moved to voice their concern or they are chary of offending those in power, whether at the Centre, the state or the local panchayat. Industry is corruption's victim, true. But it is corruption's benefactor as well. Corruption is not a solo venture by the politician. It is the food, sustenance and extruded remains of a symbiotic relationship between industry and politics. It is not enough to appeal to politicians to change. The audience that is addressed must include our captains of industry as well. But this is not the primary shortcoming of this appeal by eminent citizens. What it fails to do is to prioritise the steps to cleanse the system, and, here, it is imperative to focus on political funding. In the absence of institutionalised, transparent, accountable funding of politics, Indian democracy has come to finance itself out of corruption. Political activity is funded by loot of the exchequer, sale of patronage and extortion. All three forms of political resource mobilisation call for collusion of the civil service, suborning and subverting the entire administrative apparatus as well. In the name of collecting money for politics, individual politicians grow rich and bureaucrats ride the same gravy train. Cleaning up political funding is the place to begin. Cleanly funded politicians in power can take action against corruption in the bureaucracy as well.

The rot in the system has reached critical mass that makes life-saving surgery imperative. We call upon more concerned eminent citizens to speak up, and say so. Only politics and politicians can wield the scalpel. But for them to act, they need a world of encouragement.







 THE finance ministry has set up a needless confrontation with the labour ministry and more importantly, with powerful labour unions, by rejecting the interest payout proposed by the Central Board of Trustees of the EPFO on provident fund (PF) balances in 2010-11. The labour minister, as chairman of the Board of Trustees, had recommended a payout of 9.5% for the current fiscal (1% higher than in the previous year) on the grounds that the EPFO had discovered a substantial surplus in its suspense account. The finance ministry has, however, contested this claim and asked the board to first put its house in order before paying the higher rate of interest. This is a tall order. Given that the higher rate was announced months ago, but the finance ministry chose to keep quiet all along, it might have been more prudent (and gracious) not to nitpick with the trustees now. Updating and settling all pending claims of five crore subscribers is a tough job at the best of times. More so for an organisation like the EPFO that has suffered years of neglect and has only recently begun to computerise its operations. In such a scenario, to withhold approval of the rate of interest approved by the Board of Trustees on the grounds that the EPFO's accounts are suspect is to needlessly invite trouble. Especially since it almost a certainty that the government will backtrack if the unions decide to force the issue.

Under the PF Scheme 1952, the rate of interest is fixed by the central government in consultation with the Central Board of Trustees. In practice, however, the government has invariably gone by the latter's recommendation. The unions are likely to see in any attempt to deviate from past practice a move to browbeat the trustees to toe the finance's ministry's line and invest in the stock market. Admittedly, there is much that is wrong with the EPFO, starting with its archaic system of book-keeping, to its woefully poor record-keeping, huge backlog and deplorable quality of service. But none of this is new; nor can it be set right overnight. The government needs to set its sights on the bigger goal of reforming provident funds, not encourage confrontations between ministries.







DON'T cry for me, Argentina", sings Evita Peron in the musical which dramatises the esteem in which the then president's ailing wife was held by the descamisados (shirtless peasants) of her country. Tears touch not just the masses. Millions of small children instantly empathised with India's opening bowler Sreesanth the day he was shown weeping on TV after being at the receiving end of a tight slap from off-spinner Harbhajan Singh for getting on his nerves at the end of a match between King's Eleven Punjab and Mumbai Indians in the first season of the Indian Premier League. The weeping Sreesanth was picked up by YouTube and became a must-see item. Even Harbhajan's matronly mom got into the act by appearing on national television to state that there was no animus between the two bowlers and that her son was like an elder brother to Sreesanth. Like they say in Hindi movies, "Bhai ho to aisa!" ("A brother should be like this!"). In the wake of the latest disappointment of not being selected for the World Cup to be played from next month in India, Sreesanth has stated on Twitter that he is heartbroken but that he will work even harder so that he can continue to excel for the team and play the 2015 World Cup.


The country's finest all-rounder Kapil Dev, who captained India to its first and only World Cup win in 1983, was surprised by the omission of Sreesanth. Kapil Dev, who opened the bowling for India, felt that a passionate player like Sreesanth would have lifted India's World Cup team with his exuberance. He noted that Sreesanth had bowled splendidly in the last ODI series in India against New Zealand and also during the recently concluded Test series in South Africa. Hopefully, Team India will lift the World Cup despite the absence of Sreesanth who will be missed by millions of cricket fans who like to see passionate players perform!






FOXCONN, the world's biggest manufacturer of electronic components, runs an entire city of 4,50,000 workers in China, Foxconn city. This summer, 14 workers committed suicide. The media blamed this on low wages and bad working conditions. One Chinese professor wrote that Foxconn's working conditions were actually high by Chinese standards. Another said 14 suicides in a population of 4,50,000 meant a suicide rate of just 3.5 per lakh of population, far lower than China's overall suicide rate of 14 per lakh.


But these cold facts could not counter the terrible publicity of the suicides. Foxconn decided to cut its workforce in the city by one-third, raise wages and relocate in several other interior cities. It plans a total workforce of 1.3 million split into several locations, in none of which it has a dominant population share. That way, even if total suicides do not fall, suicides per location will be few, and cease to attract media or political attention.

 The main lesson for Indian microfinance institutions (MFIs) is that allegations of suicide cannot be rebutted by technocratic analysis. They can be met only through politically sensitive solutions, including dispersion among several locations.


SKS chief Vikram Akula investigated allegations of 17 suicides among his borrowers, and found that none was a defaulter. But as in Foxconn's case, this did not change SKS's image. Any group with more than a lakh members is going to have some suicides, and SKS has 5.7 million borrowers. If the media look for suicides in any large group, it will find many instances. The company in question cannot escape blame.


 Many people think suicide is a rare phenomenon caused only by great financial distress. Alas, suicide is not uncommon at all, and has little to do with financial distress. The accompanying tables list suicide rates. The highest rates in India come from Puducherry (47.2) and Kerala (31.0) which are by no means the poorest states. But poor Bihar (1.1) and Uttar Pradesh (2.1) have the lowest rates. Low rates occur in poor states Jharkhand (3.6), Rajasthan (7.7) and Orissa (10.8). States with the best welfare systems (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa) have high suicide rates.


 Examine WHO data on suicides in 2003 (See table). India (10.7) is on par with much richer USA (10.8). China is much worse (14 per lakh). The highest rates come from Belarus (36.6) Sri Lanka (30.7) and Japan (25.3). The highest suicide rates in the West come from prosperous Finland (18.8) and Switzerland (17.5), which have strong welfare systems. By contrast, low suicide rates come from poor Zimbabwe (7.9) and Nicaragua (3.5).

 Suicide and living standards have little correlation. Suicide is caused substantially by psychological and cultural factors. It is strongly associated with depression and mental disorders. Antidepressants have brought down suicide rates in the West. Cultural factors explain exceptionally high suicide rates in Japan and Finland.
 What does this imply for the accusation that (MFIs) have driven borrowers to suicide in Andhra Pradesh? The state has just under 15,000 suicides per year, or almost 40 suicides per day! MFIs have been accused of using coercive tactics, but this relates to very few cases in millions of loans.


 Have MFIs worsened the suicide rate? Very careful statistical work is needed to throw light on this, but nobody is even attempting this, since the issue is political, not technocratic. The state has enacted a draconian law enabling it to arrest MFI staff even on flimsy grounds like causing annoyance. Unofficially, borrowers have been told to stop repaying. Hence repayment rates have plummeted from 98% to 20%. This threatens all MFIs with bankruptcy.


 MFIs in other states think they can survive by having a closer linkage with state government anti-poverty schemes. Not so — the problem in AP arose because opposition parties (Telugu Desam and the two communist parties) decided that MFI suicides could be a good tool to whip the state government with. The government sought to protect its flanks by cracking down on MFIs itself.


 This can happen elsewhere. MFIs are growing in UP, and there will doubtless be some suicides among borrowers. If Mulayam seeks to make this an election issue, Mayawati will crack down on MFIs before this can become Mulayam's platform.


 India has an ingrained political culture of loan waivers. Agricultural credit co-ops went bust because politicians urged default. For the same reason the IRDP programme of small loans from government banks became a fiasco. The central government itself decreed bank loan waivers in 1990 and 2008.


 Across developing countries, MFIs have been hailed as heroes aiding the poor. Only in India are they castigated. Why? First, only in India is there competition between government-sponsored and private MFIs, with the government wanting a monopoly. Second, India alone has a tradition of politically-induced default. Third, India alone has rival MFIs giving multiple loans to borrowers, leading to overborrowing and unsustainable debt.


Indian MFIs hope that the Malegam Committee of the RBI will come out with regulatory guidelines that defuse political opposition and ensure MFI viability. This is too optimistic. The main threat is political, not technocratic.


First, a la Foxconn, MFIs must spread activities among several states, and not become dominant in any one state. Second and more important, MFIs must start organising women borrowers to stage demonstrations on their behalf when needed. Politically, that alone will take the sting out allegations that they are driving people to suicide.


To achieve this, MFIs will have to do more than pure lending. They need to get involved in livelihoods development, in providing veterinary services and insurance, and in lowering prices of basic goods for clients by clubbing their orders together, passing on wholesale discounts to clients. Only such activities will convince borrowers that they truly need MFIs, and should demonstrate against state action to hobble these.


 If MFIs cannot persuade women to demonstrate on their behalf, it will prove that they have lost their social mission and are seen by clients just as commercial lenders. If so, they cannot expect to be exceptions in a political system that revels in loan cancellations.









Minister of State for Finance, Gujarat The state is now a hot investment destination

THE fifth edition of vibrant Gujarat summit has become a model of economic success that can be replicated by many states. The event provided a great opportunity for the state to display its strengths, initiatives taken to improve governance and the investor friendly climate, among other things. It not only gave local players an opportunity to interact with national and international players, but also with top government officials from various departments and sectors. Such events encourage and motivate the bureaucracy as well. More than 1,400 delegates from over 101 countries participated in the event that saw a record 7,936 MoUs being inked for $450 billion. This was significantly higher than the MoUs signed in the previous summit in January 2009. This time round, over 100 tie-ups were forged with leading institutions from across the globe for exchange of knowledge.

 A distinct feature of the summit was the participation of national and international delegates in large numbers. It also provided excellent networking opportunities through b2b meetings and buyer seller meets.


Partnerships were forged not only in the industry space, but also in the areas of technology, innovation, academics and in social sectors. As our dynamic chief minister Narendra Modi pointed out, the focus this time was more on branding the state as a business hub rather than a pure investment destination.


The summit has helped generate international investor confidence. Gujarat has also emerged as the most favoured business destination in India. The state keeps up with the commitments made to investors, and also facilitates timely execution of projects. Nothing can explain the success of Vibrant Gujarat better than the presence of India's business tycoons including Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Gautam Adani, Adi Godrej, Sudhir Mehta, Prashant Ruia, GVK Reddy et al at the meet. The event has been successful in creating employment opportunities in tourism, handicrafts and knowledge sectors, besides garnering investments from across the world.




Investment is only on paper

 Gujarat was vibrant much before Mr Narendra Modi was on the horizon of politics. Gujarat's 11% growth rate compared to the country's 8.49% is no breaking news. Gujarat has always been ahead. Those who know Gujarat and believe in reality more than rhetoric know that in 1994-95, Gujarat's growth rate was 13.2% compared to India's growth rate of 6.3%.I believe that it is inherent entrepreneurship skills and "Gujaratiness" that is responsible for its amazing growth story besides the state's strategic location and natural resources. Trade and industry is in Gujarati DNA and long back before Mr Modi or I were born, trade transaction permission and first actual trade by British took place in Gujarat. There is record that in 3rd century BC, Greeks found Gujarat to be outstandingly market-oriented.


 India's largest ship breaking yard in Alang, the largest greenfield refinery in Jamnagar, the country's first private port in Pipavav all came much before Mr Modi came to Gujarat. In fact, now hoardings with Mr Modi's wellrehearsed poses scream Gujarat tops in castor or soda ash production but this has been the case since the last three decades. Other than credit claiming and event management, what is Mr Modi's contribution?


 Only those who know Gujarat from the periphery can get carried away by Mr Modi's claims. RTI records prove investment coming in this summit mainly exist on paper. None of the 31 MoUs of power sector of 2009 Vibrant Summit amounting to . 2,11,895 crore offering employment to 58,000 people have seen the light of the day. The Modi government claims to have attracted investment promises worth over . 7 lakh crore in energy sector alone this time. Investors have promised investments in 42,000 MW of renewable energy projects when the entire solar mission aims at 20,000 MW of solar power by 2021 Gujarat does not need more than 2,000 MW of renewable projects in the state! From a blood-shedding expert to a book-keeping wizard, Mr Modi has marketed himself well but then all hype and hollow action is what the summit is about.







THE law on insider trading is one which everyone thinks they understand but is amongst the most misunderstood laws in the financial sector. The hubris that they understand this law extends not only to market participants and lawyers but to regulators and judges. The problem is universal and is by no means unique to India or the developing world. While I claim no higher understanding of this law, like the Greek philosopher at least I know that I don't know. Here are some of the issues I think are important and which need resolution in the Indian context.


The classic insider trading violation is when a senior officer or director who is privy to price sensitive inside information, like a quarterly profit report, trades based on such information before disclosure is made to shareholders of the company. Such trading is outlawed virtually the world over because it is a violation of the fiduciary duty of the insiders to their shareholders, and are thus obliged to keep shareholder interest ahead of their own. Unfortunately, there is a vast minefield outside this simple scenario. The minefield exists both in countries which do not define but outlaw insider trading (US) and which define and outlaw insider trading (India). The haze surrounds such basic issues as the definition of an insider, what is inside information and when does violation occur.


 First, insider trading has to be insider trading. Sounds axiomatic? It isn't. When an acquirer seeks to acquire a listed company, the information about the potential acquisition within its domain is price-sensitive, but is outside information. If anyone knows through an information leakage from the acquirer that a takeover is planned, they may trade ahead and make a profit. This trading ahead has often been wrongly branded as insider trading, even though the information is outside information rather than inside information. A slight variation of this was evidenced in the Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) insider trading case, where there was no trade based on inside information, but rather a trade by HLL ahead of its own merger with a target company. The price-sensitive information thus was the swap ratio rather than any inside information. If an IOSCO (a global body of securities regulators) report on insider trading is to be believed, India is perhaps the only country in the world to penalise outside information 'It appears, however, that the best approach is to include in the definition of inside information only information relating to the issuer, rather than information concerning other entities'.

 Second, the definition of insider itself has been amended post the HLL case to include not just insiders like directors and senior management who have access to inside information but to any person who 'has received or has had access to [such] price sensitive information'. While this definition surely includes tippees of the inside information, for instance the wife of the director, whether this includes: a) the company's sweeper, who is not a fiduciary of its shareholders; b) one who has access to outside price-sensitive information like a takeover bid; c) millions of readers who reads the 'heard on the street' column of this newspaper, assuming the news is accurate; d) a private equity investor who does due diligence and invests in a company; e) an equity analyst who uncovers fraud and tells his clients to sell their stock. To include any of the five would in my opinion be wrong and is such a violent departure from the principles based on which the law was developed around 110 years ago because it not only outlaws unfair conduct but also legitimate trades. Even where unfairness occurs (as in the sweeper example), can a law treat pickpocketing on the same level as a person who picks up a hundred rupee note from the street?


Third, almost throughout the world, insider trading is restricted to individuals like senior employees who misuse inside information. India amended the law post the HLL case to include companies and worded the violation even more broadly. The Indian law on companies' possible abuse of insider trading absurdly makes no reference to inside information or being an insider. Thus, for acquiring companies with no access to inside information, which trades based on the knowledge that their bids will drive up the price of the target company, would have committed a crime of insider trading even though it is the company and its shareholders who are gaining from such a transaction. In other words, while insider trading typically arises from a breach of fiduciary duties around much of the world, in India being faithful to your shareholders can be a crime even without being an insider and without trading on insider information.


 An excessively broad and vague definition ironically contradicting the very name of the regulation in its plain English meaning makes offenders out of honest traders and makes it difficult for people to determine whether their innocuous actions are legitimate or criminal.


(The author is the founder of     Finsec Law Advisors)








 HOW does knowing and knowledge relate to feelings of faith? Should there be a connection at all? Or is belief really 'blind'? A recent survey of religiosity by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life raises intriguing questions. For starters, there's the finding that America likes to brag that religion flourishes freely within its borders as it does nowhere else on earth.


 But there is a downside to that proposition: researchers also found that many of the respondents knew little about the religions they practised and even less about other faiths. "Simple facts unknown to a majority of Americans would fill a book (say, the Bible or Koran)," comments Susan Jacoby in her blog Faith-based Folly. "Fewer than half of us know that Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation, that the Jewish Sabbath starts on Friday night, or that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist!"


 Not surprisingly, atheists knew more about religion than most believers! That finding did not surprise Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the renowned philosopher of randomness. "A good foe is far more loyal, far more predictable, and, to the clever, far more useful than the most valuable admirer," Taleb told your columnist during a recent interview, while quoting from his book on philosophical and practical aphorisms, The Bed of Procrustes.


 But it would be unwise to read too much in the alleged display of ignorance in matters of faith. A celebrated verse from 700 verses in praise of the Goddess Durgasaptashati from Markandeya Purana, for example, flaunts the poet's ignorance of ritual practice and doctrine: in the prayer known as Kshama Prarthana, the devotee confesses that he does not know how to summon the Goddess (avahanam na janani). Nor does he know how to send her off (na janami visarjanam).


The devotee of the Goddess also admits frankly that he does not know how to pray (poojam chaiva na janami). But does that negate his emotions or sincerity? Not really. "Please pardon me O Mother Supreme," he pleads. "Please accept my inadequate worship." For isn't she the Mother of the Universe who smiles upon the sincere shenanigans of her foolish children?


The Indic tradition also uses the flourishing culture of devotional self-abnegation to account for such phenomena as the holy fool or the 'Crazy' Master who habitually hides his true brilliance under the cloak of mad antics. Is ignorance bliss?








Central bankers, especially Governors, are not given to loose talk. So when Dr D. Subbarao, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), said on Monday that the RBI was "desperate" to bring inflation under control, it is likely that he was telling the markets to be prepared for a rather large increase in the policy rates in about a week from now. How large remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the baby-steps approach of 25 basis points at a time will no longer work. The question, of course, is whether strong measures will do the trick. Perhaps not. It would be an extreme act of faith to link vegetable prices — which are driving up the inflation rate — to monetary policy. All that will happen when the rates go up is a slowdown in the rate of industrial growth, which would have an impact on the current account deficit, now straining to touch four per cent of GDP. Even that, given the lags and leads, will take about 10 months to show up in lower inflation rates. It is also necessary to ask if higher policy rates would lower inflationary expectations. Again, probably not. So, for the rest of the year at least, it would be reasonable to expect inflation to remain high. It may, as some officials expect, come down to about 6.5 per cent by March in a statistical sense. But if food inflation remains at current levels or is even marginally lower, it may not. After all, summer, when prices tend to firm up, is not far away and, as far as the year as a whole is concerned, there is the monsoon to reckon with as well. If it misbehaves, the effects of higher interest rates will be pretty much offset.

As this newspaper has been pointing out for over a year now, the high growth of the last three years and the doles given out by the Government via the NREGS, have translated into higher incomes for everyone, not just the employed. This has increased the demand for food but, for structural reasons, agricultural supply has not kept pace. Add to that serious policy errors, such as allowing exports of some major items of consumption, not to mention the absence of a unified market for major agri-products, the field is set perfectly for speculation at the margin. It is probably this that has allowed small, temporary shortages to translate into disproportionately high price spikes. At the same time urbanisation, with its accompanying growth of restaurants to suit all pockets and the growth of the processed foods industry, has also contributed. Unlike in the case of household demand, the demand from these categories, even as a small fraction of household demand, is inelastic and therefore tends to influence prices. That the profits from such speculation accrue to the intermediaries does not necessarily mean hoarding.

What is needed is shock treatment. It will be interesting to see if the RBI's desperation extends to that.







In the last few years one thing which keeps recurring is high inflation, particularly food inflation. It is time to look at structural reforms which would sustain more than 8 per cent growth in the coming period without high inflation.

The government is planning short-term measures such as stopping exports of essential commodities, keeping them off futures markets, reducing duties on imports etc. The monetary policy also could be used as a tool to contain food inflation even at the cost of growth in the immediate short-term.

A marginal compromise on growth rate number is more acceptable than letting the bottom of the pyramid suffer.

The drop in November Index of Industrial Production (IIP) from more than 11 per cent to 2.7 per cent need not be taken too seriously because of the general perception of the quality of data, monthly volatility, high base effect, long festive holidays etc. However, rise in food prices may have a spiralling effect across the board and lead to an increase in cost of production including wages. This would hurt the manufacturing sector.

The best news in recent months is the robust growth of production of capital goods indicating brisk investment activities. However, the increase in overall prices including that of raw materials and consequent higher cost of production might derail investments in the pipeline or proposed .

Few options

Over the last few months, it appears that the Reserve Bank of India had chosen to be supportive of the recovery and growth and not taken any tough measures to control inflation.

It seems now that the central bank has few options but to increase key policy rates to contain aggregate demand and also inflation. Any increase in policy rates would certainly add to the cost of production affecting activities in manufacturing and industry.

Therefore, the overall growth , particularly in the industrial sector, is expected to slow down. Given the fact that agricultural growth is highly volatile and has increased by around 3 per cent on an average over the last few years, the services sector needs to keep up its robust growth to achieve over 9 per cent growth rate.

However, it is unlikely even though services are alsoserious inputs to manufacturing and industry. The expected slowdown in manufacturing and industry would affect the services sector. Also , the global markets are still in the recovery phase, not buoyant enough to compensate for the loss.

Increase in overall prices, cost of production coupled with tight monetary policy would certainly affect India's competitiveness in the world If inflation is allowed to get out of control, a more painful readjustment would be required in future. The growth in money supply by more than 20 per cent, rising per capita income and stimulus packages have partially contributed to the present food prices along with seasonal shortfall of crops.

Structural reforms

The lesson from the high growth and high food inflation cycles every now and then is that we need to look at the policy prescriptions for structural reforms in agriculture. It's time now to address issues and bottlenecks to ensure stable agricultural growth of 4-5 per cent in the medium term. Every time there is a little shortfall of supply, there is a huge increase in retail prices. We had similar experience with pulses and edible oils a year ago, like onions now. This year production of pulses is good , but we largely depend on import of edible oils whose prices are going up internationally. We have a buffer stock of grains, but do not have a policy to release them at short notice.

We have failed to get agricultural growth of four per cent during Plan periods despite the talk of development. We have the most inefficient supply chain which leads to manifold increases of prices by the time the produce reaches consumers. It's time we looked at all issues from logistics, to storage, productivity to marketing.

Long-term solutions

Short-term measures are fine but the problem of price rise, particularly in essential commodities, will remain if we fail to address systematically all the old issues in agricultural sector. Since rising food prices are a global phenomenon and India is getting more integrated with the (also dependent on) world economy, we need to be more careful about our export-import policies as well as development of futures markets in essential commodities.

Proper, systematic forecasting of production and demand of essential crops will be useful for framing policies to avoid the kind of food prices, being witnessed today, particularly in the case of onions. Low inflation is important for the long-term success of the economy as it encourages stable investment and promotes growth without affecting real per capita income.

(The author is Associate Professor, Institute of Economic Growth).











The investment banker plays a key role in transferring risk and capital between high-quality companies and well-capitalised investors. This article explores the various facets of investment banking specific to financial inclusion and suggests innovations that would enable investment bankers play a greater role in facilitating capital market transactions.

The previous column in this series explored the importance of well-developed secondary markets in securities and the mechanisms that are required to develop such markets. Now, it is necessary to focus on the role and responsibilities of the investment banker, the critical market intermediary who sits between high quality borrowers/issuers and well-capitalised investors, and must act as a bridge to transfer risk and capital.

In the context of financial inclusion, the clients that an investment banker must deal with would be:

— Small local businesses, micro-SMEs that have achieved a certain level of scale through their own resources and seek growth capital

— Originators of financial services to low-income households

Adam Smith observed: "It is not by augmenting the capital of the country, but by rendering a greater part of that capital active and productive than would otherwise be so, that the most judicious operations of banking can increase the industry of the country."

The investment banker performs an important function in rendering financial capital mobile.


Facilitating movement of capital: The investment banker's primary role is in connecting high quality borrowers/issuers with well capitalised investors. The due diligence abilities of the investment banker are crucial in developing an understanding of his client's business, and representing it fairly to the investor community. Given the absence of independent research, the investor will require to develop trust in the investment banker as a "sector expert".

In the context of financial inclusion, an investment banker has to deal with small and disaggregated clients, and low ticket sizes of transactions. To facilitate a larger quantum and volume of transactions, the investment banker has to

— Develop sector-specific due diligence guidelines and evaluation methodologies, which can be tested over time

— Enable independent research and oversight of the client base, and develop an independent repository of data and analysis. This is possible through a partnership with rating agencies

To ensure the success of placement of a transaction, market making and developing deeper secondary markets in securities are critical. The investment banker is uniquely placed to fill this role, as she has been responsible for developing the primary market itself.

Reducing the risk of financing through underwriting: One of the key aspects of reducing business risk is certainty of capital. The underwriting abilities of the investment banker will determine her success in assuring capital to her clients. Partial/full underwriting in a capital market issuance is a statement that the investment banker is willing to subscribe to whole/ part of an issuance, if investors are unwilling to subscribe.

When an investment banker underwrites an issuance, potential investors are comforted by the fact that the investment banker is willing to absorb the entire risk if necessary.

The ability to underwrite securities comes from two factors: ability to price securities and availability of capital to absorb the risk.

Given that in the realm of financial inclusion the investment banker's clients will be smaller and lesser known, the ability to underwrite becomes more critical.

Assisting the client in meeting corporate objectives: The investment banker is also an advisor to his clients. As an advisor, the investment banker helps her clients in translating their corporate objectives into a realistic business plan, developing capital raising objectives at different stages and establishing strategies to raise capital.

A key aspect of advisory services is monitoring the corporate governance of the client's organisation. As a market intermediary, the investment banker is bound to ensure that her clients meet the highest level of corporate governance – independence of the board, transparency to investors etc.


What are the innovations that an investment banker must incorporate to become a meaningful force in furthering financial inclusion?

First, conceptualising and developing sector-specific due diligence guidelines that can serve as a tool for the investment banker as well as capital market investors in gauging the quality of clients, as well as pricing risk. This requires reach and expertise

Second, structure transactions such that it ensures the alignment of incentives of all parties. The issuer achieves certainty of financing, however with a clear target (covenanted in some manner) to achieve the highest standards of corporate governance.

The investor's risk concerns are assuaged by the underwriting abilities of the investment banker

Third, develop partnerships with independent monitoring agencies such as rating agencies and other bodies that can create a repository of information and analysis

Through efficient and innovative intermediation, the investment banker (in the issuance of both equity and debt securities, as the banker's role in the two are not materially different) can become a key player in furthering financial inclusion by ensuring the sustainability of capital raising efforts for clients.

(The author is with IFMR Capital.








Arun S.

High GDP growth can and does cause inflation, which is bad; but it also brings in money from abroad as foreign investors see an opportunity to make money, which is good. Thus, according to the Reserve Bank of India, foreign institutional investors (FIIs) are estimated to have brought in $37 billion in the first nine months of the current fiscal.

This money is helping partly finance the current account deficit (CAD), which is the difference between export earnings and import spending.

But the big question is what will happen if this inflow dries up and/or is accompanied by a massive outflow? It could happen for any number of reasons. Indeed, it happened to India in 1990, leading to its biggest balance of payments crisis in 1991.

India's CAD is now almost 4 per cent. In 2009-10 it was 2.9 per cent, capital flows as a percentage of GDP stood at 4.1 per cent. In 2008-09, the CAD as a percentage of GDP was 2.4 per cent.

Some economy watchers believe that it will go to 4 per cent in 2010-11.  Goldman Sachs' prediction for 2011-12 is 4.3 per cent. But the former RBI Governor, Dr Y.V. Reddy, maintains that the CAD situation does not pose signals of serious warning, though careful watching is required.

To the extent that the surge in capital flows has not caused a sharp appreciation of the rupee, it only reflects the growing strengths of the economy and its capacity to absorb investment, according to the Finance Ministry.  

Nevertheless, concerns are being expressed about the 'sustainability' of the CAD. Is it too high and should it be reduced? If so, how?

Challenge of reducing

the deficit

The very first meeting of the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) on December 31 had listed reducing the CAD as one of the main challenges in sustaining the current economic growth levels.

Thanks to the strong domestic demand and increase in international crude oil and other commodity prices, the trade deficit has widened, causing some concern among policymakers.

The higher trade deficit, combined with a lower net invisible surplus, resulted in widening of the CAD to $27.9 billion during April-September 2010, as compared to $13.4 billion in same period in previous year, the RBI said on December 31.

Exports to the rescue?

Encouraged by the strong export performance in December 2010, the Commerce Secretary, Mr Rahul Khullar is confident that the CAD will be lower than 3.5 per cent (of GDP) this fiscal. In December 2010, the trade deficit contracted to a three-year low of $ 2.6 billion. While exports surged to a 33-month high of $22.5 billion, imports fell to a 14-month low at $25.1 billion.

In August last year, the trade deficit (the gap between exports and imports) touched a 23-month high of $13 billion. At that time, the Government had estimated that the trade deficit for the fiscal may shoot up to an all-time high of $135 billion. 

Now, the Commerce Secretary feels that the trade deficit for the fiscal would be just about $118-120 billion, mainly on account of the "remarkable" performance of exports. Merchandise exports are expected to touch a record $225 billion this fiscal, as against a target of $200 billion.

Dr Rajiv Kumar, Director-General, FICCI, recalls a similar scenario towards the end of the 1980s, when a rising fiscal deficit and CAD at that point of time had ultimately led to the 1991 crisis.

"Now, we are again getting the twin deficits (fiscal and current account) back. This is not healthy", says Dr Kumar. 

Meanwhile, the World Bank has in its latest Global Economic Prospects report highlighted that India's CAD rose to 3.7 per cent of GDP in 2010, up from 2 per cent in 2009.

It also noted that the pace of growth of ICT-exports (internet, communication and technology) has decelerated markedly, compared with the vibrant growth rates posted in the past.

This has been largely attributed to a tepid recovery in external demand in the key export markets of the United States, United Kingdom and Europe, which comprise about 85 per cent of Indian software and services exports.

On an overall basis, the World Bank report predicts that the pace of growth of imports in South Asia is expected to continue to outpace exports over the next few years. Net exports are projected to continue to subtract from growth, albeit modestly, the report has said. 

Whether domestic demand growth will moderate in coming months and merchandise exports performance will continue to shine, only time will tell. Many economists are keeping their fingers crossed.

No country has tackled the problem of an unsustainable CAD without bringing down its growth ambitions!









One can only hope that the promised disclosure by Wikileaks founder, Mr Julian Assange, of the names of 2,000 high-net-worth entities and individuals from Britain, the US and Asian countries who have hidden their unaccounted-for wealth in Swiss banks, and whose names were ceremoniously handed to him in two compact discs (CDs) in London on January 17 by the former Chief Operating Officer of Julius Baer, Mr Rudolf Elmer, will write finis to a sordid saga that had defied all efforts at unravelling the mystery for more than half-a-century.


I am reacting to the news guardedly because of my uneasiness about the infinite ingenuity and formidable influence of the account-holders, but for which they could not have made their piles and kept guard over their hoards all this time.


One can be sure that within the government of every country to which they belong, they have extensive political and official networks with a vested interest in perpetuating anti-social and anti-national activities such as corruption, tax-evasion and money-laundering.


In India, too, we have been witness to the same kind of pretence and prevarication at work — outwardly professing keenness to unearth the long buried booty but in reality, doing precious little, by citing a variety of inventive excuses (privilege, embargo in tax agreements, need to renegotiate tax treaties, denial of permission by authorities, deficiencies in enactments).


For instance, according to the Reuters report of the media conference at London, "Some, if not most, of the material has already been handed over to government authorities in countries where the account holders are believed to reside." This can only mean that Delhi is already in possession of much of the details contained in Mr Elmer's CDs. Is it, or is it not? We, the people, have a right to know, but we also know we will get no answer, just as the Government has so far succeeded in holding back from us the names of 50 tax evaders handed to it by the German Government.


The usual trick is to erase the case from public memory so that it is no longer a live issue. Does anyone know what happened to the cases of Hassan Ali Khan and Chandrika Tarpuriah, on whom the Income-Tax Department served notices in January 2009, raising a demand of Rs 40,000 crore and Rs20,000 crore respectively for stashing undisclosed amounts of $8 billion and $1.6 billion in foreign banks?




It is quite on the cards that the hoarders abroad of illicit wealth have by now had enough time to sanitise their holdings, and even make them evaporate. They are capable of fighting a protracted rear-guard action, with the help of their cohorts in the political and official networks.


They can make the governments, the public, tax departments and courts of law ineffective and helpless by every conceivable means: Dubbing the information and documents as false and fabricated, resorting to their standard description of the whole operation as "politically motivated", stalling proceedings at every stage and every level and, finally, by obliterating all record of their malfeasance!


Meanwhile, they have received the 'godsend' of an offer from the Swiss Banks Association, of which it is doubtful whether even the Government is aware. It has come forward to regularise the assets of foreign clients hidden from their governments by levying a flat rate tax and passing on the proceeds to those governments, freeing the account-holders from any further obligation to disclose their assets or their investment income to the tax authorities of their countries. I can see them getting into a stampede to grasp the offer.


Hence, Mr Assange will be well-advised to put the list on his Website quickly, for the longer he tarries, the greater the opportunity for the miscreants to do a Harry Houdini and make sure that the follow-up action comes to naught. My fear is that it is already too late.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL





There seems to be much confusion in the minds of the devotees on how the Sabarimala pilgrimage should be conducted in the proper manner and what rites it involves. It is especially pertinent to explain this in the wake of the recent stampede, which killed more than hundred people.

Sabarimala is one of the most important pilgrim centres of south India. Devotees who want to take the trek to Sabarimala observe fast from the first day of the month of Vristchika, (the fourth month of Malabar era) for 41 days (a mandala).

During the period of fasting, the devotees should take meals only once a day. Men observe celibacy during this period. Women above the age of 60 alone are permitted to visit the temple. Girls below the age of 10 can also go to worship the deity.

On the first day of the month, at dawn, the devotee has to visit a Saastha temple and wear a necklace of small beads with a locket of the lord's image on it. This marks the start of the fast. After the pilgrimage, he can return to the temple and remove the chain there and put an end to his fast.

Once the fast begins, the devotee is supposed to observe purity of mind, body, thought and deed. He should not eat stale food during the whole period. He should not do any harm to other living beings or tell lies. He has to observe non-violence thoroughly.

Hinduism believes that every man has three liabilities — to the Rishi, to the Deva and to the Manes. During the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, all the three debts can be settled.

The celibacy observed during the period will purge the devotee of the first liability. The purity of fasting and the chanting of the Lord's name submitting himself completely to the care of the deity cures him of the second liability. Taking a dip in River Pampa and observing rites for the well-being of the Manes purge him from the last of liabilities.

Now, about the deity. The life force of Prince Ayyappa (who was born of Lord Shiva and Mohini, the feminine disguise of Lord Vishnu) is believed to have merged in to Lord Saastha, on completion of his life's mission.

Though the pilgrimage to Lord Ayyappa's abode has many symbols such as black dress, irumudi (a bag of double compartments to be borne on the head while climbing the hill), ghee-filled coconut, the loud chanting of the lord's name, the necklace of beads worn since the beginning of the fast is the most important. While wearing the necklace, the devotee has to chant the following sloka:

"Jnaanamudraam shaastrumudraam gurumudraam namaamyaham
Vanamudraam shuddhamudraam rudramudraam namaamyaham
Shaantamudraam satyamudraam vratamudraam namaamyaham
Shabaryaashrama satyena mudraam paatu sadaapi mae
Gurudakshinayaa poorvam tasyaanugraha kaarine
Sharanaagata mudraakhyam tvan mudraam dhaarayaamyaham
Shabaryaachala mudraayai namastubhyam namo namaha".
Lord Saastha took incarnation on the Uthram Star in the month of Dhanu (the third month of Malabar era) in order to redeem man of his sins of prior births.

Tradition insists that devotees should wear dark blue or black dress during the pilgrimage to Sabarimala. Interestingly, many psychologists also say that dress of this colour reduces tension.

A bag having two compartments made of cloth in the same colour and bearing a mark of crecsent in white should be carried on head. The first compartment should be filled with offerings to the lord and the second with food items the devotee has to consume on the way. These two compartments symbolically represent the grace of the lord and sins of the devotee.

The ghee, filled and kept in the coconut, should be given as offering to the deity. The coconut is thrown to the big fire kept live at the temple throughout the period. On the way, devotees should also conduct puja to Lord Ganesha.

At last, the devotee has to climb the 18 steps that have symbolic significance to reach the sanctum sanctorium. This is the peak moment of the pilgrimage.

— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written
books on the Vedas and Upanishads.

The author can be reached at [1]







As an astronomer, I am often asked why anyone should study astronomy and bother about the nature of distant stars, planets and the remote galaxies in the sky above. The questioner implies that such an activity is of little practical value and that we astronomers are really parasites on the society by siphoning precious funds for its pursuit.

This question can be answered at different levels. At the deepest level, the motivation to study astronomy is the same as the motivation for any intellectual activity. Over the years human civilisations have supported creative activities in the arts, literature and the more abstract variety of science. So, we can argue that astronomy should be practised in order to satisfy our innate curiosity about the cosmos and to understand our place in this universe. And, as the following example illustrates, an intellectual activity can lead to useful results.

The 16th century astronomer, Tycho Brahe, had made meticulous observations of the sky and in particular the motion of planets. He felt that Copernicus was wrong and hoped that his data would prove his conjecture. To extract the facts from his data, Tycho needed an assistant proficient in mathematics and he got Johannes Kepler for the job. Kepler spent several years to codify the essence into three specific laws for planetary motion. These laws describe how the planets move round the Sun in elliptical orbits.

Kepler's laws raised the question as to why the planets move in this fashion and the answer came from Isaac Newton who had the genius to postulate the existence of a universal gravitational force between any two objects. From then, study of gravity has played a crucial role in understanding the structure of our universe.

At the next level, one can list several technological offshoots which have come about from the application of the law of gravitation and these have benefited mankind. Indeed, most of the benefits of space technology, which we enjoy today, can be directly traced to the better understanding of how gravity works which, in turn, was prompted by purely astronomical considerations. That we can launch satellites around the Earth or can send spacecrafts to the Moon, all in highly precise trajectories is because of our understanding of Newton's law of gravitation. The benefits we enjoy today from space technology, be it remote sensing of Earth resources, or sending a fax or an email message or watching the World Cup live on television, all owe their existence to the law of gravitation; and the law of gravitation owes its genesis to the data from astronomy that was painstakingly collected by Tycho.

We can actually go one level further and argue that astronomy is essential for our continued survival on this planet. We are aware of the history of the Jurassic age when huge beasts like dinosaurs used to dominate this planet. What catastrophe took place that wiped them out entirely?

There is much speculation. But one serious possibility is that the Earth may have been hit by an extraterrestrial body of appreciable mass and the impact caused a huge turmoil wiping out all, or at least most, life forms from the Earth. What could the impacting body be? Can we trace the impacters through the craters they leave?

The surface of the Moon is pock-marked with craters, showing evidence that outside bodies have hit it on several occasions. The Earth has also such craters; only many of them are filled with water and appear as lakes. Two examples of craters believed to have arisen from impacts are the Meteor Crater in Arizona, the US, and the Lonar Crater Lake in Buldhana district of Maharashtra. A meteor is a piece of stone passing through the atmosphere which heats up by friction and shines.

Such material comes in all sizes, ranging from less than a millimetre to several metres and the larger ones can be devastating in their impact. For example, the meteorite whose impact caused the "hole" at Lonar was about 60 metres in diameter, weighing about 20 million tonnes. The hole has a diameter of around 1,830 metres and a depth of 150 metres. Tom Gehrels from the University of Arizona has used a graphic way to describe the energy released in such celestial impacts: through a comparison with the energy released in a nuclear bomb. The energy released in the Lonar catastrophe was equivalent to that coming from a six megaton H-bomb, about 500 times the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Of course, no nuclear energy is released in a meteoric impact, but the heat released is sufficient to initiate combustion that could significantly deplete the oxygen in the atmosphere.

There are even bigger entities than such rocks going around in the Solar System. In July 1994, Comet Shoemaker Levy had impacted on Jupiter. The event was witnessed by telescopes on the Earth. On the huge planet the impact of a comet had, of course, a transient and relatively mild effect. But what if a comet strikes the Earth? Indeed, such a possibility was raised in 1992 in connection with Comet Swift Tuttle. This comet passed by in 1992. At the time it was predicted that in its next visit on August 14, 2126, it will come very close to the Earth. Although it cannot be definitely calculated, the probability of its actually hitting the Earth is not negligible. A better estimate can only be made when the comet is sighted again in the 22nd century.

In the 1970s I had written a science fiction story in which a comet like this was headed for a collision with the Earth. How did the scientists avert the catastrophe? The solution used in the story involved sending an unmanned spacecraft to rendezvous with the comet; with the provision that close to the comet it would carry out a nuclear explosion generating shock waves that would divert the comet from its original path. The same solution is now being proposed for saving the Earth from any impending impact by a comet or a meteorite, or, an asteroid. Keeping such possibilities in view, astronomers in the US have initiated a Spacewatch, in which a dedicated 1.8 metre telescope is looking for all solar system bodies of such appreciable sizes in our neighbourhood. With their trajectories charted out we can predict if any of them will come dangerously close to the Earth, and take preventive action.

This example again reminds us that sky-gazing is not a mere idle activity: it can help human survival.

- Jayant V. Narlikar is a professor emiritus at
Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist.






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]








Visiting Tunisia three years ago, I thought that it was easy enough to see the main problem. The state was publicly dedicated to modernity and secularism and development — what used so long ago to be called "Westernisation" — but it didn't really trust its citizens to be grown-ups. The country had only had two heads of state since becoming a republic in 1957, after winning independence from France in 1956, and the second of them had come to power in a bloodless coup. I wrote that without ever seeing President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, I could have passed an exam in his superficial physical characteristics, since his face was displayed everywhere one looked. He had been known to exceed 90 per cent of the vote at election time; so seldom a good sign. Policemen were to be seen in Internet cafes; another distressing symptom. The official excuse for all this was that special measures needed to be taken against Islamic extremists, but those adopting this seductive line had forgotten what Saul Bellow says at the opening of The Adventures of Augie March:

Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing you hold down the adjoining.

Still, it wasn't as if Tunisia had a massive and wasteful military or an exorbitant dictator who named every building after himself. When compared to its immediate neighbours, Libya and Algeria, the country had done relatively well in avoiding the extremes of personal megalomaniac despotism a la Muammar al-Gaddafi and full-blown civil war (which in Algeria's case took the lives of almost 1,50,000 people in recent memory). One found the political atmosphere constipated and conformist rather than outright terrifying. Perhaps one reason the Tunisian crowds were able to mobilise so swiftly and to such immediate result — splitting the Army leadership from the police in a matter of a few days — was simply that they knew they could. There was scant likelihood of the sort of all-out repression and bloodshed that was met by, say, the protesters against the Iranian mullahs. Thus, and sadly, it's probably premature to say that the events in Tunis are harbingers of grassroots movements in other states of the region. (Still, Gaddafi's own deranged response to the rebellion, ranting about the horrible prospect of a "Bolshevik or American revolution", was truly heartening. Just to know that he is sweating…)

I remember Edward Said telling me that I'd enjoy a trip to Tunisia: "You should go there, Christopher. It's the gentlest country in Africa. Even the Islamists are highly civilised". And certainly, there was a sort of only partially misleading douceur de vie in the Frenchified streets and squares of the Mediterranean towns and villages, as well as in the magnificent city of Kairouan, a centre of Islamic learning for centuries, the breath-catching Carthaginian and Roman sites in Tunis itself and in El Djem, and the historically Jewish Island of Djerba off the south-eastern coast.

When the ancient El Ghriba synagogue there was truck-bombed by Al Qaeda in April 2002, the government rushed to express solidarity and to undertake rebuilding, and the Tunisian Parliament was unusual in the region for having a Jewish senator. Along the boulevards, young couples in jeans held hands without awkwardness, and I seldom saw a headscarf, let alone a veil or burqa.

I was interested to see an interview last week with a young female protester who described herself and her friends as "children of Bourguiba". The first President of the country, and the tenacious leader of its independence movement, Habib Bourguiba, was strongly influenced by the ideas of the French enlightenment. His contribution was to cement, in many minds, secularism as a part of self-government. He publicly broke the Ramzan fast, saying that such a long religious holiday was debilitating to the aspirations of a modern economy. He referred with contempt to face covering and sponsored a series of laws entrenching the rights of women. During the 1967 war between Israel and neighbouring Arab states, he took a firm position preventing reprisals against the country's Jewish community, avoiding the disgraceful scenes that took place that year in other Arab capitals. Long before many other Arab regimes, Tunisia took an active interest in a serious peace agreement with Israel (as well as playing host to the Palestine Liberation Organisation after its expulsion from Beirut in 1982).

Not to idealise Bourguiba overmuch — he became what is sometimes called "erratic", and at one point considered an ill-adviced union of Tunisia with Libya — but he did help to ensure that Tunisia's secularism and the emancipation of its women was its own work, so to speak, rather than something undertaken to please western donors. It will be highly interesting in the next few weeks to see how this achievement holds up after the Peron-style tawdriness of the Ben Ali regime has potentially discredited it.

During my stay, I visited the Ez-Zitouna University in Tunis, attached to the "Zitouna" or "olive tree" mosque, to talk to a female professor of theology named Mongia Souahi. She is the author of a serious scholarly work explaining why the veil has no authority in the Quran. One response had come from an exiled Tunisian Islamist named Rachid Al Ghannouchi, who declared her to be a "kuffar", or unbeliever. This, as everybody knows, is the prelude to declaring her life to be forfeit as an apostate. I was slightly alarmed to see Ghannouchi and his organisation, Hizb Al Nahda, described in Sunday's edition of the New York Times as "progressive", and to learn that he is on his way home from London. The revolt until now has been noticeably free of theocratic tinges, but when I was talking to Edward Said, the name of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was still unknown, and atrocities like the attack on Djerba were still in the future. We should fervently hope that the Tunisian revolution turns out to transcend and improve upon the legacy of Bourguiba, not to negate it.

- Christopher Hitchens, an internationally acclaimed author, journalist, political commentator and literary critic, recently wrote Hitch-22






The assassination of governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad on January 4 roused the world not only because the assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was his own protector but that he was a Barelvi. Why was the follower of a relatively moderate denomination so exercised over the governor's critique of the anti-blasphemy laws? Equally shocking was the silence of civil society and the showering of rose petals by lawyers when Qadri was produced in court. Clearly Pakistan's 10 years of anti-terror dalliance with the United States was beginning to radicalise the middle of Pakistani society.

Many have studied Pakistan's angst, the impulses that mould its nationalism and the role that it wishes to play in a resurgent Asia. What is often forgotten is that running through the history of post-Islam India have been the twin impulses of accommodation between Islam and the majority community's faith which was diverse, civilisational and deeply grounded, as well as confrontation. Even at the pinnacle of Mughal power, the population of Muslims in India was well below one-third. The accommodative streak, symbolised by the rule of Akbar, ran in parallel to the rule of the Safavids in Iran, who after seizing power established the first Shia Islamic government. As Iran persecuted its Sufis, the Mughal court at Agra drew them, triggering an intellectual and spiritual renaissance in India.

The seeds of rebellion against such syncretism had been shown in the 13th century by Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya, born in Damascus five years after the Mongols overthrew the Baghdad Caliphate in 1258. On its ruins the Mongols developed a brilliant, inclusive civilisation rooted in Sufism and basically Shia. Ibn Tamiyya, generally considered the spiritual predecessor of the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim brotherhood of Egypt, as a follower of the Hanbali code, declared this civilisation as an offence to God. He argued that a true Muslim state needed the amir (ruler) to be guided by the imam (religious leader).

Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal ruler, brought the same restrictive vision of Islam to the throne. His elder brother, Dara Shikoh, who should have ascended the throne, was a Sanskrit scholar who translated the Upanishads into Persian and befriended Sufis and saints, including the Sikh gurus. The turning point in the history of Islam in South Asia was the tussle for the throne between these two princes, representing two different readings of Islam. The image of the US President, Mr Barack Obama, and his wife visiting Humayun's tomb with their escort, Mr K.K. Muhammed, superintending archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, was seen by all. What is not known is that Mr Muhammed pointed out that in a corner grave lay the headless body of Dara Shikoh, whose translated Upanishads influenced American transcendental thinkers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, via Latin and then German retranslations. President Obama was dissuaded from making a detour on security grounds, bowing his head in obeisance to the prince of peace, ironically while his forces battle the demons born from the actions of Aurangzeb, who had his brother slain.

In a globalised and inter-dependent world, modernity and growth have left large swathes of the Islamic world either poor or marginalised, exploited by autocrats, the latest having just fled Tunis with two tonnes of gold. Could Pakistan have grown to espouse the inclusive vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah or was its Islamisation inevitable? Had Jinnah not died so soon after Pakistan's birth he may have been able to guide a compromise between his vision and the relentless logic of a state created on the basis of religion ending only as an Islamic republic. The descent of Pakistan into a quagmire has been both a result of choices made by their elite and an external environment they inherited or opportunistically exploited. The wars of 1948 and 1965 were of choice, to seize Kashmir by force. The one of 1971 they brought upon themselves by mishandling Bengali aspirations and subverting an electoral verdict. Post-1979, with the Islamic revolution in Iran, Soviet incursion into Afghanistan and a Saudi ruling family shaken by the seizure of the Grand Mosque at Mecca by Mahdi's followers, Pakistan volunteered to be a frontline state in the battle to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. The consequence was a witch's brew of Wahabi ideology, US weapons and Saudi rials. Pakistan today reaps the crop it then sowed.

The time to make choices is ending. The Pakistani ruling elite must close ranks. The US should have a frank non-transactional chat with them, co-opting two of the other three countries that are a bulwark to Pakistan i.e. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That leaves out China, which also must end arming Pakistan to stymie India. The forces of radical Islam need to be rolled back. The 13th century Persian poet Saadi put it well:
A spring at its source can be turned with a twig,

But when grown into a river, even an elephant can't traverse.

- The author is a former secretary in theexternal affairs ministry






A culture of impunity is the factor that stands out in the recent scandals — Adarsh and 2G among them — that have made us squirm as a nation, exposed the high and mighty, cast a shadow on India as a place to do honest business in, infused political uncertainty in the system, and made us introspect as a society. It is quite clear that the culture of impunity is now deeply embedded in every aspect of our life. This, arguably more than anything else, is something the country will agree on. Powerful, influential or wealthy people who seek to bend rules at their will for purposes of self-aggrandisement are able to do so because they know they won't be interrogated for their actions. Mostly this is on account of the fact that too few people who operate the system — party affiliations are immaterial — are above board, and therefore too many may be expected to look away even when they know that wilful wrong is being done. There is no knowing how many skeletons are rattling in the cupboards of the powerful while they pretend to be going about in pursuit of the national interest. It is for this reason that the environment minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh's order to bring down the Adarsh Society flats in Colaba, Mumbai, within three months makes sense. The order is dramatic, it is overwhelming, but it has come not a day too soon. It also makes us breathe a sigh of relief. At last there is a no-nonsense order from high levels that signals that will be zero tolerance for wilful disregard of regulations. Since at the formal level we remain a democracy, those whose malign interests take a hit on account of the environment ministry's order will take recourse to the law courts to fight off demolition. The kleptocrats cannot be denied due process although it is well known that in India due process often permits the devil to cite scripture. The Adarsh complex treated the Coastal Regulation Zone Rules of 1991 as though these did not exist. We may be certain that many are waiting in the wings to make a mockery of this regulation. It is just possible that the environment ministry order will give them pause. It will also alert public opinion and exert pressure on politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and other high-fliers to step back. Not so long ago, it was commonly supposed that minor officials in government departments took advantage of a shortage economy to line their pockets, giving rise to idea of the "inspector raj". Today we can be certain that it is the elite who are twisting rules to milk the system.










IF only the Kerala government had acted on the Master Plan for Sabarimala, abode of Lord Ayyappa, one of the major pilgrim places in India, last Saturday's tragedy which claimed 102 lives, mostly men could have been averted. The Master Plan lays emphasis on infrastructure development without disturbing Sabarimala's ecologically serene environment. After the 14 January 1999 stampede at the same Pullumedu area on the banks of the Pampa, in which 52 pilgrims perished, the Chandrasekhara Menon commission tasked to inquire into the tragedy, recommended the development of the Vaniperiyar route and avoid the Pullumedu route which passes through the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Neither the UDF government, which was in power when the report was submitted, nor the LDF which has been in power for the last four-and-half years, cared to implement the recommendation. The Achuthananda government, which was quick to order yet another judicial inquiry, no doubt will obtain another voluminous report only to gather dust in the corridors of power. The Kerala High Court had come out with perhaps the most practical solution: spread the Makara Jyothi to all 12 months of the year instead of restricting it to just 14 January each year. After all the 'divine light' is lit by the Travancore Devaswom Board on the distant thickly forested Ponnambalamedu hill.

The melsanthi (high priest) of the Ayyappa temple had admitted to the man-made nature of the vilakku (light). Such a step would spread the flow of pilgrims through the year instead of concentrating on the single day of Makara Samhranthi to sight the light. This year the crowd was exceptionally large, and estimated to be around 10 million. There were about 250,000 pilgrims watching the Makara Jyothi from the slopes of Pullumedu. Security arrangements at Pullumedu were woefully inadequate. There was no electricity or drinking water. Hardly 10 policemen were present to control such a huge crowd. It took four to five hours to take the injured to nearby hospitals in Pathanamthitta and Idukki districts of Kerala and Madurai district in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Kerala's forest department has been demanding closure of the Pullumedu route through the Periyar tiger sanctuary because it simply is not possible to create adequate infrastructure to handle such huge crowds without disturbing wild life. And the Devaswom Board, instead of hyping Makara Jyothi only, should educate the growing number of devotees of Ayyappa of the true significance of the pilgrimage. Known in the Puranas as Sastha, a symbol of unity between Vaishnavites and Saivaites, a devotee should undergo at least 41 days' penance, grow a beard, switch to a vegetarian diet, observe celibacy, lead a strictly ascetic life and cover the last leg of the pilgrimage from Erumeli on foot chanting aloud Ayyappa's name. Today's pilgrims come in the latest automobiles strewing empty liquor bottles along their trail. No wonder dozens of pilgrims die in road accidents. Strict observance of prescribed rituals and creation of infrastructure are the best measures to avoid such tragedies.




SOUTH Block has itself to blame for finding itself between a rock and a hard place. There may be some policy-related and precedent-establishing factors behind its turning down a British request to waive diplomatic immunity that protected an alleged wife-beater  in the High Commission in London from police action. Yet doing so has simultaneously reinforced the image of Indian society being ridden with gender-bias, and domestic violence virtually a non-issue. After all when dowry murders, "honour" killings, rape as a "weapon", female foeticide and denying girls basic education are commonplace, well might the question be asked if thrashing a wife is not par for the Indian course? That would give a cruel twist to the "Incredible India" slogan that seeks to project the country as having taken its place on the global stage. It is true that domestic violence is a curse that knows no national boundaries, but that it should be reported from the household of a senior official in a key diplomatic mission is shameful. Where South Block invites disgrace upon itself is that it did nothing ~ or at least appeared to be doing nothing ~ until a formal request for the immunity waiver was made. The assault, and there have been no denials, took place on 11 December. Was a month not enough for the High Commission/MEA to step in? That delay, perhaps, so fuelled the fears of the victim that she is said have gone into hiding and is seeking permission to stay on in the UK apprehending even worse should she return home. Not everybody will endorse those apprehensions, some might deem them cynically "calculated", but reports that another top Indian diplomat tried to pressure her into going slow would do more than generate suspicions. Her friends told reporters that the 11 December assault was not the first: was the High Commission ignorant? Did it condone the violence courtesy its inaction?

Answering those questions will be as important as the action that will be taken when the officer returns home. The most severe punishment under the service conduct rules must be awarded, the reports to the Metropolitan Police and the information it had collected should be obtained and form the basis of a criminal prosecution in India. Not only must India's image abroad be retrieved, all government officials must get the message that in matters of household violence they enjoy no domestic immunity either.




SET up in 2007 to oversee the peace process, the United Nations Mission in Nepal pulled out lock, stock and barrel on 15 January, leaving the onus of monitoring a situation that has gone from bad to worse on the country's three main political parties which were its detractors from the very start. During the Mission's stay, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was to disband its Young Communist League ~ the party itself was to shed its rebel status for a civilian one -~ and Nepal was to have a new Constitution by 28 May 2010 (extended by a year, because of several hiccups), as envisaged in the landmark November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Treaty that ended more than a decade of rebellion. Nothing worked because of a power struggle. On the eve of the Mission's departure, a three-point agreement that the caretaker government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and the UCPN (Maoist) signed assumed responsibility for the supervision, integration and rehabilitation of nearly 19,000 former Maoist combatants, to be overseen by a special committee comprising representatives from various parties. India has reportedly lent a helping hand by agreeing to allow the committee to retain the Mission's vehicles, arms containers and other logistics to hasten the process. Political parties will have to work overtime if they are to beat the fresh deadline ~ May 2011 ~ set for the promulgation of a new Constitution. This cannot be done unless Nepal has a mandated Prime Minister soon. President Ram Baran Yadav has done well by setting a 21 January deadline for the formation of a new government. The Nepali Congress has made the task a little easier by withdrawing its prime ministerial candidate, Ramchandra Poudel, who failed to get himself elected even after contesting 16 times over the past six months. Some party leaders now seem to favour former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba contesting for the consensus government. If they are to repair their collective image, the politicians have to get their act together.








THE culture of violence is not new to Bengal. Whether it's the cult of Kali, the nationalist revolutionary terrorists, the Communists or Netaji's challenge to Gandhi, the common strand is the legitimisation, even glorification, of violence.

Broadly, there are three categories of violence. First, popular violence against dominant and oppressive institutions and systems, for example against colonialism or oppressive states, led by the upper class. Second, violence of the State or dominant classes and castes against the ordinary people. Finally, violence among people belonging to the same social strata, but divided along lines of religion, ideology or political loyalty. Contemporary Bengal is contending with violence of the second and third categories.

To orthodox Communists, belief in violence is an article of faith. It is rooted in the theory that the State is a violent instrument in the hands of the ruling class to oppress and exploit the people. And this injustice can only be removed by an armed revolution to overthrow the State. The CPI-M still seems to have faith in this conventional perception.

Communist politics is based on a fundamental distinction between whom they call friends and enemies of the revolution. Classes that oppose the revolution are considered as enemies, to be hated and fought and, if necessary, killed. This politics of hate and violence is legitimised by both ideology as well as cultural propaganda, involving the use of art, literature and poetry. To legitimise violence against members of one's own class a finer distinction is made between class and consciousness.

What happens to this belief under conditions of democracy? Does democracy offer space and scope for the people to come to power and change an unjust social and economic order? The orthodox Left answer was that democracy is a sham, an illusion to fool the people and it is actually toothless because it is part of the superstructure which is merely an epi-phenomenon determined by the base, that is, the economy. In fact, when India became independent the Communists called it a farce; their slogan was ye azadi jhooti hai. They then tried their hand at armed insurrections, which failed to get popular support. In their reckoning, democracy was, in the final analysis, a farce and a class tool, but in the intervening period they could make use of it to bolster their support base and ultimately subvert the concept.

The Bengal Left skillfully made use of democracy to enlarge its support base. Post-1977, the CPI-M entrenched itself firmly in state power, both by generating popular support as well as destroying any opposition to the regime. Apparently, democracy coupled with peace and order were restored, but it was a sinister democracy which had popular support, but no dissent or opposition was tolerated. The Left reduced democracy to majoritarianism, the same claim that Narendra Modi had made after winning consecutive elections in Gujarat following the pogrom against minorities.

The CPI-M, supported by its ideology and organisation, crafted an all-pervasive strategy to control all spheres of the state and society in Bengal. Ideologically, the party defended itself by arguing that those opposing it are its class enemies and enemies of the poor and hence do not deserve to be heard. Second, it argued that the existing institutions of the state and civil society are organs of the ruling class and would obstruct the functioning of this government. The party mobilised its cadres and loyalists to capture these institutions. Both the Constitution and the rule of law were violated. This is part of the bourgeois strategy to keep the people away from power.

In course of time, the CPI-M's frontal organisations among government employees, teachers and others became the new apparatus of rule. Jyoti Basu, on assuming power in 1977, declared that this government would not rule from Writers' Buildings; he was right, the party became the new organ and instrument of power.
To keep this strategy in place, it had to embark on a grand exercise of eliminating all opposition on all fronts. Three factors favoured the Left in this enterprise. First, it exploited the people's disgust against the previous Congress regime and the Emergency. Second, land reforms provided a groundswell of support in rural Bengal. Finally,  through the panchayats the Left made a durable political alliance between the Left-led urban, especially lower, middle classes with the rural middle classes, consisting of middle and rich peasants, teachers and businessmen. With this alliance firmly in place the CPI-M could, with ease, take on any opposition. It systematically destroyed all opposition through threats, harassment, violence, denial of legitimate dues, arson and when everything failed, murder. The combination of terror with considerable popular support explains the durability of this regime.

This regime of terror and violence persisted with the destruction of the culture of democracy. Civil society has been relegated to the margins. Central to the role of civil society is the critical voice of the intellectuals in any society. But after 1977, the CPI-M  managed to co-opt this stratum into the ruling alliance and its share of power and privilege.

Under classical capitalism, the ruling classes primarily dominate and rule by virtue of their economic power. But when the middle and lower middle classes come to assume power, the basis of power is political or state or governmental power. The Polish economist, Michael Kalecki, called such forms of rule as intermediate regimes and Bengal today is a classic instance. I wish to describe them as a ruling class because they extract and live off the surplus, but the mode of surplus extraction is not primarily economic; it is political. While in power, these classes skim off the social surplus collected by the state in the form of taxes through fat pay packets and the celebration of the "shirk ethic". Besides, this regime controls access to the ruling class by its control over jobs and promotions. The "shirk ethic" has reached such colossal proportions that Jyoti Basu was once provoked to ask: "Whom do I ask to work? The chairs of Writers' Buildings?" The present incumbent had to coin the slogan "do it now" And government employees chuckle in wonder: "Do what?" Corruption and influence are the other modalities of power and surplus extraction, which makes it primarily a parasitical and political mode. It does not generate wealth and the ethos of shirking further dampens the climate of productive activities. This results in a massive fiscal crisis and huge public debts to pay its employees. Most important, this trend has damaged the vitals of our society, economy and culture and accounts for the overwhelming decay of West Bengal.
Over the past 35 years, the Left, like any rentier class, has a single agenda ~ to remain in power. This is the fundamental difference between a parasitical ruling class and an economic ruling class; the latter can continue with its surplus extraction whoever comes to power. This is the reason why the Left so systematically destroyed all opposition to its rule and now in the face of a mass upsurge by the subaltern classes, it per force has to resort to violence to retain its power and privileges. It is fighting tooth and nail to prevent its loss of power and ultimately has to build its private armies, much like the feudal landlords of Bihar, whose power is also based on coercion.

If people want change, can our democracy make a peaceful transition possible? It is difficult because the stakes for the Left are high. So if we want to give peace a chance, there has to be a concerted intervention from all quarters; it cannot be an episodic intervention in the form of an occasional peace march or a street corner meeting. Those who want to see a rejuvenated Bengal will have to consistently and actively intervene to bring about the change.

The institutions and people entrusted with protecting our Constitution and the rule of law will have to act immediately, take firm measures to bring about peace and restore the democratic process. Three constitutional entities will have to act urgently, pre-eminently the Governor, the Union home ministry and the judiciary. They are duty-bound to uphold the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.


The writer is on the Faculty, Department of Political Science, Calcutta University








THE end of the age of dictators in the Arab world? Certainly they are shaking in their boots across West Asia, the well-heeled sheiks and emirs, and the kings, including one very old one in Saudi Arabia and a young one in Jordan, and presidents ~ another very old one in Egypt and a young one in Syria ~ because Tunisia wasn't meant to happen. Food price riots in Algeria, too, and demonstrations against price increases in Amman. Not to mention scores more dead in Tunisia, whose own despot sought refuge in Riyadh ~ exactly the same city to which a man called Idi Amin once fled.

If it can happen in the holiday destination Tunisia, it can happen anywhere, can't it? It was feted by the West for its "stability" when Zine el-Abdine Ben Ali was in charge. The French and the Germans and the Brits, dare we mention this, always praised the dictator for being a "friend" of civilised Europe, keeping a firm hand on all those Islamists. Tunisians won't forget this little history, even if we would like them to. The Arabs used to say that two-thirds of the entire Tunisian population ~ seven million out of 10 million, virtually the whole adult population ~ worked in one way or another for Ben Ali's secret police. They must have been on the streets too, then, protesting at the man we loved until last week. But don't get too excited. Yes, Tunisian youths have used the Internet to rally each other ~ in Algeria, too ~ and the demographic explosion of youth (born in the Eighties and Nineties with no jobs to go to after university) is on the streets. But the "unity" government is to be formed by Mohamed Ghannouchi, a satrap of Ben Ali's for almost 20 years, a safe pair of hands who will have our interests ~ rather than his people's interests ~ at heart.

For I fear this is going to be the same old story. Yes, The West would like a democracy in Tunisia ~ but not too much democracy. Remember how we wanted Algeria to have a democracy back in the early Nineties? Then when it looked like the Islamists might win the second round of voting, we supported its military-backed government in suspending elections and crushing the Islamists and initiating a civil war in which 150,000 died.
No, in the Arab world, the West wants law and order and stability. Even in Hosni Mubarak's corrupt and corrupted Egypt, that is what we want. And we will get it. The truth, of course, is that the Arab world is so dysfunctional, sclerotic, corrupt, humiliated and ruthless ~ and remember that Ben Ali was calling Tunisian protesters terrorists only last week - and so totally incapable of any social or political progress, that the chances of a series of working democracies emerging from the chaos of West Asia stand at around zero per cent. The job of the Arab potentates will be what it has always been ~ to "manage" their people, to control them, to keep the lid on, to love the West and to hate Iran.

Indeed, what was Mrs Hillary Clinton doing last week as Tunisia burned? She was telling the corrupted princes of the Gulf that their job was to support sanctions against Iran, to confront the Islamic republic, to prepare for another strike against a Muslim state after the two catastrophes the United States and the UK have already inflicted in the region.

The Muslim world ~ at least, that bit of it between India and the Mediterranean ~ is a more than sorry mess. Iraq has a sort-of-government that is now a satrap of Iran, Mr Hamid Karzai is no more than the mayor of Kabul, Pakistan stands on the edge of endless disaster, Egypt has just emerged from another fake election. And Lebanon. O well, poor old Lebanon hasn't even got a government. Southern Sudan ~ if the elections are fair ~ might be a tiny candle, but don't bet on it.

It's the same old problem for us in the West. We mouth the word "democracy" and we are all for fair elections ~ providing the Arabs vote for whom we want them to vote for. In Algeria 20 years ago, they didn't. In Palestine they didn't. And in Lebanon, because of the so-called Doha accord, they didn't. So we sanction them, threaten them and warn them about Iran and expect them to keep their mouths shut when Israel steals more Palestinian land for its colonies on the West Bank.

There was a fearful irony that the police theft of an ex-student's fruit produce ~ and his suicide in Tunis ~ should have started all this off, not least because Ben Ali made a failed attempt to gather public support by visiting the dying youth in hospital. For years, this wretched man had been talking about a "slow liberalising" of his country. But all dictators know they are in greatest danger when they start freeing their entrapped countrymen from their chains.

And the Arabs behaved accordingly. No sooner had Ben Ali flown off into exile than Arab newspapers, which have been stroking his fur and polishing his shoes and receiving his money for so many years, were vilifying the man. "Misrule", "corruption", "authoritarian reign", "a total lack of human rights", their journalists are saying now. Rarely have the words of the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran sounded so painfully accurate: "Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again." Mohamed Ghannouchi, perhaps?

Of course, everyone is lowering their prices now ~ or promising to. Cooking oil and bread are the staple of the masses. So prices will come down in Tunisia and Algeria and Egypt. But why should they be so high in the first place? Algeria should be as rich as Saudi Arabia ~ it has the oil and gas ~ but it has one of the worst unemployment rates in West Asia, no social security, no pensions, nothing for its people because its generals have salted their country's wealth away in Switzerland. And police brutality. The torture chambers will keep going. We will maintain our good relations with the dictators. We will continue to arm their armies and tell them to seek peace with Israel. And they will do what we want. Ben Ali has fled. The search is now on for a more pliable dictator in Tunisia ~ a "benevolent strongman" as the news agencies like to call these ghastly men. And the shooting will go on ~ as it did in Tunisia ~ until "stability" has been restored. No, on balance, I don't think the age of the Arab dictators is over. The West will see to that.

the independent






Two political events have occurred over the past few days that may be regarded as steps in a positive direction for Nepal. First, after months of concentrating solely on competing with each other to form a government through elections in parliament, the parties are now deliberating on alternative processes to adopt in order to select a new prime minister. There are even some sections of the political class that have been pushing for a government of national consensus. Such a government would help the parties resolve other differences among themselves and take the peace process forward.

Second, a day before United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was to depart on 15 January, the parties reached an agreement on monitoring arrangements that would replace UNMIN's core responsibilities. There was a commitment to continue following the peace agreements to have joint teams consisting of state security personnel as well as former Maoist combatants to monitor the weapon containers, and to request UNMIN to hand over the required equipment. This ensures that there will be no institutional vacuum after UNMIN's departure. It is an indication that the political framework of the past four years will not imminently unravel.
It would, however, be a mistake to regard these steps as grand achievements of the political class. There is a tendency in Nepal to remark that political leaders are greatly capable of reaching agreements at the very last minute. It would be more accurate to state that Nepal's political leaders, after months and months of intransigency and neglect towards negotiations, are suddenly forced to take rapid and ad hoc measures to prevent a major crisis. The decision to extend the constituent assembly last May was an ad hoc move that did not resolve any problems; it only temporarily postponed the crisis. The decision to establish new monitoring arrangements is similarly ad hoc. There is absolutely no indication that the parties have even thought about, let alone agreed on, any sort of plan to complete the peace process in the absence of UNMIN. There is only an undeserved sense of self-satisfaction among political leaders for having averted a crisis (and, among some leaders of the Nepali Congress  and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, for having gotten the Maoists to make an agreement) and perhaps an empty hope that things will somehow work themselves out.
The recent agreement on monitoring arrangements and the beginning of a new process for the election of a government, however, does offer a small window of opportunity for the parties to rethink their positions and take politics in a direction different from the one it has been following so far. It is an opportunity for all concerned to reaffirm their commitment to completing a process begun four years ago in a manner that demonstrates statesmanship and a sense of obligation towards the Nepali people. Let us hope that this opportunity, unlike countless ones in the past few years, does not go to waste.

the kathmandu post/ann








The next 12 months will be a critical period for the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the top leadership prepares to step down and hand over the reins next year. It will be no less critical for Vice-President Mr Xi Jinping, named last year to head a new generation of CCP leaders who will take centre stage at the 18th national party congress. No political succession takes place without intense power jockeying, and the CCP will have its fair share. When Mr Xi was named a vice-chairman of the party's powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) last year, the appointment virtually sealed his status as China's top leader-in-waiting. But there are a couple of people who could make his ascendancy a rocky one.

Foremost is the man he will be succeeding: Mr Hu Jintao. Their relationship did not quite get off on the right foot. Mr Xi, who was not Mr Hu's choice as successor, did not hide his political allegiance to Mr Jiang Zemin, who was Mr Hu's predecessor. When he made his maiden visit to Germany last October, he conveyed Mr Jiang's regards to Chancellor Angela Merkel when they met. In a speech at the start of the academic year at the elite Central Party School last September, he declared that "power comes from the people", or quan wei min shuo fu. Neither incident went down well with Mr Hu, who propounded the "Three People's Principles" ~ namely, exercise power for the people, show concern for the people, and work for the people's interests.
Former Communist Party propaganda chief Zhu Houze had in 2003 suggested adding "power comes from the people" as a fourth principle, which infuriated Mr Hu. The 72-year-old Zhu was subsequently placed under house arrest for almost a year. He died in May last year.

It remains unclear whether Mr Hu will relinquish all three top posts: party secretary, state president and CMC chairman. He could legitimately occupy the CMC chair for another two years, just as his two previous predecessors had done. There was speculation that in the early years after he became CCP chief and China's President, Mr Hu had to consult or defer to Mr Jiang on policy matters. So it is to be expected that Mr Xi would have to do the same. But some observers noted that unlike Mr Jiang and late patriarch Deng Xiaoping, Mr Hu does not wield much influence over the military.

During his tenure from 1989 to 2004, Mr Jiang promoted 79 Generals, a number that translates into sizeable support in the military. In contrast, Hu has promoted only 22 since 2004. Whether he can muster enough support in the military to remain as CMC chair therefore remains unclear. Apparently not taking any chances, Mr Jiang recently asked that his name not be included, right beneath Mr Hu's, at important events such as National Day celebrations. The name order reflects the influence he wields even though he no longer holds any official posts. Many saw the request as intended to prevent Mr Hu from becoming the No. 2 man when he formally steps down next year. With Mr Hu out of the way, Mr Xi will have a freer hand to govern and consolidate his power.

Apart from Mr Hu, Mr Xi faces a potentially strong rival in Mr Bo Xilai, the Communist Party boss of Chongqing municipality who is riding a wave of popularity. Mr Bo, who like Mr Xi is a "princeling" or offspring of communist elders, has built a personality cult by promoting the so-called "red heritage". This means reinstating the "revolutionary spirit" during the legendary Long March times. Highly ideology-laden, the red heritage movement won Mr Bo tremendous support nationwide, both from die-hard Maoists and from those who felt marginalised by Deng's reform and open door policy. Chongqing was named "the happiest city" in China, according to a 26 December national survey conducted by the Annual Report on the Urban Development of China. The organising committee listed the city's accomplishments, from singing revolutionary songs and cracking down on crime to improving the city and showing concern for people's living conditions. Mr Bo's image and popularity skyrocketed as a result.

His supporters saw his "Chongqing model" as an alternative to Deng's model for China's economic and political development. Politburo Standing Committee members Mr Li Changchun and Mr Zhou Yongkang, who are in charge of ideology and legal affairs respectively, openly endorsed Mr Bo and his model. To Mr Xi, all this underlined the potential challenge Mr Bo could pose.

Small wonder that the first city Mr Xi visited after becoming CMC vice-chairman was Chongqing, where he openly expressed support for Mr Bo and his Chongqing model. A source said that by bonding with Mr Bo, Mr Xi hopes to co-opt him into an alliance and at the same time minimise any risk of a challenge that Mr Bo might pose later.

the straits times/ann






The distinction between a vacuum and intervention may be easy to overcome in nature, which invariably abhors a vacuum, but in a democratic polity the tendency to do away with a vacuum may not always be welcome. In a democracy, the separate realms of the judiciary and the executive are clearly demarcated; and the autonomy of these realms has to be maintained for the health of the democratic system. It is, however, a regrettable fact that in the political system of India, the judiciary with all good intentions often steps into the territory of the executive, or tries to correct what it sees as the shortcomings of the executive. The latest example of this is its questioning of the appointment of P.J. Thomas to the post of central vigilance commissioner. The Supreme Court has asked the government to explain if impeccable integrity is a criterion for the appointment of a person to that particular chair. Without entering into the merits and demerits of Mr Thomas's appointment, certain fundamental principles need to be reiterated. The appointment of the CVC is a decision that is to be taken by the executive without depending on any sanctions from the judiciary. What qualifications and virtues are required of the person being appointed are also to be decided by the executive. By raising the issues that the apex court has, it has stepped on the discretionary powers of the executive. The Supreme Court's motives for this are noble since it wants to preserve probity in public life. But between its motives and its questions falls the shadow of the idea of an interventionist and an overactive judiciary.

This point needs to be made because it has become noticeable that the judiciary is showing a propensity to be overzealous. It has comments to offer on issues that lie far beyond its remit. The government — the executive arm of the State — should resist the pressure to yield to the judiciary and thus surrender its autonomy. The government may have many faults and shortcomings but these cannot become an alibi for usurping or appropriating its powers. The judiciary cannot become a surrogate for the executive. The lacunae of the latter have to be corrected by the executive itself or the government of the day will be thrown out in the next round of polls. Faced with a barrage of questions from the Supreme Court, the government of India seems to have taken a firm position. It should continue to do this so that the delicate balance among the judiciary, legislature and the executive that is guaranteed in the Constitution is not disturbed.







There were no tourists in Darjeeling to celebrate a rare bout of snowfall yesterday. For the people living there, it was a cold, dreary day spent on desperate preparations for another weeklong bandh. But the people's suffering does not seem to bother their political leaders or the administration. For the politicians, shutting down everything is the easiest way to demonstrate their strength. Politics in the Darjeeling hills has been reduced to a naked show of muscle power by whichever party reigns there at any given time. For 20 years, it was Subash Ghisingh's Gorkha National Liberation Front whose word was law there. For the past four years, it has been Bimal Gurung's Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The administration's only worry is to ensure that the protests do not get too violent. The demand for statehood or some other form of self-rule may have once inspired the people's hopes for a better life. But violent, disruptive politics everywhere destroys such hopes. It has been no exception in Darjeeling. The result is an unending cycle of bandhs, violence and intimidation that has made normal, peaceful life in Darjeeling a rare experience.

The GJM's latest protest plans have yet another disturbing dimension. In addition to the bandh in the hills and the Terai, Mr Gurung plans to go on a march through the Dooars. His plans are linked to the GJM's demand for the inclusion of large parts of the Dooars in the Gorkhaland state that the party has been demanding. Neither the Centre nor the West Bengal government wants the Dooars to be part of any autonomous set-up for Darjeeling. That seems to have made Mr Gurung desperate to try and spread the GJM's sway to the Dooars. But his plans have prompted fierce opposition from not only the Communist Party of India (Marxist) but also from several groups representing the tribal people of the Dooars. Unless the politicians rein themselves in, there is real danger of a divide between the hills and the plains. No matter how the politicians try to exploit this to their petty ends, such a divide would be disastrous for the social and economic stability of the entire region. The administration needs to be extremely careful so that this does not happen. Darjeeling's statehood cause too will suffer if the Dooars burns.






Many believe that secularism cannot flourish in India because the people of this country, whether Hindus or Muslims, are deeply religious. I maintain, on the other hand, that secular ideas and institutions can find accommodation among people who are steadfast in their religious beliefs and practices. There is really no reason to presume that religious and secular ideas and institutions cannot co-exist in their respective spheres within the same society. I believe that most reasonable people with a genuine religious predisposition will endorse Christ's injunction to the Pharisees: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."

In addition to beliefs and practices, there is a third aspect of religion, which may be called religious identity, on which I wish to focus attention. When philosophers or historians write about religion, they tend to dwell mainly on matters of doctrine and belief, their nature and significance, their unity and coherence, and their validity. They may also write about rites and practices, their complexity, their rigour and their efficacy.

Religion binds together into a single community, actual or potential, all those who identify with it, no matter how lax or negligent they may be in their actual religious observances. This is the social or political aspect of religion as against its spiritual or mystical aspect. It is the capacity of religion to bind people together, to create a sense of unshakeable loyalty among its adherents and to rally them in the face of real or perceived threats to the community that fascinates the social and political theorist. Identification with the religious community has a life of its own and its ebbs and flows are to some extent independent of the growth and decline of strictly religious beliefs and practices. Moreover, it is well known that those who are most successful in rallying their community in the cause of religion are not themselves always strict in their own religious observance.

Religions create communities of birth. A person acquires his religious identity at birth and, generally speaking, retains the same identity until death. His practices may slacken and his beliefs may fade while his identity remains unchanged. In an engaging book, Amartya Sen has pointed out that every individual has a number of different identities. While this is undoubtedly true, some identities are almost inextinguishable while others may be discarded or adopted with relative ease.

What makes a person's religious identity, unlike his other social identities, inextinguishable? This is a difficult question which cannot be addressed in detail here, but the fact itself has to be noted for it has important social and political consequences. Some religions, such as Islam and Christianity, allow or even encourage conversion to their own faiths while discouraging and opposing conversion of their own members to other faiths. In medieval Christianity, the apostate was regarded as more reprehensible than the infidel and this is to some extent true of Islam in many countries till this day.

To a greater extent than either Islam or Christianity, Hinduism is a true religion of birth. Hindus not only do not like conversion out of Hinduism, they are at best half-hearted about conversion into it. In my experience, most Indians are on the whole sympathetic to the Hindu attitude to conversion, feeling that a person should not try to change his religious identity.

Mahatma Gandhi was a true Hindu in his attitude to religion. Unlike his great adversary, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, whose religion sat lightly on him, Gandhi was a man of deep religious faith who had a natural sympathy and respect for all religions. He believed that each religion had everything that a person might require for his well-being and his salvation, and hence the desire to change one's religious identity for a new identity could only be due to either ignorance or bad faith. Each person should ask himself what he wanted from religion and, if he looked carefully and sincerely, he was bound to find it in his own religion. If error or superstition had crept into it, there was always room for reforming it from within.

Enlightened Hindus are on the whole tolerant of beliefs and practices other than their own. I have been told by observant Christians that this is because the Hindu does not take his own religious beliefs and practices very seriously: for him what is important is being a Hindu and not adhering to a particular creed or living by it. What perplexes and irritates the tolerant Hindu is the person who denies having any religious identity. I am sometimes asked about my religion. What my interrogators want to know is not what my beliefs and practices are, but what my identity is. When I say that I have no religion, they are not easily convinced. Some go on to say, "But you must be a Christian." When I say I am not, the more persistent among them ask, "But what about your father, was he not a Christian?" They are willing to go up sufficiently high in my genealogy until they find someone who was indeed a Christian. That reinforces their conviction that I must be one.

Sociologists since the time of Émile Durkheim have pointed to the significant part played by religion in creating and maintaining order and stability in society. That was indeed one of the main virtues that Gandhi found in religion. While it is undoubtedly true that religion can act as a basis for unity and stability within the community, it is equally true that it can act as a source of division and conflict between communities. Sometimes the religious community as a whole is mobilized by its leaders on the basis of the common identity of its members in opposition to another community whose identity is distinct and separate from its own. Religious leaders who are eloquent in the cause of peace and harmony are not always slow in mobilizing their own flock in the cause of their honour, their dignity and their material interests.

A religious community which appears single and undivided from the outside may in fact be divided from within. The division between Shias and Sunnis is well known as a source of conflict in Islamic societies in India and elsewhere. Other examples can easily be found. What makes conflicts within and between religious communities particularly acute is that social divisions are reinforced by doctrinal differences over which strong feelings are aroused, even among people who do not fully understand the nature and significance of those differences.

I do not wish to leave the impression in the end that religion is only a source of social conflict. But religion does provide an important basis for creating and maintaining distinct and separate social identities. People learn to live with differences in religious belief and practice even as they learn to live with other differences in belief and practice. A crucial role is played in the elaboration and reinforcement of those differences by what sociologists call religious specialists. The intentions of such specialists as evangelists, imams or mahants may be peaceful, but their work plays a large part in shaping those identities that are used for mobilizing support in political conflicts.

The author is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, and National Research Professor







Do people still read the novels of Mulk Raj Anand? I've just come upon his first, an uneven but powerful work published in 1935 and set in that period: Untouchable.

Covering one day in the life of a sweeper, the book reflects a society way beyond my experience or understanding. I trust it's pretty far from those of any reader of The Telegraph in 2011. But forget the story, help me with the word. Is untouchable still usable in Indian English?

Usable at all, I mean, not just in its caste sense. Even in my Mumbai days, 50 years ago, that sense had long been transferred to Harijan; and even the British press, not always insensitive to other nations' linguistic niceties, used Gandhi's word. Then came Dalit, and now it too, I read, is under fire.

But untouchable has a simple, far wider meaning: that can't or mayn't be touched. In that, usually metaphorical, sense, the word is common enough outside India: Britons use it of the right to strike, say, or of banker's bonuses, depending on their points of view. I hope that's equally possible in India.

Not that untouchable is notably valuable or elegant. But banning any word in one sense because it is unseemly in another is a slippery slope. In English, like most languages, men have umpteen slang words for women. Most are coarse, some rightly unprintable. But would English be improved if one couldn't call a female dog a bitch, or a fruit pastry a tart?

Americans have gone far down this road. Four weeks ago here, I spelt out the phrase nigger in the woodpile. I wouldn't use it. But to cite it as an example of language, fair enough, I'd say. Many Americans would not.

Let's hope

As long ago as in 1940, an American edition of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Niggers became And Then There Were None, and was later filmed as Ten Little Indians (the Red sort, an acceptable phrase in those days). By now, except when one black American addresses others, nigger is simply taboo for almost any purpose.

To many, that's right even if the offensive N-word, as it's called, figures in a past work of real literature, not some run-of-the-mill detective novel. One American publisher is about to reprint Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn with every nigger turned into slave, even though the book is plainly on the oppressed blacks' side (except to those determined nitpickers who condemn Twain for having the sensibilities of his time, the 1880s, and not of ours). Likewise every — it seems, offensive — injun has become Indian; and some zealous editor probably argued for turning even that into Native American.

This process can reach absurdity. The United States of America once achieved a row over the word niggardly, which has no more, in etymology or meaning, to do with nigger than overtly has with over.

Dictionary-makers can suffer as a result. My aged Merriam-Webster dictionary includes nigger and 17 other headwords that start with those six letters. I wonder how many its latest version has. In my schooldays, one small boy, quite unaware of any offence, might readily complain that in some swap of toys he'd been jewed by another; cheated, that is. For decades now, some Jews have been demanding that dictionaries omit that ugly and now dead sense of the word. Some Welshmen, I'm sorry to say, want the verb welch banished (and my own laptop, unasked, insisted on a capital W there till I overruled it).

I understand all these objections. But I think they're wrong. Let's hope no Indian publisher ever plans to reprint Mulk Raj Anand's novel as Future Scheduled-Caste Member.



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




An order issued by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) calling for the demolition of the entire structure of the scam-tainted Adarsh building in Mumbai's upmarket Colaba area will send out a strong signal that those who violate environmental norms and other rules in building constructions will have to pay a heavy price. The Adarsh apartment complex was meant to be a six-storeyed structure to house Kargil war widows. What emerged, however, was a 31-storey building, most of whose beneficiaries were top defence officers, bureaucrats, politicians and their kin. Coastal Regulation Zone norms were ignored, the Adarsh Society's powerful backers bent rules and in several instances permissions were simply not sought. In short, the 31-storey structure is unauthorised. The MoEF's order calling for demolition of the entire building has been criticised by some as excessive. The government has other options such as partial demolition or government's takeover of the building, they point out. Indeed, either of these options would have allowed legitimate beneficiaries to keep their apartments. It's also argued that demolition will mean a gross waste of financial and other resources that have gone into the construction.

However, partial demolition or government takeover of the building would have amounted to regularising or condoning an egregious violation of regulations by the builders. The ministry's order is strong medicine, perhaps, but it is the right treatment. Unauthorised constructions have become a norm in this country and unless the government metes out tough treatment few will get the message and take it seriously.

It is likely, of course, that the demolition order is aimed at improving the government's scam scarred image. With an eye on image, it has issued a tough order, knowing fully well that this might be difficult to implement. The Adarsh Society is expected to take the matter to the court. If the government is genuine about tough action against irregular constructions it must follow the order through by convincing the court why it would like to do so. This will mean building a strong, loophole free case in court. More importantly, the government needs to take steps that will make illegal constructions impossible henceforth. Laws related to land allotment, building construction and building by-laws need to be amended so that another Adarsh scam can never happen. A demolition order alone will not convince the public of the government's commitment to enforcing norms.







The grisly murder of a Janata Dal (Secular) corporator last Sunday was not just a manifestation of strengthening criminal terror in a city like Bangalore which appears to be increasingly coming under the grip of urban mafias. These are gangsters who oscillate between running their own criminal networks, murdering, looting and pillaging, and acting as storm-troopers for individual political leaders or parties. Bangalore, like other urban sprawls, is gradually becoming the playground for criminal syndicates seeking to have their hands on the economic spoils of rapid urbanisation. That becomes easier still when it comes with political control of the city.

The murdered councillor, Haji Mohammad Ali, enjoyed the patronage of the JD(S) which plucked him when he was at the prime of his career in crime: an easy prey for a party to suborn and use during elections. That relationship benefited Ali too, for, he thought he had the protection of his political bosses. In the dingy quarters of Yarabnagar, where Ali lived, people say his political affiliation made him better equipped to grant protection to local inhabitants. Ali is only one among an army of criminals that political parties of all hues have employed from time to time to further their electoral interests. That the suspected mastermind of Ali's murder, who aspires to take his position in the criminal hierarchy, is at large, is testimony to the fact that criminal networks would be hard to dismantle.

Over the past decade, Bangalore's high crime rates have become a normal social fact. These days, despite its wholly uneven distribution, crime is accepted not as an aberration, but a routine part of consciousness, an everyday risk to be managed like air pollution and road traffic. Fighting crime has to do with a battle that is political, but could also have to do with the various vested interests that have a stake in the criminalised system that runs the parties. At a time when there is little confidence in the administration's capacity to solve or fight the problem and the obvious limits of the criminal justice system to do anything about it, the onus is on the Election Commission to step in to take the sternest of actions against political parties who dole out patronage to mobsters and crime lords. Only that might alter the cultural basis of our politics.







Did the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) have prior knowledge of Punjab governor Salman Taseer's assassination? Surely it had profiles of security guards detailed to protect him. It must have had an idea of the national mood on the Blasphemy Law which Taseer opposed and that, therefore, rose petals would be showered on his killer. How widespread was the knowledge within the agency of pockets of celebration in its own ranks? How infected is the army, police, frontier corps, civil service, ordinary people minus the deluded cocktail circuit of which, alas, Taseer also was a part?

These would be malicious questions were they not about an organisation which has extraordinary intimacy with Islamic militancy, terrorism since the '80s when it created it, reared it and has nurtured it since.

It is always useful to remember that the showdown which eventually consumed Pervez Musharraf was on the issue of ISI: who controls it? Interior minister Rehman Malik was given charge only for it to be snatched back by the army within hours.

Is civilian control possible of an organisation led by a Lt General? Below him are six major generals, supervising six different branches, helped by dozens of brigadiers, a hundred colonels and hundreds of junior officers. This is just 60 per cent of the total organisation. The remainder 40 per cent consists of civilians.

This mammoth proselytising machine, committed to a brand new politicised Islam imported from the Arab world, has been preparing drafts, gameplans for Kashmir, strategic depth in Afghanistan and a huge game of bluff diligently designed for the American establishment: credible help interspersed with its exact opposite. For 30 years it has cooked up these plots with unwavering dedication. Can it be controlled?

Malik Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer's killer, probably has no links with the ISI, but he is irredeemably part of the web of extremism ISI has woven.

A few years ago, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI told me a frightening story. A young man approached him in Peshawar with an unusual request. Could he (the Maulana) use his influence with the Islamists and promote him to the top of the long list of suicide bombers? His ailing parents were eager to have him ascend to paradise in their lifetime.

Now the young aspirant for paradise does not have to wait in lengthy queues to be strapped to bombs. Qadri has simplified the matter. You chose your apostate or heretic, pump him with bullets, bludgeon him or exterminate him in deviant congregations and proceed to paradise. The logical conclusion of this trend, of course, is an overcrowding of paradise and an emptying of such of the liberal Pakistan as still latches on to the tattered Jinnah fabric.

The ostrich

There is something of the ostrich about American policymakers keeping a steady gaze on the July 2011 policy review on Afghanistan. They have forgotten the hyphenation — AF-Pak. They should be running scared of what is happening to Pakistan, their ally of almost as long a standing as Israel. Both are getting out of hand in their own ways.

For the Americans there is no easy choice, which probably explains why they have no policy either for Afghanistan or Pakistan, the latter in my view being much the trickier problem.

Pakistan's current problems are a direct consequence of Pervez Musharraf's U turn, joining the American war on terror while keeping a screen on Lal Masjid in the heart of Islamabad, the hatchery where thousands of Qadris and his female variants were reared. Lal Masjid, let me add, is only a metaphor for a much more widespread phenomenon.

Musharraf's dilemma remains the dilemma of the Pak army: how does the army exterminate the fighting force it has trained for Soviet expulsion, strategic depth in Afghanistan and Kashmir? So, the army plays both sides of the street — alert the villages, then send the soldiers in. Egged on by the Americans to 'do more' and sometimes truly motivated because Pakistan soldiers have been killed, real and fierce action takes place. This on-and-off offensive has been going on since 2003.

Naturally, Pushtoon nationalism is enflamed. Pushtoon and Afghan are synonymous terms. All Taliban therefore are Pushtoons and Afghans at the same time.

When the army strikes at Taliban, collateral damage and all, Pushtoon nationalism is fired. When the army pulls back, Taliban mop up the peace in unstoppable evolution of a Pushtoon entity, only loosely linked to Islamabad and Kabul.

Americans, aware there can be no victory in Afghanistan or Af-Pak, are, in demonstration of muscle, persistently Droning the Waziristan region. Rampaging anti-Americanism is exponentially visited on the Pak army.

Quite unintentionally, the Americans have achieved something they are not fully aware of. Pakistani inconsistency, sometimes embedded with the Americans, have made them (the Pakistanis) the most hated quantity in Afghanistan, with near zero potential for any negotiation with Afghan, indeed any Taliban.

But Americans are desperate and do not have a policy in the entire Af-Pak complex. They are exasperated with the Pakistan army's hot-and-cold approach. So, in demonstration of power, more and more Drones are going to be unleashed, accompanied by special forces, inviting a catastrophic blowback in Pakistan. There will be such mass recruitment of Malik Mumtaz Qadris that the gates of paradise will crash open for an avalanche of 'Muslim' martyrs with Archangel Gabriel at the gate, raising his hands in despair: "Enough; enough!"









The downward spiral in Ivory Coast continues toward civil war or, at best, stalemate. The standoff between long-time ruler Laurent Gbagbo and the internationally supported presidential victor in credible if imperfect elections, Alassane Ouattara, is far from resolved.


Both have had themselves sworn in as president. Both also maintain substantial support within their respective constituencies, some of whom are prepared to fight.

A recent general strike designed by the opposition to force Gbagbo out was widely observed in the north, where Ouattara derives much of his support, hardly at all in those parts of the country supportive of Gbagbo, and only sporadically in Abidjan, where Gbagbo's thugs, the Young Patriots, are active in the streets.

While the international community and African regional organisations are united in their determination that Gbagbo must go, outside opinion has only limited relevance inside a fractured Ivory Coast. The fear must be of a resumption of the country's destructive 2002 civil war that severely damaged the economy.

Sanctions imposed

The international community has recognised Ouattara as the duly elected president. Regional organisations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) have imposed sanctions on Gbagbo, and have even raised the possibility of military intervention, though interest in that option has receded. The US and French governments have also imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his most prominent supporters, and the Central Bank of West Africa has cut off Gbagbo's access. The United Nations Security Council extended the UN mission and the secretary general has recognised Ouattara's nominee as the Ivorian permanent representative to the UN.

Unsurprisingly, none of these actions has gotten Gbagbo to budge. Instead, he has further entrenched himself in the presidential palace. Some of his supporters have begun to threaten foreigners. This raises the spectre of ethnic killings or 'genocide', a word some of Gbagbo's supporters have used.  Gbagbo's Young Patriots are also threatening to attack Ouattara and his UN protectors.

Should fighting break out, the UN peacekeepers stationed in the country would not likely be able to stop it. The 900 French troops in this former colony remain to expedite the departure of some 15,000 French citizens, should it be necessary.

Ecowas is refocusing on diplomatic pressure. Three Ecowas heads of state and the Kenyan prime minister were in Abidjan to try to persuade Gbagbo to leave. They follow earlier Ecowas missions and one undertaken by South Africa's former head of state Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the African Union. Even the US has hinted at offering Gbagbo residency if he quits. Gbagbo has shown no interest in the 'honourable' exile and immunity from prosecution that they have offered.

In the face of his intransigence, there is talk of 'power-sharing' between the two presidents. International mediators should be wary of such a proposal. Zimbabwe and Kenya power-sharing arrangements, in effect, enabled defeated incumbent heads of state to hang on to power even though they had lost the election. While in Zimbabwe and Kenya power-sharing ended violence in the short term, it has not resolved the underlying causes.

Given these unpleasant realities, the Obama administration has little leverage to get Gbagbo out quickly. It prudently has reduced the size of the US embassy and is likely planning to facilitate the departure of American citizens if necessary. The administration can and should move to contain the consequences for the region of the crisis and underscore Gbagbo's pariah status. For example, it should provide assistance to Liberia and Ivory Coast's other neighbours to respond to a potential humanitarian disaster caused by refugee flows. According to the UN, as many as 20,000 refugees have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis. It should seek to stanch any flow of arms into the country. The US should continue publicly to recall that Gbagbo and his minions would be held personally accountable for human rights violations he perpetrates. The US should provide diplomatic support for Ecowas and the African Union in international forums like the UNSC. There should also be international planning for the delivery of humanitarian assistance within Ivory Coast, should widespread fighting start again.

Over time Gbagbo's domestic support is likely to erode, a process that will be promoted by his new status as an international pariah and if he is cut off from access to international financial agencies. But, meanwhile, the international community will need to show persistence and patience; Gbagbo is unlikely to go away soon.








God. That invisible, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient power that is responsible for the creation and sustenance of this universe and all of creation contained therein.

The power that supposedly guides the destinies of us mortals. The power that all religions and faiths of this world exhort us to bow down to. The guiding spirit that is the unseen force behind all things living and non living. The supreme being who loves every creature as his own child and who waits for us to turn towards his outstretched arms.

But what does one have to say when the hand that is supposed to protect turns into the hand that destroys? This was the question that arose on hearing of the tragic Sabarimala incident. All those precious lives snuffed out at the very feet of the God to whom they had turned to for succour! The rejoinder may well be given that devotion and foolhardiness are not be confused with each other and that people should have thought twice before congregating in such large numbers in remote, mountainous and treacherous terrain. Reasons, excuses and explanations are not found wanting in the aftermath of this tragedy. But then, where was this maternal instinct that protects the straying babe? Did not the God immanent in the idol hear the importunities of the sufferers?

As the hills that just a few minutes before reverberated with the ecstatic outpourings of the pilgrims now echoed to the cries of the wounded and dying, could not that divine light illuminate the paths of the devout and save them? What consolation does one offer to the bereaved families? That it was their 'karma' to end their earthly existence in this horrific manner?

That it was their destiny? Dare anyone proffer this explanation? When the veritable human forms of the demons of yore, the dishonest, the inhabitants of the lowermost levels of human values and ethics strut about freely, what wrong had these poor souls done to die so soon and in such a horrendous manner? Is this divine justice?
Any such calamity raises this question. Or, is it the outpouring of a naïve mind that is yet to grasp the realities of life, that this question has been haunting humanity since the dawn of time and will continue to do so till such time the creator deems it fit to reveal the answer? Incidents such as this shake the very foundations of man's beliefs and value systems.







To paraphrase an old joke, usually about the Polish people: How many committees does it take to plug a leak at Goa University? If we knew the answer to that one, we wouldn't still be counting.

'Herald' investigated and exposed the leakage of the MBBS papers. When our reporter tried to call the top authorities in the Goa Medical College (GMC) before we broke the story, they refused to take any calls. It was only after the report appeared that the powers-that-be consented to compare whether the 'leaked' paper tallied with the real thing.

Since then, we have had a succession of committees. Soon after the leak, the varsity formed its first committee, which confirmed the leakage. One would think that this was enough, and that matters could swiftly reach a conclusion after this. But no. The university formed a second committee, which apparently was tasked with identifying those responsible for the leakage. In due course, this committee placed its report before the university.

Having confirmed the leak and then identified those responsible, what was left but to initiate action? But no, our university stalwarts are made of sterner stuff. The Goa University didn't disclose any names. The public is still in the dark about who was responsible for bringing disrepute to Asia's oldest medical college.
A press release issued by Officiating Registrar of Goa University P V Desai says that the report of the three-member committee appointed by the Board of Evaluation to inquire into the alleged leakage has been accepted. But it does not even make clear how many persons were behind the infamous leak. It does say, however, that the board has now appointed a third committee, under the provisions of Ordinance OA 5.2.3, to "investigate the charges". This committee is to submit its report within a month.

What happens after this committee submits its report? Will we then see a fourth committee being appointed to actually frame the charges that will be levelled against the mysterious persons behind this leakage?
And what happens when the charges are framed? Obviously, a fifth committee will then actually prepare the case for the prosecution, so that an internal inquiry can be held to determine whether the charges are correct or not.

Needless to say, it will be a sixth committee that will then hear the case for the prosecution and for the defence. Hopefully, it will be this committee itself that actually decides on whether the accused are guilty as charged or otherwise, and that a seventh committee will not be 'necessary' for the purpose.

But then, even if we are spared one committee, who's to say that a seventh committee will not be required? For, once the guilt is determined, who is to recommend the quantum of punishment to be awarded, so that the board and the Executive Council can then decide on it?

Leaking question papers is an act of moral turpitude. What is required is adequate evidence of guilt, followed by swift and summary action; not death by committee…

Equity for land

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Nitin Gadkari has rightly demanded that people whose land is acquired for setting up industries must not only be properly compensated and rehabilitated, but must be entitled to a share of the equity in the company that comes up on their land.

People surrounding such developments benefit from them. Is it not perverse that those who lose their land should lose everything? Opposition to projects will continue to grow until those who give up their land get their fair share in the prosperity being created.







The other day, I learnt that a neighbour had sold off all her buffaloes. It was increasingly becoming difficult to graze the cattle, and obviously economic pressures were there too. They just kept one back, and her young daughter was quite upset by the loss of their domestic animals.

For the newspaper reading classes, the challenges of maintaining your buffaloes in today's Goa is hardly an issue. But things are changing fast, squeezing different people in differing ways here. The government boasts that our State is fast urbanising. that the GDP is growing, and that the economy is expanding at an unprecedented rate (never mind all the biting inflation).

Many are getting new jobs. Our patterns of growth are even luring in people from across State borders. But what about the traditional jobs that are getting lost, in the meanwhile?

An elderly grand-aunt of mine lived an entire life in the Goa of the late 20th century without ever holding on to a "job." She did work alright and lived off it. The village, in those times, was still bountiful. Villagers planted paddy and coconut groves needed tending too.

Does anyone remember the pigs and chickens, that were part of the homes, we grew up in? And for one day every week, a villager volunteered to take the entire vaddo's flock of goats to the village hill to graze.

(Thanks to the superior wisdom of one politician, part of that hill has been turned into an industrial estate. The domestic animals no longer make economic sense, having to compete with the faster returns that other sectors promise.)

This is not to romanticise the frugal lifestyles of the past. Romanticising poverty and scarcity is anyway, unfair. Most of us would not like to go back to those times. Also, while we talk reams about it, we would like our own children to access better life. And quite rightly so.

But, at the same time, what happens to the significant section in Goa that is fast losing out their old livelihood, even while they are not being fully equipped to cope with a transition, to better jobs and opportunity?
When I walk down the village roads, at least some of those I encounter, have lived in exactly the same situation that I knew them, three decades ago. They haven't benefitted from the statistics industry that Goa has created so efficiently, in recent decades. Their unfulfilled hopes and aspirations or dreams don't show up in glossy brochures and advertisements on Goa's achievements, over the past five decades.

Even official statistics give a hint about how traditional occupations have dwindled. Traditional fishermen once numbered in the tens of thousands. Today you hardly see them on the shore. Rampons have vanished for the most. Toddy-tapping was a thriving profession that employed so many. Where have its workers gone?
Goa was once known for its salt sector, not just across India, but overseas too. Our governments, regardless of label, have gone about banning the use of "common" salt. At the same time, researchers like Reyna Sequeira have attempted to study the current state of this traditional sector in villages like Arpora, Batim and Agarvaddo.


From their work, it is clear that there are many pressures that have led the axe to fall on traditional Goa.
Yes, everyone would like to move upwards in life. Our traditional lifestyles have been caught in a mix of low returns and, what is worse, low social status. Our caste-ridden society has long given the lowest position to those, who have been doing the most backbreaking and crucial work.

But simply destroying these sectors en mass doesn't make any sense. With a neglect of our rural areas, and jugglery in terms of definition, Goa is today being listed as a State with the highest level of urbanisation nationwide. Yet, to paraphrase Gandhi, Goa still lives in its villages. In the jumble of such claims, the sustenance of many is simply being snapped.

At times, when faced with a guilty conscience, the decision-makers and intellectual leaders of Goa make it seem as if a little charity can solve the problem. But in changing times, obviously much more is needed.
Goa lacks the mechanisms through which those based here or outside Goa, could share their knowledge and skills with people whom it could critically help. We lack the village institutions that could help our society to self-teach itself the skills, to cope with the challenges of tomorrow.

Yet, there is need to avoid being unduly pessimistic too. In my own village, there are institutions from the past — village schools that have done us proud, clubs built by expat villagers, the church and temples, sports and youth clubs, and more.

One local school has recently built up a 'Special Section' for children with learning disabilities. Local homes for the elderly have been there for some time now, and a non-government initiative has also resulted in part-time medical facilities in the village too — supported by some non-residents. A children's library, afternoon extra-classes for weaker students, and a centre for poor children are among the other initiatives.
But all this still excludes many who are invisible in today's Goa. A few villages like Loutolim and Siolim have well-conceived centres for technical education, especially for boys who might not fit into the generic mainstream education. There is another such initiative at Corlim. But even good institutions sometimes suffer from a lack of students.

Technical education cannot be left to government initiatives alone. A recently-released Church directory shows how vast the social infrastructure of this institution is. But how much of it gets utilised to the optimum, and how much just fits into the narrow, if not restrictive funding-driven schemes of the government? Why do schools, with the entire physical infrastructure they have, need to be kept closed for almost half a day? Just because the government pays teachers grants only going by this formula?

Life-long learning, career guidance and counselling, playgrounds for children and village libraries are something today's Goa badly lacks. In our anger to point to what is wrong with our State, we also fail to see what is possible.

Where are our village-level appropriate technology centres? Where are initiatives to make local agriculture more remunerative? We also fail to see the mismatch between the lack of Goa's ability to grow the food it needs, and the inflationary pressures of having to buy vegetables from neighbouring states. Likewise, isn't it ironic to have so many

job-seekers unemployed at the same time as when we can't find the right people to fit a job?
Unless we get started somewhere, we will be only dreaming!








Do we really need mobile handsets? Are they a must in today's fast moving competitive world? They are beneficial, when used to a certain extent, or they might be detrimental to health. Some studies have shown that increased cell usage could to lead to tumours and cancerous growth. Cell phones can lead to technological dependence. They can ruin one's normal sleeping patterns. Cell phones can prove to be a nasty nuisance. Speaking on a cell at all hours is really bugging. Picture yourself taking a short nap in your favourite chair, when you hear the ring… or when you have some deadlines to be met… and you are burning the midnight oil trying to make sense of the heavy files lying on your working desk… or when you are talking to your beau when there is an important official call waiting on the line… or you are driving and hear the familiar beep of your mobile… neither do you want to escape (for it might be an important call from work) nor do you talk on the bugging phone while you are steering your car on the NH 17 (for fear of being fined by some corrupt traffic cops, though they may be right in this case). Cell phones can certainly drive a person nuts!
Studies show that Indians are badly hooked badly on to cell phones -7 hours of talk time a week and 56 messages on an average. I would like to categorise cell users into different categories. And it's not difficult to spot them in today's fast paced lifestyles.

1. Prestige and power showoffs: These are people who keep changing their cell phones. Old models of the phones are dumped and replaced with Blackberry sets. Prestige means a lot to such people, who try to show off their handsets to those in their friend circle.

2. Practical users: This category use their phones only in times of need. The need could range from a crisis situation to attending routine tasks in one's life such as calling up to see whether your kids have reached home, etc.

3. Business bugs: These are ruthless, charming and efficient in their talk, Sales and marketing is the name of the game for such people. They increase their business contacts and then move in for a 'sales kill' with potential customers.

4. Young birds: Observe the youth of today! Most of their time is spent in the company of their precious possession that is their 'very dear friend – the cell phone.' This wireless technology helps them to keep in touch with friends, make more friends and engage in the common pastime of forwarding messages to their friends.
5. Love birdies: This includes people of all ages, people who are madly in love. They spend endless hours on the phone…since the landline connection offers its own set of limitations (with regard to portability). The love birdies buy cell phones which offer many schemes with regard to calls and the SMS service. Business thrives on people such as these, who frequent mobile recharge shops every few days.

6. Oldies: These are old birds that don't keep themselves up with the modern times and haven't learnt to be tech savvy. However, most of them hate this communicative technology that disrupts them from their deep slumbers at noontime. And those who try to learn how to operate this man made invention, may be in for a shock, when their messages sent across end up reaching wrong recipients.

7. Non users: These include all those who hate cell phones and like solitude and peace. They don't own a cell phone and opine that the technology is a waste of money… You might be surprised that some of these include even the younger generation (though in few numbers).

8. Dual mobile set users: This lot includes all those who own two cell phones. Usually, this category covers the business bugs, which segregate their personal life and professional life. I guess they follow the principle of 'divide and rule.' Personal calls are taken on one phone and the business number is handed over only to those involved in business dealings.

Use cell phones as much as possible. But don't earn the label of 'cell phone addict.' Cheers!







On January 14, 2011, the Government of Assam put on its official website ( the lists of the personal assets of the ministers of the State government. This was something that had been promised long ago but became subject to the State government's unstated but ubiquitous policy of hide and seek over the years until at one point Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi aired the opinion that his ministers were under no obligation to make a list of their personal assets public and that those who wanted to have such information could get it from the Income-tax authorities. This gratuitous additional information was totally misleading because the Income-tax authorities were obviously not going to part with such information relating to the assets of ministers to all and sundry. As a lawyer, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi could not have been unaware of this when he made this statement. However, the directive of the Congress high command (recently underscored with the visit of Digvijay Singh) forced him to direct his ministers to declare their personal assets so that they could be put up on the official website of the State government. And thereby hangs a tale.

There are few better examples of undiluted farce than the kind of information put out to hoodwink the public. In the first place, the statements of personal assets of all the ministers of Assam are not easily accessible.  One is able to open some of the statements and not others. Besides, the lists do not indicate property held in the name of spouses even though it is well known that it is a common practice for most ministers, MLAs and bureaucrats to keep benami property in the names of their spouses. The very fact that none of this benami property figures in the personal assets of the ministers, makes the exercise of the declaration of personal assets of ministers a farcical one. But apart from this, we have a queer situation of some statements indicating only the value of the property (without any mention of area or size) while in other cases there is only the mention of area of land without any mention of the value. A typical case is the statement of the Chief Minister himself which mentions a residential plot valued at just Rs 1.05 lakh. What kind of valuation is this? Can one buy even two square metres of land in Beltola mouza of Guwahati for Rs 1.05 lakh? In fact, in his affidavit submitted before the Election Commission of India in 2006, this very plot of land was reported to be shown as being valued at Rs 7.5 lakh. Likewise, his land and building at Ajanta Path at Beltola in the city had been valued at Rs 20.37 lakh in the affidavit submitted to the Election Commission in 2006. In the statement of January 14, the value has been reduced to Rs 15.98 lakh. We would like to know if property values have fallen drastically in the Beltola area of Guwahati. If so the property of all his neighbours must now be revalued in the light of the valuation of Tarun Gogoi's property so that their tax burden does not remain unjustly discriminatory in comparison to Gogoi's property. However, this is not all. It would seem that all real estate owned by Tarun Gogoi alone has fallen in value for some mysterious reason. His Vasant Kunj residential flat in New Delhi was valued at Rs 18 lakh in the affidavit filed before the Election Commission in 2006. How has its value declined to the impossibly low value of Rs 5.89 lakh in the list of assets put out for public consumption on January 14?

It is intriguing that no minister of Assam is shown to be worth over a crore of rupees. Himanta Biswa Sarma alone is shown to have assets of Rs 10,170,296 that are decorously reduced to below a crore of rupees by loans taken from family and friends amounting to Rs 926,000 and Rs 141,722 borrowed from the Assam Legislative Assembly. This minister, known to be fond of cars, claims to have just an old Maruti Zen worth a little more than Rs 1 lakh. With a little more time to look more closely into the lists of personal assets of ministers and better accessibility to the assets declared by all the ministers, we shall doubtless have a hilariously farcical scenario. But for the present what is visible and what is neatly or crudely hidden from the public eye should be enough to indicate what a great farce is being perpetrated on the public in the name of transparency and accountability.






Money laundering has always been a popular activity in a corrupt country like India. Even a few chief executives of corporate houses, never really in dire need of foreign currency for legitimate requirements, have got into the dirty hawala racket. But now the Election Commission (EC) has another major problem to deal with in addition to tackling the burgeoning number of people with criminal records who have successfully become lawmakers. It is the problem of having to deal with political parties that have practically no political activity at all, but have been floated to launder money. The EC has discovered that only 200 of the 1,200 political parties registered in India (just 16 per cent) are involved in political activities. The other 1,000 are there just to reap the financial and tax benefits that exist for political parties and to indulge in money laundering activities with reduced chances of getting nabbed. Apparently the EC has failed to make the government take any action against them. That is the extent to which corrupt practices are being defended by government agencies themselves.   





Communities of different hues and different thinking are the limbs of a nation, not the nation by themselves. That the limbs should be healthy and strong is in the interest of the country. But they cannot supplant the nation

States in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are partly the result of accident and partly the circumstances attending the growth of the British power. India regrouped them in 1955 on linguistic basis. Even then, it had to reconstitute four more States in the last few years to suit political demands.

Pakistan has resisted the pressure because mapping out new States may have created more problems than solve them. Bangladesh is determined to retain the unitary system although the unruly mob suggests that decentralization of power to small units may be a better way of administering the country. Yet the key question has been how to avoid mixing political considerations with the people's aspirations.

After carving out 14 States since independence, New Delhi still faces the ever-growing demand for creating more new units. The most pressing demand has been for Telangana, embracing more or less the same territory which the Nizam of Hyderabad had under him before the State was amalgamated into Andhra Pradesh.

People in Telangana feel that they have not got their due which the Telugu language speaking people have enjoyed. The opening of the Urdu university at Hyderabad has been of no avail. However, Muslims who constitute 41 per cent of population in Hyderabad are in favour of a united Andhra Pradesh because in the rest of the State they number less than five per cent.

Earlier last year, when Telangana was engulfed by a fierce agitation and Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader K Chandrasekhar Rao went on a fast unto death, the Centre was once again panicky as it was when it hurriedly appointed the Commission for Reorganization of States (CRS) in 1954. Then Potti Sreeramulu had died after fasting for the demand of a separate State for the Telugu speaking. This time the government appointed a committee headed by former Supreme Court judge Sri Krishna to propose steps to deal with the problem of Telangana, at present part of Andhra Pradesh.

In his report, Justice Sri Krishna has discussed six options but has preferred to keep Andhra Pradesh united. The question of the future status of Hyderabad city seems to have influenced the five-member commission. It has mentioned this in four out of six options. A bifurcation of the State without Hyderabad going to them is not acceptable to the people of either region, both for economic reasons and sentimental factors.

If Andhra Pradesh is disturbed, there is no doubt that the business confidence in India's fifth biggest city would be to the detriment of all regions. In fact, the information technology industry in Hyderabad was connected more to the national (through investment) and global (through the market) economies than it was to the regional economy. The IT industry accounted for 15 per cent of India's software exports in 2008-09.

New Delhi's predicament is that if it concedes Telangana, it faces the revival of demand for new States. Local passions have become stronger than the regional loyalty. People in minority in a State have felt over the years that they have been pushed into the corner by the majority's chauvinism. The initial idea of citizenship has worn out because a common citizenship for the entire Indian people has not given equal rights and equal opportunities throughout the union. At least development-wise, many areas have lagged behind because the States with more resources have marched ahead. The Centre has been interested only in the growth of GDP to 9 to 10 per cent without bothering about an equitable development of all areas.

Telangana is once again in the midst of unrest because it wants a State of its own. New Delhi's bungling is blatant. It announced in Parliament that the process of forming Telangana would be initiated soon. And then it went back on its word. The other parts of Andhra Pradesh were up in arms. Only the appointment of a committee did restore peace.

The dangerous fallout of carving a new State will give birth to many a demand for new States. The Gorkha land, the hilly parts of West Bengal, has already started a stir to get the demand conceded. The Bodos in Assam have threatened violence if Bodoland is not made a State. And Vidarbha in Maharashtra is an old demand which even the Commission on Reorganization of States had recommended in 1954.

How India or, for that matter, the ruling Congress sorts out on Telangana will give a peep into the government's thinking on the formation of other States. The party will be damned if it constitutes Telangana and damned if it does not. It appears that the events would meander ultimately towards constituting the State of Telangana.

Such a politics of opportunism has resulted in exploiting the educated youth by politicians, causing inter-regional and inter-community differences. This articulation is as much applicable to Pakistan and Bangladesh as India. All the three countries may be treading the different paths but they share the same infirmities because of unprincipled politicians. Prosperity may change the scenario one day but until then all the three countries may face bigger and fiercer law-and-order problems.

Another CRS, which has been demanded by many, may open the floodgates. What the country does not seem to realise yet is that new demands are primarily an assertion of caste, not language. The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the backward classes and the minorities have their own aspirations for political space, economic development and reservation benefits. This observation is borne out by the clear caste divisions witnessed among the Telangana joint action groups, including those on the Osmania University campus. The violence witnessed before the formation of linguistic States in the early 50s may engulf the country once again. It is already grappling with the problems of corruption and communalism, and not doing a good job.

Unity or integration of a country does neither depend on raising slogans nor on chastising people who want to opt out because they are maltreated and denied what a dominant group in a State enjoys as its right. This leads to desperation and people come to have faith in extremism. In some cases, the ethnic cleansing is considered a way out. Small evidence is visible on the border of Meghalaya and Assam where people speaking other languages have been pushed out of territories.

Societies have to have a sense of accommodation and spirit of tolerance if they have to live together peacefully. It is the integrity of a nation on which the future is centered. Communities of different hues and different thinking are the limbs of a nation, not the nation by themselves. That the limbs should be healthy and strong is in the interest of the country. But they cannot supplant the nation.

Kuldip Nayar 








The personal stories of despair that led up to these acts of self-sacrifice are inevitably brought to the forefront.


Self-immolation is horrifying. Yet the pent-up turmoil and despair to which it gives graphic expression has the potential to move masses to action.

Such was the case with Muhammad Bouazizi, a 26-yearold Tunisian college graduate who set himself on fire last month. Unable to find employment commensurate with his skills, Bouazizi settled for peddling fruits and vegetables in his home town. He became despondent when security forces brutally destroyed his unlicensed cart and confiscated his wares. His desperate act of protest touched a nerve with educated Tunisian youths in situations similar to Bouazizi's and helped spark a revolution.

It also set off a spate of self-immolation attempts this week in Africa and the Middle East.

In Egypt, Abdu Abdel-Monaam Hamadah, a 48-year-old owner of a small restaurant, lit himself on fire outside the parliament building in central Cairo in protest of a government policy preventing restaurant owners from buying subsidized bread to resell to patrons. And Yacoub Ould Dahoud, who had expressed discontent with the government, drove to a government building in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, and torched himself in his car. There were also several cases of self-immolation in Algeria.

Until recently, media coverage of self-immolation has focused on the women of Afghanistan. Horribly oppressed by a backward, male-dominated Muslim extremism, women married off at a young age to brutally abusive spouses have opted to put an end to their lives in a blaze rather than forfeit their individuality. A combination of despair for one's own future, and the hope that a fiery death might bring change for others, seems to be the motivation for self-immolation. But the recent outbreak of such incidents has started a new trend.

"Those who are promoting fantasies and trying to ignite the situation will not achieve their goals and will only harm themselves," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit announced in a particularly unfortunate turn of phrase aimed at dismissing speculation that unrest in Tunisia would spread to Egypt.

Perhaps. Still, many states in the region suffer from the same problems – unemployment, slow growth, corrupt government, aging dictators – that brought Tunisians out to protest. Protesters have taken to the streets in Algeria and Jordan, demanding jobs and affordable food.

Whether these protests erupt into the kind of revolution Tunisia is experiencing is impossible to know. What's clear is that the actions taken by Tunisians are reverberating around the region.

PART OF the reason for the widely-felt impact has been the central role played by new media. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Dailymotion, forums and blogs have collectively transformed the Arab communications environment and shattered authoritarian regimes' ability to control the flow of information, images, ideas and opinions.

And this user-generated content has been utilized by satellite TV stations – in particular Al Jazeera – even after authoritarian Arab regimes have succeeded in closing down conventional news-gathering outlets.

However, the tremendous impact of new media is not just in its ability to escape the careful monitoring of Arab police states. The highly personalized dimension of a blogger's entry or an image put up on a Facebook page seems to offer profound human resonance. Video footage of the deadly shooting of a demonstrator, for instance, takes on a whole new meaning when it is contextualized not by an objective news correspondent but by a blogger who witnessed the shooting or personally knew the victim, or when it includes details from the victim's Facebook accounts.

It is precisely new media's focus on the personal, the uniquely individualistic aspects of a popular struggle, that has made it such a potent instrument in the hands of the opposition in Tunisia and in other authoritarian Arab countries.

Perhaps the recent flurry of self-immolation is an extreme aspect of this trend toward individualism. The personal stories of despair that led up to these acts of self-sacrifice are inevitably brought to the forefront. And the very nature of protest through self-immolation emphasizes the importance of exceptional individual acts and their capacity to generate widespread empathy via self-identification.

It is no coincidence that it is precisely this striving for individualistic freedom of expression, which seems to be stronger than life itself, that autocratic Arab states fear so and are working so hard to stamp out.








Tunisian president's regime was not the only thing destroyed. The two main foundations of 'expert' Western analysis of the Mideast have also been undone.


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.







With cruel, dull, greedy leaders overthrown, one must look ahead with trepidation to the Islamist implications of this upheaval.


The sudden yet unexplained exit of Tunisia's strongman, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, 74, after 23 years in power has potential implications for the Middle East and for Muslims worldwide. As an Egyptian commentator noted: "Every Arab leader is watching Tunisia in fear. Every Arab citizen is watching Tunisia in hope and solidarity."

I watch with both emotions.

During the first era of independence, until about 1970, governments in Arabicspeaking countries were frequently overthrown as troops under the control of discontented colonels streamed into the capitals, seized the presidential quarters and the radio station, then announced a new regime. Syrians endured three such coups d'état in 1949 alone.

Over time, regimes learned to protect themselves via overlapping intelligence services, reliance on family and tribal members, repression and other mechanisms. Four decades of sclerotic, sterile stability followed. With only rare exceptions (Iraq in 2003, Gaza in 2007) did regimes get ousted; even more rarely (Sudan in 1985) did civilian dissent play a significant role.

ENTER FIRST Al-Jazeera, which focuses Arab-wide attention on topics of its choosing, and then the Internet. Beyond its inexpensive, detailed and timely information, the Internet also provides unprecedented secrets (e.g., the recent WikiLeaks dump of US diplomatic cables), even as it connects the like-minded (via Facebook and Twitter). These new forces converged in Tunisia in December to create an intifada that quickly ousted an entrenched tyrant.

If one exults in the power of the disenfranchised to overthrow their dull, cruel and greedy masters, one also looks ahead with trepidation to the Islamist implications of this upheaval. The first worry concerns Tunisia itself. For all his faults, Ben Ali stood stalwart as a foe of Islamism, battling not only the terrorists but also (somewhat as in pre-2002 Turkey) the soft jihadists in schoolrooms and television studios. A former interior minister, however, he underestimated Islamists, seeing them more as criminals than as committed ideologues. His not allowing alternate Islamic outlooks could now prove to be a great mistake.

Tunisian Islamists had a minimal role in overthrowing Ben Ali, but they will surely scramble to exploit the opportunity that has opened to them. Indeed, the leader of Tunisia's main Islamist organization, Ennahda, has announced his first return to the country since 1989. Does Interim President Fouad Mebazaa, 77, have the savvy or political credibility to maintain power? Will the military keep the old guard in power? Do moderate forces have the cohesion and vision to deflect an Islamist surge?

The second worry concerns nearby Europe, already incompetent at dealing with its Islamist challenge. Were Ennahda to take power and then expand networks, provide funds and perhaps smuggle arms to allies in Europe, it could greatly exacerbate existing problems there.

The third and greatest worry concerns the possible domino effect on other Arabic- speaking countries. This fast, seemingly easy and relatively bloodless coup d'état could inspire Islamists globally to sweep away their own tyrants.

All four North African littoral states – Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt – fit this description, as do Syria, Jordan and Yemen to the east. That Ben Ali took refuge in Saudi Arabia implicates that country too. Pakistan could also fit the template. In contrast to the Iranian revolution of 1978-79, which required a charismatic leader, millions on the street and a full year's worth of effort, events in Tunisia unfolded quickly and in a more generic, reproducible way.

What Franklin D. Roosevelt allegedly said of a Latin America dictator – "He's a bastard but he's our bastard" – applies to Ben Ali and many other Arab strongmen, leaving US government policy in seeming disarray.

Barack Obama's ambiguous after-the-fact declaration that he "applaud[s] the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people" can conveniently be read either as a warning to assorted other bastards or as a better-late-than-never recognition of awkward facts on the ground.


AS WASHINGTON sorts out options, I urge the administration to adopt two policies. First, renew the push for democratization initiated by George W. Bush in 2003, but this time with due caution, intelligence and modesty, recognizing that his flawed implementation inadvertently helped the Islamists acquire more power. Second, focus on Islamism as the civilized world's greatest enemy and stand with our allies, including those in Tunisia, to fight this blight.


The writer is director of the Middle East Forum, and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He lived in Tunisia in 1970.







The extremists are the only other option in several Arab countries and they offer an even more frightening future – devoid of any freedoms.


Many are closely watching the events in Tunisia, where protesters have brought down the repressive, half-century old dictatorship that saw one tyrant replaced by another.

The people of Tunisia, like most people in the Arab world, have never tasted real freedom. In 1987, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali staged a bloodless coup that unseated one tyrant and placed the future of the country in his hands. That ended when a young college graduate set himself on fire last month to protest oppressive government policies, setting off riots and protests in the streets.

Ben Ali has fled, but his oppressive policies and government are being absorbed by his political pals, and the call for democracy and freedom in Tunisia is going unheeded.

Many would like to see the fires of freedom spread across the Arab world and into Israel, where the Jewish state enjoys a dual system – full democracy for some and less for others.

It's even worse in the Arab world. Although Israel is far from a perfect democracy, the Arab world is anything but. There are no freedoms in Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Lebanon, where sectarian violence is again rearing its ugly head, this time with a Hizbullah vengeance. Lebanon is the Arab country that has been closest to real democracy, but religious fanatics continue to threaten that goal.

Egypt is a dictatorship. The so-called president, Hosni Mubarak, reportedly ready to retire or at least preparing for his own death, is pushing his son as his successor. Nepotism is a key characteristic of Arab dictatorships, and Egypt is no exception.

The real threat to the Mubarak dictatorship is in fact the reason why he remains in control of that impoverished, oppressed country. The religious fanatics are the only alternative to Mubarak's secular tyranny, and they offer an even more frightening future – devoid of any freedoms.

The fanatics are a gathering storm in the Middle East, and the only answer so far has been dictatorship to prevent them from taking control in several Arab countries.

Lebanon is a good example of how religious extremism from Hizbullah is threatening to destroy the secular democracy that the country has barely enjoyed. Already, Hizbullah is slowly taking control.

Elsewhere, Iraq has a puppet government controlled by the American military – it had elections but it took more than eight months of American wheeling and dealing to bring them to a semblance of closure.

Jordan is in a precarious position. Ruled by an absolute monarch, it faces the same religious fanaticism that threatens Egypt. When confronted with a choice between religious extremists and the existing tyranny that controls Egypt, Jordan and even Syria, tyranny looks far better.


That's the future for the Arab world. Israel could help stand up to the religious fanatic threats, but its failure to bring peace only feeds the religious fervor, as Hamas gains in strength each day that peace is not achieved.

Tunisia may symbolize a people's revolt against tyranny and oppression, but it's not a pattern that will soon repeat itself in other countries.


The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.









Uncovered documents reveal that British intelligence secured the collaboration of Arab leaders.


Charles de Gaulle and David Ben- Gurion accused Great Britain of having a conspiratorial policy in the Middle East. De Gaulle, who headed France's provisional government after World War II, accused Winston Churchill of deliberately engineering the Syrian crisis in the summer of 1945 to evict France from the Levant and place Syria under tacit British hegemony. Ben-Gurion claimed, both before and after declaring independence in May 1948, that Britain was purposely working to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state, or at any rate to reduce its territory, and that it secretly encouraged the Arab states to invade.

In either case, for lack of archival evidence, historians resorted to psychology to explain the two leaders' charges which, it was argued, derived from their "Anglophobia," "paranoia" and "obsession" with Britain. It was also alleged that Ben- Gurion's accusations were intended to aggrandize the Zionists' heroic achievements of 1948.

IN THE 1980s, two British historians, David Dilks and Christopher Andrew, warned their colleagues that ignoring the role of intelligence in international relations – which they defined as the "missing dimension" – could distort historiography. Their assertions were illustrated in a recently published article by this author (The "Missing Dimension": Britain's Secret War against France in Syria and Lebanon, 1942-45, Middle Eastern Studies, 46:6, 791 - 899) which examined the role of British intelligence, especially the MI6, in Arab politics during and after World War II.

The article provides more than 100 previously secret Syrian and British documents obtained by French intelligence in Beirut. The documents, uncovered in French archives, substantiate de Gaulle's allegations, and shed new light on the covert activities of the British in the Middle East. They reveal that British intelligence agencies played a key role in shaping Britain's policy by securing the tacit collaboration of prominent Arab nationalist leaders in Syria and Lebanon after helping them attain power.

They also disclose that British agents were behind the schemes to integrate Syria in an Iraqi-led Hashemite confederation, or with Transjordan in a Greater Syria federation that was to include Palestine. The documents include a secret agreement from May 29, 1945 revealing that Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli was coerced into tacitly granting Britain a dominant strategic and economic position in Syria in return for its help against the French army attack on Damascus (provoked by British agents themselves).

The Syrians' claim that their country was the first Arab state to secure complete independence from colonial rule is therefore debatable. In this regard, it is worth quoting a telegram of November 5, 1945 from the Syrian minister in Washington to his foreign minister in Damascus referring to statements made by American diplomats: "As far as British influence is concerned, the American government asks, 'Did we recognize your independence just for you to put yourselves in the hands of Great Britain?' Having reminded them that Great Britain delivered us from French oppression, they said to me, 'Is that deliverance? They freed you in order to use you themselves. Great Britain, under the pretext of delivering you from the French, wants to annex you.

We will not allow feudal Syrians to sell their country to Great Britain.'" YET-TO-BE-PUBLISHED documents from 1945-1947 indicate that after their success against France in Syria, British intelligence agents, who enjoyed even greater freedom of action in the Middle East under the Labor government, employed similar tactics against the Zionist movement.

In fact, the "Zionist card" became a vital instrument used by British agents in securing their country's influence in the Arab world by playing on the Arabs' fears of the Zionists' aspirations for a Jewish state.

It was also exploited to deflect the Arab nationalists' hostility from Britain and justify Britain's continued influence in the Arab world.

Constantine Zurieq, a diplomat in the Syrian legation in Washington who later became a leading Arab nationalist intellectual and the first to apply the term "nakba" to the 1948 Arab defeat, quoted in a telegram to Damascus on November 7, 1945, the warnings of an American official in the State Department: "Great Britain wishes to exploit the Arab-Jewish conflict because it is the only way for it to remain in Palestine, to dominate all the Arab countries. The American government strongly desires to find a friendly settlement between the Arabs and the Jews. But it is convinced that the British colonial authorities will do everything to prevent that, as Great Britain wishes for incidents to worsen in Palestine and for disorder, where blood is spilled, to take place."

The documents uncovered in French archives will oblige historians, especially here, to reexamine Ben- Gurion's claims concerning Britain's role in the 1948 war. Historians should take note of recurrent warnings that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

The writer teaches Middle East history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

His article, "The Missing Dimension: Britain's Secret War against France in Syria and Lebanon, 1942-1945," was published in November 2010 in Middle Eastern Studies and is available for free download from the journal's website. A previous article studying France's covert action in the 1948 war appeared in the same journal in January 2010.








On Monday, February 14, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi is supposed to pass the chief of staff's pennant to Yoav Galant. But in recent weeks there have been increasing doubts about whether Galant will indeed be appointed chief of staff, and if so, when.

The two people responsible for this situation are Galant himself and retired judge Jacob Turkel. Galant got embroiled in a land case in Amikam, the moshav where he lives. His behavior in the case is the subject of legal and public dispute. Following an angry response by his neighbors and an investigative report in the Maariv newspaper, cabinet minister Michael Eitan became involved, collecting a great deal of material and demanding thorough clarification of the matter. Eitan is also the only minister who opposed Galant's appointment at a cabinet meeting.

The government, under the negligent responsibility of Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, would not have voted on the appointment had not Judge Turkel hurried to approve it in the senior appointments committee that he chairs. "Hurried," in the sense of "hastened" and even "rushed."

The appointments committee is supposed to classify and screen people recommended by ministers for senior positions that include the national police chief, the heads of the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad, and the governor of the Bank of Israel. It is not its job to make pronouncements about the military competence of the chief of staff, or the economic credentials of the bank governor, but it must thoroughly examine whether the character, background and connections of the candidate qualify or disqualify him.

To demonstrate the importance of the matter, it's enough to remember what happened in the 1970s to Asher Yadlin, the candidate for bank governor.

Turkel, who is also busy with the committee on the Turkish flotilla, is in a rush. He didn't bother to delve into the material and didn't even wait for the report of the deputy attorney general. His questions to Galant - cited in an appointments committee document following a petition to the Supreme Court by attorneys Nadav Appelbaum and Ziv Glazberg - were superficial. The judges were hard on the state attorney's representative and sent her back to correct and complete her arguments.

Two days ago, the attorney general used information given to him by the state comptroller as a pretext to ask for an additional delay.

The clock is ticking, and there is still no chief of staff. Galant and Turkel, each in his own area, must provide convincing answers, because if not, their jobs should be given to those whose behavior does not raise questions.







They will go out into Jerusalem's summer heat and march down Saladin Street toward the Old City walls. Fifty Palestinians, then 100, then 200 and 1,000 and 10,000. Marching and shouting "Istiqlal," independence. Not because they support Ehud Barak's new party, Atzmaut (the Hebrew word for independence ), but to get Israel out of the territories beyond the Green Line and establish a Palestinian state there. Just like the demonstrators in Tunisia got rid of Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali.

How will Israel react? Will it shoot the demonstrators and kill them before cameras from all over the world? A public relations disaster. Will it jail thousands for holding an unauthorized demonstration? Not practical. Will it blame the Palestinian Authority? Irrelevant. And what if the demonstrators keep marching, day after day, supported by international sympathy and all the international news media?

This scenario, which researchers Shaul Mishal and Doron Mazza call the White Intifada, may come to pass in August or September, as the target date the Palestinians have set for declaring an independent state approaches. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are outflanking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The combined maneuver they launched - building the institutions of statehood while also obtaining international recognition - is isolating Israel, making it appear like a country that rejects peace and insists on retaining the settlements.

The world is gradually becoming accustomed to the idea that Palestine will join the family of nations this summer. That is what U.S. President Barack Obama promised in his address to the most recent United Nations General Assembly. That is what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised in her address to the Saban Forum (a Palestinian state, achieved through negotiations, is inevitable, she said ). That is what the Latin American states have promised, and now also Russia, a member of the international Quartet of Middle East peace-makers and a permanent member of the Security Council. Without negotiations, there will be internationalization.

The higher the Palestinians' expectations are, the deeper their disappointment will be come September when independence hasn't yet arrived. After a prior target date for a permanent settlement was missed, on September 13, 2000, the intifada broke out two and a half weeks later. This time, the Palestinians have prepared international support in advance, and if they are wise, they will refrain from blowing up buses and focus on street protests like those in Bil'in - but in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu's counterclaim, that the Palestinians are to blame for the failure of the negotiations, has been received with skepticism. Abbas is telling everyone that he gave Netanyahu a detailed peace proposal addressing all the core issues, but the prime minister did not respond. And worldwide, they believe him.

The "diplomatic holding action" that Israel is conducting against Palestinian recognition has enjoyed partial success: Both the U.S. Congress and the European Union expressed their opposition to a unilateral declaration of independence. But Israel's position is eroding with every new country that recognizes Palestine in the 1967 borders.

Netanyahu has responded by hunkering down. He drove the rebellious Labor Party ministers out of his government, opting instead for a right-wing coalition to show "steadfast determination" in the face of international pressure.

The ridiculous spin from his bureau, accusing the ousted ministers of responsibility for the diplomatic impasse, is exaggerated even by the standards of Netanyahu and his advisers. Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman, failed politicians who lost everything when they hesitated to leave the government, are the ones who thwarted peace? Not Netanyahu's refusal to freeze settlement construction and talk about borders?

Now, Netanyahu has several options in his effort to foil Palestinian independence, but all are terrible. It is too late to present a diplomatic program that could convince anyone in the world while still enjoying the support of his right-wing coalition.

He could strike Iran, or call early elections. In both cases, the risks are enormous and the problem would only be delayed. He could undermine Abbas' rule with retaliatory moves, first and foremost a deal that would free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for releasing Hamas operatives to the West Bank. That would hurt the PA, but would also endanger Israel. Or he could recognize a Palestinian state in the existing borders, separate from it as much as possible and offer to negotiate.

The approaching summer will bring an exceptionally complex political challenge for Netanyahu. He will need all the talent for stratagems that he and Barak displayed in breaking up Labor if he is to outflank Abbas in turn and avoid a confrontation with the Palestinians. If he leaves the initiative to them, he will have to face their independence march in Jerusalem.








Fifteen years ago, Shimon Peres turned his back on Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. In a cynical move, he decided to try to get elected on his own and make others forget the assassination. Thus did Peres make an important contribution to a new version of the biblical tragedy of Navot's vineyard. For seven months after organizing rallies with slogans like "We will expel Rabin in fire and blood," Benjamin Netanyahu moved into the slain prime minister's residence.

Now, Barak is going even further than Peres in his betrayal of Rabin. Barak chose to make his democracy-trampling move for the sake of a leader more hostile to democracy than any of his predecessors, and for the purpose of intensifying the government's incitement against democracy. At the very height of a wave of racist and anti-democratic sentiment, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to encourage the Knesset to investigate Israeli citizens - thereby changing the form of government from democracy to dictatorship - Barak chose to desert to Netanyahu's ranks.

Thus did Barak bestow a name on his four ministers. This isn't merely a gang of four, but the Gang of November 4, after the date in 1995 when Rabin was assassinated.

Barak's decision gives those who tend to repress things a chance to understand what has happened here since Yigal Amir fired his three fatal shots. "No partner" is not the conclusion of a sobered-up left, but part of a world that deliberately rose up against the Oslo Accords.

Netanyahu, Barak and Ariel Sharon all purposely refused to implement Oslo 2 - the agreement for which Rabin was killed, and which promised the Palestinians most of the West Bank, in three stages, within nine months. And thus the entire region entered an era of force. It has been well-established that the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon will get nothing from Israel of its own good will; from now on, only force will speak.

The date of the assassination is not the only November that Barak's gang recalls. There is also this past November, when not only did the government decide that settlements are preferable to peace, but it staged a drama that clarified its position as a government of only two issues: Iran and real estate.

If the attack on Iran for which this coalition was formed actually takes place, only the survivors will know about it. But the government is pushing the real estate issue with no restraints. And we're not just talking about the real estate changes that will take place in the Tel Aviv area after a war.

This past November, the "Iran-real estate" government led an alliance in support of a bill to allow municipal admission committees to adopt discriminatory practices. That gave the extremist Lieberman-style racists a chance to join up with the leaders of what used to be the pioneer movement.

This new world was described well by the minister pulling the strings, Shalom Simhon. He said that if a Mizrahi resident of his moshav, Even Menahem, were allowed to live in an Ashkenazi moshav, that would do an injustice to the that person, because Mizrahim, or Jews of Middle Eastern descent, wouldn't fit into the Ashkenazi social-cultural fabric.

Simhon is not alone. A day before the gang of four stepped out of the shadows, Israel Radio presenter Yaron Dekel, who hosts the show "Hakol Diburim" ("It's All Talk" ), said it was "the intellectuals" who constitute the greatest threat to Israeli democracy, much greater than the rabbis urging Jews not to rent or sell homes to non-Jews and the inflammatory letters they drafted. That's because a small group of researchers and artists protested the decision by those who present themselves as supporters of democracy, especially the Labor ministers, to repeat the mistake of the centrists in 1930s Europe who joined hands with the forces that rose up against democracy.

It's just the wind, a mother tells her child in a well-known Hebrew poem. The word ruah, wind, also means intellectualism, as well as ideas, morals and norms. But for Israel's emerging dictatorship of ends, words do not express a vision; they are just tools of psychological warfare, enabling important ideas to be dismissed as "mere words."

As with the settlement project, whose tower and stockade method has been turned against Israel, the men of action have now begun taking action against their fellow citizens. But it's not just in the story of Navot's vineyard that the criminal rulers, like the child in the poem, are left inconsolable in the end.

The extent to which our government's leaders scorn words gives us no joy, and neither does the fact that what Barak's announcement of the "dawn of a new day" actually sheds light on is Rabin's assassin and his three shots. After all, after three comes four - the gang of four.

All the same, most Israeli citizens still prefer democracy and freedom, and words. If they act now, intellectualism may yet achieve victory a moment before the war with Iran begins.








Relax. What happened in Tunisia is not about to repeat itself in other Arab states. The toppling of a dictator by a popular uprising indeed brings a breath of fresh air and perhaps even a ray of hope to many in the region, but there is still a long way to go before we can celebrate democracy there.

First of all, we have to wait and see if democratic elections are indeed held in Tunisia in two months, with more than one candidate for president and more than one party. If not, then everything has remained the same.

Secondly, Tunisia is not like the other Arab states to its east, because 99 percent of its population is Sunni Muslim. So anyone imagining anything like the Tunisian scenario in other Arab countries is dreaming: He does not understand the forces at work on the ground and has not considered these states' ethnic, religious and governmental structures.

Since the colonial powers retreated, the Arab world has not succeeded in building even one nation-state worthy of the name. The state of Iraq, for example, has not created an Iraqi people, nor has the state of Syria created a Syrian people. In both countries, dictatorship was the only glue that held all the pieces of the religious, ethnic and tribal puzzle together. When the dictatorship fell in Iraq, the whole Iraqi entity collapsed.

A Tunisian scenario is impossible in states composed of collections of tribes and religious communities and ruled by tribal regimes that behave according to ancient traditions of repression. A popular uprising in such a place poses an existential threat to the tribal and sectarian regime, so the regime will perpetrate a bloodbath against the rebels before giving way to yet another repressive regime.

The failure of Arab nationalism to create a civilian nation-state worthy of the name is what brought about the rise of Islam. But this is a mirage, harking back to a distant past. The nostalgia for the "glorious" past is the most prominent expression of these societies' impotence in the present. The backwardness of the Arab world is evident everywhere: in education, health, rising unemployment and pervasive government corruption.

In this world, there is no creativity in any sphere. This is a world of strident consumerism with no hope on the horizon. This is a world in which rulers in their final days bequeath the regime and its corruption to their sons, who will most likely continue their fathers' repression and corruption until the next bloody regime change, and the next.

The Arab world has a ready explanation for all its troubles: a Jewish, Zionist and imperialist conspiracy. Expressions of this conspiracy include distributing chewing gum that causes sexual arousal in women, an intent to corrupt Arab culture and society, and dispatching guided sharks to attack tourists on the Sinai coast in order to destroy Egypt's tourism industry. Spreading infantile tales such as these is a type of opium for the ignorant masses, who seize upon the "Zionist conspiracy" and fall into a stupor. In the Arab world, the "Zionist conspiracy" opiate provides an easy and safe way to avoid genuinely confronting the problems at home.

Disasters and failures are unable to spark genuine debate. The reasons for this are structural, rooted in the Arab-Islamic culture, because unlike other cultures, Islamic culture has not created mechanisms for self-criticism. There is not a single tradition attributed to the Prophet Mohammed that requires the Muslim believer to engage in self-criticism.

The absence of such a principle is the root of this society's problems, because self-criticism in a culture is a mechanism that makes correction possible. Without such a mechanism there will be no correction. And that is why it is difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel.








The ancient Jewish sages said that one can gain one's whole world in an hour or lose one's whole world in an hour. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a golden opportunity to gain his whole world in the Israeli political arena. The man who headed a party that was not very large was appointed foreign minister of the State of Israel and stepped into the shoes of Moshe Sharett, Abba Eban, Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir.

This writer believes that everyone, certainly people who take on such responsible positions, should be given credit - a fair chance to prove themselves. People should not only enjoy the presumption of innocence, but also the presumption that they are fit to do their job. Indeed, at the time I wrote a column in this newspaper in which I stated "Lieberman is neither a racist nor a fascist," although I disagreed with his way and many of his positions.

Unfortunately, Lieberman has proved that he was not worthy of that credit. We did not expect him to change his opinions, but we did expect him to behave in a statesmanlike and responsible manner, befitting the position he holds, as does his fellow party member, the public security minister. Some had hoped that Lieberman's appointment to such a high post with such great responsibility would transform him from a vote-seeking politician to a leader of national stature. The higher the expectations are, the harder they fall.

Lieberman's first blunder was his scandalous appearance at the United Nations General Assembly. The person who speaks in Israel's name at the opening of the General Assembly - whether it is the prime minister, the foreign minister or the deputy ambassador - must present the Israeli government's declared positions, not his own private doctrine. Lieberman humiliated the State of Israel and presented it as a half-weakened country.

Lieberman's appearance at the conference of Israel's ambassadors was coarsely unstatesmanlike. The foreign minister has the right to present positions that diverge from those of his prime minister, although that is not desirable. However, the place to present them, if at all, is at a meeting of his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, or at a Knesset debate when he is speaking in the name of his faction; certainly not at a meeting of Israel's ambassadors, who are meant to return to their posts and present Israel's positions in a unified voice. Lieberman's speech denouncing the policies of the prime minister in the government in which he serves was shameful.

Worse yet was his horror show last week, in which he roundly accused all human rights groups in Israel of undermining the state and the Israel Defense Forces and abetting terror, and said that Haaretz is also an accessory to terror. Indeed, there are groups in Israel that have crossed red lines and exceeded what is permissible in a democratic country, and they should be dealt with by the legal system. But that is a long way from a sweeping accusation in a manner that is harshly and patently incitement. That is truly McCarthyism.

Lieberman may not be a racist or a fascist, but he is divisive, a demagogue and a populist - and that is just as bad.

To the members of Likud whom he dubbed feinschmeckers (which may be interpreted as bleeding-hearts ), I propose not to get excited. The whole purpose of Judaism is to educate human beings to be bleeding hearts, and that is also the essence of the Torah whose "ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace."

When all was said and done, the American people rejected Senator McCarthy and sent him home in disgrace. If Lieberman persists in his way, that will also be his fate.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



In 2008, the first year of the Great Recession, the number of Americans living in poverty rose by 1.7 million to nearly 47.5 million. While hugely painful, that rise wasn't surprising given the unraveling economy. What is surprising is that recent census data show that those poverty numbers held steady in 2009, even though job loss worsened significantly that year.

Clearly, the sheer scale of poverty — 15.7 percent of the country's population — is unacceptable. But to keep millions more Americans from falling into poverty during a deep recession is a genuine accomplishment that holds a vital lesson: the safety net, fortified by stimulus, staved off an even more damaging crisis.

Congress should take a good look at those numbers, and consider that lesson carefully, before it commits to any more slashing and burning.

The latest poverty figures are from the census "alternative" data, developed in the 1990s to count income and expenses that the "official" data omit. For example, the official measure counts only cash income to gauge poverty (defined as $21,756 for a family of four in 2009). The alternative figures cited above, which closely follow criteria from the National Academy of Sciences, include noncash federal benefits, like food stamps (and set the poverty line at $24,522 for a family of four). That gives a truer picture of a family's economic status.

What analysts have found is that the antipoverty effect of government intervention in 2009 was profound. Calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group, show that specific stimulus provisions — including expanded federal jobless benefits, new and improved tax credits for workers and bolstered food stamps — kept 4.5 million people out of poverty in 2009. Only Social Security and the earned income credit did more to fight poverty.

The results are likely to be roughly similar in 2010 because most of the 2009 law was continued last year. The portents going forward are not good.

Federal aid is being scaled back, even though growth is not yet robust enough to make a sizable dent in unemployment. Late last year, Republicans blocked the extension of a successful stimulus program that had created 250,000 subsidized jobs for young people and low-income parents. They claimed the stimulus was an expensive failure, even as they pressed to renew the high-end Bush tax cuts. As part of the tax-cut deal, President Obama and Congress agreed to extend federal jobless benefits in 2011, but the checks will be $25 less a week than under the stimulus. That reduction could push an estimated 175,000 more people into poverty in 2011. The deal also included a one-year payroll tax cut that will benefit most workers, but it is less helpful to the lowest-income workers than a now-expired tax break in the stimulus.

With 14.5 million people still out of work, and more than 6 million of them jobless for more than six months, reducing federal help now will almost ensure more poverty later. That would impose an even higher cost on the economy and budget because ever poorer households cannot spend and consume.

We know it goes against the prevailing rhetoric to argue that more and better government policies are still needed to repair the economy. It is also unpopular to argue that programs that have succeeded for decades in reducing poverty, like Social Security, need to be preserved even as they are retooled for the 21st century. To do otherwise is to deny the evidence.

President Obama must explain to the American people that the country needs to continue relief and recovery efforts, especially programs to create jobs. Without that, tens of millions of Americans stuck in poverty will have little hope of climbing out — and many more could join their ranks.







The Roberts court is hearing a larger share of cases about economic activities that matter to big business than the Rehnquist court before it. A recent study done by scholars for The Times documents that, compared with other Supreme Courts since 1953, this one is "significantly more likely to produce a conservative decision" in those cases.

One reason for that, beyond the court's conservative tilt, may be that big business is increasingly bringing in big guns to argue their cases: former lawyers in the Justice Department's Office of the Solicitor General. So far this term, former Solicitors General Gregory Garre, Theodore Olson and Seth Waxman have argued at the court for business clients.

Former solicitors general used to be more likely to become professors, judges or other kinds of public servants. Now they are more likely to build corporate practices. With the exception of Justice Elena Kagan and one other, every former solicitor general for the past 15 years leads a law firm group representing business clients.

Of the 11 cases on the court's January list for oral arguments, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed briefs in seven. Last term, the chamber supported the winning side in 13 of 16 cases where it took part. As Adam Liptak reported in The Times, the group attributes those results to the quality of their advocates. The biggest victory was in the Citizens United case, argued by Mr. Olson.

At this level, quality includes intricate knowledge of the court's rulings and the ability to shape arguments. Being a solicitor general certainly gives them that. Still, justices need to ask themselves whether they may unconsciously — and unfairly — defer to former solicitors general. When Mr. Olson recently argued before the court on a case about whether medical residents should be required to pay Social Security taxes, he slyly tweaked Justice Sonia Sotomayor and got an affectionate laugh all around.

There is a special relationship between the solicitor general's office and the court. In addition to being the president's chief courtroom lawyer, the solicitor general is the court's counselor. The court regularly asks the solicitor general for guidance in cases where the government isn't a party, with the solicitor general expected to advocate for the interests of the United States. When former solicitors general are in private practice, all of that must be put firmly aside.

On Wednesday, the court will hear arguments in a case about drug pricing, in which Lisa Blatt, a former assistant to the solicitor general, represents Astra USA, a drug maker. The company contends a health-care provider has no grounds for suing it for exceeding Medicaid price limits. Other important business cases are on the docket with former solicitors general and assistants involved. If they make their cases, they deserve to win. But they shouldn't be given any advantage because of their former jobs.





Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has made transparency a very big deal. In his inaugural speech, he said that New Yorkers cannot be expected to trust their state government without "real transparency and real disclosure and real accountability and real ethics enforcement." Tell that to the Committee to Save New York.

Organized with Mr. Cuomo's blessing, this group of business executives has just started a television campaign to support the governor's agenda. But it is not disclosing all of the sources of its money.

Mr. Cuomo said this week that he has called for disclosure of donors to the committee — and all other groups organized under the same federal statute. And he said he has plans to put that disclosure requirement in a new ethics bill he intends to propose soon.

He is right to do so. Some nonprofit groups recoil at disclosure, particularly public interest groups whose contributors might fear retaliation. But there are more and more of these groups campaigning for a single issue — like more charter schools, or fewer cars in New York City. The public deserves to know who is paying the bills.

Most Albany veterans figure that the outcry against disclosure from these groups will convince legislators to allow the secrecy to stand. It is that very outcry that argues strongly for making disclosure happen.

The Committee to Save New York has revealed some of its backers and promised to register under the state's lobbying laws, which do require more disclosure. Kathryn Wylde from the business-related Partnership for New York City is a major player, as is Rob Speyer, a prominent real-estate executive.

The group was organized to help the governor fight for his forthcoming ultralean budget. When past governors have tried to cut the budget, especially in health care and education, union-backed groups have retaliated with television barrages, and, for many years, governors, both Republican and Democrat, have relented.

Mr. Cuomo is raising money to fight back and has said those donors will be identified as required by state law. That's fine, but as the purveyor of a new, transparent Albany, he should make certain that all groups — supporting him or opposing him — reveal their donors.






It has been an atmospheric 24 hours in New York City. The subway trains have been running fine. But when they tunneled into their stations on Tuesday, they seemed to be carrying their own fog with them.

The windows were misted over — impossible to say how crowded a car was until you stepped aboard. Then the reason for the mist became apparent. Nearly everyone had gone to work dressed like a woolly mammoth, ready for an arctic chill, but it was raining outside.

We huddled next to each other and vaporized together, the moisture rising from our garments and clouding the windows. All that was missing was a low-hanging brume in the cars themselves.

On a section of track under repair, the work lights glowed with a violet corona, refracted by the window fog. Passengers wiped the windows with their gloves to see out, and those of us wearing glasses wore them on the ends of our noses because they had fogged up as soon as we stepped aboard. All the bespectacled riders seemed to be gazing quizzically, donnishly around them, as if looking up from more serious work.

The day outside was just as misty. Cars left calligraphic tire marks in the slush on rooftop parking lots. The rain changed its mind to snow and sleet and back and forth again. The city's buildings — high and low — shed their accumulated snow, large clumps of which came plummeting down among the regular flakes like a Galilean experiment.

This sort of rain and fog would be biting in April, but in mid-January it felt almost warm.








IT is Friday, Jan. 14, in downtown Tunis. In the streets, we shout "No!" — a million tongues together against the dictatorial, 23-year-long government of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Tear gas, bullets and death fly above us. We are ambushed at the Barcelona metro station, one of the city's main transit hubs, and attacked with tear gas. I cover myself with a black scarf as I run toward Bourguiba Avenue, which tourists call the Tunisian Champs-Élysées. There, we are met with sticks and rifles.

Counting our every breath, we dodge bullets for many more blocks until we run into a wall of police officers in civilian clothing. They order us brusquely into a nearby metro station, pile us into trains and take up positions at each end.

An old man near me who had left his home to buy bread and got caught up in the demonstration is gasping. I tear my scarf in two and give him half. I would love to ask him what he thinks of the protests against the government, but everyone is struggling against the tear gas.

That night, the militias come out. In my apartment building, we hear bullets ringing overhead. My wife is shaking. Word of raids and rapes has begun to be broadcast on the radio and on the streets. She asks me, as she looks at our 18-month-old son, Haroun, playing and laughing to himself: "What will we do if they attack us? Please don't defend me; take care of Haroun."

I reply, "Be quiet, please, just be quiet."

She says, "I don't want Haroun to live if we're dead."

I go out to see if our neighbors and I can take shifts standing guard outside our building. I take a small kitchen knife and a metal rod. I ring my neighbors' bell. No answer; either they're not at home or they are panicked. I shout from the bottom of the building's staircase, "Neighbors, get down and let us prepare ourselves!" No answer.

I know that the building is half-empty and that its front gate is unlocked. Worse, on the top floor lives a man who I suspect is a member of a militia loyal to President Ben Ali's ruling party.

I return to our apartment. My wife says, "No one's there, of course." I try to calm her down, but Haroun is a rambunctious child and we can't explain a state of emergency to him. My brother, who is in the Tunisian Army, phones and asks me how we are doing, telling me that his wife is also besieged in the area where he is posted. My brother fails to reassure us.

Tunisian television is making me nervous. Another politician is announcing, slowly, that he is taking power, and he interrupts himself, saying, "By God Almighty, protect yourselves." A civilized nation is announcing its independence from keeping the peace.

I can't stay here and keep looking my wife in the eye; I'm panicking too. I once lived in violent Algeria, and decide to rely on my experience there. So I grab an ax, and kiss my wife on her forehead. I take my place on the building's steps, intoning, "Either kill or be killed." The night plods along, heavy, murderous.

I hear that the militias are driving around in requisitioned ambulances. They are transforming the vehicles from carriers of mercy to carriers of death. The country has suddenly become the setting for a Hollywood gangster movie, its peaceful, enlightened people the extras.

Shots ring out, and I hide behind a wall. The sounds of an army helicopter come from far away. I slip back into my apartment to see my wife's petrified, questioning face. Haroun is dancing joyfully.

I try to reassure her, telling her that I am all right and that the army is protecting us with its helicopters. Haroun comes up to me and shows me his toy, a small police car. He shocks me by saying, "Sheriff?" — referring to a character from the animated movie "Cars." I say, "Yes, yes, my son," and kiss him absentmindedly on his head. I wonder, is the era of the sheriff over?

I go back out to my sentry post and decide to take refuge in the Koran. But I forget the opening section, the Fatiha, with its prayers for God's guidance; I stumble over the lines, jumbling their order. I think of writing, and feel for my pencil in my coat pocket. I don't have any paper other than my address book, so I open it in the dark, wanting to write down anything.

Suddenly, bullets ricochet all around me. I flatten myself on the ground. I wait to hear the helicopter again before I return inside to reassure my family and recharge my energy with Haroun's enthusiasm. I think of myself as the protagonist of Paul Auster's "Man in the Dark," who describes his situation in this way: "I am alone in the dark, turning the world around in my head." I grab the iron rod to defend my home and my dream.

On Saturday morning we venture into the street to find our neighborhood filled with unfamiliar faces. The shopping center near my home has been looted. I go with my wife and son to a relative's house to coordinate our neighborhood security. With sticks and stones, we take control of the neighborhood. We spend that night shooing away strangers and strange cars. In the morning we roam the city looking for bread and milk for our children. There is no milk to be found. Gradually, city residents become used to the state of emergency and the curfew, and begin to enjoy the free time they now have, especially since they are able to speak freely, able to openly curse and ridicule Mr. Ben Ali and his corrupt family.

On Monday we are told that a new "unity" government has formed. When Tunisians see that some members of the old regime have been named to cabinet posts, there is a new wave of disturbances, and people start saying that the revolution has been stolen from them.

On Tuesday, young people again take to the streets, demanding the dissolution of Mr. Ben Ali's party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally party, which has ruled Tunisia since independence in 1956. Others argue that this risks being a repeat of the purges of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party in Iraq, which contributed to the insurgency there. While I agree that it may be impossible to dissolve the party without sending the country into chaos, I think we have no choice but to try.

There are also demonstrations at the offices of the largest opposition group over its complicity with the old regime in the new government. By the end of the day at least five ministers have stepped down, and nobody knows what will come next.

As for myself, I feel an overwhelming happiness that I will now be able to write freely. A year and a half ago, one of my novels, which describes life under oppression, was performed as a play at a cultural center here. Those of us involved were monitored constantly by the police; none of the journalists in attendance wrote reviews.

That is why I support the revolution and, like so many of the young people, worry that it will be stolen from us by the traitors, thieves and killers who have ruled us for far too long.

Kamel Riahi is a novelist. This article was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic. Maureen Dowd is off today. Thomas L. Friedman is on book leave.









With the first U.S.-China summit in 14 months underway in Washington, here's something to think about: As China rises, the United States' two-decade reign as the world's only superpower is slowly coming to an end.


That is not necessarily something to fear. But the form the transition takes will decide whether the two nations become peaceful competitors or, more ominously, opponents in a new Cold War.


Either way, the transition is inevitable. At current growth rates, China will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy sometime in the 2020s. What no one knows is whether the energetic upstart will evolve into a responsible world leader, or instead will continue the self-absorbed nationalism that has fueled its extraordinary growth.


Abandoning practices that have lifted millions out of poverty and vastly enhanced China's power is not exactly a natural thing to do, which helps explain the tensions President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, are discussing today.


Atop the list are China's self-serving economic practices. China artificially depresses its currency to make goods more competitive on world markets, throws up barriers to U.S. businesses seeking to operate there and tolerates — even encourages — theft of intellectual property. All three increase U.S. joblessness. But from the Chinese perspective, they lift living standards and add social stability.


What's needed is gradual rebalancing of the currencies, which is happening already because of Chinese inflation, coupled with measures to create a Chinese consumer economy open to foreign competition. That would benefit all but won't come naturally.


A mix of friction and common interest can be seen on other issues as well.


China resists U.S. pressure to crack down hard on its reckless neighbor, North Korea, because the two countries have a long-standing relationship, because it fears a flood of immigration, and because it is uncomfortable with the prospect of a reunified Korea. But it also can't be entirely comfortable with a belligerent, nuclear armed neighbor that can destabilize its region.


Similarly, China is reluctant to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear program because it wants Iran's natural resources, but it grudgingly agreed to limited sanctions after being convinced that a nuclear threat in the Middle East posed a national threat.


Disagreement over human rights has a sharper edge, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently has been honing. Surely, the oddest contrast of the summit will be past Nobel Peace prize winner Obama standing beside Hu, who is imprisoning the most recent winner.


In human rights and other areas, the U.S. should prod China to fulfill its obligations. What it must not do is fall into the trap of making China an enemy.


The outlines of potential superpower conflict are already emerging. China's military is growing rapidly, and because it has its own funding sources, it's not necessarily under Hu's control. He appeared visibly surprised last week when the military tested a new stealth fighter while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was visiting.


This will stir defense contractors and politicians hungry for an enemy to arm up in response. But U.S. military spending is still five times China's. What's needed, instead, is something else, and that "something" is fully under American control. To compete, the U.S. must get its own house in order.


Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen recently said that the greatest threat to the nation's security is its exploding national debt. Paying interest on the debt, which already costs $250 billion a year, drains money that will be need for other purposes. And we're paying much of that money to China, our biggest creditor.


China, meanwhile, is running a massive budget surplus, and with foresight that seems to utterly elude American policymakers, it is using the money to acquire the world's increasingly scarce national resources, develop an alternative energy industry and improve education. China's smart moves only highlight the foolishness of our own inaction.


Regardless of the summit's outcome, whether China's rise harms us or helps us is far more in our hands than in Beijing's.







the Los Angeles Times: "China has 700 million very poor people. By 2050, it will have 400 million very old people. It will 'get old before it gets rich,' as conservative writer Mark Steyn likes to say. The country is shot through with corruption, bogus accounting practices that make subprime mortgage bundles look like gold bullion, and a political elite that remains terrified of democracy. A confident government doesn't banish its Nobel Peace Prize winners. Even with its copycat stealth fighter, China is certainly less of a military threat to the United States than the Soviet Union was. It's more of an economic challenger, but that's a good problem to have, right? Currency wars are better than nuclear ones. The most important point is that China's rise doesn't reflect some grand failure of American foreign policy but its success. Drawing China into the global economic and political system has been a bipartisan foreign policy goal for generations."

Evan Osnos, blog, The New Yorker: "How times have changed. As Chinese President Hu Jintao prepares to visit Washington for a summit that is being hailed as the most crucial in years, the focus is not on how much authority the Chinese leader brings, but on how little. In 1979, China was weak and impoverished, and its leader was strong. ... Today, China's national strength is beyond dispute, and its leader is a colorless figure. China has become a dictatorship without a dictator."


David Leonhardt, column, The New York Times: "For the United States, the No. 1 problem with China's economy is probably intellectual property theft. Technology companies, for example, continue to notice Chinese government agencies downloading software updates for programs they have never bought, at least not legally. ... The best hope for getting another country's leaders to do anything is to persuade them that it's in their interest. That task is not so easy with trade barriers, because every time an American company is kept from making a sale in China, a Chinese company presumably benefits. It makes the sale instead or, in the case of piracy, it saves money that it would have spent on the authentic product. ... Both Republicans and Democrats can use Hu's visit to emphasize — to him and to the many Chinese citizens who will be following — just how frustrated many Americans are with the economy's woes."


Ann McFeatters, column, Scripps Howard News Service: "Dealing with China is difficult. The reason all this is crucial is that China is the world's next economic and military superpower. Despite China's resistance to buying our goods, letting our companies operate freely and propensity for job stealing, it is still the third-largest importer of U.S. goods. We need more Chinese investments. The United States needs China to help bolster its most vital foreign policy objectives, such as keeping Iran non-nuclear and North Korea in check, especially because there is a real possibility it will soon have intercontinental ballistic missiles. But for all the effort we put into understanding China and its goals, ambitions and culture, we still don't 'get' them."


The Kansas City Star, editorial: "For years, China's leaders have emphasized that their goal is to engineer their country's 'peaceful rise' from the impoverished peasant society of two generations ago to a prosperous, confident global power. But in recent months, China's image has gone from smile to snarl, and President Hu arrives in Washington at a low point in the relationship. The trouble is, that relationship has never been well defined. Our two countries occupy an ambiguous realm in which we are neither allies nor adversaries. Hu and President Obama must try to chart a course toward a more stable foundation. ... China has spent the last year squandering the tremendous image boost it got from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which showcased a country rapidly transcending the poverty and isolation of its past. In their summit, Hu and Obama can only make incremental progress in the broad relationship, but it's possible for the two to strike the right notes and establish a new tone."








SAN DIEGO — Many Americans see Mexico as a dysfunctional family in the neighborhood. With the start of a new year, and a new Congress, President Obama needs to persuade the American people to see Mexico in a different light — as one of the most explosive countries in the region capable of creating a major foreign policy crisis for the U.S. There's no better time to start than with Obama's upcoming State of the Union address.


Thanks to Mexico's narco nightmare, our backyard is on fire. According to figures recently released by Mexican Attorney General Arturo Chavez, the number of deaths in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon took office four years ago has surpassed 30,000.


You can chalk up a few of those killings to a notorious drug cartel hit man who has admitted to beheading his victims — even though he isn't old enough to shave. A few weeks ago, the Mexican army captured the pint-sized Edgar Jimenez Lugo, aka "El Ponchis." In a country where men are lucky to make $6 a day in honest wages, the 14-year-old was paid $200 a week by a cartel. El Ponchis has been what the Mexican news media are calling a "child assassin" since he was 11. And authorities say El Ponchis is one of ours, born in San Diego.


Cartels on the run?


Some say the chaos proves that Calderon has the cartels on the run. Recently, Mexican authorities announced that the once-feared La Familia drug cartel, which has long dominated the western state of Michoacan, has been "completely dismembered" and that its factions have been reduced to committing robberies to survive.


Just don't try telling the people of Mexico that the government is winning the war. Many are looking for an exit — or a truce. Several months ago, the staff of El Diario de Juarez, the largest newspaper in Ciudad Juarez, gave into their fear of becoming cannon fodder. So the newspaper published an editorial asking the drug cartels to "explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish."


Most Americans have a limited perspective on Mexico's crisis. They only worry about the potential for spillover violence. They want Mexico to stay in Mexico.


Too late. Mexico is already here.


According to U.S. officials, Mexican drug cartels operate in more than a dozen states. They're suspected of being involved in kidnappings, robberies and murders on U.S. soil. If Mexico spirals out of control and cartels continue to take over whole cities, as they did recently in Monterrey, the damage won't be limited to Mexico or to states along the border. It will be a full-blown international crisis that impacts the lives of all Americans.


It's time that the Obama administration stopped ignoring the fire, grabbed a hose and helped put out the flames. Our neighbors have had enough of those photo-ops where visiting U.S. officials offer lofty rhetoric about how Mexico and the U.S. are "partners" in this conflict. The Mexicans don't need a silent partner. They need an active collaborator who is motivated not by charity but by an honest recognition of its own self-interest.


On this side of the border, President Obama must:


•Deploy the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, not to combat illegal immigration as George W. Bush did but to help secure the area and ward off drug violence.


•Reboot and refocus the stale war on drugs with a new emphasis on curbing Americans' consumption that includes instructing the Justice Department to push for stiffer penalties for casual users of marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs.


•Reverse a dangerous and wrongheaded administration policy, recently detailed by The Washington Post, of not requiring gun dealers on the border to report bulk sales of high-powered semiautomatic rifles — the guns of choice for drug dealers.


•Start discussing the drug war in Mexico, with the American people, as a potential national security threat. What's going on in Mexico is not just limited to Mexico. Already, the Mexican drug cartels are spreading their operations and power into neighboring countries, such as Guatemala, Peru and Colombia.


How to help Mexico


With regard to Mexico, Obama should:


•Provide additional U.S. military advisers to train the Mexican army in counterinsurgency tactics and the taking down of drug lords.


•Ride herd on the $1.6 billion over three years that Congress provided to the Mexican government in the Merida Initiative but which has been slow to arrive, and make sure every dime gets to Mexico where it can be used to fight the cartels.


•Be prepared to hand over whatever other kind of support Calderon requires to quash the insurgency, including U.S. troops if necessary.


•Dole out some tough love to our neighbors by making the case to Mexican officials — whether they want to hear it or not — that their situation does indeed compare with Colombia 20 years ago but that they can learn valuable lessons from it.


U.S. leaders have been much too timid in dealing with this crisis. That has to stop. After all, Americans are subsidizing this war. We buy the drugs that keep the cartels in business, and we provide the guns that keep the drug traffickers armed to the teeth. This is our baby, and it's time we owned up to it.


Ruben Navarrette Jr., a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors, is a syndicated columnist and a commentator for National Public Radio.








SAN DIEGO — Many Americans see Mexico as a dysfunctional family in the neighborhood. With the start of a new year, and a new Congress, President Obama needs to persuade the American people to see Mexico in a different light — as one of the most explosive countries in the region capable of creating a major foreign policy crisis for the U.S. There's no better time to start than with Obama's upcoming State of the Union address.


Thanks to Mexico's narco nightmare, our backyard is on fire. According to figures recently released by Mexican Attorney General Arturo Chavez, the number of deaths in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon took office four years ago has surpassed 30,000.


You can chalk up a few of those killings to a notorious drug cartel hit man who has admitted to beheading his victims — even though he isn't old enough to shave. A few weeks ago, the Mexican army captured the pint-sized Edgar Jimenez Lugo, aka "El Ponchis." In a country where men are lucky to make $6 a day in honest wages, the 14-year-old was paid $200 a week by a cartel. El Ponchis has been what the Mexican news media are calling a "child assassin" since he was 11. And authorities say El Ponchis is one of ours, born in San Diego.


Cartels on the run?


Some say the chaos proves that Calderon has the cartels on the run. Recently, Mexican authorities announced that the once-feared La Familia drug cartel, which has long dominated the western state of Michoacan, has been "completely dismembered" and that its factions have been reduced to committing robberies to survive.


Just don't try telling the people of Mexico that the government is winning the war. Many are looking for an exit — or a truce. Several months ago, the staff of El Diario de Juarez, the largest newspaper in Ciudad Juarez, gave into their fear of becoming cannon fodder. So the newspaper published an editorial asking the drug cartels to "explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish."


Most Americans have a limited perspective on Mexico's crisis. They only worry about the potential for spillover violence. They want Mexico to stay in Mexico.


Too late. Mexico is already here.


According to U.S. officials, Mexican drug cartels operate in more than a dozen states. They're suspected of being involved in kidnappings, robberies and murders on U.S. soil. If Mexico spirals out of control and cartels continue to take over whole cities, as they did recently in Monterrey, the damage won't be limited to Mexico or to states along the border. It will be a full-blown international crisis that impacts the lives of all Americans.


It's time that the Obama administration stopped ignoring the fire, grabbed a hose and helped put out the flames. Our neighbors have had enough of those photo-ops where visiting U.S. officials offer lofty rhetoric about how Mexico and the U.S. are "partners" in this conflict. The Mexicans don't need a silent partner. They need an active collaborator who is motivated not by charity but by an honest recognition of its own self-interest.


On this side of the border, President Obama must:


•Deploy the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, not to combat illegal immigration as George W. Bush did but to help secure the area and ward off drug violence.


•Reboot and refocus the stale war on drugs with a new emphasis on curbing Americans' consumption that includes instructing the Justice Department to push for stiffer penalties for casual users of marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs.


•Reverse a dangerous and wrongheaded administration policy, recently detailed by The Washington Post, of not requiring gun dealers on the border to report bulk sales of high-powered semiautomatic rifles — the guns of choice for drug dealers.


•Start discussing the drug war in Mexico, with the American people, as a potential national security threat. What's going on in Mexico is not just limited to Mexico. Already, the Mexican drug cartels are spreading their operations and power into neighboring countries, such as Guatemala, Peru and Colombia.


How to help Mexico


With regard to Mexico, Obama should:


•Provide additional U.S. military advisers to train the Mexican army in counterinsurgency tactics and the taking down of drug lords.


•Ride herd on the $1.6 billion over three years that Congress provided to the Mexican government in the Merida Initiative but which has been slow to arrive, and make sure every dime gets to Mexico where it can be used to fight the cartels.


•Be prepared to hand over whatever other kind of support Calderon requires to quash the insurgency, including U.S. troops if necessary.


•Dole out some tough love to our neighbors by making the case to Mexican officials — whether they want to hear it or not — that their situation does indeed compare with Colombia 20 years ago but that they can learn valuable lessons from it.


U.S. leaders have been much too timid in dealing with this crisis. That has to stop. After all, Americans are subsidizing this war. We buy the drugs that keep the cartels in business, and we provide the guns that keep the drug traffickers armed to the teeth. This is our baby, and it's time we owned up to it.


Ruben Navarrette Jr., a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors, is a syndicated columnist and a commentator for National Public Radio.








The relations of the United States and Communist China unfortunately are not very good.


China was an ally of the United States in World War II. But Communists took control of the huge nation — and fought against the United States in the bitter Korean War, which ended in stalemate in 1953.


Today, Communist China is a large land with more than 1.3 billion people, roughly four times as many people as there are in the United States. Its economy is second in size only to America's. But China's government represses its people's religious liberty and other freedoms. And alarmingly, China "owns" $900 billion of U.S. debt.


So it is interesting that Communist China's President Hu Jintao will be a guest of U.S. President Barack Obama at a black-tie state dinner in the White House tonight. President George W. Bush had denied that honor to the authoritarian Chinese leader in 2006.


Hu has ruled China since 2002.


What will the presidents talk about? There will be diplomatic "small talk," with elaborate and very cautious courtesy. Protocol and careful efforts to avoid perceived slight surely will be on the minds of all who sit around the table. We doubt that any of the diners will have what might be called a relaxed and "really good time."


This will be a very "stiff" event in international diplomacy involving two extremely important nations.







You can now add Georgia to the long list of states that are challenging the constitutionality of the ObamaCare socialized medicine law that Democrats in Congress passed in early 2010.


Georgia's new attorney general, Republican Sam Olens, said he will have Georgia added to the nearly two dozen states that have already filed suit against ObamaCare. Four other states also are seeking to join the lawsuit, and Virginia has filed suit separately. (Tennessee has not sued.)


The legal measures against ObamaCare are a reflection of the broad public unpopularity of the medical "reform." Polls show sharp dislike of ObamaCare.


Georgia's former Democrat attorney general, Thurbert Baker, had refused to make the state part of the legal challenge. Outgoing Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue had sought to have the state become part of the lawsuit anyway, by appointing a special attorney for that purpose. But the incoming attorney general's willingness to join the suit means the effort "will have the full weight of the state behind it," Olens said.


The states contend — correctly — that ObamaCare is an unconstitutional encroachment in that it forces practically everyone to purchase medical insurance and forces the states to expand their Medicaid programs. We see no granting of any such power to Washington by the Constitution, which is clear about the limited powers that are delegated to the federal government.


Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose state is also joining the lawsuit, declared: "Never before has the federal government passed a law requiring somebody to buy something just by virtue of their existence. This is unprecedented. If they can regulate that, they can regulate anything."


We would prefer that ObamaCare be repealed by Congress rather than be struck down by the courts. But given Democrats' control of the U.S. Senate and the president's certain veto of any anti-ObamaCare effort, repeal is far from likely. So we hope the Supreme Court ultimately will correctly rule that ObamaCare is unconstitutional.







After Illinois lawmakers recently voted to raise the state's personal income tax rate by 67 percent and the business income tax rate by 46 percent, some states that border Illinois began celebrating.


Why? Well, it's simple. Those surrounding states understand a basic law of economics: that the more you tax something, the less you get of it. Therefore, they are preparing for a likely influx of businesses that will relocate their headquarters and jobs outside Illinois to avoid rising taxes.


Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose state's tax rate is far lower than that of Illinois, likened Illinois to a "dysfunctional family down the block," The Associated Press reported.


A Republican state senator in Illinois called the massive tax hikes "the nuclear bomb of jobs bills."


And even Chicago Democrat Mayor Richard Daley warned residents of his state to get ready to say goodbye to lots of jobs. It will happen quietly, with little fanfare, he noted, because "Businesses don't have press conferences like this and announce they're moving 50 people out, 60 people out, 70 people."


But jobs will leave as taxes rise.


That may be good news for neighboring states whose reasonable tax structures will attract businesses and workers, but it is awful news for the people of Illinois. They have our sympathy.

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For years, critics have demanded the closing of the U.S.-run terrorist-detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They say the admitted and likely terrorists there should be tried in U.S. civilian courts, with the due-process rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens by our Constitution. Or, they say, the detainees should be turned over to other nations.


But there are excellent reasons why the terrorists should remain at "Gitmo" and face military tribunals.


First, they were captured as non-uniformed enemy combatants overseas. As such, they are not entitled to full U.S. constitutional protections.


Second, many of the detainees who have been removed from Gitmo have engaged in terrorism afterward.


The office of the Director of National Intelligence has reviewed the cases of nearly 600 Gitmo detainees who were transferred out of the facility and handed over to other nations. More than 25 percent of them are "confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities," the office reported in its latest assessment. Most of the released detainees are "confirmed" as having committed such acts, rather than merely "suspected" of doing so.


The offenses are far more numerous than earlier estimates under both the Bush and Obama administrations. The Obama administration previously boasted that none of the detainees it released had returned to terrorism, but later reports refuted that claim.


For example, "[I]ntelligence officials confirmed that Abdul Hafiz, a former Gitmo detainee who was transferred to Afghanistan in December 2009, ... returned to terrorism," The Weekly Standard noted. "Hafiz is currently a Taliban commander who hunts charity workers in Afghanistan. Hafiz was held at Gitmo because he was implicated in the murder of a Red Cross worker."


What's worse, we do not know how many other former Gitmo prisoners have committed terrorist acts without being detected. So the real "recidivism" rate may well be far higher than 25 percent.


The fact is, we can't know which detainees would return to terrorism.


The president continues to insist on bringing the detainees to civilian courts. But Gitmo should stay open as long as necessary, and detainees should be freed only if they are cleared by military tribunals.


Gitmo is not perfect, but its critics offer no good alternative that can safeguard U.S. national security.







Generals may always fight the last war. Journalists may always be writing for the next publication at which they hope to work. But political analysts tend to work in time-neutral templates, explaining seminal political events into eternity through their own templates: dialectics, civilization clashes, economic or even psychological determinism.

So we'll step back from Tunisia's still unfolding "Jasmine Revolution" and let others place it in the larger context of the "Arab street," France's "post-colonial legacy" or the waning age of secularist strongmen. Others are and others will, surely for a long time to come.

We do, however, think there is one over-arching lesson for leaders anywhere and everywhere. This is that their power is greatly constrained by the free flow of information (which most already know) and that we now live in an age when there is not much they can do about it (which most are just beginning to realize.)

For the forces that swept the fossilized Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from his perch atop Tunisia, however one defines them, were amplified, accelerated and ultimately charged by the rise of new forms of media.

For starters it is clear it was U.S. State Department cables, bandied about the world and included in that first round of data dumps, which played a role in exposing the sybaritic excess and lavish lifestyle of the Ben Ali clan. It was this that turned not just the unemployed but also the Tunisian petit bourgeoisie into the streets.

The iconic figure in the tumult will always be Mohamed Bouazizi, the unemployed 26-year-old Tunisian whose self-immolation sparked the riots. His act, his hospitalization and his painful death were all chronicled on Facebook and have been followed by copycats throughout the region.

In one follow-up just days ago in Mauritania, a desert nation in West Africa, a man named Yacoub Dahoud set himself on fire outside the presidential palace in Mauritania. He left behind a message on Facebook hailing Bouazizi and stating, "We will never forget you" along with a Facebook group called "Stop the corruption and tyranny in Mauritania."

Top this with Twitter, mobile phones and old-fashioned e-mail. Add in the role of the credible and capable Arabic language reporting of the network Al Jazeera, which has been streaming the entire narrative of revolt into living rooms and coffeehouses from Casablanca to Cairo to Karbala.

Transparency is now the central imperative of leadership. Presidents and prime ministers cannot sue, jail or cajole their way to legitimacy. They cannot create and control partisan media. They can't say one thing in Brussels, another in Bitlis and expect to get away with it. The walls that once surrounded secrecy, oppression and corruption have collapsed. We hope leaders everywhere, Turkey included, take notice of this shift in the basic contract of governance. The public certainly has.







It is not usual for a diplomat to publish his "memoirs" while still on active duty. Yet Marc Pierini, the European Commission's envoy to Ankara, has made an exception by publishing not one but two books about his postings in Brussels and Washington as well as Rabat, Damas Tunis, Tripoli and Ankara where he served as ambassador. His latest book, published last September is called "Diplomatic telegrams."

His descriptions of the political leaders he comes across bears obviously no similarity at all to those of his American colleagues revealed by the WikiLeaks cables. Ironically, his analysis of American diplomats, whom he was able to observe closely when he was posted to Washington in 1982, gives us a hint about American diplomats interest in "personal characteristics."

Working with the state department is first of all a lesson of organization, he writes. "Every foreign diplomat is known, treated with close interest by his interlocutors who learn everything about his private life which can be of use, even to the names of his wife and son. They memorize it to the point of perfection. Ah, the memory of American diplomats!"

I doubt if Pierini knew the "colorful" descriptions American diplomats used to describe political figures in their cables, but I have a sense he was not that surprised when he read some of them thanks to WikiLeaks. By the way his memory is quiet impressive as well, since he names almost all close associates in his nearly 30 years of work for the European Commission!

Supporting authoritarian regimes for the sake of fighting terror

What reminded me of Pierini's book was an article I read in the International Herald Tribune about France's stance toward the latest developments in Tunis. "Since 2000, people saw the Tunisian regime closing itself into a semi-dictatorship, but we did not react," quotes the article Jacques Lanxade, France's former ambassador to Tunis in the late 1990s. "We continued public support of this regime because of economic interests, because we thought Ben Ali had a role in fighting Islamists," he said.

The tendency of the whole Western world to support authoritarian regimes in order to avoid them being replaced by Islamists, and thus ignoring their oppression instead of pushing for more liberalization, is a recurrent theme in Pierini's book.

As he dedicated an important part of his career to North-South relations and improving the EU's relations with countries of the Mediterranean basin, he explains how the timid liberalization efforts of the so-called Barcelona Process first ran into objection from the current regimes and then became a victim of the al-Qaeda terrorism.

The postulate at the core of the Barcelona Process, which was initiated in 1995, that economic liberalization was in time going to bring political liberalization as well as good governance was mistaken, argues Pierini. At the time, pro-Western administrations in government in the Middle East were already engaged in a ferocious battle with Islamist movements. Experience in the late 1980s and early 1990s showed that when democracy is applied, the result is the denial of current regimes and progress for Islamists. "Moderate Islamists? That does not exist. Can anyone speak of moderate Nazis?" a Tunisian official asked him.

That's why the democratic options of the Barcelona Process were badly looked upon by the Arab regimes in place. Then came the attacks of Sept. 11 that resulted in a change in priorities for Western governments toward leaning more on anti-terrorism, which Pierini says has had adverse consequences on the Barcelona Process.

Under the Jasmine

In the chapter called "Under the Jasmine," Pierini explains how international conjuncture helped sustain an oppressive regime that is now about to be toppled by the so-called Jasmine revolution (!).

In his first ever encounter with the foreign minister of Tunisia, when Pierini was sent as ambassador in 2002, Habib Ben Yahia didn't waste any time telling him that the Eurocrat should not deal too much with human rights. Yet it is precisely because of this "hyper" sensitivity on human rights that Pierini would come nearly to the point of being declared a persona non grata. Tunisian authorities would have liked for him to leave the country after saying in a television interview that EU-financed projects on governance do not advance as quickly as economic projects.

It is thanks to the firm stance of the EU that Pierini will continue to stay in Tunis until the end of his term, yet Europe's sensitivity on human rights issues is rather limited as democratic reforms are sacrificed to security concerns. Pierini explains how Khaled Cheikh Mohammed, the brains behind the Sept. 11 attacks, was apprehended in Pakistan thanks to the cooperation of Tunisia.  "We can imagine why Western countries have preferred to maintain a close security dialogue with Tunisia and became less concerned with the human rights questions," he writes.

"The Arab regimes best disposed to evolving have turned, with the support of their European and American interlocutors, toward anti-terrorist policies, using sometimes a very extensive definition of terrorism in order to control better their opponents," he added.

"France has misread Tunisia for years," the former French ambassador Lanxade told the International Herald Tribune.

I wonder, was France misreading or simply avoiding the reality since it did not suit its interests at the time?







In the past few weeks, the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and particularly Prime Minister Erdoğan have managed to alienate many liberal intellectuals who have been supportive of their cause.

This took place via a series of reckless statements. First, on the Kurdish issue, Erdoğan made a speech emphasizing the "oneness" of Turkey, neglecting the demands for political decentralization and more freedom for the Kurdish language. Then he bashed a statue in Kars – the "Monument to Humanity" – and called for its removal. His party released a confusing package of regulations on alcohol, and Erdoğan, while trying to say that his party respects all ways of life, spoke about drinkers in a way that sounded offensive to many. He also sued Ahmet Altan, the editor-in-chief of the liberal daily Taraf, which has been supportive of many of AKP's policies, for "insulting" him in his column.

Great disappointments

Meanwhile, AKP Minister Faruk Çelik made a quite illiberal remark on the Alevi issue. He said granting the status of "house of worship" to Alevi cemevis would be against "the revolutionary laws," the laws imposed by Atatürk, which was a surprising thing for an AKP minister to say.

In other words, these days, the AKP looks both much less reformist than it used to be, and it sounds much less tolerant than it once was.

As disappointing as this is, it is also a bit understandable. This party has been in power for more than eight years, and it simply got tired of managing a very challenging country. Besides, since it is very likely to win the next elections decisively, it doesn't feel the need to revise and renew itself.

Yet this is not the only explanation for the AKP's recent tone. Instead of feeling all too secure about the upcoming elections in June, some commentators say, the AKP actually is very much focused on increasing its votes. And the whole retreat from liberal positions, they add, is in fact a plan to maximize the AKP's support in the conservative camp.

This might be true, for most of the AKP's liberal reforms did not sell well in the Turkish society. The "Kurdish opening" has certainly been appreciated by many Kurds, but it has disturbed the majority of Turks, which constitute the majority of society. The effort to mend ties with Armenia was appreciated by liberal circles and Western capitals, but not by the public, which believed that Armenia must de-occupy Azerbaijani territories first. And the "Alevi opening" did not grant any political capital to the AKP: Alevis remained quintessentially pro-CHP, whereas the Sunni majority remained uninterested, if not disturbed.

That's why some believe that the AKP is acting in line with the prejudices of its conservative base these days. A parallel theory is that Erdoğan wants to get the votes of Turkish nationalists, minimizing the base of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. If this really happens, the MHP will not be able to pass the 10 percent national electoral threshold, and thus not be able to enter Parliament. And the AKP's election victory will be greater than ever.

An election strategy?

In fact, some pro-AKP commentators write openly about this strategy, and defend it as helpful not just for the party but also the whole country. The AKP's next big mission, they say, is to draft a new constitution that will be in line with the EU's criteria for liberal democracy. The AKP needs a huge victory next June, they add, to realize this goal. And the liberals, their story goes, should be patient with the AKP's current rhetoric, which will give the party the power to move forward decisively.

I don't buy that argument, though. First of all, I don't think the AKP's illiberal steps come solely from a deliberate election strategy. Erdoğan's temper is a real problem, as well as the not-so-liberal attitudes in the party's leadership and rank-and-file.

Secondly, even if the current rhetoric of the party is a deliberate election strategy to win nationalist votes, then, as liberal pundit Gülay Göktürk rightly pointed out, this is a dishonest strategy. A party is not supposed to give a different image of what it is going to do once it wins the next elections.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I dispute the presumption that the future of Turkish democracy will be secured by maximizing the AKP's power. Granted, this has been the most reformist party in decades, and we still don't seem to have a better option than keeping it power. But power is a corrupting force, and too much of it has never helped anyone.

Besides, the drafting of a new constitution might necessitate a powerful political actor such as a victorious AKP, but it will also need consensus among various political factions. In other words, the AKP's capability to reconcile with the pro-CHP (Kemalist) Turks and the pro-PKK Kurds will be more important than the extra votes it will collect.

That's why we need a calmer Erdoğan and a more levelheaded AKP. Whether we will see them will be one of the crucial questions of the months to come.







In a span of a week, Turkey's socio-political landscape featured the following examples of social engineering:

First, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on Israel to remove its foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who Mr. Erdoğan says poses an obstacle to Middle East peace. Mr. Lieberman is probably not the most qualified man for peace anywhere in the world, but he, like Mr. Erdoğan, is a democratically-elected politician. Mr. Erdoğan thinks it would be most appropriate if Mr. Lieberman were to be removed, but that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and the Hamas chaps stay in power – for peace!

Second, Turkey's Justice and Development Party, or AKP-controlled, broadcast watchdog, RTÜK, has warned a television station "for not showing the necessary sensitivity toward the privacy of historical figures." The airing of a soap featuring Süleyman the Magnificient could be halted for up to 12 different infractions if the channel does not comply.

Third, an apparently AKP-inspired school headmaster warned male and female students not to get physically closer than 45 cm to each other.

Fourth, Mr. Erdoğan has ordered a peace monument in Kars to be torn down because "it shadowed a mosque and the shrine of one of the leading Islamic figures of the 11th century." He called the Turkish-Armenian friendship monument near the Turkish-Armenian border "freakish."

Fifth, and in response to criticism for stricter alcohol bans, Mr. Erdoğan said that in Turkey "people could still drink spirits until they cough them out."

Sixth, a stadium full of Galatasaray fans whistled and booed in protest of Mr. Erdoğan, the guest of honor at the inauguration of their new ground. The football club's president pledged to hunt down the protestors and ban them from matches.

Seventh, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç praised the government's economic policy by saying that "our national currency is, God be praised, far from the days when it was worth less than the currencies of African cannibals."

Eighth, and finally, the Washington-based human rights organization Freedom House tagged Turkey as "a partly free country."

By the way, between 2003 and 2008, the household consumption of alcohol in Turkey fell 34 percent, according to a study released in November by the Betam research center at Istanbul's Bahçeşehir University ("Alcohol Hits Nerve in Turkey," Wall Street Journal, Jan. 15, 2011). Another survey, released in 2009, supported by the Open Society Institute, found that around 300,000 households in Turkey stopped consuming alcohol between 2003 and 2008 "mainly due to social pressure."

But in defense of the new alcohol bans, Mr. Erdoğan accused the drinkers of causing deaths in traffic accidents. Why would a prime minister present facts falsely? There may be a hundred reasons, but usually politicians twist facts when they wanted to hide a motive. Sometimes they excel at twisting facts, sometimes they look like they are hiding behind their own finger. Mr. Erdoğan's pretext to fight the wine glass looks like a failure.

According to the Interior Ministry's statistics, drunk-driving in 2010 was the 11th leading cause of road accidents. Other deaths? About 3 percent of Turks die of alcohol-related reasons. International statistics do not support Mr. Erdoğan's argument either. Turkey, boasting about one-tenth of Europe's per capita alcohol consumption, prides itself on Europe's highest death toll from road accidents. 

In a public speech, Mr. Erdoğan said his government has not in any way interfered with people's choice in their private lives. To support that view, the prime minister said that in (EU candidate) Turkey "men and women were still able to travel in the same buses, women could still wear mini skirts and drinkers could drink until they cough it out." And he wraps up his arguments with an emphasis on his party's ideology, which he summarizes as "Muslim democrat."

The heart of the matter is hidden in the mystery around the term Mr. Erdoğan invented –obviously inspired by Europe's Christian Democrats – in order to defend his faith-based governance from liberal criticism. He is wholeheartedly sincere when he thinks he is a (Muslim) democrat!

If he chose the term "democrat/democracy" instead of "Muslim democrat/Muslim democracy" he would not have been able to defend what this column summarized in a few lines. In democracies, there is no place to say any one of the things there were listed above in headings one through to eight. But, yes, in Muslim democracies "these incidents" are/should be considered "facts of life." They have nothing to do with autocracy or interfering in people's private lives; they are just facts of life in a "Muslim democracy."

I believe that Mr. Erdoğan was also absolutely sincere when he defended his understanding of democracy with the fact that men and women could still travel in the same bus, drinkers could still drink until they cough it out or women could still wear mini skirts. In his understanding, these are indications of his "tolerance" to the other, and the fact that his government still allowed "those sins" amounts to democracy.

He, in this role, is the benevolent Muslim democrat who tolerates even women and men traveling in the same bus. And naturally, he wholeheartedly believes he is being treated unfairly when the sinners accuse him of undemocratic rule. His anger during public speeches is not fake. He is angry because the sinners don't appreciate his favors – that, for instance, there is not yet an altogether ban on alcohol consumption. Hence his humiliatory tone when he refers to drinkers: until they cough it out!

In democracies the right to sin is respected and must be vigorously safeguarded by the state. In Muslim democracies it is/must not. Simply because "Muslim democracy" is different than "democracy." Otherwise it would simply have been called democracy.  







It has been four years since Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was murdered. Those who are indirectly responsible for the greatest scandal in the history of the Turkish police have not been punished yet.

If it hadn't been for journalists like Nedim Şener the public wouldn't have noticed. And within these four years it has become clear that Dink was the victim of a murder resulting from intended and blind neglect.

The public knows the truth now:

- It was known that a murder was about to happen but "security" did not or could not provide protection because Hrant was of Armenian origin.

- Pre-murder preparations were either consciously or blindly ignored.

- Intelligence either intentionally or insensitively neglected its duty.

Result: Dink was killed because of the carelessness of the Turkish Republic. All authority carrying this responsibility has probably been rewarded instead of being called to account.

This attitude continues. The Interior Ministry does not do what is necessary. The Dink file is not being activated. It must be that they fear the criminals would harm the state if they speak up. But questions in public should not be left unanswered.

The Turkish people should not be living with such a shame. The responsible should be punished.

Expectations in respect to Hizbullah

We have really messed up the issue of Hizbullah, a group that has no known links to its Lebanese namesake. I am not after blaming anyone or finding the responsible. It is apparent anyway.

I'd like to take a look at what will happen from now on.

Released on their own recognizance, Hizbullah members have disappeared without a trace. Many intelligence services like the MİT have announced that members of the Hizbullah have escaped to Iran, which have made all eyes turn to Tehran.

The public expects the Hizbullah team to be captured and delivered to Ankara.

I'm sure that Iranian authorities say, "How are we to know?" But I have no doubt that Tehran will want to ease the government with which they have a close relationship and which embraces Iran. Iran wouldn't want to protect or watch after Hizbullah.

It knows that this organization is harshly criticized in the Turkish public and especially by the ruling party. In the light of above, it'll do whatever it can to help.

Will they be able to meet expectations and find members of the Hizbullah?

We'll soon see.


We are facing a great reality.

Last Thursday I invited the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges, or TOBB, President Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, who explained the BECERİ project.

Let me briefly explain.

Young applicants are educated according to their skills and sent to companies that work in the respective field. If the young person shows success then she or he is employed by that company.

Some 200,000 young people will be selected each year and 1 million young people will be recruited within five years.

Do you know what happened after Hisarcıklıoğlu talked about it last Thursday?

Some 945,000 young people flooded TOBB's website, collapsing the site, and only 240,000 people have been able to apply successfully.

Please note, I'm talking about 1 million young people.

This is a crazy number.

What is this number supposed to mean?

The problem is neither Hizbullah nor the Galatasaray protest nor the alcohol regulation.

The most important issue for our people is unemployment.

This endeavor started by TOBB is one of the most popular and favorite projects.

You'll remember the prime minister saying, "If each member of TOBB would find employment for one unemployed person then a total of 1 million people would find a job," and that is how it all started. This is probably Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu's most successful endeavor that TOBB can proudly present.

This is what's called producing jobs not words.







In a span of a week, Turkey's socio-political landscape featured the following examples of social engineering:

First, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on Israel to remove its foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who Mr. Erdoğan says poses an obstacle to Middle East peace. Mr. Lieberman is probably not the most qualified man for peace anywhere in the world, but he, like Mr. Erdoğan, is a democratically-elected politician. Mr. Erdoğan thinks it would be most appropriate if Mr. Lieberman were to be removed, but that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and the Hamas chaps stay in power – for peace!

Second, Turkey's Justice and Development Party, or AKP-controlled, broadcast watchdog, RTÜK, has warned a television station "for not showing the necessary sensitivity toward the privacy of historical figures." The airing of a soap featuring Süleyman the Magnificient could be halted for up to 12 different infractions if the channel does not comply.

Third, an apparently AKP-inspired school headmaster warned male and female students not to get physically closer than 45 cm to each other.

Fourth, Mr. Erdoğan has ordered a peace monument in Kars to be torn down because "it shadowed a mosque and the shrine of one of the leading Islamic figures of the 11th century." He called the Turkish-Armenian friendship monument near the Turkish-Armenian border "freakish."

Fifth, and in response to criticism for stricter alcohol bans, Mr. Erdoğan said that in Turkey "people could still drink spirits until they cough them out."

Sixth, a stadium full of Galatasaray fans whistled and booed in protest of Mr. Erdoğan, the guest of honor at the inauguration of their new ground. The football club's president pledged to hunt down the protestors and ban them from matches.

Seventh, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç praised the government's economic policy by saying that "our national currency is, God be praised, far from the days when it was worth less than the currencies of African cannibals."

Eighth, and finally, the Washington-based human rights organization Freedom House tagged Turkey as "a partly free country."

By the way, between 2003 and 2008, the household consumption of alcohol in Turkey fell 34 percent, according to a study released in November by the Betam research center at Istanbul's Bahçeşehir University ("Alcohol Hits Nerve in Turkey," Wall Street Journal, Jan. 15, 2011). Another survey, released in 2009, supported by the Open Society Institute, found that around 300,000 households in Turkey stopped consuming alcohol between 2003 and 2008 "mainly due to social pressure."

But in defense of the new alcohol bans, Mr. Erdoğan accused the drinkers of causing deaths in traffic accidents. Why would a prime minister present facts falsely? There may be a hundred reasons, but usually politicians twist facts when they wanted to hide a motive. Sometimes they excel at twisting facts, sometimes they look like they are hiding behind their own finger. Mr. Erdoğan's pretext to fight the wine glass looks like a failure.

According to the Interior Ministry's statistics, drunk-driving in 2010 was the 11th leading cause of road accidents. Other deaths? About 3 percent of Turks die of alcohol-related reasons. International statistics do not support Mr. Erdoğan's argument either. Turkey, boasting about one-tenth of Europe's per capita alcohol consumption, prides itself on Europe's highest death toll from road accidents. 

In a public speech, Mr. Erdoğan said his government has not in any way interfered with people's choice in their private lives. To support that view, the prime minister said that in (EU candidate) Turkey "men and women were still able to travel in the same buses, women could still wear mini skirts and drinkers could drink until they cough it out." And he wraps up his arguments with an emphasis on his party's ideology, which he summarizes as "Muslim democrat."

The heart of the matter is hidden in the mystery around the term Mr. Erdoğan invented –obviously inspired by Europe's Christian Democrats – in order to defend his faith-based governance from liberal criticism. He is wholeheartedly sincere when he thinks he is a (Muslim) democrat!

If he chose the term "democrat/democracy" instead of "Muslim democrat/Muslim democracy" he would not have been able to defend what this column summarized in a few lines. In democracies, there is no place to say any one of the things there were listed above in headings one through to eight. But, yes, in Muslim democracies "these incidents" are/should be considered "facts of life." They have nothing to do with autocracy or interfering in people's private lives; they are just facts of life in a "Muslim democracy."

I believe that Mr. Erdoğan was also absolutely sincere when he defended his understanding of democracy with the fact that men and women could still travel in the same bus, drinkers could still drink until they cough it out or women could still wear mini skirts. In his understanding, these are indications of his "tolerance" to the other, and the fact that his government still allowed "those sins" amounts to democracy.

He, in this role, is the benevolent Muslim democrat who tolerates even women and men traveling in the same bus. And naturally, he wholeheartedly believes he is being treated unfairly when the sinners accuse him of undemocratic rule. His anger during public speeches is not fake. He is angry because the sinners don't appreciate his favors – that, for instance, there is not yet an altogether ban on alcohol consumption. Hence his humiliatory tone when he refers to drinkers: until they cough it out!

In democracies the right to sin is respected and must be vigorously safeguarded by the state. In Muslim democracies it is/must not. Simply because "Muslim democracy" is different than "democracy." Otherwise it would simply have been called democracy.  







It has been four years since Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was murdered. Those who are indirectly responsible for the greatest scandal in the history of the Turkish police have not been punished yet.

If it hadn't been for journalists like Nedim Şener the public wouldn't have noticed. And within these four years it has become clear that Dink was the victim of a murder resulting from intended and blind neglect.

The public knows the truth now:

- It was known that a murder was about to happen but "security" did not or could not provide protection because Hrant was of Armenian origin.

- Pre-murder preparations were either consciously or blindly ignored.

- Intelligence either intentionally or insensitively neglected its duty.

Result: Dink was killed because of the carelessness of the Turkish Republic. All authority carrying this responsibility has probably been rewarded instead of being called to account.

This attitude continues. The Interior Ministry does not do what is necessary. The Dink file is not being activated. It must be that they fear the criminals would harm the state if they speak up. But questions in public should not be left unanswered.

The Turkish people should not be living with such a shame. The responsible should be punished.

Expectations in respect to Hizbullah

We have really messed up the issue of Hizbullah, a group that has no known links to its Lebanese namesake. I am not after blaming anyone or finding the responsible. It is apparent anyway.

I'd like to take a look at what will happen from now on.

Released on their own recognizance, Hizbullah members have disappeared without a trace. Many intelligence services like the MİT have announced that members of the Hizbullah have escaped to Iran, which have made all eyes turn to Tehran.

The public expects the Hizbullah team to be captured and delivered to Ankara.

I'm sure that Iranian authorities say, "How are we to know?" But I have no doubt that Tehran will want to ease the government with which they have a close relationship and which embraces Iran. Iran wouldn't want to protect or watch after Hizbullah.

It knows that this organization is harshly criticized in the Turkish public and especially by the ruling party. In the light of above, it'll do whatever it can to help.

Will they be able to meet expectations and find members of the Hizbullah?

We'll soon see.


We are facing a great reality.

Last Thursday I invited the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges, or TOBB, President Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, who explained the BECERİ project.

Let me briefly explain.

Young applicants are educated according to their skills and sent to companies that work in the respective field. If the young person shows success then she or he is employed by that company.

Some 200,000 young people will be selected each year and 1 million young people will be recruited within five years.

Do you know what happened after Hisarcıklıoğlu talked about it last Thursday?

Some 945,000 young people flooded TOBB's website, collapsing the site, and only 240,000 people have been able to apply successfully.

Please note, I'm talking about 1 million young people.

This is a crazy number.

What is this number supposed to mean?

The problem is neither Hizbullah nor the Galatasaray protest nor the alcohol regulation.

The most important issue for our people is unemployment.

This endeavor started by TOBB is one of the most popular and favorite projects.

You'll remember the prime minister saying, "If each member of TOBB would find employment for one unemployed person then a total of 1 million people would find a job," and that is how it all started. This is probably Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu's most successful endeavor that TOBB can proudly present.

This is what's called producing jobs not words.








The world economy is expected to remain on the road to recovery in 2011 with "turbo-charged" consumer spending in emerging markets expected to help offset more modest growth in developed countries. But with global imbalances fueling uncertainty about economic, trade and currency policy, diversification will be crucial for investors in 2011.

We expect the divide between developing countries with large trade surpluses and low debt and developed countries with large trade deficits and high debt to remain a major theme in 2011, against the backdrop of a sustained, but slower, recovery.

The emerging world has become the source of global savings, with savings rates in 2009-2014 forecast to reach 33 percent of disposable income, while rates in advanced economies continue to fall.

These savings are feeding the rising consumer demand stoking emerging market growth, while consumers in the United States strive to cut their debts and European governments tackle massive deficits. Public spending in developed markets is dominated by health and pension provision for ageing populations.

With global growth next year forecast to slow to 4 percent, from an estimated 4.8 percent in 2010, investors should seek secure income growth, favoring commodities and equities over government and corporate debt. Diversification will provide a hedge against any inflationary resurgence.

In 2010, strong emerging market equity performance was focused on smaller markets like Thailand, Turkey and Indonesia. That trend is expected to continue in 2011.

Emerging markets with lower market capitalization, United Kingdom equities and large European companies offer the best equity investment opportunities in 2011. Energy, including oil and natural gas, is attractive, as are telecoms. Corporate cash piles could support an increase in sector consolidation and mergers and acquisitions.

When looking at equities, investors should pay greater attention to dividends than capital growth. On the debt side they should treat emerging market debt with caution, avoiding overvalued assets.

Growth in the U.S. is expected to ease to 2.1 percent in 2011, down from 2.7 percent in 2010. But the U.S. is expected to enjoy an upswing in the second-half of the year.

China, the world's second biggest economy, is set for a "soft landing," with growth expected to ease from 10.3 percent in 2010 to 9.1 percent this year. India's growth is expected to wane only slightly from 8.4 percent in 2010 to 8.2 percent in 2011.

Growth in the eurozone is expected to slip from 1.7 percent to 1.5 percent. Germany, Europe's biggest economy, is expected to see growth fall from 3.2 percent in 2010 to 2 percent in 2011.

Although Germany's recovery, driven by emerging market demand, beat expectations in 2010, other eurozone countries appear to be overestimating their growth prospects, notably Spain, France and Italy. In addition, the weakness of peripheral economies – like Ireland, Portugal and Greece – has cast a long shadow over the euro.

In the U.K., annual growth is expected to strengthen to 2 percent in 2011, up from 1.7 percent this year, with the recovery appearing to take root despite government spending cuts.

Monetary policy in developed economies is still exceptionally loose. Yet, as developed markets created dollars, emerging markets accumulated them. This should lead eventually to downward pressure on the dollar and certainly the euro. We expect euro weakness to continue into 2011 but the dollar will get some respite. It has also resulted in upward pressure on the renminbi and some other emerging-market currencies, combined with trade tensions.

Over- and under-valued currencies are distorting asset valuations and the problem is expected to get worse in 2011.

The ideal situation would be if U.S. and developed-world monetary-policy adjustment occurred at the same time as emerging countries allowed greater currency flexibility and appreciation. There is a risk, however, of ongoing tensions. In addition, there is also the risk of controls over capital flows being imposed in emerging markets.

In 2011, investors should start to focus on dividends – historically the main driver of returns – rather than capital growth.

As investment becomes a hunt for yields, there will be little value in government debt markets, we believe. High grade corporate bonds, on the other hand, could be well-supported in the first half of 2011.

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management expects commodity prices to continue rising in 2011 as China avoids overheating. Energy, copper and industrial metals will be driven by Asian growth. The surge in gold is, however, expected to have run its course. Equities will be just as good a hedge against inflation as gold.

U.K. commercial property will again become attractive. Real estate yields can now deliver returns more than 4 percentage points higher than equities and more than 6 percentage points higher than inflation-protected bonds.

Among government bonds, index-linked U.S. Treasury bills look a well-priced low-risk option. In case of any resurgence of U.S. inflation, Japanese equities are also likely to outperform, as they have in the past.

Johannes Jooste is a London-based portfolio strategy expert at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.







The analogy might be with the chain of non-violent revolutions that drove the sclerotic Communist regimes of Eastern Europe from power in 1989. Or then again, it might not.

 Many people in the Arab world hope that the popular revolt in Tunisia will become a genuine democratic revolution that inspires people in other Arab countries to do the same thing. Other people, notably most of the existing regimes in the Arab world and their foreign allies, hope fervently that it will not. But the current situation is certainly fraught with possibilities.

 It's not yet clear whether the street demonstrations that drove the Tunisian dictator, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, into exile after 23 years in power will lead to a genuine democracy. The prime minister he left behind, Mohammed Ghannouchi, is promising free elections soon, but it's still the old regime, minus its leader, that is making the promises. They may not be trustworthy.

 This was a spontaneous uprising, an outburst of sheer exasperation with the corruption and incompetence of the Ben Ali regime. The rebels have no plan for what happens next, and several hundred thousand people with guns and good communications facilities have a lot to lose if the old regime just vanishes. It is estimated, for example, that one in 40 adult Tunisians works for the secret police.

 On the other hand, miracles sometimes do happen. The East German Communist regime in 1989, after 44 years in power, controlled not only the army but also a well-armed Communist militia several hundred thousand strong. Yet when the Berlin Wall came down, they just decided not to start killing their own people. No matter how loyal they were to Communist ideals, they understood that their time was up.

 Many of those who served Ben Ali's dictatorship will not want to start killing their own people on a large scale either, and no ideology underpinned the Tunisian regime. Those who gave it their loyalty did so only out of self-interest, and their perception of where their interests lie could change quite fast. So the question arises: if the Tunisian revolt turns into a real democratic revolution, could its example spread?

 The neighbors certainly think so. Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's ruler for the past 41 years, was almost comical in his public dismay at Ben Ali's fall. "You (Tunisians) have suffered a great loss," he said in a speech broadcast on Libyan state television. "There is none better than Zine (Ben Ali) to govern Tunisia." Or more precisely, none better to keep Gaddafi safe from his own people.

 Tunisia's neighbor to the west, Algeria, is even more vulnerable to popular revolt than Libya. The president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has only been in office since 1999, but he was put there by the army, whose senior generals have really run the country from behind the scenes since the mid-1960s. Algerians have already begun demonstrating publicly against the high price of food, and the regime's response has already turned violent.

 The social and economic conditions that made Tunisia such a tinderbox also prevail in many other Arab countries: widespread poverty, huge unemployment (about 30 percent of the under-30s in Tunisia, and even higher among those with a post-secondary education), and great popular anger (usually carefully hidden) at the brutal authoritarianism and endemic corruption of the regimes.

 The strict censorship of news that has always been standard practice for the more repressive Arab regimes has been subverted by new media, from al-Jazeera to the internet. Everybody who wants change has seen how easy it was for the Tunisians to make it happen, and they may want to try it themselves.

 Egypt, Syria, Morocco – in fact, almost all the Arab countries except the oil-rich Gulf states – are potentially vulnerable to a Tunisian-style revolt. Not all or even most of them are likely to have one, nor will every attempted revolt succeed: some of the regimes are much more capable of using massive force than Ben Ali's ramshackle dictatorship. But some revolts may succeed.

 So the big question is: what would the successor regimes look like? In Tunisia, if all goes well, it could be a secular democracy, but in many other places a strict Islamic regime would be a much likelier outcome. The old leftist and secular liberal parties, beaten and bribed into submission, have long since lost credibility in most Arab countries. Only the Islamic parties have not been coopted.

 There are as many flavors of Islamic politics as there are of ice cream. Some are retrograde and hostile to all opinions other than their own; others are as open and reasonable as the "Christian Democratic" parties of Europe. In the coming years we may well have the opportunity to observe all of those varieties in action.

 Assuming that all or much of this comes to pass, the most important thing that non-Arabs can do, especially in the West, is not to panic. Knee-jerk assumptions that such regimes would be implacably hostile to non-Muslims would operate as self-fulfilling prophecies, but it ain't necessarily so.






According to the prime minister, some people with some evil intentions were mistranslating the latest circular of the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority, or TAPDK, as a move to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcoholic products in the country, which he said was utterly wrong because the circular intended to keep people in this country from "drinking alcohol until they burst."

If he does not have an Islamist agenda or if he was not obsessed with how much and where people who wish to do so are imbibing alcohol, I wonder whether it is the job of the prime minister to insult people who drink alcohol. Has the prime minister become a staffer of the Turkish Green Crescent, trying to dissuade people from alcoholic products, or like in some Muslim countries has he become some sort of a morality cop?

Why does the prime minister think there are some people in this country who were drinking alcohol "until they burst"?

Anyhow, perhaps I should thank the prime minister because his "they drink until they burst" sentence helped me remember great poet Tevfik Fikret, of the dissolution period of the Ottoman Empire. Fikret, who is still considered one of the most prominent and favorite Turkish poets of all times, presented an exemplary satire of the gross corruption in state administration in his famous "Han-ı yağma" or "Feast of Pillaging" poem. In my small archive I managed to find an English translation of the poem, which I present here, but I am so sorry that I could not identify who made the translation.

Feast of Pillaging

This small feast, gentlemen – for it is waiting to be devoured

Trembling in your presence – it is the life of this people

Of this people agonized, of this people dying

But please, feel no restraint, eat, swallow, munch, munch…

Eat ye gentlemen, this appetizing feast is yours

Till you are satisfied, nauseous, eat till you burst…

Gentlemen, you are very hungry, it is to be seen from your faces

Eat, if you don't eat today, perhaps it will not be here tomorrow

This heap of food is honored by your arrival

This is your right because of your campaign, yes, surely that right is yours…

Eat ye gentlemen, this joyous feast is yours

Till you are satisfied, nauseous, eat till you burst…

Count what these delicate gentlemen have lying around

Nobility, descendancy, honour, games, weddings, mansions, palaces

It is all yours, gentlemen, mansions, palaces, brides, parades

It is all yours, it is all yours, readily, easily…


Eat ye gentlemen, this appetizing feast is yours

Till you are satisfied, nauseous, eat till you burst…

Even if the digestion of greatness is a trouble, it's no harm

It has the pride of grandeur, the joy of revenge

This feast expects kindness from your attention

They are all yours these heads, brains, livers, all these bloody morsels…


Eat ye gentlemen, this sacrificing feast is yours

Till you are satisfied, nauseous, eat till you burst…


The poor country will give, whatever it has, its possessions

Its body, its life, its hope, its dreams

Its entire well-being, what it has of joy in heart

Quick, devour it, don't think about it being wrong or right…


Eat ye gentlemen, this appetizing feast is yours

Till you are satisfied, nauseous, eat till you burst…

This harvest will end, seize whatever you can on your way out

Tomorrow you might see all the crackling hearths go out

The stomachs of today are strong, the soup today is warm

Nibble, gobble fistfuls and platefuls…

Eat ye gentlemen, this feast filled with music is yours

Till you are satisfied, nauseous, eat till you burst…


P.S. There are some people in this country who did not "drink until they burst" but were shot to death in cold blood and do deserve, rather than some lofty words, that the murderers and collaborators be brought to justice. Hrant, we shall not forget you!










The tabling of the Deweaponisation of Pakistan Bill (2011) represents an expression of both a desire (by many, not all) and an ideal position. Ours is a heavily weaponised society, and attempts to regulate the holding of weapons in private hands have largely failed. The legislation that regulates ownership of firearms is similar to that of many European countries. But in practice we see something more akin to the American model, where gun ownership is widespread and regarded by many as a cultural attribute. To deweaponise our society would require a national paradigm shift of almost unimaginable proportions, as well as major changes in the way in which weapons are used as political patronage. MNAs and MPAs all have an annual quota of weapons licences which they may grant to those they deem fit. In Karachi, guns are in the hands of men who fight small local proxy wars on behalf of political parties. Parties have themselves become weaponised. This situation virtually ensures that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, with the ballot box reduced to a cosmetic irrelevance.

The problem with the MQM proposal is that, while it is laudable in general terms, its very generality diverts the focus from a very specific problem–Karachi itself. As such, it may be seen as part of a highly localised political game play. If the party were truly serious about deweaponisation, then it could do no better than set an example to all other players in the political game by calling for and making efforts for the deweaponisation of Karachi with all the strength at its disposal. It could invite all others to do the same. The proposal for the deweaponisation of the entire country does not appear to have much chance of success, however desirable that may be. "And leave ourselves defenceless?" would be the converse argument. At which point the debate becomes sterile and circular and doomed to failure. If there is to be a demonstration of political will to reduce the violence, then it has to come from the political parties themselves, including the MQM. The political parties have to decisively eschew violence as a means of attaining their goals. Until they do so, any legislation, no matter its good intent, will prove to be impotent.







 Further evidence of how some segments of society are able to flout or challenge the law at will was provided by a rally in Lahore on Monday which blocked The Mall for several hours. The rally was organised in support of the killer of Salmaan Taseer. Speakers at the rally said that there should be no punishment for Mumtaz Qadri, and that if any court thought otherwise it would be subject to "a stiff reprimand". It was clear from the speeches made on the occasion that the 'reprimand' they had in mind was ripping out the tongues of those who would displease them. Let us be clear about the message being conveyed. The organisers of such rallies are saying that if Qadri is found guilty by any court in the land they will have no hesitation in ripping out the tongues of those who pass a judgement against him, and perhaps of the police who may have guarded Qadri. They may take similar action against any media commentator or columnist who speaks in support of Qadri's conviction or any member of the wider society who, by default, in not openly supporting Qadri, is declared a "blasphemer." Shopkeepers who fail to pull their shutters down, for example, may find themselves in a similar situation – in short, anybody and everybody who fails to toe the line drawn by the religious right.

While the above could be seen as unlikely, it is not an impossible scenario. It is not beyond imagination that incited, overcharged crowds may do just that, or at least attempt to. This is a direct challenge to the power of the state and the rule of law, and it is a challenge that so far has been met with deafening silence by the government. It is this very silence that speaks of abdication by the state, of debilitating weakness at the very heart of government which results in the government's attitude being reduced to virtual deference to the power of the mob. Is it to be that any group henceforth can choose, on the basis of its beliefs, to step outside the structures of a civilised state and impose its own will by whatever means – threats, coercion or violence – on as much of the populace as it can? Many more may follow such a path tomorrow. Lawyers were present at Monday's rally. It's a sad commentary on the state of Pakistani society these days that even lawyers showered Qadri with rose petals when he was first produced in court. If the guardians of the law of the land are willing to place themselves at the extremities, so will others as they learn from their example. As for the state, will it let the law crumble in the face of mob rule?







Pakistan's economy is in serious trouble. Economic policymaking has never been so inadequate.

While the world was reducing interest rates, massively injecting capital into banks, encouraging them to lend, pumping huge sums of money into public-sector development programmes and giving major tax breaks for the restoration of their economies, we were doing just the opposite. We were increasing interest rates and taxes, and the rates of gas, power and petrol.

Perhaps the single-greatest reason for today's uncontrollable inflation was the increase in the price of wheat, in one knee jerk action, by as much as 52 per cent. We swept the credit from commercial banks to government and public-sector companies, thereby drying it up for the private sector. The result was that power, gas and petroleum rates doubled, as did food prices.

Pakistan is in a peculiar situation today. Fiscal deficit is high, debt is increasing rapidly, growth is minimal and unemployment on the rise. The mounting debt and liabilities, approaching Rs11,000 billion, doubling in the last three years, is being used for non-productive expenditure.

The first and foremost task for the government is to control inflation in order to make life easier for the poor and put the country back on track for growth. Most of the inflation in Pakistan is being contributed by high food costs. Cumulative increases in some essential food items have been over 100 per cent. In the free-market mechanism commodity prices in the country can be controlled through buffer stocks for the avoidance of shortages. The international commodity markets should be constantly monitored in order to import required food commodities at times when the prices abroad are low, to meet future shortages.

A major factor in controlling food inflation would be to enhance agricultural yields. All crops should have price floors and ceilings, bearing in mind international subsidies and the prices of domestic agriculture inputs and outputs. These floors and ceilings must be announced well ahead of the cropping season and maintained by the government through market interventions. Focus should be on value-added agriculture and farming, like fruits, vegetables, flowers and livestock.

We are fast approaching a point where Pakistan will be a water-starved country. Our water per-capita is one-fifth of what it used to be 50 years ago, and we have to introduce the concept of water economy. In agriculture, we should replace the obsolete and wasteful flood-water irrigation with the more efficient sprinkler and drip irrigation.

Mega-dams, in addition to addressing our water and energy requirements, can also give impetus to growth and employment.

Research institutions should be developed in the agriculture and farming sector for crops, fruits, vegetables and livestock through public-private partnerships where state-of-the-art research should be pursued. Support to the small farmers is essential, both financially and technologically. This can be accomplished through public-private partnerships providing services like seeds, fertiliser, rental tractors and bulldozers, and consultancy on modern agriculture techniques.

The other important reason for the high inflation is the enormous government borrowing from the State Bank, almost Rs2 billion a day – the same level of borrowing that existed before Pakistan's going to the IMF. Among other things, this is diluting the effectiveness of the monetary policy. It would be impossible to bring inflation down unless government borrowing from the State Bank is substantially curtailed. The State Bank's autonomy must be ensured.

Fiscal policy should be kept in tandem with monetary policy. Currently the monetary policy is on a tightening mode while fiscal slippages continue unchecked. Commodity financing of over Rs400 billion by commercial banks to the provincial government and PASSCO must be ended.

A rapid reduction in the fiscal deficit should no longer be our objective, as this will keep the growth rate low and increase unemployment and poverty. A balance needs to be struck between fiscal consolidation and revival of growth. A major source of employment and growth in the country is the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP). In the last four fiscal years, instead of cutting non-development expenditure the government resorted to large cuts in the PSDP, bringing it to a level of less than 3 per cent of the GDP.

The other major source of employment and growth in the country is the industrial sector. This sector has been destroyed through exorbitant interest rates, excessive government borrowing and gas and power outages. If manufacturing has to grow, ample credit should be available, interest rates brought down and delivery of reliable energy supply be made certain. There is no development-financial institution left in Pakistan. No developing country can have industrial growth without development-financial Institutions where long-term financing is available.

Once Pakistani businessmen start investing in their own country, foreign Investment will follow. Many Pakistanis have billions of rupees stashed away in foreign banks. They should be given incentives and constitutional guarantees to encourage them bring their capital back and set up industries in Pakistan.

Other sectors that can go a long way in generating growth and creating employment is energy, water, natural resources and housing. Pakistan's Thar area has some of the largest usable coal reserves in the world. The Indus basin is known to be an area with huge reserves of oil and natural gas. Meanwhile, something else that is emerging in the international press now is that Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan has huge reserves of natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

The government will not be able to impose new taxes until it is seen to be cutting its own expenditure significantly. All discretionary expenditures, other than debt servicing, defence and salaries, should be cut by one-third.

Pakistan's public-sector enterprises are bleeding, with losses reaching Rs250 billion per year. Some of these enterprises should be privatised. Others should be rebuilt by their having competent boards and professional managements, and through rightsizing. Most importantly, they should be given full autonomy for their safeguard against political abuse and interference.

Massive blunders were made by the government in trying to impose the RGST. The government's case for pushing the RGST has been totally misrepresented by its spokespersons. It has now become a hot political issue as it is a tax on consumption, affecting the poor more than the rich. Meanwhile the rich sectors of the economy, like agriculture, real estate and services, go untaxed. It would not be possible for any Pakistani government, now or in future, to increase tax on consumption without imposing tax on the untaxed sectors of Pakistan's economy.

I have a vision for my country. I wait for the day when Pakistan will build aeroplanes, bullet trains and high-tech computers. I wait for the day when we will have jobs for everybody, when all citizens in will pay their taxes to the very state they all demand so much from. I wait for the day when women will work shoulder-to-shoulder with men to play their part in Pakistan being freed from the shackles of poverty.

If a malaria-ridden, backward country like Singapore can become one of the countries with the highest per-capita incomes, so can we. If South Korea, devastated after the Korean War, can turn around and become an Asian tiger, so can we. If Japan, annihilated by nuclear bombs can turn around and become one of the largest economies in the world, so can we. If a poor third world country, China, with over a billion people, can turn around and become the second largest economy in the world, so can we.

The task ahead is daunting. The roadmap to progress and prosperity is clear. The people of Pakistan are waiting. We politicians have to stand up to the challenge and prove to the world that democracy can work here. If politicians fail, someone else will have to do the job, at the cost of democracy.

The writer, a PML-Q senator, is a member of the Senate Finance Committee








While explaining the state of the economy, economists and economic policy makers are fond of using economic jargon and macroeconomic indicators but those are of limited interest to poor and middle class people who are in dire economic straits. The majority is experiencing economic hardship in their daily lives, and this has increased in the recent past in spite of the fact that they work harder and longer to provide for their families.

The majority sees stark contrasts and wonders why? While searching a place to buy cheap vegetables or pulses to cook something for their children, they come across shops full of imported luxury items. While looking for used or cheap clothing to cover the bare bodies of their children, they find fashionably dressed people crowding expensive jewellery shops. While looking for a corner tandoor to buy a few slivers of bread, they pass by five star restaurants full of the rich and famous enjoying and wasting expensive food. When they come out of darkness, suffocation and the silence of their cramped muddy houses due to load shedding or their inability to bear the rising cost of electricity, they hear the deafening noise of air conditioners running at full speed in nearby bungalows. While waiting on the corner of a main street for someone to pick them up as daily wage labourers, they hear sirens of police vehicles as part of VIP entourages and find blocked roads for free and fast driving of their bullet proof cars. Naturally, they wonder why it is so and cannot find answers in those macroeconomic indicators and economic jargon.

Pakistan has a rich soil and abundance of minerals, hard working farmers, sufficient water and a warm climate that makes it potentially possible to grow enough food crops and fruit and vegetables of all kinds to comfortably feed not only the 170 million people of Pakistan but also to leave a surplus for export. The problem is that to harness this potential, poor farmers need sincere leadership and good government that ensures the provision of quality seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, ploughs, tractors, harvesters at reasonable prices, farm to market access roads, education and basic health facilities at peoples' door steps, and fair play and rule of law at the work place and at home. They do not find all these prerequisites for their labour to bear fruit.

The result is that in the agricultural sector, Pakistan has one of the lowest yields per acre of all crops, ranking far behind its counterparts on the other side of the Punjab and Sindh borders, and farmers' effort and hard work is frustrated by the vagaries of nature, scarcity of water at one time and floods at another, attacks of pests and diseases and exploitation of the landlord. The mineral resources remain buried in the soil in Baluchistan for lack of interest in their exploration. The scenic beauty of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa remains untapped for tourist business and agricultural development. So the agricultural and mineral potential remains underutilised not because the farmer is lazy but because the government is not doing its part. But this state of affairs in the rural areas suits the ruling landed aristocracy to maintain their hold on land, products and people.

Unemployment and poverty in rural areas compels young men from poor families to migrate to urban areas in search of jobs in government, factories, service sector or wherever they can find them. But the urban economy is dominated by newly born industrialists, sons and daughters of landlords, politicians and other influential persons, and collaborated by corrupt government functionaries. They all want to get rich quick and use every means to make legitimate or illegitimate profit/income. Urban ghettos have developed that provide cheap labour to the rich urban class which ruthlessly exploits them from both ends. They do not give them a live wage and whatever is given by one hand is taken away by the other in the form of rising prices of products. The rise in prices is mainly due to cartels and monopolies of the rich and reckless and wasteful spending of the government by printing currency notes and by borrowing from abroad. As a result, urban majority is in some ways even worse off than their counterparts in rural areas.

The hold of old landlords in rural areas and of the new rich in urban areas has led to extreme income inequality with a tiny percentage of the population having a strong grip on the economy and the wealth and resources of the nation. As a result, Pakistan by now has developed a dual society where the conspicuous life style of a minority coexists with daunting hardship of the majority. Pakistan seems to have replaced Bangladesh as an international "basket case", but the ruling class has become totally insensitive to glaring domestic economic disparity and declining external standing of the country.

Good governance is acutely needed and good governance is nowhere to be seen. The reason is that the government is dominated by the same class that has a hold on the economy. The ruling class taxes the poor through inflation and indirect taxes, but avoids paying any direct taxes itself. It siphons off a part of the national resources through corruption and misappropriation and puts it in personal accounts at home and abroad. It wastes public money in useless activities and functions of the government. In a nutshell, the helpless majority is forced to pay in more than one ways for the lavish life style of the rich.

Foreign governments find it convenient to patronise a corrupt ruling class to achieve their own strategic national agenda. Their so-called "aid" is in fact loans that the poor majority will have to repay with interest at a later time. Through such loans they control today's ruling class who do not hesitate to mortgage the present and the future of the country for personal gain and glory.

There seems to be no relief in sight. The only way the log jam can be broken is if the poor majority awakens to change the status quo. Even Allah does not help those who are not prepared to help themselves. Accordingly, realisation should dawn on the poor majority that only good governance and sincere leadership can control inflation, promote growth, ensure distributive justice, eradicate poverty, generate merit based employment, attain peace and security and restore national pride – and status quo must change to that end, and only the majority can bring about that change by their collective awakening.

The writer is a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan







It is 1817 square miles in area – a mass of rugged hills and mountains, cliffs, ravines and defiles. The roads are few and movement on these is vulnerable to interdiction. It shares a 150 kilometres border with the Afghan provinces of Khost and Paktia. About 600,000 people inhabit the area, mostly in the valleys. Among them live an estimated 38,000 insurgents of different hues. It's a hornets' nest. Welcome to North Waziristan.

The Americans, also of different hues, want the Pakistan Army to go into the hornets' nest and take out the 'terrorists', who, according to them, are conducting attacks against their forces. "To make the kind of progress we need to make in Afghanistan, progress in Pakistan is critical," says Admiral Mullen – implicit in this statement is that unless North Waziristan is cleared, the war in Afghanistan cannot be won.

The only fighters making forays from North Waziristan into eastern Afghanistan are part of the Haqqani group, and they are only one-fifth of the group whose strength is estimated at 5,000. The remaining group operates out of the eastern Afghan provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost.

Most of the casualties suffered by the foreign forces have been inflicted by Mullah Omar's Taliban, who operate mainly in the south and north out of their sanctuaries in the Hindukash and scores of villages, and whose strength is placed at 25,000. Yet the Americans think that the Haqqani group is responsible for their lack of progress.

The other insurgents in North Waziristan, apart from a handful of Central Asians, are all Pakistanis who are not involved in the fighting in Afghanistan – the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, which controls most of the Agency, has an estimated 20,000 fighters; the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, about 15,000. Both are hardened, experienced guerrilla fighters who fought the Pakistan Army between 2004 and 2008, and prevailed.

Apart from these two, about 2,000 fighters of the Jihadi groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, are said to have taken refuge in North Waziristan – and like them, they also look up to Mullah Omar.

If an operation is launched in North Waziristan, it will have to contend with the harsh geography that favours the guerrillas, 38,000 fighters who know the terrain well and enjoy the support of the local population, driven towards them by the incessant drone attacks, and also with roads that lack the capacity to support large forces logistically, and the vulnerability of movement of these to ambush.

Moreover, if Mullah Nazir, who commands a force of 5,000-10,000 fighters in South Waziristan, and who had stayed neutral during the army operation in 2009, gets sucked into the war on the side of the insurgents, the army's rear areas would become extremely vulnerable. But if he stays neutral, the TTP cadres in other agencies would threaten the rear areas, besides reaching out to other parts of the country along with the Jihadi groups.

And if the Afghan Taliban also join the war in North Waziristan, engaging them would have far-reaching geopolitical implications for Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban's intervention would, however, eminently suit the US command in Afghanistan – the more they go, the better for them!

The Pakistan Army would also have to be wary of the effect the operation would have on the minds of its Pakhtun soldiers in particular, and on the people of FATA – it could lead to their alienation from their country. Remember the reaction of the Bengali soldiers and the people of East Pakistan to the army operation there in 1971?

If, however, despite the unfavourable environment, the Pakistan Army still decides to go in, it would have to muster the necessary infantry resources, since a counter-insurgency war is essentially infantry's war. History has proved time and again that unless an army has the resources to fight and win, it must avoid war, most of all a counter-insurgency war. Nine years on, the Americans continue to pay dearly for ignoring history.

Since the army had gone into South Waziristan with insufficient infantry, the insurgents were able to escape to North Waziristan and other FATA agencies from where they stage hit-and-run attacks against the security forces. To forestall a repeat of this, North Waziristan will have to be isolated to prevent ingress into it or escape from it, prior to launching the main offensive, after which, the two forces (isolating and offensive) would alternate as hammer and anvil until the noose is tightened and the insurgents are strangulated.

The insurgents basically are mountain fighters. They would make full use of the heights in the area to hide as well as to dominate the valleys and roads. The heights, therefore, will have to be secured in the opening stages of the offensive in order to force them to descend into the valleys where they would be exposed to the army's air- and ground-delivered firepower. This would require troop-carrying helicopters in large numbers.

It is the isolation phase that consumes maximum infantry resources. North Waziristan is almost 340 kilometres in circumference, out of which, it shares a 150 kilometres border with Afghanistan. As a rough guide, if a rifle company is deployed every kilometre, 41,000 infantrymen would be required (340x120 men), (four companies in a battalion – 480 men, three battalions in a brigade, and three brigades in a division). A division has about 12,000 men, but only about 4,320 infantrymen, the rest are in other arms and services; hence about nine divisions.

On the other hand, the offensive force would require about six divisions (216 companies – 54 battalions, 26,000 infantrymen), unless 50 per cent of the infantry are drawn from the Frontier Corps.

The total requirement of infantry for the two forces (isolating and offensive) would be 67,000, giving the army a ratio of 1.76 infantrymen to an insurgent. It would become 2:1 with the addition of the supporting arms and Special Forces – hardly sufficient, considering the harsh terrain and a skilled adversary. But, if the task of securing North Waziristan's 150 kilometres border with Afghanistan is undertaken by the Americans, the Pakistan Army would need 190 companies (48 battalions, about five divisions or 23,000 men) in the isolating force, and the Americans, about 18,000 – and another 31,000 for securing Kurram Agency's 110 kilometres border with Afghanistan, for a total of 31,000 men. Yet despite having 140,000 foreign and nearly 200,000 Afghan troops, they maintain that they lack the resources for undertaking this task.

By deploying 31,000 men, the Americans would be able to intercept the insurgents they say are denying them "the kind of progress we need to make in Afghanistan" – and thus make the kind of progress they need to make, many times over!

The geo-strategic, geo-tactical and geo-political considerations militate against an operation in North Waziristan. By carrying out this operation, we would only be serving American interests.

The writer is a retired brigadier.








The utter neglect and abuse to which people have been subjected by Pakistan's self-serving rulers was ultimately the reason behind Salmaan Taseer's assassination.

The first thing on the rulers' minds has been self-gratification, the people and their welfare being their lowest priority. There has seldom been a period in Pakistan's history when the country could be said to have been in caring hands, and not in the hands of virtual predators.

The religious parties have been consistently rejected by the people of Pakistan, as the fairer general elections in our history prove. But the lack of meaningful governance in these six decades, the unavailability of justice and the increasing absence of rule of law enabled the religious parties to gain ascendancy nevertheless.

Ultimately, the murderer of Salmaan Taseer was a product of the desperation caused in our society by these multiple failures, a society which was left to drift after its members were let down repeatedly by incompetent, self-serving, exploitive and corrupt leaderships.

In Pakistan's history the rule of law and justice to the people have been impaired as much by the judiciary as by the rulers. The absence of rule of law is the strongest tool in the oppressive rulers' hands, and the non-availability of justice is the cause of the feeling of vulnerability in the people.

In 1954, for the first time in modern times, Chief Justice Mohammad Munir, invoked the "doctrine of necessity" of 13th-century jurist Henry de Bracton. This action, taken for the benefit of Governor General Ghulam Mohammad, subordinated the judiciary to the executive. The judiciary's independence was so seriously compromised that it later became the handmaiden of adventurers, whose seizures of power were legitimised by the "doctrine of necessity."

As for the extremist parties' clamour for Shariah, they have left unanswered the question of whose version of Shariah they want to see implemented, since they belong to different, often deeply conflicting, schools of thought.

Almost all the religious parties, particularly the Jamaat-e-Islami, were opposed to the creation of Pakistan. Their opposition was based on their belief that the Muslims were a single entity, or Ummah, and there could not be individual nations within Islam. Strangely, however, there has never been a campaign by the religious parties, before or after the creation of Pakistan, for the dissolution of Muslim nation-states. Nor do they ever demand the dissolution of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which is made up of these nation-states.

Before independence, the opposition of the religious parties to Pakistan was also based on their "logic" that, since Pakistan was not being created in the name of Islam, it would not be an Islamic state. It did not matter to them that undivided India would not have been an Islamic country either. "Pakistan was created in the name of Islam," say their present slogans. So why did the religious parties oppose its creation so vehemently?

Punjab and Bengal may not have been partitioned if differences did not exist among Muslims during the struggle for Pakistan, such as in Punjab under the Unionists. This equally applies to the differences among the religious parties on the need for Pakistan's creation as a homeland for Indian Muslims.

It is time for the politicians to place the country's interests ahead of their own. The PPP, the MQM, the ANP and the Tehrik-e-Insaf should jointly confront the challenge through the formation of a strong front against obscurantism.

The first order of the day for this should be the strengthening of the democratic process through the building up of the country's institutions. Strong institutions will result in better governance and raise public morale. At the same time, they will act as a buffer against adventurism.

Strong institutions are the only means for good governance to be secured, and that, in turn, the only way for an end to people's despair – the ultimate cause of the rampant violence in Pakistan today, of which Salmaan Taseer was but one casualty.


The writer is former corporate executive. Email:







In Manmohan Singh's view hopes for better relations with Pakistan are mere 'wishful thinking' (The Washington Post, January 15) because 'the civilian government is crumbling' and because 'the military does not want any reduction in tensions'.

'Wishful thinking'? When else has it been otherwise? And, yes, the Zardari civilian government is shaky. But had it been rock solid it would not have really made a difference because no civilian government can on its own decide a matter as elemental as relations with India. The military's concurrence is vital; so on this too Manmohan Singh is right. Where he is not is to blame Pakistan for the lack of progress and self-righteously suggest that India is innocent.

'The need to be right – the sign of a vulgar mind', as Albert Camus said, has consistently plagued India. It has harmed her approach towards China and ruined prospects with Pakistan. The use of lies as a deliberate instrument of policy is self-defeating. Accusing others for India's problems, like Kashmir, is worse. But shooting the messenger, who conveys bad tidings like Arunadathi Roy is reprehensible. And yet Manmohan Singh's love struck American audience would have bought these lies but for the fact that, as every one knows, the Pakistan military is at its wits end wondering how more troops can be transferred from the eastern to the western front, where the battle against terrorism is raging, and which only a considerable reduction in tension with India would responsibly permit.

The great Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung was right when he said that 'the pendulum of the mind operates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.' If Manmohan Singh ever had an open mind it should now be closed for repairs unless he believes that the cranium to hold the brain is there only to keep the ears apart.

It is doubly sad that Manmohan Singh spoke thus, because ordinary folk, as they have repeatedly confirmed in opinion polls in both India and Pakistan, desire good relations. And yet seldom has the gulf between India and Pakistan been greater or the prospect of friendly relations more remote.

Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart owe us an explanation because even in the animal world, with rare exceptions, the predator when attacking its prey avoids self-injury lest it be unable to hunt again. And this instinct for self-preservation amounts to common sense. Have our leaders, therefore, under the corrosive influence of sheer bloody mindedness lost that capability and are prepared to risk an armed conflict with all the self-destruction that awaits us?

Admittedly, wanting to be a friend is easy enough, but becoming friends in any meaningful sense is another matter. Friendship, between persons as much as between states, springs from shared interests, fellow feeling, knowledge and self-knowledge in particular. But such knowledge can present difficulties, as we know. Moreover, while India and Pakistan do have a lot of common interests, the glee and abandon with which they go about trying to harm each other would suggest that they have none. Kasab, the terrorist and his ilk, we were told, were a unique Pakistani creation. Now we know that they have their equally bloody Indian counterparts like Indush Kumar; Swami Aseemanand; Sunil Joshi; Sandeep Dange; Ramji; Shivam Dhakhad; Colonel Purohit; Diwandra Gupta; etc. Manmohan Singh may not concede their existence but Rahul Ghandi has and also confessed to the threat that they pose to India.

Another element of friendship is candour, but a candid friend is about the worse thing that can happen to a friendship. George Eliot indicated the possible effects of candour when she wrote, 'Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticism'. On the contrary in the subcontinent all that friends do is ask questions, criticise and candidly share opinions. Hence friendship, in the India-Pakistan context, would not survive the first blast of candour. For the moment, therefore, friendship between the two is really asking for too much notwithstanding the public desire on both sides.


Why not instead make an effort at appearing to be friendly. Surely maintaining the pretence would be easy enough. After all, we convinced the British that we were their loyal subjects for two hundred years. Besides, it involves no hard decisions, no call for giving up long entrenched postures and no cause for convulsive soul searching. And in contemporary times it would pose no electoral disadvantage for any of the 'anti friendship' parties in both countries because their embedded hatreds could remain intact. All it would demand is that while holding their noses each should engage with the other and act in a manner that will not invite retaliation. Spun in this way there is a chance that it will appeal to the obdurate on both sides. And, even if it does not, just pretending would impart an element of calm to our relations.

One way they could start the process would be to desist from interfering in their respective trouble spots. For India that means engaging the Kashmiri population in talks to restore their dignity and right to govern themselves even as the final status of Kashmir remains undetermined; not supporting Baluch rebels nor indirectly helping TTP criminals with funding and arms; and sharing information and being far more transparent on the critical water issues. This would lead to more focused and intensive effort against Indian oriented jihadi groups which are violently anti India and would love to see a full blown war between the two countries.

Similarly, the rapid and escalating development in the quantity and quality of their respective nuclear arsenals must be arrested. Talk of battlefield nuclear weapons is a dangerous game and could easily get out of hand. A balance based on reasonable ratios needs to be worked out and plans to engage the other deserve utmost attention. Just because reason is not working it does not mean that it may never work. Survival alone demands that we don't lose it.

Meanwhile, Manmohan Singh should take heart and not despair. From his pessimism which sees only gloomy visions nothing can be expected. Defeatism about the future that his words convey is not merely an error today but may be viewed as a crime in the future. Instead, he should act, confident that what his people and those of Pakistan want, nay are clamouring for, is peace and friendly relations.








The railways have almost reached the point of no return, and unless the government moves fast a ticket to ride will be little more than a memory for all of us

Chris Cork

If things carry on as they are there will be nothing to buy a ticket for – and certainly not a ticket to ride anywhere.

The Oblivion Express, a.k.a Pakistan Railways is full steam ahead in the direction of its latest crisis.

A proposal has recently been put to the government from the National Assembly Standing Committee on Railways on the basis of a recommendation by the Pakistan Railways that a further 39 loss-making trains be suspended.

To add to the joy of the traveling public the government informed the NASCR that it had approved a 10-30 percent increase in rail fares, necessitated by the sustained rise in the price of diesel fuel since 2008.

There is further jubilation to be had in the news that freight charges are to rise by 30 per cent.

The argument for an increase in light of the rise in the costs of diesel fuel is tenable – there has been no rail fare rise since 2008 and other forms of transport have revised their fares upwards in that time.

The state of our railways is truly pitiful, and the result of decades of wilful neglect and underinvestment.

On paper, there are over 500 locomotives but of these only 156 are operational, and a significant proportion of those are in need of repair.

The revenue generated by the trains that are still running is about Rs500 million – but the cost of keeping them on the rails is about Rs4 billion annually; an unsustainable business if ever there was one.

To add to the PR woes they are in debt to the tune of 75 crore to Pakistan State Oil (PSO) which had understandably cut off their supplies of fuel.

It was beginning to look like the entire rail network would have to shut down for lack of diesel but was saved at the last moment by PSO agreeing to resume supplies.

The railways are massively overstaffed like other state entities, and the NASCR wants to lay off 20,000 of the 85,000 currently on the books. This has serious political implications and will require government approval, which in the light of other decisions regarding the reinstatement of sacked workers or a refusal to rationalise staffing levels in other state industries, looks unlikely to be forthcoming.

Either we have a railway system or we do not. It is that simple.

The railways have almost reached the point of no return, and unless the government moves fast a ticket to ride will be little more than a memory for all of us.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail. com







EXCESSIVE flows of all sorts of illegal arms destabilize societies and governments, encourage crime and foster terrorism. This is happening in Pakistan in general and in Karachi in particular where civilians are coming under increasing threat from the spread of arms and their illegal trade.

Realizing the gravity of the situation MQM has submitted a bill in the National Assembly against keeping illegal weapons and demanded deweaponisation to free the country from the menace. Addressing a press conference on Monday MQM Convener Dr Farooq Sattar said his party took the initiative in view of deteriorating law and order situation and target killings in Karachi. It appears that Dr Farooq Sattar has not given just a statement but his party has done the required homework and then came out with the bill to deweaponise the society to overcome the problem of target killing. He rightly suggested that manufacturing, keeping and using of illegal weaons should be banned. Earlier Interior Minister Rehman Malik some time back had hinted at the possibility of making law providing for ten-year prison and heavy fine to those found keeping illegal weapons. Societies awash with illicit weapons resort to violence that leads to a vicious cycle of even greater demand for arms. According to two major United Nations studies carried out by small arms experts and presented to the General Assembly in 1997 and 1999, illicit trafficking in small arms plays a major role in the violence that permeates some societies, perpetuating a variety of social ills in countries or regions. We have repeatedly pointed out in these columns that root cause of lawlessness in Pakistan is availability of lethal weapons in abundance all over, which have brutalized the society. Karachi has been turned into an ammunition depot with smuggling of truckloads weapons because there are no arms manufacturing factories in the city. These weapons are smuggled into the city in complicity with police and then sold to all and sundry. While we endorse the MQM move for deweaonsiation, we believe it would be difficult to achieve the objectives unless and until there is full understanding among all political parties which in turn should mobilize their workers to help in the recovery of the deadly weapons. We hope that the bill would receive bipartisan support if we want real success in our goal of preventing, combating and eradicating the illegal arms from the country.







AFRICA'S largest Muslim State — Sundan — that has been an eyesore to the West for understandable reasons, is set to split into two as a consequence of the referendum, the initial results of which suggest overwhelming vote for secession by the oil-rich South. Officially, preliminary results are expected by the end of the month and South Sudan would become an independent country on July 9, 2011.

The West carried out an orchestrated campaign against Sudanese unity and territorial integrity for decades and the outcome of the referendum, in which it took extraordinary interest, shows it has succeeded in creating another Christian State out of a Muslim nation. Some of the Western countries openly instigated and supported Christian South in their bid to secede from the mainland for which a systematic propaganda campaign was launched to portray Khartoum as the worst violator of human rights in South. The world was also made to believe that the North was exploiting oil wealth of the south despite the fact that under an internal arrangement, the Sudanese Government had been paying fifty per cent of the oil revenue to the South. That the West used all the machinations at its disposal to pressurize Sudan is evident from the fact that a massive international level character assassination campaign was launched against President Omer al-Bashir. A favourable verdict was manipulated from International Criminal Court and threats were hurled to arrest the President during his visits abroad. Shockingly, the leader of the country was equated with Saddam Hussain and Osama bin Laden only because he refused to toe Western lines. This is not the first time that the Western countries hatched conspiracies to dismember an Islamic nation as earlier too East Taimor, another region of Christian concentration in a Muslim country, was also got separated from Indonesia in similar manner. They accomplish their task under the garb of fundamental rights but these fundamental rights are only meant for non-Muslims. In order to achieve their nefarious designs, these countries launch deep-rooted, well-orchestrated and heavily funded programmes in different parts of the world. The only objective for creation of independent States out of Islamic world or aggression against Iraq and eyeing on Iran is to secure control of oil resources. This is, in fact, modern day colonization of the Muslim world, otherwise how come this principle of independence cannot be applied on the poor Kashmiris and innocent Palestinians.








SAUDI Arabia has really come up to its avowed commitment to continue helping flood affected people of Pakistan till their complete rehabilitation. Floods ravaged about 25% of Pakistan in July 2010 and hats off to Saudi Arabia that truck-loads of relief goods are still being dispatched to the affected areas to meet food and shelter needs of people in distress.

Soon after floods, late Richard Holbrooke, while claiming that the United States was in forefront of rescue and relief efforts, had sarcastically pointed out "where are Islamabad's Muslim friends and China". The consistent support provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that too without any ifs and buts is a testimony to the fact that Riyadh's solidarity with Pakistan is unparalleled. Relief is only one aspect of the aid being extended by our brotherly country, as Saudi leadership has announced time and again that they would provide every possible assistance in the longer and more difficult task of rebuilding. These are not mere slogans as the Kingdom provided valuable assistance in the aftermath of 2005 earthquake and the monumental aid extended by KSA and UAE still echoes when projects funded by them are inaugurated after regular intervals. In fact, Khadim-e-Harmain Sharifain and other members of the Saudi Royal family are taking personal interest to ensure uninterrupted flow of aid to Pakistan. And here in Pakistan, Saudi Ambassador Abdul Aziz Ibrahim Al-Ghadeer has been instrumental in coordinating activities and he has won hearts of people of Pakistan through his untiring efforts. All this is in sharp contrast to aid being provided by countries like United States and EU which is either deducted from the already announced assistance under Kerry-Lugar Bill or is supposed to be adjusted through limited market access which too is conditional.







The reasons for Pakistan's failure to become a knowledge based society can be ascribed to the non-enforcement of the provisions that existed in the 1973 Constitution. The country's chequered constitutional history and the usurpation of power by non-democratic forces spelled disaster for the fund starved education sector. The 1956 Constitution was scrapped by Field Marshall Ayub Khan. He decided to frame his own constitution to suit "the genius" of the Pakistani people. This constitution was scrapped by his successor Gen. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan who remained inebriated most of the time, lost half the country to boot and was buried with full military honors. It fell to a civilian, the late Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to frame the 1973 Constitution which was accepted by all the federating units as well as the political parties and leaders of the time. This was a singular achievement.

This was a sacred document on which rested the foundations of the Pakistani federation. It was scrapped and thrown in the waste paper basket by Gen. Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq also affectionately known by many other names but mainly as Zia the tyrant. The present democratic dispensation has succeeded in purging the constitution from the mutilations brought about by Gen. Zia and commando Gen. Musharraf through the passage of the 18th amendment. Although under the Constitution of 1973 the Government of Pakistan was obligated to provide education for all as a guaranteed Fundamental Right this was never honoured. Enough funds could not be found and allocated to the education sector. Article 37(2) specifically entailed: The State shall: a) Promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of backward classes or areas; b) Remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period; c) Make technical and professional education generally available and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit; d) Enable the people of different areas, through education, training, agricultural and industrial development and other methods, to participate fully in all forms of national activities, including employment in the service of Pakistan. Brave words these. Hollow when considered that not even two per cent of the GDP could be allocated to the education sector. The utilization each year was far short of the allocation. No explanations were called. No action taken for incompetence. The neglect of the State was appalling.

The State is also mandated under various International Conventions to guarantee this fundamental right to its citizens without fail or discrimination. The Government of Pakistan has ratified five International Conventions which concern education directly. There are also seven other international conventions which have indirect bearing on education. Aside from these, Pakistan has yet to ratify eight other conventions. There are also eight UN resolutions that effect education such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is one article in the convention that guarantees the right to education. The declaration is important because it sets a basic standard of human rights upon which many conventions are based. World Declaration on Education for All, World Conference on Education for all, was another forum where 155 countries and representatives from 150 organizations agreed to universalize primary education and massively reduce illiteracy before the end of the decade. It is a national disgrace that Pakistan today has more illiterate people in absolute numbers than it had five years ago.

Pakistan has generated a large number of literary laws over the last sixty years. These Statutes should have provided a detailed legal frame work of improving literacy, creating specific obligations on Government machinery, spell out timelines and above all recognize that education was a fundamental right of the citizens of Pakistan. These statutes should have been the most potent, intensive and comprehensive legislation to spell out the operational side of educational policy. Regrettably this has not been the case. Even the Literacy Ordinance 1985 has only one operational provision that is of little significance. Its claim to fame is only a declaratory definition of a literate person.

Real reforms in the education sector which are long over due cannot be undertaken without a comprehensive review of the existing constitutional provisions and legislation. This does not appear to be on the radar screen of the luminaries that claim to represent the people of Pakistan in the Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies. There are areas that cry out for attention even before any meaningful reforms are undertaken. The late autocrat Gen. Zia had decided that he would return Pakistan to the days of Nizam-ul-Mulk and the madressah system of the 11th century. The 21st century modern education was anathema to him. As a result, education in government managed schools started resting on the belief that repeated sermonizing and strict regimentation of the school environment will produce moral and patriotic Pakistanis. Gen. Zia caused mutilation of the school curriculum.. A great deal of un-related material was injected in the biology and science text books. The over-all objective was not to produce scientists and engineers of world repute or academicians that would shape the future of Pakistan as a progressive and tolerant Islamic state. The results are before us. We have succeeded in producing millions of "educated" but unemployable youth that are a drain on the national economy and creating enormous social problems.

The 18th Constitutional amendment has abolished the Concurrent List of the 1973 Constitution. Education has now been devolved on the provinces. Our commando President Gen. Musharraf had devolved primary, middle and secondary education to the district governments. The District nazims many of whom never went to any educational institution placed education on the back burners. The enrolment rates especially of female students actually fell nationally. This disgrace caused no alarm. No questions were raised in the National Assembly. No adjournment motions were moved. No resolutions were passed. There was a total collapse of the education system as it had existed before devolution became the panacea of all our ills. We seem to be persisting with our follies.

The Preamble to the 18th amendment states that: "Whereas it is expedient further to amend the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the purposes hereinafter appearing; AND WHEREAS the people of Pakistan have relentlessly struggled for democracy and for attaining the ideals of a Federal, Islamic, democratic, parliamentary and modern progressive welfare State, wherein the rights of the citizens are secured and the Provinces have equitable share in the Federation." It is presumed that the authors of the 18th amendment after deep and thoughtful meditation had arrived at the concensus that a modern progressive welfare state (Pakistan) will be achieved through devolution of curriculum, syllabus, standards of education and Islamic education on the four federating units. According to Dr. Ishrat Hussain, former Governor of the State Bank, "the reasons for Pakistan's low educational status are varied but one important factor is that Pakistan's educational system is highly fragmented and segmented. It has, therefore, created some intractable problems in the optimal utilization of human resources under the given labor market conditions." Devolving curriculum and standards of education to the Provinces will generate the kind of educational mayhem not witnessed in the country before. The mayhem unfortunately will be irreversible.

The Government of President Zardari is beset with a host of other problems that it is attempting to tackle quite unsuccessfully. It would be futile to expect that it will demonstrate the political will for a meaningful attack on preventing the rot in education before it sets in through the devolution plan of the 18th amendment.

—The writer is a member of the former Civil Service of Pakistan.







The Divine knowledge of Islam spirited the desert born simple Arabs to pursue Islam as a movement of life and to influence the world for the evolution of an Islamic civilization while the Europeans lived in barbarianism, Muslims were the most creative, progressive and successful people on earth. Numerous Christian authors describe the 8th – 16th century Muslims in Al-Andulus (Spain), as most tolerant, knowledgeable and pioneer of scientifically advanced civilization that facilitated European Renaissance and Industrial Revolution. One factor among the many, distinctively noted by reputable Christian authors are that when they describe the excellence of Muslim civilization and its achievements, it is referred to as "people of the Quranic Generation." Today, most of the Arab leaders avoid using the concept of the "Quranic Generation" - Muslim Ummah, and prefer to call themselves - an "Arab Ummah" – negating the intellectual magnificence and glorious contributions of the Islamic civilization.

What went wrong with the Arab pioneers of the Islamic civilization across the European continent? Among many of the reasons, one may cite few important ones: Change in Islamic Thinking: absence of a proactive vision for the humanity as chosen people for the good of humanity. Conscious neglect of the universal mission of Islam and resulting discard of Islamic movement across the globe. Non-conformance to the principles of Islamic movement for change, development and human success. Systematic decadence in intellectual, moral and political leadership. Dismantling of Islamic institutions for the development of One Ummah, and to avoid the role of reasoning and accountability. Increasing adaptability to western thinking, behaviors, educational system and social norms that drained out the Islamic thinking for unity, creativity and movement.

Leadership in Muslim societies is occupied by those who have no educational upbringing or interest in living Islam and lead nobody, mostly seen as being ignorant, corrupt, and subservient to the neo-colonialism and committed to secularism as a system of life. The Western strategic elite justify wars against the Muslim world as dating back to the Crusades. They know through patronage that Muslims have no leader like Sultan Salah uddin Ayoubi to challenge the Christian Crusaders and defeat them. European imperialism viewed Islamic civilization as an unacceptable entity to their goal of global domination and feared Islamic movement as a force with considerable challenge. In scientific discoveries, technology development, educational advancement and political emancipation, European colonial masters drifted the Muslim masses to a subhuman level below the pets.

Pioneers of scientifically progressive civilization, those Arabs and other Muslims became prisoners of foreign ideas – from freedom to human exploitation, all affixed on paper – phenomenon of exalted humanity – Al-Hamra palace to Taj Mahal, all transformed into digits and numbers to become an abstract reference in tourist guide, interpretive history full of material civilization, nothing else. The folly of deliberate aim of the pedagogy to conceal and distort the entire moral and spiritual progressive evolution of the mankind; left to be interpreted in questionable terminology. While arrogance and stupidity rules, true knowledge and divine wisdom live in denials. Arabian deserts are no longer deserted from cocktail parties and rock & roll, and its natural inhabitant's dream of living full life like the people do in London, Paris and New York. Continued oil revenues have polluted the traditional nomadic minds and behaviors. Would this trend of emerging naïve social thinking and behavior lost indefinitely? How to change the apparent failure and distorted impressions of the contemporary Muslim societies? Could the American scientific, business and technological cultural domination provide any framework for change, freedom and human progress?

Most western mythologist would prefer silence when their interests and hegemonic goals come into intellectual and political conflicts with the oil producing Arab world. Islam and its followers believe in change as a precept of the faith. Since "Islamic terrorism" phenomenon has emerged as a new data in American dictated global propaganda vocabulary and pre-conceived graphics of the Muslim images, little tangible and constrictive change can be imagined except resulting in clear failure of the Muslim leadership, from intellectual sphere to practically all value oriented domains.

Arab leaders dream normalcy that Saddam Hussein is no longer around and was hanged on video. American first colonial occupation of Iraq pleases the Zionist strategists in short and long terms success: availability of cheap Arab oil, fresh water, access to lands, immediate trade links and political recognition, open body culture of the west, and diminishing role of the Islamic values across the board. American and specially hired Brits – former PM and currently a candidate for war crimes against humanity, Tony Blair's war protagonists do believe that it was a real war fought against Saddam Hussein (their former faithful client), and it ended up in American victory and success even though the WMD hoax was a staged drama nothing other than a planned deception and treachery to the collective conscience of humanity that demonstrated strong opposition against the American planned war.

The Western strategic planners have programmed the Arab elite to play a robotic role in real world human affairs. For decades, the Arabs leaders have been doing this to please the Masters. Arab leaders curtail political activism in the citizenry and forged national positions in-between when principles of Islamic justice, honor and valor warranted a bold stand. They love Anglo-Saxon beauty and salute the blond soul and body in totality. Western masters did not train the Arab armies to fight for any public cause. The mission of Arab armies is not the defense of Islam, they are solely meant to guard the palaces, lock up the intellectuals arguing for change and reformation of political governance, and open fire on the agitating masses.


The West exploits the oil producing Arab nations under varied perceptions and political images. They view Arabs as backward people entangled in tribalism and not upto the value indicators of their standard of modernity. The Arabs got the economic prosperity without working for it. The West knows well that Arabs are often emotional and disunited lacking intellectual foresights and persuasive political activism in global affairs. The contemporary Arab leaders operate from a position of weakness and not of strength in global political arena. Yes, Arabs lack proactive leadership but they are rich in human values, culture and civilization. What is needed is to straighten out the Western policy makers with moral and intellectual challenge, not to take the Arabs for granted as John Perkins (Confession of an Economic Hitman) describes 'to milk the cows until sunset.' If the contemporary Arab leaders wanted to change the direction of their outlook and were good listeners and learners to educated Muslims and intellectuals, they could articulate moral and political challenges to America and Israel, and the political games and outcomes will be different and favorable to the Arabs. American and Israeli politicians do respond to challenges.

Arabs leaders celebrate the American success in Iraq, Afghanistan and across the Middle East but prey at their own people under the disguise of terrorism to dispel any sign of public resentment against the American-British intransigence and aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far an estimated 2.5 millions civilians have been killed in Iraq war and millions of habitats have been destroyed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even the Arab League and OIC could not dare to name America and Britain as the aggressors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American General invited the Ameer of the state to be the guest of honor and to bless the gathering. While enroute to the public stadium, the Ameer's caravan ran over a desert nomad crossing the road in a hurry. Time conscious Ameer could not stop the official limousine to see the dead nomad as he was already getting late to attend the celebration. Amidst the drumbeats and song and dance, the American General welcomed the Arab chief guest and applauded his visionary leadership role and contributions to support the American-British strategic goals in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

—The writer specializes in global security, peace and conflict resolution with keen interests in Muslim-Western comparative cultures and civilizations.








Many perceive Pakistan as a poor country. Others do not see it that way. They rate it an 'underdeveloped' or a third world country, but not a poor country. According to them a poor country is a 'least developed' country and Pakistan is not bracketed in those countries. According to some studies 40% of Pakistanis live below poverty line. The figure is quoted at 60% by others. If we compare a country with a family of 10 and find that 4 to 6 of the members live in poverty as defined by international standards, then the family is considered as poor especially if it lives within the eastern cultural criterion. In Pakistan it is not difficult to assess if an individual comes from a poor family or not. Keeping that view in mind can we call Pakistan poor? I'll come to that later, but firstly, let me talk about poverty in general.

Poverty has four aspects. It may be calorie based, income based, need based and right based. According to the World Heath Organisation (WHO), a person who cannot afford a diet of up to 2000 calorie a day is poor. The World Bank, on the other hand, considers a person poor who cannot earn up to 2 US Dollars per day. Both these scales affect the physical well-being of individuals. The most vulnerable in this type of poverty are children. According to a report; 6 million children under five die every year as a result of hunger134 million children between the ages of 7 to 18 have never been to school because of poverty. More than 1 billion children suffer from lack of proper nutrition, safe drinking water, decent sanitation facilities, health-care services, shelter, and education.

This is one face of poverty related to the first two facets. What about the other two aspects? For example, 'need' is a relative term. One person's needs can be different from the needs of the other. To make it more comprehensive the WHO had linked it with the term 'basic' and came up a poverty alleviation program in 1990s. They named it the 'Basic Minimum Needs' (BMN) Program, which was renamed the 'Basic Development Needs' (BDN) Program a few years later. It was a bottom up program, involving the community to participate in it at the grass-root levels on a Public Private Participation strategy. After implementing it in four provinces as a model project with participation of the WHO and getting positive results, the government of Pakistan under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif owned the program and made it as part of its 9th Five Years Plan in 1999. The then health ministry planned a ten year program to implement it all over Pakistan, with the goal to alleviate poverty amongst 60% of the population by the year 2010. Unfortunately, this program was put on the back burner after the military takeover of Gen Pervez Musharaf.

'Right based' poverty is also a relative term which has little to do with physical needs of individuals. A typical example is China. The country's economy is considered the fastest growing in the world, but yet it is taken as poor when it comes to basic human right issues. Western intellectuals and human rights lobbyists rank China as 'poor' according to their cerebral calibration. This type of poverty finds its place in the minds of individuals eroding their thought progress. May be such mental entrapment was perceived by Byron Katie when she said, "Thinking I should be something else means I'm not good enough now. This is poverty thinking and a guaranteed way to be miserable" Then, at another place she said, "Would you rather be right or free?" That is why for some of the activists this issue is as important and as painful as physical hunger.

The causes of the four aspects of poverty are hidden in economic, cultural, social, and political disparity. Failing to understand the extent of individual facets makes the solutions difficult to achieve. As a consequence, the proposed short or medium term measures employed to counter the impact of poverty on individuals are hampered by blocking channels such as charitable donations for basic needs provision. To make the situation worse, the power holders mismanage political lobbying & campaigning necessary for individual projects such as the creation of permanent social welfare systems thus creating recurrent turbulences in the flow towards societal prosperity.

This brings me back to the original question; is Pakistan poor? Everybody knows that poverty has hit Pakistan, targeting its society in more than one way. A few days ago I received an interesting information on this very subject. It was supplied by a Director of a Swiss bank and forwarded by the respectable, Arbab Hidayatullah who received it from Mr. Asad Jehangir, a retired IG Police. The information not only provides an answer to the aforementioned question, but suggests in-depth solutions too. It states, "Pakistanis are poor but Pakistan is not a poor country. This is from one of the Swiss Bank Directors. He says that "28 trillion (28,000,000,000,000) Pak Rupees are deposited in Swiss Banks. The amount is such that if it were in Pakistan, it could be used for:- "Tax free" budget for 30 years. Giving 60 million jobs to all of Pakistan. Constructing 4 lane roads from any village to Islamabad. Ensuring a forever free supply to more than 500 social projects. Financial Assistance of Rs 20,000 per month to every citizen for 60 years. Disbanding the need of World Bank and IMF loans.

With this information in mind, I would like to leave it to the intelligence of the reader to decide on whether Pakistan really is poor. And if it is, whether rich Pakistanis can turn it into an affluent and prosperous country by bringing their wealth back to their motherland which is limping on the crutches of the World Bank, IMF and other Lending or Donor Agencies. Will they take the first step by investing in Pakistan what they have in Swiss banks and change the fate of their motherly country? If not, will it be asking too much of the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan to take a suo moto action, directing Pakistanis with Swiss bank accounts to make their deposits known. In this way, at least, the public would know how many Pakistanis hold how much in those banks. If there is no law which gives power to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take action in cases like this, would the civil society come into action and pressurise the parliamentarians to make such law?







Every year on 15 January, the Indian Army celebrates Army Day to commemorate the appointment of Lt Gen (later Field Marshal) KM Kariappa as Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army in place of Sir Francis Butcher, the last British Commander in 1949. Since then it has been a tradition to present the gallantry and distinguished service awards to the deserving soldiers on this day. The awards are presented by the Army Commanders in each of the Commands of the Indian Army.

Even this year the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, Lt Gen K.T Parnaik, presented 57 Sena Medals and five Vishisht Seva Medals to the awardees for their out standing performance in the Indian Occupied Kashmir. General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command's Appreciation Cards were also presented to twenty two units from different arms and services which excelled in their respective operational duties in last one year. President, Family Welfare Organization of Northern Command, Mrs. Anagha Parnaik also interacted with the families of brave soldiers and encouraged them to continue their unstinted support to their spouses in performance of their duty. The Northern Command of the Indian army is based in Udhampur and consists of three Corps, the XIV, XV, and XVI. All units are deployed along the Line of Control in Kashmir with the exceptions of the 39th Infantry Division, and the 2nd, 3rd, and 16th Independent Armored Brigades. Although the government of India is doing its best to uplift the image of The Northern Command using all possible means yet things are going upside down despite all these efforts. For the last many years there were reports of rising suicides and of random shootouts on colleagues among the soldiers of the Northern Command.

The situation had become a grave challenge for the hi-ups of the Indian Army. To sort out the solution to this problem the army leadership formulated a board of different consultants and analysts in 2009. After a very careful research, the board released a report which pointed out that Indian soldiers deployed in the valley were committing suicides and killing their own colleagues out of acute frustration and depression. The report said that majority of the soldiers deployed in the valley were married and were away from their wives for very long periods, they were in the grip of sexual frustrations which ultimately transformed into mental frustration. For a long term solution of this problem with the consultation of RAW, a battalion of female sex workers was recruited from far flung areas of the country and posted as Border Guards in the occupied Kashmir by Indian army in September 2009. The only objective of this recruitment was to provide the opportunities of having sexual satisfaction to the soldiers in the area who were constantly in a state of sexual frustrations. Unfortunately the 'hungry' soldiers got so excited by this facility that they ignored all precautionary measures while enjoying the sweet company of these newly inducted 'delicacies'.

By the mid of 2010, the Indian Army hi-ups got them in a state of shock when they were reported that at least 63 out of the total 178 female soldiers posted under Northern Command were suffering from very serious type of sex related diseases. It was also reported that most of them were pregnant due to unsafe sexual activities. Though the situation was very much painful and insulting for the whole of the Indian army but some of the ruthless analysts were happy over the situation thinking that the army would get a bulk of new born soldiers in case the pregnancies are carried on. They said that the new born soldiers would surely lend a more helping hand to their fathers and mothers in crushing the freedom movement in Indian held Kashmir. Unfortunately no one has yet suggested that such new born soldiers must also be remembered on the 15th January of every year during the celebrations of Army Day in India and presented with awards and prizes.

Be it the Eastern Command or the Northern Command, it is almost next to impossible for any one to crush the freedom movement in Indian Occupied Kashmir by use of force. The brutal military actions of Indian forces in the valley are simply adding salt to injuries. Particularly the young Kashmiris are more reactionary and more resolute regarding their undeniable right of self-determination. They demand for grant of basic democratic rights to Kashmiris under UN resolutions and nothing else.

Unless their right of self-determination is not realized, the situation in the Indian held Kashmir would keep on getting more painful and more pathetic. A fact finding team to Kashmir has exposed that since June 2010, 111 deaths have been registered in Indian held Kashmir (IHK) including a large number of students of 8-25 years of age. According to Kashmir Media Service 93,505 deaths including custodial killings occurred from 1989 to October 2010 at the hands of security forces in IHK. Since June 2010, over a hundred protesters have been killed and hundreds more have been arrested in clashes with Indian forces. At present the innocent Kashmiries are passing through the ever-worst phase of their life but the International community has done nothing so far for them. The scenic paradise of the Indian Occupied Kashmir is once again blazing with flames of fright and terror. Countless innocent Kashmiries have yet been injured and so many deprived of their lives. Schools, markets, offices, mosques and even the small mud-houses are presenting picture of a wasteland. Continuous curfew, non-stop strikes and much more; what must the helpless Kashmiris do in such a pitiful situation when their self-imposed caretakers are busy in showering prizes and awards of honour upon those who are raping their women, burning their houses and slaughtering their children.








Chris Bowen is starting to talk tough on asylum-seekers arriving by boat. "People who are not genuine refugees will be returned to Afghanistan with dignity and humanity, but they will be returned," the Immigration Minister said on Monday, announcing a long overdue agreement with Kabul. This will upset the asylum-seekers lobby, which believes that by risking all at sea people demonstrate how bad things are at home, making their case to be refugees. Mr Bowen should ignore the activists. The number of people turning up on our shores will continue to increase unless aspiring immigrants understand they will be sent home if they cannot demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution there. Hard times at home or hope for a better life here do not qualify. And the new arrangement is not as devious as the government's previous panicky ploy, to suspend visa applications from Afghanistan.

This agreement will go some small way to undo the damage done to Australia's immigration system by Labor's relaxation of the Howard government's tough processing policy. Like it or not, using Nauru as a processing centre, beyond the writ of Australian law, stopped the boats. About 200 people arrived here by boat between 2002 and 2006. Since Labor signalled an easier approach, the numbers have increased each year. There are now more than 6000 people in immigration detention. And the more who come by sea the more who are at danger of drowning. The only way to stop a repeat of the December disaster at Christmas Island is to get the number of smuggling craft back to the 2002 level, when there were just two.

It is also important the community does not think there is an open-door policy for boatpeople. Australia accepts 13,500 immigrants a year on humanitarian grounds and there is a case for accepting more. But this would require the electorate being confident the government had not lost control of the flow of informal arrivals and that people who applied through the official system, and waited for years in Indonesia, were not being displaced by others who could afford to sail to the front of the queue. Most of the 4300 Afghans who have arrived by boat since 2008 were found to have a case for asylum -- only 720 had their claims rejected. It is important that these individuals are sent home with the message that it takes more to settle in Australia than just turning up.






Just as the global financial crisis was a make-or-break moment for Kevin Rudd in 2008, so the calamitous floods of 2010-11 could prove for his successor. Already, the disaster in Queensland, and to a lesser extent the flooding in Victoria and northern NSW, have redefined Julia Gillard's political agenda. After months of looking like a Prime Minister in search of a platform, she now has an issue so overwhelming that it has, at least for now, pushed other policy questions to the margin.

The government has little choice. Faced with a repair bill as high as $20 billion, an urgent need to assist damaged households and businesses, and the possibility of economic distortion because of ruined crops, interrupted exports and a shortage of labour, a focus on the floods is essential. In the end, the buck stops with Canberra. Just as the GFC became the unchallenged priority in 2008, so is Queensland recognised as the No 1 issue now, with national sympathy for victims and an assumption that all levels of government must give it their undivided attention. There are similarities, too, in the way the GFC was an initial hit to the economy followed by a stimulus. Economists suggest the present battering could be followed by a resurgence as reconstruction kicks in and people buy new consumer items -- although several companies have already announced profit downgrades because of ruined stock and facilities

For now, the floods demand an urgent response and government intervention. This is real nation-building, unlike the problematic Building the Education Revolution exercise and the National Broadband Network. But the need for speed cannot shield Labor from the need for long-term productivity improvements through labour market reform, taxation changes and attention to infrastructure. Nor can Ms Gillard rely on the floods to secure her government's electoral fortunes. Fixing the damage in Queensland will not solve infrastructure and transport bottlenecks in western Sydney, nor will it reduce health queues in Adelaide or protect small business from escalating wages bills in Melbourne or Perth. Thus the Prime Minister faces a complicated task -- meeting 75 per cent of repair costs for the floods while maintaining effort across the country. Inevitably there will be hard choices between competing infrastructure projects. Like the Queensland government -- and the Brisbane City Council, which yesterday signalled that it would have to cut spending -- Canberra will be forced to choose between shelving some projects; increasing its budget deficit; or imposing a levy or tax to fund repairs. The Prime Minister refused to be drawn on this yesterday while restating her determination to get the budget back into surplus in two years.

Such fiscal rectitude is welcome, even if the goal appears ambitious. The nation cannot afford the waste that was part of the GFC response, when billions were lost in the pink batts program and cost overruns in the BER. At least this time, the money will not be spent on make-work programs disguised as infrastructure projects but on tangible and essential repairs to homes, roads and other vital infrastructure. Canberra will bear the brunt of the costs but the recovery depends on co-ordinated effort from individuals, business, and the three tiers of government -- local, state and federal. The Prime Minister has made a good start with business, yesterday launching a taskforce headed by transport magnate Lindsay Fox to co-ordinate donations. But in the next few months, the generosity of companies may be tested as they face price inflation, potentially higher interest rates, and a wages breakout caused by shortages of labour and goods. And wages costs are likely to be exacerbated by Labor's own rigid industrial relations rules.

Something will have to give. Australia will find it hard to absorb the massive cost of rebuilding after the floods without straining budgets and potentially distorting the economy. It is too late to rue the billions thrown at the GFC that would have been so useful now. But the crisis offers Labor a chance to show that it has learnt from its mistakes. The stakes are high -- not just for the flood victims, but for Australians generally, and for a federal government that faces a significant test of policy and governance.







THE ties between Australia and Britain are so strong and numerous it is surprising that almost 20 years has passed since a British foreign secretary visited this country. This point is made by the present office holder, William Hague, and the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, as they finally end that drought. Writing jointly in the Herald yesterday they said it was hard to imagine that so large a gap had been allowed.

While Tony Blair visited Australia as prime minister, what makes the general absence of the heavyweights of British government - the foreign secretary, defence secretary and the chancellor of the exchequer - so unbalanced is that London has remained a routine stop for Australian prime ministers and cabinet ministers.

Only part of the explanation can be that during 16 of the past 20 years the governments in Westminster and Canberra have been political opposites. Mostly, when Labor was in power in Australia the Tories were in power in Britain, and when Labour was in power in Britain the conservative Coalition was in power in Australia. It took a minority Conservative government to end this state of affairs when Australia has a minority Labor government.

Hague and Fox made clear the abundance of reasons the two governments should strengthen their ties, including bilateral business investment, bilateral trade, bilateral people movement, common diplomatic, defence and intelligence ties, a deep legacy of shared history, and a shared military burden in Afghanistan. Just on the security and defence side, the two ministers and their Australian counterparts discussed a long list of topics yesterday.

There are even more reasons for a higher level of engagement than those that can be publicly expressed. Both countries have common purpose in reforming global financial markets in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008. As the US's two most staunch and trusted allies, Australia and Britain could also work together in applying more scrutiny to US intelligence and policies in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the Americans were presented with a joint position by their two most reliable military allies, representing 85 million people, it would have greater weight. The two countries compete to some extent in the emerging giant economies of Asia, India and China, such as in education and other services, but transcending trade London and Canberra have a common interest in encouraging their peaceful rise as pillars of the global order.






THE stink around the NSW Labor government grows more noxious every day. As the Premier, Kristina Keneally, and Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, defend the ever-shrinking net proceeds of the power sale and try to keep dissenting directors and officials out of privileged testimony, we learn of another case in which an important decision is taken in the absence of full parliamentary scrutiny.

As the Herald reported yesterday, the government has declared that roads owned by the City of Sydney Council around the contentious Barangaroo development have been removed from the council's control and put under the Barangaroo Delivery Authority. This is supposed to speed up work on the remediation of the site currently buried under roads and the concrete container wharf platform, thought to have toxic residues from the long-demolished gasworks operating there from the mid-19th century.

The streamlining of the project supervision removes one more irritant from letting the state government and the developers, Lend Lease, get on with construction. The irritant is a city council elected by people who live and work in the city. The remediation will be carried out by Lend Lease and audited by an independent consultant on environmental assessment of land sites and groundwater, Graeme Nyland. Lend Lease says safe guarding the harbour is a ''key priority''.

Exactly who will pick up the bill for fixing whatever is found is something that has not been worked out. It will not be Lend Lease, it will not be the authority and it will apparently not be the state government, which thinks it should be the company that was the latest owner of the gasworks site. This has gone, it seems, through a series of takeovers and ever-fanciful corporate renamings from AGL to Alinta to Jemena, a power and water utility owned by Singapore Power. With talk of court actions in the air, Jemena says ''discussions are continuing'' with the authority. The authority insists taxpayers will not be paying.

So this is another toxic, unresolved legacy that state Labor will hand over at its seemingly inevitable defeat on March 26, and perhaps not the last important decision that will be made in this curious twilight zone, where Parliament is prorogued but the government is not in caretaker mode. We would have thought that a continuing council involvement in the remediation would have been an added reassurance to the public. A collateral casualty, too, is the council's removal from planning the pedestrian bridges and other links into what will eventually be a huge concentration of workers, residents and people at leisure.





IF ONE were to view this year's tertiary enrolment figures through rose-coloured glasses, a healthy economy, rebounding from the effects of the global financial crisis with strong jobs growth, would come into sharp focus. Demand for tertiary courses tends to rise when job markets tighten - people making the sensible calculation that ''skilling-up'' at university may enhance their employment prospects. By the same measure, the fact that student applications for Victorian tertiary institutions have dipped this year is indeed a symptom of economic health, as University of Melbourne associate professor Leesa Wheelahan observed in The Age yesterday.

But education is investment made with an eye to tomorrow's economy. The shift away from tertiary study flies in the face of both federal government policy and the nation's longer-term interests, particularly if university study is being passed up in favour of low-skilled jobs inherently vulnerable to the next downturn. The softening in demand for tertiary study has hit the TAFE sector hardest, with applications plummeting by almost 10 per cent as institutions struggle to compete with universities. As Professor Wheelahan again notes, this fall may partly reflect confusion in response to a shake-up of the sector in which fees have climbed and HECS-style loans introduced.

Whatever the significance of this year's tertiary snap-shot, the bigger picture is complex, uncertain and worrying for universities. The squeeze comes from the top, as long-term underfunding - which has been estimated by universities to be a shortfall of $2 billion a year - has encouraged too great a reliance on overseas students.

The danger of this funding model, or lack thereof, has become clear recently, as tougher visa requirements for international students, coupled with the appreciation of the dollar, lessened the appeal of Australian universities relative to their international competitors. (Some in the university sector further argue the slump may also be a sign that international students are beginning to perceive Australian institutions as under-resourced.)

This year's 6 per cent slump in international year 12 student applications for tertiary study is concerning given the extent to which universities rely on international fees to subsidise domestic student places. Foreign students contribute an average of 16 per cent of the total funding of universities - at Monash University revenue from overseas students alone accounts for about 20 per cent of its budget.

Melbourne University's senior vice-principal, Ian Marshman, says his institution receives an average $16,000 for a Commonwealth-supported domestic student place when the average cost of educating a student is more than $20,000. By contrast, an international student delivers about $28,000 in fees. As Mr Marshman correctly observes, international students have effectively been sustaining the ''whole of the system''. And when international student numbers slide it has the potential to undermine the entire sector.

The pressures could well intensify next year when the cap is to be lifted on university enrolments. Lifting the cap is a sound policy response, which reflects the federal government's respectable target of having 40 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds hold a bachelor degree by 2025, up from 29 per cent. There is already encouraging progress on raising the number of students from low socio-economic backgrounds attending university. But one doesn't need a PhD to see a crisis looming. If international enrolments fail to improve and universities are made to educate more students without a sustainable increase in funding per student, this latest attempt to make Australia the ''clever country'' risks faltering. The nation's long-term economic health depends on getting this right.





HOW strange to witness the exit of one dictator after the upheaval in Tunisia and the almost simultaneous return to Haiti of another strongman ousted by a revolution 25 years ago. Although both are former French colonies, they are otherwise two countries as distinct as can be imagined. It must be hoped the path Tunisia now takes will not be the same miserable trail Haiti has recently travelled.

For more than two decades, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali held the smallest state of the Maghreb region under his heel but over the past month the people of Tunisia decided enough was enough. After a cycle of protests, security crackdowns and riots, Ben Ali is now gone, chased out by a popular uprising. The squabble over the future political leadership in Tunisia is well under way and neighbouring dictators of Arab states, especially Libya's ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, are rightly worried that their turn will be next.

But the so-called ''Jasmine Revolution'' in Tunisia is not the first to inspire such hopes. The ''Cedar Revolution'' in Lebanon in 2005 set off a chain of similar speculation about democratisation in the Middle East, yet instead Lebanon itself remains mired in political crisis. And events in Haiti are a further reminder that revolutions rarely lead to certainty.

In 1986, Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier was forced into exile from the Caribbean state he had lorded over for 15 years. Baby Doc had extended the brutal Duvalier dynasty after the death of his father, Francois ''Papa Doc'', who had ruled from 1957 with the help of the vicious secret police, the Tonton Macoutes. In exile - watching from the comforts of France as Haiti suffered two decades of torturous political upheaval, famine, foreign military intervention and a crippling earthquake last year - Duvalier waited for the chance to return. This week, he arrived.

At the airport in Port-au-Prince, Duvalier declared: ''I've come to help.'' His past form suggests he has come to help himself. Haiti is in political flux, its recent election producing a stalemate. A run-off vote intended to be held last week was delayed because the candidates could not agree who was entitled to be in the race against the other and their supporters took to the streets. This, as the country struggles to rebuild from a natural disaster that has seen cholera outbreaks and left about 1 million people living in tents.

The first responsibility of any government is the welfare of its people, a rule Tunisia's new leaders must always heed.







Two big questions emerge from this report – one for Mervyn King, and the other for George Osborne

Inflation reports are manna for people who like to quote numbers, and yesterday's was no exception. There was obviously the 3.7% figure, which is how much prices jumped in December from a year earlier. That is up from 3.3% in November, which makes for the biggest month-on-month rise on record. And what largely accounted for the increase? Transport costs (up 3.6% in just a month – again, unprecedented), food (another record-breaking rise) and household fuel bills.

And here is another figure: 2%. That is the level at which the Bank of England is meant to keep inflation. Over one percentage point above that, and Mervyn King, governor at the Bank, has to write a letter to the chancellor explaining why and what action he will take. Given that oil and food prices are still spiking up, there will be plenty more missives heading from Threadneedle Street to the Treasury over the next few months. Bearing in mind that yesterday's set of figures were collected before the new year hike in VAT, it would be a brave soul who bet against inflation climbing to 4% by spring.

Two big questions emerge from this report – one for Mr King, and the other for George Osborne. The questions are essentially the same: what are you going to do about this? The Bank chief and his colleagues on the monetary policy committee (MPC) are bound to come under growing pressure to raise interest rates – or face losing their inflation-fighting credentials. The official line is the one trotted out by MPC member Paul Fisher in an interview