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Thursday, January 20, 2011

EDITORIAL 20.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Editorial

Month january 20, edition 000734, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. PM RESHUFFLES HIS TEAM
  2. HEALTHCARE IN DISARRAY
  3. OIL, ISLAM AND DIPLOMACY - G PARTHASARATHY
  4. TACKLING CORRUPTION AT SOURCE - JS RAJPUT
  5. INDIA SITTING ATOP POPULATION BOMB - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
  6. PAVING THE PATH FOR RADICAL ISLAMIST REGIMES - BARRY RUBIN

MAIL TODAY

  1. CABINET REJIG FALLS SHORT OF WHAT THE GOVT NEEDED
  2. BRING BACK THE LOOT
  3. BLOWING HOT AND COLD
  4. PM NEEDS ONE MORE RESHUFFLE - BY MANOJ JOSHI

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. MERRY GO ROUND
  2. HEED THE CALL
  3. CHINESE NATIONALISM GOES VIRAL - INDRANI BAGCHI
  4. DEVELOPMENT OILS FRICTIONS
  5. SOCIAL DISCRIMINATION STILL PERSISTS - AJAY VAISHNAV

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. A SHUFFLE, NOT A RESHUFFLE
  2. FLIGHTS OF FANCY
  3. A QUIET MAN'S MURDER - SAMAR HALARNKAR
  4. WE'RE NOT PAKISTAN - HARBANS MUKHIA

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. DIM THE RED
  2. RE-CASTEING DEBATE
  3. DOUBT, UNENDING
  4. LOOK SOUTH-EAST - BALADAS GHOSHAL
  5. HAVING GROWTH, EATING IT TOO - MK VENU
  6. LET'S TRAI AGAIN - SUNIL JAIN
  7. MOMZILLA, YOU GET A B-MINUS
  8. HIGH-TECH TRADE - C. RAJA MOHAN
  9. COME CLEAN, RSS TO BJP

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. SHORT OF BUSINESS
  2. MORE OPTICS, LESS ACTION
  3. INCLUSIVE INDIA, INNOVATIVE INDIA - YC DEVESHWAR
  4. DIALLING THE PAST, AGAIN - RISHI RAJ
  5. EAVESDROPPER
  6. ORIGINAL SIN

THE HINDU

  1. TELANGANA ECHO IN DARJEELING HILLS
  2. MINIMISING RISKS TO RECOVERY
  3. READING IS BASIC TO DEMOCRACY  - KRISHNA KUMAR
  4. MUSICAL CHAIRS ON A DRIFTING SHIP  - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
  5. ARAB LEADERS KEEP A WARY EYE ON TUNISIA  - MONA EL-NAGGAR AND MICHAEL SLACKMAN
  6. BRAZIL TO STEP UP PLANS FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS  - ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
  7. 'SMART' PROSTHESES  - LUCY TOBIN

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. WILL PM'S SHUFFLE MEAN BETTER GOVT?
  2. NUCLEAR MORALITY

DNA

  1. CABINET RESHUFFLE IS JUST A TWEAKING EXERCISE
  2. A CASE OF WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR PROCESSES
  3. PROPOSED MEDICAL CET IGNORES STAKEHOLDERS - SK RAO
  4. DYNASTY POLITICS IS ABOUT PROTECTING ILL-GOTTEN WEALTH - R VAIDYANATHAN

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. KILL THE KILLER
  2. TIGHTEN THE REINS
  3. NEED MORE PRODUCTION TO CONTROL INFLATION - BY ARABINDA GHOSE
  4. ENVIRONMENT A BIG BUSINESS - BY LALIT SETHI
  5. DEFENCE DEALS WITH THE US - BY ANIRUDH PRAKASH

THE TRIBUNE

  1. PINPRICKING BY CHINA
  2. STILL GROPING IN THE DARK
  3. IDENTIFICATION ADVANTAGE
  4. OIL, ISLAM AND DIPLOMACY - BY G. PARTHASARATHY
  5. TOO MUCH OF "HAPPY NEW YEAR" - BY RAJ KANWAR
  6. EPIDEMIC IN THE MAKING - ADITI TANDON

THE KASHMIR TIMES

  1. A PERNICIOUS TRADITION
  2. POWERLESS MANAGEMENT
  3. BLACK MONEY STASHED ABROAD - INDER MALHOTRA
  4. WIN YOUR KINGDOM..! - BY ROBERT CLEMENTS

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. AN AUDIENCE OF ONE

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. A SUB-OPTIMAL RESHUFFLE
  2. TIME FOR BABY STEPS
  3. AVOID POLICY MISHAPS - RAJEEV MALIK
  4. AN OPPORTUNITY TO SCORE? - KANIKA DATTA
  5. READY FOR THE AFRICAN SAFARI? - T S VISHWANATH
  6. THE GREAT INDIAN FOOD CHALLENGE - INDICUS ANALYTICS

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. THIS ISN'T IT
  2. NO MORE TAX AMNESTIES
  3. CAT O' NINE TALES
  4. WHO SAYS IT DOESN'T PAY TO DEFAULT?  - T T RAM MOHAN
  5. A SHRINKING OF WORLD VIEWS  - M RAJSHEKHAR
  6. THE BEST INVESTMENTS FOR HUMANITY - BJØRN LOMBORG
  7. HAIL THE GANAYOGI  - VITHAL C NADKARNI

BUSINESS LINE

  1. BIG RETAIL, NO PANACEA TO FOOD INFLATION WOES
  2. HARISH DAMODARAN
  3. TWENTY TESTED TAKEAWAYS
  4. GREENER DEVELOPMENT
  5. NEEDED, BLOODHOUNDS  - K.P. SASHIDHARAN
  6. REALIGNING TIES IN GULF REGION  - G. PARTHASARATHY
  7. DISSECTING A COMPLEX DEAL

DECCAN CHRONICLE

  1. SEARCHING FOR GOD, BUT TELEVISION WILL DO  - BY UMBERTO ECO
  2. NUCLEAR MORALITY  - BY BHARAT KARNAD
  3. WILL PM'S SHUFFLE MEAN BETTER GOVT?  
  4. GINGER WORKS AFTER WORKOUT - BY ANAHAD O'CONNOR
  5. A NIGHT IN TUNISIA  - BY KAMEL RIAHI
  6. GET INVOLVED OR FALL DEAD  - BY SADHGURU

THE STATESMAN

  1. ALARUMS WITHIN
  2. OUTRAGE IN UP
  3. WHO RULES CHINA?DIVERGENCE OF POLICY BETWEEN GOVERNMENT & PLA  -  BY RAJINDER PURI
  4. CAPITAL CONUNDRUM  - ARUNABHA BAGCHI
  5. CYCLES OF AMSTERDAM  - JAGMOHAN CHOPRA
  6. NO WONDER YOUNG BRITONS HAVE A DRINK PROBLEM - MARY ANN SIEGHART

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. ROUGH PASSAGE
  2. CRY FREEDOM
  3. CHILLED OUT  - ANABEL LOYD
  4. WHAT THE LIST DOES NOT - NEHA SAHAY
  5. THE DISMISSAL OF A BBC PRESENTER FOR LOOKING HER AGE EXPOSES HOW POPULAR
  6. WHOSE PROBLEM IS IT ANYWAY? - NAYANTARA MAZUMDER
  7. SIZE UP  - BHASWATI CHAKRAVORTY

DECCAN HERALD

  1. CONFUSING SIGNALS
  2. DEFENCE SOLUTIONS
  3. INTEREST RATES FIXATION  - BY PREM SHANKAR JHA
  4. THOSE LITTLE THINGS  - BY CHITRA SRIKRISHNA
  5. SAVE THE SEYCHELLES FROM PIRATES - BY VICTOR EROFEYEV, IHT

OHERALDO

  1. A PARALLEL ECONOMY
  2. HUMANITY'S FLAG AT HALF MAST
  3. FREDDY DIAS
  4. A HOLIDAY TREAT  - BY MARC DE SOUZA

THE SENTINEL

  1. QUESTIONS TO GOGOI  
  2. WHAT'S YOUR PLAN?  
  3. A WRONG MESSAGE FROM KASHMIR  

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. THE BACK-TO-FRONT PROBE OF YOAV GALANT
  2. RATTLING THE CAGE: IM TIRTZU'S SPECTACLE OF FALSEHOOD - BY LARRY DERFNER 
  3. WASHINGTON WATCH: LABOR'S LOVE LOST - BY D. BLOOMFIELD 
  4. FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: A FAREWELL TO LABOR? - BY MICHAEL FREUND 
  5. JNF, BDS AND THE BEDUIN - BY SETH MORRISON 
  6. GAS FIELDS IN CONTESTED SEAS - BY ROBBIE SABEL 
  7. TU BISHVAT – THE KNESSET'S 62ND ANNIVERSARY - BY S.H. ROLEF 

HAARETZ

  1. ENFORCEMENT THAT HAS PASSED ITS TIME
  2. DAGAN BROUGHT A POSSIBLE ATTACK ON IRAN CLOSER - BY ARI SHAVIT
  3. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF RABIN, PERES AND SHARON  - BY ISRAEL HAREL
  4. WHO SHOULD FEAR LIEBERMAN? - BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON
  5. REDEMPTION WON'T COME FROM ISRAEL'S 'YOUNG SUCCESS STORIES' - BY GIDEON LEVY

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. BEYOND THE HAPPY VISUALS
  2. THE LAST THING HAITI NEEDS
  3. MISSING MANDATE FROM ROME
  4. COUSINS UNDER THE SKIN
  5. WHAT I LEARNED FROM SARGENT SHRIVER - BY BONO
  6. GOODBYE TO A GUY NAMED JOE - BY GAIL COLLINS
  7. THE RISE OF CHINESE CHENEYS - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  8. FROM STRUGGLING OWNERS TO STABLE RENTERS - BY DAVID E. KAPELL

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON HEALTH LAW: HOUSE GOP VOTE IS EASY. NOW WHAT?
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON HEALTH LAW: 'WE NEED A NEW APPROACH' - BY JOE PITTS
  3. U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS: A NEWFOUND MATURITY - BY LEWIS M. SIMONS
  4. JUSTICES SHOULD ATTEND STATE OF THE UNION - BY TONY MAURO
  5. OREN: DIRECT TALKS NEEDED FOR MIDEAST PEACE - BY MICHAEL B. OREN

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. REP. FLEISCHMANN'S WARNING
  2. SHOCKING RATE OF TEEN MOTHERS
  3. COMMON SENSE ON IMMIGRATION

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - WE SALUTE KAZAKH PRESS FREEDOM
  2. TUNISIA JUST AT THE BEGINNING OF REVOLUTION - SAMİ KOHEN
  3. TURMOIL IN TUNISIA - RICHARD REID
  4. THE CAMPS OF SHAME - LAHCEN HADDAD
  5. IS IT SO HARD TO OPEN THE DINK FILE? - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  6. WEIGHING IN ON WORKS OF ART - FRANK WHITE
  7. THE LAST PERSECUTION BY THE SOVIETS: THE MASSACRE OF BAKU ON JAN. 20, 1990 - ELSEVER SALMANOV
  8. TUNISIA, THE ARAB WORLD AND THE 'TURKISH MODEL' - USUF KANLI

THE NEWS

  1. EDUCATION DILEMMA
  2. A CLOSE CALL
  3. SUN, WIND & WAVES
  4. THE AFGHAN ENDGAME  - SHAMSHAD AHMAD
  5. SAVING PAKISTAN  - MEEKAL A AHMED
  6. THE CURSE OF PERJURY  - IKRAM SEHGAL
  7. IS A REVERSAL POSSIBLE?  - NAEEM SADIQ
  8. DESPERATE TO DEPART, READY TO DIE  - KAMILA HYAT
  9. MISCONCEPTIONS?  - M ZEB KHAN

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. PERHAPS MALAKAND TYPE OPERATION DUE IN KARACHI
  2. THE PHENOMENAL RISE OF CHINA
  3. NO SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN IN CAPITAL
  4. APPRAISAL OF WAR ON TERROR - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  5. RELIGIOUS FRENZY GRIPS PAKISTAN - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
  6. A GREAT SACRIFICE - DR GHANZANFAR MEHDI
  7. WOT: AMPLIFIED TERRORISM - MAIMUNA ASHRAF
  8. WHY DEFENCE CUTS CAN HELP AMERICA - MICHAEL O' HANLON

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. A BEAR HUG FROM THE BRITS
  2. LET'S CALL A MOTHER A MOTHER
  3. A STUFF-UP FROM RIDICULOUS START TO WRETCHED FINISH

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. THE GREAT POWER SALE SNOW JOB
  2. ILL-CONCEIVED SURROGACY LAW
  3. TEACHER EXPERIMENT PASSES THE TEST
  4. A MATTER OF PROTECTION, NOT PERSECUTION

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF … THE GREAT BUSTARD GROUP
  2. THE SPEAKER: BERCOW'S BOUNDARIES
  3. POLICING AND SURVEILLANCE: THE INSPECTOR CALLS

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. MOMENT OF TRUTH NEARS
  2. THE PRICE OF CLIMATE CHANGE? -BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
  3. EXPOSING GLOBALIZATION'S DARK SIDE - BY JORGE HEINE AND RAMESH THAKUR

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. BIPOLARITY IS BACK
  2. GAYUS DESERVES ALCATRAZ
  3. G30S IN THE EYES OF FRANCE  - ASVI WARMAN ADAM
  4. DIRECT OR INDIRECT ELECTION: DOES IT MATTER? - SUNNY TANUWIDJAJA
  5. MANDALA THE TIP OF AN ICEBERG - CHAPPY HAKIM

CHINA DAILY

  1. FDI DOOR STILL WIDE OPEN
  2. BUILDING FAIR DEMOLITIONS
  3. MAKING MORE PEOPLE WEALTHY - BY CHI FULIN (CHINA DAILY)
  4. FLIP SIDE OF IPR PROTECTION - BY MEI XINYU (CHINA DAILY)
  5. PEACEFUL PENINSULA IS COMMON GOAL - BY SU HAO (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, SALMAN TASEER AND THE LIMITS OF FREE SPEECH
  2. FIGHTING PERSISTENT POVERTY
  3. ECONOMIC COST AVOIDED BY THE USE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY  - BY ASOKA ABEYGUNAWARDANA
  4. TARGETING WORLD CUP TO DROP BOMB
  5. THE THREAT OF THE LTTE RAISING ITS UGLY HEAD ONCE MORE

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. UPDATING THE CLASSICS...    - BY B COMBER

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. UNDERSTANDING TURKEY'S NEW FOREIGN POLICY - BY SINAN ÜLGEN
  2. U.S. AND CHINA IN A BATTLE FOR INFLUENCE - BY ALEX CALLINICOS
  3. IRAN'S FOREIGN POLICY AND THE SUBSIDY REFORM PLAN - BY OUR STAFF WRITER 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

PM RESHUFFLES HIS TEAM

PLUS ÇA CHANGE, PLUS C'EST LA MÊME CHOSE


The Prime Minister has described Wednesday's expansion and reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers as a "minor" makeover and promised a "more expansive" exercise after the Budget Session of Parliament scheduled to begin next month. He is not incorrect in his description of the much-anticipated and much speculated upon expansion-cum-reshuffle: Although as many as 37 changes in work allocation have been effected and three new faces inducted, there really isn't much to write home about. No changes were expected in the key portfolios of Finance, Home Affairs and Defence, although there was some speculation that perhaps Mr SM Krishna would be given a less onerous ministerial assignment if not handed a pink slip because his performance as Minister for External Affairs has been just short of disastrous. Since neither has happened, obviously the Prime Minister is not only comfortable with Mr Krishna occupying the office next door at South Block but possibly also rates his performance as more than satisfactory. Or, there could be a simple explanation why Mr Krishna remains untouched: The Prime Minister does not wish to have an intelligent, thinking person as his Minister for External Affairs lest he begins asking discomfiting questions about the non-policies that now drive this country's foreign affairs. Mr Manmohan Singh wants to see India converted into a client state of America; an effective Minister for External Affairs might make that task difficult to accomplish.


That said, it is interesting that two Cabinet Ministers who were embroiled in the Commonwealth Games controversy, Mr MS Gill and Mr Jaipal Reddy, have been stripped of their portfolios and given new assignments. Mr Gill as Minister for Statistics and Programme Implementation will be doing what babus do best — wade through reams of paper and prepare mile-long notes that nobody shall ever read. Mr Reddy has been more lucky as he has been given Petroleum and Natural Gas; it is anybody's guess as to how well he will perform in this crucial Ministry. Another Minister who appears to have been 'punished' for non-delivery is Mr Kamal Nath, although his new assignment as Minister for Urban Development is no less important than his previous task. If work in this Ministry too comes to a standstill, as it did in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, then few would be surprised. As for Mr CP Joshi, the man who played havoc with Panchayati Raj, can now be expected to play ducks and drakes with highway building. In brief, some of the key changes could lead to greater paralysis of governance. That the Congress is keen to have a combative Minister heading the Telecom Ministry is reflected in Mr Kapil Sibal retaining this portfolio in addition to Human Resource Development. The three Ministers who have been promoted to Cabinet rank — Mr Salman Khurshid, Mr Praful Patel and Mr Sriprakash Jaiswal — deserve to sit at the high table. Meanwhile, Mr Sharad Pawar has craftily got rid of some of the departments over which he presided to avoid being targeted for unrestrained food inflation: Mr Rahul Gandhi will now have to blame his own party's Ministers for essential commodities becoming unaffordable! Wednesday's exercise does not even remotely suggest any changing of gears. Things will continue as they are.

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

HEALTHCARE IN DISARRAY

GOVERNMENT HAS NEITHER WILL NOR POLICY


A series of papers recently published by The Lancet points to worrisome trends in the management of India's primary healthcare system, particularly in the area of infectious diseases. Clearly, the country's march to economic growth has not had the desired impact on healthcare. Despite the right to health being recognised as a fundamental right, quality healthcare remains elusive for the deprived sections of our society. With barely three per cent of the gross domestic product earmarked for the sector, health inequity is bound to increase. A reversal of trends can only happen with a complete revamp of the primary healthcare policy, but there is little indication of that taking place as the Union Ministry of Health is content to let matters drift. Inadequate research material also makes revamping difficult. As the journal says, a well-planned research programme is fundamental to the improvement of healthcare in India. Unfortunately, the proportion of health research published in India is barely five per cent of what is published worldwide. And even these documents, as The Lancet says, under-represent the priority areas relating to communicable and non-communicable diseases. This has made it difficult to track the efficacy of the healthcare system and stunted our understanding of whether it is addressing the needs of the people. With only one in four public health reports found to meet international quality standards, it is no wonder that the steps initiated by the Government on the basis of such documents continue to flounder. Organisations like the Indian Council of Medical Research, the National Institute of Epidemiology and the Public Health Foundation of India have some answering to do on the quality of research produced. Ideally, they should have been collaborating to provide universal healthcare, but since they have been busy fighting turf wars, it is time to create an overarching body that will coordinate their efforts and help create policy papers that are rooted in ground realities and do not just look impressive as power point presentations.


The ground realities are disconcerting. In 2009, the country had two million new cases of tuberculosis — the highest for any country in the world, with 2,80,000 persons dying of the disease. In addition, malaria claimed between 1,25,000 and 2,77,000 lives, according to independent estimates, although Government reports provide a much lower figure — 1,144 — for deaths in that year. Child and maternal care indices are also disappointing. Mortality rates for 2010 were at a high of 62.6 per 1,000 live births. More than half of the deaths among children under five years of age occur in the neonatal stage, due to sepsis, pneumonia and tetanus. Of those that survive, 48 per cent suffer stunted growth primarily as a result of malnutrition. By this reckoning, we will be far away from meeting the Millennium Development Goals in healthcare.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

OIL, ISLAM AND DIPLOMACY

G PARTHASARATHY


India must craft an innovative policy based on national interest to deal with Arab countries as well as Iran in the Persian Gulf region.


Over the past two decades, India has crafted an imaginative 'Look East' policy. This has resulted in growing economic integration with its economically dynamic eastern neighbourhood, while ensuring that it is a constructive partner and participant in evolving an inclusive security architecture for the Asia-Pacific region.

Sadly, our horizons as we look west-ward appear to end with our AfPak neighbourhood, with little effort for pro-active diplomacy in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region where over four million Indians reside and work and from where we get over 70 per cent of our crucial oil imports. Moreover, with our trade deficit growing rapidly, our balance of payments is crucially dependent on the growing remittances we receive from overseas Indians, which amounted to $46.4 billion in 2008-2009.


Our Persian Gulf neighbourhood contains two-thirds of the world's proven petroleum reserves and 35 per cent of the world's gas reserves. As energy demands increase worldwide it is these countries alone, which maintain 90 per cent of the world's excess production capacity that can meet the growing demand of rapidly emerging economies like China and India and help tide over breakdowns in supplies elsewhere. Our major suppliers of oil from the Persian Gulf region are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait the UAE and Yemen.


Iran provides 17 per cent of our oil imports and some key refineries depend on Iranian crude. Moreover, Iran remains our transit point for trade with Central Asia and, through the Caspian Sea, with Russia. With Pakistan denying us transit to Afghanistan, we have cooperated with Iran for reducing Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan by developing infrastructure for the Chah Bahar port. Iran is also providing political, diplomatic and material backing to forces in Afghanistan who share our misgivings about the Taliban. At the same time, however, unlike their Arab neighbours, the Iranians have been unreliable in fulfilling signed contractual commitments with India on supplies of liquefied natural gas.


The Persian Gulf region remains the crucible for ancient civilisational and sectarian Shia-Sunni rivalries between the Persians and the Arabs. The depth of these animosities was exposed when alluding to King Abdullah, WikiLeaks revealed the "King's frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and put an end to its nuclear weapons programme". The Saudi Monarch reportedly told the Americans "to cut off the head of the snake (Iran)". Riyadh has even reportedly offered over-flight facilities to Israeli warplanes in support of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.


Interestingly, even before Iran attacked Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in September 1980, the Director of Israeli Military Intelligence, Yehoshua Saguy, publicly urged the Iranians to do so. Less than a year later, on July 7, 1981, Israeli F-15s bombed and destroyed the Osirak reactor after overflying Saudi territory. More than the Americans, the Israelis have astutely played on Arab-Persian rivalries to ensure they remain the sole nuclear power in West Asia. Despite all talk of their solidarity with the Palestinians, a number of Arab countries maintain covert and not so covert ties with Mossad.


The sectarian dimensions of rivalries in the Persian Gulf region also cannot be ignored. Iran has consistently stirred up Shia minorities in Yemen and Kuwait and the Shia majority in Sunni-dominated Bahrain. This rivalry is also being played out in Iraq where the Shia majority has accused its Sunni Arab neighbours of backing extremist Sunni groups.


Paradoxically, after endeavouring to follow a policy of 'dual containment' of both Iran and Iraq for over a decade, the Americans are now finding that their ill-advised invasion of Iraq has only brought Iran and Iraq closer with a number of Iraqi political and religious figures beholden to Tehran for the support they have received. While Arab regimes may be dependent on American support, the mood in Arab streets is distinctly anti-American — a phenomenon the Iranians are cleverly exploiting.


India's relations with Arab Gulf states have shown a distinct improvement after the visit of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in January 2006 and Mr Manmohan Singh to Riyadh in February-March 2010. India has received Saudi assurances of meeting its growing requirements for oil. The desert kingdom does recognise the need to reach out to countries like India and China even as it maintains its strong defence ties with the US. Our relations with Oman, the UAE and Qatar have expanded significantly, with Qatar emerging as an important supplier of LNG.

But we seem to have run out of ideas in fashioning a new relationship with Shia-dominated Iraq even as China seals lucrative deals for oil exploration in a country that has the greatest unutilised capacity to boost global oil production. Our efforts to train Iraqi professionals on petroleum-related matters could, however, serve us well in the long run.


While partnership with the US certainly has its merits in developing our relations with the Arab Gulf countries, we have given an impression of behaving like an American client state in dealing with Iran. This was evident in the unseemly and hasty manner in which we cancelled our long-standing partnership with Iran in the Asian Clearing Union. This action has seriously disrupted payments for oil supplies at a time when even American allies like Japan have ensured the continuity of their oil imports from that country.


If we have reservations about the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline because of legitimate doubts about the security of energy supplies through the volatile and violent Balochistan Province of Pakistan, why are we hastily joining the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline? Is Taliban-infested Afghanistan a haven of peace and stability? Or is it out of deference to the policies of others aimed at isolating Iran?

Our ties with Iran should be based on hard-headed assessments of national interest and calculations of Iranian reliability on issues of energy supplies and not on sentimentalism about so-called 'civilisational affinities'. Persian Emperor Nadir Shah did not exactly endear himself to the people when he invaded Delhi.


With Israel and the US agreeing that Iran won't be able to build a nuclear weapon till 2015, there is now an opportunity for us to work with others in the IAEA and the UN Security Council to craft innovative measures to deal with the Iranian nuclear impasse. Moreover, while our principled support for the rights of the Palestinians should continue, our relations with Arab countries in the region should not inhibit our ties with Israel. These relations should be objectively determined by larger geopolitical realities.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

TACKLING CORRUPTION AT SOURCE

JS RAJPUT


The Local Area Development fund was created for members of Parliament and State legislatures to play an active role in creating social infrastructure in their constituencies. Instead of the money being spent on beneficial schemes like schools and potable water supply, the fund has become a source of corruption. Nitish Kumar plans to scrap the fund in Bihar


The scams unearthed in 2010 have defied every civic norm and brought to the fore the lack of probity in public life. It has also revealed how the country is being controlled practically by corporate houses when it comes to policy formulation and strategy implementation. People, seething with anger at the display of such shameless loot, are no longer willing to accept the pleas of innocence from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who could have prevented such unethical practices but kept quiet to remain in power. Amidst this erosion of probity, ethical standards and democratic values, Bihar's Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stands out as a person capable of reversing the damaging trend.


Taking his war against corruption to the Assembly, Mr Nitish Kumar has decided "in principle" to abolish the local area development fund for MLAs and MLCs. No doubt, it is a bold step because such a measure can cost Mr Nitish Kumar dearly due to the convoluted electoral politics that exists in India. Mr Nitish Kumar had earlier hinted at the abolition of this fund as it earned a "bad name" for legislators, but nobody, not even his own party members, expected such a prompt action. It may be seen as confidence generating out of a massive electoral mandate and his determination to overcome the credibility deficit.


The MLA local area development fund is an offshoot of the MPLAD scheme that was introduced in 1984 by the PV Narasimha Rao Government, which was saved by Shibu Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Many see MPLAD as part of Narasimha Rao's machinations designed to ensure the survival of his minority Government. Though the LAD fund is supposed to help MLAs execute development works like building drainage systems, roads, bridges, schools and colleges in their constituencies, it is common knowledge that this fund has been misused since its inception.


When it was established in 1984 every MLA received Rs 1 lakh per year. But after an upward revision in 1986 during the regime of Chief Minister Bindeshwari Dubey, the MLAs and MLCs started getting Rs 5 lakh each. In the 1990s, it was further revised to Rs 10 lakh and then to Rs 50 lakh. In 2003, under the RJD regime, the amount was increased to Rs 1 crore annually. However, CAG reports have found several instances where the money meant for LAD schemes were actually diverted to building clubs and landscaping politician's garden — definitely not purposes it was meant for. In fact, had the money been properly utilised, Bihar's interiors would have had better connectivity, and proper healthcare centers and schools in every village.


The damage it has done to the body politic of the nation, and Bihar in particular, is immense. Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Mr Sushil Kumar Modi, has pointed out that due to the LAD funds political workers are becoming contractors. According to him, the fund has lost its relevance with the introduction of different schemes by the Union Government and the State Government. But no leader other than Mr Nitish Kumar has shown the courage to take on this corruption head on. He has saved the State exchequer from spoils of Rs 318 crore despite murmurs of discontent among MLAs in the NDA as well as the Opposition camp.


What is surprising is that the national media has not given Mr Nitish Kumar his due for an act that could be the first step in restoring credibility of elected representatives, which has hit rock bottom. Mr Nitish Kumar also deserves to be applauded for his decision to acquire dubious properties and disproportionate assets and use these for schools. It is no secret that swindled public money is rarely recovered. After all the raids, inquiries and litigation, how much money has really been recovered in the fodder scam? How many politicians who have swindled public funds are behind the bars? The way former Telecom Minister A Raja was shielded by the Union Government was for all to see. Hence, Mr Nitish Kumar's move appears to be the most logical way of taking action against those who amass disproportionate assets by robbing tax-payers of their hard-earned money. If the Government cannot make powers that be accountable, the wealth amassed by them must be utilised for public good.


Bihar, which suffered a state of zero-governance for 15 years during the RJD regime, is not only charting a new course under Mr Nitish Kumar's leadership, but is following a concrete strategy to bring perpetrators of corruption down on the mat. Unfortunately, today's politicians instead of appreciating good governance prefer to take pot shots at each other. In fact, the Union Government and other State Governments would do well to take a leaf out of Bihar's book and abolish LAD to restore democratic values.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

INDIA SITTING ATOP POPULATION BOMB

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR


With no checks on population growth, the number of people in the country is increasing by the day, threatening to upset demographic balance and render both policy and programme ineffective. India needs to stabilise its population

It is remarkable how one hardly hears anything about curbing population growth. One only sees an occasional advertisement on television emphasising that small families are preferable because one is likely to have neither the time nor the money to bring up more than two children properly. Also, too many childbirths play havoc with the wife/mother's health. All this needs to be talked about. There, however, is the wider and far more dangerous issue of humankind becoming extinct if something is not done to control the speed at which populations are growing the world over, making it increasingly difficult for planet Earth to sustain our species. One does not hear much about it.


Things will be particularly difficult in India. Its population has increased five-fold over the last 100 years to total 119.8 crore in 2009, and is projected to be 161.3 crore by 2050, surpassing China's which is 134.5 crore now, and will be 141.7 crore by 2050. Hence, India will miss the target of stabilising its population at 145 crore people by 2045. According to the latest estimates, stabilisation will be attained only in 2060 at a population of 165 crore. The chances of even this happening are dim. Some State Governments seem uninterested, and half of the country's population of about 1.2 billion is less than 25 years in age and, therefore, in the active reproductive age group.


Many doubtless feel that India's growing population is an asset, particularly in relation to China whose strict enforcement of the one-child norm has made it a country of declining and aging population. India, on the other hand, has a vigorous, young population making for a dynamic and productive workforce which, some economists predict, will enable it to surpass China in economic growth rates in five years' time. China will be further weighed down by the burden of supporting an aging population.


But then India too will have a large population of senior citizens given the marked rise in life expectancy span in the country. Besides, according to the National Population Stabilisation Fund, an autonomous society headed by the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, in which the Ministries of Women and Child Development, Rural Development, Planning Commission and Department of School Education and Literacy, are represented, India's population will double in the next 50 years if it continues to increase at the current pace. This will make sustainable development impossible.


The matter needs serious thought. It is not just a question of food production, employment, health and shelter. There is the issue of environmental destruction which is accelerating the process of climate change whose consequences in the form of unseasonal and heavy rains, devastating floods and abnormal heat waves, are being increasingly felt. Deforestation is rapidly increasing, thereby reducing rainfall and hastening soil erosion, thanks to the pressure of population. Pristine forests and areas rich in bio-diversity are being destroyed, tribals and the rural poor are being ruthlessly and forcibly evicted from their homes and lands, and wild animals deprived of their habitats to make way for mines and factories.


The forcible dispossession and eviction of the poor cause social and political unrest, and sometimes even insurgencies, which hobbles economic progress. The argument that the needs of human are more important than the survival of animals and their habitats ignores the latter are critically important components of the environment that has evolved over the eons to make life, including that of humans, possible. The destruction of this environment and large-scale extinction of species that will follow will wreck the delicate order of flora and fauna that supports human life. The danger is very real because the environment is being destroyed globally, and as many as 3,300 species are disappearing every year, according to one report.


This is partly caused by corporate greed and political corruption feeding on each other, and partly by growing pressure of population on land and the need for agricultural and industrial production to cater to increasing numbers. Remedial measures are urgently needed. In India, these should include penalisation of State Governments which do not promote family planning. Worldwide, curbs are required on predatory capitalism and elements opposing population control programmes on religious or other grounds. The world cannot be held hostage to bigotry.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

PAVING THE PATH FOR RADICAL ISLAMIST REGIMES

BARRY RUBIN


Arab rulers are trembling at the prospect of being overthrown by a revolutionary Islamist movement, which is unlike what we have seen in Tunisia. Will Islamists profit from the simmering discontent and the partial opening up of civil society?


May the good lord protect us from news analysis and West Asian experts. Is the Arab world really in shock over the Tunisian upheaval? Is this really a symptom for a coming upheaval in the Arab world? Perhaps I'm wrong but a note of caution is in order. I think the answer is 'no'.


Let's begin by looking back at far bigger shocks that have made Arab regimes tremble. First, there was the fall of Communism and the Soviet bloc. The Soviet Union was the superpower patron of many Arab regimes, their source of weapons and diplomatic support, their supposed protector from Israel and the US.


Yet more than that, it was a basic role model — especially for political and economic organisation — for a number of these regimes, most obviously Egypt, Iraq, and Syria but also for others as well. I don't mean they copied it exactly by a long shot. But the statist, single-party rule, Government control over wide swathes of life is how they functioned for decades. If you're interested, I wrote a book on this called Modern Dictators.

How did the regimes respond then? By tightening up and killing off real hope of democratic reform. And they did quite well for themselves. I wrote about it in How Arab Regimes Dealt with the Democracy Challenge.

There was also another time when (some) Arab regimes trembled, the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979. Indeed, they are still trembling at the prospect of overthrow by a revolutionary Islamist movement. These groups now form the principal opposition in most Arab countries — but not, as we shall see, in Tunisia — and elements of them are quite ready to use violence. Indeed, this is the most important conflict not only in the Arab world but in the West Asia altogether.


And there is a third occasion when (radical) Arab regimes tremble: The US overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. Might the US also overthrow them? This applied especially to Syria and Libya but others felt it also. As totally unlikely as this seemed in Washington it was not so unthinkable in Arab capitals. But they got over it when it became clear that there was no such threat. I discussed how Syria dealt with this in my book, The Truth about Syria. Libya reacted by surrendering all of its nuclear ambitions.


So, Arab regimes begin to tremble sometimes. But when the going gets tough the tough don't tremble very long. They take counter-action.


Now are the events in Tunisia a new occasion for Arab regimes to tremble? Well, maybe a tiny bit for a tiny moment. The fact is that Tunisia has been a special case among Arab regimes for decades. It is the most Europeanised, the place where women have the most equality, and the Islamist movement is proportionately weakest. It is also the only country that has had just two rulers in 55 years.


Compare events in Tunisia to neighbouring Algeria where the Islamists built a power base in part on similar material grievances to those that motivated the Tunisian riots, won an election, were then confronted by the military, and the result was an incredibly bloody and vicious civil war in which tens of thousands of people were killed.

Also compare this to Palestinian politics where corruption and incompetence led to the rise of Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip by force. Let's face it, if not for massive Western aid and Israel security assistance to the Palestinian Authority — which does not repay this with any flexibility in negotiating, by the way — Hamas would probably be ruling the West Bank by now, too.


That is the kind of scenario faced in various ways by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and other Arab countries. That is what they fear, not a citizens' spontaneous uprising that is easily defused by some minor changes at little cost in casualties.

The weakness of the Islamists — and in some ways Tunisian regime's the less totalitarian approach, which at times was quite brutal but not so systematically so as some others — left the door open for moderate pro-democratic forces in a way that hasn't happened in any other Arabic-speaking country.


If you are interested in the remarkable story of how Tunisian Islam has differed so drastically from that in other countries, read my article about that here or a longer article by Lafif Lakhdar, Moving From Salafi to Rationalist Education. This factor gave more 'secular' politics space, a space which in Egypt and Jordan, for example, is filled by the Muslim Brotherhood.


At any rate, there is no reason to believe that the events in Tunisia signal a regime change but only a partial leadership change.


What does it mean for other Arab countries? It calls to their attention the stress of serious economic difficulties given international problems and local mismanagement. The signal is that Governments have to ease up a bit on their masses regarding pricing of basic commodities and other services. An obvious case in this regard is Jordan. But Jordan is crisscrossed by East Banker/Palestinian and pro-regime/Islamist factors that make it quite a different situation.


Remember that the notable thing about the Tunisian upheaval was that it was a spontaneous rebellion against an incompetent and corrupt Government that had followed roughly the same policies for 55 years without a single serious challenge. Spontaneous rebellions are not going to happen if there are people clamouring to organise them for a specific political agenda beforehand. (The closest thing to that happening before was in Iran in 1978, but that's another story also.)


Incidentally, the thing to watch now is whether the Islamists profit from the discontent and the partial opening up of civil society to become much stronger. In that case, a future crisis might follow the pattern more common now in the region.


Incidentally, a senior US diplomat told me about a meeting he had with Tunisia's (up until hours ago) President many years ago: "I remember his telling me that he fights Islamism by increasing the number of Government projects in districts where the Islamist movement might be getting stronger.


"As for Islamism he told me the following: 'They brainwash people. They brainwashed my mother. She called me and said: 'I thought I raised you to be a good Moslem. Why are you against god?' I had to tell her: 'You raised me to be a good Moslem and I am still a good Moslem. Don't believe what these people tell you.' But the brainwashing goes on and we have to deal with it."


Leaving aside the future of Islamism in Tunisia, though, this is not a turning point in Arab or West Asian political history. It will, however, take its place as a precedent that will affect the thinking of Governments, Islamist oppositions, and the small pro-democratic movements. It gives the Governments cause to make adjustments, the Islamists ideas about posing as "good Government" activists, and the democrats some hope for the future.

 

The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

CABINET REJIG FALLS SHORT OF WHAT THE GOVT NEEDED

 

WHEN you are ill, doctors first try medicine, then surgery. Clearly, given the afflictions of the government, Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi have elected the latter course.

 

But instead of a radical approach, they have chosen cosmetic surgery.

 

Given the changes and the new inductions in the government, it will be clear that the facelift is not quite what the infirmity demanded— amputations, organ replacements may have been needed. And they have ignored that major wart— coalition partner Dravida Munnetra Kazgham's vacancy in the ministry.

 

The modern Congress party has never been particularly courageous, as a coalition leader understandably so. By not touching any top minister, Dr Singh and Ms Gandhi have sent their own signal. Stability is more important at this juncture than any thorough transformation that would calm the angry voices baying for the government's head or, for that matter, push the government's agenda which is becalmed in a sea of troubles.

 

Even so, the Singh- Gandhi team has sent out subtle messages of its own. Take the shift of Kamal Nath from the Union Surface Transport Ministry to Urban Development. It has been a steep fall from the time he was Union Commerce Minister in Dr Singh's first UPA government. Given the mess that Air India is in, shifting Praful Patel from Civil Aviation to Heavy Industries, with a promotion to Cabinet rank, is a left- handed compliment if ever there was one.

 

Hopefully getting Sharad Pawar to shed his consumer affairs and civil supplies portfolio, or shifting M. S. Gill to statistics and programme implementation will help on the image front. But don't bet on that. With the budget session coming up, the new team will be on test from the word go.

 

BRING BACK THE LOOT

THE Supreme Court has rightly slammed the Union government for its inaction on black money parked in foreign banks despite having information in this connection. As the court pointed out, stashing of unaccounted money abroad amounts to plunder of national wealth.

 

The Union government has been telling the Supreme Court that it cannot reveal the names of the account holders in LGT Bank of Liechtenstein because this is not permitted under the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement ( DTAA) it has signed with Germany.

 

However, it must be asked why the government chose to get the information through the DTAA route when Germany had offered such information without any secrecy obligation.

 

This bolsters the suspicion that someone in the Union government doesn't want the names to be disclosed.

 

The government's attitude is also clear from the fact that 18 people with money in the LGT Bank of Liechtenstein were let off after they paid tax, with no punitive action being taken.

 

It is good that the Union government is trying to stitch together agreements with 22 tax havens for information on unaccounted wealth. But the Supreme Court needs to ensure that this is followed by concrete action to bring back the money. If nothing else, it will reduce our fiscal deficit.

 

BLOWING HOT AND COLD

THE Union environment ministry appears confused with respect to the granting of environmental clearance to the Lavasa project in Maharashtra. While on one hand environment minister Jairam Ramesh passed a rather impractical order that construction at the site must be stopped, he later provided the company with an escape route in the form of conditions such as the payment of a fine for causing damage to the environment and the creation of an Environmental Reserve Fund.

There is a clear dissonance between these conditions and the minister's seemingly intransigent stand which seems to have been little more than posturing.

 

This is not the first time that the environment ministry has displayed such inconsistency.

 

The riders that the ministry had put forward while granting clearance to the Navi Mumbai International Airport project did not address the concerns that Mr Ramesh had earlier raised, and the final project will still involve the clearing of 98 acres of mangrove forests and the diversion of the tidally volatile Ulwe river.

 

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            MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

PM NEEDS ONE MORE RESHUFFLE

BY MANOJ JOSHI

 

THE reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers is unlikely to alter the perception that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's second government is simply not working.

 

The key dysfunctionalities in the Cabinet remain unaddressed, as do the larger issues between 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course. There have been some important ministerial changes, but accountability, that key to performance, has been minimally enforced in Wednesday's anodyne exercise.

 

Incompetence

 

Dr Singh will have to do more, much more to get his government back on track.

 

Perhaps there is need for a bureaucratic reshuffle as well. That many of his ministers let him down is no secret, but surely what should be more galling to him is the failure of his chosen top bureaucratic team comprising Cabinet Secretary K. M. Chandrashekhar and his Principal Secretary T. K. A. Nair. These are the people he chose and nurtured with the expectation that they would ensure that his government works smoothly, his agenda moves forward and his flanks are protected from the activities of wayward ministers. They have managed to do none of these things.

 

Mr Nair as a retired civil servant serves at the will of the PM, but Chandrashekhar has received two unprecedented extensions in service after he retired. Within the system he is known as a decent, even cerebral man. But in hindsight, perhaps, it can be said that he has lacked the " can do" personality that a CabSec must have.

 

The CabSec is no ordinary bureaucrat.

 

As the head of the civil service and the chair of the informal Committee of Secretaries, he effectively runs the day- to- day affairs of the government, supervises the country's nuclear weapons programme and clears logjams across the governmental system. He is also the " coordinating secretary" in a number of areas— the civil servant charged with looking after a particular subject. The two important areas he looked after in the last couple of years are the Commonwealth Games and prices, both of which have formed the vortex that threatens to pull the government down.

 

Mr Nair's responsibilities are more complex, though quite clear. He is the ramrod of the Prime Minister's Office. As his chief of staff and principal adviser he pushes the PM's agenda, guards his back and ensures that the PM's image remains unsullied whenever there is a governmental goof up. Clearly, he has done none of these things.

 

He has sought a minimalist role, choosing to use his authority only to push or block appointments and preen around as some kind of a Malyali community leader of the capital. Comparisons are invidious, but just to illustrate the point, all you need to do is to see the role played by Brajesh Mishra in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure or, A. N. Verma in Narasimha Rao's.

 

In UPA- I Nair's role in promoting the PM's main agenda, the Indo- US nuclear deal, was minuscule. In his more recent tenure since 2009, the PMO has ' lost' Kashmir to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the development agenda to the National Advisory Council. His supervision of the Commonwealth Games was clearly ineffectual, and he has been missing in action on the prices front.

 

In 2009 when Mr Chandrashekhar got his extension to stay on the job for another year, a sourced report in a national daily had noted that it had been done in part to ensure the successful conduct of the Commonwealth Games.

 

Though we know that the Committee of Secretaries headed by him was one of the key institutions supervising the preparations, we also know what a near disaster it was, being rescued only by the media storm that pushed the government to work on an overdrive.

 

Farcical

 

The failure with prices has been more serious and was brought out most illustratively by an extraordinary document issued from the prime minister's office.

 

Though issued by his media adviser, it seemed to be a haphazardly thrown together list of things the entire government planned to counter the price rise.

 

The document, simultaneously a mea culpa and a cri de coeur is also an effort to pass the buck. In a peculiar way, it sums up all that has gone wrong with Dr Singh's second government.

 

That it was a bureaucratic grab bag is apparent from the collection of proposals that went into the 3- page document. First, the blame — on late rains for the onions and, on the rising incomes and, curiously, " inclusiveness" programmes, for the increased prices of milk, fish, meat and eggs. Then were the usual empty threats against hoarders and the pathetic calls for awareness campaigns involving Resident Welfare Associations, as though all of India is some kind of a South Delhi suburb.

 

Along with the homilies on the need to enhance productivity and diversification of agriculture are two sound proposals on the need to review the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Acts, and the somewhat shaded hint of the need for FDI in organised retail chains.

 

There was a touch of the farcical, too, in the declaration that NAFED and National Cooperative Consumers Federation ( NCCF) would sell onions at Rs 35 a kilo at their retail outlets. To see what had been done I trawled the net and checked the websites of both organisations. And here's the gem: A PTI report of Saturday 15th, two days after the PMO press note declared that " 20 tempos loaded with a cumulative quantity of about 8000 kg of onions [ had been sent out to] different localities in the national capital to sell the vegetable at Rs 35 a kg to the common people." Since 2 kilos per family was the norm, a grand total of 4,000 Delhi households had presumably benefited. There is nothing in the website to suggest that such sales took place outside Delhi. It is not known how many kilos the NCCF sold, but its website lists a grand total of 14 retail outlets, all in New Delhi.

 

Accounting

 

Just as " security" really means the safety of Lutyens Delhi, where the babus and netas reside, price control, too, seems to have meant taking measures in Delhi.

 

Maybe the foxy babus had another goal in mind— to ensure that the masses in Delhi remain quiescent and do not do a Tunisia here. Uprisings elsewhere can easily be suppressed, but food riots in Delhi are quite another thing.

 

 

But this is to digress.

 

Tucked away at the end of the document were the two issues that are germane to our critique. The government, it said, had decided to set up an inter- ministerial group under the Chief Economic Adviser Kaushik Basu to review and monitor the situation.

 

For the past forty years or so, it is the Cabinet Secretary who has chaired a committee of concerned secretaries who monitor the food prices. The committee met monthly, but when the price pressure was high, it would meet more frequently. Its job was to take quick decisions— ban export, increase import, order raids, get the railways to move commodities fast and tweak rules in ways that only the babus can to ease the pressure. Clearly, the committee had not done its work in recent times. Having failed on the job, the Cabinet Secretary and his colleagues, have retreated to the margins and pushed the Chief Economic Adviser to the centre stage knowing that he has great prestige, but little executive authority. This new inter- ministerial body is a needless layer in the mechanisms to fight rising prices. All it does is to lengthen the time taken for an effective executive response to a crisis and, perhaps more important, help spread the blame for any failure wider.

 

The shoddy document only serves to illustrate how ill served the PM has been by his bureaucratic team. Lacking dependable ministers, he invested a great deal of power and authority on them. But, as any fair accounting will reveal, he has got little in return.

 

manoj.joshi@mailtoday.in

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

MERRY GO ROUND

 

UPA-II has been buffeted by corruption scandals and spiralling food inflation. And it's been under sustained attack from an opposition that's smelt blood. A cabinet rejig was just what it needed to signal changed course and renewed combativeness. Manmohan Singh required it especially, not just as a reminder of his authority as prime minister but because the buck for governance shortfall stops at his door. As things turned out, the reshuffle was a damp squib, signifying no real change to the status quo. Barring some exceptions, it focussed neither on projecting result-oriented ministers nor the youth factor.


The 'Big Four' of finance, home, defence and external affairs weren't expected to be shifted. Arguably, finance's status quo makes sense with the budget session looming. It's to be hoped that this, however, doesn't mean budget-making will be overly conservative on reforms. P Chidambaram's retention in home is wise, things having vastly improved on the security front under his watch. But external affairs could have done with infusion of young blood both at the top and junior levels. Given India's increasing global heft, the prime minister could do with able backing and fresh thinking on conduct of diplomacy.


Sticking with Kapil Sibal in telecom is smart thinking. It's about time telecom were treated less as a coalition carrot than a key economic ministry. Bar the fact UPA-II needs an articulate representative to explain its stand on controversies like 2G, a clear, transparent telecom policy is in the works. True, Sibal will have much on his plate as HRD minister as well. But education being another key area for overhaul, it's good he retains the berth. Talking of work overload, it's Sharad Pawar who should have been made to shed agriculture, his performance here having been distinctly underwhelming. With his removal, UPA-II could have signalled its seriousness about handling food inflation and farm sector reform.


There's some consolation in M S Gill's exit as sports minister: his lacklustre stewardship was symptomatic of everything that ails sports administration today. But most other changes seemed tinkering about for reasons other than to reward merit or bring in much-needed young faces. Some appointments are clearly based on political considerations, in light of state elections coming up in UP and Kerala. Others are in the nature of a merry-go-round: ministers being shunted here and there without apparent rhyme or reason. If Kamal Nath, Praful Patel and Murli Deora have indeed been moved around to facilitate much-needed shake-ups in key economic ministries, it's not apparent their replacements have either more competence or experience to realise the aim. Overall, the reshuffle is a bad case of missed opportunities. Will the government please be bolder with its promised post-budget rejig?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

HEED THE CALL

 

Today's induction of mobile number portability (MNP), which permits users to retain their number while switching mobile phone providers, makes at least 687 million Indians stronger consumers. Given the number of us using phones MNP is significant and this is compounded by the fact that while telephone usage is increasing at ever faster rates, the number of landlines is declining. More people are using mobiles and they've been waiting for MNP for sometime. Though delayed by three years, now that MNP has finally arrived, consumers will be empowered to the level of users in the developed world. There, and now here, regardless of whether users are prepaid or postpaid, customers will be able to demand better services, tariff plans and rebates from providers.

If none of this is forthcoming, consumer dissatisfaction will equate to what the industry calls 'churning' or customers walking to competitors. If Finland is an example, then we can expect a significant - around 30% - increase in churning. To temper this, providers will undoubtedly consider minimum contract periods but this would be self-defeating. Since only 4% of Indian users are postpaid, imposing minimum contract periods will equate to a loss of consumer goodwill. However, providers may benefit from fixed contract periods because the tiny postpaid sector is also the most profitable. Ensuring such consumers are not entrapped means that the government has to ensure providers don't form cartels. Rather than doing that, it would be much more sensible for providers to work with the newly empowered customer by offering incentives rather than attempting to lock them in. Doing so would be a retrograde step and once alienated, providers will find customers unlikely to ever heed the call to return.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

CHINESE NATIONALISM GOES VIRAL

INDRANI BAGCHI

 

One of the more intriguing facets of the India-China relationship is the Chinese leadership's pathological allergy to the Indian media. On the face of it, you can see why. The barrage of reportage and opinion pouring out every time China staples visas for Kashmiris or their troops "cross" over an unmarked boundary line can be disconcerting.

In official discussions, the Indian government is repeatedly asked by the Chinese side to rein in the media. During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's December visit to Delhi, they were clear - no media events, no questions or press conferences - and only consented to sit in the same room with them. Indian officials half-joked, "They're afraid of you guys."


The reason is closer home than the Chinese let on. Indian media reports, they say, prompt a viral backlash from China's own online denizens that might be just what the Chinese leadership wants to avoid.


With 500 million voluble internet users in China, there are signs that the leadership is showing itself to be more "responsive" to these online vigilantes, making "Net nationalists" a new factor in Chinese policy making. India needs to focus on this untried aspect of Chinese foreign policy, because unchecked, it could have an altogether unexpected, even disturbing, effect on ties.


In India, media is accepted as part of the national cacophony. In China, however, the lack of free private media means that Chinese popular sentiment gets channelled into the mushrooming online forums. Jingoistic nationalism is often the order of the day.


On good days, online nationalism is used quite effectively by the Chinese authorities. In 2005, new Japanese textbooks resulted in a viral backlash from China's netizens, prompting protests outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing. The government let the crowds speak for themselves until they appeared to gather momentum, then crushed them ruthlessly. Similar protests accompanied the cancellation of the EU-China summit in 2008 and most recently, Japan's arrest of a Chinese fisherman who rammed a Japanese coast guard vessel. But while Japan and the US occupy top slots in Chinese popular opinion, India does not figure much on their radar. Most scholars will tell you that the Chinese don't spend their time thinking about India the way Indians obsess about China.

However, a new and comprehensive study on Chinese online nationalism vis-a-vis India is disturbingly revealing. The study, by Simon Shen (to be published in the forthcoming issue of China Quarterly), author of Online Chinese Nationalism and China's Bilateral Relations and professor in social sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, concludes, "India is perhaps the only major nation which is perceived as both culturally and socially inferior to China on the one hand but is capable of offering a legitimate challenge to China - with proven realist intention - on the other. Because of this, any economic, material or territorial defeat by India would be seen as unacceptable face-loss for Chinese online nationalists and could have fatal consequences for the party-state."


Shen trawled through major Chinese online forums like Tianya Community Forum, Strong Nation Forum (two million users), Community for Iron and Blood, Phoenix Net Forum and Resuscitation Forum between 2006 and 2009, tracking online representations by Chinese citizens on hot-button issues concerning India.

The essence of Chinese online opinion on India and Indians is rather simplistic, dominated by racial stereotypes. Indians as dark, dirty, smelly, poor - these impressions stand out in their majority. Significantly, even if India's economic performance or technological achievements are underrated, India is seen as a sovereignty-spoiler for Chinese. Primarily because the Dalai Lama lives in India as well as the growing impression that India is only a "tool" for the US and Japan.


China's "all-weather" friendship with Pakistan is amply reflected and approved of by the online nationalists. It's considered China's best card against a presumptive India. Shen says, "In order to fight back against India diplomatically...netizens call for India's return to Pakistan of its occupied lands in Kashmir."


Why should we take Chinese online nationalism seriously? Because, as more and more studies show, it's becoming a factor in Chinese policy. The leadership may use media to control information and shape opinion, but the Net allows Chinese to channel opinions and frustrations online. Certainly in the past few years, it has become a potent way to spur the leadership on. Chinese netizens are typically very critical of the government on domestic issues but these are subject to authorities' tolerance threshold. On foreign policy, they have a freer hand - more and more retired diplomats and military officers as well as party leaders are now taking recourse to online discourse.


The danger is that there could come a point when this online nationalism directed against India could direct itself against the party. As Shen says, "The most important of all consequences of our findings is the fact that Chinese netizens have made India the bete noire for their government." Chinese online opinion of India is markedly different from the official propaganda. Given that the Chinese leadership likes to shape its people's opinions, that's clearly not happening here. What gives?


Indian policy needs to be more aware of this new dynamic driver of Chinese policy and find ways to influence this opinion. The last thing we want complicating this already complex relationship is a bunch of Net nuts.


Blurb: With 500 million voluble internet users in China, the leadership is showing itself to be more "responsive" to these online vigilantes, making "Net nationalists" a new factor in policy making

 

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

DEVELOPMENT OILS FRICTIONS

 

As endorsements go, this one is a stunner. For Narendra Modi's government - one that has been excoriated, and rightly so, for the 2002 Godhra riots - to get a clean chit from Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, the new vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom, is a public relations coup of the highest order. As a leading seminary with influence that extends beyond India's borders, Darul Uloom's backing would have been unthinkable in the immediate aftermath of the riots. But what this statement shows now is that by focussing on governance issues rather than communal politics, the Gujarat government has succeeded in moving past an ugly period in the state's history.

This is not to say that the crimes of 2002 should be forgotten or go unpunished. Their memory is a warning against letting hardline politics take centre stage again. And the rule of law demands the prosecution of those who were guilty at the time. But it is precisely the horrendous nature of what happened eight years ago that makes the contrast stand out. Vastanvi's backing is not the first time Modi's development initiatives have won support from minority communities either. It was their backing in 2010's civic elections that enabled the BJP to win handily.


When Vastanvi says that there is no discrimination against minorities as far as development is concerned, he is getting to the heart of the matter. A level economic playing field and business links between communities create an environment that is far more resistant to communalism. Whether he intended to do so or not, by focussing on development - perhaps in an attempt to redeem his image after Godhra - Modi might just have made it more difficult for the sort of politics hardline elements within his own party espouse to flower in his state. And for that, we should be thankful.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

SOCIAL DISCRIMINATION STILL PERSISTS

AJAY VAISHNAV

 

New Deoband chief, Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, has climbed on the fashionable bandwagon of looking at Narendra Modi's Gujarat as a role model for the country. What adds insult to injury is the Deoband chief's suggestion that the minority community should move forward as the issue is now eight years old. Is it that simple?


Surely, a crucial aspect of governance is whether the writ of law runs in a state, or whether riots and pogroms are allowed to take over with the administration apparently siding with the rioters. While Modi has been extravagantly receiving his share of accolades for improving governance and delivering on development fronts, the fact remains that he utterly failed in maintaining law and order in the state during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Authorities were largely seen to be complicit during what were among free India's darkest hours - that too, in Mahatma Gandhi's home state. Various probes including the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team into the riots and independent media investigations have pointed to indifference of the state machinery during the violence that caused massive loss of lives, if not active collusion with it. Post-riots, there have been many instances where key witnesses have been threatened to subvert the judicial process.


Most importantly, the question is whether Hindus and Muslims trust each other in Gujarat. Unfortunately, the reality is that social discrimination still persists. Ahmedabad remains a divided city with some of the largest Muslim ghettos in India. Under the Modi dispensation the state has seen the worst kind of communal polarisation, which he has manipulated to serve his cause. Showering praises on a tainted leader will not lead to social harmony. Real progress can happen only if the guilty are punished.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

A SHUFFLE, NOT A RESHUFFLE

It seems now like something we may have imagined, but we can swear that not too long ago Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stated in a public forum that he was keen on bringing on board his ship young blood and new ministers based on their potential to perform. Perhaps Mr Singh hopes to act on what he said at a future date. But in the first Cabinet reshuffle since the UPA returned to power in May 2009, what is in evidence is an act of easy juggling rather than a proactive team-formation. The last year has not been the best of times for the Congress-led UPA government. Which would have made it more pertinent to undertake a ministerial reshuffle that gave out the signal that Mr Singh's government was taking strong and visible steps to firm up its image. After Wednesday's take-one-onion-from-one-sack-and-put-it-in-another-sack exercise, an opportunity has been lost.

No minister has been dropped from the last dispensation. The departure of former telecom minister A Raja, if one is willing to recall, was made after the government faced considerable flak for his alleged involvement in the 2G spectrum allocation scandal rather than because of action taken after a sober report card being drawn up. A meritocratic dispensation was expected to drive portfolio distribution on Wednesday. Instead, what was largely on display was a retrogressive, anachronistic divvying up of ministries among allies based on regional, casteist, quota-type politics. We do know the imperatives of coalition politics and governance. But even keeping this is in mind, the Congress - no longer a greenhorn in handling coalitions - could have decided on a ministerial team that wasn't so openly based on slicing the pie along party lines to keep allies happy. It's silly to expect that in this day and age, states going to the polls in the next few months will vote according to whether 'their person' has been made a Cabinet minister or not. According to that logic, it would have been wise to have strewn a few extra portfolios in the Trinamool Congress camp just to facilitate its victory in the upcoming West Bengal elections.

No one is making the case here for a complete shakedown. It makes eminent sense, for instance, to leave the home, defence, finance and external ministries unchanged. But a ministerial formation is also about the brand showing the product. And this would have been the opportune time for

Mr Singh, with his government harbouring both product and branding deficiencies, to set the matter right by making a gesture that's more than just shuffling the same deck of cards, some of which, almost two years after the formation of UPA 2, look positively dog-eared.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

FLIGHTS OF FANCY

When you are standing in a kilometre-long queue, your flight about to take off and the great Indian family of 20 off on a package tour in front of you, what do you do? Normally, you would be resigned to your fate, fall apart, check into a sanatorium or get a ticket for another day. But, wait, help is at hand. Harried flyers will soon have ombudsmen across the country to answer their troubles.

Now, we have heard of ombudsmen in media organisations who are there to put edit writers like us in our place when we get too clever by half or err on facts. But an ombudsman in civil aviation is an intriguing concept. We can quite imagine how the hapless ombudsman will be besieged by footling complaints from picky travellers. For example, he or she may get a gripe that it's impossible to drag one's luggage over the carpet in the swank new terminal in the capital. How is this to be remedied? Can the offending carpet be rolled up? We think not, considering it covers the equivalent of a small town in Belgium. Will this personage be able to ensure that all our pilots get acquainted with the dreaded instrument landing systems? We doubt it. If your meal isn't up to scratch on the airline or if the steward doesn't have your particular brand of drink, it stands to reason that we can approach the ombudsman on these matters.

We have a better idea. Simply set up a committee which will receive these complaints and will recommend setting up another committee that will go into them. But the ombudsmen could still be useful in civil aviation. Let them fly by some of our more popular airlines and before you can say bon voyage, they will be looking for a job that is more grounded.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A QUIET MAN'S MURDER

SAMAR HALARNKAR,

For 11 years, 37-year-old Haji Mohammed Ali survived the anger of fellow criminals and frequent police arrest before being elected last year to the municipal corporation of India's pre-eminent globalised city, Bangalore. As a corporator elected on a ticket of the Janata Dal (Secular), the party of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, Ali seemed to have finally left behind his nether life - running mafias that controlled the trade in scrap and sand, the byproducts and raw materials respectively of Bangalore.

For most of 2010, before the municipal elections in May, Ali tried hard to stay out of trouble - and stay alive. Though he got bail in one of the 36 criminal cases registered against him, he stayed in jail, fearing murderous attacks from rivals.

Ali's luck ran out five days ago. As he stepped out of a hair saloon, seven men shot him down. When he fell, bleeding, they rammed a crowbar through his chest to make sure he would not rise again.

The rise of someone like Ali in Bangalore's murky politics is not unusual. He was what the Bangalore police call a 'rowdy', a habitual offender who flitted in and out of jail and criminal records. Each rowdy is known by a nickname, the most famous of whom have been 'Murgi' Fiyaz and 'Oil' Kumar, revealing the economies they controlled in the old Bangalore.

Ali was known as 'Diwan Ali'. Many believed he got the name because he was known to be a reserved, courteous man who shared his new-found fortune with the poor in his constituency, the Banashankari temple ward. But 'Diwan' was the modification Ali made to the original 'Deewana', a reflection of his wilder days, a name that he's still known by in local police records.

A reasonably devout Muslim (the name 'Haji' signifies someone who has been to Mecca and done the Haj), Ali was cosmopolitan enough - as many politicians in diverse Bangalore must be - to comfortably fit in with his Hindu constituents. When he won his electoral battle in a constituency named after a 95-year-old temple, his first declaration was that he triumphed because he had the blessings of goddesses Banashankari Amma, a lion-riding, demon-killing, eight-armed avatar of Parvati, the consort of the destroyer, Shiva.

Like Ali, many rowdies have made the transition from the old Bangalore to the new Bengaluru, expanding their empires by plugging into the infotech-fuelled economy, which hires about 200,000 people but provides employment to five times that number in diverse support sectors, from taxi services to real estate to the sand used to construct these new buildings.

Rowdies and their political supporters are often separated by a fine line in Karnataka, a state run by various mafias, who have aided the institutionalisation of corruption. This, after all, is the state where the BJP chief minister BS Yeddyurappa refused to step down despite an admission that he let his family profit by misusing his official position to change land-use laws. Yeddyurappa is only the latest to destroy probity in Karnataka's public life. Corruption took root under successive Congress regimes before and during Bangalore's technology boom. It was just made more blatant by the Janata Dal(S) and the BJP.

The rise of the Karnataka rowdy-politician era has created new avenues for those who do not have the education or skills to join the legitimate economy. This is so across the nation. It could explain why so many scams sweep the land; why so many of our leaders have criminal records; why, as one section of society rages and pleads for a cleaner, more honest India, the other lives by other values.

The nether India is quietly at work alongside the new India, rising in tandem with it. This is an India where muscle, money and manipulation work as well as education, endless striving and talent do in the other India.

It may appear hard for someone from the nether India to crossover but many do. 'Agni (fire)' Sridhar now runs a tabloid and is a film producer; his autobiographical movie Aa Dinagalu (Those Days) was a 2010 hit. Ali's mentor in crime, Tanveer, now runs a small business serving clients who feed off the tech boom.

Ali's political mentor, someone who also made the transition - of sorts - says things shouldn't be black and white. "If they (rowdies) change, isn't it better, isn't it an achievement and better for society?" asked former chief minister and party chief HD Kumaraswamy, after nominating Ali for elections. Kumaraswamy's party, a regional power, benefited greatly from the globalisation of Bangalore. Many of its ill-educated members live on the thin, red line between the two Indias. 

Ali's party colleague shows how the twain can meet.

After being arrested by anti-corruption police for taking a bribe, Janata Dal (S) corporator Katta Jagadish, son of a former minister, posted his new life plans on Facebook last week. "I am planning to set up a consultancy firm which will devise campaign strategies for political parties in the run-up to elections," said Jagadish, who will work with five friends, all software professionals. "Good luck dude… any help needed, pls feel free to ask," said one Facebooker. "Bro, I feel people like u should initiate steps to get the right people from all walks of life to participate in nation building…" said another.

The prime suspect in Ali's murder is a former friend, Asgar Ali, or 'Mahim', who also tried to be legit but failed. Mahim prospered by grabbing land on Bangalore's outskirts. An Anil Kapoor fan, he tried to jettison his life in the nether India by first acting in a Kannada movie and then unsuccessfully contesting last year's municipal elections. When he failed, the slide back was murderously easy.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

WE'RE NOT PAKISTAN

HARBANS MUKHIA

Samar Halarnkar's concern in his article, Terror has a religion (Maha Bharat, January 13), that India may have to encounter radicalisation of two religious communities - even as Pakistan is threatened by the radicalisation of just one - is understandable. But the issues go well beyond his parameters. I focus on two of them: the divergent nature of religions and of histories of even the same religion.

The nature of the Hindu religion, itself a doubtful term, is very different from Christianity and Islam. It doesn't profess a truth revealed through a prophet in a specific book; nor does it have the notion of the Judgement Day. The absence of one single truth creates space for plurality of modes of faith in god and afterlife, including the denial of god's existence. Hinduism then can't be a religion of proselytisation. Tolerance of divergent views is integral to it. The Sangh parivar's repeated attempts to alter the nature of Hinduism shows its poor understanding.

Christianity and Islam are claimants to the monopoly of revealed 'ultimate truth', which defines every other faith as false and must be vanquished. The exclusive possession of the truth legitimises conversion of others and the belief in its final universal triumph. This has propelled propagation of these religions through persuasion but also through violence. It's also the propeller of jihad today.

However, between the claim to monopoly of truth and the historical evolution of humankind, much has changed. Even proselytising religions have accepted the existential reality of the diversity of faiths. If they haven't given up the notional claim to monopoly of the truth, the empirical acceptance of diversity does dilute their belief - and the struggle - for the final universal triumph. Their own histories have been marked by diversities and 'deviations' from their versions of the truth.

It's hard to speak of Christianity and Islam in the singular. Besides the various sects in Christianity, the history of the Church itself has been of constant adjustments with changing reality. For example, early Christianity had the notion of heaven and hell for the pious and the impious. But lots of Christians fell in-between the two categories. The Church woke up to the reality and from sometime around the second millennium, the notion of Purgatory began to evolve where the intermediate souls could purge themselves of sins before the Day of Judgement.

Islam also has had numerous sects and diverse views, often going beyond moderate differences. Even as Prophet Muhammad's body waited to be buried, differences over whether a khalifa or an imam should succeed him sowed the seeds of the two major sects: the Sunnis and the Shias. There were other powerful divergent voices. The Sufi, Ibn al-Arabi's enunciation of the doctrine of 'wahdat al-wujud' (unity of being) implied the unity of all religious experiences. Mansur's exclamation, 'an al-haq' (I am the Truth, or the Truth, ie god rests in every individual being) was perceived as fundamentally challenging the legitimacy of Islam as the ultimate revealed truth. He had to pay for it with his life. The conflict between the Sufis' and the ulema's versions of Islam are part of folklore. The differences between regional variants of the Muslim community are far too apparent to be ignored.

Through their histories, the zeal of proselytising religions has greatly subsided. While media often go into legitimising hype over the explosive actions of militants, the silent consequences of massive conversion drives fail to draw attention. If the ghastly recent events in Pakistan have alarmed us into fearing a similar turn of events twice over in India, it's imperative to remember that despite grave provocations by exploding bombs in temples, dargahs and mosques, there have been no noticeable riots since 1992-93, except the state-sponsored Gujarat 'riots' of 2002.

We also need to remember that over a year ago, 6,000 Muslim theologians had gathered in Hyderabad with the single agenda of denouncing terrorism. Are we then to feel complacent in our environment? Far from it. But our worries need to be placed in a perspective. A multi-religious society has a different set of dynamics from a largely mono-religious one.

(Harbans Mukhia is a former professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DIM THE RED

 

A red beacon flaring on top of a white Ambassador is among the most aesthetically challenged definitions of power, but its very in-your-facedness has made it the piece de resistance on the highways and backstreets of India. It's a light-and-sound show of political status, of the arrival of the VIP who wants the right of way, and demands it in the most glaring way possible, and in the most public of places. Its crude symbolism helps convey its meaning to the literate and the illiterate alike; there's nothing much to read into its blatancy, there's no fine print to scan, no evolved cipher to ponder over. Little wonder that it's among the most wanted tokens by politicians and bureaucrats — and also the most easily abused.

The hankering for a red beacon comes to light at regular intervals. After a workshop for first-time MPs in the previous Lok Sabha, the two things they asked for were raising of MPLAD funds to Rs 5 crore a year and, not surprisingly, the provision of red-beacon vehicles in their constituencies so that they would have easier mobility and "greater acceptability". But now the Cabinet Secretariat has, rightly, put paid to such ambitions: it's taken exception to the profusion of sarkari cars flaunting red lights, and insisted that only the chosen few specifically mentioned in the due notification could do so. And what luminous distinctions in the notification — a minister with cabinet rank can use a red light with a flasher, but an MoS can only use a red light sans flasher!

So while K.C. Venugopal, the first-time Lok Sabha MP who has now become MoS for power, will have to ensure that the red light doesn't ostentatiously flare on his car-top, Praful Patel can happily flaunt the flasher.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RE-CASTEING DEBATE

 

That certain sections of organised industry have grown concerned about the proportion of their workforce that consists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is clear from the very fact that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has worked to conduct a caste census of employees of 8,520 of its members. We can only be very slightly relieved, though. First, because of the very qualifiers that have to be used: "certain sections", "organised", and "industry", which immediately reduce the scale of sensitisation; India's economy is largely service-based and unorganised. Second, because this exercise is carried out under the continual, long-running political threat of private-sector reservations.

This newspaper is uneasy about the possibility of further increasing state power over the private sector, even in the service of a goal as laudable and essential as counteracting thousands of years of prejudice and stored-up deprivation. It will, if nothing else, be a deeply counterproductive move, creating a hierarchical shadow economy of bribery, forged caste certificates, and so on, which will benefit the connected, and not those whom we wish to include. Yet, as this newspaper's report on the latest CII survey makes clear, some of India's fastest-growing and most developed states — and the ones with the largest formal sectors — are the most problematic when it comes to the inclusion of historically disadvantaged castes and tribes. Gujarat and Maharashtra are particularly visible examples. There is much that those state governments must do to allow and encourage their industries to diversify their employment base.

Yet, there are lessons in the disaggregated state-wise figures. The states of the east and south, where education and social empowerment have moved further, seem to have done better in expanding employment opportunities. This also flags the limitations of a purely political mobilisation of disadvantaged social groups. In the end, there are predetermined constraints to what the private sector would be able to do in order to increase diversity, a limit imposed by the education system. An economy in which formal employment opportunities explode under new labour laws, and in which educational opportunities are not slanted against SCs and STs, will best serve the diversification of India's workforce.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DOUBT, UNENDING

 

The editorial 'End the doubts' (IE, January 19) has correctly brought out the UPA government's self-contradictory stand on the continuance of P.J. Thomas as CVC. On the one hand, the UPA is reassuring the Supreme Court about the CVC; on the other, it is also agreeing with the court and keeping him away from the 2G spectrum inquiry. The government's defence of his appointment has already undermined its credibility and also led to the perception that the prime minster's own integrity is not reflected in the government's handling of administrative irregularities.

— Tarsem Singh New Delhi

The UPA's indifference not only reflects its deluded arrogance as the editorial 'End the doubts' points out, but also points to a much larger and more alarming reality — in today's India, so widespread is corruption and so slow the wheels of justice, that the government of the day can get away with virtually any wrongdoing by blithely pointing out similar unpunished wrongdoing by preceding governments.

— R.P. Subramanian

New Delhi

School basics

This refers to the editorial 'Below standard' (IE, January 18). The move to entitle children aged six to 14 to free education is splendid in a country where the aam aadmi pays little attention to their education. The Right to Education Act is perhaps the most significant piece of legislation passed by the UPA. The provision for 25 per cent reservation in private schools is laudable. We also need to reduce our school drop-out rate and augment enrolment.

— Vinod C. Dixit

Ahmedabad

Lost details

Women opt for IVF because of age, inability to conceive or male partners' incapacity ('Nascent stage', IE, January 18). These are personal and confidential reasons; in backward areas, people are embarrassed about discussing them due to the social stigma attached. Women are blamed for being barren. Laws on surrogate motherhood are stringent. The Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction will discuss and formulate its recommendations by March and submit them to the Indian Council of Medical Research. But who will formulate laws on age, health status and the number of transferable embryos? The need is to eradicate myths about IVF to educate women on the subject before they opt for IVF.

— Jayashree M. Baxi Pune

Team up, team down

The article 'Spin out of control' (IE, January 19) was interesting. I agree that the Indian team needs not an extra spinner but an extra cushion in the pace and batting departments. But we suffer from an old "selection disease". How else did Piyush Chawla (M.S. Dhoni's favourite) and R. Ashwin get an edge over Pragyan Ojha? Chawla has not performed well internationally, whereas Ojha has done well in all formats. The non-inclusion of S. Sreesanth and Rohit Sharma shocked many. But this is a

balanced team and deserves to win the World Cup.

— Bidyut K. Chatterjee

Faridabad

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

LOOK SOUTH-EAST

BALADAS GHOSHAL

 

The importance of Indonesia in India's Look East Policy will be further highlighted by the coming visit of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) as the chief guest on Republic Day. Indonesia shares a maritime boundary with India and is a natural strategic partner. We have a mutual stake in each other's progress, prosperity, stability and territorial integrity; and, as pluralistic democracies and developing societies, we face similar challenges.

Indonesia is not only the most populous country in the region, with the largest Muslim population in the world; it has also immense natural resources and a strategic location, for it controls all or part of the very major waterway between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The US Pacific Command transits these to support operations in the Persian Gulf; the Japanese need them for their oil tankers. More than half of the world's shipping traverses these waterways. Indonesia, now recovered from the wreckage of the Asian economic crisis of 1997-98, has maintained relative political stability and economic progress at a time when many other countries are badly affected by the global recession. It is on an upswing economically, given its position as a major player in global energy, minerals and food issues, reflected in its membership of the G-20, now the world's main council for economic cooperation. The position has undoubtedly granted Indonesia a greater say in ASEAN affairs. When Indonesia assumes the chair of ASEAN in 2011 and welcomes the US and Russia for the first time to the East Asia Summit (EAS) or ASEAN plus 8, it will acquire a critical position in shaping the discourse and agenda of the region.

As a recognition of its strategic position, even the US under the Obama administration has decided to deepen its ties with Indonesia to a "comprehensive partnership between two of the world's most important democracies," to quote Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for Asia Pacific.

The success of Indonesia as a pluralistic and democratic state is essential not only to the peace and prosperity of the Southeast Asian region, but also to the security of India. Indonesia has a key role to play in demonstrating the virtues of tolerance and mutual respect in a diverse, multi-ethnic polity. If democracy fails in Indonesia, it will not only lead to the revival of authoritarian forces but also the rise of militant Islam in a country that has tried to preserve a secular society. The implications of that will not only have an effect on the security and stability of ASEAN but also a bearing on India's own polity and security.

India, therefore, has a great stake in the success of Indonesia's democracy, and can attain some positive gains in her relations with the latter if only she can help in those democratisation efforts through training in capacity- and institution-building. In my conversations with President Wahid in July 2000, he showed interest particularly in decentralisation and Panchayati Raj institutions.

Both India and Indonesia are facing a growing threat from Islamic militancy and terrorism arising out of the changing nature of Islam. The rapid Arabisation of Islamic beliefs and practices with greater emphasis on ritual at the grassroots level in Southeast Asia could lead to fundamentalism and militancy. If the nascent democracy in Indonesia falters and the economy does not pick up to reduce the growing economic inequalities, people can tend to veer towards millenarian expectations. This makes it all the more imperative for India to help Indonesia in its democratisation process, for pluralism and democracy can be a major bulwark against militancy.

Thus, during SBY's state visit in 2005, the New Strategic Partnership (NSP) was signed, kicking off growing cooperation between the two countries in the field of defence and security. Recognising that both countries have large exclusive economic zones and maritime interests, India and Indonesia also agreed to work closely to enhance cooperation in capacity-building, technical assistance and information sharing.

The NSP has marked the beginning of an extensive relationship between Asia's two largest democracies. Given their location and capabilities, India and Indonesia have a critical role to play as sentinels for vital sea-lanes. They also have a stake in shaping an emerging security architecture of Asia that is not dominated by any single country, important at a time when China's recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, through its creeping occupation of territories claimed by some other ASEAN states, is creating strategic uncertainty in the region.

Indonesian strategic thinkers have recently been inclined to look beyond ASEAN and are in favour of a regional security architecture in which major nations of the Asia Pacific region and beyond are represented. In such a grouping, Indonesia as the fulcrum of Southeast Asia could be a valuable interlocutor for India's interactions with Southeast and East Asia.

The writer is a visiting senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

HAVING GROWTH, EATING IT TOO

MK VENU

 

A robust debate has ensued among economists online largely triggered by Amartya Sen's provocative statement to the Financial Times that the "Indian fixation" with surpassing China's rate of economic growth is "stupid". Sen's stated position is: stop worrying about growth and focus on social programmes that directly target poverty, malnutrition and so on. This will eventually create conditions for higher growth.

Of course, Jagdish Bhagwati has disagreed with Amartya Sen and argued that a focus on accelerating growth is important to lift millions from poverty, even while retaining targeted social programmes which supplement the positive effects of a reforms-led high-growth strategy. Bhagwati has also said that spending on social programmes is not a novel idea, but had always been a part of our development agenda since Independence. However, social spending was suboptimal in the initial decades because there was low growth, and therefore low incomes, which did not create enough tax revenues for the government to spend.

Many economists agreed with Bhagwati's basic point, that it is only by pursuing a strong reforms-led growth strategy that the government can create enough tax revenues to fund social-sector programmes like NREGA, the right to food, and so on.

Of course, there are as many economists on the email group who swear by Amartya Sen's logic that an excessive focus on growth takes the attention away from social-sector programmes. Interestingly, other liberal (though not neoliberal) Western economists like Martin Wolf of the Financial Times wonder why such an obvious proposition is still a matter of debate in India! Wolf added his bit to this discourse by saying higher "growth and incomes are a necessary condition for better state-funded welfare, more jobs and so on. This is simply not debatable." Abhijit Banerjee of MIT helpfully deconstructed the core of this debate: he says governmental capacity to do anything new is always limited (think of Obama) and all the more so when the state is weak. So there "can be" some trade-off between a greater emphasis on growth — on "growth-oriented reforms" — and a special focus on social-sector spending. So how does the government prioritise its reforms, whether purely growth-oriented or aimed at creating higher social capital?

For instance, a predominant focus on food security and right to education, though very critical, will have a sustained effect on poverty and growth in the medium-term. On the other hand, more obvious and focused GDP-oriented reforms like converting land use for industrial purpose might create higher growth, but may not attack poverty in the short-run, as the vast unskilled working population cannot be absorbed by modern industry, says Banerjee. So, he implies, we might be caught in a chicken-and-egg situation here.

However, in practice, there are ways to get around the problem Banerjee has posed. Appropriate partnerships in civil society can marry pure growth-oriented strategies with creating new skills and higher employment. Though belatedly, some states with high growth rates and reasonably good human development indices are pursuing more creative strategies to directly link GDP growth to employment in meaningful ways. Gujarat has just launched the ambitious Gujarat Livelihood Promotion Company (GLPC), which seeks to connect over a million new rural workers to industrial projects in three to five years.

The idea is simple. The GLPC will act as a nodal agency to bring bank finance to several thousand self-help groups (SHGs) in rural and semi-rural business hubs. These SHGs will be given training by companies that will also end up sourcing labour-intensive goods and services from these workers. The idea is for companies to train the workers to suit their buying requirements.

Companies like Reliance Industries, ITC, Tata Motors and Godrej, are all signing MoUs with GLPC. This public-private partnership (PPP) is expected to generate over 12 lakh jobs over the next three to five years. The Future Group owned by Kishore Biyani (known for its Big Bazaar retail chain) has chosen to make Gujarat the hub of its backward integration and procurement.

Similarly, denim company Arvind Mills will sign a Rs 98 crore MoU for providing 50,000 livelihoods in the area of decentralised production systems for apparel and garments in backward talukas involving SHGs. Tata Motors will be inking a Rs 150 crore MoU for creating 25,000 livelihoods by linking SHG members to rural transportation activities.

Indeed, if this and similar projects being conceived in other states take off in the next three to four years, it could answer the many questions raised by eminent economists with regard to the trade-off between driving real GDP growth and creating appropriate levels of social capital through policy intervention.

India needs to evolve its own employment enhancing strategies within the context of its political economy. There is one peculiar characteristic that separates our economy from other similar ones around the world. Over the last decade, nearly 45 to 50 per cent of all new employment generated in India is in the self-employed sector. Such a high level of self-employed persons has not been seen in other industrialised economies.

This is possibly happening because technology-driven manufacturing does not absorb as many workers now due to higher levels of automation. This tends to decelerate job growth in organised manufacturing. Therefore, we end up having such a high number of the self-employed, mostly in low-productivity services jobs.

The idea is also to integrate some of the self-employed into the organised manufacturing chain. There is still scope to create an organic link between more labour-intensive manufacturing and rural workers through institutionalised SHGs where the state agencies and businesses participate equally.

The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express' mk.venu@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

LET'S TRAI AGAIN

SUNIL JAIN

 

Much of the debate over the rights and wrongs of what A. Raja did is predicated around various recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or TRAI. So, for instance, Nripendra Misra, the TRAI chief whose recommendations Raja says he followed, has been crying himself hoarse saying Raja didn't follow them. Kapil Sibal, Raja's successor, has argued that Raja couldn't possibly have auctioned the licences in 2008 since TRAI had said auctions for 2G spectrum were a bad idea. Planning Commission chief Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the latest to jump into the fray, has said much the same thing.

Even the CAG has based its findings on the TRAI recommendations, though of a later vintage — last year. While recommending what one-time fee should be charged from telcos like Bharti, Vodafone and BSNL, who had got extra spectrum compared to the 6.2 MHz specified in the licence, J.S. Sarma's TRAI said this should be charged at the rate paid in the 3G auctions. Which is why, after making estimates of losses in the Rs 60,000-70,000 crore range, the CAG suddenly gives a huge Rs 176,000 crore estimate as well. This is the estimate Sibal and Ahluwalia have ridiculed the CAG for — so they accept TRAI recommendations under Nripendra Misra as gospel, and reject TRAI recommendations under J.S. Sarma as pure drivel!

So how seriously are we to take TRAI recommendations? Does the government have to accept all TRAI recommendations? And what is its record on this front? This is really the heart of the telecom problem, indeed even the solution to it.

The answer clearly depends on how good the TRAI process is, and how independent TRAI is. When TRAI was set up in 1997, things were going pretty well, so much so that when the government decided to grant a mobile licence to MTNL, TRAI chief S.S. Sodhi dashed off a missive to the government saying it had no right to grant a licence without consulting TRAI. The government responded by dissolving TRAI, and that was probably the beginning of the decline of the institution — the government argued it needed to dissolve TRAI since it was both the judge and the jury (at that time, appeals against TRAI orders were heard by TRAI), but the argument is weak since it didn't need to dissolve TRAI to come up with a separate appellate tribunal.

While there's little doubt a TRAI-led process is better than the old government-led one, it's been a mix of good and bad and seriously weak since Justice Sodhi was removed. Indeed, most of the flip-flops in government policy of which Ratan Tata accused the NDA government took place only after TRAI recommended they be allowed to take place.

So, in 2000, under M.S. Verma, TRAI came up with an inexplicable recommendation: to allow telcos that had licences only for fixed-land services (that's your plain old desktop phone) to offer what was called "limited mobility". Wireless in Local Loop (WiLL) services allowed users to move around with their cordless phones within city limits — so you could use an MTNL WiLL in Delhi but you couldn't take the same phone to Mumbai (the other city in which MTNL operates) and expect it to work.

Theoretically, this didn't cut into the cellular mobile phone firms' business, but given that more than 90 per cent of subscribers don't need anything more than limited mobility within the city, it actually affected them in a big way. It didn't help that some other policy lacunae made offering limited mobility commercially more attractive than offering unlimited mobility on cellular phones.

Ram Vilas Paswan used Verma's recommendation to push through WiLL phones. But when Verma realised WiLL was being used to bring in full-blown mobility through the back door, and protested to the then-telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh, the latter lost no time in telling him to shut up. By 2003, the cellular mobile phone firms, who'd paid more than three times the licence fee than had the fixed-land firms, realised that just pleading with the government wouldn't help. So they cut off all connections to WiLL mobile phones, which resulted in Pramod Mahajan being sacked.

The new minister, Arun Shourie, put the matter to TRAI under Pradip Baijal. Baijal obliged and gave Shourie a way out. At the drop of a hat, and a relatively minor penalty, offering full-blown mobile services on a limited-mobility licence became legit. Baijal made the argument that, had fixed-land licence firms been granted cellular mobile phone licences in 2001, none of the full-blown mobility services they were offering would be illegal — so why not assume they were given the licences in 2001, but had forgotten to pay the licence fee, charge a penalty for this, and be done with it?

The government also used TRAI's recommendations on converting existing WiLL-licences to full-blown mobile licences as a pretext to hand out brand-new licences. This is also the subject of the controversial CAG report that has the government in knots. Baijal was helpful enough to send a side letter to the government to allow this to happen, after he'd given his recommendations on converting the WiLL licence — in which he'd said all future mobile licences would have to be auctioned! This recommendation the Cabinet accepted, and soon after it was notified.

In 2007, Nripendra Misra gave a set of wishy-washy recommendations that allowed Raja to give out licences at the 2001 prices. Raja cherry-picked even these recommendations, but there is little doubt Misra was not in favour of auctions though he later said he was. Indeed, since the government had agreed, in 2003, that all future mobile licences would be auctioned (never mind that Baijal himself helped the government break this rule within weeks of it being formulated), Misra's no-auction recommendation was itself bad in law. A former telecom secretary, Misra never saw the obvious contradiction.

In 2010, when the older cellular mobile firms were battling the government on its decision to hand out cheap licences, in what was no doubt a huge coincidence, J.S. Sarma's TRAI came out with recommendations that badly hit these firms. So they were asked to pay for the "extra" spectrum they had over 6.2 MHz — never mind that government policy had allowed it, and they were paying higher annual fees for specifically this. A recommendation was made they pay for this at a rate higher than even what was paid in the 3G auctions. Other recommendations that hit them were also made.

Now, when Kapil Sibal trashed the CAG by arguing 3G auction prices could not be used to determine 2G prices, the same TRAI is in the process of coming out with specific recommendations on the 2G-3G price linkage. It's not clear if it will toe Sibal's line, but market rumours are that it will.

Perhaps it's time to revisit the entire regulatory system — and not just for telecom, since there are too many instances of regulators behaving like they're hand-maidens of the government. Time to, as it were, TRAI again.

The writer is opinion editor, 'The Financial Express' sunil.jain@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

MOMZILLA, YOU GET A B-MINUS

 

Some time early last week, a large slice of educated America decided that Amy Chua is a menace to society. Chua, as you probably know, is the Yale professor who has written a bracing critique of what she considers the weak, cuddling American parenting style.

Chua didn't let her own girls go out on play dates or sleepovers. She didn't let them watch TV or play video games or take part in garbage activities like crafts. Once, one of her daughters came in second to a Korean kid in a math competition, so Chua made the girl do 2,000 math problems a night until she regained her supremacy. Once, her daughters gave her birthday cards of insufficient quality. Chua rejected them and demanded new cards. Once, she threatened to burn all of one of her daughter's stuffed animals unless she played a piece of music perfectly. As a result, Chua's daughters get straight As and have won a series of musical competitions.

In her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua delivers a broadside against American parenting even as she mocks herself for her extreme "Chinese" style. She says American parents lack authority and produce entitled children who aren't forced to live up to their abilities.

The furious denunciations began flooding my inbox a week ago. Chua plays into America's fear of national decline. Here's a Chinese parent working really hard (and, by the way, there are a billion more of her) and her kids are going to crush ours. Furthermore (and this Chua doesn't appreciate), she is not really rebelling against American-style parenting; she is the logical extension of the prevailing elite practices. She does everything over-pressuring upper-middle-class parents are doing. She's just hard core.

Her critics echoed the familiar themes. Her kids can't possibly be happy or truly creative. They'll grow up skilled and compliant but without the audacity to be great. She's destroying their love for music.

I have the opposite problem with Chua. I believe she's coddling her children. She's protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn't understand what's cognitively difficult and what isn't. Practising a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.

Yet mastering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement. Most people work in groups. We do this because groups are much more efficient at solving problems than individuals (swimmers are often motivated to have their best times as part of relay teams, not in individual events). Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon have found that groups have a high collective intelligence when members of a group are good at reading each others' emotions — when they take turns speaking, when the inputs from each member are managed fluidly, when they detect each others' inclinations and strengths.

Participating in a well-functioning group is really hard. It requires the ability to trust people outside your kinship circle, read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings to the room can and cannot fit together.

This skill set is not taught formally, but it is imparted through arduous experiences. These are exactly the kinds of difficult experiences Chua shelters her children from by making them rush home to hit the homework table. Chua would do better to see the classroom as a cognitive break from the truly arduous tests of childhood. Where do they learn how to manage people? Where do they learn to construct and manipulate metaphors? Where do they learn to perceive details of a scene the way a hunter reads a landscape? Where do they learn how to detect their own shortcomings?

I'm not against the way Chua pushes her daughters. And I loved her book as a courageous and thought-provoking read. It's also more supple than her critics let on. I just wish she wasn't so soft and indulgent. I wish she recognised that in some important ways the school cafeteria is more intellectually demanding than the library. And I hope her daughters grow up to write their own books, and maybe learn the skills to better anticipate how theirs will be received.

-DAVID BROOKS

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

HIGH-TECH TRADE

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

As the United States and China focus on managing their wide-ranging trade and economic disputes during President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington this week, one new idea is gaining a bit of traction. According to US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the Obama Administration might be willing to let China buy US high-technology products if Beijing addresses Washington's concerns on access to Chinese domestic markets.

Many in Washington and Beijing have long argued that increasing high-technology US exports to China could be one way of addressing at least some of the problems defining the complex interdependence between the two countries. According to some estimates, the US now contributes only 7 per cent to the Chinese advanced technology imports.

China's trade surplus with the United States was about $252 billion in the first eleven months of 2010. US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said present trends are unsustainable. Washington wants China to move away from its current export-led growth to domestic consumption and facilitate more imports from the United States. On its part, Beijing says it is already doing a lot. Chinese analysts point to the fact that US exports to China are on track to reaching the target of $100 billion this year, a growth of more than 30 per cent.

Washington concedes American exports to China are rising twice faster than exports to the rest of the world. But the persistently high unemployment rates in the United States have put the Obama Administration under some pressure to show that it is creating jobs. In early 2009, the Obama administration announced it would double US exports during the next five years to revive its economy. Meanwhile Hu will be pressing Obama to relax controls on high-technology exports to China.

As we saw during the US president's visit to India last November, business deals and jobs will be right at the top of Obama's talks with Hu at the White House on Wednesday. As in Mumbai, so in Washington, Obama will make an appearance with Hu in front of major American CEOs on Wednesday. Hu is taking a large delegation of businessmen, who have already fanned out to major American cities and are announcing deals and highlighting the potential for job creation in the United States.

India which focused so much on getting Obama to liberalise high-technology exports, will be watching what kind of success Hu might have in Washington. While Obama's political logic of job creation is relentless, Hu's visit comes at a time when concerns about shifting military balance of power have gained some intensity in Washington.

The one area where the US retains an edge over China is in a few sensitive high-technology areas. The big question, then, is how Obama might resolve the tension between long-term US interests and immediate questions of trade imbalance. While the US business has long been a champion of trade with China, some corporates are worried that as a rising technological power, Beijing will simply outsmart them after gaining access to American technology.

GE's Avionics

One set of deals that is indeed going through relates to the US giant General Electric. In the past GE had complained about the increasing difficulty in doing business in the Middle Kingdom, but has decided that being in China is far more important than staying out. GE's China deals to be announced during Hu's visit cover energy, railway locomotives, and avionics. Drawing most attention are GE's plans for a joint venture with a Chinese aerospace company.

In the proposed partnership with the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, a state-owned company, GE will transfer its most advanced avionics and related technologies to China. That could help accelerate Beijing's plans to build its own commercial airliner, C-919.

Some American analysts point to the risk of doing high-level business with China by saying that GE could help China catch-up in military aviation. Beijing's demonstration of the prototype of its stealth fighter J-20 earlier this month has generated much anxiety in Washington. Those fears were obviously not powerful enough to stop the GE deal.

Chinese FDI

Besides demanding greater access to US high technology markets, Hu also wants the Obama Administration to lift the many barriers against Chinese investments in the United States erected in the name of national security. In contrast to massive Chinese exports, its FDI in the United States stands at a paltry $1.4 billion. The largest chunk of China's FDI, about $34 billion, goes to Hong Kong. Beijing argues that its investments can surge in the United States and help revive its economy if only Washington can bring "openness and transparency" to its laws on foreign direct investment.

raja.mohan@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

COME CLEAN, RSS TO BJP

 

The Congress has always used the B.S. Yeddyurappa episode to counter the BJP's attack on the UPA government on corruption. Now, in what could be embarrassing for the main opposition party, the latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser talks for the first time about the party's failure to purge "corrupt elements".

The article makes two points. One, the BJP's ambitious plan to rouse people against corruption will succeed only if it is able to launch a mass movement like the JP movement of the 1970s. Two, "it will have to do a thorough soul-searching and weed out corrupt elements" to regain its image as a party with a difference. To launch a mass movement, it says, the BJP must "identify a leader with impeccable track record and unwilling to accept any public office". "It is a tough call that has to be responded to. In the absence of a selfless leader of that calibre and credibility, the party may look up to an organisation committed to probity and social good."

"A major negative for the BJP," it adds, "is its failure to purge corrupt elements that occupy positions of power and authority in the party... The BJP needs to fight against those who are corrupt in a forceful manner if it has to give the impression that it is serious on the issue."

'There is nothing like Hindu terror'

The lead editorial in Organiser goes all out to debunk the phenomenon of Hindu terror. That Swami Aseemanand's confession has led to unease in the Sangh becomes clear, with the piece raising doubts about the confession. It says it is "intriguing" that "only those who are named in alleged Hindu radicalism" seem to be confessing. "We have not heard of Kasab, Afzal or Geelani or such other jihadi terrorist making any confession. Are they so tight-lipped or do their confessions not make headlines?" it asks.

In an attack on the Congress, it says, "If mass murder is the criterion for charging an organisation with terror tag, then the Congress, which is directly accused of involvement in anti-Sikh pogrom, deserves that description more than any other outfit... By association, there are others like Mamata Banerjee who is accused of Maoist links, the DMK accused of LTTE links..."

The editorial tries to argue that "Hindu terror" is a misnomer. "Every terror outfit projects an objective as its raison d'etre, this is absolutely essential for it to draw adherents, sympathisers and collect funds even as they operate underground. After a terror attack they claim responsibility, because that is the only way they can attract attention and publicity, which is their lifeline.... So far there has been no instance of any Hindu organisation taking credit for a terror strike anywhere in the world...," it says.

Time for Lokpal

An article in Panchjanya points out that setting up of the institution of Lokpal has become imperative in the light of the recent series of scams. It targets the UPA government and says its moves in this regard have not been substantial. Tracing the history of Lokpal, it says over a dozen attempts have been made in the past to enact the legislation but it always got stuck over the issue of bringing the prime minister under its ambit. It mentions one significant attempt was made during the NDA regime.

While the article pitched for Lokpal, the BJP, interestingly, has been sidestepping the issue of late, wary that it may dilute its campaign against the UPA over corruption. Interestingly, some of the allies of the BJP think the PMO should be kept out of Lokpal's ambit. The article says the Centre, while setting up the institution of Lokpal, should draw lessons from the experience of Lokayukta in different states. It makes a reference to Haryana where the post of the Lokayukta itself was abolished some years ago by a government claiming that its predecessor had misused it to settle political scores.

Compiled by Manoj C.G.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SHORT OF BUSINESS

That top western brands like Jaguar and Land Rover are now owned by the Tata Group and that Bharti Airtel is the fifth-largest telecom operator (by the size of its subscriber base) indicate the rising global aspirations of companies from rapidly developing economies. India has 20 companies in the 2011 edition of BCG's global challengers list versus China's 33. This gives India 14 challengers per trillion dollars of GDP versus China's 5.8. Although these companies are less reliant on structural advantages such as low costs and focus more on innovation, the innovation is in their business models, not in the sectors in which they operate. Even though Indian and Chinese firms comprise over 50% of the 2011 list, they operate mainly in the construction, power and infrastructure sectors. So where is India's Google or Facebook or Apple? This concentration in infrastructure-related industries is not only a reflection of the rate of growth of the Indian economy but also of its overall business and academic environment. A tertiary education enrolment rate of only 11.85%, of which only 4% enrol in PhD programmes, an R&D spending of just 0.69% of GDP and only one name in the 300-strong list of companies with the most patents held in the US—there are plenty of indicators of a largely unsupportive environment for innovation.

India ranks 134 on the ease of doing business, 177 on dealing with construction permits and 164 on the ease of paying taxes out of a list of 183 countries, according to the Doing Business report, 2011. While, the government has enacted several reforms to make online registration and submission of forms possible and access to credit easier, serious hurdles in setting up businesses, closing them down and enforcing contracts still remain. Add to this the fact that venture capitalism is still fairly small—the Indian private equity and venture capital association lists only about 39 members. This is usually a major source for innovative, non-traditional businesses—the Facebook and Google stories are examples of such enterprise. As the economy evolves and matures, so will business practice. In the meanwhile, the battlefield is set for competition between global multinationals and challengers for new markets, which will result in the 'cross-pollination of ideas and practices'.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MORE OPTICS, LESS ACTION

The most powerful signal coming out of yesterday's Cabinet reshuffle, and we welcome it, is that all ministers under a cloud have been replaced. This applies to ministers who were seen to be too close to certain corporate groups, ministers who got into public spats but didn't do much to further the jobs they were assigned, and ministers who just failed to deliver. This list includes the likes of Murli Deora whose tenure in the petroleum ministry was marked by allegations of favouritism, which resulted in a lowering of investor interest in oil/gas exploration; the government gained more control over oil/gasfields developed by the private sector and the ministry's stand on Cairn-Vedanta is best forgotten. Kamal Nath just complained of being stymied by the Planning Commission and failed to deliver on his promises, and didn't do anything to clean up the corruption mess in the highways department. Praful Patel got it completely wrong on Air India—after getting it to spend billions of dollars on new planes, he failed to follow up with a financing or restructuring plan, and got stuck in taking potshots at the airline's chief—and his airport privatisation plans were also full of controversy. Apart from the initial airports, there was no movement on others. So, it is a relief to see some of these faces go. Sharad Pawar spent more time on IPL than on his primary charge, and wanted to be divested of food and civil supplies when things got hot—that's what the government did. The government can feel good that it has replaced some of the names that have been an embarrassment for it, including MS Gill who botched up badly on the Commonwealth Games.

That's the good news. The bad news is that none of the non-performers have been dropped, indeed Patel has got promoted to a Cabinet rank. Gill has been removed from sports and youth affairs and put in statistics and programme implementation—the assumption being the new charge is hardly that important. The replacements don't look that awe-inspiring either. While it is true that everyone deserves a chance, certainly none of those who have got important portfolios have any great reputations for delivery, some are more comfortable with socialism than with capitalism and reforms their new charges require.

Last, all the changes suggest there is no concept of collective responsibility. If Sharad Pawar got it totally wrong on food policy and civil supplies (a minister of state has been given some of his responsibilities), surely the Cabinet was as much to blame? If Patel continuously got it wrong on Air India, and Deora on Cairn-Vedanta or on making investors unwelcome, where was the Cabinet—indeed, where was the Cabinet when A Raja was doing his little number? All in all, more optics than substance. Let's hope the next reshuffle, when it does happen, is better planned.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

INCLUSIVE INDIA, INNOVATIVE INDIA

YC DEVESHWAR

 

The India growth story will captivate global business and government leaders as they congregate at the World Economic Forum at Davos later this month. CII's theme at Davos, 'India Inclusive', is indeed apt. It also flags a critical component of growth strategy that will determine the country's future progress. Global analysts and national policymakers have been one in their opinion that India will continue to demonstrate high GDP growth rates over the next 5 to 7 years. However, this stellar growth will only be meaningful if a vast majority of the country's population who live in poverty get gainful opportunities to contribute to the productive mainstream of the economy. And that is indeed the challenge of inclusive development that India faces today.

It has taken more than a century of material wealth creation to realise that the economic model pursued by the world for so many years was terribly inadequate in creating equitable and inclusive societies. This also brings home the unquestionable fact that economic development and sustainable development are not necessarily the same thing. Nor is sustainable development only about creating green economies. Progress and development is about creating sustainable and inclusive societies. Economic growth models must, therefore, sub-serve a larger need to create greater societal value and not material wealth alone. That requires a far larger focus on the creation of sustainable livelihoods.

For developing nations like India, growth models and corporate strategies will need to make the creation of sustainable livelihoods the central and perhaps the most important component of economic policy. This is even more critical, given the fact that nearly 15 million young people will enter the job market every year. Unless opportunities for sustainable livelihoods are created, rising discontent and frustration could well lead to a situation of dangerous social unrest and anarchy, destabilising future growth prospects.

An overwhelming majority of the country's poor live in rural India. Predominantly living off the land, they are also the most vulnerable to problems arising out of environmental degradation, including climate change. In the best of circumstances, they are served by inefficient and fragile market systems. At worst, they are at the mercy of exploitation by market intermediaries. Either way, they are trapped in a vicious circle of poverty. An approach that views this disadvantaged population only as a market for low-cost low-value products and services contributes precious little to improving their lives or their future. It only implies a 'race to the bottom' to garner a small share of a deplorably small wallet. A more enduring and meaningful approach lies in co-creating new economic opportunities that empower them and build their capacity to earn meaningful livelihoods. In essence, increasing the size of their wallet and integrating them with the economic mainstream. It is this creation of a fortune 'for' the base of the pyramid that can make a fundamental difference to ensuring a secure and sustainable future.

The question is: can business play a meaningful role in catalysing this process of sustainable and inclusive development? I firmly believe it can. Private enterprises, through their operations, have a large number of touch points in society that constitute the front line of engagement with civil society. Their physical presence in communities around their catchments gives them an opportunity to directly engage in synergistic business activities that can create sustainable livelihoods and add to preservation of natural capital.

The key to the creation of sustainable livelihoods by business lies in innovation. I have said, in an earlier publication, that innovation is the elixir of growth in a competitive global economy. Innovation that is inspired by a vision to sub-serve larger societal needs is, to my mind, one of the most meaningful contributions that businesses can make and also the most fulfilling. The innovation challenge is, therefore, to craft business strategies that not only deliver unique customer value propositions but also enable twin impact—of ensuring a positive environmental footprint and creating sustainable livelihoods.

Our own experience at ITC, through innovations like the e-Choupal, R&D in clonal propagation for afforestation by poor tribals, community engagement for watershed development and many other such societal interventions demonstrates that it is eminently possible to create larger social value in the pursuance of sustainable wealth creation for all stakeholders. It is indeed heartening that today we have a growing number of such innovative interventions in the country. These also exist in a diverse range—from the GCCMF example of a co-operative movement exemplified by the Amul brand to self-help groups of rural women entrepreneurs rolling agarbattis and marketing through ITC's Mangaldeep brand, or in the hosiery clusters in Tirupur. Philanthropic engagements from corporate India have also been on the rise with innovative interventions by business leaders, including Azim Premji, Narayana Murthy, Ratan Tata, Sunil Mittal and many others.

The need of the hour today is to encourage such innovation in corporate strategies and business models that will enable companies to co-create, with local communities, opportunities for sustainable livelihoods. At the same time, civil society, including customers, investors and media, need to be made more aware of the tremendous change they can bring about by encouraging a preference for responsible companies. Preferential and differentiated fiscal and financial incentives for such companies with measurable societal contribution will encourage corporate innovation in creating opportunities for sustainable livelihoods. Public-private-people partnerships in projects that create larger societal value will need to be encouraged through appropriate policy frameworks at the national and state levels.

An inclusive India will be an empowered India capable of realising its potential to be the powerhouse of a new growth paradigm in the global economy. Growth that is driven not only by wealth creation alone, but more by the value that can be created for the larger society and the nation.

—The author is the chairman of ITC and past president of CII

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

DIALLING THE PAST, AGAIN

RISHI RAJ


The fresh trouble between the joint venture partners—Vodafone and Essar group—in the country's third largest mobile firm Vodafone-Essar is quite similar to what Vodafone's predecessor in the firm—Hutch—faced in 2006 before it finally exited by selling its stake to Vodafone in February 2007. The only difference is that then it was the 33% stakeholders, the Ruias of Essar group, who had grievances with majority owner Hutch and this time it is Vodafone that has problems with moves made by the Essar group. There are striking similarities to what happened in 2006 between Hutch and Essar and what's the beginning of fresh trouble now between Vodafone and Essar.

Let's look at Vodafone's objections. The Essar group, which holds 33% stake in the mobile firm, holds it through an unlisted firm Essar Telecom Holdings Pvt Ltd (ETHPL). However, it has recently transferred 11% stake to its other firm India Securities Ltd (ISL), which is listed on the bourses. The Essar group wants to merge ETHPL into ISL. Once this happens, though the main firm Vodafone-Essar is not listed, the shareholders of ISL will get a beneficial stake in the company. This is what is being objected to by Vodafone, which feels that the value of ISL can then erroneously be seen as a fair market value of Vodafone-Essar. In technical terms, what the Essar group is resorting to is reverse listing and Vodafone has written to the stock exchanges and the Securities and Exchange Board of India asking for the matter to be examined.

The Essar group's response is that since Vodafone is neither a shareholder nor a creditor of ISL or ETHPL, there's no basis to any such objections. However, they have said that after studying the matter in detail, they will respond appropriately to Vodafone's concerns.

Without getting into the merits of arguments being put forward by either of the sides, one can safely conclude that the bigger issue is of the lack of trust and communication between the JV partners. And it is here that the history of this JV becomes relevant. In 2006, Egyptian mobile operator Orascom had acquired 19.3% stake in Hutchison Telecom International Ltd (HTIL), a listed firm in Hong Kong. It was HTIL that owned 67% stake in India's Hutch-Essar and the 19.3% stake provided Orascom a beneficial stake of around 4% in the company, along with two seats on the board. Around that time, even Orascom was looking at a full merger with HTIL. However, this deal wrecked the relations between the Ruias and the promoters of HTIL. Apparently, HTIL had not consulted the Essar group with regard to the stake sale to Orascom. Since Orascom has operations in Pakistan and Bangladesh, it was easy to beat Hutch with the security bogey and that's what the Essar group did. It wrote to the government reasoning that since Orascom has operations in Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the interest of national security, it should not HTIL have sought government's approval before selling the stake. In India's security-paranoid environment, this was a holy argument and a plain case of corporate rivalry fuelled by lack of trust and communication got debated in terms of public policy.

It was around this time that the National Security Advisor gave a set of recommendations empowering the government to review any foreign direct investment deal if it had implications for national security. The relationship between the Ruias and Hutch deteriorated further in this environment of acrimony. Whether this had any direct role in HTIL's final exit from India is difficult to say, but the company finally sold its 67% stake for around $11 billion in February 2007 to Vodafone.

The Ruias did not have much of a role in the day-to-day operations of Hutch-Essar and even today, with Vodafone in the driving seat, the arrangement remains the same. However, in a departure from the past, Essar's Ravi Ruia was made the chairman of Vodafone-Essar.

The fresh round of trouble between Vodafone and Essar is quite similar to the one recounted above, only that there has been a role reversal. How it pans out this time remains to be seen.

rishi.raj@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

My way or the highway

At the launch of the joint venture between the infrastructure services firm, Feedback Ventures, and the Portugal-based international transportation company, Brisa Auto-estradas de Portugal, the Union Cabinet minister for Road Transport and Highways Kamal Nath was at his wittiest. While talking of the big differences between the two countries, he said, "In India, banks give the government money; governments don't give banks money!" Nath spoke of how roads in India were not built just for 2- and 4-wheelers, but also for the 2- and 4-legged, "People don't believe me when I tell them that our highways have underpasses built only so that cattle can move!" With Kamal Nath seeing the end of the road, as opposed to the successful end of his highways programme, many are congratulating Feedback Ventures on its timing—a few days more, and the inauguration would have gone for a toss.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

ORIGINAL SIN

 

The process of beatifying Pope John Paul II is under way, which suggests that his august and departed person may be acclaimed to sainthood some time soon. Incumbent Pope Benedict XVI says he would be joyous if this were to happen. But the biggest challenge for both men, one who headed the Catholic Church for 26 years and the other who took over in 2005, has been to acknowledge that the world has changed, that hanging on to the old privileges is unlikely to win over new souls or hold on to existing congregations. One of the most controversial marks of this change has been how the child abuse scandal has taken a toll on the Church since the 1990s. There is little evidence to suggest that the abuse has worsened in recent decades. What the growing mountain of evidence does confirm is that what could be covered up for centuries demands public disclosure today, that the dreadful suffering of victims of paedophilia can no longer be kept secret from secular authorities any more.

 

In the tradition of films like The Magdalene Sisters, which exposed how the Catholic Church had brutalised unmarried, pregnant young women on the pretext of protecting them from moral danger, the new documentary Unspeakable Crimes focuses on Irish Catholic priests who abused children but remained protected by their order. It further discloses a Vatican document urging local bishops to avoid reporting suspected abusers to the police for "moral and canonical" reasons. Today, the Vatican bank is forced to open its opaque finances to EU scrutiny. The Pope is making nice with condoms because AIDS is threatening Africa, the continent which is a major area of growth for his church. But is he ready to let go of historical cover-ups?

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

TELANGANA ECHO IN DARJEELING HILLS

It is well understood that the Telangana agitation is an inspiration for similar movements in other parts of India. The 26-day bandh called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) in the Darjeeling district is an ongoing case in point. The announced aim is to force the central government to 'clarify' its position on the demand for a Gorkhaland State in the wake of the Srikrishna Committee's report on the future of Telangana. It bears reiteration that the Committee's real recommendation is for a united Andhra Pradesh with meaningful autonomy, secured by constitutional measures, to the Telengana region. The GJM leadership is under increased pressure from its rank and file to clarify where it stands on the Gorkhaland demand. It demonstrated some moderation in the talks it has had with the central and West Bengal governments — to explore a regional autonomy solution for Darjeeling very much like what the Srikrishna Committee has favoured for Telangana. The three sides have agreed, in principle, to replace the virtually defunct Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) — which was born in 1988 out of the violent movement for 'Gorkhaland' spearheaded by Subhash Ghisingh — with an alternative regional set-up with greater financial and administrative powers. After the last round of talks in December 2010, a major stumbling block was removed, with the Morcha leadership announcing it was agreeable to allow the conduct of local body elections in Darjeeling hills. One contentious issue relates to the unit of regional autonomy. The Morcha wants Gorkha-dominated areas in the Terai and Dooars regions in north Bengal to be included. Other groups in those regions and the State government are firmly opposed to it. The central government is reported to have agreed to a process of verifying the population claims after the establishment of the empowered regional set-up.

That the expected green signal has not yet come from the central Cabinet Committee on Security could be a source of anxiety for the GJM leadership. Simultaneously and unwisely, it is projecting the Srikrishna Committee's characterisation of Statehood for Telangana as the 'second-best option' as though it were an unqualified recommendation and did not come with the condition that all three regions of Andhra Pradesh must agree to it! Not long ago, the party accused Mr. Ghisingh's Gorkha National Liberation Front of burying the Gorkhaland demand under the Hill Council. Fearful of being accused of a second 'sell-out,' the GJM leadership is making out that an empowered regional authority will only be an interim arrangement en route to full statehood. As it goes around shutting down Darjeeling, it must remember that raising separatist expectations is a dangerous game that is more than likely to have unintended consequences.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MINIMISING RISKS TO RECOVERY

That the developing economies led by China and India are in the forefront of the global economic recovery is well known. During 2010, while the emerging economies clocked 7 per cent, developed countries grew by 2.8 per cent. The World Bank in its latest publication, Global Economic Prospects expects the divergence in the growth rates to continue well into the future. This glaring disparity has already had some important consequences for the global economy. For instance, the dollar's status as the world's main reserve currency is under threat, although — as the problems some of the Euro zone countries are facing show — there is a big question mark over the viability of the monetary union and hence of the euro itself. The IMF is being reorganised, with the leading emerging economies set to acquire greater clout. The G20 has replaced the G8 as the world's leading economic grouping.

The divergence in growth rates is easy to understand. The developing countries will obviously grow faster than the rich ones. They can post greater productivity gains as they start from a low base. Eventually, their growth rates would converge on the rates of the West. According to the World Bank, what is surprising is that the developed countries trail the developing ones by such a wide margin. Their decline during the downturn was so sharp that the rebound should have been much stronger. Two important developments explain why that has not happened. One, both individuals and governments in the developed world are reeling under an extraordinarily high level of indebtedness. Consumers are spending less and governments are forced to go for austerity and other belt-tightening measures that are hardly conducive to growth. Secondly, the financial sector of the developed world remains impaired and credit flows have not increased to the desired extent. In contrast, the World Bank report points out that much of the growth in the developing world is supported by strong domestic demand. Indeed, during 2010, domestic demand in the emerging economies accounted for almost half the global growth. If sustained, this trend will help reduce global imbalances. However, the other growth driver for the developing countries, the large capital inflows, has been a mixed blessing. Such flows are the result of ultra-loose monetary policies in the West and they could just as easily change direction. Both the developed and developing countries should work together to minimise volatility and the risks to recovery.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

READING IS BASIC TO DEMOCRACY

THE TEACHING OF READING DURING EARLY CHILDHOOD — WHEN ATTITUDES, HABITS AND SKILLS ACQUIRE LIFE-LONG FOUNDATIONS — ASSUMES CRUCIAL SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE EFFICIENT FUNCTIONING OF DEMOCRACY.

KRISHNA KUMAR


Literacy is the foundation of school education but in our country the term 'literacy' is used almost exclusively in the context of adults. This is not surprising, given the embarrassingly large share of India in the global count of adults who can neither read nor write. Why India's share has not dwindled significantly is partly related to the fact that the years spent by children in primary schools do not necessarily make them literate. Many who acquire a tenuous grip on literacy during those years fail to retain it in the absence of opportunities to read, compounded by elimination from school before completing the upper primary classes. Even in the case of those who acquire lasting literacy, schooling fails to impart the urge to read as a matter of habit. Those who learn to perceive reading as a means to expand knowledge and awareness are a minority. Sensational surveys of children's poor performance in reading tests throw little light on the deeper problems that the teaching of reading in India suffers from. If these problems are not addressed in an institutionalised manner, the newly enacted law on the right to education will remain ineffective.

The ability to decipher isolated letters of the alphabet is not a promising beginning in the child's progress towards becoming literate. However, this is precisely what conventional wisdom tells teachers to focus on. The wisdom is based on millennia-old practices which enabled a few children to become literate. When we apply this wisdom today, we forget that the method worked in a socio-cultural context which was altogether different from our context now. When literacy was confined to a thin upper strata of society, the teacher demanded from his wards a mastery over letters and sounds for its own sake. It took years to acquire such mastery, and the methods used to ensure it included oppressive drills and a punitive regime that can have no place today. When people feel nostalgic about traditional education, they forget that it was based on a view of childhood few would approve today. Moreover, the traditional system had no intention to cover all children. The methods it used for the teaching of reading are unsuitable for a universal system of education. The traditional approach does not recognise the child's nature and agency, nor does it respect individual differences.

New approach

The traditional methods are incompatible with the modern psychology of childhood and the knowledge available today on the acquisition of language-related skills. Contemporary expertise is based on the premise that children have a natural drive to explore and understand the world; hence, reading should give them the opportunity to make sense of printed texts from the beginning. 'Making sense' as an experience involves relating to the text, generating a personal engagement and interpretation. If children are not encouraged to relate to the text, or if the text they are given has little meaning or relevance, the outcome will be a crude kind of literacy, which will remain isolated from their intellectual and emotional development. If this wider meaning of reading is applied to make an assessment, our system of primary education will arouse far greater concern than children's test scores in achievement surveys do. Persistent effort under the pressure to perform does make children capable of reading aloud a written text, but they fail to find any meaning in it. And the ability to decipher a text mechanically does not encourage children to actively look for new texts to read. The anecdote narrated by ChinnaChacko, a former member of the NCERT, in a paper she presented at the International Reading Association in 1971 continues to hold true. When she asked a child to read aloud, he asked: "With the text or without the text?" Reflecting on the methods used in Indian schools for teaching children how to read, ChinnaChacko wrote: "Many things are done the same way they have been done for centuries and, as a result, our primary teacher-training schools and primary schools are like museums in which old ways are carefully preserved."

The cost of this museum-mentality is high, if we take into account the role that a reading public plays in a democratic order. The practice of democracy assumes both the habit and the capacity in all citizens to engage with matters which transcend personal or immediate reality. We can call it the metaphysics of daily life under modernity. It compels every member — without exception — to share a collective anguish and to respond to it in one way or another. Engagement with this expanded universe cannot be sustained without the tools of literacy, in addition to — and not as a substitute of — the oral means of interaction. In this model, reading serves as more than a skill; it becomes an aspect of culture. It must enable citizens to reflect on what is going on, not merely a skill to decipher printed texts. From this larger perspective, the teaching of reading during early childhood — when attitudes, habits and skills acquire life-long foundations — acquires crucial significance for the efficient functioning of democracy. This perspective implies drastic changes in the currently practised pedagogy of reading in pre-schools and the primary classes. Instead of letter-recognition and mechanical decoding, pedagogic effort must focus on building bridges between words and meanings, and on nurturing an interpretive stance from the earliest stage. This kind of pedagogy requires meaningful texts and a sustained use of children's literature. The texts used for the teaching of reading should treat the child with dignity, showing respect for the child's inner drive to interpret and relate. The sociology of the text content is equally important. We need texts that make children excited about the social and cultural diversity that they encounter in their ethos. We also need kind and affectionate teachers who are themselves habitual readers and can encourage each child to perceive reading as a means to pursue his or her own interest.

NCERT's role

A 40-part series of books for beginner readers, published by the NCERT, successfully responds to these various expectations. Entitled Barkha, this series was prepared by the department of early literacy and libraries under a special project of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. The little books included in this series mark several innovations, including those in design and illustration, and not just in the conception of child-centred narratives. In place of the usual patronising attitude towards children that we see in educational literature, the Barkha books present real children, doing the kinds of things ordinary children do at home and in the neighbourhood. A radical attempt has been made in these books not just to move away from stereotypes, but to challenge them. It is the first time in India that a graded reading series, with a literary approach to reading, has been introduced. The early literacy department of the NCERT, which created this series, has been working with several State governments, encouraging them to develop similar material in their languages and to train teachers to adopt the imaginative approach to reading what Barkha represents.

Strangely enough, the NCERT has decided to close down the department that was promoting this approach. This is not the first time in India, or within the NCERT itself, that a distinct attempt to focus on reading and libraries has been prematurely abandoned. Institutional vicissitudes are much too common to require comment. One can only hope that the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which controls the NCERT, will review this decision and restore early literacy's academic identity. Strong institutional leadership is required to motivate State governments, NGOs and private publishers to take children's literature, especially its neglected aspects like design and illustration, seriously. The illustration copied here from a children's book recently published by the National Book Trust shows how insensitive even a reputed publishing house can be towards violence on women. After decades of advocacy for gender-sensitive material for children, the larger scenario remains quite alarming. Many NGOs have now taken to publishing for children, and in the absence of expert guidance and institutionalised review processes, they are churning out poor quality material, often with explicit ideological bias. State governments purchase such material with the copious funds that the SSA provides for classroom libraries. The NCERT does need to play a leadership role in this anarchic scene.

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THE HINDU

OPED

MUSICAL CHAIRS ON A DRIFTING SHIP

MORE THAN A RESHUFFLE, THE UPA GOVERNMENT NEEDS A NEW DECK OF CARDS AND, MUCH MORE URGENTLY, A NEW GAME.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

Any ministerial rearrangement which leaves the big four portfolios of Home, Defence, External Affairs and Finance untouched is bound to disappoint headline writers but so underwhelming is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's latest reshuffle that it is hard to understand the motivation or logic behind the entire exercise.

Three weaknesses

The United Progressive Alliance is suffering from three major weaknesses. The first is the public's perception — notwithstanding the ouster of Ashok Chavan from Maharashtra and A. Raja's resignation from the Union Cabinet last year — that Dr. Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are unwilling to act firmly against corruption. The second is that cronyism and personal loyalties are seen as bigger virtues than efficiency. The third is that the Prime Minister himself is unwilling to lead from the front and stare down individual ministers who think they have the individual power to veto collective decisions.

So long in the making was Wednesday's reshuffle that it seemed as if Dr. Singh and Ms Gandhi might actually be willing to make the "course correction" the Prime Minister promised in his New Year's message. While the compulsions of coalition politics limit his options when it comes to the non-Congress ministers, he should have used the prevailing mood in the country to sweep aside Congress ministers who have either failed to make a positive mark or actually done damage. He could have also struck a blow for probity by ousting Vilasrao Deshmukh — indicted recently by the Supreme Court for abusing his authority when he was Chief Minister of Maharashtra — and asking Virbhadra Singh to step aside till he clears himself of charges that the High Court in Himachal Pradesh has already taken congnisance of. Had he done just that much, the Prime Minister could have overcome some of the negative atmospherics generated by the fiasco over 2G spectrum and the controversy over Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas.

Unfortunately, none of this happened. Like old card players who never die — they just shuffle away — the non-performers in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet have simply reshuffled their way to new ministries. And Mr. Deshmukh, whose illegal intervention in a police case in favour of a usurious moneylender ultimately cost the Maharashtra government a Rs.10 lakh fine, actually ended up getting a promotion. He has been moved from Heavy Industries to the much more crucial Rural Development portfolio, which is responsible for the rural employment guarantee programme of the government.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office told The Hindu the reshuffle was intended to send a "perform or perish" message to ministers holding economic portfolios. Thus, Murli Deora, Kamal Nath, Virbhadra Singh and a few others who have not exactly set the Yamuna on fire with their performance were 'demoted' to less grand ministries. Though Youth Affairs and Sports is not an economic ministry, his handling of the multi-crore Commonwealth Games too cost Mr. M.S. Gill that portfolio. One wonders, however, why these ministers weren't simply thanked for services rendered and their places given to others in the party who might do a better job all round?

The plus side

On the plus side, the biggest positive to emerge from the reshuffle is the transfer of Jaipal Reddy to Petroleum and Natural Gas, a strategic ministry that has never fully recovered from the exit in 2006 of Mani Shankar Aiyar. The pruning of Sharad Pawar's portfolio is another plus, as is the handing over of a crucial ministry like water resources to Salman Khurshid. Minority Affairs, however, will be an unnecessary encumbrance and one hopes the government will have the good sense to think out of the box and give that charge not to a minority politician but to a dynamic, secular non-minority leader with a genuine commitment to the welfare of the minorities. Taking tourism away from Kumari Selja makes no sense given the fair job she was doing; one can only hope the additional charge of Culture given to her is meant for the long-haul. As far as other changes — full cabinet rank for Salman Khurshid, Shriprakash Jaiswal and the induction of Beni Prasad Verma from Uttar Pradesh, for example — tactical considerations seem to have been uppermost in the Congress high command's mind with assembly elections in the crucial state less than a year away. Also, the 'asset stripped' civil aviation portfolio — temporarily handed over to Vayalar Ravi — is being kept in reserve for allocation to the DMK if the political situation following the Tamil Nadu assembly elections warrants it.

Tactics, however, will take you only so far. Whatever end he hoped the reshuffle would serve, the Prime Minister is likely to find himself confronting the same political challenge tomorrow as he did yesterday: how to restore public confidence in his ability to lead a clean and efficient government. This was not the challenge the Congress faced when it got re-elected to power in 2009 and the party needs to introspect over how it has lost its way. The cabinet reshuffle indicates it is still not ready to do so. The official obfuscation over revenue losses caused by the arbitrary sale of spectrum and the confrontationist stand the Centre is taking over both the CVC and Joint Parliamentary Committee issues suggest the stalemate in Parliament is likely to continue into the Budget session. That this will be bad for Indian democracy is clear. But it is also likely to irreparably harm the political fortunes of the ruling coalition.

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THE HINDU

ARAB LEADERS KEEP A WARY EYE ON TUNISIA

THEY APPEAR INCREASINGLY RATTLED BY THE UNFOLDING EVENTS IN TUNISIA AND ELSEWHERE IN THE ARAB WORLD.

MONA EL-NAGGAR AND MICHAEL SLACKMAN

From the crowded, run-down streets of Cairo to the oil-financed halls of power in Kuwait, Arab leaders appear increasingly rattled by the unfolding events in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab world, where men continued to set themselves on fire — two more in Egypt on January 18, and a third who was stopped.

Though the streets of Cairo, Algiers and other Arab cities around the region were calm, the acts of self-immolation served as a reminder that the core complaints of economic hardship and political repression that led to the Tunisian uprising resonated strongly across the Middle East.

"You have leaders who have been in power for a very long time, one party controlling everything, marginalisation of the opposition, no transfer of power, plans for succession, small groups running the business, vast corruption," said Emad Gad, a political scientist at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "All of this makes the overall environment ripe for an explosion at any second."

The differences in each country

But while there is widespread anticipation about a revolutionary contagion, particularly in Egypt and Algeria, where there have been angry and violent protests, political analysts said that each country is different, making such conclusions premature. Egypt lacks the broad and educated middle class of Tunisia, while in Algeria the middle class failed to join the angry young men in rioting, regional experts said.

In Jordan, an Islamist opposition party, the Islamic Action Front, issued a demand that the offices of prime minister and other high officials be made elective instead of appointive, as they are now. But like the other outbursts, it quickly died away.

"For all the sound and fury, it doesn't look like much political dividend will come out of what happened in Algeria, in the short term," said Hugh Roberts, an independent scholar and a specialist on North Africa based here. "It looks like it has gone quiet. It was a big blast of angry, hot air, but in an unfocused way, which leaves most things the same."

So for now, the most pronounced impact from the unexpected Tunisian uprising is a lingering sense of uncertainty. That is itself either unnerving or exhilarating, depending on one's perspective, in a region sitting on the fault lines of religious strife, political repression and economic uncertainty, experts said.

"We did not expect Tunisia to go the direction it has. Who had Tunisia on the mind a few weeks ago?" said Amr Hamzawy, research director with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. "The ingredients are partially there for it to happen again, but we just do not know."

Some Arab leaders have ordered security crackdowns to keep calm in the streets, and offered some symbolic gestures. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad backed off the imposition of austerity measures. In Kuwait, the emir doled out money.

Economic summit

In Egypt, where organisers are calling for a nationwide protest on January 25, officials struggled to project a sense of calm and normalcy, while stepping up talk of economic reform and government accountability. Arab leaders have also said they will focus on combating unemployment when they meet later this week at an economic summit meeting in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik.

Fahmy Howeidy, an Egyptian political expert and newspaper columnist, said that while he did not believe conditions were ripe for a similar uprising in Egypt, the government was keenly aware that "what happened in Tunisia has definitely created a different atmosphere. It convinced people that they can revolt in the streets, and that these regimes are not as strong or as mighty as they appear."

Before the riots in Tunisia turned into a mass uprising against the rule of the long-time autocratic president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, it appeared that either Egypt or Algeria stood a greater chance of some kind of mass public revolt. For years, both have suffered from sclerotic political systems led by aging presidents, with support from the military. For years, both have confronted protests over difficult economic conditions and widespread youth unemployment.

But Mr. Hamzawy noted that in Tunisia the middle class and the trade unions joined protests that initially broke out over economic complaints, and helped transform the discontent into calls for political change. In Egypt, where the leadership continues to rely on a decades-old emergency law that allows arrest without charge, there is a lot of room for free and critical speech, offering a safety valve for expression that did not exist in Tunisia, he said.

In Egypt, he said, the array of interests that benefit from corruption is much wider than in Tunisia, where it was restricted to a small circle around the president. That, he said, means there are more people with an interest in preserving the system. And finally, he said, the military in Tunisia was not politicised and did not have any experience in securing city streets, unlike in Egypt, where the military has risen to the government's defence before, and most likely would again. In addition, Mr. Hamzawy said that the protests that have racked Egypt recently have mostly been by workers for economic reasons, and that the government effectively bought them off with concessions before they began making political demands.

In Algeria

In Algeria, Mr. Roberts said, there are two primary differences with Tunisia that make comparisons imperfect. The first, he said, was that in Tunisia the riots spread all over the country and eventually involved different elements of society all on the same side. "That gave the movement its moral power," he said.

By comparison, he said, "In Algeria, that never happened. There was no real support from trade unions, in fact none at all as far as one can see, and there was a good deal of middle class hostility to them because of the destruction. The guys rioting were desperate, angry young men with no political perspective at all."

But more fundamentally, he said, Algeria is not as repressive as Tunisia was. "It is not an autocracy, it is an oligarchy," he said, explaining that in addition to the President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, there are multiple power centres, like the military, the intelligence services and the elite bureaucrats.

That, he said, meant that unlike in Tunisia there is no one target of public ire, and no public sense that protests would help to dislodge those at fault. "Even though Bouteflika is unpopular, people know their problems do not simply come down to him," he said. "You have a situation where there is a great deal of discontent, including in the middle class, but no one has any prescription for how to deal with it." ( Mona El-Naggar reported from Cairo, and Michael Slackman from Berlin.) — © New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

BRAZIL TO STEP UP PLANS FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS

THIS IS IN RESPONSE TO THE RECENT DEADLY LANDSLIPS IN THE STATE OF RIO DE JANEIRO.

ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO

The Brazilian government said on January 18 that it would accelerate efforts to devise a national system for preventing disasters and alerting the population quickly when they occur, in response to the deadly landslides in the state of Rio de Janeiro last week that killed at least 710 people.

President Dilma Rousseff met with ministers and announced the government's plan to improve its disaster readiness, which will include maps of high-risk areas, better training and improved collection of data on meteorological conditions. The national system will be completely in place in four years, but it is expected to produce results by next year, the government said.

The announcement appeared to be a response to news reports that a Brazilian government official had admitted to the United Nations two months ago that a large part of a promised emergency response system was not ready and that the government did not have the ability to verify the efficiency of many existing services.

Report sent to U.N.

A report sent to the United Nations by Ivone Maria Valente, the national secretary of the National Civil Defence authority, notes that almost one in four cities in Brazil lack a civil defence authority. And where a civil defence authority exists, it does not have a way to measure if it is functioning efficiently, according to the report. An official at a United Nations agency, International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, provided a copy the report, whose content was first reported by the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de São Paulo.

Ms Valente reported that the small number of municipal authorities created to deal with disasters made it "impossible to measure, in a reliable way," which cities were prepared for disasters.

While the government said it had made advances in disaster preparedness, it also noted that it had not analysed the readiness of any hospital or school in preparing the report.

The lack of a risk-reduction programme "will contribute to the increasing occurrence of natural disasters" and to "increasing insecurity in local communities," Ms Valente wrote.

Disaster experts have contended that Brazil's lack of disaster-warning systems and a general lack of preparedness was responsible for the deadly scale of the disaster last week, which with its increasing death toll has become the country's worst natural disaster. In addition to more than 700 people killed, nearly 14,000 are homeless or have abandoned their homes in Teresópolis, Nova Friburgo and Petrópolis — the three hillside towns struck hardest by the heavy rains.— © New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

 

'SMART' PROSTHESES

THE LIVES OF AMPUTEES COULD BE TRANSFORMED.

LUCY TOBIN

The seaside setting of Bournemouth University in southern England might seem a world away from Afghanistan and the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that the Taliban are using there to injure British troops. But a group of Bournemouth academics hope that the work they are carrying out at the university's Design Simulation Research Centre might one day transform the lives of the rising number of amputee soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, and potentially return them to active service.

How it is being developed

It's not war theory that Professor Siamak Noroozi, 54, and his team are working on, but practical design and engineering work. Using artificial intelligence and new technology, they are developing a "smart" prosthetic socket that is able to measure the individual interactions between the socket and the stump of a limb and, they hope, will transform the lives of amputees.

"We came across this project because we know that a lot of people are very dissatisfied with current prosthetic sockets," Noroozi, a mechanical engineer, explains. "Currently, prosthetic limbs are made of two components: the leg — the mechanical part, which connects the person to the ground — and the socket, which connects the mechanical part to the body. But that interface can be very comfortable or very painful and can definitely generate pain if not designed properly.

"You cannot create the perfect prosthetic socket that has the same feeling as your normal leg, but you should be able to get a socket with a profile that can be modified to create an optimum comfort level, and then maintain that whether the person is walking, sitting and so on." At the moment, since sockets are not "intelligent", they can't account for changes in the residual limb due to sweat or fluid build-up, for example, and can become uncomfortable or painful.

'Virtual' socket

Noroozi learned that prosthetists rely on their own experience to fit a patient with a prosthetic limb, but "there was no tool available to quantify that fit by giving data or feedback to ensure that the wearer does not experience pain or discomfort from the artificial limb." As a result, he and his team decided to try to create one.

"For many years, research has been carried out to try to improve the fitting process for prosthetic limbs, but from what we know, none of this research resulted in a clinical tool that can inform processes about the quality of the fit, or the changes made during the fitting process, or what happens as a result of those changes," Noroozi explains. "So, if you modify the socket — making it better or worse — there's no qualitative tool that can tell you the variation of the resultant pressure after the changes you make to it."

In a bid to create that tool, Noroozi and his team at the Design Simulation Research Centre are using their knowledge of engineering and artificial intelligence to create a "virtual" socket, which can record data to see how it reacts to different loads, and react to the incoming information to ensure the socket maintains a state of comfort for the user at all times.

"The socket can be used to monitor the progress of the person, telling us what is happening when they are static, or walking, or running, or going up stairs, to create a load profile and then judge whether those load profiles result in a comfortable or painful socket," says Noroozi.

"That would mean we could transform every individual socket so it suits the person specifically and any required adjustments can be done very quickly. This should reduce the time it takes to fit each individual socket and possibly extend the life of sockets from six to nine months, as at the moment, to several years."

As a result, the academics expect the socket to save the U.K. health service significant amounts of money. "One of the reasons that the cost of fitting is so high at the moment is that you are paying for the experience of the prosthetist," says Noroozi.

"With our new tool, that experience can be encapsulated, which means we'll be able to better visualise the effect of any corrections to the socket and, we hope, get things right the first time." The engineers on the project, which has received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the medical charity Remedi, are now working with Blatchford, a private company that works with the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, Surrey, where soldiers are sent following injury in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

WILL PM'S SHUFFLE MEAN BETTER GOVT?

It is hard to see how many will be impressed with the changes brought about in the Union council of ministers on Wednesday. While there might be in this round of chopping and changing by the Prime Minister some immediate justification for a few changes, it is not quite clear if the new look gives the government an image makeover, or infuses agents of efficiency into the system. Removing M.S. Gill from the sports ministry was warranted after the fiasco that attended the preparations for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. There was no way Mr Gill could avoid constructive responsibility for letting extraordinary goings-on in the Suresh Kalmadi-led Games organising committee — from which multiple investigations have taken rise — continue unhindered. Mr Gill has lost his portfolio for being inept, not corrupt. It is not quite clear that he will bring spark to his new charge at statistics and programme implementation. Retaining him in government is, therefore, likely to be with an eye to an important constituency in Punjab, one which has generally tilted in favour of Congress Party's opponents. In the same category as Mr Gill's departure from sports is the divesting of the food portfolio from NCP supremo and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. Mr Pawar appears to have surrendered before the inflation in food prices, and is constantly seeking to remind us that prices are not his domain. Such a quixotic plea had not before been taken by any of his predecessors, for there happens to be a conspicuous link between the rise in prices and the supply of commodities. Other than the two cases of Mr Gill and Mr Pawar, which resound with justification, it is hard to say if changing the portfolios of other ministers has brought in incumbents that might be noticeably better than those they replace.

As Cabinet reshuffles go, the present round appears to be fairly comprehensive, although in the main the exercise is confined to Congress ministers. Only the NCP among the Congress allies has been affected and changes made in respect to it cannot be deemed controversial. Mr Pawar himself wanted to be rid of the food charge. Praful Patel, who has been elevated to Cabinet level and given charge of heavy industries and public enterprises, had also once hinted he had done what he could with civil aviation and was looking for fresh challenges. There have been suggestions that Wednesday's changes are more likely interim in nature and a more thorough overhaul might be attempted after the Budget Session. This appears not to be the case, however. The rejigging of portfolios appears fairly extensive. On the whole, ministers from Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have done quite well for themselves, gaining either sensitive portfolios or moving up the ladder. Prospective Assembly elections are a part of the explanation. But merit has also played some part. Salman Khurshid and Sriprakash Agarwal justify elevation to Cabinet rank. The former is efficient and has sufficient experience in government. The latter has the knack of winning Lok Sabha elections in a state which has been tricky for the Congress for two decades. If anything, UP merits at least one more minister of Cabinet rank, given its extent and the diversity of zones it contains.

It is noteworthy that no fresh blood has been inducted this time round. This aspect needs to be righted. If there are fresh changes in the council of ministers after the Assembly elections in five states in May, that might be a good time to attend to this lacuna. The pressure from the Congress' allies can increase or be contained, depending on how well they have performed in the May polls. By and large, however, it does appear that the significance of any changes that we might see in the summer would be reduced in the light of what we have just seen.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

NUCLEAR MORALITY

India has an unbeatable record. There is no arms control bandwagon it has not jumped on to with reckless alacrity. Indian political leaders and diplomats are no lotus eaters or yokels easily conned into disarming the nation even as powerful countries bristle with newer, more lethal, armaments. But confront them with agreements promising deliverance from the hyped-up dangers of an armed world and they act as if their brains are "on hold", unable to resist the lure of the halo and the chance supposedly to burnish India's reputation as a "responsible" state even if this imperils national security.

Jawaharlal Nehru, who outlined the contours of Indian foreign policy, was a master at using morality to extract foreign policy benefits. A statesman in the classical mould, he was motivated by realpolitik — a seminal fact missed by most in the ruling Congress Party and two generations of Indian historians and hagiographers, and still not sufficiently appreciated by media commentators, academics and their ilk. When he had India in the vanguard of the campaign for "general and complete" disarmament in the 1950s (which, other than banning nuclear weapons, required the reduction of all conventional militaries to constabulary status), he did so knowing that precisely because this goal was beyond reach it would fetch India otherwise unobtainable dividends. And it did — shoving the superpowers, Soviet Russia and the United States, on the defensive, making an end-run round the 1947 Baruch Plan forwarded by Washington aimed at international control of all nuclear-related ores and natural resources everywhere, providing political cover for the dual-purpose Indian nuclear energy programme whose weapons thrust Nehru was secretly nursing to maturity, and benefiting from security as a free good offered by an America driven by ideology more than common sense. Together with its leadership of the goodwill-generating anti-colonialism and anti-racism movements in the United Nations, India enhanced its standing and ability to box above its weight class. These were no mean benefits at a time when India, a rag-tag nation, had little to bank on except its pretensions.

With less gifted leaders at the helm, however, the larger strategic calculations were lost sight of as policymaking steadily veered towards self-validating postures and a Pavlovian response of energetic me-tooism to every self-serving arms control initiative by the great powers. It is another matter that, in each case, wisdom dawned late and on further consideration India retreated to less exposed but still vulnerable positions that the big powers exploited to push this country into a corner. It happened in the negotiations over the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and lately the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). For instance, the FMCT negotiations in the UN Committee on Disarmament are being stalled by Pakistan's obstructive tactics. Instead of quietly encouraging this — as any delays afford India the time to augment its fissile material stockpile — the Manmohan Singh government has chosen to join the West in dumping on Islamabad. The inane Indian enthusiasm for arms control-qua-disarmament measures means that expectations are raised all round and pressures on Delhi to fall in line in any related negotiations increase to a point where failing to do so costs the country plenty.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) India signed with undue haste in 1992 and ratified four years later, reflects the sort of problems the Indian government creates for the country by not thinking through its policy choices. In 2009 India declared that its entire holding of chemical weapons had been destroyed, joining Albania and South Korea as the only three countries in the world verifiably to reach the zero-weapons level. Indeed, the National Authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention, working out of the Cabinet Secretariat, has so diligently monitored adherence to CWC provisions, it secured the ISO 9001 certification in 2008. But Delhi's expectation that as a first and "fast mover" India would be rewarded with the top posts in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquartered at the Hague and thereby control the secretariat, the sensitive information flows, etc., was belied when India was out-manoeuvred and the Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations in Geneva, Ahmet Uzumcu, installed by "consensus" as director-general, OPCW.

But the downside is more substantive because without ready chemical weapons at hand India may find itself in a real pickle. The Indian nuclear doctrine threatens nuclear retaliation, other than after a nuclear hit, in case of chemical and biological weapons attack. The trouble is that countering the use of chemical (or biological) weapons with an atom bomb goes against the fundamental logic of proportionate response and would be a difficult political decision to make in the face of concerted international opposition. Moreover, given how seriously the Indian government sticks as much by the spirit as the letter of arms control laws, it is reasonable to assume there is no cache of chemical weapons stashed away somewhere for just such contingencies.
What exists is a "defensive" capability permitted by CWC. But, however quickly these so-called defensive warfare resources and in situ weapons capability can be marshalled to produce chemical devices for offensive use, there will still be a lag time during which two things can happen. Emboldened by the Indian non-reaction to its initial provocation, the adversary state could follow up with a series of new attacks. Or, it could utilise this time to firm up international pressure even against a retributive Indian counter-attack. With the Indian government's proven tendency to fold at the first hint of pressure, it is very likely that a chemical (or biological) weapons strike will, in fact, go unanswered. So much for CWC ensuring protection.

Despite repeatedly burning its fingers, India habitually accords undue importance to arms control agreements. Great powers know better. As Convention signatories the United States and Russia have taken their time to eliminate their chemical weapons inventories. Obliged to finish the job by 2012, they are still adrift of that goal.

bharat karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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DNA

CABINET RESHUFFLE IS JUST A TWEAKING EXERCISE

 

Pundits feel frustrated by Wednesday's cabinet reshuffle because they are not able to read the political signs — in the manner of tea leaves or coffee cups — emanating from prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and their equation. Apart from the induction of Beni Prasad Verma, Ashwini Kumar and K Venugopal, all from the Congress, there are no new faces.

 

There has been a significant reshuffle of portfolios, the most interesting being S Jaipal Reddy shifting to the petroleum ministry and Murli Deora shifting to corporate affairs. It would seem that market-friendly Deora has given way to socialist-minded Reddy. Here is a bit of irony. Deora replaced the unrepentant socialist Mani Shankar Aiyar in UPA-I in the petroleum ministry. But all this remains in the realm of sweet speculation. Aiyar, Deora and Reddy may have their political leanings but it is for the UPA and for Singh to decide the policy to be pursued.

 

It can be argued that cabinet reshuffle is not meant to send out political signals about which way the ideological wind is blowing and that it is just a reassigning of work. That is not convincing enough. The cabinet re-jig exercise is really meant to improve the performance of the government and it has to be seen whether that happens or not. On Wednesday, it was confined to the Congress party. The allies have been kept out, and the promise that there will be a major reshuffle after the budget session of Parliament is a hint that it is then that the UPA partners will be part of the change game.

 

Given the byzantine intra-party politics of the Congress, this could not have been an easy thing to do. What seems to have been achieved is a tweaking of sorts that has left the observers' gallery dissatisfied and angry. The issue is not that there is not much to write about this reshuffle. Moving the talented Salman Khurshid from the ministry of corporate affairs to water resources, or former Maharashtra chief minister from heavy industries to rural development is an exercise in futility.

 

If Singh were to have his way, he would perhaps have Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and chairman of the Unique Identification Authority Nandan Nilekani in the cabinet to move things in the direction he wants to. But the prime minister is realistic enough to know that the cabinet in Parliamentary democracy, unlike in the private sector, merit is not the only consideration in selecting people.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

A CASE OF WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR PROCESSES

 

The battle between the Lavasa hill station and the ministry of environments and forests (MoEF) can be used as a case study for ad hoc decisions about development and the environment. This newly created township built on the Western Ghats, near Pune, has been much talked about and advertised for years. Little about its existence has been secret. Yet, it has seemingly taken the ministry all the time it took for the project to be ready to notice that Lavasa did not have the requisite environmental clearances.

 

Straight upfront, you have a number of uncomfortable scenarios: the project was illegal to start with, the project had most of the clearances and the ministry is nit-picking, the local authorities are inefficient and/or corrupt, the state government had a vested interest in seeing the project through, the ministry is trying to flex its muscles since it recently tasted blood over the extent of its powers.

 

The fact is that all of the above scenarios could be true at the same time. Processes in India, as we know, thrive on chaos and obfuscation. Additionally, there is a political face off between Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and his colleague Jairam Ramesh, with Pawar batting for Lavasa and against the MoEF objections.

 

But at the bottom of all this must lie the policies of the Maharashtra government. Lavasa is not the first example of skewed priorities between the prospect of development and the letter of the law in the state. If Lavasa has broken several environmental laws, then the first responsibility has to be with the state government.

 

The problem is not just that the government's left hand does not know what its right hand is doing but that practically no government department seems to have any clue what the other is doing. As with the Adarsh Housing Society, the facts in the Lavasa story may well be buried in an old and dusty file filled with impossible notations.

 

Obviously, a pragmatic solution would be most sensible. To demolish an entire township is wasteful. The environment ministry's suggestion of a heavy penalty that could be used to set up an environment restoration fund has some merit. But beyond that, what is required is better clarity on laws for development and infrastructure and better coordination between government departments. Surely, it would be better for all concerned if objections were known before the environment was damaged and crores had been spent.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

PROPOSED MEDICAL CET IGNORES STAKEHOLDERS

SK RAO

 

The face-off between the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the government of India on the issue of the common entrance test (CET) does not augur well for growth of medical education in the country. The MCI's move to notify the regulations without consulting the stakeholders has opened up the possibility of the CET being deferred indefinitely due to expected litigations in various courts.

 

The stay granted by the Madras high court on the CET is just the beginning. There is no need to doubt the good intention of the board of governors (BOG) of the MCI. But in a democratic set-up, changes should not be made in such an arbitrary manner. It will not benefit the students and it also will defeat the goals of policymakers.

 

Medical education has been the centre of attention ever since it was opened up to the private sector by the Central government in 1991. Many private players still look at medical education as a business. It has become a money-making enterprise for numerous coaching institutions across India. Besides the state governments, private institutions and coaching institutions, a new class called deemed universities has joined the stakeholders list.

 

With 37,000 undergraduate and 15,000 post-graduate medical seats at stake, hapless students have no option but to take the numerous entrance examinations. While cash-strapped states are unable to set up new medical institutions, there is a growth of private medical institutions attracted by the recurring profits on a one-time investment. With subsidised government seats in short supply, the private sector is taking advantage of the gap between demand and supply.

 

The MCI and the Dental Council of India were constituted under the IMC Act and DCI Act in 1956 and 1948 respectively. The mandate of the councils was to ensure standards in medical and dental education by prescribing qualification criteria, conducting periodic inspections, preparing syllabus and overseeing the annual examination system.

 

The state and central councils maintain the registries that register the doctors passing out from the colleges. This mandate was expanded in 1992 through amendments in the acts empowering the councils to recommend granting permissions for establishing new institutions and new courses, which were vested with states earlier. The councils were never involved in regulating the admission process except for prescribing the eligibility criteria.

 

The MCI ought to know that any entrance exam conducted by states or private institutions has to cover both medical and dental seats. These are allotted on the basis of merit and choice of the candidates. Now the MCI's proposal for medical seats forces the students to appear for separate examinations for dental education as DCI was not taken on board.

 

If the intention of MCI is to maintain high standards of medical education, then BOG should have thought of a National Exit Examination (NEE) for the students who pass out from various institutions. Only successful candidates should be registered with MCI as doctors who will then be eligible to apply for post graduatecourses. This process can ensure minimum standards, and it will expose the institutions that do not have proper infrastructure or teaching facilities.

 

The MCI can also think of classifying the institutions according to the standards on the basis of teaching, infrastructure, research, patient care and other facilities so that the students can join the institutions according to their choice.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

DYNASTY POLITICS IS ABOUT PROTECTING ILL-GOTTEN WEALTH

R VAIDYANATHAN

 

The recent finding by Patrick French (India: A Portrait) is that more than two-thirds of the under-40 members of the Lok Sabha are hereditary and many of them are hyper-hereditary, based on their dynasty. Actually many of us forget that since 1885, members of the Motilal Nehru family have presided over the Congress party for 39 of its 125 years.

 

Motilal Nehru was president for two years, Jawaharlal Nehru for nine, Indira Gandhi for eight, and Rajiv Gandhi for seven. Sonia Gandhi holds the record both within the dynasty and the party by having the longest, unbroken tenure of 13 years and is still going strong.

 

The party has become a family enterprise and a non-family man like Narasimha Rao is not even recognised as a former prime minster. Following this tradition, we have Agatha Sangma from Megahalya to Omar Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir to MK Alagiri in Tamil Nadu, inheriting the political throne.

 

The important point here is not about the national agenda of these political parties but their functioning and control. Whether it is DMK or the Shiv Sena, where the family battles have come out in open, or the NCP, where the heir apparent has been anointed — the issue is the family business called political parties. It is important to mention that Tamil Nadu is a pioneer of this model wherein the interests of the state, party, government, and people are subsumed for the welfare of the family enterprise.

 

Like in all businesses, it is required to delineate the nature of the business model adopted by these family enterprises. In any business, particularly listed business, the shareholders' wealth maximisation is the main objective. Unfortunately, these regional parties are not listed on the stock exchanges and hence the correct market valuation may not be available. But the total wealth declared by these leaders (including that of their multiple wives!) during election time in the form of affidavits can be a guide for the net worth of the enterprise.

 

The preliminary expenses here are related to rabble-rousing on caste or language or pro-poor issues. Another method is to promise largesse in the form of free electricity, free TV, free cinema, free rice, to be paid for by the state exchequer. In this model, the actual business entity need not worry about expenses since post-power, there will be a continuous revenue stream.

 

The family business has to be conducted through various functional departments called commerce, agriculture, irrigation, roadways, education, power, and so on. Some are low-volume, high-margin centres like land allotment or C'Wealth Gamea or second generation mobile telephony spectrum, where one project can earn up to thousands of crores. Other business units, like elementary education, which is a large-scale transfer industry, are low-margin but high-volume business.

 

Every teacher transferred may provide only thousands of rupees, but the numbers are large. The family also needs to take care of the interests of other families (sub-regional or other caste parties), hence the creation of strategic business units. In this model, the expenses are borne by the government but revenues are enjoyed by the family. It is a win-win model that does not have any comparable international example.

 

The time-frame for maximising the family wealth is specified after one election and that differentiates it from the other regular business models. Due to the short time span, the family can and does become rapacious and they need continuous extraction of higher bribes to meet their collective greed. The turnover and attrition among supporters is also high, since their aspirations also grow. Hence, the need to create powerful entry barriers as well as exit costs.

 

But if you or your children opt out of politics, then you cannot be a "dacoit capitalist" anymore since your ability to formulate policies is gone and there could even be vendetta by the current rulers. So make sure your son/daughter/wives/sambandhis (children's in-laws) are in some business unit or the other.

 

Will this business model meet its nemesis? Not for some years yet. One reason it will flourish is the increasing importance of land as a factor of production. In the 60s, capital was scare and land was easily allotted. Now capital is available, even from global sources, but land is scarce and that is the strength of these families. Control of land and its allotment is the primary sonrise (pun intended!) industry. To that extent, the family business will flourish.

 

With further fragmentation, many family enterprises will be either in a merger and acquisition mode or in a small business-smaller reach mode. In such situation, some can go sick. Second, due to the greed of some of these families, the margins demanded from projects may exceed the cost of the project.

 

The future of India is ironically linked with these 40-50 families with their capacity for rabble-rousing along and their rapaciousness and greed. Let us celebrate our grass-root democracy that enhances such "family values".

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

KILL THE KILLER

 

A report about the arrest of four narcotics smugglers from the State in Kapurthala in the neighbouring Punjab is a cause of concern for us on more than one count. The quartet has been caught with purified Afghanistan heroin worth Rs 12 crore. It is said that they had bought the drug from Poonch at an intriguingly low price of Rs 4.5 lakh and planned to sell it at double profit. It is not clear why their cost calculations were very modest. It is a matter of conjecture. Heroin is highly priced in international markets. The other facts are hard and are also worrisome. First, all the four accused belong to this region (they are from three different districts) which implies that they may well be cogs in a bigger wicked operation. Secondly, the purchase from Poonch brings into focus the vulnerability of the border district along the Line of Control (LoC) to a regional or global smuggling racket. Admittedly it is not the first time that the State subjects have been nabbed outside for indulging in a thoroughly unlawful activity. There are black sheep who have brought us a bad name off and on. What is regrettable is that even the policemen, including a senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre, have been arrested from one corner or the other in the country in the past. The IPS officer was caught in Pune (Maharashtra) and although he has not been heard of for quite some time his detention had sent shock waves all over. For the smugglers of the State it seems that Mumbai is generally the preferred destination. Not very long ago there have been two seizures from the country's commercial capital. In one, two people from the State were held in a gang of five carrying 23 kilograms of hashish worth Rs 1.15 crore while in the other a car from Jammu and Kashmir was found to have been used.

 

Drugs are killers. It is universally admitted. There is a worldwide concern about their adverse impact on public health. In its latest report on the global scene the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has noted: "In addition to creating health problems the opiate trade has implications for global security… There are two ways that drug trafficking can pose a threat to political stability. The first involves countries where insurgents and illegal armed groups draw funds from taxing, or even managing, drug production and trafficking. The second concerns countries that do not face such a situation, but where the drug traffickers become powerful enough to take on the state through violent confrontation or high-level corruption." The report establishes a link between drug production and trafficking on the one side and terrorism on the other. It points out: "In Afghanistan, a conservative estimate placed the figure at US$125 million/year in profits for Taliban insurgents." It does not rule out the possibility of the militants in this country getting similarly benefitted.

 

Now and then there are narcotics seizures within the State too. The south of the Valley in particular is witnessing illegal opium cultivation. There is concern about its growing addiction. We ought to nip the evil once and for all. The goal is achievable if law and society join hands.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

TIGHTEN THE REINS

 

Once again the well-intentioned Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) is in news in this region for a wrong reason. It is again a coincidence that the areas affected are Marwah and Warwan in Kishtwar district. These remote parts of the erstwhile Doda district have earlier been exposed to siphoning off the stocks meant for distribution to the people below and above poverty line (BPL and APL). Now the ponywallahs have felt emboldened to illegally retain about 4000 quintals of food grains set aside for this mountainous territory. A departmental inquiry has attributed their evident brazenness to the lack of supervision by local officials like tehsil supply officers and storekeepers. Certain remedial measures are proposed to be taken now: (a) action including filing of a first information report against the erring ponywallahs as many as 163 of whom have been identified for having participated in a criminal act; (b) suspension of officials who have been negligent in the discharge of their functions; and (c) the cost of the ration usurped by ponywallahs to be recovered from. The manner in which the TPDS is dealt with at times reminds one of an apt comment: "Nothing is easier than spending the public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody." Actually the TPDS is much maligned across the country because of its poor and dishonest handling. A panel set up by the Supreme Court to look into its implementation had come to the conclusion: "Corruption is all pervasive in the entire chain involved in the PDS…True some officers are doing a good job, but then most functionaries under them in the department are typically callous and resort to corrupt practices… The poor go on suffering at the hands of corrupt officials, dishonest Fair Price Shop (FPS) owners, treacherous transporters and, possibly to a large extent, unscrupulous miller as well." The committee has remarked: "There was a strong nexus between the FPS dealers and officials of the department, improper records, false entries in registers and, above all, political influence and interference hampering public distribution." The outcome is anybody's guess.

 

Not the entire annual subsidy of Rs 28000 crore given by the Centre to states percolates down to the intended beneficiaries. The reference above to transporters is relevant in our present context. It helps us to clarify that ponies come in handy for taking ration to various depots in our hills in the absence of road network. If their owners think that they can walk away with the loot an inference can only be that they are aware of the deeper malaise. It is a sickening state of affairs. To change it completely we have to perform a clinical surgery from top to the bottom. The experience shows that the presence of an honest person on the top largely instils discipline down the line. Is it difficult to find at least one such key functionary in each tehsil, district and the State capital? Ultimately the buck stops at the desk of the ruling political bosses. It is their responsibility to ensure that the funds earmarked for public welfare are spent properly. They will do a great service if they exercise utmost vigilance with respect to the execution of the TPDS.

 

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

NEED MORE PRODUCTION TO CONTROL INFLATION

BY ARABINDA GHOSE

 

There is a saying in Bengali: "Parbater Mushik Prasab" which implies that a mountain, after undergoing pregnancy, gives birth to just a miniscule mouse.


The results of the three-day deliberation by the Prime Minister and his team including Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, is so obscure that an English language daily had to describe it as mere "hot air" and which aptly justifies the sense described in the Bengali proverb.


A slight fall in food inflation might be the only ray of hope for the helpless millions of people compelled to buy vegetables, milk and other items of daily needs at prices which cannot be described even by the superlative versions of prohibitive What the Government said on Thursday night after three days of deliberations was understood only by the Government representatives including the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and our cricket loving Minister of Agriculture who wears as many as five hats, representing various departments .which he manages with utmost non-care


Apart from the Government, we also have a government organization called the National Advisory Council (NAC) which reports to the Congress President only. Why it was set up and what it does is somewhat obscure for ordinary mortals, except for the fact that NAC's recommendations on preventing hunger among the low-income group people has been rejected by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council led by economist C. Rangarajan.


Our Finance Minister, on his part, advised the people that there should not be any "unnecessary" panic. One fact that emerges from this welter of indecision and confusion created by the Prime Minister's calling the three-day meeting is that the Government of India is totally oblivious of the need to raise production and productivity of agricultural produce.


One recalls the fulsome praise heaped on the Agriculture Minister shortly after the UPA-I government had taken office Lest the Prime Minister should have forgotten those words, one takes the liberty of recalling them, The words are from a pamphlet issued on October 27,2005 by the Union Government with the heading "Towards Second Green Revolution".


The occasion was his address at the National Conference on Krishi Vigyan Kendras at the Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. Here it goes: "I should begin stating that our Government attaches the highest importance to achieve a four per cent average growth rate in agricultural production and the fact that one of our senior most political leaders in the country Sharad Pawar is looking after this very, very important Ministry is an indication of the importance that our government attaches to sustained increase in agricultural production and agricultural growth.


Those who have been to Baramati will testify to Sharad Pawar's abiding commitment to rejuvenation of our agricultural economy and improve welfare of the farming masses in our country. (Baramati near Pune is Mr. Pawar's home and constituency)


As I have said on so many occasions, we need to usher in a second Green Revolution. The agricultural scientists would have, therefore, to work towards providing the technological basis for new breakthroughs. They would have therefore, to work towards providing the technological basis for new breakthroughs. They would have to look at providing crop specific, region specific, resources specific and farm specific solutions to our problems….."


What should take the cake is the next sentence in his speech. It says: "I am told that there are estimates that indicate that even with the current available technologies it is possible to double the current food productivity by the end of the 11th five year plan.."


The eleventh five year plan is coming to an end by March 2012, just a little over a year from now where is the double productivity, Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Sharad Pawar?


All that the Government has been able to do or has done is to allocate just Rs. 400 crores for the year 2010-11 to bring in the "second green revolution" in pulses in eastern India. May one remind the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister that for the first green revolution, much more than Rs. 400 crores were spent in 1965 to bring in just 250 tonnes of high-yielding Mexican varieties of wheat merely for testing in research institutions such as the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI or Pusa Institute) in New Delhi, the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana and the Gobind Ballabh Pant Institute of Agricultural Technology, Pantnagar. Several times more were spent to import those 18,000 tonnes of Lerma Rojo 64 and Sonora 64 varieties of Mexican wheat seeds for seed multiplication in 1966 at 240,000 locations in India to produce seeds to be sown in the 1967-68 season in farmers' fields. We are all aware of the result of this action which had made the (first) Green Revolution happen.


Has the Government of India done anything of that nature to bring in the "second" green revolution about which the Prime Minister has spoken a number of times by his own admission? And yet Dr. Singh expects doubling the productivity of crops before the end of the 11th five year plan. Has agriculture to be accorded such a casual attention, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh?


Why should the Congress President have a second institution after the Government of India to influence policies and suggest certain policies which are so impractical in nature that Dr. Rangarajan had no hesitation in rejecting those proposals for ensuring supply of food grains to the most disadvantaged section of the people? For about a year, the Prime Minister has been rejecting the NAC proposals. Why not disband it, Mrs. Gandhi? Talking only of distribution and not of production is not a very bright idea, Madam.


Nevertheless, there is one State in India which ensures faultless public distribution system even at the remotest villages in the State with food grains distributed at Rs.1 per kilo of rice and Rs.2 per kilo of wheat For reference, one may look up the Hindu daily of November 14, 2010 for an article "Chhattisgarh shows the way" written by Mr. Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera. Mr. Dreze is, to my knowledge a member of the National Advisory Council headed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.


Just the first paragraph here: "We had an interesting view of this turnaround a few months ago in Lakhanpur Block (Surguja district of Chhattisgarh) on the sidelines of a survey of NREGA in the area. Everyone we spoke to across the Block said that they were receiving their full share of 35 kg of grains each month, that too at the correct price-one or two rupees a kilo depending on the type of ration card. The stocks apparently reach the village on time, on the seventh day of each month, and are promptly distributed. There were no complaints of cheating. This is no mean achievement in the area, where the PDS was severely dysfunctional just a few years ago".


This happened in an area which is the remotest part of the State, almost the last village or town from the district headquarter of Ambikapur, across which lies the Gulmi (probably) district if Jharkhand said to be under virtual control of the Nasalites.

Mr. Dreze and his companion have described in detail the system adopted in order to ensure such a faultless service under the Public Distribution System (PDS). Chhattisgarh can be a better option than the NAC proposal for ensuring food grains for the poor through legislation and consequent corruption. Only through unprecedented increase in production and productivity can the country serve the less fortunate population of the country.(NPA)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

ENVIRONMENT A BIG BUSINESS

BY LALIT SETHI

 

Environment is now a big business and growing bigger by the day. Its tentacles are widespread, embracing almost all human and economic activity. Its many facets may not be readily visible, but at the drop of a hat, environmental concerns can be invoked and those who protest could find themselves in trouble, but there are many ways crafty brains devise to overcome the legal and administrative hurdles. Busybodies and non-governmental organizations are always lurking around to raise self-righteous eyebrows, but promoters of ever new projects try to silence them. Sometimes business groups use NGOs they might be supporting to put a spanner in the works of a rival entity and stall it from taking a lead.


The environmental business around the world is worth trillions of dollars even though it would be hard to quantify or identify the areas it embraces. For a long time it has been known that Brazil has been producing ethanol from beetroot, grown widespread in that country. In India and elsewhere, ethanol is produced from molasses, a byproduct of sugarcane at the sugar mills and five to 10 per cent of it is blended with petrol across some States even as the plan is to make it mandatory all over the country, but that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. Now, there is a big movement to recycle discarded restaurant food, especially meats, and recover fuel and reduce trash.


The US is also possibly the leader in producing ethanol from corn. This is pushing up corn and food prices worldwide. Yet, it is alleged that more energy and money is spent in corn-based fuel than the cost of conventional fuel, but commodity marketers find a business model in it and they are making a fast buck in the name of protecting environment as conventional energy prices rise and fill the coffers of oil producing cartel and oil companies around the world.


At the beginning of the New Millennium, there was much talk about a wonder wild plant, jatropha, yielding hybrid oil and it was claimed that it could be grown in wasteland, with India having 60 million hectares of it available. There was much hype about it; little else. One of the reasons given by a former Petroleum Minister was that it would be worthwhile to grow jatropha only if petroleum prices were high because a litre of jatropha hybrid oil would cost Rs. 25 per litre to develop and it was not a worthwhile option: not worthwhile because it would require a lot of effort and in these laid-back times, who wants to toil in wasteland or deserts?
Another point to bear in mind is which government in the world would like to draw up policies which would hurt the interests of the oil lobbies? Small steps are okay, but wholesale replacement of conventional energy sources goes against the grain of the current conventional wisdom. Non-conventional energy sources are all about little efforts. In the Gandhian thinking, gobar gas plants were in order, but biogas plants, of which India had a few million, are no longer on the radar. It is dirty work and who wants to soil their hands any more, not business minds any way?


Is this one of the sins being committed in the name of protecting environment and getting away with it? Environment is not just the tiger or biodiversity or national parks. Even electric cars, compressed natural gas or CNG buses are advertised as environmental friendly and they come at stiff prices and that is where the profit or future profits rest in the name of initial high spends on research and development of new technology. As the devices are upgraded all the time, prices would continue to zoom.


Solar and wind energy have been around for some time, but the size of power generation is small as the initial cost of photo-voltaics or solar panels is high, but the benefits are huge because the running costs are believed to be low because the sun pays the bill for the basic input of 'fuel'.

Exotic tourist resorts and Shangri-las far from the madding crowds are advertised as environment friendly and good getaways for the well-heeled city-bred lots, but there is the other point of view that as these resorts attracts big cash and hoteliers, environment is under threat. The debate will ever continue.


Cricket, gold and a lot of open air sport is also big business and green grasses take enormous amounts of water to develop and maintain and divert limited resources of drinking water to luxurious use, but this argument has few takers because fun and games are in even if life on the planet is imperiled as the population of the globe races to seven million from six million plus today; cities multiply and metropolises and megapolises emerge in spite of recession

 

On the one hand, there is talk of global warming, but when winter comes and temperatures tumble in the northern hemisphere, pollution is blamed for rough snows, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes, typhoons, tidal waves. Just now, a few ships are stuck in two meters deep snow in the Sakhalin region of Russia and bigger icebreakers are being deployed to rescue those trapped there for a few weeks. In the Queensland region of Australia, floods have devasted an area as large as France and Germany put together and affected 20,000 homes and tens of thousands of people have been cut off. [NPA]

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

DEFENCE DEALS WITH THE US

BY ANIRUDH PRAKASH

 

Iraq has come from behind and is kicking the Indian defence ministry on its backside, while storming past it. This might sound an incredible feat for a badly-broken country, but it is true. Reports quoting the defence ministry spokesman in Baghdad Major General Mohammed al-Askari says Iraq will buy armaments worth $13 billion from the US by 2013 and will spend an equivalent amount on American weapons later.
Askari revealed that contracts have already been concluded for weapons that include aircraft, helicopters, tanks, other armoured vehicles, warships and missiles. In brief, an "oil-for-weapons" programme has just begun in Mesopotamia.


A big power like the US steps up the pedal or applies brake on its foreign policies in orchestrated manner. The left hand more or less knows what the right hand is doing. The US priority is to establish a long-term military presence in Iraq so as to influence the regional politics in West Asia and control the flow of Arab oil ("our resources," as George Kennan once famously described).


The Washington Post recently reported that despite the end-2011 deadline for complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, "the contours of a large and lasting American presence here (Baghdad) are starting to take shape." Washington has found an ingenious method whereby American bases in Iraq can be put under the US embassy rubric so that the US "military infrastructure could also remain in Iraq."


Thus, the statement by the US secretary of commerce Gary Locke merits great attention. He is leading a jumbo trade mission to India early February and is on record that the US government "views high technology defence deals as a cornerstone of the US-India strategic partnership." Locke is candid enough that he intends to robustly campaign for securing for American arms manufacturers India's $10 billion deal for purchase of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA).


Simultaneously, influential lobbies in Delhi are coming up with a specious plea that India needs to redefine the entire concept of self-reliance in defence that surrounds deals such as the MRCA. In short, why can't our defence ministry be as "pragmatic" as its Iraqi counterpart? They argue that India should rather aspire to be part of the "global defence supply chains" (whatever the idiom means).


This thought process aims to take a hit at the norms of technological transfer that the tender for the MRCA deal stipulates. The tender stipulates that India will outright buy only 18 aircraft from the foreign supplier while the remaining 108 should be indigenously produced through technology transfer. But the catch is, unlike Russia, US is notoriously averse to "co-production" with its foreign clients - even for spare parts.


As it is, MRCA deal, which provides for fourth generation aircraft, may have already become redundant. Conceived before Russia offered and India accepted the joint venture for development of a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), even if MRCA timeline is held, realistically speaking, those 108 aircraft to be "co-produced" simply cannot come out before 2022 or so and, ironically, the cutting-edge FGFA will by then have been inducted into the IAF. (Russian air force intends to deploy FGFA by 2015.). Again, it is not as if MRCA fills in a vacant niche, either.


The IAF is getting enormous versatility thanks to the large-scale procurement-cum-assembly (by HAL) of Russian Su-30MKI, which combined with BraMos offers India unrivalled combat performance. Experts describe Su-30MKI as the 'engineering zenith' in design among fourth-generation heavy-duty fighters. With the IAF's acquisition of Su-30MKI and Tejas (plus FGFA), it virtually acquires the capability to undertake any conceivable range of combat missions.


Unsurprisingly, American companies that were virtually certain of wrapping up MRCA in the wake of the nuclear deal, are getting desperate to clinch the deal under the current political dispensation in Delhi, which of course is showing withering signs of fatigue lately.


The MRCA guarantees the US with not only lucrative business over a 30-40- year period but it forms a strategic vector of the US regional policies. Conversely, there is panic that if the MRCA door gets closed, US may have to wait for another 40 years to get another similar breakthrough. The glitch is over technology transfer and co-production. The Indian dalals are burning midnight oil to orchestrate a campaign that self-reliance in defence is passé.


Well, is it passé? Is India's defence equipment capability to be measured in terms of the quality of its machine tools industry? Self-reliance is vital to India's medium and long-term capacity to optimally navigate the waters of an increasingly polycentric world. In the defence sphere, India should ditto emulate China's exemplary efforts to develop self-reliance no matter what it takes.


Our discourses on crucial issues of defence policy are lacking intellectual content. Our defence experts prefer to opinionate on geopolitics. As for political parties, they are disinterested unless la affair can be somehow fitted into their feeder chain for electoral politics.


Meanwhile, a tiny cluster of dalals, lobbyists and fat cats monopolise the centre stage. They viciously campaign that the "ministry of defence is seen as among New Delhi's more fossilised bureaucracies." Put simply, they want Raksha Mantri A.K. Antony to be as efficient and innovative as his outgoing Iraqi counterpart, Lt. Gen.

Abd al-Qadr Muhammed Jassim al-Obaidi proved to be. (INAV)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PINPRICKING BY CHINA

INDIA NEEDS TO TAKE IT UP SERIOUSLY

 

During his recent Delhi visit Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao described the India-China border dispute as a "historical legacy", which, in his opinion, "will take a fairly long period of time" to be resolved. Indeed, the way China has been raising it time and again inspires little hope of resolution. The latest from China is that its official Map World website, an answer to Google Earth, mentions India's Arunchal Pradesh as a part of Chinese territory. Another objectionable entry in Map World is that it shows Aksai Chin in China's Xinjiang province, denying India's sovereignty over it.

 

The Map World challenge came soon after China issued stapled visas to Indian sportspersons from Arunachal Pradesh wanting to visit China. This was on the lines of the Chinese practice of issuing stapled visas to visitors from Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier China refused to issue a visa to anyone from Arunachal seeking to visit China. Those in India who thought that there was some change in China's policy have to revise their views, as Beijing has come out with an explanation that there is no change in its perception and it continues to consider Arunachal as South Tibet and a part of China.

 

These are, no doubt, pinpricks which can lead to a major crisis between the two emerging global powers. There is need to take up these issues seriously through the "working mechanism for consultation and coordination on border affairs", set up during Mr Wen's December visit to India. China must respect India's sensibilities and should avoid any demonstration of the border dispute in the manner it has been doing so far. Both have been gaining substantially in terms of rising bilateral trade for some time. The economic gains may get threatened if the border dispute is not kept aside to be settled in a spirit of give and take. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

STILL GROPING IN THE DARK

STATES MUST SPEND MORE ON EDUCATION

 

The 2010 Annual Status of Education Report is a grim reminder of the dismal state of school education in India. Brought out by an NGO called Pratham, it says half the students in Class V cannot read Class II texts. Students increasingly opt for private, English-medium schools. The enrolment in schools has jumped from 16.3 per cent in 2005-06 to 24.3 per cent in 2010. Although there is an overall decline in basic mathematics skills in the country, the situation has improved in Punjab where 70.4 per cent of the Class II students could recognise numbers in 2010 compared to 56.9 per cent in 2009.

 

But this should not lead one to conclude that Punjab has entered the league of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The improvement in the learning of mathematics skills in Punjab is at a limited level. Students of the southern states excel in competitive examinations for engineering and technology courses as also in sciences and the IT sector. Their dominance at the global level in IT companies is well known. Besides, the survey itself says that 70.8 per cent of Punjab's Class III-IV students can read only Class I texts. Even this is seen as an achievement in comparison with the national average of 64 per cent. Punjab's literacy rate is at a dismal 16th position nationwide.

 

The Pratham survey reinforces the fact that schools lack proper infrastructure as is mandated by the Right to Education Act, which came into force in April last. Thirty per cent of the 16,000 schools surveyed do not have drinking water facilities and 50 per cent are without toilets. Teacher absenteeism is at a high of 45 per cent. The school dropout rate is alarming. The government has to increase education spending, ensure adequate infrastructure, appoint more teachers, improve their training and make them accountable, redesign curricula and initiate innovative and technology-based methods of teaching, and encourage private sector participation if school education is to come up to the rising expectations of parents. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

IDENTIFICATION ADVANTAGE

PUNJAB TAKES THE UID LEAD

 

The Punjab Government is to be commended for being quick off the starting line and launching the Unique Identification Number (UID) project in the state. The project is appropriately termed Aadhaar and thus the UID would be the basis of all schemes for which the benefactors need to be identified. The UID card would be linked to the blue cards for BPL families, the ration card and the LPG connections, for starters. The state government has a major role to play in making sure that everyone is covered by the UID programme. Government officials at village level would have to ensure that everyone is identified, his or her data is recorded and the card issued.

 

Obviously, precautions must be taken not only to ensure that everyone is covered in the scheme, but also that no fraudulent cards are made. The UID Mission has taken elaborate measures that included biometric information of the card holder, including iris scan, finger prints and photographs besides the name, address, date of birth, etc. The UID is envisaged as the Multipurpose National Identity Card which is to lay the foundation of e-governance. It will be on the basis of the information collected while preparing this card that the government schemes will be better implemented and will benefit those who need the most help. Thus all National Rural Employment Guarantee Act payments would be made to the UID card holders' account, thereby cutting out middle men. If the UID card is extended to the banking sector, it can also have a significant role in controlling black money. It will also help in accurately identifying patterns of movement of various people from different parts of the state.

 

The UID information can be of immense use and the Punjab government must ensure that the project is carried out accurately, transparently and according to its schedule so that the state is not only the first to start with the implementation of the UID programme, it also becomes the first to successfully conclude it.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

OIL, ISLAM AND DIPLOMACY

GEOPOLITICAL REALITIES CAN'T BE IGNORED

BY G. PARTHASARATHY

 

Over the past two decades, India has crafted an imaginative "Look East" policy. This has resulted in growing economic integration with its economically dynamic eastern neighbourhood, while ensuring that it is a constructive partner and participant in evolving an inclusive security architecture for the Asia-Pacific region. Sadly, our horizons, as we look westward, appear to end with our "AfPak" neighbourhood, with little effort for pro-active diplomacy in the oil-rich Gulf region, where over 4 million Indians reside and work and from where we get over 70 per cent of our crucial oil imports. Moreover, with India's trade deficit growing rapidly, our balance of payments is crucially dependent on the increasing remittances we receive from overseas Indians—$46.4 billion in 2008-2009.

 

Our Persian Gulf neighbourhood contains two-thirds of the world's proven petroleum reserves and 35 per cent of the world's gas reserves. Moreover, as energy demands increase worldwide, it is these countries maintaining 90 per cent of the world's excess production capacity, which alone can meet the growing demand of the rapidly emerging economies like China and India. Our major suppliers of oil from the Gulf are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the UAE and Yemen. Iran provides 17 per cent of our oil imports, with some key refineries dependent on Iranian crude. Moreover, Iran remains our transit point for trade with Central Asia and through the Caspian, with Russia. With Pakistan denying us transit to Afghanistan, we have cooperated with Iran for reducing Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan, by development of infrastructure for Chah Bahar port. Iran is also providing political, diplomatic and material backing to the forces in Afghanistan which share our misgivings about the Taliban. At the same time, however, unlike their Arab neighbours, the Iranians have been unreliable in fulfilling signed contractual commitments with India, on supplies of LNG.

 

The Persian Gulf remains the crucible for ancient civilizational and sectarian Shia-Sunni rivalries between the Persians and the Arabs. The depth of these animosities was exposed when, alluding to King Abdullah, WikiLeaks revealed the "King's frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and put an end to its nuclear weapons programme". The Saudi monarch reportedly told the Americans "to cut off the head of the snake (Iran)". Riyadh has even reportedly offered over-flight facilities to Israeli warplanes, in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Interestingly, even before Iran attacked the Osirak nuclear reactor in September 1980, the Director of Israeli Military Intelligence, Mr. Yehoshua Saguy, publicly urged the Iranians to do so. Less than a year later, on July 7, 1981, Israeli F-15s bombed and destroyed the Osirak reactor, after overflying Saudi territory. More than the Americans, the Israelis have astutely played on Arab-Persian rivalries to ensure that they remain the sole nuclear power in the Middle-East. Moreover, despite all talk of their solidarity with the Palestinians, a number of Arab countries maintain covert and not-so-covert ties with Israel's Mossad.

 

The sectarian dimensions of the rivalries in the Persian Gulf also cannot be ignored. Iran has consistently stirred up Shia minorities in Yemen and Kuwait and the Shia majority in Sunni-ruled Bahrain. This rivalry is also being played out in Iraq, where the Shia majority has accused its Sunni Arab neighbours of backing extremist Sunni groups. Paradoxically, after endeavouring to follow a policy of "dual containment" of both Iran and Iraq for over a decade, the Americans are now finding that their ill-advised invasion of Iraq has only brought Iran and Iraq closer together, with a number of Iraqi political and religious figures beholden to Tehran for the support they have received. While Arab regimes may be dependent on American support, the mood in Arab streets is distinctly anti-American a phenomenon the Iranians are cleverly exploiting.

 

India's relations with Arab Gulf States have shown a distinct improvement after the visit of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in January 2006 and Dr Manmohan Singh to Riyadh in February-March 2010. India has received Saudi assurances of meeting of its growing requirements for oil. The desert kingdom and home of Islam's holiest shrines appears to recognise the need to reach out to countries like India and China even as it maintains its strong security ties with the US. Moreover, our relations with Oman, the UAE and Qatar have expanded significantly, with Qatar emerging as an important supplier of LNG. We, however, seem to have run out of ideas in fashioning a new relationship with Shia-dominated Iraq even as China seals lucrative deals for oil exploration in a country that has the greatest unutilised capacity to boost global oil production. Our efforts to train Iraqi-professionals on petroleum-related matters could, however, serve us well in the long run.

 

While a partnership with the US certainly has its merits in developing our relations with the Arab Gulf countries, we have given an impression of behaving like an American client State in dealing with Iran. This was evident in the unseemly and hasty manner in which we cancelled our partnership with Iran in the Asian Clearing Union——-an arrangement advocated and supported by ESCAP since 1974. This action seriously disrupted payments for oil supplies at a time when even American allies like Japan have ensured the continuity of their oil imports from that country.

 

One sincerely hopes that the lure of World Bank and IMF patronage is not unduly affecting such decisions. Moreover, if we have reservations about the Iran-Pakistan- India gas pipeline because of legitimate doubts about the security of energy supplies through the volatile and violent Balochistan province of Pakistan, why are we hastily joining the proposed a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline? Is Taliban-infested Afghanistan a haven for peace and stability? Or is it because of the diktats of others?

 

Our relations with Iran should be based on hard-headed assessment of national interest and calculations of Iranian reliability on issues of energy supplies and not on sentimentalism about the so-called "civilisational affinities". Persian Emperor Nadir Shah did not exactly endear himself to the people when he invaded, pillaged and occupied Delhi. With Israel and the US now agreeing that Iran won't be able to build a nuclear weapon till 2015, there is an opportunity for India to work with others in the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council to craft innovative measures to deal with the Iranian nuclear impasse. Similarly, while our principled support for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians should continue, our relations with the Gulf Arab countries should not inhibit our ties with Israel. These relations should be determined and fashioned by the larger geopolitical realities.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

TOO MUCH OF "HAPPY NEW YEAR"

BY RAJ KANWAR

 

Too much of "Happy New Year" becomes a tiresome ritual. Now that the long distance telephone calls are inexpensive and many mobile telephony companies are offering attractive tariff, the tendency to phone your near (and not so near) and dear (and not so dear) ones is on the rise. My wife and I started receiving telephone calls early morning on the New Year day. The first call came at about five; it was from a cousin living in Seattle in the US. Luckily, the phone was in my wife's bedroom, and she sleepily and somewhat irritatingly answered the phone. The cousin guessed that it must have been very early in India, and apologized for losing track of time zones. Then she wished us and our extended family "a very happy and prosperous New Year".

 

My wife was now wide awake and as polite as she could be under the circumstances. She was asked: "Where is Bhai Saab; give him the telephone". Wisely, my wife said that he was asleep in his bedroom. "Why is he sleeping in a separate bedroom?" she queried. My wife had by now lost her equanimity, and answered that "I snore heavily and your Bhai Saab cannot sleep with all that snoring". This was of course a lie; we have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for the past 15 years as a matter of convenience. Then the early morning caller from Seattle asked for the telephone numbers of six other relatives. My wife said that these were with your Bhai Saab and I could not dare disturb him.

 

All this telephonic conversation awoke me too. My wife blamed me for this early morning call from "your cousin". As I murmured an apology, the telephone rang again. It was my wife's sister from Chandigarh wishing Happy New Year. It was not even six; but my sister-in-law explained that she wanted to be the first to call us. But here too she lost out to my Seattle cousin. The sisters chatted for about 15 minutes; thank God she didn't ask to speak to Jijaji. Then our landline became active, and caller said, "Oh Raj tu halli tak sutta hoya hai". I recognized the accent; it was that of a friend from Amritsar; another 10 minutes were spent on idle New Year gossip.

 

To cut short this long story, we must have received close to 20 calls before we could dare do our morning rituals. My wife switched off her mobile and I took off the receiver from the landline. We took one hour getting ready and then made the mistake of switching on the mobile and putting the receiver back on the landline. Before we could think of breakfast, both the telephones came alive. The caller on the landline was furious. "With whom were you talking for so long", he growled. Though the other caller was equally angry but she could not reprimand her elder sister; "Didi, I have been trying to call you for so long," she muttered meekly.

 

Now it was our turn to call our other friends and relatives. My wife and I divided the list between ourselves and started dialling. Most appeared engaged; some mobile companies exploited the opportunity by announcing that "the number you are trying to call is not answering. You may send an SMS." For a change, both of us showed exemplary patience, and managed to complete most of the calls within the next three hours. Cooking the lunch was out of question. We had no choice but to go to the newly opened KFC for a quick bite. My wife had left her mobile at home. Thus the lunch was the only quiet time we had that day.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED


EPIDEMIC IN THE MAKING

CURRENTLY, TWO CRORE INDIANS NEED TREATMENT FOR SERIOUS MENTAL DISORDERS AND FIVE CRORE FOR COMMON MENTAL PROBLEMS. THIRTYFIVE LAKH PEOPLE REQUIRE HOSPITALISATION FOR MENTAL ILLNESSES AT ANY GIVEN TIME

ADITI TANDON

 

This year will mark a decade of the Erwadi tragedy in which 28 inmates of a private mental asylum in Tamil Nadu were charred to death in August 2001. They couldn't escape the fire because they were chained. Ten years hence, mental health continues to subsist in the margins of general health services with the government not ready to treat it separately or give it the budgetary due it deserves.

 

That brings us to a serious situation: In 2010, morbidity on account of mental illness overtook cardiovascular diseases as the single largest risk in India. Yet, the Health Minister made no mention of the looming mental health epidemic. Nor was the National Rural Health Mission revised to address psycho-social disorders.

 

Currently, over two crore Indians need treatment for serious mental disorders and five crore for common mental problems. The National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore which was recently declared an Institute of National Importance, says 35 lakh people need hospitalisation for mental illnesses at any given time.

 

But there are just 29,000 beds available in all the recognised mental health facilities in India. The lesser said of private facilities, the better. The treatment gap is a whopping 50 to 90 per cent despite the Constitution guaranteeing access to services to all under Article 21. The judiciary has repeatedly interpreted this Article to mean "right to health" and even directed the National Human Rights Commission to keep an eye on the quality of services being provided by the 37 government mental health facilities in India.

 

The first survey in 1997 revealed shocking facts — 38 per cent hospitals were built with custodial architecture, their average age being 84 years; 51 per cent had closed wards (in violation of the Mental Health Act 1987 that replaced the Indian Lunacy Act); 54 per cent offered balanced diets to inmates.

 

Very recently, the NHRC commissioned another review to see if anything had changed. It wasn't impressed as the study found there were no psychologists in 39 per cent hospitals, no psychiatric social workers in 50 per cent and no psychiatric nurses in 67 per cent hospitals. Clearly, no psycho-social inputs like individual therapies or psychological testing are available, states the study by Pratima Murty and K. Sekar though they found 91 per cent hospitals now had recreational facilities for the inmates.

 

But the situation is far from satisfactory due to acute shortage of manpower in the sector. Current vacancy of psychiatrists in the government system is 116 (it was just 27 in the 1997 review); 44 per cent hospitals have no clinical psychologists. While in the 1997 investigations, 30 per cent hospitals said they didn't have psychiatric social workers, today 38 per cent report the absence.

 

The private sector is worse of with just 3000 registered practitioners with the Indian Psychiatric Society – that is one per three lakh people (Australia has 50 times this number). Another problem is their skewed distribution — 75 per cent are in urban areas, leaving rural India uncovered.

 

And yet the government has failed to define optimal psychiatrist-to-population ratio so far though India roughly needs about 11,500 trained psychiatrists (has just 3000). Clinical psychologists are short by 9,000 and psychiatric social workers by 8,800.

 

The gaps being huge, there's a pressing need for medical education reform. Of the 211 recognised medical colleges offering PG courses in the country, only 101 offer PG in psychiatry. Very recently, the MCI added 125 seats to the pool by relaxing teaching norms. But dilution of norms is not the answer. Psychiatric training must be improved.

 

Today an MBBS student, through the 142 weeks of his training, studies psychiatry for just two weeks (20 hours)! That means for one-third mentally disturbed patients (0.33 per cent) he sees, he has only 0.14 per cent exposure of the discipline. That's shocking and must change.

 

The MCI is now looking at revising the psychiatry curriculum and give it greater weightage in MBBS training. Results of this exercise will determine the future availability of manpower in the sector. Last year, the Health Ministry also uploaded on its website the revised Mental Health Act 1987. Stakeholders must respond to the draft now to push for changes, if any, considering the law would impact large sections of neglected people.

 

More than 35 per cent Indians seeing general practitioners these days report some psycho-social condition that demands attention. The situation is therefore that much alarming.

 

Bring mental health centrestage

Dr RAJESH SAGAR,It is high time mental health got the due it deserves. There is an urgent need to integrate mental health into the government's cardiovascular disease (CVD) detection programme which was recently launched. We must also provide mental health services in the Health Ministry's Mother and Child Care programmes in order to detect mental problems in babies born out of high-risk pregnancies. Such children, if left undetected, could end up facing severe problems like schizophrenia. Perinatal complications lead to brain disorders affecting child health. Therefore, we must detect disorders early enough to cure them. Also, 30 per cent of persons who suffer heart attacks and strokes report high chances of psychiatric illnesses. Integration of mental health with the CVD programme is hence critical.

Dr RAJESH SAGAR,
Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, AIIMS

FACTFILE

* India's oldest mental hospital is in Chennai; it came up in 1794; youngest is in Purulia, set up in 1994.

* WHO report on global disease burden says by 2020, childhood neuropsychiatric disorders will rise by 50 per cent, internationally to become one of the five most common causes of morbidity, mortality and disability among children.

* Indian mental hospitals lack facilities for children: of 37, only 7 have some provision.

* One-fifth of teenagers will suffer from developmental or emotional problems while one in eight will have a mental disorder.

* Mental illnesses are considered disabilities but a mentally ill person makes over 30 visits to a government facility to get a disability certificate

V Half of govt facilities offer rehabilitation services. Recently, the Central Institute of Psychiatry published a list of 98 fit-to-go inmates. They had no place to go.

* 60 per cent districts have no mental health facility

 

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's top five focus areas for health in 2011

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad* Major initiatives to reduce Maternal Mortality Ratio and Infant Mortality Ratio in high focus states through intensive implementation of NRHM, Janani Suraksha and child care measures.

* Strengthening the immunisation drive through child tracking system and focused monitoring.

* Implementation of major decisions taken by the Cabinet and Parliament, including clinical establishment rules, rolling out non-communicable diseases programmes and menstrual hygiene programme for adolescent girls.

* Completion of the construction of medical colleges of six AIIMS-like institutions and upgradation of 13 medical colleges under Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana; establish nine regional paramedical institutions and 150 ANM schools in the backward and remote areas across the country.

* Rolling out of the Rural Health Care Course and introduction and passage of important bills in Parliament, including those on the National Commission on Human Resources in Health; Organ and Tissue Transplantation and Institute of Excellence Status for NIMHANS, Bangalore.

 

AGENDA 2011

Reposition family planning strategy

Poonam Muttreja,We really need to reposition our family planning strategy to reach our population stabilization goals. The fact is there's a huge unmet need for contraception in India. There's a huge demand and 18 per cent fertility is due to this unmet need. There's no reason why a woman should have a child just because she does not have access to contraceptives. Access must be improved. Another major contributor to population is the population momentum caused by couple in reproductive age having children. This can't be fully controlled. So we need to help such couples delay the first child birth and space children better. For that to happen, temporary methods have to be made available to advance fertility. To address the third issue of wanted fertility, we need better healthcare facilities so that newborns survive. In 2011, let us also remember that literacy is the best contraception and work towards the goal of literacy.

Poonam Muttreja,
Executive Director, Population Foundation of India

No child should die of measles

Sujatha Rao,The Centre and states must focus on strengthening their public health cadres to eliminate infectious diseases. It is time we ensured no child died of measles. In 2011, the Government must also tighten the regulatory systems of education and training of health personnel. HR is our major constraint. I hope to see greater public investment in this and an end to crass commercialization of this sector due to private investment by non-interested actors. This year will also be critical to the formulation of protocols to provide medical and surgical treatment though third party payment systems without the ills of over-medicalization and exorbitant feesGreater people's involvement in the sector is the key. Do you think, for example, we can dream of a day when tobacco companies voluntarily shut shop and educate people not to buy their products? That should be our goal in 2011.

Sujatha Rao,
Former Union Health Secretary

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

A PERNICIOUS TRADITION

POLICE RECRUITMENT SMACKS OF BRAZEN ADMINISTRATIVE PARTISANSHIP AND POLITICAL MYOPIA


Fitful revival of administrative authority, after a long period of inactivity bordering on paralysis, typically tends to feed on lack of accountability and lack of transparency in its conduct. Acts of omission and commission committed by the present ruling coalition of National Conference and the Congress since its resuscitation after the Durbar Move reveal a tendency towards short circuiting prescribed rules and procedures in certain key areas of administration. Looking at it more closely, this tendency appears to be very much a part of what is commonly described as bad governance or poor governance. Shoddy manner of police recruitment in select areas of Srinagar city is a typical example of this destructive tendency. Norms prescribed by the government itself are pushed aside for partisan political consideration, mainly to shore up the sinking image of the NC. Places and procedures for recruitment are decided on brazenly partisan grounds thus allowing the impression to grow that the police force is a handmaiden of the ruling party. No doubt, the NC is not alone in practising this undesirable statecraft. Almost each and every party in power is guilty of committing it from time to time. But the recent police recruitment happened to be the crudest of these crude tactics. Loss of control over its traditional political nerve centre—Srinagar city—has so unnerved the National Conference and its urbanised dynastic leadership that it looks to be willing to do anything and everything to regain its grip. Obviously, the elements within the administration are too willing to oblige. Otherwise the things would not have gone to such a disturbing extent.
Unfortunately, there are not many in this part of the country who are inclind to learn from the past experience of others or their own. Political partisanship of the administrative machinery from elections to recruitment and from sanctioning developmental projects to harassing innocent citizens is the saddest part of the state's history. Obviously, no lessons have been learnt from its disastrous consequences. Resentment brewing across the state particularly amongst the growing number of jobless youth appears to be deepening in the aftermath of the police recruitment in Khanyar assembly constituency represented by urban development minister Ali Mohammad Sagar. Reports say that the social welfare department has also taken the same path by making largescale recruitments in select areas with most, if not all, posts being gifted to the NC workers or supporters. Unemployment being such a hot issue across the state and the coalition government having miserably failed to honour its commitment there is sharp resentment across the board. Treating public positions as exclusive hunting ground for the ruling party can only inflame passions rather than dousing them. The idea of providing jobs to the jobless is unquestionable. But the manner of doing it is highly suspect. Before this issue snowballs into a more serious problem and results in any dreadful manner the government ought to pause and rethink its recruitment strategy.


Institutional functioning on sound basis is alien to J&K's administrative culture. Poor quality of governance has been tacitly acknowledged as a major contributing factor in what all is wrong with the state. The coalition government can really make a difference by reviving institutional instruments and procedures for recruitment including in the police force. Procedure of recruitment has to be transparent and fair otherwise its repercussions can cause more ruin than good. Political partisanship of official machinery can no longer be hidden or camouflaged because the public today is far better informed than ever before.


The government itself, particularly the police hierarchy, has sought to link the recruitment drive to joblessness (stone pelting). But the procedure adopted for selection makes it look highly suspicious. It seems like more an attempt to favour workers and supporters of the NC than providing a fair opportunity to really deserving ones. It needs no research to realise that leaving out more than half of the Valley can trigger a grave backlash. Police is a sensitive service and tampering with its composition and character can have devastating results. If the police leadership is blind to this obvious reality the higher leadership within the government would be courting disaster by conniving at it. The tendency within the administration to circumvent prescribed norms in return for undeserved favours from the political class is a vicious circle that has played havoc with governance in J&K. The present dispensation is obviously not so keen to distance itself from that pernicious tradition. 

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

POWERLESS MANAGEMENT

NEED TO PLUG LEAKAGES AND EVOLVE A SYSTEM OF EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION


It is a pity that after years of having to grapple with the issue of power shortage, the state administration, through successive regimes that have been ruling the roost, has been unable to devise an effective mechanism for supply of power. The shortfall in power generation has been an ages old story and is quoted simply as an excuse without making any serious efforts to manage the crisis and ensure the best possible utilization of the available power. Despite measures like electronic metering and campaigns for revenue realization, the power management system has not improved, it has simply worsened. The political regimes have either been carrying forward with promises based on big micro hydel power projects even as much of the share from these projects eventually goes into the kitty of northern grid or political resolutions over international water treaties. Such politicking does not substitute for management of the existing resources. The fact remains that while the power generation every year goes up, so does the demand, the gap between the demand and supply remaining or less static. Then why is it that for decades the successive governments have been unable to plan things to devise ways and means to best utilize the existing generation of power and ensure equitable distribution of the same. Why is much of the power generation pilfered or wasted either due to poor transmission lines, faulty transformers or due to defaulters, the prime among whom are the government departments? It is has almost become a tradition that power crisis occurs in the Valley during peak winters and in Jammu during summers when consumers most need electricity for their survival. Every year, the situation only deteriorates, the administration virtually unable to learn any lessons from past failures. It almost cuts a sorry figure in face of power thefts and non realization of revenue, which are some of the major reasons for wastage of power and its poor management. What the government needs is an effective policy and strategy for better management of its existing power generation before it can think of tapping the potential of resources within the state for power harnessing.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

BLACK MONEY STASHED ABROAD

STRANGE SHIELDING OF SWINDLERS

INDER MALHOTRA


WHAT kind of government is the Congress-dominated United Progressive Alliance trying to provide the country with? Barely a fortnight after the grand declarations - at the Congress party's 125th anniversary - of "zero tolerance" of corruption, venality and wrong-doing, the powers that be are resisting resolutely the legitimate demand for a disclosure of the names of 26 Indians caught stashing their black money with the LGT Bank in Liechtenstein, a west European principality and tax haven.


Having received the names from the bank concerned, the Union government decided to conceal them. It might have succeeded in this dubious design were it not for Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court by three concerned citizens – eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani, former secretary-general of the Lok Sabha Subhash Kashyap, and former director-general of Punjab police KPS Gill. Remarkably, even in the apex court the government tried to brazen its way out by repeating its specious plea that any disclosure would run counter to the "confidentiality clause" in the double-taxation avoidance agreement with the country concerned.
Such ploys have worked in the past. For instance, successive governments have succeeded in hiding the names of fat cats who habitually took huge loans from public sector banks and merrily refrained from paying them. Non-paying Assets (NPAs) was the official euphemism for the bad loans; at work, in fact, were NPCs (Non-paying Crooks). Yet, their identities were kept secret on grounds of "customer confidentiality". This time, however, the trickery may not work, judging by the proceedings in the Supreme Court so far. When Solicitor-General Gopal Subramanium went on pleading "international obligations" and even claiming "immunity" for as many as 16 of 21 documents the government has filed, Justice B. Sudershan Reddy, presiding over the two-member bench, observed: " Forget about the documents … We are asking you what prevents you from disclosing the names"? At an earlier stage, His Lordship had asked the S-G: "What is the big deal about disclosing the names"? Eventually, the government's law officer offered to submit the names of the culprits to the apex court "in confidence" but persisted in refusal to make them public. Since then the Central Board of Direct Taxes has submitted the 26 names to the apex court in a sealed cover with the edict that these must not be put in public domain.


What happens next would depend, of course, on further proceedings in the Supreme Court and its final order. But that is now immaterial. For – and one says this more in sorrow than in anger – the UPA government, for reasons best known to it, has become totally indifferent to the people's diminishing faith in its promises and growing suspicions about its motives. Would someone in authority please explain why is the secrecy of the list of the country's swindlers being guarded more zealously than that of top-secret military files that are sometimes found on roadside?


No wonder there is a widespread impression that the government's secretiveness is fuelled by the fact that in the hidden list are mentioned not only tarnished tycoons, corporate crooks, hawala honchos and so on but also some "high-profile" politicians and bureaucrats. The plea of international obligations is hogwash. There are reports that Germany had initially offered to convey the swindlers' list unconditionally. What happened to change the situation and why?


It is against this backdrop that the veteran BJP leader, L. K. Advani, at a public rally in Mumbai, raised the question whether the Prime Minister was hesitating to take steps in relation to black money stashed abroad because "people belonging to the Congress and its allies are involved". And he added: "We (the National Democratic Alliance, headed by the BJP) have also sought his attention about a news report (sic) which states that the name of a former Prime Minister also figures in the list … No one has contradicted the report yet".
Yet another red herring that the government and its solicitor-general have drawn across the trail is that proceedings to collect tax from and impose penalties on the worthies on the Liechtenstein list had begun. Once again Their Lordships had to remind all concerned that the matter went "far beyond taxation". The rogues that stash black and ill-gotten wealth abroad are criminals. They need to be exposed and punished, not coddled and kept out of public view.


What has come to light about the Liechtenstein deposits is disgraceful, no doubt. But it is, in relation to the problem of black money, whether stashed abroad in secret bank accounts or hoarded at home, what the proverbial drop is to the bucket. To India's eternal shame, half its economy is black at any given time. At the same time, all expert estimates – including that of Dev Kumar of Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based watchdog – agree that the Indian black money stashed abroad with virtual impunity is close to dollars three trillion.


Successive governments have periodically promised to bring this money home. But so far none has done so. But suppose by some miracle someone some day does bring back the mind-boggling amount home and decides to distribute it among the 1.2 billion Indians equally, each of us can expect to get a reasonable amount. Arun Kumar, a Delhi-based economist who has worked on the problem for years and has published an informative book on the subject, argues that had the Indian black money stacked in the vaults of foreign banks (that earn a decent income from it) not gone out of the country but were invested productively here, the per capita income of Indians would have been $ 5,000 and not $ 1,176 as at present at market exchange rates. All this, however, is wishful thinking, given the rude realities of life in India. The money hasn't come back in the past, and it is unlikely to be brought back in the foreseeable future. The United States and several other countries have forced Swiss banks to waive their secrecy laws and cough up the illegal deposits of their respective citizens. India hasn't even tried.


In this context Mr. Advani went on the offensive against the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the latter's "failure" to deliver on his 2009 promise to "take steps to bring back the black money stashed by Indians in foreign banks within 100 days of coming back to power". The BJP leader also complained that Dr, Singh "hadn't bothered to reply to a letter written jointly by NDA leaders over a week reminding him of his poll promise".


Therein, unfortunately, lies the rub. The black-money-stashed–abroad issue looks like turning into a no-holds-barred slugfest between the Congress and the BJP, as has the problem of mind-boggling corruption already has.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

WIN YOUR KINGDOM..!

BY ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

"Like a rat in a maze, the path before me lies. And the pattern never alters, until the rat dies.."  (Simon and Garfunkel)


There's a dreadful smell emitting from our world just now and the smell is that of dead rats. Rats like all of us, who have spent the whole of their lives running the race and now exhausted we lie down and die.
Take a deep breath and maybe you are in for a shock. The smell could be coming from you..!
Have you heard of anyone who ever won the rat race?


This question requires more than a chuckle because upon reflection most of us will have to acknowledge we really don't know anyone who has. Ofcourse we know people who are part of the great race. Men and women who have chased  dreams and lost families, with children who have grown up with an absentee father or even a mother who is more busy at office than available at home.


Cineas when dissuading Pyrrhus from undertaking a war against the Romans said, "Sir, when you have conquered them what will you do next?"


"Sicily is near at hand and easy to master," replied Pyrrhus.


"And what when you have conquered Sicily?"


"Then we will pass on to Africa and take Carthage."


"When these are conquered what will be your next attempt?" asked Cineas.


"Then," said Pyrrhus we will fall upon Greece and Macedon and recover what we have lost there."


"Well when all are subdued, what fruit do you expect from all your victories?"


"Then," said Pyrrhus we will sit down and enjoy ourselves."


"Sir," said Cineas, "May we not do it right now? Have you not already a kingdom of your own? He that cannot enjoy himself with a kingdom, cannot with a whole world!"


What is this world we all striving to enjoy?


The world portrayed in TV commercials? With products that promise increased pleasure and sensuality?


Credit cards? Instant gratification. Where we are consumed by desires to buy things we don't need, with money we don't have, to impress people we don't like?


And what is this kingdom we are losing in the process?


Relationships? A grown up son or daughter who you really don't know because you were never there when they were growing up. You stand at wedding ceremony and ask where did childhood go, and later you stand as witness before judge at divorce court and ask : What values did they ever learn?


Values? When did I lose all of them?


Don't lose your kingdom as you race with the other rats, instead enjoy your kingdom, in which your old car can still last a couple of years more, where your TV screen needn't be a flat one and books take the place of the second set. A kingdom in which you and your family still spend time to look up at the Creator and thank Him for peace and contentment and joy. 


bobsbanter@gmail.com

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

AN AUDIENCE OF ONE

WHAT ULTIMATELY MATTERS IS THE ABILITY OF A GOOD POEM TO ESTABLISH A ONE-TO-ONE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE READER AND THE POET. IT IS NOT A KNEE-JERK RESPONSE TO THE WAY WE IN INDIA TREAT THE ARTS AS A NUMBERS GAME

 

From time to time we are treated to a rash of articles announcing the demise of poetry, and audiences for poetry. So I'd like to begin by explaining the concept of "an audience of one" which several poets I know share. We believe that ultimately what matters is the one-to-one relationship of reader and poet. A reader may feel the poet is expressing what he or she felt but could not express, ambivalence towards parents, for instance. Or the reader may enjoy the way something is said. Sometimes the reader concerned tells the poet what s/he feels. Even negative responses, or varying interpretations can be valuable. One of the pleasures of being a writer is the sense of connection one establishes with all kinds of people.

 

Sometimes one attends readings because the main interest is in what the poet looks like, and sounds like. In the 60s I attended readings by Auden, Spender, Robert Graves and others, occasions when the atmosphere was electric, and one was high on atmosphere. Finally, though, it was the words on the page that mattered. Some of them can change one's life. That's what I mean by an audience of one.

 

This is what the writers I am talking about have always felt. It's not a kneejerk response to the way we in India treat the arts as a numbers game. The advance paid, the price received, the copies sold, the numbers in the audience, the number of awards received.

 

Several centuries ago, the classical Sanskrit poet Bhavabhuti understood the concept of an audience of one. He wrote, "If learned critics publicly deride/My verse, well, let them. Not for them I wrought/. One day a man shall live to share my thought:/For time is endless and the world is wide."

 

I find all this moaning about the "decline of audiences for poetry" a little mystifying. I don't believe it is true because there are so many people creating an interest in poetry: through workshops in schools, writing workshops, the internet, festivals, and so on. I feel that those who do the moaning don't see the contradictions in what they are doing. Instead of using endless words and newsprint to moan about decline, they could write about a poem or poet in a way that draws in readers. Poets, after all, have written about a number of concerns: love, loss, death, the loss of faith, mosquitoes, lizards, rats. They respond to social situations, they subvert received ideas about women, spirituality, patriotism, war. They write satires, and humorous poems about recognizable situations. Readers are perfectly capable of responding to such writing. Only editors of newspapers think they are capable only of responding to murder and mayhem.

 

Potential readers can be put off by poetry for all kinds of reasons. A modern Assamiya poet, Nilmani Phookan has this to say: "Poetry is for those who wouldn't read it." Poetry talks of "the wounds in their hearts/for their fingers where thorns are embedded/…for the meaning of death/and the vacuity of living…" True. But has anyone informed members of text-book boards, for instance, about this? These boards are a cause for alarm and despondency. A text for twelve-year-old students once included a 17th century poem by John Donne called "Death Be Not Proud." They had to study it only to understand the concept of "personification".

If I had had experiences of that kind, I wouldn't read poetry either. If I was taught by someone who couldn't understand how Sylvia Plath could refer to her father as a "Nazi", or was embarrassed by Kamala Das's forthrightness, or Arun Kolatkar's "irreverence," I doubt I would connect with poetry. If teachers are immature, what can one expect of their students?

Relax, friends. Bhavabhuti was right. Good poems last forever. And yes, time is endless and the world is wide.

 

Text-books have a lot to do with declining popularity of poetry in India. In most cases, students do not connect themselves to the poems included in their textbooks

 

EUNICE de SOUZA

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******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

A SUB-OPTIMAL RESHUFFLE

POLITICAL CONSTRAINTS LIMIT THE PRIME MINISTER'S OPTIONS

No one should imagine that in a parliamentary democracy, where ministers are picked from among members of Parliament, talent alone determines allocation of ministerial portfolio. Any prime minister has to balance a variety of political considerations, picking from a given set the best team possible. Hence, it would be wrong to see the reshuffle carried out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh only in terms of what it does to the quality of his team. There are provincial, caste and other considerations that go into picking and choosing ministers and so one must also be mindful of the political balance imparted by a given team. Elections in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, the situation in Andhra Pradesh and such like would have played their role. However, even after accounting for all such considerations, the team that Dr Singh started with in May 2009 was not the best team he could have had. Moreover, many of the ministers he picked disappointed him with their sub-optimal performance. While these considerations alone had necessitated a reshuffle, the sharp decline in the United Progressive Alliance government's credibility and image in the past six months, with allegations of corruption dominating news headlines, the prime minister was under pressure to rejig his pack, drop some ministers, re-allocate portfolios and promote a few good men. Ideally, a complete shake-up would have been the best option. Within the given pulls and pressures of coalition politics and the play of power politics in the ruling Congress party, Dr Singh has managed to punish a few of the non-performers, reward a few of the performers and marginally improve the quality of his team, but not by as much as he could have, especially if some of the younger ministers had been promoted.

The overall impact of the reshuffle exercise would, of course, be to strengthen the prime minister's grip over his government, but he could have dropped a few like sports minister M S Gill which he was unable to do. By shifting Kamal Nath, Praful Patel and Murli Deora the prime minister has punished ministers who had come to acquire a reputation for playing favourites or just incompetence. In moving Jaipal Reddy to petroleum, he has rewarded integrity, keeping Telangana also in mind, but not necessarily performance. In promoting Salman Khurshid, he has rewarded both integrity and performance. That he has been able to get even this much in the face of stiff opposition from some power centres suggests that his writ still runs in the coalition. Dr Singh's message of perform or get sidelined (if not perish) must not get diluted and must extend to the choices he makes even within the ranks of the civil services. To expect that the reshuffle, as carried out, will in itself restore new momentum to the Union government and improve the government's image and credibility would be unrealistic. This partial effort at weeding out incompetence and rewarding competence has to be followed up by a new agenda of governance reform and of ministerial accountability.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TIME FOR BABY STEPS

MONETARY POLICY CANNOT KILL INFLATION, MUST NOT KILL GROWTH

The question of whether or not RBI should hike policy rates in its quarterly monetary policy review due on January 25 should have been answered rather forcefully by the inflation data for December. After showing tentative signs of moderation in October and November, wholesale price inflation shot up close to 8.5 per cent on the back of a spike in vegetable prices led by onions and tomatoes. Even if these prices were to cool off a tad, the prospect of a hike in diesel prices looms on the horizon. The chances of ending the current fiscal year at anywhere near the 5.5 per cent that RBI officially targets seem bleak indeed. There is also a palpable sense of despair and desperation in government agencies over its inability to tame the price monster. Thus, no agency that is even remotely associated with managing the price-line can afford to remain passive at this juncture. The central bank in its avatar as the principal inflation-fighter in the economy certainly cannot. A hike in policy rates thus seems inevitable.

However, another round of increases in interest rats is unlikely to bring the prices of food down in a hurry. Supply is clearly short for a number of food items, particularly things like milk, fish, poultry and vegetables, and their prices have been rising steadily over the last two years. This trend is unlikely to reverse unless there is a jump in farm productivity and a complete overhaul of their supply chain, and repeal of archaic marketing laws that impair competition in their supply. This cannot happen overnight and households perhaps need to reconcile to the fact that their budgets will remain strained in the foreseeable future. But this does not necessarily dilute the case for further monetary action. For one, the very stubbornness in food inflation suggests that rising demand is also playing a role in keeping prices elevated. Besides, inflation expectations are running high and this itself is playing a role in keeping prices sticky. Finally, there is a risk of high food prices setting off second-round effects, particularly wage inflation that would feed into other sectors of the economy, transforming the rising food price into more broad inflation. An increase in policy rates and its transmission to lending and borrowing rates can go a long way in addressing these issues. The question then is: should RBI stick to its measured approach and push the reverse repo and repo rates up by a quarter of a percentage point or go the whole hog and hike by half a percentage point? It might be tempting for the RBI governor to choose the latter and signal to the markets that he too packs a mean punch. However, by doing that he might just end up "over-compensating" for the other imbalances in the system that play an equally important role in keeping prices high — excessively loose fiscal policy and the woeful state of agriculture that years of neglect has bred. The result could be what economists term "hard landing" or a sharp slowdown in growth. Growth has incidentally started looking fragile again with the November industrial production index registering a growth of just 2.7 per cent. The RBI governor has to keep the risk of pushing growth off a cliff in mind in deciding January's policy action. A quarter of a percentage point increase in rates should do the trick this time.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

AVOID POLICY MISHAPS

RBI HAS TO HIKE RATES, BUT IT CAN'T BE A FIX FOR CENTRE'S PARAPLEGIC-LIKE APPROACH TO ELIMINATING STRUCTURAL RIGIDITIES

RAJEEV MALIK

An appropriate policy response always warrants a correct diagnosis of the problem. That is why the recent trend in inflation and its causes, and the inflation outlook take on exceptional importance ahead of the RBI's policy review on January 25.

At the very outset, by focusing on the wholesale price index (WPI) rather than a proper consumer price index (CPI), RBI makes its own job more difficult. This is so because the WPI is inherently more sensitive than the CPI to changes in input prices. Thus, higher commodity prices, for example, have a faster and more complete pass-through to WPI than to CPI inflation. All other countries target CPI inflation, which is often lower than WPI or PPI (producer price index) inflation. It must be embarrassing for the government that, despite having several bright economists, it has not been able to come up with a proper CPI.

 The web of inflationary pressures in India is more complex than in most other economies, and is both supply- and demand-side in nature, and covers both food and non-food categories. Essentially, there are six key drivers of inflation, in my view: (1) cyclical pressures as growth has been above trend; (2) higher global commodity prices, especially for crude oil; (3) the boost to aggregate demand due to the government's active initiatives to empower rural India via employment-generative social safety net programmes; (4) slow pace of fiscal consolidation; (5) rising affluence that has increased demand for protein-rich food, which, in turn, has worsened the supply-demand imbalance owing to a lack of adequate supply response; and (6) temporary weather-related food price shocks.

There are certain other dimensions, such as pressure on the wages of manual workers as the pace of outward migration from some key states, such as Bihar, appears to have slowed. But this is a "good problem" to have. At the other extreme is the wage pressure in the IT industry that is driven by external demand. The IT example, and the lack of adequate skilled labour in other industries, also underscores the need for greater improvement in supply that is outside the focus of monetary policy. Indeed, we should stop looking at RBI for solutions to the government's paraplegic-like approach in correcting the structural rigidities that can have a significantly favourable impact on trend inflation.

The above drivers of inflation can be grouped differently: supply- vs demand-driven; domestic vs external, cyclical vs structural, food vs non-food, and temporary vs permanent. No matter how we categorise them, monetary actions and fiscal initiatives should not work against each other. Ironically, the government's initiatives that have actually contributed to the resilience of rural India's consumption are also the ones that have partly contributed to the inflationary pressures, as the supply of certain food items has not increased meaningfully.

It is easily overlooked that WPI inflation had actually been improving in recent months. Headline WPI inflation had eased to 7.5 per cent y-o-y in November from 11 per cent in April, before a temporary weather-related hit to vegetables pushed up inflation in December to 8.5 per cent. After declining for ten straight months, the food composite sub-index (weighted average of food components of primary articles and manufactured goods sub-indices) jumped to 8.6 per cent y-o-y in December compared to a three-year low of 6.1 per cent in November. Non-food manufactured goods inflation, a crude measure of core inflation, was a touch softer in December at 5.3 per cent y-o-y, but this is likely to head higher owing to the pass-through into local prices of rising global commodity prices. The pace of seasonally adjusted core inflation has also picked up, with higher commodity prices accounting for a large part of the increase.

Within food, the prices of staple items such as wheat, rice and pulses (an important source of protein) are not showing distress, despite the adverse global price pattern in these items. The December spike in food inflation appears to be concentrated in fruits and vegetables (+22.8 per cent y-o-y), which, in turn, has been led by a whopping 45.8 per cent (temporary) spike in the price of onions.

By their very nature, temporary food shocks are treated differently by central banks, as these are typically short-lived and last less than the typical lag between monetary policy action and its effect. However, a lasting food shock becomes a different animal as it then begins to affect expectations, which, in turn, can have a more permanent effect on either the headline inflation rate or some version of core inflation. Thus, central banks cannot directly affect food supply with interest rates, but monetary action cannot be avoided when a food shock threatens to have a more permanent effect.

So far, the bulk of the heavy lifting on policy normalisation has been done by RBI, which increased policy rates by 300 bps in 2010. The challenge to monetary policy becomes greater when there are also numerous supply-side drivers that complement demand-driven factors, which are what a central bank can directly affect with tighter policy. The upcoming federal Budget offers a good opportunity for the government to step up fiscal consolidation, which, in turn, should ease pressure on aggregate demand that was pumped up additionally by the extra spending following the telecom windfall.

The correct response to the supply-demand imbalance for food is higher supply, not aggressive monetary tightening that will surely derail growth at a time when the much-needed investment upturn is still in its infancy, and could itself be at risk, partly owing to poor execution by the government and rising cost of borrowing. The cyclical demand-driven pressures should ease, as growth is already rolling over, even if one discounts that the volatile industrial production data that probably exaggerate the deceleration. Further progress on fiscal consolidation will add to the softening in domestic demand-driven inflation.

However, the threat from higher global commodity prices still persists, and is one of the reasons why the pass-through into local prices will prompt RBI to tighten further, starting with a 25 bps hike and a hawkish guidance on January 25. A 50 bps hike is too aggressive in my view, and RBI had used with that magnitude when inflation was much higher and growth itself was accelerating. RBI has to raise policy rates further this year and should front-load them, but it is important to appreciate that India's inflation challenge is not due to excessive pace of monetary expansion, as M3 growth is running close to the RBI's guidance of 17 per cent, and there is already far greater tightness in local liquidity conditions than what RBI intends.

Since all the inflationary pressures are not from the demand side that RBI can directly address, a super-aggressive tightening will surely derail growth, and that will create an even worse combination of still high inflation, crippled growth, and a fiscal crisis.

A significant difference that is often looked between the economic conditions in 2005-08 tightening and now is the vastly weaker setting for investment spending this time around. RBI will have to be more cautious in its tightening, since the full effect of its 300 bps normalisation in 2010 has not been fully transmitted. Still, headline inflation will be higher for longer owing to rising global commodity, despite RBI's tightening. Crippling growth to win the inflation battle should not be on the agenda, but it is high time the government wakes up and owns up its share of the responsibility.

The author is senior economist at CLSA, Singapore. The views expressed are personal

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

AN OPPORTUNITY TO SCORE?

IT MIGHT BE WORTH THE INDIAN FOOTBALLING ESTABLISHMENTS' WHILE TO TAKE BLATTER'S REMARK SERIOUSLY AND HOST A WORLD CUP

KANIKA DATTA

Fifa president Sepp Blatter appears to have more faith in India's sports administration than almost anybody. In an interview last week, he said India should host the 2026 World Cup football tournament. Judging from the derision in the blogosphere ("your [sic] a little early for April Fools" and "only on one condition, all the participating countries have to play bare-footed [sic]") and the diplomatic caution of Indian team coach Bob Houghton and local football officials, few people share his confidence. The more prosaic explanation for his statement might be that Blatter's garnering support from emerging countries since he's thrown his hat in the ring for re-election later this year and is unlikely to get traction from traditional footballing nations.

 The timing of Blatter's statement was certainly ill-judged, since investigating agencies are unearthing depressing evidence of money-making and venality from the Commonwealth Games. There's also the fact that the country currently ranks 144 in the World Football rankings, "below the likes of Burundi, Sierra Leone and Congo", an espnstar.com report acerbically noted. The country has not qualified for any World Cup Final since the fifties. This shouldn't be a problem in 2026. Assuming the rules don't change, the host nation automatically qualifies for the finals. Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, is ranked 105 and hasn't qualified for a World Cup Final ever, either. But India's underwhelming performance at the Asia Cup, for which it qualified after 24 years, was a brutal reminder of the distance it needs to travel in terms of skills and stamina to count among Asia's best, let alone the world's.

Still, it might be worth the Indian footballing establishments' while to take Blatter's remark more seriously. Hosting a World Cup isn't a bad ambition to have. It is one of the world's most watched tournaments and the fan base in India is expanding rapidly (TAM puts it at 83 million, not so far behind cricket's 122 million). The revenue earning potential is huge: The 2010 edition of the tournament raked in $717 million in ticket sales and $1.6 billion in sponsorships. The spin-offs for tourism and hospitality are huge too. South Africa attracted 3.1 million visitors during the tournament alone, more than half the number of tourists that visit India annually.

Setting aside the Indian team's performance, hosting a World Cup tournament isn't really outside the realm of possibility (though 2026 might not be feasible, given Fifa's norm of rotating the tournament among the continents). India is going to be one of the world's largest economies by then. That was Blatter's point. "This is really a double market, not just a market for football but for the economy too. India is a real power," he told The Telegraph last weekend.

Also, it might be unfair to use the Commonwealth Games as a benchmark of India's ability to stage global-scale events. That event in no way reflected the execution ability of India's private sector. Unlike the Commonwealth or Olympic tournaments, global football is driven and bankrolled by private sector money — Russian billionaires, West Asian oil tycoons, Indian poultry barons. This is true in India, where the newer facilities, infrastructure and talent are being financed by companies as disparate as Reliance, Bharat Forge, the UB Group and the Mittals. The aberration is the All India Football Federation which is headed by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel. There is no earthly reason a politician or government functionary should head a football association — they don't in any successful footballing nation and they pretty much keep out of its administration as well.

As for infrastructure, a 32-team World Cup typically needs about 10 stadiums plus training facilities. India has about 65. Most of them are small, with capacities of 15,000 to 20,000, but there are some that can hold 50,000, the average crowd size in Europe. And there is the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata that can hold 120,000, making it the world's second-largest football stadium. The biggest stadium in Europe is Barcelona's Football Club's Camp Nou, which holds about 98,000.

Obviously, no Indian stadium is anywhere near world class in terms of facilities either, but there is no reason they could not match, if not exceed, those standards by 2026. The big question marks, as always, will be the state of public infrastructure. Or as one earthy writer summed it up, "Nice! there will be free lungi for everyone! Downside is — no bathrooms available in India!"

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

READY FOR THE AFRICAN SAFARI?

WITH LARGE FDIS MOVING TO AFRICA, INDIA SHOULD FOCUS ON MORE THAN JUST DEVELOPMENT AID TO BUILD SUSTAINABLE TIES WITH THE CONTINENT

T S VISHWANATH

The African continent has been clearly recognised as the next big market for trade and investment globally. A free trade agreement (FTA) with different regions of Africa will be the next logical step in building a dynamic partnership with the region, stated India's Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma recently while addressing industry. The World Bank, too, has come up with a five-year strategy for Africa detailing its role in the region.

China has been engaging intensely with Africa for the last few years. It sees the continent as a large base for resources to fuel a growing economy. India's relationship with Africa, on the other hand, has been dictated by the need to build a sustainable partnership that provides a platform to engage and collaborate to enhance capacity and capability for both sides. Therefore, Mr Sharma's comment of negotiating FTAs with different African nations as the next logical step is a very important move to cement the deep relationship that has grown over the years.

 A World Bank report titled Africa's Future and World Bank's Role in it provides several insights into the growth in a continent where countries are at different levels of development and growth.

A striking feature of the change is that the private sector's role is increasing in a big way in Africa. According to World Bank's estimates, the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the continent has been greater than the flow of FDI in India. Interestingly, Indian companies have been in the forefront along with the Chinese in investing in different African countries. Importantly, India is seen as a long-term player in the region since it has looked beyond natural resources to invest in Africa.

Bharti's investment in South Africa is seen as an example of how Indian companies are looking at long-term partnerships in Africa. As the Bank points out, Africa "could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago, and India 20 years ago".

The World Bank, in its document, states that it will leverage public money to crowd in private resources to Africa and will work with development agencies to build a "Marshall Plan" aimed at relaxing the financing constraint to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

This provides a perfect setting to start negotiations with some large countries to sign comprehensive economic cooperation agreements. With several multilateral financing institutions poised to enter Africa, some of the key constraints that the small- and medium-sized businesses face, such as inadequate financing options and lack of infrastructure, could be overcome in the coming years. This will provide a spurt in economic activity, which will help develop large markets for goods and services.

An important aspect that would have to be kept in mind while developing an FTA model with African nations would be to negotiate with sub-regional groupings rather than individual countries. This will help both sides since it could help build value chains across the continent and India. Some of the important countries that would need to be tapped for such sub-regional groupings would be South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

Africa provides several opportunities for collaboration ranging from education to agriculture and technology to investment. India should, therefore, look at economic partnership agreements with African nations since it will help both sides engage far better in the coming years.

Such agreements will also help India cement the already close partnerships it enjoys with several countries in Africa. As a first step, it would be a good idea to prepare a comprehensive study that covers all aspects of a possible partnership between India and Africa. This study should also look at different countries that India should engage with and provide a medium- and long-term strategy for economic engagement with Africa.

India's official relationship with Africa over the years has been mainly focused on development aid. But with large private investment flows moving towards Africa in various sectors, it is time to re-look the strategy to engage with Africa.

It will be important for the Indian government to closely engage with industry in India for developing an Africa strategy since it will help develop a more sustainable partnership, which will be beneficial to both India and Africa.

The author is Principal Adviser, APJ-SLG Law Office

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE GREAT INDIAN FOOD CHALLENGE

IT IS IMPORTANT FOR THE STATES TO COME OUT WITH SOLUTIONS TO ACHIEVE LONG-TERM FOODGRAIN SELF-SUFFICIENCY.

INDICUS ANALYTICS

Production of foodgrain, that is, cereals and pulses, has been rising in India, from an average of 65 million tonnes in the fifties to 211 million tonnes in the 2000s. Foodgrain yield rose from 606 kg/hectare to 1,731 kg/hectare. In 2008, India ranked third in cereal production, after China and the US, and first in pulses production. In 2008-09, the top three states producing rice were West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh; top wheat producers were Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana; top producers of coarse cereals were Rajasthan, Karnataka and Maharashtra; and pulses production was highest in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Despite the rise in production and yields, the high demand from a growing population has led to a situation in which per capita net availability (which includes net imports) peaked for cereals in the nineties and has steadily been dropping for pulses since the fifties. Raising foodgrain yield is, therefore, a key element to ensure food sufficiency in the long term.

 Taking the period 2004-05 to 2008-09, the latest five years for which the data are available with the department of agriculture, Punjab and Haryana continue to reign at the top of the ranking, with yields much more than 3,000 kg/hectare, compared to the national average of 1,873 kg/hectare. At the other end, there are ten states with a yield less than 1,500 kg/hectare — these are Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Orissa, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Maharashtra, in fact, is the only state with average foodgrain yield less than 1,000 kg/hectare in these years.(Click for FOOD FACTS)

If we compare the average foodgrain yield across two five-year periods, 1999-2000 to 2003-04 and 2004-05 and 2008-09, we find that yields have dropped in Punjab by close to 400 kg/hectare, a disturbing trend for the "Food Bowl of India". Mizoram is the only state to show an even sharper drop, with average foodgrain yield falling by more than 700 kg/hectare and has recently launched a programme to end "jhum" cultivation, shifting to permanent farming to stem this decline. The state with the highest improvement in yields over these periods is Rajasthan, by more than 600 kg/hectare, while Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat are the other three large states to have improved foodgrain yields by more than 300 kg/hectare. Even though Maharashtra had the lowest foodgrain yield in both these periods, there has been an increase of about 120 kg/hectare over time. Chhattisgarh, with the second lowest foodgrain yield, registered a more significant increase of around 200 kg per hectare.

Apart from the fact that the area under foodgrain has been falling since the eighties, there are many other crucial concerns to address. As the Report of the Working Group on Crop Husbandry, Agricultural Inputs, Demand and Supply Projections and Agricultural Statistics for the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12) put it, "...technology fatigue, soil fatigue, declining fertiliser response rate, depleting water resources, irrigation potential and capital stock and agro-climatic aberrations." Therefore, solutions to resolve these issues have to be put in place in all states to achieve foodgrain self-sufficiency.

GRAIN GAIN

 Year

Average
area under
foodgrain in
million hectares

Average
foodgrain
production in
million tonnes

Average
foodgrain
yield in
kg/hectare

 1950-51 to 1959-60

108

65

606

 1960-61 to 1969-70

118

85

718

 1970-71 to 79-80

125

112

892

 1980-81 to 89-90

127

147

1,156

 1990-91 to 99-00

124

189

1,525

 2000-01 to 2009-10

121

211

1,731

Source: Estimates from Agricultural Statistics 2010, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation

 

WEAK PULSE
Per capita net availability 
(grammes per day)

 

Cereals

Pulses

1951-60

366

66

1961-70

393

55

1971-80

396

43

1981-90

395

37

1991-2000

440

36

2001-2008

408

34

Source: Economic Survey 2009-10; 
2008 figures provisional

Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters

sumita@indicus.net  

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THIS ISN'T IT

FOR A MORE RADICAL CABINET CHANGE


KERALA and Uttar Pradesh have gained larger representation in the Union council of ministers but there are few other constituents who are likely to break out into song over the Cabinet reshuffle effected on Wednesday. A change of the Cabinet serves two purposes: to underline the Prime Minister's authority and to reward/penalise good/poor performance, apart from improving the balance of regional and sectional representation in the power structure. Has the present reshuffle advanced these goals, and pushed the game to the ruling side's advantage vis-à-vis the Opposition? It does, but only to a limited extent. That extent is insufficient; which is a good reason to expect another, and more substantial, restructuring of the Union council of ministers after the Budget session. The Congress has clearly increased its bargaining power within the ruling coalition: it has added two more key economic ministries, food and civil supplies and aviation, to its kitty, in addition to telecom, wrested from an ousted Raja. In the process, it has resisted pressure from the DMK to hand telecom back to its nominee and also whittled down the NCP's area of influence. Sure, the NCP gets one more Cabinet minister, but it loses the elevated Praful Patel's key aviation portfolio as well as farmer champion Sharad Pawar's conflicted interest, consumer affairs, food and public distribution.


 The lack of ambition in the reshuffle is borne out by the failure to drop anyone from the Council of ministers. All that we see is some wagging of the prime ministerial finger here, a mild rap on the knuckle there and a more liberal use of that mortification called making someone stand in a corner. The petroleum ministry stands out for both its erstwhile ministers having been given this last treatment. This does signal that poor performance will be punished. The signal, however, is weakened by the failure to ask poor performers to quit. A Cabinet reshuffle makes even those ministers who have not been disturbed aware of the PM's differentiating authority. That authority must be used more decisively, sooner rather than later, to improve the delivery of governance.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO MORE TAX AMNESTIES

PENALISE EVADERS, DO NOT REWARD LOOT


 THE government is reportedly formulating an amnesty scheme to allow repatriation of black money stashed overseas. This is a bad idea and should be dropped. All the more reason, after the Supreme Court's observation that "the government was wrong in treating black money as a tax issue when it was simple and pure plunder of the Indian economy". Amnesty schemes are morally corrosive as they offer relief to evaders, but penalise honest tax payers. Past amnesty schemes had amounted to an incentive to keep tax dues unaccounted and pay it, if circumstances so warrant, in the next scheme. The government should take every possible measure to ensure the return of ill-gotten money stashed away in overseas tax havens, but with no amnesty to evaders. Indians are estimated to have parked $462 billion of unaccounted money overseas. This is not small change. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said that there was no instant solution to the problem. The government has, unfortunately, not been persistent in tracking and demanding more information on numbered accounts. With the G20 turning the heat on tax havens, countries such as Switzerland have agreed to share banking information. India should get Switzerland and other tax havens to exchange information with alacrity. Germany has shared information on names of Indians with accounts in LGT, a bank in Liechtenstein. The details of the account holders, as the Supreme Court has rightly held, should be made public. However, there should be no easy escape route for tax dodgers. In the 1990s, after the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme (VDIS), the government had told the SC that it would not launch any more amnesty schemes. It cannot renege on this commitment. Such schemes also do not yield large revenues.

 

Credible measures are needed to clamp down on tax evasion. A countrywide goods and services tax (GST), the unique identification number and inter-related databases of the tax departments raise the chances of the evader being caught in the net. The key is to establish audit trails on all financial transactions, using the country's information technology prowess. In parallel, tax laws should be made simple and tax rates moderate.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CAT O' NINE TALES

BEWARE OF THE MEOWIST PLOT


PEOPLE may think it is merely a kerfuffle over a kitty but it could well be a devious ploy by that Napoleon of Crime so adeptly identified by T S Eliot. English literature students know that Macavity the Mystery Cat is none other than a feline alter ego of the dastardly Professor Moriarty who stalked the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective novels tormenting even the redoubtable Sherlock Holmes. However, belying the general belief that the Machiavellian moggy had passed into history just like his fictional human counterpart, comes the news that a cat called Sal has been called for jury duty in Boston, admittedly a place rather far away from Macavity's usual haunts in England. Still, being in a position to sit on judgment on humans is something that Macavity would surely give eight of his nine fabled lives for. Besides, there is no denying only that treacherous tom could have managed to make even the honourable court a cat's paw. Not only did it summon the furry feline for jury duty but it also rejected the plea of his 'owner' that he be disqualified on the grounds that he is "unable to speak and understand English."

 

Obviously, the good lady has no idea what a cat can comprehend or get up to, which is why she did not file her plea based on the fact that Sal (probably Macavity's current alias) was too old, ill or a convicted felon — all legally valid grounds to keep him out of the jury box. But now that the court has brought animals on par with humans in the eyes of the law, the Americans may have ended up setting a cat among the pigeons. Jurisprudence hanging on the deliberations of a potentially disruptive meowist leader cannot portend well.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

WHO SAYS IT DOESN'T PAY TO DEFAULT?

IF THE EU CHOOSES SOVEREIGN DEFAULT TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF SOLVENCY IN ITS DISTRESSED ECONOMIES, IT WILL CALL THE INVESTORS' BLUFF AND ULTIMATELY PROVE TO BE A LESS COSTLY OPTION, SAYS T T RAM MOHAN

 

THE European Union is today the sick man of the world economy. The global economic outlook is more promising than thought a year ago. The world economy will grow at 4.5-5% in 2011. Emerging markets will grow at around 7%. The US is poised to grow at 3-3.5%. The EU will be stuck at 2% or less.

 

EU growth matters less to the rest of the world than its capacity to destabilise the world's financial system. Last year, the EU orchestrated a rescue of Greece and Ireland. What if Portugal, Spain, Italy and Belgium were to require rescue this year? Would the stronger economies of the EU, Germany and France, have the stomach to effect a bigger rescue if required? And if they didn't? These are questions that trouble the world's financial markets today. The rest of the world needs to worry less about exports to the EU than a disruption of financial flows as happened during the sub-prime crisis.

 

The EU is contemplating moves to reassure the markets. Support to the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), the bailout fund created to prevent the break-up of the euro, is to be improved. The EFSF was advertised as a €440 billion fund but not all of this is available for lending. ]

 

Lending capacity is said to be around €250 billion with the rest being held in cash to ensure that EU bonds get triple A status. The EU is inclined to top up lendable capacity itself to €440 bn. The quality of support is to be improved by buying bonds in the secondary market. This will help moderate interest rates for distressed economies.

 

These are useful steps. But they may not suffice if contagion spreads to some of the larger economies. The bailout extended to Ireland is already proving inadequate. Greece will miss the budget targets set for it under the bailout target. It's clear that the standard approach of providing a support package in exchange for austerity measures will not solve the problem of solvency in EU's distressed economies.

 

When faced with a debt problem, you can grow your way out of trouble or run a budget surplus or lower your debt burden through debt restructuring or default. High growth is not an option for EU's distressed economies. Running a budget surplus will require a decade or so of austerity on a scale that no electorate will tolerate. That leaves debt restructuring or default as the only realistic options. The first is an orderly resolution. The second is a messy one. Investors must choose.

 

It is not investors in sovereign debt alone who must accept losses. Today, banks hold substantial amounts of sovereign debt, thanks to huge recapitalisation by governments. As sovereign debt gets marked down, so will bank debt. Investors in bank debt too must accept losses. It is only when the costs of adjustment are shared by domestic taxpayers, investors and foreign taxpayers that the costs will be acceptable to electorates and the distressed economies have a reasonable chance of returning to solvency.

 

The alternative is a default. Sovereign default is not favoured because it is said to impose substantial costs: loss of access to financial markets, trade sanctions, political costs. But these costs can be exaggerated. As Reinhart and Rogoff have documented in their book, This time is different, many of today's developed economies have a long and undistinguished history of default on sovereign debt. But this did not come in the way of their transiting from emerging to developed economy status.

BETWEEN 1300 and 1799, England, France, Germany and Spain were among those who defaulted on external debt. England led the way with eight defaults. The champion defaulter in Europe in the 19th century was Spain with seven defaults. Russia and Germany too figure in the list as do several countries of Latin America. In the 20th century, eight countries in Europe defaulted. China has defaulted twice but that has not prevented it from becoming the second biggest economy in the world.

In recent years, Argentina's economic recovery since its tumultuous default of 2002 has been spectacular. As Joseph Stiglitz noted recently (ET, January 14), the Argentine economy grew at nearly 9% in 2003-2007. By 2009, national income was 75% above its pre-crisis peak.

 

The Economist has compared the records of Iceland and Ireland. Iceland let its banks fail and their creditors took huge losses. Its GDP fell by 15% from its highest point before it reached bottom. Ireland rescued its banks and saw its GDP fall by 14%. Iceland's growth in the last quarter was better than Ireland's. It is also not true that Iceland did better because it could let its currency depreciate. Its trade balance improved more due to a fall in imports than a spurt in exports.

 

Sovereign default carries substantial costs. But, as the examples cited above and the longer historical record show, the costs are not always higher than those entailed by continued servicing of debt. Debtors will choose the less costly option.

 

There is evidence to suggest that capital markets may be more forgiving than is supposed: access to financial markets often becomes available after just three years. Investors will demand a higher risk premium on defaulting countries. But Paul Krugman thinks the current yields on Greek and Irish bonds already price in the probability of default or restructuring.

 

Governments are terrified that restructuring proposals or a default announcement will cause an exodus of investors. This fear is entirely valid when only one economy is involved. Today, sovereign debt has soared across developed economies, including the US. Investors must deal with the possibility of losses in several economies.

Are investors ready to dump sovereign and bank debt as asset classes and move elsewhere? If yes, where will they go? They cannot get exposed to emerging markets or other asset classes beyond a point. Faced with collective action from the EU, investors will have to accept the benefits of orderly restructuring vis-à-vis serial defaults. To put it bluntly, the EU should call the investors' bluff.

 

 Whatever the resolution, the irony of the present situation should not be lost on us. Debt restructuring or default was supposed to be an emerging market problem. Today it has become an advanced economy problem. How the mighty have fallen!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

N EU RAL N ET

A SHRINKING OF WORLD VIEWS

M RAJSHEKHAR


IN CHOTI Munda And His Arrow, Mahasweta Devi tells the story of its eponymous hero, Choti Munda, legendary archer and tribal leader. In his long life, Munda saw colonial rule, lived through the early decades of independent India, and saw the Naxal unrest of the 1970s. All periods of massive change for tribal communities in India.

 

In the beginning, tribal societies were disturbed as non-tribals were moved in by the British administration to settle in their lands. The traditional relationship between the tribals and the forests was disrupted with the state asserting its right over the great jungles of the country. A series of uprisings followed — the Ulgulan — only to be stamped out by the British. With independence came development, with its debates on whether to mainstream the tribals, and attendant migration into tribal areas and a virtual assault on their habitation.

 

It's an epic story. As epic as Shrilal Shukla's sardonic (and prescient) description of how corruption was spreading across India in Raag Darbari, his novel about a village called Shivpalganj. Reading such narratives, one cannot help feeling that fiction has done a better job of describing India's tumultuous years since Independence than historians. In part because there are few good histories of this period. And in part because fiction, written sensitively, can communicate far better what those years were like and what it was like to live through these changes.

 

And that raises an important question. Why is it that we hardly see fiction about present-day rural India either written in English or translated into English? Seen any fiction recently about how the new lot of self-selecting government programmes are impacting rural India? Take NREGA. In Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, while the lot of the agricultural labour has improved after NREGA, small farmers are unable to afford labour now. Across the country, attracted by the avalanche of development monies being pushed by the Centre directly to the panchayats, the number of candidates vying to be sarpanches has skyrocketed. Some candidates are even selling their lands to raise money to buy votes.

 

Similarly, read any stories about environmental change in rural India? There is climate change, manifesting itself in erratic rainfall patterns across rural India. Or, for that matter, seen anything in your local bookshop about how villages are changing as our cities spill outwards — the rise in land values; the buzzing of real estate agents in and around villages looking for farmers willing to sell their land; and the younger rural generation, drawn by the gravitational pull of the cities, and only too aware that agriculture promises hard labour and uncertain gains, urging their parents to sell?

 

What is going on? According to a colleague, it is a question of centres and peripheries. Urban India, he says, is busy redefining its periphery. And, as the success of books like Maximum City and White Tiger shows, the periphery we are now interested in is the underbelly of our cities. Not the villages. The sole exception to this lot of books would have to be Kota Neelima's Death of a Moneylender. We see this in our films as well. The purely rural story, like Do Bigha Zameen or Mother India, has all but vanished. The few exceptions to that norm, like Shyam Benegal's Welcome To Sajjanpur or Well Done Abba, are also, ultimately, feel-good films about rural India. Even the excellent Peepli (Live) is an urban look at a rural problem. On the whole, the lumpen is the subject, not the subaltern or the proletarian.

 

 This is a serious loss. Again, take Mahasweta Devi. Not only have her books vividly captured slices of what historians would call subaltern history, they have also posited the truth against power. In Iint Ke Upar Iint, first published in 1984, she described the desperate lives of tribals working in brick kilns off Kolkata, with all the financial and sexual exploitation that involved. In Imaginary Maps, published in 1993, she wrote about bondage prostitution in Palamu district. This is fiction that describes the present, powerfully. Fiction that, like journalism, seeks to "monitor the centres of power". Sorely needed in this age where much journalism is fiction and subservient to power.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GU EST COLU M N

THE BEST INVESTMENTS FOR HUMANITY

BJØRN LOMBORG


ON THE eastern edge of Kolkata, Dulu Bibi, a 25-year-old mother of four, worries about the cost of treating her two sick boys. Her husband earns . 80-90 ($1.90) a day. The family's basic diet is low in the essential micronutrients that children need to thrive. Dulu's two sons, aged three and one, are weak and feverish, lack appetite, and cry a lot. "If I have to spend . 150-200 on medicine," she asks, "what will I eat and feed my children with?"

 

Dulu's story is heartbreaking — and heartbreakingly common — in the developing world: three billion people survive on diets that lack micronutrients like vitamin A and Zinc, and are at increased risk of illness from common infections like diarrheal disease, which kills nearly two million children annually. Micronutrient deficiency is known as "hidden hunger". This is a fitting description, because it is one of the global challenges that we hear relatively little about in the developed world. It draws scant media attention or celebrity firepower, which are often crucial to attracting charitable donations to a cause.

 

But there is a larger point here: billions of dollars are given and spent on aid and development by individuals and companies each year. Despite this generosity, we simply do not allocate enough resources to solve all of the world's biggest problems. In a world fraught with competing claims on human solidarity, we have a moral obligation to direct additional resources to where they can achieve the most good. And that is as true of our own small-scale charitable donations as it is of governments' or philanthropists' aid budgets.

 

In 2008, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which I direct, asked a group of the world's top economists to identify the "investments" that could best help the planet. The experts – including five Nobel Laureates – compared ways to spend $75 billion on more than 30 interventions aimed at reducing malnutrition, broadening educational opportunity, slowing global warming, cutting air pollution, preventing conflict, fighting disease, improving access to water and sanitation, lowering trade and immigration barriers, thwarting terrorism and promoting gender equality.

 

Guided by their consideration of each option's costs and benefits, and setting aside matters like media attention, the experts identified the best investments — those for which relatively tiny amounts of money could generate significant returns in terms of health, prosperity and community advantages. These included increased immunisation coverage, initiatives to reduce school dropout rates, community-based nutrition promotion, and micronutrient supplementation. This last initiative, which could do so much to help Dulu Bibi's family in Kolkata, is extraordinarily cheap. Providing Vitamin A for a year costs as little as $1.20 per child, while providing Zinc costs as little as $1.00.

 

By highlighting the areas in which even small investments can accomplish a great deal, the project influenced philanthropic organisations and governments. This month, the Copenhagen Consensus Center releases the Guide to Giving (www.copenhagenconsensus.com) so that those of us without a government treasury or charitable foundation at our disposal can also consider how to use the experts' lessons.

 

Often we hear catchphrases like "without an education there is no future" or "without water one cannot survive", as if it is obvious that we should focus first on one or the other. But many people go without proper education and access to clean drinking water. The difficult task that the expert panel undertook was to look at the extra good that an additional donation — even as little as $10 — could achieve with respect to many good causes.
By putting all benefits to individuals, communities, and countries in monetary terms, we can compare the two options. Expert researchers for the Copenhagen Consensus found that carbon offsets are a relatively ineffective way of reining in global warming and reducing its effects — $10 would avoid about $3 of damage from climate change. By contrast, $10 spent on Vitamin A supplements would achieve more than $170 of benefits in health and long-term prosperity.

 

One lesson we can draw is that while global warming may exacerbate problems like malnutrition, communities bolstered by adequate nutrition will generally be less vulnerable to climate-based threats. Overall, we can typically best help through direct interventions, including micronutrient supplements, fortification, biofortification, and nutritional promotion.

 

There are billions of stories like Dulu Bibi's and billions of other stories that demand our attention. By embracing simple lessons from economics, all of us — individuals, governments, and philanthropies —can ensure that our generosity yields the greatest benefit possible.

 

(The author is head of the CopenhagenConsensus Center)

 ©Project Syndicate, 2011

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

HAIL THE GANAYOGI

VITHAL C NADKARNI


MUSICIAN Shushila Rani Patel says when she went to Mauritius years ago to perform she was overwhelmed by the number of encores she got for a Meera bhajan made famous by late Pandit D V Paluskar. "For seven consecutive days, wherever I sang, people used to keep asking for Panditji's Payoji Maine Ram-ratan-dhan payo," she recalls in Ganayogi, a recent biopic made on the late Gwalior Gharana maestro. That prompted the wife of the pioneering film journalist Baburao Patel to introspect on the secret of Paluskar's popularity. Was it was due to his bhakti or his towering talent?

 

 Was it due his heart or was it the head (dil ya dimakh)? She wondered. Generations of seekers had tackled that question with varying degrees of success. Consider the spin provided by Sharangadeva, the Kashmiri musicologist who was a jewel at the glittering court of Singhana, the Yadava king who ruled Maharashtra from Devagiri. Sharangdeva's magnum opus, Sangeet Ratnakara, describes how sound or nada arises in the human body and how it manifests in three places or sthanas of the human anatomy.

 

Like Aristotle who believed that the heart was the seat of human emotions, the Kashmiri savant held that nada rose in the region of the heart or (hrd) as the lowest octave or mandra saptak. As it arises in the upper hierarchy of subtle chakras, inner sound in the throat or kantha gives rise to the madhya or middle octave only to culminate in the tara or higher octave in the murdha region of the head.

 

]Sharangadeva starts his treatise by bowing to nada as the cosmic world spirit (vivruttam jagad-atmakam)
which resides in all beings (chaitanyam sarva bhutanam).

 

By happy stroke of serendipity, Paluskar had used that very verse of
Sangeet Ratnakara to begin his phenomenally popular bhajan, Raghupati Raghava Rajaram. "Mahtama Gandhi used to love this song," says noted Marathi writer-director Anjali Kirtane, who shot Paluskar's biopic after doing intensive research all over India for five years. "It sounds so simple; and yet, in the hands of the master, it is so profoundly subtle that it's almost impossible to imitate, and very easy to mangle!"
    That element might also account for what has been described as spiritual or auratic dimensions of great music. Years of riyaz or practice are equal to tapsyaor sadhana. That puts the halo of a saint on to an accomplished performer. Hail the Ganayogi!

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

BIG RETAIL, NO PANACEA TO FOOD INFLATION WOES

HARISH DAMODARAN

Every crisis begets magic bullet solutions proffered by assorted gurus, economists included. The latest one concerns food inflation, where there is understandable indignation over the presence of too many intermediaries between the field and the fork. Such an extended value chain benefits neither the consumers (who pay through their nose) nor the farmers (who hardly gain even when retail prices go up).

The obvious remedy to this lies in 'compressing' the value chain. But how? This is where the consensus expert view is veering around to giving greater play to organised retail, including allowing 100 per cent foreign direct investment. It is believed that enabling big retail chains to buy directly from farmers and bypass the mandis would bring about the desired compression.

The case for organised retail could not, in fact, be stronger today, given the demonstrably poor conduct of the commission agents at Lasalgaon or Delhi's Azadpur mandi during the recent onion saga.

What the above argument misses, though, is an alternative possibility: Big Retail may well eliminate middlemen, thereby helping consolidate a fragmented post-harvest value chain. But would consolidation inevitably lead to compression — meaning a narrowing down of the gap between farmgate and retail food prices?

What growers reap

The evidence at least from the US — home to the likes of Walmart, Kroger, Supervalu and Safeway — suggests otherwise.

The chart shows how much of what American consumers spend on domestically-produced food actually accrues to farmers. In 1950, US farmers received over 40 cents for every food dollar spent at supermarkets. Today, that is down to about 19 cents.

Take milk. Currently, fresh whole milk is retailing at around $3.3 a gallon (Rs 40/litre). The farmer's share in this is just $1.45 (Rs 17.5/litre) or below 45 per cent. It is the same in eggs, where only $1.1 of the $2.7 store price for a dozen reaches the poultry grower. The ratios are lower at 31-32 per cent for meat products, 17-18 per cent for fresh fruits and vegetables, and 7-8 per cent on cereals and bakery items.

How does one explain the declining farm value shares despite the advent of Big Retail? One reason could be the very replacement of the earlier layers of intermediaries by a single Walmart or Safeway. This, probably, may have ended up conferring greater pricing power to these chains vis-à-vis farmers as well as consumers. The result: Consolidation sans compression.

But it is also a fact that modern retail, by itself, imposes an array of additional costs as the raw produce moves from the farmgate to the retail point. These include not just expenses incurred in handling, grading, cleaning, processing, packaging and transport of the product at each stage, but also its financing, insurance, warehousing, refrigeration, marketing, brand promotion, labelling and shelf display. Either way, the evidence points to a widening, not compression, of farm-to-retail price spreads.

Spreading it better

The spreads, if anything, are less in India in respect of many farm commodities. Dairy farmers of Amul get roughly Rs 26 on a litre of full-cream milk retailing at Rs 34 in Delhi and Rs 32 in Ahmedabad. Similarly, on the Rs 35 we pay for a kg of sugar, the cane grower in Uttar Pradesh realises nearly Rs 22.

Even on rice, bread or edible oils, the farm value shares would easily exceed 50 per cent. It is largely in fruits, vegetables and pulses that both growers and consumers get a poor deal.

How much of difference would the entry of Big Retail, then, make? To start with, they are unlikely to dispense with intermediaries, given the fragmented holdings and sheer number of farms in India – 130 million, as against 2.2 million in the US. The dependence on primary or even secondary-level produce aggregators will, hence, continue. Even if some rationalisation of the sourcing chain happens, it may not work to the farmers' advantage, as they would now be confronting more consolidated buyer pressure.

Compression from below

Instead of trying to compress the value chain from Big Retail downwards, a better way to do it, perhaps, is to start from 'below' — from the farmers upwards.

This is precisely what the National Dairy Development Board attempted during the 1990s, when it set up 300-odd 'Safal' retail outlets all over Delhi to market fruits and vegetables directly sourced from growers' associations a la Amul. But the project has failed to meet initial expectations: Of the 300 tonnes sold daily through its outlets, more than half is procured from the mandis, and only the rest comes from farmers.

The Safal venture has also been flawed in its emphasis on investing in large marketing and handling infrastructure in Delhi and Bangalore — rather than putting up more purchase centres, pack-houses and pre-cooling facilities close to where the produce is grown.

The resulting imbalance has led to its Rs 150-crore, state-of-the-art auction market in Bangalore running at barely 15-20 per cent capacity. The Safal National Exchange, billed as the first-ever electronic spot market for perishable commodities, was forced to even shut down two years ago.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

TWENTY TESTED TAKEAWAYS


Tired of things not working? Try ' What Works: Success in stressful times' by Hamish McRae ( Harper), which discusses twenty examples of 'the world's best organisations and communities' ranging from university to slum.

Take, for instance, the story about 'The Hong Kong Jockey Club' which provides 6.5 per cent of the revenues for the government, and is also the largest giver to charity in Hong Kong.

Gambling is also big business in other parts of the world such as Monaco, the author notes. But Monaco is tiny, a population of 32,000; and Las Vegas runs on gambling, but it is one medium-sized city in a giant country, he distinguishes. "In Hong Kong the sector may be a small proportion of the whole economy, but it is a big contributor to the development of infrastructure."

A gambling monopoly only brings in the revenue if it is well-run and can manage, in the absence of competitive pressures, to maintain quality of service, adapt to changing market preferences and not take its privileged position for granted, reminds McRae. He adds that the Jockey Club has been doing that since 1884, though racing at one of its two courses, Happy Valley, goes right back to 1846 when the British took over some swamp to create a venue for the sport.

Relevance of public sector

"Racing in Hong Kong is calm because it is a monopoly. All betting is on the tote. There are no bookies; no one making the odds; everything is electronic. All off-course betting is run by the Jockey Club, as is any sort of gambling in the city-state." One also learns that no other gambling is allowed – no casinos, no machines – because Hong Kong seeks to minimise social problems by limiting the number of both places and activities where its citizens can chance their arm.

Though it may seem anachronistic for the state to run gambling as a monopoly, it does work, the author observes. Cautioning that if gambling were run by the private sector, there would be excess, probably more corruption, and may be more human misery, he mentions the contrasting case of neighbouring Macau, where gambling has been franchised out to private companies and accounts for 40 per cent of the former colony's GDP.

Role of crime syndicates

A chapter on 'public safety in Tokyo' informs that much of the commercial activity of the city is in some loose way associated with yakuza, the members of the traditional organised crime syndicates in Japan. "One example is that large companies have sometimes to pay the crime syndicates to avoid having their shareholder meetings disrupted, though that has recently been made illegal and such disruption has declined. Another is the protection money paid by small businesses to local yakuza groups. Still another is the occasional exposure of politicians who receive illegal funding."

While you may frown at these activities, what should be interesting to read is that the yakuza are accepted as a part of society, and that the overall crime is low because some of the 'policing' is done by the gangs. "Japan regards criminal behaviour almost as something to be cured, rather than simply putting the perpetrators in jail to keep them out of mischief." The more important part of the chapter is about Koban system of small community police boxes, often just an office set in a wall, but staffed round the clock by three or four officers working in shifts. Recommended refreshing read.

D. MURALI

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

GREENER DEVELOPMENT

STANDARDISING ENVIRONMENT CLEARANCES AT THE PRE-BID STAGE WOULD MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE TO A NATION EAGER TO GET DEVELOPMENT UP AND RUNNING.

It is indeed a sad reflection on policymaking that having opened up the economy to, and actively pursued, private capital for core-sector development for two decades now, confusion on the most important procedural clearances should continue to dog investors. Open any financial daily, and the number of big-ticket projects stalled on the ground after much fanfare, only seems to increase. Whether they are indefinitely delayed, as in the case of the POSCO or Arcelor-Mittal steel plants, or simply rejected — as with the Vedanta Resources bauxite mining project, what they point to is a gaping hole in the edifice of the sanctioning process and a knee-jerk reaction to the possible adverse consequences of a project already in varying stages of execution. For a nation eager to both protect the environment and get development up and running, this is poor management indeed.

Now the latest to join the band of projects being stopped midstream is the township near Pune that has been repeatedly advertised as a symbol of the new urban landscape built on environment-friendly principles. The Environment Ministry is not impressed and, for some time now, the indefatigable Mr Jairam Ramesh has been pursuing the promoters for several environmental lapses, in the bargain throwing up another issue that emerges from the promoters' legal response to the Union Environment Ministry: the "jurisdiction" over environment clearances between the State and Union Governments: the Lavasa promoters claim to have obtained State environment clearance in 2004. In effect, the environment tangles that ensue on account of land acquisition tensions when companies such as Vedanta Resources are eager to exploit natural resources or a POSCO or an Arcelor Mittal want to build steel plants, now acquire a new and more complicated dimension with Lavasa; the distribution of authority for environmental clearances between the Union and State governments. Right now, none of these issues has a clarity that can lead to an optimum scenario for environment protection and development. Mr Jairam Ramesh informed the CII recently that his Ministry is rustling up "solution-oriented" policies, and the sooner the better. He is also favourably inclined to a CII suggestion of pre-bid clearances for natural resource-based projects. Clearances before the bidding process can save companies a lot of heartburn and, of course, protect their investments more efficiently than "pre-investment" guarantees in bilateral treaties can hope to.

Standardising environment clearances at an early, pre-bid stage and setting down a set of transparent regulations that are not amenable to arbitrary interpretations by any tier of government would go a long way in turning pious hopes in the air-conditioned ambience of conference rooms into profitable investments on the ground.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

NEEDED, BLOODHOUNDS

SECTION 45 OF THE INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT NEEDS TO BE AMENDED TO ENABLE LEGISLATION THAT SPECIFIES CRITERIA, PRINCIPLES OR GUIDELINES IN CLEAR TERMS IN REGARD TO ADMISSIBILITY OF SCIENTIFIC TESTIMONY AND EXPERT'S OPINION IN INDIAN COURTS.

K.P. SASHIDHARAN

In ancient India, Kautilya demystified fraud, decoding its DNA by explaining forty ways of embezzlements. In the world of crimes, Sherlock Holmes walked in as the most competent first bloodhound forensic expert.

Unlike the conventional financial auditor, the forensic auditor is not expected to be a simple watchdog of bookkeeping; instead, he must be a rigorously trained, no-nonsense branded bloodhound.

He must be sceptical, not influenced by any preconceived notions; open wide his eyes, ears and nose, sniffing out for something fishy with his well-developed financial sixth sense.

He cannot be a typical accountant, gets captivated by the beauty of the arithmetically tallying finesse of the accounting entries; instead he must profess looking beyond the numbers for red flags, striving hard to hound for conclusive evidences to unearth frauds.

Forensic accountant

Forensic Accountant combines expertise in accounting, auditing, investigation, computer skills, familiarity in using computer-aided techniques, internal and external controls, risk assessment, business practices, and law enforcing system to investigate white-collar crimes.

He is an investigative auditor, specialised in adducing expert evidence suitable for use in a court of law for settlement of disputes by litigation.

Many of them need to work in close collaboration with law enforcement personnel and lawyers during investigations and appear before the court as expert witnesses during trials.

Some of them specialise in insurance claims, personal injury claims, fraud, construction or royalty audits, marital disputes and even tracking terrorism and links to money laundering. They help answering the how, where, what, why and who of a fraud, applying modern computer-aided technological methodologies to establish anomalies leading to economic offences, in a court of law.

DECODING THE DNA OF FRAUDS

In the wake of corporate governance failures and fraudulent financial deals eroding public trust, credibility of the system and investor confidence, forensic accounting has emerged as a sunrise area of accountancy discipline.

Demand for forensic accountants and auditors has been increasing internationally since the the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, followed by innumerable scams, bankruptcies and global meltdown.

In India also, there has been a plethora of stock market scams, economic crimes, money laundering, banking scandals, failure of non-banking financial companies and the phenomenon of vanishing companies and plantation companies, cyber frauds, BPO frauds and varied kinds of corruption.

However, the conviction rate in economic offences is very low due to ineffective law enforcement, primarily caused by weak litigation support in prosecution process. In the absence of accounting expertise, prosecutors often fail to provide strong evidence to put the fraudsters behind the bars. Need for experts, competent to handle timely, proper investigation of complex financial manipulations and unearth the modus operandi and thereby help prosecute fraudsters, has been multiplying.

The objectives are crystal-clear detection, effective investigation and follow-up, prevention and deterrence of frauds and white-collar crimes. The Government of India has therefore established the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.

Special audit

Sections 235 and 237of the Companies Act, 1956 empower the Central government to direct special audit to investigate the affairs of a company and to launch prosecution for violation of the provisions

The books of accounts and other documents can be inspected by the officers of the Directorate of Inspection and the Registrars of Companies. Section 424(5) of the Act empowers the National Company Law Tribunal to examine whether the company is a sick industrial unit.

SEBI Act, 1992 enables the government to control unfair trading activities of the wheeler-dealers in volatile stock markets.

Regulation 11 C of the SEBI Act, 1992 empowers it to direct any person to investigate the affairs of the intermediaries or brokers associated with illegal transactions in securities market. The Insurance Act, 1938 vide Section 33 empowers IRDA to direct to investigate the affairs of any insurer.

Section 3 of the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002 defines the offence of money laundering as involvement of a person in any process or activity connected with the proceeds of crime and projecting it as untainted property. The Companies (Auditor's Report) Order, 2003 requires the auditor to report to the effect that if a substantial part of fixed assets have been disposed off during the year, whether it has affected the going concern status.

Accounting Standard 24 (Discontinuing Operations) and Auditing and Assurance Standard 16 (Going Concern) require the auditor to report fraud. Engagement of Forensic Accountants in investigation of frauds may not only facilitate prompt settlement of the cases to its logical end, but also help curbincreasing incidence of white-collar crimes.

At present, there is no specific legislation specifying criteria, principles or guidelines in clear terms in regard to admissibility of scientific testimony and expert's opinion in Indian courts.

This may require appropriate amendment to Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act.

(The author is Director-General, CAG Office)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

REALIGNING TIES IN GULF REGION

INDIA SHOULD STEER CLEAR OF THE SHIA-SUNNI DIVIDE. IT MUST PRIORITISE ITS NATIONAL INTEREST OVER US CONSIDERATIONS IN THE CASE OF IRAN, EVEN AS IT ADVANCES TIES WITH SAUDI ARABIA, OMAN, THE UAE AND QATAR.

G. PARTHASARATHY

Over the past two decades, India has crafted a "Look East" policy. This has resulted in growing economic integration with its economically dynamic eastern neighbourhood. Sadly, our horizons as we look westward, appear to end with our "Afpak" neighbourhood, with little effort at pro-active diplomacy in the oil-rich Gulf region.

This is despite the fact that the region accounts for over 70 per cent of our oil imports, and over four million Indians reside and work there. With our trade deficit growing rapidly, our balance of payments is crucially dependent on the remittances we receive from overseas Indians.

DEALING WITH IRAN

Our Persian Gulf neighbourhood contains two thirds of the world's proven petroleum reserves and 35 per cent of the world's gas reserves. Moreover, as energy demands increase worldwide, it is these countries alone, with 90 per cent of the world's excess production capacity, which can meet the growing demand of rapidly emerging economies like China and India.

Our major suppliers of oil from the Gulf are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait the UAE and Yemen. Iran provides 17 per cent of our oil imports, with some key refineries dependent on Iranian crude. Moreover, Iran remains our transit point for trade with Central Asia and through the Caspian, with Russia. With Pakistan denying us transit to Afghanistan, we have cooperated with Iran for reducing Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan, through the development of infrastructure for the Chah Bahar port. Iran, which shares our misgivings about the Taliban, also provides political, diplomatic and material backing to forces in Afghanistan. However, unlike its Arab neighbours, Iran has been unreliable in fulfilling signed contractual commitments with India on supplies of LNG.

The Persian Gulf remains the crucible for ancient civilisational and sectarian Shia-Sunni rivalries between the Persians and the Arabs. Iran has consistently stirred up Shia minorities in Yemen and Kuwait and the Shia majority in Sunni majority Bahrain. This rivalry is also being played out in Iraq, where the Shia majority has accused its Sunni Arab neighbours of backing extremist Sunni groups.

Paradoxically, after endeavouring to follow a policy of "dual containment" of both Iran and Iraq for over a decade, the Americans are now finding that their ill-advised invasion of Iraq has only brought Iran and Iraq closer together.

RELATIONS WITH ARAB WORLD

India's relations with Arab Gulf States have shown a distinct improvement after the visit of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in January 2006 and of Dr Manmohan Singh to Riyadh in February-March 2010. India has received Saudi assurances of meeting of its growing requirements for oil.

The desert Kingdom and home to Islam's holiest shrines appears to recognise the need to reach out to countries like India and China, even as it maintains its strong security ties with the US. Moreover, our relations with Oman, the UAE and Qatar have expanded significantly, with Qatar emerging as an important supplier of LNG.

We, however, seem to have run out of ideas in fashioning a new relationship with Shia-dominated Iraq, even as China seals lucrative deals for oil exploration in a country that has the greatest unutilised capacity to boost global oil production. Our efforts to train Iraqi professionals on petroleum related matters could, however, serve us well in the long run.

AFFINITY TO the US

While our partnership with the US has helped in developing our relations with the Arab Gulf countries, we have given an impression of behaving like an American client-state in dealing with Iran.

This was evident in the unseemly and hasty manner in which we cancelled our partnership with Iran in the Asian Clearing Union an arrangement advocated and supported by the United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific since 1974. This action seriously disrupted payments for oil supplies at a time when even American allies like Japan have ensured the continuity of their oil imports from that country.

One sincerely hopes that the lure of World Bank and IMF patronage is not unduly affecting such decisions. Moreover, if we have reservations about the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline because of legitimate doubts about the security of energy supplies through the volatile and violent Baluchistan province of Pakistan, why are we hastily joining the proposed a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline? Is Taliban infested Afghanistan a haven for peace and stability? Or is it out of deference to the diktats of others?

BALANCED APPROACH

Our ties with Iran should be based on hard-headed assessment of national interest and Iranian reliability on issues of energy supplies, and not on sentimentalism. With Israel and the US agreeing that Iran won't be able to build a nuclear weapon till 2015, there is now opportunity for us to work with others in the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council to craft innovative measures to deal with the Iranian nuclear impasse.

Similarly, while our principled support for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians should continue, our relations with Gulf Arab countries should not inhibit our ties with Israel. These relations should be determined and fashioned by larger geopolitical realities.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

DISSECTING A COMPLEX DEAL

WE BELIEVE THAT IN A 3-5-YEAR PERIOD, THIS ACQUISITION IS STRATEGIC, AS IT WILL CREATE VALUE FOR SHAREHOLDERS WE WILL BE CASH-ACCRETIVE BY 2012. - SUJIT SIRCAR, CFO, IGATE



With Japanese companies looking to expand their footprint in Indian IT (information technology), there may be interesting times ahead for the industry in terms of M&A, foresees Mr Sujit Sircar, CFO, iGATE (http://bit.ly/F4TSujitSircar).

Shortly after the company announced the Patni deal – valued at more than $1.2 billion and to be financed through a combination of cash, debt and equity – Mr Sircar interacted with Business Line over the e-mail, and expressed his anticipation of a lot more deals in the IT sphere, going forward, as a trend of consolidation in the IT industry.

"Prior to this deal, iGATE had been scouting for acquisitions for sometime now. During this process, we came across a number of companies that were interested in striking M&A deals. I believe it is only a matter of time before you find a lot more happening in this space."

Excerpts from the interview.

First, give us an overview of the complexity of the deal from a financing point of view and why it had to be so.

This is possibly the most complex deal in the Indian IT industry not just from the fact that a smaller company is taking over a company that is two-and-a-half times its size but also from the financial structuring as well as the funding of the deal.

As part of the funding exercise, this acquisition involves cash, equity, debt, and convertible loan.

The size of the deal was itself a big challenge. Almost one-third of the deal is subject to open offer to the public shareholders of Patni. It also rested on the non-promoters'/PE firms' bet on the future of the company and their belief in the management that would take forward this company into its next phase of growth. The amount of $300 million is more than the current revenues of iGATE.

We had to ensure that we size our debt and equity commitment according to this varied need for funds.

In the order of priority, we chose our sources and quantum of fund based on its cost — debt to begin with, and then preferred equity. The structure of the debt is further subdivided from bridge financing to bond placement.

Can you describe in detail how you dealt with two or three challenges in funding the deal?

One of the first challenges in terms of funding the acquisition of India-headquartered Patni was the location where the funds were to be raised. In India, banks cannot disburse funds to companies where the purpose is to finance an acquisition. Given that scenario, iGATE had to necessarily tap the offshore market for fund raising.

In a cross-border transaction, transfer of funds becomes a costly affair especially when it involves repayment of debt.

Typically, in such a scenario, there is loss of money on account of dividend distribution tax. Also, the receiving entity would have to pay tax on receipt of income.

The second important challenge was the general perception that IT companies are debt-free and the related challenges of having debt in the balance sheet. So, funding the deal via debt with a 3-3.5 EBIDTA multiple was a mental block to start with.

While the debt of $700 million does seem large, given that the combined entity has a cash in balance sheet of $350 million (after utilising $100 million from iGATE's cash for this transaction), and an EBIDTA of $220 million, we are confident that the challenge on the debt front can be tackled, and is not as monstrous as it is made out to be.

And, the structure of the deal itself was a big challenge. It was important for us to balance it on a tight rope between the cost of funding and the ability to service the debt over the period of the repayment.

As the CFO, what key metrics will you be seeking to achieve post-deal, in the near to mid-term?

While structuring the deal and bringing the deal to a finite closure was an important first phase of the acquisition, equally important from a CFO's perspective is this second phase which is the post-deal scenario. This phase involves strategising the financial integration between the two companies.Given the size of the debt and the importance of its repayment, one of the key metrics that I will be focused on is the cash flow.

Another key metric to track would be the cost synergies between the two companies.

Yet another focus area that will be of importance is the stability and health of the global customers as that will have a direct impact on the cash flows that I referred to above. Employee engagement in both the companies is another key metric, as high attrition could lead to increased costs on the people front.

The last but not the least is a transparent communication programme with the investor community and to educate them on the integration as well as our growth strategy.

While in the short-term, given the size of the debt, there are concerns for investors, we do believe that in a 3-5 year period, this acquisition is strategic, as it will create value for shareholders. The fact that we will be cash-accretive by 2012 is itself a positive sign that this deal will create that value for them.

Would you like to specify the different things that one should keep an eye on when looking at financing a big-ticket acquisition?

Working out a steady cash flow has to be an essential part of any big-ticket acquisition. Irrespective of the structure of the deal, there has to be a clear strategy and a reasonable certainty on the future cash flows. This assumes even more of an importance if there is a debt component to the deal.

Having said that, given the possible uncertainty in any business because of external factors and those beyond the control of the company, it would be good to have an alternative line of credit to ensure that there is no default While working out the structure of the deal, it would also be judicious to look at the cost of funding on an 'after tax' basis.

Given the nature of M&A transactions, there is always the possibility of negative surprises. It would be important for the M&A strategy team to ensure that covenants in the agreement do not choke the future business operations of the company.

While working out the structure of the deal, it would also be judicious to look at the cost of funding on an 'after tax' basis. Given the nature of M&A transactions, there is always the possibility of negative surprises. It would be important for the M&A strategy team to ensure that covenants in the agreement do not choke the future business operations of the company.

The accounting integration is quite complex and interesting for me as the CFO, especially with the new IFRS reporting framework and the change management associated with it. This starts right from the person entering the data to the investor community that is so used to seeing the data in a particular way.

Putting two companies under one system for control, having a unified accounting policy and a unified reporting calendar and reporting under various GAAPs are some of the challenges on the accounting front that we will have to work towards.

D. MURALI

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SEARCHING FOR GOD, BUT TELEVISION WILL DO

BY UMBERTO ECO

There was a time when those who felt abandoned by the rest of humanity took consolation in the fact that the Almighty, if no one else, witnessed their tribulations every day. Today that same divine function can apparently be served by going on TV.

I recently discussed this phenomenon over lunch in Madrid with my king. Although I have always been proud of my republican principles, three years ago I was dubbed a duke of the Kingdom of Redonda. I share this ducal honour with the filmmakers Pedro Almodovar and Francis Ford Coppola, and the writers A.S. Byatt, Arturo Perez-Reverte, Fernando Savater, Pietro Citati, Claudio Magris and Ray Bradbury, among others — all of us united by the common quality of being liked by the king.

The island of Redonda, which occupies less than one square mile of the West Indies, is wholly uninhabited, and I believe that none of its monarchs has ever set foot on it. It was purchased in 1865 by a banker named Matthew Dowdy Shiell. As one version of the story goes, Shiell asked Queen Victoria to establish Redonda as an independent kingdom, something Her Gracious Majesty did without hesitation because it seemed to pose no threat to the British Empire. Over time the island fell under the control of various monarchs, some of whom sold the title several times, causing tussles among swarms of pretenders. In 1997 the last king abdicated in favor of the famous Spanish writer Javier Marias, who began to nominate dukes and duchesses right and left.

That's pretty much the whole story. It smacks of some pataphysical folly — that is, beyond even the metaphysical — but, after all, it's not every day that you become a duke. The point, however, is that in the course of our conversation over lunch, Marias said something that stayed with me. We were talking about the obvious fact that today people are willing to do anything to get on TV, even if it's just to wave to their mothers from behind the person actually being interviewed.

Recently in Italy, after earning a brief mention in the press, the brother of a girl who had been barbarously murdered went to a well-known talent agent to try to arrange a television appearance — presumably with a view to exploiting his tragic fame. There are others who, provided they can bask in the limelight for a little while, are prepared to admit to being cuckolds or con men. And, as criminal psychologists know, many serial killers are motivated by their desire to be unmasked and become famous.

Why this madness, Marias and I wondered? He suggested that what is happening today is the result of the fact that people no longer believe in God. At one time, men and women were convinced that their every act had at least one divine spectator, who knew all about their deeds (and thoughts), who could understand them and, if need be, punish them. You could be an outcast, a good-for-nothing, a nobody ignored by his fellows, a person who would be forgotten the moment he died, but you were still convinced that at least someone was paying attention.

"God only knows what I have suffered", the grandmother would say, sick and abandoned by her grandchildren. "God knows I am innocent" was the consolation for those condemned unjustly. "God knows how much I have done for you", mothers would say to their ungrateful sons. "God knows how much I love you", abandoned lovers would cry. "God only knows what I have gone through", wailed the poor wretch whose misadventures mattered to no one. God was always invoked as the omniscient eye that nothing and no one could elude, whose gaze bestowed meaning on even the dullest and most pointless life.

Now, if this all-seeing witness has vanished, what is left? The eye of society, of our peers, to whom we must show ourselves in order to avoid plunging into the black hole of anonymity, the maelstrom of oblivion — even if it means playing the village idiot, stripping down to one's underwear and dancing on a table down at the local bar. Appearing onscreen has become a surrogate for transcendence, and, all things considered, it is a gratifying one. We see ourselves — and we are seen by others — in this televised hereafter, where we can simultaneously enjoy all the advantages of immortality and have the chance to be celebrated on Earth for our accession to the empyrean.

The trouble is that, in these cases, people misunderstand the dual meaning of the word "recognition". All of us aspire to be "recognised" for our merits, or our sacrifices, or any other fine quality we may have. But when, after we have appeared on-screen, someone sees us down at the bar and says, "I saw you on television last night", he only "recognises" you in the sense that he recognises your face — which is something very different.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR MORALITY

BY BHARAT KARNAD

India has an unbeatable record. There is no arms control bandwagon it has not jumped on to with reckless alacrity. Indian political leaders and diplomats are no lotus eaters or yokels easily conned into disarming the nation even as powerful countries bristle with newer, more lethal, armaments. But confront them with agreements promising deliverance from the hyped-up dangers of an armed world and they act as if their brains are "on hold", unable to resist the chance supposedly to burnish India's reputation as a "responsible" state even if this imperils national security.

Jawaharlal Nehru, who outlined the contours of Indian foreign policy, was a master at using morality to extract foreign policy benefits. A statesman in the classical mould, he was motivated by realpolitik — a seminal fact missed by most in the ruling Congress Party. When he had India in the vanguard of the campaign for "general and complete" disarmament in the 1950s, he did so knowing that precisely because this goal was beyond reach it would fetch India otherwise unobtainable dividends. And it did — shoving the superpowers, Soviet Russia and the United States, on the defensive, making an end-run round the 1947 Baruch Plan forwarded by Washington aimed at international control of all nuclear-related ores and natural resources everywhere, providing political cover for the dual-purpose Indian nuclear energy programme whose weapons thrust Nehru was secretly nursing to maturity, and benefiting from security as a free good offered by an America driven by ideology more than common sense. Together with its leadership of the goodwill-generating anti-colonialism and anti-racism movements in the United Nations, India enhanced its standing and ability to box above its weight class. These were no mean benefits at a time when India, a rag-tag nation, had little to bank on except its pretensions.

With less gifted leaders at the helm, however, the larger strategic calculations were lost sight of as policymaking steadily veered towards self-validating postures and a Pavlovian response of energetic me-tooism to every self-serving arms control initiative by the great powers.

It is another matter that, in each case, wisdom dawned late and on further consideration India retreated to less exposed but still vulnerable positions that the big powers exploited to push this country into a corner. It happened in the negotiations over the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and lately the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). For instance, the FMCT negotiations in the UN Committee on Disarmament are being stalled by Pakistan's obstructive tactics. Instead of quietly encouraging this — as any delays afford India the time to augment its fissile material stockpile — the Manmohan Singh government has chosen to join the West in dumping on Islamabad. The inane Indian enthusiasm for arms control-qua-disarmament measures means that expectations are raised all round and pressures on Delhi to fall in line in any related negotiations increase to a point where failing to do so costs the country plenty.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) India signed with undue haste in 1992 and ratified four years later, reflects the sort of problems the Indian government creates for the country by not thinking through its policy choices. In 2009 India declared that its entire holding of chemical weapons had been destroyed, joining Albania and South Korea as the only three countries in the world verifiably to reach the zero-weapons level. Indeed, the National Authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention, working out of the Cabinet Secretariat, has so diligently monitored adherence to CWC provisions, it secured the ISO 9001 certification in 2008. But Delhi's expectation that as a first and "fast mover" India would be rewarded with the top posts in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquartered at the Hague and thereby control the secretariat, the sensitive information flows, etc., was belied when India was out-manoeuvred and the Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations in Geneva, Ahmet Uzumcu, installed by "consensus" as director-general, OPCW.

But the downside is more substantive because without ready chemical weapons at hand India may find itself in a real pickle. The Indian nuclear doctrine threatens nuclear retaliation, other than after a nuclear hit, in case of chemical and biological weapons attack. The trouble is that countering the use of chemical (or biological) weapons with an atom bomb goes against the fundamental logic of proportionate response and would be a difficult political decision to make in the face of concerted international opposition. Moreover, given how seriously the Indian government sticks as much by the spirit as the letter of arms control laws, it is reasonable to assume there is no cache of chemical weapons stashed away somewhere for just such contingencies.

What exists is a "defensive" capability permitted by CWC. But, however quickly these so-called defensive warfare resources and in situ weapons capability can be marshalled to produce chemical devices for offensive use, there will still be a lag time during which two things can happen. Emboldened by the Indian non-reaction to its initial provocation, the adversary state could follow up with a series of new attacks. Or, it could utilise this time to firm up international pressure even against a retributive Indian counter-attack. With the Indian government's proven tendency to fold at the first hint of pressure, it is very likely that a chemical (or biological) weapons strike will, in fact, go unanswered. So much for CWC ensuring protection.

Despite repeatedly burning its fingers, India habitually accords undue importance to arms control agreements. Great powers know better. As Convention signatories the United States and Russia have taken their time to eliminate their chemical weapons inventories. Obliged to finish the job by 2012, they are still adrift of that goal.

- Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WILL PM'S SHUFFLE MEAN BETTER GOVT?

It is hard to see how many will be impressed with the changes brought about in the Union council of ministers on Wednesday. While there might be in this round of chopping and changing by the Prime Minister some immediate justification for a few changes, it is not quite clear if the new look gives the government an image makeover, or infuses agents of efficiency into the system. Removing Mr M.S. Gill from the sports ministry was warranted after the fiasco that attended the preparations for the Commonwealth Games. Mr Gill has lost his portfolio for being inept, not corrupt. Retaining him in the government is, therefore, likely to be with an eye to an important constituency in Punjab, one which has generally tilted in favour of Congress' opponents. In the same category as Mr Gill's departure from sports is the divesting of the food portfolio from the NCP supremo and agriculture minister, Mr Sharad Pawar. Mr Pawar appears to have surrendered before the inflation in food prices, and is constantly seeking to remind us that prices are not his domain. Other than the cases of Mr Gill and Mr Pawar, which resound with justification, it is hard to say if changing the portfolios of other ministers has brought in incumbents that might be noticeably better.

As Cabinet reshuffles go, the present round appears to be fairly comprehensive, although in the main the exercise is confined to Congress ministers. Only the NCP among the Congress allies has been affected and changes made in respect to it cannot be deemed controversial. Mr Pawar himself wanted to be rid of the food charge. Mr Praful Patel, who has been elevated to Cabinet level and given charge of heavy industries and public enterprises, had also once hinted he had done what he could with civil aviation and was looking for fresh challenges. There have been suggestions that Wednesday's changes are more likely interim in nature and a more thorough overhaul might be attempted after the Budget Session. This appears not to be the case, however. The rejigging of portfolios appears fairly extensive. On the whole, ministers from Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have done quite well for themselves, gaining either sensitive portfolios or moving up the ladder. Prospective Assembly elections are a part of the explanation. But merit has also played some part. Mr Salman Khurshid and Mr Sriprakash Agarwal justify elevation to Cabinet rank. The former is efficient and has sufficient experience in government. The latter has the knack of winning Lok Sabha elections in a state which has been tricky for the Congress for two decades. If anything, UP merits at least one more minister of Cabinet rank, given its extent and the diversity of zones it contains.

It is noteworthy that no fresh blood has been inducted this time round. This aspect needs to be righted. If there are fresh changes in the council of ministers after the Assembly elections in five states in May, that might be a good time to attend to this lacuna.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

GINGER WORKS AFTER WORKOUT

BY ANAHAD O'CONNOR

THE CLAIM: Ginger can ease muscle soreness. Ginger's ability to calm an upset stomach is well known. But more recently, scientists have wondered whether its soothing effects might extend to sore muscles.

THE FACT: Ginger, a member of the same plant family as turmeric, contains anti-inflammatory compounds and volatile oils — gingerols — that show analgesic and sedative effects in animal studies.

So, last year a team of researchers looked at whether ginger might do the same in humans.

In the study, published in The Journal of Pain in September 2010, the scientists recruited 74 adults and had them do exercises meant to induce muscle pain and inflammation. Over 11 days the subjects ate either two grams of ginger a day or a placebo.

Ultimately, the ginger groups experienced roughly 25 per cent reductions in exercise-induced muscle pain 24 hours after a workout.

In a similar double-blind study, scientists compared what happened when subjects consumed either two grams of ginger or a placebo one day and then two days after exercise. The ginger appeared to have no effect shortly after ingestion. But it was associated with less soreness the following day, leading the researchers to conclude that ginger may help "attenuate the day-to-day progression of muscle pain".

Other studies have shown consuming ginger before exercise has no impact on muscle pain, oxygen consumption and other physiological variables during or immediately after a workout, suggesting that if ginger does have any benefits, they may be limited to reductions in soreness in the days after a workout.

THE BOTTOMLINE: Ginger may help ease pain and soreness, but only a day or more after a workout.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

A NIGHT IN TUNISIA

BY KAMEL RIAHI

Tunis

It was Friday, January 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 ran towards Bourguiba Avenue, which tourists call the Tunisian Champs-Élysées. There, we were met with sticks and rifles.

Counting our every breath, we dodge bullets for many more blocks until we ran 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 came 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 neighbours and I can take shifts standing guard outside our building. I take a small kitchen knife and a metal rod. I ring my neighbours' bell. No answer; either they're not at home or they are panicked. I shout from the bottom of the building's staircase, "Neighbours, 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 civilised 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. 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 grab the iron rod to defend my home and my dream.

On the morning of January 15 we venture into the street to find our neighbourhood filled with unfamiliar faces. The shopping centre near my home has been looted. 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. 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 January 17 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 January 18, 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.

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 centre 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

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

GET INVOLVED OR FALL DEAD

BY SADHGURU

Everybody talks about detachment. If we want to be detached from life, the best thing is to fall dead. Then we will be completely detached. Isn't it so? If we get detached from life, that means death. If we talk of detachment, we are talking of avoiding life. Because of all this sort of talk there are a lot of half-alive people on this planet. Detachment is a crime against life. That's why I am saying the best way to avoid life is to fall dead.

Why do we want to exist here and yet avoid life? We have come here to live and to experience life. Our life should happen in the most exuberant way possible. We talk of detachment because somewhere there is fear of getting involved with life. We must understand that fear should not be about involvement but about entanglement. We talk of detachment because we do not know the distinction between involvement and entanglement. Life can be known only by involvement. If we are not involved, it doesn't mean anything even if we are in heaven.

We must be actively and consciously involved with everything around us, with every moment of our life. Then there will be no question of entanglement.

—Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a prominentspiritual leader, is a visionary, humanitarian, an author, poet and internationally-renowned speaker. He can be contacted at www.ishafoundation.org [1]

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ALARUMS WITHIN

MR KARAT'S BALANCING ACT


A year ago, Prakash Karat had retracted his lament ~ to historian Eric Hobsbawm ~ that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) felt "beleaguered and besieged in Bengal". At the Politburo meeting last weekend, the party's ombudsmen seemed visibly unnerved as they tried to face up to reality in the wake of the butchery in the backwaters of Bengal. What the general secretary had perceived as a crisis a year ago has deepened since 7 January. The small print of the presentation over two days was that the recurrent recklessness in the state may yet do the party in this summer, a grim prospect that was even articulated by the Kerala lobby and the CPI-M's chief minister in Tripura.  Indeed, the tiny landlocked state may turn out to be the only bastion where the Red Fort shan't capitulate. Obliquely, Mr Karat has reaffirmed his perception of the impact of Nandigram in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Obliquely once more, he has buttressed his contention that the snapping of ties with the Congress in July 2008 might not have been so damaging, as perceived by the Bengal lobby. Yet he has been diplomatically astute to strike a balance in Kolkata by virtually echoing Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's appeal to all parties to observe restraint. Implicit in that appeal is the involvement of Trinamul, the Maoists and also, most notably, of the CPI-M which Mr Karat had last year referred to as "my party" with due emphasis on the personal pronoun.


Having indirectly acknowledged the party's role in fomenting yet more trouble in a disturbed state, Mr Karat has no reason to cavil at what he calls the "unprecedented" inclusion of as many as five IPS officers ~ from other states ~ in the six-member Election Commission team, now touring the districts. The customary team of Indian Revenue Service officers might have been agreeable to the CPI-M.


But the current situation quite plainly doesn't warrant the standard EC procedure. Notably, there was no hedging on the part of Biman Bose, who has admitted to the "lack of political control over armed cadres". The party has been let down by its footsoldiers, who appear to have acted unilaterally in Netai. The cadres have marginalised both the party and the government, and there is little or no time for course correction. Hobsbawm will now see Mr Karat's point.

 

OUTRAGE IN UP

AND THE IMPLICATIONS ARE WORSE

Miss Mayawati may say her conscience has been hurt by the shocking allegation that one of her MLAs raped a minor girl. She may aver she is firm on making amends and protecting Dalit sentiments. But the sequence of events doesn't remove the impression that the system continues to be horribly abused to protect the dubious creatures she is obliged to prop up. In normal circumstances, such outrageous excesses may have escaped her notice. She has been compelled to act this time after a public outburst and the fear of a stricture from the courts. Even if it is assumed ~ with little justification ~ that she was in the dark about a 17-year-old being raped and kept in jail for over a month on a false charge, nothing can explain the culprit being lodged in the same jail as the victim after threats on camera to avenge those who had "framed'' him. Neither the assurance of a fast-track court nor of action against the MLA and those conniving with him can remove the impression that the Bahujan Samaj Party supremo's Dalit credentials are of less consequence than her political interests. While it is a relief that the court has intervened in this case, the overall picture may not have changed. This remains another outrageous example of the abuse of power by politicians with criminal records.

The implications are worse because the system is yet to be rescued from those who consider themselves above the law. Miss Mayawati engages in damage control because she doesn't have an option and even now may be exploring escape routes for her party when the election is not far away. Suspending the police officer accused of "manhandling'' the girl in custody and making sure that the MLA is stripped of the party tag will be seen as aimed at deceiving the public rather than doing justice to the girl or uprooting evils which are there to stay. But it is truly disgusting that a corrective measure taken more than a month after the crime is seen as a gift bestowed on the Chief Minister's birthday. No one misses either the hypocrisy or the dangers to which citizens ~ the less privileged in particular ~ are cruelly exposed. The silver lining is the confidence that Dalits have in a judicial remedy and their spirit of defiance against the rich and mighty.

 

PEOPLE'S POWER

THE REVOLUTION IN TUNISIA

IT is at once a triumph and a tragedy. The people have spoken in Tunisia much as they did in the Philippines exactly 25 years ago. The flight of the Tunisian President, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, on Friday night signals the first revolution in the Arab world. Equally, the violence on Sunday suggests that the future is uncertain. The wounds of a fractured society have been exposed. The dictator has fled; yet no one is in charge. It has been a bloodless coup, the first time an Arab leader has been overthrown in the wake of furious street protests. And the escape of Ben Ali marks the end of 23 years of authoritarian rule, indeed a phase when dissent was misconstrued as subversion. Just as sympathy for radical Leftism can be viewed as sedition in another part of the world. The immediate provocation for the people's outburst was the self-immolation of a university graduate in December when police seized his vegetable cart, his singular source of livelihood. That itself must be a stark measure of the endemic joblessness and burgeoning prices. The crisis has been succinctly summed up by a Lebanese broadcaster: "The people wanted life and the chains were broken. It is a lesson for countries where Presidents and kings have rusted on their thrones." It is Tunisia's tragedy that the current vacuum is no less profound as the change..


The ripple effect has been almost immediate. The revolution in Tunisia has already sparked a debate on whether the uprising will be emulated to bring about the ouster of equally autocratic rulers in the region. It might be an exaggeration to describe the dramatic development as the  Arab world's Gdansk, which witnessed the foundation of Solidarity in Poland three decades ago. Nonetheless, the social character is profound. It wasn't only the dispossessed who were in the vanguard of the protests; the movement was led by Tunisia's relatively affluent and educated class and, no less crucially, women without the veil. The discontent quite palpably was overwhelming, and the watershed development has cut across religion and ideology. Despite the fact that Ben Ali has been a close ally of the USA, Barack Obama has been diplomatic enough to applaud the "courage and dignity of the Tunisian people". The US President has been remarkably swift in reading the writing on the wall.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

WHO RULES CHINA?DIVERGENCE OF POLICY BETWEEN GOVERNMENT & PLA

 BY RAJINDER PURI

 

Chinese President Hu Jintao is in America to confer with President Obama. America's economy is fragile. Washington has become hostage to Beijing due to its debt running into trillions. America, to extricate itself from its predicament, is left with no choice but to engage with Beijing and attempt to wean it towards democracy. Corporate America entered into an unholy alliance with China dominated by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).  The PLA is the biggest exporter of low-tech products to America which have helped finance its expansion and growth for decades. Americans thought that as the richer nation they were secure because for them money is power. They forgot that for the Chinese power flows from the barrel of a gun. Now America leans on its allies to engage with Beijing more closely in order to persuade it to liberalize its regime. Perhaps that is one reason why the Indian government is pursuing its suicidal China policy of appeasement. India should ignore American advice on China. Unlike America, India is under no compulsion to engage with China. American policy towards China is unlikely to succeed. Washington does not even know who really calls the shots in Beijing.For over a decade this scribe had been focusing on the visible divergence of policy between the Chinese civilian government and the PLA. In foreign policy the civilian government said things that were rubbished by foreign policy action dictated by the PLA. Of late more and more Americans are beginning to question the source of Beijing's decision-making. US think-tanks are openly speculating about the real relationship between the Chinese government and the PLA. After his most recent China visit US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said there was "a disconnect" between the Chinese government and the PLA. It seems that President Hu was not even aware that China had tested a Stealth fighter jet! Earlier, Chinese government officials interacting with American counterparts had betrayed similar ignorance about the PLA shooting a satellite. As Andrew Higgins for The Washington Post on the eve of President Hu's current US visit pointed out: "Washington often has so much trouble figuring out who is making decisions in Beijing and why." China is opaque. And even while President Obama confers with President Hu Jintao currently in Washington he cannot be certain that he is speaking to China's real boss.The earlier assertion by this scribe that the PLA controls China may not be the entire truth. One needs to dig deeper. At risk of inviting extreme ridicule I offer a bizarre possibility. Could it be that China's ultimate decision makers are faceless men who are part of a secret group comprising members of PLA, Communist Party and overseas Chinese? The positions these individuals may or may not occupy in public life may in no way indicate their real power. The world would not know the identity of these faceless individuals. More significantly, neither might most Chinese know of their existence. The following facts led me to speculate this.China has a history of triads which were secret societies operating as powerful crime syndicates. The triads started as a resistance movement in the 1760s by Han Chinese against foreign Manchu rule during the Qing dynasty. The movement's objective was to restore Han rule. The triads branched into several smaller groups that adopted the triangle as their emblem. Thus the term triad was coined by the British in colonial Hong Kong. After China's Communists achieved power in 1949 Beijing forced triads to migrate to British-ruled Hong Kong. Over time triads took to crimes ranging from extortion and money laundering to trafficking, drugs and prostitution. They participated in smuggling and counterfeiting manufacture.Did Mao succeed in expelling triads from mainland China? It appears not. During the Cultural Revolution one fact that puzzled western journalists covering the event was how the Red Guards without any visible communication network succeeded in simultaneously executing its commands all over the country. Chinese media was not used. Neither was China's Communist Party. Most victims of the Red Guards were party officials. Could not the Red Guards have been served by triads that remained in Mainland China? Secret societies may have had members too secret for the Chinese government to discover. The Red Guard-triad connection did surface after the Cultural Revolution.Many Red Guards arrested and tortured after the Cultural Revolution fled overseas and joined or formed new triads. One such major gang was the Big Circle Gang known in Chinese as Tai Huen Chai. It was created in Hong Kong. It operates in several continents, mainly in Canada. The Big Circle Gang specializes in narcotics trade. The serious security threat posed by triads in Canada was investigated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Security Service. In a joint report these institutions described how very rich Hong Kong Chinese tycoons close to Beijing for years, along with relatives of China's political leaders and the Chinese Intelligence Service, colluded with "financial ventures" in Canada that helped conceal criminal and intelligence activities.Now consider this. Over 50 per cent of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in China is by overseas Chinese of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. All three are claimed as part of mainland China. The overseas Chinese in the rest of South-east Asia invest just a fraction of the amount invested by these three regions. Also, all the criminal subversive activity to promote the aims of the PLA is implemented by overseas Chinese and triads located outside China. Among such activities is the arms supply on behalf of the PLA to Islamist and other terrorists, including those in India. This has been stated in a position paper submitted to US Congress by its former Director of the Task Force against Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Yossef Bodansky. Thereby the Chinese government keeps its hands clean.So, who calls the shots in China? If American officials are flummoxed by the identity of the power centre in China, should not the possibility of a faceless, secret group, somewhat like the earlier triads, be also considered? As the biggest investors in China's economy, as the biggest facilitators of PLA's subversive designs in foreign lands, may not overseas Chinese exercise a much bigger clout than commonly perceived? Many Western commentators speculate whether there could ever be war between China and America. They do not realize that war may have already started. It is a different kind of war. The PLA could be using Islamist terrorists as cannon fodder to demolish the West. The next phase of unconventional war could be terrorist attacks in the West by white Islamist terror recruits. Reports reveal 12 converted Canadians are currently undergoing militant training in North Waziristan. After all, the PLA's published treatise, Unrestricted Warfare, describes precisely how economy, culture, subversion, sabotage, propaganda, indeed everything can be used to demolish the enemy. China's acquisition of military might be just for deterrence. All other means are already being deployed to attain mastery over the world. One axiom enunciated by Unrestricted Warfare is that there is nothing in the world that cannot be used as a weapon. Does that not say it all?This theory may appear too fanciful. But does it not merit consideration when even the redoubtable intelligence agencies of the West admit ignorance about the real source of power and policy-making in China? Given its size, culture and talent China's ambition to become the world's premier superpower is understandable. China's subversive and often criminal policy to achieve that is not. It betrays a paranoid and criminal mindset at sharp variance from the image of its leaders. Ironically, in the natural course China would rise peacefully to global pre-eminence. But there seem to be elements inside China harming its own image and

 

political future.The writer is a veteran journalistand cartoonist

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

CAPITAL CONUNDRUM

INSTEAD OF BLINDLY SEEKING PRIVATE FUNDING FOR STRENGTHENING TECHNICAL EDUCATION IN INDIA, THE GOVERNMENT WILL DO WELL TO TAKE THE POLYTECHNIC ROUTE SERIOUSLY LIKE EUROPE HAD MORE THAN A CENTURY AGO, WRITES

ARUNABHA BAGCHI

The current orientation of the Indian educational policy is towards attracting private capital ~ foreign and domestic ~ to revamp our higher education system. It is unlikely that private capital will be used to set up traditional universities. Such investors will be mainly interested in building engineering and management colleges to lure rich students looking for a "bright future" in corporate India or abroad. But is this the right kind of investment to seek for India?

One popular argument for private participation in education is the need for producing more technical manpower for India. The question that remains unanswered is the type of technical education our economy really needs in future, and whether private players would be willing to invest in it. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and a few other research-oriented engineering colleges produce highly-talented engineers, but that is not surprising given the craze of the best and the brightest to get into such institutions. A large number of IIT graduates end up working abroad, mostly in the USA. The rest aspire to work in the information technology (IT) industry or for some select multinational corporations (MNCs) in India. This is a very skewed development which can have long-term consequences for the Indian economy as a whole.

The strategic behaviour of students in other engineering colleges is as expected in the circumstances. The really lucrative jobs are in the IT sector, thanks to some pioneering Indian entrepreneurs in this field. Whatever branch of engineering a student specialises in, his/her ultimate goal is to join the IT sector. In traditional industries, attractive jobs are often reserved for MBA degree holders. The mushrooming of low-level management institutes with a high enrolment of well-heeled students bear testimony to this phenomenon. Local innovation is not the main priority in the industrial sector. Manufacturing industry in India is largely uncompetitive, as evidenced by our huge trade deficit vis-à-vis China.

The consensus among MNC recruiters is that, at most, 20 per cent of graduates of the vast number of private engineering colleges in India are employable in these companies. This does not deter parents from shelling out a fortune to finance their children's study of engineering at private colleges, as the alternative of a general science education is not really an option in India. This desperation on the part of the parents will guarantee increasing private investment in this sector, including foreign funding, considering the pressure educational institutions and investors are currently feeling in the USA. That does not, however, negate the fact that it is a huge waste of our resources.

The real challenge in India is to educate this large number of students in a manner commensurate with their abilities. In our national discussions on technical education, this group of inappropriately-trained students is totally ignored. The large number of students joining the mushrooming private engineering colleges are not ideally suited for a curriculum that is but a copy of those followed by premier engineering colleges. An alternative model is urgently needed to make better use of their potentialsz.

The solution lies in properly understanding and implementing polytechnic education in India. Polytechnics grew in the West organically with the increase and diversification of technological activities. The idea of polytechnic crept into our educational system only after Independence, but failed to become an integral part of our technological development. The large number of private engineering colleges and polytechnics are attracting far less competent students than was originally envisaged. Our super-educated policy makers are condescending towards polytechnics, as is clear from the cursory treatment of polytechnic education in the latest report of the National Knowledge Commission.

In the USA, higher education is almost exclusively organised around universities. This has led to a plethora of universities with a sliding scale of standards, starting from the very best to the worst in comparison with other western countries. Bachelor curricula in engineering in all these universities are practically identical, with no provision for differences in the learning abilities of students. If this fit-for-all system does not produce graduates with the diverse skills for jobs needed in the economy, there is always a vast pool of educated manpower from emerging economies eager to fill the vacuum. One only has to consider the enormous trade deficit of the USA, in sharp contrast to countries of north-west Europe, to know the futility of such an educational structure.
The situation of higher education is fundamentally different in northwest Europe. The system, originally devised by German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt, survived unimaginable crisis in Europe during the past century and a half. In this system, higher education is divided between a limited number of universities and a vast number of higher polytechnic/professional colleges. Traditionally, all university studies are integrated master's programmes as we understand them in India. There was no distinct bachelor phase until recently when an intermediate bachelor degree was introduced to promote a uniform educational system within the EU as per the Bologna Accord. But the traditional von Humboldt system still persists. All students completing bachelor degrees in universities continue with their master degrees. Efforts are made to keep the standard of universities reasonably uniform. This is made easier by the fact that a chair holder (full professor) rarely moves to another university, and students mostly study in a neighbourhood university.

Universities are only allowed to admit students who have completed "gymnasium" ~ a secondary school which prepares students for higher education at a university. This comprises at best 15 per cent of all students graduating school in a year, with a tiny percentage qualifying for science/engineering programs. The next group of roughly 20-25 per cent joins the higher polytechnic/professional colleges. They receive a bachelor degree at the completion of their studies. Higher polytechnics produce top-quality engineers; while professional colleges produce diverse professionals; from business managers, media/communication experts to physiotherapists and medical technologists. There is provision of graduates of higher polytechnic/professional colleges joining the master's programmes of universities with roughly one year of additional study to make up for gaps in their education.

The distinguishing feature of this system is the difference in the type of education received by these two categories of students. University students are taught abstract concepts from the very beginning and are expected to be creative in coming up with new solutions when facing problems in their professional arena. They also form the bulk of "gymnasium" teachers. The salary and social status of these teachers are high, in sharp contrast to the situation in the USA and India. The students in higher polytechnic/professional colleges are trained thoroughly in their disciplines, and are expected to solve problems within the existing framework of their training. In fact, graduates of higher polytechnics comprise legendary German engineers known for their abilities throughout the world.

The truly challenging task of the Indian government is to develop an educational structure that would ensure an optimal development of the top one-third students graduating high school in a given year. The proper training of remaining students is also extremely important, but that needs a separate discussion. IITs have been an enormous success story, particularly from the viewpoint of US corporations. The real question is whether we are capable of developing higher polytechnics to cater to the needs of enterprises in India. This will also produce innovators tuned to the Indian circumstances. Their ideas will generate business interests in many developing countries as well. It is highly unlikely that private capital will be investing in this endeavour. But this is not a fault of the investors. Surely, it is the government's basic duty to come up with an appropriate structure and the necessary funding. Raising corporate taxes or income tax surcharges of the super rich specifically for this purpose is one way to do it. There are other ways too but the government needs to figure them out. And soon.

The writer is ex-dean and professor of applied mathematics at the University of Twente, The Netherlands

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

CYCLES OF AMSTERDAM

NOW & AGAIN

JAGMOHAN CHOPRA

As soon as the speeding taxi from Schiphol Airport brings you to the city of Amsterdam, the thing that strikes you is the abundance of cycles or bikes. It is said that kids in Amsterdam learn biking as soon as they learn walking. It is not surprising therefore that 7,50,000 people in Amsterdam own as many as  7,00,000 bikes. Barring babies and the infirm, everyone in the family owns a bike. Even the Queen has a bike. The Dutch use the bike for going to school or college, to one's place of work, for shopping and for police patrols, as well! It is estimated that 40 per cent of the trips in the city are done on bikes. To enable the residents park their bikes properly, every market, tram station and office has bike-racks or stands. A bike-rack can hold 60 to 100 bikes, while parking lots at tram stations can hold many more. I am told the parking ramp at the Central Station in Amsterdam holds as many as  7,000 bikes!

Most bikes in Amsterdam are basic ~ black and weighing around 20 kg. They cost around 200 to 250 Euros each. Second-hand bikes cost between 75 and 175 Euros each. Bikes can also be hired for about 10 Euros per day. Flashy bikes are few in number. Interestingly, ten per cent of all bikes in Amsterdam get stolen every year by junkies, the price of a shot of heroin being equal to that of a second-hand bike. Buying a stolen bike, however, is a crime in Netherlands. Some bikes in Amsterdam find their way into the canal after a drunken brawl or when they are too old to be sold. About 50 cars a year also find their way into the canal. Whether one has a basic or a flashy bike, it is important to invest in a secure lock. Most people in Amsterdam have a metallic chain and lock to secure their bikes. Some even have two sets of chains and locks ~ one  to block the wheel and the other to secure the bike to the bike-rack. While walking through the streets of Amsterdam, one can't miss these serpentine chains on the ground.

Although biking is popular in other countries also, status of bikes and bike-drivers in Netherlands is different. For example, while people in the USA drive bikes for fun or to keep themselves fit, those in Netherlands do it is as a way of life. Similarly, while an executive driving a bike to his office can raise many an eyebrow in the USA, it is but the norm in Amsterdam. What is most impressive about the transport system in Amsterdam is it amorphous nature. Dedicated tracks for automobiles, trams and cycles are rare and people rarely honk or collide. All one hears is the occasional tram bell, gently cautioning people crossing the tracks. In 2007, only 18 traffic-related deaths were reported in Amsterdam as compared to 26 murders. Car driving in the centre of the city is discouraged by way of a high parking fee, closing select streets to cars and encouraging citizens to share cars and pool rides.

With so much biking, one would expect Netherlands to win heaps of medals in the Olympics or the Tour de France. But records show otherwise. Of the 54 medals up for grabs in 18 cycling events at the Beijing Olympics, only one went to Netherlands. Great Britain, France and Spain are leaders in the sport and bagged 14, 6 and 4 medals, respectively, at the same sporting event. As for Tour de France, France is the undisputed champion with 36 wins in 94 tours, with Belgium and Spain coming second and third with 18 and 12 wins, respectively. Netherlands shares but the seventh place with Switzerland having won the marathon only twice. It seems the Dutch love their bikes enough but not the sport.   

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

NO WONDER YOUNG BRITONS HAVE A DRINK PROBLEM

MARY ANN SIEGHART


Why do younger people in Britain binge drink more than their parents? It's not that their lives are so miserable that they have to obliterate their feelings. And it's not just their youth ~ their parents' generation didn't get routinely plastered at that age. No, it's much more the fault of stricter licensing laws, the demise of the pub and the relative cheapness of alcohol in shops.

 

When we were teenagers, we started going to the pub from the age of about 14. We had to pretend to be 18, but most landlords didn't ask and the rest gave us a wink but served us anyway. The pub was an institution, a social hub. You wanted to be accepted by the regulars, so you behaved the way they did. And how did they behave? Well, they sat around tables or at the bar and chatted. From time to time, one person would buy a whole round, and the evening would gradually get merrier. A few might be drunk by the end of the night, but rarely throwing-up drunk, falling-down drunk or shouting-in-the-street drunk.


And because we were under 18, we knew we had to remain inconspicuous. The landlord would tolerate our presence as long as we didn't embarrass ourselves or him. We didn't dare get smashed or he wouldn't allow us back. And because we tended to meet the same group of friends in the same pub, being banned was not a good move.

The other thing about a pub was that it was mixed-age. The older regulars wouldn't exactly boss you about; they were more likely to take the mickey. But you respected them and didn't want them to think you were a complete fool. The aim was to be able to hold your drink. It would have been humiliating to get legless in front of them.

 

All these things have now changed. In many pubs, landlords are so afraid of losing their licence that they no longer allow parents to take their children in with them, so the children don't grow up learning how to drink, chat and socialise in a civilised fashion. Then, when the children are teenagers, they can't drink alcohol in a pub until they're 18 ~ or until they look 18 and get a convincing enough fake ID. Even if they have the ID, they can't go unless all their friends have one too.

 

So how do they drink? They buy vodka from the off-licence or supermarket and bring it home. Only one member of the group needs to be old enough to buy it, or one member's big brother or sister. Then, because they're young and have no role models or constraints, they get completely pissed. They drink to get drunk.

 

Of course, we all got horribly drunk, from time to time, in our teens. But usually only at an occasion - a party, say - when the drink was free and it went on all night. We didn't do it routinely, several times a week, whenever we got together. Most of the time we drank together, we indulged in social drinking rather than binge drinking.
   The price differential these days also predisposes younger people to drink too much. It's so much more expensive to drink in a pub than to drink at home. So even when teenagers reach 18, they're less likely to start going to their local. Instead, they can buy a 70cl bottle of own-brand basic vodka at a supermarket for just over £8. That's 28 pub measures, while a single vodka-and-tonic in a pub costs more than £3. Do the math ~ young people do.

 

Because drink is so expensive in pubs and bars, students say that the incentive is to drink as much as possible at home before you go out. That means you force yourself to get drunk so that the feeling will last for the rest of the evening without the need to top up too much. One of the arguments for liberalising the licensing laws was that some people felt they had to drink all they could before the pubs shut at 11 p.m. Now younger people are drinking all they can at the start of the evening, which is surely worse.

 

If you're in a pub, there's also less pressure to drink quickly. You can't top yourself up from the communal bottle - you have to wait until others have finished and it's time for the next round. If you're all drinking together at home, there's almost a race to the finish. You want to get your money's worth, because you've split the cost of the bottle. You might even want to get more than your share, so you keep glugging it back. And if you've all chipped in to buy the bottle, you might as well finish it - or who's going to keep the dregs? Between four of you, that means seven pub measures each before you leave the house.

 

If you do then go out, it's more tempting these days to go to a bar full of other young people than to a pub. At the bar, the drinks will be doubles and the music will be loud. You won't be able to talk to your friends; all you can really do is drink. The chances are you'll be standing up and knocking it back, rather than sitting round a table, chatting, and nursing your glass.

 

What's more, the peer pressure at a bar full of other young people is to drink until you're drunk. There are no boring middle-aged customers looking on disapprovingly. There is no landlord either; just a crew of young bartenders who have an incentive to serve you as much alcohol as possible. Only if you get into a drunken fight will anyone throw you out.

 

If we had invented a system that encouraged young people to drink too much, it would look like this. Strong spirits would be ridiculously cheap to take home. Bars and clubs would be designed to maximize the amount people drank. And young people would be deterred from entering the one institution that taught them how to drink well rather than badly.

 

Pubs desperately need a boost. They are closing at a rate of nearly 30 a week. You can blame the smoking ban. You can blame a clampdown on drink-driving. But it can't help that alcohol has become so much cheaper to buy from shops, and ~ as a result ~ that young people aren't frequenting pubs.

 

For centuries, the pub, tavern or inn has been the drinking place of choice for Britons. Even the French Prime Minister, Mr Franaois Fillon, expressed his envy of them last week. They are wonderful institutions ~ at their best, they are convivial, friendly, sociable and unifying. They bring people together of all ages and classes. They introduce neighbours to each other and foster a sense of community.

 

The government is looking at ways to help local people buy their pub if it's in danger of closing down. But perhaps ministers should also look at raising excise duty on off-sales and cutting it for drink bought in pubs. For anything that encourages a culture of happy social drinking rather than hideous binge drinking would be good for society, good for our young people's livers and good for our town centres. Let's hope it's not too late.

the independent

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THE TELEGRAPH

ROUGH PASSAGE

The body of a 15-year-old girl hanging from a barbed wire fence for hours is the latest symbol of the South Asian border tragedies. She was reportedly shot dead by India's Border Security Force while trying to climb the fence and cross over to Bangladesh. Even as it reflects the unresolved border issues between two nations, the tragedy is also a brutal testimony of the modern State's insensitivity to the value of human life. According to the estimate of one human rights group, 72 Bangladeshis were killed on the border during the past year. On the West Bengal stretch of the India-Bangladesh border alone, 900 Bangladeshis were killed in firing by the BSF over the last 10 years. In some cases, Indians were also killed by the Bangladesh Rifles. None of the victims was involved in acts of terror or some other serious crime against the State. Most were trespassers or involved in petty cross-border smuggling of illegal goods. It is a measure of the appalling indifference of the governments in New Delhi and Dhaka to such tragedies that nothing was done to stop them. Bangladesh has repeatedly raised the issue with India. But the lives — and deaths — of poor people are apparently too inconsequential for policymakers in New Delhi.

After a meeting in Dhaka, officials of the two countries have now decided that rubber bullets could better solve the problem. Any measure that stops such inhuman killings is welcome. Given the current improvement in India-Bangladesh ties, this is the right time to take such measures. New Delhi's worries about terrorists infiltrating India through Bangladesh have not been unfounded. Islamist militants from Bangladesh were found to have been involved in several terrorist strikes in India. Militants from the Northeast used Bangladesh not only as corridors but also as shelters and sites for training camps. All this calls for constant vigil on the border. Sheikh Hasina Wajed's government has done much to force the northeastern militants out of Bangladesh. It has also acted decisively against Islamist groups in the country. But the killings on the border should be stopped irrespective of other issues. If such deaths occur in times of peace, no wars are needed to breed hostility. They may cause enough damage to sour the public mood in Bangladesh. Winning the confidence of a neighbour is not about befriending just its government.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

CRY FREEDOM

From languishing at the bottom of all indices that symbolize the triumph of humanity, sub-Saharan Africa is on its way to becoming an 'inspiring' example to the rest of the world. The miracle was worked by the determination of the people of Sudan to put behind them years of violence through an exemplary conduct of a week-long referendum on the status of southern Sudan between January 9 to 15. The aura of optimism that surrounds this procedural end-point of a peace mechanism that started in 2005 owes its presence entirely to the sincerity with which the warring parties in the conflict — north and south Sudan — have pledged themselves to uphold the sanctity of the referendum. It is because of this sincerity, evident from the way political leaders on either side are cooperating to smooth out the roadblocks, that the secession of southern Sudan (to which preliminary poll findings already attest) is being regarded as a political reality even before the final results are out in February. In fact, both the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, and the likely political head in Juba, Salva Kiir Mayardit, have chalked out their road maps for a divided Sudan that is supposed to stress as much on forgiveness and mutual respect as on cooperation.

It is possible that Mr Bashir is being more pragmatic than his counterpart in the south while emphasizing these laudatory principles. A previous 11-year-long ceasefire has failed to reconcile the black, Christian-dominated south to the diktat of the Arabic-speaking Muslim north of Sudan. With its oil and natural wealth, there is little reason for south Sudan to play to the tune of the neo-colonizers of the north. So the result of the referendum can be said to have been a self-evident fact. North Sudan, in fact, would gain heavily from a dependent south, which will take years to overcome the impediments with which it is being born — its landlocked topography, lack of basic infrastructure, a heavily-militarized population, most of which is illiterate, the ethnic tangle which is waiting to explode and the ever-present scourge of poverty, hunger and disease. The birth pangs of south Sudan were evident in the dispute over the border district of oil-rich Abyei, which had its referendum postponed because of violence. Sudan's oil, 80 per cent of which will now be under the control of south Sudan, will bring in other players, just as the renewal of rivalry over the Nile's waters is bound to keep the region boiling.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

CHILLED OUT

 THERE IS VERY LITTLE TO LIGHTEN THE WINTER DARKNESS IN BRITAIN WESTMINSTER GLEANINGS - ANABEL LOYD

This is meant to be the worst time of the year here. Three weeks or so after Christmas, the theoretically jolly festivities are but a distant memory of which we are now counting the expense, and we are consumed by winter depression with nothing further to look forward to until an Easter bank holiday in April, swiftly followed by another for the royal wedding, upon which online souvenir-sellers are already cashing in most successfully. The Queen is reported to be absorbing the impact of our newly-increased value-added tax on official items, although this does not appear to be reflected in online prices. But either way, the royal coffers look likely to make a fat profit on the usual mugs, plates and the cheapest item — a pill box, at £25 including VAT. Indian buyers might like it at £20 for foreign buyers, excluding the tax.

Not that I am advertising. This house is full of various wedding and coronation mugs going back to George V or earlier, and dribbled down through the family over a hundred years or so. But quite nice as some of them are and successfully serving as tooth mugs, such items seldom prove much of an investment — there are just too many carefully preserved in every house in the land. It is a pity that a few did not escape the manufacturers before someone realized that the initials of William and Kate, intertwined, made WC, the C for Catherine. Her initial has now unusually had to be put before her royal groom's but an escaped limited edition of WC mugs might have been worth having to pass down to posterity. I cannot imagine that sales here are high with less interest in the royal family in general, less money to spare by those who would be likely loyalist purchasers and high prices for not much with or without the latest VAT costs. Never mind though, middle America is, we gather, buying the souvenirs hand over fist to swell the royal coffers and their particular market will, presumably, be battled out in small salerooms in Michigan in another century or so as granny's prize possessions go under the hammer.

There is little of a silver lining otherwise on show to lighten the winter darkness in our economic or political climates now that the Ashes excitement has passed and we are instead sorry for the flooded-out Australians. The by-election in Oldham and Saddleworth last week was inevitably a damp squib however much Labour, the victors, might claim it as a punch on the nose for the coalition, and particularly the Conservatives. On another day perhaps the Liberal Democrats should or could have won but that really was highly unlikely under the current circumstances of the distrust directed at their role in the coalition. The Conservatives were not going to win, and, despite their protestations and a prime ministerial visit, appear not to have tried very hard to do so. The invitation of the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, in the aftermath of the result, to disaffected LibDem alienated from their party in its coalition role, appeared shallow and unconvincing and the truth was that the LibDem vote stood up relatively against the odds, a fact that is probably the most interesting part of the result.

Nick Clegg may be being written up as public enemy number one after breaking election promises over student loans, but the impression is that people are still waiting to see what happens and hoping yet that the coalition may have a wider range of answers to our current problems than the Conservatives on their own. I wonder if things would have been different with Labour under the elder Miliband. Ed is unappealing, has a bad voice and is, so far, unconvincing in the leadership role even when occasionally dealt a hand to play with. He will almost certainly be able to trumpet victory at the next by-election of the year in Barnsley Central, where there is a large enough Labour majority even though the resigning member has been found guilty of expenses fiddling and will almost certainly receive a custodial sentence. That result is unlikely to tell us any more than Oldham and Saddleworth did about the current situation between the parties.

The prime minister is better off than his deputy at the moment, with plenty of people just hoping he is getting something right as he and the chancellor continue to stress our straitened circumstances. He is certainly not the flavour of the month with the public service unions this week after announcing radical reforms that will lead to greater citizen control, using choice, competition and public accountability to improve standards and reduce bureaucracy. The fact that a professional and not noticeably radical body like the Royal College of Surgeons is concerned that the rhetoric is more a cover for dangerous cost-cutting than anything else must make ordinary clients of the national health service extremely nervous. One can only hope that the government's ears are open to sensible criticisms.

Meanwhile, the rest of us must wait and wonder and hope that the silver lining is in there somewhere beyond a bit of royal pageantry and the faintly appalling thought of next year's Olympics putting additional strains on public services in London. The truth is that after the excitements and hope of last summer, the almost inevitable trimming on the part of the LibDems in the coalition, the hard line of the Conservatives, however much we expected it, and the early winter freeze combined with a chilly economy and, for many people, a thrifty Christmas, we are left not knowing where to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. For young people it must be truly terrifying. Thank god that most of them live for the day and hope for the best for tomorrow or they would be jumping out of the windows of the student digs that they can barely afford or chucking a few more fire extinguishers off high buildings without thought of the possible damage.

Eighteen-year-old Edward Woollard, an A-level student with no previous violent tendencies, must be regretting his actions after getting caught up in the student protests. Throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of the Conservative Party headquarters was an astonishingly stupid thing to do, but he is 18 and got carried away. By extraordinary good luck, nobody was hurt, but he has been made an example of and banged up for 32 months, which will presumably do nothing for his future prospects and ultimately seem a pointless way to deliver a necessary punishment because it is likely to do nothing to deter those of determinedly violent disposition but may shut down the voice of genuine and, in this country, more usually, peaceable concern and protest. I just hope he has a chance to continue and finish his exams in prison or why should he not come out hardened by a 'gap year' that has broadened his horizons to create more life- changing grievances?

This month again and perhaps throughout 2011, the light on our darkness shines most from the brilliance of our arts, demonstrated yesterday by Colin Firth's best actor award at the Golden Globes. If anyone wants a royal experience, artistic licence given, as a prelude to the wedding of William and Kate, they should see The King's Speech. It is an entertaining film but Firth's acting creates one of the most extraordinary portraits that I have ever seen on a cinema screen, ably supported by Geoffrey Rush as the iconoclastic Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, and the set design that entirely convinces as the interior of various royal palaces. On a wet and windy evening I'm off to see it for the second time.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

WHAT THE LIST DOES NOT SAY

NEHA SAHAY

The annual list of ten best investigative stories is out. Compiled by Xinhua, the official news agency, the list comprises a series of what would be called official announcements anywhere else in the world. Bad news does feature, the kind that just cannot be avoided — natural calamities such as the Yushu floods. But even that is dressed up to sound good. "Yushu and Zhouqu natural disasters were defeated." The successful Asian Games and the Shanghai Expo deserve to be there, but as for the rest, it's either "China's 12th five year plan was discussed during the annual session of the National Congress" or "Central government gave its eight character guideline on economic development: positive, stable, cautious and flexible."

Readers are furious at the omission of what, according to them, was the biggest story of the year: the hit-and-run case involving the son of a police chief who yelled out, "Sue me if you dare; my father is Li Gang", after he ran over two students — one of them died — inside the Hebei University campus. The phrase, "My father is Li Gang", became famous across the country. Public outrage forced the authorities to arrest the offender, and CCTV interviewed him and his father, giving them a chance to apologize. Soon, the directive went out to the media: "no more hype regarding the disturbance over traffic (sic) at Hebei University."

Interviews of the dead student's father and brother, conducted by internet activists and put up on a video website, were deleted. Hoping that the incident would not be treated as a mere traffic accident, and rejecting the offender's apology and the talk of compensation, the brother said: "In society they say everyone is equal, but in every corner there is inequality.'' This was a particularly tragic case — from infancy, the girl, who grew up in a village, had been keen on studies, changing schools on her own. She had joined the university just a month before she was run over inside the campus, which, her father pointed out, ought to have been a safe area. Later, the lawyer was ordered to withdraw from the case by his Beijing firm, and on the same day, compensation was offered by the local authorities to the family.

Other stories

Ironically, when the incident took place, Xinhua had also been forced to report on it. The Xinhua list has surprised everyone because it seemed as if the press was becoming freer. Newspapers like the Southern Metropolis Weekly have constantly pushed the boundaries. Besides, the internet has emerged as an alternate medium. How can the Party remain oblivious to all this? Secondly, 2010 was full of sensational news, ending with the Nobel Peace Prize being given to Liu Xiaobo, and beginning with the departure of Google from the mainland over censorship issues. Then there was the dramatic execution of the head of Chongqing's justice bureau following a massive clean-up drive against the police-mafia nexus there, and the self-immolation of three members of a family during a demolition drive.

Fortunately, there are alternative lists out, not just by popular internet forums, but also by the Southern Metropolis Weekly. Both feature the Li Gang story, and have four other stories in common: the Shanxi vaccine scandal, broken by the investigative reporter, Wang Keqin, exposing how adulterated vaccines led to the death of four children and damage to more than 70 in 2006-07; the string of suicides in Foxconn's Shenzhen facility in the first six months of 2010; the Zhouqu landslide in which 1,248 people perished; and the Shanghai skyscraper fire in which 58 persons died.

However, neither of these lists mentioned the Nobel Peace Prize going to Liu Xiaobo.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

WHAT AGE CANNOT WITHER

THE DISMISSAL OF A BBC PRESENTER FOR LOOKING HER AGE EXPOSES HOW POPULAR VISUAL CULTURE SHAPES PERCEPTIONS OF WOMEN'S APPEARANCE IN EVERYDAY LIFE

An attractive woman of advanced years is often pronounced "well-preserved". People agree she "maintains herself" very well. She could be an interesting, slightly decrepit, heritage building that thrives on constant conservation efforts, in need of regular plaster work and paint jobs and facelifts. Presumably, to look young is to look good and vice versa. If women on television are anything to go by, the business of looking young is booming. Skin stretched taut over bone, lips in a perpetual pout, bosom propped up to the chin — age cannot be allowed to wither these women. The alternative to this vision of eternal youth is terrifying. Like Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her, your skin peels like plaster, your limbs break off; why, you may even be left with a gaping hole in your middle.

It must have been to avoid such an event that 53-year-old Miriam O'Reilly, former presenter of Countryfile on BBC, was handed a can of spray paint to hide the white strands in her hair. Producers of the show also recommended that she use Botox to smooth those wrinkles. Once Countryfile went high definition and was shifted to prime time, O'Reilly and three other presenters — all women above 40 — were dropped from the show. After months of battle, O'Reilly won an employment tribunal against the BBC; it was held that she had been the object of "age victimisation". But even O'Reilly, who says she does not want to be judged by how she looks, seems to be haunted by this nightmare of ageing. "I know you can't frighten the horses," she has been quoted saying, "you have to look presentable — but I do not believe that youth has to be key to keeping your job."

But it was the horror of highly-defined wrinkles that prompted the BBC to replace the four women with younger presenters. The former BBC1 controller, Jay Hunt, insisted, "It would have been utterly insane to use Countryfile to appeal to younger viewers." It had always targeted older audiences and the recent changes have been made to "broaden the show's audience" — a somewhat ambiguous purpose. Given Hunt's anxiety about not "drifting into irrelevance" for younger viewers, it is likely that the new faces were brought in largely for their benefit, rather than to draw in more of the programme's usual viewership. Such changes seem to reflect the beautifully simple generalization that young people must only want to watch other young people. Even if this were the case, such tastes may have been created by the media in the first place: recent studies show that young people who have been conditioned by what they see on TV tend to have more "negative reactions" to the aged than those who have not been so conditioned.

An almost hysterical paranoia about ageing has gripped contemporary visual culture. In many Western countries with ageing populations and a dwindling workforce, there appears to be a desperate need to cling on to the illusion of youth, especially the youth of women. Young, beautiful women seem to play a talismanic role in such a culture, warding off age. The fear of ageing is manifest in images of old age as ridiculous, old age as monstrous — animated sets of false teeth, gnarled hands and wrinkled mouths in agonizing close-up, commonly seen in advertisements.

In all this talk of sculpted figures and flawless skin, and in its penumbra of brittle, crumbling bodies, there seems to be no space for the notion of ageing as a natural physical process. That growing older may be an enriching experience, that a face becomes infinitely interesting with the memories behind it, seems beyond the grasp of popular visual culture. This is strange because it's a simple notion, really — people are not houses.

IPSITA CHAKRAVARTY

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

WHOSE PROBLEM IS IT ANYWAY?

Often enough, in situations of some seriousness or in the midst of an epiphany, one hears people gravely intone, "Nothing lasts forever". Recently, while watching a recording of a fashion show held in the United States of America by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, I recall telling myself exactly that. (I would like to claim that the grander "Change is the only constant" occurred to me, but unfortunately, I cannot.)

As I watched the show, it struck me that the clothing available for people that some would call overweight has undergone a drastic change over the decades. Dowdy, tent-like dresses that people were forced to don once they crossed a particular age, simply because those were the only clothes available to them, seems to have become a thing of the past. They have been replaced with colourful, attractive tunics, slacks, flattering jeans and pretty dresses. Things really have changed, I thought. It was all very heartening — until I tried to imagine any of the NAAFA models being asked to walk the ramp for the unveiling of a regular summer or fall collection of a Gucci, a Dior or a Lanvin, and I could not.

As if it were not enough that the world is obsessed with arresting normal human evolution by means of a mind-boggling array of surgeries, facelifts and collagen injections — to an end that still utterly mystifies me — people considered large have to worry about ageing and their weight (roughly translating into their clothing prospects). It is evident that fashion shows that are especially organized for large people have their heart in the right place — but how long can it be before these, too, are seen as a joke? In the global fashion industry, where thin people are automatically the norm, often taken as the yardstick by which other people are judged, it will be years before large people are sought after and paid for working in a 'mainstream' fashion show. As someone who has always wondered what makes big, or even aspiring, names in the fashion industry any better than an old, experienced tailor who works out of a cubby-hole in some corner of Calcutta (the former, in fact, often display a curious propensity for making clothes look ugly and unwearable, haute couture or no haute couture), I can only look upon this exclusivist trend with disappointment.

Most clothing companies and fashion houses have generally equated thin models with boosts in the sales of their garments. Now, however, clothing lines especially for plus-sized women are slowly proliferating in garment stores. This has lead to advertisements and hoardings featuring models who look like those people at whom the clothes are aimed. It is true that this has got more to do with a greater number of plus-sized women being in a position to spend on clothes, and less to do with a new-found appreciation of their beauty and body shapes. It is indeed a marketing strategy, but then, so was the use of thin models for ensuring higher sales.

However, the real appreciation of beauty and a regard for differences is entirely the prerogative of the people. Self-appointed guardians of 'cutting-edge fashion', who reserve the sole right to declare what is 'so last season' and what isn't, have for decades been in the habit of making decisions on behalf of ordinary people, with scant regard for the fact that people, strangely enough, are different. Women and men, from large to painfully thin, have spent decades battling low self-esteem and paranoia about every imaginable body image-related problem, while being bombarded with a steady stream of advice regarding 'what to wear and what not to wear'. The curious thing is, there really isn't anything that cannot be worn by a particular person. True, many people look at a large woman wearing well-fitted clothes (who may be absolutely comfortable, and love the way the outfit makes her feel) and remark about "how terribly fat she looks in those clothes". But, in all honesty, whose problem is that?

NAYANTARA MAZUMDER

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

SIZE UP

"Make it large." Large is cool, large is the big life, large is fun — as long as it is a drink. Presented by a lithe, moody, po-facedly funny, immensely popular actor, supported by the boys in blue engaged in a mad, presumably lovable, leaping and running scramble, the 'large' drink becomes almost magically desirable — anything less seems puny. But go beyond the drink, and the virtues of largeness become ambivalent. The word itself has become ambivalent and has expanded, losing its contours to include, quite simply, fat. In the new sensitivities generated by a constantly self-correcting age, 'big' is somehow less complimentary than 'large', and 'fat' is plain unacceptable. It is so much nicer to recreate a shadow of the youthful twirl before the mirror reciting, "Large, just large", and not "This is fat".

Weightloss programmes are as popular as wrinkle-lift creams nowadays, but for many Indian women, wrinkles are less of an issue than they are in the West. "Lose it or leave it" applies more to double chins and drooping jawlines in the visible sections of the service and infotainment industries than to frown marks and scoured cheeks. But clothes have begun to come up to scratch at last, in the service of women substantial in both pocket and anatomy. Large sizes, even large lines of clothing, now have separate shelves to themselves. One can be larger than the largest, but no harm — and no shame — in trying.

But the large woman's hunt for the clothes she wants is shot through with small tragedies. There is, for some reason, an ineradicable idea that large women are also shapeless, or at least, they have one common shape, that is, large. (So 'large' includes shapelessness as well as size.) An XXL size may fit her without straining at embarrassing seams but, with great compassion, also make her look like a rolling barrel loosely covered in flowered sacking. Society's 'gaze' — polite- speak for the male gaze, we have been told — may see large as shapeless, but large women certainly don't. Are all the designers male? Are there no large women out there? Who would know, for example, that leaving in the scope for thunder thighs in a pair of trousers requires a proportionate generosity of space for the upper areas, or that it is not at all helpful to have a bag where the stomach should fit in snugly if the elastic at the waist cuts devastatingly through the flab and leaves the hopeful gasping in agony. All this is apart from the fact that the larger woman has limited choice: she must take what fits, good, bad or shocking pink. Unless she opts for the tailor, of course.

The injustice of this cuts deep to the heart when the large man so obviously comes up trumps. It is very rarely that a man is fat — he is impressively large, or nicely big, or even intimidatingly enormous. When he is fat, he is either Falstaff or Mycroft Holmes. Television channels would never ask them to leave because of their extra chins. And it is not just their size that is impressive, so are their shapes, their wrinkles — the deeper the more intriguing, the widening gaps in their teeth — can Omar Sharif ever be less sexy?— or even their bad wigs — witness the triumph of once-angry old men on the audio-visual media. Not even the most disenchanted of large women in Bengal today would deny the magnetism of the matinee idol of a past age when he grew folds at the back of his expressive neck and a sweet little paunch to boot.

But nobody promised us a fair deal, did they?

BHASWATI CHAKRAVORTY

 

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EDITORIAL

CONFUSING SIGNALS

''THE ROLE OF ARMY IS VITAL FOR MAINTENANCE OF PEACE.''


Two important policy announcements on Kashmir, made by Union home secretary G K Pillai, show the confusion and lack of co-ordination within the government on important issues concerning the state.


Pillai announced that the troop strength in the state is proposed to be reduced by 25 per cent in the next 12 months and a new permit system may be designed to allow people of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir to visit Jammu and Kashmir crossing the Line of Control. Both proposals are controversial and evoked strong responses not only from those who are knowledgeable about the situation in the state but also from people and agencies involved in maintaining peace.


Home minister P Chidambaram had done some loud thinking about troop reduction over a year ago, but Pillai has now announced the decision in concrete terms. Chidambaram's proposal was not acted upon because the situation in the state had deteriorated soon after that. Now there is a lull but it is a matter of debate whether it is time to start planning withdrawals.


Army chief General V K Singh has outright rejected the idea of troops reduction and said he is not aware of any government decision on it. He has also indicated that any reduction will put additional pressure on the forces deployed in the valley. That raises the question whether the proposal was discussed within the government and the army was consulted before it was announced.


The government's Kashmir policy has suffered in the past because of internal differences. The role of the army, which has deployed over five lakh troops in the state, is important for maintenance of peace and it is very odd that an important decision was taken and announced without taking its views into consideration.


Reduction of troops, dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and liberalisation of travel norms for people may all be good confidence-building measures but it is important that they are timed well to produce the best results. More importantly, the decision should represent a consensus within the government, taken after considering different views and all pros and cons.


While it was improper for the army chief to make a public statement contradicting an announcement from  a top official on a decision purportedly taken by the government, it is for the political leadership to ensure that mixed messages are not sent out to the people on vital issues.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

DEFENCE SOLUTIONS

''THE WORKING OF PUBLIC SECTOR UNITS HAS TO BE IMPROVED.''


The government's defence production policy announced last week places a welcome emphasis on self-reliance and indigenous development and production of arms and equipment.


Though procurement policies and procedures have been changed a number of times, it is the first time that a defence production policy has been formulated and unveiled. This is odd because India is the only country with sizeable armed forces which depends mostly on imports for its requirements.


Its indigenous production is low as it has a small military-industrial complex, and in the case of high-technology weapons systems, dependence on foreign manufacturers is very  high. The policy has been framed with the intention of creating and expanding local capabilities and reduce the dependence of imports in the coming years.

According to the policy, preference will be given to indigenous design, development and production of equipment. The idea is to  indigenously build all weapons systems required in the next 10 years and later, on the basis of the long-term integrated perspective plan, increasing local production to over 50 per cent. The decision to import items will depend on local capabilities, the urgency of requirement and criticality of the arms and equipment.

While the statement of intentions is good, there are doubts about how effectively the policy will be implemented. The performance of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has not been satisfactory. In 1995, a 10-year-plan was conceived to increase self-reliance in production from 30 to 70 per cent. But 15 years later the dependence on imports is still 70 per cent.


The government has also allowed 100 per cent private industry participation and 26 per cent foreign direct investment in the defence production sector. But the situation has not improved. The working of the DRDO, defence public sector units and ordnance factories has to be improved drastically and the prevailing attitudes at higher levels need to change.


Very often imports are preferred because they offer an easy way out and there are undesirable considerations. But the high level of imports is risky and dangerous for the country which has aspirations to become a global power. The financial benefits of indigenous production are also considerable. It must be ensured that the new policy is followed and implemented sincerely in letter and spirit.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

INTEREST RATES FIXATION

BY PREM SHANKAR JHA


The RBI's measures to curb inflation has utterly failed. India has been suffering from high inflation rates throughout the past four years.


When the stock market greets the news of a huge slackening of industrial growth not with dismay but unconcealed relief, it is a sure sign that all is not well in the Kingdom of Denmark. This is what it did on January 12: when the news broke that industrial growth had fallen to an 18-month low of 2.7 per cent the sensex jumped up by 1.8 per cent.


The reason for this apparent paradox is not hard to discern. Industrialists are hoping that the sharp slackening of growth will make the Reserve Bank of India reconsider its all-but-announced intention to raise interest rates yet again — for the seventh time since March — to fight inflation.


The past six increases have already pushed up the basic cost of lending by 1.5 per cent. When, despite this, and despite the arrival of a bumper harvest, the end-of-year price data showed a resurgence of inflation, driven by an 18.32 per cent rise in food prices, analysts concluded that further hikes of up to 0.75 per cent during the course of 2011 were inevitable. Foreign investors saw the writing on the wall and decided to book profits; many Indian investors followed suit, and the next five days saw a drop in the sensex of almost 7 per cent.


Is an interest rate hike really necessary? Will it really bring down inflation? The RBI's next policy announcement is due on January 25, so the government still has a week in which to reflect upon these questions. But it doesn't need seven days because the answer has been staring us in the face for the past four years. The RBI set out to curb inflation, then running at a little over 6 per cent by the wholesale price index, in 2006. But it has failed utterly and miserably to do so. India has been suffering from high inflation rates throughout the past four years.


This inflation has been immune to the successive increases in interest rates, from January 2007 till September 2008, and again from March last year because, unlike previous bouts of inflation it is not a demand pull, but a cost-push inflation, caused in our case by a shortage in the supply of food and imported raw materials whose prices have surged because of China's endless appetite for growth. And one needs only basic economics to know that monetary policy cannot control  cost-push inflation.


The clinching proof that changes of demand do not affect cost-push inflation was provided by the behaviour of prices during the global recession of 2008-9. Global demand fell, so the prices not only of manufactures fell. This caused a drop in the prices of raw materials, including crude oil, of 50 to 70 per cent. The Indian market was no exception.


As a result the price of manufactures fell 7.6 per cent between March and December 2008 and rose by only 2.85 per cent, under the spur of the fiscal stimulus package, during the same period of 2009. But inflation did not slacken in India appreciably because the prices of foodgrains and food articles continued to rise.


As a result, prices of primary products rose by 5.2 per cent, of food articles by 8, and of fruits and vegetables by 9.5 per cent. In the same months of the following year, when global demand was still shrinking and Indian demand had just begun to stabilise the price of manufactures rose by only 2.85 per cent, but those of food articles rose by 19 per cent and of fruits and vegetables by a whopping 30.2 per cent.
The unexpected

Some analysts ascribed the rise in 2009 to the severe drought of that year, but 2010 saw the best monsoon in human memory, and the prospect of a bumper harvest. But instead of falling the inflation rate climbed further on the back of a 42 per cent rise in food prices and a 49.9 per cent rise in the prices of fruits and vegetables.

So why is the RBI continuing to flog the dead horse of interest rates? Its stock answer has been that it is to curb inflationary 'expectations'. But this is a Catch-22 answer because it cannot be disproved. However, C Rangarajan, the chairman of the prime minister's economic advisory council, has given a more plausible answer.

According to him, high food costs will harden the demand for increases in wages, and thereby 'stoke inflation'. The unstated corollary to his argument is that  slowing down the growth of output, reducing the growth of employment and forcing down the real wages of the working class is not too high a price to pay for taming inflation. This is hardly likely to win the Congress any friends.


Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and S S Ahluwalia can hardly be unaware of this. But they are comforting themselves with the view that thanks to the huge fiscal deficits of the past two years the economy has been showing signs of overheating. Thus there is a window open for having one's cake and eating it at the same time, ie bringing down the rate of inflation and bringing the economy back to a more sustainable growth trajectory. But a close look at the industrial growth figures for the past 12 months shows that this is wishful thinking.

Although at 9.47 per cent  industrial growth has been higher during the current fiscal year than it was in 2009-10 (7.41 per cent) there has been a marked deceleration of growth after March, from 12 per cent in the first quarter, to 9 per cent in the second and 7 per cent in the first two months of the third. Since the October figure of 11.29 per cent probably reflects the annual festive season spending spree, it is likely that the December figures will depress the average for the third quarter even further.


An examination of industrial growth by sectors helps explain what is happening. Almost the entire growth in the past two years has been confined to capital goods and consumer durables. The output of non-durable consumer goods — many clothing, food products, beverages, and tobacco fell from 7.3 per cent in April to November 2008 to 1.2 per cent in the same period of 2009 and has fallen further to 0.7 per cent in 2010.


This reflects not only the phenomenal concentration of spending power that the so-called fiscal stimulus created in the middle classes but also the decline in non-food consumption among the poor as they struggle to meet the soaring cost of food. Another round of increases in interest rates will not contain the present cost-push inflation, but will only slow down industrial growth, and further reduce the real incomes of the poor.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

THOSE LITTLE THINGS

BY CHITRA SRIKRISHNA


We think breaking the rules once is not a crime, but it becomes a habit.


You are waiting for the signal to change at a major intersection. It's early in the morning on a Sunday and there's hardly any traffic on the road. You have been watching the light for nearly two minutes drumming your fingers on the steering wheel of your car.


An autorickshaw darts across the road, running the red light. There's a little voice inside your head that says "go ahead, jump the signal and nobody will know". You might get away with it the first time, there's no policeman in sight. The second time is easier because you've already done it once and from then onwards till you're caught red-handed, jumping the red light becomes blasé.


The latest Shahrukh Khan movie is out at the theatres, and there's no hope of getting a ticket. You've simply gotta see the movie, and end up getting a pirated version on DVD. You watch the movie wearing your blinders on convincing yourself it's only this once. You're still breaking the law. Again.


There's a long queue at the post office. You see your friend standing in front of the line and strike up a conversation with him. Blithely ignoring the others in the queue you wheedle your way in, jumping the queue. Unlike the earlier scenarios you're not breaking the law here, but you are still breaking something — your fellow citizens' faith in you.


Faith that you will follow an unstated code of conduct which makes it possible for human beings to co-exist in a society. Imagine yourself to be in the other person's shoe — whether it's the poor patient driver whom you cut off at the intersection sneaking in from the side as the signal clears or the person at the rear end of that queue at the post office. Wouldn't you be the one fuming with indignation at being short-changed?


So let us start by changing ourselves, today. With the small stuff. Let's resolve that when we wait at that traffic light today, not merely by being patient but courteous. I know as the mother of two young impressionable girls, I have to act on the the little things that matter so that it makes a big difference to all of us in the long run.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

SAVE THE SEYCHELLES FROM PIRATES

BY VICTOR EROFEYEV, IHT


Unless order is restored to Somalia with international help, the pirates cannot be eradicated.


Put the pirates on trial! Here in the Seychelles, they believe that a turning point in the war with Somali piracy occurred when the supreme court handed down a severe sentence of 22 years each to nine Somali pirates under a new 'antipiracy' amendment to Seychelles law.


The pirates really had seized some Seychellois, so the mood in Victoria was good, both among officials and ordinary citizens. If we add to this that the United Arab Emirates had donated five patrol vessels to Seychelles, significantly augmenting the local coast guard, it becomes clear why the military spirit of the Seychellois was high. In addition to all this, American and French naval ships were in port, providing extra jobs.


Still, the security problems of the 115 Seychelles Islands have not been resolved. When I prepared to visit the southern island of Aldabra and its giant tortoises, I was told I could become easy prey for those self-same pirates.

International problem

The thousands of Somali pirates, armed with Kalashnikovs and grenade launchers, have become a serious international problem. Seychelles authorities complain that the pirates have significantly undermined the country's fishing industry. Yachting, and tourism in general, have suffered.


The Seychelles authorities have called on large countries to assume responsibility for combating piracy. I spoke about this with a senior government minister, Vincent Meriton, who saw the root cause of piracy in the fact that Somalia has virtually no effective government, and who argued that unless order is restored to Somalia with international help, the pirates cannot be eradicated.


At the same time, there are conflicting opinions among islanders about who benefits from this maritime evil. Some argue that the Somali bandits have long evolved into organised crime groups linked, through the Somali Islamist insurgency al-Shabaab, to al-Qaeda. Then there are those who hold a darker notion, saying that pirate loot settles ultimately in certain British and American banks, turning the fight with piracy into hypocrisy.

Have you ever seen a customs arrival form that lists, among potential reasons for visiting the country, 'honeymoon'? There's nothing surprising in this. The Seychelles are created for romance; when you tell the Seychellois that their islands are paradise, they take it as a statement of fact, noting that apparently this was the actual Garden of Eden.


Maybe this was because ethnic problems in my native Russia are so acute now. At our resort, I met many of my countrymen, who are celebrated here for their eccentricity — and their tips. I was told at the resort that Russians had entirely taken over the hotel for Russian Christmas, Jan 7. To be honest, I was here with my wife Katya for our honeymoon. But that did not leave me indifferent to the problems of the islands.


After all, we Russians and the Seychellois are, in one sense, brothers in misfortune. They too tried to 'build socialism', after they gained independence from Britain in 1976, and managed to create a harsh one-party system with censorship and fear. True, they did not recreate Stalin's Gulag, but they did achieve the traditional communist shortages. The legacy of this socialism is still evident in the bad roads and modest shops, and diplomats complain that it is difficult to find clothes to buy.


New problems have gradually appeared. Until recently, the Seychellois did not know what a serious crime was. That changed four years ago, when the global wave of narcotics rolled in like a tsunami. The local minister of tourism and sport says this is the result of the integration of the Seychelles in global processes, but this globalisation has also led to robbery and murder. Drug addiction has become entwined with another new phenomenon — alcoholism. Piracy is not the only evil.


The Seychellois are also greatly concerned about climate change. The beautiful granite islands could sink below the sea if the oceans continue to warm. A rise in sea level has already been noted, and the average annual temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees.


Nevertheless, the Seychellois have a positive vision for the future, and the trained personnel for it. Since there is harmony in the population, there will be a common understanding of the challenges.  Paradise is paradise, even if there are problems. But a paradise needs help to remain a paradise. Save the Seychelles from the pirates!

(The writer is a Russian writer and television host)

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

A PARALLEL ECONOMY


A recent Global Financial Integrity study has estimated that illicit cross-border transactions from India amount to $462 billion in offshore holdings, or 50 per cent or the country's gross domestic product (GDP). For every rupee legally existing in this country, there is an illegal rupee stashed abroad!


Little wonder that the government came in for sharp criticism from the Supreme Court yesterday: "It is pure and simple theft of national money. We are talking about mind-boggling crime... it's not about treaties," said the bench of Justice B Sudarshan Reddy and Justice S S Nijjar.


The scathing remarks came when Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium sought to explain various steps taken by the government under the Double Taxation Avoidance Act. The petition has been filed by former Law Minister Ram Jethmalani and others. They have asked the apex court to direct the government to retrieve 'black money' hoarded in foreign banks. The judges were castigating the central government's counsel for trying to limit the petition's scope to the black money stashed in a Liechtenstein bank, rather than providing information on Indian citizens parking their money abroad.


Most of the money kept in 'Swiss Banks' (a sort of generic name for illicit deposits in tax havens the world over) is generated through corruption, crime and/or tax evasion. The Global Financial Integrity study report shows the direct co-relation between the outflow of illicit money and inequality in income distribution within the country. It demonstrates that liberalisation – identified as the cause of the country's high growth rates and so-called prosperity – has not done very much at all to address the evils of the earlier command economy, which is reviled for having created black money and Swiss Bank deposits. In fact, if anything, the amount of illicit money overseas has multiplied in geometric progression since the liberalisation era began.


Even the highly suspicious 'Mauritius route' for anonymous foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country is yet to be regulated, quite possibly because many of the investors are none other than our politicians, who want to invest the money they have stashed abroad into lucrative businesses or into shares. Little wonder that there is such a studious silence on the parallel economy that is siphoning out the country's wealth.
To its credit, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been consistent in its calls for 'Swiss Bank' deposits to be unearthed and confiscated. It tried to make this a major issue in the 2009 parliamentary election, but it got sidelined as the RSS element in the party took control of the poll campaign and brought other, more sectarian, issues to the fore, which completely failed to capture the imagination of the masses, handing the party a bigger defeat than in the 2004 election.


Unless the central government makes a genuine effort to get after those with slush money abroad, the impression will continue to gain ground that it is those in the government themselves that own these deposits, and they are therefore reluctant to clamp down on them. If a significant section of this parallel economy can be unearthed, it will be a windfall for this country and its people. But who will bell the cat?


State of denial

If the Belgaum police can raid a Colva night club to follow up on its seizure of drugs originating from Goa, what prevents our Goa police from following up whenever drug dealers caught in Mumbai, Mangalore or Bangalore confess that they sourced the stuff from Goa?


'Herald' has reported such cases several times, but our cops have never followed up. Why?

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

HUMANITY'S FLAG AT HALF MAST

IN THE CIPRIANO FERNANDES CASE, THE PANJIM POLICE HAVE FAILED TO ADHERE TO SC GUIDELINES, SAYS FREDDY DIAS

The detention and the alleged assault against Cipriano Fernandes by the policemen of the Panjim Police Station in a non-cognisable complaint late in the night on January 7 and his consequent custodial death on January 9 come squarely within the ambit of the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court of India (SC) for strict adherence by the police forces of all states and union territories of the country.

The Supreme Court judgment, which has been dispatched to governments of all states and union territories, says: "Custodial violence strikes a blow to the rule of law. It is a naked violation of human dignity. Whenever human dignity is wounded, civilisation takes a step backward – the flag of humanity must, on each such occasion, fly at half-mast."

The apex court, while interpreting Articles 21 and 22(1) of the Constitution of India, held that if functionaries of the government become law breakers, it is bound to breed contempt for the law and would encourage lawlessness. Then every man would have the tendency to become a law unto himself, thereby leading to anarchy. "The cure cannot be worst than the disease itself. The action of the state must be right, just and fair," the trend-setting ruling says.

The Supreme Court has declared that the 'right to life' guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India cannot be denied to even convicts, undertrials, detainees and other prisoners. "Custodial torture is a serious violation of human dignity and a degradation which destroys to a very large extent, human personality," the court said. It laid down an eleven-point guideline for the police and warned that violation of these would render the delinquent officers liable to be punished under the Contempt of Court Act, apart from having to pay compensation for taking recourse to custodial torture.

According to the Apex Court's ruling, the following requirements are to be strictly followed in all cases of arrest or detention, till legal provisions are made in that behalf as a preventive measure:

(1) The police personnel carrying out the arrest and handling the interrogation of the arrestee should bear accurate, visible and clear identification and name tags with their designations. The particulars of all such police personnel who handle interrogation of the arrestee must be recorded in an official register.
(2) The police officer carrying out the arrest shall prepare a memo of arrest at the time of effecting arrest and such memo shall be attested by at least one witness, who may be either a member of the family of the arrestee or a respectable person of the locality from where the arrest is made. It shall also be countersigned by the arrestee and shall contain the time and date of arrest.


(3) A person who has been arrested or detained and is being held in custody in a police station or interrogation centre or other lock-up shall be entitled to have one friend or relative or other person known to him or having interest in his welfare being informed as soon as practicable, that he has been arrested and is being detained at the particular place, unless the attesting witness of the memo of arrest is himself such a friend or a relative of the arrestee.

(4) Where the next friend or relative of the arrestee lives outside the district or town, the time, place of arrest and venue of custody of an arrestee must be notified by the police through the legal aid organisation in the district and the police station of the area concerned, telegraphically, within a period of 8 to 12 hours following the arrest.
(5) The person arrested must be made aware of this right to have someone informed of his arrest or detention, as soon as he is put under arrest or is detained.

(6) An entry must be made in the diary at the place of detention regarding the arrest of the person, which shall also disclose the name of the next friend or relative of the person who has been informed of the arrest, and the names and particulars of the police officials in whose custody the arrestee is.

(7) The arrestee should, where he so requests, be also examined at the time of his arrest and major and minor injuries, if any present on his/her body, must be recorded at that time. The 'Inspection Memo' must be signed by both the arrestee and the police officer effecting the arrest, and its copy provided to the arrestee.
(8) The arrestee should be subjected to a medical examination by a trained doctor every 48 hours during his detention in custody. Such an examination should be carried out by a doctor on the panel of approved doctors appointed by the Director of Public Health Services of the concerned state or union territory. The Director of Public Health Services should set up such a panel for all districts and tehsils as well.

(9) Copies of all the documents, including the memo of arrest referred to above, should be sent to the judicial magistrate of the taluka for his record.

(10) The arrestee may be permitted to meet his lawyer during interrogation, though not throughout the interrogation.

(11) A police central room should be provided at all district and state headquarters, where information regarding the arrest and the place of custody of the arrestee shall be communicated by the police officer effecting the arrest within 12 hours of effecting the arrest, and at the police control room, it should be displayed on a conspicuous notice board.

Failure to strictly comply with the said requirements laid down by the Supreme Court shall, apart from rendering the concerned police official liable for departmental action, also render him liable to be punished for contempt of court. The proceedings for contempt of court can be instituted in any High Court of the country having territorial jurisdiction over the matter.

Moreover, if no action is taken against the delinquent police officials concerned by the higher police authorities, the matter can be reported to the High Court for contempt, apart from other actions.

In the Cipriano Fernandes case, the Panjim police have totally failed to adhere to the preventive guidelines issued by the Supreme Court and, therefore, the police personnel concerned are now clearly liable to be punished as per the court's directives.

It may be noted here that the apex court has held that the state is liable to pay compensation to victims of custodial torture or to their dependents. It has also ordered that the compensation amount may be recovered from the individual perpetrator(s) of custodial violence.

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

A HOLIDAY TREAT

BY MARC DE SOUZA

My children have invited me to visit them in Dubai, Doha and Canada. I am like a cat on hot bricks.  For one thing, it has helped me to look back on my whistle-stop tour round Western Europe in the '80s, with mixed feelings.

If you think I am ungrateful for overseas trips, consider the statistics. When you go through eleven airports and nine different hotel bedrooms in less than five weeks, you do not feel like a jet-setter. You experience what unaccompanied baggage, which you are, feels like.

The armed neutrality of airports terrifies me. Everything about them conspires to reduce the already unnerved passenger to anonymity. I will always remember Beirut as the place where the ground staff actually saw me doing a three-minute mile down the endless corridor towards the jump-off point, but closed the plane doors anyway.

After the airports, the right hotel can be warming as a welcome mat. Paris would not be Paris without its truly French hotels, where concierges never forget a face or a message, and have only one answer: "No problem," for every one you dump in their laps. The atmosphere keeps buzzing with excitement. There is so much warmth.
Funnily enough, the best thing that happened was in a Rome hotel. The executive may be pure air terminal, but the staff is still as Italian as spaghetti.

One afternoon, I was awoken by the sound of sobbing. I found a woman on the threshold, telling me in signs and broken English that she had damaged a raw silk shirt I had sent for ironing. I told her to forget it, as it was not new anyway, but she wept even harder. But these were hot tears of happiness.

In Switzerland, in the high and sacred realm, things were maddeningly comfortable; almost everything was at the touch of a button. You name it, the Swiss have it! Naturally, for such a heavenly place, rain washed and windswept Switzerland, prices are sky-rocketing.

I lost count of currencies after the third border. I do not think I will get over the shock of paying 99p (Rs70) in London for one solitary radish. The cost of living there cured me of complaining about ours.
After Hamburg, Amsterdam, Barcelona, down to Greece, the land of Athena, the eternal fire, gods and goddesses. It is serenely beautiful, especially the multitudinous islands off Piraeus.

On the island of Corfu, we stayed overnight. My wife and I went for a pon'ride. Climbing was alright, but whilst coming down the slope, my wife cried out: "Marc, I'm falling!" And the islanders, picking oranges, shouted: "Marco Polo!" 

This is something like glimpsing between the opening and closing of a door. There is a lot more, but the middle will not hold it!

I must confess I slept like a log in all those strange beds. For the first time in years, I did not have to keep an ear open for anything going bump in the night. The mere thought that I could read in bed till dawn if I wished was enough to put me out like a light.

But give me the only bedroom in the world which I can navigate in the dark. It may not be five-star, but it sure is familiar.

I am sending a cutting of this article to my trio. I wonder if, after that, they would still want me there…!

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

QUESTIONS TO GOGOI  

The Tarun Gogoi government of Assam is never tired of blowing its transparency trumpet. The ruling Congress, in its second consecutive term, had promised the people of the State a clean and transparent government when it came to power ousting the then tainted Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in 2001. It is, it will be recalled, this very government that had effected an RTI regime in the State — a move we had welcomed. In 2001, and then in 2006 when the Congress romped home again, the people of Assam were shown the ideal of a welfare state that the party would achieve. So how are things today? The party is battling the gravest corruption charges ever levelled against it in the political history of the State. There is this multi-crore NC Hills scam where development funds to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore as alleged, meant for one of the most development-starved districts of the State, have been swindled. Had Dispur under the Congress dispensation been really serious about its transparency promise and in the business of a real war on corruption, would that scam still have happened? Had the Tarun Gogoi cabinet gone all out against corruption, as Nitish Kumar is doing in Bihar that was the most illustrious hub of corruption until five years ago, and had exemplary action been taken against the corrupt during the past nine years, would that scam still have happened? Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi owes us all a meaningful answer.

But in the wake of the lists of assets and liabilities of Gogoi and his cabinet colleagues adorning the official website of the State government, which indicates that the Assam ministers are nowhere near the high and envious financial position as alleged, a larger question has cropped up, thanks of course to the latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG): Why has the Gogoi government been so insensitive to the inspection reports and paragraphs prepared by the office of the Accountant General (AG) involving an expenditure of Rs 5371.39 crore? According to the CAG report, as of May 2010, as many as 4,905 inspection reports and 25,880 paragraphs involving an expenditure of Rs 5371.39 crore are pending with the State government for settlement. Why has the Gogoi government not been able to reply to the audit observations of the AG office involving such huge amount in spite of the fact that the departments concerned are required to respond to such queries within one month? Is an experienced politician like Gogoi, who has been Chief Minister since 2001 and who has also been a Union minister, not aware of the fact that such inspection reports and paragraphs are pointers to financial anomalies and those who are behind them ought to be held responsible in a clean governance-and-administration system? What does one make out of this government's so-called resolve to take on corruption when it has only remained mysteriously callous to such serious AG reports? And why should the people of a badly corruption-hit State as this believe that this government has any resolve to fight corruption and be on the side of ordinary citizens?

That is not all. The CAG report has revealed that the non-existence of internal audit wings in most of the departments in Assam has led to serious financial irregularities, and says that every government department should have an internal audit system. The report reveals that in Assam, internal audit wings have been set up merely in 19 departments, but even such wings are not functioning properly! Gogoi, as the chief political executive of the State, and given his promise of a corruption-free government, is again answerable to his masters — the people in a democracy — as to why every government department in the State is not equipped with an internal audit wing and why even the existing ones should malfunction. Would he inform us as to what initiative he has taken towards setting up an internal audit system in every government department in the State? Many answers are in order — before the people of the State exercise their franchise soon. Or does this government expect the people to simply overlook the farcical exercises in the name of 'transparency' and the wonderfully sustained fraud on them?

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

WHAT'S YOUR PLAN?  

The principal opposition party in Assam, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), has launched a blistering attack on the ruling Congress on the issue of corruption in the State and termed the lists of assets and liabilities declared by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and his cabinet colleagues ''the biggest fraud in the political history of Assam''. While there is no denying that corruption has attained a new crest in the State ruled by the Congress since 2001, a mere critique of the regime will not do. A responsible opposition party would rather come up with an action plan to face the challenge of corruption. We are yet to hear what the AGP has in mind. How is the AGP going to demolish the deep-rooted and expanding architecture of corruption in the State? The party's capabilities are being subjected to a severe test. One has also not forgotten the AGP era of corruption. Let the party, therefore, spell out its road map first — and fast.

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

A WRONG MESSAGE FROM KASHMIR  

REDUCTION OF SECURITY FORCES OR OTHER MEASURES TO BRING BACK NORMALCY IN KASHMIR MUST NOT GIVE THE IMPRESSION OF AN APPEASEMENT POLICY. IT WILL SEND A WRONG MESSAGE NOT ONLY TO THE SEPARATIST OUTFITS AND PAKISTAN BUT TO THE ENTIRE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TOO

Union Home Secretary GK Pillai recently indicated that the presence of security forces in Jammu and Kashmir could be pruned by as much as 25 per cent in the course of the year. But disputing Home Secretary GK Pillai's announcement, the Indian Army said the time was not ripe for troop reduction in the terror-hit State and any such decision was a prerogative of the Defence Ministry. Thus it is clear that there was a serious communication gap between the Home Ministry and the Army regarding the government's decision to cut down the deployment of security forces in the trouble-torn Kashmir valley.

As per expectations, both mainstream and separatist political parties hailed the decision of reduction of troops in Kashmir by the Central government. Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq hailed the decision, and said that gradual reduction in troops size would certainly help in easing the ground situation.

The question is not who was right, between the Home Secretary and the Army. The matter of discussion is a part of Union Home Secretary GK Pillai's statement.

In his statement on the issue of reducing security troops in Kashmir, Pillai said, "This is one of the confidence-building measures, so that people don't get harassed by the over-presence of security forces." What did Pillai mean to say? Did he mean that people in Kashmir were victims of unnecessary harassment by the Indian Army? Did he justify the allegations of harassment of civilians in the hands of the Indian Army, both in Kashmir and other parts of the country? Did Pillai justify the so-called human rights violations in Kashmir by the Indian Army, as has always been alleged by Pakistan, the separatist outfits and the Hurriyat?

It will be better to make the point clear as to why these questions have been raised. The questions are relevant as this has been the Pakistani policy regarding Kashmir and its propaganda over the entire issue on every international forum, including the UN. Thus it will be a shot in the arm of the Pakistani propaganda if such a high-level Indian official begins to sing a Pakistani tune while expressing emotional hyperboles for the Kashmiri people.

Let us not ignore the comment of the indefatigable Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Geelani in this regard. According to him, the proposal for troops cut had come from Pillai, who termed it as a confidence-building measure. And the turning down of the Home Secretary's offer by the Indian Army chief shows, on the one hand, India's obstinacy to hold on to Kashmir at all costs, and on the other, the confusion that prevails in its leadership's mind about how much force is needed for that purpose. The Army does not want to relax its vicious grip over the Valley and is, therefore, against the government's initiative to cut down the number of troops there. The perception of India's civilian ascendancy over the armed forces also becomes questionable because it turns out that its Kashmir policy is dictated by the Army and the government cannot dare defy the Army's challenge. The world that is being frequently lectured by the Indian media on the virtues of Indian democracy must not forget that such an attitude could only be condoned in a military-dominated political set-up. The voice of the people of Kashmir must now be heard.

The entire controversy gave an opportunity to the dissident Kashmiri leaders to raise their voice with their usual rhetoric. This is the most unexpected development that could have been avoided if the Union Home Secretary had handled the issue a little bit more sensibly.

In fact, historically, Pakistan has viewed its dispute with India over Kashmir as the key determinant of its strategic behaviour in the international arena. Advocacy of the rights of the Kashmiri people to freely determine their future has been the main plank of Islamabad's diplomatic strategy in the UN and other international forums. By championing the cause of the rights of the Kashmiri people, Islamabad has tried to remind the world that India's control over two-thirds of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is not only legally untenable but morally unjust, as it was achieved through an instrument of accession with a ruler who had lost the support of the vast majority of his predominantly Muslim subjects.

Islamabad always supported the so-called liberation of Kashmir in more ways than words.  The ISI's support for the militancy in Kashmir is a direct by-product of Pakistan's national security policy and grand strategy that still continues in one form or the other. Islamabad is fully aware of the extent of its active support for subversive operations inside India, and considers it a tenet of its regional security policy.

If the government of India adopts an appeasing policy for the people of Kashmir and those within the Pakistan-occupied area of Kashmir, its outcome will be a dangerous one. This is not unknown to Indian diplomats. It is an established fact now that an amicable Indo-Pak relation is a mere rhetoric. So it is really difficult to understand why Indian officials tend to include Pakistan in the gambit of peace in Kashmir. These efforts virtually legitimize Pakistan's role in the issues related to peace in Kashmir.

Pillai's statement on the harassment of the Kashmiri people in the hands of the Indian security personnel was an irresponsible comment. If Pakistan adopts it as a weapon against Indian diplomacy in the subcontinent, who will take responsibility? Will the Home Secretary please answer?

If reduction of security forces is essential for peace in the valley, it should be done. But it should be done after taking due consideration of the opinion of the Indian Army. The opinion of the top officials of the Indian Army deployed in Kashmir should be given due respect as they are aware of the ground reality. Things should not be done in haste as per the demand of the Hurriyat, other NGOs and of course the political parties of Kashmir. One should see things beyond politics in Kashmir as it is related to the internal security of the country.

Nevertheless, reduction of security forces or other measures to bring back normalcy in Kashmir must not give the impression of an appeasement policy. It will send a wrong message not only to the separatist outfits and Pakistan but to the entire international community too. This wrong signal may provoke other terror outfits operating in different parts of the country. It will be better if our diplomats assess the situation from a realistic perspective to avoid exposing the country's alleged weakness in public. After all, this is not the right way of dealing with a sensitive issue like Kashmir.

Shibdas  Bhattacharjee

(The writer is a freelancer based in Halakura, Dhubri)

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE BACK-TO-FRONT PROBE OF YOAV GALANT

IT IS RIGHT AND NECESSARY THAT THE LINGERING DOUBTS BE VIGOROUSLY AND THOROUGHLY INVESTIGATED.

 

For months Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, new chief-designate of the IDF General Staff, must have assumed that the job was his. In decades past it would indeed have been in the bag, innuendo about his integrity notwithstanding. Galant was vetted by the Turkel Committee, which approved his appointment, and he is due to be sworn in on February 14.

It is a badge of honor for Israeli society that, no matter what the eventual outcome of the disagreeable episode that now threatens his elevation, nothing at this juncture can be taken for granted.


Galant will be grilled next week by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss regarding allegations that he de facto annexed 28 dunams of public land to his own holding in Moshav Amikam, followed by another 350 square meters, and that he possibly benefitted from favoritism when allocated 35 additional dunams by the Israel Lands Authority.

 

Rumors about strong-arm tactics by Galant in his own community had been circulating for years. But the Turkel Committee gave Galant its green light to succeed Gabi Ashkenazi as chief of the General Staff, despite multiple complaints and objections to the attorney-general and the Ministry of Justice.


Curiously – and this in itself begs an exhaustive and exacting review – the prosecution was loath to handle this hot potato. The evaluations it submitted to the Turkel Committee belittled the suspected transgressions and essentially facilitated Galant's promotion. Subsequently the High Court of Justice declined to nix the appointment.

We particularly must ascertain that Galant didn't perjure himself before the court, because the truth is no less vital in his case than it was regarding highly successful officers recently punished for bending the truth to protect family members in minor misdemeanor cases.


Thankfully the state comptroller is particularly intolerant of whitewashing. Now that his office has entered the fray, we may be confident that the full story will come out. This certainly does not mean that Galant will necessarily be found unsuitable for the IDF's highest post.


Moreover, if Lindenstrauss finds no fault in his conduct, Israelis will be able to rest easy that our No. 1 soldier is above reproach – as only befits a commander with so many lives, literally, in his care.


FROM THIS point on, no comradely knowing winks and cover-ups are likely. That in itself is heartening. What is discomfiting, though, is the sense that the investigatory process is being conducted in reverse. First came the appointment, with the substantive probe of allegations that might threaten it following only after the fact.

The only positive that might emerge from this back-to-front sequence of events is that it is turning the spotlight onto the long-festering but often overlooked problem of land use in moshavim. Each family in the cooperative villages has a small – often too small – holding. The farms in many instances are surrounded by public lands that moshav members often use without explicit authorization and whose status many never bother to legalize. A certain correlation, perhaps (though not in dimension), comes from America's Western states where ranchers spread out on federal lands.


The fault here is primarily that of the state, which never moved to impose order in the countryside; it could have allowed farmers to legally lease additional land (as modern agriculture cannot be successfully pursued on tiny plots).

GALANT, HOWEVER, doesn't run a working farm. The allegation that he may have padded his holding, perhaps illicitly, with dozens of dunams doesn't necessarily entitle him to our lenience as might be the case elsewhere in the agricultural sector.


It's particularly pertinent to note that Galant's neighbor, in his own moshav, was tried for seeking to gain control of the very same land that Galant himself later apparently appropriated. Not only must justice be impartial, but anyone who aspires to climb to the highest IDF rung must be squeaky clean and be judged by the highest standards.


Galant may by a superb general, appropriately supported for the post of chief of the General Staff, and he unquestionably deserves the benefit of the doubt until categorically proven otherwise in this case. But it is right and necessary that the lingering doubts be vigorously and thoroughly investigated.


We need to be confident in the character, judgment and integrity of the man tasked with some of the most difficult decisions in Israeli public life; the man to whom so many Israelis entrust the well-being of their children; the man charged, above all, with our defense.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

RATTLING THE CAGE: IM TIRTZU'S SPECTACLE OF FALSEHOOD

BY LARRY DERFNER 

THE RECENT 'STUDY' BY THE NGO ON THE FUNDING OF CERTAIN LEFT-WING ORGANIZATIONS IS NOTHING BUT CYBERTRASH.

TALKBACKS (5)

 

It's ironic that Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the witch-hunt over the funding of Israeli human rights organizations, is himself accused by the police of taking millions of dollars in bribes from foreign businessmen. (Which adds to the irony of his being foreign minister. This guy is full of ironies.)


But beyond this, I've been wondering what anybody could ask the NGOs about their funding that isn't already public knowledge.


Not only do they file annual financial reports with the state, but you can just open one of their reports, or go into their websites, and see who gives them money, or at least who the main donors are. They're all from the liberal West – European governments and Western philanthropies, notably the New Israel Fund.


But now Im Tirtzu, a right-wing outfit that distinguished itself by depicting NIF president Naomi Chazan with a horn in her head, says B'Tselem, Hamoked, Breaking the Silence and other left-wing NGOs are funded by our enemies. Im Tirtzu has a new Power Point presentation called "Support from Arab funds and countries for organizations working against IDF and Israeli state policies."


The 38-page show is full of colorful charts and diagrams; it's got lines, arrows, names and numbers going every which way, and it's been reported and commented on, sometimes with deep enthusiasm, by the local media.

"This study," reads Im Tirtzu's disclaimer in small print, "was based on freely available materials. We believe that a thorough search was conducted. Even so, it is always possible that there are publications relevant to the topic of discussion that were not discovered during the research. Any decision or action on your part should take such uncertainty into consideration... In any case, this report shouldn't be taken as counseling or advice."

Let me put it a different way – this "study" is a spectacle of falsehoods. A crude slander dressed up with slick graphics. Once you get past the scare words ("Arabs," "terrorists," "delegitimization," etc.) and actually trace the connections Im Tirtzu tries to make between the enemy and the NGOs, you end up with nothing. There is no connection.

The study doesn't show evidence that B'Tselem, Hamoked and the others got money from terrorists. Neither does it show that they got money from any entity that funds terrorists. It doesn't even show that they got money from any entity that funds any other entity that funds terrorists.


Instead, an online check of some of these freely available materials shows that Im Tirtzu's claim is that 13 left-wing NGOs got a small proportion of their money – a little less than $2 million all told – from a fund that, in turn, once got a tiny proportion of its money from another fund that, in turn, once got a tiny proportion of its money from yet another fund that, in turn, gave charity to Palestinians during the intifada.


And even that, say the major NGOs, is false – all of their donations that were challenged in the report, they say, came from European governments.

BUT FOR argument's sake, let's take Im Tirtzu at its word. Using those freely available materials, let's follow the money.


The "tainted" $2 million, it says, comes from a Ramallah-based fund called NDCNGO Development Center. Where does NDC get its money? Quoting from its website, Im Tirtzu says NDC once got $412,000 from an international fund for Palestinians called the Welfare Association.


Before looking at the Welfare Association, though, let me point out that this $412,000 amounts to less than 2 percent of NDC's income. The other roughly $24 million in donations comes from the World Bank, France and a fund run jointly by Switzerland, Denmark, Holland and Sweden.


B'Tselem and a couple of other NGOs accused by Im Tirtzu say all of the money they got through NDC came from the joint European fund, that none of it came from the Welfare Association. But again, taking Im Tirtzu at its word, let's see what the dreaded Welfare Association is all about.


The Welfare Association is a fund for Palestinian development that gets nearly $30 million from Muslim governments and institutions – as well as from the US Agency for International Development, the World Bank, Europe, Canada, the Ford Foundation and the Princess Diana Memorial Fund.


But Im Tirtzu, quoting from the Welfare Association's website, notes that nearly $800,000 came in a grant from the Islamic Development Bank. Quoting from the IDB website, Im Tirtzu points out that the bank set up the Al Kuds Intifada Fund and Al Aksa Fund to aid "the families of the martyrs, the injured, handicapped and persons imprisoned in Israeli jails, as well as the Palestinians whose houses were demolished and farms destroyed by Israeli soldiers."


Is there anything wrong with Muslims giving charity to the Palestinians during the intifada, even to the "families of martyrs"? To Im Tirtzu, however, this is "proof of the involvement of the Al Kuds and Al Aksa funds in support of terror."


And so ends the money trail. That's all there is, according to this Power Point presentation. Tell me – where's the smoking gun? Where do we see Israeli human rights organizations being funded by the enemy? If you want to play "A got a dollar from B, who got a dollar from C, who got a dollar from D, therefore A is being bankrolled by D," you could probably run it on most universities, synagogues and day care centers and come up with juicier stuff than Im Tirtzu thinks it found.


In short, this "study" is junk. Cybertrash.


AND HERE'S another perfect irony about the witch-hunt against the left-wing NGOs: Guess which right-wing NGO refuses to make public the identity of even a single one of its donors?


That's right: Im Tirtzu.


I asked Ronen Shoval, the group's leader, for some names of contributors. Forget it. "I can promise you they aren't Arab funds or unfriendly governments," he said. "Most of our money comes from small donations, from university students, from Am Yisrael."


That's what patriotism's all about, right? You gotta walk it like you talk it.


To Im Tirtzu and Avigdor Lieberman, patriotism also means making up falsehoods about left-wing dissenters, smearing them as enemies of the people. Jews have been victims of such patriotism for centuries. The final irony in this freak show we're living through is that Jews have become the inquisitors, too.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

WASHINGTON WATCH: LABOR'S LOVE LOST

BY D. BLOOMFIELD 

 

As demands within the party to bolt the coalition became louder due to the faltering peace process, Barak had to make a choice.

 

Ehud Barak wanted to be the Labor Party's leader in the worst way, and that's just what he's done. After twice taking it down the road to defeat – including a failed term as prime minister – and turning the oncedominant party into a weak also-ran, he pushed it off a cliff this week and left to form his own party.

A friend in Jerusalem e-mailed me Sunday as the news broke: "You can start saying Kaddish for Labor now."

 Actually, it's been on life support for a long time; Barak just pulled the plug.

Once the party of the working classes, it had become a party of elitists as it watched Likud and even Shas fill its former role.

The party that founded the state was struck a final blow by its own leader, who had plotted its demise with Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It comes as little surprise to those who know Barak's first loyalty has always been to Barak, not the party or anyone else.

All the blame for Labor's demise can't be put on Barack.

The party of David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin has suffered from a string of ineffectual leaders and lacked a clear message for voters. In the last election it came in fourth behind Likud, Kadima and Israel Beiteinu; today it is down to a mere eight seats, and there's no telling how many of those will stay.

The Left has been unable to find a way to counter a right-wing prime minister and a coalition of more extreme elements, although Barak initially claimed he brought Labor into the coalition for that purpose. The promise to give Netanyahu's right-wing coalition a small degree of balance never materialized.

Barak in recent months has faced increasing pressure to pull Labor out of Netanyahu's dysfunctional government because of its failure to make progress on the peace process. The word from Washington was that the administration was furious with Barak for "deceiving" it about his clout in pushing Netanyahu toward peace, reported Haaretz.

Furious or not, the administration prefers dealing with Barak over Netanyahu, who has a history of meddling in American partisan politics and is not trusted at the upper levels of the Obama administration.

Barak is not only the defense minister but also the de facto foreign minister because the man who holds the title, Avigdor Lieberman, has been a disaster and largely sidelined by his old mentor, Netanyahu. With Labor out of the government, Lieberman is strengthened, because in a coalition that rules with only a five-seat majority (66 of 120), his 15 seats can hold the balance of power.

NETANYAHU AND Lieberman may be feuding, but don't look for the prime minister to push his former protégé out of the government; he needs him inside the tent spitting out rather than the other way round because he is reportedly terrified that if Lieberman brings down the government, the former bouncer will run against him and bounce him right out of office.

As demands within Labor to leave the government became louder because of the faltering peace process, Barak had to make a choice: leave the job he loved or the party he didn't care much about. It was an easy decision.

Barak never really was a party man. The party had anxiously embraced him in the 1990s as the IDF's most decorated soldier in the hope he could lead it to ever-elusive victory. He was a loner, rarely if ever consulting his closest colleagues, even to the point that when he decided to dissolve his government and call new elections in 2001, most cabinet members and aides only learned about it from the media.

Journalists Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff described Barak as "arrogant, aloof, condescending, a habitual intriguer against his fellow ministers and political partners who is constantly accused of corruption [but never indicted]."

Barak convinced the Clinton administration to convene two peace summits for him – one with the Palestinians and the other with the Syrians. None of the three sides was really ready to close a deal, and the talks collapsed, setting back chances for peace on both tracks.

Eitan Cabel, a Labor MK and Barak critic, said: "The curtain has come down on the glorious Labor movement."

Barak may have intrigued and sold out the party behind his colleagues' backs, but Labor had long since lost sight of its historic social mission, replacing it with unrealistic ideas of how to negotiate peace. The Palestinians are not ready to make peace with a Jewish state, and Netanyahu is not ready to give up settlements and territory to a Palestinian state.

A disingenuous Netanyahu is touting Barak's move as advancing the peace process because it will remove any expectations of flexibility on his part. But the opposite is closer to reality. The party split removes any internal pressure on Netanyahu to produce a peace plan or to be more flexible – if both sides ever do decide to sit down and talk seriously. It's hard to imagine the Palestinians taking this shift as a signal that it's time for them to finally get serious about negotiating.

Netanyahu would not be disappointed to see the peace process collapse, as long as he doesn't get the blame.

Barak got rid of kvetching colleagues who wanted him to live up to his vow to make a difference for peace, but the old soldier just surrendered any clout he may have had.

bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: A FAREWELL TO LABOR?

BY MICHAEL FREUND 


Before those on the Right begin to gloat, they need to contemplate the political meaning of what just occurred.

 

We were treated this week to some exciting political theater of the sort that only our deeply flawed system of government could produce. In a stunning development, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced on Monday that he was abandoning the Labor Party, and taking with him four other parliamentarians to form a new faction.

Barak left behind a rump collection of eight bitterly divided MKs in a Labor Party that now looks about as appealing as last week's cholent.


In record time, he proceeded to forge a quick coalition deal with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, ensuring that he will continue in his post.


Political pundits, of course, had a field day, while various commentators on the Left sounded as if they were in desperate need of some Valium.


Consider the following: One columnist in Haaretz labeled Barak "a saboteur" and likened him to "a computer virus" which has destroyed the Left from the inside. Another analyst, on Ynet, compared Barak to Hizbullah ministers who recently quit the Lebanese government, while only grudgingly acknowledging that he is not a member of a terrorist organization.


And just why, you might be wondering, is the Left so apoplectic? After all, many of them have grown to despise Barak. Shouldn't they be rejoicing at his departure rather than cursing him on his way out the door? Essentially, what Barak's critics fear is that this maneuver has dashed any chance of the Netanyahu coalition imploding, which would have led to early elections. They had pinned their hopes on Labor pulling out of the government in the next two months to protest the lack of progress on the Palestinian front. Such a step, they prayed, would have caused the government to unravel and thereby paved the way for a return to the ballot box.

But now that the coalition has ostensibly freed itself of Labor while retaining a comfortable majority, it appears as if Netanyahu can look forward to completing his four-year term. And the Labor Party, which was viewed as the vanguard of the Left, is now in tatters, a ghost of its former self.


IN THIS regard, I have a confession to make: It is hard not to revel at Labor's troubles. After all, this is the party that gave us the 1993 Oslo Accords – the greatest strategic disaster in the country's history.


Labor leaders brought Yasser Arafat and his cohorts to our shores, handed them weapons and turned over territory to them, all of which resulted in unprecedented terror and violence. They sought to give the Golan to Syria, and did not rule out dividing Jerusalem. In effect, the party which built the state came perilously close to endangering its very existence.


Moreover, Labor bequeathed us the socialist trappings and bureaucratic labyrinth that continue to hold our economy back with overregulation, heavy taxation and reams of red tape.

Such a party should long ago have been banished to obscurity by the electorate. If Barak's gambit speeds this process along, that alone might justify the move.


But before those on the Right begin to gloat, they need to contemplate the political meaning of what just occurred. Remember: had Netanyahu wished, he could have brought the National Union, with its four MKs, into the government rather than Barak and his gang of five. On the surface, this would have made more sense from an ideological point of view, as it would have cemented the coalition and its right-wing posture.

By selecting Barak instead, the premier was sending a clear message to Washington and the international community that he remains open to reaching a deal with the Palestinians. However skeptical the Obama administration and the Europeans may be on this point, they cannot ignore Netanyahu's choice of partner.

This is the same Barak who a decade ago almost gave away the store to Arafat at Camp David during the waning days of Bill Clinton's presidency. And it is the same Barak who has been implementing a "quiet freeze" on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria for the past few months, refusing to sign off on various building plans sitting on his desk.


So even while Labor may be preparing to turn off the lights, it is too soon to conclude that its perilous policies will die along with it. If anything, the events of this week might just present new opportunities for Barak and his comrades to keep Labor's dubious legacy alive.


What a terrible shame that would be

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

JNF, BDS AND THE BEDUIN

BY SETH MORRISON 

 

THE JNF'S REPUTATION AND ABILITY TO EFFECT POSITIVE CHANGE WOULD BE ENHANCED BY A DECISION NOT TO PLANT TREES ON LANDS THAT ARE IN DISPUTE WITH THE BEDUIN.

 

The boycott, divest, sanctions (BDS) movement is using the challenges faced by the country's Beduin population to justify cutting off support for the Jewish National Fund.

During a recent three-week trip to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, I spent a lot of time meeting with Beduin and organizations involved in Beduin issues. The bottom line is that the Beduin have very serious and legitimate concerns – best addressed by engagement, not boycotts.


A quick disclaimer. I traveled to Israel as the volunteer chair of the Friends of the Arava Institute. The Arava Institute is the premier environmental studies program in the Middle East, preparing future Arab and Jewish leaders to cooperatively solve the region's environmental challenges.

 

Together, faculty and students are advancing a critical common goal – a sustainable future for the region's human and natural resources. The Arava Institute receives support for scholarships for Arab and Jewish students, and funding for infrastructure from the JNF. I also just joined the JNF board for the Washington metropolitan area.

 

More than 200,000 Beduin live in the Negev, and due to land restrictions are, for the most part, no longer nomadic. Like similar groups in Australia, Africa and Canada, the Beduin are victims of discrimination, poverty, environmental degradation and the challenge of adopting to modern society. The difficult political situation in the Middle East has contributed to their problems.

 

Israel, Jordan and the PA have programs for Beduin; none goes far enough. On an international level the UN maintains a Forum on Indigenous Issues in which the Beduin participate.


Dr. Alon Tal, founder of the Arava Institute, a professor at Ben-Gurion University and a member of the JNF Board of Directors, is a vocal advocate for the Beduin, and set up some of my meetings. I also met with Beduin and volunteers supporting them who are not working with JNF.


Tal and I visited the Beduin community of Rahat, where we met with Deputy Mayor Ahmed Amerani. Rahat is an early community built by Israel to encourage Beduin to settle down. Many mistakes were made in the early development process, and the community is still plagued by high unemployment, limited educational opportunities and poor transportation.


Amerani showed me the only playground in the community, donated by JNF, and the greenbelt/recreation area under construction by it. These are small steps and much more is required before a real change can be felt, but Amerani is optimistic.


I ALSO met with Dr. Muhammad Alnabari, mayor of Hura, and Muhammad Abd, education adviser to Project Wadi Attir. Hura shares the same challenges as Rahat but, with support from the JNF and other organizations, the community is developing the Wadi Attir project to use sustainable agricultural methods in order to develop and process modern crops and traditional medicinal plants used by Beduin. Based on Beduin cultural values, the project will provide good jobs, protect the environment and develop a reproducible model for change-related initiatives.

Alnabari believes that change is possible through "dialogue, not begging."


I also learned that the JNF partners with Beduin tribes in the Beersheba area, enabling them to graze their herds in the local forests, thus controlling underbrush while providing natural fertilizer.


Communities off the grid have more serious issues – no running water, electricity or municipal services. Thanks to support from the Irmgard Baum Estate, the Beverly Foundation and the Friends of the Arava Institute in the US, the Arava Institute has launched a biogas project developed by alumni Ilana Meallem, Mazen Zoabi and Yair Teller in Susia (an unrecognized Palestinian village in Area C of the West Bank). Bio-digesters are using animal manure and grey water (used for washing and cleaning) to generate methane for cooling, lighting and electricity generation. With a grant from USAID, the Arava Institute hopes to expand this project into the Beduin communities of Israel and Jordan.


Through the years, the JNF has supported the Arava Institute's alumi and research programs, which provided the infrastructure for the biogas program.


While some Beduin are starting to receive badly needed services, others live in unrecognized villages. Such villages are built without permits or legal standing, and are therefore subject to destruction by the government. As you would expect, these legal issues are complex, involving Ottoman Empire land rights, British Mandate rules and current government policies. Beduin I met in these communities are angry and distrustful of the government.

Two Beduin-centered NGOs, the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development and the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, work with these communities, and educated me on their concerns, and arranged for me to tour some of these villages.


Overall I found the Beduin I met to be warm, hospitable and deeply concerned about their future. I sincerely hope that the country will do more for them and other minorities. The ongoing policy of destroying houses in unrecognized villages may have a legal basis, but is clearly leading to an increase in the frustration and alienation.

In addition to the moral dilemmas these policies create, they cannot possibly serve Israel's own best interests. The JNF's reputation and ability to effect positive change would be enhanced by a decision not to plant trees on lands that are in dispute with the Beduin, many of which are still under discussions in the courts.


I believe boycotts only add to polarization and strengthen those on the Right who claim the world is against Israel no matter what it does. It must fulfill its commitments to providing services to minority residents.


The JNF and other NGOs must work harder to provide more services in a culturally sensitive way, and the Beduin themselves must do their part.


The writer chairs the Friends of the Arava Institute.

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

GAS FIELDS IN CONTESTED SEAS

BY ROBBIE SABEL 

 

THE TAMAR AND LEVIATHAN GAS FIELDS BELONG TO ISRAEL. BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MORE ARE DISCOVERED WHERE MARITIME BOUNDARIES HAVE NOT BEEN AGREED UPON?

 

Under the eastern Mediterranean Sea lies what may be some of the world's biggest natural gas fields. Two of them, Tamar and Leviathan, have already been licensed by Israel to Israeli and foreign investors. The potential economic bonanza raises the question of which countries are entitled to a share in the windfall and how it will be apportioned among them.

International law stipulates that every state is entitled to exploit the natural resources of the seabed, including oil and gas, up to 200 nautical miles from its coast. Where the distance between two neighboring states is less than 400 nautical miles, the two must agree on a median line.

 The distance between Cyprus and Israel is approximately 260 nautical miles, so an as-yet unpublished agreement was signed by the two countries delimiting a median line. This line allows each state to exploit the natural resources of the seabed up to a distance of approximately 130 miles from its coast. The Tamar and Leviathan fields are well within Israel's part of this 260-mile zone.

Turkey has raised vociferous objection to the Israel-Cyprus agreement, based on the country's interest in ensuring that the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus also benefit from the gas income, even though the region is adjacent to the coast of the southern (Greek-speaking) Republic of Cyprus.

THE OTHER legal issue is delimiting the line between Israel and Lebanon.

The rule is that the maritime line commences where the land boundary meets the sea – i.e. Rosh Hanikra – and extends into the sea on a line drawn to connect points that are equidistant from the two coasts. To ensure an equitably drawn maritime line, the geographical features of the coasts, such as headlands and bays, must be taken into account. Since no two coastlines are identical, the establishment of such a maritime boundary requires agreement between the two states.

While the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields are well on the Israeli side of any possible Israel-Lebanon maritime boundary, it's possible that future fields may straddle such a line. For this reason, it is imperative that Lebanon and Israel define a boundary, but so far Lebanon has shown no willingness to enter negotiations.

Lebanon has a vital interest in exploiting gas and oil fields opposite its coast, and therefore it's safe to assume it will want to reach an agreement on a maritime boundary either explicitly or by acquiescence. Furthermore, investment in and exploitation of gas and oil fields is obviously conditional on being able to offer investors a secure and stable environment.

Egypt has also reached an agreement with Cyprus delimiting a common maritime boundary, and Egypt unilaterally marked its maritime boundary with the Gaza Strip. Israel has likewise unilaterally defined a maritime boundary with the Strip, so in the future it will have a wedgeshaped section of seabed to which it is entitled.

In the Gulf of Eilat, Israel has signed an agreement delimiting its maritime boundary with Jordan, and has an unwritten understanding with Egypt as to the border. However, it's unlikely that there are exploitable gas or oil resources in the Gulf.

Despite recent bellicose statements from Lebanon, that business-orientated state may not wish to undermine its future economic development, meaning that a mutually agreed maritime boundary could be in the pipeline.

The writer teaches international law at Hebrew University, and is a former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry.

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

TU BISHVAT – THE KNESSET'S 62ND ANNIVERSARY

BY S.H. ROLEF 

 

When evaluating our parliament, we should distinguish between the institution and its members.

 

Today, Tu Bishvat, the Knesset will celebrate the 62nd anniversary of its first sitting after the country's first general elections. According to the Retirement Age Law, the retirement age for females born between May 1947 and December 1949 is 62. Given its lack of popularity, there are those who might wish that true to its gender (in Hebrew), the Knesset should retire, and thus rid us all of its bothersome (some would say scandalous) activities.

I beg to differ. In my opinion the Knesset – with all its shortcomings – is a well-functioning institution which well represents the country's heterogeneous social makeup while offering sufficient checks and balances to neutralize some of the worst proposals of its members.

 It should be noted that parliaments in almost all democratic states suffer from lack of public trust. Only political parties "enjoy" greater public contempt.

The situation here is no worse than the average elsewhere, and while parliamentarism, based as it is on principles elaborated in the 19th century (when the political reality was very different), is in a certain state of crisis, its condition is far from critical.

When evaluating the Knesset, we should distinguish between the institution (whose job is primarily to legislate, supervise the government and debate issues on the public agenda), and its members, whose conduct might frequently be repulsive, but who were elected by us and thus represent who and what we are. Let us not forget the heterogeneity of our society; many (if not most) of whose members do not really understand the basic principles of democracy, have racist inclinations, and occasionally have some pretty wacky ideas. Yet, among Israel's 120 MKs are some excellent individuals, from various parts of the political spectrum, who represent all of us with honor and do their job honestly and diligently.

However, what I should like to laud is the Knesset as an institution. It manages to pass laws that are almost always meticulously drafted, with the active participation of its Legal Department and Research and Information Center (with their highly qualified professional staffs), after serious deliberation in which all points of view are given an airing (though some – represented by professional lobbyists – have a louder voice than others). Some of us might not be happy with the result, but given the nature of our society, there can never be a situation in which everyone is satisfied.

This is the nature of democracy.

IN TERMS of supervising the work of the government, there is room for improvement, but it should be recalled that this is a parliamentary democracy, and by definition the government must command a majority in parliament to survive. Nevertheless, though the MKs from the coalition are expected to support the government's positions, the government can never take its majority for granted, and must take into account not only the positions of the opposition, but also those of the coalition backbenchers, who are frequently displeased with the government's policy.

In terms of Knesset-government relations, there is also room for improvement. The Knesset must do more to stop the Finance Ministry's efforts to curtail its supervisory role over the budget (especially by introducing biennial rather than annual budgets) and the economic arrangements bill, and to further limit the number of private member's bills – the overwhelming majority of which (approximately 1,000 every year) do not even reach preliminary reading, and merely clog the legislative system. This would free parliamentary time for dealing with urgent government bills in an appropriate manner.

As to the conduct and ethics of MKs – the focus of frequent criticism by the public – the Knesset is currently reviewing the Rules of Ethics for MKs (first introduced in the early 1980s), with the goal of making them clearer, improving the way complaints are dealt with, and increasing the variety of sanctions that can be imposed.

It should be noted that the Knesset is the only parliament that prohibits its members from holding any additional paying position, and strictly limits what they can do on a voluntary basis – all so they will concentrate on their parliamentary duties while avoiding even a semblance of conflict of interest.

All in all the Knesset, and those it represents, have more cause to be proud than ashamed.

Happy anniversary.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

ENFORCEMENT THAT HAS PASSED ITS TIME

IT IS ASTOUNDING THAT IN 2011 THE USE OF 'SOFT' DRUGS IN ISRAEL IS SOMETHING THAT REQUIRES A POLICE INVESTIGATION.

Fifty students from the Zafit school near Kiryat Malakhi have been questioned by police on suspicion of smoking hashish and marijuana, and several criminal cases were subsequently opened.

As Or Kashti reported yesterday in Haaretz, the investigation continued for several days, with police resorting to methods typically used when dealing with violent crime and terrorist organizations: intelligence gathering based on rumors and gossip circulating among students and coaxing those questioned into implicating one another.

It is astounding that in 2011 the use of "soft" drugs in Israel is something that requires a police investigation. The students summoned to the police received a lesson in survival in the interrogation room. They also learned how to get ahead in life if they betray their friends. A few of them will be left with the stain of a criminal record that will burden them in the future.

The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service both decided a few years ago that the use of soft drugs would not disqualify candidates for service in sensitive positions, as had been the case in the past. The reason is clear and understandable. Even security officials understood that there was not point challenging the consensus in society and that if they insisted on discharging anyone who had on occasion smoked marijuana, they would be left without soldiers.

Drug policy is typically characterized by hypocrisy, prejudicial thinking and accepted lies, not only in Israel. Alcohol and cigarettes are sold freely, and it is not hard to get a hold of powerful addictive prescription drugs. But marijuana and hashish, which are much less harmful, are perceived as contraband, and their users are considered criminals. This is an outmoded approach from which most Western countries are gradually distancing themselves in favor of legalization.

In Israel, however, there is almost no public debate regarding the legality of drugs and the need to revise an enforcement policy that has passed its time. High school students deserve to be given explanations and guidance rather than interrogation room visits and a police record. The attorney general can issue fresh directives, as was done in the past in the case of permitting homosexual relations. The police should focus their efforts where they are needed, such as on apprehending drug dealers and preventing driving under the influence of drugs rather than suppressing behavior that has become routine.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

DAGAN BROUGHT A POSSIBLE ATTACK ON IRAN CLOSER

DAGAN PROBABLY THINKS NETANYAHU AND DEFENSE MINISTER EHUD BARAK ARE DANGEROUS PEOPLE. HE IS AFRAID THEY MIGHT MAKE SOME FOOLHARDY MOVE IN IRAN. BUT THE THINGS HE SAID AROUND THE END OF HIS TERM HAVE NOT NEUTRALIZED THE MILITARY OPTION.

BY ARI SHAVIT

Last week Meir Dagan did something no former Mossad chief has ever done. He took a busload of journalists to a secret place and spoke to them for about three hours. Dagan discussed a raft of issues but uttered two key statements - Iran will not produce a nuclear bomb before 2015, and a military offensive in Iran would be disastrous.

Dagan is the hero of the century. In the past eight years he rehabilitated the Mossad, headed daring operations and obtained rare intelligence. His biggest achievement was time. Dagan is the man who won time vis-a-vis Iran. But the shadow man's decision to come out into the light and unleash his tongue was inexplicable. Some think it caused Israel severe strategic damage.

The prime minister responded with rage to the former Mossad chief's statements. Benjamin Netanyahu thinks Dagan has sabotaged the diplomatic effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But Netanyahu isn't alone. Senior officials in the United States, Britain and France this week castigated Dagan for his utterances. The White House and Capitol Hill expressed shock and anger. Major allies of Israel saw the former Mossad chief's briefing as incomprehensible and irresponsible.

First, Dagan was censured on the professional level. Iran already has enough fissionable material for one or two nuclear bombs. If the Ayatollahs resort to desperate measures and opt for high-grade uranium enrichment instead of low-grade, they can make the change in less than a year. Dagan says the Iranians don't intend to do so before 2015. But there's a difference between intention and capability. Iran might obtain a military nuclear capability within a year or two. Dagan the intelligence man made a misleading statement that produced an erroneous intelligence interpretation.

Dagan was then censured on diplomatic grounds. In the past year, the Western powers got the international community to adopt a firm approach to Iran. The success stemmed in part from the feeling of urgency Israel instilled in the powers. Now comes the former Israeli Mossad chief and blurs the sense of urgency. The Russians, Chinese, Germans and Italians cannot be expected to be more Catholic than the pope. Dagan hurt Israel's allies and played into the hands of officials abroad who dismiss the Iranian danger and seek an excuse not to address it.

The third criticism of Dagan concerns the military option. His statements about the grave consequences of an attack on Iran are balanced and correct. But one of the main tools to put pressure on Iran was the implied threat of an Israeli military attack. The international community has also begun to pressure Iran seriously for fear of a sudden strike by the Israel Air Force. Now Dagan has weakened the leverage. He made the Israeli threat seem unreliable and not serious. The man who was in charge of thwarting the Iranian nuclearization made the Iranians think they can continue galloping to the bomb because they are not in any real danger.

Dagan probably thinks Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are dangerous people. He is afraid they might make some foolhardy move in Iran. But the things he said around the end of his term have not neutralized the military option. Rather, they damaged the attempt to impose a diplomatic-economic siege on Iran. So Dagan did not remove the possibility of an attack on Iran, but brought it closer.

Senior American, British and French officials compared the damage done by Dagan to the damage caused by the complacent, unfounded American intelligence evaluation released at the end of 2007. Senior Israeli officials compared the accuracy level of Dagan's evaluation to that of Military Intelligence's evaluation that determined in 1966 that no war was expected in 1967. All these officials sighed in exasperation. Dagan left many mouths open in Washington, London, Paris and Jerusalem.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF RABIN, PERES AND SHARON

THE COORDINATED ATTACK ON EHUD BARAK IS THE MOST HYPOCRITICAL AND BLOODTHIRSTY IN ISRAELI POLITICAL HISTORY.

BY ISRAEL HAREL

As a leader, he proved a disappointment, and his lifestyle isn't appropriate for the head of a Socialist party. Moreover, he failed to bring peace. So what is all the fuss about? He accepted the criticism, put aside the crown of leadership and left the party where he was persona non grata. You might have expected his opponents to respond with cheers and sighs of relief, not with the wailing of abandoned orphans.

After all, now that the heretics have left the house, the purists, and especially the loyalists (Amir Peretz, for instance, who previously quit to form the One Nation party, and recently, along with Eitan Cabel, considered moving to Kadima ), will be able to restore Labor to its days of glory.

It's doubtful that Ehud Barak really perpetrated "the dirtiest maneuver in Israeli political history." What is certain, however, is that the coordinated attack on him is the most hypocritical and bloodthirsty in Israeli political history. There are almost no public figures or academics who oppose Barak who have not been invited to criticize him, smear him and shed his blood. This was particularly noticeable on the radio station for which, as defense minister, Barak ostensibly bears ministerial responsibility - Army Radio.

"This was the dirtiest maneuver in Israeli political history," opposition leader Tzipi Livni said unabashedly. She was part of the Likud government that declared that the fate of the Gaza settlement of Netzarim would ultimately be the fate of Tel Aviv as well. But then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to uproot Netzarim, along with all the other Gaza communities.

To obtain legitimacy for this move, he held a referendum among Likud members and promised to abide by their decision. Sharon lost but decided to go through with the uprooting anyway. He split the Likud and - to the vociferous applause of those who now assail Barak for splitting Labor - established Kadima.

Livni went with him, thereby stealing her Knesset seat from Likud, just as Orit Noked is stealing hers from Labor. And as a reward for her loyalty to the basic values of moral, political and human decency, Sharon made her his foreign minister.

The gang that launched the new Atzmaut faction this week indeed perpetrated a stinking maneuver. But only someone who opposed similar stinking maneuvers in the past - even when they furthered his goals - has the right to use that term to describe this week's move.

Barak had no hesitations because such moves have become the norm in Israeli politics. The seal of approval for this unacceptable norm was given by those who supported Shimon Peres' stinking maneuver in 1990, and by those who supported Yitzhak Rabin when he bought the votes of Shas and of two deserters from the Tsomet party in order to obtain a majority for the Oslo disaster.

But above all, the blame falls on the various public institutions, including the judicial system, that supported Sharon when, like a killer bull, he gored every norm in sight. Those who cooperated with him, aside from a few ad hoc righteous individuals, are the ones now swooping on Barak like birds of prey - to the point of denying his right to serve as defense minister.

In his flight from Lebanon in 2000, which sparked the war of terror that began later that year, Barak proved that he is no strategist. In his lame efforts to end that bloody war, born of his own sin, he proved this yet again. In his hesitation to launch Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008 - and then in ending it before the army had toppled Hamas and rescued kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit - he proved for a third time that the legend of his military prowess has no basis in reality. For these and other strategic failures that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has recently brought to light, he is indeed unfit to serve as defense minister.

But not because he split the Labor Party. There have been dozens of similar splits, and they all won plaudits as long as they were aimed at furthering a leftist agenda. Only when a split is liable to help "the right" (though any meaningful Israeli right has long since ceased to exist ) - or in other words, to help Benjamin Netanyahu - does it suddenly become traitorous, filthy and stinking.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

WHO SHOULD FEAR LIEBERMAN?

LIEBERMAN'S POLITICAL GOAL IS TO COMPETE WITH LIKUD AND ATTRACT ITS VOTERS. HE CAN'T COMPETE WITH NETANYAHU IN REFUSING TO GIVE UP TERRITORY, BECAUSE HE HIMSELF HAS DECLARED HIS SUPPORT FOR GIVING UP TERRITORY. HE CAN ONLY PICK A QUARREL WITH THE ARABS AND WITH THE LEFTISTS. THAT ALWAYS WORKS.

BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON

I'll hazard a guess: At the end of the term of this government, there will be no less freedom in the State of Israel than there was at the beginning of it. All the bills seeking to curb freedom of speech will ultimately not be approved , or versions of them that don't infringe freedom of speech will pass, or they will be interpreted by the judicial system in a way that does not harm freedom of speech or they will be nullified by the High Court because they violate freedom of speech.

Leftist organizations will continue to function freely. The parliamentary investigative committee on integrating Arabs in the civil service, headed by MK Ahmed Tibi, has more of a chance of influencing the reality on the ground (albeit modestly ) than the investigative committee into leftist organizations initiated by Avigdor Lieberman.

Representatives of the Arab parties will also serve in the next Knesset. Ahmed Tibi will continue to say that Israel is a democratic state for the Jews and a Jewish state for the Arabs, and will most likely continue, as deputy speaker of the Knesset, to preside over sessions of this undemocratic Jewish parliament.

That does not mean the Yisrael Beiteinu horror show will not cause real damage. Damage will certainly be caused, and has already been inflicted on the quality of public life and on Israel's democratic political culture. Many bad things can happen in a society even while the democratic system and freedom of speech are preserved. Diplomatic damage will undoubtedly be done, and has already been done to Israel. But the greatest damage will be sustained by Likud.

Lieberman's political goal is, naturally, to compete with Likud and attract its voters. He can't compete with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in refusing to give up territory, because he himself has declared his support for giving up territory. He also can't demonstrate achievements to his Russian and secular voters on issues of religion and state. He can only pick a quarrel with the Arabs and with the leftists. That always works.

In this situation the leaders of Likud have a choice between two possibilities: The first is to be dragged after Lieberman for fear that they will be accused of being soft on Arabs and leftists. That's the easy path of weak politicians. God forbid, we should think our prime minister is a weak politician. If this is the field of competition, and this is the main issue, Lieberman's victory is assured. Likud has no chance of being more Lieberman than Lieberman.

The only way Likud has a chance to succeed is to come out openly and decisively against the Yisrael Beiteinu leader and his line of action. If there is one thing dear to the hearts of rightist voters, even more than the national interest, it is national pride. Likud leaders should tell the public, and incidentally this is the honest truth, that Israeli freedom of expression is a matter of national pride. It's the hi-tech of Israeli democracy.

If only the other aspects of government and society in Israel were on the same level. Israeli freedom of expression exists, not in a peaceful and established Western country (what's so special about that? ), but in the midst of a difficult and protracted national conflict, in the heart of the Middle East and in a society where the large majority of people have come from undemocratic countries. That is one of the greatest victories of freedom ever.

Fair criticism should be accepted. The freedom enjoyed here - also by those who voice unfair criticism - is a source of pride. It's a shame to ruin such pride because of attempts to shut a few mouths - attempts that anyway will end in failure and disgrace.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

REDEMPTION WON'T COME FROM ISRAEL'S 'YOUNG SUCCESS STORIES'

WE HAVE TO FREE OURSELVES FROM THE MIRAGE OF THE YOUNG SUCCESS STORIES. THE HILLTOP YOUTH AND ANARCHISTS AGAINST THE WALL ARE MORE WORTHY: AT LEAST THEY BELIEVE IN SOMETHING.

BY GIDEON LEVY

The moaning and groaning about Israeli politicians is always accompanied by a yearning for "young and talented" people who will go into politics. Give us scientists, businessmen, graduates of prestigious universities and high-tech whizzes, and watch how everything will change. Enough of the party hacks, bring on the success stories.

This week one of their prominent representatives participated in the press conference where a fresh ideological movement was announced, and proved that redemption will certainly not come from those quarters. The titles, proven successes and impressive resume won't help. There's no such thing as a successful politician without a clear-cut worldview, honesty and courage.

She sat there as a striking ornament beside Edud Barak, wearing giant earrings, articulate, elegant, impressive in her appearance, young, educated and promising. And then the air went out of any promise she had. Named by Forbes magazine as one of the world's most promising young women, she turned out to be a major phony while still a political rookie.

MK Dr. Einat Wilf turned out to be nothing more than an ordinary hack. If we once had an MK-electrician from Ashkelon who sold his soul for a Mitsubishi, this time it was the MK and Ph.D. holder, graduate of the Insead business school, who sold her soul to head a minor committee in the Knesset. Between Wilf and Alex Goldfarb there is only one line, the line of opportunism.

She explained that "you can't sit in the government holding a stopwatch for the diplomatic negotiations." That's apparently why she joined the renowned watch expert, Kalanter-Barak.

Stopwatch? Not even an hourglass. Two lost years, 40 lost years, and the academic promise of the alleged left is in no hurry. The left? Wilf explained that she is heading for the mythical center. Labor is too left wing for her. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is post-modern, Isaac Herzog is post-Zionist, as Barak put it. So be it.

So be it, that a young MK is already joining the party of two-year jobs. But the person who wrote a book whose title was "Founders, fighters and us - the young generation and the next struggle for the image of the State of Israel," came with a different pretension. But if this is the face of this generation and this is its struggle, better to stick with the old, sweaty hacks. At least they don't write "visionary" books full of cliches.

Who needs young people like Wilf, conservative and opportunistic. Their predecessors are enough.

Her prestigious and celebrated resume didn't help. The right high school in Jerusalem, an officer in the right intelligence unit, a Harvard graduate, Insead and Cambridge, no less, adviser to Shimon Peres and consultant to McKinsey and Company, what more can we ask - and what did we get from all this?

An ideological fellow of Orit Noked? A partner to the philosophy of Shalom Simhon? A year in the Knesset, and she's already been a member of two factions. And not a single interesting initiative, beyond calling for the removal of Yitzhak Rabin's portrait from her faction's meeting room.

Wilf is not alone. She claims to speak for an entire generation, "which is not just a collection of people who think of themselves."

We have to free ourselves from the mirage of the young success stories. The hilltop youth and Anarchists against the Wall are more worthy: at least they believe in something.

It was no coincidence that Wilf once said in a Haaretz interview that she admired Abba Eban and Benjamin Netanyahu. They're also graduates of the right universities and masters of hollow rhetoric.

The new politics that Wilf is offering is disturbing: free of any worldview, burnished with cliches about "Zionism" and "vision," "education" and "future."

Its proponents don't like the "endless rehashing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," as Wilf put it. They want high-tech, nanotechnology, prosperity and progress, and above all - success and staying away from the mouth of the volcano.

Neither the occupation nor the destruction of democracy, neither the social rifts nor the racism disturbs them: That wasn't taught at Fontainebleau's Insead or practiced at McKinsey.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

BEYOND THE HAPPY VISUALS

A few Congressional Democrats and Republicans will be sitting next to each other on Tuesday night during the State of the Union address, straying from their glowering bunkers on opposite sides of the aisle. It's a lovely idea, intended to show that ideological divisions do not require personal rancor. But it is essentially a gesture to the cameras, and it should not obscure what remains a wide and fundamentally deep aisle between the parties.

Most Democrats, for example, believe it is important to provide health insurance to the uninsured. Republicans do not. Democrats believe in using the financial powers of the government to help revive the economy. Republicans believe instead in the power of tax cuts, primarily for the wealthy. Democrats believe regulation can help protect the environment and consumers, and help avert another financial collapse. Republicans have fought virtually every proposal to regulate.

These debates are important and need to continue, wherever members of Congress choose to sit for the annual presidential address. There is nothing wrong with sharp ideological argument, as long as partisans do not seek to demonize their opponents and make their cases without ridicule and threats. If lawmakers really want to impress the American people with their new commitment to a joint sense of purpose, there is much they can do that is more vital than seating arrangements.

They can, for example, stop pushing stunt legislation. Wednesday's vote in the House to repeal health care reform was never intended to create law; it was simply an elaborate message to the Republican base. Any voters who thought it might actually build momentum toward repeal are likely to be disappointed. Republicans are welcome to propose a detailed alternative to the law and explain to the public how it would address matters like the uninsured, pre-existing conditions and lowering the deficit. Simply saying "get rid of it" is an act of provocation by one party against the other.

Democrats could lower the temperature in the Senate by agreeing to new rules that make it harder to filibuster, even if that could put them at a disadvantage should they slip back into the minority. The right to filibuster on the most significant issues must remain, but its abuse over the last four years to obstruct virtually every nomination or piece of legislation has severely damaged comity in the Senate. Many Democrats are trying to reduce filibusters, but to get there they may have to agree to let the Republicans propose more amendments to bills, under ground rules that would put limits on endless debates.

There should also be agreement among both parties and both houses that the Congressional Budget Office's estimates of a bill's cost are independent and legitimate and should not be rejected simply because they are politically inconvenient. Democrats have raged against the budget office in the past, and Republicans are doing so now because estimates show that the health bill would reduce the deficit by $143 billion in the first 10 years and more in the second 10 years. Selective acceptance of the most basic budgetary numbers produces cynicism in the electorate and divisiveness along the aisle.

There are many other Congressional actions that could also improve Washington's atmosphere: proposing specific cuts in spending instead of threatening to force the country into default if vague spending targets are not met; reducing the use of committee subpoenas as weapons of partisan attack; ending the ability of individual senators to hold up presidential nominations.

All these practices have been preserved over the years because they serve the political interests of lawmakers. Mingling together next week should at least give members of Congress an opportunity to begin discussing the national interest first.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE LAST THING HAITI NEEDS

Haiti's troubles turned even more surreal over the weekend when the former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, showed up in Port-au-Prince after nearly 25 years of exile. After two nights in a hotel, surrounded by sycophants and unanswered questions, Mr. Duvalier was taken into custody for four hours on Tuesday and then officially charged with embezzlement and corruption — an encouraging development, although theft was only one of his many crimes.

Mr. Duvalier, who fled the country in 1986, should also answer for his squalid legacy of disappearance, torture and murder.

We don't know where this is headed. A trial and prison? A swift escort onto the next plane? Whatever happens, we know that Mr. Duvalier has nothing to offer the country that he and his father, François Duvalier, who was known as Papa Doc, looted and brutalized for decades. Every moment that Jean-Claude Duvalier spends free in Haiti adds insult to catastrophic injury.

It was disturbing to see some Haitians cheering him — another reminder of the country's desperation in the wake of last year's devastating earthquake and the current cholera epidemic.

It is also encouraging to know that President René Préval was willing to act to bring Mr. Duvalier to justice. Haiti's justice system is weak and too often corrupt, another legacy of the Duvaliers. Whatever happens, the Préval government and the courts must resist political passions and demands for retribution.

Haiti can be better than that. It already is. It has a fragile democracy, one that needs protecting. How it handles Mr. Duvalier is an important test. There can be no impunity. But the country's laws must be respected.

That isn't Mr. Préval's only test in coming days. He must also settle the cloud surrounding Haiti's recent presidential elections. He should stop delaying and endorse the findings of an inquiry by the Organization of American States. Monitors sorted through the tainted residue of November's badly mishandled voting and found that Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly had finished in first and second place. Those two — and not Mr. Préval's protégé, Jude Célestin — should be headed for a runoff in the next few weeks.

Mr. Duvalier, meanwhile, should be headed out of the life of this stricken country. Whether he goes to prison or back into exile, his ultimate fate must be irrelevancy. Haiti's future lies in democracy, not nostalgia for bygone days of iron rule and misery.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

MISSING MANDATE FROM ROME

The Vatican's insistence that it never impeded criminal investigations of pedophile priests has been thrown into doubt by a 1997 letter from the pope's representative in Dublin warning against a mandate by Irish church leaders for full cooperation with criminal authorities.

Throughout the mushrooming scandal, Rome officials have denied trying to foil secular law by allowing child-abuse allegations to be shrouded in halfhearted diocesan inquiries and cover-ups. But the newly discovered letter undermines those claims and reinforces evidence of foot dragging that still has not been adequately addressed by the Vatican.

The letter from the papal representative rejected a 1996 decision by Dublin church leaders to respond more candidly to the suppressed scandal in Ireland by ordering that child-abuse allegations be referred for criminal investigation. The "strictly confidential" letter from Rome — leaked this week amid continuing inquiries into the Irish scandal — emphasized the priority of in-house handling of pedophilia cases under church, not civil, law.

This was hardly the needed prescription for what an Irish government investigation eventually described as "endemic" abuse of thousands of children over decades by rogue priests who were routinely shielded from criminal penalties.

It was disclosed recently, for example, that Tony Walsh, a notorious abuser of children who was convicted and defrocked in a secret church court in Dublin in 1993, got his collar back a year later when a Vatican court believed his appeal and reinstated him as a priest. He was eventually imprisoned after raping and molesting scores of youngsters.

Rome officials insist that the letter from Rome is outdated, misinterpreted and superseded by tougher church rules. Unfortunately, the latest policies of the Vatican do not mandate the zero-tolerance reforms that ranking officials in the United States and elsewhere were forced to proclaim as the scandal demoralized church faithful worldwide.

It is commendable that Pope Benedict XVI has been apologizing and promising a firmer hand. But current Vatican policy, updated last year, offers merely a nonbinding advisory — not a firm mandate — that diocesan officials should report crimes to police.

This is cold comfort to worried Catholic parents or anyone else relying on the rule of law.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

COUSINS UNDER THE SKIN

We continue to learn more about our ancestral past. With every, mostly fragmentary, addition to the physical evidence, the picture changes. The mysteries, and the fascination, seem only to keep growing.

A case in point is the recent discovery at Denisova Cave, in Siberia, of a finger bone, 50,000 years old. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, based in Leipzig, Germany, have extracted the entire genome from the finger bone and found that it belongs to a previously unknown hominid they have called Denisovans.

Researchers will need more skeletal samples before they can say what the Denisovans looked like. But they are believed to have emerged from Africa at roughly the same time as Neanderthals — 500,000 years ago — and settled much farther east. The scientists reached this conclusion by comparing Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes with the genomes of modern humans.

In Nature last month, they reported that as much as 4.8 percent of Denisovan DNA turned up in the DNA of people living in Papua New Guinea and the nearby island of Bougainville. Given the distance between Siberia and Papua New Guinea, there's every possibility the Denisovans were as successful and wide ranging as Neanderthals, who settled in Europe and the Near East.

The story that needs updating in our minds isn't just the existence of another hominid. It's the fact that humans overlapped and interbred with both Neanderthals and with Denisovans. We carry the traces of these cousins in our genes. What is still unanswered is why we humans survived and prospered, while the Neanderthals and Denisovans disappeared. After all, Neanderthals and Denisovans had already prospered for 200,000 or 300,000 years by the time they faded away.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

WHAT I LEARNED FROM SARGENT SHRIVER

BY BONO

The Irish are still mesmerized by the mythical place that is America, but in the '60s our fascination got out of hand. I was not old enough to remember the sacrifices of the great generation who saved Europe in the Second World War, or to quite comprehend what was going on in Vietnam. But what I do remember, and cannot forget, is watching a man walk on the moon in 1969 and thinking here is a nation that finds joy in the impossible.

The Irish saw the Kennedys as our own royal family out on loan to America. A million of them turned out on J.F.K.'s homecoming to see these patrician public servants who, despite their station, had no patience for the status quo. (They also loved that the Kennedys looked more WASP than any "Prod," our familiar term for Protestant.)

I remember Bobby's rolled-up sleeves, Jack's jutted jaw and the message — a call to action — that the world didn't have to be the way it was. Science and faith had found a perfect rhyme.

In the background, but hardly in the shadows, was Robert Sargent Shriver. A diamond intelligence, too bright to keep in the darkness. He was not Robert or Bob, he was Sarge, and for all the love in him, he knew that love was a tough word. Easy to say, tough to see it through. Love, yes, and peace, too, in no small measure; this was the '60s but you wouldn't know it just by looking at him. No long hair in the Shriver house, or rock 'n' roll. He and his beautiful bride, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, would go to Mass every day — as much an act of rebellion against brutal modernity as it was an act of worship. Love, yes, but love as a brave act, a bold act, requiring toughness and sacrifice.

His faith demanded action, from him, from all of us. For the Word to become flesh, we had to become the eyes, the ears, the hands of a just God. Injustice could, in the words of the old spiritual, "Be Overcome." Robert Sargent sang, "Make me a channel of your peace," and became the song.

Make me a channel of your peace:

Where there is hatred let me bring your love.

Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,

And where there's doubt, true faith in you.

Oh, Master grant that I may never seek,

So much to be consoled as to console.

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love with all my soul.

Make me a channel of your peace,

Where there's despair in life, let me bring hope.

Where there is darkness, only light,

And where there's sadness, ever joy.

The Peace Corps was Jack Kennedy's creation but embodied Sargent Shriver's spirit. Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty but Sarge led the charge. These, and the Special Olympics, were as dramatic an incarnation of the ideas at the heart of America as the space program.

Robert Sargent Shriver changed the world more than a few times and, I am happy to say, changed my world forever. In the late '90s, when the Jubilee 2000 campaign — which aimed to cancel the debts that the poorest nations owed to the richest — asked me to help in the United States, I called on the Shriver clan for help and advice. What I got were those things in spades, and a call to arms like a thump in the back.

In the years since, Bobby Shriver — Sarge's oldest son — and I co-founded three fighting units in the war against global poverty: DATA, ONE and (RED). We may not yet know what it will take to finish the fight and silence suffering in our time, but we are flat out trying to live up to Sarge's drill.

I have beautiful memories of Bobby and me sitting with his father and mother at the Shrivers' kitchen table — the same team that gazed over J.F.K.'s shoulder — looking over our paltry attempts at speechifying, prodding and pushing us toward comprehensibility and credibility, a challenge when your son starts hanging round with a bleeding-heart Irish rock star.

Toward the end, when I visited Sarge as a frailer man, I was astonished by his good spirits and good humor. He had the room around him laughing out loud. I thought it a fitting final victory in a life that embodied service and transcended, so often, grave duty, that he had a certain weightlessness about him. Even then, his job nearly done, his light shone undiminished, and brightened us all.

Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 and a co-founder of the advocacy group ONE and (Product)RED, is a contributing columnist for The Times.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

GOODBYE TO A GUY NAMED JOE

BY GAIL COLLINS

On Wednesday, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announced that he won't be a candidate for re-election in 2012. Normally people look particularly appealing when they're promising to go away. This time, not so much.

"I can't help but also think about my four grandparents and the journey they traveled more than a century ago," he said in his speech. "Even they could not have dreamed that their grandson would end up a United States senator and, incidentally, a barrier-breaking candidate for vice president."

Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating. Last month, when he helped lead the fight for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," some people seemed more than a tad resentful at having to give up complaining about him for the duration of the debate. "Of course, he wants gay people in the military," wrote Alex Pareene at Salon.com, "He wants everyone in the military."

Plus, he isn't really leaving. He's got two years of his term left, during which he will be looking for "new opportunities that will allow me to serve my country." Do you think that means something involving a large salary and a chance to make multitudinous TV appearances, or a Peace Corps stint in Burkina Faso? Let me see hands.

When he was not busy comparing himself to John Kennedy on Wednesday, Lieberman denounced partisanship. "I have not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes," he said proudly. This is, of course, an old theme for him, but it's also a cautionary tale.

The reason we have political parties is that the best way to get things done is by working together. Obviously, sometimes people with principles have to take an independent stand. But Lieberman's career has taught us how important it is to do that with a sense of humility. If you're continually admiring yourself as you walk away from your group, eventually people are going to feel an irresistible desire to trip you.

When he started in politics in Connecticut, Lieberman was a careful politician whom everybody regarded as an up-and-comer, even though he was extremely boring. But nobody realized how far he might up and come.

"He's the kind of guy who, when you see him in line at the supermarket, you go and get in a different line so you won't have to make conversation," a friend from Connecticut protested, when Al Gore announced that he had chosen Lieberman to be his running mate.

Well, that was true of so very many vice presidents.

The vice presidential race was the high point of the Joe Lieberman story, even though he allowed Dick Cheney to eviscerate him in the debate. But he left it with the idea that he should be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. Nobody else had gotten that message.

Lieberman, a big supporter of the war in Iraq, expected the party's base to nominate a candidate who disagreed with them about the critical issue of the day, had failed at the most crucial task delegated to him during the previous presidential election and was one of the most sluggish and cliché-ridden public speakers in the history of oratory.

He was shocked when they decided not to.

"It wasn't a personal rejection, but I never saw anybody take anything so personally. He became so bitter about Democratic liberals," said Bill Curry, a former Connecticut comptroller and gubernatorial candidate.

In his re-election campaign in 2006, Lieberman, having learned nothing whatsoever, suggested that anyone who disagreed with him about the war was endangering the country. ("We undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril.") He lost the Democratic nomination. More shock and outrage.

When he won running as an independent, it cemented his sense of exceptionalism. However, this did not seem like a trick he could pull off twice, unless both of the major parties cooperated in 2012 by once again nominating terrible candidates. (The Republican nominee in 2006 was in trouble for, among other things, using a phony name while betting at the local casinos and failing to pay his gambling debts in New Jersey.)

However, on Wednesday, Lieberman assured everyone that he was not stepping down because the odds of his losing the next race were astronomically high but rather because he had been reading the Old Testament and decided that to everything there is a season.

He will leave behind a long list of achievements, from helping to consolidate the nation's intelligence gathering services in a way that appears to make it more difficult to gather intelligence, to threatening to filibuster the health care reform act until it had been watered down to suit his own high principles.

You will find it all in my upcoming book, "Everything Bad Is Joe Lieberman's Fault."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE RISE OF CHINESE CHENEYS

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

BEIJING

When Deng Xiaoping made a landmark visit to the United States in 1979, he was seated near the actress Shirley MacLaine. According to several accounts that Ms. MacLaine confirmed this week, she told Deng rhapsodically about a visit to China during the Cultural Revolution. She described meeting a scholar who had been sent to toil in the countryside but spoke glowingly about the joys of manual labor and the terrific opportunity to learn from peasants.

Deng growled: "He was lying."

In that blunt spirit, let me offer a quick guide to some of the issues that we have put on the table during President Hu Jintao's state visit to Washington, at a time when Chinese-American relations are deeply strained and likely to get worse. American opinion tends to be divided between panda-huggers ("China is fabulous!") and panda-muggers ("China is evil!"), but the truth lies between this yin and yang.

Trade is at the heart of the tensions, and China is clearly keeping its currency artificially low (and probably will continue to do so) in an effort to preserve jobs at home. This is destabilizing the international system — but let's not exaggerate the impact on our own economy. Chinese goods mostly compete with products from Mexico, South Korea and other countries, and it is stealing jobs from those countries more than from America.

Trade figures also exaggerate China's exports. For example, China assembles iPhones, so their full value counts as Chinese exports. But, in fact, less than 4 percent of the phone's value is contributed by China, according to a study by the Asian Development Bank Institute. A greater share is contributed by Japan, Germany, South Korea and the U.S.

Aggressive territorial claims by Beijing are unnerving China's neighbors as well as Washington. My take is that China has a strong historical case in claiming the disputed islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. But China's claims to a chunk of the South China Sea are preposterous, and its belligerence is driving neighbors closer to America.

There's also a real risk that Chinese harassment of American planes and ships in international waters will spark a conflict by accident. The collision of Chinese and American military aircraft in 2001 led to a crisis that was defused only because then-President Jiang Zemin was determined to preserve relations with Washington. If such an incident occurred today, President Hu would probably be unwilling or unable to resolve the crisis.

Human rights are complex. Christians are persecuted less than they used to be just a few years ago, and the regime gives ordinary people much more freedom to travel and greater individual space than when I lived in China in the 1980s and 1990s.

That said, the Communist Party has been cracking down hard in the last few years on dissidents and ethnic minorities such as Tibetans and Uighurs. Its imprisonment of the great writer Liu Xiaobo, and its tantrum after he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, damaged China's image.

Mr. Obama must speak up: How can one Nobel Peace Prize laureate be silent when meeting the man who imprisons the next?

Support for rogue states, such as North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Sudan and Zimbabwe, makes conflicts and nuclear proliferation more likely. But, in fairness, China has much less leverage over these countries than Americans assume. And in the last couple of months, it has played a helpful role in both Sudan and North Korea.

Chest-thumping, especially from the military, is poisoning Chinese-American relations. Even Xi Jinping, a pragmatist who has been chosen to replace Mr. Hu as the next supreme leader of China, gave a nasty speech in October falsely accusing the United States of using germ warfare during the Korean War. In truth, Mr. Xi seems to admire the United States — he just sent his only daughter to attend Harvard as an undergraduate — but he apparently feels the need to join the nationalist parade.

President Obama started out very conciliatory toward China, but Beijing perceived that as weakness and walked all over him. Now Mr. Obama is tougher, as he must be.

My take is that China is going through a period resembling the Bush era in the United States: hawks and hard-liners have gained ground in domestic politics, and they scoff at the country's diplomats as wimps. China's foreign ministry seems barely a player.

Domestic concerns trump all else, partly because Chinese leaders are nervous about stability and about the delicate transition to Mr. Xi and his team two years from now. A Chinese poll has found that public satisfaction is at its lowest level in 11 years, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao upset hard-liners by calling publicly for more pluralism (he was censored).

The upshot is that China-Firsters — Chinese versions of Dick Cheney — have a greater voice. Brace yourself.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

FROM STRUGGLING OWNERS TO STABLE RENTERS

BY DAVID E. KAPELL

Greenport, N.Y.

THERE are many factors behind the mortgage crisis, but there is only one simple explanation for why we have failed to solve it. Any effort to help homeowners by forgiving some of their loans is said to create a moral hazard, rendering it politically toxic. But without help, homeowners continue to struggle, foreclosures continue to mount and the housing industry continues to drag down the economy.

Fortunately, there is a way around this problem, and it's similar to one we've already used for the American automobile industry. If structured bankruptcies could save General Motors and Chrysler, why couldn't "structured foreclosures" save the American family — and stabilize a banking system that remains dangerously undermined by bad mortgage debt?

After all, foreclosures and bankruptcies are similar. Both are legal processes that allow primary lenders to wipe out subordinate claims and gain clear ownership of an asset, then sell it to recoup whatever value they can.

But it's one thing for a bank to take ownership of a manufacturing plant or inventory; in a foreclosure, the asset in question is also someone's home.

In this brutal process, the borrower is typically evicted, leaving neighbors living beside a vacant house and a family on the street. To make things worse, the affected family has no incentive to cooperate with the foreclosure, drawing out the process and clogging the court system.

What's needed, then, is a set of incentives for borrowers to cooperate with lenders in foreclosure filings, just as G.M. and Chrysler did with their creditors in bankruptcy — in other words, a structured foreclosure.

Here's how it would work. The borrower would lose ownership of his home, but be allowed to remain as a tenant paying fair rent for a reasonable period after foreclosure, with the requirement that he cooperate in the foreclosure. He'd pay fair market rents as published by the federal government, ensuring a clear, national standard. If the borrower couldn't afford to pay market rent, existing federal rent-subsidy programs could be extended to help tide him over.

At the same time, with borrowers now working with lenders, it would be much easier to gather all the documents necessary to process the foreclosure, unclogging the sort of paperwork roadblocks that have recently encumbered the mortgage industry. Lenders would wind up owning a portfolio of income-producing property that would be readily marketable to investors.

True, the process could force lenders to revalue the homes at significantly lower prices than what they have on their books. Then again, such revaluation is almost inevitable in the current housing market, and instability in the banking sector could be resolved with additional government support.

What's more, the plan would create a new supply of badly needed rental housing without drawing the sort of community opposition that so often accompanies proposals to build new rental properties. Same house, same family — but a new, financially capable owner. And by shifting many homes to rental properties, it would help thin out the country's oversupply of housing, which is a significant drag on the market.

But most important, structured foreclosures would bring sanity to a market still suffering from the delusions of the housing bubble. During that time, the usual house price-rent ratio — that is, what people will pay to rent a home versus the monthly mortgage fees they're willing to pay to buy it — became inflated, so that instead of houses being priced at 10 to 15 times their rent, they were selling for 20 times their rent or more.

Under this plan, however, struggling homeowners who are saddled with mortgages priced at those inflated values can, as renters, choose to pay fair market rents for their homes instead. Over time, this will put pressure on the rest of the housing market to return to a reasonable, sustainable price-rent ratio — a trend that most economists say is critical for getting the economy moving again.

Congress has done a good job of saving big business with structured bankruptcy plans. Now it must to use the same tool to save American homeowners.

David E. Kapell is the former mayor of Greenport, N.Y.

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON HEALTH LAW: HOUSE GOP VOTE IS EASY. NOW WHAT?

 

The House's new Republican majority hardly broke a sweat Wednesday by voting 245-189 to repeal the landmark health reform law enacted just last year. That was the easy part.

 

But now that the Republicans' campaign promises have been kept, things get much harder. Repeal isn't going happen, not as long as the Senate is in Democratic hands and President Obama has the veto pen. Nor are efforts to deny funding for various pieces of the law likely to get very far.

 

Despite November's election results, people aren't clamoring for a return to the way things were; polls show that only about a third of the public wants the law repealed entirely. With the symbolic vote out of the way, Republican leaders are instructing their committee chairmen to come up with ways to replace what they deride as "ObamaCare."

 

That's where the going gets really tough. The House GOP's lone attempt at producing a viable alternative, during last year's health care debate, was a lame plan that would have extended insurance to just 3 million more people, a tenth of the 30 million or more to be covered under the new law. Senate Republicans never even offered a bill.

 

The reason the GOP never got around to proposing a serious plan to expand coverage and control costs is because doing that is excruciatingly hard and politically dangerous. Look how long Democrats struggled to craft a measure and what happened to them after they passed it.

 

If the new Congress wants to be productive, it should work together — in the same spirit of bipartisan cooperation that marked the recent lame-duck session of Congress — on the unfinished business of health care reform: curbing the unsustainable surge in Medicare costs and health insurance premiums.

 

The new law contains a variety of promising initiatives, such as fostering new health organizations that focus on quality of patient care instead of quantity of reimbursable procedures. But almost no one thinks this will be sufficient.

 

A good place to start is medical malpractice reform, which would reduce unnecessary, defensive medicine by doctors afraid of being sued. Tort reform would save an estimated $54 billion over 10 years. That's 23% of the savings in the health care law, but less than 1% of projected Medicare spending, a sign of the problem's enormity.

 

Ultimately, those who are really serious about hammering down costs have few big options, all politically radioactive: restrict the use of expensive new medical technologies and drugs; refuse to pay for expensive procedures or protracted end-of-life care; or cap the money government spends and shift costs to patients, who will have to cut back or force providers to charge less. Making these kinds of difficult choices to prevent explosive health care costs from bankrupting the nation is going to have to be a bipartisan undertaking, as was saving Social Security in 1983.

 

For now, no matter what course Congress takes, no one should lose sight of the fact that the status quo — millions of people without insurance or unable to obtain it, millions more a pink slip or a cancer diagnosis away from losing their coverage — is a mounting disaster. The new law was a worthwhile attempt to change that, and many of the insurance reforms are quite popular individually. It would be far better to build on the law than to tear to it down.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON HEALTH LAW: 'WE NEED A NEW APPROACH'

BY JOE PITTS

 

The problem with ObamaCare is that it is a big government solution to a problem created by big government. We need a new approach to lower health care costs, a goal ObamaCare ignored.

 

Americans get their health insurance from private insurance or from the government. Both systems share one fundamental problem: lack of competition. In the private system, there isn't enough competition because the government won't allow it. In the government system, there is no competition at all. If you've bought a hot dog at a turnpike rest stop, you know what happens to price and quality when there's no competition.

 

ObamaCare is creating 159 new federal offices and tens of thousands of pages of new regulations. Bureaucrats will make decisions that should be left to doctors and patients. The American people deserve better.

 

Republicans want a system in which private insurers engage in robust competition, creating the same market-based incentives to reduce prices and improve service that apply to the rest of our economy. Individuals, not employers, would have control over which policy to buy, and would be able to keep it from job to job. Insurers would be allowed to compete across state lines.

 

Republicans want to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with better measures that will address what is actually wrong with American health care.

 

For the record, Republicans worked for years to improve America's health care system. We created popular Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare prescription drug coverage. We created Health Savings Accounts. We created the medical insurance tax deduction for the self-employed. We fought for medical malpractice reform and cost-saving association health plans — only to see them filibustered in the Senate.

 

ObamaCare ignores the laws of economics by growing government while promising to spend less. It raises the costs of employment while claiming that job growth will be unaffected. The only way to get more for less is through robust competition and innovation. We can't fix ObamaCare by tinkering on the margins, just as you wouldn't fix a car's engine by putting on a new muffler.

 

Full repeal is the best way to fix a fundamentally flawed law.

 

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS: A NEWFOUND MATURITY

BY LEWIS M. SIMONS

 

Among Americans' fitful obsessions in the world, the Iraqs and Afghanistans may come and go. But China is here to stay. That abiding certainty, above all else, tempered what was anticipated to be a generally successful outcome of the presidential meeting between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

 

The two were expected to override temptation to pander to the most vitriolic domestic political pressures. Rather, they were likely to pay mutual respect to each others' countries while acknowledging a reality at times irritating to both: that the United States and China — even though they are destined to bicker and disagree — are joined at the hip.

 

As Obama enters the second half of his term and Hu prepares to step down, such considered behavior at Wednesday's summit would suggest a joint realization that the two most powerful economies on earth cannot long continue to thrive without each other and that the relationship, for all its flaws, may be entering a period of newfound maturity.

 

A mature exchange

 

At the same time, Obama could readily slip into his well-worn professorial mode, lecturing his guest on the need for improving China's dismal human rights record, which the president briefly mentioned earlier on the White House lawn. He could just as well hector Hu on China's policy of manipulating its currency to the unfair advantage of Chinese manufacturers and exporters. Certainly, he would not have been the first American president to do so. And Hu would not have been the first Chinese leader to resent it.

 

Hu, in turn, could justifiably needle Obama for America's arrogance and hypocrisy and for sticking its nose into China's internal affairs. And Obama would not be the first American leader to react antagonistically. If they had succumbed to these temptations, they would have been applauded by the hypernationalists in their own camps. But at what cost? And to what end?

 

So, Obama hosted Hu at a private White House dinner Tuesday as well as a glittering state banquet set for Wednesday evening. This exceptional gesture, intended to indicate full U.S. recognition of China as an equal, is sure to be received positively by all Chinese.

 

Still, hard-liners in both countries will likely criticize Obama and Hu for soft-peddling problematic issues, particularly Beijing's military buildup and Washington's efforts to contain perceived Chinese expansion into the rest of Asia. Hopefully, cooler heads on both shores of the Pacific will prevail. Both Americans and Chinese must come to terms with a matched pair of hard facts:

 

•First, and especially bitter for Americans, the generation in which a triumphant United States bestrode the globe as its sole superpower, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, is ending.

 

Indeed, as far as much of the world is concerned, Pax Americana already is history, for better and for worse. Some of us here at home seem vaguely to sense this but are unwilling or incapable of facing the terrible truth. Instead, what we see and hear — both from the far right and the far left — are uncontrolled outbursts of fear, frustration and anger.

 

•Second, the emerging generation of Chinese will have to learn to accept that their vast nation — richer and more powerful than ever before in its 4,000-year-long history — never will replace the United States. For a proud people who have spent the past two centuries first mired in deep humiliation and then digging themselves out of it, now having to acknowledge that the Middle Kingdom never will regain its historic glory will come hard.

 

But the world is resuming a bipolar configuration, with a gleaming, new China replacing a drab and crumbling Soviet Union. Both Chinese and American leaders must learn that despite differences that may never disappear, the people of both countries share enough — at minimum a common aspiration for peace and prosperity — that cooperation makes far more sense than struggle.

 

And both need to learn that each of our peoples consider themselves citizens of an exceptional state. Unsurprisingly, I have learned in reporting from around the world, this is true of most countries. But for the purposes of determining the future of U.S.-China relations, we would both do ourselves a big favor by recognizing that exceptionalism belongs at home.

 

From the American perspective, this will require us to understand that as the Chinese grow wealthier and more content, it is only natural that they should want to protect their wealth and comforts. Upscale homeowners in the United States do this by moving into gated communities and securing their McMansions with alarm systems. China is doing it by, for example, adding J-20 stealth fighters to its arsenal — just as the U.S. Air Force did with the F-22 more than two decades ago.

 

It is no less natural that the arrival of the J-20 at the same time that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was hinting he will eliminate a $14.4 billion program to develop a new Marine Corps landing vehicle makes some Americans jittery. But we may rest assured that with China spending between one-seventh and one-fifth of what the United States does on defense, our security is assured well into the future. Our fighting force is the biggest and most expensive — perhaps even the best — the world has ever known.

 

Chess moves in Southeast Asia

 

As to China's raising its profile in Southeast Asia, this should be viewed primarily in the context of geographic and cultural proximity.

 

In the wake of the Bush administration's largely having ignored this strategic region, Obama is wise to be getting us re-involved. Best of all, as numerous people in the region tell me, we are welcome. Yes, they are happy to have China investing in their economies. And, yes, they are happy to have us doing the same.

 

This is balance of power. It is peaceful competition. It is good for Southeast Asia, good for China and good for the United States. There is a lesson here for Americans: Don't get angry; get going.

 

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lewis M. Simons has covered Asia since 1967.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

JUSTICES SHOULD ATTEND STATE OF THE UNION

BY TONY MAURO

 

When President Obama gives his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, his audience in the U.S. Capitol could make as much news as he does.

 

I'm not just talking about the proposal, floated by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., in the wake of the Tucson shootings, for members of Congress to break up the traditional partisan seating arrangement and sit next to colleagues of the opposite party.

 

A lot of attention will also focus on the black-robed justices of the Supreme Court in the audience. Which, and how many, of the justices will attend? Last year, six of the nine were on hand, but this year, the number might be significantly lower.

 

Why is it an issue? Think back to last year's address, when Obama took the very rare step of criticizing the court to its face. He attacked the just-decided Citizens United ruling, which made it easier for corporations and unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in election campaigns. The ruling, the president said, would "open the floodgates for special interests."

 

Awkward moment

 

Democratic members of Congress leapt to their feet to applaud Obama, glaring down at the justices seated in their midst. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor sat silent and expressionless — with the brief exception of Alito, who shook his head and mouthed the words "not true."

 

Soon after last year's speech, Chief Justice Roberts said he was not sure he should ever return. The image of members of Congress "cheering and hollering, while the court, according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there expressionless, I think, is very troubling," Roberts said in a talk to students. Alito has also indicated he's likely to have other plans that night. Justice Antonin Scalia has called the event "a juvenile spectacle," and neither he nor Justice Clarence Thomas have attended in years.

 

Justices justified?

 

The justices do have a point. It was an awkward moment to see them sit stoically, as they must, while Obama partisans cheered his attack on the court.

 

Then again, life-tenured Supreme Court justices ought to be made of sterner stuff. Criticism goes with the territory of public service. The joint chiefs of staff of the military also watch the speech in silence because they, like the justices, are not supposed to take sides in policy debates better left to the elected branches.

 

The State of the Union address is a teachable moment in which the Supreme Court should participate. Justice Breyer, an enthusiastic attendee, said recently that if the other branches are there for the public to see, "I would like them to see the judges, too, because federal judges are also part of that government." As long as the Supreme Court continues its stubborn refusal to allow cameras to cover its proceedings, the State of the Union address represents the best opportunity for the American people to see the third branch of government in a small measure of public accountability.

 

The Tucson tragedy is another reason why justices would do well to overcome their wounded pride and attend. The federal judiciary was shaken by the death of one of its own, respected Arizona Chief Judge John Roll, on that awful Saturday morning. Now is not the time for retreating into the shadows.

 

Tony Mauro, Supreme Court correspondent for The National Law Journal, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. He also writes for a new newsletter, Supreme Court Insider.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

OREN: DIRECT TALKS NEEDED FOR MIDEAST PEACE

BY MICHAEL B. OREN

 

The Middle East peace process has reached something of an impasse. Israel, together with the United States, has called for direct negotiations, without preconditions, but the Palestinians refuse to join us. Still, Israel remains committed to attaining a genuine peace grounded on the principle of two states for two peoples living side-by-side in security, prosperity and mutual acceptance. That peace is possible, and this is how we can achieve it.

 

First, we must continue to lay the foundations for peace. Israel will remove additional checkpoints in the West Bank, facilitating the flow of traffic and goods, and encourage Palestinian efforts to establish national institutions. Further measures can be undertaken to strengthen the Palestinian economy and reinforce confidence. But Palestinian leaders must also prepare their people for peace by promoting co-existence and removing calls for Israel's destruction from public television and textbooks. When attained, peace will exist not only on paper but also in the marketplaces, highways and schools.

 

These efforts should not be distracted by the settlement issue. The emergence of these communities did not stop Israel from achieving peace with Egypt and Jordan or from negotiating with the Palestinians for 16 years. Settlements account for less than 2% of the West Bank land and will not prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Nevertheless, aware of the issue's sensitivity, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze new construction in the settlements for an unprecedented 10 months and pledged not to build new settlements or to expand the existing ones outward. We all have grievances; Israelis, for example, resent Palestinian attacks on our legitimacy in international forums. These matters need to be brought to the table, not inhibit us from sitting. Israel will address settlements as one of several final status issues — security, borders, refugees and Jerusalem — to be determined in direct talks.

 

We need ground rules

 

While laying the foundations for peace, we can set the ground rules for the negotiations. Palestinians and Israelis must agree to remain at the negotiating table, undeterred by the stumbling blocks we might occasionally encounter. The Palestinians have been attempting to end-run the peace process by seeking recognition for statehood from foreign countries. But such actions not only violate previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, they merely prolong the conflict. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed, "Only a negotiated agreement between the parties will be sustainable."

 

Finally, we must determine the substance of the talks. The Palestinians want to first address borders, but these cannot be drawn in isolation. The emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel's narrowest and most populous region poses immense dangers. Israel's first responsibility is to ensure that the peace arrangements will not compromise our citizens' security. Talks on territory, therefore, must also examine the measures necessary to prevent that state from becoming another Gaza or Southern Lebanon, areas that Israel evacuated only to be attacked by thousands of rockets. Similarly, we need to resolve the Palestinian refugee claims within the context of a Palestinian state, just as more than 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands were resettled in Israel. We have to secure the reciprocal recognition of the Jewish and Palestinian nation-states, and so avert all future claims and conflicts.

 

An undivided Jerusalem

 

All these core issues can be addressed concurrently by teams of negotiators and experts. Special attention, however, will have to be paid to Jerusalem, the most complex and emotionally charged issue. Israel will insist that its capital, the spiritual heart of the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years and a model of religious freedom under Israeli governance, will remain undivided. This was the policy of Israeli leaders going back to Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir. But we understand that the Palestinians hold different positions on Jerusalem and that they will bring them to the negotiating table.

 

None of this will be easy. Israelis and Palestinians must touch the most sensitive aspects of our national narratives and our most cherished beliefs. President Obama and Secretary Clinton will continue to play a dynamic role in assisting us to overcome obstacles. Arab states should also support the process and normalize relations with Israel. But there is no substitute for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Though we have long been rivals in a conflict, we can now be partners for peace.

 

Michael B. Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

REP. FLEISCHMANN'S WARNING

 

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, the fine new congressman from Chattanooga and our 3rd Congressional District, has offered good sense in warning against the staggering threat of socialized medicine and higher taxes under ObamaCare, which Democrats approved last year with no Republican support.

 

Fleischmann is an able conservative. Health care is a hot topic. So he realistically waded right in.

 

It is estimated, he said in a release, "that if ObamaCare were fully implemented, its total cost would be $2.6 trillion," and it would add $701 billion to our national debt.

 

Are you ready for that?

 

We all ought to stop right now and let that sink in: ObamaCare could wind up costing $2.6 trillion and adding $701 billion to the nation's debt.

 

If it is not repealed, as Republicans in Congress are attempting, who will pay for it? We all will!

 

Fleischmann noted, "Those who crafted the health care bill used accounting gimmicks so the true cost of the law would not be revealed by the Congressional Budget Office's cost analysis — yet another example of 'politics as usual' and all the more reason to stop this law before it takes effect."

 

Plainly, if we don't want the federal government to socialize medicine and send us the enormous bill, now is the time for Congress to head that off before it goes any further.

 

Fleischmann pointed out a list compiled by Americans for Tax Reform of nearly two dozen new tax hikes that would go into effect if ObamaCare is fully implemented over the next few years.

 

Hadn't we better avoid that tax cost now?

 

Fleischmann rightly co-sponsored and voted for legislation in the House to repeal ObamaCare.

 

"Government is not the answer to the health care problems in this country, backroom deals are not the answer to the health care problems in this country and accounting gimmicks are not the answer to the health care problems in this country," he said.

 

"We need market-based reforms to create true health care reform. We need to allow the purchase of insurance across state lines, we need tort reform, we need pooling and we need Health Savings Accounts," our new congressman insisted.

 

Fleischmann certainly has given timely warning — before socialized medicine and its staggering tax burdens are irreversibly placed upon us.

 

Further, he pointed out the fact that ObamaCare would cost jobs: "I am philosophically opposed to this health care law because it is bad for American small businesses — the backbone of our economy."

 

He noted that a National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation study found that the employer mandate in ObamaCare may lead to a loss of 1.6 million jobs nationwide. And "66 percent of those lost jobs would come from the small business work force."

 

"That same study showed 'small businesses would lose roughly $113 billion in real output and account for 56 percent of all real output lost.'"

 

ObamaCare is off to a bad start. Fleischmann is off to a good start. But we haven't heard the last word — and haven't been hit by the huge costs — yet.

 

Fleischmann said, "I hope the Senate listens to the American people and continues the process with my colleagues in the House to defund ObamaCare and ensure its catastrophic regulations never see the light of day."

 

We hope so, too. Costly ObamaCare is on the move and will be hard to stop.

 

Our new congressman is doing his part in trying to head off a huge financial and socialized-medicine mistake.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

SHOCKING RATE OF TEEN MOTHERS

 

There are a number of excellent reasons why society should support stable, two-parent families. One of the most important reasons is that those families promote the long-term interests and well-being of children.

 

While there are exceptions, children raised in households headed by only one parent generally perform worse academically and are more likely to get involved in crime, drugs and other social ills than children from two-parent homes are.

 

So it was nothing short of heartbreaking when it was revealed recently that in just one Memphis high school, roughly 20 percent of the girls were pregnant at some point during this school year. That comes to 90 expectant students at Memphis' Frayser High School, the New York Daily News reported.

 

Unmarried high schoolers clearly lack the emotional maturity to care for a baby and the work skills to support one financially. So in many cases, the children will wind up being raised by extended family or will face serious neglect by overwhelmed mothers and, very often, absentee fathers. Sadly, that can put some youngsters on a path to crime, gang membership, substance abuse and so many other struggles that sharply reduce their chances for a decent, productive life.

 

Officials in Memphis say they are planning an all-out campaign to reduce teen pregnancy and to encourage girls to steer clear of premarital sex.

 

Those are fine goals. But tragically, that sort of intervention with people who have already reached young adulthood can never be as effective as strong, two-parent guidance from a child's infancy all the way through school.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

COMMON SENSE ON IMMIGRATION

 

It seems that almost any attempt to deal with the costly problem of illegal aliens is greeted with accusations of "bigotry" or "racism."

 

But take a look at some bills that Tennessee lawmakers are considering on that subject, and see if you can spot any "bigotry":

 

• One bill would require that written exams for driver's licenses be given in English. What could be more reasonable than that? After all, our street signs are in English. If a would-be motorist can't complete a basic driving exam in English, will he be able to read those signs and avoid potentially tragic accidents?

 

• Another bill would require state and local governments in Tennessee to make sure that workers they hire after this coming June are in the United States legally. That, too, is just common sense. Tennessee's taxpayers should not be forced to fund the salaries of illegal aliens. Government jobs should be filled by U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.

 

• A third bill would insist that public colleges in Tennessee confirm the citizenship or legal residence of anyone who seeks to attend those colleges. It should go without saying that illegal aliens should not be filling limited spots in college and thereby denying those spots to Americans.

 

The state of Georgia is considering similar measures to deny higher education and work benefits to people who are in this country unlawfully.

 

Plainly, these bills have nothing to do with tired but persistent allegations of "bigotry."

 

The real question is not why the states are looking at modest proposals to crack down on illegal immigration, but why such laws were not enacted years ago.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - WE SALUTE KAZAKH PRESS FREEDOM

It was only last September that bailiffs in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan turned on "Respublika," a newspaper critical of the government. The agents seized the newspaper's entire print run.

As reported by British daily The Guardian, however, reporters and editors worked through the night. They retrieved the page proofs from a USB flash disk, photocopied them and stapled them together. By 7 a.m. the next morning they had churned out 2,000 homemade copies. Such a newspaper may not add up to a big edition. But from our perspective, this certainly added up to a mighty victory for our struggling colleagues in Kazakhstan.

Such scrappy innovation and courage, of course, is not unusual in Kazakhstan and other regional countries ruled by iron-fisted leaders. What made the Respublika incident extraordinary at the time was that Kazakhstan was about to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Vienna-based body devoted to democracy and press freedom. On Jan. 1, Kazakhstan became the first post-Soviet state to hold such an important and prestigious international chairmanship.

The decision-making that gave the OSCE's leadership to Kazakhstan has left us, and many others around the world, scratching our heads. Kazakhstan ranks 162nd on the Paris-based Reporters without Border Index of Press Freedom. It's just one spot up from neighboring Uzbekistan, another tough neighborhood for journalism.

But as our reporter in Almaty wrote for yesterday's Hürriyet Daily News, something else extraordinary has happened in the country. The Kazakh government has suddenly suspended restrictions on blogs and other Internet sites that have been the bane of those struggling to freely express themselves.

Under a law signed by the president in July 2009, all Internet resources – including personal blogs, chat rooms and social-networking sites – are equated with traditional media, making them subject to the longstanding and draconian regulations that have governed the press, according to the findings of the Committee to Protect Journalists. In addition to censoring domestic content, the Internet legislation allows international websites to be blocked if they are found in violation of Kazakh law.

The decision to block one popular blogging platform LiveJournal was made in October 2008, according to local journalists, prior to the law even being passed. Now that law has been suspended.

This may not be the full flower of pluralism and tolerance we would hope for within the Kazakh media. Reporters at Respublika, we are sure, continue to work in considerable peril. But it is progress nonetheless and we congratulate the government of Kazakhstan for its newfound respect for democratic institutions and institution building. With a bit more progress, Kazakhstan may prove us and other doubters of the OSCE decision wrong.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TUNISIA JUST AT THE BEGINNING OF REVOLUTION

SAMİ KOHEN

The recent episode in Tunisia will be remembered in history as the "Jasmine Revolution." Some, however, are calling it the "Twitter Revolution."

Regardless of what it is called, what is characteristic of the episode in Tunisia is that an oppressive regime has been toppled by a popular movement, not a military coup. This is a "first" both in Tunisia and in the Arab world. Having ruled the country for 23 years with an "iron fist," Zine El Abidine Ben Ali threw in the towel and escaped from Tunisia. Who could have guessed this?

Tunisia is known as a calmer and more stable country than neighboring North African states and many others in the Middle East. Ben Ali, however, established an authoritarian regime and did not allow his opponents, including the media, to even take a breath. As Ben Ali was forming a privileged class for his family and closest circles, the masses were facing financial difficulties and injustice. That is to say, people had problems and complaints, but couldn't speak out until the end of December. As the police confiscated goods of a young university graduate, a street vendor selling vegetables, the young man set himself on fire in the middle of the street. That was the first spark for the outburst of the silenced public.

You know the rest. The incident has given way to revolt. Ben Ali couldn't deal with it. The army remained outside and the boiling streets have transformed into a "revolution" overthrowing Ben Ali.

Bread and freedom

First of all, this is a revolution triggered by economic reasons. This is, especially, the bread-and-butter fight of the country's poor and outraged youth.

Reactions on the streets, without doubt, arose from economic and social difficulties. However, Ben Ali's regime of oppression was an important factor. People demanded "freedom," together with "bread-and-butter" – democracy in other words.

The first stage of the revolution took place with the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime. Now, the formation of a democratic government respectful of human rights and freedoms is expected, as well as the implementation of policies eliminating economic trouble and social imbalances.

Can Tunisia be successful? It's been seen in the recently toppled regimes of Eastern Europe that new governments do not always fulfill expectations. For instance, the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine and even the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia.

The "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia is now facing a difficult test. The difficulty is the political gap in the country. There is no new leader yet. The political structure remains as it was when Ben Ali left. A temporary government consists of the old staff. Elections will be held soon. But how this could be realized is critical.

Could the participation of political opposition groups be possible? Could former politicians who fled years ago and leading figures of the Islamic movement be allowed to get into politics in Tunisia freely?

Election and bread

Formation of a new democratic and representative government is critical in the eye of the people. But in the meantime, the introduction of new job opportunities, putting an end to 30 percent unemployment and better living conditions are priorities.  

The overthrow of any authoritarian regime is always a historic turning point. However, a "revolution" is not simply toppling an administration. Making political, economic and social changes to meet expectations is part of a revolution. And that takes time and effort.

For the moment, Tunisia is at the beginning of the road.

*Sami Kohen is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece first appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TURMOIL IN TUNISIA

RICHARD REID

In the century that just passed, in sharply different Muslim nations, Mustafa Kemal had two groundbreaking imitators. Both of them, like their model, founded modern republics. The first, Shah Reza of Iran, took power in 1925, toured Turkey with Atatürk and set in motion a series of reforms including the banning of the veil.

The second, Habib Bourguiba, the father of independent Tunisia, wrested freedom from France in 1957 and led his country for 30 years. One wonders what he might have done to head off the turmoil that has erupted in Tunisia over the past two weeks. Bourguiba's administration successfully rode out general strikes, food riots and the challenges of an emerging Islamic fundamentalist movement.

Bourguiba consciously patterned his presidency after Atatürk's. He went head-on with the traditionalist-religious establishment, giving women the vote and drinking orange juice on daytime television during Ramadan to make the point that a modern Muslim believer could combine faith with an energetic 24-month work year.

The old lion received me in his office in Tunis a year and a half before giving way to the then-rising ex-general Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who left the country last week at the height of the unrest. For our talk, I had in mind a review of Tunisia's child vaccination program and outreach development work in a mountain province. President Bourguiba wanted to talk about Atatürk, and that's what we did.

The Maghreb, made up of four countries – Tunisia, Libya to its east, Algeria and Morocco to its west – has always been oddly assorted politically and temperamentally. A Moroccan saying holds that Tunisia is a woman and Algeria is a man. For me that contrasts the two national personalities fairly well, and it makes the current social explosion in Tunisia all the more intriguing. The Algerians would do the job of throwing down a repressive regime more violently – they have applied themselves more than once to spectacular bloodletting – but the Tunisians may do it more completely.

For Tunisia and all the Maghreb nations, the most frightening danger is the social dynamite generated by educated but jobless young men. You see them, singly or in groups, slouching, sullen, on street corners and down the paths of every casbah from Tlemcen to Tunis. Many have come out of universities that were created more for state prestige than to meet the occupational needs of the society. Their faculties churn out diploma-holders with high expectations and a short-fused sense of entitlement. Once out in the real world, the graduates are greeted by a sluggish economy flattened further by the global economic slowdown. Not even the featherbedded government bureaucracies are hiring.

It's not hard to picture, say, a 26-year-old law graduate trying to make a life by selling vegetables from a handcart. His education has not delivered. He is depressed and resentful. His ears are open to talk about revenge against the repressive elites, and he is far from alone. Now go back with a zoom lens to what actually happened a fortnight ago in a town outside Tunis. We watch as another jobless graduate gives up on life and sets himself on fire in a public place. The word spreads, our imaginary 26-year-old hits the streets with thousands of others, and soon their protests and anger morph into a rampage of fires and looting.

The kind of turmoil that is racking Tunisia can happen in any country with a heavy-handed, complacent government, an overeducated young population and a flaccid economy. That description fits several nations in the Middle East today. It does not fit Turkey because of the country's buoyant economy. But Turkey does have more universities than are needed in normal times, and their hyper-production may one day bring a backlash.

Not many governments are as good at damping down social dynamite as Habib Bourguiba's were.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE CAMPS OF SHAME

LAHCEN HADDAD

Close to the town of Tindouf in southwestern Algeria, not far from the Moroccan border, thousands of Sahrawi people have been abandoned for the last 35 years, stripped of their basic rights as refugees.

Sahrawis are the people of the Western Sahara, a contested territory south of Morrocco that was annexed by the North African country in 1975.

The camps are on Algerian soil, but Algeria delegates the administration of the camps to a reportedly Sahrawi 'liberation' group called the Polisario, contrary to international law, according to various human rights organizations.

On the other hand, while Algeria does give the Sahrawis 'refugee' status, it does not accord them the protections illustrated in the 1951 Geneva Convention or a related 1967 human rights protocol.

The Sahrawis living in the camps do not have the right to move and settle on Algerian soil, or in any other country of their choice, and are not allowed to engage in gainful employment. The United States Committee on Immigrants and Refugees and the Washington-based Moroccan – America Center call this a form of "warehousing," whereby the Sahrawi people have been sequestered within the camps against their will for political purposes.

Moreover, despite repeated calls from the UNHCR and other international organizations and bodies, Algeria refuses to allow a census of the population to be conducted. The World Food Program provides rations to 125,000 people, but independent sources using aerial images estimate the Sahrawi population in the Tinduf camps to number between 60,000 to 90,000. A good part of rare humanitarian aid has been documented as being smuggled by Polisario and Algerian officials and sold on the black market in Algeria, Mauritania and even Mali and Niger.

In addition to being denied their rights as refugees, some of the Sahrawis living within the camps have disappeared, numerous cases of which have been documented by international human rights organizations. While unmarried women that fall pregnant are jailed – a punishment Polisario officials do not deny – a number of children have been removed from their families and deported to Cuba, allegedly for indoctrination purposes – a practice that contradicts international conventions regarding the rights of children.

Saadani Maoulainine is now in her late twenties, but still remembers when the Polisario tortured her father and humiliated her family before deporting her to Cuba to be indoctrinated with revolutionary ideas and anti-Moroccan rhetoric. For years she was severed from her culture, language and background.

Saadani still sheds tears as she recounts her suffering. Saadani feels lucky that she has joined her mother in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara but thousands of others who were uprooted from their families in the 1980's are not so lucky. Some of them did not have a choice but to settle in Spain upon their return, since their knowledge of the Sahrawi version of Arabic language and culture is close to non-existent.

Political expression within the camps is strictly repressed. The most recent case of abuse of the right to the freedom of political expression was that of Mustapha Selma Oueld Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped, jailed and possibly tortured because he dared support a Moroccan proposal for autonomy in Western Sahara. After pressure from world governments and international organizations, Algeria and the Polisario released him, but they denied him entry to the camps and reunion with his family.

When will the international community and world's conscience wake up and come to the rescue of the tens of thousands of Sahrawis held against their will, trapped as pawns in a political game that strips them of their basic rights? How can we tolerate that in the 21st century people are "warehoused" as alleged refugees with no right to identity, freedom of movement or gainful employment at a time when countries like Morocco, Spain and Mauritania are ready to receive them, allowing them to mingle with their respective societies and achieve their lives' dreams?

It is high time world leaders and world public opinion said "No" to the use of innocent people in geo-strategic games. For 35 years, Sahrawis have suffered under an illegal Stalinist system working on the soil of a sovereign nation that denies them their rights while at the same time swindling a good part of the humanitarian aid the international community mobilizes to keep them alive. It is high time we all said: halt the suffering of Sahrawis in the Tinduf refugee camps in Algeria.

Lahcen Haddad, Ph.D, is Academic Director for the Vermont School of International Training and Senior Associate of the Washington D.C.-based Management Systems International.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

IS IT SO HARD TO OPEN THE DINK FILE?

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

If the government is influenced by the public then it needs to change its attitude and take action in view of recent developments. For the past two days everybody has appealed to the Interior Ministry. The message is clear: Those who exhibited any neglect in the murder of the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink should be punished.

Nothing has happened yet. The reaction by the authorities is always the same: "The necessary investigations have been done and the file has been closed. No-one has been found responsible."

But the public is not satisfied.

There is new information surfacing. Journalist Nedim Şener states new claims. The 6th Administrative Court found the Interior Ministry, with which the Police is affiliated, to be guilty of "heavy duty neglect." Previously the European Court of Human Rights sentenced Turkey to pay compensation on grounds of failing to protect the right to life.

Won't these new claims do?

I was just reminded of late President Turgut Özal's alleged assassination and his family coming up with new claims after 17 years of his death. His close friend and doctor as well as other doctors who examined him knew very well that his death was based on heart failure; but his family came up with assassination claims. This was done in such a loud way that the state finally reopened the file and appointed a special prosecutor to investigate. It was ridiculous but done in order to wipe out any doubts in the mind of the public.

The Dink case has concrete data. No speculation, no fiction and no contradiction.

We expect Interior Minister Beşir Atalay to take action. I'm sure he wouldn't ignore this case. And let's not forget that expectations and requests won't end any time soon, they will increase with each anniversary.

It won't be easy to save the Democrat Party

I wouldn't have preferred to start my first article about a person who has newly been appointed with such a headline but what can I do? It reflects my thoughts.

It has been very difficult for the center-right Democrat Party, or DP, to get up and running once more. The new chief Namık Kemal Zeybek may be a very successful and well-equipped politician, but the problem stirs from a different source. The DP has been so battered and bruised that it can hardly walk.

What is Zeybek to do? If he surprisingly manages to get the party up and running he'll surely be applauded. I'll surely be stunned but I do believe in political miracles. I wish a miracle could happen. I wish DP would enter elections by convincing other parties to form a "front."

We all need, including the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, need such miracles.

Elections resulting in a 50 percent vote percentage for the AKP wouldn't do any good. As long as we don't have any serious and effective opposition we won't be satisfied.

Enough now friends

I wrote about it yesterday and would like to repeat it. Enough now. I am appealing to especially members of the AKP. We have had it now.

People have apologized hundred times. The president and the captain, the board members and old as well as the new delegation, everybody has taken a stand. They have repeatedly admitted that it was a disgrace and even announced it in the papers.

It seems not enough though. AKP members that want to look cute in the eye of their prime minister keep talking.

They keep saying that Galatasaray is incompetent, poor and has obtained the stadium for free. They say what Galatasaray did was in exchange for what the prime minister did for them.

Enough buddy…really enough… we get it…we accept it. What more do you want? Are you aware that with such an attitude you are losing Galatasaray fans?

Beside let's not forget that the money you spent belongs to all of us. So, whoever wants to put Galatasaray on hold or give it up may do so but please stop talking about it and turn the page.

Hunt for protestors is a shame

Another thing that bothers Galatasaray is the hunt for protestors that are caught on camera.

Galatasaray Chair Adnan Polat stated that he used a wrong word and meant to say provocateurs instead of protestors are to be tracked down and banned from entering the stadium.

Now security is examining cameras. Ankara must be on a drive and want to punish someone badly.

Stop it please. This does not befit principles of democracy. Insulting someone or using sharp instruments is one thing protesting another. Nowhere in the world are people punished for booing a leader. Even if they organized provocation they need not be punished.

Istanbul governor knows best that such approach would be very wrong. He just needs to convince Ankara. Such an approach would also humiliate the prime minister. I guess that the prime minister would not want to be a leader who punishes those who protest him.

That is why it is enough now. I say – everybody shut up now.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WEIGHING IN ON WORKS OF ART

FRANK WHITE

Heads of state and other officials who weigh in on works of art have a bad record. When religion and ideology combine with reasons of state in judging art, the confusion is compounded. Since Moses destroyed the golden calf, iconoclasts in the Abrahamic faiths have time and again tried to eliminate visual and plastic works from public spiritual life. The Taliban's explosion of the venerable, colossal stone Buddha carvings in Bamiyan, Afghanistan is only the latest and most egregious affront.

 On the positive side, Judaism has had Solomon's temple and Herod's reconstruction of it, where the magnificent Dome of the Rock mosque now sits; Christianity has its Gothic cathedrals and Michaelangelo's and Leonardo's religious-themed sculptures, paintings, and designs; Islam has its architectural and design masterpieces in Spain, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Rome has, still, in Hadrian's vision for the Pantheon, one of the greatest enclosed spaces in the world, as is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

But much religious art is embarrassing, to discerning insiders, and inexplicable to outsiders. And much public art of a non-religious kind, however well-intended, fails in its political or moral purposes. But who is to judge? And what should we aspire to in enhancing our public spaces?

It is natural for successful political leaders to be tempted to remake the culture they can control according to their lights and those of their supposed constituents. Natural, but not wise. Most revolutions pull down the reminders of previous regimes and replace them with their own propagandistic substitutes. History in turn judges them harshly.

The function of art in human life

This is because art's function is not to serve political, moral, or even programmatic religious ends. Art, like science and philosophy, aspires to truth; but unlike them is free to invent and imagine and must use concrete materials for its expressions. Art is not useful in any ordinary way, not an instrument for something else. Like play among children and certain animals, art exists for the sheer joyousness of doing it or making it. It may include effort and discipline, technique and trained intelligence, but it has an element of ludic freedom, of grace, about it. This mixture of expressing truths of reality with the unreality of artificial constructs sets art apart from the practical and moral spheres of human endeavor.

Thus it is somewhat ridiculous for public officials as such to undertake the role of arbiters of art (or of science or of thought, for that matter: see the creationism controversy in the United States). U.S. President Harry Truman, who could play the piano, reverted to offended father when he upbraided a newspaper critic who dared to fault Margaret Truman's singing recital. (Ms. Truman later achieved success as author of Murder in the White House.) It is just possible for a statesman to also be an artist, and vice versa – witness playwright Vaclav Havel, sometime president of Czech Republic. But he knows the difference between the two roles.

Former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his family were noteworthy patrons and informed students of modern art. His son Michael lost his young life collecting the rare religious 'art'-works of New Guinea. But when the governor commissioned murals for the Rockefeller Center by Mexican master Diego Rivera (a conspicuous communist) and then removed the result because it included a depiction of Lenin – he lost face. But to try to promote a political objective in public art is as misplaced as to try to suppress it.

New York City officials recently gave in to outspoken complaints and warehoused a massive torqued metal sculpture by the bold artist Richard Serra. But in 50 or 100 years might not most citizens be proud to experience such a work in an outdoor public space? For the final arbiters of judgment in art are the artists who do it or make it and those of us who learn from them and their works to discriminate on grounds of truth or expressivity, not on any other agenda, however otherwise worthy.

Art for art's sake? Not exactly. Art is one of the ways truth seeks us out, but in different ways than science, thought, and religion. And different from the practical ways of politics and morality, that will do well to attain some good, leaving truth and its arts to their own several paths and manners. When it comes to art we are all learners.

*Frank White is a professor emeritus at City University of New York and lives part of the year in Alanya, Turkey. He can be reached at fwhitetr35@yahoo.com

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE LAST PERSECUTION BY THE SOVIETS: THE MASSACRE OF BAKU ON JAN. 20, 1990

ELSEVER SALMANOV

When we look at Azerbaijan's independence process throughout history, one sees that the people of Azerbaijan have sometimes paid very high prices for their independence. These prices were sometimes directly imposed by the great powers, or sometimes by Armenians serving as their pawns at various times throughout history, especially during the last 150 years. According to these Armenians, Azerbaijan should not have been an independent, strong and stable state, but one rife with and struggling with problems, a vassal, feeble and powerless. However, the people of Azerbaijan would not yield to these impositions, thanks to the spirit which their established state tradition gave them.

By the end of the 1980s, it was known to everybody that the Soviet Union would not survive, but collapse due to state policies that were contrary to reality and based on artificial slogans.

That's exactly when the activities of Soviet management against Azerbaijan reached its climax. The fact that Haydar Aliyev, national leader of the people of Azerbaijan, was forced to leave the Soviet management clearly reveals the foregoing. Armenians, encouraged by the power vacuum in the state and by the fact the Soviets supported them, started widespread activities within Azerbaijan and Armenia for their territorial claims. Of course, the people of Azerbaijan were aware of this process and these ill designs planned against them. Now it was time to come together to deliver the country from these ugly attacks, to unite, to become independent again and to vociferate the will of the people to the world. The venue was Freedom Square (or "Azatlık" Square) in Baku. The date was Jan. 19, 1990.

At 7:27 p.m. on Jan. 19, 1990, special forces from the Soviet Union's Committee for State Security, or KGB, called "Alpha" destroyed the general power unit of the Azerbaijan State Television Building by bombing it. The press was silenced and no visual broadcasts could be made in the country. On the same date, Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union, issued a decree to declare emergency rule in Baku as of Jan. 20 in violation of Article 119 of the USSR. Constitution and Article 71 of the Azerbaijan SSR. That same evening, special forces invaded Baku, which was unaware of Gorbachev's emergency rule decree, whose legitimacy was debatable, within the framework of an operation jointly planned by the USSR Ministry of Defense, Interior Affairs and State Security Committee. Nine persons were murdered several hours before the effective date of the decree. Yevgeny Primakov, Soviet speaker of parliament, Grienko, secretary of the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party, and Mihayilov, branch director of the USSR Communist Party, declared to the public that no emergency rule would be declared in Baku. Even the fact that informing the public about the emergency rule decree issued by the president was prevented by itself constitutes evidence that what was done was intentional and premeditated. 

Soviet Army special forces entered the capital, Baku, and opened random fire at everyone and in every direction. The tanks were crashing into anything before them and ruining the city, according to the instructions given to them. People were targeted by these randomly fired bullets, while walking on the street, staying at home, in buses or in cars. A humanitarian drama was suffered in Baku on the verge of the 21st century. As a result of the operations by Soviet Army, 134 persons were massacred, more than 600 were wounded and about 800 were arrested. Without a doubt, such inhumane practices implemented in Baku could be evaluated in the same category of the massacres staged in Budapest in 1956, in Almaty in 1986, in Prague in 1968, in Tbilisi in 1989 and in Vilnius in 1991. Thus we see that the Soviet Union was able to survive thanks to massacres and brute force. 

Soviet management was defending all that had been done with the explanation, "The purpose of the army's entry into Baku was to protect the bureaucracy and their family members living there." Even documents of Soviet sources prove that the defense was a total lie. That's to say, there were 11,500 SWAT troops of the Ministry of Interior Affairs located in Baku and a significant number of military troops of the Ministry of Defense were present, too. These numbers made it unnecessary to bring back-up forces from outside.

The Azerbaijan SSR public prosecutor initiated an investigation regarding the January massacres. An indictment of 100 volumes was issued. Sixty-nine volumes of this indictment were sent to Moscow upon the request of the USSR public prosecutor. There is still no news of these volumes.

Then the Azerbaijani management was not only unable to utter ideas contrary to the official story regarding these experienced events, but also further act on the requests of the Soviet management by taking into consideration the attitude of Moscow. The later leadership could only make a decision on Jan. 17, 1992 at the High Soviet, which functioned as the lawmaker of Azerbaijan, that Jan. 20 must be remembered as a "Day of Martyrs" every year, due to the instability present throughout the country. Against all odds, Aliyev, despite severing his connection with Soviet management in 1990, risked his life and organized a press conference while in Moscow and severely criticized the Soviet management which staged the Baku massacre. When Aliyev later came to power in the country, an extensive resolution containing the names of those guilty in the January 1990 massacres was adopted in the Azerbaijani National Assembly on March 29, 1994.

Of course the recognition of the January 1990 massacre only by Azerbaijan is not enough. When the event is examined in terms of international law, it would be a good call that the said massacre must be included under the scope of crimes against humanity and those who are responsible must be subjected to investigation. That's because all that was done includes all symptoms of a crime against humanity. We and all our friends must follow up on all inhumane practices and assume it as a life principle to struggle on this path without yielding.

*Elsever Salmanov is the spokesman of the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Ankara.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TUNISIA, THE ARAB WORLD AND THE 'TURKISH MODEL'

YUSUF KANLI

There is an allergy in Turkey, particularly among the secular-western oriented segments of the society, against the American-scissored "role model" this country is expected to play in the largely dictatorial geography of the Middle East and North Africa.

The hypothetical "Muslim democracy" or cohabitation of democracy and a milder version of Islam as opposed to radical Islam holding development as hostage in the vast Muslim geography and such products of the global policymaking allusions of the United States have been creating nerves for a long time among secular sections of the Turkish society. Though, many secular Turks firmly believe that at least since the late 1990s – that is immediately after the Feb. 28 "post-modern coup" of 1997 against Necmettin Erbakan, the first Islamist prime minister of Turkey – "a new program" has started to be executed in Turkey: Helping to create a milder Islamist party and bring it into power.

In the so-far-released electronic WikiLeaks bombardment of the world with U.S. electronic diplomatic communication there appears no proof of U.S. involvement in the establishment and further achievements of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, but still the suspicion and indeed firm conviction of a U.S. hand behind the AKP at least in its early period continues.

Anyone with some understanding and knowledge of Islamic theology would of course underline the impossibility of coexistence of Islam and democracy in any form as long as the state is firmly shielded with secularism as unlike for example Christianity, Islam could not undergo a renaissance or could not develop a sense of secularism within itself. It coordinates life in all aspects from birth to death.

Naturally, a perfectly devoted practicing Muslim person may enjoy his/her religion to the maximum in a secular democratic state, but in a state governed by Sharia or Islamic law, freedoms are arranged according not only to the holy Quran, but also to the Islamic culture, which has been accumulated over centuries of conservative practice. Furthermore, if democracy is rule by the people, for the people and through man-made laws – which can be amended, scrapped all together or replaced with new ones – is it possible at all to place together the notion of sovereignty of the people with the notion of total surrender to the divine law, the orders of God?

Furthermore, while Turkey is wanted to offer a role model to the Muslim neighborhood – as opposed to the Iranian role model, for example – unfortunately, over the past eight years it appears that Turkey has started to transform itself towards becoming "less different" than the rest of the Muslim geography.

The fall of the "secular dictatorship" in Tunisia – indeed whether it indeed fell is not yet certain as the entire change might eventually be limited to the name of the dictator – is hailed by some Islamist penslingers in Turkey as a great advance of "Islam under secular oppression." While in Tunisia it appears there was no strong political Islam, it is probable that the administrative team which will eventually come to office might compromise from the Jacobin secularist understanding of the fallen dictator.

It was not, however, the "Jacobin secularist" understanding of the 23-year rule of the former dictator, or three decades of rule by his predecessor, that produced the "jasmine" revolution in Tunisia. Rather, it was the frustration with the bad smell of rampant favoritism, nepotism and corruption at all levels of governance as well as by the family of the president, that poured people on the streets. It was because of the same reason that masses on the Arab street elsewhere focused their attention on developments in Tunisia and the kings, presidents, sheikhs and prime ministers in those cities have started to develop the fear of a probable domino effect.

Although the Turkish regime cannot compete in any way with the Jacobin secular practices of the former Tunisian dictator, in many categories there might be a close challenge in Turkey to what was happening in Tunisia, be it nepotism, corruption, favoritism or gross irregularities at municipalities covered up by the central government.

Then, with which peculiarities can Turkey offer a role model to the Arab neighborhood?

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

EDUCATION DILEMMA

  

Some of the consequences of the implementation of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which devolves considerable power and authority to the provinces were not thought-through in sufficient detail. Of particular concern is the breakup and devolution of the Federal Education Ministry (FEM). The National Assembly Standing Committee on Education today finds itself in the invidious position of challenging the newly amended Constitution. The NASCE is made up of a cross-party group of representatives who with one exception (who happens to be a sister of the president) have recommended that the government does not disband the Federal Education Ministry. Few would dispute that our education system leaves much to be desired – underfunded even though funding has risen to four per cent of GDP under the current government, poorly resourced, badly trained where teachers are trained at all and with a curriculum that is years out of date.


On the face of it would seem that devolution of the Federal Education Ministry is not only a good idea, but long overdue. This would be a greater truism if the provinces were ready to receive their new educational responsibilities and that the national curriculum, such as it is, was maintained in a recognisable form. Unfortunately this is not the case, and the provinces are far from ready to take on the education of their children – or their adolescents for that matter. The claim made recently by Prime Minister Gilani that all would be well 'by June' is looking increasingly threadbare. On the basis of 'something is better than nothing' retention of the FEM as the institutional memory of the education system as well as the repository of what 'capacity' has been developed over six decades – looks to be necessary at least in the short to medium term. Education systems cannot be switched on and off. They take time to develop and are always expensive if made well. There is a very real danger of losing what little we have in the education capacity pool in our haste to implement the 18th Amendment. At the very least a bridging operation needs to be conducted in order that common educational standards across the provinces can be embedded, and core components of the curriculum protected. Devolution yes, Constitutional compliance yes, but not at any price, and certainly not at the price of reducing the worth of our already impecunious – and failing – education system.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

A CLOSE CALL

 

Given the magnitude of Wednesday morning's earthquake it is fortunate that the casualty list appears, at the time of writing, to be relatively low. There are no reports of deaths in Pakistan but several are reported injured in the town of Dalbandin, Balochistan, which was close to the epicentre of the event. There has been some structural damage, but it is possible that as rescuers begin to reach more remote areas that other casualties will come to light. The Richter 7.2 tremor was felt across a vast area, from Dubai to Delhi, from Multan to Karachi, and it is worth pondering the possible consequences of a similar event affecting more populous areas.

Pakistan has had more than its fair share of natural disasters in the last six or seven years. The 'quake in 2005 produced the most fatalities, but The Great Flood of 2010 was by far the most damaging economically. There are about seven million people still homeless as a result. Disasters such as this are going to continue to happen and are virtually impossible to predict. Earthquakes in particular are notoriously difficult to predict, unlike the weather systems that produce floods and which we can, to a degree, read reasonably well today. Thus it is in our best interests to be disaster-ready, to be prepared in every province of the land, for what might strike without warning and which can have truly catastrophic consequences. Preparedness means ensuring that all schools in the most vulnerable areas have a cohort of teachers that are trained in emergency awareness and response, and who can train their pupils. It also means that the administrations in those areas must have a local disaster plan that is updated at least every three years and that there are designated members of the administration who are competent to manage disaster rescue and recovery if the worst happens. Basic instructions can also be delivered in mosques and workplaces. These things we can do with relative ease and little expense beyond devising the material to be delivered. We got off lightly on Wednesday, we cannot be sure of being so lucky again.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SUN, WIND & WAVES

 

Speaking on Monday in Abu Dhabi at the four-day World Future Energy Summit, President Asif Ali Zardari shared his vision of the future for Pakistan. He said that we needed the economy to grow at an annual rate of eight per cent just for us to maintain our current standard of living. Considering that a large proportion of the population is food-insecure and hovering at or below the poverty line, this must have been a comforting thought for them and the seven million or so still displaced by last year's flood. The president said our current energy capacity in terms of generation was 20,000MW and that needed to double within a decade to meet our economic targets. He omitted to mention, of course, that the system as installed rarely operated at more than 60 per cent of its capacity and that much of it was shut down because of the failure of his government to manage it any better than would a blind beggar.


The president's vision included a picture of a Pakistan where solar power, wind and wave energy was the way forwards, and he may be right. He lauded the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where the world's largest solar energy project is 'in process' as being a model for the use of sustainable energy that we might all aspire to – and again he may be right. In both cases he omitted to mention that the UAE is rolling in money, has a tiny and very wealthy population and enjoys relative political and social stability – none of which attributes we have in any abundance. To get the best out of alternative energy sources you need very large amounts of money to develop both the technology and the infrastructure, and then a population with a collective disposable income to pay the electricity bills.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

THE AFGHAN ENDGAME

SHAMSHAD AHMAD


America's Afghan war is in its tenth year and Washington still doesn't seem to have a plan to end it. It has been one of the costliest wars lasting longer than the Second World War. There is no sign of a finale soon coming to this unwinnable war that has not gone beyond retribution and retaliation. No wonder people in the US and the European countries are sick of this conflict and want their troops to be out of the war theatre.


To mollify this sentiment, the US is working on alibis of all sorts. The one agreed at the last NATO summit in Lisbon envisages limited withdrawal from Afghanistan in July as a prelude to a transition plan, with an eye to ending their combat mission in Afghanistan by 2014. According to the Lisbon Declaration, the transition process was on track and, by the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across their country. In the Afghan context, that is easier said than done.


The Lisbon decision was qualified with a caveat that "the transition would be conditions-based, not calendar-driven. In his concluding remarks, President Obama also clarified the intent of the NATO decision on withdrawal by 2014 by stressing that "it is a goal to make sure that we are not still engaged in combat operations of the sort that we're involved with now," but "it's hard to anticipate exactly what is going to be necessary." He added, "We are much more unified and clear about how we're going to achieve our ultimate end-state in Afghanistan."


However, the Obama strategy spells out no long-term "end-state" and only aims at "setting the conditions" for a small but unspecified number of US troops in July 2011. An unclassified strategic policy review released by the White House on Dec 16 was cautious in claiming operational gains in the war. The assessment found "substantial improvement in the international training of Afghan army and police forces and increased cooperation by Pakistan's military in targeting insurgents on its side of a porous border," but admitted that "recent gains in the south remain reversible."


Whatever it's real intent and content, the Afghan endgame in its present form shows clear divergence in NATO and US positions. America's NATO allies are looking for a military exit from Afghanistan, limiting their presence in the war-ravaged country beyond the stipulated timeline only to a supporting role in nation-building. On its part, the US does not rule out a military role for its forces in Afghanistan even beyond 2014.


Vice President Joe Biden was in Kabul and Islamabad last week on a mission to assess the ground situation preparatory to the scheduled limited withdrawal in July this year in the run-up to the 2014 deadline. His talks in both capitals were described as useful and constructive, though each side had its own narrative of the areas of "concern" in the US withdrawal plan.


While the US wants Afghanistan and Pakistan to do more to facilitate the transition, there are serious doubts and apprehensions in both countries on the very viability of the whole process. For them, the US withdrawal is not the issue. They would welcome it. The issue of concern to them is the premises on which the execution of the transition is based, in complete disregard of the Afghan realities.


The foremost reality is that the Afghans have a fierce sense of independence, and have never been pacified by foreign forces. The post-Soviet chaos and the post-9/11 US-led military campaign both have only deepened the Afghan ethnic divide. The experience of centuries, especially of the last two decades, should make one thing abundantly clear. No reconciliation imposed from outside will work in Afghanistan, and no exit strategy will succeed by further deepening the ethnic divide in this war-torn country.


Henry Kissinger, who opposes any time-bound US withdrawal, sees the Afghan reality in its true character. In his view, Afghanistan is a nation, not a state in the conventional sense, and any exit strategy must be based on the historic reality that the writ of the Afghan government has traditionally been confined to Kabul and its environs, leaving the rest of the country to be run by local warlords or tribal influentials as almost semi-autonomous regions configured largely on the basis of ethnicity, dealing with each other by tacit or explicit understandings.

Historically, for reasons of its difficult geography and multiple ethnicities, the country has rarely been able to achieve a strong central government. Now to expect President Hamid Karzai to create a modern central government within a given timeframe is not realistic. Given the structure of his society based on personal affinities and tribal traditions, the demand for him to deliver in matter of months is beyond his capacity. The country is too large, the ethnic composition too varied, and the population too heavily armed. No army or police force without genuinely reflecting the ethnic reality can deliver in this scenario.

Another lesson from history is that no military occupation for an indefinite period has ever worked. Also different theatres of war require different approaches. Iraq's "Anbar" blueprint will not work in Afghanistan. Gen Petraeus must understand that any plan that precipitates intra-Afghan conflict as part of his anti-Taliban strategy will seriously jeopardise the reconciliation process and throw this ill-fated country in another fratricidal civil war. It would be a dangerous mistake which will not be without grave implications for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Washington must understand that the Afghans are not the only victims of the Afghan tragedy. Pakistan as the key frontline state in the last Afghan war suffered irreparably in multiple ways in terms of millions of refugees, socio-economic burden, a culture of drugs and guns, rampant terrorism and protracted conflict in its border areas with Afghanistan, and now as its pivotal non-NATO ally in the war on terror is waging a full-scale war on its own territory.


The US may have its own political compulsions in the run-up to next year's presidential election but both Afghanistan and Pakistan have suffered for too long and cannot afford another cataclysm. The effectiveness of their role and capability in this process will suffer if other conflicts and disputes continue to engage and divert their attention and resources.


Whatever the end-game, durable peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive as long as Pakistan's legitimate security concerns in the region remain addressed. Pakistan has already staked everything in support of this war and is constantly paying a heavy price in terms of violence, massive displacement, trade and production slowdown, export stagnation, investor hesitation and a worsening law and order situation. It is also suffering the consequences of US insensitivity to Pakistan's legitimate concerns about India's preponderant role in the region, especially its nuisance potential in its backyard.


A coercive and, at times, accusatory and slanderous approach towards Pakistan and its armed forces and security agencies is both reprehensible and counterproductive. Instead of using Pakistan as an easy scapegoat for their own failures in this war, the US and its allies must accept the reality that Afghanistan is an area of fundamental strategic importance for Pakistan. If the Soviet presence in Cuba almost triggered a nuclear war in the early 1960s, India's continued ascendancy in Afghanistan will remain a danger of no less gravity to the already volatile security environment of this nuclearised region.

 

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@yahoo. com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SAVING PAKISTAN

MEEKAL A AHMED


I write in response to Mr Haroon Akhtar Khan's article "Saving Pakistan's Economy" (January 19). There is much that he says that I agree with. There is also much that I don't agree with because his analysis in several aspects is flawed.


His opening premise that the world is reducing interest rates and pumping money into public-sector development programs while we are doing the opposite is bizarre. I hope he is not suggesting "quantitative-easing" by our SBP to, using that favourite Pakistani phrase, "kick-Start" the economy. Whenever I hear that, I get the willies because kick-starting always ends badly. In any event, especially across Asia now, policy-makers are doing the reverse. In response to signs of economic over-heating, they are tightening their policy stance.

I agree the first priority is to control inflation but the analysis of the causes of inflation has to be right. Inflation is not being caused by the price of potato and onions, another favourite Pakistani theory. This is easily seen by stripping out the food component of inflation or looking at the core trimmed mean rate of inflation, the best measure of underlying inflation. As I had written some time ago, the core rate of inflation is in double-digits (around 12 per cent) and it is accelerating, although the rate of acceleration may now be slowing. However that may be, inflation continues to have a deeply worrying forward momentum of its own, and is still entrenched and needs to be addressed by tight macroeconomic policies. Of course we should address the issue of food inflation. That needs to be done through easing supply bottlenecks, ensuring markets are working efficiently, de-stocking, attacking hoarders and smugglers, and importing speedily where and when necessary. Food inflation does not require a macroeconomic policy response. Underlying inflation does.


Mr Khan is right in saying that too much of the burden is being placed on monetary policy, while the fiscal side is showing troubling signs of unravelling completely. However, Mr Khan spoils his own argument by saying there should not be rapid fiscal consolidation because it will hurt growth and employment. There is no country in the world that can grow steadily with low levels of inflation and create jobs if the fiscal policy is loose and accommodating. Nor do I agree that it is the public sector that is or must be the creator of jobs. That has been our problem. We believe that the public sector and public enterprises in particular are there to provide jobs for the boys. It is the private sector that must be the main engine of growth, jobs and exports.


Mr Khan's plaint about the high cost of credit as holding back investment is simplistic. First of all the cost of capital is a very small component of total costs. What is hurting industry in Pakistan is the crippling effects of lack of power we don't seem to be close to solving. Pakistan's large-scale manufacturing sector probably has their own generators. But 70 per cent of manufacturing output and 80 per cent of employment and exports originates from small and medium-scale enterprises about which we know nothing since no one has done a survey of activity in the sector for years. The national accounts simply impute/assume a constant real growth rate of 7.5 per cent per year, each year. Second, the appropriate level of interest rates must always be seen in the context of current and preferably future inflation. Either way, current interest rates are probably negative in inflation-adjusted terms. The worst thing you can do is cut nominal interest rates to, yes, our favourite words and that kiss of death, "kick-start" the economy. All you will do is kick-start inflation, consumption and imports and send the economy hurtling over the edge.


I am aware of the billions Pakistani's hold abroad. However, it is unconscionable to suggest that there must be given "incentives" and "constitutional guarantees" to bring their money back. These persons are money launderers and tax evaders. That is a criminal offence and we must not reward them for their crime. I am glad Mr Khan did not suggest an "amnesty scheme", another bane of our never-ending fiscal woes.


On the RGST, I agree it was handled badly and it disheartens me how good people in Pakistan can make such an appalling mess of things. If the RGST is a dead duck, then all we have is the present GST with its multiple tax rates (some as high as 26 per cent), hundreds of exemptions and concessions doled out to the rich and connected and millions of "fake- and-flying invoices" claiming refunds of taxes paid on inputs which they never paid, all this reflected in a tax-to-GDP ratio that keeps falling. There was much feigned angst expressed in the media about this "new tax". It is not a new tax. The GST, as rotten as it is, has been operating in VAT-like-mode for a decade or more. All that was happening is that we were moving to a full VAT, bringing down tax rates to a single rate of 15 per cent, documenting the economy in a seamless chain of value addition and - here was the real problem - taxing all those items which were previously untaxed, including, agriculture inputs. We were doing what Mr Khan himself advocates. Leaving nothing untaxed except a small group of "basic wage-goods" and ensuring a high exemption threshold of Rs7.5 million per year so as not to tax the small enterprises. Hundreds of thousands of small and perhaps some medium-scale enterprises were exempt from the VAT-RGST altogether. The world over, even in Bangladesh and Ghana, consumption is taxed. We need to tax consumption and imports while fostering savings, investment and exports and not the other way round.


Mr Khan is sadly silent on bringing back progressive taxes - the wealth tax, a real estate transactions tax, capital gains tax, and inheritance/gift tax which was removed stealthily by previous regimes handing over another subsidy to Pakistan's rich. Sir, time is running out. Pakistan needs to take strong and meaningful measures on the macroeconomic and structural policy side without delay. There is no point in holding a grand conference of economic experts which I hear is the government's latest "initiative". All they will do is give long boring speeches, talk over each other, peddle their little pet theories of what really ails the economy (such as abolishing interest) and drink and eat noisily and copiously.


The writer has served in the Planning Commission and the IMF

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE CURSE OF PERJURY

IKRAM SEHGAL


Art Buchwald immortalised US President Richard Nixon's famous "I am not a crook" phrase by making the title of his article the name of one of his books. Maybe one day President Asif Ali Zardari, who is not a hypocrite and thus never uses the word "corruption" anywhere at anytime in any of his speeches will say, "I am an honest man", but not under oath. Under oath is another matter, telling lies under oath is a favourite (and profitable) pastime in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan. The curse of perjury continues to haunt us in all spheres of our lives.

Every enquiry, every investigation, every trial, every arbitration, etc reeks of rampant falsification and that too with absolute impunity, particularly as paid witnesses in any trial before a court of law. Knowing them to be "professional" witnesses, how many times have our honourable judges made an example out of them? When our bureaucrats lie through their teeth under oath in the Supreme Court, how many have the Honourable Justices sent to jail for perjury? Clearly, drastic corrective action is a crying need of the time, automatic and severe punishment acts as a deterrent of sorts. All over the developed world the drop in corruption has been commensurate with convictions for perjury. Our failure to deal with systemic perjury is why corruption has flourished.

Accountability is difficult in a country where perjury taints all statements and/or cross-examinations thereof. For personal gain, whether monetary or otherwise, false representation of facts and distortions, a gentlemanly phrase for "outright lies", is the order of the day. To keep the real facts concealed, vested interests invariably volunteer (or pay volunteers) to become tainted and prejudiced witnesses in any enquiry or trial, to disfigure the truth in so brazenfaced and bold a manner that law enforcers, under influence of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, etc do not have the courage to intercede and take action against them. To put it bluntly, justice can be manipulated to suit those who have a reason to manipulate it, and have the means, either money or influence, to do so.

 

As opposed to the suited and booted liars in both our bureaucratic and commercial worlds, professional touts can be found outside many subordinate courts in Pakistan, ready to render "evidence" under oath for a price. In many criminal cases, the verdict is subject to either influence and/or disbursements by the highest bidder. While not always, perjury is frequent in enough of the cases for the situation to be considered catastrophic for the rule of the law. This subversion of the rule of law has become endemic in many countries in varying degrees, in Pakistan even more so.


Those committing perjury, including distorting and destroying of evidence by the law enforcement agencies, must be punished by stiff imprisonments and heavy fines commensurate to the nature of the offence. The punishment should be exactly what the accused would have got if the evidence had been held to be correct. If based on the statements of the witnesses committing perjury the accused would go to the gallows, shouldn't those giving false evidence face the gallows themselves? No given formula can be used. The judge (or judges) must decide each case of perjury on merit and come down with a heavy hand against perjurers as well as their manipulators and abettors. Judiciary has a moral responsibility to ensure that the citizens of the country have a fair opportunity when they turn to the law for justice. When applied, justice must be fair and equivocal. This can only be done once rampant perjury is eliminated, and, if not eliminated altogether, at least contained by having stiff deterrent punishments.


The controversy about fake credentials being used to enter parliament on false pretences, and thus conceivably preside over the destiny of the nation, is not only a tragedy but an irony. Unfortunately those with fake credentials are present in some numbers among our lawmakers. Then there is the hiding of illegal wealth by misdeclaration, on the other the failure to pay necessary taxes is endemic. The declaration of assets by a politician, a public servant, an income tax payer, etc is mostly false. The entire economic system of the country is under pressure because of the large deficit in the revenue collection. False declaration of income and wealth is considered a serious misdemeanour in most countries and carries automatic conviction and/or penalty thereof. Only about 2.0 million people (of the 170 million population) declare income/wealth in a country where 13 million homes have electricity (1.6 million in Karachi alone), at least 40 per cent of these residences fall above the threshold for paying income/wealth taxes. The potential taxpayers (1.5 million additional) could give us between Rs800-900 billion in additional incomes/wealth taxes alone. And all by ensuring that misdeclaration under oath is perjury.


Under Section 194 of Pakistan Penal Code a person giving or fabricating false evidence, intending or knowing thereby that he will cause any person to be convicted of an offence which is capital by any law is liable to be punished with imprisonment for life or with rigorous imprisonment, which may extend to ten years and he may also be liable to fine. Further, if an innocent person is convicted and executed in consequence of such false evidence, the person who gave such false evidence would render himself liable to be punished either with death or with rigorous imprisonment extending to ten years and with fine.


As held by the Hon'ble Supreme Court of Pakistan in a case reported as PLD 1984 Supreme Court Page 44, perjury is one of the most heinous social and moral offences. It is not only an offence punishable under the law, as stipulated under Section 194 PPC, but is also against the injunctions of Holy Qur'an (Sura Al-Nisa: 135). It is an evil which tends to disrupt the very basis of social order and make a mockery of the judicial system, be it Islamic or otherwise. Any person who deliberately tells a lie during solemn proceedings of a Court of Law, knowing fully well that he is thereby likely to ruin the life or reputation of an innocent person or put into jeopardy his liberty by falsely involving him in a criminal case, does not deserve any leniency and ought never to be let off lightly. The courts must arrest this tendency with a firm hand and do everything in their power to eradicate this evil from its roots. Awarding stiffer sentences, commensurate with the effect that the perjury would have wrought, would be a positive step in this direction.


The tragedy is that our uniformed young men in Swat and South Waziristan, and innocent civilians throughout the land, are dying by the hundreds while such frauds and perjurers keep enjoying the luxuries of power, their wealth and influence based primarily on perjury. If the superior judiciary does not take action, those who are dying in battle or suffering injuries for the sake of this country may (or should) become inclined to do so on behalf of their hapless countryman. (acknowledging with gratitude the legal input of my friend Mazhar Jafri).

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9. Com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

IS A REVERSAL POSSIBLE?

NAEEM SADIQ


Those who killed Salmaan Taseer and those who instigated, justified or celebrated this madness can only be described as religious fanatics, bigoted extremists or intolerant fascists. Those opposing this mindset are often referred to as liberal, progressive, moderate and tolerant. This apparently sharp socio-religious divide seems to be widening rapidly and may well become a battle for Pakistan itself.


But is this divide real? Or does it only reflect two attitudes of irrationality, apparently contradictory but actually complementary to each other, both ultimately supporting extremism, militancy and use of religion as a tool for gaining or retaining political power? Is it possible that the rise of religious fanaticism in Pakistan is in fact a creation and a mirror image of the attitudes and actions of its own ruling elite? Is it possible that the space now occupied by the rightwing militancy was deliberately legislated, to fool the masses, appease the clergy and strengthen the power base of the rulers? Is it possible that the "liberal progressives," through apathy and silence, may have made the largest contribution to the creation of the tyranny of the bigots today?


There are at least four key, and difficult, issues that ought to be addressed if we wish to see an end to this cancerous strife plaguing our society. As a first step, the state must get rid of its obsession for creating legislation intended to appease the clergy. While this constitutionalised religiosity has done nothing to improve the society even by an iota, it has created alarming new opportunities for confusion and conflict.


It all began when the First Constituent Assembly ignored the Quaid-e-Azam's speech of Aug 11, 1947, and instead opted for the Objectives Resolution. From then onwards, there was no looking back. In 1974, ours became the only parliament in the world to assume the divine right of deciding whether or not a citizen was in fact a Muslim. A new definition of who is a Muslim was legislated.


Our clueless parliaments, often consisting of tax evaders and fake degree-holders, even foreign nationals, ought to refrain from making laws that interpret, define or dictate citizens in matters of religion.


The state in Pakistan has virtually surrendered its fundamental responsibility, which is to protect the life and liberty of its citizens. "If your life is at risk, it is better that you leave the country," is the advice given by the federal interior minister to someone who has been publicly threatened. The second essential requirement to reverse this militant madness is for the state to firmly resolve to protect its citizens, regardless of their respective faiths or backgrounds. Not a single perpetrator was punished, for example, after eight Christians were burnt alive in Gojra or 86 Ahmadis gunned down in Lahore.


Was it not for the state to apprehend the "imam" in Peshawar who announced a reward for the killing of Aasiya Bibi, the Christian woman charged with blasphemy? Clerics of this or that sect or religious school of thought have regularly and publicly been declaring members of other sects or persuasions "wajibul qatl" (deserving of murder), and this has been going on for years. These and hundreds of other such incidents are a result of incitements from the pulpit, with citizens being asked to take the law into their own hands. These incitements have been conveniently ignored by the state machinery.


The third step necessary for a change is to reform or neutralise the country's rich and powerful elite - which has also become its biggest curse and roadblock to progress. This community is the largest law-breaking, militant, selfish and irrational segment of Pakistan's society. In Karachi alone, this category of urban militants drives thousands of illegal vehicles displaying fake number plates, or none at all.


Their vehicles are loaded with illegal weapons and private goons. Their obscenely lavish weddings play night long music at a volume before which even the cleric's loudspeaker is a whisper. Their indulgence in New Year's Eve's aerial firing would put FATA tribesmen to shame.


With its powerful contacts, this class managed to receive a staggering 139,000 arms licenses since the present government came to power. Of these, 39,000 licenses were issued for prohibited bore weapons such as Kalashnikovs, G3s and Uzis, mostly on the direct orders of the prime minister and the minister of state for the interior. Pakistan has no chance to counter the radicals when its so-called secular or liberal parties are led by such a corrupt, militant, and incompetent ruling class.


Finally, the refusal of both the state and its more privileged classes to comprehend that Pakistan can never be a tolerant and peaceful country while its 170 million people are neglected, uneducated and unemployed, whose lifestyle in so many cases may only be marginally better than that of cavemen. The children joining religious schools are provided boarding and lodging in this world and a promise of still better rewards in the next world. The state, on the other hand, has little idea of how many functional schools it has or what goes on inside them.


Pakistan would do well to begin its battle for restoration of its society's tolerance and moderation by turning the focus on the lives and the wellbeing of its forgotten ordinary citizens.


The writer is a management systems consultant and a freelance writer on social issues. Email: naeemsadiq@gmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

DESPERATE TO DEPART, READY TO DIE

KAMILA HYAT


The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.


Who was the man dressed in grey trousers, a checked shirt, a flimsy jacket and tattered socks, who seems, quite literally, to have fallen out of the skies onto a rooftop in North Cantonment, near Lahore's Allama Iqbal Airport, on a wintry night last week?


Residents in the area were baffled to find the badly battered body of a man thought to be in his twenties or thirties, after hearing a loud thud soon after a plane flew past. Police believe the body is that of a man who had stowed away on a plane – possibly one headed to Dubai. Efforts are on to try and identify him using his finger-prints and the database maintained by NADRA.


Airport authorities, perhaps concerned by the security implications, deny anyone could have hidden on the exterior of a plane and survived as the aircraft took off and climbed to some 20,000 feet, with temperatures falling with altitude.


But others desperate to leave their country have used similar means to do so, putting their lives at risk for the sake of a possible passage to a better future. In 1996, Pardeep Saini, 22, reached Heathrow Airport after a ten-hour journey from India, hidden in the landing gear of an aircraft. His brother, Vijay, died when he fell minutes before the plane landed. In 2002 Victor Alvarez Molina reached Montreal from Cuba, surviving the four hour journey in the wheel well of a plane, even though temperatures along the route fell to -40 degrees centigrade.

Last year, a 20-year-old Romanian reached the UK after stowing away in the exterior of a private plane from Austria, and clinging on through the 97-minute journey despite freezing temperatures. It is assumed he did not know that, as a European National, he could have entered Britain perfectly legally, using more conventional means of travel.


Attempts to depart from African countries aboard the landing gear of planes have been made several times. They have resulted most often in death.


Discussions on finding ways to leave the country are common everywhere. Many believe that in a country where opportunity is so unequal and based almost entirely on considerations other than merit, the only hope of a better life lies in making it overseas.


It has been estimated - from the numbers of Pakistanis returned from other countries after entering them illegally - that some 300,000 people may be attempting to quit it each year. It is conceivable that the numbers could be quite considerably higher. In 2009 it was noted that remittances from the UK to Pakistan had increased dramatically, suggesting that the number of illegal immigrants based in the country had grown, since the number of those legally residing there was only slightly higher than before.


In September last year the European Parliament approved an agreement making it obligatory for Pakistan to readmit their nationals if they were detected to be illegally present in European countries. 13,000 had been arrested on these grounds in the EU till 2008. Britain, Greece and Hong Kong have in recent years all expressed concern about growing illegal immigration from Pakistan while thousands who left from cities, towns and villages across the country, often after paying out tens of thousands of rupees to 'agents' to assist them, have landed up in jails in the Middle East, South East Asia or Europe.


It is unknown how many continue to live illegally in foreign countries, helped in the task of earning a livelihood and escaping detection by other Pakistanis who form a part of the network that spreads its way around the world.

We all know why they choose to flee. But what is alarming is the fact that both the numbers and the degree of desperation are rising sharply. Rapid inflation and growing unemployment contributes to this. Some leave knowing they face death as they try to make it over the border into Iran; others are duped into believing they will be saved by those they pay large sums of money to arrange for documents and travel.

Despite the risks, many believe any option is better than staying at home. It is this that drives on the booming trade in false documents based in the town of Gujranwala, where master forgers are reported to have discovered ways to get around the expanded use of technology in passports and visas as a means to prevent fraud. Corruption within embassies and among airport immigration staff of course comes to their aid.


It is easy to imagine that the unknown man, whose body apparently hurtled down thousands of feet, was among them. Only desperation could drive anyone to apparently crawl onto an airport runway, after making his way through thorny scrubland surrounding the airport, and attempt to cling on to the greasy exterior parts of an aircraft as it took off and began its outward journey. His last moments must have been terrifying ones. Perhaps his family will come forward to explain why he chose to act as he did.


The tragedy of course is the indifference of the government to the desperation of people and the growing deprivations that they face. More and more are finding the basic necessities of life pushed further and further away from them as the prices of food items rise. Almost half the people in the country remain deprived of an education and most who attend schools receive only an inadequate education. Healthcare is unavailable to most.

The stories of people's lives – and deaths – draw too little response. The rising rate of suicide, most notably among young people, attracts only infrequent attention.


The same is true for the levels of depression, which have gone up steadily, more notably among women than men. Indifference of course adds to the belief of people that they can expect little improvement in day to day realities. While this view persists we will continue to see incidents of tragic deaths among those who seek to leave the country using any means they can think of.


Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

MISCONCEPTIONS?

M ZEB KHAN


Joseph Biden has clarifyed our 'unfelt' misconceptions about the US in its relationship with Pakistan. We must thank him again for reassuring us of continuing the momentum for years to come! This country needs such sustained US support to be 'perceived' politically legitimate, economically stable, and socially responsible even if the reality on ground is quite the opposite. More importantly, we need the US technological assistance to survive against 'our war' against terrorism.


The formidable challenges facing usdemand that our leaders listen to any advice, harsh or soft, coming from the US and carry it out for their 'own' good. Even a slight deviation from such advice that reflects sovereignty in action would be construed catastrophic and might necessitate a change of guard. This background of US-Pak relationship would put the five misconceptions, which Biden referred to in his press conference during his recent visit here, in proper perspective..


• Misconception 1: The US-Pak relationship is transactional

Pointing to some educational programs, humanitarian assistance in floods and earthquake, and $7.5b assistance under the KLB, Mr Biden boosted of a strategic partnership with Pakistan. One, however, wonders how similar relationship went downhill after the collapse of the USSR in 1989. Both the US and Pakistani leaders were hand and glove in fighting the 'evil empire' and always referred to their interaction as strategic in nature.


• Misconception 2: The US is hostile to Islam

Mr Biden challenged the audience to name a single country in the world where religious freedom is so permeated and guaranteed as in the US.


No doubt that Muslims can practice Islam in the US freely but how would Mr Biden justify its skewed approach in international relations? Doesn't its role in the Middle East speak volumes of its double standards? How are Muslims treated at the airports and how are they spied upon around the globe? 9/11 has proved be a defining moment in the history of mankind by pushing reason back to the dark ages when religion was at the centre of everything.

• Misconception 3: The US violates Pakistan's sovereignty

Mr Biden asserted that the US was actually using drones to restore the writ of Pakistani government in the tribal areas where Al-Qaeeda has established sanctuaries to launch attacks against Afghanistan and Pakistan. But one cannot agree with this favour on two grounds: One, the Pakistani parliament has unanimously passed a resolution calling for drone attacks to stop and two, why doesn't the US transfer the same technology to Pakistan so it can restore its writ itself? Is there a trust-deficit?


• Misconception 4: The US is more inclined to India vis-à-vis Pakistan

Mr Biden tried to dispel the impression that the US is biased toward India but the discriminatory nuclear deal and recognition of India's hegemonic role in the region proves otherwise.


• Misconception 5: The US would leave Pakistan in the lurch once the game in Afghanistan is over

Mr Biden assured Pakistan of enduring relationship based on shared interests. But the question is why don't we have similar misconceptions about China? We have witnessed a checkered history where the US interests have always dictated the scope, nature, and direction of US-Pak interaction.

To conclude, we have good reasons to question and doubt the sincerity of US but beggars are no choosers! We have to accept the reality and live with it. Mr Biden doesn't need to clarify our misconceptions and justify the US actions.

 

The writer is assistant professor at FAST-NU, Peshawar. Email: zeb.khan@nu.edu.pk

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PERHAPS MALAKAND TYPE OPERATION DUE IN KARACHI

 

AS Rangers are busy conducting raids in Karachi to nab trouble-makers and seize illegal arms, consensus is fast emerging among political parties that serious efforts are needed to curb growing lawlessness in the country's economic capital. There is a complete unanimity of views that the situation was deteriorating at an alarming rate with no prospects of durable peace in the foreseeable future.


It is regrettable that in the face of nosedive in law and order situation in the city, the Government is resorting to cosmetic solutions that are unlikely to bear fruit. We have been hearing for months about the possibility of an across-the-board operation in Karachi to eliminate terrorists who are operating freely to kill at will innocent people and taking security and peace of the city hostage whenever they want. Though, according to reports, about one thousand personnel of Rangers are taking part in cordon and search operation in selected areas, the exercise is unlikely to yield any positive result as is evident from the outcome of semi-curfew type operation conducted on Tuesday when two hundred suspects were held and 'dozens' of arms seized from the sea of illegal weapons. In the first place, there is no expectation that criminal elements would hole themselves up in areas where search operation is being carried out, as they move to other areas easily because intentions and plans of law enforcing agencies trickle down to them even before such orders reach to jawans. Secondly, we have seen on numerous occasions in the past that even those who were nabbed during such search operations had to be released afterwards due to pressure from here and there. There is general impression that each and every criminal has some influential and powerful person or group behind who come to their rescue immediately afterwards turning these exercises into just a mock. We believe that instead of high-sounding announcements that are repeatedly made by Interior Minister Rehman Malik that end up as mere hollow claims, it is time that the Government takes all stakeholders into confidence to launch a systematic and all-encompassing Malakand type operation in Karachi to weed out criminal elements. Agencies are supposed to have complete record of all those who indulge in such activities and they should be brought to book in a swift and targeted operation.


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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THE PHENOMENAL RISE OF CHINA

 

THE People's Republic of China has emerged as the world's fast growing major economy with average growth rate of 10% and is the world's second largest economy after the United States. It has also become the largest exporter and second largest importer of goods in the world and economists estimate that in 2040 the Chinese economy will reach $ 123 trillion or nearly three times the economic output of the entire globe in 2000.

In view of its phenomenal economic growth, China has started lending not only to developing but developed countries as well. A report in the Financial Times said China had lent more money to developing countries in the past two years than the World Bank which is a sign of Beijing's economic might. The report said Chinese banks lent at least $ 110 billion in the last two years to governments and companies that exceeded the record of about $ 100 billion lent out by the various arms of the World Bank from mid 2008 to mid 2010. It demonstrates that any country which has a pragmatic and sincere leadership having futuristic view can achieve economic prosperity and glory in the present-day competitive world. It is baffling to see that China is investing huge money in Africa, Asia and Europe and thus helping the economies there. Chinese 1978 market-oriented reforms were the leading cause of its unprecedented economic performance that created productivity boom. By welcoming foreign investment, China's open-door policy added power to the economic transformation. In other words, new machinery, better technology, and more investment in infrastructure helped the country to raise the output. That led to strong export growth fuelling productivity growth in domestic industries. Today China occupies a unique niche in the world's political economy—its vast populace and large physical size alone mark it as a powerful global leader. Therefore developing countries need to look at the Chinese experience and draw some general lessons. Most importantly, while capital investment is crucial to growth, it becomes even more potent when accompanied by market-oriented reforms that introduce profit incentives to rural enterprises and small private businesses. That combination can unleash a productivity boom that will propel aggregate growth. For countries like Pakistan with a large segment of the population underemployed in agriculture, the Chinese example may be particularly instructive.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

NO SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN IN CAPITAL

 

LATEST survey has revealed that nearly 32.3 per cent children of 3-5 years of age are not enrolled in any type of school in rural areas of the Federal Capital and almost 40 per cent of them are girls. It also identifies lack of basic facilities in schools of Islamabad both in public and private sectors.


The Federal Capital is supposed to be focus of attention of the governmental authorities and if situation there is so pathetic then one can easily imagine the state of education in the far-flung areas of the country. This is totally unacceptable, as Islamabad Capital Territory is spread over a small area that can well be managed by the Federal Government, which has all resources at its disposal but the survey shows that these precious resources are being exploited on mere running of the administration and not adequately on productive and social sectors. Expenditure on education is considered to be the best investment, as development of human capital is a key to overall socio-economic development of a society. However, the successive governments including the incumbent one failed to divert necessary resources for education and as a result the country is far behind majority of countries in social and economic indicators. Why on earth we cannot open a few dozen schools in rural areas of Islamabad and prefer to leave children of the poor at the mercy of circumstances? Federal Capital should be a model for provinces to emulate but unfortunately conditions are deteriorating even in areas in which the city had comparative edge like existence of model schools and colleges where standard of education has fallen to shocking lows mainly because of criminal neglect. And provinces are supposed to spend more amounts on education and health, as they are now receiving significant additional resources after the announcement of the 7th NFC Award.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

APPRAISAL OF WAR ON TERROR

ASIF HAROON RAJA

The Republicans under George W Bush had taken the credit of stabilizing Iraq and gradually handing over provinces in Iraq to Iraqi forces. Gen David Petraeus and Gen Stanley McChrystal were pronounced as heroes. Claims made and acclaims received were far from truth since Iraq is still as volatile as it was in earlier years of its occupation. Obama riding over the crest of popular votes also thought of pinning a feather in his cap by repeating the so-called success story of Iraq in Afghanistan. He spelt out his mission to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. For the accomplishment of his stated mission he not only shifted the heroes of Iraq from Iraqi theatre of war to Afghanistan but also shifted 20,000 troops from Iraq.


Since it was assumed that roots of terrorism in Afghanistan lay in neighboring FATA and without plucking out the roots, no worthwhile results could be achieved, Pakistan was tagged with Afghanistan. It was planned to render Durand Line redundant and to enforce strategy of anvil and hammer by co-opting Pak forces. US-NATO forces were to launch the hammer in Helmand Province contiguous to Balochistan and carryout hot pursuit operations, raids and aerial attacks inside Balochistan/FATA if the situation so demanded while Pak troops were to provide the anvil.


In other words, southern and eastern Afghanistan-FATA-Pashtun belt of Balochistan were to be converted into a single battle zone, with overall command and control resting with Gen McChrystal. Holbrooke was appointed as the coordinator of the Af-Pak policy to push the civil leadership of the two countries and also oversee work done on creating cleavage between Al-Qaeda and Taliban and dividing Taliban. But for Gen Kayani's defiance, this Pakistan specific policy would have been enforced as in the case of drones.


Pentagon led by Robert Gates in close consultation with CJCSC Adm. Mike Mullen, Centcom Commander Gen Petraeus and ISAF commander Gen McChrystal were the architects of Af-Pak strategy. The intelligence brief provided by CIA, FBI, MI-6, Mossad, RAW and RAAM was dovetailed in the presentation made to Obama by Gates. Hawks within Obama's administration were taken on board and policy of troop surge and extending the battle into southern Afghanistan and later to eastern Afghanistan was approved. Policy makers also decided to step up pressure on Pakistan to demolish all sanctuaries of militants in FATA and to prevent cross border terrorism. Pakistan, which had been playing a key role in the war, was kept out of it.


The same team played a leading role in December 2009 review in which post mortem of the year was carried out. 2009 had proved to be the deadliest year since ISAF suffered 521 fatalities. Helmand operation had miserably failed and another military debacle had taken place in Nuristan province. Military debacles together with high casualties had flabbergasted McChrystal and not only he had ordered speedy withdrawal of forward troops from southern and eastern Afghanistan to major towns and cities in depth but had also posted a distress signal in white heat requesting for immediate reinforcement of 40,000 troops to save the situation.


Fast deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan coupled with global recession which gravely impacted US economy propelled Obama to consider winding up the expensive war as early as possible and finding a political solution to Afghan problem. However, the military and civilian hawks prevailed upon him and forced him to sanction troop surge. Taking into account gentle protests of the doves who were anti-war as well as public pressure who also wanted the soldiers to return home, Obama slashed the demand to 30,000 and also announced pull out of troops starting July 2011.


This decision has been under severe criticism of Pentagon, US senior field commanders in Afghanistan and Republicans. One of the reasons cited by McChrystal for failing to deliver despite provision of 30,000 US troops and 8000 NATO troops in early 2010 taking the total to 152000 was the conflicting and self-defeating decision of troop surge and pullout. In his view, it encouraged the militants and discouraged coalition troops, ANA and Afghan regime.


Although McChrystal was shown the door, however, efforts to get the pullout date revised continued. Pentagon's sustained pressure together with false reporting of progress forced Obama to reconsider his decision of pullout starting July 2011. Robert Gates was the first to break the news that July 2011 date is flexible and will be extended to 2014. Karzai regime egged on by India, Petraeus and CIA advocated extended stay of coalition troops at least till 2014, arguing that by then ANA and Afghan Police would be in a position to take over security duties independently.


Since October 2010, US-NATO commanders are trying to portray that security situation is gradually improving. Kandahar operation activated quietly on a low key in September 2010 is being described as progressing well. Extended stay is being asked for on the basis of this insignificant progress on the military front and on political front in the form of buying the loyalties of moderate Taliban. The lowly shopkeeper from Quetta city who pretended to be number two of Mullah Omar and gave US-Afghan leaders false hopes that the Taliban have in principle agreed to negotiate with Karzai was another reason of optimism among US military leadership.

High hopes were dashed when the identity of shopkeeper came to light. Taliban spokesman dispelled the widely spread impression that secret talks were taking place with Karzai and agreement was round the corner. He said there will be no talks till foreign troops are on Afghan soil. It was a huge embarrassment for CIA and MI-6. This setback together with defeat in mid-term elections in which Republicans improved their position sent Democrats into mode of depression. It has now become obligatory for Obama to show some military gains in Afghanistan to justify commencement of pullback by July 2011 so as to retain tenuous hold on White House. NATO"s summit in Lisbon in November was attended by Obama and Russian President. Despite the war turning into the longest ever military engagement and becoming too expensive to bear, the NATO leadership put up a rosy picture that things were in control and good progress had been made. Based on the 'all-good' assessment, it was decided to keep fighting with renewed vigor and to stay put in Afghanistan till 2014. Such optimistic expressions had become necessary to bolster the sagging morale of coalition forces and ANA and to dispel impressions that the US and NATO leaders were divided and had lost heart.


It was under changed and difficult times that Pakistan's significance came into prominence and Pak-US strategic dialogue took place in 2010. Strategic Review took place in Washington in December to re-endorse what was decided in Lisbon Summit. It reconfirmed the date of 2014 and concluded that the US despite its reservations couldn't afford to alienate Pakistan. However, it is least bothered about Pakistan's security concerns and reservations and grudgingly keeps it in its loop to make it keep fighting the militants in northwestern tribal belt. US media is still churning out anti-Pakistan stories. Summoning of current and former DG ISIs by US court was in bad taste.


The new dateline has been given under wishful assumptions that by 2014, resurgent power of Taliban will be curbed and ANA will be able to relieve US-NATO and take over security duties. In the intervening period while Pakistan will be pressed to mount a major operation in North Waziristan and drone attacks would continue, efforts will be made to capture Kandahar. Simultaneously, efforts to win hearts and minds of Afghans are being doubled and expansion and training of ANA and Police expedited. Since the assumptions are self serving and unrealistic, the plans are bound to fail.

The writer is a defence analyst.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

RELIGIOUS FRENZY GRIPS PAKISTAN

RANDOM THOUGHTS

BURHANUDDIN HASAN

There is hardly any doubt that Muslims, can lay down their lives to uphold and protect the honour and dignity of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him). His name comes after God in Quran and as Maulana Roomi says "You are ,in short, the most exalted after God." In Sura Al Ahzab God says "God and His angels shower blessing on the Prophet (PBUH). O believers you too send darood and salam to him (PBUH)". The Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) has the most exalted position among all Prophets sent by God. He (PBUH)was the only one called to the heavens by God on the night of Mairaj to honour him (PBUH) with his nearness. How can any Muslim have the courage to say a single word against his (PBUH) honour? If anybody does, he should be given death sentence with the due process of law. The Blasphemy Law was enacted during General Ziaul Haq's rule. This was a man-made law and like all man-made laws could be reviewed from time to time if it is being misused by human beings like all laws. It is not a divine law enacted by God in Quran like some other laws. There are 57 Muslim countries in the world which, do not have any such law on their Statute Books.

The Blasphemy Law has been used in some cases in Pakistan and culprits have been punished if their crime was proved in a court of law. The punishment was awarded by a judge like all punishments. Nobody should take this law into his or her hands and execute the culprit without the due process. In the case of a Christian girl Asia; she was booked under the Blasphemy Law and was awarded death penalty by a court of law. She sent a mercy petition to the Governor of Punjab Mr Salman Taseer who met her in good faith and promised to take up her mercy petition with the President for favourable consideration. He had a feeling that the girl might have been framed like many other cases of Blasphemy. Media unduly sensationalized this story as it does in many such cases these days to gain popularity.


The JUI Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who had left the Government on the sacking of one of his ministers in the Federal Cabinet by Prime Minister Gilani, pounced on this issue to take his revenge and gave a call for a nationwide agitation on the issue of Namoos-e-Risaalat, which was totally out of context but could add fuel to the fire of his revenge against the Prime Minister. All religious parties, which keep waiting for such an opportunity to hit the government, joined the agitation taking out big rallies all over the country. It should never be forgotten that these parties; particularly Jamat-e-Islami and the Deobandi group represented by Maulana Fazlur Rehman have always been against the very concept of Pakistan promoted by Iqbal and Jinnah for the Muslims of India as a modern forward looking State as against a theocratic one which was the demand of religious parties..However, when Pakistan came into being they converged on it to change its ideology. They did not succeed but they keep trying. Iqbal who was a great philosopher and scholar of Islam has written a lot about the ignorance of Mullahs.


But it is regrettable that our educational institutions are not teaching these words to our youth who are blindly following the very Mullahs who were against Pakistan. Returning to the tragic murder of Salman Taseer by his misguided security guard who is being idolized by some youth under the influence of the Mullahs is highly regrettable. They should realize that this was not a case of violation of the Holy Prophet's Namoos (Naoozo Billah). It was a humanitarian effort and his duty as the Governor of Punjab to find out whether a girl belonging to the Christian minority community who claims that she has been falsely framed in a crime she did not commit, is right or wrong? It was his duty to put the girl's petition to the President. This was by no means a violation of the Namoos-e R