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Friday, January 21, 2011

EDITORIAL 21.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Editorial

Month january 21, edition 000735, 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. TRICOLOUR AT LAL CHOWK
  2. RBI'S STRANGE ORDER
  3. AN AVOIDABLE TRAGEDY - ARINDAM CHAUDHURI
  4. RISING FEAR OF ISLAM - PREMEN ADDY
  5. AGENDA OF HATE - ANURADHA DUTT
  6. GRAPPLING WITH FOOD INFLATION - KALYANI SHANKAR
  7. PRAVASI BHARATIYA DIVAS NEEDS SOME FOCUS

MAIL TODAY

  1. THE BJP MUST DESIST FROM REPEATING ITS SRINAGAR FOLLY
  2. EMBODIMENT OF GRAFT
  3. SOME GOOD NEWS AT LAST
  4. POLITICS THE KEY NOT ECONOMICS - BY NARENDAR PANI

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. BEING THE BEST
  2. LITMUS TEST
  3. BIRTH OF GLOBAL DEMOCRACY - ABHAY K
  4. 'TERRORISM IS ABOUT CONFLICTS BETWEEN COUNTRIES'
  5. FAST FORWARD - JUG SURAIYA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. THIS WAY, WE KEEP THE FAITH
  2. THE DEATH OF BOOKS
  3. FLAGGING THE VALLEY
  4. TAKEN TO A LOWER EBB  - KUMKUM DASGUPTA

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. BLOOD AND SOIL
  2. HU AND WHAT?
  3. NFRA AGENDA
  4. A PLATTER OF BLATHER - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
  5. STEALTH PLANE - HARSH V. PANT
  6. AN ELEVEN-YEAR SHADOW - SYEDA HAMEED
  7. BEIJING'S BUSH YEARS - SWAMI'S CONFESSIONS
  8. FROM A CORNER OF A FOREIGN COURT - TANWEER FAZAL

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. MICRO-FINANCE, MACRO-MESS
  2. SHADES OF GREY
  3. BUDGETING FOR INFLATION - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
  4. NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET - V BALAKRISHNAN
  5. EAVESDROPPER
  6. AUTOPILO
THE HINDU
  1. POINTLESS EXERCISE
  2. GOLDSMITH BREAKS RANKS
  3. TUNISIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS FALLOUT  - ATUL ANEJA
  4. U.S. SEES SUCCESS IN IMMIGRATION PROGRAMME FOR HAITIANS  - KIRK SEMPLE
  5. OUTCRY AS SPANISH SENATE GOES MULTILINGUAL  - GILES TREMLETT
  6. YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT HITS RECORD HIGH - GRAEME WEARDEN
  7. ZIMBABWEAN MINISTER WARNS OF POLL VIOLENCE  - DAVID SMITH
  8. VOICE BOX TRANSPLANT

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. MEN IN BLUE ALL SET FOR THE WORLD CUP
  2. HUZOOR, DILI DUR AST - SHASHI THAROOR
  3. THE TEARY TALE OF DOPIAZA AND ONIONS - MANREET SODHI SOMESHWAR

DNA

  1. BRINGING BACK MONEY THAT GOT CARTED AWAY
  2. HU JINTAO'S US VISIT REVEALS SUBTLE POWER TUSSLE
  3. THE TALE OF TWO CITIES' UNDERGROUND RAILWAY - FARRUKH DHONDY
  4. TALENT IS ALSO HELPED BY THE ACCIDENT OF BIRTH - SAMRAT

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. TEARS AND CHEERS
  2. MAN OVER MACHINE
  3. MR PM, LEAD FROM THE FRONT - BY TAVLEEN SINGH
  4. HOW SAFE ARE PAKISTAN NUCLEAR ARSENAL ? - BY RAJ RAJNEESH
  5. PROPOSAL TO BAN ENDOSULFAN IRRATIONAL  - BY DR NARINDER PAUL

THE TRIBUNE

  1. A WEAK RESHUFFLE
  2. THE LAGGARD VS THE VIBRANT 
  3. FLAG DOWN "EKTA YATRA"
  4. BLACK MONEY STASHED ABROAD - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  5. OF RTE, BMWS AND LAMBORGHINIS - BY PUNAM KHAIRA SIDHU
  6. INCLUSIVE GROWTH TO BE IN FOCUS - SANJEEV SHARMA
  7. IMPLEMENT REFORMS THIS YEAR - HARSH PATI SINGHANIA
  8. INDIAN AUTO SALES MAY SLOW DOWN - H. W. PARK

THE KASHMIR TIMES

  1. PRUNING WASTEFUL EXPENDITURE
  2. ROT IN BOSE
  3. KASHMIR'S DICHOTOMY - BY. ASHRAF
  4. A TRAIN STORY..!

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. WHO'S AFRAID OF JAIRAM RAMESH?

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. RESHUFFLE AND THE ECONOMY
  2. MR HU GOES TO WASHINGTON
  3. OWNERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE OF MIIS - JAIMINI BHAGWATI
  4. BEYOND THE INFLEXION POINT - JAMAL MECKLAI
  5. MARKETING WITH A HUMAN TOUCH - SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR
  6. AVOID POLICY MISHAPS – RAJEEV MALIK

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. SANS PRAGMATISM
  2. THE TUNISIAN INTIFADA
  3. TIGER MOTHERS
  4. PRICE PRESSURES IN VEGETABLE SOUP - SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI
  5. TIME RIPE FOR AGRICULTURE
  6. AKHILESH TILOTIA ANALYST, KOTAK INSTITUTIONAL EQUITIES
  7. GROWTH VS EQUITY DEBATE REVISITED  - MANOJ PANT
  8. THE BREAKDOWN OF A GOOD IDEA  - MUKULSHARMA

BUSINESS LINE

  1. RESHUFFLE RATIONALE
  2. PARADOXES FACING THE RBI - A. SESHAN
  3. ANOTHER TURF WAR ON THE CARDS - K. KANAGASABAPATHY
  4. HOW TO CONTAIN FOOD INFLATION - G. CHANDRASHEKHAR
  5. AFTER THE CABINET RESHUFFLE, WHAT? - B.S. RAGHAVAN
  6. POWERING BIHAR AHEAD - PRATIM RANJAN BOSE

DECCAN CHRONICLE

  1. MEN IN BLUE ALL SET FOR THE WORLD CUP
  2. HUZOOR, DILI DUR AST - BY SHASHI THAROOR
  3. THE TEARY TALE OF DOPIAZA AND ONIONS - BY MANREET SODHI SOMESHWAR
  4. SUBS VITAL TO NAVY'S FUTURE  - BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
  5. LIBERALS ARE NOT GOOD: ASAD DURRANI
  6. LIVE YOUR 'WOW' EXPERIENCES - BY POONAM SRIVASTAVA

THE STATESMAN

  1. SPARKLESS REMIX
  2. KASHMIR CONFUSION
  3. 'BABY DOC' COMES
  4. ON THE BIG STAGE - BY SALMAN HAIDAR
  5. A VISIT TO THE KILLING FIELDS OF NETAI  - D BANDYOPADHYAY
  6. BIPOLARITY IS BACK
  7. MAKING MORE PEOPLE WEALTHY - CHI FULIN

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. MEANINGLESS
  2. BEYOND RHETORIC
  3. A MUCH FAMILIAR WEAPON  - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  4. CHANGE WITH THE TIMES - BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

DECCAN HERALD

  1. MISSED OPPORTUNITY
  2. LAME EXCUSE
  3. BROKEN PROMISES  - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  4. GERMANY'S PAST, A WARNING FOR THE WORLD - BY JOAQUIN ROY, IPS
  5. THE COLLAR STORY - BY J S RAGHAVAN

OHERALDO

  1. INSULTS AND INSINUATIONS
  2. PREVENTING ACCIDENTS IN THE ELDERLY
  3. DR GLADSTONE A D'COSTA
  4. ATALA SIT-TING PRETTY - BY ANTHONY SIMOES

THE SENTINEL

  1. THE 'PLUNDER'  
  2. MAULANA LAUDS MODI  
  3. OF CHINA AND THE ARUNACHAL FACTOR   - BIKASH SARMAH

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. NO LET-UP ON IRAN

HAARETZ

  1. BIBI'S SANCHO PANZA - BY YOEL MARCUS
  2. NO HOPE WE CAN BELIEVE IN  - BY CARLO STRENGER
  3. PRESSURE SORES - BY YOSSI SARID
  4. IS THERE A GROWN-UP IN THE HALL? - BY DORON ROSENBLUM
  5. DIPLOMATIC COLLAPSE  
  6. FORBEARANCE FOR LE PEN  - BY AMIEL UNGAR
  7. THE TUNISIAN EXAMPLE  - BY SHLOMO BROM
  8. WHERE TO INVEST GENEROSITY - BY BJORN LOMBORG

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. PRESIDENT KARZAI'S LATEST
  2. DEBIT CARD PREDATORS
  3. TUNISIA, AFTER BEN ALI
  4. A MOST VALUABLE DEMOCRAT - BY DAVID BROOKS
  5. CHINA GOES TO NIXON - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  6. WHY PARENTS FEAR THE NEEDLE - BY MICHAEL WILLRICH

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: IT WILL TAKE MORE THAN FENCES
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: KEEP 'SBINET' - BY JANICE KEPHART
  3. 'STATE OF THE UNION': OBAMA'S BEST, WORST
  4. TED WILLIAMS SHOWS NATURE OF 2ND CHANCES - BY JAMES KEY
  5. CHINA VISIT FRIENDLY, BUT ISSUES REMAIN
  6. AT 65, BOOMERS STILL SELF-ABSORBED - BY CHUCK RAASCH
  7. GOP CHAIRMEN: REPEAL IS FIRST, NOT LAST, STEP - BY DAVE CAMP, JOHN KLINE, PAUL RYAN, LAMAR SMITH AND FRED UPTON

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. 'YOUR' BILL FOR $45,300!
  2. 'RESISTING' LAW ENFORCEMENT?
  3. WHO CAN BLAME HIM FOR LEAVING?

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - THE FACE IN A TUNISIAN MIRROR
  2. INTEREST IN THE TURKISH MODEL GROWING - SEMİH İDİZ
  3. A REPRINT – IN HONOR OF HRANT - BURAK BEKDİL
  4. AS TURKEY'S FOREIGN POLICY CHANGES, SO DOES TURKEY - SONER ÇAĞAPTAY
  5. WILL THE 'JASMINE REVOLUTION' SPREAD? - SAMİ KOHEN
  6. WHEN THE US WITHDRAWS, IRAN WILL TAKE ITS TURN - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  7. PROSPECTS FOR U.S.-AZERBAIJAN RELATIONS - ZAUR SHIRIYEV
  8. A STRANGE PHOTOGRAPH - YUSUF KANLI
  9. FISCAL IMPULSE, MONETARY RESPONSE - NOT SO STRAIGHTFORWARD - HALUK BÜRÜMCEKÇİ

THE NEWS

  1. 'LOST' CONTAINERS
  2. BITTER REALITIES
  3. TUNISIA BOILS OVER
  4. POLITICS AND THE MIDDLE CLASS  - AYAZ AMIR
  5. THANK YOU, TUNISIA  - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
  6. JAKARTA MEMORIES  - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  7. TOO LATE TO HEAD FOR SHORE?  - ROEDAD KHAN
  8. WHY KARACHI IS IN DEEP TROUBLE  - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  9. SIDE-EFFECT  - HARRIS KHALIQUE

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. PML-Q TOO TALKS ABOUT ECONOMIC MELTDOWN
  2. LANDMARK ACHIEVEMENT OF CELLULAR INDUSTRY
  3. UNFINISHED AGENDA OF DEGREES VERIFICATION
  4. PRESIDENT HU GOES TO WASHINGTON - M D NALAPAT
  5. INDIA AND PAKISTAN ON THE BRINK? - SULTAN M HALI
  6. WHAT IS DESTINY? - ATIF NOOR KHAN
  7. A SUCCESS STORY - YAHYA AHMAD
  8. ISRAEL NEEDS A COHERENT OPPOSITION - NAOMI SHEPHERD

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. TIME TO TACKLE THE HIGH COST OF CARING FOR THE AGED
  2. THE CHINESE WAY ON RIGHTS
  3. A BEAR HUG FROM THE BRITS

 THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. FARMS, AND WHAT LIES BENEATH
  2. SAVINGS BUFFER FOR JOBLESS
  3. IF INDIA WANTS AUSTRALIA'S URANIUM, SIGN HERE
  4. TIME TO SAY ADDIO, MR BERLUSCONI

 THE GUARDIAN

  1. BLAIR AT THE CHILCOT INQUIRY: UNTANGLING THE TRUTH
  2. ALAN JOHNSON'S RESIGNATION: TWO EDS MAY BE BETTER THAN ONE
  3. IN PRAISE OF … AARON SORKIN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. BAD GOVERNANCE BLOCKS UPGRADE
  2. HIGH ECONOMIC GROWTH AND ENERGY CHALLENGES
  3. GOOD AND BAD RELIGIOUS LEADERS - AL MAKIN
  4. IS GOVT ANTI-INTELLECTUAL? - DONNY SYOFYAN

CHINA DAILY

  1. PRAGMATIC COOPERATION
  2. GROWTH PAVES WAY AHEAD
  3. PARTNERSHIP IN PERSPECTIVE - BY ZHENG XIWEN (CHINA DAILY)
  4. COOK YOUR WAY TO THE CHINESE MIND – BY BERLIN FANG (CHINA DAILY)
  5. MAKING MORE PEOPLE WEALTHY ---

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

TRICOLOUR AT LAL CHOWK

IT UPSETS SEPARATISTS. BUT WHY IS OMAR OUTRAGED?


It is inexplicable as to why the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Mr Omar Abdullah, should feel so offended by the idea of the National Tricolour being hoisted and unfurled by the BJP at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on January 26. He would do well to consider three points which fly in the face of his adamant refusal to allow the celebration of Republic Day in the city's public square. First, every citizen of the country is free to hoist the Tricolour as part of the celebrations that mark our two national days — Independence Day and Republic Day. It is utterly absurd to suggest, as has been done by Mr Abdullah, that hoisting the Tricolour at Lal Chowk would disrupt the law and order situation in the State. The sight of the Tricolour fluttering in the heart of Srinagar will no doubt cause more than heart-burn and grief among those who militate against the Union of India and repudiate Jammu & Kashmir's inalienable status as an integral part of this nation. But why should that deter the BJP or bother the National Conference? Second, the BJP is a legitimate national political party with significant presence in the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly. There is nothing illegal or illegitimate about its plan to hoist the national flag in Srinagar. To bar it from doing so would be entirely illegal and illegitimate; Mr Abdullah would stand accused of forcibly preventing the BJP from organising an event intimately associated with national sentiments and nationalist sensitivities. Is he willing to risk getting alienated from the national mainstream? It is perfectly understandable that the Congress, which has cut itself free from its nationalist moorings, to egg him on into taking a hard position. Should he do so? That's a question that can be best answered by him alone. Third, it is amazing that Mr Abdullah should not have felt so outraged when Pakistani flags were hoisted in full public display by separatists during the street protests of last year. Even if he did, there was no public articulation of his sense of outrage. It is in this context that it would be in order to mention the unsolicited and uncalled for 'advice' of the Union Government's so-called 'interlocutors' to the BJP, suggesting that it should call off its programme. The 'interlocutors' should mind their business and not assume the role of minders of political parties.

The BJP's Ekta Yatra, a replay of the yatra that was undertaken by Mr Murli Manohar Joshi in 1991-92, is to be lauded because it is not a partisan exercise but a rally to rouse our sense of unity and national pride. Jammu & Kashmir has been the victim of separatist violence and nefarious, Pakistan-sponsored secessionist activities. To want to raise the National Tricolour at Lal Chowk, which is steeped in history and has great historical significance for the nation, is neither objectionable nor meant to provoke anybody. If a minuscule minority does get provoked, so be it. Because if we were to be so overwhelmed by what those whose hearts do not beat for India may have to say at the sight of the national flag then a day would come when the Prime Minister would shy away from hoisting the Tricolour from the ramparts of Red Fort on Independence Day. Let us not forget that in the past we have heard of calls to boycott Republic Day and Independence Day. We chose to ignore those calls, and rightly so.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

RBI'S STRANGE ORDER

INDIA'S OIL IMPORTS MAY BE HIT


With India and Iran still struggling to find an alternative method of payment for bilateral trade, the Reserve Bank of India's sudden decision to shut down the Asian Currency Union route has led to needless confusion and threatens to disrupt commerce. The move has the potential to halt oil imports from Iran, the second largest supplier of crude to India after Saudi Arabia. That there has been no disruption in supply from Iran is because Indian importers get a 90-day credit limit. For the last two years, Indian refineries have been transacting business with Iranian companies through the ACU — a regional payment mechanism between nine countries including, Iran, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Burma — which allows settlement of payments for intra-regional transactions with representative central banks, side-stepping American and European restrictions in doing business with Tehran. The RBI says its decision is prompted by the need to iron out difficulties experienced by importers and exporters while dealing with Iran. Critics of the decision argue that transacting outside the ACU mechanism is more complicated with American and European banks unwilling to process payments to Iranian companies. Following the RBI's order, Indian oil companies are faced with a major problem as the State Bank of India has stopped issuing fresh Letters of Credit until Iran notifies a bank that is not covered by the US sanctions. The SBI has refused to deal with a Hamburg-based bank, nominated by Iran and which is already under sanctions, for fear of meeting the same fate. Curiously, the RBI is said to be against allowing the Central Bank of Iran from opening an account in India. Apart from impacting oil imports for the Indian market, the RBI's decision could also adversely affect India's export commitment to Mauritius, which imports its entire requirement of petrol, diesel and jet fuel from Mangalore Refinery, which has warned of huge revenue loss if its three-year contract is disrupted.


The RBI would do well to elaborate upon the imperatives behind its sudden decision to de-legitimise the ACU route of settling payments with Iranian oil firms. Obviously, a decision of such import could not have been taken without factoring in the consequences. As the country's central bank, the RBI no doubt is fully empowered to act independently and in the best interests of India. We must, therefore, presume that the reasons for discontinuing with the ACU route are not only justifiably valid but also in the overall interest of India and its oil companies. However, a niggling doubt remains that perhaps there is more to the RBI's move than meets the eye. There have been suggestions that the RBI's decision has been prompted by American concerns, largely legitimate, and pressure on India to adopt a more firm policy on Iran. Such speculation needs to be scotched if there's no substance to it. Hence, the RBI must offer a more elaborate explanation.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

AN AVOIDABLE TRAGEDY

ARINDAM CHAUDHURI


The recent stampede at Sabarimala, in which more than 100 pilgrims were killed, was entirely avoidable. If the authorities had taken adequate precautionary measures, the mishap would not have occurred. We need better security and crowd management at popular pilgrimage destinations


Sabarimala is considered one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations, so much so that it finds its place in the global list of top pilgrimage sites, sharing space with the Vatican and the Kumbh Mela. Even Forbes Traveler features this destination among its list of the "World's 10 most popular religious pilgrim centres".

Paradoxically, this pilgrimage destination that attracts around 60 million tourists (both domestic and foreign) annually, has failed to make the site safer for its pilgrims. The stampede that occurred on January 14, taking the lives of more than 100 people and injuring several more, is not the first such incident. A similar mishap occurred back in 1999, killing more than 50 people. In fact, both the incidents occurred on the same date — January 14.


Incidentally, January 14 is considered the most auspicious day for visiting this shrine and that day witnesses the maximum number of footfalls of pilgrims. A conservative estimate shows that around 10 million people visit Sabarimala on this day, thus escalating the probability of such accidents. However, such a 'probability' can be completely avoided, considering that it is a well-known fact.


Yet, organisers failed keep the security and the system foolproof, especially on January 14. What is more shocking is that in spite of a similar such incident a decade ago, no proper mechanism for safety protocols was established. Even after the past incident of a similar nature, no provisions of proper lighting, regulated traffic management or any form of security systems were put in place.


The need for such arrangements is an imperative at such sites, especially because the terrain is steep, grassy and sees the maximum movement just before dawn (to watch the Makara Jyoti). Given the timing of the visits and the topography of the site, there is also a crying need to study the capacity of the place to accommodate pilgrims.

Stampedes are neither a recent phenomenon nor confined to this one site, but are frequent in almost all major pilgrimage destinations — ranging from Vaishno Devi to Maha Kumbh — both being the biggest and largest religious tourist hubs of the nation. Back in 2003, hundreds were killed and injured at the Kumbh Mela in Maharashtra. Similarly, in 2005, the death toll crossed a few hundreds at Mandhra Devi temple in Maharashtra; in 2008, people died at Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh, and at Mahadeva temple and Chamunda Devi temple in Rajasthan.

 

Almost all major tourist destinations (especially pilgrimage sites) have experienced an incident of stampede. Contrast this with the world's biggest religious tourist hubs — Mecca or the Vatican — where such incidents are very rare because of proper and scientific implementation of security measures and crowd management.

When it comes to revenues, Sabarimala alone in a period of just one month is able to generate anything between `60 crore to `75 crore; and on an average its revenues easily cross `100 crore annually. For the year 2009, the State of Andhra Pradesh, which houses Tirupathi, alone generated revenue worth `400 crore. Amid all these numbers and series of repeated accidents, what gets marginalised is the fact that the major share of this money comes from petty donations made by the poor and underprivileged. And a majority of those who die in stampedes are the poor.


This is because when it comes to VIPs and celebrities, the whole procedure of security and safety is 're-customised' for their convenience. Even if a fraction of such facilities is provided for thousands of poor devotees (who virtually ensure that pilgrimage sites sustain on their donations and are able to keep up to their reputations), the death toll would instantly see a southward trend.


It is not just the organisers who should be held responsible for such mass tragedies, even the State Government is equally responsible for such incidents. To top it, even the mainstream media has been unusually silent over this particular incident.


The bigger tragedy is that all such irresponsibility and lack of reporting stems from the fact that the people who met their untimely death are from the bottom strata of society. Neither are they significant for any political party, nor do they bring in large individual donations to religious institutions or make any news. So what follows post such tragedies is some meagre compensation, which rarely reaches the kin of the dead, and the news becomes stale.


The irony is that the same media, especially the electronic media, goes for full coverage when celebrities visit such places. They shamelessly go to the extent of even covering the colour of the clothes these celebrities wear on such visits — now compare this to the abysmal coverage provided to stampede incidents that remain in headlines merely, if at all, for a few days, consuming only a few hours of electronic media!


There were a few editorials after the Sabarimala stampede in which the irresponsible behaviour of the pilgrims was blamed. There is merit in this argument, but local authorities and State Governments cannot be absolved of their responsibility. Unless steps are taken, such tragedies will continue to recur.


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

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

RISING FEAR OF ISLAM

PREMEN ADDY


Rather than tackle problems associated with its immigrant Muslim community, Europe, more so Britain, is electing to remain silent.


European civilisation, of which Britain is an inalienable part, encapsulates the seamless robe of the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment and an Industrial Revolution based on a platform of modern science and technology. The ability and willingness to reason, to respect doubt and cultural diversity are essential aspects of the European experience, which has withstood the turbulent challenges of the French and Russian revolutions, cleansing their bloody excesses, rigidities and abuses of power, while absorbing the kernel of their socialist ethic. Popular sovereignty, universal adult franchise, gender equality, wealth distribution in accordance with social equity, and freedom of thought and expression have been drawn together under the rule of law to become the continent's defining legacy.


However, post-War mass migration, critically from Third World Muslim societies, are disturbing the once comprehensible and admired symmetries of the European universe. A political and moral challenge more intense than any since the back end of the Middle Ages is gathering strength. Sections of the Europe-based Islamic diaspora, with their rack of Procrustean holy writ and the second coming of the universal caliphate, represent a messianic recidivism that seeks nothing less than the reversal of history.


The cat-and-mouse encounters involving the British security services, their Continental peers and the Islamist quarry have netted 26 terrorist suspects (some of them Chechen) in Belgium, even as they allegedly planned to bomb targets in Germany and Netherlands; in the UK, nine men including a number of Bangladeshis have been arrested and are shortly to appear in court to face terrorist charges. It is a war in the shadows and there is little prospect that it will end anytime soon.


The struggle takes myriad forms. A recent front-page headline in The Times, "Revealed: Conspiracy of silence on UK sex gangs," referred to a crime that dares not speak its name. It involved the grooming of young White girls, aged 12 to 14, for sex as a commercial activity by young men of Pakistani ethnicity. Their victims were picked up outside schools, driven around in flashy cars and plied with drugs and alcohol until such time as they were properly groomed for sex — with themselves and other circles of Pakistanis. The scandal came to light when the 50-odd members of the gang were picked by the police, tried in court and jailed.


The Times reporter, Andrew Norfolk, who covered the story, wrote: "A phone call eight years ago from a sobbing woman persuaded Ann Cryer to take the first steps of a journey that would lead to her being vilified by some people as a racist and hailed by others as a champion of girls' and women's rights." Ms Cryer, 71, was Labour MP for Keighley in West Yorkshire, until she stood down at the general election last May.


Having been let down by the police and the Bradford welfare services, the sobbing voice at the end of the line revealed that her daughter had been used by a gang, and she wasn't the only one. The goons were married with children of their own, some of an age similar to that of their victims. As journalist Minette Marrin commented in The Sunday Times, White girls were seen "as easy meat," refracting the abusers' belief that the West was decadent, its people despised infidels unworthy of considerate conduct.


Mr Norfolk again: "The grooming of white girls by gangs of Pakistani heritage is an issue that few in the community will address." And that is the rub. There is little forthright discussion of the issue in the media as a whole. Television anchors in Britain and the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which teems with redundant BBC talent, are reluctant to ask the difficult questions without the ritual breast-beating and handwringing that the guilty persons represent a "tiny minority" of the community. How tiny is tiny?


The anchors were at pains to point out that the vast majority of those serving jail sentences in the UK for sex crimes were White, scarcely surprising since over 90 per cent of the population is White. The Pakistani presence in British prisons is disproportionately large in relation to Pakistani numbers in the country. The fear of being branded an Islamophobe is self-evident.


However, such Pakistani heritage activity is not confined to White girls and young women; they include Hindus and Sikhs as well. Hindu and Sikh organisations have lodged complaints with the police and approached the media without provoking the current decibels of shock and anger. The reasons are not far to seek. Too loud a voice on their behalf could result in a backlash in Pakistan, to whom no offence must be given in the interests of regional realpolitik.


"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity..." Yeats summed up a tragic moment in Irish history, but like all great verse, his lines resonate today in a broader and more complex environment.


British and American Governments are noticeably shy to speak out on the maladies of the Islamic world. The Christmas bombing of a Christian Coptic church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria which left 22 worshippers dead, the frequent kidnappings of Coptic girls and women and their forcible marriage into Muslim families and the massacres of Christians in Iraqi capital Baghdad, not to speak of similar outrages against the Christians of Pakistan, provoke a mute response from London and Washington, which is why the Pope has stepped in to demand firmer action.


Seedy disinformation is the more exciting pastime. The well-groomed and sainted Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens, in a tour d'horizon of the international scene, writes: "None are more determined ... than Russia and China to keep India from securing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council". China, yes, but why Russia? Ask the shade of Joseph Goebbels.


Mr Stephens warns that "the strategic challenges (to Russia) come from Islamic extremism (which is presumably why Chechen extremists are privileged asylum-seekers in the UK) and the possibility of China and India bursting their borders in Russia's depopulated eastern territories."


Why India, which is nigh a thousand miles distant? He says further, "Russia's long-term interests lie in closer integration (read subordination) with the West." Is this the Fuhrer's voice from the grave of the Third Reich? Death by a thousand cuts is what awaits armies marching on Moscow. Better to concentrate on the Wall Street big bang and its aftermath and the disappearance of Lehman Brothers.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

AGENDA OF HATE

ANURADHA DUTT


Pseudo-secularists can only speak a divisive language


On January 12, civic authorities in the capital demolished two places of worship. One was a temple in Pushp Vihar, and the other was a mosque in Jangpura. Protests erupted against the demolitions at both sites. The Central Public Works Department apparently razed the 30-year-old Shiv Shakti Jagannath Mandir at the behest of the Delhi Government's religious committee. Local residents were furious about the manner in which the shrine was brought down, with a bulldozer suddenly entering the shrine. Activists belonging to Hindu groups — Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad — were the only politically affiliated persons to protest against the act. They are demanding restoration of the shrine. Representatives from the supposedly secular parties — the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Communist parties, Lok Janshakti Party, etc — were conspicuous by their silence.


However, it is a measure of the double standards adopted by politicos, who nurture the Muslim vote bank, in relation to Hindus and Muslims that the destruction of the mosque built by the Noor Charitable Society on DDA land drew immediate protests from them. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav reached Jangpura in order to demonstrate his solidarity with the incensed Muslims, and also to seize the chance to lash out at Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit. Raking up the Babri Masjid dispute, he made every effort to fuel communal passions. His erstwhile comrade Amar Singh, though currently in no party, also waxed eloquent in support of the faithful. His view was that the land belonged to Allah, and the matter ended there. Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, inveterate rabble-rouser, also did his bit to assert his community's right over land, which the Delhi Development Authority claims as its own.


Despite the Yadav chieftain's crafty attempt to club the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute and the Noor Masjid demolition together, ownership of the Jangpura site can easily be ascertained via DDA records. This is no matter of faith, dating back several centuries, but a contemporary issue, with official documents available for verifying the status of the land, upon which the Noor Masjid was built. Further, there is an important difference between the two disputes. The Babri Masjid demolition was the culmination of a feud over ownership of the site, festering since the early 16th century, when Mir Baqi, a Mughal Army General, was believed to have demolished a temple, marking the birthplace of Lord Ram, and built a mosque in its place. It was the usual ploy adopted by military adventurers from Central Asia, Afghanistan and other parts, to establish the dominion of Islam.

Conflicting claims to the Ayodhya land became politicised in the 1980s, when the Congress, in its fleeting avatar as an advocate of Hindu concerns, allowed the locks of the Babri Masjid to be opened in February 1986 for worship by Hindus, on the directive of a local court. When Muslims reacted with anger to this move, then Union Minister for Waqf Rajendra Kumari Bajpai, advised them "to take recourse to law and not to create disturbance". Hindutva groups, encouraged by the development, intensified their campaign to gain control of the disputed site and build a glorious Ram temple there. Their aborted attempt to do so in October 1990, when Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, was followed by the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992, during the late Congress veteran PV Narasimha Rao's tenure as Prime Minister. Though a small makeshift shrine was erected at the site for the worship of Ramlalla and his retinue, prolonged litigation over ownership of the land has extended up to the present time. The Sunni Waqf Board has recently appealed against the Allahabad High Court's three-way division of the disputed site between two Hindu litigants and the Waqf Board, as has the Hindu Mahasabha, both claiming the whole.

There can be no easy solutions to a historical dispute, going back several centuries. But, so far as the demolition of the Jangpura mosque is concerned, it was brought down in accordance with a Delhi High Court directive. As a recent structure, there can be no confusion over ownership of the land. The local residents' welfare association had filed a contempt petition in court, after people still insisted on offering prayers at the site. The RWA charged Shahi Imam Ahmed Bukhari, three Delhi MLAs and the Chief Minister with encouraging them to encroach on the land. While allowing 10 people to offer namaz at the site for about two months more, possibly in a bid to cool passions, the court also ordered DDA to fence off the land that it owned by making a wall.

Significantly, the judge made a veiled reference to the Ayodhya dispute, when he came to know that the land had been encroached upon again after the demolition:


"I need not remind you all what happened 20 years ago. . . leaders owe a responsibility to society and courts; otherwise, there will be complete lawlessness. . ."


However, while the Hindu protestors in Pushp Vihar are now sitting quiet, the mosque's advocates are busy marshalling their forces, especially from the secular camp, in order to somehow appropriate the land. It is indeed significant that lawyer Mahmood Pracha is representing both Delhi Waqf Board and Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in the case. This suggests an ominous nexus between communal elements and the Delhi Government. Given the incendiary nature of the dispute, the Government would do well to act firmly to restore the land to the DDA. If local Muslims insist on having a mosque, they can collect money to fund its construction in a legal way.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

GRAPPLING WITH FOOD INFLATION

KALYANI SHANKAR


The rising cost of food is a comment on UPA2's poor price management. It has been caught napping by hoarders. It could prove to be the Congress's undoing in the Assembly elections


The spiralling food inflation has come as a wake up call for the Congress and if the trend continues, it will be in trouble in the coming Assembly elections to half-a-dozen States. Add to it the issue of corruption and the Congress's cup of woe is full.


According to the data released by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, India's annual inflation rate of food prices, as measured by the wholesale price index with base year 2004-05, rose to 18.32 per cent for the week ended December 25. Although it has dropped marginally, there are few signs of the inflation abating in coming weeks.

The recent onion story is a comment on the Government's poor price surveillance and inadequate supply chain and storage facilities. The high inflation is being driven by a rise in prices of vegetables and fruits, which are not held in public stocks thus, making it difficult for the Government to control prices. Surprisingly, the Government woke up only when the situation went out of control. Now, the Union Government has alerted State Governments and contracted the import of onions, and plans to step up purchases of essential commodities like edible oil and pulses. But what was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Economic Advisory Council doing when prices were shooting up?


In the opinion of economists, while there are some weather-induced supply constraints, price is rising largely due to rising income levels and widening gap between wholesale and retail prices. A recent ASSOCHAM report has sent the alarm bells ringing stating that food inflation may continue to give pain to the Government in 2011 and put pressure on the manufacturing sector. Pointing out that the major drawback of the country's inflation control strategy is that it always considers inflation as a seasonal and temporary problem, the report states that the current situation is a result of two major reasons: First, there is a shift in income brackets with the growth of the middle class. Second, the gap between producer prices and consumer prices is widening.


The latest petrol price hike is a suicidal decision as it can drive food inflation up. True, the public sector oil companies are struggling to cope with high crude price in the international market as they are losing an estimated `85,000 crore. The Government is left with little option but to increase the price because the subsidy has become a huge burden on the exchequer. However, there is no denying that the aam admi is struggling to balance his household budget, which is already stretched to the limit. Commenting on the sorry state of affairs the International Monetary Fund has said that India faces a difficult choice between diverting Government money to subsidise fuel prices and rising inflation.


Well, the Opposition is far from convinced. With elections round the corner, they are up in arms against the Congress to gain political mileage. The Congress has high stakes in Kerala and West Bengal where the Left parties are on the decline. In Assam, it would like to attempt a hat-trick. In Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, it will play a crucial role in the Government formation. So the Congress leadership is faced with twin challenges: It will have to deal with public anger and tackle the difficult UPA allies who would like to distance themselves from the Government's inaction.


The NCP, which is a coalition partner not only at the Centre but also in Maharashtra, has become Congress's whipping boy whenever there is a price rise. The Congress Working Committee has blamed NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who was Minister for Agriculture, Food and Civil Supplies till Wednesday, for not handling the price hike promptly. Mr Pawar has rubbished the allegation claiming that Ministers do not take decisions individually but in consultation with the Cabinet. However, the relationship between the NCP and Congress has worsened recently after Mr Rahul Gandhi blamed coalition politics for Congress's inability to control prices.

In West Bengal, the TMC is a crucial ally for the Congress. With an anti-incumbency mood visible in the State, the Congress-TMC alliance appears to be a winning combination. But the relationship is still strained between the two. TMC chief Mamata Banerjee is upset by Congress's unilateral decision — according to her, she was not informed — to hike petrol price as it can mar its poll prospects. This is not the first time that the TMC has expressed dissatisfaction over fuel price hike. In February last year, the TMC and DMK made similar noises. To take advantage of the situation, the CPI(M) politburo has already planned to launch a country-wide agitation in consultation with other non-UPA parties. The Left would like to whip up the fact that the TMC is a constituent of the UPA2. The DMK is also in a dilemma, as AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa is already gunning salvoes.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

PRAVASI BHARATIYA DIVAS NEEDS SOME FOCUS


Lack of serious efforts to engage overseas Indians has reduced Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to a talking shop, says Tarani

The recently concluded Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, attended by nearly 2,000 delegates from around the world, has been a vibrant event but has left much to be desired. Sure, it provides delegates a platform to network with Indians and interact with Ministers from India on matters of interest to them but if the Government wants to utilise this soft power in its favour there should be more focus in organising this event.


The three-day long event in New Delhi saw the overseas Indian community, including top Government officials, entrepreneurs, businessmen, academics, social activists, artists and journalists, participating in several sessions and expressing their expectations from the land of their origin. The special focus this year was on the North-East region and the youth among the Indian diaspora, as the Government wanted to look at ways to engage them in India's growth story.


On day one, there were sessions on education, health and the North-East, showcasing the growth and opportunities available in these areas. Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal set the tone of the event at the 'Diaspora and Education: The Emerging Opportunities' session by asking the diaspora to engage actively in building India's knowledge economy. He argued that the combination of low-cost production and a highly skilled workforce would make India the centre for the new frontier of knowledge. Pointing out that India faces a problem in developing a skilled workforce because only 12.4 per cent of 220 million school students reach college, he invited the diaspora to play a role in disseminating knowledge through technology and shape India's potential.


A parallel session discussed public-private partnership in healthcare sector. On the second day, while one plenary session thrashed out ways to engage young overseas Indians, another focussed on tremendous potential of the North-East region.


However, the most engaging plenary session was held on the last day as Chief Ministers of different States like Gujarat, Bihar, Punjab etc, participated in animated discussions with the diaspora highlighting investment opportunities in their States. The session saw business proposals coming from the NRIs and PIOs who expressed great interest in the renewable energy and the infrastructure sectors. Some drew attention to the need of Government participation in taking care of senior citizens who yearn to return to the land of their origin.

Having said that, one must concede that most sessions were heavy in rhetoric and speakers failed to articulate the relevance of the issue and engage the audience. They often ranted statistics and gave generic summaries, which one could easily find online. A case in point is the session on 'Public Health: Engaging the Diaspora'. One of the panelists, Dr Nata Menabde of the World Health Organisation, merely presented statistics of health problems in India — such as, malaria accounts for 40 per cent of death from preventable diseases — instead of giving specific information on the kind of healthcare and medical services required for different communities across India.


Worse still, the plenary session on 'Opportunity India', which was supposed to be an interactive session between the diaspora and Union Ministers, ended in a damp squib as most Ministers did not stay back for the interaction. If Union Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee left after delivering a speech, Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna did not even have time for that. Only Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Mr Kamal Nath, was left to hold the fort. No wonder, it left many high and dry.


If the Congress-led UPA Government wants the Indian diaspora to participate in India's development story, then it must get its acts together. The issues of red tapism and bureaucracy, which riddles the Indian system, are still acting as roadblocks. In fact, Additional Secretary of Health and Family Welfare, Mr Keshav Desiraju, was left groping for answers when a doctor-delegate brought to his attention that he had written several times to the Ministry expressing his desire to render free medical services but never received a reply.


That the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is a great effort by the Indian Government to connect with the diaspora does not merit reiteration. But the event will be reduced to a mere talking shop if such lack of communication persists. Not only it will show India's intentions in poor light, it will lock the diaspora out from any effective engagement. It is time the Government looks beyond making it an annual exercise.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

THE BJP MUST DESIST FROM REPEATING ITS SRINAGAR FOLLY

LIKE the Bourbons of old, the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Its decision to conduct a Rashtriya Ekta Yatra culminating in the hoisting of the national flag at Srinagar's Lal Chowk is a replay of what it did in 1991, at the height of the Kashmir militancy.

 

Now, as then, this self- proclaimed patriotism is unlikely to add a whit to resolving the tangled problem of Kashmiri separatism. Indeed, it has the potential of worsening the situation.

 

Fortunately, the situation is not as bad today as it was when Dr Murli Manohar Joshi led what turned out to be a farcical exercise of flag hoisting on the Republic Day of 1992. At the time, Punjab terrorists struck and killed several yatris, and, more seriously, a bomb explosion nearly wiped out the entire J& K police leadership. The incident gave a major fillip to the militancy through 1992.

 

Even so, the state went through an unusually tense period last summer with stonethrowing separatist mobs bringing normal life to a halt. With considerable difficulty, the state and central governments have brought back a measure of calm there. The BJP's illconsidered decision could set the clock back again.

 

Merely hoisting the national flag and declaring yourself a patriot does not make you one.

 

Patriotism is about what you do. If the party really wants to serve the nation, it should abandon its politics of division and work to promote communal and sectional amity across the country. A lot of national blood and treasure has been lost in Kashmir. The need of the hour— especially from a party claiming to be a national grouping— is for sober and considered action, rather than knee- jerk faux patriotism.

 

EMBODIMENT OF GRAFT

ARVIND and Tinoo Joshi, an IAS officer couple of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, appear to have moved from one act of graft to the other, throughout their career of over three decades.

 

The former is allegedly involved in a variety of acts of corruption — from shortchanging victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy by providing them substandard material worth Rs 1 crore to the infamous coffin- gate scam.

 

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the couple's combined assets amount to a whopping Rs 360 crore — that is disproportionate by a long measure to the salary that bureaucrats are paid in the country.

 

Worryingly, none of their wrongdoings came to light all these years and both Arvind and Tinoo Joshi continued to get plum postings in the Madhya Pradesh government and the Centre. It seems evident that the two enjoyed a significant degree of political patronage.

 

Nothing else can explain the fact that following the death of 68 persons caused due to the release of water from the Indira Sagar Dam in April 2005, Arvind Joshi, who was then Principal Secretary Water Resources, not only escaped action but was in fact appointed to probe the incident. Fortunately, the law has at last caught up with them.

 

SOME GOOD NEWS AT LAST

WITH the launch of the much delayed mobile number portability, India's long suffering telecom consumers would finally have what they should have had from the very beginning— the freedom to choose.

Although the scheme still has some limitations— customers can only switch service providers within the same telecom circle and not across cities— it still marks the first step in making service providers more accountable to their customers.

 

However, mobile number portability should not be seen as a panacea for the ills that plague the industry. Consumers across service providers continue to face similar problems.

 

Call quality is poor, and severe congestion on networks, caused by severe under- investment in infrastructure, means that operators fail to consistently deliver even basic continuous service availability.

 

Then there is the problem of consumer harassment by way of unsolicited telemarketing calls and messages. All these are not so much industry problems as a failure of regulation and merely switching service providers will not help. For that, we need effective regulation, which the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has so far failed to provide.

 

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            MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

POLITICS THE KEY NOT ECONOMICS

BY NARENDAR PANI

 

FOOD inflation is turning out to be exceptionally stubborn. Not only is the overall rate of food inflation steadily in double digits, but individual items that capture public imagination — onions and tomatoes — have seen their prices touching spectacular heights. Despite the government mobilising the best economic skills available it has been able to do little to bring the prices of food products under control. This continuing pressure on food prices raises the question of what the economists are doing wrong. The problem however may not be so much with what the economists are doing, as with the fact that food prices have moved beyond the realm of economics into that of politics.

 

Tools

 

The limits of taking a purely economycentric view of food prices become evident when we look at the tools the economists have at their command. When faced with rising prices economists, particularly those inclined towards monetarist measures, would like to tighten money supply so that there is less demand, thereby forcing prices down.

 

But such a measure tends to affect the demand in all sectors, including those where demand is already down. Thus even if a tight money policy brings down food prices, it will simultaneously hurt the growth of other sectors. And with industrial growth dropping sharply last month, a further tightening of monetary policy would adversely affect the high growth rates that are the cornerstone of the government's economic policy.

 

The other tool economists have used in the past is the international market. The import of the products whose prices are shooting up is expected to have a calming effect on domestic prices. In products where there is a surplus, a similar effect can be had by curbing imports. Unfortunately, the global commodity markets are going through a bullish phase themselves.

 

Spurred by a variety of factors, including speculation, importing food has become an expensive proposition.

 

The expense itself is not the most serious aspect of the situation. After all, what is the point in having high growth rates and foreign exchange reserves if some of it can't be spent on food imports? The problem is with the effect that imports or the ban on exports will have on the prices the farmers can hope to get. With the share of agriculture in GDP dropping sharply farmers believe, not without justification,That they are not getting their fair share of the rapid growth in the Indian economy. Any measures that curb farm prices, such as imports or a ban on exports, are seen as efforts to prevent them from tapping the benefits of the market. And given their political muscle, this is a view that cannot be taken lightly.

 

From a purely economic point of view then the rise in food prices is here to stay.

 

Indeed, it has even been suggested that this may be an inevitable consequence of a growing economy. As the income of the poor increase they are bound to demand more food, generating an upward pressure on prices. Economists may even argue that those whose incomes are growing more rapidly than they did in the past should not complain so much about having to pay more for food.

 

Indeed, one economist was quite surprised to find that wives of mid to senior level government officials, who benefited from the Sixth Pay Commission, were very vocal when the price of dal reached Rs 100 per kg.

 

That reaction however only points to how little economists tend to know about politics. The political impact of the price of food cannot be measured in terms of economic rationality. The right to food is at the heart of any human consciousness.

 

Any change, howsoever minor, that is seen to be forced on a person's diet generates very strong reactions.

 

This is a lesson the advanced countries, particularly in the West, learnt a long time ago. It is not for nothing that they offer huge subsidies to their farmers so as to ensure that even as the retail price of food is low, the farming community does not lose its economic rationale to keep producing food.

 

Availability

 

The issue facing the government then is not so much the economic measures that can keep food prices down. Most of these measures are, in any case, close to the end of their effectiveness. The real challenge is political. Will the government accept an essentially political view that one of the basic purposes of all growth, especially the kind of high growth rates we have seen recently, is to make cheap food available to every Indian? The closest the government has come to addressing this question is the debate on whether to have a universal public distribution system or one that is targeted only at the poor. This debate itself is a somewhat narrow one. It only covers the items provided in the public distribution system and not the entire food basket of all Indians.

 

But even on this limited scale there is considerable opposition to the idea of a universal public distribution system.

 

At the heart of this opposition is the simple economic statement that the government cannot afford it. But if we look at what the government spends on a number of sectors, not to mention the astronomical amounts being associated with scams, the decision not to go in for a universal public distribution system is essentially a matter of priorities.

 

Poor

 

Politicians with their ear to the ground are of course aware that these priorities cannot be sold in an election. But given the risks involved in rocking the political boat, they would like to get the political benefits of a universal public distribution system even as they accept the reality of a PDS targeted only at the poor. And the simple instrument they have at their command is to try to get as many people as possible classified as poor. One Congress ruled state has classified 80 percent of its population as poor.

 

Such compromises however come with huge costs. Equating the better- off with the poor may not matter in areas where there is a need for a universal benefit, as in access to cheap food. But in other areas where there is a need for better targeting such as in the offer of education scholarships for the poor, classifying the vast majority as the poor only leads to the relatively better- off benefiting at the cost of the poorest.

 

It is thus important to acknowledge that one of the prime objectives of our growth is ensuring the availability of cheap food for all. Even if we were to go along with the current rather distorted priorities and accept that the universal public distribution system is not currently viable, there is nothing to stop us from treating this as a desirable objective.

 

We can then at least have cheap food for all as a target and perhaps even a time bound programme to achieve it.

The writer is professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore economics

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BEING THE BEST

 

Several critical issues engage the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Council meeting today. Proposals on autonomy as well as switching from a course-based to a credit-based system of study will be considered. At stake is the future of the prestigious technical institutes that have come to be extremely proficient at churning out quality engineering graduates but lag behind in cutting-edge research. This is also the primary reason why, despite being an excellent brand, the IITs fare poorly in global rankings. IIT Bombay, the highest ranked IIT, ranked a lowly 187 in the 2010 QS World University Rankings.


The remedy lies in freeing up the IITs both administratively and financially. Presently, the technical institutes are burdened by bureaucratic red tape. Thanks to higher education being a politically sensitive issue, there exists a significant amount of resistance to the concept of autonomous IITs. It is this same logic that sustains the government-funding-quota mentality. However, autonomy is crucial to the IITs emerging as truly world-class institutes. It will give the IIT boards the flexibility to hire quality faculty from across the world and decide salaries accordingly. It will also make the creation of new posts and facilities far easier. Lowering dependence on government funding might result in substantial student fee hikes. But facilitating education loans for IIT students has never been an issue. It would be a good idea for the government to realign its current funding strategy to focus on providing scholarships to those IIT aspirants who come from economically weaker sections of the society.


On internal reform, the intense pressure of the curriculum at the IITs is a matter of serious concern. Not only has it led students to commit suicide in extreme cases but is also an impediment to fostering an atmosphere of creativity that is crucial for research. A credit-based system of study eases a lot of the pressure. IITs must promote advanced scientific and technological research which also serves the needs of Indian industry. An interactive portal that helps align research with industrial needs should be explored. And with autonomy, private sources of funds for research will open up.


This should also take care of the obstacles that the eight new IITs are facing. Announced in 2008, these are still struggling to put in place the infrastructure needed for a premier technical institute and attract quality faculty. Autonomy will give them the freedom to acquire the required physical infrastructure and funding on their own. The IITs have played a crucial role in catalysing growth in technical learning in the country. It is time to make them stand up on the global stage.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

LITMUS TEST

 

Right from the beginning, the Banda rape case exposes how the criminal justice system in the country can be subverted and misused by the powerful. A poor Dalit girl, a minor to boot, was allegedly gangraped by the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLA Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi along with his aides. Soon after she was arrested and locked up on dubious charges of petty theft, levelled by the politician accused of rape. Meanwhile, it took two weeks for the jailer to order a medical inquiry into the alleged rape, sufficient time for medical evidence to be rendered inconclusive. Not only this, Shahnaz Begum, the lone jail staffer who testified in the girl's defence when a probe was finally ordered, has spoken of life threats issued to her by her seniors. It's clear that the police displayed extreme callousness. But there may also have been a concerted attempt to sabotage the evidence.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati has finally ordered a probe after a media outcry, and even promised a fast-track court to try the case. She had fought the last assembly elections on the plank of restoring law and order in the state. While the BSP government has shown some intent to deliver on this, it has also been accused of partisan actions directed solely against Samajwadi Party leaders and cadre. The Banda rape case could well develop into UP's equivalent of the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case. The state government is on watch. Delivery of justice in this case is a litmus test for Mayawati, whether her plank be re-establishing the rule of law in UP or protecting Dalits and the underprivileged.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

BIRTH OF GLOBAL DEMOCRACY

ABHAY K

 

The civilisational journey of human beings began about 12,000 years ago in different parts of the planet. Living apart from each other for many centuries, different human groups developed different languages and cultures. When these communities came across each other, they either fought wars or traded or did both. As a result, cultures intermingled and evolved. With technological developments in means of transport and communications, organisation of societies evolved from tribal clans to nation states over centuries, and finally into the United Nations in the middle of the 20th century.


Nation states as we know them are not very old. Benedict Anderson lucidly writes in his book, Imagined Communities, that nation-states are a product of developments in printing technology and the dissemination of printed literature. Gutenberg's printing press was introduced in Europe in the middle of the 15 th century. It played a key role in the development of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, both of which laid the foundations of mass literacy, an informed public space and the birth of nation states.


The internet was introduced in the last decade of the 20th century. It became widely accessible to the world in the beginning of the 21st century as the number of internet users went up from a few millions to billions. The internet has given human beings a novel platform to interact in new ways through instant messages, social networking, video conferencing, online collaboration and the like. It has not only accelerated but redefined information generation and dissemination.


The internet has brought humanity closer and we have begun to evolve as a planetary society. Today, Facebook has over half a billion netizens and Twitter over 200 million. The total number of mobile phones at the end of 1990 was about 12 million. Now the estimated number of mobile phones is over five billion. In the next few years almost everybody on the planet will own a mobile phone with an internet connection.


At the beginning of the new millennium we stand at a unique juncture of history with the information revolution drastically changing the world. The political, economic and cultural impact of this revolution, although still in the early stages, is already being felt. WikiLeaks, the new digital avatar of traditional journalism, is a good example. Facebook is now the third largest 'country' in the world after China and India and some of the communities on it are richer than the combined GDPs of several low-income economies.


As the introduction of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1439 paved the way for the Renaissance, Enlightenment and nation states, so has the invention of the internet and the mass availability of internet-connected mobile phones paved the way for planetary consciousness and global democracy. In the digital age, our lives are truly global; an average person has friends across the globe, uses goods and services produced in different corners of the world and travels to destinations across the planet. The internet has made possible a new degree of public involvement in some key global issues such as climate change, financial management, terrorism, pandemics and the like that affect people across the planet.


The International Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) held global elections in 2000 for electing its board of directors. The elections were the first ever example of direct global democracy in the governance of any global organisation. Every voter in the ICANN election had access to the internet. All social preconditions of democracy such as membership, a communication community, interest aggregation and democratic culture were amply present, dispelling the popular myth that global democracy is impossible.

The United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) campaign intends to establish a parliamentary assembly at the UN. It will be the first ever global democratic institution elected by people across the planet when created. The campaign has the support of about 800 serving parliamentarians from 98 countries. Supporters include hundreds of distinguished personalities; in particular, five Nobel laureates, 10 Right Livelihood laureates, 10 former foreign ministers, five former prime ministers, 272 professors from 53 countries and people from all walks of life


The UNPA campaign in India is supported by 29 prominent Indian parliamentarians such as Mani Shankar Aiyar, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tiwari and Priya Dutt. It also has the support of prominent leaders and activists such as the founder of Self Employed Women's Association of India Ela Bhatt and reformist-writer and activist Asghar Ali Engineer.


Among the bodies that have endorsed the proposal for a UN parliamentary assembly since the launch of the campaign in 2007 are the pan-African parliament, the Latin American parliament, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe as well as the senate and chamber of deputies of Argentina and the parliament of Seychelles. The direction of evolution of political, economic and social organisation of humanity is crystal clear.

The writer is an author and diplomat.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'TERRORISM IS ABOUT CONFLICTS BETWEEN COUNTRIES'

 

Why did you make a film on Carlos, a terrorist, who was active in the last century?

Firstly, it was a unique opportunity to deal with a subject matter that you can't really handle in the classic cinema format. The story of Carlos is both entertaining and an adventure. He had a unique life. Simultaneously, it's the story of a generation or the fate of one man or the story of western radicals. It also shows the connection between terrorism and geopolitics, especially Cold War geopolitics. This was a story that had a meaning on different levels and combined different dynamics in the same sense that the dynamics of contemporary terrorism is different.


How is contemporary terrorism different?

The frontline when Carlos was active was Europe. Now Europe is not part of the war on terror going on today, not at least on the frontline as in the 1970s and 1980s or before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yes, i had in mind modern-day terrorism because the logic of terrorism does not change. It is always about state terrorism, it is not about some angry individuals planting bombs. It is usually a state sending a message to another state. Al-Qaida is a player in terms of geopolitics. They have the support of national players. It is the same connection of terrorism to geopolitics. What is great about the story of Carlos is that it proves this connection. It is about conflicts between countries, it is about destabilising this or that state for this or that state. The message is not made to be understood by the media. The message is made to be understood to the state addressed.


How much does the life of Carlos help us in understanding violence in our society or how much evil there is in man?

Carlos became a militant because he had convictions similar to those of the militants of his generation. The way he evolved into a mercenary has something to do with his fate and the way the world changed around him. First, he is a militant fighting along with the Palestinians. Then he is on his own and has to find a new meaning. Secret services of many nations hire him. The Cold War is then over and he is stuck in the Middle East. He always had to adapt to an ever-changing world.


Carlos was very evil in many ways. He has always been narcissistic, self-obsessed. He became famous after killing two policemen in Paris in 1975. He was an anonymous militant one day and the next day he was the headlines. He played with his image as a celebrity. It was also his downfall. When you are involved in terrorism, you don't want to be famous. He paid for it.


Was his life as a terrorist an individual aberration or a systemic or structural problem?

In the context of those times, someone like Carlos sees himself as a soldier in a war. He grew up in Latin America, which at that time had open wars between leftist guerrillas and government troops in most of its countries. He went to a university in Moscow and at 19 found himself fighting alongside the Palestinians in Jordan during the Black September events. This violence was always part of him. But he rationalised that he was a soldier in a war.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

FAST FORWARD

JUG SURAIYA

 

The Suraiya household is no longer a land of milk and honey. Particularly milk, the consumption of which as a whitener for tea has been strictly rationed by Bunny. Neither of us drinks tea with milk. But apparently the seemingly endless stream of workmen, mechanics and plumbers who visit the house to fix something or the other that's stopped working were drinking up a storm, literally in a teacup, of the brew with lots of milk in it along with lashings of sugar.


Having read in the TOI that the price of milk had gone up 24% in the past one year, Bunny put her foot down. From now on it's going to be just one cup of chai per workman. With not more than two spoons of sugar per cup. Like milk, sugar too, had become upwardly mobile in terms of cost.


And it's not just milk and sugar. Suddenly everything seems to have become far more expensive than it was just the other day. Either that, or the contents of my wallet are shrinking in terms of provisioning the household. Bunny sits with her weekly grocery list. Is that a list of things that we have to buy this week, I ask. No, it's a list of things we can't afford to buy this week, says Bunny.


Topping this don't-buy list are onions. Headlines, editorials, in-depth articles by agri-experts, and, for all I know, monographs, treatises and PhD theses have by now been written about the price of onions. But this libraryful of literature can't explain why the supposedly humble pyaaz - the so-called poor-man's vegetable - should kg for kg rival in cost the price of a B class IPL player. More, if the player in question is suspected of being a match-fixer, a charge that has never been levelled against any onion, even one imported from Pakistan.

 

With the use of onions severely restricted in the kitchen, we began to subsist largely on soup and toast. Till the price of tomatoes went zooming up like one of those Isro satellites that one hears of from time to time. But while Isro satellites frequently come crashing back to earth, not so with the price of tomatoes, or any other veggie.With tomato soup ruled out - tomatoes, together with onions having been put on the don't-buy list - we're stuck with butterless toast. Maybe we should burn the toast, I suggest. But that'll make it taste even worse than it already does, says Bunny. That's the point; it if tastes bad we'll eat less of it, I point out. We could always ring up friends to cadge a meal at their place. But with the price of petrol what it is, what we'd save by eating at someone else's expense would be more than offset by the transportation cost there and back. And suppose the people we call, also feeling the price pinch, turn the tables and want to come eat with us? Is there enough burnt toast to go round?

 

What to do about skyrocketing food prices? The finance minister doesn't know. The agriculture minister doesn't know. The prime minister doesn't know. But ancient Indian wisdom knows. Fasting - the voluntary cessation of food intake - has long been a part of our tradition. People of all creeds - Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Christian, devotees of Vandana Luthra's Curls & Curves - all fast regularly to gain spiritual brownie points. Millions more fast because they've never been able to afford to eat, even before food prices rose astronomically. If the country were to go on a collective fast the demand would drastically reduce, creating a supply-side surplus which could be exported, thus wiping out the country's fiscal deficit and putting the brakes on runaway inflation.

 

Economics apart, fasting would benefit us physically and spiritually. Physically we'd all lose weight and cut the risk of diabetes and heart ailments. Spiritually, we'd all come close to attaining moksha, freedom from the 'surly bonds' of earthly life. But therein lies the rub. Like food - and everything else - suppose moksha too follows the law of demand and supply? As more and more of us entered the market for a limited supply of moksha, would stocks threaten to run out, raising the price of spiritual enlightenment?

 

Om, shanti, shanti, shanti? More like Om, mehngai, mehngai, mehngai

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

THIS WAY, WE KEEP THE FAITH

The disproportionate attention on political scams has often led us to ignore the many positive developments that signal the maturing of Indian democracy.

One is the statement from the powerful head of the Dar-ul-Uloom Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Wastanavi to Muslims on the need to put the wounds of the 2002 violence in Gujarat aside and move forward.

He has even taken the unusually bold step of praising Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in protecting the Muslims of the state since those fateful days. There have been criticisms from other Muslim leaders on what they see as a clean chit to the Gujarat administration, but these have not been the usual over-the-top ones we have come to associate with sensitive religious issues.

The fact that religion is no longer valid currency as a political tool was clear from the extremely sober reaction from both Hindus and Muslims to the Babri Masjid verdict. Despite the state taking all precautions to ensure that there was no law and order problem, it was the communities which behaved with restraint and calm. Though religion has no place in the official apparatus of a secular State, its custodians can and have played a vital role in maintaining communal harmony. The exemplary manner in which the chief priest of the Sankat Mochan temple acted after a horrifying bomb blast was the single most important reason in preventing any communal incident. The influential Akal Takht has been unequivocal in condemning the pernicious practice of female foeticide going as far as to say that anyone found guilty would be excommunicated. This is in keeping with the tradition of great religious thinkers down the ages who have always weighed in on the side of the positive aspects of faith. This has also insulated faith from the more corporeal vagaries of politics.

The Deoband chief's welcome statement, however, does not mean that those who perpetrated the Gujarat carnage can absolve themselves of responsibility for what will endure as a blot on Indian democracy. Now, with this gracious sentiment from a Muslim leader, it becomes all the more incumbent that the guilty are brought to book. There seems to be widespread acknowledgment of the perils of distorting religion more than ever before. Though comparisons are odious, we should be thankful that, unlike in our neighbour Pakistan, our religious leaders still command enough respect to prevent faith being hijacked by fundamentalists. The most heartening message from Deoband is the fact that the scope for misusing religion by vested interests has diminished considerably and we are all the better for it.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

THE DEATH OF BOOKS

The proposed amendments to the Copyright Act have been frontpaged thanks to the celebrated spats between Bollywood producers and lyricists. Lesser known is that a proviso to one of the sections (notorious now as '2m', rather portentous after 2G!) threatens to dismantle the very fabric of Indian writing in English. The ministry seems ready to pass this bill which could go down in history as the one act that will set India back a hundred years.

So what exactly is proviso 2m and why are writers-publishers so incensed about it? Simply put, the proviso seeks to remove the protection that India had as a copyright territory. Any book published anywhere in the world can now be sold here infringing an exclusive Indian edition — published or imported. To understand this, one needs to realise that authors own copyright to their works and then assign publishing rights to different territories, so that the book and readers are best served. Vikram Seth, for example, is published in Britain by Hachette, in the US by HarperCollins, in Canada by McArthur, and by Penguin in India. Each territory is protected by law to best publish the work. Without this legal shield, any of the four editions could infringe on each other.

So why is the HRD ministry doing this? Baffling as it is, (since it demonstrates no due diligence and a complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of the publishing) let's look at possible reasons:

The 'It benefits the end consumer because open market competition will bring prices down' argument: This is rubbish because India is the lowest priced market in the world, and no benefit outside short-term spoiler pricing can accrue to the customer. Quoth jesting Pilate,"If India is the lowest priced market surely publishers have nothing to worry about!" Not true! Here one needs to understand how business is done around the world. Almost all world markets practise what's known as 'remainder' sales. Essentially surplus stock is cleared-off at 'raddi' prices. (I kid you not.—Books are sold by the roomful or by weight!) These stocks, if not prohibited by law, will just flow in and wipe out local editions and eventually industry.

Will the end customer get this any cheaper? No, not really, because we have the occasional remainder trickle now and know pricing patterns. Remainder merchants still sell these just below existing price points to maximise their own profits. In any case that can't surely be the rationale in a country that prides itself on culture and learning — that we turn India into a remainder bin?

The ministry mandarins also seem to have the absurd belief that publishers don't bring in current editions. Every single major book — whether a medical textbook or the latest blockbuster like a Harry Potter or Stephanie Meyer — is available the same day as its release worldwide and 35% cheaper, with textbooks being 80-90% cheaper. Further, the only record of the ministry having consulted authors is via a body called the authors' guild, not a representative body, it seems. There is no evidence in the depositions that any author who stands to lose by this amendment — and they are over 50,000 in India and at least three times that internationally — was consulted.

Weighing in against all this is a host of reasons why territoriality should be protected:

First, the legal position of the author's rights being paramount. A creator should have the right to decide what s/he wants to do with his/her creation and should benefit from it. The ministry itself espouses this in the 'Bollywood amendments'. The 'edition right' is thus an extension of the prime right of the artists to protect and share their property without infringement. If we regard the contractually established edition rights as having no territorial exclusivity, then they become solely a right to distribute a printed object in a given territory. What the law will do is erode the economic right of the authors to profit from their copyright as much as it will erode that of the edition rights buyer and will give the reader or bookseller no certainty that they have paid the best price for a product. (What if a remainder comes in and lowers the price again!)

One certain fallout of this is that the author who was planning to get designated royalties by territory will hardly get an income stream. Because royalties on remainders are near zero. Which also means we are placing authors in competition with a third-party non-holder of copyright — the remainder merchant who brings the book in against the author's wishes because the law permits him to do so — a completely unjust intellectual property system.

The Indian publishing industry is just about coming into its own in the past few ten years or so. It's bad

enough that one has to cope with rampant piracy. This will be an even unkinder cut. A publisher takes enormous risks and invests. And with no significant investment available to back them what incentive do authors have to write?

In a completely anarchic scenario, why would any overseas publisher grant licensing rights to India? One may actually now see old editions dumped in here undercutting new ones. Low priced editions would vanish, further fostering piracy.

When no other mature market has this, why does India need it? And look at the history of creativity in any of the existing open markets — Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong. How many literary or commercial author brands can you name out of these countries?

India has its own laws and 'religious sentiments'. An Indian rights holder ensures these are conformed to; indiscriminate 'export dumpers' do not.

The existing law was created presumably after some thought. We've had five amendments of the 1957 Act. The present exercise began with trying to redress the rights of authors in the music and film business. It will end up killing book authors. Publishers, authors, academics are mounting a signature and awareness campaign being kicked off at the Jaipur lit fest. Hoping that sense will prevail and the ministry will ask themselves that classic question: if it ain't broke, why fix it?

Thomas Abraham has worked in the books business for the past 20 years with Oxford University Press, Dorling Kindersley and Penguin. He is currently Managing Director, Hachette India, the Indian arm of British publishing house Hachette Book Group

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

FLAGGING THE VALLEY

The decision of the BJP to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar this Republic Day could be an act of political expediency, but it's not a prudent step in the long run.

The timely counsel of Chief Minister  Omar Abdullah not to pursue this short-term political vision, seems to have fallen on deaf ears in the BJP as it aspires to regain its status in national politics.

Surely, nobody can challenge the legitimate right of a free citizen to hoist the national flag anywhere within the boundaries of India. But the issue of raising the tricolour in the Valley isn't merely about that right. It is about being sensitive to the feelings of a silent majority of Kashmiris whose fledgling hopes swell with the promise of peace in the streets of the Valley. It is about not rupturing the veneer of thin ice  and provoking vested interests to fish in the troubled waters lurking below. It is about being aware of a litany of woes that have largely gone unnoticed.

The issue is about looking straight at the citizens of the Valley with compassion and not driving flagpoles in the name of patriotism through their fragile dreams. Populism and brinkmanship may have considerable space and importance in the political arena. But in Kashmir, it is about holding hands precariously. For a long time, we have pushed, prodded and hoped that our hard-hitting postures and actions would bring us the desired results in Kashmir.

The proponents of the flag hoisting ceremony the coming Wednesday may well argue that Lal Chowk is just another destination, a final stop in their ongoing exercise within the nation. Even if we were to agree to this proposition of equivalence, we should understand what net gains and losses may accrue at the end of it.

Three main compulsions drive the BJP to extend its flag-hoisting yatra into the Valley: One, to proclaim ultra-patriotism through this action to outsmart the political adversaries in the eyes of the Indian public. Two, to reiterate the might and writ of Indian Statehood that encompasses the Kashmir Valley. Three, to demonstrate loud and clear to citizens and separatists of the Valley that India is here to stay whether they like it or not.

There could be more reasons, but considering that these are the main ones, it is evident that a pan-Indian political party doesn't need to do what they intend to on Republic Day. To be a worthy aspirant for ruling the country, the BJP's political leadership needs to gain the confidence and acceptance of Kashmiris. The January 26 gesture won't help one bit.

 On a more symbolic level, flag-hoisting signifies stamping one's writ over a people. By hoisting India's national flag at Lal Chowk, we mustn't be led into believing that the geographic contours of the Valley have been irrevocably subsumed into the Indian map. By inhabiting that small space for an hour or two, we wouldn't automatically have occupied the vast space of the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris.

The challenge is not to spend energies on restating the geographic contours of our nation, but to find ways and means to fill the void spaces within those contours.

Maharaj Pandit is a professor at University of Delhi

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

TAKEN TO A LOWER EBB

KUMKUM DASGUPTA

Civil society representatives who negotiated with environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh for the last two years on coastal issues are screaming blue murder.

The ministry, they allege, has passed a "shoddy" Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification that will make the country's 7,500 km-long coastline and communities dependent on the seas more vulnerable. "It's a breach of faith," said an indignant

V Vivekanandan, convenor of the National Coastal Protection Campaign and a member of the negotiating team that held discussions with the ministry. "We participated in the public hearing processes that were done with Ramesh's blessings. But despite his assurances, our concerns don't reflect in the final notification."

Before the new notification was released on January 7, the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 1991 governed India's coastline. But the old law was not comprehensive enough. It did not take into account the diversity of the coastline and was amended 25 times (mostly in favour of developers). There was no clear-cut procedure, timeline and format for obtaining clearances; no post-clearance monitoring mechanism or an enforcement mechanism to check violations. Given the current political thrust — at least on paper — on community-sensitive policy-making, the green lobby thought that here was a real chance to address the problems with the old law. But what has been released by the ministry ("safeguarded liberalisation" in Ramesh's words) has dashed their hopes.

In a letter on January 10, the activists declined to accept the 2011 notification. The changes that were made, they alleged, have been "sprung" on them as a fait accompli. Other than the major disagreements, such as allowing nuclear projects in the CRZ, three issues irk the environmentalists.

First, the floor-space index (FSI) — the ratio between the built-up area allowed and the plot area available — concessions for slum rehabilitation and renovation of old buildings in Mumbai. The 2011 norms allow an FSI of 2.5 times in the CRZ areas, in line with the rest of the city. Till now it was only 1.33 times. "The extra FSI in CRZ area will allow the construction lobby to grab more area, build extra flats and rake in huge profits," argues Vivekanandan. While Ramesh feels that it will solve Mumbai's housing problem, environmentalists are calling this a total sell-out to the builders' lobby.

If Mumbai's housing problem has been looked at and Ramesh has assured no more 'Adarsh-type' violations, the next major point of disagreement is over what has been given to those who depend on the sea for their livelihood. Since they are poorly represented in public debates, it might seem that there aren't many who depend on fishing for a livelihood. Yet government figures show that there are 3,202 marine fishing villages, 1,332 landing centres and 3.52 million fisherfolk in India.

So the dilution and distortion of the concession given to fishing communities for expanding housing into the 100 to 200 metre zone of CRZ 3 is inexplicable. In fact, the new rules have added a new category by giving the expanding rights to "traditional coastal communities including fishing communities". But who are the "traditional coastal communities? It has not been made clear. This, green lobby feels, will increase the density of construction and put pressure on the coasts.

Then comes the debate over the building of roads on stilts in CRZ areas. "If there are two cities that put disproportionate amount on pressure on CRZ, it is Mumbai (builders' lobby) and Goa (tourism industry). The permit for elevated roads over mangroves will lead to destruction of green areas." Another point of discord is over representation in the National Coastal Zone Management Authority and the State Coastal Zone Management Authority. Ramesh had promised to have three representatives of fishermen community organisations. None is incorporated.

Sudarshan Rodriguez of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, says we are only moving backwards because structurally, the new rules don't meet environmental and social objectives and there's no emphasis on monitoring or resources for implementation. "What is the role of the implementing states? It's a centrally-driven plan and even more regressive than the old one," adds Rodriguez.

Despite a new law, the future doesn't look all that happy. The green lobby is waiting to hear from the minister and if they don't, they will take their fight forward. Which is a pity. After so many years India revises its laws and what we get is the threat of another round of trouble.

kumkum.dasgupta@hindustantimes.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BLOOD AND SOIL

 

There is a total predictability about the pattern politics in West Bengal has plunged into. The politics is grim and gory. The pattern inspires despair and boredom. That is not to disrespect those who lose their lives in Bengal's episodic political violence. It's to regret the motifs that punctuate this politics. That's why it is so easy to guess what Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would say and how Mamata Banerjee would react, and vice versa. Most hopelessly, everything wrong with this politics has been so very visibly, and for a long time. There are no political secrets in Bengal. And yet, the mortal combat between the CPM and Trinamool continues unabated. There is no middle path, no dialogue. The maximalism of the CPM and Trinamool towards each other is unique.

There are two compounding factors: the Maoists, and the lack of governance since the 2009 Lok Sabha results. In a governance vacuum, life becomes altogether insecure in troublespots. The recent Netai killings in West Midnapore had more gruesome forebears. But the incident eclipsed the half-amusing "letter war" between Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Chief Minister Bhattacharjee with a reality check. Thus Bhattacharjee's visit to Delhi and his talk with Chidambaram — admitting the existence of armed political groups and pledging to crack down — is still reassuring. Bengal heads for polls in a few months; law and order is a state responsibility. Bhattacharjee's administration must govern with fairness and firmness, but not with armed cadres.

The other half of the picture is Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee. She's yet to demonstrate the sense of responsibility that befits a so-called CM-in-waiting. Trinamool cadres prefer to fight the CPM in the street. And like the CPM's armed camps, their Maoist liaisons are hardly secret. Bengal's grim predictability will not break if this political culture isn't discarded. The imperatives for Bhattacharjee and Banerjee are indelible graffiti on the nearest walls.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

HU AND WHAT?

 

The dynamic of a Sino-US summit is unusual in its complexity. It carries the political baggage of decades, bristles with the contrary nature of their economies and ideologies. Yet, these days, there's the clear urge to go beyond those historic cracks and start a new chapter of cooperation — even though the situation on the ground often prevents grand crucial steps forward. With Chinese President Hu Jintao visiting the US, there is, especially for India, a need to go beyond the ceremony, the state dinner and the optics of the summit and analyse whether relations between Washington and Beijing have been reconfigured, and, if so, how, and in what measure.

What has been a constant in Sino-US relations has been distrust. Over the past year-and-a-half, after Barack Obama went to Beijing, troubles showed up in many forms — US criticism of Chinese undervaluation of its currency, US support for Nobel winner Liu Xiabao, US supply of arms to Taiwan. But this week in Washington, there's been an attempt to tone down differences: note Obama saying that China's controversial record in human rights "should not prevent us from cooperating in other critical areas" and note Hu's line as well about how Beijing is concerned about North

Korea, how it will protect intellectual property rights and even continue its efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law. This seems to have at least stemmed the recent downward slide in their bilateral relations. There have been thus small but crucial political dividends for both countries. What has been the big game-changer is the great recession. In the American desperation "to sell you all kinds of stuff", one senses how it's altered the balance of economic power, with a battered US badly needing investment and jobs.

India has to watch the consequences of the Hu-Obama summit. It is imperative for India to make sense of the balance of power in the region, especially in the face of China's growing assertiveness in Asia. India must also prepare to cope with the impact of Sino-US dialogue on global economy and world order.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NFRA AGENDA

 

Wednesday's reshuffle was underwhelming, to say the least. Given the doldrums in which UPA 2 has managed to land itself, this no-accountability reshuffle seems even less like musical chairs than normal, more like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. It is thus certain that no minister will have a honeymoon

period in which their pronouncements will be trusted. Since the reshuffle has failed to end the feeling that the UPA is drifting, it will be necessary to instead ensure that the ministries under new management take some swift, clear action. That alone will be able to achieve what the UPA's leadership appears to be seeking: a sense of renewal.

In particular, the infrastructure ministries, which have been the focus of much recent attention, must move ahead on a visible agenda. There's more than enough concern that several New Delhi bhavans have begun to meddle excessively in the private sector; the consequent fears of crony capitalism and favouritism have damaged both the larger economy and the political capital of the UPA leadership. Those are precisely the areas where action needs to be speedily taken. The broad outlines of the agenda are easy to discern. The first point is the empowerment of regulators, and the upgrade of regulations. Nothing clears up fears of political interference as quickly as the knowledge that a transparent, independent regulatory apparatus is being installed or reinvigorated. In the roads ministry, for example, the National Highways Authority of

India must be given an activist, full-time chairman who understands why we need to step up road-building. In the companies and mining ministries, long-delayed new regulations must finally be cleared, notified and implemented. Jaipal Reddy in the petroleum ministry also has a tough job, getting the hydrocarbons regulator to act quicker on enforcing competitive conditions. And real estate regulation from the urban development ministry is overdue.

There are two other areas where speedy action will be necessary, and be noticed. One is in various land-related questions. The coal ministry, the urban development ministry, the roads ministry, are all held back by land questions. A comprehensive land policy will go some way to clearing the blockages in our polity and economy. And then there's the matter of public-private partnerships. Government contracts to and partnerships with the private sector must be made more transparent and open. That, above all, will

help the UPA slowly scrub out the taint of 2010.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

A PLATTER OF BLATHER

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

The debate over food security is becoming an exercise in callow dissimulation, where we devote our energies to ensure that food security remains a mirage. The core objective should be simple. It is a scandal that after two decades of high growth, India still does not make adequate nutrition available to large sections of the population. There is simply no financial, technological or production related reason why this should be so. UPA-II decides to make food security a priority. But just see how the issues play out. We have become so self-referential, and so clever by half that we often don't even notice the ironic enormity of what we are saying. Speaking the truth has become a way of avoiding reality.

So let us cut through the chase. When the stories about rotting foodgrains broke, and the question arose "Why foodgrains should not be distributed?", the response went something like this. The minister of agriculture said this was impossible. The chief economic advisor, with his characteristic clarity, claimed something to the effect that we simply did not have the mechanisms to release and distribute food. Perhaps there was an element of analytical honesty in this claim. But the shock is that we were not shocked by it. What was the government in effect saying? That after decades of procurement, food subsidies of Rs 50,000 crore a year, we simply had no mechanism to distribute grains we procured. This should be the mother of all scandals. But we patted ourselves on the back for our capacity for sophisticated economic thinking.

Then prime minister's Economic Advisory Council says we cannot procure enough foodgrains without distorting the market seriously. So here we are: one part of government says it cannot distribute and another says it cannot procure. Now at this point, to put it crudely, our response should have been, if you pardon the language, "What the hell CAN government do? Why does it even exist?" But we try to find a more sophisticated way around.

The sophisticated response had three parts. The first was the Planning Commission (PC). Under some argument about feasibility it shoots down the idea that universalisation of food security is possible. This should have been a scandal for several reasons. First, as the JNU economist, Himanshu, has pointed out in a series of papers, the PC's numbers on both grain requirement and cost are at the very least debatable. Second, the PC, if it genuinely has any role, should have at least had the courtesy of proposing an alternative scheme that met the core objectives. Instead, it acted as if its raison d'etre was not alleviating poverty, but saying no.

Then comes the NAC. There are some members of NAC whose arguments have an internal intellectual integrity. But a lot of what NAC proposes is more about feeling good than doing right. It underplays design issues. Now it backs down under pressure and moves away from universalisation. In order to do so, it creates a new flimsy classification of different groups. But the construction of BPL lists is the biggest normative and practical hoax we have played on India's poor. It is deeply wishful thinking that even more sophisticated classifications and entitlements will be implementable. And now that RTE admissions to elite schools may be linked to BPL lists, the incentive to game grows even higher. The case for universalisation is, in part, a practical one. Bharat Ramaswami has argued that there are three sources of distortion in food distribution: outright theft, re-diversion and targeting. Universalisation takes care of one important component.

Now enters the even more sophisticated argument. Let us do cash transfers. Cash transfers are an appealing idea. In India, cash transfers are unfortunately seen as a substitute for governance. But cash transfers will require even more sophisticated governance. There will be a market response only if supply bottlenecks can be removed. UID is more compatible with universalisation than with targeting, but even that is probably a decade away. And, as one of the early proponents of cash transfers in India, Partha Mukhopadhya, pointed out, you still have the foodgrain problem. Government will still be procuring grain. So you will still have the

challenge of pricing and releasing mountains of foodgrains, the very thing you claim you cannot do.

Where do we go next? The predictable argument: "The states are the problem!" Of course some states are. But this claim, that the prime minister repeats endlessly, embodies both avoidance and arrogance on part of the Central government. In the history of ideas relating to social policy, the states innovate more than the Centre. Centrally sponsored schemes are a constitutional usurpation legitimised by the self-referential knowledge elites of Delhi. And the one thing the

Centre refused to do was look at states that have done relatively better in PDS. Chhattisgarh seems to have solved the distribution challenge. Guess what Tamil Nadu did: universalise.

So food security gets lost in arguments chasing their own tails. It is not surprising that something similar should happen to an aspect of food security: inflation. The arguments over the causes of inflation —

supply bottlenecks, currency policy, global trends, monetary policy, weather, hoarding, speculative investment, deficit spending — no longer serve analytical clarity. They have become contrivances to avoid the core issue: there is a serious governance deficit that will stymie both public and private provisioning. But the dissimulation goes on. The government has had its head in the sand over inflation for a long time. The PC chairman's reported claim that inflation has to do with rising wages was, in the context, a bit like blaming the victim. If he had blamed the Commonwealth Games for inflation, it would have been more plausible. If you want another example of obfuscation, see the debate linking NREGA to inflation. The same people who make the link also believe that NREGA is not working. So it is both not effective and causes inflation? How does this circle square?

A lot of these arguments are like lawyerly interventions to produce a fog of doubt. Now the debate is whether NREGA wages should be index-linked. These wages should be lower than the minimum wage. But there is no justification for not making NREGA wage rises index-linked. Oh! We forget. Index-linked wage rises are only for government employees, who keep telling us that rising wages cause inflation. When we ask them to produce a credible roadmap for food security, all they can come up with is: Government does not work!

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

STEALTH PLANE

HARSH V. PANT

 

As Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Washington, the pace of China's rise is causing consternation across the globe. This is particularly true in the military realm where recent events have underscored growing tensions in Sino-US ties. There was a surprise waiting for US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates in Beijing last week — China welcomed him with its first stealth plane, the J-20. It was the classic Chinese way of showing off its military muscle. Gates was there to restore high-level military contacts with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) following Beijing's decision to cut these ties last year when the US announced a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan.

China's largely secretive military modernisation programme is producing results faster than expected, and is gearing up to challenge US military prowess in the Pacific. It is refitting a Soviet-era Ukrainian aircraft carrier for deployment next year and more carriers are under construction. China's submarine fleet is the largest in Asia and is undergoing refurbishments that include nuclear-powered vessels and ballistic missile-equipped subs. Its anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) system, developed to target US carrier strike groups, has reached initial operational capability much earlier than expected. And this month, photographs appeared on the Internet of what is apparently its first stealth fighter during a runway test in western China.

China has already shown its prowess in anti-satellite warfare and has redeployed its nuclear warheads on to mobile launchers and advanced submarines. In a marked shift in China's no-first-use policy, its leaders have indicated that they would consider launching pre-emptive strikes if they found the country in a "critical situation", thereby lowering the threshold of nuclear threats.

China is a rising power, the world's second largest economy and has a growing global footprint. It would like to have a military ready and willing to defend these interests. But it is the opaqueness surrounding its military upgrade that is the real source of concern. In fact, the PLA follows Sun Tzu who argues that the "essence of warfare is creating ambiguity in the perceptions of the enemy."

China continues to defend its military upgrade by claiming that it needs offensive capability for Taiwan-related emergencies. But clearly its sights are now focused on the US. China wants to limit American ability to project power into the Western Pacific. It wants to prevent a repeat of its humiliation in 1996 when US aircraft carriers could easily move around in the

Taiwan Strait and deter Chinese provocations. Not surprisingly, the steady build-up of a force with offensive capabilities well beyond Chinese territory is causing consternation in Washington and among China's neighbours. This comes at a time of Chinese assertiveness on territorial disputes with Japan, India and Southeast Asian countries.

American technological prowess and war-fighting experience will ensure that China will not be able to catch up very easily. China is still at least a generation behind the US militarily. But the Pentagon's most recent assessment of China's military strategy argues that despite persistent efforts, the US's understanding of how much the Chinese government spends on defence "has not improved measurably". It is clear now that Beijing is configuring its military to fight the US. China's focus on anti-access and area-denial weapons is designed to prevent the US from operating without fear in the Western Pacific.

As it turned out, Gates' Beijing visit failed in achieving anything substantive; there was merely a commitment to continue talking. China's defence minister made it clear that it was up to the US to change its policies if it wanted

better ties with China's military.

The US secretary of defence has acknowledged that US military and intelligence had been underestimating China's military build-up. China's J-20 will rival the US F-22 superfighter whose production was cancelled by Gates on the assessment that China would not deploy a comparable jet until 2020. The US military is stepping up investments in weapons to counter China's military build-up in the

Pacific, including a new long-range, nuclear-capable bomber aircraft and a new generation of electronic jammer for the navy designed to thwart a missile from finding and hitting a target.

But it might be too late already for the US. China has closed the capabilities gap with the US — enough to pose a threat to US freedom of action in the Western Pacific — with the help of a three-decade-long build-up and a raft of technological secrets stolen through espionage. The US has been consistently underestimating the PLA for more than a decade now. Not surprisingly, the Chinese military has advanced faster than the West thought it could. The US aircraft carrier battle group now stands vulnerable in East Asia.

Chinese ships have increasingly challenged the US navy in the

Pacific in recent months. China might succeed in getting the US out of East Asia without firing a shot by enhancing its deterrence capability in the region, forcing the US to think twice before intervening in the region. And this should be

troubling for those who continue to view the US as the ultimate bulwark against China's rising assertiveness in the region.

The writer teaches at King's College, London, and is the author of 'The China Syndrome'; express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

AN ELEVEN-YEAR SHADOW

SYEDA HAMEED

 

Neighbours woke up one morning to find a woman with a bloodied face, the wife of the diplomat Amit Verma, running out of her house. This incident, which occurred last month in Golders Green, a residential area in London, has unleashed a debate across the globe on whether an individual should be protected against the law of the land simply because he happens to be a diplomat, no matter how heinous his crime.

Eleven years ago in 1999, I spent many agonised days and nights over this very issue. It was a case of another Indian diplomat in Paris, who in this case had sexually abused a 17-year-old tribal girl from Ranchi. As a member of the National Commission for Women, I investigated this case. The story was broken by The Indian Express on September 15, 1999. Two of us NCW members arrived in Ranchi on October 1, 1999. The Indian Express had reported the story about Lalita Oraon, which began in Serum Tola near Ranchi and ended in Paris. The girl had allegedly been assaulted by her diplomat employer, who was the first secretary for economic affairs at the Indian embassy in France. She fled from his house and was found on September 5 by the French police. The police took her to the Convent of St Joseph of Cluny. There, in a state of terror and mental trauma, she leapt over the six-ft-high wall of the Convent. The police then moved her to Cochin Hospital, in a Paris suburb. The report added that "Lalita's age has been put at 17 by the French doctors who examined her on September 6, as opposed to the 19 years stated on her passport."

In Ranchi, we met Lalita's mother Karmi and her brother Alvis. Meticulously we gathered facts of the case from the distraught mother and brother. Our visit was triggered by media reports, and by a letter received from four women activists of Ranchi with whom I had worked in the past. Two of the older women were academics, Professor Malanchu Ghosh and Dr Rose Kirketta; the other two were young journalists, Vasavi Kiro and Dayamani Burla. The day before we arrived, 27 organisations, acting together, staged a dharna outside the district commissioner's office. We received a charter of demands from them at a town-hall meeting, which, among other things, stated that Lalita's case should be tried in Paris under international law so that it did not become a casualty of political pressure, and that Lalita should be repatriated and rehabilitated. Another petition came to us from the Kendriya Sarna Samiti on the larger issue of Nari Dasta. They demanded that all police stations, especially in rural areas, should maintain records of all girls who in the garb of employment are forced to migrate.

During the two days at Ranchi we heard testimony after testimony from civil society, human-rights and tribal-rights activists, all seething with anger at this heinous assault. Besides Karmi and Alvis, we spoke to her employer's family, police officers, district administrators, tribal NGOs and the media.

In Delhi, it took me 10 days to write my report. We were then tasked, under the NCW Act, to release the findings and ask for an Action Taken Report from government. I was anxious to begin taking action; but no matter how hard I tried, I could not get the report released. It fell between procedure and protocol and never saw the light of day.

For months after that I hid my face from my Ranchi friends and stopped taking their calls and answering letters. I was ashamed of my inability to live up to their hopes — and in a larger context, the hopes pinned on the commission by women's groups who had struggled post-Beijing to create the National Commission for Women.

The French government too did not pursue the case, although many rights groups agitated in both countries. The story of Lalita Oraon was forgotten. I lived with a sense of guilt and sorrow for a few years. Then I did what writers have done from times immemorial. I wrote the story of Lalita along with stories of 11 other women, victims of violence, the landmark cases of my three-year tenure.

The case of the two diplomats, straddling 11 years, brought to the forefront the issue of violence against women compounded with diplomatic immunity, which needs to be placed and debated in the public domain.

Recently we passed the Domestic Violence Act, a landmark legislation for India where most people still consider wife-beating to be a private matter to be settled "amicably" between partners. The act requires that institutional mechanisms be created to ensure that its benefits percolate to women all over the country. Similar legislation protects women from brutalisation by husbands, partners, etc, in many countries, including Britain. It is clear to any right-minded individual that there should be no immunity whatsoever for any one who indulges in violence against women. To throw the blanket of immunity over the perpetrator is to make a mockery of the law.

Unfortunately, this mindset prevails among top people in every field of public life, which forces victims to seek redress in countries which have far better record of protecting gender rights.

Eleven years after I wrote that report, I know why it disappeared. During these years we have progressed on many gender-related concerns, including creating a gender lens through which we try to view our polity. We need to now have the moral courage to acknowledge the ugly truth about gender abuse, and offer redress to the victim. I write today in the hope that gender violence will never again be hidden, condoned or glossed over under any false cover, not even of diplomatic immunity.

The writer, a member of the Planning Commission, was formerly in the National Commission for Women

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

BEIJING'S BUSH YEARS

 

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 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 labour 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 visit to Washington, at a time when Chinese-American relations are deeply strained and likely to get worse.

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 destabilising 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 per cent 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 US.

Aggressive territorial claims by Beijing are unnerving China's neighbours 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 neighbours 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. Obama must speak up: How can one Nobel Peace 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 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 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, 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 Obama is tougher, as he must be.

My take is that China is

going through a period resembling the Bush era in the US: 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 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.

-Nicholas D. Kristof

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

SWAMI'S CONFESSIONS

 

The confessions of Swami Aseemanand before a magistrate about the alleged involvement of some extremist Hindu groups in several acts of terrorism have been the subject of much discussion. Various aspects of these confessions are being analysed. The Jamaat-e-Islami's Daawat, in its front-page commentary on January 10, says: "This network (of terror) is not of some deranged persons. It includes elements varying from sadhus, sants, swamis and sanyasins to members of armed forces as well as functionaries of the Hindu Sanatan Sanstha, Abhinav Bharat and the Bajrang Dal, and pracharaks and office-bearers of the RSS. It has been receiving the support of the BJP as well from time to time." It adds that "the network had no dearth of brains" or resources, and points out that it had in its ranks a physics graduate like Swami Aseemanand ("who was the mastermind of the network"), a former intelligence officer of the army like Srikant Prasad Purohit and a former major, Ramesh Upadhyay, and persons like Dayanand Pandey, Pragya Singh Thakur and Swami Aseemanand "to mislead innocent and unsuspecting people in the garb of sadhus and sants".

Hyderabad's leading daily Munsif, in its editorial on January 15, has come down heavily on the investigative agencies. It writes: "The truth behind false claims and performance of the state police has come out, following the confessions of Aseemanand. The question is why is the attitude of our investigative agencies so communal towards Muslims? Why don't they conduct investigations keeping the facts in view? Whenever there is a terrorist attack or a bomb blast, it is immediately linked with some Muslim terrorist group or the other, and indiscriminate arrests (of innocent Muslim young men) begin within two to four hours... In this manner the lives of thousands of innocent young Muslims have been destroyed."

Following Assemanand's confessions, there is a widespread demand for release of those Muslims who had been "wrongly taken into custody and harassed." Kishenganj MP Maulana Asrarul Haque Qasimi in his column in Rashtriya Sahara expresses pessimism about the early release of these people: "Looking at the treatment meted out to Muslims under arrest, it does not seem that they would be let off easily. Indications, and even evidence, of hardcore Hindu organisations behind the explosions at various places were available quite some time ago. Yet the issue of release of these young Muslims was not considered."

Lucknow-based daily Qaumi Khabrein, in an editorial, says: "The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are more concerned about the political loss because temperamentally, Indians do not tolerate killing and blood-shedding at any cost."

Fuel to fire

The rising prices of essential commodities continue to be the subject of discussion and concern. The increase in the price of petrol has added fuel to the fire, Hyderabad-based daily, Siasat, in an editorial on January 17, writes: "The Central government by freeing the petrol prices from its control, has given its control to the oil companies... This will add to people's difficulties."

Coming down heavily on the UPA chairperson and the prime minister, the newspaper says: "Congress President Sonia Gandhi too shows her concern at the rising prices, and the PM, for his part, calls meetings to review the price situation. But neither is any decision made at these meetings nor is any effective action taken." It adds: "The most alarming aspect of this matter is that the central government has started saying openly that it is not perhaps possible for it to control prices and the people will have to face the prevailing situation."

Describing the rise in petrol prices as "unnecessary", Rashtriya Sahara, in an editorial on January 17 writes: "It is interesting that last week the minister for petroleum, Murli Deora, said that till such time as prices (of essential items) do not come down, the price of petroleum products would not be increased. So, have those prices come down? After all, what is the justification in increasing the price of petrol by over Rs 2.50 within a month, that too at a time when the entire country was waiting for the announcement of a solid programme by the government to control the rise of prices?"

Deoband elections

The election of Gujarat-based Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Wastanavi as the new Mohtamim (head) of Dar ul-Uloom has given rise to controversy. While representatives of some Muslim organisations have welcomed the appointment, he has also had to face considerable criticism. A representative of a Deoband-based organisation, called "Well-wishers of Deoband", has in a statement published in Delhi-based Hamara Samaj (January 18) questioned his credentials, saying he is not a cleric from a Deobandi tradition. The possibility of a person connected with "hundreds of other institutions" paying full attention to the Dar ul-Uloom has been questioned.

The daily, Sahafat, on the same day, carried a photograph of Wastanavi participating in a ceremony distributing idols in Beed in Maharashtra on October 12, 2010. The Maulana's alleged proximity to certain ruling party leaders too is not going down favourably, according to the paper. There is a suggestion that, after his appointment, Deoband would be asked to soften its stand on plans for a Madrasa Board.

Compiled by Seema Chishti

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FROM A CORNER OF A FOREIGN COURT

TANWEER FAZAL

 

Two incidents have occurred in recent times, completely unrelated, in two different countries, two different polities. Yet one thing connects Binayak Sen's ludicrous life-imprisonment and the case of Asiya Bibi in Pakistan, which sparked Salman Taseer's assassination and the subsequent celebration.

Taseer's intervention was caused by concern for the rights of minorities against blasphemy laws that are an affront to religious freedom: the critical minimum for the survival of any plural society and also for a peaceful global order. That the law has no Islamic sanction or validity, and does not fulfil any divine obligation; that there are incidents cited in the prophetic tradition — incumbent upon the followers — in which he pardoned those who reserved the worst invectives for him; saying this repeatedly is crucial to put the zealots in their place, a weapon in the moderates' armoury as they pursue the struggle within.

However the debate that the incident has generated both within and outside the world of the faithful transgresses the confines of classical texts and traditions. This is where the anti-sedition law — Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code — and the blasphemy law — Sections 295-298 of the Pakistan Penal Code — come to mirror each other. Both disrespect democratic conscience, and compete to outrage individual freedoms: one the freedom of political expression, and the other religious.

Both of them also come surprisingly close to each other in terms of the disproportionate quantum of punishment that the laws entail. The utterance by word itself, "either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation directly or indirectly", against the Prophet is enough of an offence in Pakistan to invite death. Similarly, mere articulation "either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise" of "hatred or attempts to bring hatred or contempt" that "excites" or can but be assumed to have "attempted to excite disaffection towards the government" is liable to be punished with a maximum of imprisonment for life. Clearly both laws make no correlation between concrete offence and recommended retribution. And it is this ambiguity that allows for the cases of Binayak Sen or Asiya Bibi. It defies all principles of justice.

The parallel doesn't end here: both the sections of the criminal code have a shared history rooted in the colonial enactment of the Indian Penal Code in 1860. Not to be missed is the context of the 1857 insurrection, which prompted their promulgation. Both laws were importations from English law into the colonial IPC, serving the exigencies emerging from the Rebellion: one repressed any unwarranted criticism of the colonial regime, the other served to pamper Indian clerics vis-a-vis the reformists. Both upheld conformity against freedom. Pakistan's blasphemy laws therefore have a Judeo-Christian pre-history rather than Islamic, as the case is being made out to be. Blasphemy and sedition display much greater intimacy, one which defies the tradition/modernity or West/East duality. Rather, these laws are marks of a certain continuity. Nationalism replaced religion as the founding principle of nation-states, demanding one's loyalty to the state be sole and final, the kind of fidelity that only religion could command earlier. In countries where the papacy was replaced by a national church, religion received the patronage of the state, as in England. Sedition here was an "attempt other than by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Church or State." Blasphemy laws were designed to protect the church from the defiance of Christian modernists and agnostics, much less from other religions. While the UK abolished such laws only recently, unenforceable provisions against blasphemy survive in many states of the US. 

Asiya Bibi's is not an isolated case, nor is Binayak Sen's conviction. The blasphemy provisions continue to be rampantly misused against the religious minorities in Pakistan. Similarly, Sen's conviction under sedition follows that of many others and along with two others, Piyush Guha and Narayan Sanyal. Nonetheless, it demands introspection.

Claimants of minority rights in India, identity specialists and community spokesmen who swear by religious freedom — Jamiat-e-Ulemas and Jamaat-e-Islami, Shahi Imams and Shahabuddins — have all remained conspicuously silent so far on Taseer's killing, on the celebration thereafter, on the dreadful conviction of Asiya Bibi and on the provisions of blasphemy and the continuous Christian incarcerations.

Their politics can be summed up by another incident this time in Delhi, the demolition of a mosque that stood apparently on DDA land. The conservative outrage has been directed against demolition of the mosque but not against the eviction of the Muslim slum-dwellers who built it. The orthodoxy's love for symbolism is simply astonishing. One is not seeking a test of loyalty that is mischievously demanded by the Hindu Right; rather it is a test of conviction, a test of your commitment to democracy, pluralism and right to life. The silence is deafening — the message however is loud and clear.

The civil in civil society are outraged, both in India and Pakistan. The young chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party purportedly vowed a "holy war" against fundamentalists. A general secretary of the Congress Party has asked for a review of the trial court's judgment against Sen. But surely there is much more at their command than mere pious utterances of conscience? The PPP-led Pakistani government could abolish blasphemy from its criminal code; the minimum is to decriminalise it. The archaic provision of sedition ought to be purged from our legal discourse. Concretely and more immediately, the government should not oppose Sen's bail in the high court.

The writer teaches at the Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MICRO-FINANCE, MACRO-MESS

When microfinance major SKS's shares rise 13% on news of the Malegam Committee report on MFIs, it's obvious the report has said all the right things. And so it has when it concludes that RBI has to be the sole regulator for NBFC-MFIs since they, together with banks through the SHG-Bank linkage programme, pretty much cover 90% of the microfinance space. The margin cap of 10% has also been cheered by the market since the bulk of SKS's loans are within this band. The decision to insist on transparency in interest rates charged, credit bureaus, restrictions on the number of MFIs that can lend to one person are all welcome moves and, to a large extent, will correct the perception that MFIs were taking hapless borrowers for a ride.

But many recommendations should sober the market as well as policymakers who're looking at more than just grandstanding. First, there is enough evidence, in India as well as globally, that price caps hurt the market—the interest rate caps will ensure MFIs don't lend to certain categories of more risky borrowers or those with smaller credit needs since these require higher interest rates to be viable—the ceiling of Rs 25,000 on the outstanding loan any borrower can have is part of the same problem. The stipulation that at least 75% of the loan has to be for income generation purposes is another antiquated idea—indeed, while the industry average is that 50-60% of loans are for consumption purposes, the only study the report cites puts the income generation share of loans at just 25%. Yet, that didn't make the committee members pause to think this would just lead borrowers straight into the clutches of moneylenders. Equally curious is how the cap has been justified. The report cites, for instance, staff costs for larger MFIs as between 5.9% and 14.3% of the outstanding loan portfolio, an average of 8%. Yet, when doing the math, it uses a staff cost of 5%. Ditto for most other costs like those of raising loans and other overheads. Malegam says industry costs are high because it is loading development costs on borrowers instead of amortising them over a longer period—many in industry disagree, but ignore this. The important point is that a large portion of industry is going to get hit by the cap. Protecting MFIs is not Malegam's brief, but if MFIs shutting shop means more business for expensive moneylenders, that can't be a policy objective. Also, it is by no means a done deal that the Andhra law will automatically be repealed just because of Malegam; it will require some persuasion by the central government and who's to say when that will happen. So keep that champagne corked. For now, it's Round II to the bania.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SHADES OF GREY

LK Advani has to be a very happy man, not just because the Congress is on the backfoot on the corruption issue, but also because the Supreme Court has vindicated his stand on the black money issue. Quoting from the Global Financial Integrity report on black money, Advani said he would bring back Rs 25 lakh crore of black money held in tax havens abroad—the upper end of the GFI study said $27.3 billion was salted away by Indians each year. In response to a PIL on black money held by Indians in European banks, the Supreme Court asked the government why it wasn't disclosing names of Indian account holders. Government counsel Gopal Subramaniam said the government knew the names of 26 account holders in the Liechtenstein banks—the Court was not impressed with the government stance that international treaties forbade it from revealing the names.

Whether the government can reveal the names, or whether all of this will be made redundant once a WikiLeaks gets such information, is not the real point here. The real point is not even whether the figure is correct—in 2009, when Advani first publicised the figure, Jairam Ramesh quoted the same GFI report to show that Advani was distorting the facts. The GFI, in turn, said Jairam Ramesh had got it wrong—turns out the $4.7 billion figure Jairam Ramesh was quoting was also from the GFI report, only it was based on the World Bank methodology! Other issues include the question of whether this money is coming back into the country via the Mauritius route. This begs the question why, when it was in power, didn't the BJP do anything to close the Mauritius route. Let's assume, purely for argument's sake, that the government is able to get the names from various Swiss banks, though getting names isn't that easy. What then? How does the government get the black money back unless it proves these are the proceeds from a crime in India? Even all the evidence produced so far, including in a well-documented CAG report, has not convinced the government a crime has been committed in the allocation of 2G licences by A Raja! The chances of proving criminality for money in Swiss banks is truly remote.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

BUDGETING FOR INFLATION
SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE


It is sort of inevitable why inflation chases our policymakers. In fact, the government that manages its expenditure better will end up making inflation a tough enemy to contend with. This follows from the way the government budget is constructed. It also follows that no government budget can cut back on stimulus in any fiscal, as most of it is written through the expenditure book. Indian budgets, despite the big picture of an investment-led government policymaking, are essentially job creation machines.

These jobs have nothing to do with the number of government employees at the Centre or in the states. Instead, the blue book of expenditure, which each successive finance minister presents in Parliament on February 28, is mostly a means to create employment in government projects. Some part of the job creation formula is apparent in programmes like MGNREGA, which is visible and so attracts attention. But a far larger dose gets hidden in the way the government accounts are written. Those accounts are not at fault. They are a response of the demand from the political masters.

To get a sense of the numbers, just check the data on the total expenditure by the government since 2005-06 in the accompanying table. In just five years, the government has doubled the size of its spend. Plain vanilla, so much of cash coming into the economy through any means would obviously have an inflationary impact. Way before the global crisis, the government raised expenditure by over 22% in 2007-08, following it up with another 24% next year, showing how autonomous the 'stimulus' measures are to any external factors. It is sad for Pranab Mukherjee that just when he cut back the rise to single-digit last year, hubris in the shape of a massive inflation shock struck him.

The other insight from the table is how little of that rise was meant to provide for capital expenditure, or investment in brick and mortar. I have excluded non-plan capital expenditure from these numbers because 90% of that finances the defence budget. Since most of those bills even now move abroad, there is no way it helps in capital creation in the economy. But we have to factor in the expenditure for it, as the money is raised from within India.

In other words, most of the plan expenditure, and almost all of it at the state level, finances the employment of people or purchase of non-capital items to keep the government doing whatever it does, across states, projects and just about everything. When a finance minister delivers his budget speech, parliamentarians and state governments listen in to check out how much additional funding he has provided for that stuff.

Finance ministers usually never disappoint. Often, they don't even know about them as the details are huge, hidden in the books. But as soon as Parliament approves the expenditure by the first week of March, the 'drawing and disbursing officers' at various rungs promptly make out the bill to provide for the next year's wages and related expenditure to this massive thing called government work.

The financing of these vast numbers makes up the demand-side in the markets, which push up the prices of all commodities immediately, before the supply-side benefit of larger production from the capital outlay kicks in.

People within the government know about the phenomenon pretty well. So well that junior level staff in every ministry and their attached offices come prepared with two options for the annual meeting in November-December, where the revised estimates for the year are discussed. Officers attempt to convince the bean counters to retain their department's expenditure as non-plan. In the government's scheme of expenditure, a non-plan tag means more leeway to spend the sum. But in years like the current one, where the department of expenditure is tight-fisted and yet wants the plan expenditure to go up, the officials re-classify their demands under plan heads. Descriptors switch from a computer operator employed at a non-plan job to become a file recovery programme to improve delivery to citizens, where the fellow is re-classified as a support system. Nothing that is relevant to anybody ever gets dropped.

Another aside: In the Indian government expenditure classification system, any office, school, project or human being remains a planned entity for their first five years of life. They become non-plan thereafter. The trick is to add wings to the office, school, project or human being at the end of five years to keep within plan head. The exercises are at the heart of the government expenditure programmes, which few officers at the top, even if aware, find complex to stop.

Yet this is key to explain the puzzle why the government never steps off the stimulus accelerator, in a good or a bad year. Cutting back on the fiscal deficit is only one portion of that stimulus package, which the market would see and applaud. This can be tweaked by a finance minister by pushing revenue collection and by changing the parking bays for funds. The result: even with a lowered fiscal deficit, the pressure created by the structure of the government spend will keep the inflation machine charged.

Any discussion that presumes the government can deliver on the package of lower inflation by shutting off the stimulus switch does not factor in the nature of the switch. It is an autonomous variable, which finance ministers do not control. So, in a year like the current one when there is a lot of good reason to clip stimulus, it will be impossible for Pranab Mukherjee to deliver.

Instead measuring the extent to which the Indian budget has cut back on stimulus by the numbers Mukherjee will give out runs the risk of underestimating it. In other words, there is precious little difference between good, i.e., planned expenditure and bad, i.e., non-plan expenditure. Both largely finance immediate demand creation in the economy and hence inflation.

subhomoy.bhattacharjee@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET
V BALAKRISHNAN

The world is coming out of the worst financial crisis it has seen in decades. The US is limping back to growth even though many investors are still sceptical. Europe, which had faced its worst sovereign crisis recently, is slowly getting out of the mess. Japan is in a perpetual recession. China and India are growing faster, providing some support to the global growth. There is some scepticism on the sustainability of China's growth. The recent measures taken by the government to cool down inflation concerns will have some impact on the economy.

So, has the world passed its worst crisis and is it back on the growth path? I don't think so. There are several headwinds for the world economy and some of it will play out in 2011.

First, let us look at the US. The gross external debt of the US today is close to $13.9 trillion. On an economy size of $14.4 trillion, the gross external debt is close to 97% of the economy. In comparison, the gross debt of Japan is slightly more than 200% of the GDP, even though most of the debt is internal debt. The US government continues to be a large spender and this is prompting the government to consider increasing the government's debt issuance limit above the current $14.3 trillion. Also, under the laws in the US, the states need to balance their budgets. The finances of some of the states and local governments are so distressed that they resemble the subprime mortgage crisis. No states in the US have defaulted since the Great Depression in the 1930s, and municipal bankruptcies are very rare. But, looking at the enormity of the problem, such a scenario looks possible. States and municipalities today carry $2.8 trillion of debt and add to the nearly $3.5 trillion of pension obligations, which are off-balance-sheet. The only way to fund these shortfalls is by increasing taxes or cutting government spending. Both seem to be impossible in the current scenario. When investors start seeing this reality, we could see a Europe-like situation emerging in the US, with investors balking at lending to weaker states and local bodies. The yields on all the state and municipality bonds could increase dramatically, resulting in the federal government coming out with a bailout fund to rescue them. This will put enormous pressure on the federal government and could trigger another sovereign crisis. Already, we have seen the yields on the US government bonds going up due to growth expectations. If the growth does not come true, then the yields could shoot up further as investors factor in the risk of the sovereign. Most financial crises happen in unpredictable ways when the world is not looking. The US government has to do a balancing act in managing the impossible trinity—political expediency, fiscal prudence and economic growth. It can't take harsh measures to cut government spending or increase taxes, as this will hurt growth. It needs to maintain fiscal prudence else the markets will lose confidence in the sovereign. It needs to have easy liquidity to maintain growth and create employment, as otherwise it will be a big political issue. In toto, I think there is a possibility of the European sovereign kind of crisis in the US in 2011.

Coming to Europe—it is sitting on an artificial comfort. The risk of a sovereign default has subsided but not gone away. The yields on the bonds of the so-called PIGS countries are still very high. The banks and governments need to borrow close to a trillion euros in the next 6-8 months. While most of the European countries are taking measures to cut down spending and increase taxes, it could backfire as the economic growth could slow down. This could further increase yields and trigger another sovereign crisis.

The government in China is worried about inflation and had increased interest rates sharply. If they overdo it, then it could impact their growth and dampen the booming commodity cycle. China could export inflation and this is not good for the rest of the world.

In India, we have a dysfunctional governance, with the corporate world cut off from the government. The recent news on various scams and the lack of governance has put some of the big ticket reforms—Companies Bill, DTC, IFRS, GST—on the back burner. While the current growth momentum is good, the continuance of the same is suspect, as the government is pre-occupied with fighting political battles on various scams.

So, for the world it is going to be great balancing act. We are going to see volatile markets with greater uncertainty. Risk will play a larger role and comfort zones will get abnormal valuations. For the world, the road ahead is not going to be a straight line but an action-packed one with many twists and turns.

The author is CFO of Infosys

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

Second-generation inflation-busters

One of The Financial Express's readers sent the following suggestion to deal with the runaway inflation that has even the best minds in the government groping for a solution: "Appoint A Raja as the finance minister. He will sell foodgrain, fruits & vegetables, et al, at 2001 prices. If that doesn't help, replace him with Kapil Sibal, who will come out with new calculations to show that inflation is zero".

It happens only in India

A huge debate rages on the Internet, involving almost all of India's public intellectuals, on whether the focus on growth is a good idea or whether this should be tempered with a greater emphasis on the distribution of wealth. After the debate went on for several weeks, the Financial Times's chief economic commentator Martin Wolf intervened to say, "Obviously, higher incomes are a necessary condition for better state-funded welfare, better jobs and so forth. This is simply not debatable. Indeed, only in India, do serious intellectuals dream of debating these issues."

Auspicious hour

Looks like Mamataa Banerjee isn't the only one who believes in astrology and numerology. At his party's national plenary, HD Deve Gowda refused to speak. No, it has nothing to do with a maun vrat or a bad throat. He was actually waiting for rahu kaalam to pass and 3:00 pm was designated as the auspicious hour for his silence to be broken.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

AUTOPILOT

As the Bloomberg graph on the left shows, during Steve Jobs's medical leave in 2004, Apple shares jumped 26% compared with a 0.6% increase in S&P's 500 Index. When he had to take time off again in 2009, shares climbed 66% compared with a 10% rise for the benchmark index. So, on the one hand, there are fears that the world's second-most valuable company will flounder without Jobs actively at the helm. On the other, there is data to support the theory that Apple is sort of on a growth autopilot now, irrespective of how central Jobs's leadership has been to the engineering of this pilot.

No doubt he has provided the key vision for Macintosh, iMac, iBook, iPod and iPhone through to iPad, eshaping global digital culture for this millennium. All these were backed by thousands of other employees, but he selected which prototypes would be processed and which junked. In our imagination, isn't the Apple brand synonymic with his black turtleneck and beltless blue jeans? God forbid that Jobs doesn't return to actively lead the company. But if he doesn't, a lot will depend on how elaborately he has mapped out the product pipeline. Work on iPad predates the iPhone debut!

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

POINTLESS EXERCISE

If Harold Macmillan's Night of the Long Knives — where one-third of his Ministers got the chop — is the exemplar of ruthlessness in Cabinet reshuffles, Manmohan Singh's ministerial makeover is a case study in timidity and pointlessness. The circular swapping of portfolios seemed like an exercise in musical chairs with one crucial difference: in the actual game, it is customary for at least one person to be dropped. Congress party managers would have the country believe that the shunting of senior Ministers from the Petroleum and Natural Gas, Road Transport, Steel, Sports, Heavy Industries, Water Resources, and other portfolios was intended to send a message that underperformance would not be tolerated. But with not even one Minister dropped, the conclusion to be drawn is that mediocrity and lack of commitment are not fatal attributes for aspirants to high office. Acknowledging the disappointing nature of his exercise, the Prime Minister told reporters after the swearing in that this reshuffle had only been a "minor" one and that another change would be effected after the Budget. But such a promise is easier made than fulfilled. Considering that more than two dozen new portfolios were assigned, the present reshuffle can hardly be called minor. And if several Ministers were moved because of their poor performance, common sense suggests they are unlikely to be evicted from their new charge without giving them at least six to eight months to redeem themselves.

Between the Commonwealth Games fiasco and the 2G spectrum and Adarsh scams, the credibility of the ruling coalition is at an all-time low. Far from improving things, the reshuffle is likely to further diminish public confidence in the ability of the United Progressive Alliance to provide clean and efficient governance. With the induction of younger Ministers inexplicably postponed, the shuffling of a suspect pack of cards can at best make for a poor political gamble. The only bright side is that crucial resource-related Ministries like P&NG and Water Resources have finally been handed over to men who will have a better measure of their strategic value for the country than their previous incumbents did. One should also be grateful that the Prime Minister did not give in to the pressure to shift Jairam Ramesh — whose exertions in the Environment ministry have helped burnish the image of the government — to some other portfolio. Going beyond individuals, it is not clear whether the reshuffle will lead to Dr. Singh being more assertive on issues where Cabinet divisions have prevented crucial decisions from being taken. The fate of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is one such issue but there are others. The government's attitude towards food security and the employment guarantee scheme suggests a leadership out of tune with the economic reality that confronts millions of Indians.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

GOLDSMITH BREAKS RANKS

The Chilcot Inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq may be proceeding slowly. But it has already revealed contradiction after contradiction as well as the sheer desperation of the then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to invade that country. The former Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith's written testimony to Chilcot shows how Mr. Blair ignored all evidence and argument against the invasion, including analyses by his own Cabinet colleague and senior-most legal adviser. He excluded the Attorney-General from discussions on the draft of the key United Nations Security Council Resolution, and he sent officials to lean on him. When, after being readmitted to the coterie, Lord Goldsmith held that a further U.N. resolution would be needed to ensure the legality of the attack, Mr. Blair's written response was: "I just don't understand that." Eventually, knowing he was expected to protect the British armed forces from war-crimes charges following an illegal invasion, the Attorney-General changed his position and stated that the attack would be within international law. Predictably, one of Mr. Blair's current aides claims that he thereby justified the invasion.

That claim, however, is both disingenuous and evasive. Lord Goldsmith avoided the legality question at the last minute; he revised his position on the basis of the Prime Minister's opinion — and nothing else — that Iraq had materially breached the relevant U.N. resolution. It is not just that his testimony will increase the pressure on Mr. Blair, whose next appearance before the Inquiry is scheduled for January 21. What is clear is that the major failures over Iraq are those of the entire British political process. The three bodies that could have stopped Mr. Blair and possibly the invasion itself, namely the Cabinet, Parliament, and the Labour Party, failed to do so. They failed even to question the Prime Minister thoroughly on the matter. The Chilcot Inquiry may or may not, eventually, restate the already-known truth about the illegality and outrageousness of the invasion. We can only hope that it finds and says enough to render Mr. Blair indictable, if not before the International Criminal Court, then before the bar of humanity.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

TUNISIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS FALLOUT

LARGE SECTIONS OF THE MEDIA HAVE SAID THAT NOT ONLY AN ERA OF AUTHORITARIANISM ENDED IN TUNISIA BUT ALSO A NEW POWERFUL CONTAGION OF DEMOCRACY IS FAST SPREADING ACROSS WEST ASIA.

ATUL ANEJA

Hours after a group of stone-throwing youth braved frantic police beatings and confronted grey fumes of teargas outside the Interior Ministry building in Tunis, the unthinkable happened. As darkness thickened on January 14 and agonising uncertainty gripped the Tunisian capital, word was out that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, well entrenched dictator for 23 years, had fled. For hours, Mr. Ben Ali's plane flew in the Mediterranean night sky, desperately seeking a place to land. France, the former colonial master, saw no benefit in obliging an ageing overused ex-dictator that it had once so assiduously feted. It refused landing permission. Finally, the harried former first family of Tunisia, known for its ostentatious ways, was rescued by the Saudis, who opened one of their numerous palaces in Jeddah to accommodate their uninvited and loveless guests.

But back in Tunisia, despite curfew and an Emergency, there was unbelievable relief and much joy on the streets. Mr. Ben Ali's seemingly unassailable tyranny, reinforced by thousands of personally loyal troops, had suddenly collapsed. Many felt that a political revolution of great significance had been accomplished. Overnight, large sections of the media pronounced that not only an era of authoritarianism in Tunisia had ended but also a new powerful contagion of democracy was fast spreading to annihilate dictators, big and small, across West Asia. That still might be the case but not necessarily so — at least not immediately.

Built on solid organisational foundations and helped by the old and new media alike, the Tunisian rebellion has indeed aroused the masses across the region. As Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of the Palestinian daily, Al Quds Al Arabi, put it: "The Arab nation is patient, but its patience is similar to that of a camel. When it is furious, a camel does not stop until it wreaks revenge on its persecutors. It seems that such a camel has now broken free from its ties."

But before the anticipation that the long-fossilised dominos in the Arab world will, at some stage, begin to fall is realised, Tunisia needs to consolidate its own fledgling political revolution. The Tunisians are already facing their first major challenge. Within hours of Mr. Ben Ali's fall, the former Speaker Fuad Mebazza, elevated to the presidency, announced the formation of a stopgap national unity government, which was also meant to accommodate important Opposition figures. However, on the night of January 17, the new government, when it was unveiled, was found stuffed with the hated members of the old guard. The key Ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Finance were once again bestowed on Mr. Ben Ali's cronies.

The regime opponents have therefore their first task cut out — ensuring that the remnants of the old guard no longer occupy high places of influence and are firmly marginalised. Some success in isolating them has already been achieved. Four Opposition figures, co-opted by members of the old guard to occupy Cabinet berths, resigned in the space of 24 hours. However new and serious challenges, which any nascent revolution is bound to encounter, remain. Having accomplished the exit of a hated dictator, how does the Tunisian revolution gather steam and fill the vacuum left by the fast fading old guard? Unlike the Iranian revolution, which had Ayatollah Khomeini as its leader as well as a blaring emblem, how does the Tunisian revolution advance in the absence of a charismatic and popular leader?

The huge challenge notwithstanding, the chances are that the Tunisian people may yet succeed. Unlike many other countries experiencing political turmoil, Tunisia consists of mostly educated people and is institutionally well organised. This is a factor that goes hugely in the favour of Tunisians. Thus the anti-regime campaign that was triggered by the December 17 self-immolation of a university graduate, who was driven to sell vegetables and then denied permission to do so, had labour unions, professional syndicates, including well-entrenched unions of students, teachers, lawyers and journalists as its pillars.

These organisations, partly helped by new communication tools of Facebook and Twitter, could take advantage of the socio-economic deprivations that the Tunisians have experienced for years. As a result, a critical social mass of protesters grew, eventually bringing down the regime.

Despite Tunisia's zooming growth rates, the growing army of the jobless fed significantly into the successful uprising. Many analysts are of the view that the official 14 per cent unemployment rate hardly reflects the true picture of desperation the youth have been experiencing. According to some estimates, nearly half the youth in the 15-24 age bracket are unemployed in some parts of the interior, the core of the Tunisian revolt. Wages are low in the job-creating euro-centric tourism and textile manufacturing hubs established in "free trade zones." The hardships of ordinary people have become all the more acute for, under the diktat of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, government subsides have been either lowered or removed in the food and gasoline sectors.

With mass misery rising, heavy corruption centred round the President, the President's wife, Leila Trabelsi and her family emerged as an emotive symbol to ignite the rebellion. According to a WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Tunis, the Ben Ali and Trabelsi families had cornered nearly 50 per cent of the country's wealth. It was, therefore, not surprising that when the crowds went on the rampage on January 15, they targeted business properties associated with the two nepotistic ruling clans. In the Tunis neighbourhood of Cite Habib, a villa belonging to Leila Trabelsi's nephew was set afire. Dealership showrooms, owned by Mr. Ben Ali's son-in-law Mohamed Sakher El Materi, of Kia, Fiat and Porsche vehicles were also burnt down. The next day, Imed Trabelsi — Ms. Trabelsi's nephew who had been stabbed — died in a Tunis military hospital, accounting for the first fatality in the ruling family in the aftermath of the month-long uprising.

As the Tunisian revolt gathers its second wind, the role of the military could become crucial. It is widely believed that Mr. Ben Ali's nearly 1,80,000-strong security police are at loggerheads with the regular army. In fact, unlike the police whom the protesters targeted, evident from the torching of a number of police stations, the military continues to remain a popular force. The army's neutrality and thus its clean popular image came into focus when it declined to fire at the protesters, causing Mr. Ben Ali to sack his Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Rashid Ammar.

Deep imprint

The uprising in Tunisia is leaving behind a deep imprint on the impoverished youth in the neighbouring countries. But can it spread fast and strongly enough to challenge the deeply entrenched regimes that have been built on the foundations of patronage, pillage and ruthless force, perpetrated by the grossest human rights violations?

The psychological impact of the Tunisian example in the region is palpable. In Algeria, four persons set themselves ablaze to protest their dire economic and political situation. Egypt, demographically the largest nation in the region and cultural heartbeat of the Arab world, has also witnessed a case of self-immolation.

Panic is also setting in among the regimes, though it would be erroneous to assume that its feckless dictators are considering throwing in the towel anytime soon. Nevertheless, a nervous Egyptian establishment has decided to rein in the prices of essentials like rice and sugar, and end the breadlines by not withholding wheat flour to bakeries for previous violations. The Egyptian daily, Al-Mesryoon, has reported that on the security front, instructions have been passed to prevent Opposition forces and movements from holding demonstrations or protests.

The Libyan dictator, Muammar Qadhafi, also appeared shaken by the dramatic developments on his doorstep. Soon after Mr. Ben Ali fled, he strongly disapproved of the Tunisian revolt. In a televised address, he chided the Tunisian people for being impatient. "You have suffered a great loss," he said. "There is none better than Zine to govern Tunisia."

A stunned Arab League — which has largely degenerated into a cabal of dictators and plutocrats — scampered to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to collectively absorb the shock inflicted upon it by the commoners of Tunisia.

Despite the revulsion that it has generated, it would take much more than high-octane emotion to dislodge the odious dictatorships. Nevertheless, Egypt seems to echo loudest the radical voices of fundamental change that are resonating from the Tunisian street. Unlike many of the smaller countries, Egypt's battle-hardened core of the poor and the dispossessed are also its best organised.

Besides, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is a highly potent force, which might come into its own as part of the larger Egyptian opposition, especially as the iron-fisted regime of President Hosni Mubarak is soon likely to witness a major transition.

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THE HINDU

OPED

U.S. SEES SUCCESS IN IMMIGRATION PROGRAMME FOR HAITIANS

IT GIVES MOST HAITIANS THE RIGHT TO STAY AND WORK LEGALLY.

KIRK SEMPLE

A year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the American government has received more than 53,000 applications from Haitians seeking temporary legal status in the United States, and it has approved the vast majority, a top immigration official said on January 19.

The official, Alejandro Mayorkas, director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, said his agency's response to the disaster showed that it could handle a much larger immigrant legalisation programme like the proposal known as the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants.

January 18 was the deadline for Haitians to apply for the designation, called temporary protected status. The programme gives most Haitians who were in the United States on the day of the earthquake the right to stay and work legally for 18 months while Haiti tries to recover.

"I think our performance and our execution of the T.P.S. programme serves as a model of our ability to execute immigration reform programs," Mr. Mayorkas said in an interview. "How quickly, effectively and efficiently we responded to the disaster is a standard for us to adhere to."

The special designation is scheduled to expire on July 22, but advocates for Haitian immigrants say they expect that the government will extend the status, as it has for immigrants from other countries crippled by war or natural disaster.

At least 46,000 Haitians have been granted the special designation. Immigration officials said that they were still processing applications that arrived before the deadline, and that they expected the total number of approvals to exceed 49,000. That is still lower than the number of people federal officials initially expected might be eligible for the temporary protection.

Immigration officials said they had purposely chosen high estimates of the number of Haitians who might have been eligible, to ensure that they had budgeted enough money and manpower to handle the application process. Within several weeks of the announcement, officials said, they revised down to 70,000 to 100,000 their initial estimate of 100,000 to 2,00,000, after consulting with academics, immigrant advocates and others familiar with the Haitian diaspora.

Even now, officials said, since there is no way to count the illegal immigrant population, they do not know how many potentially eligible Haitians decided not to file for the special status.

Outreach effort

The federal government's offer was accompanied by a robust outreach effort that included more than 200 public forums, and conference calls between immigration officials and advocacy groups working with Haitians, officials said. Mr. Mayorkas himself led meetings with community leaders and others in New York, Miami and Boston, where large Haitian populations have taken root, and he sent deputies to other locations to explain the programme.

Officials at Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, also say that improvements to the agency's paperwork processing, background screening and public information systems have made it more efficient at handling applications.

Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged that sweeping immigration legislation like the Dream Act would apply to a much larger population: by some estimates, more than 7,00,000 young illegal immigrants would be eligible under the act. But he said that the difference was "an issue of scale" and that his agency was prepared to handle the increase in applications that an immigration overhaul would spur.

Immigrant advocates and federal officials said that news of the special status seemed to penetrate into the furthest reaches of the diaspora, but some Haitians living in the United States illegally may have decided not to apply because they still feared deportation and did not want to alert the authorities to their whereabouts.

Those who did not apply may now be eligible for deportation. The Obama administration suspended deportations to Haiti immediately after the earthquake and even released many Haitians, including some with criminal convictions.

Last month, however, immigration officials announced that they would resume deportations of Haitians in mid-January. But they also said they intended to focus their deportation efforts only on those who had been convicted of crimes or who posed a threat to public safety. Haitian leaders in the United States and some public officials have asked the administration to reverse course. On January 19, six New York City Council members sent a letter to Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, urging her to suspend deportations once again while Haiti wrestles with its halting reconstruction effort and with fresh political and social unrest.

"Removing Haitians at this time would not only put those removed at risk," the letter said, "but also hamper efforts of Haitians to rebuild their country, homes and lives."— © New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

OUTCRY AS SPANISH SENATE GOES MULTILINGUAL

THE OPPOSITION SAYS ALLOWING DEBATES IN CASTILIAN, CATALAN, GALICIAN, VALENCIAN AND EUSKARA IS A WASTE OF MONEY.

GILES TREMLETT

The upper chamber of Spain's Parliament has sparked controversy by allowing senators to debate in five of the country's different languages, with a battery of interpreters employed to turn their words into a tongue they all speak perfectly, Castilian Spanish.

Critics claimed the move to allow senators to speak Catalan, Galician, Valencian and the Basque language of Euskara had turned the Spanish senate into a tower of Babel. They accused the senate of wasting public money at a time of swingeing public spending cuts.

The first orator to use one of the newly permitted languages was the Socialist Ramon Aleu, who chose to speak in Catalan.

His decision forced other deputies in the chamber to reach for the earpieces through which interpreters were converting his words into the Castilian Spanish he had used in previous speeches.

The bill for the 25 interpreters needed to turn the different languages into Castilian Spanish is €12,000 for each day of debating or €3,50,000 a year, Spanish media reported. Those senators in favour of the measure argue the upper chamber is meant to represent Spain's regions and that the new languages were accepted as official in four of these.

"We have to make this plurality normal," argued Carmela Silva, a Socialist senator.

Senators from the conservative opposition People's party refused to use any other language but Castilian Spanish. "Something like this would not happen in any normal country," said PP leader Mariano Rajoy.

Regional languages

Spain's regional languages have long been a point of conflict. Arguments over which languages should be used by school teachers or university lecturers and what everything from shop signs to place names should be written in have rumbled on for several decades.

The insistence of some regional governments on their civil servants speaking both Castilian and the local language has led to accusations that they exclude other Spaniards from jobs.

There is even an ongoing row over whether Catalan and Valencian should be considered separate languages or whether one is merely a dialect of the other.

An EU survey in 2005 found that 11 per cent of Spaniards — five million people — define their mother tongue as one of Spain's regional languages, with nine per cent speaking Catalan or Valencian, five per cent speaking Galician and one per cent Euskara.

Most residents in north-west Galicia, north-east Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and eastern Valencia can understand or speak their regional language, even if Castilian Spanish is their first language. Between them they make up a third of Spain — or about 16 million people.

Growing confrontation

Euskara, although taught intensively at schools in the northern Basque country, is more difficult to understand because it isn't a Romance language. Experts believe it is the last remaining pre-Indo-European language in Europe, possibly related to Aquitanian.

Spain has several other languages, including Aragonese, Asturian and Aranese, from the Catalan valley of Aran, which will not be allowed in the senate. The Catalan region considers Aranese to be an official language in its own area. The fuss over Spain's minority languages coincides with a growing confrontation between the national government of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the more independent-minded regional governments, especially in Catalonia.

Zapatero is reportedly attempting to prevent Catalonia, one of the 17 semi-autonomous regions into which Spain is divided, from increasing its debt unless it reins in a budget deficit.

He also plans to harmonise some rules that vary from region to region across Spain, such as the opening hours of shops.

"There is a spiralling phobia which places the regional governments — with Catalonia at the forefront — as a scapegoat for the crisis," said Enric Juliana, a respected columnist in the Catalonia-based La Vanguardia newspaper.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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THE HINDU

YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT HITS RECORD HIGH

FEARS GROW OF A 'LOST GENERATION' BEING AFFECTED BY SWEEPING AUSTERITY CUTS.

GRAEME WEARDEN

Youth unemployment has hit a record high, fanning fears that Britain's young people could become a "lost generation" who cannot find work despite the recession ending a year ago.

The total number of adults under 25 in the U.K. who are out of work moved close to the one million mark in the three months to November, rising by 32,000 to 9,51,000. This pushed the youth unemployment rate up to 20.3 per cent, which is also the highest level since records began in 1992.

There was a particularly sharp rise in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds classed as unemployed, rather than in employment or education, up to 2,04,000 from 1,77,000 in the previous quarter.

With the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) being abolished, and the Future Jobs Fund closing in March, analysts fear the youth unemployment crisis will deepen further in the months ahead.

"Britain is now perilously close to seeing one million young people struggling to find work," warned Martina Milburn, chief executive of youth charity The Prince's Trust.

Brian Johnson, insolvency practitioner at HW Fisher & Company, warned that many companies remain very reluctant to take on new trainees or staff with little experience.

"These are anxious times for many employees and anyone unfortunate to have lost their job but it is also a terrible time for graduates and school leavers entering the jobs market. Over the past few years we have lost businesses and banks and now, before our very eyes, we are losing an entire generation," said Mr. Johnson.

Gordon Brown's appeal

Youth unemployment is becoming an increasingly serious global problem, with the number of under-25s out of work worldwide recently estimated at 81 million. Bob Crow, head of the RMT trade union, claimed that "a whole generation is being cut adrift on a tidal wave of austerity cuts that will have huge economic and social ramifications well into the future."

The former British premier Gordon Brown will call on world leaders to address this issue, warning of a "time bomb" that could damage both the developed world and emerging economies. He is urging the G20 to make youth unemployment a priority.

The total number of people out of work in the U.K., revealed in figures released on January 20, has fallen just below the 2.5 million mark.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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THE HINDU

 

ZIMBABWEAN MINISTER WARNS OF POLL VIOLENCE

ROBERT MUGABE PLANS ELECTIONS THIS YEAR AMID WARNING SIGNS OF RISING TURMOIL.

DAVID SMITH

Zimbabwe is facing a "bloodbath" if President Robert Mugabe presses ahead with elections this year, one of its most senior government ministers has warned.

Mugabe, 86, has been beating the drum for fresh polls in recent months amid familiar warning signs of a rise in political violence and a crackdown on the media.

Tendai Biti, the Finance Minister in the unity government and Secretary General of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), expressed fears on January 19 that without fundamental reforms, Zimbabwe faces a repeat of the chaotic 2008 election, in which the party says 253 people were killed. "The chances of it being a bloodbath right now are probably more," he told the Guardian during a global poverty summit in Johannesburg. "It's not a possibility, it's a probability.

"Violence is rising now, hate speech is increasing, unconstitutional statements from generals are increasing right now. There's a lot of work that has to be done by Zimbabweans, by [South African] President Zuma, by SADC [the Southern African Development Community], by the African Union, because all the signs, all the symptoms are not good. They are reflective of a reproduction of June 2008." But Mr. Biti, who is in effect the number two of the Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, insisted the MDC would not boycott an election if it is called this year. "I think boycott politics doesn't work," he said. "We will participate without a doubt but it will not be ideal. After all, the majority of Zimbabweans want real change. We can't frustrate the majority of people.

Call for road map

"So yes to an election but no to a bloodbath ... you just have to make the decision on the facts that are available as objectively as you can." Mr. Biti, credited with steering Zimbabwe from hyperinflation to economic stability, called for a "road map" to a free and fair ballot. This would entail protecting individual voters against violence, possibly with the help of southern African neighbours, and guaranteeing the results against fraud.

He asked: "Is the people's will going to be reflected and respected? Or is it going to be Zimbabwe part II, Kenya part II, Ivory Coast part II? Unless we've got an answer over these three fundamental issues then an election is a waste of time. Africa tends to be cyclical. Every time of an election people run away because elections tend to be cataclysmic. If the election that took place in the United Kingdom on May 6 last year had taken place in Africa, then Nick Clegg (the U.K.'s Deputy Prime Minister) would have sought refugee status and (David) Cameron (the U.K. Prime Minister) would have been in some ****** prison somewhere. Look what has happened in Ivory Coast. So how do we find an answer?"

ZimOnline, a Zimbabwean news agency, reported on January 19 that more than 80,000 youth militia, war veterans and soldiers will be deployed across the country to ensure victory for Mr. Mugabe in elections that "look set to be the bloodiest ever witnessed in Zimbabwe."— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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THE HINDU

VOICE BOX TRANSPLANT

An American woman is able to speak again after she had a rare operation to replace her voice box, her doctors have said.

Second person in the world

Brenda Charett Jensen, 52, was to reunite on January 20 with the international team of surgeons who performed the transplant last October. Ms Jensen is only the second person in the world to have a successful larynx transplant. She damaged her vocal cords more than a decade ago after she repeatedly pulled out her breathing tube while under sedation in the hospital.

Before the transplant, the Modesto woman "talked" with the help of a hand-held device that sounds like an electronic voice, but always yearned to speak with her natural voice.

The operation last fall lasted 18 hours over two days. Doctors replaced her voice box, windpipe and thyroid gland with that of a donor who died in an accident. The surgery was led by doctors at the University of California, Davis Medical Center and included experts from England and Sweden. The team spent almost two years training for the operation, honing their skills using animals and human cadavers.

Ms Jensen has since been able to speak more easily, according to her doctors. She still breathes with the help of a tracheotomy tube and is relearning how to swallow. It'll take some time before she can eat normally again.

UC Davis paid for much of Ms Jensen's hospital-related expenses, which were not immediately disclosed. Doctors and staff donated their time. Not everyone who loses their voice is eligible for a voice box transplant. It's still considered experimental and recipients have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives. Ms Jensen was a good fit because she was already taking the drugs after a kidney-pancreas transplant in 2006, doctors said.

Unlike life-saving heart or liver transplants, people can live many years without a voice box though a transplant would improve their quality of life. There haven't been many voice box transplants done because they're not covered by private or government insurance, said Dr. Gerald Berke of the UCLA Head and Neck Clinic, who had no role in Ms Jensen's care.

In 1998, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic performed the world's first successful larynx transplant, restoring the voice of Timothy Heidler after a motorcycle accident.

Three years later, Mr. Heidler was speaking with a perfectly normal voice, his surgeon wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.— AP

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

MEN IN BLUE ALL SET FOR THE WORLD CUP

Regardless of the outcome of the two remaining one-day international matches that India are to play in South Africa, the team named for the forthcoming World Cup is already proving a point. Even minus four regulars — Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Praveen Kumar, all of whom had to quit the touring party with injuries — Mahendra Singh Dhoni's depleted squad have more than held their own in these last few matches ahead of the quadrennial event which kicks off in Dhaka in just under a month's time. Expectedly, there was something of a shindy when the 15-member team was announced earlier this week, especially with regard to the inclusion of leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, who has interestingly never played an ODI on home soil. With the likes of batsmen Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa and fast bowlers Ishant Sharma and Shantakumaran Sreesanth being kept out, the logic of Chawla's inclusion was a little hard to understand, particularly when the selectors have included just four fast bowlers in Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel and Praveen for a tournament that will run for all of 43 days. Not only has the lack of cover for injuries to the quicks been something of a gamble, the other exposed card is the skipper as the only wicketkeeper in the squad.
At the same time, the selectorial options were severely limited given that each country can nominate only 15 players, which meant that a certain amount of trimming and compromise on options and combinations would take place. It is in this light that the raised eyebrows over a third spinner were entirely understandable. With Yusuf Pathan all but cementing the key number seven slot in the lineup as the all-rounder after two spectacular innings in as many games — one in India and the second many weeks later in South Africa — India already have five bowlers in any playing XI they would care to field. Add the occasional contributions from Yuvraj Singh, Sehwag (if fit), Suresh Raina and Tendulkar, and it gives Dhoni a full deck to play from, especially on the lower and slower pitches of the sub-continent. All this, however, is 28 days in the future.
For the moment, the manner in which the Indians are going on South African pitches has been an eye-opener, not just for Graeme Smith and his men, but for millions of Indian fans as well. In the 19-odd years since India first toured South Africa, they had won just three matches in all. This time, they have already won two, and in succession. Minus some key stalwarts, it was felt that the best this side would do is manage to take the odd match off the Proteas, but the way in which the Men in Blue have shown resolve, grit and fighting spirit has left their opponents gaping in shock. Twice in as many games, South Africa lost — in extremely familiar and helpful conditions — from positions they had no business to do so, The fact of the matter is that this lot of Indians have discovered steel in themselves few believed existed in them. Add to this combination the talents and abilities of the injured four and you get what can only be described as a formidable team, and one that is at last well-equipped to regain the World Cup. Fronting a varied attack is a batting lineup that will have a few opponents quivering and if Tendulkar expectedly links up with Sehwag at the top of the order, it will form what is quite easily the most devastating pairing in the tournament. Down the line, the rest will be equally keen to strut their stuff, all of which makes for uncomfortable anticipation for the rest of the World Cup field.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

HUZOOR, DILI DUR AST

SHASHI THAROOR

"Embassy Row" in Dili, capital of Timor-Leste (formerly known as East Timor), occupies much of the capital's sparkling seafront. All the embassies have majestic views of the Indian Ocean. The imposing US embassy is set far back from the street in fear of possible truck-bombers; the Chinese one practically hugs the pavement; the Japanese and Koreans appear to jostle with the Portuguese and the Australians for the most desirable oceanfront space. Now Pakistan has announced it is opening an embassy in Dili. Of India, there is no sign: the newest member country of the United Nations is covered from Jakarta by our ambassador to Indonesia, whose brutal 25-year occupation, ending in 2000, has not yet been forgotten in Timor-Leste. The fact that the only Indian flag flying in Dili was one placed in the foyer of my hotel, in honour of this visiting member of Parliament, reflects our country's inexcusable failure to engage with the great potential of South-East Asia's youngest nation.

I was in Dili last week at the invitation of my good friend President Jose Ramos-Horta, whom I had first met a decade-and-a-half ago as a Gandhian-minded human rights activist, whose advocacy of his people's freedom won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. Mr Ramos-Horta has held every position of international heft in his country — foreign minister, Prime Minister and now President — but retains a disarming modesty. My wife and I were astonished to be picked up by him personally at the airport and driven (by him, not a chauffeur) to our hotel in his quaint six-wheel Mini Moke. His message was clear: an Indian visitor, even one far removed from the corridors of power, was a welcome indication of interest, to a nation uncomfortably being wooed by both China and Pakistan.

That Timor-Leste should be the object of so much international courtship is hardly surprising. This small country of just over a million people sits on an enormous quantity of oil and natural gas, whose revenues have already helped build a reserve fund of $6 billion, growing every year. The half-island nation (its other half is Indonesian West Timor) is also home to significant quantities of gold and manganese, and its shores teem with fish. But it's not just Timor-Leste's natural resources that attract outsiders. Its needs are significant as well. The country, once dirt-poor, was devastated by a vengeful Indonesian withdrawal that left much of the capital in ruins. The task of building infrastructure — including to support the country's exploitation of its own offshore oil and gas — is enormous, and calls for enterprising investors. Given its own increasing prosperity, Dili is not looking for handouts, but for help.

Timor-Leste is the kind of place in which one would imagine India being far more active than Pakistan, and yet it's Islamabad that has leapt at the prospect, not New Delhi. Our woefully understaffed foreign service has been noticeably reluctant to open new missions without the qualified and experienced personnel available to run them. Despite a Cabinet authorisation two years ago to double the strength of our diplomatic corps, little progress has been made to increase available numbers, given the unwillingness of the establishment to open itself up to mid-career recruitment from outside the foreign service. This means that a number of pending recommendations for new missions are still languishing, and new recommendations simply aren't being made.
But if Delhi won't stir itself, Dili will. President Ramos-Horta has already won Cabinet approval to open an embassy in India and is about to embark on the necessary procedures to implement it. He is grateful for China's huge contributions to his nation — Beijing has already built the foreign ministry building and the presidential palace in Dili, as well as a headquarters building and staff quarters for the military — but remains wary of being enveloped solely in the dragon's embrace. Timor-Leste hopes to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, and would like nothing better than for China's blandishments to be balanced by an attentive India. Non-alignment between two big powers is still, after all, the wisest option for a small and newly-independent nation.

The Indian private sector has been quick to wake up to the possibilities. Reliance Petroleum is spending a million dollars a day drilling in an exploratory block off the country's southern coast, and if it strikes oil, the proceeds could be astronomical. Builders, road developers and exporters are also beginning to take interest. Timor-Leste imports almost everything: its trade imbalance is startling, featuring imports of $828 million and exports of just $8 million (consisting entirely of what President Ramos-Horta insists is the world's best coffee). Opportunities abound, and it won't be the first time Indian entrepreneurs take initiatives before our government does.

Not that South Block has been asleep at the switch: there are uniformed Indians, both military and police, in the United Nations mission in Timor-Leste, and our government has offered Timorians a number of scholarships for study in India. For the most part, though, the scholarships have gone abegging, since Timorese students don't have the grounding, or the English, to take them up. The President would love to have Indian help in building up his country's human resource capacities. An Indian IT training centre in Dili, he says, would be a wonderful start.

India has started putting diplomatic and financial energy into its traditional talk of South-South cooperation; we are offering foreign aid, grants and loans, to a number of African countries. Timor-Leste is a more self-reliant nation than most, so we will not need to be out of pocket much to help it. But if we send a few experts over to train young Timorese to take advantage of all that the 21st century offers them, we can make an impact out of all proportion to its cost. When the Prime Minister, the heroic Xanana Gusmao, developed cervical pain, he had to fly to Singapore to be treated: a good Indian hospital would be welcomed by every Timorese. Agriculture, mining and the development of small and medium enterprises are also things we are good at, that the Timorese sorely need. It's time for New Delhi to plant an Indian flag in new Dili.

Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

THE TEARY TALE OF DOPIAZA AND ONIONS

MANREET SODHI SOMESHWAR

In 16th century India a cook in the kitchen of the Mughal emperor Akbar accidentally added two portions of onion to a dish which went on to become a great hit. Thus was born dopiaza, literally onion twice over, a dish cooked in onion sauce that remains immensely popular to this day and has been successfully transplanted to Britain as well.

Except, if you wanted to cook it in India today, you might once again wish to seek royal patronage (or settle for a recipe that required no onion). With the vegetable selling at `85 (about $2) a kilo, up from `10 six months back, the staple of the average Indian household has gone extortionate.

The onion is rather ubiquitous in Indian food. Roughly chopped, it is an essential accompaniment to the sparse meal of the poor, while its braised, pureed, sauteed and garnished avatars surface in the meals of all others.
Muthi piaz — onion smashed with a fist — is de rigueur at roadside eateries throughout the country, and sirkawala piaz — onions in vinegar — are as essential to any table as salt and pepper.

So integral is the onion to the Indian way of life that it has its own mythology. Ayurveda, traditional medicine native to India, claims onion is diuretic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-pigmentationary. Highly regarded as an aphrodisiac in ancient India, it was banned to Hindu widows.

In the sizzling heat of the subcontinent, the onion is called upon for its cooling properties. This was brought to me forcefully when I began my sales training in the plains of Central India in summer when the average day temperature is 45 degree centigrade, fuelled by a hot tropical wind called Loo. Since my work required me to visit 40 grocery stores in one day, I was advised to keep an onion with me, preferably on my person, or in my sales satchel.

By way of explanation, my supervisor showed me his bag, where an onion sat shrivelling in one corner. He made his point further by requesting a labourer to allow me a peek at the folds of his turban — sure enough, tucked within was a red onion.

Legends have grown around the pungent bulb. Shivaji, the fearsome Maratha warrior who took on the might of the Mughals, was reputed to eat a lean diet of unleavened bread with raw onions, as opposed to the effete Mughals, who gorged on twice-cooked onion dishes.

To add to the woes of the Mughals, a holy man, Baba Buddha, when served a simple meal by the wife of a Sikh guru, smashed the onion and predicted that her son would one day similarly crush the tyranny of the empire. Obviously, the humble vegetable is an underdog's ally.

For the runaway price of onions today, the government has blamed heavy unseasonal rains, but poor agricultural productivity, lack of adequate infrastructure for storage and transport, and deficient government investment are equally to blame.

So what is the average Indian to do? Use cabbage and radish as substitute. And protest. Effigies of the agriculture minister have been burnt. Opposition leaders adorned with onion garlands have held rallies.
A novel protest had Santa Claus handing out onions on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, enterprising businessmen are giving free onions with the purchase of televisions, cars, motorcycles and tires.

Rising onion prices have historically felled governments. In 1980, Indira Gandhi ousted the ruling government by appearing at election rallies with strings of onions. The message was clear: If you can't manage the price of onions, how do you manage the country? A recent poll showed that the Congress Party would lose its parliamentary majority were an election to be held now.

The government is scrambling to bring the price of onions down. It has banned export of onions, turned to Pakistan for imports, and the prime minister has held cabinet meetings on the issue. Pakistan complied briefly before turning hostile, and now India is threatening in turn to halt cement exports.

It was always understood that you could knock next door for a bowl of sugar, some salt, an onion. With the current price of the vegetable, that would be akin to asking the neighbour for their family jewels. No wonder Pakistan is not responding.

We need to keep the peace in our neighbourhoods. In the interest of social cohesiveness, and its own survival, the government needs to fix the onion price pronto.

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is the author of The Long Walk Home. She writes for the South China Morning Post

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DNA

BRINGING BACK MONEY THAT GOT CARTED AWAY

 

It is something serious and it needs to be dealt with in a sensible way. On the way there could be anger and anguish as expressed by Supreme Court justices B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar when they said, "We are talking of mind-boggling crime. We are not on the niceties of various treaties".

 

The judges were not dismissing the existence of treaties that have to be used to recover the money that many rich Indians have illegally stashed away in foreign banks. They were pointing to the enormity of the issue. On the same day, prime minister

 

Manmohan Singh speaking to journalists at Rashtrapati Bhavan after the swearing-in ceremony of the newly inducted ministers said, "There is no instant solution to bring back what is called black money." He had also pointed out that information made available for purposes of taxing individuals cannot be made public because of treaty obligations.

 

Prime minister's political critics would like to argue that he is not serious about the whole issue. The truth is that he is aware of the problems involved and they cannot be wished away. The issue of black money, the black economy lends itself to fierce political and public debate, where governments can be nailed and the opposition parties can occupy moral high ground. There is enough drama in the topic. Hard thinking without rhetoric and vitriol is needed to find ways to retrieve black money.

 

In the early 1980s, when the late R Venkataraman was finance minister, he offered a sort of tax amnesty when he allowed people to bring out undeclared money. It did not show any dramatic results. But it was tried.

 

There is perhaps a need to think of ways of incentivising people with illegal foreign accounts to declare their assets. It is to be assumed that many, if not all, people stashed away the money because in the licence-permit raj era, wealth was penalised and creating wealth was seen very nearly as a crime. In the last 20 years, Indians of all strata, excepting the die-hard socialists, have revelled in the new freedom to make their fortune. It is true that even without restrictions or constrictions, there would be inveterate law-breakers.

 

The government has no option but to chase and punish them. But the many who see no good use for their money in their own country must be encouraged to come on board. And if they still want to keep their money in foreign banks, they should have the freedom to do it legally. In plain terms, we need the proverbial carrot-and-stick policy to deal with black money in foreign banks.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

HU JINTAO'S US VISIT REVEALS SUBTLE POWER TUSSLE

 

Chinese president Hu Jintao's state visit to Washington has not evoked much interest in India. It should have because both the US and China are the unofficial Big Two in the world today. It is, of course, vastly different from the Big 2 of the Cold War era — the US and the former Soviet Union.

 

Peace in the world is not under threat if Washington and Beijing spar as they are doing now on trade and currency matters as it was when the Soviets and the Americans positioned their nuclear missiles in third countries. The power equation between the US and China is quite unequal and even fuzzy. China is not willing to flex its military muscle beyond its immediate neighbourhood. In contrast, the American strategic interests lie far beyond US borders.

 

Going by American media reports, Hu's visit was not a great success. The Obama administration wants China to revalue the yuan to correct the trade imbalance, wants it to improve its human rights record, which would include freeing the dissident and Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese have not reacted but they did not concede ground on these questions.

 

That is the Chinese way of handling things. Beijing has shown some flexibility with regard to Iran's nuclear programme but it has not gone the whole way. Washington needs Beijing with regard to North Korea and the Chinese are aware of it. Yet the US continues to irritate China with their military aid to Taiwan.

 

Americans in the Obama White House as well as those in the liberal establishment, despite the hectoring and the posturing, understand that China's is a major factor in the global economy and it cannot be ignored. And that China cannot be either intimidated or manipulated. China stands its ground whether it pleases the Americans or not. The power tussle between the two dominant countries is interesting. The US is a declining and China a rising power, in terms of the economy. The military advantage that the Americans enjoy is rather ambiguous going by the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

 

Americans look to India to counter China — this is not the official US stand — and a New York Times editorial in the run-up to Hu's visit made the assumption explicit. This is certain to flatter many in India, especially the strategic community. But there is need for scepticism and caution. India should keep out of the big power turf wars because it has nothing to gain from it.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

THE TALE OF TWO CITIES' UNDERGROUND RAILWAY

 

FARRUKH DHONDY

 

I'm in Delhi because a play of mine has been invited to the International Drama festival run by the National School of Drama. I won't bore the dear reader with advertisements for that production, well-received though it was. Instead I will tell you about my ride on the new (not 'New' as in 'New Delhi') Delhi Underground.

 

I rode all over it, just for the heck of it and to savour the sensation that one could travel fifty miles on the Delhi Metro for what amounts in pounds sterling, the currency in which I deal daily, to something between 30 and 40 pence, whereas in London one has to pay at the least £5, which is fifteen times as much. And I am reliably told that the Delhi Underground actually makes a profit, whereas the London Underground is heavily subsidised and is still in deep trouble.

 

So this is the tale of two cities. The numbers multiply when one talks of the history of the underground railways that integrate the cities. Allow me to explain: The London underground was built more than a hundred years ago and by and large, despite all the improvements and expansions through the decades, didn't cross the river Thames. There was the District line which went to Putney and Wimbledon and then the Northern line which went south to Morden.

 

When one first encounters London, one doesn't realise that it is strictly divided between its north and south. Slowly, as familiarity grows, one realises that the north and south, divided by the river Thames are, in fact, two cities which used to feel quite separate from each other. There was a snobbery about being from "Saarf Lndn" as I discovered when ethnic cleansing and property prices forced me to move from Notting Hill Gate to South Clapham. This was in the seventies and I soon found that north Londoners regarded the south of the city as another country. I heard people say that they may have passed through it while driving to France!

 

And a similar attitude seemed to pervade and perhaps still does in Delhi. Everyone I know and have dealings with lives in south Delhi, in the housing enclaves that stretch from Gurgaon in Haryana to Noida in Uttar Pradesh. One ventures into Old Delhi to go to the railway station, to visit the Red Fort, to buy very particular things such as Indian perfumes from Chandni Chowk or to eat at Karim's near Jamma Masjid. Otherwise the territory and those who live north of Connaught Place are a neglected mystery.

 

In the decades in which I have lived in south London, two significant changes have taken place. Several parts of the city in the south have, through the pressure of population and the operation of demand and supply in the housing market, become what the British call 'gentrified'. In other words flats and houses are bought on mortgage by upwardly mobile middle-class couples and the housing stock restored through tasteful repairs. Then the neighbourhood markets and shops change hands and stylish coffee houses, clothes boutiques and gastro-pubs replace the Chinese take-away and the £1 store.

 

Finally, London transport finds the political will and the money to build extensions of the underground and four new underground lines to integrate the South with the North. London becomes one city.

 

My brief ride on the new Delhi Metro gave me the distinct feeling that exchange of populations every minute, every hour, every day

 

because of these new arteries of the city will change the face and possibilities of the capital. Let's hope.

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DNA

COLUMN

TALENT IS ALSO HELPED BY THE ACCIDENT OF BIRTH

SAMRAT

 

There's been a rumble in the palace that is inhabited by India's literary elites. Everyone knows everyone here, and we all read and write in English, and we are all civilised, so we refrain from saying unpleasant things.

 

Hartosh Singh Bal, a journalist with Open magazine, is the only stranger in this fine world who periodically explodes into rants no one wants to hear. His latest was about the Indian literary elites being "strangely beholden to the British".

 

Bal picked author William Dalrymple, a director of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, for special mention. The debate between Bal and Dalrymple has made many uncomfortable since Dalrymple retorted by accusing Hartosh of racism. The question generally is: What do Dalrymple's origins have to do with his success?

 

A lot, I say. It is a fact that White people, mostly men from a small area in Western Europe, ruled the world for roughly 500 years. Western imperialism and colonialism are facts of history. That the aim of imperialism was to economically exploit the "new" territories is a fact. There was a slave trade that for about 300 years accompanied imperialism is also known. Africa was pillaged and raped. India was looted of its fabled wealth, and lakhs of its poor were sent around the world as indentured labourers in conditions akin to slavery. American Indians were decimated and robbed of their lands. The aboriginals of Australia got the same treatment of worse. All this was done by White men from Western Europe. Am I racist for saying that?

 

The descendants of the imperialists inherited this wealth and live in countries with established institutions. The descendants of the colonised and the enslaved inherited poverty and strife. These inherited advantages and disadvantages continue to this day.

 

It is very well for the rich folks from rich Western countries to enjoy their good fortune. No one has control over where he or she is born, and so it is not anyone's fault if he or she is born into poverty or wealth. Nor is anyone responsible for the actions of their ancestors. What's done is done, and the world has moved on.

 

But if you are a part of an elite group, don't imagine that you owe your superior circumstances entirely to greater talent. You also owe some part of it to the accident of birth. It is almost certain then that you were not born in a poor farmer family in rural India or Africa. Had you been, your life would be very different.

 

Dalrymple could afford, at age 22, to travel from Jerusalem to Xanadu over a year and then write about it because he had the means. His talent is not in question: he is doubtless an excellent writer. The fact is that he had the opportunity to develop his talent and give it full expression. That opportunity is denied to all but a negligible few in South Asia and Africa. Most of us here are still struggling to get food, water and a roof over our heads.

 

That's why you don't find Indian or Pakistani or African backpackers, though there are so many of us. It will be a while before Asian and African societies become wealthy enough for a large number of their kids to afford travel. It will take some more decades after that before they find the confidence to take a break from their studies. A few of the children of Asian elites are starting to travel now. The rest must slog for exam after exam because their lives depend on it. They don't travel, and the only books they read are textbooks.

 

Children in the West can also afford to study fancy subjects in elite institutions. India, however, largely remains besotted with medicine, engineering, and the Indian Administrative Services because these are seen as gateways to lives of dignity. Middle-class parents still don't encourage their children to study the arts, or the pure sciences, or play sports other than cricket. They generally discourage independent travel. The 2009 Bollywood movie 3 Idiots was seen as path-breaking because it told us that it is actually possible to pursue a career as a photographer and live comfortably. What a fantastic idea!

 

Now these newfangled notions are starting to seep into the Indian mainstream. More people are writing and creating art. These fields are currently dominated by the children of the desi elite. It is still too much of a struggle for a middle-class Indian — much more so than it is for someone of equivalent economic background in Western Europe or North America.

 

In time more Indians will perhaps be privileged to develop their talents in whatever field they choose. Hopefully the market for literary fiction and non-fiction will also improve.

 

Currently, most Indians only read such books if they come with Western validation: a Booker prize, or an NYT bestseller tag, or some such. This is reflective of our still colonised minds. Someday, Indians may begin to treat other Indians with the respect they now accord to White people, or desis validated by White people.

 

That is when we can hope to see a new spring in our world of art and literature.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

TEARS AND CHEERS

 

An article recently on this page has very rightly expressed concern about Jammu and Kashmir not being able to make a mark on development map of the country. The author has given reasons that can't be flawed: (a) over 20 years of militancy have taken a heavy toll of our industry and commerce; (b) a question-mark remains about an early recovery because the strife continues; (c) there is neither peace nor education (academic and technical) nor sound economic policies which are the three basic ingredients of prosperity; (d) the Kashmir region has suffered the worst in the wake of violence but the other parts have not been immune either; (e) as a result no big or medium industry is prepared to willingly invest including in this province; (f) all well-intentioned schemes like the expansion of the railway network, hydro-electric projects and the Mughal Road are under pressure; and (g) a vast difference in political views of leaders in the Valley and those in Jammu who don't see eye to eye even on the question of autonomy and integration with the rest of the country. An important suggestion has been made albeit in passing. Political parties should sit together to save the unity of the State. At the same time New Delhi ought to do its job more seriously. It must not remain a silent spectator to serious developments; rather it must act fast to resolve the issues that are at stake. There is merit in the argument that a fall-out of multiple adverse factors is that we have not at all been a beneficiary of globalisation. Our talented young persons don't have avenues enough to realise their aspirations on the home turf. Instead, they have to travel long distances for sharing and improving their know-how.

 

We lag behind almost all states some of which have actually shown remarkable progress taking advantage of the current liberal economic regime. While agreeing with all this, one may point out that corruption is a major malady affecting us. It is eating into the vitals of our dispensation. If entrepreneurs from outside the State are to be believed they are deterred from going ahead with their ventures for more than one reason. Their complaint about certain dilution in Central concessions that had lured them to this region in particular in the first place is one aspect about which we can't say anything. It is between them and the Union Government. Possibly the State Government can step in to lend a helping hand. Certainly, however, we can do something to address their grievance about slow clearance of their proposals. It is pity that at least two big companies have folded up their operations even before setting up them in totality.

 

This does not mean that everything is lost. The movement of youth to other parts of the country should be seen as a healthy development. They form a large floating population along with millions of their counterparts from other states. Together they are breaking the narrow regional barriers redefining the country's development scenario and strengthening national harmony and integration. Some of them are rubbing shoulders with the best in the country and the world. It is a major gain. If given an opportunity they would be happy to enrich their State as well. Whose responsibility is it to create conducive environment?

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

MAN OVER MACHINE

 

It is a bizarre mishap that has taken place in our city. From available details there is only one conclusion that can be drawn. The man has succeeded in timely establishing primacy over the machine and averted a major tragedy. The hero in this instance is the driver of a bus carrying students of the Mahant Bachitter Singh Engineering College. Left with a choice to run over a crowd in front or somehow bring the vehicle to a halt after its breaks had failed he hit against the wall of a cinema theatre near ever busy Shakuntala Chowk on B. C. Road. The bus turned turtle injuring 25persons --- the majority of them students --- five of them critically. He himself is among the wounded. He had driven some distance before he noticed the mechanical failure. He has kept his nerves at a crucial period. A question does nevertheless arise. Who is liable for not keeping the bus in a good condition? What would have happened had it gone out of control at the flyover? What would have occurred if it had not come across a strong surface to check its speed? One shudders to think of the worst scenarios. There could have been anything to plunge us into deeper shock and mourning. We have escaped with the minimum damage. Once again it is proved beyond doubt that "one machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men but no machine can do the work of an extraordinary man." We can't succumb to our own creations. This does not mean that there are no lessons to be drawn from this incident. It brings us to the wider issue of managing traffic in our city --- in fact, in the State as a whole. Every time we can't be so lucky. Safe driving involves certain dos and don'ts: (a) as drivers and users of roads we ought to have our eyes and ears open; (b) we should not be rash and negligent; (c) our means of transportation should be in fit condition; and (d) the roads should be smooth with no pot-holes but equipped with warning signals, studs and speed-breakers at sensitive places. In this instance, the device has failed us. One hopes that the College, for its reasons, and the concerned government officials, with overall safety in mind, look into the cause of the setback closely.

 

Let us together address the task of traffic management. We have repeatedly maintained that it is possible to mostly avert current snarls and accidents on our streets with mutual cooperation. As citizens we should scrupulously adhere to all rules and regulations. On the other hand, the policemen should be honest in discharging their duties, brooking no violation at all regardless of who commits it. A wrong signal is sent when the uniformed men intervene just to provide passage to a VIP at, say, Bikram Chowk across the Tawi, and then withdraw leaving the ordinary commuters virtually at war with each other in a struggle to get out of the noisy mess. This should be avoided. Once a reasoned approach is adopted everything will fall in place. Eventually it is for us to enforce our writ as the men in charge of the situation. We can ill afford to be lazy.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

MR PM, LEAD FROM THE FRONT

ON THE SPOT

BY TAVLEEN SINGH

 

When some of India's most eminent citizens come together to publicly air their worries about the crisis in governance we need to pay attention. The group that included businessmen, bankers, jurists, economists and retired civil servants did not mince their words in the letter they made public last week. They said, 'We are alarmed at the widespread governance deficit almost in every sphere of national activity, covering government, business and institutions. The topmost responsibility of those at the helm of the nation's affairs must be to urgently restore the self-confidence and self-belief of Indians in themselves and in the State, as well as in Indian business and public institutions which touch the lives of every Indian.' Among those who voiced concern about what is going on in the country are Azim Premji, Deepak Parikh, Justice B.N. Srikrishna, Bimal Jalan and Keshub Mahindra. In their letter they express fears about India's future growth potential and her ability to deal with the challenges of poverty alleviation and development.

 

The crisis is huge. And, a Cabinet reshuffle is unlikely to make a difference unless it signals that the Prime Minister is once more back at the helm and no longer skulking in some back room while Rahul Gandhi prepares to take the job he turned down after the last Lok Sabha election. He chose instead to work towards strengthening the Congress Party's organization (a noble task) but because it was never clear who exactly was in charge of running the government an atmosphere of drift has developed over the past months. All of last year Rahul Gandhi was projected by the media as the man most Indians wanted as their Prime Minister and this could not have escaped the notice of the man who was Prime Minister so he seemed to consciously make himself invisible.

 

A year ago, almost to the week, Rahul Gandhi was on the cover of India Today as our leader of the moment and remained the media's favorite political leader until the devastating defeat in Bihar. After bringing the Congress Party' s seats down to four from nine in a legislature of 243 shock waves started to be felt in Delhi's corridors of power. The opposition parties felt them and decided it was time to heighten their attack on government so no business was allowed to be conducted in the last session of Parliament because the government refused to concede the demand for a JPC (joint parliamentary committee) into the 2G scandal. It is easy to understand why the opposition would want to embarrass government by insisting on a JPC. What nobody understood was why the government did not immediately agree to the demand since it would have served mostly to put the Spectrum scandal into cold storage.

 

When people started asking why government was being so adamant the general view in Delhi was that this was because they did not want the Prime Minister to be questioned. Then a revised view began to do the rounds that said that it was really to protect Sonia Gandhi that government had been so adamant about not allowing a JPC. The current view in Delhi's wintery corridors of power is that there is nobody in charge of government or if there is then nobody knows who this person is. In the UPA's first four years in power the arrangement between Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh worked well. It was clear that he was in charge of administrative matters and she was in charge of political things. The Prime Minister was so strong that he could make the brave stand he made on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

 

In his second term he appears to have spent most of his time traveling to foreign countries where he is regarded as more of a leader than he is at home. His presence in government has been so slight that his ministers convey the impression that they take their orders from 10 Janpath. The euphemism used is 'the top'. The result is that the Congress President has appeared to be more involved in running the government than she probably is. One way or another nobody knows who is really in charge of a government that has gone from one crisis to the next. First, there was the scandal over the Commonwealth Games and then came the report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that implied that the biggest scam in Indian history had happened in the selling of airwaves. In the middle of all these scandals came the Bihar election results which indicated as brutally as possible that the Gandhi Dynasty's vaunted charisma had not worked.

 

This has led normally sycophantic Congress Party workers to talk freely about their fears for the future. They admit that Rahul Gandhi appears not to have the gravitas needed to be Prime Minister but add that it is his Mummy's earnest wish to see him get the job. 'It is the only thing she is interested in' a Congress friend told me last week 'and because of this there is a sense of drift in the party.'

 

Actually, there is a sense of drift in the country and this is much more worrying because it has vitiated the investment climate so seriously that the only businessmen you meet in Mumbai these days are gloomy ones. They talk of 'market cap' all the time and list the companies that have lost it. They talk of how there are very few projects being bid for and how foreign investors are now beginning to hedge their bets on India.

 

As the eminent citizens point out in their letter there are impediments to economic development that need to be dealt with. Most of these have come in the form of environmental clearances that have been used to close down major projects in which thousands of crore rupees worth of investments have already been made. In the words of a friend from the world of business, 'Who is going to invest in India when they know projects can suddenly be cancelled.' When the Finance Minister goes to Davos next week he could have much explaining to do. Meanwhile, we must hope that the Prime Minister realizes that he must take charge of government and lead from the front. It is unfair to India's voters to do otherwise.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

HOW SAFE ARE PAKISTAN NUCLEAR ARSENAL ?

BY RAJ RAJNEESH

 

Recent killing of Salman Taseer, Governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, by one of his own security guards, apparently in connivance with other guards on duty, and President Asif Zardari's reported request to Washington that he be provided American security, have revived fears of safety of the country's nuclear arsenal. How can Pak nuclear assets be secure when its security forces are being permeated with Islamist fundamentalists?

 

The Zardari request for American safety net may sound bizarre to the uninitiated but makes perfect sense when viewed against the backdrop certain developments Taseer's assassination including. The Pakistani president had opted for a UN probe into the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, when she was on the comeback trail in the heart of Rawalpindi. And when the report came in, he was in the awkward position of rejecting it for the simple reason that the probe had pointed the needle of suspicion towards some in the holy cows of Pakistani establishment and the establishment was in no mood to oblige the supreme commander of armed forces.

 

Zardari is also loath to forget that one of the factors that had made Benazir the target of her killers was her open statement expressing readiness to let the Pakistani nuclear black-market syndicate face the IAEA and the Western agencies. Pakistani regime had denied such a facility after the father of Pakistani bomb AQ Khan was granted amnesty and 'freedom' to live in peace.

 

Asif Zardari hopes to convince the US of his request during his latest visit to Washington. He sees a parallel with the situation Hamid Karzai had faced in the early days of his the Afghan Presidency. There were as many as four major attempts on Karzai's life and in each instance, the attackers received inside help - in one case from a police captain and in another instance from an army officer.

 

The Taseer assassination has also exposed the inside help. The reason for the killing, as admitted by the killer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of elite police group, was the Governor's support to a Christian woman charged with violating blasphemy laws, punishable with death sentence for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed. Taseer also had demanded amendments to the laws to prevent their misuse against minorities. The assassin told his interrogators that he was inspired by Mufti Hanif Qureshi Qadri, the Ameer of Rawalpindi-based Shabab-e-Islami Pakistan, who had preached that Salman Taseer was worth killing for labelling the blasphemy law a black law.

 

And to Zardari's dismay, Taseer's assassin, Qadri had a stint in the President's security

 

Malik Qadri fired twenty seven times at his victim and surprisingly none of the other guards on duty did respond until the assassin surrendered himself. Qadri seemed to have support not only among the guards but also in the police headquarters of Rawalpindi. The head of the CPO office and four other police officials of the department have been transferred as it was believed that they were sympathizers of Qadri and were using their influence to obstruct the investigation of the late governor's killer.

 

Qadri belonged to an elite commando force, recruitment to which was said to be done after intense vetting. He was earlier graded as security risk and despite it; he managed to get posted on VVIP security duties. If Islamist fundamentalists could manipulate security vetting to reach such sensitive positions, next natural apprehension is their ability to reach nuclear weapons.

 

These apprehensions were amply brought out in the recent WikiLeaks disclosures, which includes a secret cable from former US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson to the State Department. She wrote in her cable dated February 4, 2009, "Our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in GOP (Government of Pakistan nuclear) facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon."

 

Another WikiLeaks release said, "Despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world." Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Chairman announced earlier this month that they were planning to set up several more nuclear reactors of 1000 MW capacity. Pakistan does not have enough trained manpower either to man these reactors or secure the nuclear material.

 

The Foreign Policy magazine has published a survey that highlights the apprehensions of common American citizens on Pakistan's nuclear safety. "As the violence rises in Pakistan, Americans are increasingly worried about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenals; 87 per cent in a poll this year said this issue concerned them."

 

These are not baseless apprehensions as several incidents came to light in recent months about regular military and para-military personnel defecting to join al-Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorist groups. Aqeel alias Dr. Usman, a militant commander who led a group of nine militants to attack the highly fortified headquarters of the army in Rawalpindi in 2009, was once associated with the Army.

 

A Taliban fighter who was killed in the Helmand province of Afghanistan was identified as a Pakistani Army officer. While one of the suicide bombers was a paratrooper of the Frontier Constabulary, a Commissioner of troubled Malakand division of the North-Western tribal region was removed on the charge of aiding and abetting the Taliban. Not long ago, a suicide bomber blasted his explosives at a junction close to the Kahuta nuclear power plant.

 

Islamic fundamentalism is fast spreading across the Pakistani society which was amply demonstrated by lawyers and religious parties giving a 'heroic' welcome to Malik Qadri when he was brought to the court. Almost none of the country's top leaders were willing to attend Taseer's funeral or condemn his killing. The Federal Government, fearing further implications, succumbed quickly and announced that they had no plans of amending the blasphemy law. The Army has not uttered a word.

 

While investigations are still continuing on the existence of remnants of the A.Q. Khan's nuclear Wal-Mart, the prospects of nuclear arsenals in the hands of Islamist terrorist groups is a nightmare to security agencies across the world.

 

And for the political leadership of the country it is a Catch -22: on the one hand they cannot publicly disown the security system and hope to survive and on the other hand breathe easily knowing fully well that the loyalty and sincerity of the security apparatus is heavily tilted towards the fundamentalist Islamist forces, who have their own grand visions. (Syndicate Features)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PROPOSAL TO BAN ENDOSULFAN IRRATIONAL

BY DR NARINDER PAUL

 

Recent meeting of Persistent Organic Pollutant Review Committee (POPRC), a subsidiary body of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) was held at Geneva on 15th of October, 2010 in which the member nations especially European Union lobby strongly voiced for a global ban on the production and use of endosulfan, an organochlorine compound widely used in agriculture as an insecticide and acaricide because of its alleged long persistence in environment, health hazards and high toxicity. Several countries including India and China strappingly opposed the proposal to ban endosulfan which has been taken by voting rather than a consensus. The Stockholm Convention is yet to take ultimate decision on endosulfan in April, 2011.

 

Persistent Organic Pollutant Review Committee (POPRC) has been framed for reviewing chemicals under Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which is an international environment treaty of 166 member nations that aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs as defined by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are the "chemical substances that persist in the environment, bio-accumulate through food web and pose a risk of causing an adverse effects to human health and the environment."

 

Endosulfan (Molecular formula C9H6Cl603S) is an organochlorine compound used as an insecticide and acaricide in agriculture. It has emerged as a widely applied and highly controversial agrochemical. It is a colourless solid with molecular mass 4.6095 and density 1.745 g\Cm3. Environmentalists with their selective approach have been campaigning for its global ban because of its alleged high toxicity, potential for bio-accumulation and role as an endocrine disruptor. It has been banned in 63 countries including European Union , Australia , Newzealand , U.S. and other Asian and West African countries. However, it is still used extensively in many countries including India and Brazil . The Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) however claim endosulfan to be safe and assert that no scientific evidences are available to prove its alleged impact on environment and human health. They call it an international conspiracy to hamper the Indian exports and capture the market.

 

Endosulfan was developed in early 1950s and has been used throughout the world to control insect pests of crops including aphids, whitefly, leafhoppers, beetles and worms since 1954. It is an important insecticide as it helps in insect pest resistance management. Voices against the production and use of endosulfan began to emanate during late 1990s. In the year 2007, International community dominated by the European Union initiated steps to restrict the trade and use of endosulfan. In 2009, POPRC agreed that the endosulfan is a persistent organic pollutant and that a "global action is warranted" thereby setting a stage for global ban. In 2010, it has been placed in the list of persistent Organic Pollutants.

 

In India , Kerala people, political and social organizations have been demanding a national-wide ban on endosulfan in view of the serious health problems caused to the residents in Kesargode District due to its aerial spraying in the state owned plantations 20 years back. Aerial spraying of endosulfan in cashew estates of Plantation Corporation of Kerala had allegedly caused serious health problems to the scores of people in Kesargode District adjoining the plantations. The Kerala government imposed a state-wide ban on endosulfan in 2005 following the High Court directions. But it has been reported that the aerial spraying of endosulfan continues to be used today as it is readily available in the nearby states.

 

India is a larger producer and user of endosulfan in the world and is also its largest exporter. Our share in the global endosulfan market is more than 70 percent. The Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) alleges that the European lobby wants to destroy 70 percent of the Indian exports of endosulfan and capture that market to pump in their own alternate products. As endosulfan is cheaper than other alternative pesticides and is also very effective, it is favourite of the farmers across the world to control insect pests attacking their crops. The products of the European and American multinationals are 10-12 times costlier than endosulfan and hence are unable to compete with the India made endosulfan in the global market. Consequently India will be at complete loss and the foreign multinationals at benefit if ban on endosulfan is affected. That is why European Union which supplies 90 percent of the chemicals to the world is spearheading the campaign to ban endosulfan.

 

On the home front, Indian market of endosulfan is about 12 million litres annually valued at 270 crores. Thousands of the farmers in India are using endosulfan with the proper safety measures and recommended doses on a wide range of crops for the last 50 years. However none of the cases of health hazards have been reported from the states except Kerala. In Kerala the point to be noted is that the sufferers are not the users but the people who reside nearby the cashew plantations. It is not endosulfan but the Plantation Corporation of Kerala which is responsible for the sufferings of the poor people. Wrong method of application as per area, high doses and excessive use of endosulfan are responsible for the health hazards. The topography of the area also resulted into the drift of the insecticide. Had the safety parameters being followed, the alleged bad impact of the pesticide on human health would not have taken place.

 

Instead of banning such an effective insecticide we should lay more emphasis on educating our farmers about its safe use i.e. exact dose, appropriate method of application with proper safety measures during application, right time of application, restricting its use on certain crops etc. Criticts may say that safe use of endosulfan cannot be guaranteed in a country like India . If it is so then what is the guarantee that its substitute pesticides will be safely used by the farmers and will be safe for the environment and the surroundings? We must not forget that the technology is two edged weapon. If not safely used, it becomes harmful. Every pesticide is "poisonous substance" which is used to control the pests. The recommended dose which is safe for humans and the environment has been calculated and the farmers are advised to use that particular dose for different chemicals. It becomes unsafe for human health if that dose is exceeded. Remember once the endosulfan is banned hundreds of other pesticides of European and American multinationals many times more toxic and costlier than it will enter the Indian market. Who will take the guarantee of their safe use?

 

(The Author is Agriculture Extension Officer)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A WEAK RESHUFFLE

UNINSPIRING TINKERING WITH PORTFOLIOS

 

FOR a government that is in the dock over a spate of corruption scandals and runaway inflation, the reshuffle of the Union council of ministers on Wednesday is utterly uninspiring especially if it was intended to restore public confidence. There is an undercurrent of expression of disenchantment over the running of certain ministries but by not showing such ministers the door and merely reshuffling their portfolios Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sent out a weak message. There is evidently a conscious effort not to ruffle feathers with elections to some states being round the corner. However, the Prime Minister's assertion that this is a 'minor reshuffle' and his hint of a more 'expansive exercise'after the budget rekindles hopes that a more significant exercise may be in the offing and that the non-performing ministers are under scrutiny. Evidently, the claims of some allies for greater representation and the need to induct some young ministers would find expression in the next reshuffle.

 

The eye on elections is clear from the preferential treatment given to UP and Kerala. While UP's Salman Khursheed and Sriprakash Jaiswal have been elevated to Cabinet rank and Beni Prasad Verma inducted, in Kerala K V Thomas and K C Venugopal have been accommodated while Vyalar Ravi has got the high-profile civil aviation ministry albeit temporarily. The snub to M.S. Gill (he was in the thick of controversy during the Commonwealth Games for his role as sports minister) by shifting him to planning and statistics, a ministry that was with a minister of state earlier, is palpable. In a hint that 'croney capitalism' is frowned upon, Praful Patel, a great votary of the private sector, has now the task of overseeing the working of the public sector enterprises as Heavy Industries Minister while Murli Deora who was believed to be too close to a leading corporate house has been divested of Petroleum and given corporate affairs instead. In the change of Kamal Nath's portfolio too there is an underlying message. But how effectively such subtle messages would work is, however, anybody's guess.

 

All in all, the much-awaited reshuffle which was in the air for five months, has flattered to deceive. It is imperative that the next reshuffle reflects the reality that the UPA needs to pull up its socks.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE LAGGARD VS THE VIBRANT 

PUNJAB HAS MUCH TO LEARN FROM GUJARAT 

 

Gujarat and Punjab are poles apart. Gujaratis are basically entrepreneurs, Punjabi NRIs largely hail from families engaged in government service, agriculture and small businesses like transportation, hospitality and real estate. Investors put their money where returns are maximum. They avoid risky, low-return destinations. Today investors have a wide range of choices. Love for the birthplace or nostalgia does not much influence investment decisions. Canadian MP Sukh Dhaliwal is right when he says Punjab lacks the right environment. Rail, road blockages are common. Religious faction-fights can erupt any time.

 

Gujarat has a dynamic chief minister in Narendra Modi. None, not even his political opponents, have ever accused him of corruption or financial wrong-doing. This has a trickle-down effect on the bureaucracy. Can one say the same about any of the top political leaders in Punjab? Almost all of them face, or have faced, corruption cases. Punjab's bureaucracy and police are politicised and serve politicians' interests. Unlike Punjab, Gujarat offers a red carpet, not red tape, to investors. NRIs from the West are used to a clean and responsive administration. In Punjab they are engaged in endless property disputes. An interaction with the police or officialdom can be nightmarish.

 

In Gujarat there is "minimum government and maximum governance". The state focusses on infrastructure and ensures social peace, and leaves much else to the private sector. Modi is known for taking quick decisions. After Ratan Tata quit West Bengal, he got land for the Nano project in three days. No wonder, the Tatas alone have invested Rs 30,000 crore in Gujarat. Gujarat has overcome the setbacks caused by the earthquake in 2001 and communal riots in 2002. It aggressively holds a biennial global investors' summit and hires top lobbyists to reach out to investors across the globe. Punjab leaders make a feeble, lazy attempt to woo Punjabi NRIs, back home for a vacation. A few days ago Gujarat secured investment commitments of $450 billion. Punjab's NRI show has yielded zero investment.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FLAG DOWN "EKTA YATRA"

BJP BRAINCHILD CAN POLARISE SOCIETY

 

There is no denying that every Indian has the right to hoist the Tricolour anywhere in the country. But when the BJP plans an "Ekta yatra" which is to culminate in a flag-hoisting ceremony at Srinagar's Lal Chowk, the motives of the move become highly suspect. Given the uneasy calm in the Valley, this can come to be seen as a provocative act. The consequences can be violent and unfortunate. The least it will do is to aggravate tensions and thwart the dialogue process. Much worse can happen. The Valley, which has battled with a long summer in which stone-pelting youth kept the security forces on edge, can again be sucked into another orgy of violence. Surely, that is something which the BJP must guard against. What it has named as "Ekta Yatra" can instead polarise society and precipitate a communal situation. That is exactly what the enemies of the nation would want to happen.

 

What needs to be underlined is that when the BJP was in power for five years at the Centre, it never had convulsions of patriotism which would have galvanised it into marching onto Lal Chowk. Doing so at this stage can only be seen as a mischievous gameplan. Syed Ali Shah Geelani has already given a shutdown call and can be depended upon to claim that it is in response to the BJP "provocation".

 

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has adopted a cautious approach and invited BJP leaders to join Jammu and Kashmir's official Republic Day celebrations at Srinagar's Bakshi Stadium "to give the flag hoisting the respect it deserves". Considering the BJP response, no such via media is likely to be accepted. The Centre and the state will have to keep their firmer options in readiness to tackle the situation before it gets ugly. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

BLACK MONEY STASHED ABROAD

STRANGE SHIELDING OF SWINDLERS

BY 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.

 

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. 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 these 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 the 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 Solicitor-General: "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 the UPA government seems firm in being 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 the 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, Mr L. K. Advani, at a public rally in Mumbai, raised the question whether the Prime Minister was hesitating to take steps in this matter because "people belonging to the Congress and its allies are involved". He also drew the Prime Minister's attention to a news report alleging that the name of a former Prime Minister also figures in the list."

 

Another red herring that the government through its Solicitor-General has 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 in strict privacy.

 

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 $ 3 trillion.

 

Successive governments have periodically promised to bring this money home. But so far none has done so. 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. Mr 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 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 the problem of mind-boggling corruption already has.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

OF RTE, BMWS AND LAMBORGHINIS

BY PUNAM KHAIRA SIDHU

 

You haven't written for a long time", says my mother. I am an inspirational writer and I need to feel to write. I write when something moves me with joy, hope or despair, and of late like all the other "aam aadmis" in this country I've just been too shell-shocked with scam after scam hitting our collective conscience. It's a crisis of faith; no one is sure who to believe in anymore.

 

The bureaucrats and politicians were always the black sheep but we believed in the judiciary, we believed in the Press, and we believed in some corporate houses whose pristine reputations of ethical conduct had been built up over decades. As the entire North Western Region faced the onslaught of a cold foggy winter, I was dwelling in this numbed state of unfeeling inertia.

 

And then in the New Year I was jerked out of my somnolence by an incident at the traffic lights. There we stood waiting for the lights to turn from red to amber. The rush of women and children hiking their wares congregated towards the waiting vehicles. Soon there was a bright-eyed youngster, tapping on my window, selling maps for his school fees. What about the Right to Education (RTE) and free and compulsory education, I wondered.

 

"Buy a map, God will bless you", he intoned. And then, more hopefully, "Buy, God will bless you with a good husband". He continued in the same vein, all the while watching my expressions and gauging my reactions carefully —"Buy please, God bless your children", and then looking at the squat sarkari Ambassador he tried again, "buy please, God will bless you with a big car". That certainly hit the right vein and catching the gleam in my eyes he quickly realised it too. So the blessings for a big car rained thick and fast and — soon he was blessing me with a Mercedes-S Class no less, and then half question-half blessing a BMW-7 series, ya phir Lamborghini? That was what got me out of my numbness.

 

I couldn't help being awed by the potential of the Indian dream as I'm sure are CEOs like Michael Bassermann, Helmut Panke and Stefan Winkelmann and others buying into the India story. The Cassandras can take a hike — look at the brand awareness coupled with the size of the market that this country constitutes: A population of 1 billion of whom 80 per cent are bright young things like my BMW boy. And this is even before the RTE has even been implemented. Let education empower these youngsters and fuel their drive to strive ahead and the only way this country can go is up and ahead.

 

As long as we have these resources in place, all we need is to keep the faith and be vigilant and draw inspiration from men of conscience like J Gopikrishna who broke the 2G scam. Suddenly I'm filled with the warmth and cheer of the holiday season and the infinite blessings of a wonderful New Year.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED


INCLUSIVE GROWTH TO BE IN FOCUS

UNFAVOURABLE EXTERNAL FACTORS, RISING INFLATION AND INTEREST RATES MAY IMPACT INDIA'S GDP GROWTH THIS YEAR. THE GOVERNMENT CAN MOVE AHEAD ON REFORMS TO ATTRACT FRESH INVESTMENT AND SPUR DEMAND AS WELL AS ENSURE THAT THE FRUITS OF GROWTH ARE EVENLY DISTRIBUTED

SANJEEV SHARMA

 

IN almost every speech that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has made in the recent past he has stressed on inclusive growth. That and controlling inflation will be the dominant theme for the government and the economy in 2011.The economy is on a sound footing with the GDP growth touching 9 per cent, industrial production, exports, FII inflows, domestic demand, corporate profits and investments all in good health but several pressure points, both domestic and global, will play up this year.

 

Controlling persistent inflation will be a priority, which was difficult to tame last year also, especially food inflation. Since most of this seems to be supply side pressure, the government will have to look to galvanise the farm sector and increase productivity with increased private sector participation.

 

The creation of rural infrastructure and jobs will also be a priority area. With sustained economic growth, disparities have grown and migration to cities is relentless and increasingly policies will have to address these issues. The UPA government's concern is to ensure that the benefits of growth percolate and growth is balanced and inclusive.It has been argued that introducing FDI in retail will induce investments in cold storages and warehousing and cut down the wastage of farm produce.

 

The government will have to balance this reform with the perception of the kiryana stores that large retail stores will mean the end of neighbourhood grocery stores. The other pressure point for inflation will come from crude prices, which are expected to touch $100 a barrel. Commodity prices are also globally on the upswing which will affect corporate bottomlines and margins.The government will also have to address two major tax reforms that are pending: general sales tax (GST) and direct tax code (DTC).

 

Many large Indian business houses are increasingly going in for overseas acquisitions. This may be a strategic move to enter new markets, hedge risks and acquire the benefit of scale but somewhere there is also a nagging doubt that this may be a comment on the business environment. Certainly, in the second fastest-growing economy in the world with 9 per cent GDP growth rate, opportunities or growth is not an issue for business houses. The flip-flop on policies and clearances and some decisions getting reopened or controversies breaking out are being cited as some of the reasons that corporate houses find it easier to do business abroad where rules are clear and stable.

 

Also, increasingly land acquisition for projects is becoming increasingly difficult with protests breaking out in most cases. Environment issues are also becoming dominant. For investments, all these issues will need to be balanced so that all stakeholders benefit.

 

Another big issue which raised its head during the end of 2010 was corporate and political mismanagement with several scams breaking out. This has certainly affected India's global image as an investment destination. The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister have alluded to the importance of ethics in business and India Inc will have to do introspection.

 

There is skepticism with the government not carrying out major reforms. However, the silver lining remains India's remarkable entrepreneurship story, which has driven growth and created wealth. The fact that the Indian story is of robust domestic demand is a buffer against global economic uncertainty. 

 

The UPA government's concern is to ensure that the benefits of growth percolate and growth is balanced and inclusive.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

IMPLEMENT REFORMS THIS YEAR

WE CAN ACHIEVE A FASTER GDP GROWTH AND REALISE OUR FULL POTENTIAL IF WE IMPLEMENT ECONOMIC REFORMS EARNESTLY AND ENSURE GOOD GOVERNANCE

HARSH PATI SINGHANIA

 

THE year 2011 will be a year of consolidation - a year when India will be able to consolidate its gains made during the recent years. India's potential to emerge as a global economic powerhouse will become even more visible in 2011. India has many advantages like its young population, rising consumerism and aspirations, growing talent pool, R&D and engineering design capabilities. These factors are also helping India emerge as a preferred location for manufacturing and R&D in many industry segments.

 

I foresee significant volatility and uncertainty about global growth, especially in advanced economies. This may impact India to some extent but as we have seen before, this impact will be much less for India as compared to many other countries. India's growth still depends largely on domestic demand. Government programmes like the rural employment guarantee, rural roads programme etc. will ensure that domestic demand remains buoyant.

 

My wish list in a broad way will be to see that India is able to fully achieve its potential. This requires easing of constraints and removal of hassles that come in the way of this. The government has taken up a number of reform initiatives but many of them have remained unfulfilled because of slack or lack of implementation. Implementation, for me, will be the key to achieving the potential that exists. There are a number of areas where implementation is important but I would like to pick on a few and those which I consider as top priority.

 

zGST: Despite various moves and discussions, we have not made progress yet in being able to implement the goods and services tax (GST) by April 2011 as envisaged earlier. I would like to see significant progress made in this next year.

 

zAgricultural reforms: India is expected to achieve a record food grain output in 2010-11, thanks to a good monsoon and rise in acreage sown this year. This should not, however, make us complacent. We need a holistic reform in agriculture. This should cover the entire supply chain from the farm to the fork. Besides reducing the level of subsidies, it will also increase supply, thereby ensuring that prices are kept under control and the onion-type crisis is not repeated.

 

zInfrastructure is one area where we are seeing a reasonably good progress. We, however, need to push the pace of infrastructure development both for ensuring a double digit annual GDP growth as also to enhance manufacturing competitiveness.

 

The government needs to undertake the following steps:

 

zDespite intense discussions and moves a consensus on the GST between the Centre and different states has not yet emerged. To some extent this is understandable because of the complexity of various issues. I hope the Centre and the states would make significant progress in evolving a consensus on this so that it could be implemented at least by April 2012.

 

zThe government should involve the private sector in agriculture in a much more aggressive way even if it involves providing financial concessions and incentives.

 

zThere are some Bills that still remain pending before Parliament -- a good example being the Companies Bill. These need to be pushed through and necessary legislation introduced quickly.

 

In conclusion, the visits by senior leaders from some developed countries reflect the growing importance of India in the global economy and geo-politics. I believe that these are good signs but we can achieve a faster growth and realise our full potential if we implement the reforms earnestly and ensure good governance.

 

The writer is the MD, JK Paper, and past President, FICCI



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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

INDIAN AUTO SALES MAY SLOW DOWN

H. W. PARK

 

THE Indian automotive industry has survived the global economic hiccup and not only come out virtually unscathed but also with growth figures which may make more matured automotive markets go green with envy. The global economic recession notwithstanding, the domestic market clocked around 17.2 per cent growth in 2009 and around 28.5 per cent in 2010 (year-on-year basis) and as things stand, it is poised to continue growing although the rate of growth might come down.

 

The economy is strong, disposable incomes are rising, infrastructure is improving and retail financing is easily available and these all provide an impetus for growth. The Indian automobile industry will happily latch on to all these drivers of growth and ensure that it outpaces most markets of the world as it steadily turns in to a mature market.

 

The Indian car market, especially the small car segment, has captured the attention of global automotive players in a big way and it has become intensely competitive. The Indian customers' expectations have also gone up and they now have options of world-class cars at their doorstep.

 

We at Hyundai hold a highly optimistic view for the next year and will be coming up with more products for our customers. While we should continue to work collectively to achieve the objectives of the Automotive Mission Plan outlined by the government, we expect supportive government policies, especially in the area of exports.

 

Hyundai Motor India Limited aspires to live up to the expectations of our customers in 2011 on all aspects and bring them the best in terms of technology, design and performance with a price tag which is not heavy on the wallet. So expect innovations, new cars and an unmatched ownership experience from Hyundai in 2011.

 

The writer is the Managing Director & CEO, Hyundai Motor India Limited

 

The Indian customers' expectations have also gone up and they now have options of world-class cars at their doorstep

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

PRUNING WASTEFUL EXPENDITURE

LUXURIOUS LIVING STYLE OF MINISTERS AND BUREAUCRATS AT THE COST OF STATE EXCHEQUER


Ironically, while cash-starved State is unable even to pay salaries to its employees with the chief minister and other key functionaries rushing to New Delhi frequently with begging bowls for additional funds, those at the helm of affairs have stubbornly refused to prune wasteful expenditure by resorting to much-needed economy measures. The poor state has the largest number of white elephants who enjoy princely life with the State exchequer spending liberally to keep them prosperous and happy. The state has not only a large army of highly paid politicians and bureaucrats, quite disproportionate to its population and resources, but these VVIPs are perhaps paid much higher salaries and enjoy much larger perks than their cousins in other Indian states and even those at the Centre. The number of ministers in the State including those enjoying the status, salaries, perks and priveleges of ministers is over fifty. These include the chief minister and other ministers of different ranks, presiding officers and their deputies in the two houses of the legislature, dozens of advisors, chairmen of scores of boards and other institutions constituted for providing jobs to the disgruntled or defeated party activists or other loyalists and even the former chief ministers. J&K is the only state where all the former chief ministers are entitled to ministerial salaries, official accommodation and other perks and facilities. Apart from huge salary these VVIPs are also entitled to free luxuriously furnished palatial houses both in Jammu and Srinagar with provision for free electricity, water supply, phones and other services etc. In most of the cases a fleet of vehicles has been kept at their disposal for travelling along with their families. These dignitaries also draw huge amount every year as TA and DA. On an average a minister costs the exchequer over Rs. 5 lakhs a month and the amount spent on hoards of such VVIPs touches thirty crores annually. By pruning the size of the ministry, doing away with the superfluous posts of advisors and chairmen of different non-functional boards and fixing a ceiling on the expenditure on them huge amount can be saved and diverted for development works. Similarly there is need to curb the huge expenditure on the upkeep of senior bureaucrats.


Yet another area where the austerity and economy measures can help in saving huge unproductive and wasteful expenditure is the purchase and use of state aircraft, choppers and a fleet of cars maintained by the State. The manner in which the aircrafts and choppers are misused by the chief minister and other ministers is too well known. Some of them spend more time in the air than on ground. Similarly the fleet of vehicles at the disposal of different departments has been costing the exchequer several crores annually. Most of these vehicles are misused for the purposes other than official. While the politicians invariably use the aircraft and vehicles for their political activities and family jaunts the vehicles allotted to the officials of different ranks too are normally utilized for the use of the families or for non-official purposes. The State government spends several crores annually on the Hospitality and Protocol Department, a legacy of the feudal era. Apart from spending huge amount annually on the maintenance and upkeep of a number of luxurious guest houses and circuit houses meant for the visiting politicians and bureaucrats, the department also maintains a fleet of luxurious cars for the use of local VVIPs as also of the visitors to the State. There is a case for abolition of this department. There are several other areas where the measures of economy and austerity can help to reduce the wasteful expenditure. These included the Information Department which spends huge amount annually on the image building of the chief minister and other ministers and which has expanded rapidly during the past three decades. There is a considerable scope to reduce the expenditure on the State's fast expanding department of estates which looks after the state buildings used for official and residential purposes. The department spends huge amount annually on the renovation and furnishing of the offices as well as the residential houses allotted to VVIPs. A ceiling can be fixed on the amount being spent for the maintenance and upkeeps of these buildings. A number of measures for economy are needed to minimize unproductive expenditure and adopting measures for austerity. Unfortunately the successive regimes in the State have not done any thing in this regard.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

ROT IN BOSE

THERE'S NO FUTURE FOR EDUCATION SYSTEM WITHOUT TREATING THE CORRUPT SYSTEM WITHIN


Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education needs to do much more than simply deciding to provide the answer sheets to the candidates of matriculation examination for the winter zone, the results of which were mired in controversy and confusion, causing extreme distress and inconvenience to the examinees and their parents. The entire episode as to the discrepancies in the results and how it got leaked in the cyber skies even before it was declared needs to be probed, blame pin pointed and those responsible punished so that such things do not happen in future. This is not for the first time that the BOSE has been caught in the midst of controversies. Less than a year ago, in the summer zone a cheating racket was exposed, pointing out to nexus between some teachers and some BOSE officials. The case became sensational news for a while and then it was all forgotten about. No serious attempts were made to find out how much patronization and what levels such a racket of copying was getting. However, instead of investigating the nexus which obviously had much deeper roots, the government went in for a cover-up by simply rolling a few heads. Instead of treating the malaise, only a handful were made scapegoats, that too temporarily. Once the dust settles, these unscrupulous elements would obviously get back to their usual business. It is a pity that the educational system which should deserve the greatest priority of the government has become a den of corruption. While there is much that is wrong with the education in schools, right from the standard of education to the curriculum that is designed very unscientifically, the greatest priority should be ridding this of a corrupt polity without which there is no way that the course of good quality education for all can be guided.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

KASHMIR'S DICHOTOMY

HINDU PAST AND MUSLIM PRESENT!

BY. ASHRAF


Kashmir is the only place in the sub-continent which has recorded history from the earliest times. Kalhan, the most illustrious son of Kashmir wrote Rajatarangani, the River of Kings, in 12th century A.D. It is considered to be the earliest written book of history in the sub-continent. Kalhan relates the happenings in Kashmir from ancient times. Kashmir was a glorious Hindu Kingdom. However, the Hinduism followed here was the Trika School of Saivite Philosophy. Belief in monism. The Hindu God Shiva manifests in three forms of Brahma, Mahesh, and Vishnu. This form of Hindu religion is totally different from the one followed in North India which is the Vedanta philosophy. The Saivite philosophy is also prevalent in South India. Kashmiri Brahmins consider themselves to be the elite of Brahmanism. There were many famous Hindu Kings of Kashmir right from Gonanda-I to Laltaditya, Avantivarman, Harsha, Queen Dida and so many others. Kashmir also had a glorious Buddhist period during the time of Kanishka. The famous Buddhist Council which changed the basic philosophy of Buddhism from the Hinayan to Mahayan School was also held in Kashmir. The valley also boasted of one of the best institutions of leaning, the Sharda University. This was visited by scholars from all over the world and had a very large collection of books and manuscripts.

 

Historically, Kashmir has seen the glorious Hindu past. We cannot divest ourselves from this past. However, in the twelfth century the religion of Islam was introduced in Kashmir by preachers coming from Iran. Bulbul Shah was the first to come followed by Mir Sayed Ali Hamadani popularly known as Shah-i-Hamadan who came with over 700 Sayeds. They preached the religion of peace-Islam which the local Kashmiris voluntarily accepted. There was mass conversion through preaching and not by force. The Hindus were left in a minority, mostly Brahmins! Kashmir's conversion to Islam was totally peaceful. With the conversion of Rin Cin Shah, the last non-Muslim ruler of Kashmir, Islam became the state religion. The Hindus who had been reduced to a miniscule minority reconciled to their fate and got along well with the Muslim majority. There was trouble only during the time of Sikander, the father of famous King Zain-ul-Abdin popularly known as Budshah. It is alleged that there were forced conversions during his reign and a large number of Kashmiri Hindus migrated from Kashmir. However, Budshah brought these back as soon as he ascended the throne. In fact, he enacted special legislation for the return and rehabilitation of Pandits. He also put them in prominent positions in the state administration.


Kashmir stayed as an independent sovereign state with a Muslim majority till Mughals annexed it to their empire in 1586. Mughals were followed by Afghans and Sikhs and ultimately Kashmir was purchased by Dogras from the British and became a part of their Kingdom. During all these years of outside occupation, the Muslim character of the State remained unchanged. It continued to be a Muslim majority state. However, due to peaceful spread of Islam by the preachers from Iran and the growth of a cult of Sufis known as Rishis, the Kashmir society developed more tolerant than in other parts of the sub-continent. One more reason given is the presence of only a miniscule Hindu minority. In most other parts of the sub-continent especially in the northern part, there was almost equal strength of two religions. In Kashmir, the Hindu minority of Pandits virtually absorbed itself into the society because of the very tolerant nature of local Muslims. Moreover, even after conversion, Muslims retained quite a number of ancient traditions basically of a Hindu character. Kashmir developed a special type of mystic Islam around various saints and preachers. During their colonization the Kashmiris suffered equally at the hands of outside Muslim and non-Muslim rulers.


The partition of the sub-continent created a confusing situation. Pandit Nehru fully knowing the history of the land of his ancestors wanted to make Kashmir a part of the newly created Hindu republic. He was very much enamoured of the glory of Hindu Kashmir of the past and totally disregarded its Muslim present. This obsession of keeping Kashmir as part of the Hindu majority Indian republic continues even today. Most of the Indians want Kashmir to remain with India because of its Hindu past and not because of its Muslim present. The phenomenal increase in Amarnath Yatra, a Hindu pilgrimage not very much known even in ancient Hindu Kashmir is a stark proof of a massive attempt at connecting it to Hindu India! Thus Kashmiris though at present followers of Islam are haunted by their Hindu past. Similar is the case with Pakistan.
In 1947, majority of Kashmiri Muslims felt that their emancipation was in becoming a part of Muslim Pakistan even though their leaders thought otherwise. The dithering by the local leaders was the shabby treatment Kashmiri Muslims had been receiving at the hands of Punjabi Muslims as also the utopian visions of secularism, socialism, and tolerance projected by the Indian leaders like Pandit Nehru. The past suffering at the hands of Afghans erroneously considered Pathans, also played a part in the psyche of Kashmiris. On their part Pakistanis were more interested in Kashmir than Kashmiris which was evident from the scorn exhibited by the Pakistani leaders towards Kashmir's popular leaders. In addition, the hatred the Pakistani Muslims had towards Indian Hindus due to bloody riots all over the sub-continent was missing in Kashmir which had remained free from these horrendous happenings. The sympathy expressed by Kashmiris towards Pakistan was more because of their suppression by Hindu India. It was more a tool to beat Indians at their game of secularism than Kashmiris' love for the Jihadi type of Islam prevalent in Pakistan.


Over the years, the extremist nature of religion in Pakistan has been driving Kashmiris slowly away from their earlier love for it. More and more Kashmiris are now for an Independent Kashmir with less extremist variety of the majority religion of Islam. In spite of the Jihadi extremism of last two decades, Kashmiris continue to profess their own brand of Sufi Islam. Thus, the present situation has put Kashmiris in a dichotomy. On the one hand is India obsessive with its Hindu past and on the other hand is extremist Pakistan considering Kashmir's liberation and annexation as a victory for Islam. Neither is concerned with the basic problem of emancipation of the Kashmiri people suffering for last four centuries or so. The only real emancipation for the common people is to say good bye to both! Possibly, an independent sovereign state of the Kashmiri speaking people with the return of Pandits guaranteed by its three neighbouring powers of China, India, and Pakistan could be a viable solution out of the present dichotomy! A million dollar question is to find the peaceful road that will lead to that goal!


Comments at: ashrafmjk@ gmail.com

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

A TRAIN STORY..!

In a second class compartment somewhere in India a grandmother looked out of the train window with fear in her eyes. "Once upon a time," said the grandmother as she looked down at her two little grandchildren, "train travel was safe."
"Grandma," said both the children , "you told us never ever to lie, didn't you?"
"People used to get into trains and go to sleep!" continued the old lady.
"Sleep?" shouted both the children. "Weren't they afraid they would never wake up again? Didn't they pray throughout the journey like we do now? Didn't they hug their little children and wish them their last goodbye? Didn't they cry and weep that they would never see each other again in the morning?"
"At every station," said their grand mom, "passengers used to get down and stretch their legs."
"Stretch their legs!" cried out the elder of the two children. "You mean their limbs were still part of their body? They were not cut off yet? Grandmother this is a fairy tale isn't it?"
"People used to take out their pack of cards and play a game."
"Didn't they keep a watch at the window? Didn't they always look to see if the engine was still attached and hadn't fallen off…"
"Or rushed off the tracks.."
"Or hit a boulder?"
"Or hit another train?"
"We even shared our food with each other."
"Didn't you keep it for later grandmother, when you would need it in some remote place where you would be lying with only dead people next to you, and the bogies one on top of each other?"
"Some of the people used to retire to bed early. They used to climb up onto the top berth and within a few moments they were in the land of nod, put to sleep by the gentle swaying of the coaches"
"Grandma..?"
"Grandma..?"
"What is it my dears?" asked the old lady.
"This is a bed time story isn't it?"
"You're making it all up aren't you grandma?"
"Once upon a time," said the grandmother again. "Rail travel was safe."
"You lie!" shouted both the children together.
"Signals were checked," said the old lady softly. "Railway lines were inspected. Tax money was spent on safety."
"Isn't safety important anymore?" whispered the two children fearfully.
"No," said the old lady sadly, "not as important as the West Bengal Chiefministership is to the railway minister.
The grandmother looked sadly out of the window. The other passengers in the same compartment also looked out of the window, fearfully. A woman held prayer beads and chanted her prayers incessantly, forgetting lines as she stared at the passengers standing at the door, ready to jump out as soon as the train derailed, got hit by another train or just fell apart….!
bobsbanter@gmail.com

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

WHO'S AFRAID OF JAIRAM RAMESH?

WHILE HE FLEXES LEGAL MUSCLE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, HE IS CONFRONTED WITH A REGIME THAT PERMITS REGULARISATION


The only reason our Congressled coalition government, fondly named UPA-II as if it is some yet-to-be-test-fired rocket missile, hasn't collapsed is because its opponents are in such complete disarray.

 

What UPA-II offers is a party that is, with the sole exception of its in-house hyperbolic serial interrupter Manish Tewari, either preternaturally reticent on almost every issue of consequence or given to mouthing platitudes that do not translate into practice. It claims to be solidly against corruption. Our Queen Mum says our moral universe is shrinking. How would she know?

 

In the most perverse ways, our politicians' cavalier approach to the law sometimes does us a favour.

 

Years ago, Kamal Nath attempted an enterprise as dazzling in its imagination as in its complete disregard for every rule in the book. Need a motel near Manali? The River Beas in the way? No problem. Just divert the river.

 

Fortunately the attempt failed, receiving a thumping from the Supreme Court which enunciated a cardinal principle of environmental law: the doctrine of 'public trust' which makes those we put in power the custodians of our environment, holding it in trust for all citizens, and charged with the duty of preserving it; a doctrine that also has its roots in our Constitution.

 

That doctrine is now solidly part our law. Yet, every politician pretends it doesn't exist. And now the same Kamal Nath is put in charge of Urban Development. So much for our gyrating moral compass.

 

A week ago, my friend Shyam Divan wrote an article in The Times of India's Green Cover weekly section, suggesting a constitutional amendment to create a new constitutional authority he called the Environmental Protector of India, again building on the public trust doctrine. In a brief exchange that followed, he explained that he saw no other way of safeguarding our environment over the next thirty years. But the calibre of the post's incumbent is another matter, and there again we encounter the Godzilla of corruption.

 

On a recent NDTV discussion about environmental law enforcement, development and, specifically, Jairam Ramesh's orders against Adarsh and Lavasa, Suhel Seth, who minces no words, argued that what we need is demonstrable justice, not posturing; that environmental policy should be clearly stated and implemented quickly, not belatedly; and questioned our penchant for 'regularisation'.

 

Mr Seth is right on all counts, though we may disagree on the form of demonstrable justice and what is a reasonable time for implementation. There can, however, be no argument in favour of 'regularisation'.

 

Regularisation is the greatest invention after the wheel. It is pure alchemy: it allows you to turn the lead of illegality into the gold of legality, usually by paying a fine. This, as Mr Seth said, means that anyone can plonk a structure on the grounds of Rashtrapati Bhavan and then demand that it be 'regularised'. But regularisation postulates an initial illegality; and courts have repeatedly said that an illegality is incurable.

The very nature of regularisation — by definition, it postulates an initial illegality — means that it can never be part of any lawful policy; and courts have always said that an illegality is incurable.

 

That immediately means that it is applied entirely arbitrarily: jhuggies and hutments and slums are not regularised. Bungalows at Sainik Farms and Khandala and Alibag are.

 

Mr Ramesh is not being bloodyminded when he says that you cannot ignore environmental laws, which exist for a reason, with impunity and expect to get away with it.

 

Yes, there are problems with some of the cases he has on hand, chiefly that his actions seem much delayed. And, while he is flexing legal muscle for the environment, he is also confronted with a now-entrenched regime that permits regularisation.

 

What is the alternative?

To allow infractions is to send out precisely the wrong signal. It is absurd to complain about a lack of governance (which means a failure to follow the law), corruption (a defiance of the law) and at the same time to protest that when a law is being implemented, it is anti-development and anti-poor.

 

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

COLUMN

RESHUFFLE AND THE ECONOMY

PM'S NEW COUNCIL CAN HAVE A MACRO-ECONOMIC IMPACT

The reshuffle of portfolios and induction of a few new members into the Union Council of Ministers have been widely viewed as a "damp squib" or at best "sub-optimal". In large part, this negative reaction of the media and of political commentators has been because of the high expectations generated by reports of a major shake-up in the Union Cabinet and the Congress party in the wake of recent scandals and the decline in the government's and the ruling coalition's image. If these expectations had not been allowed to develop, the level of disappointment would have been lower. Having said that, it must, however, be conceded that even this so-called "musical chairs" has not only sent out some important messages, but has the potential of impacting considerably on economic policy, especially in critical sectors like infrastructure and agriculture. With the exception of Mamata Banerjee in railways (retained in her post more because she is an important ally facing a crucial election in her home state than because of her performance) and Sushil Kumar Shinde (retained because he is the seniormost Dalit minister in the government and an important source of funds for the party), all other infrastructure sector ministers have been moved around. Whatever the politics behind the move, new leadership in key economic ministries like petroleum and natural gas, water resources, civil aviation, surface transport and highways, rural development, food and civil supplies, coal, urban development and steel has the potential to improve performance. Such change could be for the better, if the new ministers feel recharged and enthused or wish to overcome the negative reputation built up in the past. Some of them can bring greater transparency to the functioning of the government, others greater efficiency. Hence, the macro-economic impact of the micro-politics of the reshuffle could be bigger than presently anticipated.

The past two years have established quite clearly that India's growth process is seriously constrained by infrastructure bottlenecks and the government's inability to deal with the politics of inflation and economic management. Both Mani Shankar Aiyar and Murli Deora had failed to manage the political economy of energy pricing in India, and Sharad Pawar neglected the food economy. A seasoned politician and effective political communicator like Jaipal Reddy has to now show that he can handle the domestic politics of global trends in energy prices more effectively. Better handling of the food economy is vital to the management of inflation. This is the task for the new minister on the beat. In civil aviation, a traditional Congress socialist like Vayalar Ravi will be expected to repair the damage done to Air India by his predecessor's excessive love for the private sector. If the political leadership in the railways and power sector can also be improved in months to come, the constraints on growth posed by these infrastructure sectors can also be eased. Beyond infrastructure, India needs better leadership in key economic ministries, including environment, finance, trade and industry. Hopefully, the message of this reshuffle would be absorbed by the non-shuffled ministers as well!

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MR HU GOES TO WASHINGTON

HOW US AND CHINA MANAGE RELATIONS MATTERS TO THE WORLD

The impact of Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to the United States and of his meetings with US political and business leadership has wide-ranging portents, both bilaterally and globally. The visit comes at a time of global economic uncertainty and rising political tension in East Asia. The US is finding its diktat as the sole "superpower" being challenged by an increasingly assertive China, emboldened by mind-boggling economic growth and political clout. The trajectory of future US-China relations portends more than any comparable bilateral relationship and is expectedly being watched with a mixture of curiosity and fear. President Hu and President Barack Obama sought correctly to calm sentiments that have been increasingly confrontational in recent times. Bilateral tensions, however, continue to simmer and cannot be expected to go away in a hurry. US-China trade has grown from a measly $10 billion in 1979 to $459 billion in 2010, with China running a surplus of $273 billion. The trade surplus with the US and EU allows China to run a deficit with much of East and Southeast Asia, and still maintain an overall trade surplus, estimated to be $183 billion in 2010. This trend seems to be growing inexorably, despite US counter-measures such as selective tariffs, anti-dumping lawsuits and sustained pressure from political and business lobbies for China to allow more easy access to US companies.

China has steadfastly resisted pressure to let the renminbi appreciate, arguing that it is doing enough. A high level of export-dependence suggests China would baulk at allowing a sharp appreciation of its currency, even though an undervalued renminbi hobbles its progress towards a more domestic consumption-driven economy. On the other hand, China depends significantly on the American market for its exports and would suffer in more than one way if the dollar were to plunge. Recent trade discourse between the US and China is increasingly dominated by the frustration at US companies being restricted in accessing China's burgeoning domestic market. China has been increasingly obstructing the participation of foreign firms through measures like a more aggressive "technology for markets" policy, subsidies to domestic firms, and the so-called "indigenous" policies, wherein intermediate goods that were imported and assembled in China are now being produced domestically, besides a variety of administrative controls intended to discourage foreign firms' access to the domestic market. A trade war will have global ramifications and is clearly something that both parties are eager to avoid.

 Chinese industrial policy has undergone a paradigm shift since the turn of the century, with the goal of emerging as an innovation-led economy by 2020. The transition from mass-manufacturing to innovation is not proving easy, but nobody can fault China's intensity and determination to emerge as a leading technological power over the next two decades. To this end, China has invested massively in upgrading its scientific and technological infrastructure, putting its war chest of $2.7 trillion in forex reserves to good use. Despite the challenges, this drive if taken to fruition can place China directly in competition with the West. How the US and China manage this would be anxiously watched by the entire world.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

OWNERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE OF MIIS

IMPLEMENTING THE JALAN COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS IS A RISK WORTH TAKING

JAIMINI BHAGWATI

In January 2010, Sebi set up a committee headed by Bimal Jalan, former RBI governor, to review the ownership and governance of Indian stock exchanges, depositories and clearing corporations, collectively called market infrastructure institutions (MIIs). The Jalan Committee report (JCR) was submitted in November 2010 and since then there have been several commentaries on the JCR's proposals. This article examines the report's principal recommendations and some of the negative comments.

The JCR's suggestions for MIIs can be summarised along the following four lines: (a) Ownership — existing Sebi regulations should be amended such that only anchor institutional investors, defined as adequately capitalised public financial institutions and banks, are eligible to own up to 15-24 per cent of stock exchanges. Depositories and clearing corporations should not own other classes of MIIs; (b) Public listing — MIIs should not be listed; (c) Profits — should not exceed a risk-free benchmark plus appropriate risk premium; (d) Compensation — should be fixed and not include any variable component linked to "commercial" performance. We could quibble about the fine print in the JCR. For example, the recommendation that anchor institutional investors should bring down their holdings in MIIs to 15 per cent or less within 10 years. On balance, in broad terms this report's suggestions are timely and, if implemented, would improve the regulatory environment in Indian capital markets.

 MIIs are natural monopolies similar to public utilities. Therefore, it would not be commercially viable to set up dozens of stock exchanges, depositories and clearing corporations in any one national jurisdiction. Since the number of MIIs which can be set up is limited, it follows that efficiency engendered by competition would also be limited. Hence there is a strong case for MIIs to exercise self-restraint and self-regulation in the best interests of the clients they are expected to serve.

No statutory regulator can keep up fully with market innovations. MIIs are closer to markets and better placed to track the intricacies of trading as compared to regulators such as Sebi or SEC. For example, unusual trading in a stock in terms of timing of purchase or volume has to be detected by stock exchanges, in the first instance. There is no practical way in which these policing functions can be spun off to another organisation or allocated to a separate department with Chinese walls between it and the rest of the MII. Market knowledge involved in running MIIs gives them the required insight to carry out regulatory functions effectively. MIIs are, therefore, the first line of regulatory surveillance and defence, and should be viewed as front-line regulators.

The 2008 financial sector meltdown, which started in the US, had an adverse impact on markets around the world. Internationally significant MIIs should have been more proactive about adequacy of risk capital. For instance, stock exchanges should have lobbied SEC for fresh regulations to be framed to move credit default swaps (CDSs) to exchanges. If CDSs underwritten by AIG had to be registered with central clearing exchanges and subjected to margin payments, AIG would have been compelled to limit the volume of CDSs it underwrote.

The Financial Times, in an article dated December 29, 2010, categorised the JCR's conclusions as "too prescriptive to encourage further development of the Indian economy". This article also claimed that "the clear evidence of the past decade is that exchanges function much better as for-profit, publicly listed companies". Others have commented that the JCR's recommendations are equivalent to "regulatory sabotage" and "backdoor nationalisation" of Indian equity markets.

According to the Oxford dictionary, "prescriptive" means "concerned with" or "laying down rules of usage". The JCR has been put in the pubic domain and the report suggests that if its recommendations are accepted, the revised norms for MIIs should be re-examined after five years. This does not sound prescriptive. More importantly, there is no evidence in the FT article to justify the sweeping statement that the JCR's conclusions will not allow further development of the "Indian economy".

It is also not clear on what basis the FT article claims that there is "clear evidence" that exchanges function better when they are listed as for-profit companies. Obviously, it would be in the interest of MII owners and management for these institutions to be for-profit. However, focusing on profits occasionally leads firms to take on unsustainably high levels of leverage. Surely, we do not want MIIs, which have an important regulatory role, to ignore or cut corners on their oversight function in pursuing profits.

MIIs should not be listed for the same reason that they should not engage in profit maximisation. There are bound to be sharp conflicts of interests between MII owners/managements and their clients. For example, frequent purchase/sale of MII shares through holding and shell companies could obscure true ownership. Effectively, controlling ownership of MIIs could end up with the same firms that MIIs are expected to regulate.

The G20 had directed the Financial Stability Board (FSB) to suggest ways in which excessive risk-taking by market makers, such as banks, induced by prospects of overly generous compensation packages, can be curtailed. The FSB put together a "Thematic Review on Compensation" dated March 30, 2010 which suggests "Alignment of Compensation with Prudent Risk Taking". It is logical, therefore, that compensation in MIIs which are front-line regulators should not be at market levels. Professionals make choices and working for MIIs or a regulator, such as Sebi, at lower compensation levels is a conscious choice. Looking back, when the NSE was set up, its senior management came from IDBI. From all accounts, the NSE has performed well beyond expectations, particularly during the crucial first ten years after it was set up, with compensation levels close to public sector bank salaries. Going by past experience, the listing and compensation policies at the NYSE and LSE are not necessarily "best international practices".

A scare tactic which is being used by critics of the JCR is that trading on Indian stock exchanges will migrate to stock exchanges in Singapore, London and elsewhere if this report's proposals are accepted. To sum up, this is a risk worth taking since the systemic risks associated with for-profit, listed MIIs, with compensation and dividends linked to trading volumes or profits, would be much higher.

 bhagwati@gmail.com

The author is India's ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. Views expressed are personal

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

BEYOND THE INFLEXION POINT

JAMAL MECKLAI

There has been talk about globalisation, the flat world and jobs being outsourced to China and India for probably 25 years now, but governments in Europe and the US have largely continued to flog the easy political solutions. Chinese labour conditions need to be improved, Indian IP rights need to be tightened, China needs to let its currency appreciate, and so on. The myth is that if, by magic, all these changes came to pass, the US and Europe would suddenly become globally competitive again. The truth is that none of these is fundamental to competitiveness.

The only way to deal with globalisation was very well described by the prime minister of Singapore in an article in the Financial Times. "Globalisation poses significant challenges to countries. Competition is intense, change is continuous, and the fruits of prosperity are unevenly distributed… The only reliable strategy for improving the lives of citizens is for countries to upgrade the skills of their people and the capabilities of their economies. This means educating the population to enhance their earning power, investing in technology and infrastructure to raise overall productivity, developing new industries to replace declining ones, and constantly adapting to stay relevant in a changing world."

 Other than Singapore, the most successful players in this new world have been China — of course — and, to a great extent, Germany and other countries in Northern Europe. China has been single-minded about its need to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, and if this leads to global censure, ha ha. Facilitating this process, the Chinese government has not had to worry too much about domestic political pressures, but, as China takes the lead globally, these "democratic" forces are beginning to get louder. However, I believe it will be at least another decade before they begin to make dents in Chinese single-mindedness.

Germany has also made something of a success of globalisation, despite having to manage its European connections. This is mainly because it has always been a paragon of good sense. While this was much-mocked in the pre-globalisation days, the virtue of understanding that you have to pay for your pleasures and work for your money has stood the Germans in good stead. Of course, Germany, too, had fallen prey to the high-end welfare state syndrome — indeed, for a long time, it was the leader of that pack — but the lessons learned during the integration of East Germany, long, hard years of very high unemployment, have come home to roost. I think Helmut Kohl can well be considered the father of modern Germany. Perhaps, Angela Merkel will go down as its mother.

But in America, the structural problems leading to the decline in American competitiveness — primarily the failure of education policy — have been papered over, certainly during the last 15 years of financialisation, by making it easier and easier for people to buy homes and increase consumption, culminating in the financial crisis of 2008. Mr Obama does appear to have a clearer idea of the problems facing his country, but, at this point, he, too, is focused on politics and his re-election.

In some countries in Europe, the problems are even more fundamental. Much of the population of Southern Europe have got so used to the good life that they can't imagine that anyone has to pay for it. Getting two or three generations to change the way they think about work is an extremely tall order.

Young people in Europe, in particular, are the most affected. My wife had her hair cut (in Bombay) by a young French woman, who moved here about a year ago, since she found that it was getting very difficult to find meaningful employment in France and, more importantly, that "nobody seems to really work there". The son of an Italian friend of mine, who works for a multinational, requested and took a posting in Thailand a couple of years ago, and, while he misses his family and the Italian way of life, has no plans to return — indeed, he recently married a Thai girl. While these are anecdotal, the press is full of stories about the "brain and skills drain" from Europe.

The good news, if it can be called that, is that the financial crisis of 2008-09 and the sovereign debt crisis in Europe have highlighted the current losers. The threat is that these crises also appear to have created an inflexion point, beyond which globalisation will accelerate.

The Indian government needs to jerk into action urgently, focusing much more effectively on education, technology and infrastructure. We have been beneficiaries of globalisation so far, but as it accelerates, we have to up our game continuously if we are not, like the US and some of Europe, to stumble or even fall.


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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

MARKETING WITH A HUMAN TOUCH

THE BACKWARD BACKWATERS ARE NOW AT THE FOREFRONT OF BIG CORPORATE THINKING

SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR

When Neeru, a resident of Manoharpur village on the outskirts of Agra, attended a driving camp conducted by Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) a few days ago, nobody thought she would learn the ropes and start driving a tractor so soon.

 But M&M's technicians made sure she and many other girls do that in style. Neeru even took Agra's Mayor for a drive in the tractor. M&M has been doing this for a few weeks now under its "Nayi Disha, Nai Soch programme".

Mahindra Group Vice Chairman & MD Anand Mahindra says an initiative like this isn't just another corporate social responsibility programme. "Yes, it is our way of giving back to society. But it can be profitable too. Can you imagine the impact such a programme has on a rather conservative social milieu? The emotional connect with the parents of these girls or the villagers who attend such camps will also serve another useful purpose. When they decide to buy a tractor, chances are they will opt for an M&M tractor," he says.

Like M&M, a host of companies have woken up to the fact that apart from making a significant impact on people's lives, their social contributions can be profitable too. So the backward backwaters are now at the forefront of big corporate thinking.

Take the eco-friendly Pattori village in Madhepura, Bihar. After the village was wrecked by the Kosi river two years ago, the Mahindra Foundation & Mahindra Consulting Engineers (MACE) stepped in to rebuild the village by setting up disaster-resistant dwellings with all social infrastructure facilities like water supply, sanitation, solar lighting, an amenity building, cattle sheds, machaans (raised resting platforms) and so on. To keep costs in check, MACE ensured the extensive use of locally available materials and skill sets and employed the local workforce.

M&M is now using this experience to build ultra low-cost housing in other parts of the country as a profitable venture.

Examples like these are the reason companies are increasingly saying that marketing with a human touch is the way to go, specially in remote villages. Ask Godrej & Boyce. For Chotukool, its nano refrigerators, the Godrej group junked the traditional model of a proprietary channel with a sales force and a distributor-dealer chain. The company has joined hands with micro-finance institutions and has gone in for an innovative scheme which can serve two purposes: give employment to local villagers to increase their participation in the success of the project and keep the venture profitable by keeping distribution costs low.

So the bullock cart stops in one of the dusty alleys in Osnamabad, a small town in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra and two village girls, dressed in traditional Marathi Kasta Saree, step out in style with the products they have helped co-create with Godrej engineers. The quality of the sales pitch of these girls, who have passed Class 10, would do an MBA proud. For, they know the products well, as the company involved them right from the conception stage to designing and marketing Chotukool.

There are other innovations galore. While Google is developing online bulletin boards that can be used by villagers who don't know how to read or use a computer, companies like TVS are using programmes like Women on Wheels that trains women to ride two-wheelers. As a part of this campaign, TVS has set up driving learning centres called TVS Scooty Institute at its dealerships where girls over 16 years of age can take a week's training for just Rs 350.

Since women account for more than 70 per cent of Scooty sales, the campaign, positioned as empowerment of women, was a smart move. The strategy – train and sell – is also in tune with a TVS-IMRB research study which found that any girl who learns to ride on a certain brand of bike would invariably like to buy the same brand — the training being a big influence on purchase decision.

The study also showed that while it is normal for men to lend their bikes to their male friends who want to learn how to ride, women face stiff resistance from even family members. What makes it worse is that there aren't many formal two-wheeler training centres in the country. The findings prompted the company to set up the Scooty Institute.

Since most two-wheeler sales are in small towns, TVS launched the institute in areas with population of 100,000 to 500,000. The women undergoing training are in the age group of 18-25 and who don't want to depend on family members or the public transport system for commuting.

TVS is now planning to scale up the programme, under which dealers approach girls' schools and colleges to offer training in riding two-wheelers. Studies have shown that one in every five students has bought a TVS brand within three months of the training.

Showing that we care has never been so profitable.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

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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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SANS PRAGMATISM

MALEGAM COMMITTEE ON MICROFINANCE


THE report of the Malegam Committee set up by the RBI to look into the problems of microfinance institutions (MFIs) disappoints. One recommendation seeks to make at least the bigger MFIs more robustly regulated, by converting them into a special category of non-banking finance companies, NBFC-MFIs. Where it falls short is that it fails to draw a line between the ideal and the feasible. Many of its recommendations, such as the cap on interest rates (24%) or on the interest margin, will be near-impossible to enforce. Such caps have not worked in the past and are unlikely to work in the future. Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that they can be enforced, strict enforcement will only drive potential borrowers into the arms of moneylenders. Likewise, it is going to be near-impossible to ensure compliance with the multitude of conditions required to qualify as an NBFC-MFI — it must provide financial services predominantly (90%) to low-income borrowers (specified as those with annual family income of less than . 50,000), loans must be unsecured, for small amounts and for short tenure, mainly for income generating activities, etc. Or to prevent those that do not qualify as NBFC-MFI from lending more than 10% of their total assets to the microfinance sector. It is wellknown that MF loans are largely of the nature of bridging loans that help the poor tide over a consumption-related funds crunch. Hence, insistence on loans being made 'primarily' for income-generating activities may, once again, detract from their allure.

 

The committee is aware of these dangers. It points out that a balance has to be struck between the benefits of restricting loans only for income-generating purposes and recognition of the needs of low-income groups for loans for other purposes. But its recommendations do not seem to have taken into account the ground realities. To the extent MFIs service 26.7 million customers with outstanding loans of . 18,344 crore, of which about 75% is bank-financed, there is a need to keep an eye on them. But with an eye also on the cost-benefit trade-off and a danger of spreading regulatory resources too thin. In any case, the real threat to microfinance is from politicians who instigate loan default promising an inevitable waiver.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE TUNISIAN INTIFADA

DEMOCRATIC HOPE BLOOMS IN WEST ASIA


EVENTS in Tunisia are of far greater import for West Asia, and the Arab world in particular, than the immediate fact of a people's revolt forcing a head of state out of power. For one, it is a rare example of people trying to force out a regime, rather than yet another coup effecting regime change. Two, this is, patently, a secular uprising, not something instigated by Islamism, the spectre of which is often deployed by the West and the ruling elites in West Asia to maintain the status quo. Three, not without reason, therefore, are events in Tunisia a cause for worry for many of the authoritarian regimes in West Asia. For long, the joke among Arabs has been that thawra(revolution) is something often heard about in the Arab street, never quite seen. And while some are calling this the 'jasmine revolution', quite a few Arabs are also calling it the 'Tunisian intifada'. The latter, in its sense of an uprising, not yet a realised revolution, might be more factual. The old regime hasn't quite disappeared, even though former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family fled the country with, literally, more than a ton of gold. Elements from that old structure are still trying to hang on to power — after protests continued over the coalition government retaining key ministers from the previous cabinet, some of those ministers have resigned from the RCD, the former president's party.

 

But reports aver political prisoners have been freed, and that political cartoons, part of a new-found journalistic freedom, are appearing in local newspapers. But Tunisians are demanding nothing short of a total break with the past, and with it an end to the economic mismanagement that was the immediate catalyst for the uprising, as well as an end to the repressive internal security apparatus. To that end, there can be no feasible option apart from holding free and fair elections as soon as possible. For now, though, the 'Tunisian intifada' has offered hope of a wider, secular Arab democratisation — long denied to the people both due to western support for the region's authoritarian rulers and the latter's using Israel and Islamists as an excuse to maintain their grip.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIGER MOTHERS

INDIA, CHINA BREED COMPETITION


FROM winning spelling bees to churning out programmes for our tireless outsourcing behemoths, Indian youngsters show the formidable depth of their random access memories with metronomic precision. Why then did it take a Chinese-American Harvard law professor Amy Chua to let the world in on the secret of eastern brain power: tiger moms? Indians have long believed that it doesn't pay to let kids have a good time, or even any free time for that matter. The few hours not taken up by schoolwork, homework and sustained swotting at serial tutorial classes, are packed with music, dance, karate, tennis and golf lessons. And the guardian angel of these prodded prodigies is usually the fond materfamilias, monitoring every inch of progress in the classroom, sports arena or activity centre, come rain or shine. Gauging by her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua's daughters seem no different from countless Indian children, brought up on the strict diet of no TV and computer games, no sleepovers, playdates or school drama fests, nothing less than straight A grades in class, and excelling in at least one musical sphere achieved through tortuous hours of practice. It is heartening to note that Hindi-Chini are mai-mai at least on that count, even if we do have divergent perceptions on Aksai Chin, Arunachal Pradesh and stapled visas.

 

So far ,the world has been big enough for both breeds of panthera tigris matris, with North America providing vast, non-overlapping sanctuaries for rival species. There could be a problem, though, if Indian and Chinese tiger moms come head-to-head with their competing cubs. As everyone knows, there can only be one winner of a spelling bee or music contest, one class valedictorian and, ultimately, one dominant world power. Which mother will it be?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

PRICE PRESSURES IN VEGETABLE SOUP

THE VEGETABLE PRICE SPRIAL IS LARGELY ARTIFICIAL, AND IF THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT TAKE STEPS TO REFORM MARKETING AND MODERNISE LOGISTICS FOR PERISHABLE FARM PRODUCE, THE PROBLEM WON'T GO AWAY, SAYS SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI


THE past several months have seen much tumult. From the Commonwealth Games (CWG) to 2G, with garnishing from the Adarsh housing cooperative and the loan fraud, all have provided high octane fodder to Indian politics and the media. However, since the last week of December 2010, another element has intruded into the political/media space, and that is the rising prices of vegetables.

 

Vegetable prices show a seasonal variation, with prices dropping as the high output winter season sets in towards end-November/early-December. The signs were that the flare-up in inflation that had troubled us for over a year was quietening down a bit and was expected to moderate after October. That it did when the November monthly inflation rate came in lower at 7.5%. However, at this stage things began to go wrong. Instead of the normal seasonal decline, vegetables prices shot up. Whereas between the first week of November and the middle of December last year, the price index for vegetables had fallen by 9%, this year there was an increase of 24%. Not only that, but over the second half of December 2010, vegetable prices experienced a further increase of 21%, instead of the 8% decline in 2009. Thus, between November and December, whereas in 2009 (which, remember, had been a drought year) the prices of vegetables had fallen by 17%, in 2010 it shot up by as much as 50%. The media (and political) focus has been on onions — in part because there was a proximate cause for this in the form of heavy unseasonal rains that had damaged a part of the early kharif crop.

Indeed, wholesale prices of onion rose by 65% through November and December 2010. But it should be underscored that the contribution of onion in pushing up vegetable prices was not as much as some might believe. It was actually overshadowed by the 110% and 125% respective increases in the prices of brinjal and tomatoes during Nov-Dec 2010, almost all of it in the month of December, that pushed the price index of vegetables by even more than did onions. Moreover, there was no weather-related event or other proximate cause that could be associated with the sudden and massive increase in the prices of brinjal and tomatoes and a few other items such as cauliflower — except for the contagion effect emanating from onions. But for such contagion effects to become a sufficient force to lift the prices of brinjal and tomatoes by over 100% in the space of weeks, something strange must characterise their markets. That is, they cannot quite be markets that are free in the commonly understood sense, but must be amenable to cartelisation and that too in a very powerful manner.

 

The Agricultural Produce and Market Committee (APMC) Acts of the state governments have conferred a monopoly on the APMC mandi to execute trades in farm produce, including perishable horticultural products such as fruit and vegetables. The intention, no doubt, was to provide the farmer with the certainty of a marketplace and assurance of payment. However, the suspicion that the system has been hijacked by traditional middlemen has if anything been amply borne out by this recent experience with brinjal, tomatoes and cauliflower. In theory, it is supposed to be the farmer alone who can offer his/her produce at these mandis. In practice, this function is discharged by primary aggregators whose conflation with the farmer only holds true in the sartorial type-associations in the mind of the urbanite Indian. The mark-up between the mandi price and the retail price in the same city is scandalously high, testifying to the further layers of transactions and transaction costs that are involved. Between the price that the retail consumer pays and what the farmer actually receives is a big chasm. Of what utility is a regulation that ends up fleecing the customer and short-changing the farmer?
    THE Indian consumer is going to consume increasingly large quantities of fruit, vegetables, dairy produce, eggs, meat and fish. The government is in the business of buying, stocking and distributing grains — for which the APMC/mandi system may perhaps be a convenience. However, the trade in perishable farm produce is in the private sector and will remain so. To become efficient it needs to be freed from the burden of monopolies that have been conferred by government for reasons that are evidently ill-founded and are patently counter-productive. Not only are there unjustifiable marking up of prices, there is a lot of waste, too. It has been variously estimated that up to half of our vegetable and fruit produce are wasted in the long transit between the field and the kitchen table. Such waste can only be addressed by greater investment in cold chains and processing facilities, by improved handling and packaging. Our horticultural production has risen sharply as the Indian farmer has responded very well to the rising consumer demand. The logistics, however, have remained wasteful and primitive. The improvement can take place only with large investments and corporate retail is the only engine that can drive the process. Someone in a mandi town will invest in a cold chain the more readily if he/she knows that a contractual tie-up for half or more of the space can be made with an established retail company — for the capacity to finally sell the service is with the retail establishment. This can in conjunction with contract farming provide the assurance of sale and price which are always a big uncertainty with the farmer.

 

There is a tendency to conflate the issue of corporate retail chains entering the horticultural space with that of foreign investment in these chains. This has contributed to muddying the water. There is a clear imperative to take the necessary steps to have perishable farm produce deleted from the list of items covered by the APMC Act (easier than trying to amend the Act) and create a regulatory framework for the entry of retail chains into perishable farm produce with a direct interface with the farmer. Whether to permit FDI into this business is a second and separate decision, as also is in what form to this. To my mind, this is quite subsidiary to the principal issue that is at hand. If we do not take the necessary steps to modernise logistics for perishable farm produce, we will remain for ever hostage to the problems we have faced this winter.

 

(The author is member,     Planning Commission)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

N EU RAL N ET

TIME RIPE FOR AGRICULTURE

AKHILESH TILOTIA ANALYST, KOTAK INSTITUTIONAL EQUITIES


THE outlook for agriculture in India is changing: price increases are lifting realisations, which, in turn, are being reinvested in productivity enhancements. Small changes in the agricultural value chain can add up to a substantial improvement in yield and productivity.

 

India ranks high in terms of total production of various commodities including milk (first), wheat (second), rice (second), fruits and vegetables (second). Increasing prices of commodities via government supported MSPs or general inflation (milk, fruits and vegetables) have led to a doubling of farmer incomes over this decade. Thanks to the injection of funds by the government through various schemes (like MG-NREGA and PM Gram Sadak Yojana), the Indian heartland is witnessing a bout of prosperity.

 

However, low yields (across all staples and milk) highlight a crying need for research-led investments that lead to on-theground changes. Re-skilling of farm labour and farmers is still required to reduce their dependence on the low returns on agricultural investments, which are in the low single digits, even after the interest subsidy provided by the central and state governments.

 

Our calculations show that profitability in staples may be up 3-7X over the last decade on an all-India level as output price increases outpace input costs rise. Capital formation (at 14% of GDP) in this sector is improving with public sector taking the lead, even though it is still considerably short of taking growth to 4% levels. Credit to the agriculture sector has increased 4.4X over the six-year period ended FY2007. Prosperous farmers are consolidating land holdings — the fallout of which is further marginalisation of small farmers for whom it may be more attractive to sell out than to hold, if only they could be skilled to do something else if not farming.

Ashortage of labour is hitting agriculture, leading to increased mechanisation (tractors, tillers) and use of chemicals (herbicides). Our calculations indicate that the average cost of labour is rising much faster (between 4% and 13% yearly) than horsepower adjusted prices of tractors, making tractor purchase an increasingly profitable option (also given that the tractor can be monetised for construction activities and as amode of transport helps).

 

Achieving scale and using the right technology can produce significant yield enhancements: the seeds and fertiliser companies are in the best position to lead the revolution. Cotton productivity has gone up 3X (591 kg/ha in FY2009 from 186 kg/ha in FY2002) since the Bt seeds were introduced. Contrast this with less than 2X increase in productivity from independence to FY2002.

 

With weather forecasting erratic (over the past 12 out of 16 years, IMD forecasts have seen 'significant deviation', with greater than +/-5% difference between forecasted and actual rainfall), crop insurance has not taken off significantly. Soil and water quality is also deteriorating, which presents opportunities to seed and sprinkler companies.

 

Government initiatives in procuring (to maintain price stability), warehousing (to create stock buffers) and distributing (to ensure access) food have been woefully inadequate. With government buying around 30% of the produce for both wheat and paddy, it remains a big player in determining prices and in the logistics value-chain. With APMC mandis situated at an average distance of 12 km from a farmer (with the benchmark being 5 km and the highest being 60 km), there is significant wastage between farm-gate and the mandi.

Over the last few years, governments have piled up a stock of 58 million MT, with storage capacity of only 33 million MT, rotting grain in a hungry country. An inefficient distribution chain leads to time and produce wastage, estimated at . 580 billion a year. There is significant investment coming in from private players in warehousing. Higher incomes are raising the demand for protein. This calls for changes in cropping patterns (cultivated acreage in fruits and vegetables is up 52% and 29%, respectively in the last seven years ending FY2009) and increased production of dairy and poultry.

 

The processed food industry can capture significant value and is expected to boom along with the associated packaging and retailing industry. For example, we note that two-thirds of Indian milk is unpasteurised, only 5% of milk is processed into higher value products. The Indian food import cost is rising due to increased demand for edible oil and pulses. On the export front, India needs to broadbase from cereals, basmati rice, fruits and vegetables (both fresh and processed — primarily mango) and animal products, which remain the top items.
Better quality inputs (seeds, mechanisation), higher-value farming (pulses, horticulture, dairy, poultry) and more food processing will be the game-changers for Indian agriculture.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

OCCASIONAL PAPER

GROWTH VS EQUITY DEBATE REVISITED

MANOJ PANT

 

IN THE last month or so, there has been a fascinating debate on the internet (largely among non-resident Indian economists and some India watchers) about the age-old issue of growth vs equity. The inspiration seems to be a media statement by Prof Amartya Sen that in India we should end our "obsession with growth". Expectedly, the riposte comes from the 'Prof Jagdish Bhagwati group' (for want of a better term) stressing the importance of high growth.

 

There is some truth in Prof Sen's statement about "obsession with growth" as, for some reason, the ruling party managers trumpet the high growth rates of the last decade or so as their trump card whenever confronted with other issues like inflation, corruption, governance, etc. Yet, the interesting feature of the debate (which at the current level could continue for the next 50 years without any conclusion) is that none of the protagonists in this debate seem to have moved on to micro issues. Specifically, what are the sectoral implications of the debate and how does this impact on the future pace of economic reforms in India?

 

First, are growth and poverty in conflict? This seems absurd. It is difficult to argue that high growth of GDP (except in an exploitative non-democratic feudal society) has no impact on bringing at least some people above the poverty line. It is even more difficult to argue that, say, a 15% growth rate of GDP, ceteris paribus, will not automatically reduce poverty more than a 10% rate. After all, it is clear that with a 15% growth, government measures to redistribute income (say, via higher tax incomes) will meet with less political resistance. One has to be a communist to argue that a high growth rate does not matter.

 

What about growth and income distribution? Here the arguments are not so clear-cut. It is almost certain that a 15% growth rate will probably be accompanied by greater inequality of incomes than a 5% rate. This is simply because capabilities (except by in a rare utopian world) are unequally distributed and this is not only because of unequal educational opportunities. Any growing economy will find some sectors grow faster than others and hence, the incomes of those best suited to production in the faster growing sectors will grow proportionately more than in the other sectors. This is also independent of the political system so that even communist China has seen income inequalities (measured by the Gini coefficient or whatever) increase over the last decade or so.

 So, what is the Indian problem? This lies in the fact that high growth rates do not seem to be impacting the agricultural sector. So, understanding why this is so is crucial to understanding why so many worthy economists are still debating the issue of growth vs equity. The issue of economic reforms in agriculture has both political and economic dimensions. It is interesting to note that industrial reforms find little resistance today. Since 1991, industry has gone through delicensing and greater exposure to foreign competition which even the Left does not want to reverse. Yet, any attempt at reform in agriculture is met with fierce opposition. This is mainly because legislators can blame the Centre for trade and industrial reforms. On the other hand, agriculture being a state subject, reforms in agriculture are a political hot potato. So deferring agricultural reforms is the safest political strategy. Economics may demand this, but who will bell the cat?

 

Look at some statistics on the agricultural sector. For one, the productivity in the major crop, cereals, has remained around 1,600-1,800 kg per hectare since about 1995 or so. Second, the average size of operational holdings in agriculture is around 1.3 ha. Barring states like Punjab and Rajasthan, the average size over the country lies between 0.5 and 2 ha. If one excludes the large landholdings, the average size would fall to around one ha. Hardly the kind of holdings on which major productivity changes can be built using better inputs and technology. At the same time, opening up of inter-state trade in foodgrains is still stuck in bureaucratise which is paradoxical, given that both retail and wholesale trade are largely in private hands. Similarly, many attempts to reform the state agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs) to end the state monopoly in procurement have still not succeeded fully. What this failure does is to strengthen the monopoly of large traders in wholesale trade.

It is well known that the farming today is the least profitable occupation, particularly for small farmers. But in the absence of employment opportunities outside agriculture, the low productivity low per capita income trap will continue. With 50% of population still viewing agriculture as the principal source of income, these debates on growth vs equity don't take us anywhere.

 

Why high GDP growth rates do not impact the agri sector is crucial to understanding the nuances of the debate
Since reforms in agriculture are a political hot potato, deferring them is the safest political strategy for governments


Agriculture in India being one of the least profitable occupations, we need a new narrative to settle the debate

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

THE BREAKDOWN OF A GOOD IDEA

MUKULSHARMA

 

IT'S often said about communism that it's a good idea in principle but a disaster in practice. Good because it aims for an egalitarian welfare society striving collectively towards a higher social order where one class of people don't end up oppressing another on the basis of any perceived superiority. More importantly, good also because it's where everybody is equal in the eyes of an overarching beneficial authority whose purpose is to care for and look after its people. What could be more desirable, what could be better? Can anyone believing in the role of humanity in the communal process seriously have problems with such a system?

 

But a disaster because with hindsight and history to help us, we find that in reality the same system buckled under its own goodness. It turned out that the rituals associated with the idea of communism was at odds with most basic instincts which human beings have — the desire for self actualisation. Power invariably accumulated in the elite, dissent was suppressed, freedom, civil liberties, opinion and expressions of thought curbed. Communism, in practice, denied these and forced rules which were generally enforced by the threat of repercussions. Ultimately there was no acceptance or majority ruling. Ultimately there were no ideals.

In many ways the same thing applies to believing in God. God is also a good idea in principle, not because of any inherent belief or faith but because without a first cause the meaning of everything in existence is lost. Without a Creator creation becomes merely a random physics event without any goal to work towards, without purpose or direction and without moral considerations or justification. On the other hand, it can be safely said that those who hold their God in an intimate heart can — and do — eagerly give themselves a good reason for being alive.

 

Yet, like communism, the collective practice of Godness has had a bit of a disastrous history also and, ironically, for both parties concerned. For us it has spawned an institution ground not in reverence but in enforced rituals which dull any desire for individual growth since questioning is discouraged and dissent considered heretical, while power has become localised in the heads of a few at the top. For Him, He's been broken into small pieces and distributed indiscriminately till probably nothing remains now of the original ideal.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

RESHUFFLE RATIONALE

POLITICS ASIDE, WILL THE CHANGES ACCELERATE REFORM AND IMPROVE ADMINISTRATIVE EFFICIENCY? ONLY THE NAIVE WOULD THINK SO.

It is perhaps a measure of the confusion that prevails amongst the ever-growing tribe of Government-watchers that Wednesday's shuffling of the council of ministers by the Prime Minister has left everyone guessing as to what the Government's intentions are, and whether they will be achieved. The result is that there are as many explanations as commentators. The most surprising change, at least to those not privy to the innermost thoughts of Dr Manmohan Singh and the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, was the shifting of Mr Murli Deora from the Petroleum Ministry to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. That he may have preferred a lighter assignment — he is 74, after all — is understandable. But, then, why shift poor Mr Salman Khurshid, who had been doing a good job in Corporate Affairs, to Water Resources, which could just as well have been handled by Mr Deora if he wanted a nice sinecure? Likewise, Mr Jaipal Reddy was doing quite fine in Urban Development and his move to Petroleum will also raise an eyebrow or two.

Another noteworthy feature is the way the Congress has stuck its tongue out at its allies in the UPA. The DMK, forever in the news for good and bad reasons and now facing an election in four months, was given the coldest of cold shoulders: no one from its ranks has replaced Mr A. Raja, with the result that it is now one minister less. But it can nurture some hope because the Prime Minister has said that there will be another reshuffle after the Budget, which could be in January 2012. In a sense, therefore, it has been put on probation. Similarly, the Trinamool Congress, which in some ways is more important than the DMK at this point, has also been given the short shrift. It did not get any more than it has already has. Mr Praful Patel has been pushed up but also sideways. His boss, Mr Sharad Pawar, has been divested of the food department, which has been given to his junior, Mr K. V. Thomas. In short, the Congress has shown the country who the boss is. But the Prime Minister has moved in these mysterious ways his wonders to perform with some of the Congress ministers also. Kamal Nath has moved to Urban Development, which has a large budget and is in need of special attention. Mr M. S. Gill, whose knowledge of statistics must be very rusty, has been moved to the Ministry that generates them. And so on.

Politics aside, questions about reform and administrative efficiency remain. Will these changes accelerate the one and improve the other? Only the naive (and the 24X7 channels) would think so. There has hardly been any minister in the last two decades who can claim to have pushed either reforms or their implementation with great distinction. In that sense, who the minister is may be a matter of interest only for drawing-room talk.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

PARADOXES FACING THE RBI

A. SESHAN

 

As the RBI takes stock of the economy in its quarterly review, inflation control would be high on the agenda. In the current context, an increase of at least 25 basis points in repo rates is called for.

As the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) prepares its quarterly review of the economy, it would have to contend with several paradoxes in the economic situation, with contrary policy implications.

First, is the increase in exports at a time when it should be the other way round, due to the appreciation of the rupee against the dollar. Second, is the central bank asking the government to expedite spending, whereas in the context of the current high level of inflation it should be pleased with the deceleration in government expenditure. Third, amidst the hype on the expected growth rate of the economy, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) is on a roller-coaster. Fourth, food inflation is at the centre of discussion in policy circles despite a satisfactory monsoon, even as it is caused by vegetables. There are reasons for these anomalies, and there is scope for correcting them.

THE PARADOXES

In the first place, the so-called appreciation of the Indian currency is in reality a correction of its undervaluation in terms of its purchasing power in international markets. As regards the second anomaly, it is man-made ("Some truths about liquidity crisis", Business Line, December 11, 2010). The continuous rolling over of repos tantamounts to the RBI issuing short-term loans, which banks can lend at a substantial margin. Cannot the RBI institute a system of auctioning its surplus government deposits to banks by way of relieving the shortage of money?

This is one of the standard practices of open market operations, followed successfully in some countries. The government will earn interest on its idle deposits with the RBI. During periods of auction repo operations should be suspended.

The third anomaly relates to the ups and downs in the IIP data. In fact, on the basis of the latest fall in industrial growth rate to 2.7 per cent in November 2010, there have been demands not only for not tightening policy, but even for relaxing it in terms of reductions in CRR and SLR.

The limitations of IIP are well known. Its inadequacies are brought out in a comparison with the results of the relatively more reliable Annual Survey of Industries (ASI). Thus, during 2008-09, industrial growth was 8.3 per cent, according to ASI, whereas the manufacturing sector recorded 3.4 per cent, according to IIP.

Inflation control

The current inflation rate, particularly of food items, calls for top priority in policymaking. The RBI is concerned with aggregate demand. It can only deal with the general level of prices caused by excess demand. The current inflation is the result of the monetary excesses of 2008-09, which is having its lagged effect, besides supply-side problems.

The excess money, for a long period returned to the RBI through reverse repos, has now been absorbed in the system. The process of rolling back the liberalisation measures should have started at a time when banks were returning the funds. Now, whatever is done will have its effect a year or so later. But that should not deter the RBI from doing the needful. A minimum increase of 25 basis points in repo rates should be a signal to the market.

Raising the reverse repo rate will reopen the floodgates of carry trade that has been quiescent for quite some time. If the RBI wants to control the situation by regulating liquidity, then it should be prepared for some deceleration in industrial activity. It cannot say that it wants to tighten policy and, at the same time, be liberal in its repo action that has become more less a refinance facility for banks.

The RBI should continue to concentrate on domestic monetary policy, leaving the exchange rate to the market. It can take a lesson from China. Its current problems are due partly to market intervention that has led to the accumulation of huge forex reserves.

Raising the cash reserve ratio to high levels (nearly 20 per cent in the case of some banks) has not helped it in curbing lending or inflation.

According to some experts, China is sitting on a mountain of debt of several trillion yuan, contracted by local authorities to stimulate the economy in the wake of the international financial crisis; this is not likely to be repaid. The RBI has to watch out for surprising developments in the Chinese financial situation. Another equally important event is the likely downgrade of US' rating as it reaches the ceiling of public debt of $14.29 trillion and asks the Congress for a further increase. If the downgrade has not happened so far it may be due to the 'too-big-to-fail' argument that cannot be sustained for too long.

With a trillion dollar fiscal deficit in the current year that is likely to recur next year, the US is in for big trouble. It may well usher in the mother of all recessions and a return of stagflation to the world, with all the excess money circulating abroad.

The quantitative easing in US has not helped that country much due to considerable leakages. It is not easy to find out how much of each dollar created by the Fed remains in the country to boost demand. But the fact that unemployment rate in the US is stubbornly high despite all the money spent and the Asian nations are doing better in growth are enough preliminary indications to support the hypothesis that the US liberalisation has helped other countries and not itself.

The RBI would do well to have a stress test internally to know the consequences of a downgrading of the US economy by the rating agencies and be ready with contingency measures to minimise its adverse impact on India.

(The author is an economic consultant in Mumbai. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

ANOTHER TURF WAR ON THE CARDS

THE FINANCIAL STABILITY AND DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL IS UNLIKELY TO IMPACT REGULATORY INDEPENDENCE. RATHER, IT APPEARS THAT, WITH ALL REGULATORS AS FSDC MEMBERS, ONE MAY NOT LIKE THE OTHER TO INTERFERE WITH REFORMS COMING UNDER ITS AMBIT.

K. KANAGASABAPATHY


A turf war seems to have surfaced again in the financial sector, this time not among the regulators, but rather between the regulators, on the one hand, and the government, on the other.

Last time, the dispute was over the regulatory jurisdiction of SEBI and IRDA over some products or services, which led to the passing of the Securities and Insurance Laws (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010. Now, the RBI and SEBI have raised discordant voices against the government over the scope of activities under the newly formed Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC).

ROLE OF FSDC

The FSDC was announced in the last Budget with the objective of strengthening and institutionalising the mechanism for maintaining financial stability.

As the Budget called it an apex body, there was a controversy over whether the FSDC would become a super-regulator. The Finance Minister, on several occasions, clarified that it would not be a super-regulator.

But, according to media reports, SEBI and the central bank have taken objection to the inclusion of financial sector reforms as one of the activities of the FSDC, as they fear it would erode the independence of regulators.

The notification says that the FSDC was formed in consultation with the financial sector regulators. In that case, the Government has apparently overridden the objections that might have been raised at the consultation stage.

The objection seems to have come only from the banking and securities market regulators. Perhaps, the other two regulators feel that the insurance and pension reforms may be left to the FSDC, without loss of independence.

The notification talks only about financial sector development and not about financial sector reforms. Are reforms and development one and the same?

Assuming that they are, does inclusion of reforms as a separate function of the FSDC nullify the regulators' independence? The issue may be slightly different. As all regulators are members of the FSDC, perhaps one regulator does not want another to interfere with the reforms coming under its jurisdiction.

For instance, the RBI may not like SEBI to be involved in banking sector reforms and the SEBI may not want the RBI to intervene in securities market reforms. Insurance and pensions are exceptions. What should really be gratifying to all regulators is that the government notification makes no mention of 'financial sector regulation'.

Apart from financial sector development that has been disputed, the notification talks about financial stability, financial literacy, financial inclusion, inter-regulatory coordination and coordination of international interface with multilateral bodies.

But there is another item that has been carefully worded, namely 'macro-prudential supervision of the economy, including the functioning of large financial conglomerates'.

This may, however, be viewed as closely related to the stability role, as it is the supervision of the economy as a whole at the macro level, and not with reference to institutions or markets at the micro level. The serious regulatory gap in respect of conglomerates, and the regulatory arbitrage opportunities this gap could create, seems to justify the inclusion of functioning of conglomerates within the purview of the FSDC.

Hence, one may surmise that the government is not interested in interfering with regulatory independence.

REFORMS AND DEVELOPMENT

It is not really clear how inclusion of financial sector reforms or development would interfere with regulatory independence. In many cases, it is observed that reforms require inter-regulatory coordination.

As far as institutions and markets are concerned, there are several areas of regulatory overlap; any institutional or market reform would benefit from synergy, if regulators were to put their heads together on such issues.

For orderly development and smooth evolution of regulatory practices, FSDC's role as an agent of financial sector development seems well intended. Above all, development is basically a government function.

All regulatory bodies have been enjoined with the statutory responsibility of developing the respective markets and institutions within their jurisdictions. But financial sector development in a holistic sense is the joint responsibility of all regulators, in coordination with the government.

AREAS OF CONCERN

The real threat lies elsewhere. There are several areas where the regulatory independence is weak: First, the appointment of heads of regulatory bodies, their tenure, and conditions for removal; second, overriding powers over the governing body of regulators; third, policy override by the government and the scope for direct or indirect interventions on operational issues, such as regulatory action and monetary or supervisory action.

On these matters, the government should demonstrate that it does not interfere with the regulators. If the Commerce Ministry sends a letter to the Finance Minister regarding policy changes on interest rates, the Finance Ministry should clarify, in unequivocal terms, that it is the policy responsibility of the Reserve Bank of India.

The regulators' independence is suppressed on budgetary or financial matters, or even on matters of staff regulation. These areas should be strongly taken up with the government and the necessary legislative and institutional changes brought about by all the regulators, in a spirit of cooperation.

(The author is Director, EPW Research Foundation. The views are personal.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

HOW TO CONTAIN FOOD INFLATION

THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD IDENTIFY COMMODITIES IN WHICH TRADE AND TARIFF POLICIES CAN LEAD TO AN IMMEDIATE REDUCTION IN PRICES.

G. CHANDRASHEKHAR

 

The Centre has been battling food inflation, albeit with limited success. In the last two years, trade and tariff policies have been used to augment supplies and reduce prices. Export of a number of food products was banned, while imports were liberalised and, in many cases, allowed duty-free.

 

Administrative measures such as storage control were enforced to ensure that there was no speculative build-up of inventory. As a matter of abundant caution, futures trading in select commodities was banned. Monetary policy was tightened steadily. But all these have been of little avail and high food prices continue to burn a big hole in the common man's pocket.

 

High economic growth, rising purchasing power and population pressure have combined to demand more from the agricultural sector than ever before. While the demand side shows robust growth (a cause for cheer), the supply side leaves much to be desired.

 

OVERALL CONTEXT

 

Unsteady production, rising production costs, variable quality and yields combine to make overall farm growth sluggish. As supply growth trails demand growth, shortages accentuate. As has been recognised by experts, financialisation of agricultural markets impacts prices of essential food products.

 

It is well known that food constitutes nearly half of any average Indian family's monthly budget. For most Indians, high and rising food prices often result in a decline in food consumption, both quantitatively and qualitatively. This development has serious implications for the nutrition security of millions of people, especially those who are already undernourished or affected by malnutrition.

 

Unfortunately, global developments are unfavourable, too. Rising crude prices and adverse weather conditions of the last several months in many countries have impacted agricultural market prices. Integration of domestic market with global market means that our markets will have to contend with global influences.

 

Inflation control is an onerous, multi-dimensional task. The Government needs to exhibit sufficient political will to counter the problem. There is no simple one-step solution. A few short-term and medium-term measures may be considered by policymakers.

 

SHORT-TERM MEASURES

 

Use trade and tariff policies to augment availability. In addition to steps already taken, there is scope for more. For instance, refined edible oils attract Customs duty of 7.5 per cent ad valorem, while crude oil is allowed duty-free. If import of refined oils is also allowed duty-free, more quantities of refined oils (that are readily marketable) will flow into the market quickly. Also, such a policy will force large importers holding speculative stocks to liquidate their huge inventories. Similarly, liberalise sorghum (jowar) import which is canalised through FCI and attracts a duty of 50 per cent. Sorghum import may be placed under OGL and duty-free. These are but two examples.

 

The Government may do a similar exercise to identify commodities in which trade and tariff policies can be effectively deployed to augment supplies in the short-run.

 

Direct FCI to gradually unload excessive inventory of rice and wheat in a manner such that the cereals are widely dispersed through open market sale. This will improve the supply situation and check price rise. If this involves an element of subsidy, so be it.

 

Strengthen PDS (Public Distribution System). In addition to rice, wheat and sugar supplied by the Centre, add edible oil and pulses. This will bring relief to the poor.

 

Abolish/suspend levy of multiple levels of duties, taxes and cess at the State and local levels. In particular, APMC cess on essential food products, levies at the mandi level (purchase tax, mandi tax, and so on) and octroi duty in cities should be abolished forthwith. The Centre must bring adequate pressure on State governments to act.

 

The Railways must give priority for movement of essential commodities of mass consumption.

 

Start a dialogue with trade and industry associations to ensure that they follow self-regulation or self-imposed discipline in terms of inventory, quality, marketing, price, and so on.

 

Use the services of PSUs (such as STC, MMTC, PEC) to import essential food items, but make sure imported goods are marketed without delay.

 

Instead of futures trading (which is nothing but paper trading) in essential food products, mandate delivery-based forward trading so that speculators with no genuine interest in commodity markets are not able to distort prices.

 

If need be, bring back selective credit control on essential food products.

 

MEDIUM TERM MEASURES

 

Improve supply chain management by depoliticising the mandi system; make it more farmer and user friendly.

 

Review and redraw the FCI's role in foodgrains management.

 

The exercise should include reduction of carrying costs, investment in modern warehouses facilities and use of ICT to make the agency's working more transparent.

 

Use smart cards for PDS and ensure improved vigilance.

 

Step up public investment in agriculture. Areas crying for attention include stronger input delivery management, rapid expansion of irrigation facilities, improving agronomic practices through extension and farmers' education, building rural infrastructure and using ICT to deliver price and market information to growers.

 

Encourage technology infusion at every stage of farming and post-harvest covering inputs, production, protection and processing.

 

Instead of excessive reliance on markets and marketisation of food crops, create conditions for production of genuine surpluses primarily through increased yields and improved quality by fostering effective farm R&D.

 

Encourage contract farming — start with designing model contracts and making contracts enforceable. Incentivise contract farming for corporate houses.

 

Commercial intelligence and research: The Government lacks the ability to foresee and forecast changes in global and domestic commodity market conditions. This is a serious weakness. As markets integrate, our domestic market is subjected to global trends.

 

The Government should set up a commercial intelligence and research desk manned by experts who will track global and domestic market dynamics based on leading indicators and provide a 'price outlook' for the future, say six months' timeframe. It will facilitate proactive policymaking.

 

In addition to stepping up public investment in agriculture, investment through the PPP model may be followed for building rural infrastructure.

 

Promote and facilitate agricultural research with industry participation.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

AFTER THE CABINET RESHUFFLE, WHAT?

B.S. RAGHAVAN

The Prime Minister himself described the Cabinet reshuffle carried out by him as 'minor', but 'damp squib' is more like it. Other than adding three extra names — Messrs Ashwani Kumar, Beni Prasad Verma and K.C.Venugopal — to the existing ones, it has turned out to be nothing more than a game of 'give-some-take-some'. Actually, only one (Mr Venugopal) out of the three is a brand new face; the other two having had previous stints as Central Ministers.

No wonder, the commentariat is at a loss to put its finger on what precisely was the message Dr Singh wanted to signal. Reading between the names and portfolios, there are only four changes which can be regarded as pointers of sorts to any kind of planned moves on the part of the Prime Minister and the Chairperson, of the United Progressive Alliance, Ms Sonia Gandhi, (who must have undoubtedly been in on the whole exercise).

They pertain to the portfolios held prior to the reshuffle by Dr M.S. Gill (Sports and Youth Affairs), Mr Kamal Nath (Surface Transport), Mr Murli Deora (Petroleum) and Mr Vilas Rao Deshmukh (Heavy Industries). Not to put too fine a point on it, they have been shunted to Ministries which are considered 'unglamorous' and less prestigious, in popular perception (which, let it be said, may not often do justice to their intrinsic importance). This has been interpreted, justifiably or otherwise, as their having been found wanting and, therefore, fallen from favour.

Like the dog that did not bark in the Sherlock Holmes story, there is one thing that did not happen that has set tongues wagging. And that is the omission to fill the gap in the DMK quota caused by the exit of Mr A. Raja. Apparently, it was not for want of trying by the DMK chief, Mr Karunanidhi. The hitch was in arriving at a suitable name, bearing in mind the compelling need for improving the Government's image in the present context, already made murky with all kinds of scams and frauds.

Town Hall meetings

The most important question, in my view, is not who is in or out, but what the country is going to get from the team the Prime Minister has assembled in terms of clean politics, transparency, accountability, effective governance and prompt service delivery, and whether there is convincing evidence of the Government bending its energies in guaranteeing those objectives which, even today, are out of the reach of the people.

The Prime Minister himself, in an unusual statement issued on January 1, admitted to the existence of "infirmities and shortcomings" in the functioning of democracy in India and the prevalence of an "air of despondency and cynicism". He has given all the citizens a solemn assurance that he and his government would work with renewed resolve for the welfare of the people. He has further pledged himself to redouble his and the Government's efforts to deal effectively and credibly with challenges, among which he included inflation, cleansing governing processes, ensuring national security and making the delivery system work for the aam aadmi.

These are ringing declarations, but Dr Singh must remember that the people have been treated to identical ones so often in the past from the procession of the high and mighty that went before him that they have ceased to impress. Leave aside the aam aadmi, it is seldom that even persons of good standing come across a Minister or a functionary of the government or administration with a human face, helpful temperament and service-oriented outlook.

If Dr Singh really wants to know the mental and physical torments people undergo, he should spend as many days in different States as possible and hold 'town hall' like meetings — the kind the US President Barack Obama held in Mumbai during his visit — for as long as possible with all sections of the people. Only then will he know what it is like to be an aam aadmi.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

POWERING BIHAR AHEAD

PRATIM RANJAN BOSE

There is nothing unique in running a thermal power unit at full capacity, but Bihar State Electricity Board (BSEB) has hardly had a power station in shape for decades. Naturally, a few months down the line when BSEB's 25-year-old defunct unit at Barauni (now under a joint venture between BSEB and NTPC) once again starts generating power — that too at full capacity — it will make news.

Prolonged neglect of its power infrastructure has left Bihar with just two de-rated, if not dilapidated, thermal units, together generating a maximum of 110 MW. The State utility has already ordered renovation and modernisation of three more 110 MW units at Barauni and Muzaffarpur on a "fast track" basis for a total consideration of Rs 1,053 crore. "We are expecting all the four units to be operational in 2011-12, increasing our generation by three times," says BSEB Chairman, Mr P. K. Rai.

Huge shortage

Bihar has an estimated demand of nearly 2000 MW, of which, about half is met by NTPC. According to available information, 72,000 km of the transmission and distribution network in the State are defunct and most of the towns and cities, apart from Patna, practically run on diesel generators.

According to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the per capita electricity consumption in Bihar is a mere 93 units — enough to light a 100 watt bulb for 10 hours a day for three months a year — which is around one-eighth of India's abysmal national average of 717 units.

New Initiatives

Having focussed on law-and-order and road infrastructure in the first term, the Nitish Kumar government is now turning its attention to power. Supplies are expected to improve substantially by 2012-13, when the first 660 MW unit at Barh-II project of NTPC goes on stream.

Two private developers, Adhunik group of Kolkata and the Nagpur-based Abhijeet group, are reportedly planning to set up a combined capacity of 2,640 MW in Bhagalpur region, close to the coal-bearing areas of Jharkhand. A time-bound project has been taken up to replace the entire 33 kV and 11 kV transmission lines. In a major boost to the transmission initiative, the Asian Development Bank recently promised a Rs 700-crore loan for strengthening the State grid and creating distribution logistics in seven districts.

A programme to streamline distribution logistics in 71 towns under the Centre's Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (APDRP) will help reduce the transmission and distribution losses, currently around 40 per cent. "Bihar will have a rejuvenated power infrastructure a few years down the line," Mr Rai promises. Hopefully his promise will come true.

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MEN IN BLUE ALL SET FOR THE WORLD CUP

Regardless of the outcome of the two remaining one-day international matches that India are to play in South Africa, the team named for the forthcoming World Cup is already proving a point. Even minus four regulars — Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Praveen Kumar, all of whom had to quit the touring party with injuries — Mahendra Singh Dhoni's depleted squad have more than held their own in these last few matches ahead of the quadrennial event which kicks off in Dhaka in just under a month's time. Expectedly, there was something of a shindy when the 15-member team was announced earlier this week, especially with regard to the inclusion of leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, who has interestingly never played an ODI on home soil. With the likes of batsmen Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa and fast bowlers Ishant Sharma and Shantakumaran Sreesanth being kept out, the logic of Chawla's inclusion was a little hard to understand, particularly when the selectors have included just four fast bowlers in Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel and Praveen for a tournament that will run for all of 43 days. Not only has the lack of cover for injuries to the quicks been something of a gamble, the other exposed card is the skipper as the only wicketkeeper in the squad. At the same time, the selectorial options were severely limited given that each country can nominate only 15 players, which meant that a certain amount of trimming and compromise on options and combinations would take place. It is in this light that the raised eyebrows over a third spinner were entirely understandable. With Yusuf Pathan all but cementing the key number seven slot in the lineup as the all-rounder after two spectacular innings in as many games — one in India and the second many weeks later in South Africa — India already have five bowlers in any playing XI they would care to field. Add the occasional contributions from Yuvraj Singh, Sehwag (if fit), Suresh Raina and Tendulkar, and it gives Dhoni a full deck to play from, especially on the lower and slower pitches of the sub-continent. All this, however, is 28 days in the future. For the moment, the manner in which the Indians are going on South African pitches has been an eye-opener, not just for Graeme Smith and his men, but for millions of Indian fans as well. In the 19-odd years since India first toured South Africa, they had won just three matches in all. This time, they have already won two, and in succession. Minus some key stalwarts, it was felt that the best this side would do is manage to take the odd match off the Proteas, but the way in which the Men in Blue have shown resolve, grit and fighting spirit has left their opponents gaping in shock. Twice in as many games, South Africa lost — in extremely familiar and helpful conditions — from positions they had no business to do so, The fact of the matter is that this lot of Indians have discovered steel in themselves few believed existed in them.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HUZOOR, DILI DUR AST

BY SHASHI THAROOR

 "Embassy Row" in Dili, capital of Timor-Leste (formerly known as East Timor), occupies much of the capital's sparkling seafront. All the embassies have majestic views of the Indian Ocean. The imposing US embassy is set far back from the street in fear of possible truck-bombers; the Chinese one practically hugs the pavement; the Japanese and Koreans appear to jostle with the Portuguese and the Australians for the most desirable oceanfront space.

Now Pakistan has announced it is opening an embassy in Dili. Of India, there is no sign: the newest member country of the United Nations is covered from Jakarta by our ambassador to Indonesia, whose brutal 25-year occupation, ending in 2000, has not yet been forgotten in Timor-Leste. The fact that the only Indian flag flying in Dili was one placed in the foyer of my hotel, in honour of this visiting member of Parliament, reflects our country's inexcusable failure to engage with the great potential of South-East Asia's youngest nation.

I was in Dili last week at the invitation of my good friend President Jose Ramos-Horta, whom I had first met a decade-and-a-half ago as a Gandhian-minded human rights activist, whose advocacy of his people's freedom won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. Mr Ramos-Horta has held every position of international heft in his country — foreign minister, Prime Minister and now President — but retains a disarming modesty. My wife and I were astonished to be picked up by him personally at the airport and driven (by him, not a chauffeur) to our hotel in his quaint six-wheel Mini Moke. His message was clear: an Indian visitor, even one far removed from the corridors of power, was a welcome indication of interest, to a nation uncomfortably being wooed by both China and Pakistan.

That Timor-Leste should be the object of so much international courtship is hardly surprising. This small country of just over a million people sits on an enormous quantity of oil and natural gas, whose revenues have already helped build a reserve fund of $6 billion, growing every year. The half-island nation (its other half is Indonesian West Timor) is also home to significant quantities of gold and manganese, and its shores teem with fish. But it's not just Timor-Leste's natural resources that attract outsiders. Its needs are significant as well. The country, once dirt-poor, was devastated by a vengeful Indonesian withdrawal that left much of the capital in ruins. The task of building infrastructure — including to support the country's exploitation of its own offshore oil and gas — is enormous, and calls for enterprising investors. Given its own increasing prosperity, Dili is not looking for handouts, but for help.

Timor-Leste is the kind of place in which one would imagine India being far more active than Pakistan, and yet it's Islamabad that has leapt at the prospect, not New Delhi. Our woefully understaffed foreign service has been noticeably reluctant to open new missions without the qualified and experienced personnel available to run them. Despite a Cabinet authorisation two years ago to double the strength of our diplomatic corps, little progress has been made to increase available numbers, given the unwillingness of the establishment to open itself up to mid-career recruitment from outside the foreign service. This means that a number of pending recommendations for new missions are still languishing, and new recommendations simply aren't being made.

But if Delhi won't stir itself, Dili will. President Ramos-Horta has already won Cabinet approval to open an embassy in India and is about to embark on the necessary procedures to implement it. He is grateful for China's huge contributions to his nation — Beijing has already built the foreign ministry building and the presidential palace in Dili, as well as a headquarters building and staff quarters for the military — but remains wary of being enveloped solely in the dragon's embrace. Timor-Leste hopes to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, and would like nothing better than for China's blandishments to be balanced by an attentive India. Non-alignment between two big powers is still, after all, the wisest option for a small and newly-independent nation.

The Indian private sector has been quick to wake up to the possibilities. Reliance Petroleum is spending a million dollars a day drilling in an exploratory block off the country's southern coast, and if it strikes oil, the proceeds could be astronomical. Builders, road developers and exporters are also beginning to take interest. Timor-Leste imports almost everything: its trade imbalance is startling, featuring imports of $828 million and exports of just $8 million (consisting entirely of what President Ramos-Horta insists is the world's best coffee). Opportunities abound, and it won't be the first time Indian entrepreneurs take initiatives before our government does.

Not that South Block has been asleep at the switch: there are uniformed Indians, both military and police, in the United Nations mission in Timor-Leste, and our government has offered Timorians a number of scholarships for study in India. For the most part, though, the scholarships have gone abegging, since Timorese students don't have the grounding, or the English, to take them up. The President would love to have Indian help in building up his country's human resource capacities. An Indian IT training centre in Dili, he says, would be a wonderful start.

India has started putting diplomatic and financial energy into its traditional talk of South-South cooperation; we are offering foreign aid, grants and loans, to a number of African countries. Timor-Leste is a more self-reliant nation than most, so we will not need to be out of pocket much to help it. But if we send a few experts over to train young Timorese to take advantage of all that the 21st century offers them, we can make an impact out of all proportion to its cost. When the Prime Minister, the heroic Xanana Gusmao, developed cervical pain, he had to fly to Singapore to be treated: a good Indian hospital would be welcomed by every Timorese. Agriculture, mining and the development of small and medium enterprises are also things we are good at, that the Timorese sorely need. It's time for New Delhi to plant an Indian flag in new Dili.

* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliamentfrom Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE TEARY TALE OF DOPIAZA AND ONIONS

BY MANREET SODHI SOMESHWAR

In 16th century India a cook in the kitchen of the Mughal emperor Akbar accidentally added two portions of onion to a dish which went on to become a great hit. Thus was born dopiaza, literally onion twice over, a dish cooked in onion sauce that remains immensely popular to this day and has been successfully transplanted to Britain as well.

Except, if you wanted to cook it in India today, you might once again wish to seek royal patronage (or settle for a recipe that required no onion). With the vegetable selling at `85 (about $2) a kilo, up from `10 six months back, the staple of the average Indian household has gone extortionate.

The onion is rather ubiquitous in Indian food. Roughly chopped, it is an essential accompaniment to the sparse meal of the poor, while its braised, pureed, sauteed and garnished avatars surface in the meals of all others.

Muthi piaz — onion smashed with a fist — is de rigueur at roadside eateries throughout the country, and sirkawala piaz — onions in vinegar — are as essential to any table as salt and pepper.

So integral is the onion to the Indian way of life that it has its own mythology. Ayurveda, traditional medicine native to India, claims onion is diuretic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-pigmentationary. Highly regarded as an aphrodisiac in ancient India, it was banned to Hindu widows.

In the sizzling heat of the subcontinent, the onion is called upon for its cooling properties. This was brought to me forcefully when I began my sales training in the plains of Central India in summer when the average day temperature is 45 degree centigrade, fuelled by a hot tropical wind called Loo. Since my work required me to visit 40 grocery stores in one day, I was advised to keep an onion with me, preferably on my person, or in my sales satchel.

By way of explanation, my supervisor showed me his bag, where an onion sat shrivelling in one corner. He made his point further by requesting a labourer to allow me a peek at the folds of his turban — sure enough, tucked within was a red onion.

Legends have grown around the pungent bulb. Shivaji, the fearsome Maratha warrior who took on the might of the Mughals, was reputed to eat a lean diet of unleavened bread with raw onions, as opposed to the effete Mughals, who gorged on twice-cooked onion dishes.

To add to the woes of the Mughals, a holy man, Baba Buddha, when served a simple meal by the wife of a Sikh guru, smashed the onion and predicted that her son would one day similarly crush the tyranny of the empire. Obviously, the humble vegetable is an underdog's ally.

For the runaway price of onions today, the government has blamed heavy unseasonal rains, but poor agricultural productivity, lack of adequate infrastructure for storage and transport, and deficient government investment are equally to blame.

So what is the average Indian to do? Use cabbage and radish as substitute. And protest. Effigies of the agriculture minister have been burnt. Opposition leaders adorned with onion garlands have held rallies.

A novel protest had Santa Claus handing out onions on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, enterprising businessmen are giving free onions with the purchase of televisions, cars, motorcycles and tires.

Rising onion prices have historically felled governments. In 1980, Indira Gandhi ousted the ruling government by appearing at election rallies with strings of onions. The message was clear: If you can't manage the price of onions, how do you manage the country? A recent poll showed that the Congress Party would lose its parliamentary majority were an election to be held now.

The government is scrambling to bring the price of onions down. It has banned export of onions, turned to Pakistan for imports, and the prime minister has held cabinet meetings on the issue. Pakistan complied briefly before turning hostile, and now India is threatening in turn to halt cement exports.

It was always understood that you could knock next door for a bowl of sugar, some salt, an onion. With the current price of the vegetable, that would be akin to asking the neighbour for their family jewels. No wonder Pakistan is not responding.

We need to keep the peace in our neighbourhoods. In the interest of social cohesiveness, and its own survival, the government needs to fix the onion price pronto.

* Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is the author of The Long Walk Home. She writes for the South China Morning Post

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SUBS VITAL TO NAVY'S FUTURE

BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH

A little known event took place on December 9, 2010, when Indian Navy submarine Vagli was formally decommissioned in Visakhapatnam, after 36 years of glorious service. This decommissioning marked the end of a glorious era since INS Vagli was the last of the eight Soviet-origin Foxtrot (or Project 641) submarines to be decommissioned.

From 1967 to 2010, apart from training Indian Navy anti-submarine forces, eight Foxtrots trained generations of Indian submariners who then went on to operate our first SSGNs (cruise missile submarines), the Charlie-class INS Chakra, the 10-Kilo or Sindhughosh-class subs, and the four German-Type 1,500, or Shishumar, subs. Indeed, some senior crew of our first SSBN (the yet to be commissioned INS Arihant, which may commence sea trials in 2011) and our first SSN (media reports mention an Akula-class SSN, the INS Chakra, will be commissioned in early 2011) would have received their basic submarine training on the legendary Foxtrots.

The end of the Foxtrot era marks a new era of very low submarine force levels for the Indian Navy. It may be noted that in December 2010, the British government decided to drastically reduce the size of the UK military due to economic reasons. The last Royal Navy aircraft carrier (HMS Ark Royal) was prematurely decommissioned, along with its complement of Sea Harrier jet fighters, while the surface fleet was reduced to 19 frigates-destroyers, and the British Air Force is being downsized to six fighter squadrons by 2020. However, the British government has decided to retain its nuclear submarine force of four SSBNs (15,000-tonne Vanguard class), each of which can carry 16 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with a range over 8,000 km, and each missile can carry three to five nuclear warheads to destroy major cities. The UK also has two modern SSNs (8,000-tonne Astute class) and is building five more of the same SSNs; these SSNs can destroy enemy warships and submarines with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, while they can also attack land targets with 2,200-km-range Tomahawk cruise missiles with conventional warheads. Even the US Navy has about 60 nuclear submarines, as compared to 10 aircraft carriers. In any case, given China's experimental "game changer" — a land-based 1,500-km-range DF-21D "aircraft carrier killer" ballistic missile — the lesson is that the modern submarine is both the backbone and spearhead of a nation's tactical and strategic capabilities, though the aircraft carrier will remain an important platform for most blue water operations. But some of its land-attack roles are being taken over by the American 18,000-tonne Ohio-class SSGNs (four in service with the US Navy), each of which can fire 156 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles (2,200 km range). Needless to say, the submarine is invulnerable to attacks by D-21D-type weapons.

It is ironical that despite the Comptroller and Auditor General's reports of 2008 and 2010 warning of severe depletion of Indian Navy submarine force levels, little has been done to remedy the situation, while China (60 conventional subs, seven SSNs, three SSBNs) and Pakistan (five conventional subs) continue to expand their submarine forces. Pakistan is purchasing four Chinese Yuan-class conventional subs (with air independent propulsion system), while China, by 2025, is expected to have a 100 conventional subs, a dozen SSNs and a dozen SSBNs. In stark contrast, our present ageing force of 14 conventional subs (10 Russian-origin Kilos and four German-origin SSKs) will be reduced to only four obsolete units by 2020 (two Kilos and two SSKs, which will also be phased out by 2025), along with the six "new" Mazagon Docks Limited (MLD, Mumbai) built Scorpene class subs.

As per media reports, India's 30-year submarine building plan, approved by the government in 1999, originally envisaged construction of 24 conventional submarines by 2030, in three phases. Unfortunately, Phase 1, i.e. the Scorpene submarine licence production line of six subs under Project 75 at MDL (Mumbai), will have the first Scorpene ready by 2015, while the contract for the second (Phase 2) licence production line, under Project 75 (I), may be signed only by 2014. The third phase, which envisaged construction of 12 indigenously-designed submarines, is nowhere on the horizon. Also, in addition to building the Arihant-type SSBNs, a second production line needs to be set up for SSNs. Hence, the nation needs multiple submarine production lines for conventional and nuclear submarines.

Only a handful of nations today (France, Spain, Russia, China and a consortium of Germany-Italy-Sweden) are involved in building and exporting ocean-going blue-water-capable conventional submarines. Japan builds conventional submarines but not for export. Only five countries make nuclear-propelled submarines of the SSN and SSBN variety (the US, the UK, France, Russia and China). In addition, Iran, Italy and North Korea have built midget submarines of about 100 to 350 tons for "special saboteur operations".

In 1982, India sent numerous officers and MDL workers to Germany for training in the construction of SSK submarines at great expense. Sadly, after the training of trainers (ToT) and construction of two subs at MDL, this expertise was lost, due to the HDW scam, and we are now painfully "re-learning" the art and science of submarine building with the Scorpene project signed in 2005.

In 2010 the Russians introduced a "mono block" concept in their latest fourth-generation nuclear subs (SSNs and SSBNs) wherein the reactor and turbine compartment are in a single sealed unit, which is "plugged in" to the submarine. In case of any defect in the reactor or propulsion turbine, or the turbo alternators, the mono block can be quickly unplugged and replaced with another unit.

Modern conventional and nuclear submarines are built in different pressure hull sections, with a typical submarine comprising five (conventional sub) to 12 (SSN or SSBN) sections, which are finally joined or welded together. The Indian government needs to urgently ensure that all assets in the public and private sectors are utilised. This will ensure that time and money are saved by building different sections of the submarine in different public and private shipyards, which are then integrated in a dedicated shipyard.

Also, to ensure maximum foreign ToT in the sensitive submarine metallurgical, stealth, weapons, sensors and propulsion fields (e.g. in the 30 per cent direct offsets), it is essential that the present 26 per cent FDI limit is raised to 49 per cent to provide sufficient incentive to foreign equipment manufacturers.

* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

LIBERALS ARE NOT GOOD: ASAD DURRANI

 "Making peace means compromises but India does not want to pay the price. What needs to be understood is that peace is give and take and sometimes it involves changes in position", Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani (Retd), a former chief of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's intelligence agency, tells Ramesh Ramachandran, and then adds that the Pakistan People's Party-led government in Pakistan is preoccupied with so many domestic issues that to expect a breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations will be asking for too much.

Q. Do you see the killing of Salman Taseer as a turning point for Pakistan?

A. I don't know. I don't think it can be described as a turning point unless you believe we were on the mend, that the situation had improved. But it does put the clock back. It is a particularly serious time and it does make the overall environment a little more tense, a little more difficult to handle.

Q. Have the right-wing Islamists won?

A. Victory or defeat is not decided in a short span of time and that too on the basis of one event because a large number of factors are involved. This battle goes on for ever and sometimes one faction emerges victorious and at other times the other because of internal and external environments. I'm not going to give my judgment but it is true that there are people who have not condemned Qadri's (the assassin of Salman Taseer) actions; such people may be in a minority but it has made the environment a little intimidating. I see this phenomenon as a result of many events, internal and external, the manner in which governments over a period of time have treated their people in an oligarchy and many countries we know of are so, where ultimately decisions are taken by the elites. The problem is people are not treated well, their problems are not looked after, and this gives rise to angry classes and some of them find means to vent their feelings. When people are deprived they find ways to react.

Q. Has the space that liberals occupy shrunk?

A. The liberals are not good frankly; they flow with the tide, they pretend to be liberals. I see them more as neo-liberals or extremist liberals. They are not in a position to provide answers to the problems at hand but they raise a hue and cry.

Q. Are the federal and provincial governments, or for that matter Nawaz Sharif, the chief of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, turning a blind eye?
A. More than Mr Sharif the people are concentrating on the PPP. It seems to me that the PPP is marking time. It is not coming out in support of all that Salman Taseer stood for. In a way it is wise on their part to keep a low profile because the environment is not conducive.

Q. Where does the Pakistan army stand on all this? Are they waiting in the wings, waiting for Pakistan to ask them to step in?

A. No, not waiting in the wings as you say but praying that a situation is not created whereby they are sucked in because they have enough on their plate already. The army as an institution hopes and prays they are not sucked in again; it was the case after 10 years of Musharraf regime and it has been so after every military regime.

Q. Personally, where do you stand on the issue of repealing or modifying the blasphemy laws?
A. It is not for me to take a position because it is not in my sphere of experience or expertise. What I can say is the law has been very largely misused ever since it was enacted because it offers scope for settling personal enmity. There was never any doubt that its implementation has been misused. The Council of Islamic Ideology has made certain recommendations which should be welcomed. For one, it has recommended death penalty for a false accuser. Also, it has recommended that only the superior Shariat court must hear blasphemy cases and not lower courts.

Q. Why is the PPP government, elected with such hope in February 2008, unable to move on India? What is holding it back?

A. The PPP is preoccupied on so many fronts internally. But if you ask me I would not accuse the PPP alone insofar as relations with India are concerned. I supported the peace process, and I believe the framework worked out was the best conflict resolution model, if properly understood and implemented. But it got stuck because making peace means compromises but India does not want to pay the price.

India believes Pakistan is suffering today and, therefore, India can wait and not make gestures.

Q. What are your expectations from the government and people of India?

A. I don't expect governments to do much but people on both sides do believe the situation can improve, but people have limitations. Two years ago India and Pakistan agreed not to let terrorism derail dialogue, but where are we today?

The problem is that the Indian side is getting stuck in technicalities and bureaucracy which will not lead to breakthroughs. To the extent that the investigation of the Samjhauta Express blasts has thrown up some names, it is a step forward. But the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism could have been followed up in the Samjhauta Express blasts case by incorporating agencies of both countries, which did not happen.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

LIVE YOUR 'WOW' EXPERIENCES

BY POONAM SRIVASTAVA

Most of us are pushed by a need to be different, to prove ourselves better from our past generation and our peer group. This is a healthy sign, in alignment with the innate supreme truth of uniqueness of each form.

But such aspiration also belies the truth because our uniqueness is already a given premise; by attempting to overtly prove it through our social paradigms of fame and recognition, we actually belittle the honour of the collective by rewarding one against the many. Would you single out your thumb as superior to the remaining fingers of your hand?

We are not quite at fault or responsible alone for our behaviour pattern which is influenced by our early one-upmanship training in life at home and school when we are too young and unaware to make better and informed choices for ourselves. But sadly, when we grow up we push our younger lot through the same competitive rigmarole, equally unaware of more inclusive reckoning. Most of our lives are spent chasing a concept of achievement, of a perfect existence, and their lies another misnomer and human folly.

Perfection is at hand for us always, depending on how we decide to define perfection. What isn't now, will never be. Living with deep harmony and synchronicity in the present moment, enjoying its fullness of experience is the perfection we miss in our pursuit of a future unrealised state of happiness.

As long as our search for bliss is tagged to external conditionality, we have lost it already. Freedom to be; independent of circumstances, choices or no choice situations including one's personal dilemmas, is the freedom from imprisonment of seeking what is not available. It comes from learning to appreciate what is at hand with greater awareness and appreciation of the present moment.

Remember that we cannot possess the present moment, it has come to us for a moment and will pass away in a moment; there is no permanence of any experience. Such realisation of impermanence also shatters our rooted vice of possession, the way we are constantly driven to acquire and upgrade our material and non-material possessions.

Ownership does not guarantee satisfaction; actually, it only adds fuel to the fire of dissatisfaction. Try recollecting some of your "wow" experiences, be it the beauty of the setting sun or the glitter of an expensive diamond necklace in a show window. The "wow" experience is enjoyed by us when our total attention is captivated by such an alluring sight. It is the connection of our focus and not possession that brings us the delight of the moment which would not happen even if we were to possess the same diamond necklace!

Aren't we glad that some of our real "wow" experiences are beyond ownership, like the sunrise or the rainbow; probably, the reason why they retain a permanent charm for us unlike our manmade goodies that feel outdated with passage of time.

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment" — Buddha

— Poonam Srivastava has published a book of Zen poetry titled, A Moment for the Mind, which expounds on the practice of Mindfulness Meditation. She is also involved in popularising new ideas of change in the social sector. She can be contacted at m4moment@gmail.com [1]

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SPARKLESS REMIX

UPA CONTENT TO MUDDLE ALONG

 

A CELEBRATED Latin saying ~ maybe it has an Italian equivalent ~ asserts "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear". Reflection of that is found in the bland attempt by the Manmohan-Sonia combine to shake off the widespread perception of the UPA government being inept at best, corrupt at worst. Lacking the political nerve to either introduce fresh talent or to dump confirmed non-performers, the coalition's leadership has done little to convince that something more radical will be attempted in the "expansive" exercise later this year. Maybe Wednesday's foray had been over-hyped, but had the Prime Minister not identified issues such as crony capitalism and absence of youth power as maladies? Well, nothing was done to address them: academic analysis is far removed from effective governance. The benchmark of futility was set when it was apparent that the "big four" would not be touched when two of them clearly fall short of requirement. Hence the 37 moves that followed hardly built up to a checkmate. To dub it a game of musical chairs would be incorrect ~ was any melody on offer?


Perhaps two of the trio elevated to Cabinet rank merit promotion but their portfolios are petty: for the third it was a palpable kick upstairs, more so because he least expected eviction from Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan. The civil aviation sector is well rid of Praful Patel but hopes of it emerging from the mess would be dampened by his replacement holding only "additional charge" of a ministry in dire need of retrieval action. The choice of Vayalar Ravi, who retains his other responsibility, suggests that Air-India will remain essentially a Kerala-Gulf shuttle service. Perhaps Kapil Sibal and Jairam Ramesh will feel vindicated: the bombastic former retains two key portfolios, all those who crossed swords with the latter have got the shunt.


Much is being made of S Jaipal Reddy's "promotion" when an equally valid explanation for his shift could be a failure to monitor the infrastructure projects related to the CWG. The mismanagement of the Games was not all that flattened MS Gill: his typically bureaucratic lust for power (heightened no doubt by his stint in Nirvachan Sadan) provoked confrontation with national and international federations. He has been cut to size, but shown only a yellow card when he deserved a red. That, however, holds true of all the "corrective measures" the rejig was projected as promoting.


The Capital's plethora of political pundits and spin doctors worked overtime on Wednesday to try and discern subtexts to the "revamp that never was". Some attention to poll-bound UP and Kerala, awaiting the electorate's determining the clout of the DMK and Trinamul were among the theories floated. Yet there was no erasing the imprint on the public mind that UPA-II is losing the plot. For it was not a case of old wine in new bottles, the wine has soured to vinegar. Dr Singh might do well to recall his own induction into government ~ then again, he and Madam are devoid of the acumen of PVNR!

 

KASHMIR CONFUSION

DELHI NEEDS A 'UNIFIED COMMAND'

ATTEMPTS at a clarification merely reinforced the impression that two of New Delhi's key players in the Jammu and Kashmir security effort were on "different pages". In that troubled region little distinction is made between the Army and Central paramilitary ~ both are damned as alien, oppressive. So for the Army Chief to say he was talking about a continuance of the present levels of deployment of his men, while the home secretary was indicating a 25 per cent reduction of the paramilitary hardly makes a difference. Surely the Army should have been "in the loop" if such a considerable slashing of paramilitary presence was in the offing? What is even more disturbing is that force levels do not seem to be determined by an assessment of security factors, but reductions are being perceived through a political prism, a means to defuse the tensions created by separatist elements: note ~ they not only welcomed the proposed reduction, but claimed it was their pressure that triggered it. Two critical questions are thrown up. Has New Delhi come around to accepting that the security forces are part of the problem rather than an element of the solution? That would be a virtual condemnation of the massive effort made by the forces over the years, the lives they have lost and so on. Allowing such an impression to spread would impact on morale: the Army and paramilitary never acted of their own volition: they were tasked with countering an insurgency. It was not easy to establish the "grid" that would be dismantled by hasty force reduction. For senior officials and politicians ~ comfortably ensconced far from the line of fire ~ to even talk about their withdrawal as a confidence-building measure would be gross ingratitude. Reductions should be graduated, unpublicised.


The other question is whether the security has really so improved as to warrant a troop-cut. Infiltration continues, conventional militant activity may appear to have reduced but only because of a strategic shift favouring stone-pelting by "engineered youth". Remember last summer the Army was required to conduct flag marches on Srinagar's fringes to contain the trouble. In any case an appreciation of security conditions and counter-measures needs a collective decision. So too do moves on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act over which similar confusion prevails. And where exactly do the "interlocutors" and the specific-purpose committees fit in? Clearly New Delhi is in need of a "unified command" ~ provided UPA-II remains united and capable of command.

 

'BABY DOC' COMES

HAITI CAN WELL DO WITHOUT HIM

HE has stunned Haiti; he has stunned the world no less. 'Baby Doc' has returned to Haiti after 25 years and at a particularly traumatic juncture for the country. This was the last development that Haiti could have anticipated as it struggles to recover from the devastation of last year's earthquake that killed no fewer than 300,000 people. Jean-Claude Duvalier, generally referred to as a playboy-despot, who was backed by his corrupt and brutal private army called the Tonton Macouts, has made a surprise landing for the first time since he was deposed in a coup in 1986. He has kept the beleaguered Haitians and the world at large guessing about his intentions. The little that he indicated at Port-au-Prince airport doesn't actually convince ~ that he will keep his distance from politics and assist in the reconstruction effort. After 25 years, Haiti can well do without the 'effort' of so brutal a dictator. Deeply intriguing must be the timing of his return, when governmental atrophy has paralysed the administration in the aftermath of the worst natural calamity and the consequent cholera epidemic. Indeed, the ravaged nation now contends with a power vacuum with presidential elections postponed in the wake of fraud and violence. Developments will have to unfold to confirm suspicions that 'Baby Doc' is intent on making the waters murkier by exploiting the overwhelming crisis that has gripped a literally broken country. There is little doubt that Haiti is headed for a renewed bout of intense political turmoil should there be a polarisation of forces, one that can only exacerbate the cruelty of nature. Remarkably prompt has been the response of Amnesty International which has called for Baby Doc's arrest.   Haiti cries out for reconstruction and a massive international effort to contain cholera. No, it doesn't need Jean-Claude Duvalier at this hour; he can well board the return flight to France.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

ON THE BIG STAGE

WIDER HORIZONS FOR INDIAN POLICY-MAKERS

BY SALMAN HAIDAR

 

 ON January 1, India took its place as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. This is not unfamiliar territory for India: since the early days, it has been there frequently, more often than most other members of the UN. This is by virtue of its weight and stature, and its record as a peacemaker and staunch supporter of the United Nations. India has always been very active in the UN's peacekeeping activities and has been prepared to commit substantial bodies of troops in tricky and risky operations, like those in Palestine and the Congo in the 1950s and 1960s, to name just two.


In fact, it came to be assumed that India would be in and out of the UNSC on a practically regular rotation. Its independent voice was valued, especially at a time when the Council, like other UN organs, was split and often paralysed by the bloc politics of the Cold War. The fact that senior functionaries from India were drawn into the UN official hierarchy where they made an enduring reputation helped reinforce their country's standing in the world body.


But this rather predictable process was upset in 1996 when India failed to gain election to the UNSC for the two-year term beginning the following year. The contest was for the Asian seat where India was up against Japan, and was believed to enjoy a substantial advantage, for even though NAM had never been a solid voting bloc at the UN, the bulk of its members, a very substantial number, were expected to line up with India. But conventional wisdom proved to be no proper guide and India did not prevail in the contest. Now that the Cold War was over, nothing could be taken for granted about group solidarity, and NAM was losing cohesion. Moreover, the election was being held in the immediate aftermath of the negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) where India, virtually alone among the UN membership, had held out against the treaty while everyone else was trooping off in the other direction. India had good reasons for electing to go alone against the weight and pressure of several powerful countries, including the P-5, and accepted the need to run against the global tide. 


Fifteen years on, things have changed greatly. For one thing, even as it takes its non-permanent seat, India is bidding for more, for a permanent seat. This aspiration has been so much dwelt on that some have been inclined to see the present term as something of a trial run. Dismiss the thought: muscling one's way to a permanent seat remains problematical, despite the support now voiced by the USA and other P5-members. Nor is the UNSC itself in pristine condition. What is now required is to play a full part in the deliberations and decisions of the Council, something to recall the active engagement of earlier days when India was a frequent participant even though globally it counted for less than it does today.


Being in the UNSC will mean active engagement in a number of issues which over the years have demanded less and less of South Block's time, but which nevertheless are regarded as vital by the global community ~ such as the referendum in Southern Sudan, or the sudden collapse of the regime in Tunis. With it must come a broader sense of national interest, extending beyond those issues that impact on whatever may be our immediate preoccupations.


At the Security Council, many issues are bound to come up for consideration that will serve to illuminate aspects of the country's foreign policy not always under much scrutiny at home. There is, for instance, the perennial question of the Middle East which boils up periodically and may well do so again before long, for currently much is happening in the region: Lebanon once more in political crisis, Gaza's plight attracting international concern, among other matters. These events have not attracted the kind of attention at home as they habitually command abroad, and New Delhi seems to have been more or less content that this should be so, given their controversial nature. But these matters register profoundly at the UN and what India says there could come under close examination not only in New York but also back in New Delhi.


It is axiomatic that there is no hiding place at the UN and everything that happens is open to wider scrutiny. This can bring with it the benefit of encouraging better informed debate at home and a more durable consensus on several foreign policy issues. It is also appropriate that as its global profile is raised, India should be more actively engaged internationally. Historically, this has been the case, when India often took the lead in rallying international opinion on major issues, including controversial ones, instead of tiptoeing around them. Indeed, returning to the Security Council can promote a more articulate and deeply considered handling of a wide range of foreign policy issues, not only those on the UNSC agenda.


Apart from immediate matters of war and peace before the Security Council, there are other subjects that will demand India's attention on the larger stage it now occupies, such as that of disarmament. The sentiment in favour of getting rid of nuclear weapons is growing, and this is an issue on which India has a notable and consistent record, going back to Nehru's heyday. Notable, too, is the Rajiv Gandhi plan of 1988 on global disarmament which anticipates a good deal of the current discussions in this field. Things have moved on since then: India is now a nuclear weapons state, better placed to take part in the disarmament effort than when it was kept at a distance by the supposedly authorized nuclear weapon states of the time. Not long ago, to considerable international acclaim, the US President called for an end to nuclear weapons, and though nothing much is happening currently on this aspiration, discussions in the appropriate UN body may well commence before long.


Similarly, climate change, not strictly a matter for the Security Council, is a growing international concern. At the last major conference on climate, showing regard for the prevailing sentiment, India showed readiness to be flexible about some issues where it had previously been unyielding, in order to permit a consensus to emerge. In many ways, the notion of security has expanded significantly and cannot any longer be treated purely as a matter of peacekeeping. This may not immediately affect the UNSC agenda with which Indian diplomats will now have to deal, but it gives a different perspective to the complex set of issues ahead, and underlines the fact that entry into the UNSC offers significantly wider horizons for Indian policy-makers.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

A VISIT TO THE KILLING FIELDS OF NETAI

D BANDYOPADHYAY


Netai is a medium-sized village situated deep inside Junglemahal of West Midnapore district, on the bank of the river Kangsabati, locally known as Kasai. It's population is around 2,000. The main occupation of the residents is agriculture. The area is famous for winter vegetables because of their quality and size. The place is about 3.5 km from Lalgarh town.


It used to be a peaceful hamlet, with no intrusion from armed Maoist groups. And, a village of CPI-M faithfuls till the height of anti-police agitation spearheaded by the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities. And, following the PCPA campaign, the party became uncertain of the villagers' loyalty.


In early December 2010, residents were shocked and surprised to find that as many as 25 armed outsiders had set up a camp in the pucca residential building of CPI-M member, Mr Rathin Dandapat. Village elders who went to local CPI-M leader Mr Abani Singh to find out why armed outsiders had come to stay in the village were not told to worry. Mr Singh told them that armed camps were necessary to thwart possible attacks from Maoists and Trinamul members. The elders pointed out that since personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force made it a point to patrol the village at least thrice a week ~ something that seemed to have successfully discouraged local criminals ~ there was no point in inviting outsiders to provide protection. The CPI-M leader told them that it was necessary since the Trinamul and Maoists had their spies among the villagers and were planning to disrupt the ensuing Assembly polls. Mr Singh promised the elders, though, to look into any legitimate complaints that the villagers should have against the armed outsiders. Unconvinced, but unable to press their point further, the elders returned home.


Within a couple of days, their apprehension came true. The armed outsiders, or harmads as they came to be referred to, demanded that villagers cook for them. The local party leadership ensured that families took turns to take the responsibility. Then came the demand for a steady supply of the daily requirement of rice and fresh vegetables. Having known by then that complaining to the CPI-M leadership wouldn't help, the villagers complied. The harmads then asked them to guard the camp at night so that surprise attacks could be thwarted. Severe winter had set in by then and nights had become very cold. But villagers knew a refusal wouldn't go down well with their tormentors. Local youths took turns to guard the camp in groups. Resentment had been steadily growing in the meantime and when the armed men ordered local youths to undergo arms training since they were planning to shift the camp elsewhere, it was the last straw. Mothers and wives put their foot down. They feared police would move in to arrest the local youth for illegal arms possession once the CPI(M)-backed men moved out.


On 7 January 2011, a large group of women marched to Mr Abani Singh, urging him to intervene. Mr Singh asked the women to speak to the camp leaders, and led them to the Dandapat house around 8.30 a.m. along with their menfolk. As the group approached, the harmads panicked. They sent messages to similar camps in neighbouring villages seeking reinforcement. But did not wait for it to arrive and started firing indiscriminately to disperse the crowd. Seven villagers died and 20 others were injured, some of them critically.
The Lalgarh police station was alerted. Tamluk Member of Parliament Mr Subhendu Adhikary spoke to the officer-in-charge five times but in vain. He also rang up the additional superintendent of police thrice and the district magistrate once. He was told that police would not go to Netai without a written ejahar (permission). Police eventually reached the village four and a half hours after the firing. Not only that, at Lalgarh, CPI-M cadres stopped ambulances sent from Midnapore to ferry the injured persons to the medical college hospital so that their treatment got delayed.

It became clear later that five villagers had to die simply because of severe blood loss. These deaths could have been prevented had the ambulances reached Netai in time. Even in war zones, injured soldiers receive priority treatment but apparently not in Left-ruled West Bengal where the law of the land is so ignored as to be nonexistent.


On 11 January 2011, a team from Citizens' Forum Against Violence and Terror, West Bengal, visited Netai village. Theatre personalities Shaoli Mitra, Arpita Ghosh and Bratya Basu, poet Joy Goswami, artists Subhaprasanna, Shupna Bhattacharyya and Samir Aich, educationists Chaitali Dutta, Anup Bandypadhyay and Amitava Datta and many other members of civil society were part of the team. As the president of Citizens' Forum, the author accompanied them. A heart-rending picture was waiting for the delegation at Netai. Villagers were still in a state of shock. Widows and bereaved mothers were inconsolable. We saw eight bullet marks on a wall of the Dandapat house. A few strands of hair protruding from a dried-up jelly-like substance were still sticking to it. We were later told that it was the hair of a woman whose head had bounced off the wall after getting severed from her body when a mortar bomb lobbed by the harmads had hit her.


The CPI-M's Mr Shyamal Chakrabarty said the bullet marks were testimony to an attack that Maoists had mounted on the Dandapat house where a few homeless people had taken shelter. It is nothing but a brazen lie. We visited the house and a careful examination made it clear that other than peeling plaster, the building had nothing to suggest it had weathered an armed attack barely days ago. Mr Chakrabarty's assertion is a typical instance of falsehood practised by the CPI-M when caught on the wrong foot. The villagers, though benumbed, emphatically attested to the total absence of Maoists in the vicinity of Netai at the time of the firing. They said those who had converged outside the Dandapat residence had been unarmed and that the women had been standing with folded hands to plead with the harmads.


This narrative is gleaned from the statements of villagers interviewed when Citizens' Forum visited Netai village.

The writer was secretary to government of India, ministries of finance (revenue) and rural development and executive director, Asian Development Bank, Manila.

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

BIPOLARITY IS BACK

THE KATHMANDU POST/ANN

   
Indonesia and its Asean partners must prepare themselves for the rapidly changing economic, security and strategic environments in Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia following the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington this week.


A lot of expectations have been placed on this visit, and President Barack Obama is under mounting pressure to make demands on his guest. Whatever the two leaders agree or disagree on, the visit will transform the Sino-US relationship in big ways, and consequently international relations as well.


Strategic experts are already calling this the beginning of a cold war, recognising the rising economic and military power of China vis-à-vis the United States. Although the two are not equal yet, Washington is clearly concerned with losing its pre-eminence, and wants to see China take on a greater responsibility, commensurate with its rising strength in the economic and political realms.


China is essentially still a developing country but its GDP makes it the second largest economy in the world after the US. China is therefore caught in a dilemma of dealing with the challenges facing a developing country and the need to take on the responsibilities of a developed country.


There will be occasions when China's national interests come into conflict with its global responsibilities, at least as perceived by others, such as securing its territory, access to economic resources or in managing its currency. How China resolves this dilemma is for the Chinese Communist Party leadership to decide, but this should not preclude well meaning friends from reminding it of its impacts on the rest of the world and the subsequent responsibilities.


It is clear that both sides will be seeking to benefit from this landmark visit. For Mr Hu, high on his agenda is gaining Washington's recognition of China's global power stature. He will also be speaking on behalf of most Asian countries when he presses Mr Obama to resolve the domestic economic problems by urging Americans to make greater sacrifices.


The visit may not end with the two leaders resolving their differences, but it will certainly set the tone in the relationship between the global powers. The rest of the world will have to make adjustments accordingly. We are now moving away from a unipolar world back to a bipolar world, requiring Indonesia once again to row between two reefs as in the old Cold War days. 

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

MAKING MORE PEOPLE WEALTHY

CHI FULIN


The transformation of China's economic development mode will in essence realise a transformation from prioritizing the size of the national economy to prioritizing a moderately prosperous society in an all round way and providing an equitable and sustainable development path. In recent years, China's economic growth has kept expanding rapidly, while domestic consumption has been continuously declining.

 

The main reasons for this are the continuously widening urban-rural disparities, regional disparities and the widening income gap between the rich and the poor, all of which restrained the consumption capacity of medium and low-income earners.


The sluggish growth of the consumption capacity among middle and low-income groups and their reluctance to consume have led to insufficient domestic demand. As a result, the whole economy has depended a great deal on exports and investment to be the driving force and the rich-poor income gap has continually widened. A development mode that allows all Chinese residents to prosper will need to raise domestic consumption. Under such a development orientation, it is an important policy target for the government to increase people's incomes and distribute more social services to people. The essence of this mode is reforms that establish an institutional foundation to distribute the country's wealth to more people.


A basic requirement for such a system is that people's incomes grow moderately faster than the country's economy and that middle and low-income groups have a moderately faster income growth rate than the high-income group. This will speed up the transfer of the country's wealth to ordinary people and greatly increase their consumption capacity and inclination to spend. If people's consumption rate increases from the current 35.6 per cent to more than 50 per cent over the next five to 10 years, or by an annual average growth of two to three percentage points, domestic consumption will become the main driving force of national economic growth.


Reforms that prioritize increasing rural people's incomes will be a major step toward improving social fairness and building a harmonious society. An equitable and reasonable national income distribution pattern should be established to bridge the income divide between urban and rural areas. To smoothly push forward people-prioritsed reforms, the long-standing urban-rural dual structure in social and economic development should be broken to promote fair and balanced development between urban and rural areas.


In addition, the current unreasonable "same labor with different remuneration" income arrangement between urban- and rural-sourced workers should be discarded for the sake of equal development of the country's labor market. To expedite these reforms, an overall income distribution reform program should be worked out as soon as possible, a move also indispensable to stepping up the transformation of the country's long-controversial economic development model.


To this end, reforms of the country's fiscal and taxation system should be accelerated. The prevalent fiscal and taxation system has long prioritsed the development of the size of the economy and proven to be the main obstacle to the transformation of the economic growth model. The country's fiscal revenues and expenditure structures should be overhauled to incorporate the monies produced by State-owned assets and land transfer fees into the government fiscal budget to form a standardsed and unified fiscal budgetary system across the country. At the same time, a structural tax reduction policy should be adopted to reduce the ratio of enterprises' production taxes and change the unreasonable personal income tax.

The proportion of economic construction and administrative management costs should be lowered by a large margin and the ratio of spending on public services should be increased. The government must try to achieve a breakthrough in the push for its functional transformation from an investment and production-dominated to a consumption and services-dominated one. Deng Xiaoping once said: "We should allow some people to get rich first, and the rest will follow." It's time for the rest to follow.



china daily/ann


The writer is the director of Hainan-based China Institute for Reform and Development

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

MEANINGLESS

Some people are born opportunists. Others make good use of opportunities thrust upon them. There are others born with the special gift of never losing an opportunity to lose an opportunity. The persons responsible for running the second avatar of the United Progressive Alliance government belong to the last-mentioned rare breed. They are not an endangered species but are a threat to the very idea of good governance. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh and the chairperson of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi, had a godsend opening to ring in changes to the Union cabinet, but what they did was nothing more than an eyewash. The prime minister announced a series of cosmetic changes — tinkering with his team at the most inconsequential level — when the expectation was that he would initiate a real reshuffle that would be read as support to ministers who have performed and a punishment of those who have not. The circumstances were most appropriate for making changes for a number of reasons. First, there was the public expectation created by hints and suggestions of impending changes from people who walk the corridors of power. Second, the government itself — thanks to scams, revelations of corruption and inflation — appeared to be in a tight spot. And thirdly, there was the principle of the thing: periodic reshuffles are good for governance. It is not that Ms Gandhi and Mr Singh did not recognize the need for a change. If that had been the case, there would not have been any change at all. But by making token and half-hearted changes, they exhibited their lack of political will and courage.

The changes announced leave ground for the suspicion that they were made with an eye to the forthcoming assembly polls in certain states. The aim was not to put together the best possible team to run the government, but to fulfil certain short-term and narrow political considerations. What was glaring was the failure to induct any young blood into the council of ministers. The dependence on age and alleged experience is at best nothing less than a sign of insecurity and at worst a refusal to invest in the future. Both motives are deplorable. The prime minister must also reflect on whether he is making the best use of the talent available to him. The promise of more expansive changes after the budget session in no way compensates for what can only be described — admittedly harshly — as a moving of toy pieces. An eyewash is an eyewash is an eyewash is an eyewash.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BEYOND RHETORIC

The success of Chinese diplomacy, so far, has been so overwhelming that it is difficult to see it fail in a big way. But Hu Jintao faces an unusually tough challenge during his current visit to the United States of America. The size of the Chinese economy is now second only to the US's. China has been reaching out to the world, mostly as a buyer of foreign firms, in a way it has never done before. But precisely such trends have made much of the world more wary of China than before. A new opposition to China is striking roots in the US and in Europe. Mr Hu's visit has the backdrop of deteriorating relations between the two countries during the last decade. The challenge for the Chinese president is to stop the slide and achieve at least a semblance of progress in bilateral relations. But China has to mend its ways, in issues relating to trade, human rights and currency appreciation, to win Washington's trust. Influential sections in the US Congress and business want to go as far as branding China a "currency manipulator" and a destroyer of free trade.

However, the challenge is no less for Barack Obama. He cannot be seen to embrace a China policy that barters trade for freedom and human rights. His problems in domestic politics also make it necessary for him to talk hard to Mr Hu on issues his regime has been accused of soft-pedalling. It was thus not exactly unexpected that he would raise issues of Tibet, human rights and free trade at his first meeting with Mr Hu. More unexpected was the Chinese president's remark that China "recognizes and respects the universality of human rights". This was new from the head of a government that recently ignored the world's appeal to free the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, from prison. An even more dramatic shift was Mr Hu's expression of concern over the disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant in North Korea. If this suggests that China is at last ready to make some concessions on the US's concerns, it also shows how desperate Beijing is to not allow its ties with Washington to deteriorate further. But this must also be Mr Obama's first priority — he would not want to be remembered as the US president who burnt the bridge with Beijing. But it will take more than new rhetoric to make real progress on real issues.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

A MUCH FAMILIAR WEAPON

 MANMOHAN SINGH'S RESHUFFLE HAS INVOKED PITY AND MIRTH SWAPAN DASGUPTA

 

One of the great paradoxes of the democratic way is the public yearning for strong, decisive leadership. The great 20th-century heroes in non-totalitarian societies have either been saints (Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela) or leaders with a marked touch of imperiousness (Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher).

 

India is no exception to this trend. Jawaharlal Nehru may be greatly admired by the liberal intelligentsia for his seminal contributions to the creation of democratic institutions. However, opinion polls have repeatedly confirmed that Indira Gandhi — whose democratic credentials were always suspect — remains, in the popular imagination, India's most admired prime minister. Her authoritarian conduct did result in a fierce electoral backlash in 1977. But that is because she broke the rules of the game with the Emergency. In general, however, her determined and haughty style of leadership was admired. The aam admi (if such a creature does indeed exist) revelled in the realization that Mrs Gandhi was both respected and feared within her own party. She was, as the former chief minister of West Bengal, Prafulla Chandra Sen, feared and protested to the syndicate when it first nominated her for the top job, truly a Ma Kali.

 

The importance of both fairness and fear in governance and political management was always acknowledged by imperial administrators in India. In his critique of what he perceived was the Viceroy Lord Irwin's generous accommodation of Mahatma Gandhi, Churchill told a rally of Empire loyalists in January 1931 that "It is never possible to make concessions to Orientals when they think you are weak or are afraid of them. If they once think they have got you at a disadvantage, all their moods become violent, concessions are treated as valueless, and necessary acts of civil repression often only add to the flames."

 

It is no longer 'correct' to make broad generalizations based on ethnic or national stereotypes. However, Churchill's understanding of the behaviour of "Orientals" can be contrasted with other societies where fierce individualism is the norm, and where overbearing leadership pays limited dividends, except perhaps in times of war.

 

On July 13, 1962, for example, the British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, hitherto an epitome of unflappability, did something completely out of character: at one stroke he sacked seven members of his cabinet. The casualties of that "Night of the Long Knives" included the chancellor of the exchequer, the Lord Chancellor, the education minister, the defence ministers and the ministers responsible for Scotland and Wales. It was a political massacre, the likes of which had never been witnessed in Westminster. "I feel my neck all the time", Rab Butler, who escaped the massacre, confided to journalist Harold Evans, "to see if it is still there."

 

In his "official biography" of Macmillan, Sir Alistair Horne suggested that the drastic action was actually prompted by something that, in hindsight, seems fairly routine: economic sluggishness. "By the summer of 1962, Macmillan reckoned that, like the human body, the British economy had developed a certain resistance to most medicines." The prime minister merely wanted to change the chancellor of the exchequer but he was also under public pressure to inject some new, younger blood into the cabinet. In a moment of rare impetuosity, he decided to combine these two very different imperatives and ended up sacking one-third of his cabinet.

 

The results were not rewarding. Far from being perceived as a leader who actually led, the cabinet changes were seen as an indication of Macmillan's own vulnerability. "It astonished me", Lord Kilmuir, the outgoing Lord Chancellor, wrote in his memoirs, "that a man who had kept his head under the most severe stresses and strains should lose both nerve and judgment in this way…." Macmillan was later to describe Kilmuir as the "stupidest Lord Chancellor" but, in this case, the assessment was not wide off the mark. Macmillan's approval ratings fell from 47 per cent to 36 per cent in nine days. In hindsight, The Sunday Times headline "His own executioner" proved remarkably prescient.

 

The negative reaction owed to two factors. First, the impression that the conservative government's troubles, however grave, did not warrant a revolution; and secondly, that playing butcher was not part of the job description of a patrician prime minister. It was the larger understanding of the personality of Macmillan, rather than any British penchant for moderation, that made the drastic reshuffle seem excessive and governed by personal considerations.

 

No such opprobrium was attached to the equally drastic reshuffle undertaken by Margaret Thatcher in September 1981 that led to the sacking of the foreign secretary, education secretary and leader of the House of Lords. Thatcher's motives were unabashedly political: she wanted to recast the cabinet in her own ideological image. This may not have been to the liking of the Tory grandees but it corresponded to her emerging "Iron Lady" image. In short, a ruthless overhaul was something Britain expected from Thatcher. She was Britain's Indira Gandhi.

 

In normal times, there would have been few expectations of drastic change from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last Wednesday. Despite the Indian penchant for decisiveness of the Mrs Gandhi variety, past precedent wasn't an encouragement. The Kamaraj Plan that led to the redeployment of Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai and S.K. Patil for party work hadn't been a great success; Mrs Gandhi's sacking of Desai as finance minister in 1969 triggered a chain of events that led to the Congress split; and Desai's dismissal of Charan Singh in 1978 deepened the fissures within the Janata Party.

 

Unfortunately, these are not normal times. In the 20 months since its re-election, the United Progressive Alliance government has had its way and become mired in corruption, mismanagement and non-performance. Despite the eight per cent growth of the economy, there is a recognition that India is slowing down due to the non-removal of infrastructural bottlenecks. In addition, far from regaining its status as the dominant party, the Congress has failed to make inroads in North India and has been seriously undermined by self-goals in its strongholds of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. A ministerial overhaul doesn't automatically address the problems of economic sluggishness and political disarray but is seen as an index of political resolve to address the decline.

 

Manmohan Singh has in the past withstood charges of weakness by juxtaposing it to decency and personal integrity. Unfortunately, the recent kerfuffle over corruption has marred the prime minister's image because he has been seen to be wilfully looking the other way. To redeem his own reputation, he had to be seen to be doing something that indicated that his core values were also the values of the government. In short, he had to be seen to be retiring those who were either becoming a liability or were considered deadwood. The country expected a Night of the Long Knives.

 

Tragically for the prime minister, last Wednesday's much-awaited and much-hyped exercise has proved farcical. He has been shown to be lacking the political clout to drop even a single minister, including Manohar Singh Gill of 'Punjabi wedding' fame and those whose health prevents them from playing any meaningful role as ministers. Worse, he implicitly acknowledged the inadequacy of this reshuffle by promising another one after the budget session. Where an axe was called for, he waved the all-too-familiar babu weapon, the transfer order.

 

Macmillan invoked disgust; Mrs Gandhi invoked shock and awe; but Manmohan Singh's reshuffle has invoked pity and mirth. Governments can withstand criticism but they are powerless to confront ridicule.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

CHANGE WITH THE TIMES

BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

The recent reshuffle notwithstanding, there is a desperate need for a radical overhaul of the people and systems of the largest and oldest political party in India. The larger mass of members feel strongly about this truth but have remained silent over the years because the senior leadership of the party is dominated by a bunch of men and women who have operated as a closed-door coterie, who do not want to disturb the prevailing status quo that has kept them and their average minions in power. Most of these office- bearers, political advisors and general-secretaries parade themselves as the hand-picked spokespersons of the high command, keeping all others in the Congress — who may have differing and dissenting views, fresh ideas or innovative alternatives — far away from the high table. This small coterie has consciously alienated some of the best and the brightest from the inner sanctum, forcing an unnatural distancing from the fundamental restructuring that is imperative to bring life into a faltering national political party. In simple parlance, what seems to be happening is internal sabotage.

There is nothing unusual about this kind of orchestrated intrigue. It is normal for those at the helm who are beginning to feel insecure about a possible change in leadership in the foreseeable future to behave in this manner and try to scuttle attempts to change the directions of policies, positions on national issues as well as ideologies and general priorities. Generational change is bound to rock the boat and those on the 'old' boat sense it immediately and begin to manipulate in a mad effort to survive. There is no possibility of this collective leadership bringing in even an iota of energy, vitality or intellectual substance to revive a tired and corroded political organization. A slow transition and delayed passing of the baton would be suicidal in a fast-changing, volatile and competitive nation.

Old problem

Does the Congress leadership have the gumption to take on those who have brought about this decline? Will the Congress think ahead and lead the people into the next productive phase or will it be forced to change only after the people discard the party with ruthless vigour? Why is the leadership in supreme denial, often defending the indefensible? Why are the party's spin doctors more akin to those in opposition to the Congress? Why do they falter during every attack by the Opposition? Why are they so utterly weak and confused when retaliating to attacks on Rahul Gandhi? Who is briefing the spokespersons? These and a hundred other questions need to be asked by the party to itself and its members. A whip needs to be cracked on these issues, and not merely when Parliament votes.

For those of us who watch from the sidelines, it is becoming more and more clear that some senior and middle-aged members and secretaries, who are in their late 50s and waiting for their day in the sun, resent the fresh, clear, direct, truthful, and 'out-of-the-box' thinking of Rahul Gandhi. They dislike his independence and fail miserably to explain his position or defend his statements. Because they are not in sync with him intellectually or politically, the spokespersons as well as the leaders who have never been elected are unable to pose a challenge to the assault from the Opposition. Comfortable with their 'positions', happy with their lives spent in plush Lutyens' Delhi with endless subsidies, they have become lazy, arm-chair politicians who control the Grand Old Party with their wily machinations.

Surely, India and Bharat deserve better. The Congress must reinvent itself immediately. If the party fails to do so, it will compel a destructive polarization within a pluralist nation-state.

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

EDITORIAL

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

''THERE IS NO RATIONALE FOR MOST OF THE CHANGES.''


The much anticipated reshuffle of the Union ministry has turned out to be a damp squib, with no major changes and the addition of only a few and elevation of a few others. The additions and elevations were mainly on political considerations which centred around the interests of the Congress party in states where Assembly elections are going to be held.


All the dead wood in the ministry has been retained, with the prime minister showing no strength to get rid of even the most incompetent ministers. Steel minister Virbhadra Singh and sports minister M S Gill would have no reason to continue in the ministry if merit and performance were the criteria. They have just been moved to other ministries.


Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's request to reduce his work load has been acted upon after much damage was done to his charge. Now that it has been done, the separation of agriculture from food and civil supplies does not make much sense.


Ministers in charge of important ministries like surface transport and urban development had not distinguished  themselves with any great initiative and dynamism. It is doubtful if shifting them to other ministries would help. Nor are the new incumbents in these ministries known for their performance.


There is no obvious logic and rationale for most of the changes, except that they were needed to fill some vacancies and to lighten the load of some others. It is good that in the process some of the prime minister's work load may come down so that he can concentrate on better oversight and supervision. But how good is supervision when he was unable to get rid of even the most  incompetent ministers?


The prime minister has promised a more expansive exercise later. But it was unnecessary to make these cosmetic changes now if he is planning a more thorough reshuffle in the near future. Another set of changes would again unsettle the present arrangement.


The UPA government has been politically weakened mainly because of the failure of the key ministries, administrative inefficiency and lack of co-ordination and political will. The prime minister missed an opportunity to act decisively on these issues. Both the political and government leadership of the UPA should equally share the blame for this. They have shown that they do not have a sense of urgency in improving the situation and even a clear idea of how to stem the rot.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

LAME EXCUSE

''ALMOST ALL STATES HAVE SUPPORTED NEET IDEA.''

 

The Union health ministry's decision to hold in abeyance the proposed National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical admissions is unfortunate and retrograde. It was clear that the ministry was determined to undermine the proposal from the way it responded to the Medical Council of India's (MCI) notification of a national admission test from the next academic year.


If it had then said that the MCI had no authority to issue the notifications without the prior approval of the ministry, the argument now is that there is no consensus among the states on the need for the new system. The health ministry claims that its decision is based on the views expressed by states at a conference attended by state health ministers and secretaries. But this is only a lame excuse because almost all the states supported the idea at the meeting and only Tamil Nadu seriously opposed it.


Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's view that students from rural and backward areas might not be able to compete with other students in a national test is wrong because there are adequate safeguards in the proposed system which will ensure that they do not get  a raw deal. States will be entitled to fill 50 per cent of the seats and all reservation schemes like those for SCs and STs will be abided by in the new system.


There is no need for states to feel that the interests of their students or those of any section would be adversely affected. If some changes were needed, they could have been easily incorporated.


There was no need to hold the NEET proposal, which has such a wide support, hostage to the views of a single state. The ideal decision should have been to launch the new system from next year without taking Tamil Nadu on board. There is no entrance test in Tamil Nadu in any case for medical admissions and the students there would not have been affected in any way.


Sooner rather than later the students would have found the advantages of a national test and the state would have been forced to join the national system. The way the proposal has been scuttled it is clear that the vested interests who stood to lose from the new system have had their way.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

BROKEN PROMISES

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

The amount of corruption is mind-boggling. Even in my wild guess, I could not have estimated that one scam alone would be Rs 1.75 lakh crore.


I look back with nostalgia on the days leading to foundation of the Indian Republic 61 years ago. Although the constitution was adopted in the end of November 1949, its operation came into being on January 26, 1950, consecrating India's declaration some 20 years earlier on the banks of Ravi that its goal was full freedom, not the dominion status.


The constitution, as the preamble says, gives people a sovereign democratic republic. The word, secular, was added during the infamous days of the emergency.


We held our first election in 1951, 60 years ago. There was adult franchise, with no educational bar. The then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru probably had the disadvantaged people in mind, hoping that some day they may join hands — they are in a majority in the country — and rule over India.


I never imagined this could be possible. But when Mayawati, a dalit, won a majority in the most populous state of UP and became the chief minister, I began to believe that Nehru's hope might come true one day. The disadvantaged and the minorities might get together and form the government at New Delhi.


However, after the first election, the western correspondents accredited to India predicted doom and wrote that the first election was India's last one. They mistook the assertion of caste, if not creed, at the polls as a sign of country's disintegration. Naville Maxwell, 'The Times', London, wrote that the turmoil which was seen at the time of election would tear the country apart.


The West still does not understand, much less appreciate, the idea of India. It cannot stay united if it is not democratic, secular and open. There is a sense of unity in the country, not based on any dogma. Its diversity is its strength and its spirit of accommodation reflected in secularism, keeps the people from different regions and religions together.


The point to worry about is that the economic growth is not uniform and dispensation of justice, promised by the constitution, is lacking in social, economic and political fields. A political freedom, without social and economic freedom, has disillusioned the nation. The Maoists with the gun have become relevant, although they are a problem, not the solution.


No doubt, people can exercise their option to elect their rulers freely and regularly. But there is only one opportunity in five years. For the rest of the period it is the say of the classes, the elite. How do we make the legislators answerable for the period between one election and the other? Some countries have given their subjects the right to recall if one third of voters ask for it. But India is too large a country where one parliamentary constituency commands more than one million voters. One third is too big a number.

Decentralisation

Then how do we ensure that power stays with the people? Decentralisation is the only way out, the transfer of power from Delhi to the state capital and from the state capital to villages. The panchayat raj, one of the few good things that Rajiv Gandhi did, has become a hostage to moneybags. And as you go to higher tiers — for example, zilla panchayat at the district level — you find that the democratic polity is of the rich, for the rich and by the rich.


I never dreamt that India would be one of the most corrupt countries. Jawaharlal Nehru made his colleague, K D Malviya, petroleum minister, resign for accepting money from a businessman in the name of Congress and not rendering any account. At that time, the corrupt, both in public life and the government, could be counted on fingers. Today, it is the other way round — the honest can be counted on fingers.

And the amount of corruption is mind-boggling. Even in my wild guess, I could not have estimated in the early 50s that one scam alone, like 2G spectrum relating to mobiles, would reach a whopping figure of Rs 1.75 lakh crore. In fact, the sum of corruption of Rs 100 crore is considered peanuts.


What I miss the most is austerity. Now a car has to be big, the house palatial and the dress of foreign brand. Western suits are preferred by the officialdom in South Asia. At Mumbai, an industrialist has built a multi-storey house costing some Rs 2,000 crore.


Compare this to a small cottage in which Mahatma Gandhi lived all his life and won us independence.


Violence has now become an order of the day in India. There is hardly any state which has escaped it. People are today as much a victim of state terrorism as they are of militants. The Maoist gun is reprehensible. So is the gun of the state which suppresses people's peaceful protest.


In our part of the world, the exploitation by centrifugal forces have always been there as a dangerous probability. They can rip the nation apart. And who knows where and when the violence would end? It is not a debate between means and ends. It is the question of gun versus gun. Any leeway given to the terrorists — for example, the timidity of liberals to speak out — can be suicidal for the country's thought process, not to speak of developments.


There is still a long journey to cover. I feel lonely in the wilderness of broken promises and the scotched hopes.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

GERMANY'S PAST, A WARNING FOR THE WORLD

BY JOAQUIN ROY, IPS

 

Germans feel they were trapped into one of the most lamentable phases in the history of the world.


Any examination of the current state of Germany must keep in mind the past of this country, which has forced itself to banish the ghosts of its tormented history. A new exposition on the age of Hitler and German society of his day has become the centrepiece of any meditation on the national fabric of the country, the most important in Europe and the focus of the most wrenching events of the 20th century on the Old Continent.


'Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime' is the complex title of this special exhibition of the Historical Museum of Berlin, which has become the topic of the day for the media, politicians, and foreign visitors alike. It is especially anguishing for Germans, embittered that they were trapped into one of the most lamentable phases in the history of the world.


In many German museums there is a prominent spot dedicated to the memory of this dark chapter, which is also given direct treatment in the school curriculum. But what is new about this exhibition is that is was created in the context of a country which, though an impeccable democracy, has outlawed the use of the swastika, the Nazi salute, and the distribution of Hitler's Mein Kampf.


Book burning


It is also noteworthy that the show is located in the very heart of Berlin close to the major landmarks of the history of this city and the Third Reich. A mere stone's throw from the museum lies Opera Square, the site of the infamous 1933 book burning, a shameful symbol of the totalitarianism that was soon to follow. It is not hard to visualise the frequent rallies held between the museum and the Protestant Cathedral, swarming with swastikas, as seen in footage from the period.


A short distance away, across the Unter den Linden Avenue, which has recovered the elegance it lost during the communist period, stands the Brandenburg Gate, now restored to its former classic splendour. The Bundestag, the parliament building that was almost destroyed during the war, has undergone a similar rejuvenation. Traces of the graffiti of Soviet soldiers are still visible on the otherwise immaculate walls of the chamber of deputies within, where European and German flags now fly. A few steps to the south lies Hitler's final hiding place, now a Holocaust memorial.


The exhibition was carefully laid out in the cellars of the adjoining building, which was designed by I M Pei. Here the visitor will feel as small as the tiny objects there on display. The inclusion of photographs of Nazi figures feels almost pornographic. The busts of Hitler are barely discernable, while none of his clothes are on view. There was an effort to avoid at all costs any of the former massive glorification of the era or its leader.

What is emphasised (as indicated by the title of the show) is that today the tragic and criminal episode has clearly been separated from any sense of culpability on the part of individual Germans. However, there is no obscuring the collective blame. German society of the period was guilty of complicity and collaboration.

It is an inconvenient fact that the best-educated and more comfortable sectors of society were the most enthusiastic about the programme of Nazism. As Hitler himself said in a speech, German society had the 'good luck' to meet him. The diabolical communion that followed was evidence of a fully reciprocated love.

Various elements of German society have long sought — without success — to justify this complicity as the naive fascination with a leader of limited charisma and dubious qualities who appeared at a time of national crisis and doubt. Yet 13 per cent of Germans still believe that Germany needs a leader like Hitler. Ten per cent believe that Hitler was a good statesman if you put aside the crime of the Holocaust. And a worrying 35 per cent think that the far right is not marginal but a central component of the German political scene.

Each room of the exhibition reminds the viewer that even though outside there is a feeling of liberty, the tragedy could repeat itself, in Germany or any other area of the world. This is the message projected not only to Germans but foreign visitors a well. The horrific tragedy could recur not only in Germany (though it is to a certain degree immunised against such an eventuality) but any part of the globe tormented by racism, civil insecurity, and panic at the economic deterioration. The siren song is sung in every language, and the singer impeccably disguised.

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

THE COLLAR STORY

BY J S RAGHAVAN

 

It would be a torture to many to properly seat a double knot on the Adam's apple.


In this mobile phone era, when caller identity is the buzz-word, 'collar' identity may take a backseat. Collars, the circular leathery or textile pieces, that go round the necks like a noose might strangle the wearer if errors are made in their size. Nevertheless, they do give an assertive identity.

 

It is difficult at times to conclude, while meeting a lady or gentleman airing a ferocious dog, as to who is leading who. At times it is the master or the mistress. Other times it is the dog. But to attach a proprietorial leash to the animal, a collar is essential. If such an animal roams around without its cervical identity, it may be collared and taken in a dog van to its ultimate doom.


Of all the show pieces a human being has added to haute couture, the tie does not hang back in its claim as a colourful example. No wonder it would be a torture to many in a hurry to the workplace to properly seat a double knot on the Adam's apple. But it sure should remind him of a noose round his neck if his actions are out of moral turns. Can one think of a tie without a collar?


Spondylosis gives many men stiff necks because of which they cannot turn their necks bird-like every which way on the axis. Cervical collars are worn to correct this malady. Though wearing this contraption, one looks like a toffee-coloured tribal beauty with a series of tightly packed rings around her neck, this collar sure adds another dimension to the character of a collar that it is curative as well.


The club I visit now and then to wet the whistle permits T-shirts but with a rider that it should have a collar. One can afford to forget his identity card but not the collar. Once I had to buy one from their stores to gain entry. I was fuming with silent rage till I read about the following incident.


A supple sportsperson was barred from an exclusive club in New York when he tried to gain entry with his ladylove. The reason? He was wearing a collarless shirt. "Do you know who I am?" he thundered, "an Olympic gold medallist in 100 metre race." Retorted the doorman without batting an eyelid. "That sure helps, Sir. Why not sprint home fast and come back wearing one with a collar."

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

INSULTS AND INSINUATIONS


Nowadays, it is difficult to say anything without 'insulting' someone or the other. Use of any figure-of-speech is fraught with risk. Who knows which special interest group, NGO, caste, creed, religion, sub-sect, khap panchayat, occupation, gender or even sexual orientation may take 'offence' at what used to be a perfectly harmless phrase in the good old days, when the English language was not the politically correct minefield it has turned into nowadays.


If hair stylists could go to court to force Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to drop the suffix from his film titled 'Billu Barber' on the grounds that it 'insulted' those who care for hair, anything is possible. Why, just a few years ago, the Goa government issued a directive to all bar owners in the state that their establishments should not bear the names of Hindu deities. It makes one wonder whether it is these dens of vice or some of our politicians – the ones that issue such directives, but are also among the most corrupt and venal of their ilk – whose names coincide with the Gods, which are insulting those deities more…


When eminent cartoonist R K Laxman's common man featured in a satirical illustration of the 'Last Supper' some months ago, many Christians wrote indignantly to that newspaper alleging that their 'sentiments' had been 'hurt'. They quite forgot, it appears, that 'The Last Supper' is actually a mural by Leonardo da Vinci, broadly based on a Biblical event, not a direct part of the Christian religion. But had it been based on an actual religious motif, would an illustration that attempted to show the increasing impoverishment of the 'aam admi' in a time of runaway inflation be construed as a religious insult?


That is why former Chief Minister and Deputy Chairman of State Planning Board Dr Wilfred de Souza's demand – made on Wednesday – that action should be taken against Police Sub-Inspector Sunil Gudlar for referring to a bribe as 'Mahatma Gandhi' – in a sting operation conducted on him by Israeli drug lord Dudu Driham's sister Ayala – is completely and totally devoid of merit.


To start with, Mr Gudlar was not even calling a bribe 'Mahatma Gandhi'. He was merely referring to a Rs500 note as 'Mahatma Gandhi', trying to emphasise that what his superior wanted was lots of money (as represented by Rs500 notes, rather than Rs100 notes). But what if he was? Has Dr Willy never heard the phrase: "Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi?" Is that an insult to the Father of the Nation? Rather, it is a figure-of-speech that perfectly describes Dr Willy's predicament. When there is nothing else to say, invoke the name of the Mahatma…!


This is not to say that the police should not take action against Mr Gudlar. They should; because he was caught on a spy-cam trying to sell drugs to two foreign girls. Because he confessed that he collects bribes and claimed that he passes them on to his senior. Because he openly said that he would do whatever he could to see that Israeli drug lord Dudu Driham was set free. But certainly not because he showed a Rs500 currency note and called it 'Mahatma Gandhi'.


Gimme 'more'

The first reshuffle of the Union Ministry since UPA-II took over was a damp squib. No one was dropped. There were only two new inductions, and promotion of six ministers, apart from a reshuffle of portfolios.
Goa did not get representation.


For a government with a clear performance deficit, losing popularity rapidly, that is not enough. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised us "more", later. But the public wants it now!

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

PREVENTING ACCIDENTS IN THE ELDERLY

HYPERTENSION, DIABETES, AND HEART PROBLEMS MAKES ONE VULNERABLE TO ACCIDENTS, SAYS DR GLADSTONE A D'COSTA

An extensive review of published literature indicates that whilst most authors use 65 years as a divide for the term "elderly", others vary the figure from 60 to 55 to even 45 years. It is useful to bear in mind that the term is more an indicator of the degree of impairment in the physical and mental functions of the individual, rather than the number that determines whether the person is "elderly". It implies a loss of independence associated with impaired vision, hearing, memory, mobility, and cognitive functions. There may be associated age related conditions like hypertension, diabetes, heart problems, and arthritis, contributing to vulnerability to accidents.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) along with the Royal College of Nursing published an extensive and in-depth study of the problem. One in three people over the age of 65 years will experience a fall. Over the age of 85 years, one in two will fall. A child learning to walk falls repeatedly, but gets up again and again, totally unfazed.  In the elderly, however, the 3F syndrome sets in-"Fear of Further Falls" which shatters their confidence, resulting in a self-imposed restriction of activities, further aggravating and accelerating the effects of ageing. Only 4% of children falling require medical attention; whereas 21% of patients over the age of 75 require admission, and 50 % of patients with fractures of the proximal femur never rehabilitate completely.

Tsao Foundation Senior Citizens Clinic based in Singapore, highlight further interesting statistics. 778 out of 1,000 of their senior citizens surveyed, had had a fall. Of these, 1/3rd fell in the bathroom, 1/3rd fell on the stairs, and 1/3rd fell whilst walking. Here is where the family can make all the difference in preventing these falls. So let us examine the recommendations of these studies.

Falls in the bathroom: - Water on ceramic tiles or marble is a lethal combination. The person having a bath or shower usually bends down to soap or dry one foot, standing on the other leg on a wet tiled floor and slips. A simple bath mat preferably made of rubber or anti-skid tiles would reduce the danger. A plastic chair or stool would make the bending unnecessary. A hand rail would provide a grip to steady oneself.
In this connection, it is important to distinguish between a towel rail and a hand rail. A towel rail will support a towel. A hand rail is a sturdy fixture designed to support the weight of a person. Contractors often cut corners and pass of one off for the other. 

Fall from the stairs: - Considering that stairs account for one third of the falls, it is most unfortunate to see that contractors fail to provide a banister or hand rail on staircases. This is an absolute necessity, if elderly people are to use the staircase safely. Not only should stairs be well lit, but two-way light switches should be mandatory. Imagine you are at the top of a dark staircase, and the light switch is at the bottom; what is one supposed to do? A slight adjustment in the wiring is all that is required, so that the light can be turned on or off, either at the top or the bottom of the stairs. Tiles used for stairs should have anti skid features; and in the in case of a wooden staircase, a metal strip can be fixed to the edge; while taking care that this is fixed firmly. A fluorescent strip at the top and bottom steps, helps easy location.

Falls whilst walking: - It would be stating the obvious to enumerate the hazards of walking on the average street in Goa. The absence of pavements, the loose stones and potholes, and numerous other obstacles, are something no self respecting municipality or PWD would accept or permit. However, there is one area worth mentioning. In community dwellings, the path from the gate to the entrance of the house is often cemented. In the monsoons, this collects moss acquiring the skid properties of ice. A simple remedy is to sprinkle sand or use palm leaves during the monsoons the same way our grandparents did. Tiles resistant to moss would be ideal.
Other Hazards: - Senior citizens have a slower reaction time to smoke, and a smoke alarm is a useful precautionary measure. Often in a multi burner type of stove, the person reaches out to the back burner across a front lit up one. Loose sleeves or a saree catches fire unnoticed and with synthetic materials, there is a disaster within minutes. Stoves should be either the single or twin burner models and loose fitting clothes/ sleeves should be avoided.

Builders frequently club all switches onto one board in the centre of the room to save wiring costs. This results in having to enter a dark room and run an obstacle course to find your way to the switches, stumbling over furniture. One light switch should always be placed near the door at the entrance, so that the room can be lit up as soon as one enters it. A night light is very cost effective, in preventing accidents at night; bearing in mind that the elderly may have conditions like diabetes and prostate problems which induce frequent passing of urine. The provision of a bedside urinal would eliminate the need to walk to the toilet. The furniture should be arranged in such a manner, that it allows a clear access path; at the same time strategically placed, so as to allow an elderly person ready support to lean on, if necessary.

Senior citizens and grandchildren often go together. This means toys, legos and other items are left lying around. These, as well as loose carpets and mats, placed on tiles form "banana skins" around the house, which the elderly can fall over. Toys should be collected in a box and put aside at the end of the day. Mats and rugs must be fixed firmly or removed.

Solar heaters and geysers can get water up to scalding temperatures. If a thermostat has been fitted, this should be turned down. If a mixer tap has been provided, teach the person to turn the cold water tap on first. If a bucket is used, the water must be tested with the back of the hand first. Taps are easier to manipulate if they have the lever rather that the knob design. The same applies to door handles; knobs being more difficult to operate.
Finally, the medicine cabinet. The elderly are often on multiple medications which are to be taken in a specified frequency and at set timings. Given the visual and memory impairment, dosage errors are common. It is, therefore, suggested that the medication be carefully supervised or wrapped in individual packets, labelled or colour coded.

Looking after the elderly is a very difficult and challenging task, which can test the patience of the most loving family. The suggestions made above are based on sound research, and none of them are particularly difficult or expensive to install.

To quote the NICE report, "Family members should systematically assess the home environment and make necessary changes. Don't wait for accidents to happen before you start doing something." We owe our presence here to them; let us show our gratitude in these simple, yet effective measures.

The author is a member, National Executive Committee, Voluntary health Association of India

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

ATALA SIT-TING PRETTY

BY ANTHONY SIMOES

 

Chief Minister Digambar Kamat was speaking to 'Herald's' Editor Weekend Sujay Gupta: "I hope the Home Minister is on top of the situation and will ensure that the state does not get a bad image." Famous last words?
So I visited the Police PRO Atmaram Deshpande to get the latest on the drug scene. I tripped on his carpet. "Never mind that," he said. "Earlier we had been instructed to sweep everything under the carpet. Now, thanks to Digu-bab, we are setting up an SIT (Special Investigating Team) to look into this police-politician-drug mafia nexus.


"With this SIT, we are taking a hole-istic approach. Once we have everything, we can dig a big enough hole in which to bury all the drugs, the evidence, as well as that 'so-and-so' Sujay Gupta. I wish he would stick to writing about the joints where he eats on weekends."


"Never mind him," I said soothingly. "I've come here to give publicity to your SIT and how it will solve Goa's brush with drugs, so it can have its tryst with destiny." "Sir," said Atmaram earnestly, "if you will only SIT down I will explain all about our SIT." And so, over tea and vadas, he outlined the plan.


"First of all, Ravi Naik will be asked to SIT at home, since he is the Home Minister. We will gift his son a rocking horse, so he can SIT on it and play at being a cowboy fighting the baddies in the badlands.
"Second, we will form a group to mend fences with the media, the NGOs, the Church, the Leader of the Opposition, Sabina Martins, and others we have angered over the years. You know all those who don't like to express an opinion or take sides? We will ask these honourable gentlemen and ladies to SIT on those fences.
"We will also be buying some Arab stallions. These are for the likes of Bassi and Bansal, who refuse to get off their high horses. Bansal had agreed to convert his office annex into a five-star stable for his Arab acquisition. At one time, he had his great drug lord friend Dudu housed there in style, complete with not only all modcons, but also his mistress. So when Bassi and Bansal SIT, they will feel as if they are in the saddle, even while the cops are actually up the creek without a paddle.


Other groups can simply SIT on the sidelines. Still others will SIT on important files. But the smartest ones will SIT on earlier investigations in which dirty tricks were played, like bogus panchanamas, white ants that eat drugs in police custody, and then transport them to the flea market, etc…"


At this point, Atmaram noticed that both my tea cup and vada bowl were empty. But he was not going to let me off the hook. He looked at me sternly and said: "I know how cynical you MIDDLE writers can get, so I will take you back to basics. We will start with the fundas." He walked to his bookshelf.
"This is it," I thought. "Now he's going to throw the book at me; maybe the entire bookshelf."
Mercifully, he returned with just the 'Concise Oxford Dictionary'. "Listen to the dictionary meaning of SIT," he said: "Take or be in a position in which the body is supported more or less upright by buttocks resting on the ground or on a raised seat."


"Now," said Atmaram, "we spend years sitting on our backsides, and the brain slowly eases itself down into less respectable parts of our anatomy. So, we are always mentally under pressure – we sit on our brains. It gets squashed smaller and smaller, as our backsides get bigger and bigger. So how do you expect positive results?" he asked indignantly. I said nothing.


"It's alright for you guys who write MIDDLES," he continued, "your top and bottom are not under pressure, so your MIDDLES can be free. And it does not take any intestinal fortitude.  All it takes is a brave Editor who is willing to stick his neck out, while you take all the credit."

Well, some people have really got it made...!

 

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

THE 'PLUNDER'  

According to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, information on black money stashed in tax havens abroad cannot be made public as that will entail violations of the government's treaty obligations. ''The information will not be made public. It will be a violation of the treaty,'' he told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the government's stand on black money stored by Indians in foreign banks. This naturally prompts one to ask as to whether such treaty obligations rank a far higher precedence than the ''plunder of the nation'', to quote a Supreme Court observation. Is the Prime Minister telling us that the loot in question can go on but the information pertaining to it cannot be placed in the public domain because the country's commitment to certain treaties is far more important than even the enormity of the theft?

It is in this context that the Supreme Court comments of Wednesday are so welcome. ''One trillion dollars is one estimate of the black money quantum. It is huge money, almost plunder of the nation and of far-reaching consequences. Yet, the government has summarized the efforts as recovery of tax evaded on money kept in foreign banks. This is the worrying point,'' said a bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar. The apex court's observation came in the wake of the hearing of a petition filed by eminent jurist Ram Jethmalani, seeking disclosure of black money stashed in foreign banks and the action taken by the government for getting that money back. Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium said that the Centre, alive to the problem and its magnitude, has tasked officers to rapidly gather details about offshore accounts-holding money siphoned from India and their possible links to arms smuggling, drug syndicates and terror networks. But the bench was displeased at the slow proceedings against 18 Indians who held Rs 43.83 crore in Leichtenstein's LGT Bank accounts, details of which were given to New Delhi by Germany last year. The Tax Department had informed the court in August 2009 that a tax demand of Rs 24.26 crore was slapped against 18 Indians and proceedings were initiated in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. ''Is this all the information you got since the petition was filed in 2009?'' the court asked Subramanium, who then pointed to the double taxation avoidance agreement treaties that the government had already signed or would sign with several countries. ''This agreement is a globally recognized route to get information about account holders in foreign banks. As the agreement has a secrecy clause, it would not be prudent to reveal the names of account holders at this stage,'' he said. The court then hit back: ''We cannot understand why the government is stylizing money parked abroad as tax evasion. We are talking about pure and simple theft of national economy, a mind-boggling crime. We are not (talking) about niceties of this treaty or that treaty.''

So will the Manmohan Singh government, already embroiled in serious corruption charges and struggling to keep itself untainted, act? Or, is the government even concerned about the gravity of the situation? If an estimated Rs 70 lakh crore parked in foreign banks and tax havens is not troubling the government or prompting it to act fast keeping the interest of the nation in mind, what faith can the people of the country have in this government when it comes to its tall anti-corruption promises? As the apex court has suggested indirectly, the government needs to go beyond the ''niceties of this treaty or that treaty'' in order to deter the ''plunder'' of the nation. A government committed to the task of weeding out corruption from the country and of ensuring that the masters of black money do not go scot-free, will go to any extent for a patriotic cause. Does this feature characterize the Manmohan Singh government? Are there any reasons to say it does!

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

MAULANA LAUDS MODI  

It must have come both as a surprise and a shock to many, especially the many pseudo-secularists in the country, that the new Dar-ul Uloom vice chancellor, Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastani, should say that ''all communities'' are prospering in Narendra Modi's Gujarat and that there is ''no discrimination against the minorities in the State as far as development is concerned''. This can be construed as the most powerful endorsement of Modi — nay, the Modi model of development. When a newspaper asked him about the 2002 pogrom, the Maulana did not give the Gujarat Chief Minister a clean chit but drove home the point that it was time to move on. A very positive statement from the Dar-ul Uloom chief — the Deoband-based Islamic seminary is one of the world's most authoritative Islamic seminaries — it could go a long way in neutralizing the ghost of Gujarat 2002 and in spreading the message that what people, regardless of caste, creed and religion, really need is development, beyond all kinds of anti-people vote-bank politics.

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

OF CHINA AND THE ARUNACHAL FACTOR  

DISCERNING OBSERVERS OF THE HISTORY OF INDIA-CHINA BOUNDARY DISPUTES IN DELHI HAVE SAID THAT THE LATEST CHINESE MOVE MAY BE NOTEWORTHY BUT CAUTIONED AGAINST MAKING BOLD CONCLUSIONS ABOUT A POSITIVE CHANGE IN BEIJING'S APPROACH TO ARUNACHAL PRADESH

THE REALITY MIRROR

What is China up to? Is its latest action of issuing stapled visas to two persons from Arunachal Pradesh — which it lays claim to in entirety — a positive gesture, given that the Chinese embassy in Delhi had refused to give visa to a senior IAS officer from the State, Ganesh Koyu, in 2007, or is it another way of asserting that the State is a disputed territory because it is actually ''southern Tibet''? What are the Chinese intentions?

Indian Weightlifting Federation joint secretary Abraham K Techi and noted weightlifter Yukar Sibi, both hailing from Arunachal Pradesh, were to leave for Beijing on January 12 at the invitation of the Chinese Weightlifting Association president on behalf of the China Weightlifting Grand Prix that was scheduled in Fujian from January 15 to 17. The duo, however, were in for a shock when officials at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi prevented them from boarding their flight because of the stapled visas issued to them by the Chinese embassy in the national capital. Techi contacted the embassy during the day only to be informed that ''the right visa was issued to the Arunachal Pradesh men''.

Reacting to the episode, Techi said, ''This is an insult to and an unnecessary harassment for the people of Arunachal Pradesh''. On January 13, Defence Minister AK Anthony said, ''Stapled visas are unacceptable to India. It has been conveyed to China. We will not accept it.''

China also issues stapled visas to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, saying it is a ''disputed'' territory. In fact, a few months ago, China had described Jammu and Kashmir as ''India-occupied territory'' while calling Pakistan-occupied Kashmir ''the northern part of Pakistan''.

In view of China's extension of its stapled-visa regime from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, the most obvious question is whether China has shifted its stand from a no-visa-for-Arunachal-people policy to a visa-possible regime with a rider, and whether by doing so it has moved towards normalizing ties with India in a phased manner. That is, is it that China has changed the description of Arunachal Pradesh from ''a Chinese territory'' to a merely ''disputed territory'' as it does with Jammu and Kashmir? Does that mean India and China are warming up to each other?

On January 17, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told PTI that ''China's position is consistent and clear about the China-India border issue, including the disputed area of the eastern section'', that ''the Indian side is aware of it'', and that ''the (Chinese) position has remained unchanged''. The eastern section of the China-India border covers the Arunachal Pradesh sector, which is part of the dialogue mechanism to resolve it.

Though the Chinese Foreign Ministry has not clarified whether the issuance of stapled visas means any departure from its previous policy of not granting the people of Arunachal Pradesh any visas at all, Rong Ying, a senior research fellow at the state-run China Institute of International Studies, has said that while his country's stand on the Arunachal Pradesh ''dispute'' has remained unchanged, the stapled visas to two Arunachal Pradesh persons could be a ''pragmatic'' step to allow Arunachal Pradesh people to visit China. He has said that both sides have to be ''pragmatic'', keeping the ''reality'' into consideration.

What is the ''reality''? Is it that for China, Arunachal Pradesh is still a Chinese territory? Or is it that it is a ''disputed'' territory on which both sides should deliberate to arrive at a negotiated solution of the ''problem''? What is remarkable this time is that China has refrained from using the long-used description ''Chinese territory'' for Arunachal Pradesh, calling it only ''disputed''. Yet there is no clarity. The point is whether by ''disputed'' China still means Arunachal Pradesh is its territory, or whether its characteristic hegemonic ego has come as a deterrent to admitting that there has been a pragmatic policy shift towards normalizing the strained relationship with India in view of the huge potential of business between the two countries.

Noted strategic affairs analyst C Raja Mohan has talked of ''other voices indicating an important evolution'' of the India-China relationship. He has quoted Hu Shisheng, a leading South Asia hand at the state-run China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), as saying that the decision to grant stapled visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh is a possible ''concession'' to India as China had been saying that ''the people of Arunachal Pradesh do not need visa as it is part of China''. Hu, who is the deputy director of the Institute for South and South Asian Studies at the CICIR, says that ''there must have been a change in policy for such a thing to happen''.

Raja, however, says that ''former diplomats who have negotiated with China on the boundary dispute wonder if the move is merely a tactical one aimed at improving the atmospherics of Sino-Indian relations'', and ''they point out that as an administrative decision, China's latest move on Arunachal visas could easily be reversed''.

China might be indulging in a subterfuge. While it could be trying to escape international criticism for being bellicose on the ''issue'' of Arunachal Pradesh as well as impressing on the international community that it has moved a step forward towards an amicable settlement of all vexed issues with India, Beijing might also be using the stapled-visa ''positive'' movement as a mere expedient, clinging on, in reality, to the thesis that not just Tawang but the rest of Arunachal Pradesh too is Chinese territory. This is the reason why discerning observers of the history of India-China boundary disputes in Delhi have said that the latest Chinese move may be noteworthy but cautioned against making bold conclusions about a positive change in Beijing's approach to Arunachal Pradesh.

China cannot be trusted. It has in recent years allowed its strategic affairs experts to run very vitriolic commentaries against India in state-run media outlets like The People's Daily, including the one that talks of the possibility of India being splintered into 20-30 independent states. China is also discomfited by India's Look East Policy, which some of its strategic affairs analysts have derided in recent times. And the most important factor that prompts China to work meticulously on its ''string of pearls'' strategy — which involves developing excellent sea lanes of communication right from Hong Kong to Sudan, encircling India in that sense — is the rise of India.

That apart, on January 18, China officially launched its state-run mapping website called ''Map World'' rivalling Google Earth and showing both Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir as part of its territory!

While we want a balanced flourish of relations with China, New Delhi must ensure that the neighbour's ruse if any is neutralized effectively. New Delhi can do that.

Bikash Sarmah

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

NO LET-UP ON IRAN

 

Recent revelations point to significant delays in Iran's nuclear program. Two weeks ago, outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan told a dozen senior reporters that Iran was not likely to have the bomb before mid-decade, which he later qualified and modified slightly, apparently under pressure from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Foreign reports over the past few years have pointed to a series of "setbacks" to the mullah regime's weapons drive, from nuclear scientists disappearing or being assassinated, to the mysterious damaging of nuclear equipment, to labs going up in flames, to planes with classified Iran-bound cargo crashing.

In recent weeks, reports in The Jerusalem Post and elsewhere have speculated on the far-reaching damage inflicted by the Stuxnet computer virus. It has been suggested that the highly sophisticated and fiendishly destructive virus had managed to infiltrate the computer operating system, and caused about a fifth of the centrifuges used to enrich uranium to spin out of control and destroy themselves. Last weekend, The New York Times tied the covert cyber-warfare to Israel.

WHETHER OR not Dagan's 2015 forecast is overly optimistic, Iran's nuclear ambitions have apparently been humbled, and the time frame for a nuclear breakout has been pushed off. As a result, the question has been raised whether a reevaluation of sanction policies is in order.


Some are calling for more efforts to engage the Islamist regime. "The cyber worm may have set back Iran's nuclear program, but it is unlikely to alter its nuclear ambitions," Ori Nir, the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, told JTA. "In order to introduce real change, the US and its international allies must change the manner in which they deal with Iran and start to comprehensively engage with Teheran."


No longer in quite as frenzied a rush against the clock, perhaps the international community can redouble efforts to woo Iran away from the nuclear option through dialogue, engagement advocates argue. Military brinkmanship or ratcheting up sanctions might have the unwanted result of pushing an embattled Islamic Republic toward an increasingly intransigent and extremist position, they claim. Collective punishment of the Iranian people might arouse the sympathies of the Muslim world against the West. And judging from the South African, Iraqi and North Korean precedents, sanctions have proved to be highly ineffective.


But while there might be some truth to some these claims, it would be incredibly naïve to expect a nebulous "engagement" policy to convince Iran to abandon a nuclear program that has earned it popularity domestically and heightened diplomatic influence internationally.


Hizbullah's domination of Lebanon, Hamas's tightening grip on Gaza, a Shi'ite resurgence in Iraq, as well as improved Iranian relations with Turkey and strengthening ties with Syria – these are just some of Iran's foreign policy successes in recent years in the Middle East. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's incessant battle cry that the West is weak and in retreat has a ring of truth for the Muslim extremists in this area of the world who look up to him. Continued defiance in the face of sanctions would only provide additional proof of the West's inability to stop bold and brave Iran.


The West has precious little to zero chance of succeeding in engagement with a regime that enjoys widespread popularity in the Muslim world specifically because of its defiance of the West. It is popular despite the blatant abuse of its own citizens' human rights, its recurring threats that Muslims who support Israel will "burn in the umma of Islam," and its stubborn pursuit of the most destructive weapons that could lead to the deaths of millions in the Middle East – Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of other faiths alike.


THE CONCERN now, indeed, is that in light of the recent revelations on Iran's nuclear difficulties, the international community will lapse into complacency. With new forecasts pushing back the date for a nuclear-capable Iran, the sense of urgency in thwarting the Islamic Republic might dissipate.


This must not be allowed to happen. Iran is bent on obtaining the bomb. That the danger may have been delayed by a year or two does not make it any less of an existential threat. The apparent achievements of sabotage, indeed, should provide new encouragement that Teheran can be thwarted. And the imperative to do so is as profound as ever.


As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, "I don't know that it gives much comfort to somebody who is in the Gulf, or who is in a country that Iran has vowed to destroy, that it's a one-year or a three-year time frame."

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

BIBI'S SANCHO PANZA

BY YOEL MARCUS

Characterizing a political move as an operation by the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit raises a great many questions. For example, how was it kept secret? Did Ehud Barak sneak into Benjamin Netanyahu's house at midnight dressed as a woman, as he was in that commando raid in Lebanon in 1973? Or maybe he disguised himself as an airport fuel attendant, as he did in the raid on the hijacked Sabena airliner in 1972? Or maybe he let himself in by rope from a helicopter, as the naval commandos did last year on the Mavi Marmara? But none of this is important.

Not a day had gone by after the operation that turned Barak into Bibi's Sancho Panza and already the defense minister was starring in the affair surrounding the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as chief of staff, an affair that could be called Operation Shoot Yourself in the Foot. For reasons that are not clear, Barak tried to turn popular Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi into a lame duck - a characteristically impulsive act on his part that invited a counteroffensive. He of all people should have known that all's fair in love and war.

Barak, the expert at comebacks, saw himself as having a divine right as defense minister. On the day Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, Barak was in New York, and the question that bothered him in those hours, when the entire nation was mourning, was whether he could be transferred from the Interior Ministry to the Defense Ministry, his life's dream. The answer was no, to his great disappointment. Shimon Peres succeeded Rabin and took over the defense portfolio.

Later, as prime minister, Barak turned out to be a man of dispute and strife. Everyone close to him deserted him, and eventually he was defeated by Ariel Sharon in a record landslide. What remained of Barak's promise as he said in a shaking voice "the dawn of a new day" was his indefatigable love of the defense portfolio.

Today, when he looks in the mirror, what does he see? That he has become the protector of Bibi's rear? It makes no difference what they signed - Barak and the four colleagues in his faction are a tiny minority in a right-wing government in which Avigdor Lieberman, Shas and Likud's extremists have the last word. Barak will be the alibi for everything Bibi does, or does not, decide.

What else does Barak see in the mirror? That nothing is more important to the people of Israel and its future than his remaining defense minister? He can now continue in the appalling mess of his political conduct. He fled when he lost the premiership. What's left other than the money he made and the ostentatious luxury apartment he bought? As a commander who calls on his troops to follow him, he finds himself in a scrawny Knesset faction. Once upon a time this was known as Kalanterism, after another elected representative, Rahamim Kalanter, who switched parties to gain benefits.

But Barak's former supporters and friends are less fastidious. Histradut labor federation chief Ofer Eini called him an "idiot." Former Finance Minister Avraham Shochat said he was a dangerous man with a defense portfolio and that if Yitzhak Rabin had been alive, he would have called the coupling with Bibi a dirty trick. Moshe Shahal, from whom Barak had seized the microphone during a Labor Party convention, described the union with Bibi as an underhand business.

"Barak thinks only of himself," Uzi Baram, the first person to support integrating Barak into the Labor Party, said about him at the height of his wretchedness. "He fled once and now he is fleeing again." Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, a former close friend of Barak, said Barak has forgotten the Israeli people and is only concerned about his minister's chair. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said he has sold his soul to the devil.

The way Bibi and Barak talk about a Sayeret-Matkal-type operation, it just makes you shiver. What's this? A military putsch? Not exactly. But a coalition of 66 members leaves Bibi with the last word. Barak's remarks that we will now have a stable government are hard to comprehend. Lieberman's strength alone is three times that of Barak.

As leader of Labor, Barak failed in every respect. He received a party with 19 seats. In the elections under his leadership, the party plummeted to 13 seats. Had Barak joined Livni, as she suggested, we would have a large peace party today and things would be much better. Now Barak is a "movement" of five Knesset members. Lieberman and Eli Yishai will eat them for breakfast.

When Moshe Dayan joined up with Menachem Begin, he sought to atone for the failure of the Yom Kippur War, and indeed, he led Begin to the peace agreement. It doesn't look like this will be Barak's mission in Bibi's government. More and more countries are recognizing a Palestinian state without borders. The danger is that, in the near future, this wave will sweep across Europe, too, until the United Nations also recognizes the Palestinian state.

This film could end like those Charlie Chaplin movies in which he walks away, smaller and smaller into the horizon - but with one difference. This time it won't be funny.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NO HOPE WE CAN BELIEVE IN

BY CARLO STRENGER

In the last few weeks an important event was largely missed by the Israeli media, which was busy covering the Moshe Katsav ruling, among other issues. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas presented his offer for a final status agreement with Israel to the United States, and is now awaiting an Israeli response. It has been reported that Yitzhak Molcho, on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, refused to receive this document from the Americans. His justification: making this document public would immediately destroy Netanyahu's coalition.

In other words, the Palestinian offer was not even opened because it might actually be reasonable. And that, for Netanyahu's government, would be a catastrophe. This is indeed mind-boggling: Israel's elected government cannot live with a presumably reasonable offer that would finally grant the country internationally recognized borders and, in the long run, normalization with the entire Arab world.

Let us look at a contrasting event in the United States, the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooting, at which President Barack Obama gave a speech immediately hailed as historical by most pundits. His words were deeply humane, and delivered in a very simple way. For Obama, the search for common ground seems to be a natural inclination; a worldview, not a tactic. Deep down, he believes in seeking the areas where interests can meet and common goals can be formulated. And he knows that in order to bridge differences, you truly need to listen to all sides involved.

It is exactly this type of leader that Israel needs, but does not have. Leaders able to touch the humanity in us all; who remind us that beyond all differences of opinion and ideology, we all want good lives for our children; we all want the next generation to care about our society at large, and be interested not only in their own personal fortune, but in the public good.

Why does Israel, time and again, elect leaders who are incapable of promoting hope? Why is it so impossible for us to see the possibility of constructive cooperation? Why has Israel reached a point where only politicians who thrive on hate and fear are electable?

The reason is that, for many years, Israel has been under the basic assumption that there is no common ground to be found in the Middle East. This assumption is derived from the beginning of Israel's history; when it turned out that the Arab world did not accept the existence of the Jewish homeland, the basic equation became "If Israel exists, the Arabs lose, and vice versa."

The Israeli psyche was shaped by the prevalence of such feelings over several decades, and assumes that one side's well-being is the other's disadvantage. The idea of a common good, of a win-win situation, where all sides stand to gain from cooperation has disappeared from our horizon. Israelis' deepest fear is to be "freiers," the Hebrew word for suckers, losers. The very idea that you can gain from cooperation, that there is a common good, is rejected as being naive and stupid.

This postulation that the conflict is insoluble has shaped the relationship between all of Israel's sectors: First and foremost, of course, there is the assumption that Jews and Arabs are pitched in an hopeless conflict with each other - a dogma that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has turned into the centerpiece of his politics. The ultra-Orthodox assume they share no common interests with the rest of Israeli society, and largely keep out of it, in terms of cultural, education and economics. The religious believe they need to turn Israel into a religious state, which would be the end of Israel as a modern secular state. And the settlers see their interest as pitted against the rest of Israeli society, because their project undermines the idea of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

This is the tragedy of this country's psyche: It has lost hope that politics can be anything but a zero-sum game. This is why Israel keeps electing leaders who are divisive, who emphasize power over cooperation, conflict over shared humanity. This is why the right has been gaining power steadily for a decade. This is why Israel has not produced leaders like Bill Clinton and Obama, whose trademark is the search for common ground, and instead follows leaders like Netanyahu and Lieberman who thrive on fear and divisiveness.

Not surprisingly, more and more Israelis have a premonition of doom. A society without any vision of a common good is unlikely to prevail. Paradoxically, only moving toward peace with the Palestinians and engaging with the Arab League Peace initiative can save Israeli society from falling apart completely. This would counteract the basic assumption that has formed this country's political psyche: that Israel's existence and the Arab world are locked in a deadly zero-sum game. The tragicomedy is that Israel's leaders are not even capable of opening the envelope containing Mahmoud's offer for peace.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

PRESSURE SORES

BY YOSSI SARID

This column will not be dedicated to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his friends "to the right of Kadima." I'm tired of this distorted man, who even in the Israel Defense Forces sowed an ill commander's wind, whose whirlwind we will yet reap.

This column is dedicated to other ministers and MKs, who are also betraying the little trust that remains; those public emissaries who sell justice in exchange for trifles.

Don't think for a moment that they're enjoying themselves there, on their mission, as the gossips are saying. On the contrary, they're really suffering. They could be heard of late complaining about the heavy pressure being put on them. Their cry of suffering rises and falls like a siren signaling a real emergency.

Groups of brazen lobbyists are storming the Knesset, especially the members of the Knesset's finance and economics committees. Anyone prepared to serve on one of them is risking his life.

The gas partnerships, for example, have hired at least five lobbying firms, which raid the Knesset and ambush MKs: Either you oppose the Sheshinsky Committee's recommendations or your end will be bitter.

Things have reached such a point that the Finance Committee's chairman has barred lobbyists and public relations people from the panel's meetings, so not a hair on the head of a bald MK or a carefully coiffed female MK will be harmed. And the Knesset speaker is considering how innocent lambs can be guarded from hungry wolves. Not only do the Sheshinsky proceedings require special protective measures, so does every discussion revolving around banks, cell phone companies, Israel Chemicals, and so on.

There are tycoons who are not satisfied with emissaries sent to persuade. Yitzhak Tshuva and his greedy friends have discovered that personal presence and direct contact are more convincing. They look straight at the sovereign, and the sovereign lowers his eyes. There is a reward for their activity, and a large one.

I was a lad when I entered the Knesset, I was old when I left, and I still don't know what that horrifying pressure is, what a "Knesset under attack" is and how to explain the victimized pose of persecuted elected officials. I worked in that place for 33 years and I don't remember suffering from pressure sores.

A veteran MK recently described at a press conference in Eilat what awaits them: "At the moment, very heavy pressure is being applied on the gas issue," he said. "Suddenly I've encountered people who call and say that next time it will be harder for you to be elected, that it's not good for your future."

And he concluded with an emotional call to support him and his colleagues before they fall: "If the media don't balance things, we won't be able to handle this by ourselves." Maybe now, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to adopt Sheshinsky's watered-down conclusions in full, they will be able to depend on someone higher up and climb down from their high horse.

We will offer two pieces of advice to the person who is afraid, advice that I gave myself when I was in their place. First, don't agree to meet with lobbyists, whose voice is that of their masters, and whose every word is carved in granite. Let the master himself come, explain his requests, and assume direct and personal responsibility for proper disclosure, full transparency, the reliability and meaning of the words. Second, if you hear even a vague note of scare tactics, remove him from the room immediately.

It's important to understand: Only in a place where people give in to pressure are there people who apply pressure. And those who give in to pressure are being extorted, because if not, there really is no reason to feel pressured: Maybe someone has by chance received a forbidden donation-reward? And maybe someone is casting his bread upon the waters?

And a question to myself as well: Should I be insulted that no tycoon has set foot on my threshold? Have they not treated me seriously and shown contempt for me? Apparently. And there's another possibility: In my case, the hint of a threat and the shadow of scare tactics would end up at the police station.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

IS THERE A GROWN-UP IN THE HALL?

BY DORON ROSENBLUM

Why does the public feel an almost instinctive, and justified, sense of ridicule every time people like Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu try to compare themselves to the leaders of the past, from David Ben-Gurion to Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, and even including Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin? On the face of it, the comparison shouldn't seem so unfounded. Netanyahu and Barak are of an age when their predecessors were deemed responsible "elders." As for formal education or quantifiable IQ, they are possibly superior to their predecessors. Even in terms of political integrity, we should not idealize the leaders of the past - they were capable of outbursts of demagogy, cynicism and dirty tricks that might make both Barak and Netanyahu pale. So what still stimulates the glands of ridicule at every mention of this sort?

It all possibly boils down to one word - maturity.

Uncivilized tribes hold initiation rites that are meant to "kill the child" in the adolescent - a cruel, highly significant and irreversible strike marks him and transforms him into a responsible adult - without sympathy, pampering and indulgence. In Israel, it is accepted that combat service in the Israel Defense Forces, especially in an elite unit, serves as an initiation rite. We were accustomed to believing that the very act of belonging to such an elite group automatically marks its members as possessing quality, maturity and even the potential for leadership. Is this so? Sometimes, that sense of belonging to a patently elitist group reinforces the eternal adolescent, puts a halo over his head and exempts him from some of the twisting paths that lead to maturity as an individual and a citizen.

The founding fathers (to whom their successors try to cling ) did not achieve their status through age or deeds. They revolted against their ancestors and tradition; without a protective covering, they were forced to become adults when they were still youths, to take the place of their own fathers. There was no one else, except them, to be the "responsible adult," no one else on whom to place responsibility, no one under whose guidance they could fool around and no one to emulate. Ben-Gurion did not have a Ben-Gurion. He also did not fancy himself to be like Winston Churchill. For better or worse, he and his colleagues were the originals.

Today, all we see is printed versions, if not faked copies: Barak, who would like to be like Moshe Dayan; Netanyahu, who would like to be like his father or Churchill; while both of them aspire to be like Yitzhak Shamir - at least for length of term of office. Though growing gray, they are still in the frivolity of youth, still part of the hijinks of the army unit. They are children playing with firefighting planes and "I capture the flag" and will "surprise" people and will bomb Iran "like a man," never mind the warnings. If they get applause for that, it is not merely they who lack maturity.

A country with maturity makes other kinds of demands of its leaders. People who are level-headed and moderate, like Isaac Herzog and Dan Meridor, are not dismissed nor mocked for being "responsible" and serious. When Ariel Sharon spoke about "things one can see from here," he was not referring to the position; he was speaking about the late maturity - very late, too late - he had achieved only during the closing chapters of his public life. That was true, too, of Rabin. For decades, they used our necks to practice shaving until they became responsible adults. As we look now at the wunderkinds Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, it is difficult not to ponder: We know already that the wunder has been lost, but when will the child finally depart?

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

DIPLOMATIC COLLAPSE

While the negotiations over the final-status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians have fallen into lethargy, Israel's international status is steadfastly sinking. The process of recognizing a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders - without Israel's prior recognition - which began in Latin America, has reached Russia this week.

President Dmitri Mevedev announced at the end of a meeting in Jericho with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Russia is comitted to the Soviet Union's resolution of 22 years ago, which recognized, together with the non-aligned bloc of states, a Palestinian state within the '67 borders.

On Wednesday Lebanon submitted a resolution proposal to the Security Council to denounce the West Bank settlements and declare their establishment a violation of international law.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Russia's joining the states that chose to demonstrate their displeasure with the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government's conduct vis-a-vis the Palestinians by granting diplomatic recognition to the entity under Israeli occupation. Russia has considerable influence on issues of paramount importance, such as the international pressure on Iran and restraining Syria. Russia is a member of the Quartet, which supports the United States' efforts to implement the principles set in the "road map" seven years ago.

It would be reasonable to assume that were it not for the American administration's insistence on reawakening the negotiations on the two-state arrangement from their slumber, central European Union states would follow Moscow.

The Obama administration - which the right portrays as an enemy of Israel - is also blocking the UN initiative about the settlements. Netanyahu's government relies on the United States to veto the proposal, while encouraging the settlements' expansion, strengthening the outposts and deepening its penetration into Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Even if the United State vetoes the proposal, with no progress towards an arrangement with the Palestinians - returning the settlements to the international agenda would present Israel as the subjugator sabotaging a peace agreement.

Instead of focusing his public relations skills on convicting "the world" with Israel's "de-legitimization," the prime minister had better make an effort to save Israel's status as a democratic, Jewish and peace-seeking state.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

DIPLOMATIC COLLAPSE

While the negotiations over the final-status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians have fallen into lethargy, Israel's international status is steadfastly sinking. The process of recognizing a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders - without Israel's prior recognition - which began in Latin America, has reached Russia this week.

President Dmitri Mevedev announced at the end of a meeting in Jericho with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Russia is comitted to the Soviet Union's resolution of 22 years ago, which recognized, together with the non-aligned bloc of states, a Palestinian state within the '67 borders.

On Wednesday Lebanon submitted a resolution proposal to the Security Council to denounce the West Bank settlements and declare their establishment a violation of international law.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Russia's joining the states that chose to demonstrate their displeasure with the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government's conduct vis-a-vis the Palestinians by granting diplomatic recognition to the entity under Israeli occupation. Russia has considerable influence on issues of paramount importance, such as the international pressure on Iran and restraining Syria. Russia is a member of the Quartet, which supports the United States' efforts to implement the principles set in the "road map" seven years ago.

It would be reasonable to assume that were it not for the American administration's insistence on reawakening the negotiations on the two-state arrangement from their slumber, central European Union states would follow Moscow.

The Obama administration - which the right portrays as an enemy of Israel - is also blocking the UN initiative about the settlements. Netanyahu's government relies on the United States to veto the proposal, while encouraging the settlements' expansion, strengthening the outposts and deepening its penetration into Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Even if the United State vetoes the proposal, with no progress towards an arrangement with the Palestinians - returning the settlements to the international agenda would present Israel as the subjugator sabotaging a peace agreement.

Instead of focusing his public relations skills on convicting "the world" with Israel's "de-legitimization," the prime minister had better make an effort to save Israel's status as a democratic, Jewish and peace-seeking state.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

FORBEARANCE FOR LE PEN

BY AMIEL UNGAR

The National Front party congress that handed over the reins of leadership from Jean-Marie Le Pen to his daughter Marine last weekend convened in the symbolically significant French city of Tours. It was at Tours in 732 that Charles Martel and his Frankish army proved victorious and saved Western Europe from Muslim conquest. In Tours, too, the French Communist Party was founded in 1920. Both these historical events should be recalled in the shaping of the Jewish and Israeli response to Marine Le Pen.

Islam no longer needs to dispatch armies to Europe: It can suffice with waves of immigrants who are called "pioneers" by the likes of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the revered authority on Muslim sharia law. Concern about the impact of Muslim immigration can't continue to be swept under the politically correct carpet - or dismissed as racism and xenophobia.

It is crucial to distinguish the current immigration from previous cycles. The current waves have nothing in common with the interwar immigration of Eastern Europeans westward during the 1920s and 1930s, encouraged as part of an official policy to replenish the population of the millions slaughtered in World War I. There was a time when immigrants would effectively sever their ties with the Old Country. Today's waves of Muslim immigrants, though, have proven unassimilable because, in this age of rapid transport and Internet communications one can, virtually - in both senses of the word - live simultaneously both in one's country of origin and in Europe.

Despite French President Nicolas Sarkozy's pretensions, France is no longer in the age of Richelieu or Napoleon, when it could have forced the formation of a gallicized Islam that, like the Church and the Jewish community, would have to bend to the French state.

It was the chief rabbi of Britain's United Hebrew Congregations, Baron Sacks, who correctly pointed out that Muslims have never had the experience of being a religious minority. Islam also has little respect for what it perceives to be a decadent and overly permissive society, and therefore sees no reason to adopt in order to coexist.

These burgeoning Muslim communities in Western Europe are responsible for the uptick in Western European anti-Semitism, and for terrorizing Jewish students and would-be supporters of Israel on the campuses. The recent Jewish exodus from Malmo, Sweden, coupled with former Dutch politician and Eurocrat Frits Bolkestein's warning last month to identifiable Dutch Jews that they should flee the Netherlands, are harbingers of things to come. After all, the intolerance for non-Muslims exhibited recently in Baghdad, Alexandria and Pakistan doesn't stop when Islam reaches Europe.

Ideally, I would want European Jews to move to Israel. But they should do so of their own volition and not because of violent Muslim pressure and the cravenness of the political establishment at home. Therefore, in this sense, we are revisiting the 1930s era when, essentially, parties of the left, including communists, offered solace to the Jews and furnished effective barriers to fascism. It was therefore understandable then that Jews swallowed their misgivings and welcomed their benefactors on the left.

Today the situation is reversed, with the left appeasing Islam and the hope coming from the right. If the new right can stiffen the spine of the political establishment and help protect Jewish communities, it should be encouraged.

It was Winston Churchill who once said, "If Hitler invaded hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." Therefore, if Marine Le Pen is sincere about a new relationship with the Jews and with Israel (even though her comments about Israeli policies to Adar Primor, in Haaretz English Edition of January 7, 2011, were more attuned to the thinking of the Israeli left than to mine ), then such overtures should not be rejected outright.

Ms. Le Pen, who wants to modernize her party, should be accorded the same benefit of the doubt accorded to Euro Communism five decades ago.

It was Francois Mitterrand who claimed that the only way to overcome the weakness of the French left was to engage the French Communist Party. If that party felt part of the system it would emerge from its political ghetto and counter-society, and loosen its subservience to the Soviet Union. And indeed, in 1981, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the French Communist Party became part of the socialist coalition.

Le Pen is not content with playing the political spoiler like her father; she wants to be part of the system, so that her party can share power. She will pay the price and shape her party's evolution accordingly.

This approach has succeeded to the fullest in Italy, where Gianfranco Fini (the man whom Yossi Sarid wanted Israel to boycott as late as 2003 ) succeeded in transforming his neo-fascist party into the post-fascist National Alliance. As foreign minister, deputy premier and president of the Assembly, he has become one of Israel's and Italian Jewry's most reliable friends. Having broken with Silvio Berlusconi, Fini was even accused last September by a colleague of the premier of "ordering a kippa" as a token of his betrayal.

It is precisely from Israeli liberals, who perform perfect grade 10 intellectual gymnastics in an effort to identify and accredit Palestinian moderates, despite their tawdry record, that one could expect a similar degree of forbearance for parties of the European right.

Dr. Amiel Ungar, a political scientist, is a regular contributor to Haaretz English Edition.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE TUNISIAN EXAMPLE

BY SHLOMO BROM

The downfall of the regime in Tunisia is an unprecedented event in the Arab world. Although that world, which is characterized by autocratic regimes, has in its short history experienced many military coups that brought down a ruler and installed a new strongman, this is the first time that one has fallen as a result of a popular uprising.

The revolution in Tunisia, like the demonstrations in Iran over a year ago, reflects the loss of the Arab regimes' monopoly over the mass media, due primarily to the rise of the Internet. Such a situation makes it difficult for the regimes to maintain control.

The Tunisian upheaval is causing excitement among various groups in the Arab world, where the masses are usually alienated from those who rule them. Some of these countries have already witnessed demonstrations in support of the changes in Tunisia, during which people have also voiced criticism of their own rulers.

The downfall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali differs from previously predicted scenarios for the fall of Arab regimes due to popular uprisings. Islamist-led revolts were what was generally discussed, in light of the strengthening of such movements in recent years.

Tunisia is exceptional because it underwent a swift process of modernization and economic development under Ben Ali, and because the infrastructure of the local Islamic movement was eradicated for the most part by his administration. The revolution there has been fomented by a social class with a Western education, on which the regime relied in its battle against the Islamic movements. In other Arab countries, the democratic opposition does not have much influence on attitudes on the street, and the main opposition is Islamist.

It is hard to predict the results of the next elections in Tunisia, both presidential and parliamentary, after such a long period of autocracy, during which the public was prevented from expressing its true tendencies.

Meanwhile, the leader of the exiled Islamic movement has declared that his organization would not run a presidential candidate of its own in the elections, apparently because it is aware of the difficulty of building a political infrastructure for elections in a short time. But a parliamentary election could still reveal Islamic tendencies that were concealed during the tenure of the previous leaders.

The possible reactions in the Arab world to the Tunisian revolution must be examined in terms of two time periods. In the short term, the demonstrations and the expressions of protest in some Arab countries could gain momentum and create a situation in which their leaders will find it difficult to rein them in. However, the regimes in most Arab countries apparently have a great deal of experience in controlling situations of mass belligerence and will likely manage to restore calm in a relatively short time.

Long-term developments will not be divorced from the unfolding of events in Tunisia. If the elections there take place in an organized manner and end in the formation of a Western-oriented government that succeeds in instituting a truly democratic regime, this could be a model for imitation, which could wield an influence over other Arab societies and help improve the status of their democratic opposition elements. On the other hand, post-election scenarios of chaos and of the rise of the Islamic movement to power, by democratic means, would greatly encourage the growing Islamist wave in the Arab world.

The model of a revolution brought about by a popular uprising will likely be studied by the various opposition movements that aspire to imitate it in other Arab countries. But one must take into account the fact that there are differences among the populations in those countries. A great deal also depends on the extent of a given regime's determination to preserve itself, and its ability to build up security mechanisms and population groups with an interest in preserving the leadership.

Anyone who is considering starting a popular uprising will thus have two examples to consider: the successful model, at least in the short term, of Tunisia, and the failure of the mass demonstrations in Iran in 2009, which were firmly suppressed by the Iranian Islamic regime.

Israel should be concerned mainly by developments taking place closer to home - in Egypt and Jordan. Egypt has been immersed for quite some time in the political twilight of its regime, due to the failing health of President Hosni Mubarak and the uncertainty regarding his successor. In Jordan, too, which is experiencing an ongoing economic crisis, there is considerable ferment. The two regimes look stable in the short run, but there is room for concern regarding what can be expected over time.

Shlomo Brom is the head of the Program on Israel-Palestinian Relations at the Institute for National Security Studies. The article was written in advance of the center's annual conference, "Shaping National Security Policy," January 31-February 1, 2011.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

WHERE TO INVEST GENEROSITY

BY BJORN LOMBORG

KOLKATA, India - On the eastern edge of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta ), Dulu Bibi, a 25-year-old mother of four, worries about the cost of treating her two sick boys. Her husband earns 80-90 rupees ($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 3 and 1, are weak and feverish, lack an appetite and cry a lot. "If I have to spend 150-200 rupees 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." It's one of the global challenges that we hear relatively little about in the developed world, drawing scant media attention or celebrity firepower, which are often crucial to attracting charitable donations to a cause.

But there is a more important point here: Though billions of dollars are given and spent on aid and development by individuals and companies each year, 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 immunization 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.

By highlighting the areas in which even small investments can accomplish a great deal, the Copenhagen Consensus project has influenced philanthropic organizations and governments.

This month, the center releases its "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 learn from the experts' lessons.

Some reject the need to set priorities, but that happens whether we like it or not: A few causes and issues get the most airtime, attention and money. The Copenhagen Consensus provides a framework with which we can make informed decisions, based on what can be achieved with similar "investments" in different areas.

Should we contribute to organizations that focus on saving lives today, immediately making the world a better place (with spin-offs lasting longer ) - or fund educational endeavors to benefit future generations?

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 important causes.

The contrast between saving lives today and aiming at tomorrow becomes clear when efforts to tackle global warming are included in the comparison. How could $10 best be spent? Should we, say, buy carbon offsets, or donate to a charity providing micronutrient supplements?

By translating all benefits to individuals, communities and countries into 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, plus billions of other stories that demand our attention. By embracing simple lessons from economics, all of us - individuals, governments and philanthropists - can ensure that our generosity yields the greatest benefit possible.

Bjorn Lomborg is the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" and "Cool It," head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, and adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School. Copyright: Project Syndicate

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

PRESIDENT KARZAI'S LATEST

It took particular audacity for President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to order Parliament to delay this weekend's opening session while an unconstitutional court he appointed re-investigates charges of fraud in last fall's parliamentary vote.

Mr. Karzai's own re-election two years ago was marred by blatant ballot tampering, and his legitimacy — in the eyes of his own people and the world — hasn't recovered. Beyond that hypocrisy, this sort of cynical meddling is exactly what Afghanistan doesn't need at this critical moment in the NATO-backed struggle to win hearts, minds and territory from the Taliban.

American-led military forces have reportedly made progress loosening the Taliban's grip on the southern province of Kandahar. But those hard-won gains could quickly unravel unless Afghans start seeing their government as legitimate and competent.

Mr. Karzai's seemingly unlimited tolerance for corrupt relatives and cronies and his inability to deliver basic services are already two of the insurgents' biggest recruiting points. Another blatant power grab will make things even worse.

Kandahar is the heartland of Mr. Karzai's Pashtun ethnic group, which ended up with far fewer seats in the new Parliament than it held in the last one. The threat of violence, but also discontent with Mr. Karzai, led to a low turnout, and disqualifications for fraud further reduced the number of Pashtun seats.

Mr. Karzai's delay of Parliament seems intended, at a minimum, to tamp down Pashtun discontent during the Kandahar offensive. What it surely will do is exacerbate tensions across Afghanistan, especially in the non-Pashtun areas where Taliban activity is rising.

Afghanistan needs an accountable government, and one in which all groups and regions are fairly represented. The longer Parliament is kept from convening (it is already five months since the election) the longer Mr. Karzai gets to rule by decree.

This Parliament should be seated without further delay so that it can get to work on serious problems like national reconciliation, pressing for more effective governance and reining in Mr. Karzai's increasingly arbitrary and capricious actions.

September's vote was indeed tainted by wholesale irregularities. No one disputes that, or argues that voter fraud should simply be overlooked, as it was in Mr. Karzai's own re-election race. These returns have already been investigated and adjudicated by the only legal body constitutionally empowered to do so — Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission — and those findings have been fully backed by the international community. Mr. Karzai's court has no legal standing and should not be allowed to have the last word.

Members of the new Parliament are saying they will meet on Sunday in another location if Mr. Karzai tries to prevent them from using the Parliament building. We hope their determination, coupled with strong pressure from the United Nations, NATO and Washington, can persuade Mr. Karzai to back off.

Defeating the Taliban requires an effective Afghan partner, and, for better or for worse (and too often it is the latter), Mr. Karzai is the president of Afghanistan. Washington has to work with him. Sometimes, as now, that requires standing up to him in order to extricate him, and Afghanistan, from the consequences of his anti-democratic impulses.

President Obama must make it clear to Mr. Karzai, publicly and privately, that he is not an uncrowned king, but a president accountable to his people and his country's Constitution.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

DEBIT CARD PREDATORS

Congress outlawed many of the credit card industry's most abusive practices in 2009. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which regulates about 4,800 state-chartered banks, recently did the same thing with the debit card industry. The banks, which are predictably crying foul, should not be allowed to evade the rules by switching to a less rigorous federal regulator.

Congress set an excellent model with the credit card law. It required companies to give 45 days' notice before raising interest rates. Late charges and other penalties must be "reasonable and proportional."

The Federal Reserve, which oversees all banks, should have taken a similar approach to the huge overdraft penalties that banks can charge on debit cards. They can come to $35 a pop — several times per day — driving customers into debt for incidental purchases as minor as a magazine or a cup of coffee. An analysis issued last year by the Center for Responsible Lending found that it was "common policy among banks" to process the largest transactions first, regardless of when purchases were made, to increase overdrafts.

The Federal Reserve took a wholly inadequate step last year when it required banks to get people to opt in to the overdraft plan before charging them fees. Some banks use deceptive practices to do this. Moreover, they almost never explain how the system works or what it will cost. As a result, low-income debit card holders are still being exposed to predations from which credit card holders are protected.

The new F.D.I.C. rules require banks to clearly explain overdraft costs. Most important, if a customer is charged a fee for overdrawing his account more than 6 times in a 12-month period, the bank must offer a less costly alternative, like a reasonably priced line of credit or linking the card to a savings account.

These regulations will bring basic fairness to the system. But banks worry about profits, and some are threatening to change their charters so they can shop for a less rigorous regulator than the F.D.I.C.

A race to the regulatory bottom would be a disastrous idea. Anyone who doubts that should recall what happened when the bank's regulator of choice, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, failed to rein in reckless mortgage lending and actually blocked the states from doing the job.

The Federal Reserve should adopt the F.D.I.C.'s rules. If it does not, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, which was created by Congress last year, should make fixing the debit card rules a top priority when it starts work in six months.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

TUNISIA, AFTER BEN ALI

Tunisia's people have achieved something rare and inspiring. Through a month of grass-roots protests, they overthrew a dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. At a crucial moment, the Tunisian Army leader, Gen. Rachid Ammar, ordered his troops not to fire on their own people and then resisted the temptation to seize power for himself.

The long-abused citizens of other Arab autocracies have taken heart. But Tunisia's achievement is not yet secure. Protests continue, and the unity government has begun fracturing: four ministers have already quit over the continued prominence of old-regime loyalists.

Tunisians who risked their lives are right to be skeptical. But some old-guard figures may be necessary for a smooth transition to democracy. For 23 years, Mr. Ben Ali suppressed real opposition parties and doled out posts based on loyalty. There aren't many outsiders with the experience to keep the country going. But Ben Ali loyalists must not monopolize power.

It's good that the holdovers have now resigned from the former ruling party, but more than new labels will be needed. The main challenge facing the transition government will be to organize truly free elections. All legitimate political forces — including leftists and Islamists who were outlawed and exiled — must be free to compete. Exiled politicians must have enough time to return, regroup and make their cases to the voters.

Tunisia's Constitution calls for a vote within 60 days. A consensus seems to be developing that six months would be more realistic. We think that is about right. A shorter interval gives too much advantage to the tame opposition parties. A longer one risks squandering Tunisians' hopes and could be far too tempting for another strongman to decide to stay on.

For too long, Washington uncritically embraced Mr. Ben Ali. The Obama administration has played America's limited cards wisely, applauding the "courage and dignity" of the Tunisian people as the uprising gathered force. The United States needs to follow through with technical support to help organize voter rolls and monitor the election and modest economic help to get Tunisia's economy running again after weeks of disruption. The brave bid from Tunisians for a better, freer life must be nurtured.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A MOST VALUABLE DEMOCRAT

BY DAVID BROOKS

In the spring of 2008, John McCain asked Joe Lieberman to speak on his behalf at the Republican National Convention. "If I look back, I wonder about it," Lieberman now says. But it seemed the natural way to help the man he deemed most qualified to be president.

After Barack Obama won the election, the hammer came down. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, told Lieberman that some Democrats wanted to strip him of his chairmanship of the homeland security committee. Lieberman, an independent, said if that happened then he might not be able to vote with the Democratic caucus.

The decisive meeting occurred during the transition period. President Obama opposed punishing Lieberman, as did Senators Reid, Schumer, Durbin, Dodd and Salazar. The entire caucus held a debate about Lieberman's future with Lieberman right there in the room. "It wasn't ad hominem," Lieberman recalled. "Some people said, 'We like you Joe. We just can't accept this behavior.' "

In the end, it wasn't even close. Forty-two Democratic senators voted to let Lieberman keep his chairmanship. Thirteen voted against.

As Ezra Klein of The Washington Post noted recently, this turned out to be one of the most consequential decisions Obama and Reid made. If Lieberman had not been welcomed back by the Democrats, there might not have been a 60th vote for health care reform, and it would have failed.

There certainly would have been no victory for "don't ask, don't tell" repeal without Lieberman's tireless work and hawkish credentials. The Kerry-Lieberman climate bill came closer to passage than any other energy bill. Lieberman also provided crucial support or a swing vote for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the stimulus bill, the banking bill, the unemployment extension and several other measures.

So while Lieberman is loathed by many liberal activists, he has always had much better relations with Democratic practitioners. Vice President Biden sent me a heartfelt e-mail on Thursday that ended: "The Senate will not be the same without Joe's leadership and powerful intellect. But it is his civility that will be missed the most."

"He was an integral part of the Democratic caucus," Reid also wrote in an e-mail, "and his dedication to public service, ability to work across the aisle and broad range of experience will be missed."

"Joe has been a terrific senator," John Kerry said. "He's defined himself by his conscience and beliefs." Kerry acknowledged that he has often been exasperated by Lieberman, but working relationships are more meaningful, Kerry continued, because of, not despite, fierce disagreements on other issues.

These policy makers are judging Lieberman by the criteria Max Weber called the "ethic of responsibility" — who will produce the best consequences. Some of the activists are judging him by what Weber called an "ethic of intention" — who has the purest and most uncompromising heart.

There's a theory going around that Lieberman was embittered by the trauma of 2006 when Democratic primary voters in Connecticut defeated him because of his support for the Iraq war. There's little evidence to validate this. Lieberman has always sat crossways between the two parties and has often served as a convenient bridge, infuriating Democrats, but then serving the party's interests at important moments.

Lieberman votes with the Democrats 90 percent of the time, but he has always been a Scoop Jackson Democrat who early on broke with his party on defense issues. In the 1990s, he challenged party orthodoxy on school choice, entitlement reform and the place of religion in public life.

But precisely because of these independent or hawkish credentials, he's been able to leap in at critical moments and deliver for the party in a way no other senator could. Long before there was an Obamacare debate or the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, Lieberman played an important role in saving Bill Clinton from impeachment. As momentum for impeachment was growing, Lieberman gave a crucial speech on the Senate floor that scolded Clinton for his behavior but resolutely opposed removing him from office.

As several senior people in the Clinton White House understood immediately, Lieberman's speech popped the boil — giving people a way to register anger, without calling for Clinton's removal.

The question is whether politicians with Lieberman's moderate and independent profile can survive in the current political climate. "I have more warm relationships with Democrats in Washington than in Connecticut," Lieberman acknowledges.

It would be nice if voters made room for a few independents like this. There have been times, like during the health care debate, when I found Lieberman's independence befuddling and detached from any evident intellectual moorings. But, in general, he has shown a courageous independence of mind.

There are plenty of team players in government who do whatever the leader says. There are too few difficult members, who have complicated minds, unusual perspectives, the toughness to withstand the party-line barrages and a practical interest in producing results.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

CHINA GOES TO NIXON

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

With Hu Jintao, China's president, currently visiting the United States, stories about growing Chinese economic might are everywhere. And those stories are entirely true: although China is still a poor country, it's growing fast, and given its sheer size it's well on the way to matching America as an economic superpower.

What's also true, however, is that China has stumbled into a monetary muddle that's getting worse with each passing month. Furthermore, the Chinese government's response to the problem — with policy seemingly paralyzed by deference to special interests, lack of intellectual clarity and a resort to blame games — belies any notion that China's leaders can be counted on to act decisively and effectively. In fact, the Chinese come off looking like, well, us.

How bad will it get? Warnings from some analysts that China could trigger a global crisis seem overblown. But the fact that people are saying such things is an indication of how out of control the situation looks right now.

The root cause of China's muddle is its weak-currency policy, which is feeding an artificially large trade surplus. As I've emphasized in the past, this policy hurts the rest of the world, increasing unemployment in many other countries, America included.

But a policy can be bad for us without being good for China. In fact, Chinese currency policy is a lose-lose proposition, simultaneously depressing employment here and producing an overheated, inflation-prone economy in China itself.

One way to think about what's happening is that inflation is the market's way of undoing currency manipulation. China has been using a weak currency to keep its wages and prices low in dollar terms; market forces have responded by pushing those wages and prices up, eroding that artificial competitive advantage. Some estimates I've heard suggest that at current rates of inflation, Chinese undervaluation could be gone in two or three years — not soon enough, but sooner than many expected.

China's leaders are, however, trying to prevent this outcome, not just to protect exporters' interest, but because inflation is even more unpopular in China than it is elsewhere. One big reason is that China already in effect exploits its citizens through financial repression (other kinds, too, but that's not relevant here). Interest rates on bank deposits are limited to just 2.75 percent, which is below the official inflation rate — and it's widely believed that China's true inflation rate is substantially higher than its government admits.

Rapidly rising prices, even if matched by wage increases, will make this exploitation much worse. It's no wonder that the Chinese public is angry about inflation, and that China's leaders want to stop it.

But for whatever reason — the power of export interests, refusal to do anything that looks like giving in to U.S. demands or sheer inability to think clearly — they're not willing to deal with the root cause and let their currency rise. Instead, they are trying to control inflation by raising interest rates and restricting credit.

This is destructive from a global point of view: with much of the world economy still depressed, the last thing we need is major players pursuing tight-money policies. More to the point from China's perspective, however, is that it's not working. Credit limits are proving hard to enforce and are being further undermined by inflows of hot money from abroad.

With efforts to cool the economy falling short, China has been trying to limit inflation with price controls — a policy that rarely works. In particular, it's a policy that failed dismally the last time it was tried here, during the Nixon administration. (And, yes, this means that right now China is going to Nixon.)

So what's left? Well, China has turned to the blame game, accusing the Federal Reserve (wrongly) of creating the problem by printing too much money. But while blaming the Fed may make Chinese leaders feel better, it won't change U.S. monetary policy, nor will it do anything to tame China's inflation monster.

Could all of this really turn into a full-fledged crisis? If I didn't know my economic history, I'd find the idea implausible. After all, the solution to China's monetary muddle is both simple and obvious: just let the currency rise, already.

But I do know my economic history, which means that I know how often governments refuse, sometimes for many years, to do the obviously right thing — and especially when currency values are concerned. Usually they try to keep their currencies artificially strong rather than artificially weak; but it can be a big mess either way.

So our newest economic superpower may indeed be on its way to some kind of economic crisis, with collateral damage to the world as a whole. Did we need this?

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

WHY PARENTS FEAR THE NEEDLE

BY MICHAEL WILLRICH

Wellesley, Mass.

DESPITE overwhelming evidence to the contrary, roughly one in five Americans believes that vaccines cause autism — a disturbing fact that will probably hold true even after the publication this month, in a British medical journal, of a report thoroughly debunking the 1998 paper that began the vaccine-autism scare.

That's because the public's underlying fear of vaccines goes much deeper than a single paper. Until officials realize that, and learn how to counter such deep-seated concerns, the paranoia — and the public-health risk it poses — will remain.

The evidence against the original article and its author, a British medical researcher named Andrew Wakefield, is damning. Among other things, he is said to have received payment for his research from a lawyer involved in a suit against a vaccine manufacturer; in response, Britain's General Medical Council struck him from the medical register last May. As the journal's editor put it, the assertion that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine caused autism "was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud."

But public fear of vaccines did not originate with Dr. Wakefield's paper. Rather, his claims tapped into a reservoir of doubt and resentment toward this life-saving, but never risk-free, technology.

Vaccines have had to fight against public skepticism from the beginning. In 1802, after Edward Jenner published his first results claiming that scratching cowpox pus into the arms of healthy children could protect them against smallpox, a political cartoon appeared showing newly vaccinated people with hooves and horns.

Nevertheless, during the 19th century vaccines became central to public-health efforts in England, Europe and the Americas, and several countries began to require vaccinations.

Such a move didn't sit comfortably with many people, who saw mandatory vaccinations as an invasion of their personal liberty. An antivaccine movement began to build and, though vilified by the mainstream medical profession, soon boasted a substantial popular base and several prominent supporters, including Frederick Douglass, Leo Tolstoy and George Bernard Shaw, who called vaccinations "a peculiarly filthy piece of witchcraft."

In America, popular opposition peaked during the smallpox epidemic at the turn of the 20th century. Health officials ordered vaccinations in public schools, in factories and on the nation's railroads; club-wielding New York City policemen enforced vaccinations in crowded immigrant tenements, while Texas Rangers and the United States Cavalry provided muscle for vaccinators along the Mexican border.

Public resistance was immediate, from riots and school strikes to lobbying and a groundswell of litigation that eventually reached the Supreme Court. Newspapers, notably this one, dismissed antivaccinationists as "benighted and deranged" and "hopeless cranks."

But the opposition reflected complex attitudes toward medicine and the government. Many African-Americans, long neglected or mistreated by the white medical profession, doubted the vaccinators' motives. Christian Scientists protested the laws as an assault on religious liberty. And workers feared, with good reason, that vaccines would inflame their arms and cost them several days' wages.

Understandably, advocates for universal immunization then and now have tended to see only the harm done by their critics. But in retrospect, such wariness was justified: at the time, health officials ordered vaccinations without ensuring the vaccines were safe and effective.

Public confidence in vaccines collapsed in the fall of 1901 when newspapers linked the deaths of nine schoolchildren in Camden, N.J., to a commercial vaccine allegedly tainted with tetanus. In St. Louis, 13 more schoolchildren died of tetanus after treatment with the diphtheria antitoxin. It was decades before many Americans were willing to submit to public vaccination campaigns again.

Nevertheless, the vaccination controversy of the last century did leave a positive legacy. Seeking to restore confidence after the deaths in Camden and St. Louis, Congress enacted the Biologics Control Act of 1902, establishing the first federal regulation of the nation's growing vaccine industry. Confronted with numerous antivaccination lawsuits, state and federal courts established new standards that balanced public health and civil liberties.

Most important, popular resistance taught government officials that when it comes to public health, education can be more effective than brute force. By midcentury, awareness efforts had proven critical to the polio and smallpox vaccination efforts, both of which were huge successes.

One would think such education efforts would no longer be necessary. After all, today's vaccines are safer, subject to extensive regulatory controls. And shots are far more numerous: as of 2010, the Centers for Disease Control recommended that every child receive 10 different vaccinations. For most Americans, vaccines are a fact of life.

Still, according to a 2010 C.D.C. report, 40 percent of American parents with young children have delayed or refused one or more vaccines for their child. That's in part because vaccines have been so successful that any risk associated with their use, however statistically small, takes on an elevated significance.

It also doesn't help that, thanks to the Internet, a bottomless archive of misinformation, including Dr. Wakefield's debunked work, is just a few keystrokes away. All of which means the public health community must work even harder to spread the positive news about vaccines.

Health officials often get frustrated with public misconceptions about vaccines; at the turn of the last century, one frustrated Kentucky health officer pined for the arrival of "the fool-killer" — an outbreak of smallpox devastating enough to convince his skeptical rural constituency of the value of vaccination.

But that's no way to run a health system. Our public health leaders would do far better to adopt the strategy used by one forward-thinking federal health official from the early 20th century, C. P. Wertenbaker of the Public Health and Marine-Hospital Service.

As smallpox raged across the American South, Wertenbaker journeyed to small communities and delivered speech after speech on vaccinations before swelling audiences of townsfolk, farmers and families. He listened and replied to people's fears. He told them about the horrors of smallpox. He candidly presented the latest scientific information about the benefits and risks of vaccination. And he urged his audiences to protect themselves and one another by taking the vaccine. By the time he was done, many of his listeners were already rolling up their sleeves.

America's public health leaders need to do the same, to reclaim the town square with a candid national conversation about the real risks of vaccines, which are minuscule compared with their benefits. Why waste another breath vilifying the antivaccination minority when steps can be taken to expand the pro-vaccine majority?

Obstetricians, midwives and pediatricians should present the facts about vaccines and the nasty diseases they prevent early and often to expectant parents. Health agencies should mobilize local parents' organizations to publicize, in realistic terms, the hazards that unvaccinated children can pose to everyone else in their communities. And health officials must redouble their efforts to harness the power of the Internet and spread the good word about vaccines.

You can bet that Wertenbaker would have done the same thing.

Michael Willrich, an associate professor of history at Brandeis University, is the author of the forthcoming "Pox: An American History."

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: IT WILL TAKE MORE THAN FENCES

 

The Bush administration touted it as a smart, high-tech solution to one of the nation's most vexing problems: illegal immigration. A "virtual fence" of radar, sensors and towers equipped with night-vision cameras would feed real-time pictures of illegal intruders to a central control room. There, the Border Patrol could see the intruders, safely dispatch agents and apprehend illegal immigrants and smugglers.

But, like so many grand government schemes, the virtual fence fizzled. A week ago, the Obama administration put it quietly to rest.

 

Small wonder. Originally announced in 2006 as a $67 million project to be completed by the spring of 2007, "SBInet" finally went into operation nearly four years later along 53 miles of Arizona's porous border with Mexico. The Boeing project was hampered by bureaucracy, environmental reviews, construction delays, cost overruns, technology glitches and political wrangling. The usual stuff. Its ultimate price tag? Nearly $1 billion.

 

In an assessment of the project, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, said essentially that while the initial section works to apprehend intruders, the project is not "cost-effective" and would not be extended elsewhere. And, at $19 million a mile, who would argue?

 

Newspapers in the Southwest applauded Napolitano's move, as did the project's critics in Congress. But the decision to let the virtual fence strategy quietly die is no more a solution to the nation's immigration problems than was the decision to build it.

 

Over the past two decades, Congress has thrown billions of dollars, hundreds of miles of fencing, truckloads of fancy technology and ever-increasing numbers of border agents into a battle to seal the nation's 2,000-mile border with Mexico. And now Homeland Security promises to deploy more "proven" technology, from truck-mounted radar to unmanned aircraft, to cover the other 323 miles of the Arizona border for what the department touts as "less than $750 million."

 

So is the public getting its money's worth?

 

Hard to say. According to Mexican government figures, immigration to the U.S. is down 50% from 2006 to 2009. What's not clear is how much of that is the result of border enforcement and how much is because of economic factors. The old joke among experts in the field goes: "How do you stop illegal immigration? Have a depression." America came close.

 

The 850 miles of fencing approved by Congress in 2006 was part of a sensible overall strategy championed by the Bush administration — one that coupled border control with tough workplace enforcement to deter businesses from hiring immigrants illegally: temporary worker permits so employers could legally hire the labor they need, and a path to legality for migrants who stayed out of trouble and paid their taxes. A shortsighted Congress defeated comprehensive reform in 2007, leaving the nation with "enforcement-only" instead of an "enforcement-first" approach.

 

Secure borders and fences are an obvious part of any immigration strategy. But they don't work as the whole strategy. They don't deal with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the USA, or stop people who come here legally but overstay their visas, or create more good jobs in Mexico. Exchanging one billion-dollar boondoggle for $750 million worth of different technology doesn't change that reality.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: KEEP 'SBINET'

BY JANICE KEPHART

 

The Obama administration's unbelievable message that our border with Mexico is "as secure now as it has ever been" puts public safety and U.S. sovereignty increasingly at risk. Today's border is ravaged by violence spilling from Mexico that is already a U.S. national security emergency.

 

Texas' Department of Public Safety has declared war against the drug cartels, while Arizona has suffered kidnappings, murders, destruction of its wilderness, and warnings about danger posed by cartels and smugglers as far as 80 miles from the border.

 

So what should Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano be doing about this? In 2009 when she got the job, she should have issued an effective, end-to-end border strategy geared to deterring border threats and achieving border control. That would include three main elements:

 

•Enforcing immigration laws.

 

•Building appropriate fencing.

 

•Enhancing the Border Patrol's ability to operate successfully, safely and efficiently.

 

The last element seemed frustratingly out of reach in 2009. Technology was not available to enable the Border Patrol to know what was happening in real time along the border. All that changed, however, last year, with the deployment of a 53-mile network of towers, sensors, radars and other devices that communicated with a central control room.

 

That version of "SBInet" in Arizona's Tucson and Ajo sectors — areas trampled by smugglers— provided 80% visibility from a control room in places that patrols could previously only see in person. With the new technology, the agents gained "situational awareness," the ability to see illegal activity in real time and decide when and how to interdict. With it, the Border Patrol could cut the number of agents needed in the field at one time from 24 to just four.

 

Instead of embracing this new tool, Napolitano announced an end to the program last Friday.

 

For agents reeling from the recent, on-the-job murder of colleague Brian Terry just east of where SBInet ended, the technology provided unprecedented safety. Agents no longer feared being outnumbered by groups of smugglers or not knowing whether smugglers were carrying guns or drugs. Agents knew ahead of time and could plan accordingly. It is shameful that none of that seems to matter to this administration.

 

Janice Kephart, a former counsel to the Sept. 11 Commission, is the director of national security policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that supports tighter control on immigration.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

'STATE OF THE UNION': OBAMA'S BEST, WORST

PLAIN TALK BY AL NEUHARTH, USA TODAY FOUNDER

 

When President Obama gives Congress and all of us the traditional annual State of the Union address Tuesday night, he has the right to brag a little. He also should take some blame.

 

The best and worst of Obama's second year in the Oval Office:

 

•He carried out economic policies that helped us recover from the recession he inherited.

 

•He implemented foreign policies that worsened the war he inherited.

 

There's room for argument over which of his economic policies had the most merit. But the fact is that some of his stimulus plans have boosted business, improved the stock market and put some — but not enough — people back to work.

 

Of course, some of these moves have cost us big money that has increased our debt, but only a fraction of that of our international misadventures.

 

His doubling down of troops in Afghanistan, even though Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda gang that planned and staged 9/11 are safe and secure in the mountains of Pakistan, is not only more costly in dollars but also tragic in lost lives. The continuing Afghanistan War is expected to cost us $119 billion this year alone.To date, Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us $1.1 trillion. Even more tragic, our military deaths now total 5,783.

 

Subject matter aside, the length of the State of the Union messages may tell you nearly as much about the deliverer as his words do. President Washington's first such address was the shortest ever — less than 10 minutes. President Clinton's in 2000 was the longest — one hour, 28 minutes and 49 seconds. President Obama's last year was one hour, nine minutes and 20 seconds.

 

Watch your watch starting at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

TED WILLIAMS SHOWS NATURE OF 2ND CHANCES

BY JAMES KEY

 

Every now and then, a feel-good story with peaks and valleys will come along and capture our imagination. Ohioan Ted Williams was an obscure homeless man, panhandling with a handmade sign, when a ColumbusDispatch reporter videotaped him for an interview earlier this month. Almost overnight, the man with a "God-given gift of voice" became a national sensation.

 

The TV and radio interviews came, as did the job offers. Americans, by nature, are a forgiving people and, having suffered through hard economic times, many of us know what it feels like to be down on luck. Williams' life had fallen apart when drug and alcohol abuse ruined his marriage and career. He has served time in jail for theft and forgery and has been cited for numerous misdemeanors.

 

Like most Americans, I'm a firm believer in second chances. One of my favorite biblical figures is John Mark, a young man who began life with great promise but failed early. Mark had accompanied his cousin, Barnabas, and the Apostle Paul on a ministry journey that had taken them into Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). But for reasons unknown, he abandoned the group just when they were to enter the dangerous midlands and returned to his home in Jerusalem. Paul didn't like it, and when Barnabas suggested they take Mark on the next journey, there was such a disagreement between them that Barnabas and Paul parted company. Mark was out — until, from within a Roman prison, Paul opened his mind and gave him a second chance. And yet how many of us, when given a second or third chance, hopelessly botched or squandered them?

 

After a heart-to-heart chat with Dr. Phil— in which Williams and his family described a recent physical altercation with one of his daughters — Williams agreed to put his career on hold and enter a rehabilitation center. He told Dr. Phil that he had turned to drinking again after a hectic stay in Los Angeles.

 

I was disappointed when I heard about the altercation. But then I quickly realized that alcoholism is a disease that cannot be tamed as quickly as his overnight fame. It will take time, and it will take the support of his family, friends and society.

 

Like Mark and Ted, we all need someone who believes in us. We all need a second chance. But for those of us too often eager to judge, it's worth remembering that a second chance — as in Williams' case — is often only the first step on a journey of occasional stumbles to full recovery and redemption.

 

Maj. James Key is a U.S. Army Chaplain at Fort Myer, Va. He is the author of Touch and Go: From the streets of South Central Los Angeles to the War in Iraq.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

CHINA VISIT FRIENDLY, BUT ISSUES REMAIN

 

"President Hu Jintao's state visit to Washington, at a time when Chinese-American relations are deeply strained and likely to get worse (showed that) 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. ... 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."

 

Evan Osnos, blogger, The New Yorker: "(Jintao's state visit) nudged debate over China's political values back into the spotlight, after two years in which the Obama White House tried, and abandoned, an effort to reframe the relationship around other issues. This tack is likely to defuse some of the criticism of the administration for soft-pedalling human rights. But these tougher words came in an elegant package, and, like all Chinese gift-exchanges, that was at least as important as the contents. ... The underlying issues remain, and I expect to see harsh words creep back into the relationship soon, but a civil event is no small achievement given how poor the mood was at their last summit, in Beijing."

 

Joseph Sternberg, editorial writer, The Wall Street Journal Asia: "Obama needs to be more realistic about the prospects of China rebalancing any time soon. It's a mistake for him to rely on a rapid rise in Chinese consumption to fill a global economic gap left by the failure of his policies to stimulate the U.S. economy. As for Hu, a bit of humility is in order. China's investment-driven growth has paid off ... but may already be witnessing declining marginal returns. McKinsey estimates China needs to invest $4.90 to produce each dollar of GDP growth, up from $3.30 in the early 1990s. Shifting to a new model will require changes at every level, right down to the bank branch. That's hard to do when you're preoccupied asserting economic might you may not have."

 

San Jose Mercury News, in an editorial: "Pressing China on human rights has to remain a high priority for Obama during Hu's four-day visit. ... To ignore the fact that Obama's fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo languishes in a Chinese prison would be hypocritical for a nation dedicated to personal freedom. But right up there on the agenda should be leveling the playing field for Silicon Valley companies competing with Chinese tech rivals. Hu has made promises but has yet to follow through. ... The United States is still China's No. 1 export market. At the same time, China holds around $1 trillion in American bonds. Neither country would benefit from a trade war."

 

The Jakarta (Indonesia) Post, in an editorial: "A lot of expectations have been placed on this visit, and Obama is under mounting pressure to make demands on his guest. Whatever the two leaders agree or disagree on, the visit will transform the Sino-U.S relationship in big ways, and consequently international relations as well. ... The visit may not end with the two leaders resolving their differences, but it will certainly set the tone in the relationship between the global powers. The rest of the world will have to make adjustments accordingly. We are now moving away from a unipolar world back to a bipolar world."

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

AT 65, BOOMERS STILL SELF-ABSORBED

BY CHUCK RAASCH

 

WASHINGTON — You have probably heard a lot about the first Baby Boomers turning 65 at the beginning of 2011. The story has been all over the news media, as you would expect from probably the most self-absorbed generation in American history.

 

For a generation that once declared it would not trust anyone over 30, Boomers certainly are making a lot of noise and fanfare over this seminal milestone of old age. You would think that we would find some irony in the moment. But then again, Gene Simmons still thinks of himself as a rock 'n' roller. And Boomers, those born 1946-64, are self-absorbed enough that they still don't trust anyone over 30 — or under 30, for that matter.

 

As a smack-dab-in-the-middle member of the Boomer generation, I have license to make these declarations. After all, even though we are not even the biggest generation any more — the millennials born 1982-2003 outnumber boomers — we will always believe that we are first in everything.

 

First to fight an unpopular war, to challenge authority, to have children, to work hard, to be creative, to desire wealth, to deal with aging parents and now, to get old ourselves.

 

Social scientists and demographic experts do give us credit for raising a pretty good generation of millennials who have been entering adulthood over this past decade. But as far as civic engagement and awareness, millennials appear to be modeling themselves more after our parents, the so-called Greatest Generation that fought World War II and helped save the globe from fascism. Both the millennials and the World War II generation are what New Democratic Network scholars and authors Michael Hais and Morley Winograd consider "civic generations," community-minded people seared by crisis and brought together by challenge.

 

For the World War II generation, it was the Depression and Pearl Harbor. For millennials, it was 9/11 and its aftermath.

 

Their Boomer parents, according to Hais, belong to a classic "ideological generation," one driven by "internal beliefs, which they try to enact on the rest of the world."

 

Boomers "tend to think that their experiences are unique," notes Hais, who is joining Winograd for a second book on millennials that is due out in September.

 

No kidding.

 

Memo to Boomers: Vietnam was not the first unpopular war in history. Mick Jagger, The Beatles— they all were born before the Boom. And age, childrearing — life's inevitabilities that the Boomer media and culture have often arrogantly ascribed as a new discovery when we experienced them — have been around since women gave birth in caves.

 

In reality, our uniqueness could be the messes that we have created. Not only have we heaped incredible amounts of debt on those who follow us, we enter retirement expecting them to not trifle with our Social Security and Medicare. Then we have the temerity to pass judgment on other generations. GenXers as slackers, remember? Our politics is loud and accusatory and often hopelessly intractable. Boomers are world-class finger-pointers.

 

Our parents gave us rock 'n' roll. We ran with it and reveled in it, but face it: The Boomers' big music invention, disco, went out of style faster than John Travolta's polyester slacks. Do you know a single iPod owner who has loaded up on disco golden oldies?

 

The stories about Boomers retiring and "giving back" — through volunteering and other civic work — infer that we've mostly been takers up until now.

 

Celebrate the Boomers turning 65? Nah, we're just another generation, getting old.

 

Sucks, doesn't it?

 

(Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett. Contact him at craasch@gannett.com, follow him at http://twitter.com/craasch or join in the conversation at http://www.facebook.com/raaschcolumn)

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

GOP CHAIRMEN: REPEAL IS FIRST, NOT LAST, STEP

BY DAVE CAMP, JOHN KLINE, PAUL RYAN, LAMAR SMITH AND FRED UPTON

 

Wednesday's vote to repeal the unpopular health care law was, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the end of the beginning of our push to make quality health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans. Full repeal of the Democrats' partisan health care law is critical to advancing fiscally responsible, patient-centered reforms that actually lower health care costs.

 

Repeal serves two purposes. First, it is crucial to getting our economy on a path toward job creation. Each day we learn of another premium hike brought on by the health care law's onerous new mandates. New taxes and penalties are having a chilling effect on American businesses. Those new taxes, fees and mandates increase the uncertainty among employers who worry about what edict will come down next from Washington. Employers cannot and are not creating jobs in this environment.

 

Second, this effort allows us to take steps to truly deal with cost. Whatever else may be said of it, the new law has clearly failed to address the ever-rising cost of care and coverage. In many cases, the law is actually responsible, at least in part, for the increases. Many employers are facing higher costs, individuals are being notified of double-digit premium increases and state governments are expressing concerns about the impact that reform will have on state budgets.

 

How to fix the system

 

At its core, America's health care problem is an affordability problem. The goal of slowing the explosive cost of health care transcends party lines.

 

Many cost drivers are already widely understood. Individuals and small businesses are constrained by mandates that vary by state and result in higher costs and less flexibility. Physicians are forced to practice costly defensive medicine because of a tort system run amok. And dependence on publicly subsidized entitlement programs — expanded and solidified through the new health care law — is stretching state budgets to the breaking point.

 

Americans want a step-by-step, common-sense approach to health care reform, not a $2.6 trillion, 2,000-page government takeover of our nation's health care system.

 

In the last Congress, Republicans advocated solutions that were focused on lowering health insurance premiums for families and small businesses, increasing access to affordable care regardless of pre-existing health conditions, curbing lawsuit abuse and promoting healthier lifestyles — without increasing taxes.

 

There was no shortage of solutions offered by our party when Congress last debated these issues. We proposed flexibility for individuals to purchase insurance across state lines and freedom for small business to band together and increase their purchasing power. We called for curbs on lawsuit abuse that would not only lower health care costs but would also save taxpayers an estimated $54 billion over the next decade. We advocated flexibility for individuals to save for and manage a greater share of their health spending, as well as freedom for governors in administering programs for the disadvantaged. In this Congress, we will renew and expand on these efforts to lower health care costs for individuals, families and employers.

 

Three paths forward

 

As we move beyond Wednesday's vote, we will proceed along three parallel paths: We will continue to go after the worst provisions of the law piece by piece; we will exercise rigorous oversight of the law as it stands; and we will examine sound alternatives. Throughout this process, we pledge to pursue health care reform through the transparent, inclusive and deliberative process our members and the American people were denied two years ago.

 

We will hold hearings in Washington and around the country. We will invite affected individuals and job creators to share their stories and solutions. We will look to the Constitution and common sense to guide legislation.

 

Replacing this law is a policy and a moral imperative. We reject the premise that the only way to improve access to quality coverage is to dramatically expand the federal government's reach into our lives. On the contrary, we are dedicated to solving the underlying problems in health care by prioritizing affordability, improving transparency, and creating a true, functioning marketplace for health insurance.

 

The committees we lead will tackle these challenges with the seriousness and steadfastness of purpose they deserve. We will pursue changes on which there is widespread agreement as we seek to meet the monumental challenges of a nation on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory. We will look to governors to explore how greater flexibility would empower them to hold down costs and pursue innovative strategies for delivering care. Above all, we will listen to the American people and fix what's broken with health care, without breaking what's working.

 

Repeal is the first, not the last step. Compassionate, innovative and job-creating health care reform is what's next.

 

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., is chairman of Education and the Workforce; Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is chairman of Budget; Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is chairman of Judiciary; and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., is chairman of Energy and Commerce.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

'YOUR' BILL FOR $45,300!

 

We don't like to be tiresome about this. But we all -- including "you" -- have a serious debt problem.

 

And it's getting worse.

 

Most Americans realize they have some personal debt. For many, that's a serious problem, too. How can they reduce it and ultimately pay it off?

 

But most of us may not realize that our elected officials in Washington have piled up a national debt that amounts to $45,300 for each one of us in our country!

 

As long as we owe it -- and that will surely be a long time -- we will have to pay billions and billions of dollars in taxes just to cover the cost of interest on that huge debt.

 

And someday, somehow, we are going to have to pay enough taxes to pay it "down" and eventually "off."

 

But now, our debt is growing every day, helping keep our taxes too high and holding back our economy.

 

Not only are the president and many members of Congress not considering what to do to reduce the debt, but many are insisting on making it worse!

 

OK. So we are not going to pay off the debt, nor pay down the debt, anytime soon. But shouldn't we insist that we quit adding more debt to the total $14 trillion that we already owe?

 

As a nation, we have sometimes blamed the costs of wars for much of the rising debt, and ongoing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan obviously are costly. But in recent decades, we have increased our debt tremendously and tragically in times that were mostly peaceful, too.

 

We had a one-year deficit far in excess of $1 trillion in the last fiscal year. We will add much more than a trillion dollars in debt this year -- at the rate of about $4 billion per day! Think about that. If you count 24 hours from the time you read this, America's 300 million people will owe $4 billion more!

 

Do you feel good about that?

 

Congress has set a legal "debt limit" of $14.29 trillion.

 

We are expected to hit that "limit" between March and May this year.

 

What'll we do? Will we buckle down, cut out unconstitutional spending, rein in some legal but unnecessary spending, tighten our belts on some desirable but uneconomic spending, raise taxes or ... what?

 

Frankly, don't expect Congress to do anything to hold the line on the debt -- much less reduce it. Republican proposals to cut spending are meeting fierce resistance from Democrats and from President Barack Obama. So what will Congress do? Just before the non-limiting "limit" is reached, expect Congress and the president simply to raise the legal "limit" again.

 

What would happen to you if you borrowed 40 cents of every dollar you spent? You'd be in deep trouble fast! The federal government is in exactly that trouble but is able to put off the consequences, on us, for a while.

 

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says it would be "catastrophic" not to raise the debt limit. But won't it be

"catastrophic" if we keep on and on just raising debt and raising the non-limiting "limit"?

 

Do you believe the president and a majority of our senators and representatives in Congress are being "good" and "responsible" and "financially wise" leaders?

 

Are we being responsible citizens by letting them do this to us, to our children and to our country?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

'RESISTING' LAW ENFORCEMENT?

 

Many American Muslims are no doubt horrified by terrorism committed in the name of their religion. But recent actions by an organization that bills itself as "America's largest Islamic civil liberties group" reveal a troubling extremism among at least some U.S. Muslims.

 

A California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations placed on its website a poster that discourages cooperation with law enforcement.

 

The poster shows a darkly clad, frightening FBI agent standing near a row of houses. The word "SLAM!" is on the front door of most of the houses. But most disturbing of all, the poster reads, "Build a wall of resistance. Don't talk to the F.B.I."

 

That is the wrong approach for American Muslims or any other group to take in this era of rampant terrorist threats and actions. If someone had "talked" to the FBI prior to the 9/11 attacks by radical Muslims, thousands of American lives might have been saved.

 

The Muslim organization later said it would remove the poster from the website. But a spokesman for the group did not say that the message of refusing to speak to law enforcement was flat-out wrong. Rather, he told Fox News Radio that the poster was "subject to misinterpretation."

 

"We decided out of extreme caution to take it down," added CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

 

Actually, they should take it down because it undermines our nation's attempt to protect itself. Americans of all faiths should cooperate with legitimate law enforcement authorities.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

WHO CAN BLAME HIM FOR LEAVING?

 

Did you happen to read the sad story in the Times Free Press about the owner of a convenience store on East Main Street?

 

Charles Manis' store, Charlie's Quik Stop, has been burglarized, vandalized and robbed so many times -- more than 100! -- that the owner is thinking about calling it quits and closing the store.

 

On one occasion, Manis was even shot by a robber. He survived, but the bullet is still lodged in his body. His wife no longer dares to work alone at the store, which is in the Ridgedale community, since a robber threatened her with a knife recently and made off with cash.

 

Under those circumstances, it is hard to blame the couple for considering closing their business.

 

Of course, the majority of people who come to the store do not commit burglary or vandalism, much less acts of outright violence. But it doesn't take many criminals to make it impossible for shopkeepers to run a business both safely and profitably. Thieves and other lawbreakers not only create direct losses of money and merchandise, but they drive up insurance rates for the stores themselves and for homes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

 

Supermarket chains are sometimes criticized by various "social activists" for not operating in high-risk areas. The critics have even coined a fancy term for areas not served adequately by big grocery stores. They call them "food deserts."

 

But sadly, often when a neighborhood lacks stores that many residents would find useful, the blame lies with out-of-control crime that makes it difficult or impossible for those stores to operate safely and successfully. That hurts everybody, but it's not the stores' fault.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - THE FACE IN A TUNISIAN MIRROR

It was with significant interest that we discussed among ourselves yesterday the meaning of Thursday's story with Dubai-based economist Phillippe Dauba-Pantanacce on the unique nature of Tunisia's economy and the dynamics of unemployment in continuing political turmoil there.

It is certainly well established at this point that it was the self-immolation of jobless college graduate Mohamed Bouazizi that ignited the revolt that toppled a decades-old regime. Many have speculated on the dangers of the "Jasmine Revolution" spreading to other impoverished, repressed and authoritarian regimes in the region. But few have analyzed the Tunisian economy with the depth and scope of Dauba-Pantanacce.

Unlike many places, Tunisia's economy has been growing despite the global recession of recent years. It is a country with a middle class, an entrepreneurial culture, strong ties to the European Union and a resulting level of urbanity not common to the Middle East. The economy is robust and inflation is low.

The difference: "High unemployment among university graduates, tensions between the rural interior and developed coastal cities, police repression and the authorities' failure to recognize and address the issues facing the most vulnerable segments of the population."

Does that assessment sound familiar? Of course it does.

According to data from Turkey's employment agency, known by the acronym İŞKUR, as of January 2010, 200,140 university graduates were searching for jobs through the institution and only 15,538 had found one. According to an unemployment report produced by the Ankara Chamber of Commerce, the total number of unemployed university graduates reached 275,000 last year. By the chamber's math, nearly 230,000 students graduate from Turkish universities each year and only a third find work – often not in their field of study. Said differently, this army of jobless young university graduates grows by more than 150,000 each year. And these statistics probably understate the problem.

No wonder that yet another of the almost daily student protests turned nasty Wednesday in Ankara.

We certainly understand that jobs cannot be created at the stroke of a governmental pen. Examples of failed government jobs programs abound but arguably the most recent was in the United Kingdom. Gordon Brown, as chancellor of the exchequer, oversaw aggressive employment programs that created jobs, but fully three quarters of them were in the public sector. This is not prosperity. And such policies have not, as the U.K. goes through its current belt-tightening, prevented an explosion of student riots in that country.

We realize that Tunisia is an imperfect mirror to refract Turkey's woes. It is, however, a mirror of sorts as we believe Dauba-Pantanacce's analysis makes clear. We hope it is not a crystal ball.

*The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

INTEREST IN THE TURKISH MODEL GROWING

SEMİH İDİZ

Turkey's secular parliamentary democracy is far from being a done deal. Its deficiencies are glaring and much of the current political in-fighting that we see has to do with this. Despite its shortcomings, though, it is at least a century ahead when compared with most of the Arab world.

There was much talk in the West once about a "secular democratic Turkey that would be a model for the politically and economically backward Islamic Middle East." At the time this was mostly wishful thinking because the last country the political elites in the region were looking to as a model was Turkey.

Turkish democracy – or any democracy for that matter – was seen as a "socially destabilizing factor" if carried to the region. Turkish secularism on the other hand was considered un-Islamic, if not downright anti-Islamic in essence.

I was told at a conference in Karachi some years ago by an Egyptian journalist/commentator that the public in his country was too ignorant to handle Turkish-type free parliamentary elections. These, he said, would only bring political chaos to Egypt. 

A Saudi professor of theology at the same conference, for his part, contended quite openly that it was not possible for Turkey to be both Islamic and secular at the same time, since these were terms that stood in direct contradiction to each other.

But the times are changing in the Middle East too, as seen in the push for more democracy in Iran after the 2009 presidential elections, the highly controversial elections in Egypt last year and now in the popular uprising in Tunisia, which some predict will spill over to other Arab countries.

In addition to this we have a growing Sunni-Shiite conflict and increasing tension between the Muslim and Christian communities in countries like Egypt and Iraq. All of these indicate that the Middle East is ripe for developments that can further destabilize the already turbulent region, with dire consequences far beyond its borders.

Given this situation it is hard not to note a growing interest in the so-called "Turkish model" among the Middle East's democratic intelligentsia, as well as the region's political elites which, reluctant as they may be to give up on decades of privileges, see that the direction events are taking could be catastrophic for them unless there is social change.

Iraq provides the only real tangible example of an effort to instill representative democracy in the Arab world. It is doing so not because it has a culture of democracy that it is returning to, but because it's religious and ethnic diversity is forcing it in this direction in order to avoid a splitting up of the country in a manner that would result in strife for everyone.

What also makes the Turkish model more palatable for the formerly standoffish Islamic intelligentsia now is of course the fact that there is a party in power in Turkey that is Islamic in political orientation, but which has had to win democratic elections, and continues to rely on democracy to stay in power.

Just as there is no alternative to having a parliamentary democracy in a country as heterogeneous as Turkey, in terms of the many social fault lines that exist, the same reality is dawning on Arab intellectuals and politicians who now see that there is probably no other way out for them but to move in the direction of democracy also.

Of course there is no ready-made formula that Turkey can produce for any country, given that its own democracy, for all its deficiencies today, is the product of "the school of hard knocks," having had its fair share of trials and tribulations. This does not, however, diminish the value of "the Turkish experience" for those searching for ways out of the morass that the Middle East's people find themselves living in today.

The touchy issue for the region is of course secularism, since for most Arabs, Islam is not just their religion, but also part and parcel of their lifestyles, cultural identity and historic heritage. But there is not one clear model for secularism to follow in this world.

The U.S. Congress, for example, opens up every year with an ecumenical prayer, and the U.S. dollar has "In God We Trust" written on it, but this does not make that highly religious country any less secular. Turkey, on the other hand, which is arguably even more religious that America, nevertheless has a secular system that is not ready to digest things like opening Parliament with a prayer, or having religious references on its national currency.

Whatever animosity and resistance there may be from fundamentalist Islamic quarters, Arabs will have to come around to realizing, therefore, that some kind of secularism is "sine qua non" if they are to prefer the democratic way for their social advancement. What kind of secularism this will be is up to the individual countries to decide.

Turkey's own secularism is self-evolved but still problematic and is clearly undergoing revisions today because of this. But do away with the secular infrastructure of this country altogether and you open the way for social turmoil. So if there is anything to learn from Turkey in terms of its experience with secularism, this is it.

The New York Times quoted Sarkis Naoum, an analyst in Beirut, on Tuesday as saying "Turkey has become, I think, until the contrary is proven, an indispensable state in the reorganizing of this region." His comments were referring to Ankara's current mediation efforts in Lebanon, of course.

But they also carried overtones of a broader sentiment that is on the ascendant in the region. Namely the sentiment which says: "The Turks are also Muslims, and yet they are developing. So why can't we do the same?"

This sentiment reflects the potential of Turkey's "soft power" – not necessarily to "reorganize the region" as Naoum suggests, and certainly not in any way that smacks of neo-Ottomanist interventionism – but as a catalyst for change by means of the positive example it provides.

Whether this example will be picked up and emulated, is another story of course. But the fact is that there is more interest in it in today's Middle East than was the case before.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A REPRINT – IN HONOR OF HRANT

BURAK BEKDİL

Wednesday was the fourth anniversary of the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Sadly, the legal proceedings against the alleged murderer(s) remain a mystery. The alleged premeditated negligence in the police and gendarmerie departments remain a bigger mystery. In such cases we journalists sometimes revisit the ideas we expressed years earlier. Such "revisits" may make us think we were wrong. They may also make us think "things have not changed for the better over the years." But the best judge of that is often the reader.

This is what appeared in this column exactly four years ago, when Hrant was murdered:

Who killed Hrant Dink?

"A teenager, according to the full forensic report; the same teenager, according to his own testimony. "The murderer state" according to left-wing fanatics. Mr. Dink himself who betrayed the lands where "he was fed," according to right-wing fanatics.

"The secularist state establishment, according to the Islamists. The Islamist government, according to secularists. The "deep state" according to deep state-connoisseurs. Foreign secret services, according to conspiracy-connoisseurs.

"The blood-thirsty Turks – the descendants of genocide-makers," according to the Turk-hating Armenians. The Armenians, according to Armenian-hating Turks. Xenophobic Turks, according to the separatist Kurds. Separatist Kurds, according to xenophobic Turks. Article 301 and the jurists who convicted Mr. Dink of insulting Turkishness, according to the liberals. The list of potential culprits, as newspapers read, can be widened endlessly.

"During the near-civil war of the 1970s various groups of ultranationalist and Islamist Turks literally slaughtered each other on the streets (when they did not slaughter the common enemy that was the communists); the ultranationalists killed Islamists because they highlighted their Muslimness before their Turkishness, and, likewise, the Islamists killed ultranationalists because they highlighted their Turkishness before their Muslimness. About a year ago, this columnist wrote: '…This is where I see danger, ultranationalists becoming Islamists and Islamists becoming ultranationalists…These usually split groups may in the future get mixed together and comprise a huge anti-Western bloc…'

"Ogün Samast, who confessed to pulling the trigger on Dink, is no different than his mentor who bombed a McDonald's restaurant because the eatery was 'a symbol of American imperialism;' or Alpaslan Arslan who, less than a year ago, sprayed a chamber of supreme judges with bullets because they had banned the Islamic headscarf; or the teenager who killed a Catholic priest because the man was 'an enemy of Islam;' or even anyone who belonged to the crowd of a few thousand people who wanted to lynch a handful of youths because they protested prison conditions. Mr. Samast is only a daring/loser example in a bunch of nearly 4 million Turkish young men in the age range of 15-19 and whose cultural myths are no richer than the book 'Those Crazy Turks' and the film 'Valley of the Wolves.'

"It's a matter of demography. Turkey, in the last few decades, has 'produced' more young people (nearly 8 million in the 15-19 age group) than it could afford to healthily take care of, i.e. with education, jobs, social security and the like. Inevitably, an alarmingly large number of these young men and women has 'gone astray:' some have joined the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK; some have joined this or that mushrooming sect of Islam, becoming, thus, the soldiers of Islam; some have gone to fight the 'infidels' in lands as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan, some in Iraq or Chechnya; some have become petty criminals, and; some, as in the case of Mr. Samast, have preferred to 'defend the honor of Turkishness.'

"In fact, they are the same thing although they ostensibly represent opposite or different political doctrines – it's only a matter of where and how they grow up. The PKK man who kills in the name of 'independent Kurdistan' is the same man who kills a priest or a judge in the name of 'Islam' or the man who killed Mr. Dink in the name of 'Turkishness' or the man who robs your house, steals your car, rapes tourists or snatches bags on posh streets. He is the same man who goes to the local Internet café for child porn, violent computer games or to read the daily brainwashing political material from his choice of radical website.

"This column wonders if the boringly cliché commentators on the Hrant Dink murder could answer any of the following questions:

"Can a whole nation be held responsible for one (or a few) heinous act(s) of a fanatic(s)? If yes, are the Dutch a "murderer nation" because Volkert van der Graaff, a non-Muslim Dutchman, for example, murdered politician Pim Fortuyn? Did any Turk hold Turkey's Armenians responsible for the murders by the outlawed Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, or ASALA, of scores of Turkish diplomats?

"Mr. Dink's conviction for 'insulting Turkishness' was approved by the Court of Appeals. Does that mean Mr. Dink had really insulted 'Turkishness?' Legally speaking, Mr. Dink was a man who did so. Where, then, is the thin line between what is legal and what is fair in this country? What other legal but unfair convictions/acquittals have come out of the Turkish legal system?

"A clear majority of the Turks have behaved in a way that deserves praise since Mr. Dink was murdered – all of the government, the opposition and the public. But why not before? Should one be murdered so that he is judged fairly? Do Turks and Greeks always need a terribly punishing earthquake to understand that they have been, are and will be neighbors? Do Turks and Armenians need a shocking murder to remember that they lived together peacefully for four centuries?

"Fine, the government is to be blamed for Article 301. But did the European Union not give its consent to that piece of legislation it later criticized so much? Did Brussels not say Turkey, with its Article 301 in effect, was fit for opening membership talks with? Did the EU make a 'strategic' assessment of Turkish candidacy over a 'fair' one?

"No answer to these questions will bring back the pigeon who thought 'in this country people don't harm pigeons.' Unfortunately, they do."

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

AS TURKEY'S FOREIGN POLICY CHANGES, SO DOES TURKEY

SONER ÇAĞAPTAY

Since the founding of the republic, Turkish political institutions and mores have derived much of their internal strength from a specific external orientation. In other words, the institutionalization of the vision of a modernist, secular and liberal democratic Turkey necessitated – especially at the time of the founding – a modernist, secular and liberal democratic role model: Europe. Reforms were adapted from numerous European nations, solidifying Turkey's adherence to norms and institutions that many eventually came to see as both intrinsically European and Turkish. Furthermore, with the beginning of Turkey's journey towards the European Union and its demanding liberal democratic standards, Europe came to serve not only as a distant ideal on some disinterested pedestal, but an active agent in encouraging reform within Turkey as well. In short, Turkey's secular and democratic build-up has been inextricably tied to the nation's historic orientation towards the West.

Furthermore, Turkey's calibration towards the West went hand in hand with its efforts to align with Western interests in international affairs and to adopt those interests as its own. Indeed, despite various ups and downs in the relationship, Turkey's cooperation with the West throughout the Cold War, its entry into and participation in NATO and its post-Cold War support of numerous U.S. operations all amounted to a larger Turkish preference: to fundamentally anchor itself in the West.

Of what relevance is this assessment today? Turkey currently finds itself at odds with the U.S. on numerous crucial international issues, namely the Iranian nuclear dispute. Under the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government, Turkey has also unprecedentedly strained relations with its once-intimate ally, Israel. Not surprisingly, the AKP's Turkey now seems all too willing to keep its EU accession process stagnant as well.

One may argue against the widespread pessimism and urgency surrounding deteriorating Turkish-U.S. and Turkish-Israeli ties by pointing out the fickle nature of foreign policy-making, which tends to be excessively tactical and populist-driven. However, that does not assuage worries regarding the virtual cessation of Turkey's efforts towards EU accession, a mission both long-term and at one point extremely popular. While once a pillar of Turkish foreign policy, the notion of EU membership has devolved into nothing but a half-hearted AKP talking point meant to ease some of the concerns of liberal Turks.

What has replaced Turkey's traditional pro-Western foreign policy is one that the AKP claims is "non-aligned" and "non-ideological," but actually embodies an "affirmative action" approach towards certain ideologically-motivated regimes – the AKP's passionate adoption of Hamas' cause as its own is but one manifestation of the party's worldview. Treating Israel before and after the Gaza flotilla crisis as if it were a lifelong enemy rather than a friend and vocally contravening international consensus on the Iranian nuclear program are other, more explicit examples.

Given the extent to which an external Western orientation has shaped Turkey's internal secular and democratic build-up, it should come as no surprise that a foreign policy shift towards an Islamist stance has caused its domestic realm to undergo change as well. On the level of popular perceptions, anti-Americanism has risen dramatically, with fewer Turks viewing the U.S. favorably than in Pakistan, and a higher proportion of Turks identify themselves as "Islamists" now than in 2002. Concretely speaking, Turkey has regressed on a number of indices measuring gender equality, rule of law and media and Internet freedoms. One also hears with increasing frequency of uncharacteristic police crackdowns on social venues – such as restaurants and art galleries – just because they happen to serve alcohol.

Some might suggest a silver lining, citing Turkey's booming economy and modernizing infrastructure as forces that will maintain the nation's liberal character. However, other cases have shown that a nation can, in fact, embody the AKP's non-Western socio-political vision while fostering an industrialized economy. Over the past few decades, Malaysia has emerged as a booming economy despite becoming increasingly socially conservative and religiously devout. For instance, it has a dual-justice system that allows Islamic law to govern the affairs of Muslims while common law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Islamic-style clothing and social behavior has become a norm for women, and increasingly so for men, due in no small part to government measures.

Particularly relevant to Turkey is Malaysia's foreign policy during the period in which it underwent an upsurge in political Islam. Although originally employing an anti-communist and pro-Western stance under Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia gradually shifted towards de jure non-alignment, which later became a de facto anti-Western orientation under Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammad. With Mohammad at the helm, Malaysia embarked on an economically progressive path with a strong focus on the nation's Islamic background, harnessing Malaysian religious identity to garner support for his vision of "South-South" cooperation in anti-colonialist opposition to the traditionally dominant "North." In doing so, he created a cycle of Islamist foreign policy reinforcing Islamism and anti-Westernism at home, and vice versa.

Sound eerily similar to the AKP's Turkey? Though unique in many ways, Malaysia suggests lessons for Turkey's future: an increasingly ideologically-oriented foreign policy enacted in tandem with a similarly-informed social agenda can result in an illiberal and non-Western society, in spite of its economic modernity. For Turkey's democracy – which is especially sensitive to its external trajectory – such a scenario cannot be ruled out, insofar as it continues to abandon its traditionally pro-Western foreign policy.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WILL THE 'JASMINE REVOLUTION' SPREAD?

SAMİ KOHEN

"Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia has not been completed yet, but the popular movement overthrowing President Zin el-Abidin Ben Ali is taking people to the streets against their governments in many other Arab countries.

Protesters in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen are inspired by the happenings in Tunisia and trying to give a message to the world – "Now, it's our turn."

Will the Jasmine Revolution really cause a domino effect and spread throughout the Arab world? How successful could a similar movement be in other regional countries?

In fact, the latter question should be asked for Tunisia because as I wrote yesterday, the Jasmine Revolution is just the beginning. The popular movement toppled Ben Ali, however, his old staff is still in charge. And that might take protesters back to the street again, and cause resistance until the people get what they want.

Even that much of the Jasmine Revolution is enough to cause a popular wave in the Arab streets. As Tunisia's example scares governments in North Africa and the Middle East, it equally gives courage and hope to the masses demanding change.

Similar conditions

This is normal because in the Arab world, there are a few common conditions that have taken Tunisians to the street already. In summary:

 -  In almost all these countries, authoritarian regimes survive for quite a long time; it is more than 30 years in some.

- In the Internet and Twitter age, it is impossible to keep the masses under pressure. Authoritarian regimes could manage to push political opponents (parties, media, etc.) aside, but cannot stop boiling streets.

- Another common point these countries share is that elites are in the government and the order is susceptible to corruption.

- In these countries, the real factor wearing down the people's patience is unemployment, bread-and-butter issues, and social imbalances. People want jobs as much as freedoms and democracy.

- Due to high fertility rate in Arab states, the majority of the population is young. But the youth is outraged and unhappy in these countries. And as is the case in Tunisia, social explosions are imminent. 

Different characteristics

In the face of similarities, each Arab country exhibits different characteristics as well. After all, the Arab world is not homogenous, not a single united bloc. For instance, there is no army factor in Tunisia. The military is not involved in politics. Therefore, it was easy for the popular movement to overthrow Ben Ali. However, in Algeria, Egypt and Jordan, the regimes are supported by the military. In some Arab countries, let's say Syria, revolts have been fiercely suppressed in the past.

Overthrowing a government in an Arab state under an authoritarian regime creates a political gap as democratic institutions and a normal opposition is not given a chance to survive at all. And if there appears no new leader, insidious powers try to fill this gap.

Islamic movements in Algeria, Egypt and Jordan are organized well and waiting for a chance to come forward as effective power groups. In short, the smell of "Jasmine" in Tunisia might spread through the Arab world, but the "revolution" is not only toppling the leaders. Therefore, it is very difficult to make out how and at what point such popular movements will end.

* Sami Kohen is a columnist of 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

WHEN THE US WITHDRAWS, IRAN WILL TAKE ITS TURN

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

On Friday morning, representatives from six countries will meet at Çırağan Palace in Istanbul. The participants are countries of the nuclear club and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia. Then there is Germany, but its sole qualification is that it is rich and European. European Union representative Catherine Ashton will also join this meeting.

Iran will sit all by itself on the other side of the table.

Everybody is very upset with Iran because it is trying to produce nuclear energy without the consent of its older brothers. And more importantly, they all suspect in time Tehran will also produce a nuclear bomb. No matter how much Tehran objects, it cannot convince anyone of its good intention because it is considered a repeated offender. This meeting to some extent is meant to be a calling to account and to ensure that Iran won't produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran wants to use this historical opportunity

Even if on the surface nuclear negotiations appear to be the issue, the underlying problem is different.

The United States will soon withdraw from Iraq. And after some time it will also withdraw from Kuwait. And thus there will be a great vacancy.

And that's exactly the great opportunity for Iran. For, after the United States withdraws from the region, Iran, as an owner of nuclear power, will fill this spot and form together with Iraq the "Shiite alliance" to become the boss of the region.

- It may shut down the Gulf and prevent exits for petroleum coming from the Arabs.

- It will be in a position of having influence over, above all, Saudi Arabia and all Sunni Arab countries.

And this is what's really going on behind the curtains.

Everybody around the table has different visions

These discussions somehow will reveal who will control the Middle East and how after 2020.

Will Iran be the power in the region? Or will it be their American or European friends? Or will it be China, Russia or a joint alliance of them?

These are the players in the game. There are the preoccupied observers in the back of the room who want to influence developments indirectly. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are mainly among those observers. Then there are also countries like Egypt and Jordan.

But those who gather around the table and appear to be allies trying to bring Iran to reason have other plans.

What does Turkey want and not want?

Turkey couldn't have remained outside discussions while negotiations are being done regarding its own region. As a matter of fact, Turkey has been involved from the beginning. Even if Turkey appeared to be on Iran's side at first, lately it has been in a more dormant position.

I read George Friedman's evaluation in the weekly Stratfor, considered an expert in geopolitical issues. It was a summary and very well prepared.

According to him, here is what Turkey wants:

Making it easy for the United States to withdraw from Iraq. Meeting Iran's expectations and general interest without allowing it to establish full control over Iraq. Convincing Saudi Arabians that Iran will not pose a threat in the region and provide some assurance in this regard.

 The following is what Turkey does not want:

Turkey definitely does not want another war in Iran leading to more chaos in the region. Turkey does not want to have to choose between the Arabs and Iran. Turkey definitely does not want Iran to dominate the region controlling Arab petroleum and become a nuclear power.

At this point important questions come up, naturally:

Is Turkey ready to take on risk and, if necessary, use military power in order to reach its goals?

Turkey is trying to create a secure place for itself in a Middle East of the future, on a very slippery ground and in a very difficult game which may turn against it at any time.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

PROSPECTS FOR U.S.-AZERBAIJAN RELATIONS

ZAUR SHIRIYEV

Well-known American strategist and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's book, "Does America need a Foreign Policy?" received renewed popularity following the "WikiLeaks" scandal.

It is clear that at this point that WikiLeaks has put aside emotional and unprofessional language and gone for raw data – no emotions, just facts and figures. This way, one could use such information as it was supposed to be used – not to show personal perspective, but as data for analysis, and answers to questions you have, not what you want to answer. It does seem, however, that WikiLeaks is a puzzle to which we are not being encouraged to respond, at least not yet. In the WikiLeaks scandal, one can either trust the findings or not, but overall, one must recognize that a new era of diplomatic apprehension has unfolded that characterizes a regression in trust toward the U.S. Department of State.

Interestingly, Kissinger's question of whether the United States has a strategy toward the South Caucasus arose after the August 2008 Russian-Georgian War and received a negative answer: The U.S. doesn't need a strategy in the Caucasus which would confront Russia. If this is true, U.S. interest will wane and the region will become left to its own devices. However, the reality is that the former appears to be truer. The Caucasus is consistently mentioned within the context of the U.S.' global energy security policy. But in reality, since President Barack Obama's election, U.S. policy toward the region has been marked by an increasing "lack of interest." The U.S. secretary of state's s South Caucasus tour in July can be seen as a kind of U.S. "comeback" in the region after a two-year lack of real involvement. Foreign policy experts were concerned that Moscow was set to benefit from a lax U.S. policy in the region and that regaining its influence by means of hard power was not a guarantee.

Due to the recent developments and mistrust of the U.S. government after the WikiLeaks scandal, on Dec. 30, 2010, "Azerbaijan," the official newspaper of the Azerbaijani parliament, published an editorial entitled, "U.S.: Seducing Freedom," which was harshly criticized by the U.S. government on several issues. Coincidently the article was published on the same day of Obama's "final" appointment of Matthew Bryza as ambassador to Azerbaijan. Recess appointments are made when the Senate is not in session and last only until the end of the next session of Congress. They are frequently used when Senate confirmation is not possible. In this sense, several international and Turkish newspapers have taken "one" sentence from this article and characterized it as the main idea of the article in recent days.

In fact the article expressed numerous, mostly historical issues which cannot be ignored and have, on the contrary, been repeated by several academics in recent years. The current article published in "Azerbaijan" was written emotionally and has no academic approach; the idea of the article was not "Is the United States ruled from the bedroom of Kim Kardashian," as Turkish newspapers have used as the headline.

The main idea was that the Azerbaijani public feels U.S strategy toward the South Caucasus is not ruled well under Obama's administration and threatens the relationship. Hence, it's not new that the U.S. strategy toward the South Caucasus has been one of many controversial issues of American foreign policy under the Obama administration. On one hand, U.S. experts have considered that because of Washington's current external priorities, the South Caucasus region hasn't got the attention that it requires. On the other hand, Baku and Tbilisi have felt as if the region was sacrificed by the U.S. and that several interest groups used U.S. policy toward the region as they wished.

'Cartographic camouflage' and unrealized strategic partnership potential

It seems that the according to 1990s policies, U.S.-Azerbaijan relations were seen as very chaotic and Baku felt that U.S. policymakers formulated their Azerbaijan policy under the influence of the Armenian diaspora. As a result of the powerful influence of the Armenian lobby, the proactive, positive U.S. foreign policy at the early stage of relations with Azerbaijan was not clearly implemented. The suppressed Section 907 implementation of the Freedom Support Act to former Soviet states even cut out U.S. external assistance to Azerbaijan in the 1990s. This, in spite of the fact that it was precisely on the insistence of the Armenian diaspora that the U.S. introduced in 1992 sanctions against Azerbaijan in the Freedom Support Act, which made Azerbaijan the only country among the post-Soviet states deprived of the U.S.' humanitarian assistance. By supporting Section 907, the U.S. Congress unknowingly facilitated a humanitarian crisis in Azerbaijan and allowed the Armenian lobby to hold U.S. strategic interests hostage.

Only after the election of George W. Bush and the attack of Sept. 11 were Washington's relations with all states in the region changed. Since Azerbaijan is a neighbor to those Middle Eastern countries where the U.S. planned to implement regime changes, Azerbaijan found itself in a crucial geo-strategic place. This role of the country, proposed by the Azerbaijani side, set the priorities of the U.S. politicians and diplomats. Azerbaijan's foreign policy establishment in this situation tried to highlight the importance of the country's role.

However, analysis of the Azerbaijan-U.S. relations suggests that the role of the Armenian lobby has been gradually decreased after Sept. 11 while both the U.S. elite and public's awareness about Azerbaijan simultaneously increased and as the U.S. business and security interests became increasingly tied to Azerbaijan. After Sept. 11, U.S.-Azerbaijan relations were characterized according to former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski's quote: "Azerbaijan, along with Ukraine and Uzbekistan in the post-Soviet area, deserves the highest U.S. support because these states are geopolitically key regional countries."

Unfortunately, recent developments showed that interest groups, such as the Armenian lobbyists, still actively affect U.S. policy. One example is that the post of U.S. ambassador in Baku has been vacant since July 2009. One year after the U.S. president nominated the skilful diplomat Bryza, former co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, his confirmation was blocked in the U.S. Congress because of the strong Armenian diaspora lobby, which is able to powerfully lobby senators and representatives for any type of pro-Armenian resolutions and to intervene in ambassadorial nominations. So, the Armenian community is opposed to Bryza's appointment and has obviously increased Baku's skepticism toward the U.S. government's biased decision-making. Another factor is how the U.S. Congress is providing financial assistance to the de facto regime in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is the result of the occupation of Azerbaijan territories by Armenia – such support adversely affects the U.S.' role as a co-chair and fatally damages its "honest broker" image.

Prospects for the future

Now, Bryza's appointment can be described as positive progress between the two sides but still, the ambassador's appointment is only for one year, after which lobbyists in the U.S. Congress still have the chance to affect or change it. According to Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, "The president shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session." The Senate will have the opportunity to review this decision in approximately one year. And this threatens not only the Bryza issue, but the recess appointment Obama has issued for the U.S. ambassador to Turkey as well. It seems that lobbyists affect not only Azerbaijan policy, but also Turkish-U.S. relations.

Finally, there has always been a tendency in American diplomacy for short-term crises of the moment to take precedence over its tending to long-term relationships. Azerbaijan may not be at the top of Obama's and his senior foreign policy team's initial "to-do" list today, but time and geography will see. When it does, the U.S. will find, as their predecessors have, that it is always easier and important to work with Azerbaijan than around Azerbaijan.

* Zaur Shiriyev is a foreign policy analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A STRANGE PHOTOGRAPH

YUSUF KANLI

There was a photograph splashed on the front pages of many newspapers Thursday. It was not something as odd as the awestruck Recep Tayyip Erdoğan listening in full surrender to an Afghani Islamist radical sheikh, but equally shocking.

The photograph was issued by Hezbollah in Beirut in announcing a secret meeting at a secret location between Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani and wise country Turkey's foreign minister, Wiseman Ahmet Davutoğlu. Hossain Halil, the chief political advisor of Nasrallah, was sitting on the right-hand side of the Hezbollah leader, who was sitting on a comfortable armchair placed in front of the Lebanese flag and the Hezbollah pennant. Next to Nasrallah was sitting the Lebanese prime minister and on the far left side of the photograph there was Davutoğlu, sitting comfortably on a sofa, listening to Nasrallah with full ear.

In its bid to make Turkey a "world power" or a "wise country" that plays an important role not only in its region but also in global politics, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has been undertaking proactive initiatives while for pure domestic political reasons resorting to sheer nationalist rhetoric and Israel-bashing tactics at home that it hopes to cash in on in upcoming June polls. Such tactical moves, naturally, besides the probable contribution to domestic political standing of the ruling AKP, can win the prime minister and his party fame and prestige in the Arab neighborhood, while also drawing the ire of some long-time allies, prompting "Where is Turkey going?" "Is Turkey drifting East?" or other such nasty questions.

Is a Turkey frequently coming together in photographs with leaders of organizations, be it Hezbollah or Hamas, that refuse to condemn terrorism, maintain heinous tactics of terrorism including suicide bombers and which still believe that through terrorist violence they could achieve their political aims, the Turkey that we want?

Hezbollah is a reality of Lebanon, as Hamas is a reality of today's Palestinian society, striving and struggling with great sacrifices to regain its inalienable rights from an aggressive, antagonistic and Western-spoiled state of Israel. It is a reality as well that Hezbollah, like Hamas, is an evil weapon sponsored and orchestrated by Iran. It is a reality also that Hezbollah is very much under the influence, if not control, of "brotherly" Syria.

Furthermore, the latest crisis in Lebanon is not just a political one, but more so a political quagmire produced by fears that a criminal investigation undertaken by the United Nations regarding the 2005 murder of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri would result in singling out Hezbollah and its masterminds Tehran and Damascus as the murderers of al-Hariri.

That is, the collapse of the Lebanese government was a product of Hezbollah withdrawing its ministers from the coalition led by the late al-Hariri's son Saad. Why? Because Saad al-Hariri refused to bow to Hezbollah demands to accept the closure of the investigation without Hezbollah and its masterminds officially being charged with the murder of his father.

While al-Hariri's 2005 murder provided Lebanon with a golden opportunity to say goodbye to Syrian de facto occupation amid mounting international pressure holding it responsible for the murder of the prime minister, Damascus was compelled to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, but both Damascus and Tehran still maintain their strong desire to remain the ultimate political and military power in Lebanon.

Now, what was Davutoğlu doing in that nasty photograph? Or what has Davutoğlu been trying to achieve for the past few days of shuttle diplomacy in the region? What is he trying to salvage? Is he promoting Turkey's interests or trying to help Tehran and Damascus convince Saad al-Hariri to agree to let the murderers of his father get away with what they did – and continue in the same fashion – and save his coalition with Hezbollah. Why is Turkey trying to achieve that "noble" goal? Because it wants the maintenance of "peace and stability" in Lebanon.

Funny, is it not? Peace and stability will be achieved by surrendering to injustice, by letting criminals not be held responsible for their crime.

Turkey could indeed be a global power or a role model for a vast region from the Ural mountains to the Middle East and down to Africa when and if it becomes a "true democracy" and decides to export its soft power rather than standing with the dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere for the sake of "stability." But, of course, before it can start to export democracy Turkey must itself manage to become a land of democracy with individual freedoms and respect for the supremacy of law.

Turkey deserves to be represented in different photographs, but unfortunately for now it is in the league of Hezbollah!

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FISCAL IMPULSE, MONETARY RESPONSE - NOT SO STRAIGHTFORWARD

HALUK BÜRÜMCEKÇİ

burumcekci@gmail.com

Careful readers might recall that I warned here about the probable poor performance of the central government budget in December. As a matter of fact, in December alone, there was a gigantic 16.1 billion-Turkish Lira deficit mainly due to high capital spending. However, despite this outlier, the central government budget produced a 39.6 billion-lira deficit in 2010 (3.6 percent of gross domestic product), pointing to a better performance than the revised official estimate of 44.2 billion liras (4 percent of GDP) deficit. It can also be seen as a relative success in today's world full of debt and budget problems.

On the other hand, economy officials have long said they would allocate the strong revenue performance especially to investment expenditures rather than saving it. Therefore, the deterioration in the budget was well-telegraphed and came even later than envisaged. In my opinion, it is related to the aim of the full utilization of 2010 appropriations. In other words, the steep advance in expenditures is a result of a year-end factor and does not imply a permanent acceleration. However, for many analysts this was an excuse for changing the rate cut call by citing the Central Bank's possible caution after these results. Although I give more weight to the "on hold" decision, I do not see any impact from that factor on the Central Bank verdict, as the Central Bank probably has the knowledge of this spending increase beforehand.

For the outlook of fiscal discipline going forward, I still think the strong economic activity should keep supporting the revenues side of the budget. The official target for the 2011 year-end budget deficit of 2.8 percent implies some narrowing in the budget deficit, which is currently at 3.6 percent. However, this improvement is planned to be backed by higher privatization revenues and lower interest payments. This means neither tightening nor loosening in the fiscal discipline in 2011 compared to 2010. 

When doves cry

By the time I wrote today's article, the markets were anxiously waiting for the Central Bank decision. The Central Bank had cut rates by 50 basis points at last month's meeting and many analysts had been pricing in a further cut initially. However, those expectations have waned over the last weeks as the lira has weakened and a majority of analysts think rates will remain on hold. While expectations of no change in the policy rate have been the main theme lately, a contradicting decision is not totally ruled out. Whatever the decision, the Central Bank should make sure that it will not be perceived as "dovish" this time. Gov. Durmuş Yılmaz also acknowledged this by saying: "I don't want to leave this impression that the Central Bank is aiming at a monetary policy of easing. That is not the case. The target that the bank wants to reach is a tighter monetary policy," during a Euromoney conference in Vienna on Tuesday. Yılmaz also said the Central Bank cut interest rates last month to curb the inflow of hot money into the economy and added that its policies were aimed at reducing domestic demand.

Mind the unemployment gap

As a lagging indicator of economic recovery, the unemployment rate continued to come down to levels not seen since October 2008. According to the latest data available, the unemployment rate declined to 11.2 percent, and in the non-farm sectors to 14.1 percent, from 13 percent and 16.4 percent a year ago. While this sharp decline is related to a crisis-hit base term, seasonally adjusted figures also show that the labor market conditions recovered from their weak performance in the previous months. The leading indicators, like consumer and real sector confidence and industrial production, suggest that the economic activity is to strengthen in the fourth quarter of 2010. Thus the labor market conditions will likely improve going forward. However, this would not be strong enough to cause any wage pressure, bearing in mind the still-high unemployment rate and population growth rate of 1.1 percent. Before the global crisis, the long-term unemployment rate average was around 10 percent. That is to say, there is still room for improvement before the full closure of the unemployment gap.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

'LOST' CONTAINERS

  

Another episode in the long-running missing container saga has been played out in the Supreme Court. The scale of the fraud which has seen at least 10,000 containers 'disappear' in recent years almost beggars belief. It has cost the Federal Board of Revenue about Rs33 billion in lost dues, and has fed into the black market for alcohol, ammunition, and all manner of other goods. These goods are now on open sale at markets across the country, as pointed out by the chief justice to the FBR Chairman. The goods inside the vanished containers were all destined for the ISAF in Afghanistan. Their misfortune was that they had to pass through the feral hands of our Customs Department and the National Logistics Cell (NLC), who promptly rendered them invisible.

The honourable justices were considering a report tendered to them by the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) which exposes in forensic detail the criminal operation set up to systematically rob the state of taxes. It is noteworthy that the justices praised the report, something they rarely do in these days of obfuscation and evasion by those who are called to account by the courts. Names are named, and it now remains to be seen whether serving or past officers, many of them senior, are going to be questioned or charged with any offence. The Supreme Court may have called for action to be taken on the basis of the report, but the lesson of history is that no matter how damning any report, no matter how solid the evidence, those at the top of the tree of criminality get away with it whilst a selection of smaller fry carry the can for them. That we have got to the position we have today is itself an advance, and evidence that accountability is not an impossible goal. The report acknowledges that the missing 10,000 containers are probably the tip of an iceberg, and that the true number could be many times that which we now know about. It has exposed a national network of criminality that spans every province and infects a range of government agencies from top to bottom. Exposed as it is, there is still no guarantee that containers are still not ' disappearing' and in all likelihood the state is still being robbed by the agencies tasked to collect the very taxes they are stealing. And it is going to take more than a report to stop them.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

BITTER REALITIES

  

There were violent scenes at the offices of the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) yesterday as hundreds of employees protested at their redundancy notices. They ransacked the offices of the company, burned cars and smashed doors and windows. Whilst we have every sympathy for anybody who loses their job unexpectedly and in a peremptory manner, despite not having violated company policy or code of conduct, there is a wider issue to be considered. One of the more uncomfortable realities that publicly owned utilities and entities have to face is the expense incurred by chronic over-manning. Bluntly put, these utilities and entities have staff on the books that they do not need but continue to pay. Many of these men and women will be in low-paid or low-ranking positions, but glad of any job they can get. Some jobs will have been 'in the family' for generations. They will feel that they have 'a right' to the job that their father had and which their son will be going into in the future.


Simple economics tell us that this is not a sustainable business model – and KESE is a privatised utility. The railways are overmanned to the tune of 20,000 as was pointed out in a parliamentary standing committee last week. The Pakistan Steel Mills is overmanned. Virtually anywhere one might choose to look in the public and utilities sectors, there is a surplus of staff that eats large sums of money every month. The hardest reality of all that is now being forced upon us is that there is no such thing as a 'job for life' in the modern world. Nor is this a problem only for us in Pakistan. Job cuts in the public sector are currently under way in the USA, the UK and several European countries. The difference is that if you lose your job in the West there is a social safety net to ensure that you and your family do not starve to death – we have no such net and there is no universal scheme of unemployment benefit. Sad as the job losses at KESC are, we may expect other mass redundancies in coming months and years. A job for life? Not any more.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TUNISIA BOILS OVER

 

  Revolutions are never tidy, and the revolution that is still in process in Tunisia is no exception. Although it has its origins in the suicide of a man who set fire to himself after the police confiscated a cart that was his means of livelihood, the roots go back much further. There has been political and social unrest ever since Zine El Abidine Ben Ali became president 23 years ago. His regime became ever more brutal and corrupt, evolving eventually into a cruel and widely hated dictatorship. He suffered the same fate as most dictators and fled the country with his family on January 14, reportedly taking with him as much as 40 million euros in gold bullion. He is currently in Saudi Arabia and few expect him to return to his country of birth.


Tunisia today is in a state of flux. The interim government has already lost three key ministers after they protested at the inclusion of members of the 'old guard' in the new set-up. The prime minister is talking to all sides – including the Islamist parties who were brutally repressed under the old regime. Other states of the Maghrib are watching the Tunisian developments warily, and there has been speculation in the western press that the change of government in Tunisia may spark similar changes in countries like Egypt or Libya. Thus far, there is no sign of that happening, but the overthrow of the Tunisian dictator does provide a salutary lesson for some of the aging and increasingly insecure rulers of some North African and Arab countries. On the Arabian peninsula, where princely families have ruled for many decades, there are problems associated with succession. In Egypt, the rule of Hosni Mubarak is in all likelihood nearing an end as he ages. President Gaddafi is not immortal either. The wave of revolutions in Europe that saw the end of communist Russia has redrawn the maps. New relationships were forged out of the wreckage of states which had been in terminal decline for years, and for many – not all – of those states a new prosperity is taking root. It is too early to judge the consequences of the Tunisian revolt, but it has been an object lesson in the power of a disaffected population to overthrow an unpopular government.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

POLITICS AND THE MIDDLE CLASS

AYAZ AMIR


If there were an international prize for constant moaning it would go to Pakistan's middle classes. And if there was another one for moaning allied to masterly inactivity the winners would remain the same. Anxiety and its purveying have become a serious industry in Pakistan.


True, every Pakistani should be worried about where this country is headed. Big problems are big problems: the balance of payments, the fiscal deficit, power cuts, the fallacies of the military class – such as its never-ending quest for security, the preoccupation with Afghanistan, the bane of India-centrism, less a threat to India than to our own mental stability.


But we can't get even the small ones right. Adequately disposing off municipal waste is a challenge we have yet to surmount. Lip-service to the masses doesn't translate into actually doing something which would make a difference to their lives: like investing in public transport or moving towards a uniform education system. The destruction of our railways, one of the great gifts of the Raj, an act of vandalism ranking with our greatest follies moves us not.


Forget everything else: the plastic shopping bag, more destructive of our environment than anything else, is a threat seemingly beyond our capacity to meet.


And not to forget this latest gem from Islamabad: the three-billion rupee project, just unveiled by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, to build more lodges for parliamentarians, including 500 servant quarters. In this day and age servant quarters? What world is the prime minister inhabiting? If the National Assembly remains unmoved, My Lord the Chief Justice should look into this latest edition of national idiocy.


Of the two bedrooms in my parliamentary lodge, one is for my use and the other for the use of my apology of a staff. What's the problem in this?


So agreed, there is much to moan about. But the point missing from the sum of national angst: since when did whining alone solve anything, especially when divorced from the remotest conception of political activity?

Politics, not magic or the search for miracles, is the key to the managing of human society, the priorities of politics determining the march of human progress and, indeed, the march of civilisation. Europe's kings came first, its inventors and explorers later. Politics dictates economic choices. I may be applying the brush too thickly – and neophyte Marxists may object that the forces of production are everything – but the point remains that the politics of a society shapes to a large extent its mood and environment.


Returning to the middle class...its leading echelons which comprise the chattering classes and from whose ranks we get our most anguished writers of letters to English newspapers, are contemptuous of politics and virulent about politicians, framing them in terms applicable to outright robbers and certified con artists.


But who will take the politician's place? The armies of the Pakistani middle class are composed for the most part of armchair warriors, venting their huge indignation about the national condition from the safe tumult of their drawing rooms. They will inveigh against the political class as the source of the country's ills but, perish the thought, will never brave the odds by entering the political arena themselves and becoming part of the political process, and therefore actually doing something to improve matters, instead of sticking to their chosen role of being ambassadors of wind and bluster.


If someone from the educated and professionally well-off middle class is from the countryside his ambition is to turn his back on his origins and move to the nearest city. If he is from an inner city – whether Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Lahore or Karachi – he wants to leave Raja Bazar behind and move to Defence.


Here arises the problem. Our national politics is centred in villages and inner cities. That's where the votes are and from where the bulk of our legislators are elected. A political party without strong roots in these two sources of electoral power is doomed to irrelevance.


But the Pakistani middle-class professional, who has made it and has a well-paid job, or is comfortably retired with property on the side and money in the bank, has no time for village or inner city. He is usually the member of some club or other. He prefers the good life and panders to his political conscience, if he has one, by cursing the politician, moaning about the national condition and, in his heart of hearts, yearning for a rider on horseback to come and save the nation. Small wonder, all our four military saviours enjoyed strong support from the professional middle class.


Mourners of the national condition go a step further. Not only are they innocent of anything that can be characterised as political activity, most of the time they do not even bother to vote. Which of course doesn't stop them from fulminating against the real or imagined excesses of the political class.


Which does not mean that the middle-class samurai is devoid of all ambition. Once a party is in power – PPP, PML-N or anything else – it is a fairly common sight to see better-placed middle-class professionals currying favour with the leadership of these same parties. The hurly-burly of politics may not be for them but gaining access to the high table of political power is very much in keeping with their style. Bankers and other professionals, seeking place or advancement, and the commission mafia which is always attendant upon the heels of power are of this category.


So how is the tone of politics to improve? How is the national condition to be redeemed? If Pakistan's best educated people shun the heat and dust of politics, the space will be filled by those with less sensitive skins. Absentee politics could flourish in the 50s and even during the Ayub Khan era. Not anymore. A politician not keeping touch with his base, who doesn't spend time in his or her constituency, faces a tough time when elections come round.


The power of feudalism while still very much there in pockets and corners of Pakistan can be exaggerated. It is no longer enough for the aspiring politico to be a feudal. He/she must also have the backing of the right political party. Pakistani voters don't take candidates without party tickets too seriously.


Money is important, even vital, for any form of electioneering. But its influence too can be exaggerated. There are some moneybags in the present parliament, but heaps of legislators, in all major parties, who while by no means paupers, are not moneybags on the Azam Swati scales. Money helps but it is no substitute for presence and accessibility.


The trouble with well-placed middle-class professionals is that because they can't afford to keep away for too long from their games of golf, or the good life, or their well-paid jobs, they don't have a constituency to which they can relate their dreams of political glory. If they nurse political ambitions they are totally dependent upon party leaderships to show them a path to the Senate or gift them a safe constituency, usually in Lahore and Karachi. There are some very smart people with not only a keen eye for politics but an understanding of it for whom this remains a critical handicap.


There is therefore a great opening for the educated middle class...if only its members, instead of making a cult of empty vitriol-ism, forsake their sofas and journey into the heart of the real Pakistan and there set up their tents, if only for a designated part of the week.


Postscript: However, the services of a good and reliable provider of spiritual solace is a must to make this journey a success and sustain its rigours for any length of time. For evenings, when the shadows lengthen and the heart is assailed by all sorts of vague longings, some definable and others hard to put a finger on, can be pretty lonely and desolate in the real Pakistan.

 

Email: winlust@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THANK YOU, TUNISIA

FAROOQ SULEHRIA


There is despair in Pakistan, with reactionary elements out on the streets with Mumtaz Qadri as their poster boy. In the Arab world the mood is one of jubilation. The news from Tunisia on Jan 14 was of another Arab revolution. Tunisian dictator Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, who only last year got himself "elected" in another referendum, fled the country after 23 years in power. He received asylum in Riyadh, a befitting place for any fleeing autocrat. Unlike the Arab revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s, which were spearheaded by colonels, the Tunisian revolution is the first time an Arab despotic regime was overthrown by a popular uprising. Understandably, the sultans are trembling on their thrones, and their patrons in Washington, London and Paris are nervous.


It all began last month with the desperate act of an unemployed youth in the central town of Sidi Bouzid. University graduate Mohammed Bouazizi, 26, was jobless like many other educated youths in Tunisia. Unable to find a job, he started a vegetable stall. When police shut it down because it was unauthorised, he set himself on fire on Dec 17. On Jan 3 Bouazizi succumbed to his serious burn injuries. Soon, several other unemployed youths tried to emulate him, and at least one of them actually did. These desperate acts triggered a mass movement.

In every town, large or small, people took to the streets to show that they had had enough. Unemployed and semi-employed people who were on the forefront of the uprising were soon joined by unionised workers, as well as professionals such as lawyers and teachers. The revolt spread to university students and went on to draw in high-school students. The demands contained in their slogans were familiar: the right to work, the right to a fair share of the nation's wealth and action against corruption and nepotism.


The national leadership of the sole legal trade union confederation, the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) initially denounced the movement. However, caught in the mood of defiance, some of its local and regional bodies endorsed the mobilisations.


Web-surfers began to set up conduits for information and details of actions by using proxies which the web police could not censor. The Tunisian diaspora played a particularly active role on the virtual front. The police forces, 130,000 of them, were overwhelmed and in several towns called on the army to back them up.


The night of Jan 8-9 was particularly bloody. Dozens of people were shot dead in Gasserine, Tala and Meknassi. Undeterred, the protesters refused to yield until the former general fled the country. Unlike in the case of Iran's anti-government "Green Revolution" in 2009, the mainstream Western media chose to ignore Tunisia's revolution. It was only after the revolution was well under way that BBC and CNN were broadcasting scenes which had been available on social sites and Al Jazeera for weeks since shortly after the vegetable vendor set himself ablaze.


On Jan 15, The Washington Post belatedly welcomed the change as "Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution." The New York Times declared it "the Arab Gdansk," Gdansk being the name of the port where Polish shipyard workers began their uprising three decades ago. Roger Cohen wrote in the newspaper: "Big things start small. In Poland, the firing in 1980 of Anna Walentynowicz, a shipyard worker, led to strikes and the formation of the grassroots Solidarity movement that set in motion the unravelling of the Soviet empire. Walentynowicz, who was killed in a plane crash last year, once told me all they sought at the outset was 'better money, improved work safety, a free trade union and my job back.' "

One of the Wikileaks' cables from 2009 explains the silence in the Western media before Jan 14. In a cable from the US embassy in Tunisia, written in late 2009 (http://wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/07/09TUNIS492.html), the embassy staff displayed Washington's attitude towards the Tunisian regime. The United States was pretty happy with the regional role of the government of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali – in relation to Israel, for instance. However, the staff thought that the regime was so corrupt and repressive that it was building up huge tensions, and nothing would change until Ben Ali left office.


The scenes telecast by Al Jazeera were familiarly old-fashioned. The crowds were massive. Protesters were talking with soldiers. These encounters would end with the soldiers shaking hands, even hugging some of the protesters. The masses in Tunisia fought heroic battles for both democracy and economic rights. A new era in this region is unfolding. This new era is a looming threat to conservative autocracies as much as to Libyan-style police states.


With the Tunisian ruling class and its Western backers busy restoring "order," the victory of the revolution is hardly assured in Tunisia. To stem the popular tide, a unity government was formed, headed by former prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi. However, two key players, the Communist Workers Party of Tunisia (PCOT), and Al-Nahda, the country's largest Islamic party, were kept out. Both were illegal under the dictatorship. PCOT leader Hamma Hammami was set free from jail only after the revolution, while al-Nahda's leader, Rached Ghannouchi, is in exile.


In the unity government, three ministers were co-opted from the UGTT. However, the inclusion of eight ministers from Ben Ali's RCD party, including his interior minister, led to popular outrage.


On Jan 18, UGTT ministers, along with a few others, resigned from the unity government. The UGTT retreated after a fresh wave of mass demonstrations across Tunisia. The citizens want a clean break with the past. They want no one from the previous regime.

 

Tunisia will decide its direction in the coming days, even hours. Will it be a revolution that goes all the way or a compromise between a revolution and a regime that will keep many contradictions under the surface and will sooner or later lead to another upheaval? This remains to be seen.


Nonetheless, the Tunisian revolution has heralded the end of a period when every attempt at social change in the Middle East could be successfully channelled to fanatical religious fundamentalism.


Hamma Hammami declared that the uprising, which had its one month anniversary on Jan 17, was a secular one. He called on Al-Nahda not to bring "polemics over theology" into the political discourse after the collapse of the dictatorship. "We want to keep the people united over these aspirations," Hammami told Al Jazeera.


This is a mark of the new era opening up in the Arab-Muslim world. For this, we must say, Thank you, Tunisia!


The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: mfsulehria@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

JAKARTA MEMORIES

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL


Jakarta was enchanting. Its colonial past seemed to be hanging in the air. Its teaming millions, locked in a small area of 255 sq miles, were not yet in sight as the car drove from the airport toward the city centre. Unlike Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta had personal associations going back to the time of Sukarno – the founding father who had unilaterally declared independence when the occupying Japanese army surrendered to the allies in August 1945.

Sukarno's downfall had coincided with a turning point in Pakistan's history after the 1965 war. ZA Bhutto had just emerged on the political scene with a bag containing the Tashkent black cat, which he was holding in his hand while he toured the country. He was going to bring it out at an appropriate time to let Pakistanis know what really happened in Tashkent and how they were betrayed.


It was a time of massive public rallies the like of which had not been seen in Pakistan for over a decade. It was through his article in People's Party's official newspaper, Masawat that most Pakistanis heard about a CIA plot against Sukarno. ZA Bhutto reminded Pakistanis of the immense support Sukarno had given to Pakistan during the war. I remembered that in his article Bhutto had mentioned ten-hour long public speeches which Sukarno used to deliver to mesmerised and spell-bound crowds.


These memories surfaced in my mind as the car entered the city limits and slowed down. The city was lush; recent rain had washed away all the dust from the leaves. Sukarno did not survive, I recalled in my mind, but the way ZA Bhutto projected his cause brought out yet another leaf of history. It was a time of ideological struggle between the left and the right, the red star was rising from the east and communism was gaining ground in scores of third world countries where a new brand of fiery nationalistic leadership was standing up to the West's imperialism. Sukarno was a forerunner of that leadership and Bhutto was inspired by his example both in his political views as well as in his approach to masses. He modelled Pakistan Peoples' Party on the pattern of Sukarno's vision for Indonesia, which consisted of five principles blending Marxism, nationalism and Islam. These principles were Indonesian nationalism, internationalism, deliberative consensus emphasising representative democracy, social welfare, and monotheism.


Just as Sukarno summarised his five principles in one phrase gotong royong, Bhutto was to sum up his political philosophy in one phrase: roti, kapra aur makan. Just as Sukarno reached out to the leaders of the People's Republic of China, Bhutto was to do the same. The greatest contribution Sukarno made to the international politics of his time was to attempt to forge a new alliance, the "New Emerging Forces", as a counter to the old superpowers, whom he accused of spreading "Neo-Colonialism, Colonialism and Imperialism". In this he was a visionary who wanted to create a third power block. He was one of the main organisers of the Bandung Conference (1955), with the goal of uniting developing Asian and African countries into a non-aligned movement to counter against the competing superpowers at the time.


Just as CIA plotted against Sukarno, Bhutto accused CIA of plotting against him. There are well-documented proofs of CIA's involvement in many assassination attempts on Sukarno's life. CIA used a mix of anti-communist and so-called Islamic movements to attack Sukarno. In 1958, J Allan Pope, an American pilot, was shot down after a bombing raid in northern Indonesia which was organised by CIA. In 1961, he founded the Non-Aligned Movement with Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser, India's Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Yugoslavia's President Josip Broz Tito, and Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah, in an action called The Initiative of Five (Sukarno, Nkrumah, Nasser, Tito, and Nehru).

The past came rushing as the car stopped in the heart of the city inside a college building where I was going to give first of the two lectures to a crowd of over 500 students. They all seemed to emerge from behind the trees, eager to listen. It was an open area between two blocks of building. The stage was set up and as the students gathered, we went to pray the noon prayer in the college mosque.


As I returned to the venue, I found myself still immersed in the past – days when a new world order was being envisioned by a handful of third world leaders, an order in which millions of poor people will finally have a voice. That world order never became a reality, but Sukarno did succeed in stirring up an anti-American campaign. He withdrew Indonesia from the UN membership in 1965 when, with US backing, the nascent Federation of Malaysia took a seat of UN Security Council. He forged a new link with China and the Peking-Jakarta axis was going to stand up against the hegemony of the West, but CIA finally demolished the nascent hopes. On the night of 30 September 1965, six of Indonesia's most senior generals were killed mysteriously. Major General Suharto, commander of the army's strategic reserves, took control of the army the following morning. What happened after this remains unclear to this day. Sukarno was eventually stripped of his presidential title on March 12, 1967, and remained under house arrest until his death from kidney failure in Jakarta on June 21, 1970 at age 69.


The leaf from history could not be read through as students had now gathered and the session was about to start, but this brief reminiscence was a wonderful way to begin the two-day visit to Jakarta.


The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

TOO LATE TO HEAD FOR SHORE?

ROEDAD KHAN


These days, like most Pakistanis, I feel very troubled in the head and heart. It is as if one is boiling inside all the time with some kind of helpless indignation, enraged to see such a good country going to hell with such cruelty and waste. Not every generation is given the chance to turn the page on the past and write a new chapter in history. Yet this was the opportunity before us on August 14, 1947. We botched it.


Today Pakistan looks exhausted, ossified and ideologically bankrupt, surviving merely to perpetuate its corrupt rulers. Never has the divide between ruler and ruled seemed so gaping, and perhaps never has it been so dangerous. Thievery at the summit of power, a totally new phenomenon introduced in this country by Zardari, inspires outrage and disgust among the people, especially the poor.


President Ben Ali of Tunisia had to flee the country in the darkness of the night in order to escape the wrath of his people. Isn't it a great tragedy that General Musharraf, guilty of unspeakable crimes against the state and with the blood of innocent Pakistanis on his hands, was given a ceremonial guard of honour by the so-called democratic government of Pakistan and allowed to escape. Little did the people of Pakistan know that it was all part of the deal made in Washington, now unfolding before our eye. The Zardari regime is merely a facsimile of the Musharraf regime in civilian clothing and is awash in corruption.


Today the nation is clearly at a crossroads. We can follow the line of least resistance, turn a blind eye and follow the road that has led us to where we are today. Or we can choose the other road. If parliament is unable or unwilling to respond to public demands, people will, perforce, take the issue to the parliament of man, the parliament of the streets.


The American footprint in our country is growing larger and heavier by the day. Nuclear Pakistan is now an American colony and is used as a doormat on which the US can wipe its bloodstained boots. American military personnel cross and re-cross our border without let or hindrance. Their drones violate our air space with the agreement of our government and kill innocent men, women and children. No questions asked. No public outrage. No protest demonstrations. No self-respecting country, big or small, would tolerate such intrusions.

Men and women of Pakistan! Today we are engaged in a great battle. The lines are drawn. The issues are clear. Those who are not with the people are against them. It is as simple as that. The time to hesitate is through. Now or never is the moment when salvation from these highway robbers is possible. Too long have we been passive spectators of events. Today our fate is in our hands, but soon it may go beyond. "There is a moment in engagement", Napoleon once said, "when the least manoeuvre is decisive and gives victory. It is a one drop of water which makes the vessel run over". That moment has arrived.


Pakistan has only two choices: shambles and corrupt rulers or a rally of the mass of the people. Little Tunisia is a clarion call for all those who want to drive out their corrupt rulers. Both the president and the prime minister lack integrity and credibility. Any other person in their position would have resigned long ago. A Japanese would have committed hara-kiri. The tragedy of Pakistan is that both Zardari and Gilani are clinging to office like a dirty old piece of chewing gum on the leg of a chair and, like Ben Ali, will not leave voluntarily.

At this moment, when the nation is standing on the escalator of corruption and anarchy, right-minded citizens cannot afford to stand frozen in disgust and dismay. We cannot merely look upon the political development in sorrow and upon our politicians in anger. The problems facing the country have to be faced and their solutions sought without delay. We are racing against time. A problem avoided turns into a crisis, and the crisis not mastered can turn into a disaster further down the road.


I still remain hopeful we can rouse ourselves to save our country. But the time is growing short. We are fast approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and are about to plunge over it. Unfortunately, no one seems to realise that it is almost too late to head for shore.


The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: roedad@comsats.net.pk, www.roedadkhan.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

WHY KARACHI IS IN DEEP TROUBLE

SHAFQAT MAHMOOD


Karachi has never settled down in the last two years. The recent spate of targeted killings is a continuation of earlier battles. Are these a consequence of endemic poverty, ethnic hostility, or a fight to death for political space? There are no easy answers, but it seems to be a combination of all three.


Some political parties are trying to pin the blame on land, drug and other mafias. This is either a total misinterpretation or a deliberate denial of reality.


The conventional wisdom otherwise is that the influx of a large number of Pakhtuns from the troubled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA regions has upset the ethnic balance in the city. Some estimates place the Pashto-speaking population at about twenty five per cent.


It is argued that this has particularly troubled the MQM because it sees its political hold over Karachi diminishing. Obviously, if the twenty five per cent get organised, they would take proportionately similar numbers of seats in the provincial and national legislatures, besides dominating pockets of the city in local elections.

These conjectures are not out of place, and there is every reason to believe that the MQM would feel politically threatened. However, this does not explain why it would prompt the party to unleash its militants to kill the Pakhtuns. How many can it kill, anyway, in a Pakhtun population of approximately 2.5 million?


Another explanation, in which the PPP is also included, is that people being targeted are political organisers for the respective parties. The idea of targeting them being that if the activists at the local level are eliminated it would grievously hurt each party's organisational capacity.


A particularly conspiratorial theory is that the PPP is methodically eliminating the MQM's local activists who get the vote out and are very active in "fund"-raising. And, in response, the MQM is eliminating activists of the PPP in Lyari, and those of its ally, the ANP.


If these theories, conjectures and explanations are even partly true, they reveal a very grim picture. This warfare, what else can one call it considering the number of lives lost, is unlikely to end. It isn't as if one party or the other is going to go away. They all have to live together and the problem of ethnicity leavened by a fight for political power will continue to haunt this troubled city.


The problem is exacerbated by a virtual collapse of the structure of the state. The first line of defence or guarantor of order is the police, but its presence is like a shell without substance. This is generally true of every place in Pakistan, but in Karachi it has another dimension.


Apart from the usual problems of poor training, bad equipment and working conditions, low pay, and so forth, Karachi's bureaucracy and police have been infected by political recruitments over a long period. The result is that the loyalty of these foot soldiers of law and order is not with the institution of the state but with the respective political parties.


This obviously results in poor discipline and lack of coordination. For an organisation that, to be effective, needs secrecy, it also leaks like a sieve. Its capacity to keep any operation confidential, if at all any such adventure is contemplated, is nonexistent. The result is failure after failure, because the targeted individuals or groups are never found.


No wonder that a federal force, the Rangers, have been inducted into the battle. The problem is that this paramilitary organisation does not have the capacity to deal with an endemic problem that has seeped into the sinews of society. It can partially impose curfew or, in a specific area, do house-to-house searches, but it cannot possibly replicate knowledge of local conditions that a police force has.


This is the reason that the most effective operation against criminals and murderers was launched by the police under the supervision of the PPP government in the nineties. The army had failed earlier, but the police succeeded. Why, because it had local knowledge and could pinpoint the target with accuracy.


Another police-led operation of a similar kind is not possible. Partly because of the divided loyalties identified in it earlier but also because of the repercussions that individual police officers had to face later. After a political settlement, when many of the criminals were released, the officers were targeted and killed one by one. Only those survived who were able to run away.


Given this history, why would any police officer take the risk of being proactive against murderers that currently rule the roost in Karachi? And, lest I am misunderstood, these criminals do not belong to one community. They proliferate everywhere; they are found among the Punjabis, Baloch, Pakhtuns, Sindhis and Mohajirs. Elements of just one ethnicity are not dying in Karachi. All are.


How are we going to come out of this quagmire? Any solution has to include a political settlement, besides a serious overhaul of governance mechanisms in the city. The PPP, the MQM and the ANP are only allies in name in the government. Their respective leaderships have to move forward and become real allies. If there is no political settlement, the bloodshed will continue.


A realisation has to dawn that no political party or ethnicity can win this battle. Even if a particularly party or community is temporarily cowed down, the problem will not end. The Mohajirs, Pakhtuns, Sindhis and Baloch cannot wish each other away. They will still be living in the same space, however many may die in this war. Ethnic-cleansing, reprehensible as it is, is just not possible.


None of the political parties that represent these communities can be sole winners, however much they may temporarily appear victorious. The imperative of demography will assert itself politically, come what may. There is therefore no way out except a political settlement that recognises the space of each community in Karachi. Otherwise the bloodshed will continue forever.


On the governance side also, much needs to be done. The police force has to be cleansed of politically motivated recruitments. A similar exercise has to be carried out in the judiciary and in local-government institutions. Unless the scourge of ethnic or sectional loyalties is wiped, the state structure will remain nonviable.

The main imperative is for all parties to look at the larger picture. If Karachi descends into total chaos, the repercussions will be catastrophic not only for the people living there but for the country as a whole. In such a scenario, no one will be a winner.


Unfortunately, the enormity of the danger facing the country is not visible in the government. No All-Parties Conferences are being called, no emergency meetings running late into the night; only Rehman Malik mouthing inanities.

This will not do. Unless serious political and administrative steps are taken urgently, we are on the cusp of a tragedy.

Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SIDE-EFFECT

HARRIS KHALIQUE


Rawalpindi buried two amazing men last Friday. It was an unbearably chilly day. The weather reflected what was in our hearts, a sadness that made us shiver inside. For attending funerals, one after another, of two great human rights defenders in times when we are besieged by insanity and fanaticism – out there to sweep clean any remnants of civil and political liberties and human dignity left in this country – was extraordinarily tough.

Mehboob Sada, affectionate, warm and a personal friend to so many of us in Rawalpindi and Islamabad was unwavering and resolute when it came to his relentless belief in interfaith harmony and a struggle for the rights of religious minorities in this country and elsewhere. He was serving as the director of the Christian Study Centre for many years and led the centre's research, training and dialogue programmes with commitment and devotion. In a hostile environment, he fearlessly pursued his ideals of creating a better state and society where citizens are equal in the eyes of the law and people belonging to different faiths and denominations live in peace and harmony. He was close to all progressive individuals, institutions and political groups who aspire and strive for a just, egalitarian and prosperous Pakistan. He worked closely with enlightened Muslim scholars as well, nurturing close personal relationships with people like Dr Khalid Masood, former chair of the Islamic Ideology Council, and Late Dr Farooq Ahmed Khan. He had a penchant for literature, wrote poetry and loved music.

Mehboob Sada is one of the richest men I know. For Hazrat Ali (AS) once said that the richness of a man can be established by the number of sincere and trusted friendships he enjoys. St Joseph's Cathedral saw hundreds of women, men, young people and children, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Bahais alike, who had gathered to attend the service and bid farewell to Mehboob Sada. He was ill only for a few months and then passed away quietly. We last met at his office in early August 2010, when he had convened a meeting of Christian clergy and community leaders to discuss the impact of blasphemy laws on poor Christians and other minorities. His early departure has impoverished the rights movement.


From the Cathedral in Lal Kurti, some of us rushed to the Army Graveyard, near the old Rawalpindi neighbourhood of Westridge, to say the last prayers and witness the burial of a great humanist, an ardent believer in socialist ideals, poet, writer, trade unionist and a leading light in the fight for freedom of expression and speech in Pakistan, Minhaj Barna. He stood firm all along and led both working journalists and press workers through Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and All Pakistan Newspaper Employees' Confederation during the most oppressive years of martial rules in Pakistan. He did not surrender his ideals or compromised on his struggle, both for press freedom and for the economic rights of both working journalists and other newspaper employees. He was imprisoned a number of times, even under civilian regimes.

Minhaj Barna had moved to Rawalpindi from Karachi in the later years of his life to live with his daughter and her family. His ailing health restricted his movement to an extent. However, I remember my last meeting with the fair skinned, short, old and physically frail but a thoroughly satisfied and optimistic Barna Sahib when Kishwar Naheed organised a dinner in his honour.


The real tribute one could pay to both Sada and Barna is to keep their struggles alive.


The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy. Email: harris.khalique@gmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PML-Q TOO TALKS ABOUT ECONOMIC MELTDOWN

 

THE deepening economic crisis in addition to a huge deficiency of electricity and gas has forced the political leadership in the Government and in the Opposition to raise their voice for urgent steps to stem the rot. After the PML-N gave its ten-point agenda to overcome the situation, it is good that the 3rd largest party in Parliament, the PML-Q has also come out with a five-point agenda which is a healthy development as focus is now shifting on economy rather than political bickering.


With the budgetary deficit becoming unmanageable, the country needs drastic measures to cut down non-development expenditure, put an end to wasteful spending and strict action to end corruption. PML-Q President Ch Shujaat Hussain and Secretary General Mushahid Hussain Syed stressed for a comprehensive energy strategy to harness all resources to keep the wheel of industry moving. They demanded that money of politicians and bureaucrats in the foreign banks be brought back and steps be taken to stop target killings in Karachi and Balochistan. The deteriorating law and order situation during the last few years has pushed away the badly needed local and foreign investment. In this scenario, it is satisfying that the major political parties agree on one point i.e. to stimulate the economy to generate more revenue, bring down the inflation and create job opportunities for the youth. Prime Minister Gilani in his press talk on Wednesday finally admitted that there was no political threat to his Government but the economic threat and hoped to overcome it with the support of the political forces. We believe that the committees formed by the Government and the PML-N would go through the economic mess and come up with an agreed strategy by giving serious consideration to the suggestions received from the political leadership and economic experts to get out of the crisis and put the economy on the path of growth. At the same time we would draw the attention of the two committees that it is not only the Federal Government that should put its house in order but the higher expenditures by the Provincial Governments and borrowing from the State Bank could also contribute to macroeconomic imbalances and impact on economic sovereignty. Therefore it is time for all stakeholders to work for getting out of the alarming situation because people are becoming desperate and even a minor incident or action could trigger Tunis like mass movement.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

LANDMARK ACHIEVEMENT OF CELLULAR INDUSTRY

 

PAKISTAN'S cellular industry has every reason to celebrate the landmark achievement of 100 million mobile subscriptions that has turned the country into first place in SAARC with relation to tele-density. Addressing the special ceremony to mark the occasion, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani held out an assurance to do everything possible to facilitate the telecom sector and develop necessary infrastructure whereas industry representatives drew attention towards some of the crucial problems facing the sector.


It is indeed a milestone that has been achieved with the collective efforts of the Government and cellular operators, who invested hugely and contributed significantly to the national exchequer. Here, one must give credit to the previous Government, led by visionary Shaukat Aziz, which provided enabling atmosphere for phenomenal growth in IT and Telecom sector. The healthy competition among cellular companies has resulted in big investment of over $11 billion, provision of direct and indirect employment opportunity to about one million people and contribution of 300 billion rupees to the national exchequer as taxes. The competitive environment has also led to diversification of the services, improvement in quality of service and reduction in rates. However, the industry has rightly pointed out that with 31% it is the most taxed sector in the region and deserves relief that could help boost its growth and as a consequence the revenue of the Government may increase further. It is also worth mentioning that mobile subscription is increasing every minute but unfortunately, so far, no worthwhile effort has been made for local manufacturing of mobile phone set that could help save billions of rupees of this poor country and also become a highly profitable venture for investors. Similarly, the Prime Minister has done well by asking the authorities concerned to expedite launching of the 3G spectrum but we would urge him to ensure that the entire process is carried out in a highly transparent manner so that the country could get maximum out of this new leap into telecom technology that has brought about sixteen billion dollars to India. Again, the dream to establish a silicon valley would remain elusive if we failed to provide more incentives to the IT sector and divert necessary resources for world class IT education.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

UNFINISHED AGENDA OF DEGREES VERIFICATION

 

a shocking development, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has suspended the process of verification of degrees of parliamentarians. Addressing a news conference on Wednesday, Chairman of the Commission Javed Leghari claimed that they would not ask any university for verification of the degrees of the lawmakers as it is the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan.


It seems that the HEC has finally succumbed to the pressure of Education Minister Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali, who has been deadly against the degree verification process. He had been successful in the past in delaying considerably the entire process in the hope that the issue would die down with the passage of time. The latest decision of the HEC though seems to be a procedural issue, is definitely aimed at further delaying the process to the benefit of the cheaters. Why it has dawned upon the HEC after one year that degree verification of parliamentarians was the responsibility of the Election Commission? It effectively means that the process already underway would be halted and ECP would initiate it afresh and that would obviously take months more. Verification of degrees of a few hundred lawmakers should not have been a long and cumbersome exercise provided there was will and determination to identify those who damaged the reputation of the country. In fact, there was a need to expedite the process so as to make the cheaters an example, as those who indulged in such immoral and illegal practices do not deserve to be the representatives of the people. We believe that mere identification and de-seating of the fake degree holders was not enough and criminal proceedings should be initiated against them besides recovery of tax-payers' money they digested during their tenure as Members of different Assemblies. Anyhow, we hope that the Election Commission would now pursue the matter with due urgency as those holding fake degrees must not remain in elected Houses even for a minute.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PRESIDENT HU GOES TO WASHINGTON

GEOPOLITICAL NOTES FROM INDIA

M D NALAPAT

Giving a rival credit is always difficult, so it is no wonder that few commentators in Europe, North America and India mention the fact that the ongoing visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the US is pathbreaking. In the past too, Chinese Heads of State have landed up in Washington. There was Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and Jiang Zemin in the 1990s. Both Deng and Jiang worked hard to give a positive impression of China and its people to the US public, wearing cowboy hats and boots, and in Jiang's case, singing a song in American English. During the 1980s,China was dependent on the US for almost all its technology and its economic progress, a situation that had not dramatically changed when Jiang Zemin came calling. However, from the time he took over power in 2002, Hu Jintao has concentrated on making China a technology superpower, nurturing R & D laboratories and presiding over the growth of world-class companies such as Huawei


For the first time in the history of relations between China and the US, it is a meeting of equals. An Indian scholar in the US estimates that in Purchasing Power Parity terms, the economy of China is already as big as that of the US. Others say that it will take China about fifteen years to reach parity. However, what is not in doubt is that China under Hu Jintao and his designated successor Xi Jinping is on course to become the world's biggest economy within the first quarter of the 21st century. In five years time, the country will most likely be competing with Boeing and Airbus to sell Aeroplanes across the world, and in ten years, will probably produce manufactures that are qualitatively superior to those being made within the powerhouse of the European Union, Germany. Over the past decade, China has moved away from being a low-end supplier of intermediates into a producer of sophisticated finished products, thereby posing a threat to the present commercial hegemony of the US and the EU


Although this was pooh-pooed by Indian analysts such as Raja Mohan till recently, the reality is that it is the rapid rise of China that is the factor drawing the US closer and closer to India, the other country in the world that has a billion-plus population. Despite being afflicted with corrupt and incompetent governments since it gained freedom in 1947, India has been growing at a rapid rate, the way Pakistan under Ayub Khan developed. Hopefully, India will not go the way of Pakistan, that saw first the development of monopolies (the 20 Families) and subsequently the experiments with socialism of Z A Bhutto. After the fall of the mercurial feudal lord from Sindh came the turn of Zia-ul-Haq and the Afghan war, since when Pakistan has seen its geopolitical relevance the way the British General Staff saw it in the 1940s, as a frontline state of bigger powers against the enemies of these powers. The Afghan jihad caused the militarization of the Pakistan establishment, and the radicalization of its youth. Islam is too potent and powerful a force to be in danger anywhere,but millions within Pakistan were convinced that Soviet forces in Afghanistan posed a life-threatening danger to the faith, and hence enrolled in the militias that were set up by the CIA to fight the USSR. Subsequently, hundreds of thousands more youth in Saudi Arabia took to non-conventional warfare because they were convinced that the presence of US troops in that country posed a danger to Islam


The developed democracies have almost always forgotten the fact that India is one of the top three Muslim countries in the world, if the number of those practicing the faith is taken into account. Hence they seldom see India as relevant to the myriad challenges that they are facing in Muslim-majority states. Even in Afghanistan, the welcome given by the US and other NATO allies to the Indian presence is tepid, and kept from outright hostility only because of the need to remain friends with Delhi. The reason of course being China. There are several who seek to replicate the Cold War experience in the 21st century, replacing the USSR with China as the object of hostility and China with India as the preferred ally. It may be that relations between Beijing and Delhi may become as tension-filled as those between Beijing and Moscow from the 1960s to the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s,but if so, that would be a tragedy for both India and China. Should the two work in harmony, they would form a force that would be impossible to rival in Asia, the continent that has once again become the most important in the world


Although there exists a powerful lobby within the US that sees China as the enemy, US President Barack Obama has rejected their prescription of treating Beijing with disdain. Unlike George W Bush,he has given President Hu the privilege of a State Visit, the way he did with a more natural ally, India's Manmohan Singh. There is too much at stake between the US and China for a demonstration of the tantrums that some elements in that country's leadership throw when dealing with China, notably the threat of a trade or a currency war. The fact is that such threats are empty of substance, because the US has at least as much to lose as China, should it confront Beijing that aggressively. In the period that he has been in power, Hu Jintao has ensured that the foreign exchange reserves of China are close to $3 trillion, or nearly three times the economy of India.


This figure underlines the gap between India and China, and the cost to India of following policies that benefit a few kleptomaniacs rather than the mass of the population These days, because of the ongoing war between Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram and the economic ministries of the Government of India, the Ministry of Home Affairs is blocking several - if not all - of the major investments that are designated for India. Even projects cleared by the Finance Ministry are held up for an interminable period "for scrutiny" by the Home Ministry. Taking a leaf from Chidambaram's book, regulatory agencies such as the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEBI) have launched a series of harsh actions that are scaring away investors.The SEBI has been especially liberal with the use of Section 11B,under which it has the authority to order an entity to stop trading in the stock market. Several companies have been driven to the wall by the use of these powers, although these have been Indian entities. SEBI - in line with the policy framework approved by the Sonia Gandhi-led coalition, is very forgiving of foreign companies, especially those headquartered in the US and the EU. Thus, while an Indian bank may find many of its officers under arrest for suspected fraud, a huge US bank such as Citi escapes unscathed by any recourse to Section 11B or any other. Joining in the slow death of Indian enterprises, the Reserve Bank of India has made borrowing within India prohibitively expensive for Indian companies, while preventing domestic enterprises from accessing cheap foreign funds the way their foreign competitors do


Although of course, these days Indian banks are not ready to lend at all. Because of numerous enquiries and arrests of bank managers over the past few months, thanks to the Home Minister's British-era zeal, banks in India are these days too terrified of the police to make any loans at all, especially to sectors such as telecom, which once were among the most dynamic in India, before being run into the ground by the government. The sector that may follow is Information Technology, which is these days being harassed by the Income-tax authorities in India for the crime of being successful without paying bribes. The past six years have been a nightmare for Indian business and for the Indian consumer, now that forward trading in food grains has been permitted. As a consequence, speculation in grain has become widespread, Including by funds parked by illegal crime syndicates. The contrast with China could not be more striking


The warm reception accorded to President Hu by Barack Obama is creating a lot of interest in Delhi, a capital whose elite sees itself as the 21st century's ally of choice for the US. The fanfare accorded to the Chinese Head of State underlines the reality that nothing succeeds like success. That only higher economic growth will lift India to the top of the league, the way it has China, a country that has an economy three times bigger than India's and foreign exchange reserves nine times bigger. Sadly, the desire of the politicians and officials clustered in Delhi to garner bribes by increasing regulatory barriers on domestic industry is creating the risk of a sharp slowdown in progress. What the terrorists could not achieve after years of trying ( snuffing out the India growth story) is being achieved by the venal political class of a country whose people deserve better.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

INDIA AND PAKISTAN ON THE BRINK?

SULTAN M HALI

The latest Op-Ed in the "Washington Post" by David Ignatius with the same title sans the question mark is based on value judgment, without delving deeper into the facts. The "informed" author laments the "politically coming apart" of India's neighbour Pakistan and comments that Indian leaders insist with a tone of resignation that there's nothing they can do about it. He states that starting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, top Indian officials know that their booming democracy is endangered by the growing chaos across the border. They say that they're willing to revive back-channel negotiations with Islamabad to resolve the long festering problem of Kashmir. They favor confidence-building measures to reduce the risk of war between these two nuclear-armed nations.


Mr. Ignatius, let us set the record straight! Which country does not have political disagreements? India is rocked by the 2G corruption scandal as well as the rampant corruption in its Armed Forces, which have brought people out in the street, baying for the blood of Dr. Manmohan Singh. India has finally admitted that Hindutva extremists were responsible for the Samjhota Express inferno, the Malegaon, Ajmer Sharif, Makah Masjid and scores of other heinous acts of terror which took a huge toll of lives. Pakistan has neither commented nor criticized India for it since it is India's internal matter, which its people should resolve. As for the negotiations, and Kashmir being a festering sore; the issue is a creation of India, when its forces illegally occupied Kashmir in October 1947 without a formal declaration of accession by its Hindu ruler or a plebiscite by its Muslim residents as dictated by the rules of partition for princely states. When Pakistan tried to liberate Kashmir, India petitioned the UN, seeking a ceasefire. It agreed to abide by the UN Resolutions which ask India to let the Kashmiris use their right of self determination and opt for India or Pakistan. Despite six decades having passed, India has not abided by the Kashmir Resolutions but instead launched a reign of terror in the Valley of Kashmir, which has taken a toll of more than 100,000 innocent Kashmiri lives. The only solution of the "festering sore of Kashmir" is that India allows the Kashmiris to express their will through a UN sponsored plebiscite.

David Ignatius insists that the Pakistani military doesn't want any reduction in tensions. How can he jump to such a conclusion, when it was Pakistan that set the tone of Confidence Building Measures (CBM) in the past decade and not only called for a unilateral ceasefire along the Line of Control in Kashmir but also introduced measures like trade and visitation rights between Azad Kashmir and Indian Occupied Kashmir. Indian hawks are so bent on bloodletting that using the excuse of Mumbai attacks, they snapped the peace dialogue and insist that unless Pakistan hands over the alleged perpetrators of the heinous Mumbai attacks, peace talks will not resume. Pakistan, which has no treaty of extradition with India but has a free and fair judiciary, instead asks for evidence so that it can try the alleged culprits at home but India dilly dallies. When the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers met at the Egyptian resort of Sharm-al-Sheikh in July last year at sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement meet, they resolved to continue the dialogue. No sooner had Manmohan Singh landed at New Delhi, he was pounced upon by Indian hawks, who forced him to rescind the agreement to resume the peace talks.

Ignatius says that he spent three days at New Delhi, talking with Indian leaders as part of a dialogue sponsored by the Aspen Strategy Group and the Confederation of Indian Industry. He comments: "Discussing the India-Pakistan dispute with these officials reminded me of the fable of Tantalus, whose punishment by the gods was that food and drink were always just out of reach. A rapprochement between India and Pakistan is that elusive: You can imagine what the reduction of tensions would look like but you can't grasp it." Unfortunately, the vision of David Ignatius has been coloured by his Indian hosts and he fails to perceive the truth. He says that India and Pakistan are involved in the world's most dangerous zero-sum game. He himself acknowledges that this is a problem that might seem ripe for U.S. mediation. Washington has close ties with both countries, after all, and it could act as an honest broker on issues such as Kashmir, which is disputed territory but illegally occupied by India. Indians say that American intervention could just make matters worse—poisoning public opinion against any deal that emerged. He believes that U.S. diplomats are walking on eggshells: The Kashmir problem is so sensitive that American officials sometimes refer to it as "the K word," as if the very subject were unmentionable. Washington has gently encouraged dialogue between the two countries, but two meetings last year between their foreign ministers collapsed amid mutual recriminations. Ignatius should take cognizance of the fact that if the U.S. were sincere in restoring peace in the region, it would have taken the bull by the horns and ensured that India abides by the UN Resolutions and let the Kashmiris decide their own fate and resolve the Kashmir issue.


So clouded is the opinion of Mr. Ignatius, that he claims that the Indians watch Pakistan's political instability with grim resignation. The root problem, they argue, is that the Pakistani military is unwilling to sever its links with Islamic terrorists. Until the Pakistanis break this insurgency, they will be at its mercy. Dialogue with India won't make any difference, they insist. For the information of David Ignatius, it is India, which is maintaining links with the terrorists in the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal belt and through its fourteen Consulates and Trade Missions in Afghanistan forming an arc around Pakistan, RAW operatives are engaged in an internecine war, in which they recruit, train, arm and launch extremists in Balochistan and FATA to destabilize Pakistan. David Ignatius should get an unbiased view by visiting Islamabad.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

WHAT IS DESTINY?

THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM

ATIF NOOR KHAN

 

The Arabic word translated as "destiny" is qadar. In its derivations, this word also means "determination," "giving a certain measure and shape," "dividing," and "judging." Muslim scholars of Islam define it as "Divine measure," "determination," and "judgment in the creation of things." Almighty Allah says, "He has created everything in a particular proportion and has determined the measures for its capabilities and potentialities." (Chapter 25 Verse 2) Believing and having faith in destiny is one of the foundations of faith. And it is the basic foundation of perfection. Destiny is Allah's evaluation to all beings bases on previous knowledge of Allah and His wisdom dictated. Fate is what was already known to Allah, and was already written of every thing to be for eternity.

Believing in it, is believing that Allah Almighty, has decided and distributed the destiny for all creatures, and what is to be of things and events even before they come to being. Allah may He be praised, knew they will happen at specific known times in certain manners. He knew of it, and He had it written or recorded in all its details and accuracies, and how he wished them to be and created it. It is going to be without doubt, exactly and precisely as and when He wants it to be. And what Allah does not wish it to be, will never be. He has absolute capability, to make something happen, or make something not happen yet He would have been able to make it happen. Allah's messenger (saw) the true and truly inspired said, (as regards your creation, 22.5) "everyone of you is collected in the womb of his mother for the first 40 days in the form of a seed, and then he becomes a clot for another 40 days, and then a lump of flesh for another 40 days. Then Allah sends an angel to write four things. He writes his deeds, time of death, means of his livelihood, and whether he will be happy or unhappy in the (Hereafter). Then the soul is breathed into his body. So a man may do deeds characteristic of the people of hell until there is but an arms length between him and hell,


and that which has been written by the angel overtakes him and so he begins to behave like the people of paradise and thus he enters it. Similarly, a person may do deeds characteristic of people of paradise until there is but an arm's length between him and paradise, and that which has been written overtakes him and so he behaves like the people of hell and thus he enters it." ( Sahih Al-bukhari and Sahih Muslim).

The doctrine of the people who follow the Messenger's way of life, and follow the Muslim nation is the same as those who immigrated with the Messenger or those who supported him, and all those who succeeded them with perfection. And that is that Allah creator of all things, Lord and God of all things. And that what He wills will be, and what He does not will shall not be. And that nothing in this creation can be without His knowledge, His will and within His power. Nothing is impossible for Him, and everything is within His power. He knows what was and what will be. And He determined all matters for those He creates before they are created. He determines their length of life, and their death, their incomes, and their deeds and He has all that written. He also has written their levels of happiness and misery. All His slaves are commanded by His commandments and warned to refrain from His prohibitions. We believe in His promise and His threats. And no one has any argument or an excuse for not doing a commanded duty or for doing a prohibition, while Allah has the ultimate argument against all.


Faith in destiny has immediate benefits and postponed benefits. It also has status which brings the satisfaction of Allah and which leads to Paradise. The first is that the faithful will perform worship through this faith in the destiny and fate, and through submission and obedience to Allah. It is also a cause of faithfulness when one knows that everything is determined and owned and created by Allah. And that everything comes from Him and that people have no power in nothing. Such knowledge makes one care less for condemning or commending people in what is right. One would not care to satisfy people if it dissatisfies Allah. Believing in destiny and fate does not contradict a man having his own will and for which he shall be held accountable. Every human being has the power and the will and the choice.


No one shall force him/her to do good or do evil acts. Those deeds and actions of human beings are creations and of Allah and allowing it to be, But they are the choice and the actions of the individual human being. There are two distinct matters here, the destiny itself, and the acts which make up this destiny. The destiny is from Allah, and it is all justice and good and wisdom. While the acts which make up destiny are the choice individuals make which can be good or otherwise. For example the act of killing a soul, it is Allah destiny and fate that already written the time of death and end of life for the one who is killed. But it is the choice of the killer to do so, committing the crime, and disobeying Allah and dissatisfying Him. Committing an act by own choice and for which he shall be accounted for.


Prophet (PBUH) said, "There is none among you but has his place written for him, either in paradise or in the hell-fire, carry on doing good deeds, for everybody will find easy to do such deeds as will lead him to his destined place" At the same time we must never despair if we have done badly. Repentance and mending our ways, with sincerity and trust in Allah will ensure our safety. Destiny is a historical narration of a man's future which came into being because of Allah's absolute knowledge.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

A SUCCESS STORY

YAHYA AHMAD

 

Since the start of the army's tremendous and successful operation in Swat and tribal region, disturbing evidence in numerous areas has emerged of Taliban training minors for the conflict. The information is clearly alarming, as these camps or compounds were operational since a long time and many of them had the capacity to hold 200 to 300 children. This is also evident by the fact that, 90 percent of the suicide bombings have involved youngsters between 14 to 20 years of age. Till November this year, 44 suicide attacks were carried out resulting in total death toll of 1033. Not to mention the trauma and fear rest of the nation went through each time, after hearing such news. Taliban find the strategy of recruiting children as the bearers of death and havoc, easy and successful.

After the triumphant campaign in Swat and tribal areas, the army came across these camps and the trainees in them. They were posed with the great challenge of either locking up these kids, or give them the opportunity to lead their normal lives. The initiative was taken and the army with the support of locals and private organizations setup a rehabilitation center, after gaining control in the area. Some people might rehabilitation of Taliban ridiculous or even impossible. But before let our sentiments get hold of us, we should understand who Taliban are and how rehabilitation of their recruits will decide the fate of our war on terror, in favor of us.

Taliban are commonly referred to as a single entity or organization. This is not the case especially in Pakistan, where the Taliban are splintered in to different chapters and factions. They might pledge their loyalty to Mullah Umar and may follow the same ideology, but differences among them even turn violent. These factions mostly derive their support and recruitment from the locals in the area they control. They mostly recruit between ages of 12 to 20, as this is the age when the thinking of an individual is still developing. The extremists find kids of these age groups easy to brainwash with their ideology, as they are less resistant to these ideas.


These recruits are given trainings in all aspects of warfare, their minds filled with wrong interpretations of the religion and handed weapons. They are also paid up to Rs. 8,000 to 12,000 a month. Terrorists prefer these children to carry out leading attacks on security forces and civilians. The terrorist openly preach these innocent minds to attack and kill armed forces and civilians. They describe the army as a legitimate target for their collaboration with the west and also invoke sectarian and tribal hatred on many occasions. Due to lack of knowledge of Islam in these children, the fanatics present interpretations of Quran and Islam according to their advantage. These radicals were also viewed as giving status and prestige to the poor and unfortunate. In Swat when the army initiated the admirable project of rehabilitation center in the name of "Sabaoon" or New Dawn, it faced many difficulties. But they soon overcame them and now this center has risen to be a success story and a benchmark. The locals are voluntarily sending their children to this center, for help and education. The center when opened in September 2009 had only 22 boys enrolled, which increased immensely to 129 by August 2010. This rehabilitation center is providing them with education and psychological help to ease their trauma. The main objective of this center is to nurse these would be Taliban to a proper sate of mental health. Many of the boys enrolled have taken active part in this reign of terror, but it is to be understood that there are still prospects to save their future. If they are jailed and punished, the venomous doctrine fed into them might get stronger and even spread further. There are also plans in place for further establishment of such institutions.

It is now time for every section of the society to step up their efforts in this project, as it is not possible for the state machinery alone to continue at the pace required to address this issue. The intellects of our society in this regard can play a very positive role in creating awareness in the society, for the rehabilitation of these misguided youths. As presently everyone in our social fabric regards and associates the Taliban with hatred or fear, but it has to be realized that many of these individuals are not there on their own free will and many of them are being misguided and poisoned by the ideology their masters preach. These are actually not the enemy but the victims of a sadistic plan, to destroy our next generation. By setting up of these centers in conflict affected areas, these kids can have a ray of hope for their future. Along with education, these centers should also provide psychological help to the victims and create awareness in them about the facts. So that once they leave these institutions, they have the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. These institutes can also serve to provide vocational trainings in different skills, resulting in better opportunities for them. This will prevent these rehabilitated individuals from falling back in to the hands of the extremists, thus denying the fanatics with recruits. Proper check and balance should also be maintained in to their activities, once they leave the institution, in order to make sure they do not again fall in to the wrong hands. Further these same individuals can further be polished to assist in rehabilitating others. Locals of the affected areas should also be taken in to confidence, to gain their support for these institutions.


One can just imagine the bright possibilities these youngsters can provide for the nation, once they return back to their homes. The strategy to setup these rehab centers should be worked out carefully and on urgent basis, as time is extremely short for us to save this country's future. It is a long and difficult path, which Pakistan will have to endure in order to attain a decisive victory against these fanatical elements. It is for everyone to pitch in their efforts both in individual and collective capacity for this effort to succeed.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

ISRAEL NEEDS A COHERENT OPPOSITION

NAOMI SHEPHERD

This week Ehud Barak, defence minister of the most rightwing government in Israel's history, abandoned the Labour party to form a new centrist faction, which remains in the coalition with four ministerial portfolios. In the immediate future, this could strengthen Binyamin Netanyahu's government. But with Labour out of the government, there is now a clear alignment of left and centre parties: a much-needed opposition. The coalition may look more uniform without Labour, but it barely holds together:


The Likud party under Netanyahu is heir to the old Revisionist Zionists who claimed all of Palestine as their birthright. • The Shas party, of North African origin, represents largely underprivileged religious voters who are more flexible on the issue of Israel's borders. • Israel Beitenu, an anti-clerical party founded by Russian immigrants, tables racist laws against the country's Arabs; its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, currently rejects the two-state Israel/Palestine idea (which Netanyahu professes to support). • Orthodox rabbis with theocratic yearnings head the United Torah Judaism party.


All that keeps these odd partners together is an aggressive nationalism, or ethnocentricity. The official opposition, the centrist Kadima, is headed by Tzipi Livni – who until now has proposed no alternative to coalition policies. To its left is the small liberal, human rights party, Meretz. The Arab-Israeli parties range from Islamists to the communists in Hadash, the Arab-Jewish party. Were they all to unite in opposition, together with the decimated Labour party, there might be hope of progress on the Palestinian front. The time is ripe for an end to the conflict. There is peace with Egypt and Jordan, the Arab League makes overtures and most Arab states are hostile to Iran, Israel's chief enemy. Syria wants to negotiate. Israel's military deterrent is effective against all but irregular forces, the Palestine Authority needs only an end to settlement building to resume talks, and Hamas is prepared for an indefinite truce, if not for formal recognition.


But Netanyahu's government prefers the status quo to the risks of ending the occupation, and exploits widespread fears to avoid territorial compromise. There are fears that the Palestinians may "delegitimise" Israel by diplomatic means, that civilians are unprotected against long-range missiles (a 90-second warning) and that the region is unstable. An insular government ignores the changes in the balance of power internationally and in the Middle East, is over-confident of US support and complacent about Israel's current prosperity – despite extremes of wealth and poverty. Two problems block the formation of a coherent opposition. First, Israeli parties have fissured and multiplied throughout the state's existence. Proportional representation has perpetuated the trend; only two governments have run their full term. Each party has its own agenda and alliances are temporary (to say nothing of the unlikelihood of mainstream Jewish parties uniting with Arabs). The second, less obvious, problem is the absence of agreed democratic norms. Many of the voters in the heterogenous Israeli electorate are accustomed to authoritarian leadership elsewhere: Middle Eastern, Soviet, ultra-Orthodox.

Successive immigrant populations (many of whom were refugees, not even Zionists) adjusted only with difficulty to the world of the socialist elite, which for the first 30 years of the state dominated coalition governments. The libertarian and egalitarian sentiments of the declaration of independence never became a written constitution. Therefore state and religion are not disestablished; the status and rights of minorities remain undefined, as does the right to free speech, despite a democratic parliamentary system.


So ultra-Orthodox rabbis, following archaic rulings, define Jewishness – hence, indirectly, the right to citizenship – while the state subsidises their perpetual students who neither work nor enlist in the army. Arab Israelis, 20% of the population, are underrepresented in public and professional life, and lack proportionate government funding and housing. Coalition members have recently tried to muzzle criticism on issues like the Gaza campaign, municipal rabbis' warnings against renting to Arabs and the proposed deportation of the Israeli-born children of foreign workers, and have suggested withdrawing subsidies from protesters in the arts and universities. In the absence of an opposition, Israelis have recently taken to the streets. A younger, educated generation has (with a few noble exceptions) shunned a career in politics. Now it has come out in force, with veteran human rights campaigners, to participate in the tens of groups that form a vigorous and growing force. They monitor checkpoints in the West Bank and military courts, join Palestinians in demonstrations against land grabs and settler violence, combat attempts to ban Arabs from Jewish towns, demonstrate against the dispossession of Jerusalem's Palestinians, fight the deportation of foreign workers, and oppose religious intolerance. Joint Jewish-Arab organisations multiply.


But protest alone cannot bring change. Polls suggest that the majority of Israelis accept Palestinian statehood and are prepared for concessions, yet voting patterns are ambivalent and Israel's history suggests that catastrophes best focus minds. A resolution at the UN condemning the occupation may be imminent; the uneasy quiet on the frontier with Lebanon may not last. The government must be challenged from within Parliament, not just from without. — The Guardian

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

TIME TO TACKLE THE HIGH COST OF CARING FOR THE AGED

THE PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION'S SOLUTION MERITS ATTENTION.

In 1997, the Howard government proposed asking high-care nursing home residents to post a bond as a contribution to their facilities' capital costs. But a scare campaign about pensioners being forced to sell the family home, enthusiastically embraced by Labor's Jenny Macklin, frightened Mr Howard out of his political skin. Then in 2004, academic Warren Hogan's comprehensive report on aged care again made the case for bonds and means-tested access to publicly funded places. But Mr Howard still had the horrors and used a capital injection and more money for beds to duck the debate. So did Kevin Rudd, when he created more nursing home places in his hospital plan last year. But he flicked funding to the Productivity Commission for a report. And now the commission has delivered a document that makes a case for addressing a problem we cannot keep avoiding.

One way or another, Australians are going to have to pay for more aged care due to the ever-increasing number of people living longer. There are 400,000 Australians aged 85 and over now and there will be 1.8 million by mid-century. Most of them, as is currently the case, will live at home but there will still be an enormous increase in demand for residential care from this group, especially the ever-increasing numbers suffering from dementia. All up, by mid-century the number of people receiving aged care of some kind is projected to grow by 150 per cent, making the $10 billion government spent in 2008-09 small change.

There is no debating our demographic destiny or its cost to the smaller proportion of people who will be paying for it, the number of workers per retired person will drop from nearly five now to 2.7 by mid-century. But equity as much as economics makes the argument that older Australians should make a fair and feasible contribution to the cost of residential accommodation. Existing arrangements are cobbled together in an inadequate attempt to recover costs. Consumers have little control over what they receive, information on what is available at what contributor cost is often confusing. People in low- and very high-care accommodation can be asked to pay a substantial bond, returned less government-approved deductions and interest to the business when the resident departs. But pensioners in standard residential care are often exempt. Apart from the inefficiencies involved, the existing system ensures old people are confronted by a bureaucracy of a Kafka-esque kind.

The Productivity Commission addresses all these issues in a plan that is as economically rational as it is politically optimistic. At the heart of the commission's report is a system designed to be as painless as possible for nursing home residents to meet their accommodation and living expenses and contribute some of the cost of their care. People without the means to provide anything other than payments from their pension will still be supported by the state; at the moment basic aged care accommodation costs are capped at 85 per cent of this benefit. But the commission proposes capacity to pay should be assessed on the basis of an individual's assets as well as income, addressing the fact that while old Australians will continue to be income-poor, at least until those with a lifetime of superannuation contributions start to retire, they are often asset-rich. At present the median household of people aged 75-plus holds 90 per cent of its net worth in the home. The commission controversially proposes people sell their houses and buy government-issued bonds to use for living expenses and aged care costs. The bonds would not be included in means tests for the pension, would be indexed to the CPI and free of fees. This would allow people to purchase a higher, or different, level of service than the government-prescribed minimum, in turn creating an opportunity for the aged care industry to expand and diversify -- something that does not happen now, given the low rate of return on existing assets and the difficulty of funding expansion.

But the commission is not offering existing players a licence to print money by jacking up charges and demanding bigger bonds. It proposes a regulator to recommend prices for care services and government-specified minimum accommodation standards. And it looks to the market to create competition among providers by ending restrictions on providers and places. "Good managers who meet the needs of empowered older people will have significant opportunities to be successful contributors to the caring of older Australians," the commission claims.

This is all an economist's argument which merits general debate but whether the commission's report will get the attention it deserves depends on the politicians. The idea that the family home is a tax-free asset to be passed down the generations is all but universally accepted by Australians and any attempt to require people to sell it to fund their own care will be opposed by owners -- and their offspring. It will take political will to explain that this relatively painless reform could help reduce tax rises while helping ensure Australians at the end of their lives are not left to rot. Mr Howard ducked the debate. We are about to find out if Julia Gillard's government is made of tougher stuff. It will be good if the report is not lost in homilies about the family home that ignore the problem, but a rational debate is definitely not as safe as houses.

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