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Saturday, January 22, 2011

EDITORIAL 22.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 22, edition 000736, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
















































  1. JAN. 19, '07 - JAN. 19, '11 - CENGİZ AKTAR


























The Supreme Court's decision to endorse the Odisha High Court's judgement against Dara Singh, who has been held guilty of being involved with the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in January 1999, sentencing him to life imprisonment, brings a ghastly incident that shocked India to a closure. Staines and his two young sons died when the station wagon in which they were sleeping was set on fire by a mob; it was an unconscionable misdeed. Dara Singh and his associate, Mahendra Hembram, richly deserve the punishment that has been meted out to them for their role in that crime. However, the Supreme Court's lengthy verdict is equally, if not more, important for another reason: It provides a context to the crime that was committed in a remote tribal village of Odisha that January night more than a decade ago. As Friday's judgement puts it, "The intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity." The judgement is a scathing comment on preachers and pastors engaged in 'harvesting souls' through religious conversion, targeting innocent tribals whose poverty and illiteracy makes them vulnerable to the blandishments of crafty missionaries. This is most pronounced in States like Odisha, which was among the first to adopt an anti-conversion law to counter aggressive proselytising activities of missionaries, which have a significant tribal population, leading to social strife and disharmony. Staines was one such missionary whose activities were not restricted to tending to leprosy patients, noble as that vocation may have been, but extended to converting tribal youth to Christianity. This caused resentment among those tribals who felt the missionary was encouraging their fellow tribesmen to abandon their indigenous faith and beliefs. "It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of 'use of force', provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other," Justice P Sathasivam and Justice BS Chauhan have observed, adding, "In a country like ours where discrimination on the ground of caste or religion is a taboo, taking lives of persons belonging to another caste or religion is bound to have a dangerous and reactive effect on the society at large ... It strikes at the very root of the orderly society which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of."

Tragically, the right to freedom of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution, is interpreted by Christian missionaries and our deracinated Left-liberal commentariat as well as pseudo-secular politicians as the right to convert, more often than not through deceit, fraud and allurement. That this is done by positing one faith as being superior to another is overlooked and those standing up to religious conversion are crudely admonished. It is a reflection of this sad reality that no tears were shed over the brutal slaying of Swami Lakshmanananda who had dedicated his life to tribal welfare and stood up to missionaries looking for souls to harvest at a discounted rate. It is also a telling comment that few have bothered to look at the reasons that led to a virtual tribal uprising in Kandhamal district of Odisha against missionaries and their henchmen in 2008. This is not the first time the courts have wisely warned against the consequences of conversion. But this wisdom has been treated with scorn by missionaries and their patrons. The consequences of this folly are there for all to see.







With its Constituent Assembly failing to elect a Prime Minister 16 times in a row, Nepal sure has a bleak record of Government formation that in recent months has only gone from bad to worse, thanks to the Maoists' obstructionist politics. Unfortunately, as history repeats itself in Kathmandu, the political situation is rapidly becoming untenable. In a sad replay of 2010, Nepal's political parties have once again failed to form a consensus Government, and have instead requested President Ram Baran Yadav for a five-day extension. In 2010, after the CPN(UML)-led Government collapsed, political infighting prevented the parties from forming a consensus Government within the President's deadline. This lead to repeated rounds of voting in the Constituent Assembly that only ended earlier this month when the Nepali Congress's sole candidate backed out of the race. Subsequently, Mr Yadav issued a January 21 deadline for the election of a new Prime Minister; on Friday, he had to allow an extension, bringing the entire process back to square one. Since the June 2010 resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, political leaders in Nepal have spent the last seven months squabbling over who will take over his position. Up until now, the ruling CPN(UML) and its ally, the Nepali Congress, had refused to accept a Maoist-led Government but they gave into Maoist bullying on Friday morning, when all three parties agreed to accept any one among them as leader of the new Government. The Maoists hold significant political clout as Nepal's biggest Opposition party and have constantly engaged in disruption of the political process. Many have labeled this terrible compromise as a laudable peace-building measure, but let us not forget that Nepal is paying a heavy price for this deal. Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal's previous tenure as Prime Minister was marked by oppressive policies that became the standard of his brand of governance. Clearly, the current Maoist gameplan is to simply stall the process of Government-building long enough to let popular discontent spill over to such an extent that it will eventually lead to chaos and anarchy, thus facilitating the establishment of a Maoist-led dictatorship.

What makes matters worse is that the Nepali Congress and the CPN(UML) are so tangled in their own internal bickering that they have failed to see through the Maoist strategy. This has allowed the Maoists to bulldoze their way through Nepal's political landscape, which is not only bad for the country but will also hurt regional interests. India, especially, would have cause to worry if another neighbour were to emerge as politically unstable. This is not to suggest that India should have any role in sorting out the mess in which Nepal finds itself. For, at the end of the day, the choice is entirely that of the people of Nepal as to what kind of a Government they wish to have in Kathmandu.









It is said nothing succeeds like success. The UPA appears to believe nothing succeeds like failure. What if nothing succeeds at all?

Three trends emerged from this week's reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers. First, the leadership of the UPA resorted to unequal treatment under conditions of equality. If one of the aims of this exercise was to remove or send a message to those Ministers who had embarrassed the Government, the measures were decidedly selective.

Take the case of Mr MS Gill, moved from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and sent on a 'punishment posting' to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. Mr Gill is widely seen as paying for the Commonwealth Games mess. He attracted negative publicity when he told Parliament last-minute preparations were an Indian norm, as at "Punjabi weddings".

More substantively, however, Mr Gill has less to answer for. He became Sports Minister in April 2008 and was given a rushed deadline of two years to build a number of stadiums that were under the purview of his Ministry and its agencies. To be fair, he delivered these in time. The stadiums were ready while the mad scramble for the Games Village was only just beginning.

That aside, Mr Gill determinedly sought to rationalise the running of sports federations in India, and impose some sort of accountability and term or age limits on those who had spent a lifetime in these bodies. He was the only one in the Government who was taking on Mr Suresh Kalmadi at a time when the Indian Olympic Association president and Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman was pretty much doing as he pleased.

It was Mr Gill's effort that brought the Organising Committee within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. His Ministry issued an order to this effect. Mr Kalmadi and the Organising Committee resisted this and took their protest to the Delhi High Court, eventually losing the case in January 2010. For two years, well before the Commonwealth Games scandal burst upon India, Mr Gill battled on. Give him his due.

On the other hand, Mr S Jaipal Reddy has been moved from the Ministry of Urban Development to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, seemingly a promotion. Has Mr Reddy also put his Commonwealth Games days behind him? One would hope not. From June 2009, he was head of the Group of Ministers that was given oversight of the Commonwealth Games. He chaired 34 meetings of this GoM but never had a critical word for Mr Kalmadi.

The Urban Development Ministry built three stadiums for the Games. It has a lot to explain here. It has even more to explain when it comes to the Games Village, developed by the Delhi Development Authority (an agency under the Urban Development Ministry) in conjunction with a private developer. Financial wrongdoings, shoddy construction and conversion of car parking space into incremental flats — the last of these caused flooding and seepage in the lower storeys following heavy rains in Delhi in the weeks before the Commonwealth Games — there were many questions for Mr Reddy at his former job. Surely he deserves at least the same treatment as Mr Gill?

Second, whoever planned the ministerial shuffle clearly likes misfits. Politicians gravitate towards Ministries due to professional training, personal inclination or constituency compulsions. Gradually, this leads to a process of specialisation. What have Mr Manmohan Singh and Ms Sonia Gandhi done to this principle?

Mr Beni Prasad Verma, the locus of whose politics is central and eastern Uttar Pradesh, has been given the Steel Ministry. He has no expertise in the sector and no compelling reason to focus on it. Uttar Pradesh is not exactly iron ore country and not brimming with steel plants. Neither is Mr Reddy temperamentally suited to running the Petroleum Ministry. It is far removed from his political and intellectual interests.

So what is going on? In these Ministries and perhaps in the Civil Aviation Ministry as well oddball choices would suggest that important decisions and key deals will be made at a level above that of the Minister. Stake-holders in steel, petroleum and civil aviation will be required to do business directly with officials in the Prime Minister's Office or the Congress's leaders. The Minister will be diminished to a cipher.

Political scientists often worry about 'Cabinet dictatorship', about a strong executive appropriating more and more decision-making authority and reducing the legislature to a rubber stamp. What happens when sections of the Cabinet itself are reduced to rubber stamps? Perhaps the UPA experience will encourage political scientists to coin a new expression.

Third, in giving Ministers new portfolios, there has been an attempt to transfer incompetence and notoriety. Mr CP Joshi was relatively disappointing in the Ministry of Rural Development. This was his first assignment in New Delhi and the transition from Rajasthan politics to the national theatre was not smooth. A period of hand-holding was required. Astonishingly, Mr Joshi has been given an even more challenging office: That of Minister for Road Transport and Highways.

The Highways Ministry has been a troubled one. It got the better of somebody as experienced as Mr Kamal Nath, a sometimes controversial but always pragmatic and go-getting administrator. Legacy issues — the Ministry was crippled by Mr TR Baalu when he ran it in the first UPA Government — and unresolved problems of land acquisition, among others, have plagued the national highways project. Does anybody really expect Mr Joshi to sort this out?

On the other hand, the Ministry of Rural Development is among the most important for the Congress, which sees village voters as its prime constituents. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is ambitious but has been criticised for inefficiency and leakages. One would have imagined the party would put its best person in a Ministry it deems to be crucial.

Instead the new Rural Development Minister is Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, a colossal disaster in two terms as Maharashtra Chief Minister, best known for his links with Mumbai land sharks. As recently as December 2010, the Supreme Court indicted Mr Deshmukh for protecting the money-lender father of a Congress MLA. The money-lender was running an agricultural loans racket in the Vidharba region, infamous for its farmer suicides. As Chief Minister, Mr Deshmukh prevented the registration of complaints against the money-lender.

They say nothing succeeds like success. The UPA appears to believe nothing succeeds like failure. What if nothing succeeds at all?









"Hindu terror" and "Saffron terror" are terms concocted on the basis of weak evidence by a discredited, corrupt political elite which thinks nothing of sacrificing human lives for petty electoral gains. But how long can you fool all the people?

Since the formation of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004 there has been a marked rise in the number of sleeper modules of jihadi organisations across India. The high priority accorded by UPA-1 to the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, had a significant bearing on the career of Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

This terrorist group, which acted on direct orders of the Lashkar- e-Tayyeba (LeT) found the latitude accorded by a pseudo-secular regime in Delhi to reinvent itself as "Indian Mujahideen", "Deccan Mujahideen" and "Popular Front of India."

Between 2004 and 2008 terrorist strikes either in the form of bomb blasts or sudden attacks by armed jihadis, became almost a monthly affair. The incompetence of the UPA government in fighting terror was exposed.

The Maharashtra ATS led by Hemant Karkare conducted political investigations into the Malegon blasts and exposed itself through select arrests and selective leakages of investigations to the media. In order to add weight to its claims, the ATS opined that the same accused were also involved in the Ajmer, Hyderabad Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta Express blasts. The credibility of the investigations vanished when its bluff on "Sadhvi's motorcycle" "Colonel Purohit's RDX" failed to impress the nation, despite the support of a conniving mainstream media. The credibility hit rock bottom when the ATS came out with the story that the Malegon accused had also conspired to kill RSS leaders.

Even while the 26/11 attack was raging, a 'Hindu-Zionist' conspiracy theory was concocted and spread through the Internet. Suspicion was engendered that the fall of ATS chief Karkare to a hail of terrorist bullets was actually a "Hindu-Zionist" job, carried out to get even with him for carrying out the Maelgon probe. Abdul Rehaman Antulay, the then Minority Affairs Minister, became the first official personality to spread this canard. Congress bigwig leaders like Digvijay Singh and Shakeel Ahmed came out openly in support of Antulay. Abishek Manu Singhvi, the party's high-profile spokesman, said: "BJP has advantages and will gain from the terror attack." The then Home Minister of Maharashtra, RR Patil, opined that Karkare had met him on the fateful evening and complained bitterly about the RSS for focusing on its 'role' in the Malegon blast. The same lie was sought to be spread by Digvijay Singh.

The HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal, said after Karkare's death: "The terrorists knew exactly whom they were targeting." The then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, hurt the sentiments of the people by commenting that only 200 deaths had resulted in 26/11 which was insignificant compared to Mumbai's population of more than 1.5 crore. But Congess leader Narayan Rane hit out at his colleague's irresponsible statements and revealed that some of them had indeed financed terrorists and provided terrorists safe haven in the country. He accepted full responsibility for this statement and added that he would provide all the details with proof at the "appropriate time."

Statements such as this by Congress and UPA leaders in various media might have sounded like Freudian slips, but they have assumed special importance over time, perhaps in direct proportion to the revelations of corruption perpetrated by the Congress leaders. Corruption is a way of life in India's grand old party. With so many scams being blown in recent months by a media elite which has suddenly rediscovered its conscience, the Congress has been left with no alternative but add fuel to the fire under the old communal pot.

During the DGP's Conference in August 2010, Home Minister P Chidambaram audaciously warned about a "new phenomenon" called "saffron terror". This was around the time when the Commonwealth Games scam was being blown in the national media and the global image of the nation taking a hit. The Congress could think of no other diversionary tactic but raise the "Hindu terror" scepter because that was the only way it could remind its 'reliable' voters that at the end of the day only one thing mattered in India — the perceived "safety" of Islam. When Chidambaram faced criticism for mouthing such objectionable lies, he refused to yield. Rather, he had the audacity to say that his remark had brought the message home and that its "purpose" had been served. It was no secret to anybody what that "purpose" was. The demonification of Hindutva forces.

In early December, when the people of India were shaken of confidence in their nation by the magnitude of the UPA's scams, the Congress organised a plenary session to celebrate the 150th year of the founding of the Indian National Congress — an organisation with which it has no organic or inorganic linkage. At that event, Sonia Gandhi made sure not to mention the corruption and nepotism with which her family enterprise had come to be identified. Instead, she chose to hit out at the RSS; linking it with "Hindu terror". Pranab Mukherjee contributed his mite to the foul atmosphere. Rahul Gandhi, who was partying at the wedding of his friend's son while Mumbai was under attack by jihadi terrorists, equated the RSS with SIMI. When the entire nation protested in one voice against his position, Rahul neither repented nor withdrew his words. Later, Wikileaks revealed that he was indeed damaging India in the international arena by serving the cooked-up story of Hindu terror. He had talked about a "bigger" threat to jihadism emanating from "radicalised Hindu groups". United States Ambassador Timothy Roemer made a note of this which Wikileaks revealed.

One should not make the mistake of assuming that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is aloof from all this. In fact, he was the first to talk about Hindu terror. While on board a special aircraft to Havana in the immediate aftermath of the September 2008 Malegon blasts, he had said: "Involvement of Hindu fundamentalist outfits cannot be ruled out". From that point on, it was a consistent Congress policy to pin the blame for blasts in Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods on Hindus. It is based on the assumption that jihadi groups, being peopled by Muslims, do not target fellow Muslims. This attacks the universal, politically correct axiom that terrorists are religion neutral. The double face of the Congress was exposed at this point itself.

The National Investigation Agency, to please its political masters, foolishly opposed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the US Department of Treasury which have identified LeT with Samjhauta and other terror attacks in India. American investigators have also established the involvement of LeT and HUJI (Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami) behind the Mecca Masjid blasts. Moreover, many journalists have vouched for the character of Swami Aseemananda. Now, the NIA's job has become more complicated, for it has to prove UNSC, the US Treasury Department and other credible agencies wrong.

The Congress and its pseudo-secular allies have a dangerous agenda. They want to protect their vote banks by diluting the fight against jihad and evangelisation. "Hindu terror" and "saffron terror" are nothing but aspects of a conspiracy to emasculate and destroy the idea of India.

The writer is a political commentator based in Chennai







The alleged confessions of Swami Aseemanand — caused by supposed hriday parivartan — has unduly legitimised pseudo-secularist cant over "Hindu terror". Of course, the cliché-riddled media is not complaining

Eric Hoffer, an American social writer and philosopher, said, "To know a person's religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance."

The reported "confessions" of Swami Aseemanand on his role in the 2008 Malegaon blast, in combination with the coinage of a highly objectionable term like "saffron terrorism" by Home Minister P Chidambaram last August, has sparked a debate on the colour of terrorism in India. Saffron symbolises all aspects of the Indic faiths. For Brahmins it's the colour of sacrifice, to Sikhs it symbolises rightful war. The Buddhists see it as symbolising renunciation, as have yogic siddhas for thousands of years. Now, we have the Congress party selecting the holy colour as part of its larger game plan to destroy everything decent and sacred to non-minority Indians. All for winning votes.


Though there are instances from Indian history of the misuse of religious symbols, the present gimmicks constitute patent treason. During the nationalist movement, which was essentially inclusive in its campaign for a plural, secular and democratic India, the Muslim separatists usurped green, which is the holy colour of Islam, to lend weight to the Pakistan demand. So, to foreign observers, "green" stood for an Islamic nation, while those waving the saffron flag were condemned as campaigners for Hindu rashtra.

The dimensions of religious fundamentalism in the present time are, however, unprecedented. This is partly due to its mix-up with international terrorism and partly owing to reactions originating in a sense of victimhood.

Islamophobia has not only done substantial damage to the secular ethos, but it has created formidable reactionary forces that work against humanity across the world. The phenomenon is 64 years old in India and has its genesis in the birth of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which is struggling to provide safety to its minorities. The meek acceptance of such trends needs to be questioned. The "clash of civilizations" theorists in the United States, who are driven by greed for cheap oil and lust for unhindered monopoly of global resources, have been very crafty in utilising Islamophobia for their pecuniary objectives.

That is perhaps the root cause for the demonisation of Islam and Muslims, and the justification of the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. While the voting trends in the 2008 European Union election supported the efforts of France and Germany to rescue the world from recession, far-rightist groups have exploited the rising economic insecurity to breed more hatred of Islam. In times of global economic recession, the Europeans have become resentful of the new immigrants, thus showing an inclination towards extreme right parties which espouse strident anti-immigration, anti-Islam and ultra-nationalist agendas.

Recently, Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, the co-chairman of the British Conservative Party and the first Muslim woman to serve in the British Cabinet, admitted that Islamophobia is now "socially acceptable" in Britain. Prejudice against Muslims is seen by many Britons as normal. The rise of informal anti-Muslim social movements, such as the English Defence League which claims to be against "Muslim extremism", is focusing their ire on the growing number of new mosques. The sudden popularity of these groups is one indication of rising antipathy towards Muslims among some sections of society. While ordinary British people can understand that radical Christians, such as Pastor Terry Jones, who threatened of burning the holy Quran and was later banned from the UK, are a fringe minority, Islam remains a largely unknown quantity, the exotic "other".

But then we can't only blame others for the incorrect depiction of threats arising due to growing clash of religious and cultural identities. It is equally important to research how the events are painted in particular colour by others as well as by the followers of the that religion. For example, when Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled from power and fled to Saudi Arabia, pro-Sharia MPs in Kuwait applauded "the courage of the Tunisian people," and Abdelmalek Deroukdal, an al-Qaeda leader in the Islamic Maghreb, hailed the 29-day popular uprising as "jihad." Similarly in Gaza, the jihadi groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad were both thrilled at the new prospects in Tunisia.

The role of the religious leaders in controlling or aggravating the volatile situation created by their co-religionists determines, to a large extent, the type of reactions of the victimsed groups. But the same becomes difficult when religious laws come in conflict with the secular laws of the State. For example, Shaikh 'Abdul-Rahman bin Nasir al-Barrak, a senior Saudi cleric close to the royal family, explains that there is no equality in Islam, or at least not in the way the West and the Human Rights Charter defines it. He says. "Many people have spoken the phrase, 'Islam is a religion of equality.' They should know that this statement is heinous and false. This phrase is mouthed by some whimsical people, who thereby reach out for purposes that are contrary to the law of Islam, such as the equality of rights between Muslims and infidels, and between men and women."

Similarly, 500 Pakistani religious scholars not only justified the killing of Punjab Governor Taseer, but also praised his killer's "courage" and religious zeal, and said he had made Muslims proud around the world.

Though, all cultural traditions have contained martial metaphors in their symbols, myths and legendary histories (like Salvation Army in Christianity or Dal Khalsa in Sikhism or jihad in Islam or tales of conflicts and military intrigues in the holy Ramayan and the Mahabharat) what is unusual now is the vision of religious war is not confined to history and symbols but a contemporary reality.

Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, like most of the new religious activists, comprises a small group at the extreme end of hostile subculture that itself is a small minority within the larger world of their religious cultures. Laden is no more a representation of Islam than Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, is of Christianity, or Japan's Shoko Asahara is of Buddhism, or Lt Col Purohit of Hinduism.

Those involved in the Malegaon blasts had a hidden agenda that came in the reaction to the Islamophobia. But thanks goes to the remarkable response of the majority of nationalist Hindus who have shown the will to dissociate themselves from the fundamentalist forces. Hindus at large are untouched by stigma. If intolerance is on the rise among Hindus, it needs to be exposed and strong corrective action taken before it flourishes and destroys the lofty faith of "Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam".

-- The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer







Swam Aseemanand has been allowed to get away lightly, even emerge as a self-purging savant. The investigation agencies are willfully turning a blind eye to his role in whipping up communal frenzy all the way back to Dang 1998

Much has been reported in the media about the confession of Swami Aseemanand regarding the role of certain individuals associated with RSS and Abhinav Bharat in bomb blasts in Malegaon, in Ajmer, Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad and other places.

However, the more serious implications of the terror activities of the groups and individuals involved have not yet been put in the public domain. Swami Aseemanand's confessions before a Judicial Magistrate (which is admissible as evidence) at best reveals partial facts.

Let us have a brief recall of what the Swami has disclosed after he was informed in open court of the grave implications of his disclosure by the Judicial Magistrate and was made to go back to his cell and reflect on the implications. The Swami has only given a sketchy account of what Sunil Joshi, who was a RSS functionary, told the Swami about his (Joshi's) or his men's involvement in the terror attacks. The Swami proceeded to admit that he gave `25,000 to the late Sunil Joshi. The Swami does not appear to be a star witness to the offence of terror attacks. He is only witness to what Sunil Joshi claimed before him. One or two more individuals are named who had conversations with him. The Swami may be aware that such confessions, even though made before a Judicial Magistrate, may merely be treated as hearsay evidence implicating a dead man. At the end of the day, the only good thing to result from the Swami's confessions may be the release of the innocent Muslim youth implicated in the Malegaon and other terror attacks.

Let us now have a peep into what the Swami is highly likely to have known and whose material particulars have been withheld by him. The Swami settled in the Dangs district sometime in the late 1990s and was closely linked with the Sangh Parivar and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. On December 24, 1998 there was an attack on churches and Christian institutions there. Could the Swami have been ignorant on the motives the organisation/s and individual/s involved in the attack in a small district which has a population less than 1.5 lakh? Who is he saving? Himself?

The Swami was well connected at the highest political level in Gujarat and therefore in spite of attack on Christians and his provocative statements he was given permission to organise the Shabri Kumbh Mela in the Dangs which was attended by the who's who of the Sangh Parivar. Just as the Swami revealed the role of a dead man in the terror attacks, he could have revealed the information he was privy to about the 2002 genocide and the people he was involved with. After all, he had access to the highest political offices in Gujarat and has often been photographed in their company. Perhaps he was not asked by the investigators to reveal information as they were carrying out selective investigations.

The Swami could have given much better material particulars about the meetings, the individuals involved, the proceedings at the planning meetings about the ultimate objectives of the blasts which was not to take revenge for the bomb attacks in temples and other places targeting Hindus, and which in turn were to take revenge for various communal riots targeting Muslims. The investigators have recovered from the computers belonging to Dayanand Pandey, Lt Col Purohit and others files recording the minutes of the meetings of Abhinav Bharat which reveal their real objectives. Christopher Jafferlot, a academic of repute, has reproduced some of the conversations in the meetings of Abhinav Bharat in his article in the Economic and Political Weekly.

From these conversations it is clear that Lt Col Purohit and other members of Abhinav Bharat were in fact trying to overthrow the Indian State that has been established by law. Jafferlot's article quotes the report of Lt Col Purohit in one of the meetings that they have been able to establish links with the Israeli military establishment which has agreed to train 400 soldiers every year for Abhinav Bharat's war and that he has sufficient equipment and resources. All Lt Col Purohit wanted from others in the meeting was proper selection of targets for maximum impact. The terror attacks were testing the military strength and capability of the group and keeping them fighting fit, Muslims being soft targets. How realistic were the objectives and how far they were is another issue but the group had a proper road map to their destination — Akhand Bharat — a militarised authoritarian State structure subsuming Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Myanmar. They were hopeful of support from the Buddhist Majority countries in South East Asia and Israel.

The more the supporters of Hindu rashtra stigmatise Islam and Muslims, the more they emulate the worst amongst them — the so-called jihadis. The priorities of the BJP governments in Chhattisgarh and MP are warped. While they used the entire resources of the State to crush Binayak Sen, groups like Abhinav Bharat were allowed to flourish.

-- The writer is Director, Institute of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution







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.



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.



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.



            MAIL TODAY





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.




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.




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.




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







He's back. It's Sal Esposito the Boston housecat, famous for being called up for "jury duty"! Though his story dates back to 2009-10, Sal has become 2011's global poster-pet. Reports about his forced tryst with blind bureaucracy are a cyber-hit. Why not? This tabby's tale is a parable, timeless as the Cheshire cat's grin in Alice in Wonderland. The four-legged getting summoned to serve as 'juror', his owners and vet had wanted him 'excused'. His name put down as "pet" in a census count, Sal had obviously been confused with two-legged creatures. Yet an unmoved jury commissioner had insisted the feline "attend" court! As for his limited meow-and-hiss language skills, so what? The 'rules' didn't demand jurors "speak perfect English". And thereby hangs a tom's tail.

Then or now, which self-respecting billi wouldn't pussyfoot when drafted by the Law that's said to be an ass? Unlike beasts of burden, those with cats' whiskers would rather chase mice than justice, which happens to be elusive prey anyway. Only, if Chihuahuas can be police pooches, why can't magisterial meows serve andhaa kanoon? Face it. The real Big Cat is the "System": it tells us all what to do or die. Boston to Bikaner, don't netadom, babudom, thanedaari as well as court-kacheri pull strings from Olympian heights and fathomless pits? Indeed, so much rides on us pretending that the grand, impersonal Machine governing our lives can do no wrong. Authority in its myriad forms must be big, inaccessible and necessarily arbitrary. That way, its diktats and summons - like its rulebooks, file notings, tax forms, annual budgets and self-directed pay hikes - can conveniently defy comprehension. And that's also how mandarins can play Big Moose when told that the Byzantine Machine they serve has messed up. Duh?


Nightmarish maze apart, Officialdom is a "Castle" with an absent and hence unaccountable king. So said writer Kafka. In the book, The Trial, his protagonist Josef K finds his life overrun by the arbitrary and inscrutable workings of the 'law'. He doesn't know why he's an accused or for what crime. Similarly, our cat-juror didn't know why he was called to pass judgment and upon whose head. Likewise, a Himachali villager was clueless how he'd got a court summons in a land dispute case sometime ago. Understandably. He'd been dead 26 years.

Courtesy Authority's invisible hands, the left divorced from right, anything's possible. Municipal wages can get paid to long-dead employees. Retirement savings for still-serving judicial staff can go into phantom accounts. Court cases heading one way can swing another. Voters' mugs can be mismatched to voter ID mugshots. Plum postings can turn deaf-and-dumb postings. Land, spectrum or mining, licence-permits can be privately auctioned to first bidder come, highest bidder served. Finally, with the Machine's machinations in full flow, citizens can be polarised and split into enemy camps of, say, cat people and dog people. Call it divide and misrule.

It's no purr-fect world. No wonder the Cheshire cat vanishes at will, leaving only its grin behind...





Analysing the prospect of revolution by China's oppressed peasants, Chairman Mao once wrote that a single spark can start a prairie fire. The recent internet-assisted uprising in Tunisia that led its long-time ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country may now make other autocratic Arab rulers wonder if it is the time of a single tweet that will start a prairie fire in their lands. At the Arab League meeting this week, its secretary general warned that the tinder was dry. "The Arab soul," he said, "is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession...The Arab citizen has entered a stage of anger that is unprecedented."

It is the first time in history that an Arab ruler has been chased out of power by street demonstrations, and that too without any organisation by a political party. The sheer disgust at the corrupt and repressive regime brought out thousands of men and women to face the army and police. Is it the first Facebook or Twitter revolution? Was Ben Ali the first victim of the WikiLeaks revelations? Or was it a victory for the hacker-activists or hacktivists as they are known?

The protests were preceded by a cyber war fought between the government censors and Tunisian and foreign hacktivists. As the government had total control of the media, the ingenious opponents fought back with proxy servers, virtual private networks and encryption. Images of violent suppression uploaded via thousands of YouTube clips, often relayed on Al Jazeera, were watched by angry citizens who coordinated protests with tens of thousands of Twitter messages an hour. The power of the internet was recognised by the emerging new power when a 33-year-old dissident blogger, Slim Amamou, was selected as the minister of youth and sports in the new interim government. Only days earlier, Amamou was handcuffed to a chair in the ministry of interior, subjected to psychological torture for a week.

The airing of the leaked US cables that detailed the revulsion of foreign governments for the country's venal rulers may have added to the situation's combustibility. The regime's opponents set up a site to aggregate and translate WikiLeaks cables about the Ben Ali regime's corruption and human rights violations - the cables that the regime sought to block. One cable summing up the venality of Ali and his family was headlined 'What's Yours Is Mine'. The US ambassador wrote, "Whether it's cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants."

When the regime sought to blunt the media campaign by hacking into Facebook accounts and deleting critical material, international supporters of Tunisian bloggers mobilised. The 'Anonymous' retaliated by their 'Operation Tunisia' - a massive denial of service attack on Tunisian government sites. But the real spark came when Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate, set himself on fire in protest after police confiscated his unlicensed fruit and vegetable cart. Despite, or perhaps because of the brutal repression that killed nearly a hundred people, the protests swelled. In the end, when the army chief refused to shoot on civilians, the game was over for the fifth-term president.

Ironically, it was Ben Ali who, in a bid to promote business, invested in one of the most advanced fiber optic grids in North Africa. Thirty-four per cent of the Tunisian population uses the internet and 15% is on Facebook. Despite tough censorship, existence of this network gave opponents of the regime the opportunity to use tricks like proxies, encryption and virtual private networks to communicate with the world and upload searing images on YouTube.

The internet and social media played a critical role but the spark lit by the self-immolation of the student would not have ignited the prairie fire had the ground not been dry. It was the accumulated anger of two decades of exploitation and corruption brought to the surface by high unemployment (14%), especially among the young (about 30% of the jobless are between age 15 and 29), that provided the flammable mix. The repressed pressure of a muzzled country found its release on the Web, fanning the fire.







The role of participative plural governance is central to the inclusive growth model that India has instituted so effectively. It has led to a growth-oriented, investor-friendly and sustainable climate for doing business, one that encourages individual creativity and fosters innovation.

According to Niall Ferguson, there is a virtuous positive correlation between economic freedom and political freedom. India inherited the institutions of democracy at independence, then went on to strengthen and reinforce them in a dedicated manner. This has allowed multiple perspectives to emerge, and enabled each citizen to be an active participant in governance. Today, free and fair multiparty elections are routine at all levels, almost every year several states go to the polls.

To give an idea of the enormity of the task of Indian democracy, take a look at the last parliamentary elections held in May 2009: 420 million voters out of an electorate of 714 million eligible voters cast their votes with the help of 5.5 million officials, 828,000 polling stations, and 1.37 million electronic voting machines. With seven national political parties and over 50 state recognised parties, practically every ideology was represented. Results were evident within a couple of hours of the start of counting through electronic machines.

Participatory governance is most evident in local self-government at the village level, termed 'panchayat'. Across the country, several hundred thousand panchayats represent local voters, develop plans for social and economic development, manage funds and undertake projects. As per the Constitution of India, they are able to directly work in 29 demarcated areas. A key feature is that the government has mandated one-third of panchayat members to be women, with the result that one million women have been thus empowered. Initially viewed with suspicion, women panchayat members have taken up the development agenda in a committed manner, relevant to their own particular electorates.

Apart from elections, India has built up strong institutions that support democracy. Its judicial system allows for rule of law and recourse to justice. Courts at all levels, including special and fast-track courts, hear petitioners and dispense judgments. The media includes a large number of 24-hour news channels and a multitude of newspapers and journals representing each regional language. Often vocal and noisy, the media is one of the main sentinels of our democratic process.

Human rights are protected by the National Human Rights Commission, an independent body well supported by numerous civil rights activists and groups. Minority group interests are looked after by the national commissions for minorities, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The relatively recent Right to Information Act is a milestone legislation for transparency and accountability in governance processes. Regulators and government auditors examine economic transactions in a fair and independent manner.

With the aid of technology, India is putting in place e-governance systems that have made delivery of public goods and services more efficient and transparent. Almost every state offers certain services through electronic platforms. The Unique Identification Authority has rolled out the first electronic ID cards and expects to offer a number of social services through smart applications. The UID project over the coming two to three years, in fact, promises to be a game changer in governance in India.

The Indian governance system is federal, with responsibilities clearly demarcated among central and state governments. While defence, foreign relations and economic management, among other areas, rest with the central government, crucial sectors such as law and order, education, agricultural and rural development and health are the responsibility of the state governments. This allows state governments to experiment with novel ideas so that a number of initiatives are underway at the same time. For example, in Bihar, the offer of free bicycles for girls attending secondary school has been so successful that it is being replicated in several other states. With this freedom, some states such as Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, among others, have built enviable investment environments, while others are vying with each other to attract investments.

Today, India can claim stability of government, continuity of policies, strategies and agendas, and a strong mandate for inclusive growth. The strength and resilience of its democracy not only articulates the aspirations of the people, but also sustains an investor-friendly business climate. Institutional capacity has been developed also in the many industry associations such as the Confederation of Indian Industry, which can consolidate and articulate the views of industry and work with government for a friendly policy framework.

With a multiplicity of views and a plethora of opinions, decision-making may often appear to be slow. Implementation, transparency and accountability need considerable improvement. For instance, a number of Bills were held up in Parliament in the last months of 2010. At the same time, allegations of misdemeanours and corruption vitiated the atmosphere. But it is worth remembering that the institutional mechanisms for uncovering and dealing with such matters are strong and effective.

More important, the governance agenda is constantly evolving and there is high awareness of the need for a more responsive, effective and transparent process. In the final analysis, India's growth process under a democratic government is a sustainable, humane and just path to development.

The writer is former president, CII, and chairman, Bajaj Auto Limited.







First, the good news. With an average score of 42 in the quantitative section of the Graduate Management Admission Test ( GMAT) - used as selection criteria by B-schools across the world - Indian students placed seventh globally, comfortably beating the global average of 37. Now for the bad; Chinese students topped the list, beating the Indians handily. Given the obsession with China in this country, this is likely to cause dark warnings about Chinese students and corporate workforce outdoing their Indian counterparts. But this is a false alarm. Standardised test scores have very little bearing on the actual academic or professional quality of an individual.

To understand what these scores really signify, one could look at Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, a book by Chinese-American academic and author Amy Chua on how Chinese mothers raise successful kids. It is a somewhat alarming account of parental pressure. We have Chua forcing her seven-year-old daughter to practise piano for hours into the night without being allowed to get up for water or go to the bathroom. Or calling her "garbage" for being disrespectful - or throwing a birthday card that her daughter had made for her back and demanding a better one. If this is the traditional Chinese mode of parenting as Chua says, it is too high a price to pay for a few more points on a standardised test.

Just as importantly, such fierce focus on a narrow area of student performance ignores many other skills that are equally useful in academic and professional life. Creativity, cognitive skills, the ability to understand social dynamics and work well with one's peers - these cannot be discounted. And they are picked up through social engagement and flexible academic structures. Little wonder that despite having a far lower average on such tests than either India or China, it is still the US that churns out the largest number of top-notch entrepreneurs and researchers.






Our ancestors invented the zero and that's just where we might end up if we continue to be beaten in mathematics by not only East Asians, but also peoples not traditionally thought of as numerically outstanding, such as Turks and Israelis. Nor is it any comfort that Indians do considerably better than most nationalities including Americans, because of the Indian test-taker's profile.

They belong to our elite - at least economically since they can afford to go abroad - and benefit from this country's best. They are far more focussed than, for instance Americans, for a variety of reasons. Most significantly, about 60% of Indian GMAT test-takers are engineers by training as opposed to the global average of 15%. This means that Indians have the advantage of background, focus and training. Despite this they are beaten by people statistically unlikely to be engineers, relatively unmotivated and most likely not hailing from the economic elite in their own countries.

This is deeply troubling because it signals a skills deficit produced almost certainly by the shortcomings of our education system and this skills deficit threatens our development. Without highly trained engineers, it is unlikely that India will ever be able to build the massive infrastructure projects needed to lift the masses out of humiliating poverty. The goals might have changed from dams to nuclear power plants, but both still require people highly competent in maths. Do we want to wind up like the UK and US where engineering jobs are the hardest to fill because students flock to the humanities? Our poverty ensures we cannot afford such luxuries. Numerical skills are an essential complement to literacy. To be second rate in this area is to lose out on an essential ingredient of national competitiveness.







It is a tantrum characteristic of an attention-seeking child and does little credit to a seasoned party like the BJP. Its petulant insistence on going ahead with hoisting the tricolour at Srinagar's Lal Chowk, the culmination point of its Ekta Yatra from Kolkata, would have been at best annoying, if not amusing, had the possible consequences not been so fraught with danger. Chief minister Omar Abdullah cannot be faulted for asking the BJP not to give a handle to those who oppose peace in the volatile state at this juncture. After months of violence, the state has settled into a fragile calm and there is a possibility of an inclusive dialogue involving the separatists. No one questions the BJP's right to hoist the flag in any part of India. But surely, the BJP cannot be unaware that it could stir up a hornet's nest if it muscles ahead with its plan.

A desperate Mr Abdullah has even invoked the BJP's tallest leader AB Vajpayee whose sweeping initiatives to bring peace to the state will go down as among the finest by any political party. The BJP, by saying it will not reconsider its provocative decision has displayed a petty, partisan bent of mind. It is the national Opposition party, the shadow government. While it has a duty to keep the government on its toes, this particular decision does not even make sound political sense. The government has been cornered on several issues quite effectively by the BJP, corruption and the price rise being among them. This march upon Srinagar will turn attention away from the issues that affect people in their daily lives and the BJP is not likely to score too many brownie points with this. In 1992, it was no less than then party chief Murli Manohar Joshi who proceeded from Kanyakumari to Srinagar to hoist the flag. Landslides and general apathy ensured that Mr Joshi presence at Lal Chowk was not exactly his moment of triumph.

It is passing strange that the BJP considers flag hoisting in Srinagar so vital to its patriotic duty but shies away from other troubled spots like the north-east and Maoist-affected areas. For all its faults, the government has made headway in Kashmir with its interlocutors breaking the ice with the separatists. Patriotism is not the exclusive preserve of the BJP. It has a duty not to undertake any action which could have a negative fall-out on the people of the state in whose name it claims to speak. Whatever the outcome of its efforts, the BJP's tricolour agenda is not likely to see it come out with flying colours.







Because Subrata Kundu had been fairly regular on the page 3 circuit at a time when I was a fairly regular journalist on page 3, his passing recently caught my eye. You couldn't miss him, that man with a broad smile and thick mop of hair. Then, suddenly one day, the photographs stopped and newbies with names like Kitty, Monty, Thenny, Ronny took over. I failed to notice that Kundu seemed to have faded away.

I did not know that Subrata had taken a serious hit when the art market nosedived during the recession. I did not know that he was suffering from liver disease. I did not know that he had tried to kill himself. I found out all of this one sad day in September when I read with shock that this 51-year-old artist had been found unconscious in a temple at Ranaghat, Kolkata where he had been living. He died a few days later.

I remembered Subrata again when I read in the papers of the hard times that have fallen on actor AK Hangal. Bedridden with kidney disease and asthma, this 95-year-old actor who has entertained us in over 125 films, including as Rahim chacha in Sholay, must now depend on the kindness of his few remaining friends; Asha Parekh, for instance. Bills for medicines alone amount to R15,000 a month. And the only family member left to look after him is Hangal's 74-year-old son, Vijay, a retired photographer.

Do artistes and penury have some sort of a tragic, karmic connection? The great Bharat Bhushan (Baiju Bawra, Mirza Ghalib, Barsaat ki Raat) died in abject poverty. Pandit VG Jog, the masterful violin player, died after a prolonged illness, dependent on the goodwill of friends and admirers, including the ITC Sangeet Research Academy. Dhrupad exponent Asghari Bai, living on a monthly government stipend of R1,500 a month, payable in two annual installments, was so frustrated that she took the extreme step of returning all her awards in 1996 with a furious letter to then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh: "I am starving and these awards do not make up two square meals a day for me and my family."

Part of the problem is that artistes very often do not plan for eventualities like extended illnesses or retirement. Part of the problem is that there is no collective voice for musicians in India, except cine musicians, says Shubha Mudgal who along with her husband the table maestro Aneesh Pradhan is insured for eventualities like a prolonged illness which might stop them from performing for extended periods. And part of the problem is that, barring the absolute A-list names, artistes continue to be paid peanuts. "People will spend lakhs on the stage or on advertising, but hesitate when it comes to paying artistes. They say, 'be lucky, you're getting the exposure'," says Mudgal.

But the real problem lies in the fact that as a society we simply do not give artistes their due. Every time there is a news break of an actor/musician/artist living in poverty, there is talk about creating a welfare scheme or a trust fund, but all talk invariably fizzles out once the story is inevitably forgotten.

Senior journalist and author Rauf Ahmed recalls what is perhaps the saddest story in Hindi cinema. In 1938, Ahmed says, grand celebrations were underway to commemorate the silver anniversary of Raja Harishchandra, India's first full-length feature film. A hall was hired. Important dignitaries invited to deliver talks of significance from the dais. Only problem: no one thought of inviting Dadasaheb Phalke, the man who had made the film. Nobody thought of inviting him to sit up on the stage where encomiums were being showered. Suddenly, V Shantaram spotted a decrepit old man sitting on the last rows of the hall where the function was being held. It was indeed Dadasaheb Phalke. A deeply embarrassed Shantaram said not a word, but got up and led Phalke to the stage. Four years later when Phalke died, he was alone, poor and forgotten. It was, you could say, a predictably tragic end.

Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer n . The views expressed by the author are personal







I am NOT a nomadic citizen of a mobile republic. Nor do I believe that the Nation-State is a fossilised concept that has been rendered irrelevant by the new 'global village'. As a long-standing admirer and lover of the fauj, I believe that the Indian military is one of our most inspiring institutions and the Indian Soldier our most unsung hero. I'm also a bit embarrassed to admit that the strains of the national anthem always trigger tears — tears of pride, nostalgia, and an intangible, but deeply sentimental sense of belonging.

I love my flag, my anthem and my country.

To me, the most dangerous caricature of the argument around the BJP's Tiranga Yatra to Jammu and Kashmir is to position it as some sort of choice between patriotism and treason. The sudden determination to hoist the tricolour at Srinagar's Lal Chowk on Republic Day also creates a false impression that the Indian flag is not unfurled in the Valley, as it is everywhere else in the country.

Not true. Srinagar's Bakshi stadium plays host to the Republic Day parade every year, as it will this time.  Multiple other venues in the city will also see the tiranga fly high.

So, while the Ekta Yatra seeks its legitimacy in the cover of 'nationalism', in fact, it is a patently dangerous and destructive political approach that will only tamper with an already-fragile peace in the state. If Jammu and Kashmir erupts into unrest and violent regional conflict as a result of this yatra, won't that be the very opposite of national interest?

January 26 is in any case a sensitive time; a day when the entire state machinery is on guard for any possible militant strike. Does the BJP really want to multiply the headaches for an already over-burdened security personnel?

Indeed, coming from the BJP the decision is especially ironic. It was after all Atal Bihari Vajpayee who first laid the foundation stone for a real dialogue process within the state. I remember how he even took his aides at Srinagar's Amar Singh Club by surprise when he declared with quintessential poetic flourish that he was ready to do whatever was possible within the bounds of humanity  (the famous "insaniyat ke dayre mein" speech) to bring peace to the state. It was the BJP that first began formal talks with the separatist Hurriyat Conference. And it was under the BJP that the government had its first and only round of negotiations with the state's largest indigenous militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen.

When the BJP was in power it was willing to make so many imaginative interventions in the state. No such 'flag-march' was ever contemplated in all the years of NDA rule. Now, in Opposition, why does it suddenly want to use cynical politics to force a kind of manufactured nationalism?

Even today, leaders like Arun Jaitley have a very evolved understanding of the state's politics. Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were both part of an all-party panel that reached out to the people of the state during its violent summer last year. The fact that India's politicians were able to unite in that moment of crisis and make a united, human intervention was one of the prouder moments  of our democracy.

Why would the BJP want to reverse its own contributions to the state's peace process? The decision also seems to mark a return to an old form of 'yatra rajneeti' which is utterly perplexing at a time when the party has so successfully put the government on the defensive on non-performance, corruption and inflation. Whether it's the successful Vibrant Gujarat summit or the recent victories in Bihar, the writing on the wall is clear. There is space for a Neo-Right party that is driven by smart economics, effective governance and yes, a robust, but modern and humane nationalism. This yatra, unfortunately casts the BJP in a tired, old, stereotypical mould.

What's especially tragic is the timing. The state had begun to emerge from the shadow of a terribly  volatile period. For the first time, separatists  admitted that key political assassinations were not the work of the army or the police, but men "within their own ranks." Downtown Srinagar which witnessed the worst incidents of stone-pelting last year, now saw labyrinthine queues at a police recruitment camp. The government's interlocutors were finalising their recommendations amidst the promise of a 25% troop reduction of paramilitary forces. And the Supreme Court was rightly focusing on the suffering and repatriation of Kashmiri Pandits.

At this time to do anything that could inflame emotions and provoke violence is hugely irresponsible. To do so, in the name of nationalism, is not just dangerous; it is frankly, sad. This isn't just the skepticism and disappointment of so-called bleeding heart liberals. Ask the former Army Chief General VP Malik who was at the helm when the Kargil war was fought and won in 1999. He is blunt in his belief that the BJP must call off the yatra. Or ask B Raman, the former Research and Analysis Wing official who writes that the party must "conduct itself with a sense of wisdom and responsibility".

The BJP promises that the yatra will be peaceful. But, history is littered with examples of crowds that have a violent mind of their own. The prospect of clashes between the yatris and the security forces; or between different communities is all too worryingly real. India cannot afford to take the risk.

Omar Abdullah has made multiple appeals to the BJP to suspend its plan. He is absolutely right in saying that his administration has no option but to stop the yatra, just as it must stop the separatists from proceeding with a counter-yatra to the heart of the city. Srinagar's  Lal Chowk cannot and must not become a pitched and bloody battleground on January 26. That was never the dream of the Republic.

Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV n The views expressed by the author are personal



T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian






Of all the odd relationships to feel trapped in, surely the oddest must be to be bound, hand-and-foot, to your telephone company. After all, aren't we told, endlessly and loudly, that we've enormous amounts of competition in our cellphone sector? That we have cheap calls, excellent deals, wonderful coverage, world-class technology? Yes, perhaps. But the moment we're told we also benefit from competition, it's time to start questioning. Because, while nothing technically stopped you from moving from one phone company to another, something practically did: the fact that we would leave our numbers behind.

There are two types of people, surely. Some of us keep changing our numbers, perhaps every time we lose our phones, sending out SMSes to our entire address books every few months. Free spirits, these tech-wanderers. But so many of us are the opposite, convinced that if we change our numbers we'll disappear into some nethermost hell reserved for the disconnected and offline, and thus grimly hanging on to numbers we acquired a near-decade ago, perhaps, with the phone company that granted us those precious identifying digits hanging equally grimly on to us. The essence of competition is mobility. You need to be able to threaten your company with another's offers. You need to warn them you can play the field, or you'll be stuck in an unhappy marriage.

So the decree from the government liberalising divorce between you and your cellphone company is something to be welcomed. Now we can suggest to unhelpful helplines that we'll seek another company — and back it up. They'll have to take us seriously; and that means we're going to get even better service than before.






Over the years India's defence sector had become a reflection of just another sarkari department, with necessary defence purchases in a limbo and domestic production capacities stymied. The full utilisation of the 2010-11 defence budget, after years of returning large sums unspent, was thus heartening. But that was less than the icing on a much-needed overhaul — closure on big-ticket purchases; open tendering (to discard the system of procurement that has to be routed through a defence PSU); and FDI in defence.

Now comes fresh bad news. As reported in The Financial Express on Friday, Defence Minister A.K. Antony has refused to budge on FDI, citing the hallowed narrative of defence being a "sensitive sector". But it cannot be run like is a limping licence-raj mule. The ministries of finance, home, and commerce & industry are in agreement in pushing for an FDI hike in defence from the current 26 per cent to 74 per cent. The current policy of defence offsets hasn't worked because global firms don't transfer tech to firms over which they have no control. That's why local R&D hasn't been built, and India's domestic defence production capability has remained undeveloped. For such transfer, we need FDI. Look at cars: India's production quality in the automobile sector was so poor in the 1980s in the absence of FDI. With FDI and resultant technology transfer, India today exports cars. Although the defence ministry has cited several states that tightened their defence FDI after 9/11, this is a spurious comparison. India's defence and strategic requirements are decidedly different.

If India is to embark on a strategic transformation from buyer to a buyer-producer-seller of defence equipment, and revitalising its eroding conventional advantage, defence needs reform. Not only is India falling behind the changing defence map in its neighbourhood, it's also losing out on markets China is catering to, apart from its committed arming of Pakistan. The two imperatives are: increase in expenditure for the latest equipment, which must see defence accounting for more than 2.12 per cent of the budget; and enabling a strong domestic production capacity. This overhaul cannot happen without reforms. What's still missing is political will in the defence ministry.






Double tax avoidance treaties are extremely complicated things, but one of the most simultaneously fragile and yet enduring forms of international agreement. The idea is that people should not wind up paying taxes in two countries for the same transaction. They are a complex web of bilateral agreements, but they are crucial to the globalised world in which we operate today, allowing individuals to get the best international price for their products, and the expansion of companies across national borders. And if the world-spanning web of tax treaties is expansive enough, it has the additional benefit of reducing people's abilities to avoid, or outright evade, legitimate taxation.

It is beyond dispute that India's exchequer has suffered from it being apparently easy to take money out of this country with little fear of repercussions. We are not sure exactly how much, though, given that knowing the size of invisible things is not easy. Part of the problem is that India's web of treaties has too many holes in it. One big hole, for example, is Switzerland; the original treaty between India and Switzerland didn't allow for inquiries about banking transactions. Now, at least, specifically-targeted inquiries about possible evasion, are supposed to be answered. The treaty's ratification by the Swiss parliament is at a delicate stage. It's unfortunate, therefore, that at this time a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court, while hearing

proceedings in public interest litigation filed by lawyer-politician Ram Jethmalani, chose to question the government closely about which names it did or did not have, and why it would or would not reveal them publicly.

The judges were understandably moved to anger by the scale of the problem. In response to the government's arguments that, while it was working to move towards prosecuting tax offenders, it was in the meantime bound by confidentiality clauses in various tax treaties, they said, "We are talking about a mind-boggling crime; we are not on the niceties of various treaties." Yet it is precisely those niceties that are

central to India's larger, enduring quest to minimise tax evasion. Now, the fear that India will abandon confidentiality under political or judicial pressure whenever convenient will certainly make it harder for the Centre to corral low-tax jurisdictions into signing treaties. The SC is seized of the importance of this issue, of which we can all be glad. It surely also realises that their details matter. And that in the service of this cause, it should rise above populist anger.







Speaking at a memorial meeting at Birla Matushri Sabhagriha on July 13, 2002, a week after Dhirubhai Ambani's death, I had made a semi-facetious, pop-sociological comment on why he attracted so much awe and envy, respect as well as hostility. I said: to understand the phenomenon of Dhirubhai, you have to see Mumbai and Delhi as two different and distant sovereign republics that are yet to establish diplomatic relations with each other.

In Delhi, you acquire power through politics, and use that to collect wealth. In Mumbai, you acquire money through enterprise and use that to get, or buy, power in Delhi. Dhirubhai was a unique Indian entrepreneur: he spanned the two "republics" as no one had done before him (and after). He had power in Mumbai and had the key to Delhi. That's the reason he grew into such a larger-than-life figure.

But this week's argument is not about Dhirubhai. It is about the loss of clout, stature and respectability of the city, or the republic, of Mumbai and, by implication, corporate India. This is also about how New Delhi has again acquired pre-eminence over Mumbai, in matters of business and finance, for the first time since the reforms began in 1991. Many of the capital's Bhawans have been restored to their old power and glory; the Congress party's discourse has become utterly silent and suspicious of corporate India, if not plain hostile; and some individual minister have arrogated to themselves discretionary and arbitrary powers that you last saw only during V.P. Singh's mercifully short raid raj.

It is, in fact, in this light that you have to read the Open

Letter written by some of India's most loved corporates, accompanied by some of our most respected former judges and regulators. Far from being able to influence policy, these conscience-keepers of corporate India, are now reduced to

making desperate appeals to New Delhi's good sense.

And how much clout they now have is evident in how little response their letter has evoked. Nobody of consequence in the UPA government has responded. Or from the BJP? Nobody has even made a token statement sharing their concern. Nobody has invited them for a meeting, or for a more detailed conversation to ask why they are so sullen, when the economy is growing at 8.5 plus, and just a week before Indian entrepreneurs' beauty parade in Davos. Today's UPA isn't sure how it should be conversing with business; and those of its leaders, including the prime minister, who still speak for free economy, are generally snipped at by the Great (and rapidly-growing) Congress Whisper Factory as being anti-poor, and not "in sync" with the party, or with 10 Janpath.

Of course you could fault the signatories of this open letter for being unwilling to wound and petrified (perish the thought, actually) to strike. That is why the letter, signed by some of our most respected and powerful citizens, is so unspecific in what it is complaining about, or the actions they want taken in redress. It is full of platitudes and, frankly, in places reads like the usual rant you hear from the anchors of two-and-a-half muck-raking TV news channels these days — of course much more elegantly and gently worded. That, also, is why the letter loses much of its impact. You need to pick up an oversized magnifying glass and search between the lines. Then, maybe, you will find what it is all about: the use of arbitrary powers by many ministers; the return of widespread rent-seeking, political arrogance, bureaucratic negativism, of environmental obstructionism that harms the poor; of poor communication between the Centre and the states; even the BJP has been chided most gently for confusing "dissent" with "disruption". People of such eminence have persuaded themselves to write all this in such subtle language — almost like the Urdu of old Lucknow — that the meaning is lost. Nobody in today's Mumbai wants to take a "panga" with UPA 2's Delhi any more.

Look at the stature of the people who have to raise their voice, and yet are treading so carefully. Two of them, Ashok Ganguly and Deepak Parekh, were members of the prime minister's Investment Commission (the third, Ratan Tata, is of course in Supreme Court asking who leaked his private phone conversations even if he was wire-tapped legally!). Bimal Jalan and M. Narasimhan are former RBI governors. Sam Variava and B.N. Srikrishna are two of our most

respected former Supreme Court judges and one, Azim Premji, is not only one of our greatest IT czars, but also our most pre-eminent Muslim entrepreneur — and has now made the largest, personal endowment to charity. And these are not odd-ball busybodies, or retired, marginal people fulminating. Many are insiders to the UPA's system. Anu Agha is on Sonia Gandhi's NAC, a body today more powerful than the cabinet, which it routinely attacks; Justice Srikrishna's report on Telangana has just been accepted by the government. Deepak Parekh's wisdom is routinely sought by government, even during a hopeless crisis like Satyam. And Ashok Ganguly is not just a Rajya Sabha member nominated by this government, but also has the ear of Sonia Gandhi.

You wonder, therefore, just what is going on. India's growth is robust in spite of stalled governance, widespread negativity, and "noise", and it is fuelled almost entirely by its private enterprise — and yet its most respected leaders feel so left out, and vulnerable. India's government is led by several people who, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have emerged as our most business-friendly leaders post-

reform in 1991. Yet there is a disconnect between corporate and political India, between the Congress and business, between Mumbai and Delhi. One of the two "sovereign republics" may have stolen a march over the other by reclaiming some of the powers it lost through reform but the two still haven't established diplomatic relations.

That job cannot be done by Murli Deora, the new corporate affairs minister, even though Somnath Chatterjee once described him as the MP from Nariman Point. He can be Mumbai's ambassador in Delhi but the need now is for the political capital to reach out to the financial. The Prime Minister will need to start talking and the Gandhis — both mother and son — must realise, as they did in 2009, that he's still their best bet to pull the UPA out of the hole it has driven itself into. The drop in FDI figures lately has been precipitous; and if more Indian entrepreneurs, demoralised by the Congress's pinko newspeak and corruption, take their investments overseas, growth will stall 2012 on. Besides the great India growth story, you can then also kiss all of the NAC freebie fantasies goodbye.








The India Art Summit, the young annual art show being held in Delhi, is definitely an idea whose time had long come. Apart from offering artists of all hues, gallerists of different motivation levels, collectors of varied tastes and aficionados a platform to interact, it also puts something else on the table that has been sort of missing in action lately: healthy competition.

I qualify it as "healthy" because gallerists end up choosing their best collection of artists for a show such as this one — which, for obvious reasons, is attracting a lot of attention. While this one-of-its kind extravaganza puts the spotlight on a younger generation of artists, seniors also get to excel with their new works.

As with similar art shows worldwide, the India Art Summit is steadily becoming an occasion for artists to make an impact and be judged — by being part of the whole process of getting selected to show here — in an interesting, suitable way. What is special is that the event offers a healthier link for artists to the vast space known as the art market. It is a great give-and-take opportunity in that it facilitates a much-needed dialogue among all stakeholders in the world of art.

What is more striking is that while it had taken similar international shows several years of commission and omission before they started clicking well, there is a peculiar and admirable Indian-ness about this summit that makes it a hit, and very soon. Quite contrary to the famous Indian jugaad, this one has finesse to flaunt.

It is this "sophistication" that makes the confluence of art communities and allied parties important, and it comes at the right time: just as India needs to showcase its talent across segments, in line with the fast growth of its economy, and its functioning as an emerging superpower. I see it as a development — as part of a series of developments — on the other side of the spectrum where you see ideas such as "financial inclusion".

It is the comprehensive makeover that this country is going through that this summit attempts to complement, in some measure, irrespective of how small or big it is in the entirety of efforts of a $1.3 trillion economy that serves 1.2 billion people.

Put simply, to ignore numerous odds and deficits in this country is an unpardonable crime, but not to highlight endeavours and pluses such as these is nothing short of sin.

To me, this event is also a reflection of the much talked-about era of convergence that is being played out in various forms right in front of us. There is, if nothing else, a sense of

being connected, of being wired, that is quite palpable here at the Summit.

One could argue about other ways an event that brings together the art community and others could be held. One could keep suggesting variations and variables — but this one definitely has style and substance. What needs work from now on is sustaining the momentum and absorbing positive ideas to ensure a far more stimulating set of experiences that can be shared among artists, intellectuals, social philosophers, political analysts and aficionados alike.

This year's India Art Summit looks more resplendent also because of a parallel event that tends to complement this one in many ways. Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, arguably the most powerful person in the contemporary art world, will conduct one of his well-known longish sessions in India in a public event organised by Khoj International Artists Association in the national capital on Saturday. This "marathon" set of public interviews is the second one he is going to hold in Asia.

Well, being in Delhi now makes me really feel what Obrist said is true. Sometimes, in a temporary way, perhaps "artists are the most important people on the planet." The idea is to savour the moment. In Delhi. Briefly.

The writer is a Mumbai-based artist







There's nothing a practising Muslim ever does without the invocation: "Bismillah ar-Rahman-ur-Rahim" (In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful). About Prophet Mohammed he will tell you that Allah sent him to earth as "Rahmat-ul-Alemeen" (mercy on all mankind). The very word Islam means peace, you will be told. Allah, Prophet Mohammed, Islam is all about peace, compassion, mercy. Get it?

No doubt Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Pakistan Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, believes himself to be a pious Muslim. No doubt "Bismillah ar-Rahman-ur-Rahim" preceded the bullets he pumped into a person he was trained, paid and sworn to protect, risking his life if need be. No doubt he committed cold-blooded murder in the name of "Allah the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful", in defence of a religion that means peace, and the honour of the Prophet (Hurmat-e-Rasul), who is meant to be mercy on all mankind. Killing for peace? I just don't get it.

Could it be that despite his self-perception, Qadri was actually under Satan's evil influence? Banish the thought! For the "respected ulema" of Pakistan, the man is a "ghazi" now. (In Islam a ghazi enjoys as high a status as a shaheed.) If we happen to think otherwise, we too are blasphemers, kafirs, wajib-ul-qatl (fit to be killed).

Killing may not be your idea or mine for promoting peace, but, to the "respected ulema" of Pakistan that's Islam. Read the joint statement issued by 500 "maulanas" from the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Pakistan (JASP), which also issued a death threat to anyone who dared lead or even participate in the namaaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer) of Taseer: "The punishment for blasphemy against the prophet can only be death, as per the Holy Book, the Sunnah, the consensus of Muslim opinion and explanations by the ulema... this brave person (Qadri) has maintained 1,400 years of Muslim tradition, and has let the heads of 1.5 billion Muslims of the world be held high with pride." No, you messiahs of murder, count me out.

Ironically, until a fortnight ago, this very Barelvi sect was seen as Pakistan's great big hope for peace, a counter-force waiting to be deployed against the Deodandis, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Ahl-e-Hadith, all of whom are guilty of injecting intolerance, extremism and terrorism into Islam. But a single murderous deed of a "ghazi" has brought Pakistan's mutually warring "ulema" to a common platform. Whatever else the disagreements between them, they stand together in their worship of violence and contempt of the dissenting voice.

The credit for this unprecedented unholy alliance goes to the Jamaat-ud Dawa (JD), another name for the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which among numerous other heinous acts is responsible for the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai and on India. As evident from its hugely-attended rally in Lahore (January 16 and 17) under the banner of the Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasul (The Movement for the Honour of the Prophet), the JD, the Deobandis and the Barelvis have now jointly pronounced a death sentence on anyone calling for change in Pakistan's infamous blasphemy laws.

Such madness in our immediate neighbourhood is, in itself, sufficient cause for concern. More worrisome is the fact that the roots and trunks of Pakistan's major religious outfits lie in India. The Deobandis and Barelvis owe their name to Deoband and Bareilly, both towns in UP. The Ahl-e-Hadith took birth on Indian soil; Maulana Maududi founded his Jamaat-e-Islami in undivided India. And each one of them today has far greater reach within the country than they had at the time of Partition.

Why is it that, since the unpardonable murder of Taseer, not one leader of consequence from any of these outfits has spoken a word against the outrage? My Urdu-speaking Muslim friends from Mumbai tell me the same is equally true of Urdu newspapers, with the honourable exception of the daily Sahafat.

This conspiracy of silence, though shocking, is not surprising. Each one of them preaches that the punishment for blasphemy, apostasy, heresy is death — in an Islamic state — and complete social ostracism by the entire community where Islam is not wedded to power.

Fed such poisonous brew, the ummah may be forgiven for missing out on finer details. In secular India some years ago, the Raza Academy (a supposedly more tolerant Barelvi sect) threatened to burn Taslima Nasreen alive if she dared come to Mumbai. In 2008, the Urdu press in Hyderabad poured scorn on the leaders and activists of the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) for their failure to kill her when they had the chance to do so.

How do Muslims respond to growing Islamophobia across the globe when the entire galaxy of ulema screams murder from housetops? "Educated Muslims have no choice but to get out of the clutches of the ulema", opined a Muslim woman on a Google group last week. "If this is Islam, count me out", wrote a Muslim male.

So here's the choice before educated Muslims. Opting out of Islam altogether, or discovering another Islam. But to discover this other Islam you'll need the sensibilities of a Farid Isaac (a South African Islamic theologian) whose moral and ethical integrity is evident from his statement: "If a choice has to be made between violence towards the text (holy scripture) and textual legitimisation of violence against real people then I would be comfortable to plead guilty to charges of violence against the text... Isn't theology essentially about God? Yes, it is about God, but my theology is about a God who is essentially just and compassionate." The time has come for a fatwa against our "respected ulema".

The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy







Tunis — Liberated Tunisia has done away with its Ministry of Communications, really the Ministry of Censorship. These are heady days in the Arab world's fragile democratic bridgehead.

An independent "republic" was born here 54 years ago. Since then there have been just two presidents, both of whom applied an iron fist and neither of whom left office voluntarily, so a touch of giddiness at finding themselves sans strongman and free to speak out is understandable.

I breezed from the airport to downtown in 10 minutes. Tanks stood at the entrance to Boulevard Bourguiba (known wistfully as the Champs-Élysées of Tunis) where several hundred protesters had gathered to hurl abuse at the deposed dictator's party — the neither constitutional nor democratic Constitutional Democratic Rally party — and tell this misnomer to get the heck out of government.

Two high school teachers spoke to me, and their message was identical: the thieves must go, blood had not been shed only for some of the same ministers to endure. A chant rose, using the French acronym for the hated party, "We'll accept bread and water but never the RCD!"

The atmosphere was relaxed, with baton-wielding police looking on from a distance, but political tensions are sharp. The frayed interim authorities, headed by a holdover, Mohamed Ghannouchi, are scrambling for credibility, promising a "clean break". Police have shown new restraint, curfew has been pushed back and the press operates unshackled as Ghannouchi's crew engage in the usual post-revolutionary rush to don new clothes.

Unseemly, perhaps, but a lot is at stake. If Tunisia can become the Arab world's Turkey, a functioning democracy where Islamism is part of the electoral mosaic rather than a threat to it, the tired refrain of all the Arab despots that they are the only bulwark against the jihadists will be seen for the self-serving lie it has become.

No wonder Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has lost it, raving about Bolshevik and American revolutions in the streets of Tunis. No wonder anxiety is high in Egypt, where the distinguished Nobelist and potential game-changer, Mohamed ElBaradei, tweeted on the lesson of Tunisia: "Regime in Egypt must understand that peaceful change is only way out."

I can't see President Mubarak, who's headed that regime for three decades, facing less than upheaval if he tries to hand power to his son, Gamal, in the current environment. There's more than a touch of "We're all Tunisians now" among misruled Arabs right now. They're talking Tunisian domino effect.

That's cause for Tunisia to take great care to get this right. Sure, it's tempting to go with the baying crowd: off with all their heads! But Iraq showed the dangers of overnight dismantlement of a system — party, security forces and all. The people affected don't disappear; they nurse vengeance. And Tunisia, like Saddam's Iraq, if with milder veneer, was a police state under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, as subtly ferocious as Syria.

So I'd bear with Ghannouchi so long as his government works for rapid presidential and then legislative elections. As Slim Amamou, a former dissident blogger released from jail a week ago and now youth minister, put it: "Not everybody can be a novice in politics in government like me."

That's right: chaos cannot prepare a credible vote. This is a nation where the most significant legal opposition, the Progressive Democratic Party, boasts 1,000 members. Ahmed Bouazzi, a member of its executive committee, said, "We are walking on eggs": the interior minister has blood on his hands, the defence minister once did sweet deals for the former first lady, the PDP underplayed its hand in joining the government with a single minister — for regional economic development. Should the party now push for more?

Through an open window a shout came up accusing the PDP of selling out. "That's good — free speech!" said a party member. There are going to have to be painful trade-offs if Tunisia is to demonstrate — finally — that nothing in the Arab genome means one dictator must follow another.

Tunisia has a lot going for it in this quest: high education, emancipated women, manageable size, and an Islamist movement that Michael Willis, a North Africa expert at St Antony's College, Oxford, described as "perhaps the mildest and most pragmatic around." Their exiled leader, Rached Ghannouchi, has been multiplying conciliatory statements. A democratic Tunisia can do the Turkish thing.

There will, in coming weeks, be agents provocateurs bent on the worst, and the usual Muslim-hating naysayers. Arab democracy is threatening to a host of vested interests and glib clichés. It is also the only way out of the

radicalizing impasse of Arab klepto-gerontocracies and, as such, a vital American interest.ROGER COHEN







Karachi burns, again

Violence returned to Karachi this week. Daily Times reported on January 17: "Partial curfew has been imposed in some areas of Karachi while the Sindh government has decided to deploy commandos equipped with helicopters to conduct raids in troubled areas after some five people were killed in a fresh wave of political violence... Neither political dialogue nor security agencies' efforts have been able to check the growing menace of target killings in the southern port city, where the death toll in four consecutive days of violence has reached 29." The News reported interior minister Rehman Malik blamed a "third party" for the unrest. "The PPP, MQM and the ANP are united to expose the forces involved in target killings,' he added..." Pillion riding was banned, and Daily Times reported on January 18 that at least 500 people had been arrested for violating the ban.

The law enforcement agencies resorted to crackdowns on identified areas, reported Daily Times on January 19: "Around a thousand security personnel... went house-to-house rounding up dozens of men in Orangi Town as part of a crackdown on soaring violence in the provincial capital. Rangers personnel detained over 300 persons and seized a large cache of weapons... According to reports, the search operation was initiated on tip-offs provided by men who had earlier been arrested, who revealed that some miscreants involved in the recent target killings were hiding in these areas."

The missing and the murdered

After Justice Javed Iqbal, the head of the Supreme Court bench hearing cases about "missing" persons, had his parents murdered, the other two judges on the bench were reported by Dawn on January 18 to have ruled "in a solemn but assertive mood", reminding the authorities, "including intelligence agencies... that they were bound to trace the people who had been missing for years, and said that state organs should refrain from taking actions which were illegal... Usually Justice Javed Iqbal heads the three-judge bench, but he has been in Lahore since the tragic murder of his parents last week... The court hinted at summoning of ISI Director General Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha, saying it had no other option but to summon him."

Meanwhile, the murder mystery of Justice Iqbal's parents, which became national news last week, saw a twist, reported The News on January 19: "the police have arrested two alleged killers, one of them a son of the victims. The accused, Naveed Iqbal, the younger stepbrother of Justice Javed Iqbal, confessed to killing his father and stepmother with the abetment of two accomplices..."

'Powerless' minister re-empowered

Daily Times reported on January 20 that the minister of state for ports and shipping, Sardar Nabeel Gabol, tendered his resignation, declaring himself a "powerless minister..." He was quoted as saying: "As a minister of state I'm not free to serve the people of my constituency, Lyari, for the last two years." In a volte face, Gabol rejoined the cabinet, reported The Express Tribune on January 21: "Nabeel Gabol had called on the prime minister and the prime minister had assured him of the redress of his grievances... Sources said Gabol stepped down in protest against a massive operation by Rangers and police commandos in Orangi Town and a possible crackdown in his home constituency of Lyari. However, a one-line handout by the media office of PM Yousaf Raza Gilani attributed the decision to unspecified personal reasons."

Blasphemy law update

The News reported on January 19 that PM Gilani tried to allay the suspicions of Pakistan's religious right, which apprehends a PPP-sponsored change to Pakistan's blasphemy law. Addressing an Ulema and Mashaikh Conference on 'Religious Tolerance in Islam,' gilani asked: "When I say something to the opposition, they believe me, and even the judiciary believes me — but when I categorically said that there was no intention of the government to bring any amendment in the blasphemy law, then why did you not believe me?"







In a press conference last week, Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal made some observations about his predecessor's policy of allocating 2G licenses in 2008 on a first-come-first-served basis, statements that would astound most students reading economics in his alma mater.

Sibal is adamant that the basic policy followed in allocating telecom spectrum was sound, and he makes the startling claim that no loss resulted to the nation. On closer scrutiny, however, one can find several reasons to disagree.

Did handing out licences cheap mean consumers enjoy lower tariffs?

Sibal's primary argument seems to be that licences were not auctioned and were consciously given at low rates since to do so was supposedly in the public interest. The claim is that consumers would enjoy the benefits of lower rates that mysteriously materialise automatically from the generosity of the government in giving away valuable spectrum to private profit-maximizing companies — at prices far below what these companies would have had to pay in a competitive auction mechanism.

Licence fees are, however, what economists call "sunk costs", costs already incurred in the past, which can't be altered by any actions now. Prices paid by customers of telecom services depend, among other things, on the nature of demand for telecom services, the "variable" costs of the telecom companies and the extent of competition in the market — but emphatically not on the licence fees that are already sunk.

So would your calls have cost the same, regardless of what the firms paid for the licences?

One of the old and valuable maxims in economics is to let bygones be bygones. Future profits that a firm can expect to earn will certainly affect its bid for a licence, and those profits in turn will be affected by the amount of licence fee paid — but it is not true that the pricing decisions of a rational firm will depend on the amount of licence fee paid in the past. Future profits that a firm can expect to earn will certainly affect its bid for a licence — but the converse is not true, and licence fees paid in the past don't affect current pricing decisions of rational firms. A rational firm chooses a pricing strategy that is best for it after ignoring the licence fee since nothing that it does now affects this cost, which is already sunk. The strategy that maximises the firm's present and future profits is not going to change depending on whether the firm had paid Rs 1,651 crore as licence fee or, say, Rs 10,000 crore.

Lower licence fees, the refore, don't benefit the consumers in the form of lower prices for them. The only effect of lower sunk costs is to yield larger profits to the beneficiary firms, who are usually quite willing to share a part of this windfall profit with those instrumental in granting them this bounty in the "public interest."

Are there any costs not quantified by the CAG?

In fact, the outcome of not following an auction mechanism might be worse than outlined above and the consumer might actually end up paying higher prices for telecom services eventually. The reason why is simple. An auction mechanism would normally give the licences to the most efficient firms, since they are able to bid higher for the licence as it is more valuable to them, given their higher efficiency levels. A first-come-first-served mechanism does not necessarily award the licences to the most efficient firms, at least initially, and is generally not socially optimal.

Should 3G be priced differently from 2G?

Sibal made a big fuss about the distinction between spectrum for 2G and 3G. According to him, 3G is thrice as efficient as 2G, and hence the CAG was wrong in using the prices resulting from 3G auctions to estimate the presumptive loss in allocating 2G licences. According to him, the CAG should have used only one-third the price! Now one of the fundamental principles of economic efficiency is that a scarce resource should sell at the same price, irrespective of use. Spectrum is scarce. It should not be available to supposedly inefficient users at a lower price, just as electricity should not be sold at a lower price to run an antiquated energy-inefficient appliance as compared to a new energy-efficient one. Steel is not sold at different rates to makers of manual shovels and mechanical diggers, though the differences in efficiency levels are even bigger. Why should it be any different for spectrum?

What about the bundling of spectrum with licences? Should that change the valuation?

The claim that, since no spectrum was sold in 2008 — only licences were sold and spectrum came for free bundled with it — and hence that, in a vacuous sense, the loss on sale of spectrum was nil, is ridiculous. If one is selling a bundle comprising both licence and spectrum, even if the price of the licence per se is taken to be nil, what one should charge for the bundle is at least what the spectrum alone would cost. Hence the CAG, by not considering a separate additional value for licence per se might actually have underestimated the loss to the exchequer, rather than overestimated it.

What about the effect of changing prices over time?

Sibal is quite correct in pointing out that it is not appropriate to use 2010 spectrum prices to estimate the presumptive loss in 2008, since prices change over time and a rupee in 2010 is not quite the same thing as a rupee in 2008, and the CAG has hence overestimated the loss to the exchequer. By the same token, 2008 prices should be much higher than 2001 prices. How can he then simultaneously justify the policy of allocating licences in 2008 at 2001 prices, especially in light of the fact that some of the licence winners realised billions of dollars by selling part of their stake in the venture soon after obtaining the licence, when they had no other assets to speak of except the licence? These resale figures might actually underestimate the true market price of spectrum in 2008, because some of these sales were distress sales by companies in desperate need of funds. In the midst of allegations of dubious deals, it is also doubtful that these equity sales were genuine economic transactions at a full and fair price under normal market circumstances.

So what should we believe about the loss to the exchequer?

To conclude, one may grant that while there is nothing sacrosanct about the figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore given by the CAG, it is incontestable that there was a significant loss to the exchequer and that the entire basis of the allocation policy was erroneous. Even if the loss was less than the amount given by the CAG, it would not mean it should not have been avoided at that time. Moreover, the fact that a wrong policy was followed in the past by the government is no justification for the future continuation of that policy.

The writer teaches economics at St. Stephen's College, Delhi







If BlackBerry users in the country are worried about what happens to their privacy if RIM gives in to the Indian government's demand that it be allowed to snoop on email and messenger services, the dialogue between RIM and the government will chill them to the bone. RIM has suspended dialogue with the government because, as the Canadian High Commissioner Stewart Beck complained to home secretary GK Pillai, it was shocked that the minutes of its meetings with government officials found their way to the media—under its current deadline, if the government doesn't find a satisfactory way that allows it to snoop, the BlackBerry enterprise server services will be halted (BlackBerry services that do not use an enterprise server, however, will continue unaffected). Think of what could happen to your email and BlackBerry Messenger content when the government can officially snoop and get it. This, of course, is the point Ratan Tata made in his petition to the court on the Niira Radia phone taps—how does sensitive information on individuals find its way into the public domain, he asked. The larger issue of privacy, of course, doesn't extend just to Ratan Tata or the other well-heeled types that use BlackBerries, and the government has still to come out with a satisfactory explanation for how it plans to protect privacy.

As far as BlackBerry is concerned, the issue goes beyond privacy. BlackBerry email and messenger services—the ones that use an enterprise server— cannot be intercepted right now because the level of encryption, at 256 bits, is way beyond what most intelligence agencies can decrypt. While the government wants BlackBerry to give it the keys, RIM says the technology is such the codes are generated by each user's system and it has no access to them—the best it can do, for phones that are to be legally monitored, is to give the government information as to what the enterprise server's IP address is, after which it is up to the government. So, let's say the government bans the enterprise-server service. What then? Here's the problem: there are enough encryption software, like Pretty Good Privacy and CryptoSMS, which can be loaded on to standard android phones and, at 128 bits, even they aren't easily decrypted. Nor are standard e-commerce message streams at 128-bit encryption levels. Since terrorists can just as well use PGP or e-commerce networks to communicate, are we going to ban this too? This is what the real BlackBerry debate is all about.





Even as Shariah-compliant Islamic banking is still to open its account in India, thanks to RBI and the finance ministry's opposition, it is already a $300-billion market globally. Islamic finance—the whole gamut of banking, equity investments, mutual funds and insurance—is a $1.2 trillion market, growing at over 20-30% year-on-year. The launch of BSE's Shariah-compliant index, after one by NSE earlier, is therefore a welcome first step in making millions of financially-excluded Muslims part of the India growth story.

While the share of the 175 million Muslim community in bank accounts is in line with the population share (12.2% versus 13.4%), the Muslims' share of public sector bank loans is a meagre 4.6%. Even in 44 minority-concentration districts studied by the Sachar Committee, Muslims' share of bank accounts moves up to 21%, but share of credit inches to just 7.9%. The community's share of all deposit money with scheduled commercial banks is half its population share, at just 7.4%. A large part of the community is self-employed in largely unorganised sectors, and so remains outside the ambit of formal finance. So while public sector banks need to open more branches in under-banked Muslim-dominated areas, we need to channelise the community's savings to the market, in a way that is complaint with its faith. India has just a handful of Shariah-compliant mutual funds—Benchmark, Tata Select Equity Fund and Tarus Ethical Fund. In markets like Malaysia, even the UK, where a substantial part of investors in such funds are non-Muslims, is heartening to see that fund houses can hawk Islamic investments to even non-Muslims as a product that are more resilient to interest-rate movements because Shariah-led investing debars business with income accruing from interest, and industries like alcohol, tobacco, gambling et al.

And even though India may be witnessing copious foreign fund flows at the moment, it will help to diversify its US and Europe-centric nature and a well-developed Islamic finance market may help attract billions of petro-dollars flowing in from rich Arab countries. It'll help that the development of new faith-based investment products will also augur well for a community which has traditionally found it difficult to keep its financial head over water.







Every time someone in the government wanted to justify a rank bad idea, former Chief Economic Consultant Ashok Desai found, they'd cite the fact that this was the policy in an advanced economy, ergo there's no reason why India couldn't adopt the same policy. So, if you want to justify a high fiscal deficit, in recent years, the best example to give is that of the US or other OECD countries. If the US can have such a high fiscal deficit, what's wrong with India having a high deficit? If the US can have dole, why can't India? If Europe can protect its farmers, why can't India? You get the drift.


India has had a spate of such examples of Desai's law in recent months. So, in November last year, you had the Bimal Jalan committee report on stock exchanges, to resolve, at a philosophical level, the issue raised by Sebi on the MCX-SX case: should a stock exchange be allowed to list, should individual shareholders (as opposed to financial institutions like banks that can hold more) of stock exchanges be allowed to hold more than 5% of its equity in the same manner that RBI allows even a 50% individual equity in banks—in any case, how do you grow any business if the principal promoter does not have enough shares to control the company?


Given that many major global markets have followed this practice without it hurting the quality of regulation of stock exchanges, you'd have expected that one of India's most-respected RBI governors would have recommended this be allowed. Not only did Jalan not allow this—so individual equity is restricted to 5% and listing is not allowed—he even put a cap on the profits that a stock exchange can distribute, said incentive-based salaries linked to the commercial performance of the stock exchange are a bad idea, and fixed different equity ceilings for investments in different parts of stock exchanges—a stock exchange must own at least 51% of the equity of the clearing corporation, but this must be lowered to 24% in the case of depositories.


In the case of the ongoing 2G scam, it was expected that A Raja would defend his policy of giving away licences in 2008 at the prices paid in 2001 on a variety of grounds. So, he said, the licences were given cheap as this lowered consumer tariffs; when it was pointed out that the 3G auctions had fetched nearly 13 times the price he'd given away the 2G licences for, he said 3G was like basmati rice and 2G like PDS rice. All the arguments were specious since there is no evidence that higher licence fees result in higher tariffs—Vodafone bought Hutch for $10.7 bn but has continuously lowered tariffs since that's the only way to be competitive in a market that has so many players. As for basmati and PDS rice, there's really no such thing as 2G or 3G spectrum—it's called that depending on whether the government allows you to offer what are called second-generation (mainly voice) services or third-generation (mainly data) services. Indeed, the Tata and Reliance broadband dongles all of us use for wireless and fast-speed Internet access today are all 3G in nature but are offered on what are essentially 2G licences. In fact, the 2G licences operate on the 800/900/1800 MHz spectrum band which is more efficient than the 2100 MHz that 3G operates on, which is why Trai had recommended the older firms like Bharti, Vodafone and BSNL pay for the 'extra' spectrum they had at a rate which was higher than even the 3G rate!


So it came as a big surprise, actually more a let-down, that people of the calibre of a Kapil Sibal and a Montek Singh Ahluwalia should support Raja's arguments that not having auctions was in the public interest, that it was part of government policy that aimed to keep telephony low-cost. Indeed, they even endorsed Raja's level-playing-field argument, which said that if Sunil Mittal got the spectrum at a lower price in 2001, it was unfair that Unitech should pay a higher price in 2008! Never mind that Mittal bought it in an auction in 2001. By that logic, all land should be offered at the rates prevalent in, at least, 1947; and that no coal mines ever be auctioned, and so on.


The latest in this good-men-bad-ideas saga is the Malegam committee report on micro-finance institutions, where the Malegam Committee has put a cap on interest rates (24%) and interest rate margins (10%), a cap on the total outstanding loans (Rs 25,000) the borrower can have at any point in time, and even the amount that can be given for non-investment purposes (25% of the total loan).


Many of these recommendations, such as Malegam's, have been made in a certain context, to address a certain problem. Collectively, however, they will play havoc with the MFI industry. Malegam's interest rate cap, for instance, is to address the fear raised by politicians that MFIs were ripping off clients (hence the Andhra law on MFIs); or that people were borrowing too much and were getting indebted. But surely experience would have taught them that restricting MFI operations was certain to drive borrowers to moneylenders—after all, if you need to borrow for a medical emergency and the bank/MFI can't give it, where else do you go? Similarly, both Sibal and Montek had political compulsions, in the sense the government knows the 2G scam is much bigger than Bofors ever was and so needs to pull out all the stops to try and limit the damage—what better way to do this than to trash the CAG estimates of the scam that have captured the popular imagination?


The important lesson for all of us, of course, is a simple one: accept each argument as a good one on its merit, not just because a good man or woman made it. Desai's law.






Even though we have a credit policy review every second month, the one to be announced on January 25 will be special for several reasons. There are basically going to be four takeaways—two operational issues for banks and two for the general public, too.

Currently, the situation is full of contradictions. There is a liquidity problem with credit growing faster than deposits. Inflation is high on account of supply shocks that were not anticipated. Industry is doing well on a cumulative basis, though monthly performance is disturbing, with high growth rates alternating with low ones. Exports are booming but the current account deficit is a worry. Tax collections, especially indirect taxes on goods, have been robust, which means lots of things are happening. FII inflows, which were gushing in a couple of months back, have now stagnated, and the rupee is depreciating as against appreciating earlier. Capital issues are up, as are debt issuances, but the stock market remains whimsical with inflation and possible RBI action dominating sentiment. The question is how RBI would react to this situation.

The government has given up on inflation and passed the baton to RBI, which means that RBI is expected to increase interest rates, which it will. Higher interest rates cannot produce goods but it can reduce other demand for goods and investment. By increasing interest rates, RBI can lower the demand for credit that can be deferred, which affects households through, say, mortgages and auto finance. Simultaneously, deposits would increase, thus lowering the liquidity deficit. How much should RBI increase interest rates? Ideally, 50 bps will work, but given that RBI has followed a gradualist approach, 25 bps looks more likely on both the repo and reverse repo.

What about liquidity? In the last policy, the liquidity position was acute, with over Rs 1.3 lakh crore going into repos every day. RBI chose to lower the SLR and announced OMO purchases for Rs 48,000 crore. But this has not really helped as banks are still resorting to borrowings of Rs 1 lakh crore a day from RBI through the repo auctions. The answer is hence in lowering the CRR. But, lowering CRR is contrary to increasing interest rates in the strict sense as more liquidity actually lowers rates. But in the current situation, where liquidity is very tight, this may not happen. Also, if RBI believes that for two problems we need two instruments, then these two moves can be synchronised and may not be contradictory. Therefore, a CRR cut may not be out of sync here as it will release around Rs 25,000 crore into the system. There is otherwise little that RBI can do to augment liquidity. Further OMO purchases could be persevered with but then one is not sure of the result. Probably a combination of higher rates which slows down credit and CRR cut would work in unison to ease liquidity.

The other two areas of interest is RBI's take on growth and inflation. So far, we have all been sanguine on growth as the first half GDP number has been 8.9%, with an upside being believed for the remaining half. However, industrial performance has been volatile this year so far and hence RBI's revised target would be of interest. Higher interest rates, it is argued, have a negative impact on industry as investment is postponed. But the counterview is that higher rates make industry manage their inventory in a more efficient manner and also use capital more judiciously. As long as demand is there, investment will carry on. Today, households are spending more on account of inflation and not really cutting down on such activity while savings are being affected as seen in the tardy growth in deposits. Hence, while there are arguments on both sides, the final call guidance from the central bank would be instructive.

Inflation is another parameter for which one would be looking for guidance. It is generally believed that inflation will end up over 7% this year by March and probably be in the 8.5-9% on an average for the year. RBI will evidently have its own impact analysis in place to gauge the effect of another round of interest rates on the inflation number. Hence, RBI's call on inflation will not just give us the official picture but also indicate further policy action, especially if it varies significantly from the existing trends.

Hence, this policy statement of RBI will be very critical and the market will surely read the words carefully to take hints about future scenarios.

The author is chief economist, CARE Ratings. These are his personal views





Food security vs border security

For bringing in transparency in the transportation and distribution of foodgrain, Food Corporation of India (FCI) has revamped its Website. While launching the Website, minister of state for agriculture KV Thomas asked the media persons present to use the content of the Website responsibly while reporting. Thomas equated the importance of country's food security with border security issues. However, he forgot to clarify as to which information was 'sensitive' and could jeopardise the country's food security.


Officially Incorrect

The Malegam Committee report on microfinance institutions says the larger MFIs have an effective interest rate ranging between 31% and 50.5%, with an average of 36.8%. That makes them pretty usurious and the Committee has recommended interest margins be capped at 10%, subject to an overall cap of 24% on interest rates. Interestingly, a few paras after it mention the 36.8% average interest rate, the report says "several MFIs have assigned/securitised a significant portion of their portfolio … if the rates are to be calculated on the gross portfolio, both the rate of interest on lending as well as the cost percentage would be lower." By how much? If a fourth of portfolios are securitised, as industry suggests, the average effective interest rate will come down from 36.8% to around 27%. Why not mention this rate in the report?






Donnie Brasco, Reservoir Dogs, Scarface, The Departed, The Godfather, Goodfellas (which lost the best picture Oscar to Dances With Wolves!) and so on—the list of Hollywood movies enthralled by the mob is long. Bollywood doesn't do too badly either, what with the likes of Nayakan, Sarkar, Satya et al. But with many of these films, the enthralment is balanced by a comforting sense that it all sort of happened in the past, or in a city elsewhere, a waterfront that's not ours. But Americans would have felt such comfort dampened after a historical roundup in which 127 suspected mafiosos from seven families were arrested across New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. FBI director Robert Mueller announced that as against the common belief that organised crime was a thing of the past, it continued to force legitimate businesses to pay up, with costs ultimately borne by American consumers nationwide.

You thought the Genovese, the family of much-storied Lucky Luciano, were history? Nope. They are still forcing dock workers in New Jersey to hand over a portion of their Christmas bonuses. The DeCavalcante family, which traces its roots back to the Prohibition and which is said to have inspired HBO's The Sopranos, also remains quite active apparently. And if you think the action is all old-school, wake up. Mob schemes of today are well up to defrauding consumers with poor credit histories out of one-time payments that they believe will secure loans. How have these families survived over decades of scrutiny? The best answer seems to be that it is a question of supply and demand. They have roots deep in urban poverty, drug addiction and the like. Till these problems go away, the mafiosos may well survive if not thrive.








Although legally correct, the sanction for the prosecution of Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa given by Governor H.R. Bhardwaj will inevitably take on a political colour. The two have been on a confrontationist course for the past few months with the Governor repeatedly pointing to allegations of corruption against the Chief Minister and some of his Cabinet colleagues, and the Chief Minister, in turn, accusing the Governor of betraying his bias and political affiliation to the Congress. The charges of corruption and nepotism against Mr. Yeddyurappa are serious, and none can fault the Governor for sanctioning prosecution. However, in the months leading up to this development, the Governor came through as a political agent of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government at the Centre. It is one thing to turn the Raj Bhavan into a retreat for elderly or inconvenient politicians. It is quite another for the government at the Centre to use it as a political stage for undermining State governments run by rival parties. Mr. Bhardwaj has often looked more the part of an opposition leader than a constitutional head, with his politically-loaded barbs against the Yeddyurappa government. In the latest instance, he likened the ruling BJP making complaints against him to a "thief scolding the police." In the context of his earlier statements against the State government, asking Mr. Yeddyurappa to take action against two of his Ministers and publicly talking about their alleged profiteering from illegal mining operations, the "thief" remark certainly raised serious doubts about his motives.

All this is not to suggest that Mr. Yeddyurappa is in the clear. He faces serious allegations of nepotism and corruption, and the proper way out for him would have been to step down and clear his name. Although the Governor is expected to act on the aid and advice of the Cabinet, on the issue of sanctioning prosecution of the Chief Minister he will have to take an independent decision based on the facts before him. Mr. Bhardwaj did just that. The Karnataka Cabinet's resolution urging Mr. Bhardwaj not to sanction prosecution of Mr. Yeddyurappa has no leg to stand on. The Governor was certainly not bound by this resolution, and Mr. Yeddyurappa now has no choice but to face the legal consequences of his actions, which include wrongful de-notification and allotment of lands to family members. Institutional propriety is crucial and Governor Bhardwaj is guilty of crudely overreaching his constitutional role. But Chief Minister Yeddyurappa would do well to not take cover behind this impropriety. The legal process is the best and only way to redeem his reputation.





Controversies surrounding the two real estate projects, the Adarsh Society building in Mumbai and the Lavasa city near Pune, bring to the fore the huge costs of poor enforcement of town planning rules and inept administration of urban development. In the case of Adarsh housing, a 31-storeyed apartment building raised in the Backbay reclamation area and meant for Kargil heroes, the Maharashtra government not only turned a blind eye to the inclusion of the patently unqualified in the beneficiary list; it also permitted the construction after short-circuiting the approval process and overlooking the mandatory environment clearance. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), enquiring into the complaints about the project, concluded on the basis of irrefutable facts that the building was an "egregious violation" of the Coastal Regulation Zone notification and justly refused to condone the fait accompli. By ordering demolition and not taking over the building for a public purpose or regularising the deviations by imposing a penalty, the Ministry has sent out a clear message that only severe action can deter future unauthorised constructions.

Lavasa city is a vast ensemble of buildings. Located amidst seven hills, this project, with a 60-km lake front, will accommodate 300,000 permanent residents when completed. In response to the complaints filed by NGOs about alleged irregularities in the project, the MoEF went through due process and concluded that the project was "in violation of" Environment Impact Assessment notifications, and that the construction activity was "unauthorised" as well as "environmentally damaging." In this case, it has not ordered demolition of the unauthorised construction; it has proposed a penalty. How does one explain the different standards adopted? The large investments made (about Rs.3,000 crore), and the employment opportunities generated, by Lavasa have probably weighed in its favour. The Bombay High Court, which is hearing the objections raised by the promoters, will have the next say on the MoEF's order. Independent of the merits of the legal challenges, the Ministry's firm stance and prompt follow-up on complaints are a significant improvement on the pattern witnessed prior to Jairam Ramesh's stewardship of the MoEF. That large-scale building projects, under construction for years, elude the scrutiny of the vigilance agencies challenges credulity. It is only by making the planning institutions more transparent that misuse of discretionary powers and convenient interpretations of rules for private gain can be checked.








The liberalisation of the country's economy resulted in tremendous progress, sustained growth and increased wealth. Yet, the incredible indices of development mask inequity and the human cost of progress. For millions of Indians, hunger is routine, malnutrition rife, employment insecure, social security non-existent, health care expensive and livelihoods are under threat.

Capitalism's ability to improve economies is not in doubt. It has always argued that what is good for large corporations is good for national economies. Gross domestic product figures inflated by phenomenal successes of the rich are often very impressive. However, they conceal the poverty and suffering at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Nevertheless, there is a perception among capitalists that the system is fair and allows for growth of all sections. The fact that those who do not have capital (finance, land ownership, education, health, etc.) have little chance of economic progress is never acknowledged.

Greed and excesses

Inequity in the capitalistic system is a given. Hence, controlling the excesses of capitalism, while allowing for economic progress, is a serious consideration before mature democracies and governments. However, others argue that such controls are only possible in theory and do not work in practice. Capitalism, driven as much by individual greed and aspiration as by individual capital, will always strive to break free of controls. The rich, who control capital, contend that minimal controls are required for free markets to flourish. They support minimal taxation policies, reject increased levies to meet public expenditure and oppose enhanced duties for social justice initiatives. Nevertheless, these viewpoints actually cover libertarian beliefs that governments have no right to tax people because taxation is nothing but stealing personal property obtained by merit, history and inheritance.

Capitalists also control governments, even hold them hostage. The funding of elections by private capital mandates moderation in the election rhetoric of politicians, during their tenure in government. Consequently, most governments take up right-of-centre positions, which do not allow for taxation policies required for social justice in our grossly iniquitous world.

Nevertheless, the recent collapse of many international banks, the massive bailouts required by many reputed pillars of finance for survival and the global economic recession exposed the limitations of the capitalist system. They documented the excesses of unregulated capitalism and laid bare the greed and intellectual dishonesty undergirding the system. Surely, a more honest conceptualisation of the conflicts of interest and biases among the rich and powerful players who have benefited from the system is needed; the focus on the wealth created should also highlight the resultant gross inequity.

Models of control

China's economic success has shattered many a capitalistic myth. It has emphasised the phenomenal success of direct governmental controls on the market. It has also underscored America's amnesia about its own industrial policies used to protect national interests. The U.S. government controls on steel and railroads in the 19th century and on the agriculture and defence industries in the 20th century supported sections of the American market and economy from external competition, thus cementing their success.

The collapse of the Irish economy, lauded as the perfect example of free market success, also refutes many free market myths. Its abysmally low rates of corporate tax attracted international corporations to relocate their headquarters to Ireland. The country gained a few thousand clerical jobs in exchange for its charity towards the rich. Ireland also subscribed to other free market folklore and allowed for unregulated speculation and trade in its financial sector. Its recent financial collapse and bailout have left all its citizens paying for the greed and errors of its rich bankers.

Free market arguments are always used by rich and developed nations to prise open poor economies to their advantage. The conditionalities imposed by their banks (read the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) in exchange for credit have crippled many a developing economy by removing trade barriers and reducing subsidies, which are required to protect local and fledgling markets against international competition. The obvious double standards on protectionism by rich nations are never mentioned.

Regulated capitalism

Economic structures should combine the efficiency of capitalism with socialistic ideals of equity and justice. The key question now is: "Who should regulate capitalism?" The answer is: national governments. Governments in poor countries as representatives of the population, the majority of which subsists on $1 a day, owe it to their people to provide social justice. Although some regulation exists and programmes for social justice have been rolled out in India (the National Rural Health Mission, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, etc.), they are employed to mitigate the effects of structural violence and as a vote-winning strategy rather than as a commitment to uplift the poor. The national health budget was reduced to 0.9 per cent of the GDP in the 1990s. Although the United Progressive Alliance was voted to power on its promise of raising it back to 2-3 per cent, this has yet to materialise. The ruling class (read politicians, administrators and their corporate partners) seems to employ social justice projects to soften democratic opposition to its capitalistic ideas of development. These schemes seem to be measures to prevent open revolt by the poor, rather than solutions to produce an egalitarian society. However, gross underfunding of such schemes ensures the success of capitalistic ventures, thus increasing privatisation and running down the public sector.

Massive corruption, exposed in the 2G spectrum and Commonwealth Games scams, is also maintained by a convenient nexus among politicians, corporations, civil servants, the judiciary, the police and the rich in civil society, who disagree with the strategy for social change or are impatient to increase their personal wealth. The administration refuses to clean up the system, as it would expose the extent of the rot within. Opposition to the Right to Information Act also stems from a similar nexus.

The lack of significant differences among various political groupings over financial and economic policies reflects the insensitivity of the ruling class to the needs of the majority. It mandates that the people, with their electoral power, should regularly ensure changes in governments, which over-promise and under-deliver. Although the lack of credible alternatives limits impact, it remains the only check on the ruling class and governments.

Individual or collective aspiration

The vision for civilised societies, enshrined in many national constitutions, has to be the fulfilling of the collective aspiration of the vast majority. While free trade policies are good on the average for rich and developed nations, individuals with limited capital within these cultures also suffer when they lose their jobs to Bangalore or to Shanghai. Specific protections are good for emerging markets, as they benefit the vast majority in the region and allow time to improve efficiency and competitiveness.

The focus on the collective aspiration of the majority of India's population, of moving out of poverty, is a just cause. National policies and programmes should cater for the needs of the majority rather than adding millions to the coffers of the wealthy. The magnitude of subsidies for the corporate sector and the scale of corruption in business dealings also suggest that the amount of monies actually available for social justice programmes exceed all expectations and require only political and administrative will for implementation.

China has reworked capitalism on its own terms. It has showed the way in using direct government control to protect its economy, create wealth and improve its indices of health and human development. It leads India on these indices, arguing that investing in social justice projects for the majority will provide the demographic dividend needed for economic prosperity.

There is need to transform capitalism, redesign and root it in the Indian context. Capitalistic beliefs often result in a lack of understanding, and disregard for the lot of the average citizen. The wealthy have hijacked public spaces, shared resources, economic rights and political processes and have skewed the national debate. Democratic systems demand solutions, which are sensitive to the aspirations of the majority. Economic growth will have to translate into basic needs for all. History will judge whether our very own IMFwallahs are instruments of the rich or use their intellect, positions and power to bring equity for the majority, the poor. The government will need to fulfil the Directive Principles enshrined in the Constitution, and its commitment to the human rights of the majority of the population. The interdependent nature of our modern world argues for a fair deal for all. Universal development will result in a stabler and more secure world.

(Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)







On January 22, 1963, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle signed a cooperation Treaty, the founding text of the cooperation between the Federal Republic of Germany and France.

Reconciliation for peace

After 1945, the idea gradually gained ground that the only way it would never again experience the devastation of the two World Wars was if new and indestructible solidarity linked Germany and France. Stalwarts such as Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman undertook this initiative. General de Gaulle, the liberator of France and father of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, and Konrad Adenauer, a figure of opposition to Nazism and first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, inspired by this spirit, were able to sublimate their personal experiences of the two wars and make the Franco-German rapprochement part of an unprecedented vision, the founding text for which was the Elysée Treaty. This Treaty established interaction between political authorities and administrative machinery, and made the youth the key actors of friendship between the two countries.

The spirit of the "Franco-German couple," embodied by its founding fathers, was perpetuated by their successors, to whom fell the necessitous task of preserving and enriching this heritage. The great Franco-German pairs were thus constituted successively (Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder), marking their mandates with new initiatives and new methods of cooperation. All ably nurtured strong personal relations, sometimes transcending their respective political affiliations. It is this tradition that is embodied today by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The real key to the Franco-German friendship is the deep interdependence created over the course of decades between civil societies and the living forces of the two countries. We are by far being each other's top trading partners or source of investments. The twinning between local self-governing bodies, exchanges between schools and universities and the in-depth action of the Franco-German Youth Office created such ties between our two societies that a historic animosity was swept aside within a few decades.

Unprecedented, renewed

Almost 50 years ago, the Elysée Treaty had already chalked out the modalities of cooperation that remain the fundamental architecture of the Franco-German partnership: regular meetings between the Heads of State and Government, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, and those in charge of education and youth affairs.

Over the years, these modes of discussion were considerably enriched to attain a degree of closeness unparalleled anywhere in the world. Today, it is not unusual at international fora to find the representative of one of the two countries speaking on behalf of the other. Since 2003, veritable joint councils of ministers have replaced the classic bilateral summit, and translate into work programmes. Franco-German Councils for economy and finance, defence and security, and the environment ensure the utmost consistency of national policies in the most important areas.

European integration

Standing out by its substantiveness, the Franco-German cooperation cannot content itself with classic diplomatic methods. The informal Blesheim meetings, established in 2001, illustrate this need for constant discussions at the highest level, beyond the constraints of traditional diplomacy. Without a set agenda and in a select format, these roughly bi-monthly meets enable the heads of State and government, accompanied by their ministers of foreign affairs, to coordinate closely the positions of their respective countries on all major international, European and bilateral issues.

Faithful to the spirit of the 1950 Schuman Declaration, ever since 1963, France and Germany have been clearly directing their joint action "on the path of a united Europe." Indeed, they share the belief that their common future fully forms part of that of a united Europe. Together, France and Germany have given an impetus to major progress achieved in the construction of Europe: political integration, creation of the Euro, the Schengen space, or the expansion of the European Union to include Central and East Europe in the post-Cold War period, enabling the constitution of the second largest democratic bloc after India, with 50 crore inhabitants, and the top global economy.

Geared to the future, in 2010, our two countries adopted a "Franco-German Agenda 2020" for Europe. In the face of the financial crisis, the difficulties encountered by several Member-States and the attacks against the Euro, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel yet again sought together common solutions, effective and acceptable to all.

Germany and France are aware of exercising a joint historic responsibility in the service of Europe. Their ambition is to continue being proactive leaders likely to draw partners, without imposing themselves. France and Germany may never agree on each and every thing, and their legitimate interests may diverge or be in competition with each other. But none of this can undermine their common will to build a more secure and more prosperous future together, along with their European partners.

Germany, France and India

Germany and France are each, in their own way, historic partners of India. Both our counties have always been fascinated by the Indian civilisation, as attested to by our works on Indology, which remain global references. Max Müller and Sylvain Levy are household names in India today.

At the political level, Berlin and Paris have each chosen a strategic partnership with India, aware that the latter will increasingly emerge as a hub of stability, security and development in its regional environment and the world. Hence, we unreservedly support India's candidature for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. Not only do we, like other countries, not conceive the reform of the Council without the accession of the largest democracy of the world on a permanent basis, but we also wish – and are doing our utmost to this end – that such reform takes place at the earliest.

The Franco-German partnership also aims to be reflected in India's economic development. The major European industrial and technological achievements, all results of Franco-German initiatives, nurture the ambition of becoming privileged partners of Indian operators in key sectors, such as aeronautics, with Airbus, Eurocopter or Arianespace. The third generation EPR nuclear reactor, which India intends to be equipped with and which, in the long term will provide it with one-sixth of the installed capacity planned for 2030, in safety conditions provided by the latest technological progress, is also the fruit of close cooperation between Germany and France.

Lastly, following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, we would like the new ambitions and the new instruments with which the European Union is now equipped to be placed in the service of a deepened partnership with India. The EU-India Summit, held on December 10, 2010, opened new vistas for enhanced cooperation in areas of security, such as counter-terrorism or anti-piracy.

The simultaneous presence of our three countries at the Security Council, post India and Germany's elections for the 2011-2012 biennium, offers us a unique opportunity to promote our shared vision for a multilateral approach to major issues affecting international stability and security. Germany and France are prepared to put their unique partnership of almost 50 years at the service of their cooperation with India.

( Jérôme Bonnafont and Thomas

Matussek are the Ambassadors of France and Germany respectively.)








After 233 days in a locked steel capsule, six researchers on a 520-day mock flight to Mars are all feeling strong and ready to "land" on the Red Planet, the mission director said on January 21.

The all-male crew, of three Russians, a Chinese, a Frenchman and an Italian-Colombian, has been inside windowless capsules at a Moscow research centre since June 2010. Their mission aims to help real space crews in the future cope with the confinement and stress of interplanetary travel.

The researchers communicate with the outside world via e-mails and video messages, occasionally delayed to give them the feel of being farther than a few yards (meters) away from mission control. The crew members eat canned food similar to that eaten on the International Space Station and shower only once a week.

Landing on February 12

None of the men has considered abandoning the mission, although they are free to walk out at any time, mission director and former cosmonaut Boris Morukov said. "They are still motivated, but there is a certain fatigue, which is natural," he said.

The six men are due to "land" on Mars on February 12, 2011 and spend two days researching the planet. They then begin the months-long return flight to Earth, expected to be the most challenging part of the mission. (The end of the 520-day study, with the crew landing on Earth is on November 5, 2011.)

"It will be very tough on the boys because of the monotony," Morukov said. "The fatigue and the thought that the mission is over can be fraught with negative consequences."

The Mars500 experiment is being conducted by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP), the European Space Agency and China's space training centre.

In an effort to reproduce the conditions of space travel, with exception of weightlessness, the crew has living quarters the size of a bus connected with several other modules for experiments and exercise. A separate built-in imitator of the Red Planet's surface is attached for the mock landing.

A real Mars mission is decades away — there are huge costs, major technological challenges and the task of creating a compact shield to protect crew from deadly space radiation.— AP




The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on January 20 that its newest Earth-observing research mission is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 23. The "Glory mission," which will improve understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect the Earth's climate, will also extend a legacy of long-term solar measurements needed to address key uncertainties about climate change.

It will join a fleet called the Afternoon Constellation or "A-train" of satellites. This group of other Earth-observing satellites, including NASA's Aqua and Aura spacecraft, flies in tight formation.

It marks the first satellite launch under U.S. President Barack Obama's climate initiative that will advance the U.S.' contribution to cutting-edge and policy-relevant climate change science.

The mission carries two primary instruments, the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS) and the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM). The APS will improve measurement of aerosols, that can influence climate by reflecting and absorbing solar radiation and modifying clouds and precipitation. "Glory" will fly in a low-Earth orbit altitude of 438 miles (704.9 km). After launch, mission operators will conduct verification tests for 30 days and then begin to collect data for at least three years.— Xinhua





For the first time since the 1800s, a small group of wild bison was herded on January 19 through fresh-fallen snow to reach their historical grazing grounds north of America's Yellowstone National Park.

As pronghorn antelope and mule deer scattered to avoid the procession, park employees and State livestock agents on horseback pushed the 25 bison about 10 miles (16 km) down the Yellowstone River valley. It took about three hours to reach an open meadow in the Gallatin National Forest, where the animals will be allowed to remain until spring. The move could provide at least some relief from government-sponsored mass slaughters of the iconic Western animals, often called buffalo. Past winter journeys by bison seeking to graze at lower elevations have been blocked over fears that a disease carried by some could infect cattle.

During the last major migration, in 2008, 1,600 Yellowstone bison were killed, about a third of the park's total. Wildlife officials said the Forest Service land where the 25 bison will be allowed to roam is roughly 2,500 acres, or less than four square miles. If this year's "test" operation goes well, the number of bison allowed eventually could be increased to 100.

Access to the land came at a steep price — Government agencies and private conservation groups agreed to pay more than $3 million to establish a bison travel corridor through the Royal Teton Ranch, a sprawling property just north of Yellowstone owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant. Electrified fencing now lines the dirt road that passes through the ranch, a reminder that the newfound tolerance for bison in Montana has its limits.

Prior to European settlement, an estimated 60 million bison roamed North America, from Canada to northern Mexico. They were hunted to near-extinction by the end of the 19th century, with only about 300 survivors remaining. Yellowstone was the first place the species was restored in significant numbers.

Established in 1872, the park is America's first national park. Located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, it is home to a large variety of wildlife including the grizzly bear, the wolf, the bison and the elk.— AP






India's marathon five-year-long wait for mobile number portability — the facility which enables a cellphone user to change his/her service provider without changing the number — is finally over, after several hurdles and postponements. At last, mobile phone users in this country can freely change their phone company without having to change their number; thus automatically gaining the upper hand in their equation with service providers. Mobile tariffs in India are already at rock bottom levels, and there is very little scope to reduce these further. So the cellphone companies, in order to retain customer loyalty and secure new business, have no option but to improve their quality of service. In this, the big telecom players enjoy a natural edge over smaller players which do not have such large networks; but irrespective of size, every service provider — big or small — will have to become more efficient and customer-friendly. Those companies in a position to offer 3G services will have a distinct advantage in attracting high-value customers to switch over. Equipment vendors also stand to benefit as they will get more business, with service providers upgrading and expanding infrastructure to improve coverage.

On the first day that portability came into operation, there was, interestingly, no rush of customers opting to switch to a new service provider. If Haryana (where MNP was first introduced in November) is any pointer of things to come, there may not be too much of a churning to worry the telecom companies. Only 0.75 per cent of subscribers switched providers in that state in this period, which is below the regular level of 3-5 per cent of subscribers who switch companies even without being able to retain their existing number. Most of them are prepaid customers — a segment estimated at 97 per cent of all mobile users in India. In the long run, MNP is expected to be an attractive option — it is estimated that at least 20 million of India's 600 million mobile subscribers might switch in the next two years. This could mean business of at least `12,000 crores a year. The potential market size is big for good performers.

The logical next step is portability in fixed line numbers. Many people are forced to, or choose to, change residence in the same city or town, and they too should be able to retain their old number. The infrastructure is available for this, and the telecom companies should be able to provide this without too much difficulty. And hopefully it should not take another five years for this.

While mobile service is steadily getting better in urban and semi-urban areas, the department of telecom needs to pay greater attention to mobile and Internet connectivity in rural areas. We are still some time away from cent per cent connectivity, and voice penetration is higher than broadband. If e-governance is to realise its full potential, broadband Internet connectivity is vital in the remotest and most deprived parts of the country — in fact even more so than in the cities where the majority of consumers have multiple options. This will also facilitate "inclusive growth" — which is the government's mantra. A way must be found to make personal computers and laptops more affordable and available in rural areas, along with connectivity at an affordable cost. At present, the lowest regular monthly charges are around `200. This will have to be brought down drastically. The department of telecom can play a vital role — its USO (universal service obligation) fund, which is said to have a huge surplus, can be used to spur the growth of Internet and broadband penetration in the farthest corners of rural India.







"Dawn breaks behind the eyes

He swore his love

The lies — the lies..."

From The Epitaphs

of Bachchoo

The Jaipur Literature Festival began on Friday and seems set to be the literary event of the year with two Nobel prize-winners and several distinguished and popular writers in attendance. Some of them may even be distinguished and popular at the same time, though I would, for example, separate George Steiner and Dan Brown into the two distinct non-intersecting categories.
In India these categories don't seem very distinct. Popularity, volume of sales, notoriety, controversy and, of course, foreign prizes are the hallmarks of recognition and recommendation.
So it is sort of surprising that V.S. Naipaul has never been invited. I say "sort of" because I know things that may be well-known to the literary world but aren't perhaps common knowledge. I know that Naipaul has been reviewed on at least two occasions — how shall I put it — "ungenerously" by William Dalrymple, one of the organisers. Then another organiser of the festival is the mother-in-law of Patrick French whose authorised biography of Naipaul was disowned and denounced by Sir Vidia and by Lady Naipaul as inaccurate and malicious. These are, of course, not secret matters. William's reviews were published in India and Britain and the displeasure with which the authorised biography was greeted by the Naipauls is also in the public domain. Perhaps my speculation is wrong and Naipaul has been invited to one or other Jaipur festivals and has for a reason unconnected with these facts declined to come. I don't know and will perhaps now be told.
Less perplexing to some may be the fact that I have never been invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival. The organisers can't be expected to know that I have a few prizes to my name — there was something called The Other Award which is handed out for the best book of children's literature each year and then there was the nomination for the Whitbread in which I am afraid I came second and, if prestige is the criterion then there was the Samuel Beckett Award for the best television play in the mid-eighties. But I am not foolish enough to imagine that these are in any way as prestigious as the Starbucks Award or the Tate and Lyle Prize etc.
The Swedish award is, of course, the crowning glory. Some years ago when I worked as a television bureaucrat I returned to my office from some external creative task and was told by Eva, my secretary, that a professor from the Swedish Academy in Stockholm had been trying to get me all day and that he would call back soon. I settled into my office and very soon Eva put a call through to my phone saying it was the Swedish Academy again. I picked up the phone and said, "Say no more, professor. I accept!"

After a very slight pause the professor said "Ah, not yet, Mr Dhondy, not yet. I am ringing to ask if you will attend a literary festival in Stockholm in July".

It was the nearest I got.

I suppose the importance of the Jaipur Literature Festival and its imminence has prompted comments in the press about its scope and intentions. The most amusing of these was a recent exchange I read between William Dalrymple and Hartosh Singh Bal in a weekly magazine. The debate opened with Bal accusing the festival and Dalrymple, one of its organisers and alleged founders, of looking to Britain for all estimations of literary worth. The article carried a full-page cartoon caricature of a blue-eyed, double-chinned Dalrymple dressed in princely Mughal attire with an orange kurta and maroon speckled waist coat, three strings of pearls and an orange turban crown complete with pearled plumes and adornments.

Dalrymple's reply in the next issue of the weekly, accused the cartoon and the article of being "racist". No doubt he didn't like being caricatured. It is something that politicians have to get used to by virtue of their public role. Writers can be indulged if they retain the right to be offended. "Racist" is a handy term and stimulates immediate revulsion. Dalrymple attempts to stimulate this same revulsion when he says at the end of the article that Bal's (I know Dalrymple, I don't know Bal) contentions felt "like the literary equivalent of shit through an immigrant's letter-box".

Reading Bal's piece didn't leave me with this impression. Neither is Dalrymple being parodied in the cartoon for being of the Caucasian-Celtic races. The cartoon seems to be a comment on his well-known penchant for things Mughal, including the elaborate attire.

Dalrymple rightly contends that the festival has a broad reach and this year includes the South African J.M. Coetzee and the Turkish Orhan Pamuk.

Bal replies to Dalrymple's reply saying that Indians and in particular the Jaipur organisers "needed the English newspapers and critics to elaborate their greatness before we came to accept it. They have been filtered to us through Britain... if Pamuk had come to India before such endorsement came his way we would not have noticed him".

That's true. So is the fact that Bal points to earlier in his rebuttal that the people who remain the focus of the Festival, however many Indians attend and are empanelled, are not homegrown.

What both sides in this dispute fail to come to terms with is the fact that these truths are not consequences of any bias or Raj-centric attitude on Dalrymple's part or on anyone else's part. They are the consequence of there being a gaping, hopeless, perhaps irreparable absence of any critical literature or tradition that is homegrown. Yes, there are reviews and puffs for books galore, but there has never been a fundamental questioning of what writing in India should be doing, what it should reveal and why. There has never been any examination of why one book is better than another or if indeed Indian writing is providing anything more than the imitated conceits and concerns of other cultures with the names, clothes and details made native.

Until a rich and even ruthless critical tradition can make sense of the country's literary output we cannot blame Dalrymple and Jaipur for borrowing the critical yardstick. Will Bal step up to the mark?








Dr Zeenat Shaukat Ali, professor of Islamic studies at Mumbai's St Xavier's College has been at the helm of a unique peace project in the city. Now over three years old, the programme included a cricket match in March 2008 between two teams of Muslim, Hindu, Christian clerics — strictly not distributed along religious lines — along with counterparts from other religions played at the Brabourne Stadium.


A year later, in June 2009, Islamic clerics spoke about the idea of the human family in Islam and the Prophet's legacy of conflict resolution and co-existence of diverse peoples.


Early last week, Zeenat Ali, who heads the World Institute of Islamic Studies for Dialogue, Organisation of Mediation and Gender Justice (WISDOM Foundation), released Winning The Peace: A Quest, a collection of essays and commentaries by leading Islamic scholars. Some of the essays were chosen from a competition that she had organised for imams from Mumbai's mosques. Other contributors to the book are recognised religious scholars like Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan and Rev Dr Hans Ucko, scholar, peacemaker and former member of the World Council of Churches. Zeenat Ali agreed to an interview with Manoj R Nair.Excerpts:


Where did the idea for the project come from? Was it an incident or experience that led you to pursue it?


There was a reason. Ever since 9/11, the world has been divided into two parts and now there are other new smaller parts. The violence that took place shocked me. It was unjustifiable. That was the seed for the project. Now we come to our country. We also see ourselves in two parts. Ever since the Babri Masjid demolition (in 1992), and the 2002 riots in Gujarat, people and communities have been falling apart. There have been constant terror attacks all over the world and people have been living in fear. All of it was attributed to religion. The truth is religion has little or nothing to do with it.


You have said it is more a fight for resources.


This conflict is not related to one party or community. The Basque struggle, the IRA movement, the Israel-Palestine conflict, even Apartheid in South Africa — most of these issues had to do with resources. In case of Apartheid, the issue was about the control of diamonds, though Dutch settlers had laid the foundations for a divisive policy. As I wondered what did all this have to do with religion, I realised it had more to do with resources.


Conflict resolution is an important theme in your book. You have used Prophet Mohammad's example to stress that Islam has a history of peaceful resolution of conflicts.


Prophet Mohammad was well known as a peacemaker and arbitrator. Basically, I am a Gandhian (Ali heads the Sarvodaya International Trust) and believe that conflict can be avoided. One verse in the Koran says that reconciliation is best. The question is — do you need to kill in a conflict? We need to learn civilised ways to deal with a conflict. The common man's life should be preserved during a conflict. Every religion says 'Thou shall not kill'. But killing in the name of religion is rampant. I feel women should take a leading role in conflict resolution because they have a lot at stake. Their sons and husbands go to war. So they have to devise methods for conflict resolution. As the world becomes more complex, complicated, more divided and more unconcerned about the other, we have to have a common goal. Globalisation has to be embraced by us as equal partners.


One of the primary aims of the book is to clear misinterpretations and misinformation about Islam, both among its own believers and people of other faiths.


Are the Taliban scholars that we have to take them seriously? When scholars of Islam say something, how is it that we do not consider that, and listening to what the Taliban says about Islam. I am looking at the issue as a world citizen, as a citizen who cares, and as a proud Indian. I wish I could find solutions (to conflicts) but I have not been able to give the answers in the book. But we can raise consciousness in civil society and government.


Your project included a cricket match, an art event, an essay competition for imams, and now a book. How were these diverse components integrated into the peace project?


I used to think how can we unite people in a world that is increasingly getting divided. I realised that once you get people together, they will form friendships with each other.These are my findings from the project. When one community is identified with terror, I said that the clerics from that community should write essays on the tradition of tolerance and harmony in Islam. They were so happy somebody had asked them to write. They put their heads into the pen and wrote. That is how the book began. They wrote in Urdu and Dr Asgar Ali Engineer (an Islamic scholar) translated them. Maulana Mohammed Shoaib Koti and Maulana Mustakeem Azmi agreed to be the judges.


Recently, the new head of the Darul Uloom seminary at Deoband, Maulana Ghulam Vastanvi reportedly said that he appreciated the administrative work done by [Gujarat chief minister] Narendra Modi and that it was time to move on from the 2002 riots. What are you views?


Like (former Serbian leader Slobodan) Milosevic who was implicated in the Bosnia genocide, Narendra Modi should be booked for what he has done.


The law must take its own course. I agree that we have to move on and give credit for good administration, but on the other hand, you cannot allow injustice. A terrorist, whatever the background, has to be punished.


Once it could be said that religious extremism affected only a minority in most societies. But the support for Salman Taseer's killing in Pakistan shows that intolerance may no longer be confined to a small fringe.


Taseer's killing is another blot on the name of Pakistan. I do not think the killing had anything to do with Islam. I have little opinion on where Pakistan is headed. Of course, the laws of blasphemy cannot be sustained. There are ample examples in the Prophet's life where people hurt him. What did he do? He forgave these people and he never hurt them. That was the greatness of his character. His followers have to learn from his example. If there is a disagreement, you have to debate and discuss the issue.


After three years, what are your thoughts about the peace initiative?


I was an observer and we had several groups participating in the project. There was something positive that came out of the project. I did not find anger. They were all working towards a focal point.








I did not know Salman Taseer, at least not personally. But I had often heard my father talk of his father as his dear friend, Din Mohd Tasser (or Dr Taseer), who was with him in Kashmir, and was the principle of Islamia College at Lahore. I was born in Kashmir where my father was director of education and Dr Taseer, a frequent visitor to our home.


I have two close friends, Salima Faiz, daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz Sahab, and Sheherzade, daughter of a great writer of short stories, Ghulam Abbas. Both were close to Salman Taseer. Both, one in Lahore and the other in Canada, are devastated by his assassination. What words of comfort can I offer them? There is a sense of outrage in my heart. Once again Islam has been vandalised and pilloried. Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin, has been hailed as a hero and saviour.


Let me recall an incident from the life of the Prophet. The Prophet once visited Taif, a town in Saudi Arabia. There he was insulted by the people. The angel Gabriel appeared before him and said, "These people of Taif have insulted you. If you order me, I will destroy them in retribution". The Prophet replied, "No, Jibrael, spare them; let them be. One day they will become good people". It was as a consequence of the Prophet's forgiveness, that today Taif is the most beautiful and peace-loving part of Saudi Arabia.


Muslims regard the life of the Prophet, his Sunnah, as the model for their own. At his last Khutba, before his death, the Prophet addressed the Ummah and said — I am leaving you with three things; the Quran, my Hadith (sayings) and my Sunnar (life). Hold on to these and you will be safe.


The story goes that when the Prophet walked by a certain house on a street in Mecca, a basket of trash was thrown at him from the upper storey. He never looked up, just dusted off his cloak and walked on. One day it stopped. He inquired and found that his tormentor was an old woman who lay sick in her house. It is recorded that the Prophet went to help her as she lay burning with fever. This is the lesson of Islam. And some insane elements have, by perpetrating this dastardly act, made a mockery of it.


Surah Al Baqarah of the Quran refers to such people, when it says: Sumun bukmun umiyun faham la yar ja oon, which translates as "Deaf, dumb, blind, they will not return to the path." And what is the path? Surah Al Hamd, the first and quintessential Surah of the Quran, describes it as Sirat ul Mustaqeem (the straight path), which is ordained for Muslims because, says the Quran, "It is the way of those on whom Thou has bestowed Thy grace, those whose portion is not wrath and who do not go astray."


Islam stands for forgiveness, understanding and compassion. I can quote hundreds of verses from the Quran enjoining these practices. Above all, the Quran instructs Muslims to respect the faith of others and forgive transgressors. There is no place in the Quran for draconian laws, such as the blasphemy laws designed to terrorise people. As for the specific case of the Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet, it negates the very spirit of Islam. None other than the world's greatest scholar and commentator on the Quran, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, has in his Tafsir (commentary) on the Quran, condemned 'rivayat' (heresy) since it is the most unreliable source of evidence.


Salman Taseer received 29 bullets for being outspoken about his beliefs. I don't know how he lived, but he died a hero for all of us in the subcontinent who live by our truths. Although death comes only once, we all live in dread of that day. It is for this reason that the aam janta of Pakistan have not raised a storm at this heinous event. But there is a seething inside and it is bound to erupt one day. We, who are their neighbours and well wishers, can only offer them our solidarity at this darkest moment.


As the poet said: Chiragh-e-toor jalao bahaut andhera hai/Sukhan ki shama jalao bahaut andhera hai (Light up the lamp, it is too dark/Light up the candle of poetry, it is too dark).








There is something fascinating about being 'most desirable'.

There's no scientific yardstick yet to gauge how it works wonders for the regular 'undesirable' Joe or Jane, but it is possible that the branding does oodles of good to insecure egos. Probably, it enhances one's self-image by several satisfying notches and helps one bury a few embarrassing personal doubts — an unpleasant gift from the bedroom mirror.


But what, pray, is the desirability quotient in men and women? Please stop thinking sex for a moment. It muddles up the whole picture. Going by surveys in magazines and newspapers, it has to be that unique combination of beauty, brawn, brains and of course, a bulging wallet, which people — read those under survey — find irresistible. Six-pack abs, chiselled faces, sexy companions, swanky cars and swankier lifestyles fit somewhere into this arrangement of unique properties. Sex, of course, is a permanent insinuation.


There's nothing to crib about here though. Only the 'out-of-reachness' of the magic combo rankles. Those guys and gals on the covers sure set a wrong benchmark that is too high for ordinary folks. With people like Hrithik, Salman and Katrina in the 'desirable' bracket, the rest of us naturally land in the 'undesirable' category. Not quite flattering to one's ego. But that's what benchmarks do. They manage to make people miserable.


"Benchmark makes the world go around and up,'' argue votaries of desirability. "It's aspirational. It prods men to do better, look better. The cave man would still be in his cave without it, drawing dirty pictures on the walls.''


True. It puts some imagination into the drab everydayness of our lives and drives us to change. The world without it won't be where it is without standards — both personal and general — shifting to a higher plane all the time. The cave men of yore would neither be walking the ramp nor ogling at size zero women several time leaps later. But why make them so exacting?


And who sets the standards in the first place? Definitely not the bedroom mirror — it just nags, pointing at your bulging stomach, graying hair, the double chin above your neck and several other inadequacies. It could be those ad guys who keep devising, revising and revisiting the perfect man or woman with measuring tapes.


"Aim for the sky, you will reach the roof. Aim to be Hrithik, you will look like a presentable human being at least,'' was the rather uncharitable reply from a friend in the ad world.


Fortunately, not many people bother about the sky. The guy at the bar was contemptuous about the whole desirability business. "Benchmark? Ha! So what if I have just one pack or none at all? A man is not just about how he looks. Think about that Italian guy Berlusconi, and that Playboy chap Hefner,'' he said. Ah! this was inspirational stuff. Wish that ad guy was around.











It has been more than three months since the Commonwealth Games ended but new controversies still keep surfacing. In the latest embarrassment, four of Australia's biggest firms are on the verge of slapping a multi-million dollar case against the organisers for non-payment of outstanding dues. Among them are the firms that worked for the opening and closing ceremonies and provided pyrotechnics and fireworks display. It was the fault of the Organising Committee but it is the name and reputation of the country which has been sullied. The owner of one of the companies said that for him India now stands for "I'll Never Do It Again". Worse, the matter was raised by Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd when his Indian counterpart S. M. Krishna was visiting Australia. It must have been an embarrassing moment for Mr Krishna, indeed.


The new Sports Minister, Mr Ajay Maken, has served a 10-day ultimatum on government nominees in the Organising Committee (OC) to sort out payment issues and directed them to make the payment within this period. But even this action may not undo the loss of reputation that it has caused. The OC's take on the ugly episode is that most payments are complete and those awaiting disposal had to do with "under-performance and contractual obligations". This argument would have carried weight if the working of the committee had been otherwise above board, but since most of its other action reek strongly of corruption, this defence rings hollow.


In spite of the world-wide condemnation of the scandals, action against Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi and his close associates has been tardy. The games ended on October 14 but CBI raids on the discredited men were conducted only in December, as if someone was trying to help them cover their tracks. Some of the tainted persons have been arraigned for comparatively small amounts, but the full extent of the loot is yet to be traced. By going soft, the government is willy-nilly proving that tackling corruption and black money is not exactly on top of its agenda, whatever statements it may make publicly.









The stay on bookings, sales and construction activities on the 19-tower Tata Camelot housing colony project in Punjab's Kansal village in the vicinity of Chandigarh ordered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday affords an opportunity for a hard look at the controversial project which, in its present form, poses a grave threat to the skyline of the country's only planned city as The Tribune has been pointing out through a sustained public-spirited campaign. It is heartening too that the Union Territory administration has been given time until March 31 to finalize its master plan. It would indeed be prudent for the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh to use this opportunity to work jointly towards integration of their respective master plans in right earnest so that the beauty, the majesty and the ecological balance of Chandigarh are duly maintained, as averred by the court.


Significantly, since the Camelot site falls within the catchment area of the Sukhna lake, an ecologically sensitive zone because of its proximity to Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary, the Union Environment Ministry is looking into whether environmental clearance to it would be in order. Though the Chandigarh Administration has been opposing construction activity in the city's periphery around Sukhna's catchment area, categorizing it as an ecologically sensitive zone, it is yet to issue a notification declaring the area around the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary as an eco sensitive zone. It would indeed be in the fitness of things if this is done without further delay. The latest guidelines issued by the Union Environment Ministry for declaration of eco-sensitive zones around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries clearly say that discharge of effluents and solid waste in natural water bodies or terrestrial area in the eco-sensitive areas will not be allowed.


It is noteworthy that some leading architects and town planners had, at a seminar last month in Chandigarh, pointed out how the multi-tower, high-rise Tata project would defy town planning norms and would be violative of the New Punjab Periphery Control Act and the Edict of Chandigarh that banned construction in the north of the Capitol Complex. This and related issues need to be examined threadbare now that the High Court has stayed any further movement in the Tata Camelot project.









With its arrival at the global centrestage as a new major power, China seems to be getting more conscious of its poor human rights record. Perhaps, some churning is going on behind the scene about how to handle the uncomfortable questions often being raised with regard to this ugly aspect of the communist giant's otherwise envious image today. Whatever be the reason, Chinese President Hu Jintao's candid comment in Washington DC on Wednesday that "a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights" is bound to make the world go deeper into his observation. It must be a well-calculated outpouring, as it has come from a person who has been guiding China's destiny since 2002 (his second five-year term will end next year). The real import of Mr Hu's surprising observation may become clearer in the days to come.


China's dubious human rights record has been under sharper focus following the controversy generated by Beijing using its newly acquired global clout to force as many countries as possible to boycott the December 10, 2010, Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo when its celebrated human rights activist Liu Xiaobo was honoured with the world's biggest award. Only 17 countries responded to China's test of friendship when it approached almost every invitee to Oslo with the with-us-or-against-us strategy. Most of those who succumbed to China's intimidating tactics were its "all-weather friends" like Pakistan. But in the process, Beijing became a laughing stock in full view of the world.


China may have emerged as one of the top economies of the world, but its record remains dubious on various fronts. It is deliberately keeping its currency undervalued, which has led to trade-related disputes between China and many other countries like the US. Its suspicious military build-up in the Pacific has sent disturbing signals across the region. It is also accused of not doing enough to get the controversial Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes capped. China will have to improve its record not only on the human rights front but also in other areas to be treated as a responsible global power.

















One finds it odd that civil society has not reacted to the Supreme Court's observation that Indian nationals were not meant to be hunted down by the police in encounters. The court was reacting to the killing of two Maoists in an "encounter" when they were responding to private peace overtures. Why does the government persist in its belief that the force can suppress discontent? Violence is what I detest in solving a problem. Maoists or Naxalites are defaming their movement by using the gun. However, the fact of state terrorism remains.


It is not a secret that the state has arrayed the maximum possible force against the Naxals, who are portrayed as the "worst internal security threat" in the country. The most affected area is the Dandakaranya region. This was promised a special rehabilitation deal by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1958 while inaugurating the Dandakaranya Development Authority. That undertaking was never met.


Power from the barrel of the gun began to be seen in the late 1960s in areas such as Naxalbari in West Bengal and Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. It was only in 1980 that some Andhra groups moved into remote places of Baster in Madhya Pradesh for shelter and training. Their very presence in concerned areas gave the simple tribals some relief against the patwari-havaldar-dafedar trio.


The language barrier proved to be the most effective screen for Naxal consolidation in Bastar. The national policy of teaching through mother tongue in elementary classes was buried beneath the compulsory instruction in Hindi. Even learning of tribal dialects by all state functionaries was ignored.


The people's communication with outside world, therefore, was largely through middlemen or a privileged few. The Naxals, on the other hand, established direct rapport with the people in no time. They started attracting the youth to become a part of their cadre with no other rival in the realm of ideas or even information. Abujhamar that had been kept outside the purview of normal administration since 1930s with restricted entry to outsiders became their most favourite area. Thus, here was the most propitious opportunity for the Naxalites to consolidate their hold on a part of Bastar as a "liberated zone".


With the firm resolve to meet the challenge of internal security threat, the state has used every force except the Army in this region. Hundreds of villagers have either deserted their homes or are closeted in camps. Many are moving out to adjoining states. There is practically no chance for a dialogue between the state and the Naxals. The Andhra experience has proved to be a calamity. Yet there are countless special deals with liberal financial assistance for infrastructure and social services for the hither-to-"neglected poor tribals".


The rulers have faulted in the very first step in their perception about the real issues concerning the tribal people. The worst insult which a self-respecting tribal has to swallow in the name and game of development is the tag "poor" given to him by the officialdom and others. This is being done on purpose so that politicians, officials and the elite can project themselves as the well-wishers of the tribals. The bitter truth is that the tribal is not poor but disinherited. Less said the better about the infrastructure and other development programmes.


A radical start was made by abolishing the commercial sale of intoxicants in tribal areas (1974) and conceding the ownership of minor forest produce (the 1976 conference of tribal and forest ministers). These vital decisions and the need to raise the level of administration were forgotten by the end of the decade. However, an array of fortune seekers rushed to the tribal areas in the real style of gold rush.


The tribal people in India have their respective territory. They manage all their affairs as members of a virtual "village republic" in accordance with their customs and traditions. They depend for their livelihood on the natural resources of their habitat. Although the state is enforcing the model of individual ownership, land even now is not property. The traditional frame of "community ownership and individual use" is still in vogue among many communities, especially in the Northeast.


A simple tribal lives in the present, unconcerned about the future. There is no future tense in many a tribal

dialect. Theirs is a subsistence economy with heavy dependence on forest and water resources that have been

endowed by nature in plenty. The tribal is a "man of word" and proud about the same. It is worth recollecting the incident of a Naga chief storming out of the court with a resolve never to return when a lawyer started cross-examining him.


The British had to accept the freedom-loving spirit of the tribal people after a number of unsuccessful expeditions into their territories. They were obliged to face the entire communities. It is a prevarication of history that the British conquered tribal territories. People's refusal to acknowledge British authority was at the root of some of the major revolts in the tribal areas.


There was a qualitative change in the legal regime of the tribal areas with the adoption of the Constitution. Some of the excluded areas and partially excluded areas in various provinces and also some territories in the erstwhile princely states were designed as Scheduled Areas under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution in 1950. The near-ideal frame of the Scheduled Areas, which has been eulogised as "constitution within constitution" became virtually dysfunctional ironically with the adoption of the Constitution on November 26, 1949.


Take the case of Bastar. The traditional system of dispute resolution is so powerful and pervasive that on an average one case in two years is reported per police station in the whole district. But this system has no sanction of law. Therefore, all proceedings in village councils, especially in non-bailable cases, are violations of law. Proceedings can be initiated against one or more members of the village council by some operator or the police, notwithstanding the consensus-reached decision which is accepted fair by all parties in dispute.


Yet, the government has ordered "denotification" of some villages in Bastar so that the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1966, is not applicable to them. The Act was specifically drafted to give tribal populations control over their lands. The state has not learnt any lesson from its mistake so far.







The teens were tough. Twenties trying. Thirties thriving. Forties fruitful. Fifties were fun and fulfilling. Sixties have been sweet. And now, how will seventies be? Sour? Or satisfying and smooth? 


I was born in a small town. Not in a fancy nursing home. But in a small bedroom. No inoculations or vaccinations. No fuss. Everyone drank water from the pump. Ate chaat and sweets laid out in the open. Walked to the school. Sat on the floor. Learnt to write on a wooden board. Sometimes, studied under the light of a kerosene lamp. The teachers were tough. Wielded the rod regularly. The defaulters were punished without any distinction. Played in pouring rain and scorching sun. Gradually grew up. Without ever complaining.


The routine continued even after I left the school. The educationists, governors, ministers and chancellors were regular visitors to the college as well as the university. But no cars with blue or red beacons. Virtually, no noise or nuisance on the road. The 'sirens' were heard only during war. Life was simple. Straight. Never heard the word 'stress' or 'suicide' during my days at school, college or university.


Today, it is a different world. Everything appears to have changed. While I continue to enjoy the good things of life, I see the children leading a wholly protected existence. Drinking bottled milk and water. Eating fat-free food. They go to the school in a bus or car. Preferably airconditioned. The principal cannot punish her pupils. Everybody says that the system should be free from stress. The educationists adopt the populist line and propose to eliminate the examinations.


Why? When and where will the children learn to face the storms of life? To struggle for success? Probably, we shall have young men who will carry the knowledge of the world in a pocket computer. But will they be able to stand the strain and stress that the present-day materialistic world poses? How will they survive in the ruthlessly competitive environment that we live in?


Thus, I am never tired of pestering my children and grandchildren. The grandson often tells me — 'Dadu! Please chill.' Yet, the concern remains constant. Looking back, I realise that tough times in early years make for a strong body and mind in later life. It lends a spring to every step. 


So, I enter the solemn seventies with lots of optimism. Just as the setting sun lends bright colours to the sky, I am sure the years bring a rare rhythm to the life's routine. Today, the numbers  may count me old. Still, I have something of the youth. I look forward to another decade with no signs of decay. I savour the thought. The seventies shall be smooth and satisfying.









As fragile bilateral relations continue to be marked with contentious issues like stapled visas, border incursions and territorial claims, the military gap between India and China is growing steadily due to the double-digit annual growth in the Chinese defence budget while India's military modernisation continues to remain mired in red tape.


Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's recent visits to India and Pakistan achieved diametrically opposite results. His visit here fell much short of Indian expectations and failed to resolve the recent logjam in the security relationship between the two countries. However, in Pakistan he further consolidated the "all-weather" strategic partnership and, according to the joint statement, the relationship has gone "beyond bilateral dimensions and acquired broader regional and international ramifications".


It had been widely anticipated in India that Jiabao's visit would not result in the satisfactory resolution of India's major concerns. The joint statement issued at the end of the visit on December 16, 2010, bears out the apprehensions of Indian analysts. Agreements for bilateral trade amounting to US$ 16 billion were signed and the two sides agreed to raise mutual trade from US$ 60 billion this year to US$ 100 billion by 2015. (In contrast, China signed trade agreements with Pakistan worth US$ 35 billion during his visit.) However, India did not agree to sign a free trade agreement; instead the joint statement proposes ''measures to promote greater Indian exports to China with a view to reduce India's trade deficit.'' Six joint agreements were signed on culture, green technology, media exchanges, river data and banking, all of which are relatively less significant aspects of the bilateral relationship.


China remained non-committal on the ticklish issue of visas being stapled to the passports of the residents of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), instead of being stamped on their passports. China did not agree to either mention Pakistan as the source of terrorism or condemn the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror strikes. It also did not specifically endorse India's quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In turn, India did not accept a reference to the one-China policy and, instead, the principle of "mutual respect and sensitivity for each other's concerns and aspirations" was included in the joint statement. The visit also reinforced Indian views that China is increasingly leaning on Pakistan in its Kashmir policy.


Relations between India and China have been fairly stable at the strategic level. Economic relations are much better now than these have been in the past. Mutual economic dependence is growing rapidly even though the balance of trade is skewed in China's favour. The two countries have been cooperating in international fora like WTO talks and climate change negotiations. There has even been some cooperation in energy security. However, at the tactical level, China has been exhibiting a markedly aggressive political, diplomatic and military attitude. Instability in the security relationship, in particular, has the potential to act as a spoiler and the security relationship will ultimately determine whether the two Asian giants will clash or cooperate for mutual gains. The major cause for this instability is the half-century old territorial and boundary dispute over which the two countries fought a border war in 1962.


The pointers to the future are not particularly positive. China continues to be in physical occupation of large areas of Indian territory in J&K. On the Aksai Chin plateau in Ladakh, China is in possession of approximately 38,000 square kilometres of territory since the mid-1950s. In addition, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Indian territory to China in 1963 in the Shaksgam Valley of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir under a bilateral boundary agreement that India does not recognise. Close to this area, the Chinese built the Karakoram highway that now provides a strategic land link between Xinjiang, Tibet and Pakistan. China continues to stake its claim to about 96,000 sq km of Indian territory in the eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls Southern Tibet.


Chinese interlocutors have repeatedly claimed that the Tawang Tract, in particular, is part of Tibet and that the merger of this area with Tibet is non-negotiable. In 2005, India and China had agreed on "guiding principles and parameters" for a political solution to the territorial dispute. One important parameter was that "settled populations will not be disturbed". In the case of Tawang the Chinese have gone back on this. If such errant behavior continues, India will find it difficult to accept Chinese assurances of peaceful resolution of the territorial dispute at face value.


The Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China is yet to be physically demarcated on the ground and delineated on military maps. In fact, despite the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA) signed with the Chinese in 1993 and the agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field signed in 1996, border guards of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) have transgressed the LAC repeatedly to intrude into Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. They have even objected to Indian road construction efforts and the presence of Indian graziers at their traditional grazing grounds.


Patrol face-offs are commonplace and usually end with both the sides warning each other to go back to their own territory. While no such incident has resulted in a violent clash so far, the probability of such an occurrence is high. Demarcation of the LAC without prejudice to each other's position on the territorial dispute would be an excellent confidence building measure but little progress has been made in 14 rounds of talks between the two special representatives. Under the circumstances, China's intransigence in exchanging maps showing the alignment of the LAC in the western and the eastern sectors is difficult to understand.


The military gap between Indian and China is growing steadily as the PLA is modernising at a rapid pace due to the double-digit annual growth in the Chinese defence budget while India's military modernisation plans continue to remain mired in red tape. China's negotiating strategy is to stall resolution of the dispute till the Chinese are in a much stronger position in terms of comprehensive national strength so that they can then dictate terms. The rapidly blossoming strategic partnership between China and Pakistan is also a major cause for concern.


During any future conflict with either China or Pakistan, India will have to contend with a two-front situation as each will collude militarily with the other - a situation for which the Indian armed forces are not prepared. Hence, it is in India's interest to strive for the early resolution of the territorial dispute with China so that India has only one major military adversary to contend with.


The author is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi







March 17, 1959: Tibet's spiritual leader Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama flees to India to escape China's crackdown on Tibetan uprising. New Delhi's decision to grant him asylum sours relations with China.


October 20, 1962: China attacks India on two fronts — Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese forces capture Tawang, an important cultural center for Tibetans in Arunachal. A month later, China declares a ceasefire and withdraws its troops, but territorial disputes along the 3,225-kilometer-long Himalayan border continue. India claims China is occupying 33,000 square kms of its territory in Jammu and Kashmir.


July 24, 1976: Diplomatic ties between India and China are re-established.


December 19, 1988: Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi makes a five-day breakthrough visit to China, the first visit by an Indian prime minister in 34 years. The two countries agree to set up a joint working group to settle the boundary issue.


November 28, 1996: Chinese President Jiang Zemin visits India, the first visit to India by a head of state from China. The two countries sign an agreement on confidence building measures in regard to the India-China border areas.


January 5, 2000: Tibetan Buddhist leader Karmapa Ugyen Trinley Dorje reportedly flees China and joins the Dalai Lama in India. Beijing says giving him asylum would violate the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.


June 23, 2003: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee makes a landmark visit to China -- the first Indian head of government to visit China in ten years — to strengthen relations.


April 9, 2005: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Bangalore seeking an increase in cooperation in high-tech industries. India and China also sign an agreement aimed at resolving border disputes.


July 6, 2006: China and India re-open Nathu La Pass, an ancient trade route through the Himalayas which was once part of the Silk Road. The pass had been closed since the 1962 Sino-Indian war.


May 25, 2007: China denies a visa to a government official from Arunachal Pradesh, arguing that since the state was a part of China, he would not require a visa to visit his own country.


December 21, 2007: First ever joint Sino-Indian military training exercise held. The five-day anti-terrorism drill was held at Kunming in southwest China


January 13, 2009: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits China. Bilateral trade surpasses $50 billion and China becomes India's largest trading partner in goods.


October 13, 2009: Dispute over Manmohan Singh's visit to Arunachal Pradesh. China expresses "strong dissatisfaction" on the visit to the "disputed area." India responds by saying Arunachal Pradesh is an "integral and inalienable" part of India.


August 27, 2010: India cancels defense exchanges with China after Beijing refuses a visa to a top Indian army officer because he "controlled" the disputed area of Jammu and Kashmir. India subsequently refuses to allow two Chinese defense officials to visit New Delhi.


December 15, 2010: Wen Jiabao arrives on a three-day visit to India, but signing 84 memorandums of understanding on the business front notwithstanding, his visit was regarded in many quarters as largely devoid of substance on the political and diplomatic front.








J&K govt's over reaction fuelling a vicious controversy to the undeserved advantage of Sangh Parivar
Rising pitch of the shadow boxing over BJP's threat to storm Lal Chowk on the Republic Day, though not for the first time, continues to overshadow the real issues facing this eternally troubled border state. This play-acting suits both sides. The BJP, riddled with internal contradictions and emaciated by its sagging morale, is desperately seeking to resurrect its faded macho image on the national scene. The coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, struggling to come out of the stupor, sees this hollow controversy as god-send to divert public attention from real issues on its hands. Even before 1992, when the then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi made his infamous appearance at Lal Chowk to hoist the Tricolour on January 26, the Sangh Parivar's political prop has been trying to keep the 'issue' alive. 'Kashmir', like the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya has been a permanent feature of the Parivar's political ideology, for the simple reason that their sectarian objectives receive periodic booster dose through such tactics. On the one hand, the BJP pretends to be the sole guardian of Indian nationalism (as perceived by the Parivar) and on the other the 'target' at the opposite end of this game happened to be the Parivar's most favourite one---Muslim minority. The party revels in the belief that these tactics are time-tested means to boost their sagging macho image. After demolishing the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992 and tasting its fleeting political dividends, the Parivar is now aiming to 'demolish' the special status of J&K.
That the country's only Muslim-majority state has been a tantalising target of Parivar's sectarian ideology dates to over half a century. Founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee courted arrest in 1953 in pursuit of his mission: Ek vidhan, ek nishan, ek pradhan. Nearly six decades later that objective remains as elusive as it was when Dr Mookerjee lost his precious life while in detention in Srinagar. Futility of the slogan was underlined more than once between then and now. The BJP held the seat of power and authority in New Delhi for five years from 1999 to 2004 under the leadership of veteran Atal Behari Vajpayee. Not once during that period did the party or its government find it convenient to talk or do anything towards demolishing Art 370 of the constitution of India. The BJP-led NDA government indeed enlisted the active support of the National Conference supposedly championing the issue of J&K's special status. The NDA government's action in rejecting the NC-led state government's autonomy proposal in 2000 was nothing unusual; Indira Gandhi having put it in black and white in 1975 when she told Sheikh Abdullah that 'hands of clock cannot be turned back' and the NC leader quietly digested the snub like his successors did 25 years later.

MM Joshi's misadventure in 1992 was largely seen as an offshoot of BJP's internal power tussle. LK Advani's politically successful Rath Yatra in 1990 over the Ayodhya issue induced Joshi to mount his Ekta yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir with the objective of demolishing Art 370. But the verdict of the history was destined to be otherwise. When the BJP managed to occupy the seat of power it displayed a different outlook. Harsh compulsions of power equation prevailed over ostensible ideological commitment. Art 370 or 'Kashmir' ceased to be an issue for the government that included Advani and Joshi.

Muslim bashing, however, continues to be the most favourite game of the Parivar. 'Kashmir' provides irresistible temptation as it combines ideological as well as political fodder to resurrect vicious machismo behind ultra nationalism rooted in sectarian philosophy.  Logically and rationally there is absolutely no justification for targetting Lal Chowk for ceremonial flag hoisting ceremony on the R-D. The place has never been used for any such function. And where else in this vast country does any non-official group or party insist upon being allowed to stage its parallel ceremonial function? Ideally, this controversy ought to have been ignored and dismissed as non-issue. The government should have confined its response to taking necessary measures required to prevent what is patently disrespectful towards the sanctity of the occasion. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Perhaps because, like the BJP, the state government is also desperately looking for diversionary issues to save itself from dealing with concrete and real issues of governance. It is high time to let the issue be handled by the concerned agencies of state and not drag the controversy to obscene limits.







Keeping in view the number of complaints filed by pilgrims and tourists against unscrupulous transport operators and traders in various parts of Jammu and Kashmir and the action taken by police and tourist police, there is more malaise in the sector than what meets the eye. Only a few cases of duping of the pilgrims and other tourists are registered with the concerned authorities and fewer of them get published in the media while majority of them are either not report nor are taken cognizance of. Violence against some of the tourists of all hues whether domestic or foreign is another issue which has not attracted the attention of the authorities over the past many years unless something serious happens on this front. In mot such cases, the complaints are dismissed by the law enforcing agencies because the travel agents, transport operators and the unscrupulous traders operating under the guise of tourist guides are operating in tandem in looting the tourists. On the whole, crime against tourists is no less in J&K compared to the number of incidents taking place in rest of the country. The crime rate goes up during the peak rush of visitors in whole of the state but by and large very complaints are registered in those days not to speak of taking action against the guilty, who are suspected of having duped the tourists. All these incidents and harassment of the tourists is ultimately likely to affect the tourist traffic to J&K putting the state and its people to avoidable losses. The government needs to invoke accountability of the supervisory staff charged with the responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of the visitors besides implementing its orders and guidelines on the ground in letter and spirit in the larger interest of the people. This will continue to ensure safety and security of the tourists besides avoiding the bitter experiences of the visitors during their visit to J&K.







I LOOK back with nostalgia on the days leading to the foundation of the Indian Republic. Although the constitution was adopted at the end of November 1949, its operation came into being on Jan 26, 1950, consecrating India's declaration some 20 years earlier that its goal was full freedom, not 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 elections in 1951. There was adult franchise, with no educational bar. The then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, probably had disadvantaged people in mind, hoping that some day they may join hands and rule India. They are in the majority in the country.

I never imagined this could be possible. But when Mayawati, a dalit, won a majority in Uttar Pradesh and became the chief minister, I began to believe that Nehru's hope might come true one day.
However, after the first elections, western correspondents predicted doom for India and wrote that the first election was India's last. They mistook the assertion of caste, if not creed, at the polls as a sign of country's disintegration. Naville Maxwell, representative of The Times, London, wrote that the turmoil seen at the time of election would tear the country apart. I, a stringer of The Times for 25 years, strongly differed. Today, I stand vindicated.

A correspondent of The Washington Post, Selig Harrison, wrote a book, The Dangerous Decade, predicting that India would disintegrate by the end of the 1950s. I joined issue with him as well. He admitted his mistake but not Maxwell. I think 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 that is not based on any dogma. Its diversity is its strength and its spirit of accommodation, reflected in secularism, keeps people from different regions and religions together.

The point to worry about, however, is that economic growth is not uniform and the dispensation of justice promised by the constitution is lacking in the social and economic fields. Political freedom without social and economic freedom has disillusioned the nation. Maoists have become relevant with the gun, 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 legislators answerable for the period between one election and another? Some countries have given their citizens the right to recall if one third of the voters ask for it.

But India is too large a country, where one parliamentary constituency commands more than a million voters.


One third is too large a number.

So, how do we ensure that power stays with the people? Decentralisation is the only way out, the transfer of power from Delhi to state capitals and from state capitals to villages. The panchayati raj , one of the few good things that Rajiv Gandhi did, has become hostage to money. The government has not been able to keep out either political parties or the rich. And as you go to higher tiers — for example, the zilla parishad at the district level — you find that money and politics have reduced elections to a mockery. When election to parliament costs more than Rs10 crore and to the panchayat some Rs50,000, the democratic polity is of the rich, for the rich and by the rich.

I never dreamed that India would become one of the world's most corrupt countries. Mr Nehru made his colleague, petroleum minister K. D. Malviya, resign for accepting money from a businessman in the name of the Congress and not rendering any account. At that time, the corrupt could be counted on the fingers. Today, it is the other way round. And, the scale of corruption is mind-boggling.

In our time the corrupt and black marketeers were kept at a distance because nobody wanted to spoil their reputation by rubbing shoulders with them. Mr Nehru issued instructions to senior officials to not attend any party thrown by a diplomat who was unequal in rank or status. Today, secretaries to the government are seen at receptions hosted by a third secretary in the embassy because booze is available.

What I miss the most is austerity. Now a car has to be big, the house palatial and the dress of foreign brands. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at least introduced in Pakistan the awami dress of shalwar and kamiz. Not many bureaucrats wear that. Western suits are preferred by South Asia's officialdom. In Mumbai, an industrialist has built a multi-storey house costing some Rs2,000 crore. Compare this to the small cottage in which Mahatma Gandhi lived all his life and won us independence.

Violence has become an order of the day in India. Hardly any state has escaped it. People are today as much victims of state terrorism as they are of militants. The Maoist gun is reprehensible but so is the gun of the state which suppresses peaceful protest.

In our part of the world, exploitation by centrifugal forces has always been a dangerous probability. They can rip the nation apart. And who knows where and when the violence will end? It is not a debate between means and ends, it is a question of gun versus gun. Any leeway given to the terrorists — for example, liberals' timidity — can be suicidal for the country.

There is still a long journey to cover. I feel lonely in the wilderness of broken promises and scotched hopes.







If I've started writing late today, it's because I spent the last hour or two, searching for my writing glasses. Now there's something about searching for them;  you need another pair to search for this pair, and somehow or other, the spare pair which I keep handy for such occasions, disappears on such occasions!
Which brings me to the fact that some manufacturer has a gold mine waiting for him, if he makes a pair which appears when you want it: Let's call it 'amazing spectacles'
At first I thought they should have little feet or small rollers attached, so when you lose them or call out to them they'll come running to you, but somehow I think that might not work, as in rushing to you, they may hit the other pair which is also rushing to you, which means you have to give your glasses names, as soon as you get them, 'Hey your name is Joe!'
"But I don't like being called Joe!"
"Why not?"
"I dunno!"
"What d'you mean you dunno?"
"I dunno, I just don't like the name!"
"So what name do you want?"
"I dunno, it's your job to name me!"
Envisaging such a problem, I realized it wouldn't be good to have them equipped with feet or rollers, which means coming back to the problem that they need something on them that will help you find them.
"Put some colour on us!"
"Yeah like fluorescent paint!"
"That's a fantastic idea, I could have you painted with shiny colours!"
Till I mentioned this to the painter who shook his head, "Saar, fluorescent paint would look funny on your face!"
"Not on my face!" I told him, "I was talking about on my glasses!"
"Which you wear on your face don't you saar?"
I never realized my painter was such a clever fellow and looked sheepishly at him as I abandoned painting my spectacles; fluorescent paint would look strange on my face, I agree.
"What are you doing?" asked the wife this morning as I went about my morning ritual of searching for my glasses.
"Searching for my glasses!" I said angrily.
"Bob!" she said, staring strangely at me.
"Don't Bob me," I said wearily.
"Bob, you're wearing them!"
"But they were not on me when I started searching for them!" I said.
"You mean they've developed feet?" laughed the wife.
"What did you say?" I asked fearfully, and I swear I heard my spectacles, sniggering, nay laughing out loud, "We've evolved, we've developed feet, now all you have to do is name us!"
I shuddered as the wife looked at me, "What's wrong?"
"I'm just content with what I've got," I said, "Don't need no amazing spectacles..!"








Chinese Whiskers is the name of a new novel written by journalist Pallavi Aiyar, who lived in Beijing for many years. The novel tells the story of presentday China seen from the eyes of two cats named Soyabean and Tofu.

China is a resurgent economic power, with an ancient civilisation. It is a country that today inspires awe, but also suspicion and sometimes hate. Its immense wealth has come from playing the game of capitalism and exploiting free trade and markets globally. And yet it has internal unfreedom, especially of the press and speech. It is undemocratic, but has made great strides in health and education for its large population.


Meaning, without being a democracy, its leaders and government seem to have been beholden to its people. There are many other internal inconsistencies within Chinese society, not unlike India, where many cultures across many generations clash and mash up.


The title of Aiyar's book is a clever play on 'Chinese Whispers', a game where players whisper into their neighbour's ear, and the message gets garbled as it passes on. So communism perhaps becomes capitalism, and freedom becomes unfreedom. The two cats of Aiyar's novel are deliberate metaphors, since it was Deng Xiaoping, China's father of economic reforms, who famously said that the colour of a cat does not matter, as long as it catches mice.


What it meant is that one should be pragmatic. He uttered this historic phrase in 1961, much before he ushered Chinese reforms as President in 1978. What his phrase conveyed was that it doesn't matter whether the system is communist or capitalist, so long as it brings prosperity to the people.


The fantastic rise of China in the past thirty years is testimony to that pragmatism. They have taken back Hong Kong, a former British colony, and merged it with the mainland, without upsetting its essential free market character. They call it "one country, two systems". At the same time Shanghai is racing ahead of Hong Kong, and soon it may not be possible to tell the difference in the "two systems". Probably the success of the Chinese makes them think that they are the cat's whiskers!


But this game of pragmatism is catching on. The Americans are learning. Back in July, the Chairman of GE, Jeff Immelt, publicly lamented that doing business in China is virtually impossible. (Mumbai Mirror, July 3, 2010 — 'GE in China: Faustian Bargain').


GE is a large global company with much at stake in China. But Immelt complained that China was hostile to foreign multinationals. Implicit in his anguish was policy that forced faster indigenisation, ancillaries who stole intellectual property and unfair competition from low cost copycats. But GE realised that its future growth was tied to China, and hence has signed on aggressively many new partnerships in the kingdom.


Just this month it launched a major aviation alliance with a public sector Chinese aviation company (AVIC). When asked about fears of copycats who would steal designs and become tomorrow's competitors, GE's Immelt said that they were not "surrendering" to Chinese ultimatum.

Indeed, it was a case of a weaker U S company tying up with a strong partner to gain world dominance in aviation. Classic Chinese "cat style" pragmatism indeed! On their part, the Chinese too remember Deng's aphorism. They let bygones be bygones, and are not holding Immelt's comments of July against him, or GE. The same GE / avionics pragmatism is also seen in the larger context i.e. the relationship of the U S and China too. (Perhaps it's a pragmatism borne out of compulsion.)


President Hu's visit to Washington is historic, as it seeks to build a bridge of greater trust between the two largest economies. And, as for Immelt, who had also criticised President Obama, he is facing pragmatism all around! He has been appointed by Obama as the Chairman of Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
Maybe, we should call all this a game of Chinese checkers!





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




Vayalar Ravi, the new minister for civil aviation, declared on assuming office that his priority would be "to improve the services on Air India and to make it a profitable airline". He allayed the fears of Air India employees' unions about a wage freeze and re-deployment to the airline's subsidiaries. For good measure, he added that he would look into the de-registration of two of the airline's 14 unions.

Mr Ravi's predecessor, Praful Patel, had declared that he was the minister for civil aviation, not the minister for Air India. His critics would charge that he was actually the minister against Air India, given how the airline was destroyed on his watch. Indeed, Capt Gopinath of the erstwhile Deccan Aviation once charged that Mr Patel was the minister for Jet Airways — drawing a sharp riposte from the minister. Irrespective of whom you believe, there were sounds of relief from Air India when Mr Patel was moved out. The problem, though, is that the country once again seems to have a minister for Air India, more than a minister for civil aviation.

 It so happens that Air India is now only the fourth-largest airline in the country. It is in danger of becoming the fifth largest, because SpiceJet too may overtake it. So the "national carrier" is no longer a critical factor in the market. In any case, reviving it is the job of the airline management. Trade union recognition, wage bills and staff deployment are all within the management's purview — with due clearance from the airline's board, which includes government nominees.

Besides, how exactly would a minister improve Air India's services? Everyone knows that Air India cannot be salvaged if it does not cut costs and attract more passengers. But if the minister signals that he is on the side of the unions on key staff issues, he reduces the management's scope of action as well as the likelihood of better service. The prospects for the airline are already dim; Mr Ravi, with all the goodwill that he has for Air India, has just made its future bleaker.

The bald fact is that, given its one-sixth share of the aviation market, Air India's demise would not make much difference to anyone who is not its employee. Privatisation would be a softer option than closure, but many people like Mr Ravi, including the majority of politicians, would consider even that unthinkable. In any case, the employees would go on strike, and that might make potential buyers stay away. If someone did come forward, it would only be because the airline was going cheap. But a cheap sell would make privatisation even less palatable ("Family jewels being sold for a song!"). So the government (i.e. the taxpayer) will have to pick up the bill. The question is, why should we? So that Mr Ravi can be nice to the unions?

The truth is that the majority of elderly Indian politicians (among them the 73-year-old Mr Ravi) cut their milk-teeth in the heyday of Jawaharlal Nehru, who dreamt of the public sector occupying the commanding heights of the economy. Many of the rest were schooled in Indira Gandhi's populism. The first has been dead for nearly a half-century, the second for a quarter-century. But their approaches to public policy have proved resilient to an unusual degree, even as the reality has changed (public sector Plan investment, for instance, has shrunk from over a half of the total to less than a fifth). But while the private sector now occupies the heights, the pity is that our pro-market politicians are all too often in bed with crony capitalists.







A woman along with her family was coming in a car and got hit, head-on, by a truck coming from the other side. The truck was travelling on the wrong side of the road. The woman was in the car with her husband and two daughters. Her husband and one of the daughters died in the accident. She hit the headlines when she sued for more than a crore of rupees. I know a person who walks with a limp for more than ten years now and is intermittently under insufferable leg pains. He got into a head-on collision with a Tempo Traveller while travelling in his car. I would presume that in both cases the driver of the offending vehicle was not highly educated, since educated people usually do not take up jobs as truck drivers. Last Sunday, I saw two cars speeding down the wrong side of the road near my home. One was being driven by a very stylish lady wearing very fashionable sunglasses; the car following her was being driven by a young man who did not look like a paid driver — after all drivers are usually on leave on Sundays. The point I am trying to make is that the trucks were on the wrong side of the road not necessarily because the drivers were uneducated; it is a practice followed by many in Delhi and Haryana, at least.

The main reason cited by those who drive their cars on the wrong side of the road is the cost of petrol. Instead of going a longish distance to make a U-turn, they prefer to go a shorter distance on the wrong side to get to wherever they have to go to so that they can save that bit on petrol. Once again, this reason is not specific to poor drivers who ply their own trucks, or brash call centre cabbies. Very rich people, with flashy cars, also save money by doing this. Everyone gets away with it because I have never seen any policeman pull up anybody even when this violation occurs in front of them. Somehow, the fact that someone is saving money by doing this makes it all right. This logic is, of course, not applicable anywhere else. For instance, I am very sure that everyone who drives on the wrong side also feels that stealing is a crime even if the thief steals to feed his family. And, they would also agree that the victim of a theft seldom suffers a permanent damage in the same way that the accident victims of head-on collisions do.

 I guess the main reason for this suspension of logic is that more people drive on the wrong side of the road than commit theft. Or, theft is committed exclusively by the poor. It is this same lack of logic that prevents us from rubbing shoulders with thieves but gives us a great sense of pride to be seen around highly corrupt but rich people.

The court's decision regarding the compensation claim made by the woman who lost her husband and child could, in a way, determine how we change our attitude to driving on the wrong side. If a large amount of compensation is granted by the court, a series of things may happen, one leading to the next. First, I expect more victims or their families to file compensation suits. Second, since a precedent would have been set, more perpetrators would be asked to cough up money. Third, because they have to spend a lot, most people will desist from driving on the wrong side of the road. This will, of course, have significant ripple effects. Saabs and Memsaabs will have to cross roads on foot and, maybe, they will spend a bit more on petrol. On the other hand, less innocent people will die and road travel for those who follow rules will become a bit more smooth.

The only argument against large compensations is that people anxious to avoid the consequences of causing an accident on the wrong side of the road will try to bribe their way out of it. In other words, they will bribe the police to write false reports about the accident and, hence, this will increase the level of corruption among the police. For the moment, let us forget the implicit assumption in this line of reasoning — the police are little children waiting to be led astray by bribe-giving adults. Let us, instead, carry the argument a bit further. It is not difficult to argue that the police on the scene of the accident will have a much larger bargaining power than the person who has caused the accident. And so, if the compensation to be paid is high, the police can extract a large bribe. In other words, a larger compensation will mean a larger bribe. The bottom line is that higher compensations increase the costs to the perpetrators. And hence, people will be less inclined to break the law.

Unless drivers are drunk or blind — in which case they should not be driving any way — people take a deliberate action to move over to the wrong side. They can just as well not do so. And, they are not incidents that result from stupidity (investing money with someone who promises double the market return), illiteracy or lack of education (not being able to read signs like "No Free Left" written in English) or penury (snatching a chain or picking a pocket to feed one's family). The system intervenes heavily in these cases, while allowing cars on the wrong side of the road. It does not make sense at all.

The author is research director, India Development Foundation






All roads this weekend lead either to the Pink City where the fifth literature festival is on in full swing or to Pragati Maidan in Delhi where the Art Summit is bigger than ever before. Both being events of increasingly international stature, many Indian and overseas visitors have been complaining that because of overlap, they have had to choose one over the other. Why didn't organisers have the good sense to choose successive weekends and draw even larger crowds on the Delhi-Jaipur tourist run?

In Jaipur, however, this may be a blessing in disguise as the Litfest alone has taken up more than 3,000 hotel rooms and there is hardly a lodging to be had for love or money. In its fifth year, and with a dazzling cast of 223 authors (up from 165 last year) and 87 musicians and performers in concert, it is, according to festival producer Sanjoy Roy, India's biggest international event and the fifth-biggest literature festival in the world — after Edinburgh and Hay in Britain, Sydney and Berlin. Star speakers include Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk and J M Coetzee, Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai, Pulitzers like Liaquat Ahamed and there's hardly a subject or genre of writing that is left unplumbed. From Jun Chang on Mao's China to music and song in Indian films — with songwriters Javed Akhtar, Gulzar and Prasoon Joshi to Jon Lee Anderson and Ahmad Rashid on Af-Pak — audiences can take their pick from six sessions a day spread over four venues.

 The intimate and charming Diggi Palace in the heart of the city, which has played host to the Litfest since its inception, is now stretched to capacity but, as if by magic, goes on adding and enlarging venues and providing new facilities. Its affable polo-playing owner Ram Pratap Singh, whose family home it has been for 280 years, has had to ship off his ponies to his farm so that the stable block can accommodate a new Mughal Tent with a sound stage and 1,000-strong seating capacity. He has added 15 new permanent public toilets, hot food and sandwich counters, and even several bars, ever since the incident (debated in the state legislature) two years ago when the writer Vikram Seth insisted on appearing in a discussion with a bottle of wine at his side. Luckily, the state government has seen sense and this year even made parking for 600 extra cars available in nearby hospitals and colleges. "We used to be known in Jaipur as Diggi key Thakur, now we're known as Festival walley Thakur," he says.

Although the Thakur of Diggi provides the space free of charge, every inch of the Litfest is sponsored. Corporations such as Merrill Lynch, Vodafone and Coca Cola pay Rs 30 lakh for each venue and sessions, at Rs 3 lakh an hour, are further underwritten by a host of public and private bodies. Meals for up to 1,000 delegates and mediapersons are also paid for by publishers and other companies. "It's the best kind of branding — intellectual and international," the head of a minerals company, who's forking out Rs 12 lakh for a dinner, told me. In addition, infrastructure company DSC, the Litfest's main sponsor, has instituted a new $50,000 fiction prize for the best novel of the year judged by an international jury.

Priyanka Malhotra of Full Circle bookshops who runs the bookshop has trebled sales space to 1,600 sq ft to this year and is offering 65,000 titles, mainly by authors present at the Litfest, with strategically placed signing tables for buyers to catch the writers as they emerge from their sessions.

"For us, it's like a big wedding in the family," says Ananth Padmanabhan, vice president sales of Penguin Books, as he puts the finishing touches to his stylish stall with colleagues.

Now if Agra were to come up with events of the order that Jaipur and Delhi have established, it would truly gild the Golden Triangle's reputation as the cultural hub of North India








Inflation has become the buzzword in recent times both globally and in India. In India, as a political weapon in the hands of opposition parties, it has attained the same status as corruption to beat up the party in power. Relentless media coverage about Inflation as a public enemy only added to the confusion about the phenomenon being described, the causes being attributed and the policy actions being suggested.

Inflation, though popular, is one of the most misused words in economics. According to Prof Michael Bryan of University of Chicago, for many years the word inflation was not a statement about prices but a condition of paper money (On the Origin and Evolution of the Word Inflation, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, 1997). It referred to a rise in the amount of paper currency in circulation relative to the precious metal that backed it. Later, the term referred to the amount of money in circulation relative to the money actually needed for trade. Today, however, people typically use the word to refer to a rise in some set of prices or even a single price with no necessary reference to money at all. So now we have various types of inflation: food inflation, oil-price inflation, wage inflation and so on. An outcome of this evolution, unfortunately, is that general public no longer distinguishes between two very different types of price pressures.

 According to the classical economists, inflation refers only to a drop in the purchasing power of money that results when a central bank creates more money than the public wants to hold. Such inflation manifests in a generalised increase in all prices and wages, and not just some set of prices. People, of course, use money to conduct their day-to-day transactions, and their demand for money generally expands as the economy grows. If the public's demand for money grows, say, at 5 per cent every year, but the central bank creates money by 10 per cent every year, then all prices and wages will eventually have to rise at 5 per cent every year to be in equilibrium. Prices would continue to rise so long as the disparity between supply and demand for money continues.

Inflation, as understood in this way, will always result from monetary mismatch. Which is why Milton Friedman said inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. It has very little to do with the dwindling supplies of food stocks resulting from a terrible hurricane or a sudden shock to oil prices or even workers' demand for wages. And, as a monetary phenomenon, it has to be always under the control of a central bank. That said, the speed with which an inflationary monetary impulse filters through to all wages and prices depends on many factors. Most significantly, it depends on the degree of excess capacities in the economy and on the state of people's expectations. In times when the economy is operating near full capacity or the public generally anticipates inflation, monetary excesses can quickly translate into higher prices and wages.

Relative price changes, similar to general inflation, also generate price pressures in the economy. We experience them every day and they cause changes in standard price indices. But the similarity ends there. Relative price changes are not a monetary phenomenon. They arise in market economies as individual prices adjust to the ebb and flow of supply and demand for various goods. The relative price increases, therefore, will always results from a demand-supply mismatch for commodities. They, in turn, convey important information about the scarcity of particular goods and services. A rising relative price indicates that the demand is outstripping the supply, while a falling relative price means just the opposite. A rising relative price induces or forces consumers to conserve the good in question and look for substitutes. Similarly, a rising relative price, by increasing the profitable opportunities, entices producers and traders to bring a greater quantity of the good to the market. If producers and traders expect the price rise, relative or absolute, to continue into the future, then they would resort to hoarding which can further generate a price pressure.

In this way, the relative price changes, however uncomfortable they may be for consumers or producers or government, transmit vital information necessary for an efficient allocation of resources throughout any market economy. Inflation, by contrast, contains no information that may be useful for our consumption, production or making labour choices. If anything, it can temporarily distort vital relative price signals, leading people to make unsound economic choices such as shifting resources away from activities that foster production and long-term economic growth to activities that are intended to protect their wealth rather than expand it.

Though any price rise, relative or absolute, will have adverse welfare consequences for the common man, it is important to understand the differences between them since they are fundamentally caused by different factors, and hence would require fundamentally different, but coordinated, policy responses. Inflation control is the clearest and most important mandate for any central bank, but they can do very little about relative prices since they do not have supply-side management instruments. However, relative price rises do not fundamentally impair the ability of central banks to control aggregate inflation, as has been suggested in some policy circles in India in the recent past. They would complicate the conduct of monetary policy in the short term, by highlighting the inflation-output trade-off. Any signal emanating from the central bank indicating its inability to control inflation would lead to spiralling inflation expectations, which would have disastrous consequences for everyone. To sum up, anchoring the generalised inflation expectations should be the primary focus of monetary policy, while the supply-side measures should tackle the rising relative prices.
The writer works with an investment bank. The views expressed are personal







The third decade after liberalisation is likely to see aggregate consumption expenditure doubling — this could be more — but it will also see new, never-before market structures and consumer behaviour. These changes will bring new opportunities for those who exploit them, leaving behind those who see them as the same old game, only to be played more vigorously. Businesses must revisit their assumptions about the market and review their business-market strategies

Some things, however, will not change. So let's first catalogue them quickly. Though the average Indian household now earns far more than it did in 1991, and will continue to earn more every successive year, India will always be a large market of modest-income consumers. India's average per capita gross national income measure, even in purchasing power parity terms, is still about 6 per cent that of the US. Consumer demand or consumption expenditure in India will continue to be an aggregation of many demand segments, each of which will march to the beat of its own drummer (read forces and internal responses). Therefore, like the proverbial curate's egg, it will always be good and bad in parts. More demand segments will arise. Bihar is our newest "emerging" market, while Delhi and the National Capital Region is definitely India's leading developed market. Then there are the young women in business suits in corporate offices who try their best to conform to the western image and the young women in small towns and villages who are inspired to break social restrictions and moulds. We are already seeing the social class system used in marketing breaking down. The old system was based on the fact that education levels and a certain kind of occupation were highly correlated with income. Today that simply isn't true — ask a plumber or a small real estate broker in a high-rise building in Mumbai, or the people who organise a pool of car drivers or run a domestic help agency in any big city.

 One big change is the thickening of the creamy layer, the top 20 per cent of income earners. NCAER–Centre for Macro Consumer Research projections show that if we have a "business as usual" economic policy and hence no change in the pattern of who benefits from economic growth, then the top 20 per cent will have, between 2004-05 and 2014-15, increased their share of the total India household income pie by over 10 per cent — and a significantly larger pie at that. It is a market which, in 2015, could be the size that India was a few years ago, and with a nominal per capita income of $5,000. The ever-present "class or mass market" debate must now take a different turn. The creamy layer of Consumer India offered little joy as a standalone target market. But it is getting thicker and creamier. It may now be possible, even advisable for some businesses, to build a mid-sized profitable premium business based on the class market alone. This is the entry strategy that many multinationals applied in China. It is only now that the companies serving the Chinese market are looking at new income creation in the hinterland, and targeting relatively less poor customers. However, the fact remains that the mass market will also offer big consumption growth owing to rising incomes of a large number of people. Mass markets, like time and tide, don't sit around waiting for the "trickling down" of sophisticated consumer offerings aimed at the top end of the market. They just find alternate solutions, whether it is in the form of retail durable brands or "imported from China" pavement specials, "raju bhai"-assembled computers, locally innovated cell phones, or small-scale, locally packaged food producers supplying to small neighbourhood stores. Also, these are reasonably sophisticated, far more consumer-relevant offerings and breaking their stranglehold ten years from now will not be easy for a late entrant.

The second big shift is the blurring of lines between rural and urban consumer India, thanks to roads that make the nearest town next door, and also the diversification out of agriculture by most families, creating what Dipankar Gupta calls the new villager. The NCAER-CMCR analysis shows if we were to exclude the highest quintile of urban India and the lowest quintile of rural India, which are outliers, and examine income levels across the rest, there are two nice-sized continuum markets of scale that have similar income levels.

Further, the bets that many people are placing is that there has to be a shake-out in agriculture with the exit of many small and marginal farmers driven hopefully by policies that will be forced on us by the need to bridge the increasing demand-supply gap for food, and also that urban India may finally have to pay far more to rural farmers for food. This means more change in our simple paradigm of rural=poor=backward.

The "new middle class", which doesn't predominantly comprise salaried government and public servants as it used to, is facing the new stress of living in an aspiring society with education and technology levels going up and women pushing harder to change power equations.

The writer is an independent market strategy consultan








THE Uttar Pradesh government's scheme, Supercaller, to monitor mid-day meals served to school children through mobile phones is a novel idea and worth replicating by other states. Such tracking should, however, go beyond the mid-day meal scheme, and beyond the limitation of voice communication. Mobile phones and their ubiquitously embedded cameras can be used to monitor all development programmes. It will ensure better outcomes and help curb corruption, rampant in many of these schemes. The UP government is experimenting with cloud telephony, an internet-based platform that allows an organisation to make multiple calls. So, the midday meals scheme is monitored through an interactive voice response system (IVRS) based on telephone calls to teachers, with their responses being recorded on the state government's website. The state has done well to further improve the system to rule out the possibility of correct data not reaching the headquarters because of collusion between the village pradhan and the teachers. However, monitoring can be made more effective with cellphone camera pictures of the programme's implementation. Pictures, for instance, can be taken of school children having their mid-day meals to track the position on the ground. The same can be done to check whether teachers are missing from primary schools and the number of students attending a class. These pictures can be uploaded on official government websites, thus becoming open to public scrutiny and challenge. All audits, especially in governmentsponsored schemes, should be backed with physical pictures on the achievements.


The use of 3G technology in mobile phones will help in effective monitoring of development schemes as it ensures faster connectivity and internet access, with improved quality. In parallel, the government must take forward its programme to lay optical fibre to all district and block headquarters. High-speed data connectivity must be married to the burgeoning spread of mobile phones with cameras in rural areas to improve delivery of government programmes. The Centre must change its focus from financial utilisation of allocations to outcome achievements in the monitoring of plan schemes. In this, pictures must compulsorily be used, opening the path to easy contestation and verification.






WE NEED thorough revamp of urban policy and governance with focused attention on addressing the artificial, policy-induced scarcity in housing and real estate. The Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai, where notable worthies in the corridors of power are alleged to have usurped housing meant for war widows, is symptomatic of a glaring policy anomaly. The urban housing sector is hugely distorted, characterised as it is by a panoply of rigidities and short-sighted restrictions across the board. The fact of the matter is that rigid master plans, wholly restrictive attendant norms and summary zoning regulations limit the land available for housing in our urban centres, thereby veritably blocking growth and development in our cities. Hence the proclivity, even in seemingly high places, to cut corners and resort to underhand deals so as to corner housing and real estate that seem perennially in short supply. Such a state of affairs must change, from top to bottom, if we are to douse the raging fire of corrupt practices in urban housing. The way ahead is to substantially improve housing access, with forwardlooking policy design and proper follow through.


Policymakers need to substantially increase floor area ratios (FARs) around central business districts in our main urban centres, and link them via high-speed mass transport corridors. It would open up scope for raising resources by, say, charging development fees linked to property rates. In Mumbai, for instance, an FAR increase from 1.3 to 4 in key commercial centres could fetch the government considerable resources for urban infrastructure investment and plough-back. A recent McKinsey report estimates that by monetising urban land assets, together with realistic levy of property taxes and user charges that reflect reasonable costs, India could generate up to $27 billion a year (or $58 per capita per annum). Given that our current investment in urban infrastructure is a paltry $17 per capita, pro-active policy can provide much-needed resources for trunk infrastructure for boosting housing and real estate. Failure to move ahead on these lines is to invite many more Adarsh-type scams in Indian cities.






 PLANETRY confluences have often been blamed for woes, but the . 65 question is how the common man will react to the current convergence of onions, petrol and beer prices. Many tears have already been shed about the first, and there has been plenty of internal combustion about the second's six price hikes in a financial year. In fact, it may well have driven many to drown their budgeting sorrows in gallons of the third, the only item whose price seems even remotely digestible. Such is the consternation about the first two, however, that anyone with onion breath is being considered as much of a show-off as someone zooming around in a gas-guzzler. Now there is news that other comestibles may hit the . 65 mark, including tomatoes and grapes, with no word on what other items may congregate at that level too. The idea of essentials and indulgences ruling at the same price level — pointed out by analysts preparing a report for IDFC Institutional Securities in Mumbai — has a misleading egalitarian ring to it. Arguably, beer can be used in cooking instead of onions but the three items are by and large not interchangeable in our daily lives, so their sharing a common price platform offers the aam admi cold comfort.


The premium/luxury segment, more than any other, has reason for concern if essentials continue to keep up with the indulgences at this rate. Who would want to buy avocadoes and artichokes any more if onions and potato prices rise to fit the 'expensive and rare' bill? And if petrol ends up costing as much as aviation fuel, private planes are sure to lose their cachet, for then running a hatchback may cost the same. The best course of action for all, therefore, would be to grin and beer it.






AFTER the failure in Copenhagen, it is Cancun now without countries having reached a legally binding agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in the year 2012, though there was an agreement to limit global temperature rise to 20 degree C and to try to set by next year 2050 targets for deep cuts in emissions. The principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities, recognising the historic responsibility of industrialised countries and priority for development in developing countries was reiterated. Further the developed countries agreed to mobilise $100 billion every year by the year 2020 for a green climate fund to handle and channelise resources for climate change mitigating measures.


However, the basic divide remains — developed countries are not agreeable to legally-binding cuts unless developing countries did so. In this context, India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh took the gauntlet by suggesting that all countries with over 1% share of global emissions might agree to bind cuts in GHG emissions at some stage.


To mitigate the disastrous consequences due to global warming, the overall level of anthropogenic GHG emissions must be brought down on an absolute scale. To achieve this, the average global emission intensity per unit of global GDP must fall at a faster rate than the rate of increase of global GDP. The question is how to achieve this noble objective using measureable and verifiable criteria that is perceived to be fair across all nation states. India's advocacy of 'equity' based on per capita emissions formula rewards large populous countries in the South Asia region comprising over 20% of the global population, but with very high climate change vulnerabilities.


The Kyoto Protocol mandated legally-binding emission cuts on the 1990 baseline emissions of Annex-1 countries. Such a fixed baseline year approach does not favour countries at lower levels of development. The annual per-capita emission in Annex-1 countries is nearly four times that in non-Annex-1 countries. However, the per capita GDP in PPP terms of Annex-1 countries is six times that of non-Annex-1 countries, making the emission intensity per unit GDP almost 33% less in Annex-1 countries.


Per capita emission intensity is per capita GDP multiplied by emission intensity per unit GDP. Countries at higher levels of development with lower emission intensity will have high per capita emissions due to high per capita GDP and vice versa. Countries advocating equitable sharing of the burden of climate change mitigation on the per capita emission formula fail to account for either the emission intensity or the per-capita income levels.


The objective of any global Green Climate Fund must be to reduce absolute levels of global GHG emissions with minimum costs. This can be done by targeting emissions reduction in countries with relatively higher emission intensities by incentivising the adoption of greener technologies. The lower per capita emissions in countries with large populations like China, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia are due to lower per capita income and not necessarily due to the adoption of clean technologies. The marginal cost of reducing emissions in countries with relatively higher emission intensity is lower as compared to countries with relatively lower emissions intensity.


]THE Green Climate Fund could incentivise the transfer or adoption of greener technologies in countries with relatively high emissions intensity. One equitable solution then is to define different slabs of maximum permissible emission intensities depending on per capita incomes measured in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. Greater responsibilities can be placed on nations with higher levels of development by prescribing lower maximum permissible emission intensity per unit GDP for them. The emissions intensity in less developed countries can be less onerous to account for their lower stages of development. There could be four to five well-defined slabs based on per capita GDP in PPP terms: the least developed (below $2,000 per capita GDP), less developed ($2,001-10,000), emerging ($10,001-25,000) and the advanced (above $25,000).


The above suggestive slabs with predefined emissions intensity ought to become the subject of negotiations among nations with common but differentiated responsibilities fixed upon one and all. The maximum permissible emissions intensity per unit GDP will decrease at faster rates with increasing levels of development. Countries in the highest per capita income bracket will have the highest responsibility to bring their economies to operate at the least emissions intensity. Countries will automatically migrate to the next slab, sharing the more onerous burden of reducing emissions intensity with increasing levels of development.


Such formula would not only be measureable and verifiable, but there would be no requirement or justification for sharing historic burdens or rewarding bad behaviour due to large populations. Countries not meeting the capped emission levels should be penalised in monetary terms. The penalty amounts would fund the global green climate fund to be managed professionally by an international body like the World Bank to finance transfer or adoption of greener technologies or the preservation of carbon sinks so that the marginal cost of reducing an additional unit of emissions is the lowest. The operation of a global Green Climate Fund managed by a professional international body is the best hope of bringing down the overall global emissions.


(The author is an IAS officer.     Views are personal.)








FOR Theodore (Tim) M Solso, chairman and chief executive of Cummins Inc, the $13-billion engine, generator and related component maker, the world seems to centre around the company. An MBA from Harvard Business School, he began working at Cummins nearly four decades ago, and was elevated to his present position in 2000. Now, Solso says he wants to make his company a truly global entity by bringing in as much diversity as possible. In the Indian subsidiary, this is reflected in the company's move to broadbase recruitment. All recruitment is done nationally and that goes for its women employees, too.


Having been in Cummins all his working life, Solso knows India well. He has been visiting here from the time the company was part of a joint venture, called Kirloskar Cummins. The US engine-maker had bought out Kirloskar Oil Engines, its Indian partner, in 1997-98 to form Cummins India Ltd.


Cummins Inc, which earns 65% of its revenues outside the US, recently announced that it will invest $2 billion globally over the next few years to grow its business and improve technology. "China, India and Brazil, where we earn a majority of our revenues, will get a major part of this investment," he says.


In India, Cummins has nine legal entities. It has been investing around $40 million annually over the past few years. It will step up the investment now to $500 million. "This is our plan for an 18-24 month period, when we have a firm allocation," he says.


According to him, India accounts for 10% of the company's business. It is expected to grow to 15% by 2018. "We have made the first $150 million investment in a 300-acre greenfield site here, in three factories. This is part of our total commitment of $500 million that we will make at this megasite at Phaltan, about 150 km from Pune, over the next few years," Solso says. Cummins plans to set up over a dozen plants at this greenfield site, of which three have already been commissioned.


"From 2006-09, we exported goods worth $13 billion from the US. Of this, $5.7 billion was the value for suppliers; so, wherever we go, it benefits industry around it," Solso says. On similar lines, announcing a $100 million investment in a new manufacturing site at Seymour, US, last July, he had said: "Growth in international markets like India, China and Brazil creates jobs in Indiana, our home state in the US."


Cummins is investing in a big way in Africa too. Its African safari, Solso says, will start off with an investment of $75 million over five years. "We have never historically entered the African market. Now, we see big opportunities in power generation, mining, oil & gas and commercial marine. We want to improve the distribution system, which we will also own along with local Africans. Till now, Europeans owned the distribution systems, but we want Africans to own and run them," Solso says.


Among the African countries it is targeting are Egypt, Angola, Nigeria (where it already has a power generation company), Morocco and South Africa. Solso says his company has several plants in South Africa where it plans to expand distribution. Leveraging on the developments done by its Indian subsidiary, Cummins will scale up them up in markets like Africa. "Cummins India has worked on using non-food seeds as fuel for power generation. We are looking at leveraging the scale from India to Africa," he says.


The new megasite in India has started off with 20% of its 640 workforce being women, including on the shopfloor. The aim is to have women make up half its total workforce. The state government has cleared Cummins India's application to allow women on the shopfloor.


With sizeable investments lined up for the country, Solso is quite hopeful that the company's exports from India are likely to increase. "Last year, China grew 70%, Brazil 90% and India 50%. We are lookingatgrowthintheseemergingmarkets and Indian exports are expected to rise to 40% by 2018, from the current levelof30%,"hesays.Thiswilltakeplace along with increase in capacities here since there is a huge domestic market that has to be served first.








IT IS rare that public leaders with impeccable credentials address 'An open letter to our leaders', pointing to the 'governance deficit' in the country owing to public institutions impaired by the 'growing cancer of corruption in the body-politic'. Alluding to a slew of corruption scandals that came into public view in the past one year, Ashok Ganguly, the spokesman of the group of eminent persons, observed on January 17: 'We have felt that we should not be silent on the issue. A large section of the Indian population is deeply perturbed by the series of events that unfolded in the recent past." The sum and substance of this is that political parties must wake up to this reality or else it will be too late to stem the rot in governance.


It is ironical that the warning has been issued by industry and business leaders because the general perception is that it's the businessmen who corrupt politics. It's also amusing to see political parties accusing each other of indulging in corruption in public life even though it's common knowledge that none of them is clean.

Western democracies have well-laid laws for regulating political parties. India, too, has established an autonomous Election Commission for the conduct and supervision of elections and for enforcing the 'code of conduct' for parties during polls. India also has the Representation of People Act, in which norms for the conduct of people's elected 'representatives' are laid down. It is legally binding on every party to hold regular organisational elections for its office-bearers as laid down by the written constitution of each party. It is mandatory for every contestant in state assembly or Lok Sabha elections to submit a full statement of assets to the Election Commission. The Right to Information Act 2005 has given freedom to every citizen to ask any elected representative to provide facts about his 'real assets' to the public.


Of course, political parties in every competitive democracy require funds to contest polls and to maintain their organisation. Hence, it is mandatory for every political party to 'maintain a record of the names and addresses of people who voluntarily make donations exceeding . 20,000' and the income tax (IT) department provides tax exemptions to parties on the basis of their 'account books'. If developed democratic societies have been able to regulate the conduct of political parties according to their laws, Indians should also have succeeded in regulating parties on the basis of a comprehensive legal framework regulating parties, their finances and conduct during the elections. Unfortunately, that is not the case.


The Election Commission has recognised six parties as 'national' and more than 50 as 'state parties' and mandated that every recognised party has to hold regular inner-party elections. However, the root cause of the corrupt and undemocratic functioning of parties is the basic lack of inner-party democracy. Sonia Gandhi is elected and re-elected as Congress president and only she is 'authorised' with 'full powers' to nominate state party presidents. The BJP gets Nitin Gadkari as its president because he is the nominee of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Every 'recognised' regional party, too, is run like a private family business under the thumb of Karunanidhis, Mulayam Singhs or Lalu Prasads. The supreme leaders have an iron grip over their parties because all funds for their outfits have to be only deposited with them. Often, no one within the parties knows much about the sources of funds.


The Election Commission has made persistent efforts to clean up the election campaigning finance structure. During the 2010 Bihar assembly election, it sent its expenditure observers, a 'video viewing' team, a media monitoring team and an observer preferably from the IT department. This vigilance initiative revealed some shocking facts. It was found that fraudulent parties are floated to launder money. Actually, checks revealed that office of one such party was in a tea shop, while another spent . 2-3 crore on jewellery and shares, and many of these socalled 'political parties' have not participated in elections for the last several years.

The US has a law to regulate lobbyists who influence political decision-makers on behalf of corporate bodies. After the revelations about lobbyist Neera Radia, a demand was made that India should also have such a law for the registration of lobbyists. It has been suggested by the late Ramakrishna Hegde and Dinesh Goswami, in their reports on election reforms, that 'parties should be funded from the public exchequer' for contesting elections as it will help cleanse public life once parties do not depend on private donors. The Election Commission has not found this recommendation feasible, perhaps on the basis of its own experiences with the reality of elections and role of parties.


While all efforts should be made to cleanse the political system, the expectations should be quite modest. India requires more interventions from the leading lights of public life like Sonia Gandhi to highlight the serious crisis of governance that is the logical product of corruption in politics.









THODI si toh lift kara dey, Adnan Sami grooves in his famous song. "Great is your glory O Lord (Teri oonchi shaan hai Maula)." Lift me just a little, goes one of the biggest misconceptions about money that if you had just little more money, all your problems would simply go away. But realists assure us that this is a misguided belief. The truth is even a lot of money will never be enough until you learn how to deal with and manage what you already have.


The obverse side of the myth is to castigate those who lack the 'lift' as losers because of their alleged financial failure. In Seven money myths that can mess up your life, Mary Hunt of Debt Proof Living says she has never seen a situation that's completely hopeless. "I've seen some very difficult situations and sometimes we have to choose the best of the worst options, but no one is a loser," she adds.


Hunt's insight echoes one of the main planks of rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT) pioneered by Albert Ellis. The American psychologist who was inspired by many of the teachings of Asian, Greek, Roman and modern philosophers emphasised the principle of unconditional self acceptance (USA). It doesn't pay to be too harsh on oneself, he said. And even if one does indulge in self sabotage, just remember that everyone has the capacity for crooked thinking.


Ellis's insights are remarkably similar to the psycho-dynamic wisdom of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra which blames wrong-headed thinking (vikalpa, viparya) and its erroneous surmises (mithyajana) for the destructive semantics of the self displayed by unenlightened souls.


In Ellis's 'correctyour-thinking' scheme of things, one simply became well and got out of one's self-imposed state of unwellness because as the psychotherapist argued, suffering was caused not so much by external events but by the way we reacted to them and interpreted their impact.


The various ways which derail even smart people into making stupid mistakes are chronicled in an eponymous book of essays edited by Robert Sternberg. Carol S Dweck of Columbia University traces it back to beliefs that make smart people dumb. The moral of her spiel is: overcome your fear of effort and learning. It's not just for the incompetent and dumb. Ultimately, nothing succeeds like sustained detached effort (nishkamya karma) that Bhagavad Gita prescribes. Don't covet that lift. Just go after it!








The Reserve Bank of India must be commended for the speed with which its board of directors' appointed sub-committee, headed by Y.H. Malegam, has set forth not just the problems besetting the microfinance space but also the recommendations for the regulation of Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) that have been operating in micro-credit lending. As the panel notes at the outset, the RBI regulates NBFCs under the RBI Act but has no special regulations for NBFCs engaged in micro-lending.

The first question the reader of the report is likely to ask is: why not? After all, microfinance has long been considered a crucial vehicle for financial inclusion and since 1992 Nabard has had a Self-Help Group-Bank Linkage programme for collateral-free loans. For the past few years private sector NBFCs have entered the field and SKS Microfinance's resounding initial public offer last year would have revealed how collateral-free lending to the poor had become as a business (viz. profit-oriented) proposition. In its annual reports Nabard noted the progress of both the SHG-Bank model and NBFCs in the distribution of micro-credit. Now the panel informs us that the NBFCs had begun not just competing amongst themselves but also with the SHGs, on whose members they "poached" to form their own Joint Liability Groups (JLGs), lending indiscriminately for other than "income-generation" activities. Data provided by the panel show both SHGs and JLGs disbursing just a quarter of their loans for 'income generation' with JLGs lending more generously for activities such as 'home improvement.' The sector was witnessing competition between the state-inspired SHG route and the NBFCs keen to expand their lending portfolio and earn profits to cover their cost of funds; in the SKS Microfinance case, to earn shareholders increasing value. The Malegam panel bravely confronts what appears to be an intractable problem in the sector: satisfying the needs of collateral-free borrowers and, on the other hand, not just covering the cost of funds but also earning profits. It sets conditions for "qualifying assets" of NBFC-MFIs: among others, interest and margin ceilings, (the latter the difference between cost of funds and loan pricing), an insistence on 75 per cent loans for income-generation activity, a schedule of repayment based on borrowers' capacity and a cap on loans of Rs 25,000 for an individual.

The panel's regulations appear justified after the events that earned NBFC-MFIs a disreputable tag but they may prove to be impractical; consumption loans are an important part of the borrowers' debt portfolio, interest caps can always be skirted around. Impractical regulation could drive out the private sector, leaving the micro-credit 'infant' on the laps of publicly-owned entities.







India can reconcile its growth and inflation goals by reining in fiscal imbalances, and addressing marketing and productivity issues in agriculture. As an immediate price-control measure, perishables should be delisted from the APMC Act.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is likely to raise interest rates on January 25. Given that food inflation is still reigning at 15.5 per cent and general inflation is on the rise, having crossed 8 per cent, such a move seems quite inevitable. The RBI will raise rates even if it recognises that monetary policy has limited traction; this is because of continued fiscal expansion, emerging supply shortages and, above all, to signal its firm intent to rein in inflation before inflationary expectations become entrenched.

Inflation would vitiate the investment climate and impose an unbearable involuntary tax on the poorest segments. With fiscal deficit still well beyond levels stipulated by the FRBM Act and the current account deficit threatening to go above 3.5 per cent of GDP, a worsening of inflationary expectations at this time could well be fatal for macroeconomic stability, a necessary condition for maintaining high growth rates and reducing poverty.

The RBI hardly has a choice, even though market interest rates are already high and threaten to choke investment activity in a period when capacity expansion both in manufacturing and infrastructure is needed.


Is there no way out of this trade-off between growth and inflation? There surely is, as is shown by China's non-inflationary, double-digit growth for more than two decades. It is only in the post-Lehman crisis period, which saw a massive fiscal stimulus by the Chinese and several rounds of quantitative easing by the US, that inflation has risen to around 5 per cent in China, but growth continues to exceed 10 per cent. The Chinese experience holds out three lessons for addressing the growth-inflation trade-off. First, to consistently maintain a fiscal surplus and certainly not run a large revenue account deficit. Second, to sustain high rates of capacity expansion in the industrial and manufacturing sector so that supply keeps pace with rapidly rising demand (export demand in the Chinese case, and consumption demand in ours). Third, ensure that agriculture output growth is high and availability of agro-products is never a constraint even if it implies large-scale imports. China imports huge quantities of corn from the US for keeping up its pork supplies, having learnt a quick lesson from 'pork inflation' a few ago.

These lessons can be learnt and applied to macro-economic management in our country. But for that it is necessary not to accept higher rates of inflation as a given condition, and for policymakers not to declare that food or other forms of inflation cannot be controlled in a large country like India. Statements like these reflect a defeatist attitude.


The RBI would do well to make a lot more noise against fiscal profligacy by the Central and State governments. The RBI Governor, who is apparently spending considerable effort in mastering the intricacies of communication should, in plain language, let the people know on January 25 that continued fiscal expansion and failure to rein in inflation will result in slower growth and lower employment.

Besides, a loose fiscal policy forces him to raise rates to prevent inflation from ripping, and blunts his policy instruments. The shoe will then surely be on the Finance Minister's foot.

The most important measure that the Finance Minister could announce to curb inflation will be to delist perishables (fruits and vegetables) from Schedule I of the APMC Act which will effectively de-license these commodities and take them out of the collusive clutches of licensed wholesale traders.

Currently, they operate with impunity and with official connivance in government-managed mandis across the States. The Finance Minister should at least ensure that UPA-run States, especially Delhi and Maharashtra, announce this de-licensing measure simultaneously and challenge the opposition States to follow suit, or face the people's anti-inflation ire. This is the most immediate and directly effective measure to bring down food prices, and inaction on this account will be difficult to justify.


The other major issue is to raise output and productivity levels in agriculture. This is clearly the realm of the Agriculture Ministers, both at the Centre and the States. Agriculture remains a backward sector, contributing a mere 14.6 per cent of GDP while still sustaining 55 per cent of our population. For the great majority of the rural population, this has implied a life just above bare survival levels and no hope of improving their lot even over generations. This poor performance is not acceptable as it threatens to impose a binding constraint on economic growth.

The government must make space for greater private sector activity in agriculture. It can do so by encouraging modern retailers to further intensify their direct supply linkages with producers and, at the same time, actively promote farmers' cooperatives so that bargaining strength remains symmetrical.

The effective modality for establishing these cooperatives will be to bring in private integrators, a la El Tejar in Argentina or Mother Dairy in our country, who will have the incentives to do so. It is time that we jettison the outdated and dysfunctional subsidy-price control, the public distribution system of agriculture development, and let the sector modernise on the basis of private enterprise. If it can happen in manufacturing, it can surely happen in agriculture too.

It should quickly establish the necessary regulatory authority for overseeing the use of genetically modified seeds. This would ensure consumer safety based on scientific grounds and not propaganda and also allow the farmers to grow lower-risk and higher-productivity crops.

(The author is Director-General, FICCI. The views are personal.










Sadly, the Direct Taxes Code has chosen to let agriculture be used as an alibi for tax evasion and farmhouses for everything else but farming.

That farmhouses are more about luxurious living and tax evasion by city slickers and those fighting city-frazzled nerves rather than about farming is trite. They dot our urban fringes and have become the status symbol of the rich and the famous of both actual and wannabe varieties. Anybody who is somebody must flaunt it.

A farm house was innocently thought of by the income-tax law as a necessary adjunct to farming where, say, 90 per cent of the land would be under cultivation and the remaining used for accommodation purposes. But wily tax planners have turned the idea on its head.

Farming has become peripheral to luxurious living, away from the maddening crowd, but cocooned amongst the glitterati. Most of the farmhouses resemble American ranches though nowhere near their size. A farmhouse, the income-tax law says, is a building used by the tiller either as a store house or as a residential house and must exist cheek by jowl with the agricultural land where cultivation is being carried out.

DTC provision

The Direct Taxes Code (DTC) allows an additional use for a farmhouse — being used for processing to make the agricultural crops fit for the market — without in any way detracting from the agrarian sense in which the term farmhouse is basically defined and understood.

It is amazing that while for everyone else, including a low income house owner, only one self-occupied residential house is tax-free with the additional ones, if any, being deemed to be let out, for one owning farmhouses in each major city, there is absolutely no limit and all of them are tax-free on the facile plea that they are adjunct to and necessary for carrying farming.

And what is more, when these houses are sold there is no capital gains tax either, once again on a facile plea this time round that they are located in rural areas.

It redounds to the dubious credit of successive governments that they have chosen to look the other side without let or hindrance when the charade has been going on presumably because politicians too are a part of it and partake in its spoils and it is advisedly better not to rock the boat.

The NDA government, however, did try a bit to stop the gung-ho farmhouse owners from explaining away the fabulous rentals earned from hiring out their farmhouses for lavish marriages and from other extraneous uses not germane to farming as income from a farm house immune from tax.

But that has not done anything to stop farmhouse marriages because marriages in India are bankrolled by cash and a bride's father in a mood of supreme elation does not mind paying the rental in cash without receipt.

Given the muted outrage and outcry against the farmhouse culture, which in addition to enabling its adherents the comfort of tax-free luxurious living, affords a convenient alibi for explaining away their unaccounted income as emanating from tax-free agricultural activities, it is amazing that Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority has had the gumption to come out with an advertisement in newspapers in the North on January 12, 2011, for developers to participate in a Scheme for Development of Farm Houses on Agricultural Land.

Passport to evasion

That a governmental authority of all people is playing ball with people coveting farmhouses is disgusting, nay revolting, given the pejorative connotations associated with the term 'farmhouse' and the passport it affords for tax evasion. It can be assumed without the fear of contradiction that while farmhouses would be constructed on agricultural lands — on which once upon a time agricultural activities were carried out, there won't be a binding requirement on the owners of such houses to carry on farming on a meaningful scale.

One wishes such condition were indeed imposed. There is nothing wrong with gentlemen farming, especially in a milieu when traditional agriculturists are abandoning agriculture and swarming the cities and towns. Indeed, agriculture needs to be glamourised if only to address the supply side constraint responsible for the spiralling and unabated food inflation.

The governments, instead of giving a leg-up to farmhouses, should give a leg-up to farming. Decks must be cleared for corporate farming on Indian soils. Quite a few Indian entrepreneurs have taken wings and started cultivating pulses in African soils.

The danger with such adventures is food riot so common in swathes of poverty-stricken Africa — when in extremis, local population can be counted upon to physically stop the produce from being shipped to India.

The DTC, one hoped, would cry a halt to agriculture being used as an alibi for tax evasion but sadly it has not. The bastions of dairy and poultry farms fronted by agricultural farms have never been stormed nor has any farmhouse on the outskirts of cities been visited to ascertain whether any farming goes on or not. Of course it does not.

But no income-tax authority has ever called the bluff of the city slickers.

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









The Reserve Bank (RBI) recently published its Second Financial Stability Report. The Report has flagged several items as important areas of concern. Some critical ones include deterioration in the balance of payments; regulatory gaps in the NBFC sector; putting in place a robust macro-prudential framework; domestic inflationary outlook; as also putting government finances back on the track in alignment with FRBM Act, 2003. Two noted columnists (both former senior executives of RBI) have already posted their comments in these columns. The article "Weak spots in the system" (January 12), stressed the need for meaningful action towards reducing risks to financial stability from the activities of NBFCs taking advantage of regulatory arbitrage, and the need for monitoring offshore banking units.

The article "Threats to financial stability' (January 14) suggested the need for modification in the liquidity adjustment facility so as to offset misalignment between banks' credit and deposit growth, urgent action to counter adverse developments in balance of payments and intervention in the forex market to align the exchange rate with the fundamentals.

The RBI assesses the impact of macro-economic stress factors on financial stability, and points to the resilience of the Indian banking system.


As regards credit risk, the Report observes that with doubling of the current non-performing assets (NPAs) there will be little deterioration in the capital to risk-weighted assets ratio (CRAR); but with an increase of NPAs by 300 per cent, CRAR of a set of banks accounting for 40 per cent of total assets would fall below 9 per cent, the regulatory limit. Thus, credit risk is stated not to be a significant cause of concern, except under extremely stressed conditions.

The above calculation of CRAR was undertaken under Basel I to avail of long historical data. Therefore, the above inference on credit risk assessment is also subject to variation in the CRAR requirement between Basel I and the latest prudential norm. Furthermore, as Dr. C. Rangarajan, the guru for many in RBI, used to say – CRAR in a way indicates minimum capital requirement but not necessarily adequate to cover credit risk.

Liquidity stress test results revealed that several commercial banks did not have adequate liquidity assets. The position of urban co-operative banks (UCBs) was better with liquid assets forming about 35.6 per cent of their total assets. This brings into consideration the utility of high SLR requirements to cushion liquidity risk in times of stress.


In the post-global financial crisis scenario, many analysts have underscored the need to incorporate macro-prudential concerns. It is highlighted that the economic cycle is a major source of homogenous behaviour and cannot be ignored in any analysis of financial stability.

The Report introduced an econometric analysis of the impact of macroeconomic shocks on the ratio of NPAs to total advances. From the empirical analysis, it was concluded that macroeconomic shocks would not substantially threaten the Indian banking sector.

As humbly noted in the Report, the model lays down the first steps towards putting in place an extensive macro stress-testing framework, although these would need some technical improvements.


Emphatically, the theory of animal spirits, borrowing from Nobel Laureate George A. Akerlof and Professor Robert J. Shiller, emphasises that the conventional explanation of the macroeconomy fails to take into account the euphoria followed by pessimism. This should caution the RBI's analysts before concluding that "the impact of shocks on macroeconomic variables constructed under various stress scenarios is found to be muted".

Central bankers cannot afford to avoid conservatism. This virtue perhaps helped Dr Y.V. Reddy protect Indian banks from the fallout of the global financial crisis.

(The author is a Reader, Department of Economics, Pondicherry University, Puducherry.)






Much has been written about the funding aspects of the iGATE-Patni deal. Here is a look at the transaction from a taxation perspective, as extracted from a recent email exchange between Business Line and Mr Sujit Sircar, CFO, iGATE ( Excerpts from the interview:

What are the taxation issues of interest in the deal?

As a philosophy, we are conservative in our tax position as a company, and always go on the side of cautiousness in taking any positions.

The share purchase agreements in this particular transaction are with Indian residents, non-resident Indians and overseas companies. Also, separately, the open offer triggers separate tax rates for the sellers. While the compliance on all the above is of paramount importance, it is also complex. The repatriation of funds for servicing debt also creates challenges on the tax front.

Your suggestions on policy changes in the tax regime that can facilitate M&A.

While it is accepted and understood that tax laws in many countries tend to be complex, India is beginning to occupy an increasingly important place on the world stage, especially in IT (information technology). Given this changing landscape, my view is that the benchmark for comparison has to be changed, and there is a need for a little more clarity in relation to administration of tax laws.

I would say that there are two important immediate requirements: (a) there is a pressing need for laws that are clear; and (b) there is a need for a mechanism to provide taxpayers with upfront clarity as well an immediate dispute resolution methodology.

Several multinational companies doing business in India, across a broad spectrum of industries, are saddled with ever-increasing number of tax audits and prolonged tax litigation in India. It would help organisations across sectors if internationally-accepted standards in treaty interpretation and transfer pricing are followed.

At present, there are also challenges relating to dispute resolution mechanism in India with some assessment proceedings prolonging for a lengthy period. The fact that these issues take away a lot of management time and effort is a matter of concern.

There is a need to speed up the litigation procedure. It would be good to have a 'limitation period' on disposal of appeals. The other policy regulation that could be looked at is clarity on tax rules in cross-border M&As, especially those that have an underlying component in India, as currently such transactions are looked upon with suspicion.

Even after a High Court has approved the merger, income tax law (Section 72A) imposes a lot of conditions, such as shareholding pattern and continuity of business, among others, for claiming tax losses of the merged entity. I do believe this needs to be liberalised.

Sometimes, in M&A transactions, carry forward of exemptions under the Income-Tax Act are lost. This too could be looked into.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL





Jan 22 2011

"Dawn breaks behind the eyes

He swore his love

The lies — the lies..."

From The Epitaphs

of Bachchoo

The Jaipur Literature Festival began on Friday and seems set to be the literary event of the year with two Nobel prize-winners and several distinguished and popular writers in attendance. Some of them may even be distinguished and popular at the same time, though I would, for example, separate George Steiner and Dan Brown into the two distinct non-intersecting categories.

In India these categories don't seem very distinct. Popularity, volume of sales, notoriety, controversy and, of course, foreign prizes are the hallmarks of recognition and recommendation.

So it is sort of surprising that V.S. Naipaul has never been invited. I say "sort of" because I know things that may be well-known to the literary world but aren't perhaps common knowledge. I know that Naipaul has been reviewed on at least two occasions — how shall I put it — "ungenerously" by William Dalrymple, one of the organisers. Then another organiser of the festival is the mother-in-law of Patrick French whose authorised biography of Naipaul was disowned and denounced by Sir Vidia and by Lady Naipaul as inaccurate and malicious. These are, of course, not secret matters. William's reviews were published in India and Britain and the displeasure with which the authorised biography was greeted by the Naipauls is also in the public domain. Perhaps my speculation is wrong and Naipaul has been invited to one or other Jaipur festivals and has for a reason unconnected with these facts declined to come. I don't know and will perhaps now be told.

Less perplexing to some may be the fact that I have never been invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival. The organisers can't be expected to know that I have a few prizes to my name — there was something called The Other Award which is handed out for the best book of children's literature each year and then there was the nomination for the Whitbread in which I am afraid I came second and, if prestige is the criterion then there was the Samuel Beckett Award for the best television play in the mid-eighties. But I am not foolish enough to imagine that these are in any way as prestigious as the Starbucks Award or the Tate and Lyle Prize etc.

The Swedish award is, of course, the crowning glory. Some years ago when I worked as a television bureaucrat I returned to my office from some external creative task and was told by Eva, my secretary, that a professor from the Swedish Academy in Stockholm had been trying to get me all day and that he would call back soon. I settled into my office and very soon Eva put a call through to my phone saying it was the Swedish Academy again. I picked up the phone and said, "Say no more, professor. I accept!"

After a very slight pause the professor said "Ah, not yet, Mr Dhondy, not yet. I am ringing to ask if you will attend a literary festival in Stockholm in July".

It was the nearest I got.

I suppose the importance of the Jaipur Literature Festival and its imminence has prompted comments in the press about its scope and intentions. The most amusing of these was a recent exchange I read between William Dalrymple and Hartosh Singh Bal in a weekly magazine. The debate opened with Bal accusing the festival and Dalrymple, one of its organisers and alleged founders, of looking to Britain for all estimations of literary worth. The article carried a full-page cartoon caricature of a blue-eyed, double-chinned Dalrymple dressed in princely Mughal attire with an orange kurta and maroon speckled waist coat, three strings of pearls and an orange turban crown complete with pearled plumes and adornments.

Dalrymple's reply in the next issue of the weekly, accused the cartoon and the article of being "racist". No doubt he didn't like being caricatured. It is something that politicians have to get used to by virtue of their public role. Writers can be indulged if they retain the right to be offended. "Racist" is a handy term and stimulates immediate revulsion. Dalrymple attempts to stimulate this same revulsion when he says at the end of the article that Bal's (I know Dalrymple, I don't know Bal) contentions felt "like the literary equivalent of shit through an immigrant's letter-box".

Reading Bal's piece didn't leave me with this impression. Neither is Dalrymple being parodied in the cartoon for being of the Caucasian-Celtic races. The cartoon seems to be a comment on his well-known penchant for things Mughal, including the elaborate attire.

Dalrymple rightly contends that the festival has a broad reach and this year includes the South African J.M. Coetzee and the Turkish Orhan Pamuk.

Bal replies to Dalrymple's reply saying that Indians and in particular the Jaipur organisers "needed the English newspapers and critics to elaborate their greatness before we came to accept it. They have been filtered to us through Britain... if Pamuk had come to India before such endorsement came his way we would not have noticed him".

That's true. So is the fact that Bal points to earlier in his rebuttal that the people who remain the focus of the Festival, however many Indians attend and are empanelled, are not homegrown.

What both sides in this dispute fail to come to terms with is the fact that these truths are not consequences of any bias or Raj-centric attitude on Dalrymple's part or on anyone else's part. They are the consequence of there being a gaping, hopeless, perhaps irreparable absence of any critical literature or tradition that is homegrown. Yes, there are reviews and puffs for books galore, but there has never been a fundamental questioning of what writing in India should be doing, what it should reveal and why. There has never been any examination of why one book is better than another or if indeed Indian writing is providing anything more than the imitated conceits and concerns of other cultures with the names, clothes and details made native.

Until a rich and even ruthless critical tradition can make sense of the country's literary output we cannot blame Dalrymple and Jaipur for borrowing the critical yardstick. Will Bal step up to the mark?





Babudom is somewhat worried these days under the rule of Chief Minister, Mr N. Kiran Kumar Reddy. And they have cause for their fears. The word is out that the Chief Minister has a general antipathy to the bureaucracy, having had a tough time getting babus to do any work while he was an MLA. He also has some strong likes and dislikes for officers he worked with in his native district, and has a poor opinion about officers who held high profile jobs during his arch rival Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu's chief ministership, particularly district collectors of that time. All the bureaucrats can do is hope that the CM realises that they are only tools and as the Mahatma famously said, masters should not fight with their tools.


When almost every Congress MP from the state had gone to New Delhi in connection with the Union Cabinet expansion, the Vijayawada MP, Mr Lagadapati Rajagopal, had opted to stay in his constituency headquarters. This came as a surprise to many of his followers in Vijayawada who were curious to know why their MP is participating in local programmes instead of going to Delhi to test the political waters there. Some of them asked him directly why he is hanging around Vijayawada instead of trying his luck in New Delhi. Mr Lagadapati coolly replied that he knows Andhra Pradesh is not going to get anything this time, so why bother? His prediction was spot on, as the events of the next day proved, when the Cabinet reshuffle was announced. In fact, Mr Lagadapati has a knack for reading the political pulse accurately. His predictions about the 2009 general elections also came true — down to the exact numbers. He also predicted rightly that the Justice Srikrishna committee report would only give options and the pros and cons of bifurcation or unification.


Two-wheeler riders in the city are scared of stopping beside a public transport bus at a signal. They fear that bus passengers might spit on them. And their fear is not unfounded. One two-wheeler rider heading towards his office in the morning hours got his well-ironed white shirt splattered with bright red betel juice while waiting beside a bus near the Secunderabad railway station. Annoyed by this uncivilised act the two-wheeler rider chased the bus in order to teach its uncouth passenger a lesson, but couldn't catch up. Hurling abuses at the retreating bus was all he could do to relieve his anger.






India's marathon five-year-long wait for mobile number portability — the facility which enables a cellphone user to change his/her service provider without changing the number — is finally over, after several hurdles and postponements. At last, mobile phone users in this country can freely change their phone company without having to change their number; thus automatically gaining the upper hand in their equation with service providers. Mobile tariffs in India are already at rock bottom levels, and there is very little scope to reduce these further. So the cellphone companies, in order to retain customer loyalty and secure new business, have no option but to improve their quality of service. In this, the big telecom players enjoy a natural edge over smaller players which do not have such large networks; but irrespective of size, every service provider — big or small — will have to become more efficient and customer-friendly. Those companies in a position to offer 3G services will have a distinct advantage in attracting high-value customers to switch over. Equipment vendors also stand to benefit as they will get more business, with service providers upgrading and expanding infrastructure to improve coverage. On the first day that portability came into operation, there was, interestingly, no rush of customers opting to switch to a new service provider. If Haryana (where MNP was first introduced in November) is any pointer of things to come, there may not be too much of a churning to worry the telecom companies. Only 0.75 per cent of subscribers switched providers in that state in this period, which is below the regular level of 3-5 per cent of subscribers who switch companies even without being able to retain their existing number. Most of them are prepaid customers — a segment estimated at 97 per cent of all mobile users in India. In the long run, MNP is expected to be an attractive option — it is estimated that at least 20 million of India's 600 million mobile subscribers might switch in the next two years. The next logical step is portability in fixed line numbers. Many people are forced to, or choose to, change residence in the same city or town, and they too should be able to retain their old number. The infrastructure is available for this, and the telecom companies should be able to provide this without too much difficulty. And hopefully it should not take another five years for this. While mobile service is steadily getting better in urban and semi-urban areas, the department of telecom needs to pay greater attention to mobile and Internet connectivity in rural areas. A way must be found to make personal computers and laptops more affordable and available in rural areas, along with connectivity at an affordable cost. At present, the lowest regular monthly charges are around `200. This will have to be brought down drastically.








U and non-U saw their birth in 1954, in volume 55 of Neuphilologische Mitteilungen. A.S.C. Ross' Linguistic Class-Indicators in Present-Day English was presented to the world in the same learned journal that later published the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky, though much of the world waited in ignorance until 1956, when Ross' ideas were collected by Nancy Mitford in Noblesse Oblige.

Ross' thesis was that in England "it is solely by its language that the upper class is clearly marked off". He conceded that some non-linguistic markers remained, such as playing the game real tennis or a dislike of the telephone. Nowadays that might perhaps be mobiles.

Ross acknowledged that verbal class-indicators changed over the years. More than half-a-century after his learned paper, I wonder if something of the same kind can be got through trade names.

For example, many U people shop at Marks & Spencer. It is more expensive to buy things at Burberry, but Burberry, became popular with non-U shoppers.

The same thing had happened in the 1960s, when Crombie coats became the object of desire for borderline Mods-Skinheads. Crombie has, I think, now recovered from this evanescent class-indicator. U dressers do buy clothes off the peg. Today, it seems that Hawes & Curtis, the shirt-maker, has moved from the U to the non-U market simply by increasing its branches.

My thoughts about non-U trade names were provoked by finding my husband eating a Lion bar. "What are you eating?" "Some chocolate", he answered, which was almost true. There is U chocolate, which is not consumed at a sitting or in public places. Bournville plain chocolate is U, and half a bar might be found in the glove compartment of the old car; Curly-Wurly or Wispa, although manufactured by the same company, are definitely non-U. I think there is much more to look into in this matter of trade names as class-indicators.






There is a lot of difference between the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh and the harmad vahini in West Bengal. Sure, both are armed vigilante groups set up to "protect villagers from Maoists" in Naxalite-affected areas. Both have the tacit support of their state administrations —the Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Chhattisgarh and the Left Front in West Bengal. Both use brutal violence to control their territory. Both force defenceless villagers to join them or face murder and mayhem. Both use official government premises, like government schools and panchayat offices, as battle camps and armouries. Both flout the Indian Constitution.

However, we must not assume that the Salwa Judum and the harmad vahini are similar. For one, the very existence of the harmad is officially in question. The West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has objected strongly to the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram's use of the name to depict the Communist Party of India-(Marxist) (CPI-M)'s cadres in the Naxalite-ravaged Lalgarh area.

Harmad vahini just means illicit militia, and the Left Front insists that only the Opposition, Trinamul Congress uses this derogatory term to refer to CPI(M) cadres, there is no such militia in reality. On the other hand, the Salwa Judum is something that the Chhattisgarh government is happy to acknowledge, and looks upon as a legitimate partner in its fight against Maoists. The very name Salwa Judum, which apparently means "peace march" in Gondi, was coined to give the impression of a tribal movement — self-defence groups that sprouted spontaneously to resist Naxal violence. And unlike CPI(M) cadres, many members of the Salwa Judum are now legitimised as state-endorsed killers, as salaried special police officers. The CPI(M) has protested the BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh government's support to these armed vigilante groups. There was of course no question of the CPI(M) themselves raising such groups in their home territory.

However, in unrelated hearings this week, the courts have cracked the whip regarding these vigilante groups, discomfiting the Chhattisgarh and Bengal governments.  On January 18, the Supreme Court asked the Chhattisgarh government for a time-bound action plan to disband the Salwa Judum. Those living in Salwa Judum camps must be sent back home in a planned and safe way, it suggested, and their freedom and normal life restored. And finally, the SC sought a detailed report on compensation, to make sure that victims of all violence — whether perpetrated by Maoists, the Salwa Judum or security forces — got justice.

In Bengal, the Calcutta High Court was following up on its queries regarding the recent violence in Netai in Lalgarh, which left eight people dead and 20 injured in an attack allegedly by armed CPI(M) cadres. The court had wanted to know whether the Left Front government was thinking of a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the killing and what it felt about demolishing armed camps in the area run by political parties. It had also asked about compensation.

In its affidavit, the state government had replied that it would ask the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and not the CBI to investigate the Netai incident. And promised to ensure that there were no camps used to store arms and weapons "by or at the behest of any political party". But compensation would have to wait till the investigation was over. On January 19, the Calcutta High Court accepted most of what the state government said. But insisted that the government pay an "interim compensation" right away and specified the amounts.

The Left's protestations about the Salwa Judum seem hollow when we look at the parallels between the "self-defence groups" in Chhattisgarh and Bengal. The CPI(M) seems to be equally guilty of arming rural thugs and raising a private army. In a mature democracy, people are not expected to seek justice through the barrel of a gun. And the bloody fight between the gun-toting cadres of the ruling CPI(M) and the gun-toting cadres of the challenger Trinamul Congress represents an alarming failure of democratic governance. And the fulcrum of democracy, the people's vote, is propelling the bloodbath. Both the ruling party and the Opposition have been using violence to clear the path to the state elections in May. The winner will be determined not by democratic choices but by who sinks or swims in this river of blood.

Sadly, bullets have influenced our ballot for ages. What is new is that these armed resistance groups seek legitimacy by pretending to be a people's movement against Maoist violence.

Just before the Lalgarh bloodbath, Maoists' spokesman Bikram had officially revealed what was always suspected — that Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul has been an ally of the Naxalites for some time. The Maoists even thanked the Union railways minister for her support. Soon, the Maoists were openly offering to make Ms Banerjee the chief minister of Bengal if only she fought not just the Left Front but the Congress as well.

Not surprising, since the Congress-led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government, under which Ms Banerjee is a Union minister, is carrying on a dirty war with the Maoists both in Chhattisgarh and Bengal. Which makes the Union home minister's innocence about the CPI(M)'s armed cadres in Lalgarh — who apparently help in the joint operations of the security forces of the Centre and West Bengal — seem rather curious.

We all know that lack of development and failure of justice has spawned private armies around the country. Over decades, power-hungry rulers have perfected the process of undermining democracy.

To counter bloodbaths like the low-grade civil war brewing in the Naxalite belts we need more than a change in the government. We need a commitment to governance and social justice from both the ruling and Opposition parties. We need police reforms. We need a cleaner judiciary. And most importantly, we need to listen to our own citizens, hear their stories — not beat them into submission with a gun, then pretend we didn't know.

- Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: [1]







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









THE Supreme Court on Wednesday rightly expressed annoyance at the UPA government's obfuscation of information on black money stashed away in foreign banks by Indians. Asked to disclose the names of 26 Indians who had deposited money in secret bank accounts in LTG Bank, Liechtenstein, a tiny principality in Europe, and made available to New Delhi by the German government, solicitor-general Gopal Subramanium told the court of the steps taken by the government of India under the Double Taxation Avoidance Act. A Bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar, hearing a petition by former Law Minister Ram Jethmalani and others, said: "It is pure and simple theft of national wealth and it amounted to plunder of the nation. We are talking about mind-boggling crime. We are not on the niceties of various treaties." Time was that a much milder rebuke by the Supreme Court was enough for the ministers concerned to put in their papers. The UPA ministers are made of sterner stuff. Even as the Supreme Court was making its most pungent obiter dicta, the ministers were preparing to troop into Rashtrapati Bhavan for a Cabinet reshuffle.
Germany's intelligence agency bought a DVD containing 1,400 names of holders of secret accounts in LGT Bank, owned by Prince Hans-Adams II of  Liechtenstein, in February 2008 for 4.2 million Euros. Six hundred of them lived in Germany with expected tax evasion of 5 billion Euros. Thorsten Albig, German finance ministry spokesman, announced on 25 February, 2008, that names and details of the other 800 account holders would be given to their respective countries free of cost. Senior officials of the finance ministry wrote to the Indian ambassador in Berlin not to press the Germans to release the names of Indians in the list. While Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand acted with alacrity to retrieve their stolen national wealth stashed away in foreign banks, India dragged its feet. After much prodding by the Opposition, New Delhi reluctantly sought and obtained the list of 26 names. The UPA government now seems determined to hide their names, even at the risk of inviting the Supreme Court's opprobrium.

The UPA should know the era of banking secrecy is over. The economic meltdown of 2007-2008 had forced the Western countries to recover their stolen wealth from tax havens and secret bank accounts. According to Wikipedia, illicit money deposited in Swiss banks totalled $5.7 trillion (Rs 285 lakh crore) in 2007, out of which $1.4 trillion belonged to Indians. The figure for 2010 would be much larger. If one-fourth of that money is repatriated, India could banish poverty, and provide food, clothing and shelter to all. Caught in the Congress web, Manmohan Singh is unable to act.




REOPENING the wounds of war is painful. More so when the motive is seeking redress, justice or vengeance ~ in such matters the differences can blur. Yet without getting enmeshed in the controversy over whether gallantry awards were merited or part of a cover-up, it would be best if the truth ~ the greatest of healers and reassurance ~ was established on what transpired when two Indian warships, the frigates Khukri and Kirpan came under attack from the Pakistani submarine Hangor off the west coast in December 1971. Khukri, everyone who cares would know, was hit by sub-launched torpedoes and sunk: its commanding officer MN Mulla "going down with his ship." What is not so clear is why Kirpan ~ which along with Khukri was sub-hunting ~ reportedly turned away rather than counter-attack and pick up survivors. The dispute has now been raked up before the Armed Forces Tribunal, some entities are said to be considering approaching the apex court. Flying thick and fast are allegations that official history has been doctored, and demands to withdraw awards to Kirpan's officers. One line advanced is that Khukri embarked with new equipment that rendered her vulnerable.
Another is that Kirpan acted in self-defence. What is intriguing is the latter's commanding officer recently declaring that rules pertaining to "classified information" prevent him from divulging why he acted thus. This is where the defence ministry must step in. Rather than let sores fester and have the relevant information judicially extracted, it should direct the release of all material, maybe appoint an expert committee to make a determination. Enough time has elapsed, that material no longer "compromises" security, many key players have passed on, and if some survivors are to be embarrassed so be it.

The controversy has to been seen in a wider context of official accounts not being accurate, selective or economic with the truth. The AFT has already tried to set the record straight in respect of one "damned" officer in Kargil. Should the Khukri-Kirpan issue snowball it could impact on the morale of a relatively small service, apart from allowing distorted accounts to remain in place. Not to learn from history, particularly in a military context, is criminal: the issue under focus merits a fair determination, and then closure. Yet who can ignore that while "transparency" is the current buzzword, even 47-48 years later the veil of secrecy remains officially intact over the Henderson-Brooks report!




IS the jumbo unnerved by the extremist challenge? It would be breathless to set up the Maoists as an Aunt Sally even to account for the waywardness of elephants in Bengal's Dalma forest. The forest minister, Ananta Roy, would have been nearer the truth had he acknowledged that the department has failed to confine the jumbo to Dalma's designated elephant corridor. That failure, as it now turns out, stretches from Bankura in South Bengal to Dooars in the north where as many as seven such creatures were knocked down by a speeding train not too long ago. It bears recall that in 1993, when the state was free of Maoist insurgency, a herd of  elephants had hit the headlines and visual space when they had walked out of Dalma to the neighbouring districts in search of food. They are on the march again, driven in part by hunger, in part by the shoddy supervision of their corridor, and in part by professional poachers (not to be confused with Maoists). In the minister's own admission, agricultural produce in the periphery has been destroyed, a fact that confirms the pangs of elephant hunger.
The minister's second statement was a giveaway, that villagers place live wires on the field to trap the elephants... and extract the invaluable tusk. That precisely is another facet of the law and order problem in the region, one that relates to forest protection and not the Maoist movement. Given the disturbed condition along the Red Corridor, it was convenient enough for the minister to blame the Left radical for the elephants' desertion of Dalma. For one, Bankura is less disturbed than West Midnapore. For another, there have been hardly any landmine explosions in the district in recent months for the creatures to shift base from the Maoist belt. It is poachers and electrical wires that have endangered the elephants. Forest management needs to be revamped throughout the state. No, even the Maoist wouldn't call the jumbo a class enemy.








IF everyone, including the Left, had been honest about unravelling the truth about why law and order has deteriorated as perhaps never before in West Bengal, there would not have been any nervousness about intellectuals meeting the President and Prime Minister. This group has been a serious embarrassment to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who himself is associated with enlightened minds appreciating the humanism of Tagore's music, poems, stories and plays while defending dissent in Latin American cinema to the extent of giving it a prominent place in film festivals that he personally oversees.

To begin with, they were not taken too seriously. But as time passed and the concept of parivartan grew into a movement, the Left was seen at sixes and sevens, caught off-guard (perhaps for the first time) and confused about how to meet the challenge.

This stemmed partly from the fact that the Left had thrived on a "progressive'' image that embraced some of the leading thinkers ~ academics, writers, film-makers, theatre personalities and musicians and singers many of whom had their roots in the Indian People's Theatre Association. One or two became disillusioned long before the Marxists stormed into Writers' Buildings on an anti-incumbency wave in 1977. But that didn't change the broad picture of the Left being assured moral support from the intellectual fraternity. The "progressive'' spirit was exhausted in hours of animated exchanges on everything from Vietnam and the student uprising in France in the late Sixties to the volatile situation created by Naxalites with sympathisers on academic circuits and social evils depicted fearlessly in paintings, films and plays.

It was this sense of confidence that was to come in for a rude shock when voices of dissent were raised against the Left establishment. Till then dissent had been taken to be an integral part of intellectual resistance when the ruling bourgeoisie was seen to be indifferent to, among other things, the problem of unemployment among the educated young in the cities and the injustice done to the peasants in the villages. The angst came through in titles of books, plays and films and slogans coined by the Left suggesting that a small section was enjoying the fruits of development leaving the rest to a life of deprivation and distress. It was fashionable to write stories, for instance, glorifying the labour leader ~ who was often seen to have suffered for a cause ~ till Satyajit Ray took up a novel depicting a labour leader engineering a strike to help the management escape a penalty for defaulting on the timely delivery of a manufactured item.

Harsh realities or subtle shades in character and conduct didn't matter to thinkers who chose to ignore the fact that ideological convictions and human weaknesses could go hand in hand. Socialist dogmas never helped in protecting academic discipline when a vice-chancellor was virtually hounded out of a university. Nor did the thinkers consider it necessary to record dissent when it became the standard practice to get appointments to academic positions cleared by the party and when relics of capitalist or colonial regimes were sought to be dismantled in one stroke after 1977. They had to little to say when some of the best specimens of British sculpture were torn down from their pedestals to obliterate the colonial past ~ with, again, the exception of Satyajit Ray who stalled an attempt by a PWD minister to apply the red brush to the pinnacle of Shahid Minar. Nor did they have much to say when English was also considered a poisonous relic to be banished from primary schools. This "purification'' was extended to political life where, for many years, there was no resistance.
The first signs came in the panchayat election in 2008 when the Left was cruelly confronted by the disenchantment of those it had taken for granted after the success of Operation Barga. Before it could even get its act together there landed the army of intellectual rebels who were more articulate and resourceful than their Left counterparts and this time seems determined to carry their protest to a logical conclusion.
This was not something that Alimuddin Street was prepared for. Initially it took the parivartan' slogan to be a joke that suggested that the change could only be for a "better Left". When the parliamentary and municipal elections confirmed that the grim signals could have a disastrous impact on elections to come, it began to explore other options. The first was to seize on the frequent interactions with local villagers to look for evidence of clandestine links with Maoists and put "friendly'' television units on the job of identifying private residences frequented by Trinamul leaders as possible meeting points. The second was to publicly charge them with being Trinamul activists ~ blurring the line between thinkers and political workers ~ so as to strip them of their claim to being disillusioned after successive displays of a ruthless power from Nandigram to Netai.

Many of them have Left backgrounds now driven to protest after the brazen use of the official machinery even if that means silencing unarmed villagers with the gun. On the one hand, it sees an octogenarian writer, an old defender of tribal rights, raising her voice against the ritual of development funds being diverted. On the other, there is shock and anguish over cadres forming terror groups aided by the police to hold villagers hostage to the party agenda.

It would have been relatively easy to deal with political creatures because that would have kept the battle to the streets where they all find themselves on familiar ground. Even students, suitably indoctrinated, have no qualms about displaying muscle or shedding blood if necessary to live up to the mantra that political consciousness is an essential component of academic life. The newly acquired methods of "capturing'' villages takes another form in educational institutions. But while political clashes can be cloaked in disputed claims and counter-claims, it is a different story when dissenters don't come with slogans or flags but merely suggest that the battle can be fought at another level. It is this group fighting a battle of the mind that has shaken the Left and has found it without a credible answer. What is worse, this battle has been taken from the cities to the villages and has produced the compelling picture of thinkers striking a common chord with those who could determine what the future holds.

The Maoist colours sought to be imposed on this social interaction with the coming election in mind doesn't change the contours of the mind game. It is a different matter that the end result ~ regardless of the electoral prospects ~ will be debilitating in social terms. What happens to a society where positions have hardened on both sides, a meeting of minds even on the inescapable need to end the cycle of violence has hit a roadblock and an irrevocably polarised climate has distorted the voice of reason? The dissenters have turned into relentless campaigners and their equally relentless rivals can at best defend the indefensible or divert attention to non-issues. Whatever the outcome in the elections, it will take a long time to recover from the depression that this battle has produced ~ in which there can be no winners.


The writer is Director, Statesman Print Journalism School






Dr Vinod Raina is a member of the highest advisory body on education in the country ~ the Central Advisory Board for Education ~  and helped in drafting the Right to Education Act. A physicist, he resigned from Delhi University in 1982 to devote himself to grassroots work in the areas of education and rural development. He is one of the pioneers of the people's science movement in India that attempts to empower people to build on and implement their own developmental ideas. He is the founding member of Eklavya, an NGO which has been advocating alternative education and whose curriculum was adopted in the state school education system. Dr Raina spoke to RANJEET S JAMWAL on the implementation of the RTE Act and reforming India's education system.
It has been more than nine months since the historic RTE Act came into force. Are you satisfied with the progress made so far in its implementation?

No. It should have been implemented more vigorously because there is a time limit involved. The Act says that each child must have a neighbourhood school in three years' time and this target needs to be met. Since nine months are already over, we are running out of time. But having said that, I want to add that implementation of this Act is not an easy job because it is not like any other government programme. Here, we are talking about 1.2 million schools, 6 million teachers and a huge bureaucracy involving state education departments. I believe that for an effective implementation of this Act, systemic changes are required at different levels.
What kind of systemic changes?

Changes like how teachers will be recruited, how they will be trained. These are all systemic transitions that require time. The RTE Act is not like Pulse Polio or other programmes, this one is for making enduring changes. One of the changes being introduced is the Teachers' Eligibility Test. State governments are slow in adapting. So far, only four states have adopted the rules and the reason they have cited for the procrastination is these systemic issues. Many have written the rules but not adopted them. While it's good not to do things in a haste, it's also true that targets need to be set.

Private schools have been protesting against the provisions of the Act. Is their protest justified?
It is difficult to judge that. They have a grievance and they have moved court. Since the RTE Act is a law, anyone can go to court if they have any complaint about it. My view is that in this country , education has become a matter of privilege. It is a commodity that can be bought, therefore it's differential. Also, this promotes segregation. The students of Bharat are distinct from the students of India. They know very little about each other. The country is getting bifurcated in classrooms when those should act as catalysts of integration. This is why the RTE Act has the clause of 25 per cent reservation for children from economically-backward sections. What private schools don't understand is that by implementing this reservation they will be doing a favour to the children. Having these 25 per cent children in the school will only broaden the world view of the other 75 per cent children. It will be an enriching process. That's how private schools need to look at it.

 Lack of quality teachers is blamed for lack of quality education in the country. What steps can be taken to attract quality teachers?

In the past 16 years, we have done much damage to our education system by recruiting para-teachers to get the work done cheaply. To attract quality teachers, we need to pay them well. Following the implementation of the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, a peon employed with the government now gets Rs 15,000 a month. So, you cannot get a good teacher for Rs 2,500 ~ something that is paid to para-teachers. This cannot work. The problem is that the pay of teachers is at the discretion of state governments and in this case too, one state differs from the other. I only hope that the states will follow a uniform policy of recruiting and paying teachers.
A series of reforms have been announced in the education sector over the past one-and-a-half years. How do you think these reforms will be useful?

I don't know how many of the reforms have been actually implemented. Of the reforms at the legislature level, only the RTE Act is there for all to see. There is a lot of talk about reforms but the ground reality is different. The reason is, what is being proposed is being resisted. We do need reforms. But, I think, we need to appreciate two things. One, that division of responsibility between the state and the private sector needs to be established. That is not clear in the drafts that we have at the moment. Second, the federal nature of this country which makes education both a state and a Central subject. As such, you cannot do anything in a centralised manner. In an effort to strike a balance between the Centre and the states, the purpose of reforming the country's education system gets lost. This needs to be remedied






As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair makes his final appearance before the inquiry into the Iraq war, there are 15 charges against him that have yet to be answered.

Misleading Parliament over the legality of an invasion Blair's claim: He told the Commons on 15 January, 2003 that if the French issued an "unreasonable veto" at the UN, refusing to back military action against Saddam Hussein, Britain could still legally join an invasion. "That is the position that the Government have set out throughout, and it is the position that remains," he said.


The truth: We now know his chief legal adviser, Lord Goldsmith, did not agree with this assertion.


The evidence: In a new statement issued to the inquiry this week, the former attorney general said the Prime Minister knew his view, but ignored it. He said he was made to feel "uncomfortable" by Blair's public pronouncements.

Misleading the nation over Weapons of Mass Destruction    Blair's claim: In a September 2002 dossier on Iraq, he stated in a foreword that it had been established "beyond doubt" that Saddam was producing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).


The truth: We now know there were no WMD in Iraq.


The evidence: The Iraq Survey Group, sent in to find evidence of WMD, came away empty-handed. On 23 January 2004, its leader, David Kay, resigned, saying no WMD stockpiles would be found. He later stated: "It turns out that we were all wrong, probably in my judgement, and that is most disturbing."


Misleading parliament about intelligence

Blair's claim: On 24 September, 2002, he told MPs the Intelligence was "extensive, detailed and authoritative".

The truth: It was wrong.

The evidence: Appearing at the inquiry on 25 November, 2009, Sir William Ehrman, former director-general of defence and Intelligence at the Foreign Office, said the intelligence had always been questioned. In March 2002, it was "sporadic and patchy". An August 2002 briefing noted, "We know very little" about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons. He said by September 2002, as the dossier was being written, intelligence "remained limited". British spies reported 10 days before the war that Iraq had "disassembled" chemical weapons.


Falsely blaming the French for the collapse of United Nations talks    Blair's claim: He told the inquiry he kept good relations open with the French, but that it became clear they would not support a second UN resolution clearing the way for military action.


The truth: Alastair Campbell was instructed to tell journalists that Jacques Chirac, then the French President, had said he would veto any resolution. The government knew that was not true.


The evidence: Stephen Wall, Blair's former EU adviser, told the inquiry that Blair gave "Alastair his marching orders to play the anti-French card". He added: "I do recall getting a call from Joyce Quin, a former Europe minister, who said to me, 'Do the Prime Minister and Alastair know that what they're claiming Chirac said isn't what he actually said?' and I said 'Joyce, I believe they do'."


Exaggerating to Parliament the threat from Saddam Blair's claim: He told the Commons on 24 September, 2002: "(Saddam's) weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working."


The truth: Saddam was not posing a substantially greater risk to world security than in the past.


The evidence: The inquiry team has noted it has not seen evidence saying the threat from Saddam was growing at the time of the invasion. On his first appearance at the inquiry, Blair conceded this was true. "It wasn't that objectively he had done more. It was that our perception of the risk had shifted."


Marginalising his most senior legal adviser    Blair's claim: He has maintained he would not have agreed to military action if Lord Goldsmith had concluded it was illegal.    The truth: Lord Goldsmith revealed this week that he was sidelined from discussions about Iraq while he espoused the view that an invasion would be illegal.
 The evidence: Lord Goldsmith told the Chilcot Inquiry that he was "no longer actively consulted" after telling Mr Blair on 22 October, 2002 that he thought an invasion would breach international law. "I was not being sufficiently involved in the meetings and discussions about the (UN) resolution and the policy behind it," he said.Pressuring Lord Goldsmith into clearing military action Blair's claim: His decision to invade was based partly on legal clearance.


The truth: Pressure was heaped on Lord Goldsmith to change his mind and conclude that an invasion would be legal.


The evidence: The former attorney-general changed his mind after meetings with Jack Straw, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British Ambassador to the UN and lawyers from George W Bush's administration.
nMisleading the nation over the threat from Iraq    Blair's claim: On 24 September, 2003, Blair told MPs that Saddam "has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population". This claim also appeared in the dossier published that day. No effort was made by No. 10 to correct the Evening Standard's front-page headline: "45 minutes from attack".


The truth: The claim had only ever been intended to refer to short-range, battlefield weapons.


The evidence: Several expert witnesses have now said the claim was meant to refer to short-range weapons such as rocket launchers. Sir David Omand, Blair's former Security and Intelligence Coordinator, has said the claim "should never have appeared".


Hiding his discussions with President Bush from the public    Blair's claim: He told MPs in July 2002: "We have not got to the stage of military action . . . we have not yet reached the point of decision."


The truth: Several witnesses, from Sir Christopher Meyer to Alastair Campbell, have suggested that Blair made a written commitment to join the invasion during a visit to Crawford, Texas, in April 2002. But the record of what he said to President Bush in private memos is being kept private.


The evidence: Sir Gus O'Donnell, the head of the civil service, has blocked the publication of the memos, after consulting Blair. Sir John Chilcot has made clear that these documents are crucial in the shaping of the inquiry's conclusions about the promises President Bush was given over Britain's involvement in military action.
Hiding his discussions with President Bush from colleagues

Blair's claim: There were full Cabinet discussions about Iraq.


The truth: Parts of conversations he had with President Bush in the run-up to the war were deleted from Whitehall records.

The evidence: Matthew Rycroft, Blair's private secretary at No 10, said he routinely deleted any mention of correspondence with Mr Bush from the government minutes. In a new statement to the inquiry, he said: "I do recall doing it on a number of occasions. I would have thought possibly about five occasions and each time for a particular reason."


Launching an invasion whose sole (and illegal) justification was regime change


Blair's claim: He said during his first evidence session that Britain's official policy of disarmament and the US one of regime change were "a different way of expressing the same proposition".


The truth: Lord Goldsmith was always clear that regime change could not be a legally justifiable reason for invasion. But that was always Blair's aim.


The evidence: Alastair Campbell reveals this in his diary entry of 2 April, 2002. He said a group "discussed whether the central aim was WMD or regime change" and that "TB felt it was regime change".


Recklessly undermining the weapons inspectors's work Blair's claim: The inspectors had "indicated that Saddam Hussein had not taken a final opportunity to comply" with UN demands. Giving them more time would have made little difference.


The truth: Inspectors, led by Hans Blix, wanted more time and there was little reason for not giving it to them.
   The evidence: Blair was warned inspectors needed to be sure before military action went ahead. Lord Williams of Baglan, a former adviser to Jack Straw, told the inquiry this week: "In retrospect, it is difficult not to argue that the (UN) inspection process led by Hans Blix was working and had it been given enough time and resources could have continued to work and effectively prevent any new Iraqi efforts on weapons."


Reckless disregard for the well-being of Iraqi civilians


Blair's claim: "It was better to deal with this threat, to remove him from office and I do genuinely believe the world is a safer place as a result," he said.


The truth: Even conservative estimates put the total deaths of Iraq civilians at six figures.


The evidence: Iraq Body Count has estimated more than 122,000 civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion. A Lancet study in 2006 put the figure at 654,965 excess deaths related to the war. The lack of an official coalition tally suggests an indifference to civilian deaths.


Failing to fund post-war reconstruction properly


Blair's claim: At his last inquiry appearance, he blamed Iran for destabilising the country. He also blamed lack of US planning.

The truth: UK planning for the aftermath had been starved of cash and resources. Senior army figures had asked for a delay in the invasion for this reason.


The evidence: Major-General Tim Cross, who was sent to the US to discuss reconstruction efforts, said that planning for after the war was "woefully thin". He told the Prime Minister a delay was needed. "Baghdad was held together by chicken-wire and chewing-gum," he told the inquiry in evidence in December 2009.


Recklessly endangering British civilians

Blair's claim: From the perspective of 2010, Britain and the world are safer because Saddam was removed in 2003. "I think (Saddam) was a monster, I think he threatened not just a region but the world," he said.

The truth: Domestic terrorists have said they were motivated by the invasion. Intelligence officers also warned this would be the case.


The evidence: Blair was warned by senior intelligence figures that the invasion would increase the danger of terrorist attacks in Britain. Lady Manningham-Buller, then head of MI5, said she gave the warning as "explicitly" as possible. The 7/7 bombers blamed their attack on foreign policy decisions including the Iraq invasion.
the independent







We want Parliament to function and all problems can be debated then. We are not afraid of any subject being brought up for discussion. Parliament is the forum for discussions.


Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on the Opposition's demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the 2G scam

Mr Chidambaram raised the issue of our boys setting up camps. We shared our observations. But we agreed on two points. One, the government is firm on disarming all armed groups. Second, the Netai incident (in which nine people were gunned down) was very unfortunate, it should not have happened and we have to see to it that such incidents do not recur.

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee after meeting Union home minister Mr P Chidambaram
If a man commits a murder and then pleads guilty, will the court forgive him? The CPI-M will have to pay for its misdeeds.

Trinamul Congress chief Miss Mamata Banerjee

Maintenance of law and order is the responsibility of security forces and armed cadres of any political party can't be allowed to play any part in the discharge of this responsibility.

Home minister Mr P Chidambaram to West Bengal chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Does Mamata have the guts to admit that her party hoards arms? Only a party like the CPI-M, which possesses such moral fibre, can admit to such a thing. Our party can take steps against errant members, our chief minister can make such an admission for the sake of transparency... the Trinamul leaders simply can't or won't do that.

West Bengal housing minister and CPI-M leader Mr Gautam Deb

The Netai incident is unfortunate. We have to take care that there is no re-run. All parties should adopt an appropriate approach to ensure that such things don't happen again.

Tripura chief minister Mr Manik Sarkar to reporters in Kolkata

I don't see any reason to apply to my former party to take me back.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Mr Somnath Chatterjee after Mr Prakash Karat said that if a  proposal to reinduct Mr Chatterjee came, it could be discussed

I am a Malayalee first and Governor of West Bengal second.

Mr MK Narayanan

We will not call for boycott of polls if Mamata continues to oppose operations against Maoists.
Vikram, CPI(Maoist) spokesperson

I pray to the people of Bengal to give us a chance to play without controversy and pressure. Don't give up on us.
Actor and Kolkata Knight Riders owner Shah Rukh Khan









Politics and governance of a country are always enriched by ideas from other shores as much as its economy and culture. In fact, ideas and influences from outside are the only means to revive and nourish indigenous ways, especially when they become decadent. West Bengal needs winds of change blowing in from other places more than ever in its contemporary history. For some changes, it needs to look no further than Bihar. Given the tenacity of Bengal's politicians to flout the rules and its officials' inability to implement them, the coming assembly polls in the state could once again prove to be another season of extraordinary visual and sound pollution for Calcuttans. What Bihar did during the last state polls there holds some promise for Bengal, if only the Election Commission can repeat the success story. It is not that Bengal lacks laws to stop politicians from defacing Calcutta's walls or to force them to abide by the rules about campaign expenditure or about the use of microphones. What ails Bengal is a collective incapacity to change its self-destructive ways.

However, changing the way of election campaigns is only a sideshow to the larger message of change that Bengal can take from Bihar. Nitish Kumar has shown that there is no contradiction between the demands of electoral democracy and those of development. His low-key rhetoric and pragmatic style of governance are a far cry from the raucous, populist din that passes for politics in Bengal. Mr Kumar's Bihar is raising itself from the casteist violence and lawlessness that once made it India's badlands. By contrast, Left-ruled Bengal has plunged into the pits of political terror and violence. Before Mr Kumar took over office, development was an impossible dream in Bihar. In today's Bengal, competitive destructiveness is the stuff of politics.

Ultimately, what seems to have made the Bihar story possible is the people's refusal to accept darkness as inescapable and their quiet determination to bring light back into their lives. Mr Kumar's success lies in capturing this shift in the public mood and in trying to live up to it. It is common to hear the people of Bengal groan and moan over the state of their lives and blame it all on their unscrupulous politicians and inefficient government. But plunging deeper into despair and doing nothing to get out of it are typical signs of decadence. The forthcoming elections in the state may have inspired hopes for a change of government. But such is the depth of the pessimism that doubts have already been raised if a new dispensation at Writers' Buildings will really lift the gloom currently enveloping the state's horizon. Bihar shows that the people's quest for a better life can ultimately defeat the forces of destruction. If Bengal is left with any will to learn and reform, an example is there next door. Can West Bengal regain the will to live and learn à la Bihar?








Unlike Wen Jiabao in India, Hu Jintao has not castigated his host country's media. He wouldn't dare. His responses to abrasive American reporters at Wednesday's press conference in Washington mixed defensiveness, evasion and conciliation. In fact, he struck a conciliatory note even before the visit, telling The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal in written answers to their questions, "There is no denying that there are some differences and sensitive issues between us. We both stand to gain from a sound China-US relationship, and lose from confrontation."

India and China also stand to gain from a sound relationship, and lose from confrontation. Here, too, there are differences and sensitive issues. But Wen did not bother with the diplomatic niceties that his president employed in the United States of America. Why? One reason is that no Indian publication is any longer taken seriously as an interlocutor like the Post and Journal in the US. It was different in Jawaharlal Nehru's time when the government paid heed to what newspapers like The Statesman published. His daughter's attitude was described by her media adviser by quoting a 19th-century English poet, "Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive/ Officiously to keep alive." The distance has widened since then and not only because of official indifference.

National papers of record have become vehicles of private interest. Some are trivial, some project a borrowed ideology, others are obsessed with what are called 'Page Three people'. Even the nomenclature is imitative, for Page Three is the registered trademark of Britain's Sun tabloid for its topless models. Here, the driving force is usually profit, not prurience. And it's not only the owners. Wen is dismissive about media freedom and contemptuous about its "sensationalizing" because he knows his diplomats can buy favourable coverage by extending hospitality to leading commentators and doling out what passes for exclusive titbits of information. The Delhi missions of other countries with problematic relations with India may practise the same tactics but there is no hint of this in the current debate over "paid news" which the press council defines as "any news or analysis appearing in any media (print and electronic) for a price in cash or kind as consideration".

Embassies are a minor culprit when it comes to payment in "kind". The government's stick-and-carrot strategy is far more decisive (though not absolute as in China) in influencing news. The stick may have virtually disappeared under benign prime ministers like Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh but attractive carrots that only governments can offer remain as persuasive as ever. Yet, media discussions focus only on private business and political parties as sources of corruption.

The Chief Election Commission has issued guidelines to prevent advertisements masquerading as news. The Securities and Exchange Board of India condemns "private treaties" whereby business houses transfer shares to media companies in lieu of advertising space and favourable coverage. The press council wants its directions to become binding. There is also a demand to extend the definition of an "electoral malpractice" to include taking money to publish material that is not advertising. Such abuses are blamed on the managerial — never the editorial — staff of newspapers. But the demand for "a clear distinction" between managers and editors (as if the latter are of lily-white purity) ignores the episode before the term "paid news" had even been coined when a renowned editor was found to hold a chunk of shares in a company that was then — as it is now — mired in controversy. His employers condoned the contradiction and readers lost none of their awed respect for his discursive analyses.

Others may not accept shares and debentures but official grace and favour has elevated many of the worthies leading the crusade against paid news to ambassadors and parliamentarians and entrusted them with high-sounding missions. The irony would have amused the late Nikhil Chakravartty, founder of Mainstream, who declined a Padma Shri because accepting a government decoration and still claiming to be an independent journalist was like wearing a chastity belt in a brothel.

This ambivalence surfaced at a colloquium on the media's role in India-China relations when a speaker brandished printouts of photographs and calligraphy distributed by the Chinese embassy (without mentioning the source) as proof of Delhi's duplicity. Most nations would have found the homage embarrassing but it can only have confirmed for China that a core in the Indian media — as in the political establishment, witness the servile coinage "Chindia" — is up for sale to the highest bidder.

Another anomaly bears mentioning. India has only four correspondents in China against China's 15 in Delhi. Yet, the four Indians, some of whom may speak a bit of basic Chinese, file many more stories than their 15 Chinese counterparts, many of whom have studied Hindi. Moreover, the Indians don't enjoy the access that Chinese correspondents do in India, and certainly not the access allowed to Western reporters in China. Yet a reader in Beijing says he doesn't get the sense that any of the Chinese correspondents have any feel for India. In contrast, the Indians make an effort to localize in China. A Western diplomat dismisses the Chinese reporters in Delhi as spooks.

This discussion is confined to India's English-language papers. It also excludes the substance of Sino-Indian relations because, there, C.P. Scott's famous dictum — "Comment is free, but facts are sacred" — must always apply. The territorial boundary, where "not a single shot had been fired", as Wen said, is possibly sometimes "sensationalized" by junior reporters who are fed information by the police, military or local politicians who find it rewarding to exaggerate the peril they face. An excess of zeal is inevitable when underpaid, poorly trained and professionally neglected reporters enjoy the freedom we are proud of. But Delhi is always quick to step in to quash alarmist reports from the border. Comment is another matter. When Chinese papers and think tanks hailed Wen's visit (as they are doing Hu's) as an unqualified success, they were indulging in comment and not reporting facts. Indeed, totalitarian societies see no distinction between the two. Scott's dictum would astound Wen and Hu.

As noted above, there is much that is wrong with India's media and its interaction with centres of power, whether official, political or mercantile. But since Wen conceded its freedom, he cannot blame Delhi for the "damage" newspaper reports have supposedly done to bilateral ties. Both governments have the true measure of the media's capability, and it isn't plausible either to claim that national leaders have to strive to "repair the damage and harm" done by irresponsible Indian coverage. Wen's real fear is probably the impact of Indian reports on the Chinese people (domestic and overseas) in this internet age of Facebook, Twitter and mass-distribution text messages on mobile phones. Never forget that pagers and the fax machine spurred the Tiananmen Square protests. More recently, the tiny Barbados Free Press website reported "a tsunami of visits to (its) articles about China" within hours of Google shutting down its Chinese language portal in response to hacking and espionage, almost certainly by Beijing.

The American media naturally has a much greater impact than India's, but even a deficient media is nowadays a globalized one. However ecstatic Xinhua might wax over Hu's visit, tweets among the Chinese and blank screens in Beijing when BBC and CNN highlight protests, human rights or Liu Xiaobo's plight betray how sensitive China is to such issues. But whereas Hu cannot expect to silence US papers through strictures, our accommodating newspapers and ingratiating politicians have given Wen reason to hope he can achieve that result in India. We have only ourselves to blame if the prospects are not very encouraging for the "honest and candid" exchanges that are supposed to mark 2011 as the "Year of China-India Exchange."


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




Karnataka governor H R Bhardwaj has created history of sorts by according sanction for the prosecution of chief minister B S Yeddyurappa for "various grave allegations of corruption and criminal misconduct" in an appropriate court of law. The governor, who was publicly spitting fire at Yeddyurappa over the last few days, has acted on a petition by two Bangalore advocates seeking his sanction for prosecuting the chief minister under Section 19(1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Though there have been instances of governors granting such permission in other states, notably in Tamil Nadu against the then chief minister J Jayalalitha, and in Bihar against Lalu Prasad Yadav in corruption cases, it is the first time a governor has acted against a chief minister in Karnataka.

Ever since he took up the gubernatorial job in Karnataka on June 29, 2009, Bhardwaj has been at loggerheads with the BJP government on one issue or the other. As a constitutional authority, he has every right to guide the administration, offer counsel and even pull up the government where it goes wrong. Yes, the Yeddyurappa government has committed many wrongs in the 32 months that it has been in power, and as the constitutional head of the state, the governor was duty bound to ask questions and seek remedial actions. There are clearly defined constitutional boundaries and well-established conventions for the governor's conduct. But Bhardwaj has adopted a crudely confrontationist approach, which was totally unwarranted. Where he was expected to exercise caution and discretion in his actions, he used his loud mouth to get himself into a tangle. If chief minister Yeddyurappa and some of his colleagues have openly accused the governor of acting in a 'partisan manner' or like 'an agent of the Congress party,' Bhardwaj has nobody to blame but himself.

No doubt there are allegations of some of Yeddyurappa's family members and ministerial colleagues indulging in illegalities and their actions are under various stages of investigations by the courts, the CBI and the Lokayukta. Ultimately, it is for the courts to decide whether they are guilty or not and pronounce judgments accordingly. But the remarks of Bhardwaj, prejudging the issues and alluding to the chief minister as a 'thief', were in extreme bad taste and have lowered the dignity of his office. Yeddyurappa will face the legal procedures as mandated, but in the interest of fair play and creating a congenial atmosphere, the Centre should recall the governor who has exceeded all limits of decency and decorum.







The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) has come to an end at a critical juncture in the peace process. Established in 2006, UNMIN was mandated with monitoring the arms and personnel of the Maoists' People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Nepal Army under a peace agreement that brought to an end a decade-long civil war. UNMIN was successful in holding the peace and helping the conduct of elections to the Constituent Assembly. However, Nepal's peace process has still a long way to go. The country hasn't even begun writing its constitution and an extended deadline looms. Parties are so bitterly polarised that 16 rounds of voting have failed to elect a new prime minister to replace Madhav Nepal, who stood down in June last year. Over 19,000 Maoist fighters remain confined to camps around the country and are yet to be integrated into the armed forces. UNMIN played the vital role of a buffer between the Maoist fighters and the Nepalese army. That buffer has now been removed.

A new team of monitors comprising members of Nepal's security forces and the PLA will now take over UNMIN's responsibilities. While it is Nepal that must ultimately take charge of its own security, there are serious doubts whether the new arrangement will work. After all, there is little trust among Nepal's political parties and that between the Nepal Army and the PLA is non-existent. In the absence of a neutral buffer to hold the peace, will the country slide back to civil war?

South Block is reportedly jubilant on the termination of UNMIN's role in Nepal. It has been uneasy with UNMIN's accommodation of the Maoists as an important stakeholder in the peace process. This is because Delhi views the Maoists with suspicion. It is likely that Delhi sees UNMIN's departure as an opportunity for an enhanced role for itself. Helping the various stakeholders break the current impasse is welcome. However, Indian officials are likely to be tempted to craft a government that excludes parties that are seen to be anti-India. The outcome of such crafting will be disastrous for Nepal and India as well in the long run. India must facilitate an inclusive peace process. Else, it will fuel Nepal's return to civil war.








Abuse of discretion is the biggest source of corruption. The germ of corruption crept into the body politic right after independence.

The year 2010 was rocked by a series of mega scams and scandals. Now Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh has ordered the demolition of the 31-storey Adarsh cooperative housing society building in Mumbai terming it as 'unauthorised.' The minister discounted the other options of the government takeover of the building or demolition of that part of the structure in excess of the prescribed FSI (floor space index) because the first option would have bequeathed 'substantial discretionary power' to the government while the second option would have been tantamount to 'regularising or condoning' violations of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 1991.

Discretion in the hands of unscrupulous people, doubtless, leads to corruption and nepotism. Sonia Gandhi also advocated for dispensing with the government's discretionary powers to allocate land, which she described as the top source of corruption, while addressing the 83rd plenary session of the Congress.

Though nearly 20,000 Congress delegates were boisterous in their applause for each paragraph of the party president's speech, none clapped when she admonished chief ministers and ministers to give up their discretionary powers. She was herself amazed at the lukewarm response and muttered with a wry smile, "No clapping for this".

Abuse of discretion is the biggest source of corruption. The germ of corruption crept inside the belly of the body politic right after the country gained independence. The reports of A D Gorwala and Paul Appleby in early 1950s and 60s exclusively focused on administrative reforms. In 1950, Gorwala, an eminent civil servant, was asked by the government to recommend measures to improve the system of governance.

In his report submitted in 1951, he made two scathing observations that quite a few of Nehru's ministers were corrupt and this was common knowledge, and that the government went out of its way to shield its ministers.

The history of corruption in post-independence India starts with the jeep scandal in 1948 when a transaction concerning purchase of 155 jeeps costing Rs 80 lakh was entered into by V K Krishna Menon, the then High Commissioner for India in London, with a foreign firm without observing normal procedure. The Indian army had placed orders for theses jeeps which were to be used in then troubled Hyderabad and Kashmir regions. The army had placed the services of a brigadier but Krishna Menon bypassed him and outsourced through an agent, Cleminsan.

LIC-Mundhra deal is the first financial scandal of independent India. With his clout, Haridas Mundhra, a Kolkata-based industrialist and stock speculator, got the LIC to invest Rs 1.24 crore in the shares of his six troubled companies. The investment was done under governmental pressure bypassing the LIC's investment committee which was informed of the deal only after it had been struck. Then Congress MP Feroze Gandhi exposed the irregularity.

Speedy action

The government set up a one-man committee of Justice M C Chagla which submitted the report within a record 24 days. It held then finance minister T T Krishnamachari constitutionally responsible. TTK resigned and Mundhra was sentenced to jail. The committee recommended trial of then finance secretary H M patel and LIC official L S Vaidyanathan for suspected collusion. However, the unfortunate incident led to the setting up of the statutory Central Vigilance Commission to act as watchdog on corruption.

After this, there have been countless scams and scandals, but the top investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, has failed to stem the rot and get the culprits convicted as it is used for political ends by the powers that be. India has a poor record of prosecuting people for corruption. More than 9,000 cases filed by the CBI are pending in various courts and over 2,000 of them are pending for more than a decade. The conviction rate is an abysmal 40 per cent which is one of the lowest in the world.

Secondly, the 'single directive' which requires that sanctions of the appointing authority must be obtained before prosecuting the officers of the rank of joint secretary and above is another blatant and discriminatory provision which must be scrapped. In fact, the supreme court struck it down in Vineet Narain case, but the government brought it back through the rear door again. It again gives discretion which is abused. This is a discriminatory provision which violates the right to equality guaranteed by Article 14 of the constitution.

The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution recommended autonomous personal boards for advising the political executive in matters of placement, promotions, and transfers. It further recommended legally instituted accountability of public servants for their mala fide acts of omission and commission and their liability to pay damages.

Further, the definition of 'corruption' has to be widened as interpreted by the supreme court in Dr S Dutt vs State of UP where the court said, "The word 'corrupt' does not necessarily include the element of bribe taking. It is used in a much larger sense as denoting conduct which is morally unsound or debased."

The word 'corrupt' has been judicially construed in several cases, notably, in Bibkhranjan Gupta vs The King, Justice Sen dealt at length with this word. He was contrasting section 196 with section 471 and observed that the word 'corruptly' was not synonymous with dishonestly or fraudulently but was much wider.








The only element of surprise I had about Salman Taseer's assassination on the 4th of January was it happened so late. Some years earlier he was gaoled by Pakistan's military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq and the only book he was allowed to read was the holy Koran.

He was foolish enough to say that he found nothing worthwhile in it. He also confessed he enjoyed breakfast with bacon and eggs and liked drinking Scotch before dinner. He should have known his countrymen better. Their margin of tolerance is very thin. His latest irritant was to plead for mercy for a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.

I had met Salman's parents in Lahore before partition of the country. His farther was one of the small coterie of Urdu writers including Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Professor Bukhari who wrote under the name Patras. After a spell as the head of Radio Pakistan he became head of the United Nation's information department in New York.

Salman was an admirer of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and an active member of the People's Party of Pakistan. He wrote a biography of Bhutto and came to Delhi to promote sales of the book. I was then editor of 'The Hindustan Times'. A frequent visitor in my office was Tavleen Singh, grand daughter of Sardar Baisakha Singh, builder of the North Block of the Secretariat, our neighbour and my father's closest friend. She happened to be in my office when Salman called on me. They were taken by each other.

On the last day of his visit he came to say goodbye to me. Tavleen was with him. Both looked tired and happy. A few days later Tavleen left Delhi to join up with Salman. They were in London when their son Aatish was born. Soon after Tavleen parted company with Salman as he was a compulsive womaniser. She was embittered by her experience and returned to Delhi with her son.

Aatish was brought up in a Sikh household. He had an identity problem. He spelt it out in his autobiography 'Stranger to History: A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands'. On this journey he performed his pilgrimage (Umra) to Mecca and Madina before he landed in Karachi and proceeded to his destination Lahore where his father lived with his second wife and six children. He was well-received by his step-mother and her children, but proved an embarrassment to his father.

He wrote a second book: 'The Temple Goers'. He now lives in London and visits Delhi frequently to be with his mother.

Salman's assassination has split Pakistan into two: the masses regard the assassin as a hero; the educated elite regard him a villain.

Don't ever underestimate old guys
The banker saw his old
friend Tom,
an eighty-year old rancher,
in town
Tom had lost his wife a year
or so
before and rumour had it that
he was marrying a 'mail order' bride.
Being a good friend, the banker asked
Tom if the rumour was true.
Tom assured him that it was,
The banker then asked Tom the age
of his new bride to be.
Tom proudly said,
'she'll be twenty-one
in November.'
Now the banker, being the
wise man
that he was, could see that
the sexual
appetite of a young woman could not be
satisfied by an eighty-year-old man.
Wanting his old friend's
remaining years
to be happy the banker
tactfully suggested
that Tom should consider
getting a
hired hand to help him out
on the ranch,
knowing nature would take
its own course.
Tom thought this was a good idea and said
he would look for one that
About four months later
the banker ran into
Tom in town again.
'How's the new wife?' asked
the banker,
Tom proudly said, 'Good —
she's pregnant'.
The banker, happy that his sage advice
had worked out, continued,
'And how's the hired hand?'
Without hesitation, Tom said,
'She's pregnant too'.
Love dialogue
Wife: I had to marry you to find out how stupid you are!"
Husband: You should have known it the minute I asked you to marry me.

Wife: What will you give me if I climb the great Mount Everest.
Husband: A lovely push.
(Contributed by R K Malhotra, New Delhi)







This humble bakery is also home to such delights like the charming little glass cakes.

As I cruised down the busy MG Road, Pune, a tantalising smell tempted me to slow down. The aroma of freshly baked bread and buns, mixed with the crisp early morning air, made me lose my senses and take a sharp left turn, — oblivious of the steady stream of traffic flowing by — and stop in front of  an innocuous looking, blue painted, tile roofed, rickety double storied building. The Majestic Bakery is an institution which has withstood the ravages of time. It sells the famous Milko-Vita Bread. Hand wrapped in custom designed orange and white butter paper. These delicious breads — which promise to last for 100 hours and keep one fit for hundred years — are priced at a nominal Rs 10. No true blue Puneites breakfast would be complete without a slice of this delicious milky bread.

This humble bakery is also home to such delights like the charming little glass cakes, the wine cake, a variety of biscuits and the super scrumptious plum cake.

This quaint little establishment could be easily missed, had it not been for its Mediterranean blue facade and wooden shutters which roll back to reveal a very homely interior. An antique glass topped cabinet and glass fronted cupboard houses the precious delights. We were served by a bespectacled, kindly looking gentleman, even as the previous owners of this Parsee establishment looked down munificently from their high garlanded perch on the walls.

An open doorway over which a picture of Ahura Mazda hung, afforded me a peek into the way this grand old lady functioned. Busy workers rolled out dough on a huge wooden table.

The various delectable items sold in this bakery were still baked in a huge wood fired oven. Workers scooped out trays of freshly baked golden cakes and buns from the oven with long wooden paddles. The grey stone floors were stacked high with trays of delectable goodies.

Outside the bakery, loyal customers crowded around for a loaf of the nutritious Milko-Vita bread or a rich plum cake. A visit to Majestic Bakery has become a way of life for many Puneites.








There has been a spate of articles of late, by a few women religious, which manifest a disturbing trend of denouncing the Catholic Church for being "paternalistic" in the pejorative sense of the word, a questionable term imported from the radical feminist movement in the USA. The Indian nuns who seem to relish this term have obviously not applied their minds to examining the origin of the word or to its sociological and theological implications. The tone of their articles can, at best, be described as being intemperate and inflammatory.

Examples of such inflammatory usage have appeared in a recent article by an Indian nun which states: "the Catholic Church can little afford to leave its women religious oppressed under the unjust structure of double patriarchy, all in the name of the mission of obedience, in its blind best…" The general tenor of this article, and the impression that it seeks to convey, is that the Catholic Church is characterised by its oppression of women, especially those who have taken the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; that it needs to be radically changed not only in its attitude, but also in its structure.

The article, in question, asserts that the mission of the Church can be achieved "only when women religious too, are included in the core-team of the Church where decisions are made, policies are formulated, strategies are chalked out and the modus operandi of the implementations are drawn up."

Quite obviously, the author of this article is ignorant of the nature of the Church. She is ignorant of the fact that the Church is not an "organisation" in the political sense, nor even in the sociological sense of the word. To describe the "structure" of the Church as being oppressive of women, nay of even thriving on the oppression of religious women, is to display colossal ignorance of what the Church really is.

The demand that women religious (sic) be included in the "core-team" (sic) of the Church, where decisions are made is simply preposterous in its distortion of the understanding of the nature of the Church. This nun is under the misimpression that the Church is a highly centralised political organisation - something like the politburo of the communist party - and that unless women are included in this politburo, the organisation will continue to oppress women and deprive them of their fundamental rights…

To analyse her arguments even more closely, we have to ask: which exact "core-team" of the Church is she referring to? Is it the Standing Committee of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India or is it the Roman Curia under the chairmanship of the Pope? She fails to make this clear in her article. One can also enquire whether she can cite any specific documents or instructions in which the Catholic Church has officially promoted any discrimination against women. She asserts, and rightly so, that "Respect for women is one of the non-negotiable demands of human dignity." However, contrary to her general condemnation of the Church as being structurally oppressive of women, her studies should have shown her that the Catholic Church is the only one universal institution which has consistently upheld the dignity of the human person, irrespective of sex, race, colour, language, ethnicity or place of origin.

The Church has been, and continues to be, in the forefront of the movement to uphold the dignity and the rights of women as human persons. The countless documents of the Popes, of the Synods of Bishops, statements of the Conferences of Catholic Bishops, from all over the world, and the Pastoral letters of individual Bishops, bear ample testimony to the fact that the Church is particularly and emphatically vociferous that women should be respected and honoured. It is the feminist movements that are responsible for the degradation of women. They are the voices which preach that women can only be "equal", if they are masculinised. They endorse the murder of human babies in their mothers' wombs. The feminist movement has pioneered partial birth abortion, and the "right" of women to abort their babies at any time, during pregnancy. One has only to read the writings of the high priestesses of the movement, who are the real threat to the dignity of women.
It hurts when some of these Indian nuns condemn the Church in such virulent language: "Be that as it may, what is important is that we own up the fact that the Church in India, heavily institutionalised and highly patriarchal in structure, has descended deep into moral degradation." (sic). Such wholesale condemnation of the Church by a woman religious, leads one to wonder whether she can justify her continuation in the religious order to which she belongs, or even whether she should continue to remain a member of the Church. She asserts that "The horrendous ill-treatment and sexual abuse meted out to women religious in the Church has certainly turned them into an 'endangered species'". Her article gives readers the impression that the Church is a cesspool of sexual abuses of women, especially religious women.

The article under consideration, mentions one or two incidents, which, if true, deserve to be condemned in the strongest language. However, to conclude from a few incidents that the Church (in India) is by its very nature "patriarchal" (whatever that may mean) and abuses religious women, is to defy both logic and common sense. It is like proposing to amputate the entire leg, because a toe has been injured.

We cannot deny the reality that a few priests and nuns, fail to live up to their chosen vocation. They often falter and even cause grave scandal. There is room in the Church for reprimand of such priests and nuns, and, above all, for compassionate assistance. But to launch upon a general crusade against the Church, because some of her members have sinned, is equivalent to demanding that marriage, as an institution, be abolished because there are many married persons who commit adultery. The "world" has already slipped into the error of legitimising practices, because they have become widespread: prostitution, drug abuse, homosexual activities in public, and paedophilia are some examples. Some of our religious women are unable to distinguish between the cultural corruption which has enveloped the world, and the moral values for which the Catholic Church stands – against great odds, it must be added.

There is no disputing the fact that the Catholic Church is in constant need of reform and renewal. The Church is constantly being challenged to bear witness to a "counter culture" which does not conform to the prevailing culture of the times. As loyal members of this Church we, and particularly the religious women and men who have been consecrated to the service of the people, should bear witness to the values for which the Church stands. It ill behoves religious women, and even priests, to subvert the Church for causes which they think are desirable and true.

 Heresy has dogged the life of the Church throughout her history. We are not surprised that it continues to do so even today.

But we should remember the warning of Jesus: woe to him (or her) from whom the scandal comes.







Know the answer to this riddle? What goes up but never comes down? Many would say it is the age of a person. Well, in today's world, the more appropriate answer would be the prices of essential commodities. Of late, the price of vegetables has been going only one way, upwards. The news of prices coming down has become a rarity. Every housewife will complain that her shopping bag does not get filled with vegetables, even after spending a five-hundred rupee note in the market. Well, that is the modern day truth. The size of a five-hundred rupee note may be the same, but its buying capacity has definitely shrunk tremendously.

Mind you, it is not just the price of onions which brings tears to the eyes. Now, buying almost every vegetable brings a lump in the throat. The price of tomatoes is enough to make you see red. The price of potatoes may have not have gone the way of the price of onions and tomatoes. But then, one cannot survive on potatoes alone. Milk, which is so essential for the growth of bones of little children, may soon be out of reach of the poor man. The price of milk seems to be increasing every alternate month. If only we reared goats and buffaloes in our backyard, we would have been self-sufficient in the supply of milk. Egg is another essential food item which could disappear from a poor man's dining and breakfast table. From a modest Rs18 per dozen, just a few weeks back, the price of the poultry product has shot up to Rs45 per dozen. This works out to Rs3.75 an egg. I sometimes wonder how can the price of eggs rise so drastically? The logical answer would be that most of the hens have stopped laying eggs. Another reason could be that the eggs tend to break in transit. So to make good the losses incurred, the traders have been increasing the price. With the price of eggs and onions skyrocketing, one can only imagine the price we have to pay (no pun intended) to make an omelette. If those politicians who have been incapable of bringing down the prices were around, they would probably get rotten eggs thrown at them.

The other day while travelling by rickshaw, I was shocked to find that the driver had charged me a whole five rupees more than the actual fare. I asked him the reason for the increased fare. "Can't help it sir, we are charging extra fare because the price of onions has gone up" he said matter-of-factly. Had this been an election year, the present government would probably be shown the door. As it is, the common man finds it difficult to make both ends meet. Now with the increase in the price of food items, the poor man may even find it difficult to have a square meal a day. To top it all, the price of petrol has also gone up. In the past, travelling in your own vehicle has never been an expensive proposition. Now all this has changed. Where do we go from here? For how long are we going to bear this seemingly endless rise in price? Does anyone have an answer?






A year or two before her assassination in 1984, Indira Gandhi had occasion to make a comment about corruption in Parliament. She said that corruption was universal and that one had to learn to live with it. There are quite a few countries in the world where corruption is even more rampant than it is in India, but we are not aware of any heads of government who have sought to justify corruption or give the impression that there was an attempt to legitimize it by the kind of rationalization that Indira Gandhi had resorted to. In fact, it is difficult to find even the ruler of a banana republic who might seek to rationalize corruption in parliament. Obviously, even they realize what such rationalizations of corruption could do to succeeding generations of citizens and how they could doom their countries to eternal corruption as a consequence. After all, not even the most corrupt statesman or leader can cherish the idea of being remembered by posterity as the most outstanding destroyer of his country and its culture. But now we have Tarun Gogoi, the Chief Minister of the most corrupt State in India, taking Indira Gandhi's legitimization of corruption two or three steps forward. In an interview to India Today published in its January 24 issue, this is what Tarun Gogoi has to say: "Let there be corruption. Earlier corruption happened at the Centre and the State headquarters. Now autonomous councils are involved in handling development funds. With funds going down to grassroots, the number of people having access to those funds will increase. That itself will create checks and balances. That is my economics of corruption."

Quite obviously, Tarun Gogoi's prime motivation was to shock people. What he expects us to believe is akin to the way homeopathy is supposed to work. The homeopath works on the principle of Similia similibus curantur which means that like cures like. Tarun Gogoi seems to persist in the naïve belief that corruption will cure corruption, and he calls this his "economics of corruption". We are not familiar with his credentials as an economist. Tomorrow, he might even entertain hopes of providing medical cures. After his present prescription for curing corruption, one should not be surprised if he were to offer a cure even for AIDS. "Let there be AIDS," he might say in the same tune. However, the fallacy of his prescription is not far to seek. Elsewhere in the same interview Gogoi finds fault with Union Home Minister P Chidambaram for his way of tackling the Naxalite menace. "He is focusing too much on law and order. That is important, but development and decentralization of power must go hand in hand," he says. When Gogoi talks of development funds "going down to grassroots," he obviously does not imagine that development itself is going down to the grassroots. What Tarun Gogoi forgets very conveniently is that given the financial culture within the Assam Government, what goes down to the grassroots is not development funds. What goes down is money siphoned out of the Centre's funds for development. At that stage, it does not remain funds at all. It is converted to loot — to be used as the looter fancies. Someone like Mohit Hojai feels like passing on such looted development funds to terrorist outfits like the Black Widow for the purchase of clandestine weapons. He does that despite all the oaths taken as the Chief Executive Member of the North Cachar Hills Autonomous District Council. Therefore, what trickles down to the grassroots is not what is even seen as development funds. What trickles down is seen as pure and simple loot. In fact, even those who have benefited immensely from the misuse of development funds (people like RH Khan) know that they are dealing with loot. And nowhere in the world has there been real development on what is looted from the exchequer. All real development has been fuelled by the surplus generated from productive work. So, if Gogoi really thinks that the number of people having access to development funds will create the necessary checks and balances to counter corruption, he is very sadly mistaken. These are the people who will have access to the loot that development funds have been turned into. They will merely be the sharers of the spoils without any thought of the needs of development or the fact that such development funds are mainly for the poor and those below the poverty line. Thus what is looted is funds allocated mainly for the poor.

There is something else that Tarun Gogoi's "economics of corruption" will ruin almost permanently. The serious distortion that arises out of the sharing of the 'development' loot is that people do not have to work for a living. It is enough if they know how to loot well from the funds that are in the exchequer. There is nothing that can destroy the work ethics of the people of a State as effectively as the large-scale access of people to what is looted from the exchequer. When they see ministers, bureaucrats and almost every Tom, Dick and Harry sharing this loot, there can be no motivation in them for money earned from honest work.  For them, loot of Central funds for development is easy money. But can it be the business of a government to put into practice a bizarre mode of distributing looted money to people at the grassroots level merely to enable a chief minister to test his flawed hypothesis of what he calls the 'economics of corruption' and thereby to ruin about three generations of the people of the State? We do not think the State should waste public money in testing such an unfounded hypothesis merely because the wild idea happened to have occurred to the Chief Minister of the State.   





The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act of 1951 allows State governments and politicians to take over Hindu temples and maintain complete control over them and their properties. It is claimed that they can sell the temple assets and properties

While Congress leaders are hell-bent on damning the RSS — it is an old game that has long ceased to have any meaning — they seem to be unaware (or deliberately wish to ignore) that as late as on July 4, 2010, the right hand of a 53-year-old Christian College professor (One TJ Joseph) was chopped off by Muslim fundamentalists, at Thodapurzha, Iduki district, in Kerala, for alleged blasphemy. Digvijay Singh probably does not want to be reminded of this. Nor, one suspects, would he be anxious to know that police found out that this heinous crime was committed as part of the implementation of the verdict of a Shariah court run by fundamentalist elements in Kerala. The police apparently discovered that 14 such parallel courts have been running in Kerala for the last 20 years, and Kerala Home Minister Kodiveri Balakrishnan has been reported as confessing that since 1993, 22 murders have taken place under the direction of the Shariah courts in Kerala (vide, Mangalam, July 21, 2010).

Digvijay Singh can check this bit of information as could Rahul Gandhi. At the same time they could both check out on the performance of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act of 1951 which allows State governments and politicians to take over thousands of Hindu temples and maintain complete control over them and their properties. It is claimed that they can sell the temple assets and properties and use the money in any way they choose. A charge has been made not by any temple authority, but by a foreign writer, Stephen Knapp, in a book (Crimes against India and the Need to Protect Ancient Vedic Tradition) published in the United States that makes shocking reading.

Hundreds of temples in centuries past have been built in India by devout rulers, and the donations given to them by devotees have been used for the benefit of the people. If presently, money collected has ever been misused (and that word needs to be defined), it is for the devotees to protest and not for any government to interfere. This latter is what has been happening currently under an intrusive law. It would seem, for instance, that under a Temple Empowerment Act, about 34,000 temples in Andhra Pradesh have come under government control and only 18 per cent of the revenue of these temples have been returned for temple purposes, the remaining 82 per cent being used for purposes unstated. Apparently even the world famous Tirumala Tirupati Temple has not been spared. According to Knapp, the temple collects over Rs 3,100 crore every year, "and the State Government has not denied the charge that as much as 85 per cent of this is transferred to the State Exchequer, much of which goes to causes that are not connected with the Hindu community". Is it for that reason that devotees make their offerings to the temples?

Another charge that has been made is that the Andhra Government has also allowed the demolition of at least ten temples for the construction of a golf course. "Imagine the outcry," writes Knapp, "if ten mosques had been demolished." It would seem that in Karnataka, Rs 79 crore was collected from about 2 lakh temples, and from that, temples received Rs 7 crore for their maintenance, Muslim madrassahs and Haj subsidy were given Rs 59 crore, and churches about Rs 13 crore. Very generous of the government. Because of this, Knapp writes, "25 per cent of the two lakh temples or about 50,000 temples in Karnataka will be closed down for lack of resources." And he adds: "The only way the government can continue to do this is because people have not stood up enough to stop it."

Knapp then refers to Kerala where, he says, "funds from the Guruvayur Temple are diverted to other government projects denying improvement to 45 Hindu temples". Land belonging to the Ayyappa Temple apparently has been grabbed and "church encroaches are occupying huge areas of forest land, running into thousands of acres, near Sabarimala". A charge is made that the communist State government of Kerala wants to pass an Ordinance to disband the Travancore & Cochin Autonomous Devaswom Boards (TCDBs) and take over their limited independent authority of 1,800 Hindu temples.

If what the author says is true, even the Maharashtra government wants to take over some 4,50,000 temples in the State which would "supply a huge amount of revenue to correct the State's bankrupt conditions..." And to top it all, Knapp says that in Orissa, the State government intends to sell over 70,000 acres of endowment lands from the Jagannath Temple, the proceeds of which would solve a huge financial crunch brought about by its own mismanagement of temple assets.

Says Knapp: "Why such occurrences are so often not known is that the Indian media, especially the English television and press, are often anti-Hindu in their approach, and thus not inclined to give much coverage, and certainly no sympathy, for anything that may affect the Hindu community. Therefore, such government actions that play against the Hindu community go on without much or any attention attracted to them." Knapp obviously is on record. If the facts produced by him are incorrect, it is up to the government to say so. It is quite possible that some individuals might have set up temples to deal with lucrative earnings. But that, surely, is none of the government's business? Instead of taking over all earnings, the government surely can appoint local committees to look into temple affairs so that the amount discovered is fairly used for the public good?

Says Knapp: "Nowhere in the free, democratic world are the religious institutions managed, maligned and controlled by the government, thus denying the religious freedom of the people of the country. But it is happening in India. Government officials have taken control of Hindu temples because they smell money in them, they recognize the indifference of Hindus, they are aware of the unlimited patience and tolerance of Hindus, they also know that it is not in the blood of Hindus to go to the streets to demonstrate, destroy property, threaten, loot, harm and kill... Many Hindus are sitting and watching the demise of their culture. They need to express their views loud and clear..."

Knapp obviously does not know that should they do so, they would be damned as communalists. But it is time someone asked the government to lay down all the facts on the table so that the public would know what is happening behind its back. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not secularism. And temples are not for looting, under any name. One thought that Mahmud of Ghazni has long been dead.

MV Kamath



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



After months of rancor, China is suddenly talking up cooperation on North Korea, the economy, and other difficult issues. There are several possible explanations for the change in tone — and, we hope — substance.

Beijing's bullying has alienated pretty much everyone out there, and China's leaders may have finally figured that out. The Obama administration's recent tough talk, coupled with President Obama's pomp-filled welcome this week of President Hu Jintao, were also clear reminders of the cost of alienating the United States and the benefits of getting along.

Mr. Hu appeared eager to make his American hosts happy, pledging to work to resolve differences over market access and the protection of intellectual property. He also came bearing gifts. The White House announced $45 billion worth of American export deals to China, which it said would support 235,000 jobs. Many of these deals had been reached as far back as three years ago, but Mr. Hu and Mr. Obama were eager to claim credit.

It is too early to know how far China is really prepared to go, but Mr. Hu made several potentially significant concessions. He said the country would now audit government agencies' software purchases and publish their results in an attempt to end their widespread use of pirated software. And he signaled that his government is willing to temper the most controversial aspects of its "indigenous innovation" plan to favor domestic companies in government procurement deals.

The plan, as initially conceived, only allowed Chinese state entities to buy certain technology products if their patents were developed and registered in China, excluding foreign suppliers. According to the White House, China dropped the registration requirement and agreed government procurement would not be based "on where the goods' or services' intellectual property is developed or maintained," and that "there will be no discrimination against innovative products made by foreign suppliers operating in China."

If these policies change, it could defuse some of the biggest sources of tension in the growing economic relations between China and the United States.

There's even a modicum of good news on China's artificially cheap currency, the renminbi. Beijing has made a lot of promises, but is still refusing to let the renminbi rise by much. But higher Chinese inflation means that — in real terms — it is appreciating at a rate of about 10 percent a year, which is helping American exports.

President Hu was also more accommodating than usual on North Korea and publicly acknowledged that "a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights." On both those issues, we'll take verify over trust. Mr. Hu could start by releasing Liu Xiaobo, the pro-democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

At Washington's urging, China finally expressed concern over North Korea's recently unveiled uranium enrichment plant. It still has not denounced North Korea's torpedoing of a South Korean warship. As the North's main supplier of fuel and food, China may be the only country that can rein in Pyongyang. American officials said that, in private talks, Mr. Hu agreed to try — but only after Mr. Obama warned that the United States may have to redeploy its military forces in Asia to protect itself from the North's belligerence.

It is far too early to assume that the Chinese government has decided to turn a new strategic leaf. But it is clearly taking a second look at things. Regular contact is essential. Cajoling and flattery may also help. The lesson of the last few months is that they need to be backed up with regular, firm pushes in the right direction.







In the mid-1970s, New York City was in such deep financial trouble that the state basically took charge. Albany's lawmakers mandated important reforms, including modernizing the city budget system so that it is clear, transparent and professional. They decided against such changes for their own operations, which helps explain why the state is now the one in big trouble.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants Albany to return control to the city. In Wednesday's State of the City address, he told lawmakers that it was time to "let us manage ourselves." Given the city's clear progress, and Albany's clear failings, that makes sense to us.

Mr. Bloomberg's No. 1 priority this year is pension reform, including restoring the mayor's power to negotiate pensions for city workers.

The way it works now, the mayor negotiates with a union on salaries, health benefits and work rules. But the State Legislature — ever willing to pander to powerful union leaders — negotiates pensions, one of the city's biggest long-term obligations. The city's pension costs have jumped from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $7 billion this year. Mr. Bloomberg rightly argues that the city can't afford to go on this way.

The mayor cannot renegotiate current pension deals, but he wants to stop paying holiday bonuses of $12,000 each year to police and fire retirees at a cost of $200 million per year. He is mainly focusing on pensions for new, nonuniformed employees. Mainly, he wants to push the retirement age from 55 or 57 years to 65 as a first step. The unions are already pushing back. But the mayor's proposal is closer to what happens in the private sector and counts as a good start on future savings.

Mr. Bloomberg has made clear that he won't wait for Albany. He has threatened layoffs. And, in the speech, he vowed that "I will not sign a contract with salary increases unless they are accompanied by reforms in benefit packages that produce the savings we need." That has a better chance of working if Gov. Andrew Cuomo vows to veto any sweeteners passed by the Legislature after those negotiations.

The mayor also wants the city to administer its own tax collection. Right now it pays the state more than $80 million annually to do it. He wants to be freed of state procurement rules and shed some of the state's costly and byzantine civil service rules. Albany has demonstrated time and again that it can't run its own business. It is time to let New York City take care of itself.






The final report from the presidential commission investigating the gulf oil spill rightly warns that government regulation alone can't prevent another such disaster. The blowout reflected industrywide weaknesses, not just BP's, it said. And what is needed is a "fundamental transformation" of industry practices putting a far higher premium on safety.

Among its proposed reforms, the commission is urging the oil industry to create a nonprofit safety institute to share best practices — and to bring pressure on individual companies known to cut corners. The nuclear industry set up one after the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, and it has done its job well.

Bob Graham, a co-chairman of the committee, noted recently that other oil companies had been aware of BP's "vulnerability" to accidents but "had no mechanism to deal with it." That may be a charitable way of describing corporate indifference; in any case, an institute would provide such a mechanism while, one can hope, elevating the notion of safety as a collective responsibility.

So far, industry hasn't said much about the commission's report beyond the usual corporate-speak about the need to operate in "an environmentally sound manner." Its main lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, appears determined to stick to business as usual.

Its first reaction to the report was to complain that nobody had given it credit for developing its own set of safety regulations years ago. It has also suggested that — with just a few improvements — the oil companies could safely begin exploring previously off-limits areas in the Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The commission came down hard on the institute, arguing that the group's ability to serve as an advocate for drilling safety is compromised by its lobbying role and that it has long resisted federal rules whenever they threatened to make operations more costly.

There are some reforms only Congress can make, like raising the liability limits for spills. The White House, which could not pry an oil spill bill from a Democratic Senate, will have to work even harder now that Republicans control the House.

Yet industry's role is crucial. To earn the privilege to drill for oil in public waters, it must engage in what the commission calls an "internal reinvention." Months after the gulf disaster, there are few signs that the oil companies or their lobbyists get it.






In Batavia, Ill. — just west of Chicago — you can walk along trails through a thousand-acre restored prairie filled with rare species like compass plant and rattlesnake master. From the edge of the prairie, you can see, as well, a four-mile ring of concrete and steel. That is the berm above the Tevatron, a high-energy subterranean racetrack for particle beams and the heart of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab.

Since 1983, scientists have been using the Tevatron to create spectacular collisions between subatomic particles whose ghostly traces have helped reveal the fundamental constituents of matter, like the top quark, discovered in 1995. The Department of Energy, which runs Fermilab, has now announced that for budgetary reasons it will be shutting down the Tevatron, which costs about $50 million a year to run, in late 2011.

The Tevatron has been superseded by the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, which is designed to operate at energies up to seven times higher. The two colliders have been in a race to find unequivocal evidence of the Higgs boson, a hypothetical elementary particle whose existence would help clarify and confirm the current theory of particle physics.

There are about 1,200 physicists doing experiments at the Tevatron, and many think shutting it down is a bad idea, especially given the problems with the Large Hadron Collider. It is currently working at half its potential energy level and is scheduled to shut down for repair and upgrades in 2012.

Physics is an international pursuit. Fermilab is home to physicists from all over the world, and other experiments will still take place there, as will work with the Large Hadron Collider. Yet it's lamentable to see the end of an era of high-energy particle experiments in America that defined the threshold of our understanding of matter.







Congress really has been looking a little more civil. Not quite Athens in the age of Pericles, but it's very possible that this year we'll get through the State of the Union address without anybody jumping up to scream insults at the president.

Going for baby steps.

The Senate has had no comity issues whatsoever because everybody went home after a single meeting early this month under rules that require time to come to a halt. It's officially still the first day of the year in Harry Reid Land, demonstrating once again how closely the United States Senate resembles the second season of the original "Star Trek."

But the House has been busy. First, the members read the Constitution out loud, which gave us a welcome opportunity to recall the time last fall that John Boehner gave a speech in which he bragged that he carried the document everywhere, pulled it out of his pocket, waved it around, and then started to recite passages from the Declaration of Independence.

Then came the first bill of the year, which directed the Government Printing Office to stop producing hundreds of copies of bills and resolutions that people can just look up online.

It passed unanimously! Who says Republicans and Democrats can't work together? True, since the entire House printing budget is only about $7 million a year, this is not going to make much of an impact on the deficit. But trees will be saved, waste paper reduced and Washington parks will no longer be littered with fluttering resolutions commemorating National Frozen Food Day.

Good start, guys.

Then, of course, the new Republican majority took their symbolic vote to repeal the health care reform law. The debate really wasn't that bad. In a welcome break from the past, the Republicans refrained from claiming that God was personally rooting for the collapse of Obamacare. And while the Democrats said that people would die if the law was repealed, they did not suggest that this would make the Republicans happy.

I'm picking up good vibrations ... ...

"I look forward to working with my friends not only on the right but also my colleagues on the left to craft a bill that's going to work for the American people," said Sean Duffy, a new Republican from Wisconsin. He is the one who used to be in the reality show "The Real World." He met his wife on another reality show, "Road Rules All-Stars," and they now have six children.

I believe Sean Duffy is the progenitor of a new breed of American politicians who will begin their careers by being chosen to live, on camera, with a bunch of strangers in a large apartment, or competing for valuable prizes on a remote island, or losing enormous amounts of weight on national television. Then they can announce their candidacy for Congress.

No longer will it be necessary to go to law school. Actually, Duffy did both, but he is like one of those cross-species babies in science-fiction movies who pave the way for a whole new life form.

When they weren't being polite to one another, the Democrats spent much of the debate time holding up pictures of seriously ill constituents who would lose their health coverage if the law went away, while Republicans made their victims out of small business.

"I want to tell you about the owner of the Pizza Hut in Headland, Ala., who will be forced to close his doors due to the costs associated with this law," warned Martha Roby, one of the freshmen who defeated an incumbent Democrat and, therefore, got special first-day positioning.

The new law's opponents don't generally say in so many words that they're fighting for employers' God-given right to refuse to provide health insurance for their workers. But that seems to be the bottom line.

The worst moment for the Democrats came when one of their own, Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, broke the march toward civil discourse by comparing the Republican talking points to Nazi propaganda. This was during a brief speech in which he also managed to work in the term "blood libel."

The only possible consolation for his fellow party members was that in this week's competition for worst remark by a politician, Cohen was pitted against the new governor of Alabama, who announced in his Martin Luther King Day speech that any constituent who had not accepted Jesus Christ as his savior was "not my brother."

That would be worse, particularly if you were a Jew or a Muslim living in Birmingham.

But, all in all, not a bad record. Maybe civility will become a serious trend. Everything would be better. All the screaming heads would lose their cable TV shows to be replaced by a bunch of pleasant House members who can talk both about the issues, and their plans to appear on "Survivor CCLV."







President Obama is under renewed pressure from his base to demonstrate that he is, indeed, a principled man of unwavering conviction rather than a pliant political reed willingly bent and bowed by ever-shifting winds.

This time the issue is gun control.

Pre-presidency, Obama had been a strong supporter of gun-control initiatives. Since then, however, he has remained curiously quiet on the issue in general and following the Tucson shooting in particular.

The question now is: which Obama will show up at the State of the Union?

Obama, the politician, must be hesitant. He's enjoying a surge in the polls following a successful lame-duck session of Congress in which a few concessions bought substantial gains. And his handling of the shooting seemed to strike the right balance with the overwhelming majority of Americans. He's on a roll!

Furthermore, according to a 2005 Gallup poll, gun owners are almost twice as likely to be white as nonwhite, are more than three times as likely to be male as female and are more likely to live in the South and Midwest than in the East or West. Yes, you guessed it: This fits the profile of the voters Obama has lost and needs to win back if he wants to be re-elected.

And no one wants to upset the powerful gun-rights lobby, whose campaign-finance clout dwarfs that of the gun-control lobby. According to data from the nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group the Center for Responsive Politics, the gun-rights lobby has contributed more than $24 million in election cycles from 1990 to 2010. About 85 percent went to Republicans. By comparison, the gun-control lobby donated less than $2 million in the same period, mostly to Democrats.

That said, Obama the gun-control supporter surely knows how anomalous we are among comparable nations. We are a violent society whose intense fealty to firearms has deadly consequences. Sensible restrictions on the most dangerous weapons could go a long way toward making us safer.

According to 2005 data from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, a comparison of member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for which data were available showed that the U.S. is in a league of its own, and not in a good way. We have nearly 9 guns for every 10 people, and about 9 out of every 10 of our homicides are committed with one of those guns. No other country even comes close.

At the moment, there is popular support for more restrictions. According to a NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, 52 percent of Americans asked believed that laws covering the sale of guns should be made more strict. Will Obama seize the sentiment? This is a test of character: Will the president choose what is right over what is convenient and speak out for what he believes in?

Next week we will see which Obama emerges: a stalwart of conviction, an exemplar of expediency or someone still stuck in the ambiguous middle of conciliation and pseudocourage.






It was like reading fiction. Scott Stossel, in his book, "Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver," described a harrowing World War II sea battle that erupted off Guadalcanal on the night of Nov. 14, 1942:

"The foremast was hit. Electrical fires erupted continuously, all around Shriver. Whole gun crews were killed by flying shells. The ship began to slow down, and more Japanese rounds ripped across the deck, killing an officer in the radar plotting room. Three rounds exploded in another battle station, killing a half dozen more men. Steam lines were severed, and the hot, hissing steam scalded numerous sailors. Ladders between decks got knocked out, making putting out fires and attending to the growing scores of wounded much more difficult. Shriver himself was wounded when metal shrapnel from an explosion lodged itself in his shoulder, a wound for which he was later to be awarded a Purple Heart."

It was such a different time, an era when it was considered shameful for men to run and hide when their nation was at war. Now we send other people's children off to war willy-nilly, and the rest of us go shopping. (At least until someone steeped in the business philosophy of Neutron Jack Welch takes our jobs away.)

R. Sargent Shriver, one of America's great good men, died this week at the age of 95. He was best known as the brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy. Married for 56 years to Kennedy's sister, Eunice, who died in 2009, he was also the father of Maria Shriver, the former television personality who is married to Arnold Schwarzenegger. That Mr. Shriver was not better known for his own extraordinary accomplishments, and for his rock-solid commitment to the ideals that this nation ought to stand for, is not just unfortunate, but discouraging.

He was the founding director of the Peace Corps, the signature success of Kennedy's New Frontier. He founded Head Start, created the Job Corps and Legal Services for the Poor, and gave us Volunteers in Service to America, which was the domestic version of the Peace Corps. He served as president and chairman of the Special Olympics, which was founded by Eunice Shriver. Indefatigable and unrepentantly idealistic, Mr. Shriver may have directly affected more people in a positive way than any American since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

He was the flip side of the cruelty and ugliness that has come to dominate so much of American public life. The U.S. has once again fallen into the hands of the forces who, rather than trying to help, would relieve the middle class and the poor of every last shred of economic security. Not only have millions been thrown out of work, but the squeeze is on to prevent them from getting the safety net assistance that might cushion the awful blow of joblessness.

Public services are being dismantled throughout the republic in the name of austerity — school systems, libraries, police forces, transportation services, and so on. Any talk of raising taxes on the rich is verboten. Shared sacrifice? Not if you're wealthy.

Sargent Shriver had a different view of America — warmer, richer and more humane. A young Bill Moyers, who joined Mr. Shriver at the Peace Corps and eventually became its deputy director, said a crucial component of the corps was Mr. Shriver's deep commitment to the idea of America "as a social enterprise ... of caring and cooperative people."

Here's an example: In 1964, as leader of the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Johnson administration, Mr. Shriver came across studies that showed connections between poor nutrition, lower I.Q. scores and arrested social and emotional development. He wondered whether early childhood intervention "could have a beneficial effect on the children of poor people." Head Start followed in incredibly short order.

Mr. Shriver was the point man, the driving force of Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty. Between 1964 and 1968, nearly one of every three poor Americans left the poverty rolls, the largest drop in a four-year period ever recorded. Mr. Shriver's idealism was not of the dreamy sort. It was geared toward concrete results.

He was also a fighter for the rights and dignity of black people and other ethnic minorities. It was Mr. Shriver who suggested that John Kennedy, during his campaign for the presidency, make a phone call to Coretta Scott King, expressing his concern and offering assistance at a time when her husband, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had been sentenced to a four-month prison term at hard labor for a bogus traffic-related arrest in Georgia.

Real courage, idealism, a commitment to service and a willingness to sacrifice — Sargent Shriver had all of that and more. In an interview several years ago, he told me, "We made an effort during that time to find out what was true, and what was needed by way of improvement."






NEW YORK CITY'S taxi industry is by no means a perfect animal. But earlier this week when Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a proposal to install meters in livery cabs and permit them to pick up street hails in areas of the city that see few yellow cabs, like Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and Upper Manhattan, he managed to take a bad situation and make it worse. While it's true that those areas are flagrantly underserved by yellow cabs, the new rule would hurt the taxi industry more than it would help the public.

As things now stand, only yellow cabs can legally pick up street hails within the five boroughs, while livery cars can respond only to radio calls. Yellow cabs have meters, while liveries use a zone pricing system. It's worked this way since the medallion system was introduced in 1937. Nevertheless, livery cars have been snagging street hails illegally in all five boroughs for many years. Legalizing the practice would have little effect — except to hit yellow cab drivers in the wallet.

As I know from my own experience, working behind the wheel of a yellow cab is far from easy. What with traffic snarls, high prices for leasing a cab with a medallion, gas costs, fare beaters and credit card fees, it's tough to make ends meet. And on top of all that are the challenges posed by the livery drivers. I was routinely cursed at by these guys when I insisted on picking up passengers they were trying to poach. It was important to stick up for myself and to protect my domain — the street hail. Otherwise I'd be going home poor at the end of each shift. In one instance I'll never forget, on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, an angry car service driver pelted me with a handful of pennies through my open window.

Competition for street hails is now more cutthroat than ever, and every cabby has to struggle and strategize for every fare. Despite what most New Yorkers may think, outside of rush hour and weekend nights, cabbies spend most of their time cruising, looking hopefully for anyone with a hand up (which explains why, when you're merely waving to a friend, five cabs might skid to a stop in front of you).

As an unintended consequence of the new rule, the city could see an increase in fare refusals. The vast majority of street hails occur in Manhattan, so chances are that a cabby — who pays up to $150 per shift to lease his cab — won't ever want to leave that little island, since it means he usually has to double back without a passenger, a plight called "deadheading." By further lowering a yellow cab's odds of picking up a street hail in, say, Brooklyn or Queens, the mayor's new rule would only make drivers less willing to ever enter a bridge or tunnel.

And, still, the livery cabs that do ply the streets of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island wouldn't have many passengers to pick up on the street, because these boroughs have relatively little pedestrian traffic. This is what led to the rise of the radio-dispatched livery industry in the first place. What works in busy Manhattan doesn't necessarily work in the other boroughs.

Rather than legalize a practice that doesn't truly benefit the public, the mayor should make other, better changes in the way the wild and woolly livery car industry is regulated. Long accustomed to determining prices as they go, livery car drivers are notorious for price-gouging. A car service driver recently demanded that I pay $3 more than the normal fare for a trip within Brooklyn, because, he claimed, there was an extra fee for driving in snow. (There is no such thing.)

In a yellow cab, the meter ensures that no driver ever makes such a claim. Outfitting all of the city's for-hire vehicles with meters that run at the same rate would be one step in the right direction. It would at least prevent outer-borough passengers from being so brazenly cheated.

When he announced the proposed changes in the livery cab rules during his State of the City speech, Mayor Bloomberg emphasized "simplicity," but in truth his fix for a relatively small problem would only further complicate an already messy industry. The proposed rule may be an effort to quiet all those post-blizzard complaints from the neglected outer boroughs. But unless the mayor is prepared to alter the very nature of the taxi industry, it's an empty gesture.

Melissa Plaut is the author of "Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do With My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab."









It's almost amusing to hear President Barack Obama and leading Democrats in Congress demand an increase in the non-limiting, so-called federal "debt limit" -- which is currently set at $14.29 trillion.


You see, only a few short years ago -- when Republican President George W. Bush was in office -- then-Sen. Obama and many of his Democrat colleagues were denouncing a proposed increase in the debt limit.


Consider some of their comments from 2006, when there was an attempt to increase the debt limit to a much smaller (though still too large) $9 trillion:


"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure," Obama declared. He said that by increasing the debt limit, Congress was placing "the burden of the bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren."


Meanwhile, Democrat Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada said, "If my Republican friends believe that increasing our debt by almost $800 billion today and more than $3 trillion over the last five years is the right thing to do, they should be upfront about it. They should explain why they think that more debt is good for the economy."


He added, "How can the Republican majority in this Congress explain to their constituents that trillions of dollars in new debt is good for our economy? How can they explain that they think it's fair to force our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren to finance this debt through higher taxes? That's what it will have to be. Why is it right to increase our nation's dependence on foreign creditors?"


Reid didn't stop there. He was so fired up against raising the debt limit that he said, "[M]ost Americans know that increasing debt is the last thing we should be doing. After all, I repeat, the baby boomers are about to retire. Under the circumstances, any credible economist would tell you we should be reducing debt, not increasing it. Democrats won't be making arguments to support this legislation, which will weaken our country."


So raising the "debt limit" to a much smaller figure back in 2006 would "weaken the country" and harm "our children and grandchildren," Obama and Reid believed at that time. Obama even called the very idea of raising the debt in 2006 a "sign of leadership failure."


Well, now Obama is the leader of our country, and Reid is the majority leader in the Senate. Yet they strangely think it is absolutely essential to raise the debt limit beyond the already appalling figure of $14.29 trillion.


In a recent interview for NBC's "Meet the Press," Reid said he could not recall opposing a debt limit increase in 2006.


"I don't really know what vote you're talking about ...," he said. "I'm saying today that we have to raise the debt ceiling. There's no alternative."


Of course, the best "alternative" is to slash federal spending. The current debt limit is expected to be reached within two to four months. Shouldn't Congress make a good-faith effort to drastically reduce its wasteful spending before it even contemplates raising the debt limit still further?


Obviously the United States should not default on its debts, but doing more of the borrowing and spending that created those massive debts is not the solution. The American people would have far more tolerance for an eventual increase in the debt limit if Congress first showed a sincere willingness to cut its outrageous spending.


But that demands a type of "leadership" -- by the president and Congress -- that is woefully lacking.







A couple of things are obvious when it comes to women serving in our nation's armed forces.


First, it is plain that our military would be in deep trouble if it did not have the excellent service of many thousands of women, who serve in a broad range of roles to keep our armed forces ready to defend the United States.


It is also clear that with the important jobs they perform in war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq, female members of our military sometimes inadvertently find themselves in combat situations.


However, it is troubling that there is talk of deliberately placing women in units specifically designated for ground combat. Putting women in those units is the recommendation of a panel called the Military Leadership Diversity Commission.


That is a bad idea. Women in the military often act with great courage in difficult situations. No one should slight their service nor their valor.


But there are obvious differences between the average physical strength of men and that of women. Those differences can become a question of life and death on the battlefield. It is also sadly true that women who are captured in battle may face especially inhumane treatment by some enemies.


We proudly acknowledge the fine service of many women in the U.S. armed forces, and we applaud their advancement through the ranks.


But it is not advisable to deliberately place them in combat units.







We were struck by a passage in a recent Times Free Press article about how to keep members of Congress safe in the wake of the shooting of a congresswoman from Arizona, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.


As our newspaper reported, "U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, told a West Tennessee television station that he is planning to renew his handgun permit in light of the attack. He told reporters he's wished a time or two he had a gun and said, 'I just want to have that option, and it's a good option for people to have.'"


We do not often find ourselves in agreement with liberal Congressman Cohen, but on this matter he has taken the right position. Individuals have a Second Amendment right to defend themselves.


It is obviously sad that members of Congress or private citizens face danger from people such as the evidently deranged young man who is accused of shooting Giffords and killing six others a couple of weeks ago. Wouldn't it be wonderful, after all, if we lived in a world where good will, liberty and peace prevailed?


But the reality is, serious dangers exist. We appreciate Cohen's acknowledgment that law-abiding individuals have the right to protect themselves from violent lawbreakers.







Vanderbilt University Medical Center has rightly reversed a policy that apparently required students in a nursing program to take part in abortions.


An application packet suggested that students who did not want to provide abortion-related "care" should "apply to a different track of the Nurse Residency Program to explore opportunities that may best fit your skills and career goals," Nashville's Tennessean newspaper reported.


But by federal law, institutions that get federal money cannot force anyone to take part in abortions if that is against his convictions. Fortunately, the school "updated" the application. It now says that no one "is required to participate in a procedure terminating a pregnancy" if that is contrary to the individual's beliefs or convictions.


That is a welcome policy change.







JAN. 19, '07 - JAN. 19, '11


I don't know if there is more to say. It's been four years since Armenian Turkish journalist and editor-in-chief of weekly Agos Hrant Dink was assassinated. Those who mourn him, those who demand justice have, perhaps four, perhaps 4 million times, expressed their despair and rage against the negligence, arrogance, remorselessness and stolidity.

On Jan. 6, Dink's lawyer Fethiye Çetin and her team released the fourth-year report on the Hrant Dink murder case. The report details the pre-established limits of the trial by the state. Whether during the investigation or trial phases, the rule of the game is obvious: The case will not go beyond being an ordinary murder case and will definitely not turn into a political charge against the state apparatus and ideology. Period! Even the recent European Court of Human Rights decision is not sufficient to shed a light on revealing the facts.

Michael Cashman, a British actor, human rights advocate, LGBT activist and member of the European Parliament, was the guest of a conference organized on Jan. 14 by Boğaziçi University. At the gathering, titled "2011 Hrant Dink Human Rights and Freedom of Expression Conference," what Cashman said is enough to describe the lack of political and public empathy. "There is something I truly believe: I can defend my rights only by defending others' rights. This is so, even if the 'other' is completely against my efforts to reach equality."

On Jan. 15, Arat Dink, Hrant's son, in an article published by daily Taraf, underlined the following excerpt from Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's end of the year assessment: "The process of signing protocols with Armenia could've run better. On the genocide issue, I conveyed to our ambassadors the message. We don't have an understanding of an 'enemy diaspora'. People who left this land are also part of our diaspora. However, we will not let others say of our nation, 'they committed genocide'. Germans have rightly been charged with that very psychological burden. Armenians are not the only one claiming land and property here. Our citizens who were living in the Ottoman territories have similar claims." Arat asks in return: "Do you count what you gave to foreigners as replacement for what you took from Armenians?"

In the minister's remarks, Armenians are still outsiders and the notion of "belongingness" is measured by religious identity. Those Muslims who had to emigrate from lost territories are accepted as compatriots whereas Armenians who always lived here, even before Turks, are not.

It is imperative for political Islam to reach the following level of consciousness in order to pursue the democratic transformation of Turkey and to have a political future: The mindset and ideology that ethnically cleansed Anatolia of Armenians and other non-Muslim entities is not different from the ideology confining Muslims outside the public sphere. To intentionally or instinctively adopt the same harsh language of such mindset when it comes to others' tragedy while you blame it regarding your own misery is both unfeeling and unreasonable. You cannot dance around with a Young Turk mentality, especially if you are a victim of it.

It is difficult to get used to the idea of Hrant being gone. Author Tuba Çandar's monumental book titled "Hrant," soon to be translated in English, ends with the following: "… If Hrant wanted to be buried in our heart, as a huge Anatolian village, he is there today. He is both under and above the land. He is inside the roofs flown out or voiceless streets. He is everywhere named conscience."

Let's echo this with Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu's poem:

I care not how tall a man is

I care not about his habits

Hundreds of thousands about to die behind these mountains

Piece by piece, riddle by riddle

Hundreds of thousands souls are suffering

All are as you and me, a servant of God,

All share the same sky reflected in pupils

Taste the same water on lips,

Eat the same wheat kernel.

None is a stranger to you,

One made the button on your jacket,

One stitched the sole of your shoe,

One knitted the rose on your tie,

The other wove your underwear.

Now scattering their heads in pieces,

Now their bitter tears dropping.

I have a rose bunch at a mountain peak.

Two types of death are, in short:

One is to burn to ashes like a candle,

Getting killed by a man, timely or untimely, the other is.

Death an act of God, what else to say;

Being killed by a man though,

Difficult to admit.







"What collapsed in Tunisia is the Kemalist model." So read the headline of Yeni Asya, a Muslim Turkish daily, last Tuesday. And it summed up the doomed fate of the modern Muslim Middle East, and its erratically unfolding future.

What just happened in Tunisia, the smallest of all North African states, is a popular uprising dubbed the "Jasmine Revolution." The fallen dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the county last week with one-and-a-half tons of gold, had been in power since 1987. Yet the country was no freer before: Ben Ali was just a sequel to Habib Bourguiba, another dictator, who had ruled the country single-handedly since its independence from French colonial rule in 1957.

Bourguiba's juice

And that's where the "Kemalist model" comes into the picture. Bourguiba was a great fan of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and of his secularization agenda. So, Tunisia went through a radical era of reforms under his rule, in which a "modern way of life" was imposed by state powers. As in the Kemalist revolution, some of the reforms were undeniably helpful, such as the empowerment of women. But others were more controversial, such as Bourguiba's famous campaign against fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, which he found incompatible with the needs of modern life. When Bourguiba appeared on TV sipping a glass of orange juice during the time of fasting and telling his people do the same, he was actually creating a deep fault line between modernity and Muslim piety.

For worse, the Bourguiba-Ben Ali regime grew increasingly brutal on political opposition. An important component of the latter was the Islamic-minded Tunisian Renaissance Party, or the Nahda. Led by the Sorbonne-educated Islamic thinker, Rashid al-Ghannushi, this was a more democratic and liberal-leaning Islamic party than any other in the Middle East. Yet this did not save it from persecution: In 1981, Ghannushi and his followers were arrested, tortured and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Since his release in 1988, Mr. Ghannushi has lived in Europe as a political exile.

This, indeed, was the "Kemalist model": a dictatorship by a secular cadre that took its legitimacy from a particular form of "modernization" and that alienated conservative believers by both offending their values and repressing their freedoms. No wonder Kemalist Turks and secularist Tunisians admired each other. The late Ahmet Taner Kışlalı, a Turkish Kemalist, wrote a column titled "The Tunisian Kemalists" in 1998, and praised the achievements of the Ben Ali regime. "There are no bearded men on the streets," Kışlalı wrote, "or veiled women." That indeed was the case, for the "Tunisian Kemalists" had imposed bans on the headscarf as well.

Similar things had happened in Iran before, in which the subsequent shahs, again with a lot of inspiration from Atatürk, had banned Islamic practices. Under the first one, Reza Shah (1925-41), the police even attacked veiled women and tore off their scarves and chadors. The ayatollahs who protested the regime were flogged and killed. Soon, as a response, the first modern Islamist terror organization was born: Fadayan-e Islam, or "Devotees of Islam," which wanted to resist and get revenge on the shah's attack on Islam.

A somewhat similar pattern can be observed in Egypt, Syria and Iraq as well, in which independence from colonial rule led not to democracy but brutal autocracy. The secular dictators that dominated these countries promoted a combination of nationalism and socialism, while imprisoning, torturing and killing their political opponents, which included the Islamic groups. Factions among the latter grew radicalized, waging "jihads" against their oppressors, and, ultimately, their Western patrons.

The Turkish model

In other words, the Westerners who are understandably alarmed about "Islamic extremists" today should understand that there is a political context that helped create these people – a context to which their governments, knowingly or unknowingly, often contributed.

What makes Turkey unique in this whole story is not that it had gone through the secularist reforms of Atatürk, as it is often claimed. Several other countries of the region have had similar experiences. Turkey's uniqueness is that it found its way to multi-party politics in 1950 – something unparalleled in the Muslim Middle East.

To put it differently, "the problem with Arabs" is not that they lack "their Atatürk," as the popular saying goes. In fact, they did have their Atatürks – deified leaders who imposed authoritarian modernization. What they have rather lacked is their Menderes, their Özal, or their Erdoğan – popularly elected leaders who promoted modernization within liberty, democracy and respect to tradition.

Today, the key question for the region is what will follow the inevitable end of Arab dictatorships – or the failure of these "gods," to borrow a term from Arthur Koestler. Iran – secular authoritarianism replaced with an "Islamic" one – is certainly a bad model. But the Jasmine Revolution might turn out to be more promising. And the success of the Turkish model – secular authoritarianism evolving into democracy – remains utterly crucial.







Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in his speech at the Turkish Industry & Business Association, or TÜSİAD, general assembly the other day that it is the state's constitutional responsibility to protect the youth from alcohol.

Regarding the youth, the government has three articles in the agenda:

Headscarves, alcohol and eggs.

Are these all the issues of youth in Turkey?

Is it not a problem that the youth do not have any opportunity to follow their dreams?

How about being unable to exercise freedom of speech and thought at full capacity in the schools they attend?

How about being labeled "Marxist-Leninist" when the youth try to go beyond the format of the system and the state while voicing their complaints?

Or being insulted with the insult "pawn of secret powers?"

Is it not at all the youth's problem that their opposition rights are restricted with imprisonments and that they have no other choice but to sit still and comply with the level of hierarchy which is decided for them by the officials?

The prime minister repeated the jargon that the state has been using for the last 30 years:  Members of Marxist-Leninist organizations!

I thought that the kinds of politicians who have expectations from anti-communist discourse were long gone in history.

Is it not surprising that a politician talking about advanced democracy still adopts the same language?

As for the headscarf, is it not the government's responsibility to resolve the issue through legal regulations rather than making the laws inapplicable? But of course, if he is not thinking of playing politics over it!

Still, one should be crystal-clear for the headscarf regulation.

It is the government that should settle this issue without putting women wearing headscarves into the position of exploiters.

It is the government that should find a way to social consensus for the solution of the issue.

Without consensus this problem cannot be solved. Once it is reached, the limits will all be clear. Perhaps new limits will be determined. Perhaps we'll say that women wearing headscarves can and cannot be allowed in such and such places.

Or perhaps there will be no more limits. People will be free to choose their attire any way they want to. But the issue will be resolved.

Chaos will be replaced by the rule of law.

This country will be saved from mutual impositions.

While addressing TÜSİAD, the prime minister said: "Be Fair! We caught the killer within 36 hours," in response to criticisms regarding the ongoing murder case of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. 

I wish he could've felt proud of catching the real perpetrators behind this murder.

I expected Erdoğan to give a vision of a new Turkey in his speech, where he talked about a new constitution and called on businessmen to manufacture domestic automobiles. Rather than legal regulations to save the youth from alcohol, I expected him to inform the audience about new steps for sports, art and culture facilities to make the young population happy.

I wish he could've asked the business world, "What could we do together?" in order to grab the youths' attention and mentioned authors, athletes and scientists that are in global competition.

On the fourth anniversary of the death of Dink, I wish the prime minister could've detailed the progress we have made in freedom of expression and press. I wish he could've said that it is not our fate to face disproportional fines and imprisonments and that stopping journalists by killing them is not Turkey's fate. I wish he could've told how courageously they go after murders by unknown perpetrators.

However, the prime minister shared a different vision. And I was preoccupied with a question as he was speaking about how to protect the youth against alcohol. I wonder if Dink's self-confessed murderer Ogün Samast was so drunk that he killed Hrant.

*Ferai Tınç is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Friday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.







Istanbul is an amazing city with its rich history. Once it was the southern base of Rome, then the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire and finally, the business capital of the Turkish Republic. As an outcome of this, old and new, east and west live together in some kind of strange harmony. In the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest malls in history, you still have the tradition where retailers send their second customer to their neighbor who has not received the first one yet. In other parts of the city, you have the best concepts of modern retailing and brutal competition. Some still work with cash, others utilize the most modern banking systems.

The long heritage also reflects itself as a cultural mixture in Istanbul. Business patterns show some kind of homogeneity in Anatolia. After a while, you can identify and act upon the way people conduct business relations. All actions are based on a certain level of sincerity.

However, in Istanbul, levels of diplomacy replace this. You need to read between the lines. It takes time for an outsider to understand what is being meant. Coming originally from an Anatolian city and having lived in Holland – which resembles an Anatolian city – I also took whatever was said to me literally at the beginning. When someone told me that we should have dinner together, I used to ask immediately when! Later on, I realized that this is something like "How are you doing?" in the U.S.

After living and working in Istanbul for a few years, I developed the following phrase to explain this pattern to outsiders. "What is said, what is meant and what is felt are three different things in Istanbul." Let me give you two examples.

Let's say someone asks another whether he or she has an opening in their company for his nephew.

What is usually said: Sure send the CV over, we will have an immediate look.

What is meant: I will pass it along to our human resources manager.

What is felt: Man, who the hell is hiring in the middle of this crisis?

 Let's say a foreign business partner proposes a very unattractive deal that is far away from international practices.

What is usually said: Let us consider this with our board and get back to you.

What is meant: You can wait a long time, my friend.

What is felt: He is underestimating our intellectual capacity.

Saying directly yes or no to something is considered impolite. It is a common belief that with direct answers both parties lose face and are embarrassed. Rather than closing the door immediately, you pacify the other party diplomatically and leave the door open for the future. Most of the time, silence – which drives especially foreigners crazy – is preferred in place of a negative reply. Let me end with a common one I love most; a reply that is given when someone asks for something unreasonable:

What is said -as a joke-: Dükkan senin! (The whole shop is yours!)

What is meant: How can I earn money if I give it all for free? 

What is felt: Are you out of your mind?

I wish I would tell you that this is the way it is all around the city, but cultural richness brings cultural complexity along with it. May be this mixture is also what makes Turkey in general and Istanbul in particular an exotic exposure for most people while attracting them with its high growth potential.

* Zafer Parlar is the founder of istventures (, which supports international companies in their market entries and development in Turkey, as well as Turkish companies in their local operations and international expansion plans.







Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's attendance at the general assembly of the Turkish Industry and Business Association, or TÜSİAD, in Istanbul has been interpreted as mellowing relations between him and the organization, which became tense after his referendum warning: "If you stay neutral, you will be eliminated."

"I am worried about a possible deepening polarization in Turkey due to different lifestyles, something that can also be seen in election results," TÜSİAD Chair Ümit Boyner said in her opening speech.

Everyone around me shares Ms. Boyner's concerns. In daily conversations, polarization and confrontation have become never-changing topics, with polarization even being one of the main topics of a number of conversations.

"People can still drink spirits until they cough them out," Erdoğan said last week, drawing a strong reaction.

I have come across a number of people who believe protests at the opening ceremony of the Türk Telekom Arena were actually against this remark from Erdoğan. "Before we headed to the ceremony, we were having a dinner with a big group of people. The only thing we talked about was the prime minister's comment that 'people could still drink spirits until they coughed them out,'" a close friend of mine who was at the stadium on the night in question said.

'We don't impose on the community'

During the TÜSİAD meeting, which I followed on television, Erdoğan lead up to alcohol regulations. "I might have a certain attitude against alcohol in my personal life and within my family, but although we are conservative, we are democratic. We are very sensitive about not imposing our personal judgments on society," he said.

On another television station, there was a news report from the gala night of the film "Kutsal Damacana Dracoola" (Holy Bottle 3 – Dracula) in Istanbul. Due to the new alcohol regulation alcohol was not served at the gala, leading the actors and actresses in the film to react negatively.

"This is unpleasant. For the first time at a film gala, no alcohol was served. If this was not an intervention into our lifestyle, then what might be?" some said. Others are worried "Will we become an Iran?"

Though Erdoğan says these are cheap forms of propaganda and that the government is not intervening in peoples' private lives, perceptions could be different – as was the case at the gala. People who could not drink wine at the gala believe their freedom is under threat.

Who can blame them?

What do the marginal youth want?

As we go back to Erdoğan's speech at TÜSİAD, he talked about protesting university students. "Protestors are young, marginal, Marxist-Leninist people," he said. Here is another example of polarization.

I don't think the university students I watched on TV recently were Marxist-Leninist. Even if they were, what's the difference? They were complaining about not being heard.

A young girl from Istanbul Technical University claimed that during Erdoğan's visit to the university, students were not allowed in the meeting hall and the prime minister addressed an empty room. Apparently, the university administration took measures against the possibility that students might protest.

Would it not be better if Erdoğan had empathy for the young, instead of labeling them Marxist-Leninist? Would it not be better if he lent them an ear? Do the youth have no right to speak up, even if they are Marxist-Leninist?

Including Ms. Boyner, many of us are worried about deepening polarizations on the eve of the elections.

First and foremost, the removal of the possibility of polarization is the duty of the nation's politicians.






The government's new number-one election target is a "new constitution," according to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

To achieve this, the prime minister is hoping to attain a sufficient number of votes to change the Constitution all on his own and has thus asked party organizations and deputies to redouble their efforts to succeed in the mission. While it's well-known how infuriated he becomes if parliamentary quorums are missed because of a lower number of deputies, there's more to the story.

"Deputies not attending parliamentary sessions will be eliminated. You have 336 seats in Parliament, but you don't have quorum for meetings. We won't continue with those who cause pain in this regard," the prime minister said on his way back from Lebanon in recent months.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has already prepared a list and submitted it to Erdoğan. In fact, the prime minister and the AKP parliamentary group have decided on four main criteria for party candidates: 1) Their political performance from the previous elections to date. 2) Their attitude during the constitutional amendment voting held in May 2010. 3) The attention they have paid to their legislative responsibilities since October. 4) Their efforts in their own electoral regions.

It's also known that Erdoğan does not act sentimentally when selecting someone; in advance of the 2007 elections, he scratched off 150 of 365 parliamentary deputies from the list. It is most likely that Erdoğan will act similarly for the June 2011 elections, and deputies also know very well that they may not stand a chance unless they follow the criteria above.

Another factor in the upcoming elections is a new article in the AKP bylaw that will limit deputies to only being elected to three terms. Erdoğan has been aiming for rejuvenation in the part but there are 16 incumbent ministers heading to the election for the third time, including Bülent Arınç, Mehmet Ali Şahin, Cemil Çiçek, Ali Babacan, Binali Yıldırım, Beşir Atalay, Recep Akdağ, Hayati Yazıcı, Nihat Ergün, Faruk Nafiz Özak, Sadullah Ergin and Faruk Çelik.

Some other key figures will be nominated for the last time, such as Hüseyin Çelik, Salih Kapusuz, Haluk İpek, Abdülkadir Aksu, İdris Naim Şahin, Suat Kılıç, Nurettin Canikli, Mustafa Elitaş, Sadık Yakut, Nevzat Pakdil, Murat Mercan and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

The AKP parliamentary groups will be renewed half and half, with most of those not meeting the criteria dropping off. As for female deputies, a similar renewal could take place with rumors that the number of women will be increased from 30 to 40 or 50.

Erdoğan will have difficulty deciding on the third timers, it has been said, as his decisions could be perceived as preparing the ground for someone to take over the party leadership after 2014-2015. The decision is further complicated as even some younger deputies, such as Babacan, Ergün and Kılıç, would become ineligible to run for the party after their third trip to the polls. As such, it is a possibility that Erdoğan could leave a few figures on the sidelines and let them have a rest this time.

Besides, there are those who will be elected as newcomers, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. This will be his first ever election and he will be among the few who are not affected by the amended bylaw article.

It is a difficult choice for Erdoğan, especially if he aims for a new constitution following the elections and given that plans for a semi- or full-presidential system are being discussed freely.

Furthermore, given that presidential elections will be held in the next term, there could be many other possible calculations.

Ultimately, it seems that the AKP will shuffle the deck for the June 2011 elections as Erdoğan does some tinkering with the party and clarifies his preferences.

Celebrities among candidates

Are there no possible celebrity candidates yet? Yes, there are… People behind the scenes are constantly discussing celebrities for possible candidacies. For instance, arabesk singer İbrahim Tatlıses, artist Hülya Avşar, pop diva Sezen Aksu and veteran Turkish actor Ediz Hun are being mentioned for the AKP, while folk musicians Tolga Çandar, Sabahat Akkiraz and Arif Sağ could be nominated by the CHP.






As we go through a public stir because of a student project at Bilgi University, another student project grabbed my attention. Marmara University Photography Department student Ümit Karalar not only chose "Women and Violence" as a theme but decided to enlarge the dimension of her project.  If you check out her website, you will find fashion photos by her quite successful.

First of all, Karalar convinced about 50 female celebrities to pose for her including Doğa Rutkay, Zeynep Beşerler, Deniz Çakır, Rojda Demirer, Zeynep Mansur, Sinemis Candemir and Gözde Kansu. This is important all by itself and deserves recognition. In fact, if she hadn't pulled this out, Doğtaş Furniture wouldn't have sponsored Karalar.

Then, she individually arranged appointments. The plan was to reflect "battered women" by applying professional make-up… What does it mean? Bruises, cigarette burns, deep cuts, etc. Born in 1986 photographer Karalar also said other than make-up she tries to reflect, through facial expressions, emotional burnout and despair caused by violence.

Dirty looking 'white clean' shots

After adding a few Photoshop effects to give some zest to each photo, a delightful photography exhibition is going to be opened. "Sheddeath" (the English phonetic writing of the Turkish word şiddet for violence) is the name of her exhibition at the Toprak Art Gallery in City's Shopping Mall in Nişantaşı. Istanbul residents will have a chance to see it when it opens Sunday. The opening of the exhibition and the fame of the models have brought coverage of this exhibition into entertainment news magazines. Tremendous interest is being paid to Karalar's work.

If a student can open an exhibition by using her homework project, this is a success. Asked why she chose the "Women and Violence" theme, Karalar said, "It's been said that nearly everyday three women lose their lives to violence by men. I chose it because I am, and we should, be sensitive to the issue." This answer is enough for us not to be doubtful of her good intentions. However, not your intentions but deeds count.

No doubt none of these women supporting such a project has any bad intention, yet no matter how hard they try to mimic despair and how battered women feel, it is very obvious they are posing. These dirty-looking white clean shots give themselves up as pieces of an exhibition to be opened at a shopping mall. Karalar even couldn't name it out loud. I am sorry that she tried a more urban, sophisticated made-up English word, "sheddeath," which is ridiculous "Turklish."

In fact, I believe it was this urban, cool sophisticated atmosphere that was influential to bring all these famous women together for posing.

There is a danger in the sensitivity that is intended to be created with this type of stylized protest.

The problem is not about using the word "sheddeath" instead of the Turkish word for violence. Perhaps, it is that the photographer and her famous models do not internalize the fact that they could be a subject of violence someday. It is perhaps that "sheddeath" is perceived as some sort of violence that only occurs on the outskirts of big cities or in a village by drunken men against their wives. Perhaps, maybe Karalar's models thought they could internalize the feeling by posing as or mimicking real victims.

Are bruises and burns necessary?

No one can monopolize the issue of women and violence. Not one single method exists for that. But, let's say, if that particular actress, or model, or other famous woman had reflected the real violence they had been through… If they could've reflected how ruthless, merciless and cruel is the sector they are in, at what cost they are working in the sector, if they could've told what's behind the so-called glamour… If they could've raised awareness among us about the methods of violence that reflects itself through signs other than bruises… Can all these not be photographed? Is it not impressive enough without including cigarette burns or the word "sheddeath"?

It was written in the press bulletins of this exhibit that revenue would be donated to the Women's Protection Association. There is no such association. I personally asked Karalar, she said it was a typo and they actually meant to say women's associations and organizations. Talks with them continue, she said.

But this is exactly what I want to say. The Women's Protection Association is not simply a typo…






The residence permit process is the one of the issues that receives the most questions for foreigners. I've written a few articles on the topic throughout the past year, but because of the volume of mail on the matter, I want to address the topic again.

Foreigners can stay in Turkey on a three-month visa (tourist visa), while extensions on a tourist visa may be granted for an additional three months. However, foreigners who wish to stay longer in Turkey should obtain a residence permit. On the other hand, in order to apply for a work permit in Turkey, the applicant should first have a residence permit valid for at least six months.

Residence permits are given with different aims. Long-term residences, tourist residence, and residences for work are some of them. The long-term resident permit is granted for five years (maximum). In Turkey, permanent residence permits are not given. After the expiry of the residence permit, it can be renewed four times. Persons who wish to extend this period must apply again to the police authorities within 15 days of the expiration of their residence permits.

For the residence permit, you must apply to the local police department with the following documents;

· Five recent passport-sized photos;

· Valid passport (original passport and photocopies of last entry stamp and personal details);

· Residence declaration form duly completed;

· Valid Turkish visa;

· Application fee.

Additional documents may be requested in some cases, such as marriage to a Turkish national, the purchase of property in Turkey or for employment with a private company.

The applicant's nationality is important in the process of obtaining a residence permit. Citizens from Group A and Group B countries are subject to different regulations regarding the residence permit process; Group A countries consist of European Union member states and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, member countries. Group B countries are everything else.

In Turkey, however, residence permits are not given to all foreigners, and applications for residence permits from the following classes of people will be refused:

· Persons coming to practice a profession prohibited to foreigners;

· Persons not in a position to conform to Turkish law, customs, or political conditions;

· Persons clearly unable to legally secure the material support necessary for the duration of their desired stay in Turkey;

· Persons who have entered Turkey illegally;

· Persons whose presence in Turkey is disruptive to general peace and tranquility.

Refused people, however, can apply again.

In the event of any problem with residence permits, you can contact the police department or governor's office.

In 2010, there was no significant change with residence permit regulations, and the above arrangements will also be valid for 2011.

For your questions:






As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered the "Monument of Humanity" in the eastern province of Kars to be torn down and the government adopted the alcohol directives, the government's intentions have started to be questioned. There are also discussions about some pro-government media groups starting to have sour relations with the government and columnists being sued.

In fact, the core of the matter in the debates is human rights. Therefore, the first thing we should talk about is human rights during debates over the new constitution. If we elaborate on the content of the supreme charter and the method of preparation, we will be able to handle the aforementioned monument and alcohol, as well as court cases, more consistently.

Prime Minister Erdoğan's religious reflexes

The real aspect we should criticize about the monument and alcohol issues is that Mr. Erdoğan takes his religious values as a reference while thinking, talking and making decisions, holding religious values above constitutional principles and rules. His biggest mistake comes from the definition of the space of his duty and politics.

The monument is the property of residents in the area; the prime minister cannot decide on behalf of them. If there is a common decision and if it is not exercised, then the prime minister ensures that it is applied. However, as he left his car, Erdoğan announced a decision on behalf of the government, though the decision should rest with the public. This is what is wrong.

Contradictions in the directive

The alcohol directive has definitions and rules that contradict the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority Law, trade laws in force and many other laws.

For instance, the description of "youth" in the text and rules relevant to the "youth" infringe on human rights. The definitions of business places and operation certificates and the relevant rules are not in line with the policies of the trade law.

The AKP's perception of the Constitution

Mr. Erdoğan's references to people who drink alcoholic beverages reveals that he approaches the issue through a religious perspective and makes decisions from this vantage point. However, he is a prime minister. He should have made his decisions without any religious reference or perspective and put the assessments of his supporters aside. He should've acted as the prime minister of the people.

The discussions have brought the AKP's understanding of the Constitution to the fore. The discussions expectedly reveal the importance of why constitutional principles must be discussed everywhere during the election period.

For this reason, all political parties, first of all, should express their views on a new draft constitution, make suggestions and push the government party to share its opinion on the subject.

The primary topic should be the discussion of the new draft constitution, in advance of the June 2011 elections, not after. The drawbacks should be explained for delaying debates.

Introduction of principles

It will be a significant gain if all political parties discuss the definition of the administrative system (namely the definition and authorities of central and local administrations); citizenship; individual rights; immunities; freedom of expression and assembly; education; the national election threshold; the independence of the judiciary; guarantees for judges; the independence of legislative power from that of the executive; inter-party democracy; the protection of the founding principles of the Republic, its institutions and rules; as well as similar principles.

Heading to the elections without discussing the new draft constitution will make the public participation difficult and in fact meaningless. The winner of the elections will feel free to do whatever they want while drafting the new constitution.

[HH] Tendencies in pre-election period predictable

In order to understand which principles are agreed on by the people and which are not and why, the draft constitution should be opened to discussion at every level and everywhere during the election period.

The issues of the monument, alcohol and court cases against journalists should be studied as examples within the frame of constitutional principles.

For instance, we should ask the following questions while discussing the latest issues: Can the prime minister order a monument to be torn down? Is increasing the age limit to purchase alcohol to 24 not against human rights? On what conditions is freedom of expression restricted?

Let's immediately begin to discuss the new constitution draft. Let's not postpone it until the post-election period.

* Tarhan Erdem is a columnist at daily Radikal, in which this piece first appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, election strategy is apparently based on marginalizing the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, pushing its electoral support below the 10 percent national electoral threshold and producing at the June 12 elections a Parliament composed of two-and-a-half parties – the AKP, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the independents who later join in and help the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, establish a parliamentary group with around 20-23 deputies.

This is of course not the first time the prime minister will appear more nationalist than the MHP. In the election campaign for the 2007 elections, it was Erdoğan who delivered that nasty "Love Turkey, or leave Turkey" statement on a trip to the southeastern Anatolian provinces. The aim at that time was to woo the nationalist vote in the western, Black Sea, Mediterranean and central parts of the country at the expense of losing some votes in the areas where ethnic Kurdish politics had wider grassroots support. Now, the prime minister and his party have a far more comprehensive strategy: Winning the election will not be enough, the ruling party must get over two-thirds of the parliamentary seats and acquire the power to write a new Constitution on its own, without being compelled to seek collaboration with the opposition.

The obvious reason, of course, is Erdoğan's presidential aspirations. Even though the present Turkish presidency is rather strong, technically the Turkish system is a parliamentary democracy under which, thanks to anti-democratic and crooked electoral laws, political parties and parliamentary bylaws, the country has been turned into a farm under the absolute rule of the prime minister, particularly at times when there is a single-party government like the one we have had for the past eight years. That is, the presidency is very important, but the real power is with the prime minister in the current Turkish system. Though the presidency is a figurative post with vast protocol responsibilities and the real power is with the prime minister, no one can accuse Erdoğan of aspiring to become the "first man" and his spouse aspiring to become the "first woman" of the country.

But Erdoğan apparently has no desire to hand his power as prime minister over to someone else while being elevated to the presidency. Thus, Turkey needs to usher in a presidential system of governance so that as president, Erdoğan can still be the chief executive of the country. That is, in a way Erdoğan is aspiring to become an elected sultan who will hopefully stay in office for a fixed period of a maximum of 10 years.

The key to achieving that, of course, passes from winning more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament and acquiring the power to write a new constitution without being compelled to seek consensus with the opposition. If the MHP stays below 10 percent and cannot send deputies to Parliament, the AKP may win two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, even with only around 45 percent of the vote. Yet, for Erdoğan, such a high percentage of electoral support is not enough. He wants at the same time to win a clear, over-50 percent, national endorsement of his leadership.

Naturally, without abandoning – or at least not acting on – the so-called Kurdish opening, adopting a more nationalist jargon and wooing the nationalist vote in the western parts of the country – at the expense of losing some votes in Kurdish areas – such a goal cannot be achieved.

On the other hand, aware that Erdoğan and the AKP will tilt toward nationalism, and indeed the far right, becoming even more conservative than the MHP, ethnic Kurdish politicians are becoming more and more frustrated while the imprisoned separatist chieftain has been "negotiating" with the government for some time the terms of a permanent truce and perhaps even a prospective end to the entire separatist terrorist campaign that has continued since 1984, and has begun feeling that the AKP was never ever sincere in the opening and he was being exploited and deceived. Thus, the worst thing the AKP could think of, the possibility of renewed separatist violence, has started to loom. Particularly after separatist chieftain Abdullah Öcalan gave the government until March to take some concrete measures – including that he be taken out of the prison on İmralı Island and placed under house arrest or face the consequences – the AKP and Erdoğan have started walking a very sensitive tightrope.

Furthermore, Namık Kemal Zeybek, a nationalist, becoming leader of the tiny Democrat Party, or DP, and the prospects of the DP under Zeybek collaborating with the MHP in the elections might as well foil the plans of the AKP.






European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was in Turkmenistan last week negotiating ways the Caspian country's vast natural gas reserves might ameliorate European dependence on Russian resources through the so-called Southern Energy Corridor. Coming on the heels of a successful agreement inked in Baku to bring Azerbaijani gas to the European Union, Barroso's meeting in Ashgabat instead indicated the need for more talks in the coming months.

It has long been conventional thinking in the West to see Turkmenistan as 'a bridge too far.' Though European leaders have longed for access to Turkmenistan's 8.1 trillion cubic meters of proven gas stores, substantial impediments to any southern corridor project have prevented the opportunity to connect European consumers with Turkmen producers. However, Ashgabat's decision to diversify away from Russia and China by shaking hands on the TAPI pipeline to Pakistan and India, and the expression late last year of their willingness to construct a trans-Caspian pipeline that could connect to a project supplying Europe, have put the concept of a southern corridor firmly back on the table. European decision makers must react quickly to this opportunity, but must also press for the adoption of the most logical project.

There have traditionally been a number of factors preventing the construction of a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Europe: the country is often thought to be simply too far away, given the technical restraints on the length of pipelines and the difficulty in crossing the Caspian; Turkmens have often been reluctant to negotiate with European leaders, and; the ongoing dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over ownership of the off-shore Serdar/Kyapaz gas field has prevented cooperation between the two nations.

These obstacles have led to suggestions for Iraqi, rather than Turkmen gas, to be linked into the southern corridor. Moreover, the completion of the 1,139 mile China-Central Asia pipeline, which connects China's Xinjiang province with Turkmenistan, has led many to assume that Ashgabat would concentrate on strengthening its ties to Beijing's enormous market, at the expense of Europe. However, developments in recent weeks suggest that Turkmenistan may be on the way to overcoming many of these obstacles. The agreement to construct the 1,700 km TAPI pipeline, connecting the gas rich field of Dauletabad in southern Turkmenistan to the expanding markets of Pakistan and India, is a hugely ambitious project given the need to pass through the unpredictable provinces of Helmand and Kandahar in war-torn Afghanistan. Though the pipeline cannot be built until the security situation in Afghanistan improves, the deal demonstrates Ashgabat's determination to diversify away from Russian and Chinese demand.

Secondly, after years of ambiguity or silence, the Turkmen government has finally expressed its willingness to work with Azerbaijan on the construction of a trans-Caspian pipeline, which could link up to a project transporting gas to the huge European market. In November, both the president and deputy prime minister expressed their willingness to supply Europe with as much as 40 billion cubic meters, or bcm, of gas annually via a pipeline crossing the Caspian and South Caucasus.

Though these proposals remain far from concrete, they do place the three primary southern corridor projects back in the spotlight. The largest of the three, the Nabucco pipeline, aims to deliver 30 bcm of gas to Europe, beginning in Turkey and finishing in Austria; the Italy-Turkey-Greece Interconnector, or ITGI, is the smallest solution to opening the southern corridor with a capacity of less than 10 bcm; while the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which aims to transport gas from the Caspian to Albania, Greece, and Italy, is the shortest pipeline, with a flexible capacity of around 20 bcm. Its plans also allow for the reverse flow of gas, an important option in case of future gas cutoffs, such as those experienced in Eastern Europe in 2008. Perhaps most importantly, however, a project the size of Trans-Adriatic does not – at least initially – require gas from anywhere other than Azerbaijan. Southern corridor construction can begin as negotiations with Turkmenistan continue.

Though the Nabucco project is undoubtedly the most discussed of the three, this does not mean it will necessarily win out. In fact, given the timeframe the Turkmens are implying (completion by 2015), it appears more likely that a smaller project will be adopted. This needs to be recognized by European decision makers, who should be pushing for the most realistic proposal to be agreed upon as soon as possible. While the Turkmens are currently interested in the southern corridor, the rapidly changing nature of Eurasian energy geopolitics in recent years ensures that there are no guarantees this enthusiasm will persist. Furthermore, given the uncertain prospects of the TAPI project, it would make sense to undertake a more stable mission in the southern corridor. For these reasons, European decision-makers should perhaps more seriously consider the medium sized Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which is the most cost effective of the three projects and has the added ability to expand its capacity relatively easily.

Richard Morningstar, the United States' Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy, recognized these developments in his recent suggestion that Nabucco is "not the only project" worth considering.

The southern corridor is both a vital source of energy for the expanding European gas market and a potential political asset in countering the dominance of Russia and China. Turkmenistan's changing attitude provides an opportunity that cannot be missed, but Western decision-makers should take advantage of it prudently and support the project that makes the most sense.

*Alexandros Petersen is director of research at the Henry Jackson Society and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center.







Is there anyone who actually runs things in the country? Or do they just continue on some mysterious course of their own – sometimes going quite haywire. Both the interior minister and the Sindh home minister now say they did not order the operation conducted by Rangers in the Orangi area, during which hundreds of people were temporarily arrested. A severe sense of harassment prevailed in the area – with people stating they were held up in their homes for hours, in some cases preventing them from reaching work. There have also been complaints that the security personnel who entered homes were rude to residents, including women, while the fact that some wore masks to hide their identity added to the sense of fear of ordinary people, most of whom have been involved in no criminal activity at all.


The real question of course is that if the government ministers responsible for security did not order the operation and knew nothing about it, then who is running affairs? This situation amounts to total chaos. If no one is ready to stand behind actions of so much significance there can be little hope of tackling the basic problem of Karachi. Sindh Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza had earlier claimed that perhaps the federal government had directly given orders for the operation to go ahead. Interior Minister Rehman Malik now says this was not the case. At any rate, in this day and age, it should not be difficult for decisions to be communicated to each other – all the more so as ministers from the same party are involved. We wonder if the denials are motivated by the criticism that has followed the door-to-door searches and the outcry from residents. If Rangers were indeed acting without receiving orders from the civilian government, this is a serious matter that needs to be investigated.

It is obvious that there is a need for decisive action in Karachi. Unfortunately the action that Karachiites have been treated to amounts to a political farce including that of the Gabol resignation, the alleged raid on his house and his reinstatement as minister of state for ports and shipping on Friday morning. What this might have achieved in the eyes of mere mortals is beyond understanding. More crucial is the issue of what is to come next, with an All-Party Conference on January 25 perhaps being the starting point. A plan needs to be worked out and everyone taken into confidence. But given the gravity of the situation we confront, the fact that the right hand does not apparently know what the left is doing is disturbing; and inter-party coordination is in urgent need of improvement. Delegates to the conference may find it useful to label their hands 'left' and 'right' before embarking on discussions that might affect the lives of millions. Meanwhile the body count continues to rise and deweaponisation is very much on the backburner.







Chinese President Hu Jintao had the last official engagements of his visit to America in Chicago on January 21, symbolically with members of the Chinese business community and a Chinese language and cultural centre. This has been a tightly scripted and choreographed piece of top-tier diplomacy, with every word and nuance of what the Chinese and Americans said to and about one another being closely scrutinised. The Americans want to be friends with China if for no other reason than they do a lot of business there – but would like to do more. Currently the US exports $81.8bn to China, and imports $344bn of Chinese goods. This accounts for 14.3 per cent of all US trade, exceeded only by the trade it does with Canada. The Americans argue that this imbalance is down to the Chinese keeping their currency artificially weak – denied by the Chinese. American companies operating in China find that they can sell their goods but make little profit, mainly because of trading restrictions imposed by the Chinese. Whatever the dispute about currency and trade, America knows it has more to lose than gain by trying to 'punish' China into a position it finds more comfortable; and there is little doubt as to who has the upper hand in the currency wars.

Inevitably, the human rights issue was to the fore, but not so to the fore that it skewed the agenda. The cultural background and historical perceptions of both countries mean that they come at human rights with a strongly differing understanding. These differences are not going to be quickly resolved, and will remain more of a bone of contention in the west than they are ever likely to be in China. China was at pains to point out that it had no desire to enter an arms race with the USA, nor is it seeking military domination over any other nation. There were lavish receptions and dinners, trade agreements were signed and the visit has been judged a success for the most part. China and America are rivals but not, for the moment, adversaries. The Cold War is a middle-distance memory and China is the emerging force in the eastern hemisphere, with an economy that will overtake that of the US in terms of raw size within two years at most. President Hu Jintao will have flown out of Chicago quietly satisfied. China is now clearly at the centre of the world's stage, and it has every intention of playing a leading role for decades to come.







The government has again started to talk tough in the wake of unabated politically motivated killings and the surging crime rate in the country's commercial hub, Karachi. But despite all the half-baked plans and a stream of statements issued by senior government officials for tackling Karachi's law and order challenge, there appears more confusion than clarity about the direction of these efforts.

The paramilitary Rangers, backed by helicopters, have already been seen in action in parts of Orangi Town, in which more than 300 people were rounded-up. How many of them were criminals and assassins is a question that remains to be answered. And it is not just the effectiveness of this much-publicised operation that is being questioned. It has become controversial because of the very fact that both Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza claimed in separate statements that they were unaware of this crackdown. This shows that various arms of government and state institutions have not yet built a consensus and worked out a viable strategy on Karachi's security problem.

The barrage of tough official statements appear more a knee-jerk reaction and crude devices aimed at playing to the gallery in the wake of continuing political violence and street crimes, which according to media reports claimed more than 60 lives in the first 20 days of January.

Out of these 60 victims, around 20 were workers and supporters of different political parties, and one was a policeman. The rest were ordinary citizens, including a journalist, who were not part of any conflict or organised rivalry. Some of them were killed by bandits in robberies. The motives behind the majority of these murders have yet to be known. They were just killed. Snipers, gunmen on motorcycles, bandits, extortionists and cold-blooded assassins – who first torture their victims before shooting them dead – all have been let loose in this city. They kill and flee. Hardly any of them is ever arrested and, even if nabbed, manages to wriggle out of the so-called long-arm of the law – thanks to a weak prosecution and inefficient and corrupt legal system.

Yes, it is normal for killers to roam freely in this city.

The pressure of living in Karachi can only be understood by ordinary residents. From petty street criminals, extortionists and of goons belonging to the drug, land and transport mafias to that of workers belonging to key political parties and the personnel of law enforcement agencies – all seek their pound of flesh in this city. As government functionaries try to stay safe surrounded by armed guards, pickets, high walls and impressive cavalcades, a constant fear lurks in the minds of a vast number of dwellers of this city all the time. One has to live it to feel the insecurities of life in Karachi. Getting suddenly caught in a cross-fire between rival groups, being kidnapped for ransom, held and looted at gun point or simply falling to a stray bullet – all remain probable scenarios of Karachi life.

The number of violent deaths tell Karachi's grim story. In 2010, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 748 people lost their lives, which in journalistic jargon is called "targeted killings." Out of them 447, got killed in politically or religiously motivated violence, while the remaining 301 were ordinary citizens. In 2009, the figure of targeted killings was 242 – which itself is no small number.

As authorities again plan for house-to-house search operations, aerial surveillance, snap checking of vehicles and imposition of mini-curfew in volatile neighbourhoods, one wonders what new and different approach is being applied to establish the writ of law in this teeming city. While the print and electronic media are building a hype of the operation, political parties remain at loggerheads, blaming one another for the crisis and making demands that can at best be called self-serving and aimed at damaging the rival rather than finding a solution to Karachi's law and order problem. From the demand for a military operation in Karachi to that of getting the city rid of weapons – all these have been tried and tested in the past, but failed to bring peace. Apart from dramatic public posturing and lip-service to the cause of peace, the authorities have offered nothing but ad hoc and fire-fighting measures. And that too aimed more at appeasing this or that political or interest group than tackling terrorists and criminals.

The main conceptual flaw of the Pakistan People's Party-led coalition government and its predecessors has been the approach that peace in the city is a mere question of an operation or a crackdown.

The operation-based approach remains flawed because it fails to tackle the law and order problem of Karachi in a holistic manner. An operation or crackdown in its essence is for a brief period – a few hours, a day, a week, a month, a year, two-years or even more. It has to end after achieving limited objectives, but ensuring rule of law and writ of the state remains a 365-day job, every year, not just in Karachi, but each and every part of Pakistan. It is akin to the irritating hafta-e-safai or week-long cleanness drive, after which in the remaining 51 weeks, it is the business of filth as usual.

If the government is sincere about peace in Karachi, it has to get out of the operation mindset and focus on basics that start with reforming and depoliticising the police. The culture of political pressure, political appointments, selective justice and corruption needs to be eradicated from the police force. The city needs a professional and independent police, whose top officers get appointed on fixed terms and remain accountable to institutions rather than be at the mercy of unscrupulous politicians.

Today, the police in Karachi remain unable even to implement traffic rules, let alone confronting the political and criminals mafias. Indeed, the foremost challenge for the government, if it wants to match words with action, is to empower the police so that it can do its job.

However, arresting criminals and terrorists is only one part of the challenge. The important question remains, what happens after they are caught. A vast number of accused, involved in heinous crimes, manage to get free through courts on lack of evidence and weak prosecution. Therefore, strengthening the investigation and prosecution system should also be among top priorities.

There also remains a need for reforming the judicial system and, if necessary the relevant laws, because of which cases remain pending for years. The cases of hardened criminals and terrorists need to be decided on a fast track – not months, but weeks.

For major political parties, it is a time for some serious self-criticism and rethinking. If they want peace and rule of law, they have to stop patronising criminals, extortionists, and terrorists. The politics of expediency must be replaced by the politics for rule of law, fair play and justice. These could be the first few small steps for peace in Karachi, but do the people at the helm of affairs knows what is required of them?

The writer is business editor, The News. Email:








The government has again started to talk tough in the wake of unabated politically motivated killings and the surging crime rate in the country's commercial hub, Karachi. But despite all the half-baked plans and a stream of statements issued by senior government officials for tackling Karachi's law and order challenge, there appears more confusion than clarity about the direction of these efforts.

The paramilitary Rangers, backed by helicopters, have already been seen in action in parts of Orangi Town, in which more than 300 people were rounded-up. How many of them were criminals and assassins is a question that remains to be answered. And it is not just the effectiveness of this much-publicised operation that is being questioned. It has become controversial because of the very fact that both Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza claimed in separate statements that they were unaware of this crackdown. This shows that various arms of government and state institutions have not yet built a consensus and worked out a viable strategy on Karachi's security problem.

The barrage of tough official statements appear more a knee-jerk reaction and crude devices aimed at playing to the gallery in the wake of continuing political violence and street crimes, which according to media reports claimed more than 60 lives in the first 20 days of January.

Out of these 60 victims, around 20 were workers and supporters of different political parties, and one was a policeman. The rest were ordinary citizens, including a journalist, who were not part of any conflict or organised rivalry. Some of them were killed by bandits in robberies. The motives behind the majority of these murders have yet to be known. They were just killed. Snipers, gunmen on motorcycles, bandits, extortionists and cold-blooded assassins – who first torture their victims before shooting them dead – all have been let loose in this city. They kill and flee. Hardly any of them is ever arrested and, even if nabbed, manages to wriggle out of the so-called long-arm of the law – thanks to a weak prosecution and inefficient and corrupt legal system.

Yes, it is normal for killers to roam freely in this city.

The pressure of living in Karachi can only be understood by ordinary residents. From petty street criminals, extortionists and of goons belonging to the drug, land and transport mafias to that of workers belonging to key political parties and the personnel of law enforcement agencies – all seek their pound of flesh in this city. As government functionaries try to stay safe surrounded by armed guards, pickets, high walls and impressive cavalcades, a constant fear lurks in the minds of a vast number of dwellers of this city all the time. One has to live it to feel the insecurities of life in Karachi. Getting suddenly caught in a cross-fire between rival groups, being kidnapped for ransom, held and looted at gun point or simply falling to a stray bullet – all remain probable scenarios of Karachi life.

The number of violent deaths tell Karachi's grim story. In 2010, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 748 people lost their lives, which in journalistic jargon is called "targeted killings." Out of them 447, got killed in politically or religiously motivated violence, while the remaining 301 were ordinary citizens. In 2009, the figure of targeted killings was 242 – which itself is no small number.

As authorities again plan for house-to-house search operations, aerial surveillance, snap checking of vehicles and imposition of mini-curfew in volatile neighbourhoods, one wonders what new and different approach is being applied to establish the writ of law in this teeming city. While the print and electronic media are building a hype of the operation, political parties remain at loggerheads, blaming one another for the crisis and making demands that can at best be called self-serving and aimed at damaging the rival rather than finding a solution to Karachi's law and order problem. From the demand for a military operation in Karachi to that of getting the city rid of weapons – all these have been tried and tested in the past, but failed to bring peace. Apart from dramatic public posturing and lip-service to the cause of peace, the authorities have offered nothing but ad hoc and fire-fighting measures. And that too aimed more at appeasing this or that political or interest group than tackling terrorists and criminals.

The main conceptual flaw of the Pakistan People's Party-led coalition government and its predecessors has been the approach that peace in the city is a mere question of an operation or a crackdown.

The operation-based approach remains flawed because it fails to tackle the law and order problem of Karachi in a holistic manner. An operation or crackdown in its essence is for a brief period – a few hours, a day, a week, a month, a year, two-years or even more. It has to end after achieving limited objectives, but ensuring rule of law and writ of the state remains a 365-day job, every year, not just in Karachi, but each and every part of Pakistan. It is akin to the irritating hafta-e-safai or week-long cleanness drive, after which in the remaining 51 weeks, it is the business of filth as usual.

If the government is sincere about peace in Karachi, it has to get out of the operation mindset and focus on basics that start with reforming and depoliticising the police. The culture of political pressure, political appointments, selective justice and corruption needs to be eradicated from the police force. The city needs a professional and independent police, whose top officers get appointed on fixed terms and remain accountable to institutions rather than be at the mercy of unscrupulous politicians.

Today, the police in Karachi remain unable even to implement traffic rules, let alone confronting the political and criminals mafias. Indeed, the foremost challenge for the government, if it wants to match words with action, is to empower the police so that it can do its job.

However, arresting criminals and terrorists is only one part of the challenge. The important question remains, what happens after they are caught. A vast number of accused, involved in heinous crimes, manage to get free through courts on lack of evidence and weak prosecution. Therefore, strengthening the investigation and prosecution system should also be among top priorities.

There also remains a need for reforming the judicial system and, if necessary the relevant laws, because of which cases remain pending for years. The cases of hardened criminals and terrorists need to be decided on a fast track – not months, but weeks.


For major political parties, it is a time for some serious self-criticism and rethinking. If they want peace and rule of law, they have to stop patronising criminals, extortionists, and terrorists. The politics of expediency must be replaced by the politics for rule of law, fair play and justice. These could be the first few small steps for peace in Karachi, but do the people at the helm of affairs knows what is required of them?

The writer is business editor, The News. Email:







President Asif Ali Zardari, in his speech at Naudero on the occasion of the third death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, enumerated the achievements of his party, proudly recounting them one by one. His party, he said, gave Pakhtuns their identity by renaming NWFP Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, addressed the grievances of the Baloch through the package of Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan, gave good governance to Punjab and made the four provinces agree to the NFC Award.

All the provinces, and the newly created Gilgit-Baltistan, benefited from the People's Party-led government in Islamabad. But not FATA which, despite the resentment of the people there, is still governed by the political agent system through the Frontier Crimes Regulation.

The civil and military officials holding important positions concerning the tribal areas, and whose importance in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is only because of FATA, do not hail from that area. They have no interest in or knowledge of that area, or have anything at stake there except the coveted posts they occupy. When their tenure or position ends, their interest in FATA dies with it. Their children never study there, nor do their families live with them in FATA. It was the same situation even when FATA was more peaceful than any other part of the country.

Having little or no knowledge of FATA, they fail to grasp the importance of the customs and traditions of the local people. Nor do they have an understanding of the intra-tribal undercurrents in the handling of routine matters. Instead, they resort to the easy way of imposing their own wishes in the garb of government orders. And when those wishes are not met they make life miserable for the people by imposing heavy fines and long jail sentences on them, and by demolishing their houses on petty charges.

This situation has become even worse with the arrival of the army in the area. Its personnel treat even minor violations of petty orders as challenges to their authority and as threats to national security.

One such incident took place recently when the security personnel set the bus of a local tribesman on fire. The tribesman, Mr Badshah Jan, who had invested his life's savings in the bus, was deprived of it by the soldiers when they burnt it to cinders on the flimsy charge of smuggling of fertiliser into the tribal areas. His bus was on a routine journey from Tank to Wana last April 22 when it was set on fire after being stopped at Kaur, a checkpoint near the border with South Waziristan Agency. The only crime of the owner of the bus was his loading of six bags of fertiliser onto the vehicle for use on his own crops in his native village in Wana.

One wonders whether "smuggling" of six bags of fertiliser was such a crime as to deserve such a drastic punishment. Their transportation in open view can hardly be described as smuggling, in any case. Given that the bags did not contain some banned substance such as, say, enriched uranium for the making of atomic bombs, is Wana not a part of this country for the fertiliser's transportation there to be regarded as smuggling? If its transportation was indeed a crime, should the owner of the vehicle not been tried in a court of law? For some strange reason, there was not a squeak in the media on this uncondonable excess.

Instead of sympathising with the owner of the bus, those higher up in the hierarchy made him suffer even more. Avoiding him completely, they did not even bother to grant him a hearing to listen to his grievance, although he visited their offices in Wana and that of the political agent in Tank, as well as the additional chief secretary of FATA in Peshawar.

I brought this to the notice of the additional chief secretary myself when I met him recently. He promised to resolve the matter and even made a note of it in his personal diary, as a gesture of reassurance, but nothing has come of it so far.

As if this were not enough, the army grabbed a prized piece of land belonging to Wazirs near its camp at Zeri Noor in Wana, through the political agent, at a throwaway price. Those who resisted selling the land at such a low price were arrested and thereby blackmailed into signing the deal. And in return the "saviours" do not expect to be held in contempt by the people.

How can the hearts and minds of the tribesmen be won when their properties are destroyed or grabbed against their wishes? What the corps commander said to me when I met him in his office soon after he took over charge of that post is fresh in my mind. His emphasis was on "winning the hearts and minds" of the people through development and close cooperation with them, and not through use of force. Needless to say, in reality the troops' actions on the ground negate the efforts of the army chief, who tried to narrow the gap that so widely existed between the people of that area and the armed forces.

During all these years the people of FATA have seen nothing but death and destruction. They need the kind of sympathies that were showered on victims elsewhere in the country. If the soldiers cannot be generous enough they should, at least refrain from taking unnecessarily and excessive actions. Acts like these should not merely be followed by expressions of regret but by immediate compensations. That is, if we are really serious about winning the hearts and minds of the people in FATA, and not bent upon cultivating their hatred.

To be continued

The writer is a former ambassador, who hails from FATA. Email:







"Come on, finish your work quickly, or the toy shop will close," Said mum. "I will break the door of the toy shop," replied her four-year-old son.

"You are not that strong, you don't even eat properly," she smiled.

"I have special powers. I even have a gun and a sword."

Mum was no longer amused. "What special powers? And what would you do with the gun and sword?"

"I can change my appearance, grab the shopkeeper and shoot him. There will be blood on his body and he will die. Then I will take all the toys."

"But good people don't hurt anyone."

"Yes, they do. Good people kill bad people, like Obi Wun and Darth Vedar."

This kind of conversation between mother and child isn't unusual for me.

Of late I have been approached more and more by distraught mothers complaining of a growing display of aggressive behaviour by their children. Words like hitting, killing, shooting, murder, fire, punch, death, blood have become a part of children's everyday vocabulary. The games children play, their hobbies, their toys, the books they read, especially amongst boys, have changed alarmingly. Very few are interested in Snakes and Ladders, Bingo, Scrabble, Candyland, hide and seek. These games are now considered boring.

If children are left unsupervised on play dates, their favourite pastime is interactive violent video games. While girls might still be collecting ornaments and dresses for their Barbies, boys are busy collecting guns, swords and gadgets that are shown in these games to inflict harm upon "the enemy." As girls add Princess tales and Hannah Montana to their reading collection, boys prefer Ben Ten, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Hulk and Mask. In short, they are spending much more time playing interactive video games, 90 per cent of them violent.

It is instructive to study the downside of technology, especially technology that our children are using without supervision. During the last two decades video games have emerged as one of the most popular forms of entertainment among children and adolescents.

Former US army psychologist David Grossman and Gloria Degaentano, CEO and founder of parent coaching, write in their book Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: "On many levels it is wonderful to see them exposed to these brave new cyber worlds. The opportunities for them to learn; the resources at their fingertips are hard to fathom. The World Wide Web is like a vast, almost limitless encyclopaedia, unlike Encyclopaedia Britannica, they talk to it and it talks back. So it is especially disconcerting to see armies of these very kids, mutilating and killing everyone in their path – and having a great time doing it. It's the dark side of heightened technology, but one to which we ought to pay close attention to."

What is alarming is the fact that the one who kills the most is the "Hero". The more you kill, the more rewards you get. The message being learnt is that it is "all right" to kill. In order to be a hero, you should have the power to kill. In the last few years, manufacturers have made these games so close to life that children have started dressing and pretending like these characters, personifying them as heroes in their daily lives. Exposure to violence has desensitised them. There is no feeling of remorse when they hit or hurt somebody, they don't feel anything. The use of aggression is becoming common and display of violence over trivial issues is increasing.

Scientists and researchers, who were warning us against the harmful effects of watching too much television, are alarmed at the present situation. Television is two-dimensional and isn't conducive to learning in the same way, but this three-dimensional interactive technology gives the children a hands-on experience. And what are they learning – precision in killing.

These violent video games are more popular amongst teenagers. David Grossman again mentions in his book that some of these games closely resemble military marksmanship training devices. Both teach the user to hit a target, both help rehearse the act of killing, both come complete with guns that have recoil – the side slams back when the trigger is pulled. No one wants to see these devices in the hands of civilians.

While the video games industry boasts about the quality of their games, the military and law-enforcing agencies in the West are wondering why on earth such technology is on the streets. What further proof do we need that these games are anything but games? The children are taught to shoot every human figure that pops up their screen, just like the soldiers learn to fire at human silhouettes that pop up in their field of vision.

The relationship between violent video games and aggressive behaviour has been well documented. A study mentioned Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill was conducted on two groups of undergraduate students who played two different versions of the interactive virtual-reality video game Mortal Kombat – one more violent and the other less. Both the groups were tested and observed after they played. It was noted that the group that played the more violent version had a higher blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, and displayed aggressive behaviour. Another study showed that 49 per cent of teenage boys indicated a preference for violent video games as against only two per cent who preferred educational games.

The entire world is reaping the bitter harvest of this dark side of technology. We read news of students all over the world killing their teachers and girlfriends on trivial matters. In Pakistan, the administrators of high schools, colleges and universities are increasingly faced with the problem of aggression. This is not to say that interactive violent video games are the only reason for eruption of violence, but they are definitely playing a major role in desensitising children to violence. Imagine the damage a young boy who has practised these games for endless hours can inflict if a real weapon is given in his hand.

That's one reason why self-proclaimed righteousness and taking the law in your hands comes so easily, and even makes you a hero; why adrenaline levels are at their peak, terrorism has become so commonplace; life is no more sacred and weapons are within easy reach.

Parents beware.

The writer is a speech therapist.








The Muslims of the subcontinent are no strangers to sectarian and religious diversity and divisions. We once lived side by side with the majority Hindus and minorities like Christians and Sikhs. Even after the creation of Pakistan such religious groups were an important part of our social fabric. Linguistics and racial movements also littered this region for a long time, and still exist. However, we never let the "bullet" decide political, religious or sectarian differences among the citizens of this country. Our society had the flexibility to tolerate divergent views and movements. The spectre of violence was not allowed to destroy peace and stability. But why is violence winning the day now?

Religion is a very strong natural motive. Islam teaches peace, tolerance and respect for humanity. It abhors forced convictions and stands for reason in matters of faith. The teachings of Islam not only inculcate distinct principles for war and rules of engagement, but also encourage differences of opinion among Muslims. It equally stresses respect for other religions and their followers.

But the abuse of religion for individual, sectarian and political objectives has created the worse schisms, which resulted in a number of violent crimes. Unfortunately, religion is misused for these very reasons in Pakistan since the country's inception. A considerable section of our populace earns their living through religion and uses it as a source of sustenance. There are others for whom religion is a political lifeline and matter of social relevance.

Historically, sectarian differences had been the subject of intellectual discussion among the leading elites of various sects. These ulema were well aware of the intricacies and impacts of such subjects and were extremely careful in voicing opinions on them. In Pakistan these religious differences entered the social discourse in Zia's era when political parties were established on the basis of sectarian differences. The emergence of the electronic media and relative freedom on the airwaves injected sectarian issues in the overall political and social discourse. Without qualifications and knowledge, anchorpersons picked any divisive issue and pushed the debate into every drawing room. Resultantly, instead of healing divisions and differences, we further bolstered them, to the detriment of society.

The geo-political environment in this region is equally to blame as a catalyst for religious and sectarian violence. Disputes with India on the eastern border and differences with Afghanistan on the western borders dominated our political and defence strategies. We fought many wars with India and had been wary of Afghanistan becoming an Indian pawn. Russia's invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistan's choice to oppose Soviet forces through Afghan resistance forces had a long-lasting impact on this country. The Pakistani establishment supported the resistance groups. These groups had necessarily to be motivated for the ultimate sacrifice and hence religion was used as the tonic. Mainstream Arab-Islamic forces were also invited to fight jihad in Afghanistan. Pakistan was the supervisor and launching pad while the US and Arab countries provided dollars and riyals. On the Soviet Union's defeat, the US turned its back and declared the Mujahideen a threat to humanity.

In view of disputes with India and instability in post-war Afghanistan, all such elements retained strategic value for the Pakistani establishment. Pakistan is reviewing the utility of such groups now. This is why that at times the state seems to be helpless vis-à-vis the jihadi groups and the religious parties.

The religious and sectarian violence will not die down unless the abuse of religion for personal or political gains ceases. We cannot relegate religion, as Turkey did during the era of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. But we cannot allow religious and sectarian differences to make the running of the state difficult. The state must intervene through teaching the true lessons of Islam so that the common people do not fall for the religious interpretations of self-appointed interpreters.

The Council of Islamic Ideology should be declared the sole authority on religion and on the enforcement of its teachings. Politically divisive figures should be replaced with undisputed personalities. It would be advisable and beneficial for Pakistani society if well reputed religious scholars of universities were inducted as member of the council. Similarly, the Federal Shariat Court should be declared the sole arbiter in religious matters and in enforcement of religious laws. No one should be allowed to play politics on matters of religion.

The media should not discuss sensitive sectarian and jurisprudential issues in popular talk shows. The anchors should not raise such issues for improvement of the ratings of their programmes. If necessary, only authentic and knowledgeable anchors should be allowed to talk to authentic, non-political and undisputed religious scholars. They should discuss religious matters within intellectual limits.

The state should adopt innovative devices in dealing with Indian and US machinations on the western border, making certain that these devices do not have a negative impact within Pakistan. We should not even think of wiping out those whom we used as tools in various wars in this region. Rather, these intelligent and ambitious individuals should be rehabilitated and allowed to become part of mainstream society. They should be provided adequate means of living so that they can lead respectable lives. We are obliged to adopt such a programme in order to save ourselves from their rage. The US and Western allies could forget them after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, but we cannot, as every one of them is the son of this soil and a loved one of someone in our midst.

The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem.







The writer is a Dubai-based writer who has written extensively on the Middle East and South Asia.

The United States is celebrating the 82nd birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr, the legendary black civil rights champion and a true visionary and reformer. Considered America's answer to Gandhi, King has inspired generations of Americans, including President Barack Obama, and others around the world, with his liberating vision. His famous words like "I have a dream" and his soaring rhetoric have become so common in the speeches of US politicians, including those of Obama, and others around the world that we seldom realise the extent of his influence beyond America's shores.

If African Americans and other minorities are today able to go to same schools and churches and live and vote in dignity as their white counterparts, the credit largely goes to the revolution sparked by the savant called King. Indeed, without his sacrifices, White House today wouldn't have a black president with a Muslim father. So the Americans have enough reasons to remember and celebrate the charismatic civil rights champion.

But would King be equally proud of his nation? America may be the land of the free and greatest democracy for its people, but is it promoting the same freedom and democracy beyond its borders? Far from it. No matter what Uncle Sam would have you believe, America in its policies and actions remains the biggest supporter of oppression, injustice and tyrants and tin-pot dictators of all kinds and sizes.

King warned injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And why King alone? America's founding fathers, from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Franklin to Abe Lincoln, subscribed to the same noble ideals and values such as freedom, human rights and justice and equality for all men. But America has always supported men who trample on these very values and beliefs.

Ben Ali is not the first despot to have enjoyed total and absolute power for the quarter of a century with the blessings of Uncle Sam. And he will not be the last one. After Ben Ali fled Tunisia, driven out by unprecedented popular protests, the self-styled champion of democracy woke up to salute the "brave and determined struggle for the universal rights" and "the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people."

The White House called on the Tunisian government "to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people"! Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking in Doha warned of regimes whose "foundations are sinking in sand."

Who created, perpetuated and protected these regimes all these years though? In fact, even as the Tunisians were braving the regime's bullets and tanks over the past couple of weeks, Madam Secretary was going around the Middle East on yet another Israel-inspired mission, warning the Arabs for a millionth time about the clear and present danger of Iran's mythical, non-existent nukes.

Not a word about Mohamed Bouazizi, who torched himself in protest against poverty and unemployment, sparking this revolution. Or about millions of other young men who have brought down one of the most powerful, ruthless and stable regimes in the region like a house of cards with their democratic protests. While Tunisia turned into a large Russian gulag with most of its resident being forced to spy on each other, Washington praised the regime for its "stability, secularism and liberal market policies".

In the name of secularism and fighting "Islamic terrorism", the regime crushed every voice of dissent and independence. In fact, Tunisia is a classic, text book model of tyranny in the Middle East: Infinitely obedient and pliable to the West and its market forces while crushing its own people's legitimate rights and spirit of freedom.

And it is not just Tunisia. Next door in Algeria, when the Islamists swept a democratic election considered free and fair by Western observers in the 1990s, they were not just denied power, they were thrown behind bars and persecuted, sparking a civil war that has killed more than 150,000 people. All this was of course done with the active support and cooperation of the democratic West.

In the neighbouring land of the Nile, opposition simply doesn't exist. It's banned from taking part in the carefully choreographed elections in the most populous and culturally rich Arab country. Yet the country remains the biggest recipient of US military aid after Israel.

In fact, the whole of Maghreb – and beyond – is a veritable paradise for the capitalist West even as its people reel under poverty, corruption and the vilest form of tyranny known to man. This is a black hole where notions like democracy, freedom, human rights, free elections and justice do not exist. Things that are taken for granted by the rest of the world today.

Is it a coincidence that in the 21st century, this remains the only region in the whole wide world that is yet to experience these simple things – basics about which the Americans have long preached to the Arabs and Muslims yet never allowed them to make the same choices?

Colonialism and imperialism may have ended for much of the world in the last century of the last millennium. However, it still remains a reality in much of the Arab and Muslim world. Even though our colonial masters have departed, their legacy, policies and clout remain in some form or the other in this part of the world, ruling by proxy. It's no coincidence that most men in power for decades today once served in uniform in colonial armies.

This is why even when the West lectures the Arabs and Muslims on the virtues of democracy and free elections; it doesn't mean it really desires the same for them. As Robert Fisk says, in the Arab world, we (West) want law and order and stability and we will get it. "It's the same old problem for us in the West. We mouth the word "democracy" and we are all for fair elections – providing the Arabs vote for whom we want them to vote for."

This is why from Palestine to Pakistan, dictators are always chosen over democrats. This suits the West and their long term geopolitical interests. Besides, unlike their tried and tested dictators, democrats are troublesome and ask too many inconvenient questions.

However, what happened in Tunisia has changed everything. Totally unarmed protesters fearlessly facing down the dictator's big guns. When was the last time you saw something like this in the Arab world? The people of Tunisia have spoken and Arabs and Muslims everywhere are listening. More important, by throwing out Ben Ali, they have not just sent a loud and clear message to tyrants everywhere, they have also served an ultimatum to their Western masters. The empire's game is up.

Change has finally come to the Middle East with Tunisia's Jasmin revolution. And if this can happen in the friendly, secure and stable Tunisia, it can happen anywhere. The US and its friends and allies would ignore this message from the Arab street at their own peril. As Martin Luther King warned, one who condones evil is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it. And no one can stop an idea whose time has come.








Recently, Italy's apex court struck down a key pillar of a law that gave the Italian prime minister temporary immunity from prosecution for corruption and fraud charges and the judges could order him to stand trial. The judges' ruling was hailed as "a triumph" for the constitutional principle of equality. Berlusconi is a defendant in three trials in the northern city of Milan where he faces charges of corruption, tax fraud and embezzlement. But the trials had been suspended because of the "legitimate impediment" law, which was passed last year by Berlusconi's conservatives in parliament and immediately drew accusations that it was tailor-made for the premier.

The Constitutional Court's panel of 15 judges ruled that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his cabinet could not automatically claim exemption from attendance of trials in progress against them owing to their official duties. The judges were asked to decide whether the so-called "legitimate impediment" law passed last year was compatible with the principle enshrined in the Italian constitution that all citizens are equal before the law.

In its ruling, the court said each trial judge could assess what could legitimately prevent the premier or other ministers from attending trials and it would be up to individual trial judges to decide on a case-by-case basis whether ministers would have to face charges.

For too long, our leaders without any beliefs and convictions, with only personal gains in mind, have led Pakistan to the path of destruction. It has become a normal practice for those in the echelons of power to make hay while the sun shines. For them coming to power means "license" to make the most within a limited time. It's like there is a "loot sale" on and everything is available at "cut price" and one is not subject to being called "to account" because one enjoys immunity and has the power to exonerate others for their misdeeds too. The dilemma is that while Pakistan has enough for everyone's needs it unfortunately doesn't have enough for their greed. We are a country that has been ravished by its own.

Perhaps, it's time to quash the immunity law in Pakistan that protects the head of state from prosecution until he leaves office, for this law is the mother of all evils, as it gives carte blanche to "executive abuse of power", unrestrained corruption and cronyism, misuse of government resources and premeditated crime and lawlessness. It's tantamount to one person holding the entire country hostage and running it in an opportunistic, deceptive, uncontrolled and unregulated manner.

In Pakistan, our Supreme Court has all the jurisdiction of a constitutional court and it can exercise the same powers as the constitutional courts in Europe and Turkey. To uphold the constitutional principle of equality supreme; to restore accountability to our political system; to confront the crimes of the government; to preserve the presidency (as it represents the federation, not a single party); to address executive chaos; to drill some sense of responsibility in the corridors of power; for supremacy of rule of law. And above all for democracy to come alive, the judiciary should follow the precedent set by Italy's apex court. Such a step would instil "hope and confidence" in the people and "implant fear" in the hearts of the rulers. It's time to put our life on the line, for the higher aspiration of saving our country; we don't enjoy the luxury of time.

The writer is an MNA. Email:








In the backdrop of turbulence in Tunisia, which has been described by some Arab commentators and analysts as Tsunami, fears are being expressed that it may spread to some other Arab-African States where situation is ripe for such an uprising because of lack of attention on the part of governments in these countries to heed to aspirations of the people and resolve their problems. But we would like to point out that perhaps Pakistani people too are moving towards such an eventuality.

A number of incidents have happened in the recent past that confirm that things would get out of control of the authorities if timely measures were not taken to address the problems confronting the common man. People are losing patience and they are no more ready to lead an ignominious life the Government has thrust upon them because of bad governance, lack of transparency, corruption and violation of merit. Law and order situation during the last few months has deteriorated to all time low and no part of the country is considered to be safe for an ordinary citizen and his property and honour. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is hit by insurgency; Balochistan has become a battleground for global and regional interests and Karachi too is facing upheavals. Previously, the Punjab was believed to be well-managed and governed but this Province too is being ruled by dacoits and criminals of all sorts. And in Karachi, on Thursday, sacked workers of Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) held violent demonstrations attacking officials and premises of the Corporation. Earlier, employees of Port Qasim Authority also staged protests over non-payment of increased salaries to them and the matter ended temporarily with assurance by the authorities that they would send the case to the Ministry. Similar demonstrations are also staged by employees of Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, who have not been given the increase which their counterparts in other departments got seven months back. Railways employees had also threatened to launch a protest movement if the Government went ahead with its plans to get rid of twenty thousand staffers. Apart from this, people of various localities block main roads and highways to protest against gas shortage and load-shedding. All this is symptomatic of growing unrest and unease in the society, which could boil down any time to unfold unpredictable consequences. Therefore, it is high time that the Government should devote full attention to the problems of the people and resolve them in judicious and transparent manner.








A REPORT appearing in this newspaper has feared that the oil import bill that stood at staggering $10 billion in 2010 could surge to $15 billion in 2011 as the country's reliance on imported oil products will increase manifold to make the economic wheel of the country running effectively. It also warns that there will be huge gap between demand and supply of both oil and gas and the situation would become unmanageable by 2015 if no corrective steps were taken to address the challenge.

Oil and gas are vitally important for any economy and with increase in both consumption and prices, these impact upon economies of not only individual countries but also pattern of relationship among the States. Barring any major technological advancement that could lessen dependence on oil, the future is particularly bleak for countries like Pakistan that depend heavily on imported oil and have to foot the increasing bill at the cost of other sectors. Regrettably, we have become victim of the circumstances because of lack of vision and planning, as none of the governments in the past took any tangible measures either to increase the domestic exploration or to firm up arrangements for import of energy from the neighbouring countries that have been making offers since long. There are plans for import of gas from three countries — Iran, Turkmenistan and — and import of electricity from Iran and Tajikistan but unfortunately things are moving at a snail's pace. The present Government too is no exception as it lost three precious years during which, instead of any improvement, the situation has deteriorated further. The situation is so pathetic that according to some reports strategic oil reserves are also fast depleting with serious implications for the defence of the country. It is somewhat encouraging that irrespective of the political divide, parliamentary parties are mindful of the crisis and its consequences and a parliamentary committee has been assigned with the task of preparing recommendations for overcoming the shortage of gas and power. Hopefully, the committee, besides proposing measures to address the situation on a short-term basis, would also come out with plans to address the problem on a long-term basis.







THE Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has submitted a list of 58 officials in the Supreme Court of Pakistan who held positions from January 01, 2007 to December 24, 2010, when the national exchequer suffered a whooping loss of Rs. 37 billion because of proliferation of containers which entered the Pakistani territory under Afghan Transit Trade (ATT).

It is understood that not the entire 58 people mentioned in the list were the beneficiary of the jumbo scandal but none of them could either disown the responsibility as all of them were in decision-making positions and could have done much to save the country from such a huge loss. We hope that the court would go deep into their role, pinpoint responsibility and make them an example for others who only enjoy perks and care little about national interests. The scandal has many dimensions and it is the duty of the Government to take steps to forestall such leakages and haemorrhages in future. The country is finding it hard even to meet the expenditure on running of the administration but there are people who inflicted such a shocking loss to the national exchequer. The money involved in the scandal is enough to obviate the need to impose dreaded RGST and reduce the circular debt that is becoming a monster with the passage of time. It also confirms Pakistan's concerns that the ATT is widely being misused to the disadvantage of the country's economy. The worst aspect of the episode is that important officers and wings of Customs and even a national institution like NLC is involved in inflicting damages to the country. It is also pertinent to point out that the Supreme Court has acquired the capacity to grab and hold such elements accountable but we must appreciate that it is basically the responsibility of the Government, which has dozens of organizations dealing with matters relating to corruption and misuse of powers and authority, to take notice of such instances and make the culprits accountable.







Reality very often is what 'prism' one uses to perceive a phenomenon. "War on terror", viewed from US typical 'prism' tilted heavily towards the powerful Corporate Culture in league with the Zionist lobby sees war as a necessity to promote the demand and the supply of man-killing machines, gaining sophistication as technology achieves new strides to make weapons deadlier than before. The arms lobby, which President Eisenhower in his parting speech identified as Military Industrial Complex (MIC) as the greatest impediment to global peace. He reflected the helplessness, which American Presidents inherit and any effort to curb or curtail its interest would amount to courting disaster. Assassination of Presidents is the major deterrence. So overwhelming is the pressure that concocting lies became an obligation for President Bush, who had internalized the neocon sensibility, which was essentially a constellation of interests of the arms lobby, the newly established Indian lobby, the oil barons lobby and on the top of it the all pervasive Zionist lobby, whose founder Theodore Hazt made no secret of its inherent power: "When the wealthy Jews play, the nations and the rulers dance." (Quoted in Brass Tacks Magazine, Nov 2010.)

The greatest lie of the 21st century master minded by the neocon cabal was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and, therefore an attack on it was a strategic compulsion. What a nonsense! Israel possesses WMDs in hundreds but who dares attack it. Double talk does not create any attitudinal dissonance, as the American policy planners know very well that 'reality' resides only in their hearts. Iraq as an emerging military power was considered a threat to Israel as it had a grandiose plan to restructure the heartland of Muslim world into splinter groups to dilute their collective power. After terrible destruction of Iraq first by George Bush's father in the first Gulf War then by the repeat of same colonial rampage, was by his son. Violence, hired assassins and an-art-of-the-state weapons are used to kill innocent citizens under the contrived concept of "collateral damage;" a dreadful terminology to hide savage, propensity in the so called war on terror in Afghanistan. Despite using massive psy ops through electronic and print media, besides cyber warfare not to speak of the amount of cruelty and insensitivity to human life through bunker-busters, unmanned drone attacks, the 'will' to resist the oppressors is indeed a great tribute to Afghanis unrelenting determination to oust the aggressors from their soil.

To lump up Taliban – the Pushtoon element - which represents Afghani ethos and Al-Qaeda "terrorists" is a gross perceptual error. Al-Qaeda is not indigenous. It was brought into operation with full economic support and training imparted by CIA to liberate Afghanistan from the clutches of Soviet occupation. They did contribute effectively towards the combined resistance put forward by the Afghans in forcing the Red Army to leave their soil. Besides Al-Qaeda there were a number of jehadis from different Muslim countries, who had participated for the common cause. After the defeat of Soviet Union, many of them returned to their countries. Al-Qaeda's leader Osama bin Laden had to stay in Afghanistan as Saudi Arabia had deprived him of his rightful citizenship. Even Sudan did not accept him as a migrant. Nevertheless the Al-Qaeda's centre of gravity was in Palestine. No Afghani was involved in the 9/11 tragic episode at Manhattan. Later the Al-Qaeda insurgents spread out all over the world with very negligible number remaining in Afghanistan. It does adhere to the political ideology of terrorism as a counter to the blatant aggression by Israel through the connivance of USA, for the ruthless killings of Palestinians and the theft of their lands for illegal settlement of the Jewish migrants. Whether right or wrong, the Al-Qaeda has its own ideology and values, determining its perception of gross injustices and double standard being practised by USA, the lone super power. The Afghan resistance, as was the case with Iraq, does not fall in the category of terrorism by any cannon of justice.

A very ironical phenomenon occurs due to "distorted lens of Islamophobia" which is outside the orbit of reality. On the issue of building Islamic educational centre containing a mosque near Ground Zero at Manhattan, where the 9/11 tragedy mysteriously occurred, there is a misperceived 'perception.' According to New York Times "the protestors reflect fears that mosque will be nurturing terrorist bombers, that Islam is invading that civilization is being undermined by Muslims." The arrogance and ethnocentric view of superiority of western culture and degrading Muslim civilization as decadent and primitive is a typical manifestation of prejudice determining the perception about Islam and its adherents.

Sally Steenlaw very aptly highlights: "We need to assess Islam based on reality, not rants (Centre for American Progress, Aug 10, 2010) and cautions against it as it has security risk for USA and questions: "Who knows whether Islamophobes like Newt Gingoich and Sarah Palin actually believe their own rants. The sad thing is that they are getting away with blatant nonsense." The reality is quite different. "There are nearly 7 million hard working, law abiding Muslims in this country. They participate in virtually every sector of society and engage in vibrant inter-faith efforts that bring together Christians, Muslims and Jews to work for the common good. Yet most Americans know almost nothing about Muslims and Islam – not to mention the media which loves apocalyptic battles as long as weapons of Mass Destruction are words."

There is a school of thought in philosophy known as phenomenologist, who advocate that a phenomenon must be observed as it is, transcending subjective evaluations and value-system, which entail biases and prejudices. USA's typical manifestation is the Denial of Reality. They are losing battle in Afghanistan but find it too painful to face the fact and determine wrong strategy accordingly. Not allowing Muslims to construct their cultural centre near ground zero is totally based on wrong perceptions. A study by Duke University and the University of North Carolina have found, based on objective research that "community mosques actually deter radicalization and extremism through a range of efforts such as publicly denouncing violence, confronting extremism, providing programs for youth and cooperation with law enforcement."

There are some misguided Muslim terrorists as are the Christian terrorists, followers of Protestant faith, known as "Branch Davidians, whose founder had 140 wives, some as young as 12 and a fanatic Christian" Erich Rudolph, a great believer of white man's superiority had indulged in massive violence, like bombing on Lesbian bar in Atlanta and bombing episode at Atlanta Olympics 1996 and several others. They however, do not represent the Christians as a whole, just as Al-Qaeda does not represent Islamic faith. Ironically, irreality pervades as security doctrines and vicious strategy of USA. This, in essence, is the dissolvent of 'peace' as a paradigm of Global Order.

The writer is Secretary General, FRIENDS.








All minorities in so-called shining and secular India are suffering at the hands of Hindu extremist organizations as well as the military and paramilitary forces. However, poor Muslims are the worst sufferers that are being subjected to torment and harassment not only in Kashmir but also throughout India. Website has carried a woeful story about an Indian Muslim Mohammad Hanif who was tortured in police custody involving some third degree methods. He was asked by the police to name some rich Muslims who they could arrest on the pretext of being a terrorist and extract money from them. But when he refused to do so Assam police dubbed Mohammad Hanif as an ISI agent, and so far failed to provide evidence in this regard.

There is neither witness nor evidence against him, meaning that he has been framed and implicated. The reason for making him scapegoat is that he is poor, defenseless, vulnerable with relatives in Pakistan whom he had visited once, and above all an Indian Muslim - a deadly combination indeed. The story of Mohammad Hanif is the story of an innocent person being falsely implicated in a terror case, who during the course of court proceedings has become a pauper, and he can't even afford a lawyer. He was picked up by the UP police on 13th July 2005 and told that he was an ISI agent, involved in taking out some 'sensitive' documents from the Army Camp, Tezpur, Assam to hand them over to Pakistani intelligence officers based in New Delhi. The case is pending since last 5 years, which has financially overstretched Hanif. Of course, Kashmiris are the worst sufferers, as seven hundred thousands troops are present in Indian Held Kashmir, and under their watch police and paramilitary forces continue to commit atrocities on them. Since 1989, more than 95000 Kashmiris have been martyred, scores of women have been raped and hundreds of youth have been apprehended or killed in fake encounters.

It is matter of routine for India that on every bomb blast or an act of terrorism in India, the fingers of accusation are pointed towards Pakistan and its linkage with Muslim organizations in India. Hundreds of innocent young boys are picked up and kept under illegal detentions. In addition to torture, arrests, harassment of their families, the families and victims are pressured into signing blank papers. In 2007, Indian agencies had accused Harkat-ul-Jehad-i-Islami activist alias Bilal of being involved in Samjhota blasts when two coaches were completely gutted. India often names Muslim organizations, which in fact do not exist. Anyhow, on the demand of Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations the Indian government acknowledged that Hindu extremist organizations were behind the terrorists' activities. In this age of information technology and media explosion, India could not hide the link between the army and the Hindu extremist organizations.

Whereas India continues with its policy of committing repression on its minorities especially Muslims, and also tries to extend its hegemony over its weaker neighbours through various means including exporting terror through its secret agency RAW, it blames Pakistan for pursuing terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who is likely to meet her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Thimphu on the margins of a SAARC Committee meeting, said: "Pakistan must turn away from using terror-induced coercion as an instrument of policy against India." Delivering a speech at a seminar on 'Asian Security Challenges', she asserted that "the epicentre of global terrorism is located in our neighbourhood". On one hand Indian leadership says it wants to resolve all disputes with Pakistan, but on the other, it continues with its propaganda blitz just to divert the attention of international community from its policy of repression. Of course, the US and the West turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in, what they say, largest democracy of the world.

India's Republic Day, which is a few days away, has caused enormous difficulties for Muslims. Indian police and paramilitary personnel are subjecting bikers, passenger vehicles and private vehicles to thorough frisking across Indian Held Kashsmir for the last two weeks. Media reports said that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and police personnel had been deployed in large numbers in all major towns including Kupwara, Handwara, Baramulla, Sopore and Bandipora. In addition at some places in these towns regular Army men have been stationed. The civilians are suffering immensely in view of tight security arrangements. "It took us more than 90 minutes to cover 20-kilometer distance from Handwara to Kupwara as the troops and policemen conducted thorough frisking of vehicle and passengers at least at four places. Apart from frisking, they also wasted time asking too many trivial questions," said Mohammad Hussain of Handwara. Similar reports were received from Pulwama, Shopian, Islamabad and Kulgam towns of Indian Held Kashmir.

In order to divert attention from atrocities it perpetrates on the people of Kashmir, Indian RAW planned attacks on members of Pakistan's security forces and suicide attacks killing innocent people. Three members of a militants' gang especially deputed by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan were arrested on 13th August 2008. During interrogation they disclosed that RAW funded suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan and that the Indian agency funneled millions through its links with the RAM - Afghan secret agency. They admitted that they were deputed to destabilise Pakistan in the name of 'enforcement of shariah' in the country. India has in fact devised the strategy to keep Pakistan engaged on the western border so that there is no pressure on it for resolving the Kashmir issue. In the first week of September 2008, English daily from Peshawar had in its report stated that an Afghan who was arrested by the local people in Kurram Agency revealed that Indian RAW agents were actively involved in the ongoing Taliban movement in FATA.

He told his name Paayow Gul Mengal and confirmed that he belonged to Paktia province of Afghanistan. Mengal said that he and his family received two thousand US dollars per month from one of the centres of Indian RAW in Paktia province. In March 2008, Pakistan's caretaker interior minister in an interview to an Arab TV had alleged that the US, India and Afghanistan were involved in backing the terrorist outfits in Pakistan. Reportedly, Israelis had set up a School of Fiqha run by Hebrew University located in former Jaffa or Haifa, and after training and motivating persons of Indian and Pakistani origin sending them for 'Tabligh' with a 'specific message' to achieve their ulterior motives. India in collaboration with Afghan agency has also established 'madaris' in Afghanistan to create 'misguided elements' to operate in Pakistan on the pretext that Pakistan is helping the occupiers. There is credible evidence that the US in cahoots with India is also supporting Balochistan Liberation Army for the operations in Iran, and this is the reason that the BLA has not been declared a terrorist outfit in the US.

—The writer is Lahore-based sernior journalist.








One had long thought that we of the Land of the Pure hadn't quite mastered the art of muddling through. Time and again our governments and our leaders had come to grief on issues that were susceptible to muddling through if only they had honed the art. Apparently, they had faltered at the first obstacle that came their way essentially because of either too rigid or, alternatively, too lax an attitude. This was a pity because most governments, even in the so-called developed states, look upon this art as insurance of sorts and not without reason.

That was the past. I stand corrected. Having seen the shenanigans of our political luminaries over the past several weeks, one has no hesitation in admitting that one had underestimated their expertise in the age old game of muddling through. If anything, our chaps appear to have left the more experienced aliens far behind. If there were a Nobel Prize for muddling through our chaps would win it hands down. Of course, in the field of Foreign Affairs we probably still lack the finesse that separates the 'men' from the 'boys'. Instead of glibly muddling through as is the wont of established practitioners, we often find our mandarins bogged down in their own verbiage. So far as our 'elders and betters' go, the WikiLeaks disclosures have painted a sorry picture that leaves a lot to be desired.

The Indian establishment is a lot more adept at the game. Every time they come out with an initiative of sorts they catch us on the wrong foot. Take the recent 'offer' to resume dialogue with Pakistan. As always, not only is the offer laden with so many ifs and buts but it also comes at a time when India is in desperate need to relieve international pressure. This ploy of India is fast becoming predictable. Every time there is a foreign visit in the offing or when international pressure is on the rise (like that on human rights violations in IHK at the present time) the Indians come up with such an offer. Our chaps somehow never catch on to the ploy and start bending over backwards to welcome such offers without even waiting for them to be conveyed formally.

And then it is totally inexplicable why we virtually beg to have meetings with the Indians on the sidelines of multilateral forums. The recent news item relating to the possibility of the Foreign Secretaries of the two sides meeting on the sidelines of some forgettable multilateral forum is a case in point. With some exceptions such meetings only server the Indian purpose of appearing reasonable without having to show flexibility on issues. By adopting the attitude we do, we in effect do damage to our cause. It is far, far better not to meet at all rather than meet only for the sake of meeting.

Time is ripe for both India and Pakistan to get out of the pointing of fingers syndrome. The game of wild accusations against each other in order to score debating points is now passé. The two establishments must now behave responsibly - as behooves countries of a certain stature - and present to the world a picture of maturity. It is quite a few years now that the Indian establishment has adopted the conscious policy to "allow" terrorist activities on its soil in order to use them to tar Pakistan with the brush of supporting terrorism. This attitude of the Indian establishment predates nine/eleven and Bush's "war on terror".

It is imperative that both India and Pakistan now shed the blame game syndrome. The world has moved far a'field. It is not in the destiny of South Asia to stay mired in the quicksand of recent history. Not too very long ago, the Prime Minister of India, the good Dr. Manmohan Singh, had advocated the philosophy of "let bygones be bygones". This was native wisdom at its best. What then has come unstuck since then? The latest revelation regarding the attack on "Samjhota Express" should serve to bring home the truth that India is not justified in pointing the accusing finger at Pakistan. The same argument can be turned against it and its own home-grown terrorists. The Mumbai disaster was a tragedy by all counts. There is no denying that. It saddened all right-thinking peoples in both countries. Yet the tendency to jump to unwarranted conclusions and to whip up war hysteria should best have been eschewed. It required a lot of courage but was not impossible. Had the two countries risen to the occasion and jointly taken the bull by the horns things might have turned out differently and to the advantage of the region in general.

This is the twenty-first century – a century that by rights should be termed Asia's century. Both India and Pakistan have major roles to play if only they would agree to put the regional house in order. Several of the problems faced by the two countries – particularly those in the economic field – are common. Statesmanship demands that the two rise to the occasion and pull the region out of the quagmire it finds itself in. One casualty of the present impasse has been the possibility of the two countries collaborating in the international economic forums at this critical juncture of the world economic crunch. Hand in hand India and Pakistan can go places. At each other's throat they can only provide comfort to their common foes. The choice is up to the two leaderships. If nothing else, the coarse art of muddling through should come in handy, and why not?








The ongoing discussion around the killing of the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer has started bringing to our notice some realties of Pakistani society that we actually should be aware of but which we mostly choose to ignore, because strength of character has lost its place in our today society.

The first and main point is that Pakistani society is a conservative and very religious society, the conservatism is showing in the way Islam is understood and practiced. There is a close relationship between economic conditions, education and the way Islam or any other religion may be understood and practiced. Education means religious education as much as secular one; both are interrelated as education leads to civic sense of responsibility to make our society march towards progress and prosperity. In Pakistan with a rising level of poverty and sinking level of education therefore, we can not expect any enlightened or modern understanding of Islam, as Holy Quran is a complete code of life.

Secondly, we tend to forget that the most well-to do, most educated and therefore most media-prone group of society with a westernized modern understanding of Islam who are now trying to decry the killing of Taseer comprises of a small minority in this society and are therefore, not representative of Pakistani opinion. The fact that they are most vocal because of their education and media access does hide this aspect but does not change it. That is why the blasphemy law of Pakistan which was inherited as a legacy of British Raj at the time of partition and is still in force with some amendments is representative of the majority opinion in this country and therefore, is unchangeable for the time being. Thirdly, as in many other cases before, the whole discussion around

blasphemy in connection with governor Taseer killing is missing the real point. The blasphemy law of Pakistan does provide for death penalty for a blasphemer, but the death sentence has to come from a court and be executed by the government. The law does not provide for people taking it and the process of justice administration into their own hands. That has nothing to do with a conservative or modern understanding of Islam; it has to do with the rule of law in Pakistan and with due respect which the citizens and even the law-enforcers themselves maintain towards the law and its rule. When the process of law still provided her the opportunity to seek justice, Governor Taseer should not have interfered into the ongoing process by openly announcing that she will not be executed and freed soon.

As the case of the killing of Salman Taseer is showing, citizens of Pakistan including even the law-enforcing units themselves and body guards or security personal who are suppose to be the law enforcers enforcing the constitutionally granted right of life & security to its citizen as well as the very guardians of the laws the lawyers do not believe in the rule of law or have lost their belief in it due to the deteriorating governance in the country. Everybody who has had to deal with a court in Pakistan knows how cumbersome it has become due to lack of Judges and staff and that there are many ways to avoid the application of law and the execution of a sentence including corruption, political pressure, perjury but also NRO and so on.

An example is that some thirty years back High Court declared that Walls Ice Cream is not a dairy based product hence it can not be called Ice Cream. Supreme Court also upheld this decision but this Ice Cream is sold in every nook and corner of Pakistan as ice cream without any check. Then it was this missing trust in the governance of this country and the missing respect for the rule of law, which made Mumtaz Qadri do what he did and his fellow body guards, the lawyers, and the citizens at large endorse it. One can live with a thieve or a liar or a cheater going free in Pakistan; that happens every day. But letting go a blasphemer was unacceptable to a highly religious and emotional

Pakistani society. In the light of this discussion it becomes quite clear that all mentioning of religious extremism or terrorism is not only misleading but a very well planned move to defame and weaken Pakistan at this point in time. In fact it is a case of growing distrust among Pakistani citizens in their state, of a divide and disconnect between the ruling elite and the teeming masses and of a state increasingly failing to fulfill its legitimate role, which the nation aspires from its leaders and the parliament to lead the nation by the hand till their feet are sure and they know their way, but they have failed them miserably. Sanity, Transparency and Accountability is the need of the hour and no body should be allowed to tear the national fabric of Pakistan to push the nation into bondage of International donors. God blesses Pakistan.







As southern Sudan moves towards secession, northern Sudan too finds itself at a crossroads. With all media spotlights on the south's likely independence, it is important to remember that whatever happens in Khartoum remains the key determinant for war and peace in north and south. In power since 1989, the government is under pressure from the international community and ordinary Sudanese to democratise. Omar Al Bashir and Ali Osman Taha, the leaders of the Ingaz ("Salvation") regime, face fierce criticism for presiding over the breakup of the country.

The almost certain separation of the south inflicts a psychological trauma on the north, but will also trigger economic upheaval in the short-to-medium term. Inflation is rising and the central bank is frantically trying to stabilise the currency, as Khartoum faces the loss of 75 per cent of Sudan's known oil reserves. Even if the long-term outlook for growth is more positive in the north than in the south, the government budget will take severe hits. Expenditure is already being cut even the presidential patronage networks do not escape the austerity measures. And worse is to come. Rumours of a possible popular uprising, such as the ones that overthrew the dictatorships of generals Abboud and Nimeiri, are audible on Khartoum's streets. Yet if demands for more political liberalisation and possible regime change are increasing, so are calls for a back-to-basics approach. Key constituencies in the security services and the ruling National Congress party are signalling discontent too, lobbying for a further centralisation of power and the full-scale implementation of Sharia now that the costly southern "ballast" will be shed.

Following the 1999-2000 power struggle between Hassan Al Turabi, the Sud-anese Khomeini of the Ingaz Revolution, and Al Bashir and Taha, the latter two emerged victoriously. They scaled down Khartoum's radical rhetoric to improve relations with Egypt and the Gulf Arabs, saving the revolution from being consumed by its own flames. Out went the extremist discourse and the public executions, in came talk about power sharing and investment partnerships with China, Malaysia and the UAE. However, in the wake of the comprehensive peace agreement, the hardliners are determined to give the regime "new" legitimacy by reimposing a properly Islamist northern state and hunting down the "fifth column" of southerners living in the north. The NCP's information minister publicly stated: "They will not enjoy citizenship rights, jobs or benefits, they will not be allowed to buy or sell in Khartoum market ... We will not even give them a needle in the hospital." Such a scenario could well trigger serious urban violence and possibly even ethnic cleansing and open war, reminiscent of the ugly divorces of India and Pakistan in 1947, or Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1993. The regime finds itself at a crossroads, and could well be torn apart by the dilemma: does it go back to an Islamist future, or does it dump its historical ideological baggage to try to become a more ordinary hegemonic regime? At Tayeb Al Abdin, a key Islamist, told me in Khartoum some weeks ago that "this is the most dangerous moment in Al Ingaz history". NCP strategists are looking for ways to turn this crisis into an opportunity but many privately signalled despair when Al Bashir on December 19, called for the end of multiculturalism in northern Sudan and the strict imposition of Sharia.

Although the president might be merely rallying his base to cover his conservative flank, this signals nervousness as he awaits possible challengers, inside and outside the regime. Moreover, such dangerous rhetoric complicates not just the current negotiations with the southern leadership and the delicate issue of citizenship; it also risks further widening the gap with moderate northern political forces. On paper, the regime's "dilemma" should be a no-brainer: going back to the 1990s might appease radical wings of the security services but would condemn Khartoum to a situation of constant confrontation with the outside world and with its own population. It would also make it more difficult to attract the outside investment and aid money that northern Sudan desperately needs to cope with the loss of petrodollars and the growing impact of climate change on its agriculture.Gradually opening up and allowing opposition parties limited space doesn't have to be costly, but could ultimately benefit Al Bashir and Taha given the advantages of patronage, incumbency and political skill that they hold over potential rivals. It could help normalise a regime battered by years of isolation, including arrest warrants by the international criminal court. However, it is not because selective political and economic liberalisation is the rational path to take, that Al Ingaz will choose it. Standing with its back against the wall politically in the context of worsening economic prospects, the regime could well panic and seek to trigger large-scale violence, vis-vis the south or the "fifth column" of southerners living in northern Sudan, to distract attention from its own failures and inability to resolve its identity crisis.

The international community thus has an important role to play in influencing the power struggle in Khartoum. The West should reach out and signal its willingness to support reformist elements. If the regime accepts southern Sudanese independence and makes concessions on important post-referendum issues - oil, water, citizenship, the disputed region of Abyei, America and the EU should reciprocate and immediately lift economic sanctions on Khartoum. A string of broken promises means the West and Sudan distrust each other but too much is at stake now for political games: a new war in Africa's largest country has to be prevented at all costs. —The Guardian News








The River City's council promises it is "dedicated to a better Brisbane" and now is the time to prove it. It's good that Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman has ordered a 90-day plan to get the city back to work. It is great that the community is keen to help, demonstrated by the thousands of people who turned out to clean up homes and businesses following the floods. But while it will not seem so to the thousands of residents still suffering the aftermath of inundation, what Brisbane accomplished in the first week of the reconstruction effort was the easy bit. Once the mud is gone, the power back on, the trains running and the roads passable, people will wonder what happens next, what a "better Brisbane" will mean for them. Inevitably this will mean debate over what can be built where, to ensure the effects of the next flood are not as ferocious. The challenge for everybody who believes in Brisbane is to embrace solutions that ensure the city is in better shape to absorb the river's wrath next time and create a community culture that recognises decisions on planning must be made for everybody whose lives and livelihoods are effected by flood, not just riverside residents.

This is not as idealistic or unlikely as it sounds if the reconstruction effort eschews grand visions and adopts cost-effective and commonsense solutions. The first step is to accept a city built on a flood plain will always face the risk of a fast-rising river. Whatever the inquiry into the floods finds about the rate and timing of water releases from the Wivenhoe Dam, built after the 1974 disaster, it seems certain Brisbane needs more than one line of defence. The second is to assemble a suite of practical measures designed to address specific problems. As Andrew Fraser demonstrates in The Weekend Australian today, a great many ideas already exist. Architects Michael Rayner and Peter Skinner propose sublimely simple suggestions, small and large. Mr Rayner calls for chaining pontoons to piles to stop them floating away in floods. And he says Brisbane needs a single planning scheme for the entire river bank, rather than a mass of suburban strategies. Similarly, Mr Skinner suggests flood gates on creeks to prevent a river flood breaking the banks of smaller streams. And he calls for two-way caps on stormwater drains, to stop them carrying rising water from river to street, rather than the reverse. Planner Greg Tupicoff makes the case for local levees around strategic centres, such as the Rocklea produce market, which was devastated last week. Commercial property expert Rod Samut reminds us of the lesson of the 1974 flood, that high-rise buildings need elevated entrances, with generators and electrical infrastructure above the high-water mark.

But one issue not easily addressed is what sort of homes should Brisbane build in flood-prone places. The old Queenslander, on stilts with a void below, is ruled out by the demand for living space, so is evacuating the river bank. The obvious solution is to go up, with storage and parking and accommodation on second and third floors. The equally obvious objection is higher houses will obscure other people's river views; it's the reason there were no radical changes to suburban streetscapes in the post-1974 reconstruction. Will a new Queenslander make a better Brisbane? This is a debate the city cannot duck. The goodwill and common sense we saw this week will be needed for years to come.






In the four decades since the award began, only two Canberra mandarins have been named The Australian's Australian of the Year. The first was the renowned Herbert Cole "Nugget" Coombs, the inaugural winner in 1971. The second is the equally outstanding Ken Henry, selected for 2010. Both men shaped the nation; they were bureaucrats with attitude; policy thinkers of style; public servants who understood power as well as service.

In the past 40 years, our leading public servants have jostled with their private sector colleagues for status and influence. Australia's mixed economy is a world away from the 1970s when the public service was more prominent in national life. Yet Dr Henry, who will retire soon after a decade as Treasury secretary, stood out from his contemporaries with an approach more akin to the era of Nugget Coombs than of the early 21st century. Not for him the anodyne comment or policy option. Throughout his career, he has sought to change Australia. This was especially the case in 2010, the year for which this award is given. It was a year that was not without its difficulties for the Treasury secretary as the government ducked most of his tax report and mangled the mining tax he recommended. Notwithstanding those problems, Dr Henry's contribution in 2010 to the national economy and to future policy was significant. His work last year followed an illustrious career in Canberra over several decades that encompassed many key economic challenges from the deregulation of the 1980s, the "banana republic," the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the introduction of the GST and the extraordinary events of the 2008 global financial crisis. He has been a member of the Reserve Bank board since 2001.

Dr Henry's long record was capped off by his impact on national life after Labor won power in 2007. Indeed, no Treasury secretary exercised as much influence as he has done during these past three years. As the government looked to him for direction, the boy from Taree in northern NSW crafted a position of substantial power. It was Dr Henry who provided the leadership that saw Labor throw everything at the GFC, famously exhorting his bosses to "go hard, go early, go households". Twelve months ago, this newspaper named Kevin Rudd as the 2009 Australian of the Year for his role in managing the crisis, an award that also reflected the enormous contribution made by Dr Henry.

The Treasury secretary was well-versed in the art of advising political leaders. The bright economics student had taken out first-class honours from the University of NSW and a PhD in economics from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. For a man influenced by the notion that government must advance the wellbeing of each person, not just lift gross domestic product, a career in the public sector was an obvious choice. Apart from a couple of years in Paris with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Dr Henry would spend the next quarter of a century in Canberra and play a key role in the transformation of the economy. He advised the Hawke and Keating governments on tax, industry and retirement-incomes policy as well as general micro-economic reform. Under the Howard government, he was instrumental in the introduction of the GST. But it was after Mr Rudd's election in 2007 that he grabbed his opportunities with both hands, working closely with a prime minister also interested in issues such as climate change, education, water and federal-state relations. Within months, the government announced Dr Henry would lead a "root and branch" inquiry into tax, the most comprehensive review since the 1975 Asprey report.

Soon a far bigger challenge would face Australia with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and fears the nation would be pulled into the ensuing financial crisis. The stimulus payments to households and later to projects such as pink batts and the Building the Education Revolution construction would end up defining the Rudd term. The waste involved in pink batts and the BER dogged Labor well into last year but the consumer spending packages were timely responses to a crisis that threatened to engulf Australia. In 2009, ignoring a political climate in which complex reform held little appeal to a Labor government struggling to manage day-to-day administration of the country, Dr Henry pressed ahead with his wide-ranging report into tax, engaging in public debate around the country. His ambition and policy sweep were not matched by Labor's leaders, who in 2010 chose to focus largely on one aspect of the report -- a federal tax on the profits of resource companies, designed to rationalise the existing state royalty regimes.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Gillard government continues to struggle with the implementation of a much-amended mining tax after a bruising encounter with the sector. Labor shows limited enthusiasm, too, for the airing of the broader reforms at a tax summit due to be held later this year. None of this negates Dr Henry's contribution. His legacy remains in a blueprint for the tax system that will influence the direction of policy for years. At times in his career this remarkable public servant has served governments better than they have served some of his ideas. But Dr Henry's intellectual grasp, policy creativity and political courage make him an outstanding choice for the 2010 Australian of the Year.






ACTS of God are a wonderful excuse for all sorts of things. They are wild-card events that absolve previous commitments. Insurance companies are wary of the Almighty and His unknowable ways, and tend to exclude His acts from payouts - especially when clients push the odds, such as by building houses close to the ground on flood plains and river banks.

Great natural catastrophes can change human hearts, too. They can embitter. They can encourage a pushing aside of suspicions to allow new engagements, as we saw in the peace solution in Aceh, Indonesia, that followed the 2004 tsunami tragedy.

Then there's Australian politics, where despite the heartening upswelling of volunteering and donation among the public to the flood crisis, our politicos are getting back into the swing of mutual sniping from rigid predispositions about how to handle the recovery.

On the federal government side we have Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan insisting that the budget will be brought back into surplus in the year starting July 2012, despite the country having been hit with what Swan calls ''possibly, in economic terms, the largest natural disaster in our history''. Gillard is already talking of spending cuts and possibly a levy on top of tax to achieve that and also deal with the recovery.

From the opposition side Tony Abbott is criticising the very idea of a levy, despite having been part of a government that imposed levies to buy back guns from the public, pay out staff of the collapsed Ansett Airlines, and reform the sugar and dairy industries. He urges a halt to the national broadband network but a sale of Medibank Private. But this panacea was suggested before the floods, for an even more urgent return to surplus. So what else?

The emerging picture of the economic impact from floods and rain suggests the wise course is to remain flexible. This act of God might force a change of plan but equally might not. The ballpark estimates of total cost to the economy - of $13 billion to $20 billion - conflate three kinds of loss and damage.

There is damage to public infrastructure, for which the bills are mostly passed to Canberra. Then there is damage to private property: some covered by insurance, the rest carried by owners - with help from government ad hoc relief and public appeals. Third, there is loss of production and income, chiefly from interrupted coal exports and ruined crops, not a loss governments have to cover, though they will get less than expected tax and royalty revenue in the short term.

The impact coming back to the federal budget may be spread over two or three tax years. Depending on other calls, it may be softened greatly by the $1.77 billion already built into the current budget for natural disaster relief and possible blowouts in welfare, the contingency reserve.

Beyond the direct damage bill is the impact on demand and prices. The flooding of the southern Queensland fruitbowl will cause a short-term blip in inflation. Repairs will intensify already tight competition for tradesmen. Yet the consumer mood is subdued. Christmas spending was moderate; a survey this week showed sentiment has fallen sharply since.

A further complication: some positive effects from the floods. For what they can load onto ships, coal exporters will enjoy for a while the sharp lift in prices resulting from fears of tightened global supplies. This season may have been a washout for farmers, but the soaking of the inland presages two or three years of record output ahead. Even with the flood damage, national farm production this financial year is still expected to surge 10 per cent.

All these elements will come into sharper focus over the year, and federal leaders would be wise not to grasp at apparent quick fixes like a tax levy in the meantime. Gillard, Swan and the Finance Minister, Penny Wong, have yet to reassure the public of their economic management skill, which may well be critical to the Labor government's survival through the year.

There is no shortage of ideas about where federal spending can be trimmed - in ''middle-class welfare'', industry assistance, the first home-buyers' grant, defence, private school funding and the size of the bureaucracy - and the tax system improved. Even without the hit from floods, federal finances need to be tautened for whatever the international economy throws at us, whether a blow like a second-round financial crisis or a sharp brake on China's growth or a bigger, more sustained resource boom than we imagined.





ARCHAEOLOGISTS in Italy, all excited,  this week started digging at what is claimed to be the lost tomb of Caligula, the first-century emperor famous for debauchery and appointing his favourite horse, Incitatus, a senator and proposing him as a consul. They have not yet told us if the imperial body is revolving. It might well be. With more detail emerging from wiretaps of the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous ''bunga-bunga'' sex parties with young women, an Italian opposition politician declared: ''Compared with Berlusconi, Caligula was a prude.''  That is a bit unfair. There has been no suggestion of incest, no one has been killed. It is all a little sad really: a 74-year-old man surrounded by bare bottoms and breasts, all flashed by young women who looked upon the TV tycoon-politician as an ATM. Berlusconi says he just likes to ''help'' young people. Life follows art – in this case the sleazy reality shows of his networks. How much longer can Italians allow this sordid farce to continue?






The prime minister has been damaged by the phone-hacking issue in ways for which he has only himself to blame

A part of David Cameron knew – if only because so many people had told him – that Andy Coulson was never going to survive as his Downing Street director of communications. Back in May the prime minister was fully aware that there were several civil actions in the pipeline involving the illegal phone hacking that happened on his watch, not to mention one forthcoming high-profile criminal trial involving yet another private detective who worked for the News of the World under his editorship. Court documents have so far revealed the names of no fewer than five NoW journalists who were involved in the commissioning or editing of phone hacking. And yet it is reliably reported that as late as Wednesday Cameron was trying to persuade Coulson to stay on in his job. There are echoes here of his poor judgment in not dealing sooner with the matter of Michael Ashcroft. The prime minister has been damaged by the phone-hacking issue in ways which were quite predictable, and for which he has only himself to blame.

There will be plenty of people hoping that Coulson's departure will be an end of the matter, but of course it isn't. There are too many unanswered questions about too many important people, companies and institutions. Confidence in the police has undoubtedly been sapped by the drip-drip escalation of the story, with journalists and lawyers painfully dragging out of the Met the full details of what they know and when they knew it. To many, it has looked as though the police have been playing elaborate games – earnestly searching for "new" evidence, when they know that most of the evidence has been sitting in their own files all along. The police are now running out of road. There are too many questions about their original handling of the case and their behaviour at every subsequent turn of events. Why did they treat recent whistleblowers as suspects rather than witnesses? Why did they fail to inform the vast majority of suspected victims? Why do they continue to be so stubbornly unco-operative in their response to victims' lawyers and to other FoI requests? Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary could well order independent scrutiny of the Met's behaviour, as it did with public order policing. Now that the Crown Prosecution Service has commissioned a full assessment of the case, the time may have come for the Met to stand aside altogether.

And then there is the behaviour of News Corporation. It has an impressive code of governance and array of independent directors – including President José María Aznar, the Georgetown law professor Viet Dinh, Rod Eddington from JP Morgan and Andrew Knight from J Rothschild Capital Management, a former Economist editor. Its website promises "integrity, honesty, forthrightness and fairness" and protection for company whistleblowers so that people can speak out "without fear of retaliation". Its chairman has said the company has a "zero-tolerance" approach to wrongdoing. This is fine-sounding stuff, especially when it comes to offering editorial guarantees or some form of independent board oversight, if only the government would agree to the Sky deal.

But, speaking of oversight, there are some awkward governance questions for the distinguished grandees on News Corp's board. Did they know of, or approve, the "silence money" payments to victims of phone hacking such as Gordon Taylor or Max Clifford? Was it good governance to suppress evidence of criminality by employees with cash payments and by the sealing of court files? As directors, have they ever asked to see those files? Do they know whether their company is currently paying the legal fees of Glenn Mulcaire, the former £100,000 a year private investigator who is even now fighting court orders to reveal the names of the NoW journalists he dealt with? If they are paying Mr Mulcaire's fees, how does this sit with a commitment to uncover the truth of what happened? Are they satisfied that no attempts are currently being made to "dissuade" litigants from pursuing their civil actions?

These governance issues would matter anyway. They matter even more given the attempts by News Corp to persuade the government to wave through approval of the Sky deal, which would make them easily the most dominant UK media company in history. The fact that the prime minister is on such easy social terms with News Corp executives means that transparency is essential. It also suggests that Cameron's lack of judgment over Coulson is even more striking.





He ties the planet together in a superstring theory of everything, and nothing is allowed to stand in the way of its conclusions

Regrets, he's had a few – but no more than that. Tony Blair faced the final curtain at the Chilcot inquiry yesterday in what proved a low-key event, despite emotional protests from the public seats as he finished. Marginally less combative than before, he rued his failure to involve the attorney general in early negotiations over Iraq, and offered some decidedly specialist contrition about the way he structured the information flow into his No 10 office. Somewhat more significantly for his personal standing, he said he felt deep sorrow about the lives lost in war, a statement of what should have been the obvious which he had abjectly failed to provide in his previous Chilcot turn.

For the most part the old stager belted out familiar tunes. The first sentence of his 26-page witness statement was not about Iraq at all but instead about 9/11, an opening that tells its own story. The world had changed, and with it "the calculus of risk". Disparate patterns in the shaken kaleidoscope, to adapt Mr Blair's imagery at the time, were now revealed to be connected, and he was not content to simply rub along and manage. Dark and light stood in contrast as never before; those not with us were against us. Yesterday was not a day for such rhetorical hyperbole, Mr Blair was shrewd enough to grasp, but the same thinking that has so often stirred it in the past coursed through his written and spoken words. Iraq's payment of "money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers" was somehow used to craft a link between the brutal old secularist in Baghdad and the Islamists of al-Qaida. The world was solemnly warned afresh about dangers emanating from Tehran, almost as if it were not Iraq but Iran that were at issue. Mr Blair ties the planet together in a superstring theory of everything, and nothing is allowed to stand in the way of its conclusions.

It is not a trial, but the inquiry must nonetheless settle whether the former prime minister swept three particular things away – the truth, the law and proper decision-making. Of these three, Mr Blair yesterday acquitted himself with least damage on the last. The committee had heard some disobliging quotes from colleagues who have grown disgruntled after the event. It is plain that there were not properly structured discussions in cabinet, but with the noble exception of Robin Cook and perhaps Clare Short, it is equally plain that few cabinet ministers were agitating for them. If others, not least Gordon Brown, had wanted to force the debate open they could have done so. The failure to do so was collective, shared between the prime minister and his team, and Mr Blair – who yesterday declined "to hide behind the cabinet secretary" over suppressed crucial papers – always led from the front.

Whether he led straight, however, is more doubtful. It is becoming ever clearer that No 10 spun the country along, not merely by hyping intelligence, but also by committing to the Americans in private while at the same time insisting to people and the parliament that no decision had been made. The general idea of a promise as an undertaking that is not to be given until it is certain it can be honoured was yesterday turned on its head by Mr Blair. "I was going to continue giving absolute and firm commitment until the point at which definitively I couldn't," he explained. He was free, easy and indeed creative with the detail – for example, singling out Iraq's bar on scientists meeting UN inspectors as the "key issue" on the eve of war, when that problem had in fact been resolved by then. It will be open to the committee to damn him with the detail should it choose to do so.

The biggest problem of the lot arises in connection with international law. Mr Blair perceives it, with some reason, as a funny sort of thing, which is often deeply tinged with politics. But he also claims to respect it – insisting that his attorney general truly had the power to call the whole thing off. He pleads bafflement about legal controversies that were well aired at the time, and steamrollered over the attorney's early reservations, branding them "provisional" with the brazen faith that he would in time come round to the Blair point of view. This former barrister's on/off regard for the law could yet prove the headline conclusion of the inquiry. Even then, yesterday's chutzpah suggests that the man himself would shrug and insist: "I did it my way."






Japan boasts one of the highest overall life expectancies among nations. In 2009, the average life span for Japanese women was a whopping 86.44 years and that for men 79.59 years. The health ministry estimates the number of Japan's centenarians in fiscal 2010 at some 44,400 — a record. The population of centenarians has more than tripled in the past 10 years.

But these figures can be misleading about the real situation facing Japan's seniors. In July 2010, the mummified remains of a man, who was listed as still living at 111 years of age on the family register, was found by city officials in his home in Adachi Ward, Tokyo. He had been dead for some 30 years. His eldest daughter and granddaughter were arrested on suspicion of fraudulently collecting his pension benefits.

After this incident, hundreds of cases surfaced in which family members claimed to not know whether their elderly relatives were dead or alive because they lived apart, and local governments concerned did not know either.

The Personal Information Protection Law makes it difficult for local governments to collect information on elderly residents. At least, communication must be improved between the social welfare section and the residents registry section within a local government.

Aside from these factors, the incidents point to the sad fact that many people have become indifferent to elderly members of society or disregard their human rights.

Both the government and private sector must endeavor to make 2011 a year in which the elderly get their due attention and not become isolated. Specifically, neglect, and physical, psychological and financial abuse of the elderly must be prevented.

The social welfare system alone does not sufficiently protect the elderly. Younger people should volunteer to provide support in their communities. For example, accompanying the elderly to parks, shops and hospitals would be of great help. They can also call on the elderly to check on their physical and mental condition. Local governments, schools and enterprises should find ways to strengthen ties between younger people and the elderly.







Mr. Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), and Mr. Nobuaki Koga, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), held talks Jan. 19, kicking off annual wage negotiations, known as "spring labor offensive." It is hoped that labor and management will jointly find ways to pull the Japanese economy out of stagnation and end the sense of helplessness that grips the nation.

In the meeting, Mr. Koga pointed out that aggregate wages have been on a downward trend since 1997 and that reduction of personnel costs will keep Japan in a trap of low economic growth and deflation. He said that major firms are on a path of recovery and that their internal reserves are abundant. (One report states that their internal reserves top ¥240 trillion.)

In view of the overall harsh economic conditions, Rengo, Japan's biggest labor organization, has forgone its traditional practice of uniformly demanding an across-the-board increase in the wage base. But it is calling for a 1 percent raise in the total payroll for workers, including allowances and a seniority-based automatic pay raise.

Nippon Keidanren, Japan's top business lobby, does not want to raise the total payroll, and instead places emphasis on securing employment in view of deflation and the strong yen. But it is ready to let firms continue to implement seniority-based automatic pay raises.

It opposes Rengo's view that an increase in the payroll will end deflation, saying that stiff global competition and the shrinkage of the domestic market due to a low birth rate and the graying of the population are causing deflation.

But to prevent the economy from spiraling downward, it will be important to both boost wages and improve employment. This would stimulate personal consumption and eventually contribute to increasing corporate profits. It will also be indispensable to improve working conditions of employees of small-to-midsize firms and nonpermanent workers. The planned reduction in the corporate tax will be meaningless unless the corporate sector make serious efforts to increase wages and employment.








The registration of One Foundation as the country's first independent private charity organization in the southern city of Shenzhen on Jan 11 is of groundbreaking importance.


It breaks governments' monopoly over philanthropic groups and augurs well for pluralistic development of non-government charity organizations. In other words, it signifies the beginning of a new era of charity development in the country.


One Foundation was initiated by Chinese movie star Jet Li three years ago, and had been attached to Red Cross Society of China (RCSC). It did not have an independent account and all its fund raising activities were under the auspice and supervision of the RCSC.


Relevant regulations say a private foundation cannot be registered unless it is attached to a government department, which has the obligation to administer and supervise its activities. As a result, One Foundation could not raise funds independently, nor could it conduct charity activities on its own. Little wonder that Jet Li described his foundation as "a child without identification card for its own independent development".


Statistics show that the total charity donation in the country reached 33.3 billion yuan ($5.06 billion) in 2009. Though it was much less than the 107 billion yuan in 2008, its annual increase would be 3.5 percent if 70 percent of the 2008 donation for the Wenchuan earthquake were excluded.


A noteworthy point is that donation by individuals increased from less than 20 percent of the total before 2007 to 30.4 percent in 2009. This shows the rising awareness about charity among the Chinese public.


But government departments' rigid administration of charity activities is no longer compatible with today's situation. Besides, the governments' long monopoly on the cause of charity does not help stimulate individuals' enthusiasm for benevolent activities.


The registration of One Foundation is likely to make a big difference. The foundation will post online all information about the use of its money on time to enable all donors to oversee its operations.


The bureau chief for the management of NGOs in Shenzhen has been elected the chief of supervisors of One Foundation. That means the foundation will be supervised by the local government and donors both.


One Foundation will act as a rival to or mark of reference for the charity foundations attached to government

departments. If the foundation does a better job, more donors will extend their benevolent hands to it.


And its success will exert pressure on charity groups managed by governments and push them toward reform.

China Daily






Compared with the moves to reshape central government agencies in 2008, which were rather timid, the so-called "mega-department" experiment in Shunde district of Foshan, Guangdong province, is both bold and efficient.


Since Shunde's restructuring plans were approved in late 2009, the district has reduced the number of local Party and government agencies from 41 to 16.


Impressive as the figure is, the measures in Shunde make a meaningful difference to local administration.


Since the Party and government departments with similar or overlapping functions and authorities have been merged and redefined, efficiency has been improved significantly.


In the past, for instance, the raising and slaughtering of pigs, and processing, circulation and quality guarantee of pork involved government departments in charge of trade, public health, agriculture, industry and commerce, foods, and quality inspection. With so many institutions taking care of the matter, people had less sense of security, because each department tended to pass the responsibility to others. Now the scattered functions are under one single department that oversees all safety-related issues.


The benefits, therefore, are more than obvious - issues of public interest are no longer kicked around through a maze of bureaucracy from agency to agency. In spite of the absence of information on the size of the local administration, the evident improvements in efficiency show the value of the experiment. So the authorities in Guangdong have decided to broaden the experiment to 25 counties.


The "mega-department" experiment in Shunde is no longer just a trial project at the grassroots level, as the Party incorporated it as part of the country's administrative reform program. The Party's proposals for the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) reiterated its commitment to such restructuring as an immediate priority.


Similar pilot projects have been reported in several other places. But besides similar benefits and successes - mostly in raising efficiency - such experiments have shown limitations. One of the biggest has been the difficulty in dovetailing with the existing regime.


In Shunde, for example, since authorities at higher levels stayed unchanged, the once simple and explicit matter of reporting to superiors became more complicated. The social work department, for instance, which combines the functions of 14 previous agencies, now has to report to 14 departments at the province level.


Unless adjacent levels of authorities are incorporated into the experiment, this will continue to be a problem. The broader the scope, the messier it is likely to be.


If this is a move the national authorities are determined to take nationwide, which appears likely, the most important task at this point is to try it out at different levels.







Price rise can be controlled if the economy is not overheated and total demand doesn't increase drastically in a short time

Two years ago, the central government decided on a macro-control policy of "keeping economic growth" to minimize the impact of the global financial crisis and reverse the feared decline of the country's economic growth. But that policy changed at the Central Economic Work Conference in December, when the government decided to accord priority to stabilizing the general level of prices.

The country's consumer price index (CPI) has been rising over the past year, from a year-on-year increase of 1.5 percent in January last year to 5.1 percent in November. The price rise has become a sensitive issue, touching the nerves of ordinary people and evoking strong reaction from the public.

What people have felt most directly is not the 4 to 5 percent CPI growth rate but the 10 percent, and in some cases as high as the 20 percent, increase in prices of necessities such as grains, edible oil, vegetables, eggs and fruits. Ordinary people also fear that their hard-earned savings - meant for medical care, education, housing, and pension and unemployment allowance - will evaporate rapidly if prices keep rising and the currency keeps devaluating.

These concerns, if not eased, will seriously affect social stability and erode public confidence in the administration. Since the price rise remains a big issue and is directly related to people's livelihood, healthy development of the national economy, and social harmony and stability, the government should not underestimate it.

The increase in the costs of labor, materials, transportation, and land and housing, as well as growing environmental costs are the major factors that have led to the latest round of price hikes. The insufficient supply of some agricultural products because of widespread natural disasters across the country over the past year, too, has fuelled price rise. The oversupply of credit over the past two years has added further pressure on the economy and caused inflation to rise.

To stave off the impact of the global financial crisis, curb the decline of the country's economy and promote steady economic growth, the government has pumped an astronomical amount of liquidity into the market. But the side effects of the massive stimulation input are yet to fully emerge. Some external factors, such as flooding of global liquidity, inflow of overseas hot money, devaluation of the US dollar, high-perching prices of some international bulk commodities and frequent natural disasters have aggravated the shortage of global agricultural supplies, pushing up domestic prices.

Besides, hoarding and speculation by some traders, along with lax market monitoring and supervisory mechanism, have also added to people's worries and increased their fears over further inflation.

The government has to attach greater importance to price rise and take emergency and effective measures to curb inflation. Considering that the latest round of domestic price rise has been partly induced by some increasing costs and that the harm it causes will extend into the future, the government should combine short-term emergency measures with a long-term and effective price control mechanism to rein in inflation.

To ease the shortage of supply, the government should boost the agricultural sector and protect farmers' initiatives and interests. It should take effective measures to guarantee the supply of major agricultural products and farming materials, perfect the country's reserve system and lower the transportation and circulation costs of some necessary farm products to a reasonable level.

The government has to try and manage liquidity, too, to prevent the creation of monetary conditions that could lead to further increase in prices. And because of the looming risk of imported inflation, it should keep close track of overseas hot money and prevent them from flowing into the country on a large scale. Besides, the government also has to better regulate import and export of some major agricultural products and bulk commodities to strengthen the State reserve regulatory capacity.

In addition, it has to take some necessary measures, such as increasing subsidies for people in difficulty and setting up the lowest allowance system, to ensure that ordinary people lead a fairly decent life.

The media have a role to play, too. They should cover inflation in a scientific manner and try to pinpoint unrealistic and unscientific reports to allay people's unnecessary fears over further price rise.

The country has some positive elements to stop prices from rising further. For example, the supply of and demand for grains is now basically balanced. Seven consecutive years of bumper harvest and the surplus of many industrial products have laid a solid foundation for the country to stabilize prices.

Experience shows that price rise can be controlled if a country's economy is not overheated and its total social demand does not inflate by leaps and bounds. Despite its rapid economic growth over the past three decades, the good job the country has done to prevent the national economy from being overheated will help prevent the current structural price rise from evolving into irreversible inflation.

The author is deputy director of the Academic Division of Economics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

China Forum







There cannot be any one who could contest the sentiments President Mahinda Rajapaksa aired on media creating racial disharmony when he met with heads of both local and private media institutions at Temple Trees on January 13.

Responding a question posed by the Chairman, Sri Lanka Press Institute, Kumar Nadesan on the security situation in Jaffna the President had reportedly said that the media has created the whole issue, as the situation in Jaffna was no different to that in other parts of the country and advised the media not to create racial disharmony.

It is not clear as to what the security situation in Jaffna has got to do with media creating racial disharmony. On the other hand, although president had said that the media had created the Jaffnas security issue, it was a Government Minister and EPDP leader Douglas Devananda who on January 4 told Parliament that "a fear psychosis had gripped the people in the North due to the alarming crime wave prevalent in the area."

Despite the fact that one might view the President's advice to the media to be irrelevant in the light of the context it had been made, it is worth raising it at a time when the country is craving for ethnic reconciliation after a thirty year long war, especially by the head of the State. It is also worth since even the leaders of the Government call for healing the wounds of the war.

Any journalists would accept the fact that the media had contributed to the aggravation of the ethnic strife so long as he or she is not being targeted or his language stream is being criticized. However, it is a fact that media has had a hand in widening the gap between various communities, though not to the extent that the politicians have had. This has been always evident when it came to a controversial or souring relationship between communities.

Sinhala and Tamil language media during the war were seen as if those from two different countries. Many incidents were reported in those two languages in different angles, sometimes creating diametrically varied impressions. Many a time two different casualty figures have been given by Sinhala and Tamil media after fighting between the armed forces and the LTTE. Many incidents were described in totally contrasting angles.

For instance, when five Tamil youth were killed in Trincomalee town on January 2, 2006 Tamil media depicted them as innocent students while they were Tiger Terrorists for the Sinhala media. The "Sencholai compound" in Mullaitivu was bombed by the Air Force on August 14, 2006, and the Tamil media went to town identifying it as a premises for children orphaned by the war. However, the Sinhala media quoted the Government spokesman as saying it was a training centre for LTTE child soldiers.

When bombs went off in Colombo or civilians in villages bordering the North and the East were hacked to death by the LTTE, they had been carried out by the Tiger terrorists according to Sinhala media while Tamil media was always careful to put the news in "passive voice" whereby one can write about the incidents without mentioning the perpetrators.

Interestingly, very few people in the country speak of problems of communities other than theirs, leaving the responsibility in the hands of each community to speak for themselves. At the same time, media is forced to proximate its contents to its respective constituencies, owing to the market reasons. The upshot has always been the attempts by media, local or international, to please or at least to pacify its constituency without which the very survival of it would be in peril.

Even the relatively most refined media does not dare to continuously venture into areas that would displease its constituency. Thus, comes in the "story angle" which is, in some cases, prejudicial towards a particular community.

Politics is no different in this respect. Politicians always tend to rouse any communal or caste difference among the people in order to win over few more votes, than even those belonged to their own party get. Thus, Sinhalese politicians always attempt to identify their opponents with the Tamils or more specifically with the LTTE or the "Kotiyas."

The UPFA during the last Presidential elections accused the DNA Presidential candidate former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka for promising to release LTTE suspects and to dismantle the High Security Zones. Interestingly, the JVP did the same on behalf of Fonseka citing President Rajapaksa agreeing to EPDP demands.  

If one peruses the Tamil media during elections he would find Tamil politicians accusing each other in the same way as the Sinhalese politicians did. Media do publicize these remarks as well which are not healthy in terms of harmony.   





Khaleej Times: The heat is turning up for Israel. A resolution in the UN Security Council against the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank has now been submitted. This move by the Arab states is in protest against the settlements and Israels continuation of illegal construction despite international condemnation and repeated diplomatic overtures.

Failure of the United States to get Israel to abstain from further construction and the collapse of the peace talks has left no option.

Moreover, the recent recognition of a Palestinian state by a number of South American states has led to frayed tempers in Tel Aviv. With  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev having  reiterated Russias support of a Palestinian state it recognised way back in 1988, Israel is likely to feel additional pressure.

The Arab states' decision to go ahead and submit the resolution despite US objections is a clear message to Washington. There is a limit to how far the Arab states would take Israels in-the-face violations of international norms and law. Moreover, the perception in the region is very clear regarding settlements as the main stumbling block in the peace process. Unless Israel completely halts the illegal expansion, nothing can come out of the efforts being made by all and sundry to get some sort of a peace process rolling. More importantly the underlying message of rejection for US support of internationally illegal policies being pursued by Israel is highly significant.  The US may condemn Israeli settlements activities all it wants but in the end any inaction on its part and its dual policies manifested by expressions of full support to its staunchest ally can only be interpreted as support. Especially, when the question is about a formal resolution being submitted to the Security Council. One wonders how the US will wiggle out of this if the resolution is put up for a vote? Morally, the US has no ground to block or veto the resolution even if it does not support the move, since it is in clear violation of international law.






With more than one million people affected, 600,000 displaced and 23 lives lost, it was the worst of the floods that hit Sri Lanka in a century. Among the affected areas that were ravaged by the heavy rains and floods, the Eastern province incurred the highest magnitude of damage.

However, owing to the quick responses of the armed forces in the area, the impact the catastrophe caused on human lives was able to be brought to a minimum. The Commander Security Forces headquarters (East), Major General Boniface Perera and his team played a significant role in assuring the safety of the masses residing in the flood affected areas in East. These rescuers believe that it was the well management of the situation that had aided them to reach their goal of rescuing so many lives. 

Observing the situation

"Our troops were very well prepared for an emergency situation caused by any natural disaster - be it an earthquake or a Tsunami. Therefore when the heavy rains started pouring in, it did not take us long to initiate the groundwork and inspect the situation," he said. As the rain drops gradually worsened into a continuous rain, foreseeing the danger about to befall Major Gen. Perera had deployed teams to keep tabs of the rain condition as well as on vulnerable locations such as tank bunds and low lands. The newly formulated vigilance teams had been deployed at the Ampara tank bund, Kondawatuwana tank bund, Navagiri ara Gonagolla tank bund and Kaddamurikumal tank bund. The Army had also maintained constant contact with the Meteorology Department and obtained updates regarding the latest situation.

"We carried out a careful analysis of a possible flood situation through the information which was gathered," he added. 120 search and rescue teams had been immediately deployed to cover the entire East region including the districts of Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara.

Initiating the rescue mission

The immediate focus had been paid on evacuation as well as rescue efforts.  Within a matter of hours, the water levels in the villages had risen to about six feet. The people who were living in danger zones near rivers and inundated locations in Ampara, Wellaweli, Maduru Oya, Wakarai and Attalachenai had been moved into safe locations. Also, the troops with the comradeships of the Navy and the Air Force had taken steps to issue early warnings to individuals living in vulnerable areas to evacuate from their homes. "We had to face quite difficult situations at times as some of the villagers refused to evacuate despite the heavy rains and the risk of floods. Therefore, during certain accounts we had to evacuate certain residents by force in order to save their lives," he added. The team and the troops led by Major Gen. Perera had maintained close contacts with the Government Agents as well as other provincial authorities in order to gather and keep track of information on people.

Subsequently, in order to prevent large scale damage to the areas and the possible loss of lives, the leaking tank bunds had been immediately fixed with the collaboration of Irrigation engineers. "A number of tanks particularly the sluice gate of Maavil Aaru no: 2, was leaking. We took immediate steps to place sandbags and prevent the villages and the surrounding areas from being flooded," Major General Perera explained.

Overcoming challenges

The next toughest challenge had arisen while distributing daily needs to the displaced people. Major Gen. Perera added that the lack of resources such as boats was a noticeable loss since most areas were accessible solely through the use of boats. "Most areas of had turned completely inaccessible to arrive on foot or by airplanes as a result of the bad weather prevalent in the areas. Therefore I took measures to order every boat available in the area to be used for distribution purposes and also built little rafts through locally found material," he added. At times, despite the bad weather the Air Force had taken steps to fly even with a calculated risk, in order to distribute medicine and essential food items to the people in the flood affected areas.

As a result of the hard work and, careful observation and the far reaching knowledge of Major Gen. Perera and his team was successful in saving the lives of more than 1000 villagers. "We always had a simple plan. The priority was to save and rescue lives," he said while adding that the determination and the wholehearted commitment had been a major driving force behind bringing their aim of saving lives to the correct track. Recalling the Tsunami disaster and the devastations it caused, Major Gen. Perera said that they decided to act quick since the emergency responses and careful management of the first few hours following the disaster is critical in terms of saving lives.

As part of the rescue mission operation, the troops had also assisted the people living in the island off Wakarai Bridge through providing them rations. "There were about 1,500 people stuck in the island. They ran out of food provisions as none of the Government Agents were able to visit the area. I gave orders to the soldiers' rations to be provided for the people and 1.2 tonnes of rations were distributed among the people in Wakarai. Certain decision will have to be taken in ignorance of rules and regulations. If we were to follow protocol, we wouldn't have been able to prevent this massive loss of human lives," he added. Moreover, the troops had also repaired the bridge within two days, opening up a route for the GAs and relevant officials to resume the distribution of food supply," Major Gen. Perera added. 

The current picture

According to major Gen Perera, at the moment the Kinniadi area off Valachchennai, is still inaccessible. "Therefore, the supply of food is still carried out by us in those areas. In other areas, the water level has reduced but the people have lost almost all their belongings including their houses. Right now, they mostly need the essential food items such as dhal, rice, milk, sugar as well as mats, for them to sleep on." He also said that although the military camps were temporarily closed down immediately after the heavy rains, they have resumed their operations in the camp since the water levels have now decreased.  

"I am very grateful for the immense support we have received from the government authorities – The Disaster Management Center, Essential Services Ministry, health Ministry and the Mahaweli authority as well as the Navy and Air Force. We did not care about any caste or creed in our attempts of rescuing lives of bringing comfort to any of them. I believe that it was the team work and the commitment of the troops that aided in minimizing the massive loss of human lives which could have been brought about by the recent floods," said Major Gen. Perera.










Ayubowan, vannakkam, assalamu allaikum and best wishes as you take off on a surprise and somewhat mysterious private visit to the United States, apparently for astrological reasons among others.

As usual this private visit, though like other issues and events is clouded by conflicting reports. Some independent analysts believe you must be trying to test the ground in the US following what happened in Britain last month when a similar private visit ended in a diplomatic disaster along with an Oxford double degree in duplicity. Hours after you left ,Amnesty International, echoing the sentiments of many international rights groups, called on the US to probe allegations that the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE were guilty of serious war crimes during the final months of the bloody conflict. As Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces you are apparently high on the list of these international groups, as is your powerful brother and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. While questions as to why you went to the US accompanied by External Affairs Minister G L Pieris and what will or will not happen may be answered in the coming days, the focus in Sri Lanka last week was on the worst ever floods, especially in the Batticoloa district, and the upcoming elections to Local Councils. Weather patterns in Sri Lanka have changed so much, mainly due to global warming and related factors, that the New Year began with unprecedented rain and floods, along with the worst cold wave of the past 50 years. Fortunately, after Thai Pongal day on January 15, the heavy rains ceased or eased, while floods in most of the affected districts are receding. Aid is pouring in for the relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of the victims, but reports indicate that about 500,000 acres of paddy, vegetables and other crops have been destroyed, and Sri Lanka may face serious shortages of rice and other items in the coming weeks and months. Vegetable prices are soaring to their highest levels, with beans, for example, being sold on Thursday at a staggering price of Rs.280 a kilo. Troops were called in recently to buy vegetables directly from the farmers so that the farmers would get a reasonable price. The vegetables were then sold to consumers also at a fair price, thus eliminating the mafia of the middlemen who make a huge profit in the middle.

Overall, the cost of living situation is desperate and even hundreds of middle class families are finding it difficult to prepare two square meals. This underlines the need for immediate action to bring down the cost of living and long term steps to address vital issues relating to global warming, instead of indulging in political rhetoric or slogans of becoming the miracle of Asia, or one of the foremost countries in the world.   

The main opposition United National Party, appears to have reached an unofficial ceasefire, with Sajith Premadasa apparently deciding to wait till the local council elections are over before staking his claim for leadership.

With the divisions temporarily patched up, the UNP is accusing the government of trying to abuse its power and state resources by holding the local council elections on different days. The UNP says it was known long ago, that the World Cup matches would be held here in February and March, thus the government could have decided on an April date to hold all the Local Council Elections together. But that may not happen and the Opposition may have its say, but the government will have its way.





I called on a Principal of a leading international school in my area recently on an official matter. I was at the Principal's office and I saw some kindergarten children playing with their teacher in the compound next to the office. We started our discussion on certain issues pertaining to English education and upgrading the standard of English and exam results. In the meantime we heard that teacher shouting at a child, "Why pulling, Why pulling." I looked at the Principal and he looked down. I knew that the Principal was filled with shame and could not find a place to hide his blushing face. Later I told the Principal, "Sir, don't be ashamed. This is reality. Let's face it. That teacher enlightened us to find solutions for our main issue – Standard of English.'

Parents do not know what is happening in such schools. They may be affluent and they may think that their children should be gifted with English education they were deprived of. When children speak the second language the parents are thrilled. Children may speak like parrots but how do the parents know that their children speak "Correct English"? Children of lower grades like kindergarten are more for imitation and they naturally say what they hear. Since they do not have an English environment at home they begin to talk with the language they acquire from their teacher. When they hear wrong expressions or wrong language they repeat what they hear. They believe what the teacher says and it is the Gospel truth for them. They are innocent.

Management of certain International Schools recruits any Advanced Level qualified person with little English to run the school. They know jolly well if the qualified teachers are recruited they should be paid well according to their academic and professional qualifications. The A/L qualified or a Diploma holder of any institute can be easily recruited because they need a job and the management needs a teacher to satisfy the parents. What is the guarantee of those so called Diploma certificates? What is the use of paper qualifications when the certificate holder is a puppet? Management of certain international schools does not bother about quality. Their main intention is to pay less and earn more.

Where is the so-called standard in English? How long will it take the administration of such international schools to realize the crime they commit by recruiting the teachers of poor quality and encouraging cheap labour? They recruit such teachers to show the world that they have the required number of staff members to attract admissions. What should the administration consider more- quantity or quality? What a lot of donations they collect when admissions are made. Why cannot the qualified quality teachers be recruited and paid enough? Education is an investment for the future of the nation but the managements of such schools invest their money in education and make profit. Therefore, now education is a business in which investors make millions of rupees.

Ministry of education has an important role to play in order to maintain the standard of the international schools. Regulations should be introduced in recruiting teachers, in paying the teachers and monitoring the syllabi, in maintaining discipline etc. What is expected of all these is to maintain quality in English education in international schools. Students who are taught in the international schools will also finally be the labour force of the country. Children whether they are taught in government schools, private schools or international schools they belong to the same community in Sri Lanka and they are the owners of the future. It is the duty of the government and the management of the schools to gift the students the best they deserve.

Ajith Perera





Despite the legal provision whereby a person/persons can be sued for the above mentioned crime noise is prevalent everywhere. Recently an Amendment was made to the existing law to allow the possibility of making noise till midnight.

When we were taught to drive we were told that it is only a bad driver who uses his/her vehicle horn. In certain areas of the City of Colombo on cannot even talk to a neighbor because of the tooting of the horn. The tooting of the horn is considered an act of protest in certain places. Are the drivers of today protesting about something?

Where are the silent zones of the years gone by? These zones were generally speaking confined to Hospitals/Nursing Homes/ Schools/Educational Institutions and Residential Areas.

In the midst of no town planning in Colombo it is becoming more and more difficult to have such zones which means we need to return to the days of town planning and certainly using the law to control noise pollution. Over to all who need a noise free City of Colombo.

 Sydney Knight





We thank Hon Member of Parliament Wijedasa Rajapaksa for responding to the Opinion forum in the Daily Mirror Paper. You wanted to clarify the constitutionality of the functioning of the Senior Monsters in the present political context, which is a novel experiment originated by His Excellency  President Mahinda Rajapaksa, may be with good intentions. We once had the Donoughmore System under the British where the Committee System was operating somewhat close to the practice where Ministries worked under the supervision to the line Committee system. It was accepted as a plus mark to get executive system of the then administration familiar to the locals.

Started with best intentions the Senior Minister System need to be tried out.

Bandula Nonis





No one will fail to notice these days that small plastic buckets mounted on metal pipes are being installed on the pavements close to bus stops, at entrances to private roads/ lanes. These are meant to be used as trash bins for the road users to dispose of toffee wrappers, ice-cream cups and other throwaway items. This, I think, is part of the government's effort to keep the city clean. I noticed that the in the process of fixing these poles the pavements have been dug and these poles have not been not rigidly fixed. These poles which would have been fixed vertical as already started tilting and one possible reason could be that the digging has not been deep enough!

I saw at one place the plastic bucket has gone missing with the pole only remaining. In another place the garbage for was partly jutting out from the base of the container. I also would like to raise the following queries in respect of these newly installed plastic trash bins. Shouldn't the size of the plastic container be a bit bigger? Should there be a lid on top? As otherwise, crows are pulling the trash out from these containers. Shouldn't the installation be much stronger? Preferably it should have done free standing with a heavy base whereby digging of the pavement could have been easily avoided. This is to request   the Janitorial Company which has won the tender and entrusted to execute this installation to do a good job with the balance installation of these trash bins without comprising on quality.

Mohamed  Zahran






Sri Lanka cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara speaking at a recent function to mark the countdown to the 2011 World Cup spoke his heart out and paid a glowing tribute to the people who he said were the real heroes who had given his team the honour to play in the global showpiece.

No better words than Mr.  Sangakkara's Monday night declaration can describe the relationship between his team and the people of Sri Lanka. It is the most appropriate comment made at a time or in the wake of  the country announcing and declaring its 15-man squad for the big stage which will come alive on February 19.

Now, one can only hope that what Mr. Sangakkara said would not only inspire the Sri Lankan team at the 14-nation World Cup but also send a message to all those remaining 15 players who could not make it to the final 15. Chief among them is the ageing batsman Sanath Jayasuriya who, tragically was not able to read the minds and faces of the Sri Lankan people and who continued disregarding his age of 41 to cause discomfort not only to himself but to Aravinda de Silva's Selection Committee and the people. By not thanking the people and taking a bow, can Mr. Jayasuriya retire gracefully and at least salvage what is left of his image that took Sri Lanka to the four corners of the world at the 1996 World Cup.

Even at this late stage the wisest move that Mr. Jayasuriya can make is not to hang around in the corridors of power or seek the intervention of influential people, but to move out and let people remember him for what he was than what he became notorious for. Surely it must be acknowledged that what Jayasuriya did was not matched by anyone before him but at the same time each and every player has to move on just like the World Cup comes and goes every four years. Like a man of honour it will be in the best interest of Jayasuriya and the future of Sri Lanka cricket that he makes his retirement announcement at a time the global interest in cricket is hitting its peak in the build-up to the World Cup.

Mr. Jayasuriya's failure to grasp this opportunity and tell the world it's time to move on will only result in more discomfort for himself and perhaps his champion team-mates of 1996. Make no mistake we don't take away the fact that age cannot separate a man from his passion and Mr.  Jayasuriya can still hold onto his first love by playing cricket for his mere personal enjoyment at home level rather than hobnob with the present day fireballs of international cricket.

That the people overwhelmingly voted for him at last year's parliamentary election, is ample proof that they wanted him to come home and take a well deserved exit from the game. The last thing that people may want to see is their one-time hero keeping one foot in a political mud hole escorted by gun-toting guards and the other in mid air.








In previous articles I suggested people turn to alternative media sources and writers, since the mainstream media makes free speech a dream that was left behind.


Instead of celebrating journalistic integrity, the media - controlled by Zionists in America - refuses to condone any criticism of Israel.


When Helen Thomas, diva of the White House Press corps, was asked by a rabbi if she had any comment about Israel, she replied honestly: "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine."


She paid dearly for being forthright, saying that the Palestinians are "occupied" and that the Jews should "go home" - to Germany, Poland, America and "everywhere else".


In a later interview with radio host Danny Schechter, Thomas revealed that for 50 years she censored herself as a reporter.


Think about how many otherwise honest, knowledgeable, yet restrained reporters and TV anchors have worn the same albatross around their necks.


Widely respected MSNBC commentators like Keith Olbermann, Rachael Maddow and Ed Schultz are brilliant and informed. They can't possibly have missed the plight of the Palestinians.


Like Thomas, they have had to censor themselves. Anyone listening to these commentators' analyses of major issues would know that they could not possibly be ignorant of the truth.


A terribly sad reality rears its ugly head with the realisation that men and women of integrity have been forced to blind themselves to preserve their jobs.


Imagine the three I mentioned at MSNBC with their heads on the bodies of monkeys labelled "see no evil", "hear no evil" and "speak no evil".


Unlike chimps with limited mentality, these media giants must know that they wear blinders, earplugs and muzzles to avoid the truths they hold so important when it comes to other issues.


Dr Diane Shammas, lecturer in American studies and ethnicity, says: "More than being oppositional, Thomas' comments reflect an accumulative anger and ire at an America that has not only vilified Arab Americans in their media and immigration laws for over a century, but also with a US foreign policy that for over 60 years biases Israel and is complicit in perpetuating the oppression against the Palestinians."


Why did Thomas blurt out the comment that led to her forced resignation from the White House Press corps for Hearst papers? What did she feel that moved her to do what other commentators know is right, but have been terrified to say?


Dr Shammas says: "Her (Thomas') outcry embodies a half century of frustration and mental occupation that Arab Americans feel as their voices of historical truth is pilloried, discredited, and dismissed as either delusional or anti-Semitic."


Ironically, as Dr Shammas reports, "while defending Helen Thomas' freedom of speech, the Society for Professional Journalists deems her remarks as 'inappropriate and offensive'."


Inappropriate? The only thing inappropriate was that Thomas was forced out of her job by silencer shills!


Offensive? Only to those who have been brainwashed by Israeli propaganda.


Thomas' journalistic critics silently admit to brainwashing. Either that or they're utterly dishonest.


Dr Shammas posed the right question when she asked: "Does our country's unwavering allegiance to the Zionist

ideology irrevocably trump and excoriate any truth-telling of Palestinian suffering?"


William Shanley, who is making a film about Thomas' career, commented: "Pathetic. America has become a

country in which a thief is on the cover of Time Magazine, the Golden Rule is under the boot of empire, and the truth about the illegal occupation of Palestine, the theft of land and the mass incarceration of its people, cannot pass lips."









The recent escalation in the Lebanese political crisis and the different approaches adopted by foreign mediators in dealing with the situation once again illustrated the complexity of the issue and the necessity to conduct an accurate analysis about the country's various political parties.


After the breakdown of the Saudi-Syrian initiative and the resignation of the opposition ministers from the cabinet, Lebanon experienced another political standoff due to the dispute over the US-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is investigating the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. In fact, the indictment issued by the STL has changed the political atmosphere in Lebanon, and the current situation is completely different from the pre-indictment period. In other words, almost everyone believes that one cannot apply the solutions of the past to the present dilemma. Thus, the so-called international contact group, consisting of regional mediators, was not able to provide the Lebanese opposition with satisfactory proposals. It is said that the indictments are against some Hezbollah members, and this complicates the situation.

Hezbollah has always tried to defend the national sovereignty of Lebanon and many Lebanese, including both Shia and Sunni factions, regard the movement as the real resistance against Israeli and Western interference. Hezbollah successfully resisted against the Israeli occupation. Therefore, accusing Hezbollah of plotting against the former prime minister is definitely a U.S. and Israeli propaganda move meant to undermine the popularity of the resistance.

Now Hezbollah and other opposition groups believe that the Saudi-Syrian initiative cannot be revitalized in the current situation because there is no guarantee that the preferred terms and conditions will be implemented. Saad Hariri, the current caretaker prime minister, indicated his inclination to jeopardize the national interests, resulting in the final deadlock over the proposed initiative. So it is extremely unwise to follow the terms of a dead initiative when the STL has issued the initial indictment targeting the resistance movement.

Many believe that Lebanon is a symbol of real democracy in the region and those trying to impose dead or undemocratic solutions on its people will certainly endanger the process of peaceful negotiation among the country's various political groups. The recent meeting between the US ambassador and a Lebanese MP shows that the United States is again meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs in order to satisfy Israel's interests at the expense of Lebanese national unity.

Now many believe that the opposition, led by Hezbollah, is paving the way for a democratic solution to determine the country's destiny. In addition, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt's decision to distance his Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanon from Saad Hariri's March 14 Alliance and to move closer to the resistance is another indication that the next Lebanese government will have a bright future.




EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.




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